One of my favorite things about TVD is its excessive sentimentality.
(Followed closely by its devotion to selfish actions—I’m lookin’ at you, Elena!)
I love TVD’s never-ending grief, emotional roller-coasters, and absurd reactions (with far-reaching consequences) to personal issues. I mean, the series begins with Elena, who is depressed after her parents die in a car wreck and she survives … and the deaths never stop coming after that.
One site I saw tallied over 50 deaths for main or minor characters (excluding extras) over six seasons. GoT thinks they’re all badass, but the CW kills its characters, too! And these characters have a greater tendency to return.
First things first.
I confess that the show had a difficult task. Removing a lead character is never easy, but I think that there were an unfortunate number of things this episode that felt discordant with what we know of the TVD world. Yes, I understand that I sound ridiculous. Stick with me.
A Brief History of Grief on TVD
One of the first posts I considered doing on this website was a round-up of the deaths (or magically-induced prolonged absences) that were, in my opinion, the best—as in, most potentially heart-breaking and/or most effusive portrayals of grief that, in turn, were most likely to produce an excess of emotion in me. With the right music, the right words, and the potential for a montage or something, there’s a better than average chance I’ll dissolve. But certain scenes stand out, years later. I remember some truly tear-inducing episodes revolving around one of Alaric’s deaths, and one of Bonnie’s deaths/disappearances, as well as one of Jeremy’s deaths. It’s worth noting that these three characters are all currently alive and well. Anyways, I never finished that post in part because there have been so many deaths. Despite the difficulties, I am here to right that wrong. Because, tbh, when thinking about Elena’s exit, I can’t help but compare it to other well-known TVD scenes. Quick, let’s review some of the best scenes (often elevated with the right song) that are marked by copious amounts of denial, tearful goodbyes, pleading, and inconsolable sobbing. My Top 10 are as follows:
Bonnie’s Gram’s Death in season 1, episode 14. This was early on, but I was still touched. And nice/interesting song choice—”Run” by Leona Lewis. Here we have the first instance of a character trying to reverse a death! Indeed, Bonnie instantly goes for her grimoire in the hope that she might be able to “fix this.” Classic Bonnie! Classic TVD! Start at 1:06 for the breakdown.
The funeral for Uncle (aka Elenas bio dad) John and Jenna (rough year) in season 2, episode 21. Here’s a classic TVD use of Birdy (“Skinny Love”) with a voice-over letter being read while we watch pretty people place pretty flowers in a pretty cemetery plot. (Start at 1:35)
How about season 3, episode 13, when Caroline begs her dad not to die, but to complete his transition into a vampire so as to stay with her?! …tears! (Set to “With Wings” by Amy Stroup and then “Hate & Love” by Jack Savoretti) Start at 2:04! You get a touching speech and a child’s begging her parent not to leave. Two thumbs up.
In season 3, episode 20 Alaric says goodbye to Elena and Jeremy (while The Fray’s “Be Still” plays). Start at 1:03. The fray is always ready for a nice potentially weepy montage or scene.
In season 3, episode 22, we’re graced with Alaric’s actual (if accidental) death and Elena’s human-death! Double whammy!
It’s not until season 4, episode 2, that we have the actual memorial for Alaric—and, keeping with The Fray trend, we have their “Ungodly Hour” playing in the background. This was followed closely by a classic drunken-talking-to-a-ghost goodbye between besties Alaric and Damon. It’s memorable and alcohol played a role. Where was the alcohol for Elena’s goodbye?! People should always be drinking their emotions
Lawd. Who can forget Elena’s EPIC meltdown when she finally realizes Jeremy is dead after being in hardcore denial despite having his rotting corpse upstairs. Elena does manic grief so well.
Bonnie’s Memorial in Season 5, episode 4 with good ol’ Birdy again (“Without a Word”) in the background was great. I thought this one was especially effective because she was there (though on the “other side” and invisible) and communicating through Jeremy to her friends. Extra points for ghostly words of wisdom! Again, perhaps Elena’s farewell scenes would have been more watery if everyone was together when saying goodbye, rather than having private moments in never-never-land. No matter what, I want real sobbing.
Another favorite of mine from season 5, episode 22 features Elena’s over-the-top grieving as Damon says goodbye to her (though she can’t hear it) while she sobs and breaks down. She just learned he and Bonnie are stuck on the other side as the other side is about to disappear. Dra. Ma.
It is wonderfully emotive. Start at 1.35 for peak desperation and another round of “don’t leave me”.
Everything to do with Sheriff Forbes’ death! In Season 6, episode 14, we get one scene where Caroline is running to the hospital and, in her view, “is too late” to say good bye. Then, through their vampiric-ability-to-do-a-whole-subconscious-communication-shared-memory thing, they try to get us to cry again.
Meanwhile, Damon gives a eulogy, again all dedicated to Caroline, which was rather sweet. (Start at 1.24!)
Sure, at this point it seems like everyone is pretty much accepting of Sheriff Forbes’ death. But, lest you forget, this is after Caroline goes a bit off her rocker convinced that she can cure cancer by turning her mom into a vampire and betor she turns off her humanity. So, death is never accepted as par for the course.
So, let’s review the various reactions we’ve had to major characters departures:
- Turning off your humanity (Elena and Caroline)
- Turning someone who is dying a human-death into a vampire (umm… literally everyone on the show)
- Begging ancestors to bring back someone who was killed by mundane causes (the first time Bonnie brings Jeremy back from death)
- Using vampire blood to save someone (24/7)
- Using a magic ring that brings someone back (24/7)
- Performing a dark ritual that results in you sacrificing yourself to bring someone back (the second time Bonnie brings Jeremy back from death)
- Burning a house down (Lisa left eye Lopez from TLC… and elena)
- Making deals with various villains or Originals, like Klaus
- Doing some Traveler magic to hop bodies
- … other stuff ?
So, after those Top 10 death/memorial/good-bye scenes, what have we learned?
This is a show that has played fast and loose with the entire concept of life and death and the power of magic; even more than daytime soaps, a character is never truly gone.
But, BUT, despite the show’s often cavalier approach to a character’s alive, dead, or undead state—and the flexibility of moving between these three states—the actual characters on the show have never treated death as a fact of life.
Not once. Accepting one of their friends or family members was gone from their immediate lives was rarely a plausible reaction in their world. Even when it seemed ridiculous to us, after this many seasons, it has come to feel integral to the show.
So why was the crying in this episode so contained/restrained albeit lovely?? Enough with the single tears! Embrace your ugly-crying-face!!! Go Carrie Mathison/Claire Danes up on here!
Many of the conflicts on the show, the issues that have propelled the story lines, rested on an oft berserk level of grief and denial.
The constant life/death changes contribute to why Bonnie and other witches were always sacrificing themselves! Because 7 times out of 10 they can alter the course of events and bring someone back! Yayz!
Granted, they almost always shouldn’t because it will cause myriad other problems, unforeseen magical consequences, and create new vendettas, but, hey, that’s just the world in which they live! Keyword: live.
That being said, the show must go on. They have to find a reasonable solution as to why Elena cannot return—and they have to do that within a world where everybody is always returning. That couldn’t have been easy. I was prepared for something wonky. And I’m grateful they didn’t simply send her away to live a happy life outside of Mystic Falls like they did with Jer and will do with Tyler.
But. But. But. I think they could have set the stage and made the stakes a bit clearer before calmly accepting that Elena is taking an extended vacation for—as they tell us with suspicious frequency—sixty or seventy years (I’ll get to that laughable life expectancy issue later).
Also, at least one character should have argued, even if in relative privacy, that they should seek another solution or even kill Bon. Sorry, BonBon. I don’t even mind your character, despite your occasionally priggish attitudes. (I’m not sure that’s a fair assessment, or what I really mean by that, but it felt right.)
In fact, I like Bonnie more for (finally!) not being willing to sacrifice herself for the thousandth time to save someone else. Enough with the Joan of Arc game! It’s rather tiring. So a normal, selfish, wanting-to-live Bonnie—now, that’s a Bonnie I could grow to love!
But, c’mon, while there was that brief “will he or won’t he” moment with Damon and Bonnie, everyone just seemed to tacitly accept that Elena should stay in a coma… for… awhile?
I think part of the problem for me is that the music in this episode really let me down. Other memorial-type scenes in the past six seasons were much more memorable, as I tried to demonstrate above. And, love it or hate it, but a Birdy song is a pretty good cue to cry. Or the Fray (there’s a reason Grey’s often used The Fray). They do good TV-emo. It’s a Pavlovian response by now.
PLUS, in other absurd news, they’re all acting like the life expectancy in Mystic Falls is actually 80 or 90 years old. I mean… ARE YOU KIDDING ME? … I honestly couldn’t even watch that with a straight face.
Much of the dramatic tension comes from the fact that people are either dying young or living forever!?!?! Plus, with Bonnie’s track record, I highly doubt she’ll live that long anyways! Now, following this line of reasoning, perhaps an assumption of the inevitability of Bonnie’s death and thus Elenas return could contribute to the other characters resigned acceptance to Elena’s coma? Maybe they’re like, meh, Bonnie’ll probably die (again) sooner or later, so whatevs. NBD. Not going to threaten murder, not going to beg someone more powerful to help, not going to sacrifice myself or someone else. Just going to say toodle-loo and catch ya on the flip side!
But, while there is obvious talk among the immortals (stefan, Damon, Caroline) about seeing her again, etc., the show just didn’t adequately convince me of the situation one way or another. Do we really grieve for her?
We, as the audience, must because we know that the actor is gone. Right? But how can we interpret her character’s friends’ reactions? Supposedly the mortals; at this point, that would be Bonnie, maybe Jer—but I can’t remember if he’s still a hunter or if that’s a supernatural category—Alaric, and Matt. These folks might be dead and they might never see each other again! Therefore, it’s like a real death (if we work with the assumption that Bonnie will live to be 93 or something).
But, still, it’s not a real death, so, presumably, there will be an awkward moving-on (or not) phase?
At one point, Elena tells Damon that he has to live his life, enjoy yhings, blahblah. But, like, honey, when Damon and Bonnie were MIA you had an original vampire COMPEL EVERY REASON THAT YOU LOVED DAMIAN AND EVERY POSITIVE MEMORY AWAY. FOREVER. That was your reaction, Elena! I mean, why wouldn’t Damian do the same?!
And. I hesitate to even write about this for fear that speaking of it will bring it about… but if they even try to set up a relationship between Bonnie and Damian that is anything but fraternal, I will die. I was slightly worried earlier in the season when there was a weird Bonnie-jumps-into-Damon’s-arms-and-mounts-him-while-hugging-moment, but I let it pass. I’m tots cool with some bff action!! I think that’s great! But the way Bonnie was gazing at Damon with hero-worship as he carried her out from the wreckage that was TVDs-answer-to-the-Red-Wedding, well, let’s just say that I am concerned. I know a show needs sexual tension, and a CW show needs to constantly manufacture new sexual tension, and/or recycle old sexual tension, but, pleaaaaaassee, powers-that-be, please don’t force Bonnie and Damian together.
Maybe they could convince me because I am an easy target and will watch anything, but I will hate myself a little bit if I continue to watch next season and Damon moves on from Elena. He can have meaningless (but never truly passionate) sex. He can have friendships. He can continue to be loyal to his family members. He can love them! But otherwise he should cultivate an (even greater) air of eccentricity and aloofness, waiting for Elena.
I know Damon’s character has evolved, but, he did begin the show by waiting for Katherine for decades—and, while we all know how that turned out—I think Elena deserves equal dedication. He simply can’t have evolved enough to only grieve for a healthy amount of time before picking up the pieces of his life and starting over with someone else; or can he?
I, for one, prefer to think that the Salvatore brothers never forget and never move on.
I just hope the creators feel the same loyalty.