So this is what the brilliant minds at TV Tropes like to call a “Wham Episode” – an hour so chock full of twists, turns, and generally crazy developments that our heads will be spinning til the New Year (or at least that’s what the writers and CW are hoping for). This show does midseason finales better than most, and this is by far my favorite since season one (you can’t beat Elena sleeping with Stefan, then flipping her car, then running away).
Before we dive in: Alaric and Jeremy were absent, and Katherine was…her awesomely tricky self.
Basically, there was A Plot To Kill Klaus. Location: The Homecoming Dance. Conspirators: Everyone. Or at least until the players involved remembered what show they were on and got hella suspicious of everybody else involved. Turns out that “working towards a common goal” isn’t quite as instinctive as “down and dirty betrayal” for vampires, and this plan counted on a bunch of them staying true to their word. The true game turned out to be how to stay a step ahead of the competition, even if they were on your side. Even if they were you.
Rebecca is knocked out of the running pretty early, after delivering a speech about dances and family that almost earned her a spot in the Blonde Vampire Hall of Fame of our hearts. Elena was similarly sympathetic, but then remembered that this was the girl who’s systematically stealing Caroline’s life and is still totally related to Klaus, who she’ll choose over Daddy any day. A well-timed necklace presentation allows for a sneak stake attack, and the title of this recap
Klaus is lured back from out West by the promise of a finally dead dad. The Head Hybrid gets the dance cancelled so he can throw Mikael a proper wake (“I’ve been planning my father’s funeral for a thousand years”), complete with a freshly-imported hybrid entourage ready to kill at the snap of a finger. He and dear old Dad have some fun with the rules of entry before he gets the drop on Mikael (more on that later), who is now a million little messy pieces. It’s good to be the Big Bad Wolf…for the moment.
Tyler is doing his best to serve two masters, but finding it impossible. He willingly helps with the dance, but is also the first to tell us his alternate party is a wake. Klaus is trying to mold him into his new wingman, and the beta hybrid does his best to maintain his identity in the face of his sire’s wishes. Matt is enlisted to move a vervained Caroline to safety (maybe Tyler’s been taking conversation-closing advice from Elena) before Tyler’s called upon to do something he’ll regret. This unfortunately is not enough to convince Caroline that he has any sort of actual agency (despite his hybrid status solving his transformation problem) and they end the episode unable to reconcile their places on opposing sides. (Note: why don’t they ever seem to include Caroline in these plans? She’s a heck of a lot more durable than Bonnie, and it shouldn’t hurt to have an extra set of fangs in a crisis…)
Bonnie, still recovering from the fallout of Ghost Day, just wants to lie low (did Tyler promise Matt to Rebecca before the two realized they could just take each other?). She over-aids Damon with a patented witch migraine – thus bringing an abrupt end to the hybrid-vampire fight we’ve been waiting for since Tyler’s bite nearly drove Damon back into the grave at the end of last season.
Damon, in an interestingly mature turn of events, is trying to plan for all eventualities. He helps navigate Stefan through the loopholes of his compulsion (he took Elena’s pillow talk to heart);gets Mikael to reveal the Super Stake (the only one cut from the Original ash tree); had Bonnie in place to put Tyler down; and possibly switches his favorite doppleganger for a more durable model (I can’t quite remember who orchestrated it, so we’ll give him that one). But the old adage about best-laid plans proves true, and he ends the night no closer to killing Klaus then before, and swallowing the bitter reality that the Stefan he knows is no more.
Elena is not nearly as involved as we initially expect, but that’s because her mission last night lay elsewhere. First, she and Bonnie succinctly addressed the weirdness everyone fears will creep in when a friend and a sibling break up (the ability to stay mad at family is a big through line of this episode). Her subsequent doubt in her ability to go Full Petrova frees her up to be Damon’s sounding board in the early stages of the plot, and ultimately his reassurance when things fall apart despite him. Her willingness to give Stefan up for good – and the awkward pause that admission elicits – pushes this non-couple further towards the line, but can they really function as a unit without a Stefan to save?
Finally, Stefan is in, then out, then in again then out again (but he was actually “in” the entire time). He’s initially only serving as the lure, though we later learn that he’s made a trade with Klaus: Mikael for restored free will. He’s wary of the conspiracy’s success, given the gang’s track record of “epic plot failures”, and even more averse to Damon’s selection of ties. His pre-dance run-in with Mikael seems to take him out of the game, but an emergency assist from Katherine allows him to be in place to…utterly derail the plan and allow Klaus to kill his father and live to snark another day. The seamless weaving of Katherine into this scenario – her being in place to hear that Klaus would take Stefan’s humanity (in the form of his brother) down with him if he went, was well-played, as was their subsequent discussion of that humanity on her way out of dodge. After a whole season of hearing about her love for Stefan, it was revealing to see it in action, especially considering what she’s leaving him to do.
And that task – totally flawless, perfectly aimed vengeance – at once sums up Stefan’s Ripper genius and our hope for his humanity: “I wonder Klaus, as someone who’s been one step ahead for a thousand years – did you see this coming?” The sharpest cruelty is our fears playing out on our enemies. Why else would he let Damon live this long but to make sure he never has to walk this world alone?