I caught up on this season just in time for the hiatus, and right now we have over a week before the next new episode airs. (This is your warning for season spoilers as well as me speculating what will happen this season, which some may consider spoilers.)
The season started out as nearly a total refresher. If you were unfamiliar with TVD and wanted to watch the show, but didn't want to get through three seasons to catch up, you can start with episode 1 of season 4 and be reliably caught up on the story.
And, as we knew at the end of S3, Elena is a vampire. It was teased in the first episode of this season that she maaaay not become a vampire, but as most people who've read the books will point out, Elena turned into a vampire almost immediately in the book, without any of this pussy footing around. (Apparently, Damon could actually turn into a crow and Katherine Pierce could also turn into a white kitten. Does anyone else kind of miss Damon's crow? Anybody? Bueller?)
((Wait a minute, wasn't there a temporarily evil Power Ranger who could turn into a cat? Was it a white cat? AND WASN'T HER NAME KATHERINE? Holy shit, what if the Power Rangers writer was referencing TVD back in the day? The TVD books were published in 91-92, and those episodes aired in 95, so the timing isn't an issue. That'd be... a really interesting and weird connection. Also, holy shit did it take me a long time to confirm that.))
Shit, where was I?
Oh, so Elena is a vampire, but she's kind of a weenie of a vampire. She doesn't want to kill anybody, but she can't drink blood due to the siring shenanigans that happen with Damon. It's a little weird, because someone has probably died to make her into a vampire- Stefan smashed his head in, and she puts a finger in his blood, but the guy had a grievous head wound around, to count, FOUR vampires, including a baby vamp. Surely ONE of them snacked on him, right? Well, I guess it doesn't count if she didn't do it, which is a bit of an irritant.
This is partially because they're trying to pit the human that Elena sorta was against the vampire she's going to become, given some time. Stefan isn't helping, he talks about how guilty she's going to feel if she kills someone, how her heightened vampire feelings are going to lead to her downfall- he may not realize it, but he's completely setting her up for this fall. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy- but this is Mystic Falls, so it's fulfilled in a literal sense. She kills some kind of mystical Vampire Hunter and it turns out that he LITERALLY is going to try to grief her to death.
They solve that by having Jeremy kill one of Tyler's friends, a hybrid who had just broken free of Klaus's sire bond. This started one of the themes of this season, which is that they're no longer presenting these decisions as black and white.
Basically, the world of the vampires has been kill-or-be-killed in a lot of ways, but when Damon or Stefan killed to protect Elena (or other humans) it was forgivable. Human life is more precious than vampire life, according to the morals of this show.
But now all of our main characters are supernatural (except Matt, who may be the last human in Mystic Falls). We have to believe that they are people and their lives are valuable, which means that the lives of other vampires/werewolves/hybrids/whatever are also valuable. We're introducing some moral gray area, here.
Rebekah later points this out, too. She didn't kill Elena out of malice, she killed Elena because it was the only way to kill Evil!Alaric. He was going to kill her whole family, and he was powerful enough to do it. He would wipe out every vampire on earth and then he would kill Elena, the last of her line and potentially the only person who could bring vampirism back (the blood of her predecessor was used to create vampires in the first place, so a witch with that know-how could presumably do the spell over again using the same blood that made vampires in the first place). Vampires faced absolute extinction and Bex did what she had to in order to save her own life, the life of her remaining brothers and the REST OF THE GODDAMN VAMPIRE RACE.
Rebekah doesn't like Elena, but who can blame her? Elena's partially responsible for the death of two of her brothers as well as any vampires those brothers ever created. Elena is willing to do anything to protect her brother, so it makes sense that Rebekah feels the same way about hers. She doesn't HATE Elena, either, though. In fact, she saves Elena's life, and mostly she's just being shitty to Elena, not truly hateful. (The trick where she snatched Elena's daylight ring? Inconvenient and rude, but Bex could have made Elena walk into the sunlight without if if she was truly that hateful.) She handwaves it off by saying "If you're going to die, it should be epic," but that's not the whole of the truth.
I'm kind of disappointed by Bonnie's arc so far. I like her because she's willing to do things that her friends don't like because she believes they're the right thing (like the time she lied about making the vampire weapon not work) and I was hoping that opening her into a new type of magic would make her even more powerful, a Dark Willow sort of story arc. Now she's being completely controlled by a dude, who has all the power over her. I'm still hoping she breaks out of this and becomes the biggest baddest witch on the continent.
I really like what's happened with Damon this season, so far. He's faced some complex moral decisions, and he's navigated them (more or less) fairly well. He's as well-adjusted as he's ever been, not only admitting to feeling things for people who aren't him but openly expressing it. When he's compelled to murder Jeremy, he continually shouts advice at him while he stalks him murderously. Partially he's snarking on Jeremy's vampire evading technique, but Damon snarks because he cares. Then, he fucking hugs Bonnie because he is so glad to see her.
Let's repeat that: he fucking hugs Bonnie because he is so glad to see her.
Bonnie and Damon have had an adversarial relationship from the get-go, and yet he is so relieved that she is okay and there that he hugs her and takes her home. And- get this- the whole time home she's ranting and raving, and he doesn't treat her like crap. He nods and smiles- he understands that this is not the Bonnie they know and care about, but instead of just dumping her off somewhere or peacing on her, he takes her to her friends and then discusses what to do from there.
Stefan it is, arguably, at his personal worst. Yes, he murdered a bunch of people, but that wasn't entirely at his own behest- he was prodded into that by Klaus, and while Stefan is responsible (btw he should learn how to at least handle human blood so that doesn't happen again) it was against his will, he did that to save his brother. This season, he's entirely on his own, and we're seeing that when he's not in love with Elena, when he's not trying to be his most (boring) human for her, he's actually an interesting character.
The show is an ensemble show, but let's not kid ourselves- it has revolved around Elena from the beginning. Each season one more support beam has been stripped from her. Before the season started, her parents died. Then she lost her extended family, step-by-step, including the amazing Jenna. Then Ric died, and finally, Jeremy. Systematically destroying every last bit of her blood ties, her ties to her human self, destroying everything about the girl she was. The human that she used to be. That is all dead. When Elena set the house on fire, it was more than a cover a story, it was a symbol- every last part of her that we know has died and changed, and she will never be the same.
We've been teased over the season with glimpses of the kind of vampire Elena could be, were she unfettered. The party with Damon, the moment she killed the Vampire Hunter dude, when she helped kill Kol. We know that Nina can do a lot of fun things- otherwise we wouldn't keep asking for Katherine back.
And now- now!- she has had her humanity turned off. Those inconvenient feelings that were keeping her in check are gone. If you can, watch the scene that happens during again- watch her face go blank, and her tears dry. She's an absence of feeling.
The beginning of the season has been about moving these pieces into place for a game that proves to be fascinating. Elena will now only act on sheer pleasure- her basic wants and needs. She gives no shits anymore, and if you've watched the preview you know that includes eating cheerleaders and strolling around the boarding house buck ass naked (which is such a Damon move I cackled). We know that one of the things that haunted Elena was that she might become Katherine, and now it looks like that may happen.
Now, if her emotions are turned off, does the sirebond continue to work? After all, she's no longer invested in anything, at all, period. She has no shits left to give. I suppose we'll find out- but I'd love for this to finally give Elena the agency to break the sirebond. Making Damon's decision sort of the right one, in spite of Stefan's misgivings. (Also, sort of the wrong one, based on her snacking on cheerleaders.)
What I want to see:
I want to see Bonnie to break free of the hold on her and start to Fuck Shit Up, Royally. I'd love for her to become either the season ending big bad, or....
For Elena to team up with Bonnie to become the season-ending big bad. Damon, after finally discovering that part of himself that actually likes people, has to fight the woman he loves and one of her best friends to SAVE THE DAMNED WORLD.
Katherine to fight Elena- because, uh, obviously. Katherine has the McGuffin, and killed Jeremy to get it. Anger can feed a vampire's strength, and Elena may have an unexpected ally in...
Rebekah. I so want Elena and Bex to become friends, y'all. And I hope that Elena shutting off her emotions is the start of this- they do girly teenager things together and help each other pick out prom dresses and then snack on the help. (Frenemies would be even better, especially if they were frenemies with benefits. Seriously, take a minute and imagine those two gals hatefucking each other.)
I like the idea of Stefan facing his own love triangle- Rebekah, with whom he has some serious chemistry, or Caroline, who is his rock in stormy seas. (The perv in me votes for BOTH AT ONCE, PLEASE.)
((Okay, if I'm honest, I'm totally okay with any and all vampires partying with each other in any configuration that could take place in- anything that throws a monkey wrench in the shipping wars would make me clap my hands with glee. And I think it would make the show way more interesting if they start addressing the idea that vampires don't have to adhere to traditional relationship ideas- they're gonna live forever, the idea of til death do us part is kinda silly.))
Damon turn into a human. That would be FANTASTIC.
What I don't want to see:
Elena going back to exactly who she was. Shreds of her old personality, yes, but she should be well and truly changed, now. She's going to have to rebuild herself from the tattered remains of her life and her feelings, and I want to see that emerge over a period of time.
Bonnie continuing to be under the control of other people. That's just sucky.
Stefan going back to being boring.