Well, the gang finally left high school, and they finished the way they spent it: with near deaths, deaths, and back-from-the-deaths. Here’s what went down in The Vampire Diaries Season 4, Episode 23, “Graduation.”

Mystic Falls is ready for commencement! The football arena is filled with uncomfortable folding chairs and glitzy decorations (most likely Caroline’s doing). Kol, who is back from the grave and bitter about it, uses the podium’s microphone to deliver a call to arms to the witches and hybrids killed in the Silas massacres: basically, Salvatores & Co. must pay.

Stefan and BFF Lexi don’t seem too worried. He’s drinking. She’s dancing. Damon is also lurking around the Salvatore lair. Lexi is none too happy to see the vamp who mercilessly staked her in Season 1, but she takes the high road and chooses not to waste her time enacting revenge. Damon questions why the two are all “Dance Party USA” when Mystic Falls is currently Ghost Town. Answer: Stefan is happily drunk.

Bonnie is having a more sober day. On the phone with a yearbook-wielding Caroline, she tries to pretend enthusiasm for graduation while looking at her dead body lying cold on the ground. Kind of a commencement-high killer. Still, Bonnie manages to pull herself together and tells Caroline she will be there for the big event. After hanging up the phone, she has a convo with a ghosty Grams, who suggests Bonnie use the day to say goodbye.

In other ghostly get-togethers, Elena, Jeremy, and Alaric are having a lovely lunch in the Mystic Falls cemetery. Elena is distraught over her actions as an emotionless vamp killer but is enjoying the moment with her family. Her happiness is fleeting, as her lunch is rudely interrupted by a call from Connor, the dead vampire hunter. He wants the much-coveted vampire cure so he can kill Silas once and for all. If he doesn’t get it, he will blow up the Grill. (But they have the best burgers in town!) Another dead vampire hunter Vaughn delivers a similar message to the Salvatore house. And by “deliver,” we mean shoots Damon. Stefan retaliates by pulling out Vaughn’s heart. Violence on this show certainly escalates quickly.

Meanwhile, Rebekah and Matt have their own little subplot involving a third dead vampire hunter: Alexander. This one is decidedly less focused on Silas. He used to date Rebekah way, way, way back when. He manages to finagle Matt onto a small platform rigged with explosives. Rebekah won’t leave her crush, so he sweetly distracts her by asking about her summer plans. She decides to take Matt to see the world: Italy. The Northern Lights. The Great Wall of China. The Louvre. An excellent itinerary.

Alaric confronts Connor at the Grill, his former stomping grounds. Apparently the dead history teacher is still quite attached to the place and does not want to see it blown to bits. He whisks Connor away with superhuman speed, managing to save the Grill even as the bomb goes off. Alaric!

At the school, Katherine is on the warpath. She confronts Bonnie about the immortality she promised. Bonnie could care less. She’s got bigger fish to fry. Katherine threatens to kill Elena. According to the vampire, her doppelganger has all of the luck; Bonnie finally gets interested, telling Katherine she will crush her skull if she tries to kill her best friend. Bonnie can be pretty awesome, sometimes.

So, what happened to the cure? Well, apparently, Damon had it gift-wrapped (or, at least, nicely-boxed) for Elena as a graduation present. He presents it to her at the Salvatore abode. Elena says she can’t take it. (After all that fuss!) She’d rather give it to the hunters to keep Mystic Falls safe. Damon tells her to take it, but she still refuses, which means — voila! — sire bond officially broken.

In the next room, Stefan and Lexi are discussing the Elena/Damon/Stefan Triangle of Love. (Aren’t we all?) No one knows what will happen now that Elena has emotions again and the sire bond is broken. Suspense! Stefan says that Elena is the love of his life and, if she chose him, he would go back to her in a heartbeat. Otherwise, he will live in an Australian yurt. (Seriously.)

Before Damon and Elena can start discussing the Elena/Damon/Stefan Triangle of Love, Damon starts squirming. Turns out that bullet he was shot with was laced with werewolf venom. Those crafty hunters! Elena decides they need Klaus, but Damon notes that he is a thousand miles away and, oh yeah, hates his guts. Jeremy, who is lurking in the doorway for this discussion, suggests Damon take the cure. Elena is on board with this plan, but Damon is not. Instead, he gives the cure to her and offers to bring an awake-again Vaughn to Silas’s body.

Damon leads Vaughn to the cliff over which he allegedly threw Silas body.  Vaughn doesn’t believe him, even when Damon pantomimes the entire process and uses physics to describe it.

Back outside the Grill, Rebekah and Matt have finished the “Planning Our Summer Trip” phase of panic and have moved on to actually trying to solve the problem. Matt tells Rebekah that she should save herself. After all, he has the handy Gilbert ring and dying doesn’t hurt that bad. Rebekah wisely points out that there’s getting your neck snapped and then there’s getting blown into a million itty-bitty pieces. She kisses Matt, using it as a distraction to step onto the bomb-enhanced platform. What a dame! She tells Matt to run — he has a graduation to get to — and he does, leaving her behind to deal with the ex-boyfriend.

At the Salvatore residence, Damon tells Elena that wherever Damon is, he’s leading Vaughn on a wild goose chase because they haven’t even gotten rid of Silas’s body yet. (You’d think that would be the kind of thing you’d put at the top of your “to do” list). Apparently, Jeremy’s been drinking the Graduation Kool-Aid, too, because he bursts in, cap and gown in hand, and tells Elena to go get her tassel flipped. Elena is hesitant (cue self-pitying list of excuses), but Jeremy is having none of it. Apparently, the Gilbert parents would “kill her” (poor choice of words?) if Elena go to her own graduation. Besides, he can hang with Lexi. Stefan, who is probably less impressed after his 28,474,794 previous high school graduations, puts in the final word: “Let’s go graduate.”

Caroline, already at the school and in a perfectly pressed cap and gown, is on the phone with Klaus’s voicemail. She wants to know where he is because she’s called him about a million times, presumably to come save Damon. She awesomely complains that he’s picked a very inconvenient time to fall out of love with her.

Amazingly, the gang is all there: Caroline, Stefan, Elena, Bonnie, and Matt. They “survived” high school! Hugs all around! (Okay, only Bonnie and Elena hugged, but we’re sure they all hugged later, off-screen.) Caroline muses about how amazing college is going to be, hinting at a liberal use of compulsion to make the collegiate experience perfect. She’s already planning out the triple she will share with Elena and Bonnie. Elena sheepishly volunteers the information that she was a little distracted being an emotionless bitch to get those pesky college application in. Bonnie stays quiet, desperately trying to exude alive-ness. It mostly works.

Fast forward to the graduation ceremony, which Bonnie’s dad is running as mayor. (We kind of forgot he volunteered for that position.) Our gang manages to be almost next to one another in line, and they all get pretty respectable cheers. Bonnie’s dad admits to the crowd that he is especially excited that that his daughter is graduating. Aw. On so many different levels.

Bonnie accepts her diploma and tells her dad that she loves him in a pointed enough way that he knows something is up. We are distracted from this almost-Hallmark moment by the sheer number of people in the crowd. How do all of these people live in Mystic Falls and remain alive? Must be mostly out-of-town relatives... Or maybe they are pissed-off witches and vamps returned from the dead. When Bonnie takes her seat, Kol pops up behind her and points out all of his vengeance-seeking friends. He wants Bonnie to drop the veil for real. Or else!

In the saddest post-grad party ever, Bonnie takes Kol to the school basement where Kol says something along the lines of, “Being dead sucks.” And Bonnie essentially replies, “Yeah, I know. That’s my body over there.” Kol thinks they’re on the same (dead) side, but Bonnie is a better person than he is. Even though she wants to stay, she knows she cannot. She pulls some witchy shenanigans and traps Kol in the basement until nightfall, when she says she will do the spell to restore the veil. Kol is not pleased. (He probably wanted a role on The Originals.)

On the cliff, Vaughn is still trying to convince Damon to show him the body. Damon keeps stalling, and the hunter shoots him with two more werewolf venom bullets. Double ow! It’s not looking good for our favorite anti-hero when someone comes out of nowhere to push Vaughn over the cliff. It’s Alaric! He’s alive! Well, sort of.

Alaric calls Stefan at graduation (realistically, it is still going on), to ask what he should do: force Damon to take the cure or watch him die. Stefan is a little distracted by the Piercing Screech! in his head. It is happening to Elena, too. One of the witches Caroline inadvertently killed in that little massacre a few weeks ago is back to cause pain. Luckily, so is Klaus, who takes the witch’s ghostly head off with a graduation cap. Then he suavely shoots Caroline a smile.

Credit: Curtis Baker/The CW -- © 2013 The CW Network, LLC Photo: Damon Is Shirtless in The Vampire Diaries Season 4, Episode 23: "Graduation"

With Klaus back in town, Damon is healed of all werewolf-venom-related injuries, and Elena is pissed. Slappage ensues (well, just the one). Alaric comments that he taught Elena the move, which would have been a lot cooler to say if she had delivered a roundhouse kick or something. Lexi doesn’t care. She’s enjoying the show. While Elena pulls Stefan into the other room to talk, Lexi and Alaric chat about “the Other Side.” Apparently, it sucks. Lexi, the eternal optimist, believes that there is peace somewhere out there — they just have to pay for their sins/let go before they can reach it. Alaric says that would be a lot easier to do if they didn’t have “knuckleheads” for friends who kept messing up their lives. This is our favorite use of the word “knucklehead” in recent history.

Meanwhile, in the next room, Elena thanks Stefan for never giving up on her. Stefan tells her he owed her, but Elena isn’t having it. She gives Stefan the cure. Her logic: The only person who sucks at being a vampire more than she does is Stefan. Oh, and she tells him, “you deserve whatever you want out of life.” That’s nice.

Caroline and Klaus are hanging out in the empty graduation arena. She remarks on how quickly he got to Mystic Falls from New Orleans. He admits he was already on his way when he got her messages. Apparently, he got one of the thousands of invitations we saw Caroline addressing in the last episode. Also, he loves her (this was implied, not stated). He teases her about what to get her for a graduation gift before settling on the perfect thing: Tyler’s freedom. Then, he delivers this speech that has us semi-hoping The Originals fails abysmally so Klaus can come back to TVD: “He’s your first love. I intend to be your last. However long it takes.” Okay, so it’s creepy romantic (Klaus’s only known form of flirting), but he’s made such progress!

Back at the Salvatores’, Elena is confronting Damon about the fact that he would rather die than turn human. In true Damon fashion, he tells her he’s not sorry, that this is who he is. He is the guy who makes decisions that will hurt her. He is selfish and completely wrong for her. Elena basically tells him he’s an idiot. That he is the thing that makes her feel most alive — even in death. Also, that she is in love with him. They make out in front of the fireplace (filled with the flames of their love).

Stefan has been eavesdropping on their conversation from the other room. Normally, this might be creepy. Here, it’s just sad. Lexi grabs his hand in comfort and he holds on as the singer on the angsty TVD soundtrack croons, “I don’t belong.”

Channeling his anger into action, Stefan sets about disposing of Silas’s crystallized corpse (finally). He heaves it into the back of his vehicle as Damon sheepishly approaches him. He offers to help, but Stefan currently has Lexi as his go-to body-disposing buddy. It is awkward, but Stefan tells Damon that even though he has not happy about Elena, he is not not happy for Damon. There are double negatives and it is not not sweet.

In the prehistoric cave hidden underneath the school, Bonnie is ready to do the spell that will restore the veil. But Jeremy has come to say goodbye! He wants to be with her when he passes on. (It’s okay. He left Elena a note.)

We see Alaric peering out of a Salvatore window at the full moon. He knows it won’t be long now. He congratulates Damon on getting the girl... now, he has to keep her (Season 5!). Alaric says he will be watching.

Lexi and Stefan are in the car, discussing where Stefan should move now that he’s graduated. Again. Stefan shoots down both New York and Las Vegas. Stefan worries that Elena was The One. Lexi muses that, contrary to popular belief, there are lots of Ones — especially for vampires. Stefan says that he has never been to Portland (hipster) and turns to gauge Lexi’s reaction. But she is gone, and he is alone again.

Elena apparently didn’t get Jeremy’s note because she’s off looking for him and Bonnie in the school basement. She finds Kol instead, who is all about killing her but vanishes before he can. You know who doesn’t vanish? Katherine, who delivers a “Happy graduation, cupcake” and a punch to Elena’s face.

We’re back in the cave, where it’s gotten very windy, which is a surefire sign that magic is happening. Bonnie kisses Jeremy and notices that he’s still there. Apparently, the spell she did to bring him back to life (and, side note, also killed her) worked. Huzzah!

Jeremy slowly realizes that yet another one of his girlfriends is dead. Bonnie comforts him and asks him to tell the others that she is spending the summer with her mother. (That’s a euphemism we haven’t heard before.) She wants her friends to be happy for a while, and she’ll be okay. She has the other witches (probably sans the ones she led into slaughter) and her Grams. She takes her Grams’s hand and walks off. It is very sad.

Rebekah shows up at Matt’s house to test the waters post-kiss. He awkwardly doesn’t let her in because he promised Tyler he’d keep the house a Vamp-Free Zone. Also vamp-free? His love life, he tells her. Rebekah walks away, dejected, before Matt elaborates: This means that whatever happens on their epic world tour must stay on their epic world tour (yeah, right). Now there’s a spin-off we want to see.

Meanwhile, Katherine and Elena’s catfight is still going on in the halls of the school. Katherine outlines the ways in which Elena has ruined her life, which Elena (and we) finds ironic. It looks like Katherine is going to win this fight-to-the-death when she spears Elena with a broom handle and digs around her chest cavity for her heart. Elena has an ace up her sleeve, though: the cure that, we learn in a mid-scene flashback, Stefan gave back to her in case she ever wanted it. She does now, shoving it down Katherine’s throat. Apparently, this was actually a fight-to-the-life. Katherine is now human.

Meanwhile, Stefan’s Car of Loneliness has made it to the cliff, which is apparently the only place to dispose of dead bodies in this episode. Stefan unloads Silas, only to find that the sack is actually filled with shards of stone. Surprise! Silas is alive and well and has taken the form of Elena to explain his resurrection to all of us: Apparently, now that Bonnie is dead, the spell that bound him is broken. But that’s not the only bomb he drops. When Silas first created the immortality spell 2,000 years ago, nature needed a balance. Thus, a version of Silas that could die was born: a doppelgänger, or “shadow self.” He also reveals his true form... as Stefan’s doppelgänger! Mind=blown.

Apparently, Silas likes his doppelgängers as much as Katherine does. He stakes Stefan, locks him in the vault presumably intended for himself, and throws him over the cliff. The vault begins to fill with water as Stefan fights to get free. And, end scene. Excuse us while we go plan a prayer vigil for our favorite hero-haired vamp.






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