'The Vampire Diaries' recap: Doom, gloom, and personal growth

tvd-damon-elena-descent.jpg"The Vampire Diaries" is back, finally! (Be grateful... not every CW show was so lucky this week.) Tonight's episode had all the things we love best about the show - romance, blood, action, shirtlessness, and good old fashioned teen angst.

(Not to mention a hefty helping of centenarian angst, too. I'm looking at you, Damon Salvatore.)

After a long week of exhaustive "TVD" coverage ( check out what you missed here) I've had enough stalling, and I just want to watch the freaking show. Hit the play button on those DVRs.

8:00 - Previously on the Vampire Diaries, we found out that Rose ( Lauren Cohan) will probably die. I... really wish I could care, but I have to admit that the werewolf bite "cliffhanger" made the winter hiatus much more bearable.

8:02 - I love that our first really threatening, animalistic werwolf is a chick. Jules ( Michaela McManus) is an amazing character. There was a scene similar to this in SyFy's "Being Human" pilot (yeah, sue me, I never watched the British version), but with the werewolf waking up next to a deer carcass. It's a whole different animal when Jules wakes up next to a pile of dead humans and, instead of panicking, just calmly goes about clearing the wreckage.

For her, disposing of the bodies is basically the equivalent of waking up the morning after having a little too much to drink and deleting those embarrassing Facebook status updates you made. Oops.

I have to say, I didn't expect her to kill while in human form, too. That definitely changes things. It's strange to me that Mason hung out with this woman who doesn't bother to restrain herself during full moons and who can kill a police officer (and so brutally, too!) while barely batting an eye.

8:03 - Oh, hey! Gratuitous shirtless Salvatore alert. I'll wait while you guys ogle. Done?

The commercials for "The Roommate," that new "Single White Female"-esque movie with Minka Kelly and Leighton Meester, have been airing on The CW non-stop this week -- so when Elena ( Nina Dobrev) says, "I don't want us to be apart anymore. Ever," to Stefan, I get a decidedly creepy feeling.  I know she doesn't mean it in a particularly obsessive, stalkerish, wear-your-skin kind of way, but still. I guess I still don't entirely understand what's changed between them since the breakup.

That said, I don't mind that they're back together. Last weekend I had the chance to meet up with Paul Wesley while he was in Los Angeles, and it definitely sounds like there's some cool stuff on the horizon for the couple.

8:04 - Is Elena mixing vervain into her morning cocktail? (Is Elena drinking a morning cocktail?) Finally! I guess after losing her necklace and being vulnerable for a while, she realized that given the giant target on her back, she should probably use two forms of protection.

8:04 - Oh, never mind. It's for Stefan. He's trying to kick his blood addiction and build up a tolerance to vervain at the same time? Tough guy.

8:05 - "If you're going to be maudlin I'm just going to kill you myself," Damon ( Ian Somerhalder) tells Rose.  I know that we're supposed to believe that he genuinely cares about her now, try as he might not to, but it's hard for me to buy it. I haven't really seen the development between them the way I think we're supposed to have seen it. Until now, he's only cared about Stefan, Elena, and people who serve an immediate purpose to him. What was it about Rose that changed that rule?

"Death happens," he tells Elena. "We come; we go. The sooner she dies the better. It's gloomy as hell in here."

We've only seen one Damon scene, and already the "He doesn't want to care! But he does!" thing is feeling like an anvil. An anvil dropping on my head over and over.

8:06 - Oh look, it's almost as if these kids go to high school! Tyler ( Michael Trevino) is freaking adorable in his football uniform. (Yikes. Uh, last season, who knew that Tyler would ever be described as adorable? I guess watching a man turn into a wolf can make you a little more sympathetic to his plight.)

The tension between him and Caroline is so sweet. This is sort of his first romance on the show, since treating Vicki like trash hardly counts, and it's really fun to watch. Trevino and Candice Accola have crazy chemistry on-screen.

Her admission that  a werewolf bite can kill a vampire comes as a serious surprise to him, clearly. When I saw Trevino this morning he told me this would be a turning point in the Caroline/Tyler relationship. "There's a whole other wave of emotion that comes over him when he hears this news."

8:07 - MATT! ( Zach Roerig) I know you're all shocked to hear me say this, but he's cute here. He is epically bad at communication, but he's extremely good at honest. Aw, kisses! In the preview that circulated over the last few weeks, it sort of looked like Caroline pushed him away quickly when he kissed her. I'm glad she actually let him get a few seconds in before she rejected him.

8:10 - Sheriff Mom is back and Alaric's around. Is everyone in this episode? (I miss Jeremy.) Stefan's still looking for Isobel. Isobel is kind of boring, now, though... She's become this offscreen font of vampire information which takes away the twisted menace that makes her cool. tvd-jules-woods.jpg

8:11 - Here's the big Damon's bedroom reveal as Elena puts Rose to bed. I love the contrast between his bedroom and Stefan's. Stefan is the emotional one. He saves things, he writes things down. He's practically a memory hoarder after living so long. Damon, meanwhile, has a bed, a few bottles of booze, a huge TV - betraying his extravagant tastes - and books.

Books that include "Gone With the Wind" -- which is set the South during the Civil War era, the where and when of Damon's last true humanity. Hmmmm.

"Maybe I expected there to be silk sheets," Elena says. Fine, I'll make the obvious connection: she's been thinking about his sheets. Ooh.

I'm so glad that Elena's already put two and two together and assumed Bonnie wasn't successful in destroying the moonstone. She's smart; she knows when something feels too easy.

Uh oh, Rose is hallucinating Trevor... and Katherine. When the disease eats at her mind she's downright terrifying. I really like Cohan's portrayal here.

8:18 - Elena is so awesome in this episode. I mean - she should probably be calling Damon or Stefan right about now to come save her, but she's not, and when Rose begs her forgiveness, Elena gives it. I'm so impressed by her bravery. In this nightmarish scene, it's the powerful 500-year-old vampire who's scared, not the 18-year-old small-town girl -- I love it. We really needed to see Elena as an active protagonist again, and here she is. Once again she's our heroine.

But really... she should call Damon. Just saying.

8:19 - Speak of the devil - he's at the grill, having a very serious eyebrow-off with his brother that is distracting me from any of the actual words they're saying. I did however, pick up, "there goes my plan to rip her spleen through her back." Oh, I missed the Damon zingers over the hiatus.

8:20 - Jules is one of the most intriguing new characters we've had. I love her as a villain, and I love that she hangs out at the grill, in public, enjoying her lunch as if she didn't just chow down on some campers and bludgeon a police officer to death.

8:21 - Oh, Elena. Stop turning your back on the monsters, girlfriend. Haven't you learned that in the last 24 episodes? It's fascinating to see Rose regressing to the animalistic side of vampiricism (vampirism? I'm just making up words). Elena is so brave and so smart here, but really. Damon shouldn't have left her with Rose when they had no idea how the disease would manifest.

8:28 - Hell yeah, Elena! Tearing down the drapes, digging her nails into that gaping, oozing death wound... She's kind of my hero. When can we see her go hand-to-hand with Katherine like this?

8:28 - MATT! I feel so sad for Caroline here. She ended things with Matt (or at least provoked him to end things) because she was rightfully worried about his wellbeing. None of that has changed.

"Anything in the realm of truth right now would be nice," Matt says.

Seeing as there's hardly anything true that she can actually tell him, she goes for the one last real thing she can say without spilling her deep dark secret. "I love you."

AAAAaaaaah. I genuinely can't decide if I'd rather see her with Tyler or with Matt. Someone please tell me how to feel. My uber crush on Matt Donovan has been well-documented over the last two years, but after seeing the bond between Tyler and Caroline when he transformed in the last week's episode, I can't make a choice.

"Hey Matt, we need more burgers." "Not now, Dana!" Seriously. I'm going to get "Not now, Dana" embroidered on a pillow. Of course Caroline turbo-vamps away from that conversation. Becoming a vampire turns you into an avoider.

8:31 - Every so often "The Vampire Diaries" knocks out a real a kickass woman episode - the last one that comes to mind is "Plan B," when Elena fearlessly rappelled down into the well to save Stefan from the vervain water. And the rats.  

This is one of those episodes. I'm genuinely excited and nervous, even though I damn well know that nothing bad is actually going to happen to Elena. The action sequences are so much fun to watch.

I really do hate to say this, but it seems like every time there's a black person on this show, they're either a witch or vampire chow by the end of the episode.

8:35 - Wow! You know things are harrowing when Damon willingly hands Elena a stake and lets her get in on a little piece of the danger pie.

8:36 - Oh, hey, pretty blonde stranger girl. You're probably about to get eaten.

Yep.

Lauren Cohan is sure giving Rose a memorable exit. It's so nice to see an actor that's not afraid to get very ugly on screen. Trevino really went there in the last episode, and now Cohan is getting her hands dirty. It's a sight. At the beginning of this episode, I was hoping they'd kill Rose early and get it over with. Now I'm hoping they find some unexpected cure. It's a shame she's become so three-dimensional so late in the game.

8:37 - "You went on a murderous rampage. It happens," Damon shrugs as he gets Rose back into bed. You know, I would've assumed that our first introduction to Damon's bed would've set it up as the sexiest bed that ever existed. Instead, his bed has been introduced as a sickbed. A really gross, bloody, barfy, sweaty, sickbed.

We'll always have the living room floor, I guess.

tvd-damon-rose.jpg8:38 - "Damon's a lot like me. He wants to care, and when he does, he runs away from it," Rose says. Again - anvilicious. I hope that when I die I have as many memorable nuggets of wisdom to scatter as Rose seems to have.

In the promo spots for this episode, Rose told Elena, "It's okay to love them both, you know," presumably about the Salvatore brothers. I'm not sure why they chose to cut the scene. Perhaps Elena's answer gave away too much too soon? Perhaps it simply made things too black and white?

Or, more likely, it was just cut for time.

8:45 - "Why would you risk it?" Tyler asks, and my heart melts. When we first met Tyler, he was really a vile person, but people cared about him anyway. Vicki cared about him when he treated her like dirt. Matt cared about him when they were the unlikeliest of friends. Tyler's finally not taking that for granted in Caroline, which shows a lot of growth on his part.

Hello. That is a good kiss. Excuse me, rewinding to check which one she was more into. Winner... Tyler, I think? Though she did drop the L-bomb with Matt... I'm going to have to study these clips more carefully, I think.

"Everyone just needs to stop kissing me!" Cry me a river.

8:46 - Damon is so full of crap with his not caring shtick. At this point, Rose is just gross - sweaty and diseased and just generally icky - and yet, he's holding her like he's loved her for centuries.

8:46 - Aww, this flashback/dream is such a beautiful scene. I wish we'd been able to see the part where Damon asked Elena where he could take Rose to ease her pain, but perhaps it's nice just to imagine that. I think it's really beautiful that in this dream, Rose looks the way she would've looked when she was human.

So Damon, the king of not giving a crap, is going to all of this effort to make things easier on Rose? He's so sweet when he's in denial.

"Humanity's not all it's cracked up to be," he says. I like when she tells him that she spent 500 years just running and "existing, but that he matters and has people who care about him.

The contrast between Damon, young and happy and affectionate in the dream, and Damon holding her dying body in the bed is absolutely gorgeous. I'm crying!

8:52 - Yuck. Rose in the trunk of the car is really gross. How much must Damon hate it right now that Jules won one?

8:53 - I've sort of been dreading the inevitable Jules-and-Tyler heart to heart. She tells him that she knows all of his secrets - and then she drops the bomb that Mason is dead and that Caroline may have had a hand in his death. And now the wolf pack is on the way.

"Who are you?" Tyler asks. "I'm your friend," Jules replies. After the bomb she just dropped about Caroline, I'm guessing he feels like she's his only friend. This isn't going to end well, kids.

8:54 - Finally, Elena is just plain referring to Damon as a friend again. This is a nice scene between them, except for how bitter he is when she drags the honesty out of him.

I love the hug they share, mostly because he doesn't really share it. For the first time in a long time, she's offering him comfort, but he's not taking it. He doesn't hug her back, he doesn't cry on her shoulder, and he doesn't lean on her. He may be vulnerable emotionally, but he's still not really willing to put his emotions in Elena's hands -- probably because she's the one who could do the most damage.

8:56 - The scene where Uncle John returns would've been a very, very powerful moment if it hadn't been leaked early. As it stands, it's as if Stefan spent the entire episode killing time to get to a punchline that fell flat. It's a shame, but luckily, he's got some really good stories coming up. Besides, after an episode of being trapped with Katherine and her head games, he deserves a break from the action.

Did Uncle John turn British? I'm not sure that David Anders even knows what his real accent is anymore.

8:57 - This final scene in the road is an excellent callback to the pilot - and a good way to make it very clear that Damon misses the way he used to feel, or in this case, not feel, back when he first returned to Mystic Falls.

"I'm lost," he says. I start to roll my eyes before he finishes the thought: "Metaphorically. Existentially." Well, at least he's aware that he's being particularly melodramatic. I love the way Somerhalder plays drunk and emo. He's so believably distraught in this moment that it's impossible for me not to start crying. He's desperate and scared, and sad.

Soundtrack junkie moment: The music cue here is brilliant, adding a more frenetic pace that builds the scene to a suspenseful climax.

"I can't be what other people want me to be," Damon tells the woman he found in the road. "What she wants me to be. This is who I am, Jessica." tvd-ian-jessica.png

"You are my existential crisis. Do I kill you? Do I not kill you? I have to, Jessica. Because I'm not human, and I miss it. I miss it more than anything else in the world. That is my secret. There's only so much hurt a man can take."

It's so telling that he lets her go and then attacks her anyway. He genuinely can't decide who he's supposed to be in this moment. I know that a lot of people are going to be upset that Damon seems to be regressing back to his old ways, but I think there's a clear difference between then and now. Then, he was flippant and cold and cruel because it was easy. Now, he's going to be flippant and cold and cruel despite the fact that it's difficult. He's fighting for his life, essentially.

Now that we're in the second half of the season, we're officially building toward the season finale. After Damon's emotional roller coaster tonight, I can't wait to see where he lands at the end.

Somerhalder gets MVP, obviously. Rose's scene on the pavement at the Booster barbecue definitely gave him a run for his moon, but there's just no denying that Somerhalder is incredible, especially given the two sides of him we saw tonight - the happy, youthful side he faked in the field with Rose, and the devastated, wrecked side we saw in the final scene.

Your turn, Vamp fans. I've missed you all over the hiatus! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo/Video credit: The CW
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