I'll admit that when the finale first aired, I was a mess. Annoyed at Elena being forced to choose. Grief-stricken from the loss of Alaric. Saddened that we've lost human Elena. I didn't really have time to analyze the events of the last fifteen minutes or so, and, to be honest - I didn't want to. Before I had the chance to really change my mind, someone in my family deleted the episode from my DVR and I never really thought about it again.
But, I bought the DVD series. I love the song that plays as the truck goes under the water, the visuals are so striking, I decided to give the finale another go.
So...JP's recent tweets still echoing in the back of my mind, I remembered her comment about Family Ties. It showed us the Damon who once was - and gave us a glimpse at the Damon we'd later see (my paraphrase).
As I was eating my pizza, I heard Damon's question to Alaric. "Is that all you've got?" He was challenging Ric - the new hunter. Unable to kill him, both because of Evilaric's physical strength and his tie to Elena's life, directly after the flashback, Damon taunts him....but why?
Just like so many other scenes in the show, this memory isn't about Damon and Elena's relationship - not really....it's about Damon and his choices.
Elena didn't realize that the choice she just made had the impact it did - no one told her about the brothers' agreement, of that I'm certain. She believes she'll see Damon in just an hour or so. She wouldn't have made the choice if she'd realized she'd lose Damon. In her closing words, she says the phrase that triggers Damon's later memory. "Maybe if I'd met you first."
Damon knows she did.
Somehow, in that brief moment, they connected - after all, she didn't end up as his dinner. For whatever reason, she intrigued him, but he couldn't let her remember him.
Damon's always had to live with the knowledge that he did meet her first. But he also knows that it'll always be Stefan (insert my "sloppy compulsion" theory here) - even if Elena's not ready for always....
The flashback was for Damon's benefit - one more example of when an action had an unintended consequence. If he'd left her memory intact, would she have been so easily swayed by Stefan's opinion of his brother? He doesn't have the answer, but he's already fallen for Katherine and Elena. He loves fully, completely, and recklessly....while I don't think he's trying to martyr himself, I do think he's aware he's about to die. The memory gave him a chance to say goodbye to the Elena he could have known.