I finally figured out what The Vampire Diaries is about — why we've lurched through a succession of random storylines this season with no connecting thread. This show has a single idea, a message, that unites all of its random stories: Elena Gilbert is the worst person ever.
Seriously. This season has been a giant sprawl, from Silas to the Augustine Order to Katherine to the Travelers, with Enzo and various other subplots along the way. It's really hard to discern any thread to any of this, other than "Elena shouldn't bother going to college" and "Elena and Damon were doomed all along, but they kept prolonging the agony."
But last night's season finale offers a perfect example of Elena being terrible. Damon is on his way to ram his car into the Mystic Grill, to set off a gas explosion primed by the gas leak that Matt and Jeremy have engineered, and kill all the Travelers, who were lured by free beer. (I'm glad that after all the mystic handwaving and weird plot devices, "free beer" turns out to be the most powerful item in the Vampire Diaries universe after all.) And Elena is all pouty pout pout about Damon going to his death, even though he insists he'll come right back thanks to Bonnie's miracle "fix everything" spell. And then Elena randomly decides that she's going to go on the suicide mission too. Why? To get back at Damon for saying that he has to respect her wishes. She's literally going to die just so Damon doesn't get to have agency or an existence separate from her own.
And here's the thing: Elena ought to have realized already that this whole "coming back from the dead" thing is a crapshoot, and even if it works it'll take a toll on Bonnie. (And indeed, it turns out that every person who comes back brings Bonnie closer to death.) So Elena is condemning her best friend to the tortures of the damned, just so she can sit in Damon's car when he blows it up. And you could make a decent argument that Damon wouldn't have gotten himself trapped on the Other Side, too late to pass back through Bonnie, if Elena hadn't insisted on dying too, because all the cool kids were already doing it.
Seroiusly. Elena. The worst.
Meanwhile, you know who's the best? Sheriff Forbes. She totally rocks out in this episode, playing along with the Travelers, luring them into a death trap, dealing with Markos' understandable suspicions, and finally clocking Markos upside the head a whole bunch of times. Go Sheriff. She better be okay, or I'll be pissed. And Damon going back to make sure she's okay is the coolest thing Damon has done in way, way too long.
But maybe next year, this show can experiment with linear storytelling? Or some format where the episodes actually follow each other, and the start of the season has some connection to the end? It could just work.