"After School Special" is especially similar to the Stefan and Elena story in "The Reckoning," except the roles are reversed. The original vampire isn't Klaus but Rebekah. Stefan's humanity is, of course, back. Elena's the changed person. She's a vampire and loves Stefan's brother now. Rebekah wants to hurt the former couple as much, or more, as they hurt her. Rebekah's actually after information about the cure. The raw emotions of the former couple are just an added bonus. Rebekah compels Elena to tell Stefan the truth about her feelings. Elena says she loves Damon and that the sire bond isn't the reason for her love. Being with Damon makes her feel good, helps her feel normal. Stefan treated her like a project, like a broken toy that needed repair. Damon treated her as she is. Rebekah asks Stefan, "Does that hurt?" Rebekah wanted Stefan to experience the feeling of a dagger being stabbed into your heart by the person you love the most, because, after all, Stefan set Rebekah up for a dagger to the heart by her dear and beloved brother Klaus. Stefan responds with a terse "yes." I'm reminded of Thomas Aquinas saying that you should never kill a man, especially if it means taking his life. Elena kills her ex-boyfriend a little bit.
Elena tears up during and after her confessions about Damon. Stefan sits still. Caroline watches, anguished. Rebekah's gleeful. The trio of vampires don't give Rebekah useful information about the cure. Kol returns to Mystic Falls to help his sister find out more about the cure. Shane's kidnapped from his office and tortured into spilling the truth about the sacrifices, the cure, and Silas, who, when raised, will raise the dead souls of all whose lives he ended. Kol drowns him out of fear of Silas. Rebekah thinks Silas is a creation of parents who wanted their children to eat their vegetables nightly. Rebekah doesn't lose focus. "The Reckoning" parallels continue. Tyler shows up to save Caroline and is immediately compelled to turn and kill his friends. This time, Stefan joins Elena in a mad scramble to escape death. Tyler never kills his friend. Rebekah quells the beast and leaves him in front of his mother's makeshift memorial in the school gymnasium. Why go for the kill when you can go for the pain? Joss Whedon penned that question a long time ago. Rebekah cares about causing pain. Death represents an easy exit, and she won't erase Stefan's memories of Elena because of the pain it causes him.
The Elena/Stefan/Rebekah scenes are written really well. The strength of their scenes is that they are underwritten. TVD's mastered the art of condensing incredible emotion into a couple of beats. The writing deserves credit and the cast deserves credit. Nina Dobrev's excellent as she breaks Stefan's heart. What she has to play is tough. She's forced into confessing, so she's strained and resistant. The cold truth is counteracted by the tears in her eyes, the movements of her lower lip, and the sense that she'd like to heal Stefan as soon as her words cut him. Paul Wesley's absolutely brilliant in underplaying big emotion; his understated approach adds gravity and pathos to what could turn into melodramatic nonsense.
"After School Special" is really busy beyond Stefan and Elena's sad scenes. Damon's still at the cabin with Jeremy, wallowing over the sire-bond, as Jeremy learns to become a healthy vampire hunter who doesn't want to kill his vampire sister. Damon teaches Jeremy really slowly. Jeremy moves like an Atlanta Falcons linebacker when he tries to beat Damon. Klaus shows up to expedite the process. Klaus mellowed out after murdering twelve hybrids and getting over Stefan's betrayal. Klaus just wants the map complete so he can find the cure and do what he will with it. Damon thinks Klaus' plan is better. A late night conversation with Elena, post-Stefan fun, changes Damon's perspective. He'll get the cure for Elena even if it means putting Jeremy through things Elena wouldn't like. Elena also tells Damon that she loves him. Damon invites her to the cabin, reenergized by Elena's admission of love. The cabin story ends in a bar. Klaus killed every one inside and turned them. When the dead awake, Jeremy will kill and complete the map.
Meanwhile, Shane didn't die. The work with Bonnie saved his life because he's a deceptive and manipulative son of a gun. Expression is the term TVD uses for dark magic. Dark magic and expression are different. Shane poeticizes expression. Stefan doesn't. Expression's a magic that uses the energy, or blood, of massacred people. Shane's plan is so smooth, even impressive. Shane couldn't hurt a single character in a physical fight, but he's more dangerous than the Originals. Kol's afraid of him---that shows the audience Shane's for real, or, rather, it's TVD's way of legitimizing Shane as THE villain of the season. Season 4's been clunky at times, inconsistent, tonally off, but the writing for Shane's arc shows the writers can still spin an impressive plot. Seriously, the plotting on TVD is magnificent.
The episode ends in a strange place. For the cure, characters have been separated into teams. I'm reminded of a 80s film about a great race. John Hughes may've directed that race movie. Stefan teams with Rebekah. The cure represents power and control for Stefan. If they find it first, they decide on how it's used. It's a rat race for Damon and Klaus. Meanwhile, April tells Sheriff Forbes and the new mayor, Bonnie's father, that people need to tell the truth in Mystic Falls. Her father's death could've been avoided. Something needs to change. Change is everywhere in Mystic Falls, and it's had explosive consequences. That won't change anytime soon.
-Bonnie gets to hang out with one family member per season. In what episode will Bonnie's dad die horribly? Will Bonnie fly into a dark rage, effectively becoming Dark Willow, in the same episode, or the episode after?
-In case you missed it, The CW wants an Originals spin-off. I assume TVD knew about this for a long time, which is why Kol's back now. A backdoor pilot will air in April.
-Brett Matthews wrote the episode. David von Ecken directed it.
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