'The Vampire Diaries' recap: Elijah's moral compass cracks, Elena finds herself in a (loop)hole

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tvd-315-damon-bathroom.jpgFair warning: I didn't actually like tonight's episode of "The Vampire Diaries", titled "All My Children." It should definitely be noted that in a broad sense, this was still a great episode of television, but it didn't live up to the standards we've come to expect of this show.

There were two major problems. First of all, a lack of satisfying follow-up after the mess Elena left behind her last week made for a rough start. I'm very happy that she's showing signs of weakness and I'm glad that she's feeling like a real, flawed character as opposed to some perfect paradigm of girl-next-door compassion. The problem is that it's not enough for the writers and the audience to acknowledge her flaws. At this point, I need Stefan and, most importantly, Damon to get genuinely angry at her. There has to be follow-through when she hurts someone, just as there's follow through when someone else disappoints her.

Additionally, the loophole in this particular plan was underwhelming. I understand that this is a 22-episode season in what will likely be at least a six-season show, so until we reach the finale, every plan to kill Klaus and leave Mystic Falls in peace has to fail. But, like in the "Homecoming" episode, the reasons for the plan's sabotage fell short. It's been established that in witchcraft, there are always loopholes, so there's no surprise there. But there need to be significant stakes, and turning a character that we don't care about (because the writers haven't made us care) into a vampire isn't going to give the audience a reason to feel any kind of significant emotion.

That said... let's discuss.

8:01 - Soundtrack junkie moment: This is "Poison and Wine" by The Civil Wars, but I'm guessing you knew that, didn't you?

Elena wakes up with her eyelashes on, looking like definitely she hasn't had the best sleep ever. She calls Stefan, because apparently the four hundred and seventy-third time he told her to stop trying didn't quite sink in.

Meanwhile, Stefan writes in his diary about all the feelings he doesn't have and ignores the phone call from the girl he doesn't care about. In fact, he doesn't care so much that he has to turn his phone over because merely looking at her name on his display just makes him not feel so many unfeelings.

When Stefan doesn't pick up, Elena tries Damon, who answers. Honestly, this doesn't ring true to me at all. Sure, she and Damon had a bad night last night, but I don't believe that Stefan would be her first phone call when she's upset about Elijah. Damon has been there for her since Stefan split with Klaus; he's been her first call basically every time there's been trouble. While there was definitely some significant action at the ball, I can't imagine that any of that warranted him being bumped off her speed-dial.

Damon answers the phone, but when he doesn't immediately trip over himself to ask how he can help her today, she gets snippy with him. "If you're mad at me, you need to get over it," she says.

Wow. Wowwwww.

He told her he loved her for the first time ever and she called it a problem. This is the girl who is constantly described as the most compassionate, self-sacrificing character in the history of characters, and she can't drudge up a little compassion for how he might be feeling right now? She can't go easy on him at all? Even if Damon's feelings weren't reciprocated at all (and we know that they are reciprocated, at least a little bit) her reaction to him dropping the L-bomb would've been cruel. She's supposed to be this immensely sympathetic person, but she's got no regard for his feelings at all here. She could be far gentler. Luckily, he's not really interested in getting chewed out again, and he hangs up.

I can't believe Rebekah pulled an overnighter, but I will say, she makes Walk of Shame hair look damn good.

Elena, of course, is at the door as Damon does the gentlemanly thing and sees Rebekah out (I wonder if he called her a cab? That seems a little Pauly D for a Salvatore.) She suggests that he was compelled to sleep with Rebekah. "She tried to kill me less than 48 hours ago," she says. "I hurt your feelings and this is how you lash out at me?" Sigh.

Then there's some exposition about Esther's plan to kill everyone, including Elijah, who they all really like. Damon and Stefan are willing to let him be collateral damage, Elena isn't really. And, more importantly, neither are the fans. 

tvd-315-hot-kol.jpg 8:04 - Hot Kol is so fantastic to watch. This is me being completely shallow, but man, those Originals have the best genes ever, no? There's not a ton of substance to this scene where Rebekah comes home all debauched, but it's still somehow one of my favorite scenes in the episode. First of all, Kol calls her a strumpet, and how excellent is that? Second of all, the chemistry between these characters is so natural and earned that they're all just a delight to watch. Everything from Klaus' knowing smirk to Rebekah's steely glare to Kol holding the whole you-stuck-me-in-a-coffin thing over Klaus's head -- it screams of true, honest sibling banter, and it's fun

8:06 - At Caroline's house, Bonnie is trying to learn Esther's privacy spell with Elena. She reveals that Esther visited Bonnie and Abby that morning. It's a scene I'd like to have actually seen, given the intriguing reveal about Bonnie's ancestry, but I guess that's not as significant as I'd thought it would be. Per usual, I'm frustrated by this. I think it would have been important for us to see Bonnie's initial reaction to Esther, particularly because Esther left her slumped on the floor of a cave two episodes ago. Now, suddenly, Bonnie seems to be very open to Esther's plan, and just generally very trusting of her, when that hasn't been earned on-screen.

8:08 - The Salvatore brothers have yet another conversation about why Elena is better off without both of them, but there's no actual traction here. I think this entire scene is an excuse for Stefan to stare at a tumbler of blood while feeling conflicted about it.

8:09 - Elijah seemed suspicious of everyone to begin with, so I'm very wary when he brings Elena out to the deserted woods, telling tales of how wonderful Mystic Falls was before iPads and microwaves and toilet paper were invented. He says that the school was built over an Indian village, which I'm guessing means that it's eventually going to burn down. He also says there were fields of wild horses. That sort of explains Klaus's affection for My Little Pony at the ball, I guess. Elijah brings Elena to a cavern he used to play in: "nature's way of providing us with shelter against the savagery of the full moon," he says.

(By the way, I'd imagine that if you drink every time someone says "nature" or "balance," this episode will probably be a lot more fun.)

Elijah is a walking lie detector test, so he makes Elena spill the beans about Esther's plan to kill them all and let God sort them out.

Then he throws her in a hole. As you do.

8:15 - Elena does not have cell phone service in the hole. So she can't call her footmen to retrieve her.

8:15 - Elena not only told Bonnie and Caroline about Damon's tryst with Rebekah, but she told Alaric too. If Mystic Falls had billboards, she'd totally take one out to advertise his indiscretion to the universe. Unlike Stefan and Damon, Ric is sympathetic to Elena's guilt complex about Elijah. The thing is, though, he doesn't really care that much, because he's got a hot doctor to hang out with.

Note: As they hang up the phone, Damon notices that Stefan hasn't been taking his vitamins. This will matter later.

tvd-315-klaus.jpgAlaric and Meredith run down the details of his attempted murder. Basically, he remembers nothing, they can't figure anything out from his wounds, and most importantly she's really pretty and he totally likes her.

I have to say, I very much enjoy the whole serial killer plotline and I'm bummed that it's been tabled for a couple of episodes. It feels like it's really taking the show in a fun, unexpected direction, and Meredith is a breath of fresh air. Her relationship with Alaric, while obviously still suspect, feels like a grown up relationship, which is nice given all the teen angst and epic drama swirling about in this town.

Then Kol and Klaus show up. Kol looks at Meredith like she's a piece of steak. It's unsettling.

8:17 - It's sweet that Bonnie and Abby mention Grams as they approach the Witch House. Still, I can't help but just kind of want to draw more out of this relationship so that it feels more significant. Their "breakthrough" in the cave didn't ring true to me, it served a magic purpose but didn't feel particularly poignant emotionally between them. It's like there's not enough juice here.

The Bennett witches join Esther at the house, and she makes a whole to-do about how honored she is to meet "the girl who fought Niklaus so bravely." Bonnie was brave when she fought Klaus, but she was also pretty dumb, stepping back to allow Elijah to screw it all up. I'm still mad about that. Basically, in this scene Esther explains that she's using the power from all Bennett witches ever, and that she needs to channel it through Bonnie and Abby. I'm distracted because everyone looks so cold in this scene, particularly poor pointless Finn, freezing his butt off and standing there like the picture of frozen crazy-eyed irrelevance.

8:19 - Elijah tells Damon and Stefan that they need to kill Bonnie and/or Abby, or he'll sic angry Rebekah on Elena in the hole. They have until 9:06, because at 9:07, the moon will be full and Esther will be able to complete her spell and kill all the Originals.

Basically, Elijah does not like being effed with, and his morality well has officially run dry when it comes to these meddling Salvatores.

Here's the thing -- if Rebekah dies at 9:07, how will she kill Elena? This makes no sense.

8:25 - Rebekah joins Elena down in the hole, ready to kill her as soon as Elijah calls her and tells her to do so.

Problem is, it's already been established in the episode that Elena doesn't get service in the hole, and since every single person on this show has been shown, time and time again, to have an AT&T phone, we can assume that Rebekah's newfangled gadget that she figured out in no time also gets no service.

So how will Elijah call her and tell her to make the hit, even if she is alive to do it? She has no service to receive said phone call. She and Elena will sit in that hole forever. This could have been solved by having Elena drop her phone when Elijah grabbed her, so she couldn't call Stefan and/or Damon to save her, but no. Technology ruins yet another semi-plausible storyline.

Moving on, despite the annoying plot holes down in the hole, I actually do like this scene, because the argument between Elena and Rebekah is rooted in a very basic, primal, girl vs. girl, you-hurt-my-feelings-and-now-I-want-to-hurt-you-back place.

Yet again, I find myself wishing that Elena would just apologize for quite literally stabbing Rebekah in the back. Elena isn't in the apology business today, though.

8:25 - Down in the Salvatore cellar, it's all but confirmed that Stefan isn't drinking blood -- not from Ripper victims, and not even from the fridge, which explains why he refused to indulge Klaus' whims at the awesome dinner party of awesomeness. He skips the powerade and he and Damon venture off to find a loophole to the whole killing-Bonnie's-mother thing.

8:28 - Caroline shows up at the Grill dressed like a Real Housewife to seduce an already pretty trashed Klaus, while Alaric does his best to dagger Kol. At the Grill. Does anyone ever pay attention to things that go down there?

Klaus is so into Caroline's strumpet look (yes, I'm going to use that word forever, so get used to it). I have to say, it's adorable to see how enamored he is with her. You get the impression that Klaus doesn't develop crushes too often, and Joseph Morgan plays that cocky, delighted thing brilliantly. I hope he makes a million romantic comedies when he's done doing cool, edgy indies with Luke Massey and Matt Ryan.

By the way, in case I haven't said it enough, Hot Kol can stay. He's so puckish and fun to watch.

Only Caroline would go to a bar with the specific purpose of seducing a murderous vampire... and then tell her to leave her alone. I love every single thing about this scene except for the fact that I feel like I'm betraying my inner Tyler fan by loving it so much.  I wish Klaus would just promise her to let Tyler off the hook. Then this whole Klaus/Caroline could happen for real and I could stop feeling guilty. Because really, this is about me, and my needs. (Kidding. Calm down. Yay Klaroline.)

tvd-315-caroline.jpgKlaus asks about Caroline's hopes and dreams, and I'm pretty much sold. No one has done that for her before. When she turned into a vampire, there wasn't a lot of discussion of the future that she'd given up -- at least, not like there was when Elena was in danger of turning -- and you get the impression that her mom, Matt, Tyler, and her friends all just sort of think of her as Miss Mystic Falls. Even Caroline herself thinks that's all she might ever be. Klaus sees more than that for her.

8:30 - Here's the plan. Esther will turn all her kids into humans (at which moment I expect Elijah will be frantically trying to call Rebekah and getting sent straight to voicemail on account of AT&T not servicing the hole). Then Esther will immediately kill Finn, which will kill them all. "Mother's released me from an eternity of shame," Finn says. Even when he's all dark and twisty, he manages to be super dull.

8:30 - Kol gets fresh with Meredith and then promptly daggered by Alaric, who is soooooo getting laid tonight, y'all! Because of the link between the vampires, Rebekah and Finn immediately go all grey and veiny as well, which gives Elena the chance to escape. Klaus, still an unkillable hybrid, feels a pang of some kind and recognizes that something's awry.

I wonder if it's significant that we don't see Elijah drop. Some fans noticed that his name wasn't actually written on the paper that Esther used for the blood spell at the ball -- Mikael's was written in his place -- which could be important, but could also be a prop department error.

Unfortunately, no one is prepared for drunk Klaus to be quite as agile as he is, and he immediately pulls the dagger out of Kol as Stefan and Damon show up for the rumble in the alley. Only Elijah stops Klaus from killing Damon outright when Damon insults their mother. (On second thought, Elijah does look a little veiny there.) Elijah threatens to call Rebekah's disabled cell phone early and commission the kill. If only Damon knew how crappy AT&T is in holes.

I know I'm being obnoxious with this cell service thing. But they made it a point to show that it wasn't working in the hole. So...?

8:35 - Down in the hole, a very brave Elena runs through the caverns until she finds the cave where Esther's coffin is still hanging open. Of course, it's a vampire-free zone (one of very few remaining in town because everyone has died and everyone can get inside every house) so Rebekah has to stay out. Smart Elena.

8:36 - How come Meredith has a house but Matt doesn't? This is very unfair in my completely irrational, grumpy brain. (True story: the house they used as Matt's house in Season 1 burned down in real life. Because Matt Donovan's life sucks so much it transcends fiction and invades reality.) Alaric wants to go find Elena, but Meredith insists that he rest so that she can take care of him. I think she's probably right. Over the last few days he's been hit by a giant gas-guzzling SUV, stabbed in the chest by a stranger and by his doppelganger surrogate daughter slash potential future love interest (you hear me, writers?), and tossed into a brick wall by a violent angry hybrid. He deserves a nap.

8:38 - Having failed to successfully loop Elena out of her hole with the dagger plan, Stefan and Damon have a conversation as they drive to the witch house. I like most of this scene. Any time there's a glimmer of honesty between the brothers -- or, even better, of vulnerability -- the show is elevated.

"She'll hate us," Damon says. In Season 2 he said he was willing to let Elena hate him if it would save her life, and that was the major difference between him and Stefan. Now he's not quite as willing to volunteer for that -- he wants to flip a coin. Interesting.

Sigh. Stefan's "awful lot of effort for someone who pretends not to care about her anymore" is just an annoying line. Yes, it's been established that they both wish they didn't care about. It's been established that they both do care, anyway. It's getting condescending to the audience to keep rehashing this theme, over and over. We get it. We understand. We learned to recognize key recurring themes when we read "The Outsiders" in our 7th grade Language Arts class. You don't need to beat us to death with them.

8:40 - Rebekah douses Elena, and the cave, with gasoline. Then she starts throwing matches. Remember how I said Elena should apologize for stabbing her in the back?

That will no longer be necessary.

8:44 - Rebekah films Elena's last moments with her phone. Then, much like Caroline did with Klaus at the ball, Elena psychoanalyzes Rebekah a bit, stripping her of some of her armor and laying her issues bare. I like the symbolism of Rebekah tearing her necklace off and tossing it into a corner of a cave that she can't ever access.

Elena says that Rebekah won't kill her because without revenge to exact, Rebekah has little purpose. Basically, Rebekah and Emily Thorne should team up and red sharpie the crap out of everyone from the Hamptons to Virginia, and it would be the best show that has ever aired in the history of television.

I'm disappointed that Elena says "I pretended to like you and then I stuck a dagger in your back." I sort of thought that she had, genuinely, liked Rebekah. I wish that had been the case. I guess that if it's not, it gives Elena a bit of an edge, which is also a good thing.

8:47 - The three Original brothers that don't have their testicles in Esther's purse arrive at the witch house to confront her, so she sends Bonnie and Abby away. I guess they don't actually have to be with her for her to do this spell? Which makes no sense, given how essential they are to this episode's entire plot? But okay.

Esther drops the forgiveness ploy now, revealing that while Klaus, Kol, and even Elijah were out rampaging the world and shedding blood to serve their own agendas, she watched from the other side, enduring the pain of their victims. It's odd to me that she's so vicious toward Elijah when just the night before she was angsting about his morality and how difficult it makes her decision. She's flipped the script on that pretty quickly.

tvd-315-stefan-bonnie.jpgIn the house, Bonnie is confronted by Stefan while Abby is apprehended by Damon. Bonnie is very brave in this scene, I must say. I wouldn't want to run into Stefan in a haunted house. Instead of killing one of them, Damon turns Abby, because as Rebekah said in the flashback episode, one can't be both a vampire and a witch.

When Esther realizes that her "sisters" have abandoned her, Finn grabs her and they bolt. Hot Kol hides his face in his jacket collar as the fires grow. Gotta protect the money-maker. 

8:51 - Rebekah lets Elena out of the hole when she learns that Damon turned Abby (via telepathy I guess). "I do prefer taking my time, watching you suffer. Much more satisfying," she says. Come on, girls. Put the stabby-burny thing behind you and be friends. Elena, I'm sure Rebekah would love an invitation to sit at the cool kids' table at MFHS.

8:52 - Let's talk about Bonnie again. Her mother was just turned into a vampire, which we're led to believe is pretty devastating. Still, all we see of Bonnie's grief is a quick shot of her sitting over the bed that her mother is in (because apparently, Caroline's bed is the place where parents go to die).

The shot then pans to Elena at the door. This is what I mean about Bonnie's story lines getting the shaft. When she grieved for her grandmother, she left town and became a whole different character, off-screen, where the audience couldn't follow her journey, or really even understand it.

Now, she's essentially mourning her mom -- in a way -- and we cut away to Elena's angst about the whole thing? What? It's no wonder Elena thinks everything everyone does is about her, because it's always about her. The audience is never going to develop an emotional attachment to Bonnie that's as strong as it is to Caroline or Elena if Bonnie's growth and tragedy all occurs off-camera.

Case in point: I certainly haven't developed any sympathy for Bonnie, because when Caroline tells Elena that "[Bonnie] is always the one who gets hurt," I can't help but scoff. Elena has lost her entire family. Caroline is a vampire and has lost her father and been abandoned by two guys she loved. Matt lost his sister. Tyler lost his humanity. Bonnie is not always the one who gets hurt. Everyone always gets hurt. This town is full of people who have experienced nothing but tragedy-in-the-name-of-saving-Elena, and that's not even remotely exclusive to Bonnie.

Now Bonnie has lost her mother, who abandoned her and who has only been back in her life for a few days. And even the word "lost" is an overstatement, because let's face it, she's been turned into a vampire, not really killed. Once that awkward transitional phase is over, she'll basically be the same person she always was, except for the immortality thing, and it's not like Bonnie's mom seemed like she was looking to have more kids. So what's really been lost here? Nothing. Because the stakes for this episode were low, low, low. We haven't been given reason to care about Abby so we don't care about Abby.

8:54 - Damon washing his hands in his bathroom. He really likes soap a lot, you guys. I swear, with the exception of the Neptune High women's bathroom, Damon's bathroom is the most-seen bathroom in all of television history. 

We learn that what Damon said in Season 2 about allowing Elena to hate him is still true, because he lost the coin toss and still got his hands dirty in Stefan's place. Since Stefan has been punishing himself by denying himself blood and trying to become Old Stefan again, Damon figures he doesn't need another wrench thrown into the mix.

This is another strong brother scene, particularly because of the way Ian Somerhalder plays into this often-untapped "big brother" side of Damon. "You have enough to worry about. Why add to the list?" he says, and he's almost affectionate with Stefan. There's no antagonism in his voice, just a basic, inherent love for his brother and a compassion for what he's going through right now.

Per usual, Stefan brings up the fact that Damon still loves Elena. "I do," Damon says, quite honestly -- again, without trying to pick a fight or dig into Stefan. "I thought I could win her from you fair and square. She didn't want me. It's for the best. I'm better at being the bad guy anyway."

This scene comes close to saving the entire episode, to be honest. It doesn't, but it comes really close. It's moving and powerful and it's sad that it's stuck in the middle of a muddled plotline, because moments like this make this show greater than the sum of its parts.

8:55 - Elijah is a true gentleman. So he leaves Elena a handwritten note of apology. Because that is what a gentleman does when he throws a lady in a hole.

tvd-315-elijah.jpg 8:57 - In all seriousness, though, Elijah is fairly torn up about being such a dick to Elena, and about having been confronted with all the misdeeds that he's been able to deny for centuries by focusing on his nobility.

I think he's being pretty hard on himself. Elena did conspire to kill him and his family; she can handle a few hours in a hole with no cell service. Esther has really done a number on Elijah, though. "She didn't make us monsters," he tells Rebekah. "We did that to ourselves."

Um, she made him into a creature that thirsts for human blood and requires it for survival. There weren't exactly blood banks around in year 1000. So technically, she made him a monster.

In the other room, Klaus throws his drawings of Caroline into a fire. (He did all that last night? Or has he been stalking her for a while now?) As Joseph Morgan says, he's burning his feelings. Maybe Stefan should try that with all his unfeelings that he doesn't feel.

This was a nice scene until the end totally ruined it. Basically, Elijah, Kol, Esther, and Finn are skipping town, which just seems annoyingly easy. Rebekah is staying, however, so she comes in, forgives Klaus, they're a gruesome twosome again.

And then she tells him that the white oak tree that they burned isn't exactly gone, according to some cave etchings on the wall. (Still wondering who drew the cave etchings about Klaus's whole matricide thing. I don't think he told any local journalists about it.)

So, here's what it comes down to: There is still a white oak tree standing, or possibly chopped down and turned into weapons, or possibly it doesn't exist at all anymore because a town has been built where it once stood. This tree is now the enemy of Klaus and Rebekah.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen. A tree is now the Big Bad of the series. The most terrifying vampires in Mystic Falls are super scared of some wood. They must find the tree and all the wood from said tree and they must kill it. A tree. Are you riveted yet?

8:58 - And now, for the big finish. Alaric wakes up at Meredith's place, finds the secret stash of secret murder investigation stuff (and, oh yeah, also a murder weapon). "You weren't supposed to see that," Meredith says. Even though she left it spread all over her kitchen counter. Then she shoots him, or so we are led to believe.

The show is condescending to the audience again, though. Because this audience knows that could not be Alaric's last episode. We know that the writers of this show wouldn't make Damon and Alaric's final interaction so flippant. They wouldn't deny us a poignant last scene between Alaric and Elena. So again, we're kind of in this weird murky place where we're curious about what's going to happen when the show returns in March, but we're not actually believing what we just saw, and that's not a good place to be as a viewer.

Because I hate to end these reviews on a sour note, I'll say that I'm really looking forward to seeing where the "triangle" progresses from this point. Stefan seems about ready to open the pain floodgates and be Stefan again. Damon is, in a way, forcing himself back into the good-but-bad guy role, because he feels like that makes it easier on Stefan and Elena and simplifies the dynamic between the three of them. With seven episodes remaining, we have a lot of ground to cover before the finale. This can swing either way, here.

Ian Somerhalder definitely gets MVP for this episode. For a few brief moments, he let Damon drop the bravado he usually waves around like a flag in front of his brother. He showed concern and protectiveness and he was gentle with Stefan, and he did it without a lot of fanfare or eyebrow acrobatics -- just simple, genuine brotherly love. It was a fantastic scene that stood out from the entire episode.

Sorry this one got so long, guys! I guess I had more to say than I thought. Drop me a line in the comments and let me know if you think I'm being overly critical, if you agreed with any of my sentiments, or if you've got some thoughts of your own you'd like to contribute to the conversation. See you all in March!


Photo/Video credit: The CW