All too often it seems "The Vampire Diaries" moves at such a breakneck speed that truly powerful moments whip past our heads so fast they barely register. Tonight's episode actually takes a breath, and it's to everyone's benefit. It is, perhaps, the last significant death we'll have for a while (or at least we can hope so), and instead of the plot soldiering on, Elena and company take time to really grapple with what it means, to embrace the enormity of the loss, and the idea that (as powerful as they are thanks to vampirism and witchcraft), not every plot twist can be handily erased.

Once again Elena is at the center of the chaos, because as we learned last week, Jeremy appears to be dead. Not that Elena's accepting the idea. There just needs to be some time for the Gilbert ring to work! Or for Bonnie to show up! Or for someone to roll back time, because Elena is NOT doing any more of this stupid death stuff! Elena looks wild-eyed and terrified, and I have to give Nina Dobrev props for really making Elena's pain vivid in this episode. Anyone who can watch this one without getting a little weepy is truly made of stone. 

Anyway, we learn that the Gilbert ring won't work because Jeremy is a hunter. That leaves Bonnie to save the day, but not so fast or so easily. On the island, Professor Shane (who is magically healed… or maybe not) explains to Bonnie that they are sooooo close to bringing back their dead loved ones… they just need to kill 12 people. Oh, and they'll not only be bringing back the people they like, but every single supernatural being that's "behind the veil." It's sort of like having to free everyone in a prison, including the death row inmates, so that a few innocent people can get a day pass. Bonnie, of course, thinks this is a terrible idea. 

Or she does until Jeremy appears to her, bloody and dying, and begs for her help. That is enough, along with Shane's nagging, to totally turn her on to the idea of a massacre. I have to believe he does have her brainwashed to some extent, because one thing we know about Bonnie is she has never, ever been comfortable with the idea of taking lives. Yes, she still loves Jeremy, but I have to think even that connection isn't enough to turn her into a killer.

Stefan and Elena bring Jeremy back to the Gilbert house, where they find Caroline trying to scrub the burns out of the floor, which is so very Caroline as well as awful and sweet at the same time. It is up to her and Stefan to try not to give Elena sad-eyed looks of pity as she spins around the house, desperate to believe anything but the truth in front of her, forcing herself to think the Gilbert ring will work when Jeremy is looking worse by the moment. Even when Dr. Meredith Fell comes by and gently tries to urge Elena to let her take the decomposing body away, Elena is resistant, to say the least. As Stefan points out, Elena feels grief "more powerfully than anyone else," and no one wants to force her into facing facts just yet, at least not until Damon returns, preferably with Bonnie by his side.

A moment that was surprisingly sweet: While Rebekah has no problem nagging at Damon while they stomp around the island in search of the cure, Katherine, Bonnie or whoever they can bump into first, she suggests with a shocking sincerity that she feels terrible for Elena. "I'm not heartless," she admits. "He was Elena's only family." When even Rebekah feels sorry for you, you know things have gotten as bad as they can ever get. 

Elena finds a path out of her grief, at least momentarily, when Matt shows up. Matt wants to take her away, but she can't leave Jeremy. Even Matt knows she's in denial, and he (like everyone else) is trying to create a soft place for her to fall. We all know she's going to come apart. It's not a question of whether, just when. Matt takes her to the Stoner Pit to tell her that, in the crazy-ass town of Mystic Falls, maybe no one ever really has to say goodbye. Maybe there's a reason to hope. But I think Matt is talking about ghosts, while Elena wants something much more concrete than that. She'll settle for no less than the full Jeremy. 

Damon and Rebekah stumble across Galen Vaughn again, who admits he was working with Katherine to find Silas. He also fingers Hayley as Katherine's person "on the inside." And where did Katherine and Hayley meet? Why, in New Orleans! Clearly, all paths lead back to the Big Easy, which is the setting for "The Originals." I feel the crossover in the air, don't you? 

Just as Damon is about to give up on finding Bonnie, he bumps right into her. She's ready to go home and solve the problem of Jeremy's death. This is wonderful news to Elena, right up until Bonnie walks in, sits down, and calmly explains how she intends to do this. You know, by killing people and removing the veil between them and the other side. Caroline argues, Stefan argues, but Elena just gets quiet. Because finally, she's getting it. Jeremy is dead. 

April (remember her?) calls for Jeremy, and that's when Elena finally says it. He's dead, her brother is dead, and it's a horrible moment. It's also the moment before the wheels come off the wagon, as everyone has been expecting.

Elena pulls the sheet back from Jeremy's face, as if seeing him for the first time. As Damon walks into the room, she starts coming unglued. She wants Damon to drag the body downstairs, where she douses it and the rest of the house with lighter fluid. They need a cover story, and burning down the house with him in it is as good as any. "I don't want to live here anymore," she says, wavering between panic and fury. "I don't want these sketches, I don't want this XBox! Unless you're willing to bring back every single supernatural creature on the other side to bring him back!" Bonnie may be, but Elena clearly isn't. 

She's a dervish, whirling and frightened and hurting so much she can't contain it. It's painful to watch, and worse, it's scaring Caroline (who doesn't scare easy). Stefan asks his brother to help her, so Damon does. And he tells, no compels, her to turn it off. "Just turn it off. Everything will go away. That's what I want you to do," he says softly. 

The tears dry. Elena's expression flatlines. Yes, she has turned all of it off. The result is spooky, almost clinical. Elena isn't in pain anymore, but she isn't really Elena. 

Caroline, in her own well of denial, keeps calling Tyler's cell phone, knowing he's probably thrown it away but needing someone to talk to other than Stefan, who threads in and out of the storyline like one of the sad angels in "Wings of Desire." "I need you and there's no way yesterday was the last time I'm ever going to see you or talk to you," she says. The theme for tonight's episode is pain so great that denial is all anyone has to keep them sane. There's no way to begrudge Caroline her cell phone calls. Even she knows they make no sense, but they comfort her anyway. 

Matt drops Bonnie off at home, which makes no sense to me since she's already told everyone she still intends to kill twelve people. And look, there's Professor Nutjob on her porch, ready to give another little pep talk. They're going to do this together! That makes it better, right? "We are the beginning," he says, in a way that's somehow spookier than his usual level of spookiness. 

It's then that we see Rebekah stumble across Professor Shane's body, leg still badly broken (thus, the body of the real Professor Shane) back on the island. I'm guessing the person (or thing) Bonnie has been communing with is really Silas or is at least something communicating what Silas wants. As Galen Vaughn, the other hunter, has told us, we have no way of knowing what Silas looks like.

Back at Chez Gilbert, blank-eyed Elena stares at things with detached cool while Stefan and Damon talk about her behind her back. Stefan isn't thrilled that Damon had her shut her humanity away, but he understands what he's sacrificed. It's sad to see that the two can only really find compassion for one another when both of them are reeling from the loss, in a sense, of the same girl -- the Elena who cared too much. 

Finally, Elena strikes a match. She may not be hysterical anymore, but she still sees the wisdom in her initial plan to burn down everything with Jeremy in it. "What if one day, when all of this is over, you want to come home again?" Stefan asks.

Elena, trapped behind compulsion and the recognition that her home is no longer anything to her but a source of pain, looks at him dully. "I won't."

We linger on Stefan, Damon and Elena walking out of the house for the last time. It's poignant, just like most of this episode, and it feels more real for the show having let the characters feel their feelings instead of beating us over the head with plot twists and machinations. Yes, Jeremy is gone. And, like Elena, we all deserved a little time to deal with it.

 

Do you think Bonnie will kill 12 people? Do you think Silas is pretending to be Professor Shane? What do you think of Elena now that she's "turned it off?"