Stefan continues in this vein throughout season 2, as he manipulates situations in order to get what he wants. Perhaps most notable for this behaviour is the scene in The Dinner Party (2x15). Elena is reading the journals of her ancestor John Gilbert, and as she reaches the part where he describes being attacked by a newly turned Stefan, Stefan intervenes, taking the book from her:
STEFAN: What does Jonathan Gilbert have to say?
ELENA: A lot. It's insane the things he wrote in his journal, that he kept from the founding families. Stuff that nobody knows. Stuff that... You never told me.
STEFAN: We were, uh... We were angry at the founding families for what they did to Katherine. We wanted revenge. I didn't know about Jonathan Gilbert's ring yet. I didn't know that he would... that he would survive.
ELENA: He describes you as a monster.
STEFAN: That's what I was. I want you to know the truth... But I want you to hear it from me. In the weeks after I became a vampire, I relished in it. I took it to the darkest place I could.
He uses the plural pronoun, implicitly including Damon in his actions. By doing this, he puts Damon into Elena’s mind, so that despite what the flashbacks show, she is unconsciously conditioned into thinking of Damon as a part of the massacre. The flashbacks show us that Damon was actually horrified by the acts that Stefan committed alone, so that last sentence of that scene is particularly ironic. He doesn’t want her to know the truth, despite what he claims. He wants her to hear his version of the truth, which will leave him in a flattering light at best, and is an outright lie at worst.
Despite all of these moments throughout seasons 1 and 2, it is actually in season 3 that we get to see Stefan at his manipulative height. Interestingly enough, these scenes actually happen after he stops drinking human blood, although nobody is aware of this at the time. The first time in season 3 that this happens is in The Ties That Bind (3x12):
(Stefan stands there and does nothing, Elena is coming after him.)
ELENA: Stefan... say something. Please.
STEFAN: I shouldn't have kidnapped you. The car, the bridge, that was too far.
ELENA: Thank you.
STEFAN: But you shouldn't have lied to me today. You can't go off and do things like that, Elena. Not while Klaus is still alive.
ELENA: I know. I just... I wanted to give Bonnie a moment with her mother... without everything else is getting in the way.
STEFAN: Without me getting in the way.
ELENA: I didn't plan on kissing him.
STEFAN: You're better than him, Elena. You're better than both of us.
This scene comes just after Elena tells Stefan that she kissed Damon, and he walks away from her and waits for her to catch up, which is, in and of itself, fairly manipulative. Then he compounds this by using this moment to apologise for what he did to her on the bridge. He does this so that she will feel a sense of guilt for ‘betraying’ him by kissing his brother. And she does, giving a roundabout excuse for the kiss, despite saying earlier that she didn’t feel guilty about it. Stefan then goes one step further; not content with having her feel guilty, he also has to try to drive home the point that his brother isn’t good enough for her, tacking himself onto the end of the sentence, letting her know that out of the two of them, he is still the better option for her, despite what he has done recently.
The next (and last, at least so far) obvious moment of manipulation in season 3 is in Dangerous Liaisons (3x14), and it is again with Damon and Elena, which is where Stefan’s manipulation techniques excel:
ELENA: If Esther wants to talk to me, maybe I should find out why.
DAMON: Well that's a dumb idea, she already tried to kill you once.
STEFAN: No, Elena is right. Bonnie was led to open that coffin for a reason. I think there is more to this than just some family reunion.
DAMON: Can we go back in time with the old Stefan who cared if Elena lived or died?
STEFAN: What for? It's your job now.
ELENA: Stefan has a point, Damon. I should find out what she wants.
DAMON: You can't protect yourself.
STEFAN: Okay fine, then I'll go.
DAMON: You pissed off enough Originals to last a lifetime. I'll go.
DAMON: End of story.
To truly understand the manipulation in this scene, we first have to imagine how that scene would have happened if it had just been Damon and Elena talking about going to the ball. These two characters have had many conversations over the past season where they have talked and come to a compromise, but the most notable is perhaps the lake scene in Hybrid (3x02). There they began their conversation with an argument, which eventually led to each of them making a compromise. In the scene quoted above, it starts out much the same, with Damon calling the plan “dumb” (much like he called Elena an idiot in Hybrid). But the difference here is Stefan’s involvement. Damon assumes that as Stefan is here being involved in the conversation that he will want to play the part he usually plays; that of protector to Elena. When Stefan tells him in no uncertain terms that he doesn’t care (despite the fact that he does, as we later find out he has already stopped drinking human blood because of what he did to Elena, which is another layer of manipulation in this scene), Damon is forced to play the role instead, and in his worry he overdoes it. Stefan then watches their interaction very carefully, and uses it to his further advantage later in the episode:
STEFAN: Took you about 30 seconds to put Damon in the mood.
ELENA: He's just looking out for me.
STEFAN: I think he needs to figure out that you can look out for yourself.
ELENA: I need to talk to you.
STEFAN: Ok, so talk.
ELENA: Not here.
In the first quoted scene, he tells Damon that looking out for Elena was “your job now”, but then in this scene, he condemns Damon for doing that job, insinuating that Damon is over-stepping his boundaries. Here, he is passively asserting his perceived place in the Salvatore hierarchy; in effect, he is saying “I am the better brother for you, look how much more I respect your agency”. Which, considering the amount of times he has manipulated her or lied to her by omission, is laughable. But unfortunately, it works. She pulls him aside to talk to him:
ELENA: If Esther is secretly on our side, we need to know. But I can't get to her with two bodyguards.
STEFAN: Why are you telling me this?
ELENA: Because Damon won't let me anywhere near her without protection. And you care about killing Klaus more than you care about anything. (Stefan looks down pensively) So...What, am I wrong?
STEFAN: (pauses, and smiles bitterly) No, you're not wrong. What do you need me to do?
ELENA: Make sure that I can get into that room with Esther, Alone.
STEFAN: You're sure you can do this?
ELENA: I can do this. When we were together you used to let me make my own decisions. You trusted me. After all this at least that hasn't changed.
The first thing to note that Stefan does in this scene is how he reacts to Elena suggesting that the only thing he cares about is killing Klaus. He knows that she is waiting for a sign that he still cares, and that he still cares about her, and with that reaction, he gives it to her, which then elicits the later scene on the porch between these two characters. But the most important part of this conversation is Elena’s last line. It had quite a few viewers scratching their heads in puzzlement, because this is completely not true. He hasn’t always let her make her own decisions: he didn’t tell her he was a vampire before they started dating; he didn’t tell her she looked like Katherine before they had sex; he didn’t tell her about Damon’s involvement in Isobel’s disappearance. All of these things that he kept from her she had to find out on her own, because he didn’t trust her reaction and ability to handle the information. However, in light of Stefan’s manipulation, it is possible to see why Elena would think so. She is frustrated with Damon’s current over-protectiveness (encouraged by Stefan), and then Stefan tells her that he respects her agency and her ability to handle situations. Here, Stefan has conditioned her subconscious to see him as the one person that she can rely on. And all of this is quite deliberate on Stefan’s part, as we can see by his reaction in the earlier scene. Gone are the days where he subconsciously manipulated people; now he does it with ease, and with complete knowledge of his actions. He wanted to drive a wedge between Damon and Elena. And he succeeded.
My main question while thinking about Stefan will always be, do the writers know that this is how they’ve written him? His manipulative streak is fact; it’s right there in the text, but do the writers realise this? It is a running joke within the DE community that Stefan’s halo will never be tarnished; we’ll never see him owning up to his actions and taking responsibility for the consequences; we’ll never get to see other characters call him out on his duplicitous behaviour. I would like to think that we will eventually get to see this, because otherwise half of Stefan’s journey will be pointless. And that would just be bad writing.
So, that's the end of this part o the essay, but I still have more to say! OMG, are you all as exhausted as I am?