Sam from EW wrote a really wonderful recap of the show but I forwarded it to what happens to Stefan…
“I Was Feeling Epic”: Eight seasons ago, Elena Gilbert met Stefan Salvatore. They talked all night. It was epic. And in season 2, when Stefan’s best friend Lexi played relationship whisperer and told Elena that “when it’s real, you can’t walk away,” she explained to Stefan that she decided to be his wingman because, well, she was feeling epic. And now, in the series finale, it was Stefan’s turn to do something — or more accurately — something else that was epic … and it cost him his life.
Let’s get into it for one final recap, and no I didn’t cry as I wrote that. (Yes I did.)
After this season brought us our first “I love you”s from the Salvatores, the finale gives us our first “I love you” exchange from them. Damon says, “I love you, little brother,” before Stefan can say it back. But here’s where it gets tricky. Stefan is human… which means Damon can compel him.
With tears in his eyes, Damon compels Stefan to walk out of the tunnels and not stop until Damon’s death breaks the compulsion. “I am the big brother,” he tells Stefan. “Sorry I wasn’t better at it until now.” Stefan then turns and walks out.
Two weeks ago, I talked about how I always felt like Damon had to sacrifice everything to save his brother in order to achieve the redemption that the show had been working toward. And for the second time in two weeks, he’s proven that he’s gone from the man who once promised his brother an eternity of misery to the one who’s willing to do anything to let his brother live. And if I’m being honest, because of that, there’s a part of me that was going to be okay if Damon was the death that ended this show. But that’s not what happened…
After one final hug, Matt and Peter head to the town square, leaving Vicki to ring the bell for the twelfth time. But before she does, Ric tells Caroline Stefan’s plan — to sacrifice himself to save everyone — and she does the only thing she can do: She has Ric pull the car over so that she can call Stefan.
She leaves him a voicemail, and just when I thought I could handle this conversation, Caroline says the best thing she could say in this situation (and also the thing that will make me cry the hardest): “I need you to know that I understand.” She tells him that she will love him forever before reiterating that, above all else, she understands. And how amazing is that? Seriously.
Suddenly, we’re inside the high school, where Elena is awake, and we hear soundbites from earlier seasons, including Stefan asking “Is this the Men’s Room?” Just as Elena rounds the corner, she once again bumps into Stefan.
Elena, naturally confused, asks for an explanation. Stefan tells her that he’s not sure if Bonnie’s okay, but what he does know is that Damon wanted to sacrifice everything to save Elena and save the town. He was ready. Stefan explains, “I’m human now. He compelled me to leave.” But Damon should’ve known better: Stefan would never spend a day as a human without ingesting vervaine.
We flash back to the moment before the hellfire came back through the tunnels, when Stefan returned and injected Damon with his blood, thereby giving his brother the cure, undoing the very thing that caused Damon to promise him an eternity of misery all those years before. Just as Stefan forced his brother into vampirism, now he forces him back into the life he wants: a human one with Elena.
In that moment, Stefan knew his brother wouldn’t do something stupid. Without the cure, Stefan would age and die, so there was no longer any reason to save his life. So, with Damon out of the way, Stefan held Katherine in place and just before he daggered her, told her one last time to, quite literally, burn in hell.
Then, just before he closed his eyes and accepted his fate, Stefan turned to Damon and said, “Goodbye, brother.” OH MY GOD I HAVE SO MANY EMOTIONS.
Jumping back to Stefan and Elena in the hallway, Elena slowly registers what Stefan is saying. Damon is fine, but Stefa … he did what he had to do, he tells her. “Tonight I saw a side of Damon that I hadn’t seen in a while: the older brother I looked up to, the son who enlisted in the Civil War to please his father, the Damon I knew when I was a boy. I wanted that Damon to live, and I wanted you to have an opportunity to get to know him.” Contradicting Katherine’s statement from earlier in the episode, Stefan tells Elena, “He’s the better man. He’s the right man.”
I have a small issue with Stefan, who’s just sacrificed himself, saying that Damon is the “better man,” but the point is that Damon has finally completed his evolution. He became a “villain” when his brother forced him to become a vampire. And now, almost 200 years later, he’s back to being the guy he was before he died, and not just because he’s human, but because the self-described selfish vampire has learned to put others first. In terms of redemption, this one moment has delivered it for both brothers: Damon because he was willing to sacrifice himself, and Stefan because he did.
Returning to the moment, Stefan wipes a tear from Elena’s face as he tells her, “It’s good to see you, Elena. One last time.” The two of them hug before he whispers one final message in her ear. Then, mirroring the moment when she left with Klaus in season 2 and the moment they said goodbye in the season 6 finale, they let their hands slowly separate. They’ve finally come to the end of their love story. And that’s one of the things I love most about this moment. It does not take anything away from Damon and Elena’s love story or Stefan and Caroline’s love story, but by the simple fact that Stefan told Elena that his brother was the right man in this scenario, it brings us back to the love triangle that was the foundation of this show for so long. It’s a beautiful wink to the fact that maybe there was a future in which Stefan and Elena found their way back to each other. We’ll never know. But now, because of Stefan’s decision, he’s ended their story. But he’s also the reason their story began.
By putting Katherine’s comment about Stefan being the better man in the beginning of the episode and bringing it back here, it makes the triangle relevant again without undoing years of other relationships. Just like in the season 3 finale, it came down to which brother, but this time, it wasn’t about who Elena would choose. Instead, it was about which brother would make the ultimate choice, and once again, it was Stefan. So maybe, in a way, it was always going to be Stefan, whether it was about getting a girl or making a sacrifice.
I also just have to tip my hat to both actors in this scene. I feel like there’s so much they’re juggling here. They can’t make the moment romantic, because that would feel odd, but they have to acknowledge that they’re saying goodbye to an epic love, and they handle it so perfectly. I’m sure some of you will disagree, and I respect how you feel, but for me, I feel like this moment respects all the ships.
And finally, there’s the beautiful callback as The Fray’s “Never Say Never” plays, the same song that ended the pilot, when Stefan showed up on Elena’s porch after the bonfire and she invited him inside. It was the start of their love story — that was the night that they would talk and it would be epic. And now, it marks the (also epic) end of their love story.
Walking down the hallway away from Elena — which took me back to the moment he did the same in season 4 after hearing her say she loved Damon for the first time — Stefan opens the doors and enters… peace. And waiting for him is none other than Lexi, leaning against his Porsche. “That was beautiful,” she says, to which he responds, “I was feeling epic.”
Cutting from Lexi and Stefan’s reunion, we get Elena’s final “Dear Diary.” As she wakes up in Damon’s bed, her voiceover — mirroring sentiments she said in the pilot — says, “Dear Diary, Today will be different. Today I will smile and it will be genuine because today is the day that I get to live again.” (Much in the same way that Stefan helped her figure out how to live again after her parents died.)
Just then, Elena wakes up to find Bonnie watching over her. After all this time, Bonnie found a way to break Kai’s spell, and as she puts it, “It took some time but I think I finally figured this witch thing out.” They hug, and then in a moment that absolutely destroys me, the reality of the situation sets in for both of them. Elena asks where Damon is, and Bonnie lets her know that he’s with Caroline… “saying goodbye.”
As we head to the Salvatore crypt, Elena’s diary entry continues, “This life will be good and beautiful, but not without heartbreak. In death comes peace, but pain is the cost of living. Like love, it’s how we know we’re alive.” It’s a sentiment they’ve repeated throughout the series: Elena telling Stefan to feel something, anything — that our emotions are what make us human. Stefan then told her the same after Alaric died. But this time, it’s about losing Stefan.
Damon and Caroline stare at Stefan’s grave marker, which claims Stefan is “now at peace,” and Caroline believes that. “We’ll see him again,” she tells Damon, but he’s not so sure. He’s pretty sure they’ll reopen hell for Damon Salvatore. But in a truly heartwarming moment for these characters who’ve come so far — remember when Caroline was basically Damon’s puppet? — she tells him, “Don’t be so sure.” Somehow, Damon has won over Caroline Forbes, and that’s saying a lot. Between losing Liz and losing Stefan, they’ve come together, and much like Alaric said last week during the wedding, loss is what brought all these people together.
And while we’re talking about bringing people together, Caroline walks out to find Elena standing there, and finally, Damon gets his reunion, kissing Elena like he means it.
Elena then sits Caroline down to tell her what Stefan whispered in her ear: “Tell Caroline I heard her,” he told her. “And I will love her forever too.” He got her message!!! (And now I’m crying again. Just kidding. I never stopped.)
As a final goodbye, everyone pays their respects to Stefan. Caroline leaves the snow globe he gave her once upon a time on his grave, which Damon follows with his daylight ring. After all, Damon’s human now, and it’s all thanks to Stefan. Also on the grave? If you look closely, Elena left her necklace. The first real thing he did to protect her all those years ago.
As Elena’s voiceover leads into many others, she says the truest thing about losing someone, “Life goes on.”
From there, we cut to Elena leaning against a grave outside the Salvatore crypt, where she visits Stefan as she writes in her green journal. She went to med school, after which she returned home to Mystic Falls. It’s where she wanted to grow old, and according to her, she did, though her age is kept a question mark.
Writing the end of her story, she says, “And that’s my life: weird, messy, complicated, sad, wonderful, amazing, and above all, epic. And I owe it all to Stefan. When I met him, I had lost my parents and I was dead inside. But he brought me back to life, and I’m going to live it as best I can for as long as I can.”
Joining hands with Damon, we see that Elena’s wearing a wedding ring. Her voiceover tells us that Damon’s worried he won’t see Stefan again because he doesn’t think he deserves peace. “But he’s wrong, because I know peace exists,” she says. “It lives in everyone we hold dear. That is the promise of peace — that one day, after a long life, we find each other again.”
Jumping ahead to what I assume is Elena’s death, Damon disappears from the picture as she turns to realize she’s back home. And waiting for her on the front porch she once burned to the ground are Aunt Jenna, her mom and dad, and even Uncle John. (I guess Jeremy was busy at the school.) With that, the girl who lost her parents in the pilot gets them back in the series finale as she ends things with a Gilbert family hug.
Then we cut to Stefan, and this is when I absolutely lose it — the moment I realize how this show is about to end. Standing at the Salvatore house, Stefan opens the door, and there stands Damon. “Hello, brother,” Damon says, but this time, he’s not the ominous villain here to ruin Stefan’s life. This time, the Salvatore brothers have been reunited in peace, because after all, family first, right?
In their redemption, they’re reunited, and we end things on a Salvatore brother hug, otherwise known as the best possible way to end the show.