I'm not going to lie - I am a huge Vampire Diaries devotee. But in the spirit of openness, I have decided to begin this recap by discussing the negative parts of this episode.
So, 'We All Go A Little Mad Sometimes'. That's a bit of a rubbish title, isn't it? A little over-long and unwieldy, despite its Psycho connection. And now I am out, because the rest of the instalment was thrilling from start to finish. Of course, not everyone is going to be happy about that ending - which was surely devastating whichever position you take (I'm mostly neutral, but it practically finished me off). But as a piece of television, The Vampire Diaries was, yet again, way better than it has any right to be.
Let's take it back to the beginning, though, for one of the most intense opening scenes the show's ever offered up. We knew from last week that Elena was suffering from hallucinations, but who knew just how dangerous those could be? Things are tense from the first moment, as The Vampire Diaries offers a masterclass in how to do horror well - plenty of heavy breathing, jumping at the microwave beeping and the sudden appearance of the guy you just killed (as a hallucination, obviously).
It's chilling in so many ways, but things reach another level of terrifying when Elena stabs Connor in the neck - only to realise that she's actually just killed her brother, who came to find out if she was okay when she called out for help. A show should not be allowed to have you gasping in shock two minutes in. It's not good for my constitution.
Of course, Jeremy survives this fratricide because of his handy little ring, but the tone is set by a stunning and terrifying opening. And in the first hint of what is to come, Elena turns not to Stefan but to Damon for help. Even Damon is surprised by this, hilariously offering horrendously unhelpful bon mots before adding: "You should have called Stefan"... and then revealing that actually, he called Stefan. As an aside, it's nice to see Damon and Stefan renewing their brotherly bond; they're a proper team in this episode, which is refreshing.
Not a team? Elena and Stefan - it's hard to remember a time when Elena was this hurt and angry with him. It's actually kind of upsetting to watch her completely rip him to shreds - "Don't make this about Damon," "Forgive me if I'm not in the mood to listen to you try to talk your way out of this." Ouch.
So, the stage is set magnificently, but The Vampire Diaries makes sure that it's following through on its promise. Elena's hallucinations continue apace - blood in the shower, say - but things are only going to get worse. Klaus, back from his trip to Italy, isn't too happy that Connor's dead, but he's even more worried that Elena killed him and shows up at her doorstep to warn Stefan about the "hunter curse". Incidentally, every villainous character should call people on the phone and then have the conversation: "Where are you?" "At her house." "How convenient, so am I." Perfectly malicious.
Elena ends up in Klaus's hands in another wonderfully judged sequence as Stefan refuses to hand her over but, in another horrifying hallucination, she ends up fleeing outside to escape Connor and Klaus whisks her away. Don't ever say he doesn't treat his hostages kindly - she ends up in a palatial room, though without any windows to prevent herself from burning in the sunlight. Still, Bonnie's absolute incredulity at the fact that Damon and Stefan have no idea where Elena is makes Bonnie worthwhile for once.
The Vampire Diaries continues to impress as we discover why exactly Klaus is keeping Elena safe; he knows that she will try to commit suicide because he had these hallucinations himself after killing a hunter. For more than 52 years ("the only period of my life when I actually felt time"). Again, seeing a vulnerable side of Klaus makes him much more entertaining as a villain, and Joseph Morgan absolutely kills this scene.
Elena's time in captivity is also thrilling, because it introduces the return of Katherine (as a hallucination, sure, but that doesn't make it any less stunning.) Nina Dobrev keeps knocking it out of the park as she embodies the two separate characters perfectly - to the extent that you forget that this is the same actress - and what's more, the scene has a point rather than just reintroducing Katherine for a collective fan-gasp.
Elena's already been haunted by Connor - and admitted that she loved the taste of his blood - and now Katherine is here as a reminder of how much she's changed. Katherine can strut and she can pout and she can be a heinous bitch, but how exactly is Elena different from her now? Of course, we know that Elena is different. We know that. But when Katherine questions if Stefan will always love Elena, it does give pause. "When Stefan knew the real me, he hated me," she torments Elena. "Now he's going to hate you too. Well, at least you still have Damon." I mean, Katherine is a proper meanie - no doubt about it - but she has a point, right?
While Elena's going slowly insane (well, quickly insane), Damon and Bonnie team up to find out more about the hunter curse from Professor Shane, who helpfully happens to be hosting an occult exhibition at the school (incidentally, April reveals that her father, the pastor, knew Shane - alarm bells ringing yet?). Anyway, Shane reveals that the hunter's curse is lifted only when a new hunter is activated by killing their first vampire. Enter Jeremy! Yes, it's insanely coincidental that Jeremy just happens to be a potential hunter, but when everything else is so good, it's easy to forgive. Plus, the possible consequences of this storyline are really quite compelling.
Elsewhere, Stefan looks for help in breaking out Elena. He turns to Caroline and Tyler, who have pretended to break up so that Klaus doesn't suspect Tyler and Hayley's freeing-hybrids plan (though when Caroline and Tyler engage in a bit of snogging, Hayley looks distinctly upset). But Hayley's been helping her friend Chris break free, so he can help them free Elena. While all this is going on, Caroline's at the Mystic Grill seducing Klaus - simply as a form of distraction, of course. Man, anyone would be distracted by the dress she's wearing.
Of course, the break-out attempt is a disaster; having been tormented further by Katherine, who tells Elena that she's responsible for all of her friends' misery (basically true, to be fair), Stefan comes to free her - but she believes he's Connor and stakes him in the stomach before running off.
Heartbreakingly, she ends up on Wickery Bridge, where her mother appears to tell her to end it all. This is possibly the most affecting of all the hallucinations, because of course Elena's mother is soft-spoken and apparently lovely to her... but essentially, she is telling her to commit suicide. And it works, because Elena throws her daylight ring into the river. Again, this is just mouth-open stuff, especially when Elena murmurs: "I'm a monster, and I deserve to die."
This is bad news for everyone, of course. Stefan resignedly sends Damon after Elena, knowing that she will respond better to him (oh God). Klaus is furious with Caroline for her deception, but when she tells him that they know a cure for the curse, he's along for the ride. He sacrifices his hybrid, Chris, who is staked by Stefan and then decapitated by Jeremy, determined to save his sister. This is just as shocking as the time Jeremy was forced to decapitate hybrid Tony last season, because it has huge consequences for his character (and it's just a gasp-worthy moment in itself).
Meanwhile, Damon has arrived on the bridge, and it's probably significant that while Elena staked Stefan, she knows immediately who Damon is. But the moment when he realises she has thrown away her daylight ring is horrifying - the panic in his face is palpable. He's determined to get her back inside, but it's only when Jeremy's killed Chris that she suddenly changes. It's too late, though, because the sun is coming up. Elena's screams of "Damon" are chilling, but she survives as he grabs her and jumps into the river with her.
So Elena has survived, but there will be consequences. Tyler, for example, is terrifyingly furious when he discovers that Klaus would only sacrifice Chris if Caroline agreed to a date with him. I have never seen Tyler so furious; it's horrifying when he throws a glass at the wall in fury, and Candice Accola portrays absolute terror with aplomb. Meanwhile, Shane urges Bonnie to come to him for help with her new hunter - I guess she and Damon weren't too subtle with their questions. And Matt impresses Damon with his concerns about the link between Shane and the pastor and the explosion.
But there are huger consequences for Damon, as Elena wakes up and thanks him for saving her... by taking his hand and staring into his eyes. But, as he did when he compelled her before, Damon takes the "very high and annoying road" - he explains why Stefan has been acting so strangely, and reveals the news of the cure.
That would normally be that, but this is The Vampire Diaries. So in an absolutely heart-ripping, tear-jerking horror of a final scene, Stefan explains his decision to send Damon after Elena instead of himself - because she trusts him even when she can't trust Stefan. "After everything we've been through, you can admit it," he tells her, clearly heartbroken.
Everything about this scene is just awful, in the best possible way. It's horrible to see Elena admit that she's "somehow darker" now, and that "something's changed" between her and Damon, because her feelings for him are magnified now. But things get even more upsetting when Stefan says he understood why Elena had feelings for Damon when he was being a Ripper - "I practically drove you to it" - but can't figure it out anymore. "I can't do this, Elena," he says. "Not any more."
As break-up scenes go, this is one of the best I've seen for a while; it makes sense, it's not caused by any great drama, and yet it's still absolutely tragic. Put aside everything about vampires - who hasn't been in a relationship which has ended because people have changed and grown apart? And so whichever romance you're rooting for - or if you're neutral - you can't help but find this incredibly poignant.
This, then, was a superb episode from start to finish - and I can't finish without mentioning the heartrending moments when it's clear that Damon is still grieving for Alaric, speaking to him at the school and still saving him a space at the Mystic Grill. There are so many potential avenues for The Vampire Diaries to explore now - the cruel one-week hiatus before the next instalment will just get us even more excited...
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