Vampires may live forever, but TV shows don’t, and tonight the coffin closed on THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, the pre-superhero champion of the then-fledgling CW network when it debuted 8 years ago. In truth, the close of business was a season or two past due: not only were the ratings way down from their peak, but even though the series was a legitimate ensemble, it never seemed to fully recover its mojo after Nina Dobrev (both heroine and villainess as Elena Gilbert and her doppelganger Katherine Parker) departed. The last seasons have bogged down with storylines involving evil mothers, witch-vampire hybrids, sirens (who were basically more witches), and even the devil himself, who proved surprisingly easy to get rid of once he appeared. Despite the return of series creators Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec for the final season, the tone was oddly off too, heavy on savage violence and light on romance and wit.
Tonight’s finale, written by Williamson and Plec and directed by Plec, was more of a return to form, although some of it was strangely sloppy, perhaps because it had too much plot to cram into a broadcast-network 42-minute hour. It was crazy, for example, that even though the show literally had years to plan out the return of Elena from the spell that was supposed to leave her dead-ish until her best friend witch Bonnie (Kat Graham) perished–a careful piece of plotting designed to allow Dobrev to come back for the finale–the explanation of how Bonnie had awakened Elena without herself dying was thrown away in a vague line of dialogue. It was also more than a little odd that when the finale reached an epilogue depicting the afterlife of all the characters who’d survived the main action and presumably lived on for decades, Elena’s version of heaven didn’t have her with her great love Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder), but with her long-dead relatives.
The first three-quarters of the finale were devoted to saving Mystic Falls from what was supposed to be its greatest threat yet, although since the town was in perpetual danger, the summoning of hellfire wasn’t perhaps as intense as intended. Bonnie, who had spent the entire season believing she’d lost her powers, conveniently realized that like Dorothy’s ability to return to Kansas in The Wizard of Oz, she’d had the power to stop the threat (and raise Elena) inside her the whole time, pushing back the CG hellfire with a ghostly chorus of all her dead witch relatives. The main point of the hellfire was to provide stakes high enough for the episode’s big sacrifice, and after a fair amount of “I’m going to die to save everyone/No, I’m going to die to save everyone” nobility between Damon and his brother Stefan (Paul Wesley), it was Stefan who took the bullet for the team, making his newlywed wife Caroline (Candice King) an instant widow and by the way injecting Damon with his vampire cure-laden blood so that Damon could live as a human.
Again, the episode was so rushed that one barely had time to miss Stefan when just minutes after his tragic end, we were in the epilogue part of the story and there Stefan was, chatting with Elena and passing on a message for Caroline about his undying love, having a fine time in heaven with old pal Lexi (Arielle Kebbel) and his red hot rod, and then (Lexi apparently gone to another neighborhood of heaven), reunited with now-dead Damon. Damon died after a happy life with Elena (a doctor!); Matt–who managed to survive the entire series without supernatural powers–considered running for Mayor; Bonnie apparently went on an extended vacation accompanied by the spirit of her own true love Enzo (Michael Malarkey); and there were more finale cameos from long-gone supporting cameos since the final sequence of Lost. The most interesting epilogue bit was something that certainly appeared to be setting the groundwork for a reboot of The Originals, if not a new spinoff, as Caroline opened an X-Men-type school for magic children with co-parent Alaric (Matt Davis) and a very generous contribution from none other than Klaus Mikaelson (by way of a letter; Joseph Morgan didn’t appear).
The Vampire Diaries finale wasn’t the most polished, but it ended things on a satisfying note. It was good to see Dobrev again, especially when she was inhabiting Katherine, and every major character got at least a moment of goodbye. The result was fitting for a series that was never taken very seriously by TV pundits, but which could be enormously entertaining and imaginative at its best. With the end of Twilight, True Blood and now The Vampire Diaries, bloodsuckers’ moment in the pop culture spotlight seems to have ended for now. But the superheroes shouldn’t be too smug–they’re probably next.