Elena’s face in the last scene with Damon killed me. Because you know what she realizes? This is Damon. This is the Damon who held her face in his hands after she finished scrubbing blood of the porch and told her everything would be okay, they would fix it. But the Damon who tortured Liv for information is also Damon. The Damon who killed Aaron Whitmore is also Damon. And for the longest time, Elena’s tried to separate them. She’s tried to pidgeonhole Damon as a series of different things; “someone who does bad things for good reasons,” “someone who loves me and a small list of people,” “someone who does bad things but whom I love in spite of those bad things and whom I can’t love because we’re toxic for one another.” The truth is, Damon isn’t just one of those things. Damon doesn’t just go bad things for necessary reasons—“getting shit done”—sometimes he does horrible things for selfish reasons and sometimes for no reason at all. But he’d also take a werewolf bite for a girl who hats his guts, give a dying woman a dream so she could die in peace. Trying to pigeonhole Damon Salvatore as any particular shade of morality doesn’t work and inevitably fails.
But Elena loves Damon. Elena Gilbert is madly, hopelessly in love with Damon Salvatore despite all he’s done—and she can’t reconcile that with who she is; or, at least, who she believes herself to be. Elena is more like Damon than she will ever admit, and though she has come to terms with the darker parts of herself, she still prides herself on having a few core values that she’s not willing to sacrifice. But in the last episode alone, she threw a stake into the stomach of a (presumably) innocent girl to save herself. Sure, she was under the influence of ripper!venom, but she wasn’t compelled. That was all Elena. Elena Gilbert is not a good person, but she still has a few remnants of the human girl who lost her parents and just wanted to be a good girl they could be proud of. Elena is only chronologically 19; still growing into herself, still accepting the darker shades of herself. She can and has done questionable things for the people she loves, and she can usually admit that those things are wrong (like when she admits to Damon that she feels bad about compelling Jeremy at the end of 3x10.) But Elena is still grappling with the fact that she can be selfish, and she can do terrible things for selfish reasons, just like a certain other terrible person.
Also, did anyone notice the Delena subtext in the Caroline/Enzo conversation?
"Let me guess. She made you want to be a better man."
"Not at all. She just…made me realize I was good all along."
Damon believes he changed for Elena, but the narrative has made it clear that that isn’t true; Elena was merely the catalyst that made Damon want to feel again, and afterwards he began building relationships and becoming healthier for himself. But Damon doesn’t like himself very much, and he doesn’t give himself nearly enough credit when it comes to his recovery. Damon Salvatore has good in him; he may deny it, force it down, lash out to prove it doesn’t exist, but he’s done good things and he has as much capability for good as he does bad.
That’s what I think Damon and Elena’s journey in the last leg of season 5 is going to be about; accepting the good and bad in themselves, and eventually, in each other, and recognizing that they don’t have to change themselves for one another; they’re already more alike than they’ll ever know.
If you do that, then I’m gonna spend the entire car ride thinking about your hand next to mine, and even though I’ll try, I won’t be able to stop myself from taking it, or from letting you kiss me.