To Beat The Villain, You Have To Be The Better Villain

The aptly titled “Our Town” was one of those absolutely perfect episodes where the characters remember that they are friends, and the writers remember that they are writing for an ensemble. It was throwback TVD, where you think the episode is over but it’s only 8:30; where no character gets left behind; where events have consequences – and not all of them are bad.

Damon continues to “be the better man”

Last week’s kiss has left the elder Salvatore singing a new tune (in the shower, thanks Julie Plec!) that’s all about continuing a sanity streak that’s usually long over by now (Seriously, who ever thought he’d turn out to be the stable one? Well, maybe me, but more on that later). In the wake of reprogramming Jeremy, Damon’s back to bromancing with Alaric – and handing the Council – at Founder’s parties, two season-one era things we’ve all missed. Klaus’ presence at said party throws a welcome wrench in the “whisper-plot-repeat” proceedings as the Original Hybrid is bent on being seen as more than a menace to society, with donations to bridge remodels and Assauge Motherly Concern funds alike. Damon (demurring Mayor Lockwood’s obvious confusion over Klaus playing his usual role of Hot Young Founder with Money) continues to be go-between for Stefan, with a twist: he thinks Klaus should reconsider escalating violence. Though no less committed to seeing the OH go down (the meeting in the Witchy House makes that obvious), we see that he’s genuinely unsure about how far his brother’s going to take this coffin hijacking scheme.

One thing he’s totally committed to and certain of? His new non-couple status with Elena. Their end-of-the-day scene on The Porch –especially his assertion that “it is right, just not right now” – is proof that 1) Damon can be himself (proud of his brother’s villainy and willingness to turn the tables) and 2) last week wasn’t a fluke, for either side. He cares, she knows and accepts that. Whatever this is between them isn’t going away anytime soon.

Bonnie is not pleased with Elena’s decision to hijack Jeremy

Breaking up with someone does not mean you stop caring about them. Elena, the walking embodiment of this, knows Bonnie will want closure with Jeremy before he ships off to the Rockies for however long. What she doesn’t expect – but really should, c’mon Elena – is for Bonnie to advocate for Jeremy’s right to choose.  She goes so far as to arouse his suspicions about his own desire to leave, and can’t bear to sit through Caroline’s funeral knowing Elena won’t change her mind. I applaud Bonnie calling Elena on this – she’s never minded being the inconvenient minority opinion – but it’s her final act that reaffirms why the two of them are friends, and why she and Jeremy could never really work, attraction be damned. Instead of waking Jeremy up to the fact that he’s leaving under the influence, she lets him go. No matter how much they cared about each other, their relationship was always off-balance, with both trying to protect the other but only one having the power to do so, and that was never going to be a surmountable issue. Bonnie knows that, just as Elena knows that he’s an obvious chink in her armor, always available to be used against her. The two of them will always make decisions over his head, and until their enemy is something a little more mortal, their concern beats his freedom every time. So he goes.

Caroline’s immortality is beginning to hit her

Call it post-mortem depression, or the Susie Q Blues – either way, it’s Caroline’s first undead birthday, she can sulk if she wants to. Her amazing pre-school scene with Tyler only furthers her heartache, because he represented the freedom she thought death could bring, from all the lies and insecurities smothering her mortal life. But that was an illusion, because her freedom (to love, to become somebody’s whole world for once) was dependent on his imprisonment in a neverending nightmare of cyclical pain, waxing and waning with the movement of the moon. His release coming with sire strings means they’ll never have a chance to enjoy the fact that they are now on equally immortal footing – if it weren’t for Klaus they could balk the high-school stereotypes and actually be together forever. Tyler wants that – he crashes her funeral to tell her as much – but his sire-planted accidental attack proves that there is no going backward. That’s why the idea of the funeral works so well: here she is, surrounded by the friends that knew and loved her, putting herself to rest. The time to mourn her human life is over.

Stefan might be a little too good at this villain thing

Klaus’ hybrids are sniffing around the Witchy House, so Stefan wants them gone, this minute. If not, he’ll start dropping them. Damon cautions him against setting off another Sharks-and-Jets situation with Klaus, and Stefan invokes the title of this recap, which is only true if beating the villain is all you have left.

While Stefan’s machinations have lost friends and alienated people, Klaus’ presence is actually solving problems, like Tyler’s suffering and his mother’s concern for that suffering. It is no accident – or coincidence of mythology – that Klaus is the one to save Caroline on her birthday. He’s filling all the roles she’s missing in her life – father, mentor, boyfriend – by reassuring her that her state can be a blessing, not a curse.  The fact that he is indirectly responsible for her vampirism (he did make Katherine, in a way) and personally took away two of the three aforementioned men should shade this scene with a bit of irony, but the sincerity of it makes it more powerful. This season showed us that Klaus’ only mission is to ensure he doesn’t walk in this world alone. Everything he’d done – from taking Stefan to reviving Rebecca to creating an army of hybrids – has been in pursuit of that goal, and making time to counsel a baby vamp on the joys of her new existence is part of that.

This should be Stefan’s job, but he’s always been too focused on the downsides of being dead to do it properly. It’s an attitude that makes his current turn to the dark side even scarier – while Damon and Klaus have always been driven by chiefly human desires of love and acceptance, Stefan’s first taste of vampirism turned him into a ripper, and his whole existence since has been a cycle of embracing and rejecting that fact. He is more damaged than his brother, because he pretends at normality, so well that when the pretense is dropped the ones closest to him wonder if they ever knew him at all. Klaus gave Caroline a choice of life or death, while Stefan reneged on his promise to never take Elena’s choice away, and in doing so broke their relationship irreparably. Damon’s admission that he doesn’t think his brother is playing chicken – “so when he says blink, you blink” – makes me wonder about this year’s “real” villain. The first year we thought it was Damon, but it was Katherine; the next we thought it was Katherine, but it was Klaus; now we have Klaus, but what if the Big Bad is someone lurking inside someone we already know? What if it’s Stef(angelus)?

Elena’s “Not That Girl” anymore. And maybe that’s ok

Apart from arguing that messing with her brother’s motivations is best for him, Elena was doing her best to lay low this and “play it normal” this episode. She did pre-Stefan things like decorating Caroline’s locker, planning her birthday party, and even hanging out with their mutual amicable ex. But her new life, as usual, crashed her old one in the form of Stefan, and this time he turned her life upside down in all the wrong ways. In basic terms, Stefan pulls a Damon – pushing the Big Bad too close to the edge for comfort, disregarding Elena’s connections to the world around her, using her as a pawn – but the fact that he’s not Damon (and that Damon hasn’t been that way since he left) makes Elena completely effing lose it (Nina Dobrev hasn’t cried that hard since Bonnie “died’ last year). To nearly end her life at the place where he saved her – where they met, even if she wasn’t aware of it – is a total betrayal of their relationship, and she tells him as much. His assertion that their relationship was over as soon as he left with Klaus is sobering, but true in the sense that it set them on irrevocably different paths…with hers maybe leading towards his brother, who is kind enough to pick her up.

I’ve already gone over The Porch scene, but it’s essential to her conclusion scene in the episode, because it’s all about the choices Elena Gilbert is supposed to make. Damon, who has put himself and his guilt to rest, gets that, and leaves her alone, but it takes the words of another boy – kind, gracious Matt, who loved the girl she used to be – to eulogize her former self, at the place where it all changed. Elena Gilbert was dragged back to life by Stefan more than a year ago, but she hasn’t lived this second chance yet. Instead she’s dutifully memorialized her old sense of normalcy, paying lip service to rules and guidelines her world outgrew ages ago. She leaves “Our Town” finally unstuck, aware of the difference between forgetting and letting go, between living for memories and living for her. She chooses herself.

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