I'm going to change the format of my recaps for this season. It's nothing about the show, I just don't have time to go into the detail I have in the past. So, at least for now, I'm going with five things I liked, five things I didn't, and maybe a bonus comment at the end.
Things I liked:
1. Damon was so very Damon. Whether he was getting his snark on, saving the day, or being honest with Elena....Damon wasn't playing the whipped puppy dog we saw back in season 2, but he also wasn't leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.
2. The pacing of the opening half of the episode. Wow, that was intense. Intentional or not, I couldn't help but make a parallel to the "Vampire Roundup" back when they captured the tomb vamps. These guys meant business. They swept through the town collecting all the vamps without a second's hesitation. I'm still not entirely clear how Damon got away, but I'm glad he did. I'd hate for him to have had to experience point #1 of what I didn't like.
3. Jeremy and Elena's conversation. We've often seen Elena as the caretaker, but I enjoyed this moment between (kind of) siblings. (Small quibble - I do question whether Jeremy could remember Vicki's transformation though. Damon had compelled those out of him.) In any case, he knows that Elena can't be doing as well as she's pretending. She doesn't want to worry anyone, so she's faking being ok - and he knows it.
4. Damon was right - and Stefan knew it. In the opening sequence, we hear Stefan voicing his regret that he saved Matt, fully aware that Damon would have saved Elena. Later in the episode, Stefan is once again regretting not doing as Damon would have done. Had Elena fed early in the day, he wouldn't have come so close to losing her.
5. Elena's transformation. I have to hand it to Nina. All the scenes where Elena was on the brink of losing control, especially those in the cabin with Pastor Young, were simply amazing to watch.
Things I wasn't so fond of.
1. Elena's confession to Stefan. In the season 3 finale, Elena was very clear that she wasn't simply trying to return home to Stefan, but now she says that's not the case. She chose him, and that's why Matt was bringing her back to Mystic Falls.
2. Too many overly emotional scenes between Stefan and Elena. Yes, I knew they had to happen. Yes, I was expecting it. But they took away from the pacing of the show. In an episode where I didn't even mind watching Bonnie (I know, you're shocked), I think these scenes could have been shortened and it wouldn't have lessened the overall message that Elena's firmly on team Stefan.
3. Grams had to pay the price. When Abby overstepped her boundaries with witchcraft, the sisters took her magic. I know it would be difficult for the show for Bonnie to lose her powers, but bringing Grams in just to be punished felt like taking the easy way out.
4. Did someone forget to lock Elena's cage? All through the episode, it was established that....darn, those cages were strong - not even Rebekah could get out. Then, when Matt's life was on the line, Elena was suddenly able to escape and vamp out on Damon? This isn't Twilight. Baby vamps have never had super strength.
5. Damon and Elena's conversation about the compulsion. Because of the timing of the conversation, I know both of them had their snark levels set to high, but I just wasn't pleased with how this was presented. Elena had been touched when she remembered the moment - you could see her fighting the urge to say something to Damon when he said that Stefan deserved her. As it stood, none of that came through when Elena let Damon know she remembered.
And...what on earth? I know it was visually striking, but really? Rounding up everyone who knew about the vampires and blowing them all up was just too easy of an out. Now everything's back to normal in Mystic Falls since the council members involved in the plan are all dead. It was just too easy of an out. Rather than having to navigate a Mystic Falls where people were very much against vampires, now they're all just dead.
Overall.... I didn't hate the episode. It was a necessary evil. We needed to see Elena transition - and locked in a cage in a barn was as good a place as any. I enjoyed the vamp-roundup. It provided much-needed tension when Elena's transition was really never in doubt. But since they killed off all the anti-vamp council members, it seemed a little pointless.
I wasn't fond of how quickly and easily Elena had adjusted to her fate. When she was on the roof with Stefan, everything was sunshine and rainbows...and this was from a young woman who desperately didn't want to be a vampire. I'm hoping Jeremy's words about Elena's tendency to pretend things are alright is going to come into play here, and we'll discover she's putting on an act for Stefan's benefit.
The episode also set up a plot that I was hoping to see. Damon and Klaus both have a common goal - turning Elena human again. Damon was dead-set that she'd never have to face life as a vampire. Klaus needs Elena's blood again. Before the series ends, I believe Elena will have to choose whether or not she wants to stay a vampire.
On a one to ten scale - I give this a 7. Nina outdid herself with Elena's emotional conflict. It was nice to see a hint of S1 Damon without all the unnecessary bloodshed. But the lengthy sentimental scenes between Stefan and Elena took away from other areas of the plot.
One last thing - I've thought quite a bit about the scene where Elena finally gets a taste of blood on her lips. The visual of the tear running down her cheek as she tastes the blood was simply haunting. It took me a while (two days) to figure out how we got from the girl who so violently didn't want to be a vampire...the one who was so willing to die to save her friends....to the one who chose to turn.
And then I realized the answer.
She admitted almost as much during their rooftop scene. She wanted Stefan to have hope. She didn't want him to feel guilty about her death - and he most certainly would have. So, once again, showing that she's the antithesis of Katherine, she allowed herself to turn into the being didn't want to be in order to prevent Stefan from feeling guilty about her death. Elena, martyr to the end, once again gave up her life to preserve that of some else.