Then I’ll Be the Bad Guy

Oh, I’mma get mine

Before Sunset is a sequel to the equally gorgeous Before Sunrise, a mid-90s talkie centered on a night-long interaction between two proto-hipsters in Vienna. It is the wrap-up, the exploration of lost potential, missed opportunities, and the lessons we learn from both. Episode 3×21’s version performs a similar taking of stock – has anyone really learned? Changed? In the face of all the plotting and loss and hooking up, has the Gang accomplished anything? As this cataclysmic year comes to a close, Better Late Than Never (pt 2 of 3) is a final exam on surviving Mystic Falls with head and heart intact:

Alaric: Fails by default because he died, though he couldn’t help the whole transition thing – the witches offered Bonnie’s neck on a platter.

Learned: That the show never lets us down when it comes to delivering a year-ending Bigger Bad. The question of “Who will supplant Klaus?” was answered brilliantly by creating an enemy from within (the group and Alaric himself). Esther’s avenging angel brutally exploited his former connections (see Elena’s entry for the nastiest bit) in his quest to take down vampire-kind, going so far as to out the Mayor and Sheriff’s hypocrisies to the Council. He’s so dangerous that his defeat isn’t even factored into everyone’s declaration that the episode is a “win” – Elena’s role as his lifeline renders him untouchable, and a good day is just one where he decides to leave them be.

Elena, our title provider, comes out about 50/50. She acknowledges her shortcomings…but isn’t quite ready to face the consequences of resolving them.

Learned: That hurt can come from inside too. Her fatherly figure’s transition was the most painful in a long year of undead parental drama; it took seasons’ worth of loss and confusion about Elena’s family and threw it back in her face.  “How many times have I told you not to trust vampires?!” Alaric, her former Watcher,screamed at her, now including himself in that number. “…Do you think your parents would be proud of you?” he sneers later, after calling her a child and giving a with-us-or-against-us-type admonishment about her choice of friends. Her indecision is causing similar distress, a fact she acknowledges to her pair of pseudo-lovers as they all try their hardest not to look directly at one another on her porch. “If I pick one, I lose the other…and I just can’t lose anyone else.” Lame and manipulative? Absolutely, but at least it’s the truth. Lost: The understanding that superhumans are cool in a crisis, so call some once in a while. I don’t care if the bad guy tells you to come without backup, at least leave a note for your two boyfriends, your brother, and your best friend the Bennett witch. Then maybe they won’t have to dodge debris until the bad guy calls to inform them of your whereabouts.

Klaus: I know he’s the ultimate enemy, ok? I know he should fail by default. That does not mean I didn’t get choked up when his heart stopped beating.

Learned: Being a good guy has perks. Not only does teaming up with the Gang mean he gets to play hero to Caroline (swooning does not make me a traitor) but he gets to out-Damon Damon while protecting “their” bloodline (nobody believes it, but whatevs) from the only monster scarier than he is. Lost: Loyalty goes both ways. Rebecca tries to call sibs-over-doppleganger-dibs at the top of the episode, but Klaus’ focus on ensuring the survival of his potential “backup” family comes back to bite hard when he abandons Operation End Alaric for his own two-punch plan: exsanguinating Elena kills Alaric and gets him his hybrid mix to-go. His sudden reversal (ok, reversion to normal) forces not only Tyler’s reveal of their broken bond but betrayal by his recent allies, who decide that pursuing their usual mission of ending his miserable existence is the more realistic goal today. He ends the episode even drier than he would’ve left Elena.

Bonnie and Jeremy: Pass with an asterisk. It’s weird that they spent half the episode together and never really talked.

Learned: “Grown-up” looks good on them. Baby Brick House is helping Elena paint over their loss in the middle of the night, taking this “man of the house” thing seriously even if his request for a vamp-free day was literally thrown back at him in the form of Klaus pseudo-bombing their house. Bonnie puts aside her difficulty with…everybody, from her mother to her ex-boyfriend to Damon, her friendly neighborhood nemesis, and corrals the Salvatores and Klaus for a joint venture (this time it’s not her fault it failed). Lost: Their ability to communicate? Her spell involves stopping his heart and there’s no “hey, remember that one time I brought you back from the dead? Let’s hope this ends better”? I know this is just my little shipper heart talking, but C’MON. There’s getting shafted, and then there’s this relationship. Significant glances are not enough, show.

Tyler and Caroline: Pass with flying colors, because they are so freakin cute

Learn: A power couple is only as awesome as the sum of its parts, and this episode found Tyler finally holding up his end, blowing the cover on his broken sire bond for the sake of Elena. Caroline’s early-episode meeting of the minds with Rebecca gives me hope for a world big enough for two fantastically bitchy blondes, and her end-of-ep victory party at Elena’s with the original group was beautiful, both in its simplicity and in reminding the audience that there was a time before the Salvatores. Lost: The gory torture scenes are one of the things that help TVD keep pace with True Blood, but usually we save the casual mutilation for Damon, who at least snarks through it. Please stop making Caroline cry. Those pencils kinda took us to a place.

Damon and Stefan: Oh, big pass. I couldn’t stop smiling whenever they were onscreen

Learn: A refresher in Things We Already Know and Love: Team Salvatore firing on all cylinders is the best work the writers of this show will ever produce. Stefan’s “return to sanity” as Damon so happily put it, also meant a return to his role as peacemaker between his brother and the rest of the world, and Damon was visibly relieved to have the freedom to sit back and smirk. They divided and conquered with ease, Damon backing up Bonnie with her mom (he really has grown!) and Stefan dealing with Klaus, ex-best friend and present Shipper on Deck (that’s two to Damon’s one for the scorekeepers at home). Watching Stefan watch Klaus die was a lovely piece of silent acting – we see the horror and a bit of heartache as he forces himself to see his tormentor’s imprisonment to the end – that was complemented by both brothers’ honesty in the porch scene. They know that Elena knows that they know this triangle has no truly happy ending, and their road trip to drop Klaus in the Atlantic (Once more with feeling! We WON!) underscores just how loathe they are to see the other cut to pieces on its sharp edges. Just because they fought for a century doesn’t mean they enjoyed it. Lost: Nothing yet, but Alaric’s still out there, and when are they ever really done with Klaus?

Despite all of the very real angst about family and friendship, “Before Sunset” was fun. All of my favorite television dramas, from The OC to The Wire, understood that good tragedy is made sweeter – and more poignant – by the presence of good comedy. Having a sense of humor makes you more human that any bus crash or budget crisis or murder plot ever will; those things are news stories that happen to other people. Rolling your eyes, laughing at your pain, making fun of the cosmic joke that is your own miserable life? That to me is the mark of humanity, because to laugh is to move on, if only a little bit. From top to bottom people’s sarcasm, eye rolls, and ridiculous poses couldn’t fail to make me laugh, and almost made me forget the finale. Like last year, part of me wishes Episode 21 was it.

Next week: Better Late Than Never, Pt. 3 of 3, “The Departed”. Mark Wahlberg is not responsible for what happens next.

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