SPOILER ALERT: Do not read ahead if you have not watched the series finale of “The Vampire Diaries,” which aired on Friday, March 10.
Picking up where the penultimate episode left off, “I Was Feeling Epic” begins with Stefan (Paul Wesley) attempting to resuscitate Bonnie (Kat Graham) after an especially draining bit of magic. While Bonnie’s unconscious, she reunites with her best friend Elena (Nina Dobrev), who’s been stuck in a mystical coma since the season six finale. But it’s Elena who realizes something’s wrong — she and Bonnie’s lives are linked, so Elena can only wake once Bonnie is dead for good, no loopholes — and she tells Bonnie it’s not her time. Not yet. She still has a full life to live, even though Bonnie is more than willing to die to be with the recently deceased love of her life, Enzo (Michael Malarkey). But even Enzo’s spirit refuses to let Bonnie give up, and with that, Bonnie wakes up, letting her friends know: “I saw Elena.”
Meanwhile, Damon (Ian Somerhalder) is trying to stop “dead as a doornail” Vicki Donovan (Kayla Ewell) from doing Katherine’s (also Nina Dobrev) bidding, ringing the Maxwell Bell 12 times (every five minutes) and bringing literal hellfire to Mystic Falls. Unfortunately, neither throwing her out a window nor snapping her neck incapacitates Vicki for good, and she truly is a woman on a mission — it’s either this or going back to Hell, and the prospect of no longer existing at all is so much better than going back.
So Damon puts Vicki’s brother Matt (Zach Roerig) in charge of trying to talk his big sister down. Since he doesn’t believe Matt will actually be able to stop her though (neither does Matt, which is why he incites one last “gas leak” protocol for town evacuation), he goes back home with Stefan to regroup and figure out a way to stop Katherine and save their town.
It’s there where they see the coffin they keep Elena in is empty — and she’s awake. Obviously, Bonnie’s momentary death must have triggered it… but there are no loopholes. No, this is Katherine pretending to be Elena and messing with Damon’s head for old time’s sake. She’s come to gloat, naturally, as she’s now the Queen of Hell and has bested the Salvatore brothers and their circle of friends once and for all. It’s hard not to gloat — she apparently had the Devil himself under her Katherine Pierce spell from the second she stepped foot in Hell. Hate the player, not the game. As for Elena, her body is hidden away in the boiler room of Mystic Falls High School. Unfortunately, before he got stuck in a Spin Doctors prison world, Kai (Chris Wood) spelled the boiler room for Katherine so Elena can’t be taken out.
As for ways to stop Katherine, it turns out that a dagger forged from her bones (like they did with Cade) isn’t the long-term solution, as she only wakes up and talks them to death even more. In fact, we can’t be sure Damon isn’t in Hell already, with the way he keeps having to stab Katherine only to get more grief from her. “I have everything I want, Damon,” she tells him. “Or I’m about to. Once that last bell rings, this stupid town will go up and flames and everybody will go poof. Well, they’ll burn alive first. But then their ashes will go poof.”
Damon tries to get her back by pointing out she’s still so jealous over how he and Stefan would both choose Elena over her, “every time,” but she throws back that Elena would always choose Stefan over him every time, as well. “Because I would. Any woman would. Stefan is the better man.”
Luckily, Bonnie figures out a long-term Katherine solution from Alaric’s research: Let the hellfire come and then send it back to Hell. The thing is, Katherine needs to be back in Hell. And someone needs to make sure she goes there. Which is what leaves us with the Salvatore brothers arguing over who will be the one to take Katherine back to Hell. Specifically, who will be the one to end their life to save the day? As Katherine said, Stefan is “the better man,” but it’s Damon who steps up, wanting to be the good big brother he never was.
And Stefan acknowledges that he very much is in this moment: “In nearly the two centuries since I made you become a vampire, I have fought to turn you into the man who deserves the happiness that’s out there right now.” But Damon is still a vampire, and Stefan no longer is, so Damon uses the vampire advantage and compels Stefan to leave and not to stop until Damon’s death break the compulsion. “Because I am the big brother. I’m sorry I wasn’t better at it until now.”
While all this is happening, Alaric (Matt Davis) is ready to ditch town with his daughters, and that means Caroline (Candice King) has to go too, as much as she wants to help the Salvatores save Elena and defeat Katherine. After all, she and Stefan just got married earlier that night, so they’re family, too. But Alaric goes for the jugular when it comes to convincing Caroline to leave Stefan behind: “I don’t need to remind you what it’s like to lose your mother.”
It’s not like he doesn’t care — Damon at one point was his only friend and Elena is his step-daughter — but he has to put his daughters first, and they need their mother. And once it looks like things really are coming to an end for Mystic Falls, Caroline calls Stefan and leaves him a voicemail: “I need you to know that I understand. I love you. I will love you forever. I understand.”
Even after an emotional reconnection with her estranged father, Peter (Joel Gretsch), Vicki still chose to ring the bell rather than go back to Hell. Obviously that’s not ideal, but as this season keeps saying, Hell really is no joke. But rather than desert their family, Matt and Peter stay behind. And once the bell rings for the 12th time, it goes kaboom with hellfire (as does Vicki), which makes its way through the Mystic Falls tunnels thanks to Bonnie’s spell and directly to the Armory.
It’s here where Bonnie is truly tested, coming face to face with Hellfire. She’s bold enough to tell the hellfire it’s not her time and it can’t take her, but eventually, the power becomes too much and she worries she can’t push it all back to Hell like she plans. But once again, the spirit of Enzo is here to tell her she can do it — as are the spirits of all the Bennett witches who came before Bonnie, including her Grams (Jasmine Guy), Beatrice Bennett (Jaz Sinclair), and Lucy Bennett (Natashia Williams), who we’ve all been waiting to see since her one and only appearance in season two’s “Masquerade.”
The thing about Damon compelling Stefan is that he didn’t stop to think that his little brother would possibly be on vervain. That’s a point that’s addressed when Elena shows up again in her mystical coma world, this time greeted by Stefan at Mystic Falls High (where they first met). Stefan explains how he’s not quite sure what happened with Bonnie, but he knows that he took a syringe full of his blood (and the cure for immortality), went back to the tomb where Damon and Katherine were, injected Damon with the cure, and took his place on the highway to Hell. Because then Damon couldn’t pull the vampire trump card. And he also couldn’t betray his brother by not living a human life to the fullest. Stefan promised Katherine he would kill her back in the second season premiere, and here in the series finale, he finally makes good on his promise. “Burn in Hell,” he tells her, before he throws out a “goodbye, brother” to Damon. And with that, Stefan Salvatore’s life officially comes to an end.
“Tonight I saw a side of Damon that I hadn’t seen in a while: The older brother I looked up to, the son who enlisted in the Civil War to please his father, the Damon I knew when I was a boy,” Stefan tells Elena. “I wanted that Damon to live, and I wanted you to have an opportunity to get to know him.”
Stefan says goodbye to Elena one last time, as The Fray’s “Never Say Never” starts up (like at the end of the pilot), and he walks into the white light… outside the school, where his best friend Lexi (Arielle Kebbel) is waiting, along with his vintage car he torched last season. In another callback to the first season, Stefan throws Lexi’s own line her way: “I was feeling epic.”
After stopping literal hellfire from destroying Mystic Falls with the help of every single one of her ancestors, Bonnie Bennett has all the confidence and power in the world to finally find a loophole to the Sleeping Beauty spell that’s not supposed to have a loophole. Elena wakes up, greeted by her best friend — in a callback to the scene where Bonnie first revealed her powers to her — and ready to return to the land of the living. After reconnecting with Damon after all this time, Elena gives Caroline the confirmation she needed that Stefan got her voicemail. Then they all remember the life of Stefan Salvatore, who’s “now at peace.”
As the Mystic Falls crew moves on with their lives, they’re constantly, unknowingly surrounded by their own friends and family who found their own peace in the afterlife. Matt Donovan is still Sheriff of Mystic Falls, and he’s thinking about running for Mayor. His sister Vicki and best friend Tyler (Michael Trevino) have also found peace in the afterlife together. Caroline and Alaric have honored Stefan’s last wish, opening up the Salvatore Boarding School for the Young & Gifted at the Salvatore Boarding House. Jeremy works for them and Klaus keeps them afloat with his $3 million donation. Jo (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) watches over Alaric and their daughters, while Liz Forbes (Marguerite MacIntyre) watches over Caroline. Bonnie Bennett saved the world, and now she finally gets to enjoy living in it. And Enzo still watches over her, even though she can’t see him anymore. Elena finally makes it through medical school, and she and Damon move back to Mystic Falls once she graduates.
Despite everything, Damon still thinks he’s going to Hell and will never see Stefan again. But as Elena writes in her diary, “he’s wrong. Because I know peace exists. It lives in everyone we hold dear. That is the promise of peace. That one day, after a long life, we find each other again.” After Elena and Damon live their long, full lives together, Elena’s peace in the afterlife features her parents who died before the series began, her Aunt Jenna (Sara Canning), and her uncle/biological father John (David Anders). As for Damon, he finds his peace, too, reconnecting with Stefan in the afterlife. Damon lets out one last, soft “hello, brother” — and “The Vampire Diaries” fades to white.
POPULAR ON VARIETY: Jeff Bridges revives ‘The Dude’ to honor John Goodman