I fall for The Vampire Diaries' bait-and-switch every season.
In season two, Elijah threw coins through a coffee shop window, and I announced, to myself, "Here is the Big Bad of Season 2." The writers introduced Klaus later that season and he would go on to kill Aunt Jenna, which was the show's announcement of "Here's your Big Bad." Season three got a bit wacky. Plot threads split off into other threads that split into other threads. Stefan was brutally killing folk for awhile. Mama Original came out to play. Klaus seemed less of a Big Bad when his mom wanted to kill him until mama Original's plan failed. The Originals were collectively the Big Bads of season three. So then comes season four and the introduction of Connor, a vampire hunter who kicks so much ass that I wanted him to become TVD's Holtz. Connor wasn't long for the show. The less cool Shane rose to prominence. The signs were there that he was a bit player in the end, a fool fooled by the hallucinations of ghosts, just another one of the many characters to be used and discarded in the series. Of course a super-powered badass would rise to power as the third act of the fourth season nears its beginning. The ol' TVD bait-and-switch. Ah, I feel so foolish.
I don't know if every show should take as long to get going as The Vampire Diaries did this season, but oh my goodness the last two episodes have been awesome. These episodes tempered my fears that Julie Plec and her writers were running out of steam. They kept up a intense narrative pace for three years. Something had to give. Now the show is running on all cylinders. Every major character, except Matt, is involved in the story, integral and important to it. The classic surprise deaths feel like surprises again, specifically surprise Jeremy deaths. TVD killed Jeremy so many times that it resembled The Boy Who Cried Wolf. I'm still skeptical of the finality of Jeremy's death because he's been killed by one character or another more times than Damon uttered a quip. Regardless, the mere fact I wondered whether or not Jeremy had the ring on his finger suggests I'm more inclined to believe TVD went for broke to break the hearts of TVD fans across the globe. Big Bads don't rise to power without killing a major character during his or her ascension.
"Down the Rabbit Hole" is the best episode of the season since "Memorial." "A View to a Kill" was pretty great, too, but "A View to a Kill" suffers from its role as a transition episode, a set-up episode, etc, whereas "Down the Rabbit Hole" is all forward momentum. The cure won't cure all of vampirism; the cure will cure just one vampire. Rebekah snaps Stefan's neck to stop him from wasting the cure on Elena. Vaughn, Damon's new hunter friend, wants to cure Silas and then kill him. Once Elena learns about the cure's small size, she wants to go home and use it on Klaus. The revelation of the cure's limited use seemed inevitable since a story about vampires, without vampires, would be complicated. The one-and-done aspect of the cure inspires a terrific conversation between Elena and Stefan. The former couple shares another great conversation earlier in the episode. The conversations share a theme: Stefan's concern for love, as well as his consistent love for her. Stefan won't take the cure for himself. Elena asks for his friendship. The real progress comes from Elena's admission that her vampire self is her self now. The human Elena may not cope too well with what vampire Elena's done. She can't go back. She doesn't want the cure. Who does want the cure?
Katherine wants the cure. My favorite villainous vampire comes back in blistering fashion, knocking Elena out and tricking Jeremy into thinking she's Elena. Katherine opes Jeremy's veins to feed Silas. Silas thaws. Katherine takes the cure. Silas snaps Jeremy's neck. Vaughn the hunter already stabbed Bonnie, so Bonnie's dying on the rabbit hole floor. Rebekah's out of commission after Vaughn stopped her. Damon didn't do much during the episode except for threatening the new vampire hunter. Shane's above ground nursing a broken leg, feeling like a piece of crap until his deceased wife tells him that it's all okay, that every act he committed mattered. The visions of the dead are manipulations of Silas. An argument can be made that TVD borrowed the idea of The First from Buffy for Silas. Silas uses the dead to get what he wants the way The First used the dead to manipulate the Scooby Gang. Silas is the oldest evil. Rebekah called him an "ancient evil." The First were around before evil had a name. If the similarities are a coincidence or intentional, whatever it is, I hope TVD doesn't botch whatever they plan with Silas the way Buffy botched its final season with a horrible arc about The First. Ancient evils are dicey prospects in genre shows. I think the only fictional ancient evil entity I love is ANGEL's Wolfram & Hart. Sauron's cool and all but he's just a giant eye for ten hours.
Klaus cracks the crypt-text that blows the whole mission wide open out of love for Caroline. The B story is as close to a Valentines Day story TVD gets. Joseph Morgan cracks me up more and more each week. Klaus is a brutally violent character, but he had great moments in "Down the Rabbit Hole." Tyler has to flee town once the truth about the cure emerges. Caroline buys him time to run before Klaus catches and kills him. Meanwhile, Klaus tries to get Caroline to love him. The help he provided doesn't amount to anything. Caroline rejects him. Klaus walks away with an expression on his face similar to the one one makes after drinking Real Lemon juice. It's hard to love and be loved in this world, isn't it, Klaus?
TVD works amazingly well when its characters work together for a common goal. The series runs into problems when the story is scattered, but put them all together and it's one of the best shows on television, including cable. Episodes such as "Down the Rabbit Hole" are worth watching the entire series to get to. It feels like a reward sometimes when shows produce episodes that are just so awesome you're glad you never stopped watching (not that I considered that; I'm thinking more along the lines of early Treme, I suppose). I just hope TVD keeps the momentum going, keeps the awesome going.
-Bonnie and Jeremy's romance never worked for me. It felt like they were put together because the writers had nothing else for them, like the time Dawson's Creek put Pacey and Jen together briefly in season three before Pacey fell in love with Joey and Jen gave freshman Henry a chance. Their loaded scene of magic and earthquakes was totally flat as a result. That's a scene for Damon and Elena. It'd make the fan girls faint.
-Shane's arc will end in one way. Lackeys never get out of what they built alive. Knox brought Illyria back; Wesley shot and killed him. Since Damon's wanted to kill Shane for awhile, Damon's probably going to kill him. Mr. Friendly, aka Tom, from LOST, stole Walt from the boat, shot Sawyer, made his life hell for the duration of Sawyer's time in the cage, and Sawyer killed him in "Through The Looking Glass." Sawyer's last words to Tom are fantastic: "That's for taking the boy." I wonder what Damon will say to Shane.
-Jose Molina wrote the episode. Chris Grismer directed it.