'The Vampire Diaries' recap: Humans can be heroes, too. With shirts on.

tvd-matt-reckoning-wet.jpgOkay, "Vampire Diaries" fans, tonight is the night. There have been a few bits (and bites) from this episode that I've been keeping secret for several weeks now, and getting to watch them play out on screen was both a relief and a heartbreaker.

First of all, before we jump into this episode, I want to take a moment to defend my favorite, Matt. I've been seeing a lot of Matt hate, but can we ease up on that, please? Matt is actually the person acting rationally here! Monsters are supposed to be scary. Sure, his whole jealous act with Caroline and Tyler isn't cute, but we're going to have to forgive him for being scared of werewolves and vampires. That is the normal reaction. He is not Bella Swan. That's why we like him!

Okay, moving on from there, "The Reckoning" was pretty much an hour of absolute perfection. We got to see almost every cast regular showcased, and several relationships took some much-needed steps forward. Not to mention, it was a bit of a relief to see the Mystic Falls kids in a familiar, teenage setting. I'm hoping that they keep trying to have fun, despite the doom and gloom and blood-drinking of their every day lives.

Ready? Hit that play button.

Previously on "The Vampire Diaries": Matt speaks! Precedent says that means I'm going to cry in this episode. I've been going through a lot of cheap wine and a lot of tissues this season. Oh, what's that you say? Stuff happened other than Zach Roerig doing the voiceover? The boys are back in town! Stefan and Klaus have officially returned to Mystic Falls, where, unfortunately for her, Elena continues to do terrible things that offend Klaus... like breathing, and eating, and sleeping.

8:01 - MATT! What is this building? Lockers? Classrooms? What do the residents of Mystic Falls use this for? I love that Matt is so poor he has to break into the school after hours to work out. He can't afford things heavy enough to give him those pecs. Also, most importantly... why is he wearing a shirt right now? I'm pretty sure the back of his shirt reads "LOL, CARINA MACKENZIE, THIS IS A SHIRT." I hate it.

In all seriousness, though, this opening sequence is pretty magnificent. It's very much the calm before the storm, but it still contains more than its fair share of foreboding, with the ominous beat of Matt's workout and the hallway scenes to that nice little jump we got from the mousetraps.

I'm glad that Caroline is still the ringleader on stuff like senior prank night. At this point, she's the only vampire in the gang. It makes sense that the memories are most important to her -- not only because she's the perpetual cheerleader, but also because she's the one who is going to have to watch her friends grow old and die while she's stuck getting carded at the Grill.

That said... since when does Elena have fun? I love Nina Dobrev in this scene, and I hope that the writers give Elena more opportunity to have a laugh this season.

Now she's off to superglue Alaric's desk shut. "I'm making memories," she said. Girl has been taking lessons from Tim Riggins and I wholeheartedly approve.

8:04 - Sigh. Stupid Klaus. Can't we, just once, have an episode where these kids are just normal high schoolers who turn into rabid animals by the light of the moon suck their friends' blood to survive do spells to wake people from the dead Okay, nevermind. Still. That moment of happiness made me think I wouldn't mind an episode of "One Vampire Hill." "Gossip Doppelgangers." "Mystic Falls, 20190."

8:05 - It's not like I want them to be together and like, build a picket fence, but Damon and Katherine do have a certain amount of undeniable chemistry. Plus, you've got to appreciate a guy who can drive you places and make out with you at the same time. It'd make your morning commute a whole lot more enjoyable, no?

8:05 - Klaus has been breaking Stefan's neck all afternoon. His idea of foreplay is so weird.

Can I take this moment to sing Claire Holt's praises? That "Consider me jealous!" was fierce.

8:06 - Joseph Morgan's disturbing, nasally American accent is surprisingly dead-on. He should never do that. His real voice is oh-so-pretty... as he turns on my favorite random, Dana. Now he's just having some sociopath fun at the expense of unsuspecting teenagers.

8:09 - Michael Trevino does a great job in scenes like this one, where Tyler and Caroline are just having a normal conversation. Don't get me wrong, he shines in the more difficult, transforming-naked-in-front-of-his-mom stuff, but the more subtle, conversational moments are the ones that make Tyler seem more fragile and more endearing and I love them.

Gushing over! I'm glad that Matt's struggle is acknowledged, too. This show has become this epic saga of people with powers protecting the people they love, and somehow, Matt is left out of that. I think the loneliness of being the one real human left in their circle of friends is comparable to the loneliness of being a vampire or the loneliness of being a ghost, and I'm glad that he's getting showcased in this episode.

"I love how big your heart is," Tyler tells Caroline. That's like... so close to an "I love you." So close. Which means that this relationship has nowhere to go but very, very bad.

Oh, hey, Rebekah. "The new girl."

8:10 - I'm just going to go on the record and say, before it happens... Bonnie/Matt = No.

"I kind of want to see her myself, you know?" Matt says when Bonnie reveals -- much to his relief -- that Jeremy spilled the beans about the ghosties. "I never got to say goodbye to her." Pardon me, I have run out of tissues and I need more. Sibling relationships are so central to this show, between the Salvatores, the Gilberts, and the Originals. Without a non-slutty parent, Matt and Vicki were on their own. Now, Matt's doing Elena's whole "I'm fine" thing. She should've gotten a patent on that face.

Apparently, Matt sucked at CPR. I bet he was just like that kid in "The Sandlot."

I wonder who the kind soul who wrote "R.I.P. Vicki Donovan" on the toilet stall was. I bet it was my BFF Dana. Note to all of my friends: If I die unexpectedly, don't memorialize me in the same place where you defecate. That's not cool. Thanks.

8:12 - "If you want to blame someone, blame me," Bonnie tells Klaus. She and Stefan should start a Self Sacrificers Anonymous club. They can meet at the Grill. I bet this scene is very confusing for Matt, considering he's never met Klaus. He's probably like, "Yo, who is this stranger who looks excellent in a henley that's snapping my BFF's neck!?"

This is the part where I start praying, because 1) if Tyler dies, I am so done with this show, except for the part where it's literally my job to watch it and 2) I really, really want to see Tyler as a hybrid.

8:16 - "The Original one was much prettier," Rebekah says of the doppelganger. How does Holt make this petty, childish vampire so freaking likable? I want to be her best friend and start a burn book and wear pink on Wednesdays.

8:16 - Why is Matt still sweaty? He couldn't have used some of that toilet paper to wipe his brow? Honestly, it's not fair to have him all wet for an entire episode and keep his shirt on. That's just cruel and unusual.

Bonnie says that though she can't contact the dead witches, Jeremy can.

8:17 - Unfortunately, Jeremy is unconscious at some random truck stop, because Katherine gave him a concussion or something. Katherine tells Damon that Pearl ( R.I.P.) knew about the vampire who could kill Klaus, but she never spilled the beans so that she'd have leverage against Katherine. (I know. We're all shocked that Katherine's one friendship was based on blackmail, not genuine affection.)

Good morning, Jeremy.

tvd-stefan-vertical.jpg8:17 - Stefan, who hasn't bothered to change his shirt since getting staked, arrives in the gym to beg Klaus to take him back. "Please give me my half of our BFF-necklace back, Klaus," he says. "It looks so good with my mood ring." Or, you know, something along those lines.

Klaus attacks Elena to test Stefan's loyalty, and predictably, it evokes a reaction. As Paul Wesley told me this summer, Stefan still feels that he's teaming up with Klaus for Elena.

Klaus didn't compel Stefan all summer long, and that, my friends, is the reason that I genuinely love this show. Deep down, this evil vampire hybrid with plans to overtake the world with his own race (hey, that sounds warm and fuzzy) really just wants someone to choose to be with him.

Stefan kills Dana!!! I need a moment.

The true travesty is that the writer never incorporated the phrase "NOW, Dana!" into this episode. "Not now, Dana" is now just hanging there, in the universe, alone. Unfulfilled. Mayor Lockwood needs to hold a memorial.

8:23 - I hate Bonnie's texting skills. First the abomination "Hawt-E" in the pilot, and now she can't type out "you"? It's two extra letters, Bonnie. Autocorrect generally takes care of it for you.

Okay, back to more important thing. One, I'm thinking about Katherine/Jeremy right now and that's uncomfortable, but I'd like to make it clear that despite the family resemblance, they actually don't have any blood ties. Like in case the writers are reading this and need a super-creepy romance for Season 8.

Anna's not particularly interested in helping Damon or Katherine when Jeremy contacts her. I have to say, after her highly emotional scene in last week's episode when Jeremy shut her out, she's pretty casual when he contacts her again. Like she was totally expecting it.

"You want to make an omelet, you have to break a few legs," Katherine says. Seriously, Damon hurting Jeremy again? I'm glad it only takes one violent, skull-crunching head-bash, because I'm about to crawl into my television and protect the poor innocent high school sophomore here.

Anna says that Michael is a vampire and a hunter. I've obviously heard a few spoilers, but I think that even if I hadn't, this wouldn't be much of a revelation. Nobody thought Klaus and Little Becky would be running from some mere mortal.

8:25 - Caroline wakes up from her nap to find that Rebekah has commandeered her cell phone. Major girl faux-pas. It is, however, adorable that Caroline has pictures of Stefan and Elena in happier times on her phone. Caroline is totally that girl who takes over the entire yearbook layout so that her friends are over-represented and the weird kids who smell like patchouli and sit near the bathrooms are nowhere to be seen.

Additionally, this is excellent product placement. I totally covet that phone.

8:26 - "I invited him to the party, love. He's the one dancing on the table." Oh, to see Stefan dancing on a table.

"Why is that doppelganger bitch wearing my necklace?" Rebekah demands. Can I get that on a t-shirt? Rebekah's general brattiness is so enjoyable. I can't explain why I love her, in all of her spoiled, demanding glory, but I really do. For some reason, she feels like a rich and realistic character -- you know, if you ignore the 1000 year old part. It's the same reason I loved Julie Taylor on "Friday Night Lights." Sure, they're obnoxious, but you wouldn't have them any other way.

Also, she has excellent table manners. She just sank her teeth into Elena's jugular and didn't get a drop on her sweater.

And now Stefan has just 20 minutes before he enjoys Elena like a nice Chianti. Well, this should be fun. I have to say, it's about time we see someone really use their power of compulsion. There are so many moments when you wonder why the Mystic Falls vamps don't use it more often, and now that's sort of revealed -- because it is awful.

Can we talk about how annoying it is that Klaus compels Stefan to guzzle Elena down, and Elena says, "Don't do this to him!" -- to him? How about to you? Just once I would like someone in this town to have a sense of self-preservation.

8:27 - Matt discovers that his duffel bag of clothes he shouldn't put on has been ransacked, with a trail leading to the pool, where he finds that his truck's keys have gone skinny-dipping. And yet, he still doesn't remove his shirt to get them. What, has he suddenly developed a third nipple and gone shy? Does he have a weird rash?

Vicki is still trying to contact her little bro, so she kicks one of his sneakers into the pool, which is just mean, because do you know how many hours he has to work at the Grill to afford a shoe? Then, he looks down at his phone -- which, by the way, is on its home screen and has no visible "new message" alert -- but when he picks it up, there is a message, from "Unknown."

Can we talk about this phenomenon of "unknown" texts? The girls on "Pretty Little Liars" get them all the time, they're a regular occurrence on "Supernatural"... is this a thing that actually happens? I mean, calls from blocked numbers, yes. But nobody gets texts from blocked numbers.

Also, ghosts can't text. My extensive ghost technology research tells me that they all have crappy plans, and they can never get any bars on the Other Side. It's just facts.

tvd-reckoning-bonnie.jpg8:29 - My stomach hurts just thinking about what Matt is proposing here, though I'm glad he's putting faith in Bonnie's lifeguard skills, not her magic skills. Let's face it, last season she was pretty hit-or-miss on the magic thing.

Also, how awesome is it that Matt is willing to potentially die to save the life of the dude who sort of stole his girlfriend? I mean, I know Tyler didn't really steal Caroline, because Caroline is a Strong Woman and not an object, but it wouldn't be totally out of line for Matt to think that way. But no. Just as he was willing to befriend Stefan after Stefan swept in and enchanted his ex-girlfriend, he's still putting Tyler's well-being first. Stop questioning why he's my favorite! This is why he's my favorite!

The scene with him jumping into the pool, while highly unrealistic (SHIRT) was very well-directed. There's something about the bubbles all over his face that makes me want to say, "I'll never let go, Jack!" and then cry for four hours.

Humans can be heroes, too.

8:33 - Run, Bonnie, run!

Honestly, who kills themselves with a shirt on.

8:33 - I really enjoy this Jeremy/Katherine/Damon trio. Remember back in early Season 2, when Jeremy had an odd admiration for Damon, the guy who snapped his neck in a fit of completely misdirected anger? Jeremy's not that guy anymore, and I like it.

Katherine makes a desperate attempt to keep Damon interested in her well being -- and his own well being -- but per usual, his priority is Elena. He decides to turn back to Mystic Falls just as they're closing in on a way to kill Klaus.

"The Damon I remember wouldn't have been that stupid," Katherine says.

"I wouldn't have done it for you," he replies, matter-of-fact. I think I suddenly just got on board with the whole Damon/Elena thing.

8:34 - Oof. Water-logged and most of the way to dead is not Matt Donovan's best look, but he's finally got a moment with Vicki. "I need you to give Bonnie a message," she tells him. I'm nervous, given Anna's previous insistence that Vicki brings "the darkness," but I always sympathized with Vicki -- at least when it came to her rather tragic relationship with Matt -- so hopefully this won't end too badly.

8:35 - Stefan's panic in this scene is magnificent. He's almost manic. The first time I ever interviewed Paul Wesley we talked about Stefan as an addict, and he's never seemed more cracked-out than he does now. He's basically Whitney Houston staring down a pile of blow shaped like the love of his life.

"Maybe it's just mind-control, right? Some focus, a couple decades of training, no big deal," he says, regarding the resisting-compulsion thing. It makes you wonder -- what vampire helped Caroline's dad learn to resist compulsion? You can't train for something without a little resistance.

"Just drink from me," she says. He's doing a pretty good job of controlling himself right now, given the fact that she's bleeding as we speak (and how nice of Klaus, to provide her with a towel so she doesn't mess up her shirt -- he's very respectful of Henleys).

"I'm a ripper," he tells her. "A ripper doesn't stop." Perhaps the best line of the episode. I recently asked Paul Wesley whether he thought Stefan - deep down, at his core - was truly good, or truly bad. "I don't know, honestly," he told me. "He's either a bad guy who tries to do good or a good guy who can't help but do bad, but we don't know. Maybe we'll never know."

Perhaps, at his core, what he is is simply a ripper -- a vampire who does what he does because he can't help it, because he's driven by animalistic urge, not a moral compass. If a dog kills a squirrel you don't condemn the dog; it's not bad, it's simply its nature.

Paul Wesley is magnificent this season. If Stefan goes back to being good and guilty and angsty, it's going to be a major loss for this series.

"You love me," Elena says, firmly. This is a great scene with them. As annoying as her faith in him is, it is nice that despite all of the tragedy in her life, she's still got some confidence that one person won't let her down.

8:41 - Caroline and Rebekah keep watch over Tyler, who finally wakes up, bewildered. "You're in transition," Caroline tells Tyler. She leaves out the "yet again," but it's implied. Rebekah, who has become mighty proficient in the touch-screen grace that I still can't even grasp, drops the bomb that he's pretty much doomed unless Bonnie gets the scoop from the Original Witch. At least he hasn't started bleeding from the eyeballs yet. Simon Camden had it so bad.

8:42 - "Oh, right," Matt says. "I forgot to mention in the last six minutes that my crazy plan of masochism actually worked, and I have some info for you. Were those six minutes important? Oh, there's a clock ticking down? Whoops, forgot, just like I forgot to take off my shirt."

That may not be a direct quote.

In all seriousness, though, if Anna is all alone in her death-universe, why can Vicki contact the Original witch? "She says that Elena shouldn't have survived Klaus's ritual," Matt tells Bonnie. "Hybrids can't transition because Elena's still alive."

"But Tyler," Bonnie says, because everyone just assumes that Elena is going to live and whoever isn't Elena is doomed. What judge put these two on a scale and decided Elena is worth more to the universe? Just wondering. Tyler has better shoulders.

"Given the choice, doppelganger or hybrid, I go hybrid every time," says a lurky Klaus. Finally. Someone's making some sense in this town.

8:43 - Stefan makes a valiant attempt not to feed on Elena. Seriously, his strength is unprecedented on this show -- he's fighting against his very nature. It resembles the way Elijah looked when he woke up in the house that he hadn't been invited into. There are two rules at play, which cancel each other out. Elijah was in the house, yet he couldn't be in the house. Stefan is meant to feed on Elena, yet he can't hurt Elena.

He literally stakes himself to keep himself from feeding on her. Only on this show would two people try to kill themselves in unimaginable ways within ten minutes just to save their friends.

"The only thing stronger than your craving for blood is your love for this one girl," Klaus says. "Your humanity is killing you... turn it off." He makes a few attempts to convince Stefan to turn off the compassion without compulsion, but when it comes down to it, he uses his mind control trick... and before our eyes, Stefan is gone.

"I fixed him," Klaus says.

And then, the ripper drinks.

8:49 - Klaus tells Rebekah that the Original Witch wants the doppelganger dead. "Does that mean we can kill her?" she says, with about the same enthusiasm an eight-year-old has when asking her mom if she can have four dollars for the ice cream truck in July.

Klaus, however, doesn't trust the Original Witch, and decides to experiment, by feeding Tyler Elena's blood. This moment is why I think Michael Trevino is the most underrated actor on this entire network right now. You can see the push and pull all over his face as he takes the test-tube of doppelganger juice, and his genuine agony as he writhes on the floor his hard to watch.

(She takes a backseat in this episode, but Candice Accola is fantastic in this scene, too. Tyler and Caroline better be together forever or I will cry a river.)

tvd-tyler-doppelganger-blood.jpg

8:51 - Elena wakes up in the hospital, where Klaus has compelled the nurses to take her blood. Since he needs it to make more hybrids, I'm guessing he's collecting just enough to keep her alive. This is a great plot twist -- by reviving Elena after the sacrifice with her bio-dad's life force, her friends actually found the hidden loophole to the Original Witch's carefully crafted plan. Klaus should thank them for their trickery, when it comes down to it. Some reckoning, indeed.

"You know how much the Original Witch hated me," Klaus tells Rebekah. "Do you honestly think I'd do anything other than the opposite of what she said?"

He's convinced that she wanted to make sure he'd be left alone for all time. Joseph Morgan is a truly great actor, because despite the fact that it's his fault my fave Dana is dead, I feel some genuine sympathy for Klaus in this moment.

"Is that what this is about? Your obsession with hybrids? You just don't want to be alone?" Rebekah asks. Keep up, chick.

"What I want is to take my girl, take my hybrid, and get the hell out of this one pony town." I'm not sure who he's referring to by the girl thing -- Elena, Rebekah, or Stefan.

Damon shows up, though, and uses Michael as leverage to get Klaus out of town... without Elena. The music cue when he goes into the hospital is magnificent. "Torch Song" by Shady Bard for you soundtrack junkies.

tvd-damon-carry-elena-vertical.jpgCan we talk about how Ryan-Marissa this moment is, as Damon carries her out of the room? Also, take note, he's resisting her blood, even though drinking from the IV at this point wouldn't even hurt her.

8:55 - Tyler and Caroline look like they're doing fine. "It's a rush," he tells her. I can see how the initial hybrid thing would feel good, particularly given that hybrids can transform whenever they want -- which means Tyler can choose to not transform. Maybe there's also a part of both of them that likes the idea that he's now immortal, like her.

I seriously hope he's not going to be all Team Klaus now. "This is going to be an amazing year," he says. Caroline already knows that's a crock. She's a smart cookie.

8:56 - MATT! I'm so proud of him. "What you did was reckless and stupid," Bonnie says, because she has never done anything reckless or stupid to save someone. Also, hi, but can someone give Matt a little credit? When no one else could, he saved everybody. He saved Elena, he saved Tyler, and he did it all without even removing his shirt.

"You're the only one of us who actually gets to live your life like a normal person," she tells him. His sister died a vampire! Can someone just tell him that it's okay to be freaking out and grieving?

I love the way he senses someone over his shoulder and assumes it's Bonnie, and then when he sees Vicki and her stupid vest -- his face!!!

"Hi Matty," she says, and then I cry and cry. The tragic thing is that the absolute best thing we can hope for here is that she gives him the chance to say goodbye, and then she goes... and of course, we're not going to get the absolute best thing, because this is "The Vampire Diaries," and things always go to hell.

8:57 - Damon, in typical fashion, applies bourbon to the heart-wound. He offers to compel the bad memories out of her, in a perfectly human moment -- because let's be honest, when someone you love experiences something awful, you wish you could just take it away from them. Damon actually has the ability to do that, and, showing some serious personal growth, he asks Elena's permission before actually doing it.

"No," she says. "No compulsion. I need to remember all of it."

He returns her necklace -- giving Rebekah a reason to return, at least -- but it doesn't mean anything to her anymore, now that she truly believes Stefan is gone. This is such a good scene between Damon and Elena. Her "where were you, Damon?" betrays so many emotions.

Looks like Stefan's moving back in, and tapping into the never-ending bourbon supply. "From now on, you're under my protection," he tells Elena. And basically, he doesn't give a crap if Damon and Elena start hooking up on the couch right now.

8:59: Rise and shine, Mikey.

It's getting harder and harder to choose the MVPs for each episode, as everyone has been showcased so well lately. I'm pretty much ready to declare Paul Wesley and Joseph Morgan the overall MVPs of the entire season and possibly the universe, but for this particular episode, I'm so thrilled by Zach Roerig's work. He doesn't get these episodes often, but it's nice to be reminded of the human side of things once in a while.

I have to admit, though, I'm waiting for some really juicy Damon stuff to come our way this season. He's sort of getting tugged around this year like a puppy on a leash. Time to take some action of your own, Damon!

You know what to do, vamp fans -- comment below and tell me your thoughts on tonight's epic episode! It's going down as one of my all-time favorites.

Also... R.I.P., Dana. You will be missed.

Photo/Video credit: The CW
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