Ah, now I get how they'll tell fun stories about prom and graduation in the fourth season. I was worried.
"Stand by Me" is sort of a culmination of the series since season three's premiere "The Birthday." The final images of the show are of the Gilbert house burning to the ground. Elena's lost everyone she ever cared about in her life. The memories are too painful, so she burns the house of memories to the ground. Nina Dobrev's been spectacular through the near-four years of the show but she hasn't had many scenes that pierced the heart like the one in the penultimate act when she's basically mad with grief. Bonnie's returned from the isle of absolutely no fun to tell them the plan to get Jeremy and everyone else they've lost to supernatural deaths. Elena sits quietly, absorbing the information, her neck convulsing, and her eyes seemingly about to burst out of her skull. The phone rings. April's on the line, asking for Jeremy. Elena tells her that she's sorry, Jeremy's dead.
And then the she weeps to make less the depth of grief, only weeping deepens the depth of grief. She smashes pictures, kicks other items down, and pours gasoline around the house. Stefan and Caroline try to help her, but only Damon's bond with her can help her, only he can lift her from her sorrows and her unrelenting grief. Damon tells her to turn her humanity off. Elena turns it off. She's kneeling in the living room when she turns her humanity off; in just an astounding display of acting Dobrev switches from absolute grief to absolute nothing in a steady shot. Lance Anderson didn't cut from the scene, didn't use coverage. No, it's all in one take, and I'll admit to tearing up. TVD is incredibly sad when it is sad and watching the sadness on screen can get me feeling really sad for a couple of minutes, as is what happened when I watched "Bringing Out the Dead" last season.
The fourth season was always moving towards two plot points. Actually, no, that's simplistic. TVD's been moving towards a few plot points. The first is Silas and the cure; the second is Dark Bonnie; the third is Dark Elena. "Stand by Me" hits all three plot points. Silas is Firsting it up with Bonnie on the island, getting her to go dark, and Elena's switch is turned off, which means she'll be crazy for the next episode or three. Shane's explanation of Silas' supernatural identity probably will cause the frustrated TVD fans to pull their hair out as Silas is both a witch and vampire, depending on his mood. Silas wants Bonnie to use the power of expression, but the power's not complete. There must be more murders. Once the third massacre is complete, Bonnie will use the power of the massacres to break the veil between the real world and the other side, bringing back every supernatural creature that died. The plan is insane and a borrowed idea from an ANGEL episode in its final season (I'll get to that).
"Stand by Me" isn't about plans, whether it's stopping them or starting them--it is about saying goodbye, as many episodes of TVD are. The challenge of the episode is landing the crucial emotional beats for Elena. Jeremy's the last of her family to die. "Memorial" had a beautifully poignant ending about loss. Jeremy's death is handled differently; it can't be portrayed in a manner that's beautiful or poignant, because the immediacy of death isn't beautiful or poignant. It's painful, full of anger, and what-not. Elena turns herself off, which is what many people want to do: shut down, not feel, crawl into a hole and not come out 'til the hurt is gone. Genre fiction is able to actualize the deepest feelings of a human being. Maybe that's why I'm drawn to it. Shows with monsters, vampires, witches, werewolves, hybrids, slayers, etc., feel more human and true-to-life than many TV shows. "Stand by Me" is another instance of TVD using genre elements to realize piercing and penetrating parts of being human, feelings people can't express very well but go on in each one of us.
The use of Matt in the episode worked very well. He's lost a sibling. Elena's lost hers. He took her to the old stoner pit. Elena remembers Jeremy's rebel phase. The meaning is clear: the two characters are united in their mutual loss. Matt tells her that it's okay to hope but do not expect anything. Matt had to say goodbye to his sister again in "Ghost World." What he's doing is helping Elena reach a place where she can say goodbye. The goodbye is sad and fiery. Elena's totally alone for the first time in her life. I wrote in the past about my desire to see Elena totally alone and separate from the Salvatore brothers. It seems TVD's going to explore Totally Alone Elena. Damon explains his decision to compel her to turn her humanity off by pointing out she has no one left to care about. Caring about others is what makes people human; it's what makes these creatures of the night human: their ability to care.
"Stand by Me" is sad and devoid of hope, but it's a necessary chapter in Elena's arc. I'm looking forward to seeing how she emerges from the darkness. When she does, I think it'll be really moving.
-So, which CW show will McQueen appear on next? I've watched a combined five seasons of Steven R. McQueen's acting. He's gone from scrawny kid on Everwood to ripped hero type on TVD. McQueen's not the greatest actor. He has one gear. He did well on TVD for nearly four seasons. The writers never seemed to know how to write for the character. He went from stoner kid to vampire hunter. The writers sent him to Colorado for awhile. He died alot and then came back. Jeremy's death and its role in Elena's turn was a responsible storytelling choice.
-Kill thousands to save a life was an idea ANGEL used in "A Hole in the World." Angel needs to choose between killing thousands to save Fred. He can't do it. Spike later observes that the hole in the well goes down, all the way, that there's a hole in the world. Indeed, Spike. I felt a bit annoyed by the similarities in this episode to "A Hole In The World." ANGEL's near and dear to my heart. TVD's not doing the same thing. Silas' plan is different. The similarities to The First from Buffy are much more notable. Bonnie's last scene with Shane seemed lifted from Buffy. The next scene in which Rebekah trips on Shane is not a surprise. Shane says one word to her: "Silas."
-Caroline called Tyler three times. He won't call back. Word is Michael Trevino won't be back for the rest of the season. I think the decision is poor since I wanted closure for the Hayley betrayal. She'll be back. Katherine worked with her to find the cure, per Vaughn's exposition. Vaughn, meanwhile, was left in the well to die.
-I had no idea how the Gilbert rang work. I did once, but I forgot. Maybe I should take better notes. Yes, better notes.
-The woman herself Julie Plec wrote the episode. Lance Anderson directed the episode.
-TVD returns with new episodes on March 14.