The trick of juxtaposing extreme, crazy violence with sugary, happy music is as old as the hills — I would have said The Prisoner perfected it in the series finale — but last night's Vampire Diaries breathed new life into it, with this scene of Klaus ripping apart his rebellious hybrids to the strains of "O Holy Night." The trick worked so well, in fact, that TVD felt the need to reuse it a bit later, when Klaus drowns Tyler's mom to another Christmas tune.
This is Exhibit A for why we continue to love Vampire Diaries above most other shows, nonsensical plot twists and all. Last night's episode went a long way towards convincing us that we really ought to love and forgive Klaus, in spite of all the terrible things he's done — just as we've forgiven Damon, at this point — and then showed us, once and for all, why Klaus will never be a sweet pussycat.
Vampire Diaries has always been about two core questions: 1) What does it mean to be good, and how can we behave ethically in spite of our base desires? 2) Who's going to end up with Elena? Which guy is Caroline going to choose? Is that new hottie making a play for Tyler? Etc. Last night's episode made a really powerful case that both questions are, in the end, inextricably linked and maybe even the same question looked at through different lenses. Stefan and Caroline muse over whether they should feel guilty over watching Klaus "led to the slaughter" (not knowing that it was Klaus who dished out said slaughter) and then they ask what actually makes the two of them better than Klaus. The answer? Their family, and their connections with people they can trust.
Of course, those connections are tenuous and fragile at the best of times. One strand of the episode had to do with Elena attempting to invoke her family ties and shared experience with the hypnotized Jeremy, so his mind would install a "detour" in the way of his Vampire Hunter's instinctual urge to kill her. This plan totally fails, because Jeremy's bond with Elena is gone — and only his bond with the still-human Bonnie can moderate his behavior. Elena, in turn, has had her natural affection for Damon replaced with a creepy, artificial "Sire Bond," which can only be broken by Damon telling her to stay away from him and move on with her life.
(To everyone who's sad that as soon as Damon and Elena got together, their relationship was turned into a quasi-mind control thing — bear in mind that this is an obstacle. Throwing obstacles in the way of relationships is what this show does. This doesn't mean that Damon and Elena are categorically not meant to be together, it just means they have a hurdle to get over before they can be together. That, paradoxically, makes it more likely that they actually will end up together. On this show, the love that runs the most smoothly is usually the most doomed.)
Meanwhile, Klaus gets the absolute best moment of the episode — apart from the scene above — where he explains to Stefan why he keeps letters from his dead victims. It's the same reason Stefan used to write his own victims' names on a wall: loneliness. Klaus feels a moment of connection to each victim, as he holds his or her life in his hands... and then he kills them and he's left with nothing but his loneliness. That lack of connection to other people is why Klaus can never be anything but a monster. Klaus has tried to fill his emptiness with his Original family, only to have them let him down again and again. He's tried to fill it with his hybrids, too — and we just saw how that turned out. I really want Klaus and Stefan to go on the road together again, but this time without compulsion or obligations on either side. Just a long trip of male bonding and smouldering glances.
So it's becoming clearer that this season's Big Bad is Professor Shane, who's the ultimate manipulator in a town full of manipulators. And continuing the theme of connections with other people keeping you from descending into monstrosity, Professor Shane is alone, and he's clearly lost someone that he wants to bring back from the dead or otherwise get over. He mentions losing a wife and child — but there's a pretty big hint this episode that he's the immortal Silas, the witch whose loved one was murdered before she could become immortal. The sacrifices of twelve humans at the start of the season, and twelve hybrids in this latest episode, seem to be parts of Shane's strategy to do something probably quite horrible.
In any case, the episode ends with Stefan mistakenly thinking that Damon hasn't sent Elena away — thus triggering another thrilling round of Salvatore drama. And April having witnessed horrors that she can't be compelled to forget... and then finding the casket containing her old pal, Rebekah. And Tyler's main humanizing influence, his mom, has just soaked her head for rather a bit too long. All of which seems to add up to a lot more characters feeling lost, isolated, confused... and more prone to becoming monsters all over again.