This week’s episode of “The Vampire Diaries,” “Memorial,” is action packed, suspenseful and sexy. But it’s also a poignant, thoughtful meditation on grief and loss. That’s a tough trick to pull off. The next time someone smirks when I say that “Vampire Diaries” is one of the best shows on television, I’m going to rip his or her heart out. Don’t worry. I haven’t gone Klaus. I’m just going to sit them down and make them watch this episode. Because it left my heart shredded.
It starts with Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Stefan (Paul Wesley) arguing about Stefan’s plan to have Elena (Nina Dobrev) feed on animal blood. Their heated conversation is intercut with Stefan attacking a deer and making her drink from it. If he wanted Elena to feel good about this diet, maybe he should have started with an animal that isn’t cute, like a rat. Damon thinks she needs to feed on human blood or else she will go nuts and kill someone. Stefan promises Elena the deer will survive. How can he know that? It’s a conceit of the show that massive blood loss is rarely fatal or even particularly damaging, but this episode is extra bloody and it’s jarring. Damon, who is hilarious throughout the episode, says, “Vampires eat people. It’s part of the natural food pyramid.” Elena realizes her heightened senses make it extra enjoyable when Stefan touches her. They almost have sex in the woods. Then she pukes blood. Even Stefan finds that a turn off.
A hot guy (as if there is any other kind in Mystic Falls) searches the destroyed pastor’s cabin. In the oven, he finds an envelope addressed to someone named April.
Sheriff Forbes shows Damon a headline about the council dying in an “accidental” explosion due to a faulty gas line. He says if he were going to kill 12 people, he would have had a dinner party. Damon is thrilled they are dead. The mystery man introduces himself to the Sheriff. Henceforth, he shall be known as Connor Jordan (Todd Williams).
The high school is planning a memorial for the dead. In a town as small as Mystic Falls, this is the equivalent of Columbine. Matt (Zach Roerig) tells Tyler (Michael Trevino) he wants to help her. A girl named April (Grace Phipps) — of the mysterious envelope — says hi to Jeremy. She is Pastor Young’s daughter. She doesn’t seem too upset about her dad dying. I suppose if your Dad was a David Koresh type it might be a relief to lose him.
Stefan gives Elena champagne from the year she was born to celebrate her raw venison meal. He assures her it will get easier. Elena asks Damon for his help because she can’t keep blood down. She is adamant about abstaining from human blood. He takes her in the bathroom and offers her his vein. He warns not to tell Stefan because blood sharing is personal. Well, it is an exchange of bodily fluids. She sucks from his wrist and it is super sexual. Damon is practically writhing in ecstasy.
The director spells out the subtext for slow viewers by cutting to Caroline (Candice Accola) and Tyler (Michael Trevino) having sex. She worries it’s selfish for them to get their freak on at such a tragic time. Tyler points out that if they stopped having sex every time someone died they’d explode.
Connor introduces himself to Mayor Lockwood, walking into her house uninvited to establish he is not a vampire. He interrogates her. Why wasn’t she at the meeting? When Tyler shakes his hand, he starts to burn because Connor is wearing vervaine gloves. Connor shoots him. He revives and jumps through the window to flee. Stefan removes special wooden bullets covered with etchings from Tyler’s chest.
At the church in preparation for the memorial service, which seriously lasts two thirds of an episode, April reunites with her former babysitter Elena, who is wearing an inappropriate pastel pink dress. Elena takes her hand but starts to jones for blood when she notices April’s pulse. She vomits blood again. It’s just as gross the second time. Connor knocks on the bathroom door while she is on the phone with Damon. He brings her a clean dress, which is black, because Damon has good manners. Connor introduces himself to Damon, who refuses to shake his hand claiming he has a germ phobia.
Connor stakes April. Blood pours out of her. This is the goriest episode ever.
Elena drinks a pint of human blood that Damon gave her. He theorizes that she is having difficulty digesting blood because of her doppelganger blood. He tells her she needs to drink from a human being, though there doesn’t seem to be any explanation for why that would make a difference. Maybe it’s the vampire equivalent of breast versus bottle feeding. Damon tells Stefan that she can’t keep blood down – not even his. Stefan is jealous that his girl had her fangs in his brother’s arm.
Damon enters the church and cheerfully sticks his hand in the holy water, which is not remotely painful to vampires in this universe.
Since April is busy bleeding and having a gun pointed at her, Elena takes her place as a speaker, saying that the worst day of loving somebody is the day that you lose them. Elena can smell April’s blood. Damon warns her not to turn around. It’s a trap. Matt tells Elena to feed from him, proving he is the best ex-boyfriend ever. It looks like they are embracing while she bites his neck. Vampire Elena is drinking from everyone but Stefan. Connor sees the blood on her face and realizes she is a vampire.
While Tyler eulogizes Pastor Young, Connor shoots him. Everyone runs. How is the rest of the town going to rationalize this? Damon chases down a fleeing Connor, but Connor gets away after shooting Damon.
Elena finds a terrified April. Caroline stops her from feeding on her. Caroline lets April drink from her wrist and promises her no one is going to hurt her. She tells Elena to make April forget and trains her in the art of compelling. Elena proves a quick study.
Catch Up on the Season Premiere of “The Vampire Diaries”:
At the grill Connor asks Matt about his bandaged neck. He says his girlfriend went overboard. Jeremy compliments Connor on his tattoo which Matt can’t see. Either Jeremy has a new power or Connor’s tattoo is dead. Connor reads the pastor’s note to April which says his death is the first in the war. He has a hit list. Ladies and gentlemen, meet your new Big Bad.
Stefan is mad that Elena lied to him and went to Damon for help. Elena becoming a vampire pushed a rest button on the love triangle. Everyone lights Japanese lanterns at Stefan’s insistence in an impromptu, more genuine memorial service, as they talk about all the people they have lost. There are shout-outs to Zack, Lexie, Alaric, Vicki, Caroline and Tyler’s fathers, Anna, Grams, Jenna, Ma and Pa Gilbert, and Elena, because she lost her life, too. The lanterns float into the sky and it is really, truly beautiful.
In case you aren’t crying yet, Damon, who refused to participate, drinks in front of Alaric’s grave, telling him that everyone else is an exasperating child. Because when someone dies all you have left is a hole where they used to be. Alaric’s ghost is there, though Damon cannot see him. He says Ric owes him for sticking around. Ghost Ric says he misses him too. The episode ends on this haunting moment, because there is nothing sadder than a bad boy holding back tears.