Mar 11
2017

goodbye, brother: my final vampire diaries recap

Shall we do this one last time?

For those of you who don’t know, I got my start in TV by writing “Vampire Diaries” recaps. I was working as an assistant in a job that I hated, and my roommate worked at the LA Times and mentioned that they needed someone to write weekly recaps of a new CW show. When I learned that Kevin Williamson, my all-time hero, was at the helm… I jumped at the opportunity. That evolved into a full-fledged career as a very serious and important television journalist, but no matter how many shows I covered, “The Vampire Diaries” always had my heart. I still don’t really know why, but Kevin and Julie Plec took me under their wing in an extraordinary way, and the cast let me tag along to drinks after wrap and made sure I got into the cool parties at Comic-Con. At the beginning, I felt like an impostor. Like I’d snuck into the cool kids’ secret clubhouse and any day now, someone was going to notice that I wasn’t supposed to be there — even more so when I joined “The Originals” as a writer. It took a while for me to realize that everyone felt a little bit like that, and we were all in it together. As “The Vampire Diaries” draws to a close, I don’t feel like an impostor anymore. I feel like a member of a big, sprawling family.

It’s been a magical ride. I’ve grown up with these people. I’ve become myself with these people.  We’ve watched sunrises after long nights and we’ve poured each other into Ubers and we’ve taken embarrassing polaroid pictures and we’ve kicked our shoes off at fancy parties and danced until we were sweaty. We’ve drawn treasure maps with Zach Roerig’s daughter Fiona and we’ve raced boats around Lake Lanier and we’ve been freezing cold and blazing hot and we’ve said things we shouldn’t have and we’ve forgiven and we’ve laughed about it later. We were all together at our favorite bar in Atlanta when Candice King texted to let us know her daughter Florence had finally arrived. We cried while we lit paper lanterns and sent them off into the sky together in memory of our friend Sarah Jones. It’s been really, truly epic, and to say that I’m grateful is an egregious understatement. The thing is, though, we don’t actually have to say goodbye. At the wrap party last month, I felt like I was about to lose something so massive. I didn’t go to bed until the sun came up because I so badly didn’t want the night to end. Then… I got back to Los Angeles, and that week celebrated Hillary Harley’s birthday with Lane Cheek and Nina Dobrev and then ate salmon with Phoebe Tonkin and then spent an hour on the WB lot talking about TV with Paul Wesley and then had a three hour sushi dinner with Julie Plec. The family and the friendships aren’t over, they endure.

What is over, however, is the story. Eight years ago, on a strangely foggy day in Mystic Falls, we watched Elena Gilbert write in her diary. Today will be different. It has to be. And we fell in love. “The Vampire Diaries” bowed tonight, with a masterful episode written by Julie and Kevin and directed by Julie. And what an epic ending to such a consuming, sprawling, artful story.

So, I thought that the best way to say goodbye to these characters and this world would be to return to my roots and, for the first time in four years, write one final moment-by-moment recap. My perspective has shifted a lot since I learned what really goes into writing and producing these episodes, so hopefully I’ll have some insight to share. Here it is.

9:01 — In Plec-world, it’s very rare that we do a true two-parter. Usually, things have settled enough by the end of one episode so that the characters can take a breath at the beginning of the next one. Because an immediate pickup like this doesn’t happen often on “The Vampire Diaries,” it makes it all the more powerful when it does. I love scenes like the one that opens this episode — the urgent, emergency room feel — and Caroline’s devastation brought into even sharper relief by the fact that she’s still wearing her wedding gown.

9:02 — Elena!! Okay, I’m going to say it: I had concerns about how this wig was going to work out (there’s a promo floating around where it was not awesome) but Nina looks beautiful and so Elena. She was in her Katherine “look” the days that I was hanging out on set for this, so I never really saw Elena, and it just… warms my heart. I never thought I’d miss her as much as I did. This scene breaks my heart. Over the last couple of seasons, Bonnie has become one of my absolute favorite female teen characters, and it hurts to see her ready to throw in the towel. I don’t know if the writers ever considered actually killing Bonnie to bring Elena back for the finale, but I’m profoundly glad that they didn’t. I do love that they so thoroughly explored her grief over Enzo (remember how she used to always end up grieving off-screen?)

“The Vampire Diaries” began as a show about grief, and that theme maintained throughout. Not to get too personal, but I lost an old friend last week, and I have been grieving more than I expected and differently from how I’ve grieved others in the past. Watching this episode is a little bit of a balm for my heart right now, because it’s so honest about how it feels to lose someone. Sometimes grief is just ugly and getting through a day is hard and getting out of bed is hard. Sometimes grief makes a strong woman feel weak, and that’s okay.

9:03 — Ah, I’m still so delighted by the fact that Vicki Donovan was brought back! I really loved learning about Matt’s family this season. I don’t know if the writers always planned to give the Maxwell/Donovan family a rich history, or if they just looked at their years of storytelling and saw that they’d accidentally left a hole to be filled — but it felt seamless and essential to delve into not only the Maxwell flashbacks, but also the more recent past, and see why that family was so broken. I know Matt isn’t everyone‘s favorite character, but he’s certainly one of mine, and I’m gonna miss the hell out of him.

Fun fact: Julie had a plan for an amazing crane shot of Vicki on the ground out in the Mystic Falls town square, but we got rained out on the very end of our last day of Mystic Falls filming and had to call it a night. Julie asked everyone to open their walkies so everyone could hear her and she made a lovely, teary goodbye speech to our sweet small town. It was so special to me to be able to be there that night — I literally got off the plane, dropped my stuff off at the hotel, and drove an hour and a half straight to Covington because I wanted to say goodbye to the town square. I have such special memories from days out in Covington — mostly involving sneaking over to scoops with resident sweet tooth Michael Trevino to buy chocolate covered pretzels — so I wanted to see it one last time. It was lovely, until the rain.

MATT! I love him. I love that he never recovered from losing his sister. No one on television tears up like Zach Roerig and I’m so here for it. Also — I want to give some props to Kayla Ewell for always playing Vicki Donovan with such nuance. We spent such a short time with her, but she feels so layered, and a lot of that is the writing, but a lot of it is Kayla. Kayla plays Vicki with such affection for her, no judgement. It makes her feel relatable even when she’s… well, furiously ringing a hell bell to turn the town into a bonfire.

9:05 — Ughhhhh they had to cut my favorite line in the episode from this scene. Julie already told Access Hollywood about it so I’ll share it here too — Caroline said, “I love you, Mr. Salvatore,” and Stefan said, “I love you too, Mrs. Forbes-Salvatore.” And Caroline was delighted that he knew she’d want to hyphenate — and then he said, “I know who I married.” It was so cute and it was a Hamilton reference and it said so much about them so simply and plainly and beautifully. I know why it had to go — try as you might, you simply can not fit 51 minutes into 42 minutes and 15 seconds — but it hurts my soul. There was also a shot of Caroline looking at Stefan as he walked away that just chilled me to the bone when I was watching them shoot it late night in Covington. This sort of creeping, insidious dread began with that look. I hope you’ll get the chance to see it on the DVD.

By the way — SHE’S STILL IN HER WEDDING DRESS. I wrote a wedding episode for “The Originals” and LET ME TELL YOU those dresses are logistical nightmares. From the design process (Phoebe and I made a pinterest board, and then later we literally lit the set and then looked at different kinds of lace under the lights) to the actual logistics of keeping a white dress pristine throughout several days of shooting — a nightmare for our costumer. And also, IT WAS COLD OUT THERE. We made Phoebe a warm cape to wear for the exterior scenes for “The Originals,” but obviously no one over at “The Vampire Diaries” loves Candice that much. (I’m kidding. Candice is the actual most loved human on earth.)

9:07 — KATHERINEEEEEEEEEE. Loved this reveal. (I also love that this episode didn’t get bogged down in logistics. 42 minutes and 15 seconds and not a single one of it was spent on expository bullshit. We have a tendency as writers to want to explain ourselves and make logical leaps and bounds, but in the end, I don’t care how Elena wakes up, I just want to see the emotional impact when she does. That’s something Julie has taught me that I have found so valuable.)

“For me to know and you to dot dot dot.” Such a good callback. I love how much Katherine loves Katherine. And that she clearly went to great lengths for this reveal moment — tonight at the finale party, Nina and I were laughing about the fact that only Katherine would wake up, steal Elena’s clothes, dress Elena in other clothes (which we imagine were the most standard boring Elena clothes that Katherine would have hated) — just to watch the Salvatore brothers squirm for a minute. SO funny, and so Katherine.

9:11 — Tiki’s Grandad! That’s a bit of an old-school fandom inside joke. I hope that the lovely woman who ran that Twitter got a smile out of it!

9:11 — Loved what Zach had to say about working with Joel Gretsch. Watching Zach become a wonderful father himself has been one of the great joys of working alongside this show.

9:12 — This episode was promoted very well. Because we know a death is coming, all of these scenes are so heightened — the argument between Caroline and Alaric feels like it has very real stakes because maybe Caroline will die. We understand why Alaric is being incredibly harsh, saying these words that just slice into her, because he’s desperate… even though I do kind of think he seems like a dick, throwing her mom’s death in her face. I have to admit, I struggled over the last few seasons as Alaric developed feelings for Caroline. I loved their little makeshift family that happened by accident, but I never could really get past the teacher-student thing… which is weird, because it’s been eons since he was their teacher and I don’t ever even remember seeing her in classroom scenes with him. Anyway, while the dynamic between them was never my favorite thing on the show, I actually like that I don’t like it, if that makes sense. Families are hard. People on the outside look in and call them wrong all the time. Theirs is a story I’ve never seen told before and that’s what makes it worth telling.

9:13 — loved that Julie and Kevin found a way to integrate the high school hallway set into this final episode. It’s been a while. The high school set is actually attached to the production offices — like, literally, one of those classroom doors leads to Joe Props’ office/treasure trove, and right behind the cafeteria is the office kitchen. Honestly, who hides a body in a high school boiler room?

9:18 — Is there anything better than Damon vs. Katherine banter? There isn’t. Nina and Ian never lost their on-screen magic. I love that these two characters just despise each other so deeply, but also seem to kind of… delight in their hatred.

“Damon won’t leave her to die alone.” To me, this is the emotional crux of this episode. Stefan, terrified to lose his brother, and Damon, terrified to lose his girl, round and round they go in that eternal triangle of love and misery. I know that viewers have soured on it at times over the years, but holy shit, do I love a love triangle. I always will.

9:20 — …why in the world would the tunnels be faster? She’s a vampire. Running in a straight line is fastest. (I don’t mean to be so tough on Alaric! I love him! I really do! BUT A STRAIGHT LINE IS DEFINITELY FASTER THAN A DARK WINDING TUNNEL.)

“Family first.” So painful. It’s funny, because we always say that “The Vampire Diaries” is a romance while “The Originals” is a family drama, but over the years, “TVD” became a family show, too. And the choice Stefan makes here is a very clear one. It’s hard on my heart, as a die-hard Steroline shipper since Season 2, but… in his mind, she isn’t his family. Maybe she would become his family, with another hundred years of turmoil and love and tragedy and joy — but she isn’t yet. I don’t like that but I understand it but I don’t like it.

The actors on this show cry better than anyone else on the face of the planet. Candice is magic.

9:24 — This Alaric/Bonnie scene reminds me so much of the “1.21 jigowatts!” scene in “Back to the Future.” Which is my all-time favorite movie.

I’m so glad that Bonnie gets to save the day in this final episode. By nature of the storytelling, there were a lot of times over the years when she had to try and fail — and while I understood the reasoning from a writing standpoint, I never loved that we were supposed to believe she was this ultra-powerful Bennett witch when something always seemed to go wrong. Saving the town is a really lovely final hero moment for her.

9:28 — Oh. That’s why the tunnels are faster. I stand corrected.

I can’t believe we’re at the end of Act Four and Elena isn’t awake yet. GET OUT OF HERE, KATHERINE, WE NEED THE OTHER NINA DOBREV NOW.

9:34 — This scene, with Damon and Stefan arguing over their redemption and Damon ultimately compelling Stefan to leave, was the final scene that I ever watched on “The Vampire Diaries” set. Nina didn’t have to be in the shot because Katherine was on the ground, so she sat at video village with us, and we watched the boys say their incredibly poignant goodbyes. There were so many people on set for the last few days that they had to set up three video villages. (Village is basically where the monitors are that show you what’s happening. Usually there are chairs for the director, DP, script supervisor, and writer, and then chairs for executive producers like Pascal Verschooris. Five, six chairs at the most. But so many people — like me — returned in that final week, and so many visitors came to say their goodbyes, they had to set up monitors all over the place so everyone could get their fill. I wept, watching Ian and Paul perform this scene. They’re so talented and really delivered up until the very last moment. And holy shit, that single-perfect-tear moment. Nailed. It.

There’s a compulsion question/inconsistency here. On “The Originals,” we always thought that when a normal vampire died, it doesn’t break the compulsion — otherwise, there would be a whole lot of un-compelled people who suddenly know what vampires are (like what happened when Stefan became human) and thus, chaos would ensue. When an Original dies or is daggered though, we know that does break their compulsion on other vampires. Humans too? I’m not sure. Anyway, it’s obviously something so small that totally doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but it just goes to show you how complicated our mythology is. We’ve got two competing ideas on different shows… and we share a kitchen, so it’s not like we’re working miles and miles apart. ANYWAY, all of this to say, like I said before — emotion should trump logic. So for the moment when Stefan is “uncompelled” later — and the viewer “realizes” Damon has “died” — I understand this beat.

9:38 — What an incredibly powerful, important image to see Bonnie Bennett standing there with the women in her family, fighting alongside them until the bitter end. I’m the first to admit that “TVD” and “The Originals” could have done much better when it comes to our portrayals of women of color, but as writers we’ve all recently made commitments to each other to educate ourselves and be more aware and move forward and do better. The show could have and probably should have spent a bit of time exploring the Bennett family’s history with slavery in the south, particularly given the mythology’s ties to the Civil War. It’s impossible to forget that when you’re looking at this image, of a family of women fighting despite it all to protect a town that never really protected them. There’s a whole other show that could have been written about the Bennett women and I would watch it and watch it and watch it.

In short: Fuck yeah, Bonnie Bennett.

9:46 — And here we are, at Act Six. This is the part where I started sobbing when I read the script, and sobbing when I watched the episode with the cast and writers for the first time at Kevin’s house tonight. These final moments are so beautifully crafted, so carefully woven, and so. very. TVD. Of course there’s a twist ending. Of course someone had a trick up their sleeve. And somehow, even with the plot reveal… we only feel the emotion of this moment, not the logistics or the mechanics.

Stefan and Elena’s relationship was absolutely beautiful while it lasted. I’ll never forget the way it took my breath away when he tried to hide his face from her, filled with shame, and she demanded — don’t hide from me — and didn’t love him any less for what she saw. Their leap to the top of the ferris wheel, the daylight ring he gave her in her darkest moment. Even their breakups were so full of love. This moment in the high school hallway is all of those moments. I think it’s a beautiful gift to the Stelena fans — such simple words and still so much said. It’s good to see you again, one last time.

9:50 — “I was feeling epic.” Lexi was such a fucking force on this show and she was only technically alive for one episode. The absolute relief I felt seeing her — this promise of something other than darkness for Stefan — was pretty spectacular. To be honest, this was my favorite moment of the episode. He deserved that joy. We deserved that joy.

9:51 — The moment when Elena wakes up with Bonnie is so great. “I think I’ve finally figured this witch thing out” reminded me of the moment with the feathers from Season 1 — and then both girls’ joy being abruptly shuttered by the realization that their little family isn’t going to be whole again.

9:52 — Selfishly, I really like this Caroline/Damon scene — the two people who loved Stefan most, mourning him together. The tiny details of this episode, like the tombstone inscription, are so perfect. Anyway, like I said, I’ve been feeling some grief of my own lately, and I found the company of old friends who understand it, who miss him too, to be incredibly soothing, and this scene does a great job of that. With that said, I still take issue with the way Damon’s Season 1 treatment of Caroline was kind of glossed over. I don’t actually believe that he raped her (though I know some fans believe that he did and I understand that perspective) but he definitely violated her and stripped her of agency, so I’m not like… yay, they’re friends! I think I’d feel better about it had the show addressed their history more and then slowly built trust between them. Again — I love “The Vampire Diaries” and “The Originals” with all of my heart and all of my soul, but I don’t think they’re perfect. I think we all have work to do, now more than ever, and I think we’re gonna do that work.

9:54 — One last funeral feels about right for this show. This is really beautiful. This song is called “Hold On,” by Chord Overstreet. He’s one of Nina’s best friends, and when Nina was giving Julie a ride home from work during finale filming, she played the song for her. The rest was history. I think the lyrics come back, I still need you are so beautiful and vulnerable and plain. They hit so close to home for me and sent me into a whole new level of spiral, which was really fun tonight because all of my friends got to watch me openly weep in public! Awesome and totally not embarrassing at all.

9:55 — MATT. He got a bench! Remember the best Matt moment ever? “Mr. Donovan, maybe you can take this opportunity to overcome your embedded jock stereotype.” “That’s okay, Mr. Tanner. I’m cool with it.” I’m really gonna miss him, okay!?

9:55 —Enzo was such a great addition to the show, and Michael Malarkey is a gem. You know, you think your family is all full up, and then someone shows up and fits right in. Literally everyone likes Malarkey. His whole family is awesome, he brings us all together for concerts, he writes incredible songs, he’s hilarious, he can stay up all night drinking with the best (worst) of us — it feels like he’s been here always. I will always be so awed by the epic romance that the writers managed to pack into a few short scenes with him and Bonnie. He was what she deserved all along, and I’m obsessed with that story.

9:56 — SALVATORE BOARDING SCHOOL FOR THE YOUNG AND GIFTED. You know, this show started off being about kids (old af kids, but kids) with terrible secrets. Hiding their faces, hiding their truths. There’s something wonderful to me about it ending with a school that gives supernatural kids an opportunity to live openly and honestly. There’s a very poignant metaphor in that and I appreciate it immensely.

Fun fact: I wrote the letter that Klaus sent to Caroline. Kind of. My version was too long to fit on the page, so Julie did a slice & dice. I probably overdid it.  It was so nice to, after all this time, get to leave a little mark on the show that left such an indelible mark on me. (It’s funny — I have never actually worked on “The Vampire Diaries.” There are people on the crew who think that I did… or still do. But I never actually did, until I wrote this little letter.)

Also… three million dollars, Klaus!?! Three million dollars and there isn’t even a TV in your house.

8:57 — For me, Damon and Elena ending up together has been written in the stars since Nina left the show, so of course, I wasn’t surprised by that romantic “endgame.” He stayed faithful and devoted, and she slipped into her coma still in love with him, so of course, with only one episode to wrap things up, that’s where they were going to be. The fact that their happiness came at such a devastating cost is part of the fabric of this show. Joy and grief can not exist outside one another; they are eternally intertwined. (By the way, they’re married! She has rings! I love it!!!!!!!!)

That ending still blows me away every time that I think about it. Kevin has discussed the fact that he was mired in his own grief over a lost loved one when “The Vampire Diaries” crossed his desk, and that in writing about death and grief he found some solace. I think that the show that began about grief ended up being about memories. When a loss is new, it aches so sharply, and feels so fucking awful, and the memories you have of that person can feel like fresh wounds every time they appear in your mind. But eventually, those memories don’t hurt, eventually you find a way to smile through them. They make you stronger, they buoy you at the strangest of moments. The ghosts you carry around evolve and grow heavier or lighter depending on your circumstance. Getting to see Elena and Damon reunited with the families they’d lost was something I didn’t know that I needed. That final beat of the brothers together was so essential and perfect. Peace, and redemption, and a return home.

I could gush for another thousand words, but I’ll save that for another day. Thank you for reading, thank you for joining me on this ridiculous journey, and thank you for indulging my love for a little show that changed my entire life. I’ll be grateful always.

Comments

  1. I am so glad you wrote this for us! I have missed your recaps! Thank you!

  2. I’ve been sitting here trying to find the right words to express how wonderfully full-circle this feels. I’ve been reading your reviews from the beginning of TVD. I’ve followed you these past 8+ years, watch you evolve, much like our beloved characters, into this amazing force of nature. I’ve always found your writing refreshing, honest, and real. Speaking with my husband about female role models, you came to mind (Not just for myself, but someone my daughter could one day admire). I’ve admired how fiercely you feel about injustices and making things right (even when it seems like things are incredibly dark), your loyalty to family and friends, and holding true to yourself. Thank you. I do hope that one day, you get to be someone’s Julie & Kevin.

  3. Just wanted to point out that Stefan says to Caroline in the proposal scene in 8×02, “You are my family now.” I guess saying it doesn’t necessarily make it true, but let my poor battered heart have this one.

  4. Kerri Guillette says:

    Thanks Carina,
    This was beautiful

  5. ❤️ Such a wonderful ‘epitaph’ to an incredible show. It’s amazing how something can get into our bones like this show did to me…so many correlations to life, and the finale did have a soothing balm as you said but will be greatly missed!

  6. Sofia Fuentes Grape says:

    Thank you for this Carina, I needed it. It’s been a hell of a ride. Please send love and gratitude to all of them when you see them, ok?

  7. Tara Braceros says:

    This is absolutely beautiful. Thank you for being able to put into words what all of us fans have felt over the past 8 years.

  8. Reading this brought me to tears all over again. Although I wish Stefan and Caroline had gotten the happy ending they deserve, it makes sense that he was the one to make the ultimate sacrifice. I was sad that they didn’t get to see each other in the afterlife or had a scene with him watching over her. But I’m glad Lexi was there.
    Also, the cut scene you are talking about with Caroline being thrilled about him knowing what she’d like to change her name to, sounds perfect. I really hope we do get to see it!
    Anyway, thanks for being with us throughout all these years. Keep it going, you rock, Carina!

  9. Trinijax says:

    You were always my favourite TVD recapper and I hadn’t appreciated how much I missed those recaps until I read this one. Thank you for the memories Carina. I’ve followed your progress over the years and seen you change and grow. Keep writing. The world needs female voices that don’t fit the cookie cutter mold.