The Vampire Diaries: Eighth & Final Season Blu-ray Review

Final Round

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Once the linchpin and shining star of the CW network, Vampire Diaries’ popularity faded in recent years as star Nina Dobrev left after season six, coming off a heated break-up with co-star Ian Somerhalder. The long-running series gets a proper conclusion as the producers knew this was the end, wrapping up everyone’s final story over season eight.

Not everyone will be exactly pleased with how the finale goes down but Vampire Diaries ends on a better note than many other heavily serialized shows, giving each character their proper due without many regrets. Will Elena wake from her sleeping curse and reunite with Damon? Can Stefan and Caroline find peace and happiness together? Does Bonnie have a future with Enzo? These questions are all addressed in some manner.

This final season is headed once again by the show’s creative mainstay since the beginning, producer/writer/director Julie Plec. Returning to help her out is Kevin Williamson, who had drifted away from the show in recent years for other television projects. The Vampire Diaries has such an intricate mythology and background, only long-time fans will appreciate this final season’s uneven sixteen episodes before we say goodbye to Mystic Falls for good.

Most of the primary cast from season seven returns in this last hurrah. Stefan, Damon, Bonnie, Caroline, Matt, Alaric and Enzo all return. It’s the core cast outside of Nina Dobrev that has carried this series for some time, so much of the inner dynamics between everyone will be old hat to fans. Continuing the events seen in season seven’s finale, Enzo and Damon vanished from the Armory’s occult vault of supernatural weapons, as Bonnie and Stefan hold out hope they can be found.

The Big Bad of season eight’s first half is a fairly menacing villain by Vampire Diaries’ standards. The siren Sybil (played with glee by guest star Nathalie Kelley) has the power to read minds and control people. She’s a ruthless villain, nastier than just about every preceding opponent in Vampire Diaries’ eight seasons. Having complete control of Damon and Enzo, Sybil has the pair of vampires doing her evil bidding. Vampire Diaries’ usual formula of romance, adventure and devious plot twists keeps things lively and fresh along the way.

Not everything attempted by the show works in this last season. While Sybil is a great villain that throws a curve into the show’s dynamics, she introduces a wildly complicated and foolish Hell mythology on top of the series. Some other term should have really been used in place of Hell, because no one will confuse this mishmash of Greek mythology and psychic powers with any popular notion of Hell. It becomes an anchor weighing down the narrative as the season progresses, when the show goes even further afield and introduces their unrecognizable conception of the Devil.

… there is a lot to like about the Vampire Diaries’ final season

Despite some missteps with the season-long arc, enough is put in order to give each character a proper finale to their personal arcs. The million dollar question on every fan’s lips was whether Nina Dobrev would make one final appearance on the show that made her famous. Spoiler: She does return in the final episode.

It’s not the greatest return for Elena but it does give some final closure in a bittersweet ending for certain characters. It looked obvious to me that the writers did everything possible to keep Nina Dobrev and Ian Somerhalder away from each other in her one return appearance. That does affect the finale’s emotional resonance, weakening the send-off for these beloved characters that drove the show’s popularity.

This review may sound negative but there is a lot to like about the Vampire Diaries’ final season. Sybil is a great villain and proves herself a worthy final foe for the Salvatore brothers. Each character gets a decent treatment, including the return of some older characters we hadn’t seen in years. I don’t think any character’s fans can really complain how things turn out, even if some issues are ignored in the end.

Video

WB spreads the sixteen episodes of season eight over 3 BD-50s. They are presented in crisp 1080P video at the show’s native 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Encoded in AVC, some minor compression issues arise. Television sets are getting less and less profitable each year, so WB has to cut costs somewhere for them to survive. That includes encoding sets in low-bitrate AVC, which leads to banding and some blocking in more difficult scenes.

The visuals on Vampire Diaries have always been schizophrenic. Daylight exterior shots are beautiful with palpable depth and top-notch clarity. They shine on this Blu-ray. Far uglier are the dark, crushed interiors. Dimly lit, shadow delineation is poor with clipped black levels. That is a problem at times since so much of the show takes place underground or in the dark Salvatore mansion.

If you’ve seen the show’s prior seasons on Blu-ray or watched it on the CW, this set looks roughly similar. Expect fine HD quality at times mixed with rather pedestrian picture quality.

Audio

The 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack is aggressive for a television set. The surround mix uses a wide sound-stage with discrete channel separation and a wide array of directional cues.

This is fun, energized audio design that likes amplifying the show’s action by boosting thumps and explosions. Audio will leak into the rear surrounds from the front, creating a nicely immersive experience.

A dub is included in 2.0 DD Portuguese. Numerous optional subtitles are included: English SDH, French, Portuguese, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish.

Extras

The final season comes in a slipcase. Included inside are a UV digital code good for the entire season and an episode guide breaking down each episode.

The supplements are a little skimpy compared to prior seasons. Like prior seasons, some deleted and un-aired scenes are included for several episodes. There is nothing really revelatory in the deleted material. Most appear to be cut for time. A commentary on the final episode would have been a great addition.

Last Days as a Vampire (14:51 in HD) – Producers Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec, along with several cast members, reflect back on what it felt like shooting the final episodes. It’s a solid retrospective from the actors.

2016 Comic-Con Panel (21:22 in HD) – These panels are always fun and virtually every cast member shows up, but recording these before the season premieres means no actual plot can be discussed. Sam Highfill of EW moderates. The cast and producers discuss the final season in very vague terms. What can be gleaned from it are the close relationships this cast has formed over the years. They all like cracking jokes with each other and put a good gameface on for the crowd.

Come Visit Georgia PSA (05:09 in HD) – Julie Plec and the production designer discuss how locations around Atlanta became Mystic Falls, including Elena’s home.

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