The Vampire Diaries, Ep. 4.15, “Stand by Me”: Powerful episode driven by strong, emotional performances

Stand by Me

The Vampire Diaries, Season 4, Episode 15: “Stand by Me”
Written by Julie Plec
Directed by Lance Anderson
Airs Thursdays at 8pm (ET) on the CW

This week, on The Vampire Diaries: Elena tailspins, Bonnie gets the crazy eyes, and Shane is still alive

Last week’s The Vampire Diaries ended with a stark image- Jeremy dead, his blood drained and neck snapped, and Bonnie alone, stabbed, and bleeding out on the cave floor. Given the show’s history, this did not have to be the end for either character. There are outs for even the most extreme situation and the show has used them several times over the course of the series. Fortunately, this is not one of those cases and instead of Deus ex Vampire Blood, we get a powerful, emotionally wrenching look at loss, denial, and pain.

Jeremy has rarely been a standout element of the series. In a crowded cast, Steven R. McQueen has often been overshadowed by those actors given more colorful and heightened characters than the down-to-earth Jeremy and the writers have frequently seemed at a loss as to how to incorporate him into the action when Elena so clearly would want him uninvolved (which is how we got his last season sojourn to Denver). Yet despite this, he served a critical role tying our characters together – as Elena’s brother, Matt’s best friend, and the closest thing Bonnie’s had to a love. He’s the single character these three cared the most about (of the main cast) and his death opens up any number of potential paths for each of them.

Tying in the larger Silas arc to Jeremy’s death works incredibly well, the first time anything this season has been improved by proximity to Silas or Shane. Jeremy’s death is the perfect catalyst to push both Elena and Bonnie over the edge, albeit in different directions. Again, as with last week’s episode, the level-headed, selfless, and responsible Elena of old is on full display here. It’s excellent character work- the knowledge that she could get her brother back, and that despite her love for him, she won’t, only magnifies Elena’s pain, piling guilt on top of everything else she’s feeling. And of course, as the Salvatores mention, Elena’s always been someone who feels strongly, even before that element of her personality was heightened by becoming a vampire. After everything she’s lost, including her own humanity, this is what it took for her to finally shut down. It’s a huge moment for the character and one that feels absolutely earned.

Stand by Me

Bonnie’s reaction is handled just as well. With Elena, Julie Plec wisely and thankfully skips the internal struggle so many other series would kill time with, bringing a character to the brink of some terrible act before talking them back down with, “It’s not what <insert loved one’s name> would want”. It would appear that may be the exact path Bonnie’s about to walk down, but the crucial difference here is that Elena wouldn’t go through with Silas’ plan in Jeremy’s name. Bonnie, make that this new, Crazy Bonnie, would. The way she got to this point, the weeks and weeks of Shane-fueled setup, may have been frustrating, out of character, and poorly handled, but a rationalizing, just-this-side-of-crazed Bonnie is very interesting.

It’s nice to see the writers taking Bonnie a slightly different way than the more standard lose-yourself-entirely-to-black-magic arc. Rather than possessed or consumed with Expression, she feels pretty much the same as ever. As she calmly lays out her plan to bring back all Supers she sounds no different than the many other times our characters have sat around that table and talked through how they’ll take down Katherine or the Originals or anyone else. Damon seems to realize the extent of the problem, but the others seem to think this will blow over, that she just needs a good night’s sleep and she’ll come to her senses in the morning. Reasoned, well-meaning crazy is a whole lot creepier and more dangerous than over the top, unrelatable crazy and it should be fun to watch Katerina Graham play.

Elsewhere this week, Rebekah stumbles across a still-alive Shane, Caroline misses Tyler, and Katherine is back in the wind. It’s a great move to have Katherine disappear just as quickly as she showed up- there’s plenty happening this week without throwing her into the mix. As for the other plot points, Caroline’s calls to Tyler make sense but do seem a bit much (GPS-trackable cellphones don’t mix with hiding out and she should know that) and anything involving Shane being alive (as opposed to SilasShane) is a definite disappointment. However, these are just blips in an otherwise excellent episode.

Stand by Me

A lot of credit has to go to Julie Plec for writing the episode, as well as overseeing as showrunner the way the season has culminated at this point, regardless of its earlier missteps. The music works well and director Lance Anderson in particular deserves a special mention for his wonderful execution of the fire montage. The highlights of this episode, though, are the performances. Nina Dobrev is fantastic, showing Elena’s arc from denial (in the cave) to acceptance (on the phone) to devastation. Paul Wesley and Ian Sommerhalder are also great, playing much subtler notes, giving Dobrev the space and support in their scenes that she needs while also letting their characters’ reactions to Jeremy’s death come through. (Damon hugging Bonnie? Would not have called that a week ago.) Katerina Graham sells her transition from repulsion to acceptance of Silas and two of the most devastating moments in the entire episode are courtesy of Zach Roerig, as Matt first sees Jeremy’s body and then later breaks down in his car. Matt, much like Jeremy, often feels like an afterthought on the show, but moments like these make a strong case for his continued involvement (as well as the writers’ need to give Roerig more to do).

This may have been an incredibly uneven season, one whose string of mediocre to bad episodes had this fan ready to jump ship, but this is undeniably a fantastic episode of television, one of the series’ best, and a welcome reminder that, despite the problems it’s struggled with this season, The Vampire Diaries is still capable of greatness.

What did you think of the episode? Any predictions of what Switched-Off Elena will be like? Did you miss Klaus or Tyler? Anyone else sad to see the house burn? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick

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By Kate Kulzick

Kate is a violinist by day, TV-aholic by night, and film geek by somewhere around dawn. While attending UIUC, she earned a Masters Degree in Violin Performance and a Schrute Buck in a Pop Culture Trivia Contest; of the two, so far only the latter has hung on her wall. Her favorite movies are The Princess Bride, Casablanca, and The Third Man and her favorite TV shows are Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Wire, and Arrested Development.

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