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'The Vampire Diaries' Wrap-up Thoughts... 7A/8 -- 25/50 Best Episodes

It hasn't been a century... it's just the next year! Anyhoo, here is the next section of my Vampire Diaries wrap-up. This is a two-parter: What I consider the best episodes of the series. You'll find the first 25 here listed in chronological order. In the second post, I will list my absolute favorites (no specific number, just the ones that I put little stars next to when picking them). Narrowing this down was a process (understandably). I first was going to do only 20, but I just couldn't do it, so I decided on 25, but then a few more kept sneaking their way in, so I thought... oh heck, I'll do 50 and 50 it stayed. And so here is part one. Shockingly, I have my description of each episode and why I consider them the best to a paragraph (admittedly, some of them are on the lengthy side, but still only a paragraph). Read on....

MEMORIAL (i.e., The 50 Best Episodes, Part I)

01-Haunted

I adored the overall feel of this episode in part because there was a brilliant contrast throughout. Damon and Stefan's dueling methods of teaching Vicki how to be a vampire was mostly played with a light touch until she threatened Elena, and manipulated both Jeremy and Matt to keep everyone else at bay. Then there was the frivolity of the high school Halloween event contrasted with the dark violence of vampirism. This was the first time in the series where we truly saw the chaotic change that the Salvatore brothers had brought into Elena's life. Someone she had known her whole life was dead (and shockingly, a series regular had actually departed only seven episodes in). Her brother almost died; she almost died. She found herself lying to people she loved to cover up death and near-death. It wasn't when Elena found out that Stefan was a vampire that her life changed because Elena could have walked away, It was after these events, when she chose not to walk away despite what vampirism brought into her life. And because of that it was in this episode that the stakes truly began to rise in the series and viewers began to get the full measure of just how amazing The Vampire Diaries could be. We also got the full glimpse of how unpredictable the show could be.

02-Children of the Damned

Of the early season 01 flashback episodes, it's this second one that has my vote over "Lost Girls." Yes, that it is from Damon's perspective certainly helps, but there are other reasons. Firstly, and most importantly, I simply think that it is a better episode overall. By focusing on Damon's point of view, we're able to get a broader view on more characters as Stefan tended to narrow in mostly on Elena and Damon in early seasons. So along with those two, we saw some delightful interaction with Jeremy, Jenna, Katherine and Pearl. Furthermore, since Damon sees thinks much more clearly than does Stefan (with the exception of Katherine), all of those relationships offered much more meat upon which to feast. And speaking of Katherine… I think that Nina Dobrev and the writers had a better handle on differentiating Katherine and Elena by this go-round—and perhaps because of that—the flashbacks told a story that utilized all of the characters involved as opposed to just introducing a minx between two brothers. Finally, the modern-day story with its mix of characters and truths, half-truths, white lies and backstabbing tying to the past was just very nicely done.

03-Fool Me Once

Ah, so painful, but oh, so very good, this one not only was the culmination of what had been building for the past several episodes prior, but it also set up threads for quite a few upcoming arcs beautifully. In addition to the brilliant plot execution, there was also some strong character shading for Damon, Bonnie and Stefan. And as in many of the best episodes of the series, the emotional navigation of familial and romantic relationships was traversed among our many players (Damon with Elena, Stefan, Katherine, Giuseppe; Bonnie with Grams and Elena; Caroline with Matt and Damon; Anna with Pearl and Jeremy.) All of that, plus an unexpected jaw-dropper—Katherine Pierce was not even in the tomb—that opened the door for a multiple of storylines to come all the way to the final episode! What an episode.

04-Let the Right One In

Despite the fact that this episode ended with every story arc at a depressing point, it still was one of the best. While heartbreaking, every bit of that despair was earned. The series had been building up to the moment of Elena's horror at seeing the perfect vampire that Stefan presented himself was not so. And the follow-through of his subsequent shame and need for that human blood later was perfectly shown. There were also unexpected finds (Vicki—and the fallout) and unexpected teamwork (Damon and Alaric—Team BadAss!Bromance began). What happened in this episode introduced many key factors that played a large part in the final five episodes of the first season, and did so beautifully.

05-Miss Mystic Falls

Admittedly, the Damon and Elena interactions (especially the dance and their final scene) were key in making this episode so damn wonderful, but in all honestly, it was so superb in so many ways with every character showcased in marvelous ways. Stefan fell apart because he's the good brother, but he sure wasn't acting like it. Bonnie returned home, but the effect of Gram's death still weighed heavily upon her. Jeremy dealt with his brand-new information. Caroline was her awesome self and awesomely won the crown of the titular Miss Mystic Falls. Elena began to find that she couldn't pretend that everything was fine any longer. And Damon had to step up and become the good brother in deed. And all of the above was perfection; every note, every beat, every look was just… there is no other word but perfection. This episode had heart (of both the warming and breaking kind), heat, and a dash of humor. Just perfection from beginning to end. This is one of my absolute favorite episodes of the series, very few top it. It was co-written by Caroline Dries and was her first for The Vampire Diaries. Make note of that name, you'll be seeing it a lot.

06-Isobel

There were more than a few revelations in this episode, but none of them were particularly shocking—not to any long-time TV watchers who would have picked up on the clues. Of course, Isobel still had a soul buried deep underneath that cold and uncaring exterior. Naturally, John was Elena's dad; yup, Bonnie was going to betray the vampires… and Elena. Again, none of this was surprising. However, the lack of surprise did nothing to detract from the excellence of the episode because it was all in the execution. It was how we saw Isobel's soul. It was how Damon used Elena's parentage to needle Stefan. It was there in Bonnie's guilt as she told Caroline what she had done and the question of the consequences that would occur especially since she and Elena had just repaired their friendship (and so beautifully). This episode wasn't about shocking the audience, it was about the characters and why they were doing the things they were and how the hell they were going to deal with the fall-out. And it was good… no, it was great.

07-The Return

The second season opener was the best premiere of the series hands-down. It not only met expectations after the explosive first finale, but exceeded them beyond imagination. With a strong wrap-up of the many cliffhangers, quick movement of stories, a (literally) jaw-dropping final ten minutes, and fantastic performances (especially from Ian Somerhalder and Nina Dobrev), this episode was outstanding by any measure. There was sex, murder, heartbreak, brotherly love (and hate), the death (and non-death… and return to life) of two major characters, and, of course, a party. Because this is Mystic Falls after all.

08-Masquerade

This was easily one of the greatest episodes of season 02 and one of the most outstanding of the series overall. A big part of that is because as fantastic as the pacing was in general on this show, it was absolutely masterful in "Masquerade." The editing, the quick cuts, the music, it all created a thrill of excitement that carried throughout from beginning to end. Of course, there was also some nifty action and some great character moments (from Damon—given a long-awaited cathartic release, and a touching reunion between Caroline and Bonnie). Other highlights included Caroline's moment of triumph over Katherine, Bonnie's familial moment with the one-off character of awesome, Lucy Bennett, and the extended cutting conversation between Katherine, Damon and Stefan while trapped in the closet Lockwood suite. Bottom-line, this episode hit on all cylinders. And, as always, in her roles as the doppelgangers, Nina Dobrev was absolutely brilliant!

09-The Sacrifice

When an episode took my least favorite series regular (admittedly still one I liked—of course, I speak of the cockroach-hybrid that is Tyler Lockwood) and made his storyline incredibly compelling, one that brought me near tears, there's no doubt that it was an excellent episode. And "The Sacrifice" absolutely was an excellent episode, and it wasn't only because of Tyler's discovery of werewolf video diarying. Nope, there was Katherine being Katherine (even while trapped in the tomb), Bonnie being, well, Bonnie. Jeremy being, heck, well, Jeremy and Stefan, oh, you know the drill. All three of them playing their versions of hero to take on Katherine—yup, our supreme bad girl still being the baddest of them all still while trapped in that tomb. Oh, Katherine, you were the worst, but still the best. Oh, and meanwhile, Damon and Elena were all getting up in each other's face (like really, really up in each other's faces) and Elijah was charming the heck out of Damon (and the audience) with his double-heart removal. *sigh* Phew! Oh, and did I mention Alaric in boxers and chunky monkey? What an episode!

10-The House Guest

I thought this episode was good when it first aired, but it was during my rewatch of the season that I realized just how good… nope, not good, not even great… but rather, downright excellent it actually was. There was romance both bittersweet (Alaric and Jenna) and beautiful (Matt and Caroline—that swoon-worthy stage kiss! The lighting was to die for!), and revenge, delicious (Damon to Katherine) and destructive (Jonas to the Grill) on display. This was the Valentine's episode after all! Katherine was casually cruel *and* adorably accommodating; Elena, Caroline and Bonnie had some lovely friendship moments and even pulled poor heartbroken (and, alas, still clueless) Jenna along. Damon was ridiculously, awesomely Damon—we got the humor, the broken heart and the smarts, natch! All of that, plus a twist or two. What can I say? Caroline Dries strikes again.

11-The Sun Also Rises

There are so many wonderful things about this episode, I could write a list—but when I think of this one, I think of Stefan Salvatore's love for his brother and how pure and beautiful it was. It was also very, very sad. But then as magnificent as "The Sun Also Rises" is, it was not a happy episode. After all, we also lost Jenna, the clueless-almost-until-the-very-end human who might have lived had she not been kept so clueless for so very long. True, Bonnie displayed awesome power, but it was for naught because Elijah showed that he was just like our Scooby gang. His family comes first, so he screwed our Scooby gang over thus negating Bonnie's fireworks of awesome. Sure, Uncle Daddy John displayed a selflessness that no one thought he was capable of… but that was in the service of giving up his life for his daughter. So, yeah, certainly not Happyland here, but still, oh my, so, so, so good. It was brilliant actually and that brilliance was evident in the theme on display: To be or not be… selfish. Some were selfless, putting others above themselves (or at least trying to). Others chose selfishness, choosing their wants, their desires even if it meant breaking promises and destroying lives. Over the top? Maybe, but this episode had such a grand, nearly operatic feel to it, I don't think so. It was just magnificent.

12-As I Lay Dying

This is one of those episodes that just really got me in the feels for every character who was highlighted. The arc climaxes to end the season and set-ups for the next were beautifully done, but this one was so strong emotionally that it was the character beats that carried the hour. While romance played a part in that poignant heft, the balance of that weight was familial and the bonds of friendship. Damon and Stefan, Caroline and Liz, Damon and Alaric, Alaric and Jeremy, and definitely from her point of view, Elena to Damon, yes, there was a bit of romantic feeling there, but more friendship, I believe. Added to that was the heartbreak that so many of our beloved characters were going through (Damon, Stefan, Liz, Bonnie, Alaric, Elena) that one couldn't help but feel so very much alongside them especially as we watched some of them take a few steps forward, while others took a few major ones back. It was a jam-packed season finale that was bursting with character, plot and most of all, heart.

13-The End of the Affair

The most wonderful thing about this was the introduction of Rebekah. With just a few strokes, writer Caroline Dries and actress Claire Holt—who connected immediately with Paul Wesley onscreen—created a strong, sassy, memorable character who was entirely believable as an Original, and as a girl who loved and was loved by Stefan the Ripper. However, it wasn't just the awesome of Rebekah that made this episode shine. Liz doing the bulk of the rescue-work for Caroline was amazing, and Elena finally getting actual glimpses into the true darkness of Stefan was important… even if she still remained encased within her bubble of their pure, perfect love; it was still a very important step. Ah, this was such a beautiful episode that featured so many strong relationships, some new (Stefan/Rebekah, Stefan/Klaus), some old (Damon/Elena, Liz/Caroline, Caroline/Tyler, Stefan/Elena), but all were showcased so very well with so much nuance. Of course, Caroline Dries. Of course.

14-The Reckoning

This episode was incredibly strong, incredibly layered, incredibly exciting. It was shocking, action-packed and yet it still managed to offer some lovely character moments. From Caroline's beautifully upbeat attitude, to Bonnie's non-magical bad-assery on display to Matt's crazy, stupid, awesome foray into the supernatural world, all of our supporting players were in fine form. Then there was the heart of the series in raw, aching form… Stefan torn between bloodlust and love; Klaus was the devil on his shoulder, Elena the angel. Meanwhile, Damon was trying escape to his status as the unchosen in Mystic Falls, but he couldn't do anything but follow his heart and so made the choice to return home… return to Elena and never leave her again. *sigh*

15-Ordinary People

This is one of the episodes that I consider damn near close to perfection. (Psst! Caroline Dries, co-writer… uh huh!) Rebekah's story told so much not only about her, but about Klaus and Elijah and the entire Original family, but even more compellingly, the audience also learned about the very creation of the vampiric mythology on this series. It was brilliant. As was a simple explanation as to why Bonnie Bennett—indeed the entire Bennett bloodline—is so powerful and so connected to vampiric activity. A Bennett was there when it all began. Again… brilliant. Ah, but it wasn't just the Originals and their story that was so well done. Oh no, the Brothers Salvatore and every single moment with them was magnificent. Their love for each other—never spoken, all but denied and decried—was evident in their every action to save one another's soul and, in Damon's case his (undead) life. Lastly, the little bit of screen time between Damon and Elena—their comfort lying in her bedroom, their conversation about Stefan's love for Damon (see?!)—was simply utter perfection. Which is just what this episode was. Because, you know, Caroline Dries. OK, and Julie Plec helped her write this one too, but, yeah, Caroline Dries!

16-Homecoming

I loved this (obviously… it's on this list), but the point is that I did love it even if there were aspects of it broke my heart. Such as the temporary loss of my beloved Rebekah. *sigh* Oh, but how glorious was every moment with her before (my also beloved) Elena literally stabbed her in the back? So, so glorious. Still, all was not painful in the splendor, there was also the beauty in Elena's swift, sure trust in Damon, along with her reminder that they always survive. There was the humor and surprise in Katherine's "Kaboom" and Damon's casual and hilariously cool disposal of his enemies' minions. And the Salvatore brotherly love coming to the fore in a devastating way as Stefan once again chose Damon over *everything.* Finally, Nina Dobrev delivered yet another tour-de-force performance where with just the slightest change in her stance, in her voice, in her facial expressions, she differentiated between Elena and Katherine. I just loved this episode so; it played with a lot of themes and moments that had been building from the premiere, as well it brought into focus threads of the entire series. Viewers also had to pay close attention because it was smart and cleverly laid out with a lot of trickery, but trickery that made sense with a brilliant, emotional and well-earned pay-off. Good, good stuff.

17-The New Deal

There is so much to love in this episode, but it's easy to start with the ending, so I shall… Damon and Elena's first real kiss. It was beautiful and lovely, and it was more than just a kiss. It also dealt with Damon's self-esteem issues both showing how they still exist, but how he's showing some growth and gaining a sense of self. We also saw an Elena who is beginning to maybe see beyond her delusional bubble, and, then there was Damon and Elena's first real kiss. *sigh* Oh, and there was so much more to the episode to love as well. And that more essentially boiled down to love of family, taking care of, protecting that family. Almost every main character showcased was focused on doing just that (Elena, Damon, Jeremy, Alaric, Stefan, even Klaus) and they were willing to do anything (lie, kill, compel, kidnap, even behead, you name it) to do what was necessary for family. Because family is precious… even if one is willing to piss off your brother and bear the guilt because you really want to kiss "his" girl. Yeah, fantastic episode, but… Damon and Elena's first real kiss. Yeah.

18-Our Town

Just about everything in this that was terrific also happened to be something that was terrible and that is what made this episode so tremendous. Stefan took on Klaus and he won… and it was awesome. The fact that he just happened to threaten to turn Elena into a vampire via car crash on Wickery Bridge as part of the plan was not so awesome, but it actually sorta was because that was how he won. Damon and Elena on the Gilbert porch, part deux? Also awesome even if Elena pre-rejected any kissy-face attempt from Damon. Why was it so awesome? Because Damon was totally cool with that pre-rejection ("It's right, just not right now.") Instead of birthday parties, our teenagers were having funerals for themselves and instead of depressing, it was—wait for it!—awesome. Why? Because it showed a level of maturity and growth that all of them (especially Caroline and Matt) have experienced since all of this supernatural chaos entered their lives. Finally, in this episode, we saw Klaus Mikaelson show not only our heroes/anti-heroes (am I right?) that he has more than vampiric strength to account for his immense power. He also has cunning and charm to spare. Again, amazing, but awful because it left our crew at his mercy, but, oh my, was it a joy to watch him work his wiles. Just like the episode as a whole… an absolute joy to watch.

19-All My Children

This was awesome sauce, just all-around awesome, awesome sauce. One of the great things about this one was how it followed through events from the prior episode—even the somewhat provocative aspects. And it did so swiftly, beautifully, in character, and seemingly in closure with just enough to allow future threads to play throughout the rest of the season. There was Elena's simmering jealousy over Damon, even as she and Stefan began to attempt to recapture their past. And the resurgence of the triangle wasn't all that was featured. The promise of Matt and Rebekah was introduced in this episode, and the chemistry between Candice King and Joseph Morgan—which was thoroughly highlighted for the first time in the previous episode—was once again explored. Along with the plot intricacy and romantic interplay, there was also the always beautiful friendship between Elena, Caroline and Bonnie—as a trio and in pairs—on display... even if it was painful as hell. But, hey, this is The Vampire Diaries, pain is a given, just as is awesome-sauce.

20-We All Go A Little Mad Sometimes

One of the strongest things about The Vampire Diaries is the sense of friendship to the point where that friendship is family. Beyond family, this group of people had created their own small tribe with their own rules by which they lived. An example of that tribal mentality played out most intensely in this episode when someone who helped them was killed by them because it helped one of their own. This went beyond the earlier motto of 'kill or be killed' and into 'kill to save our own and if there's collateral damage, so be it.' The show was willing to go dark and was very self-aware about it. It was damn good stuff; and it wasn't the only thing this episode had to offer that was damn good. Elena's breakdown finally brought her back into the light, offering up some wonderful character actualization. She at last wanted to live... and that led her to let go of the boy who couldn't die. There were beautifully laid parallels with the season premiere where Elena didn't die, but would have preferred to and was given a second chance and was happy for it this time. The Elena and Katherine (hallucinated) moments where Nina Dobrev played off of herself was brilliantly executed. Various pairings (both romantic and familial) were given an opportunity to shine, and Dobrev wasn't the only actor who stepped up to the plate (I'm looking at you, Trevino!). Repeated viewings keep delivering more nuance and detail. Such an outstanding outing.

21-My Brother's Keeper

I expect excellence from every Caroline Dries-penned episode (co-written or not… as this one was) and yet even with already high expectations in play, this one managed to surpass them all. And mightily so… this was easily my favorite episode of the series since Dries' first ever (season 01's "Miss Mystic Falls"). One of the reasons this was such a very strong outing was because of the magnificent case of show as opposed to tell on display throughout. This was most evident in the narrative (proclaimed most loudly from Caroline) that Damon is bad, while Stefan is good. However, we were shown Damon giving Elena space while Stefan was doing things against her wishes, Caroline decrying Elena's feelings for Damon… to the monstrous Klaus with whom Caroline was smiling and laughing and flirting. We were told that Elena had changed since she had turned, but were shown that she was still the same empathetic, warm person she had always been. Intriguing bits of character (courtesy mostly of the excellent David Alpay's Professor Shane) and plot, callbacks (Miss Mystic Falls!), friendship awesomeness, sibling love, be-still-my-beating-heart romance, and, of course, Damon and Elena first time sexytiems! All wrapped up with the WTF!ery (in the most awesome, jaw-dropping of ways) of the sire bond reveal which I personally loved. I loved it because it kept that delicious couple angst going while providing time for my favorite couple and those around them to come to terms with what the two of them as a couple meant in their crazy, chaotic world. All of that included and introduced in 42 minutes of television, plus one of the dang hottest love scenes on network television ever? Utter magnificence. (Thy name is Caroline Dries.)

22-O Come All Ye Faithful

There was some awesome horror on display in this episode—Klaus on a murderous rampage, slaughtering hybrid after hybrid to "O Holy Night," and then drowning a tipsy Carol Lockwood to a ghostly version of "Have Yourself a Merry Christmas." It was sickly twisted and yet beautifully-poetic and all-around riveting, Joseph Morgan delivered a tour-de-force performance of psychotic outrage on overdrive and then with charming reason. On a less homicidal, but still fantastic, note was the interaction between various twosomes both romantic and platonic. Despite putting their physical relationship on hold, Damon and Elena were still completely them, as real as ever. Meanwhile, Caroline and Stefan provided emotional support for one another, and Jeremy and Bonnie began walking that line once again between friend and more. This episode had murder, love and friendship… it also had betrayal, existential snowflakes, oh, and the undaggering of one Rebekah Mikaelson. Of course, it was awesome.

23-Into The Wild

The atmosphere in this was a bit different than any other episode, partially because there were only two stories on screen. We've had something similar before, but there were flashbacks and different locales which made it feel more populated and less concentrated. This time, however, there was essentially the Gilbert home and the island/woods of Novia Scotia—the long (long, long, loooooong) time burial place of Silas—and that gave the episode a tense, narrowed focus that worked really well. I was riveted throughout. Also, despite the cure for vampirism in play and others expecting Elena's affections to lean towards Stefan once more, she remained steadfast in her love for Damon. Full-stop. And it was beautiful. Also beautiful was the (surprising) emphasis on two other pairings... Stefan and Rebekah and (even more surprising) Rebekah and Elena! Once Rebekah showed Elena that she wasn't evil, Elena forgave her because Elena is that freaking awesome. Just like this episode. It was fantastic, truly stellar stuff; Caroline Dries rocked it out again.

24-Stand By Me

This was such an amazing episode, and it's worth nothing that it is the first one that was a solo outing for Julie Plec. She did an outstanding job. One of the strengths of The Vampire Diaries (obviously) were the sibling relationships, but certain episodes focused on them more so than others and this was definitely one of them… ranging from a single line from Rebekah to a few mentions of Vicki to a powerful scene between the Salvatores and, finally, to the entire episode revolving around Elena and Jeremy. Those relationships were viewed not only through love, but through loss. Tribal mentality was so often what drove these characters, but in that situation it was pushed to the wayside as the humanity of our group rose to the fore. The cost of saving one life—even one of their own—was too high if it meant taking out a dozen more and opening the door to the Other Side. And once saving Jeremy was off the table, Elena's grief was overwhelming, and Nina Dobrev blew the roof off with her performance; she was beyond amazing. Everyone else also brought their A-game (a special call-out to Zach Roerig who was heartbreaking both with the reminder of Vicki and breaking down in his truck over Jeremy's loss). Not only was the dialogue excellent and heartbreaking and so damn real, but the breakdown of how it all played out, the intercutting of conversations, the sound mixing, the editing, all of it was just on point. This was an absolutely amazing episode.

25-Pictures of You

There was literally nothing that I didn't love about this episode; it was simply magnificent. There were so many great moments, scenes between every mix of characters—even unexpected ones like Damon and Caroline (and those unexpected ones were sublime). Damon and Elena gave us bittersweet nuggets, while Stefan and Elena revealed even further how far from their early romance they'd come. Meanwhile, Stefan and Caroline, and Matt and Rebekah both offered sweetly tantalizing glimpses of a romance on the horizon. And, per usual, friendships—along with the romances—were beautifully highlighted, both the good and bad (humanity-less Elena was hilariously terrible, it wasn't surprising that Caroline wanted to take her out for a bit). Sprinkled throughout the episode were moments of such nuance and intricate depth and incredible storytelling that honored the history of the series, the characters and their relationships. Two words: Caroline Dries. Yup.

......................................................


Shockingly (snert), I have no idea when the next section will be up. Hopefully in a few months, but, probably not.


'THE VAMPIRE DIARIES' WRAP-UP THOUGHTS

- Major Unresolved Issues
- Minor Unresolved Issues
- Missed Opportunities
- THE Love Story
- Seasons 01-04 Favorite Scenes and Moments
- Seasons 05-08 Favorite Scenes and Moments
-
25 Favorite Characters
Tags: bonnie bennett, bonnie/caroline, caroline forbes, caroline/klaus, damon salvatore, damon/alaric, damon/caroline, damon/elena, damon/katherine, damon/stefan, elena gilbert, elena/bonnie, elena/caroline, elijah mikaelson, ian somerhalder, jeremy gilbert, jeremy/bonnie, klaus mikaelson, matt donovan, matt/rebekah, nina dobrev, rebekah mikaelson, rebekah/matt, stefan salvatore, stefan/caroline, stefan/rebekah, the vampire diaries, tv
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