'The Vampire Diaries' 'Stand By Me' rips our hearts out: Nina Dobrev kills it, and 9 more things to talk about

tvd-415-matt-elena.jpgWe probably should've seen this coming months ago, when Elena declared that Jeremy was the only thing keeping her together -- because this is "The Vampire Diaries," and this show never misses an opportunity to make its characters desperate and miserable. Since the cast had already revealed in multiple interviews that Jeremy's death was permanent, I figured tonight's episode might be a bit of a wash -- what's the use in an episode about trying to save someone's life if we know he's been sent packing? -- but I was wrong.

When the talents of Julie Plec and Nina Dobrev combine, anything is possible, and tonight's episode, "Stand By Me," was undeniably the show's best one yet. It proves that the strengths of "The Vampire Diaries" lie in the emotional connections and the family bonds, not the romantic dalliances or will-they-won't-they 'shipper-bait. There's a lot to talk about here, so let's dig in.

1. Nina Dobrev is a gift. I'd be remiss not to make this priority one on the things-to-discuss list. Who knew that "Degrassi's" most annoying teen mom ever would grow up to do this? From her stubborn resolve as she waited for Jeremy to wake up, to her crumpled face and horrified wailing as she finally let the news sink in, Elena was laid bare tonight. Nerve endings exposed, Dobrev brought Elena's emotional rollercoaster to life so vividly that it was impossible not to ride it with her; I felt positively battered by the time the credits rolled. If major awards showed acknowledged The CW, this would be a performance of note for them.

2. Elena turns off her humanity.
Even as a vampire, Elena has been the humanity of the show. While her earnestness can be irritating at times, her bleeding heart and undeniable compassion has kept the rest of her friends from steering too far off course. With Katherine back on the prowl, Elena's disconnect from the core of her character will be especially interesting, and will undoubtedly present a new challenge for Dobrev. It's also interesting because, presumably, a vampire without humanity might not be capable of the same love, at least not to the same depths, as a vampire with humanity. This might be pretty crippling to her romance with Damon.

3. That pesky sire bond. There's been a lot of discussion amongst "TVD" fans this season about Elena's agency or lack thereof. Her lack of control over certain aspects of her life doesn't necessarily pose a problem for me as a viewer, though; I appreciate it as a metaphor for what love can do to a person, particularly a young person experiencing personal turmoil. In this case, it's a pretty brilliant storytelling device. It prevents us from needing a time-jump in order to get Elena past being completely paralyzed with grief.

4. Brothers. Seeing Elena lose Jeremy reminded Stefan and Damon that, through everything, they're lucky -- because they still have each other. Stefan has been holding a grudge against Damon for presumably taking advantage of the sire bond; Damon has been holding a grudge against Stefan for not being the comrade he wants him to be. But they still have each other, and their unspoken appreciation for that was a pivotal moment in their relationship. It doesn't mean they're going to get bunk beds and start a book club together, but it does mean that they're back on solid ground, allies instead of competitors.

5. Tyler remains gone, for now.
It was absolutely heartbreaking to listen to Caroline plead with Tyler to get in touch while he ignores her calls. He promised to forget about her if they couldn't find a way to get rid of Klaus -- not ignore her immediately and stop trying to find a way within 24 hours. Bummer. I do have a little good news for Forwood shippers, though. The outcry over Michael Trevino's understated, anti-climactic exit seems to have had an impact on the writers of the show. They've changed their minds! I can reveal that he will be back to share one more pivotal moment with Caroline this season. Your voices have been heard!

6. Silas is Shane! Kind of? We've seen witches do some blood-magic body-swapping on "The Vampire Diaries" before, but we've never seen someone completely shift into the image of another person before. It's a nice way to show off Silas' incomparable power right off the bat, and also to put David Alpay's talents to better use. Here's hoping that Rebekah manages to get that particular piece of information back to Mystic Falls ASAP.

tvd-415-stefan-damon.jpg 7. Bonnie is bad news. Sigh. If I had one gripe about the episode, Bonnie was it. I'm hoping it's soon revealed that Silas used some sort of magic persuasion to turn Bonnie into such a brainwashed follower, because this season we've watched her become stronger and more intelligent, and it was frustrating to watch her backpedal so much. Even Elena managed to immediately accept that sacrificing 12 people and raising all the dead monsters to save Jeremy wasn't an option; why was Bonnie so easily convinced otherwise? It felt rushed. That said, I am intrigued by the idea of a darker Bonnie, and I do see how Jeremy's death could be the trigger.

8. Matt Donovan, ladies and gentlemen. I've been crowing about how awesome Matt Donovan is for years, so I felt particularly vindicated tonight. One of my favorite moments of the series was when Matt fell apart in Elena's arms upon learning of Vicki's death. Tonight was a perfect mirror of that as he went to great lengths to keep her propped up in the wake of devastation. Their little trip to the stoner pit and his subsequent breakdown, alone in his truck, drove home the human side of the tragedy. A teenage boy died. A kid who liked to draw and occasionally smoke pot and play X-Box, who had just managed to patch his life up, who video-chatted with girls and dug the batting cages. Matt was there to remind us that at his core Jeremy wasn't a powerful hunter; Jeremy was a kid.

9. The Gilbert house is gone. Losing the house marked the end of an era for "The Vampire Diaries." Elena literally can't go home again. It probably wasn't a bad idea to char the place; after all, literally all of the people who have lived there have died at some point or another. That's a lot of bad vibes. I hear Elena will officially be moving in to the Salvatore house... again. Even though Stefan and Damon have had a bro-bonding moment, having Elena living down the hall probably won't make things particularly easy on Stefan.

10. Goodbye, Jeremy. Kudos to Steven R. McQueen for a heck of a performance over the course of four years. Jeremy has changed and grown beautifully. We've seen him experience love and loss, sacrifice and triumph, and we've seen it take a toll and make him stronger. The work that McQueen put into this season definitely showed -- and I'm not just talking about his arms. (But I am talking about his arms a little bit.) We'll all miss him.

connectv-watercooler-carina-mackenzie.jpegDrop me a line in the comments and let me know what scene resonated the most with you.

Then, join my ConnecTV chat at 12:30 p.m. EST on Friday (yes, it's a half an hour later than usual -- I'll just have gotten off the plane from Atlanta!) to discuss what happened in tonight's episode and what it means for the course of the series.

In the meantime, let's all just hold each other and cry, okay?
Photo/Video credit: The CW