Elena chooses between Stefan and Damon, but that's not the shocker
Credit: Annette Brown/The CW
Best Starting Point: ''Growing Pains'' (401) — A lot changed in last season's lead-up. It's probably best not to miss this season opener, which shows…

You know what’s brilliant: The way producers had us talking about whether Elena would choose Stefan or Damon for months so none of us would see the finale’s real twist coming — ELENA IS GOING TO BE A VAMPIRE. Julie Plec and Kevin Williamson are like Patti Nyholm and Louis Canning, making us look here when we really should have been looking there. (Yes, I also watch The Good Wife.) But when you look back at the episode, after you finally stop repeating your shock-and-awe swear word of choice, you do see the buildup, why now is the right time for Elena to make the transition, and what kind of new layers and story lines it brings to the show. (If you don’t, read our postmortem with Plec here.) Let’s dig in.

We got more flashbacks than I was expecting, and they began with Elena waking up to Pink’s “So What” and acting like a happy, perfect teen who, let’s face it, we probably would have gotten bored with quickly — had she not been wearing a cheerleading uniform that belonged on a coed, not a high school student. Nina Dobrev talked to us this week about how she now fills out that uniform, the same one she wore in season 1, and the director definitely took advantage of it. Also, we learned 14-year-old Jeremy liked alone time in the morning.

When Elena woke up in present day, she was in the hospital. Of course calling 911 was the smart thing for Jeremy to do when he found her collapsed and bleeding from her nose. But the Salvatores, who were still on the road to dump Klaus into the Atlantic Ocean when they got Jeremy’s call, knew it wasn’t a safe place for her: They figured every Original would want her dead to save themselves from Alaric, and Alaric would want Elena with him so he could keep her alive and then kill her to commit suicide. Because Jeremy had been told Elena only had a slight concussion, he felt fine about sneaking her out of the hospital and taking her home, the one place Alaric can’t get to her. And that was good, because Alaric did pay Meredith a visit to tell her she had to release Elena into his custody because he’s her guardian; inform her that the Council now knows the truth about her, Sheriff Forbes, and Mayor Lockwood and wants their jobs; and also empty her stash of medicinal vampire blood. (Did that tip anyone off to Meredith having given Elena blood? Not me.) When they hung up with Jeremy, Damon told Stefan he appreciated him not being the dumbest brother in the world, which was a nice bonding beat before they had to decide who would stash Klaus’ body somewhere and who would return to protect Elena.

It was sweet to see how motherly Caroline, Tyler, and Matt were taking care of Elena as they brought her home. Elena was hungry, which Tyler said the boys would get on as soon as they made sure no one was lurking in the closets. Cute. There must be a lot of closets in that house, because Elena had enough time to fall asleep and flashback again to the day her parents died. Bonnie, also a cheerleader, was telling Elena and Matt how she’d psychically predicted that flare jeans would come back in style, and now she had a bad feeling about that night’s bonfire. Matt wanted Elena to come with him anyway, even though her parents had arranged a family night since Aunt Jenna was in town. When Matt walked away, he said “I love you,” but Elena didn’t. Bonnie told her she had to set him free if she just wasn’t that in to him anymore.

Elena woke up again in present day, and Matt was on Elena duty. She apologized for stringing him along when she should have figured out what she wanted and been honest about it. Now, she said, she’s making the same mistake with Stefan and Damon. She knows she has to let one of them go, but she doesn’t want to lose either of them. But which one should she set free? As if to answer Matt’s question, in walked Stefan. Point for Damon, I thought.

NEXT: Elijah is still our favorite Original

I guess there was nothing in the Gilbert house but tea and vodka — is it gonna be like spring break all the time there now? — so Jeremy had to go to the Grill to get food. This felt like a good time to order in, but whatever. Alaric popped up with a proposition: If Jeremy helped him find Klaus’ body so he could stake him, Alaric would allow them to desiccate his body and Elena could live her normal human life. After coming home and consulting with Matt, who just wanted Elena to leave town, I actually thought Jeremy did sell them out when he later phoned Alaric to tell him Damon was dumping the body in the woods. No matter how cute the Henley Twins looked after that, I would have hated Jeremy and Matt. Luckily, the camera panned back when Jeremy finished his call, and we saw he was still on Team Vampire, which had a new member — ELIJAH!!!

Elijah had popped up earlier when Elena got tired of sitting on the couch and waiting for Stefan and Matt to feed her. Matt wondered why Stefan wasn’t controlling Elena, and Stefan said because he understands the power of free will. Point for Stefan, I thought. Elijah had a proposition of his own: If they gave the Originals Klaus’ body and helped them steal the stake from Alaric, they would scatter and Alaric was sure to chase them. Elijah promised he would not revive Klaus in Elena’s lifetime or the lifetime of her children. (She’ll never have children!) That was when Damon spoke up — he’d been hearing this all via cell. Hilarious. Stefan said it was Elena’s decision, which Damon was firmly against. She decided to trust Elijah’s word. I would have, too. I’m powerless against that vamp in a suit.

Anyway, Caroline and Tyler heard from their mothers that they’d been outed to the Council. As soon as the Council took care of Klaus, they’d be coming for them. Their mothers wanted them to leave Mystic Falls to save themselves and offered them cash and new IDs. Tyler wanted to leave, like yesterday, but Caroline wouldn’t until they helped their friends. Once they were safe, she’d go anywhere with him. All she needed was him, and maybe a curling iron. Tyler told her to go, and he’d pack their things and meet her back at the cellar in two hours. I was already tearing up. They were so willing to make the best of their exile, you just knew they’d never get the chance.

Bonnie had met Damon at a storage facility, and he presumed she would spell Klaus’ coffin to make it invisible to Alaric, as she’d done with the coffins earlier in the season to hide them from Klaus. When they opened the lid, Klaus’ eyes popped open. FREAKY. Damon told Bonnie they were in a bit of a hurry, but she asked for a minute alone with Klaus. After all he’d done to everyone, including her mother, she wanted to enjoy the sight of him chained, helpless, and rocking some stubble. Even though we’d all read Bonnie makes a deal with “heartbreaking consequences” in the finale’s synopsis, things were just moving too fast for me to piece it together: She was making a deal with Klaus to put him in Tyler’s body, so if Alaric staked Klaus, her friends would all live. Should I have said WHEN instead of IF? Do you think Bonnie and Klaus wanted Alaric to stake Klaus’ body so Alaric would think he was gone? Did Tyler have a say in this at all?

Back at the Gilbert house, Stefan was saying goodbye to Elena. He said with Caroline and Elijah, they had the numbers to get the stake from Alaric, and he’d do everything in his power to make sure they all came home. I was so ready for her to kiss him. She wanted to tell him something but stopped. She said they could talk later. He started to leave but stopped himself, turned around, went back, and kissed her. “That’s just incase there is no later,” he said. Still, I thought she wanted to choose Damon, and this moment was made to make her feel even more guilty about it.

Stefan called Damon to go over Elijah’s plan, and Damon couldn’t believe Stefan had let Elena make the decision to trust him. Stefan said he let her because if he didn’t, she’d hate him. Damon said that was the difference between them: He’d have made her do it his way and she would’ve hated him, but she’d still be alive. And again, I didn’t stop to process that this was foreshadowing. Of course Damon would have saved Elena first, even if she was telling him to rescue Matt. She’d still be human. I can see both sides in this argument: It’s not like this decision just affected Elena this time. It was all their lives. They should all have a say. But Damon doesn’t always know right, just because he’s a man and much, much older.

Damon had been expecting Rebekah to meet him at the storage facility to collect Klaus, but instead, it was Alaric who showed up. He’d had the police track Klaus’ car, which I guess Damon had been driving because it was the only thing big enough for the coffin. Damon wouldn’t tell him which storage locker Klaus was in, so Alaric snapped his neck. I wondered why Alaric didn’t just stake him and get it over with — one less vamp to worry about. But we’d find out later that Alaric didn’t want Damon to suffer a quick death. He wanted to make it hurt…

NEXT: Klaus catches fire

Elena was still busy confiding in Matt, who I totally now want to share all my boy problems with. She told him about Stefan saving her that night of the crash. Did she feel like she owed him? No, she said. Being with Stefan, she learned how to live again after her parents died. You should love the person that makes you glad you’re alive, she explained. Problem is, when she’s with Damon, he just consumes her. Again, she said she knows she’ll lose one of them, and she doesn’t want to choose. She wished she had her mom there to give her some advice. Cue another flashback!

It turns out Matt was Mr. Clingy back in the day and was talking about college and marriage at the bonfire. (Because why wouldn’t he be?) She’d had a fight with him and had called home to see if someone could leave Family Night and come pick her up. Her mother assured Elena that she knew how she felt about Matt, she was just afraid to say it. She wouldn’t be losing Matt, her mom said. She’d be setting him free. How funny that while Elena was dreaming about setting Matt free, he AGAIN WAS TRYING TO FENCE HER IN! She woke up again, and he’d drugged her to get her in the truck. He was taking her out-of-town to keep her safe. That was the stupidest idea ever. You are a puny human, Matt. Also, what an A-hole move drugging her. She’s not Peeta in The Hunger Games. And you shouldn’t throw her over your shoulder like a caveman. Point for Stefan, I thought.

Rebekah finally showed up at the storage facility looking for Damon. He grabbed her, and they started wheeling out the coffin, but Alaric found them. Where was Bonnie, I wondered. She must have bolted when Alaric arrived, I guess. Alaric staked Klaus, who went up in flames. It’s so funny, after watching Klaus get desiccated last week, I thought it’d be anticlimactic if he got killed this week, but it got to me. Something about the flames seemed so final. (Even if Julie Plec says she didn’t see his entire body burn, so who knows…) Alaric told Rebekah she was next. Damon told her to run, which felt chivalrous even though he was doing it for his possible bloodline, and charged Alaric. Alaric just tossed him aside. At this point, I thought Tyler was a goner, and Klaus and Bonnie must have struck some kind of a deal in which Klaus would somehow tell her how to break his blood bond with the heroes (maybe since he’s a hybrid, only his hybrids would die?) if Bonnie would use her magic to keep the remaining Originals safe if something were to happen to him.

Damon told Stefan over the phone about Klaus being “killed.” They both felt fine, but it’d taken Sage an hour to die after Finn. An hour wasn’t enough time for Damon to get back to Mystic Falls. Damon thought Stefan meant the brothers would miss their epic goodbye, but Stefan had meant Damon and Elena. And here, I thought, Stefan had figured out that Elena wanted to choose Damon. I’m such a sucker. Damon told Stefan to call him if he coughed up a lung. It would have been poetic if Damon, a man who wanted to care for no one at the start of the series but saw his heart grow three sizes over three seasons, died alone. But there was still hope…

Jeremy broke the news to Matt, who told Elena he could keep driving them to Damon, who was 100 miles outside of Mystic Falls, or he could turn around and take her back to Stefan. Now was the time for her to decide. She phoned someone — it was Damon. I thought maybe she was calling to ask him his exact location. Damon asked her where she was… and she said headed home. It wasn’t just for Stefan, but for Caroline and Tyler as well. I’m so glad Damon didn’t let her get away with that. He said since he was possibly a dead man, he wanted to ask her one thing: If it was just him and Stefan she had to worry about, who would get the in-person goodbye. “I love him, Damon,” she said. Stefan came into her life at a time when she needed someone, and she fell for him instantly. No matter what she feels for him, she never un-fell for Stefan. Damon said it will always be Stefan. She couldn’t say always. She could only think of now. “I care about you, Damon, which is why I have to let you go,” she said, fighting back tears. Maybe if they’d met first, her decision would have been different, she added. I teared up again as the music swelled. I knew Damon wouldn’t die, because the show needs Ian Somerhalder and the triangle until the bitter end, but the idea of Damon being alone, thinking he might be dying, was gut wrenching. It was going to get worse. Alaric came back, having lost Rebekah, and he was pissed. Now it was time for Damon to suffer, and he hit him. Damon didn’t have the will to fight back.

NEXT: Tyler is Klaus, Elena is a vampire

Caroline met back up with Tyler, who told her he’d been with Bonnie — why, we didn’t know. She told him about Klaus and sobbed. She wasn’t worried for herself, she was worried for him. He was the only one they knew was definitely from Klaus’ line. Looking back, Michael Trevino was definitely doing some of Joseph Morgan’s mannerisms in this scene. And for real, would Tyler tell her she had a “beautiful future?” He started coughing and doubling over in pain. She felt fine. You thought this was it, we were going to see him die. You braced yourself. Caroline wanted to stay with him, but he insisted she leave. He started turning into a werewolf to make her run.

Rebekah came back and hugged Elijah. They couldn’t understand why if Tyler died, the Salvatores and Caroline were still alive if Klaus really was the origin of their bloodline, which Rebekah confirmed was true. (So did Plec.) Cut to Tyler walking out, holding his shoulders like Morgan, to talk to Bonnie. She’d put Klaus in Tyler, and Trevino really turned it on here, tilting his head like Morgan when he talked. Klyler (is that what we’re going with?) told her the spirits would be pissed. She’s done caring. She’s doing what she wants for the people she cares about, witch ancestors and Original vampires be damned.

Rebekah called Stefan to tell him that Elena had spoken with Elijah, and she knew Matt and Elena were headed back into town. Stefan said Elijah told him he and Rebekah would be leaving now. Not exactly. Rebekah didn’t want to run anymore. As Matt and Elena fumbled with his phone in the truck (let that be a lesson, kids, don’t even pass your phone while driving), Rebekah positioned herself in the center of the road. Matt swerved to miss her — reflex, I guess, since it was unnecessary because she’s a vampire. The truck went flying off the bridge and into the water. Elena came to, in flashback. She was in the backseat of her parents’ car, and her father told her they’d be okay. But the water was rising. The way they dragged that entire car segment out — first intercutting it with Damon getting his ass kicked by Alaric, who wanted to punish Damon because it was their friendship that had made it difficult for Evilaric to come through — was perfect emotional cruelty!

Damon had his own flashback now: He was lying in the middle of the road, presumably to play dead and drain someone who’d stop to help him, when Elena came walking on the road alone. She was on her cell explaining that she couldn’t break up with Matt that night, but she’d do it. Damon jumped up and went to her — “Katherine?” Elena told him her name. Then, I assume because she looked like Katherine so he wasn’t going to kill her (at least immediately), he started a conversation. She told him it was creepy, him being out there by himself. But so was she, he noted. “It’s Mystic Falls. Nothing bad ever happens here,” she said. Ha! Then, she told him about her fight with her boyfriend, who had their futures mapped out. Because that’s what you do when you meet a mysterious stranger on a dark road. Elena said the problem was she didn’t know what she wanted. Damon said of course she does. She wants what everyone wants: “You want a love that consumes you. You want passion and adventure. And even a little danger.” She asked him what he wanted. Was that where he would have made his typical Damon smartass comment and bitten her? Luckily, her parents tooted. “I want you to get everything that you’re looking for. But right now, I want you to forget that this happened,” he answered, compelling her. “I can’t have people knowing that I’m in town yet. Goodnight, Elena.” And he sped off. SO HE HAD MET HER FIRST. Remembering that conversation, Damon rose to fight Alaric. I cheered.

In the water, Elena was having her own fight. We cut back and forth from the past, where Elena watched her father desperately trying to knock out his window and open the door, to present day, where Elena desperately tried to rouse Matt and break her window and open her door. Nina Dobrev gave a Shailene Woodley in The Descendents-level underwater performance as she yelled “Dad!” to get her father’s attention. She wanted him to stop so she could hold his hand. I sobbed. He shook his head no, and I wasn’t sure if that was him telling her they weren’t getting out or not to give up. She nodded, accepting their fate. She mouthed “I love you.” More tears. She coughed and let go of his hand. She was running out of air. Stefan swam into frame, and we saw how her father had motioned for him to save Elena in the backseat (and Stefan was shocked to see someone who looked like Katherine). We also saw how Elena was motioning for him to save Matt. With the door off, I’m not sure why Elena couldn’t try to swim out herself. I guess she just had no air left to try. She went lifeless and started floating. Such beautiful acting. Alaric started weakening in the fight against Damon, and Damon figured out what must be happening. Damon held Alaric in his arms and said “You are not dead, you are not dead” — of course, he meant Elena.

I didn’t believe it until Alaric showed up to say goodbye to Jeremy, as Jeremy was leaving Matt a frantic message asking why they weren’t back yet. Alaric was a ghost — that’s why he was able to get into the house and Jeremy was able to see him. He told Jeremy he’d always be there to look after him. Jeremy caught up.

We saw Elena on the coroner’s table, and Stefan standing above her with tears in her eyes. Okay, now it was real. I think this was when I started yelling, “What? WHAT? WHAT???” at my TV. Damon came storming in asking where Elena was, and Meredith stopped him. She told him she hadn’t wanted to scare Jeremy with how bad Elena’s condition was when they’d come to the hospital earlier. It wasn’t a concussion, she had bleeding on the brain. Meredith had “helped her” — by giving her vampire blood to save her. So she died with vampire blood in her. The camera went back on Elena. She awoke gasping for air. And this is when I kept repeating, “Holy [expletive] [expletive].”

We live in a world where Elena will be a vampire.

Personally, I’m psyched. Yes, it will be weird to see Elena drink blood, but it’s not like we actually see Caroline drinking blood in a tumbler like we do Damon. I think they can work around that, after the initial transition. They say who you were as a human is amplified as a vampire — so what will Elena Vamp be like? Will she want passion and adventure (Damon), or will she want someone who makes her feel like going on when she really doesn’t want to (Stefan)? You thought she wanted to make all the decisions before? Imagine now. I’m also excited to see Klaus try to pretend he’s Tyler long enough to get “You’re Alive!” sex. And truthfully, I like Michael Trevino more than Tyler, so this is like best of both worlds for me. Though I will miss Joseph Morgan’s vulnerable eyes, so let’s hope Alaric did extinguish those flames when he shut Klaus’ coffin on him. Stupid boy. They’ll all have to deal with the Council next season, now that the members know the truth about vampires being in town. That will be fun, too. The only thing I’m skeptical about is Bonnie. I feel like season 4 has to have juicy Bonnie stuff, or she needs to get gone. If the witch spirits are angry with her (and she gets sucked into more dark magic?), that could finally be an interesting story line for her.

Your turn.

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Best Starting Point: ''Growing Pains'' (401) — A lot changed in last season's lead-up. It's probably best not to miss this season opener, which shows…
The Vampire Diaries

Ian Somerhalder, Nina Dobrev, and Paul Wesley star in the CW’s romance-infused vampire soap opera.

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