'The Vampire Diaries' recap: In which Alaric is his own worst enemy and 1912 is a good year for the roses

stefan-damon-tvd-1912.jpgThis was one of the more difficult "Vampire Diaries" recaps for me to write, because I loved this episode so much that there was very little to snark about. I'm afraid this recap is very low on the funny and very high on the gushing. I can't think of a single thing that I didn't love about this episode.

I made the mistake of reading some fan reactions before I sat down to write my own, and was surprised to find that many people didn't think this episode was as great as I thought it was. (Why don't you all agree with me all the time!?!?! My brainwasher machine must be broken.)

I think that a lot of people who watch this show are invested in the romance above all else, and this episode was definitely not designed to please the 'shippers.

Personally, I find the romances and triangles to be the least interesting part of the show. When we're in the final stretch of episodes, years from now, it'll become more important, but right now, I'm much more interested in individual character journeys -- and, above all, the relationship between the Salvatore brothers. This episode gave us gorgeous, complicated insight into Stefan's relationship with Damon and the mercurial rise and fall of their bond. Elsewhere, we saw some growth from Elena and a completely unexpected twist in Alaric's story.

This week, more than ever, I'm hoping we can get some good discussion going in the comments section! I can't wait to hear your opinions.

Previously on "The Vampire Diaries": Someone murdered a guy who really looks like Tom Welling, Rebekah is looking for a tree, and Meredith Fell is totally A!

8:00 - Previously, in Mystic Falls... a Salvatore was murdered. My favorite thing about this is that the Forbes were always Sheriffs. Kind of like how McFlys were always slackers and Biff Tannen always ended up with a mouth full of horse dookie.

8:02 - I like the increasing tension between Liz Forbes and Carol Lockwood. I think the whole "Tyler and Caroline are Romeo and Juliet" thing that was teased at the beginning of the season fell by the wayside, but it's still nice to see consistent characterization for these women who are essentially the most peripheral characters on the show.

Did anyone else think Alaric was in a tomb when he first woke up? Just me? I'm so glad Damon showed up to intervene and get Alaric out of jail... and then basically gave up because Sheriff Forbes told him to. "Don't make me put you in that cell with him!" says Sheriff Forbes. ("Put him in the cell! Put him in the cell! Drop the soap!" scream a million fans.)

8:03 - "Elena, you can't outrun your problems." Way to distract from the fact that you're slower than her, Matty. It's okay. Football season was canceled forever, and the only food you can afford are the fries people leave on their plates at the Grill.

I love the Elena and Matt bonding that's been going on lately. You guys can say what you want about how boring he is or whatever, but he's never let her down, or asked her for more than she can give.

In this scene, Matt explains that Bonnie's story is, once again, going to play out off-screen. Nothing new there. "She knows it's not your fault, Elena. She's just upset," he says. Elena continues to blame herself, though.

8:05 - Elena goes to the Sheriff's department to figure out what's going on with Alaric, but Damon finds her first and makes a hilarious woodland creatures joke that Elena doesn't find quite so hilarious. I have to give him credit, he's doing a good job of playing Season 1 Damon. He obviously got the DVDs. "I'm mean, you hate me, the earth is back on its axis."

The "stop pushing people away" line is one that Elena's used before. What's changed, though, is that it's pretty obvious that she hasn't been pushed at all.

8:06 - Stefan is suffering through withdrawal symptoms in his room, and then Damon barges in and makes a hilarious woodland creatures joke that Stefan doesn't find quite so hilarious.

All kidding aside, Damon is really excellent to Stefan in this episode. He recognizes that Stefan needs two things -- a distraction, and a chaperone -- and he provides those things. He's being a big brother without rubbing Stefan's face in it and without asking for anything in return.

We dive into Stefan's diary in 1912, and we see a very new-to-us dynamic between Stefan and Damon. How great are the pilot callbacks here, with Uncle/Nephew Zachariah and the return of Damon's crow?

Stefan, who has been coached by Lexi and learned the woodland creature diet, seems genuinely happy to see Damon. He misses his brother and he's willing to let bygones be bygones. At this point, though, Damon still resents Stefan for Stefan's hand in Damon being turned. Damon is also still pining for Katherine, and he hasn't yet learned that he can have superficial fun and miss Katherine. As we know, later, he'll become the master of this particular multitask.

The acting is on point in this scene. Stefan's warm greeting, his hesitant smile -- matched with the fact that Damon doesn't really even want to look at Stefan -- it all feels really new to the viewer, which is impressive given that I believe this is the 60th episode of this show.

8:12 - Blah, blah, Rebekah talks to the Mayor about wood that I still can't be bothered to care about. I refuse to believe that the greatest threat to the baddest vampire might be a handful of splinters at this point.

8:14 - The Sheriff suggests that perhaps Alaric is the killer, because all of the murder victims had somehow offended Meredith. That makes complete sense, particularly because Alaric himself was stabbed in the gut and bled all over Elena's house. And now Alaric's embarrassing 2 a.m. booty call is evidence against him? I hate this town.

8:15 - People tweet me all the time asking how Uncle Zach existed if the Salvatores couldn't procreate after they vamped out. Damon explains that their dad had an illegitimate kid, so the family name continued. It seems odd to me that the child of the maid would even carry the family name given the stigma back in those days. It's interesting, given the importance of sibling relationships on this show (from the Salvatores, to Elena and Jeremy, and even Matt and Vicki) that they had a half-sibling that didn't seem to have any bearing on their life. (How very "Supernatural.")

Blah, blah, Rebekah has questions about wood and I still don't care.

Stefan mentions Sage and we're back in 1912, drinking with the vampire boys. I have no idea how they got from a somber funeral to this freakshow, but the Salvatores find themselves in a tent, watching Sage the vampire knock out some men in the ring. (How did this come up in the writers' room? "Let's set the episode in 1912 and introduce a bisexual female vampire boxer!" "Makes total sense!" I mean, don't get me wrong, I like it, but... what?!)

This is some seriously scandalous stuff given the era. A woman, dressed like that, fighting men? And putting money into Damon's pants? Positively depraved.

8:18 - Meredith reveals that Alaric was arrested four times for fighting, which doesn't really surprise me -- I wouldn't expect a guy like him to have a squeaky clean record. The surprise comes when she says that Isobel had two restraining orders against him before they got married. I really hope we get a little more information about that. Maybe there is an obsessive-stalker side to Alaric. Like the kind of obsessive-stalker side that might get violent when other men threaten the woman he likes.

8:24 - Blah, blah, Rebekah talks about the woods. How are Damon and Stefan not questioning her bizarro obsession with lumber? She's the least subtle person in a town full of people who fail at subtlety.

tvd-sage-1912-vertical.jpg8:24 - Elsewhere, Elena and Matt break into Meredith's house and attempt to put their fingerprints on as many things as possible before she gets home because it's not like there's a murder investigation going on and people should be careful about where their fingerprints go. Elena goes for the secret closet door, because Meredith is a founder. Matt's delighted grin when he gets to the box of secrets is just adorable.

8:26 - I like bitchy Stefan. He's amusing. "You know, you were a lot more fun in the twenties," Rebekah says, reminding us that she is the umpteenth girl to be involved with both Salvatores. Then Damon and Rebekah do a dramatic reading of Stefan's old diaries. Stefan does have a way with words.

8:27 - Back in 1912, Damon lives his life devoid of any kind of joy. "I was hungry, now I am not hungry," he says. "My quality of form is purely subjective."

Sage tells him that while he may be spoken for, he can still have a little fun. It's hard to imagine any version of Damon that is just celibate, waiting for Katherine -- he certainly isn't waiting for Elena that way now. What a miserable, awful kind of love he felt for Katherine.

In the present day, Rebekah mentions that Sage was obsessed with Finn around 900 years ago - which puts her age at Very Old and her taste in men at The Worst.

Stefan has gone from twitchy to practically seizing. Damon may be doing the good big brother thing, but he's not giving away any good deeds for free. Before he steps in to intervene, he makes Stefan admit his weakness, out loud. I know that admitting you have a problem is important, but Damon doesn't seem like the type to adhere to a 12-step program. I think he was just doing that one last thing for his own little thrill before swooping in to help.

8:29 - A few surprises in Meredith's big box o' evidence: An old Gilbert journal and a document that suggests she may have fudged the time of death for her ex-boyfriend.

When Meredith comes home unexpectedly, Matt and Elena have to crowd up against each other in a dark closet. Oh, this is just unfair to poor Matt. You know, I loved Matt and Caroline together as much as the next person, but it was always clear that he was still a little bit wrecked by Elena. Little moments -- him crying on Elena's shoulder after Vicki's body was discovered, the way he sought Elena's approval while Caroline serenaded him at the grill -- Elena was his first love, even if she never loved him back. And now the poor kid has to be stuck in a closet with her all up against him? And you can't tell me she didn't linger unnecessarily on his lip when she shushed him. That was lip-stroking. So unfair.

How someone as tiny and pretty as Meredith can come across as so terrifying, I do not understand.

8:34 - Liz tells Matt and Elena that Meredith already cleared Alaric with the letter from the coroner. "Alaric will be released as soon as the letter is authenticated," she explains. It's a mystery!

8:35 - Around the corner, Stefan is stalking the streets like a man on a mission, with his collar turned up just like any good vampire looking for his fix. (If you ever happen upon a vampire in your day-to-day business, remember: If his coat collar is popped, he is in a very murdery mood and you should run.)

Damon spies a conveniently-placed blonde and serves her to Stefan on a silver platter. I saw some fans complaining that Damon was setting Stefan back here, but I think you're looking at it the wrong way. Stefan's addiction to human blood isn't the same as, for example, an alcohol addiction, where a person becomes incapable of moderation.

Stefan's blood addiction can more accurately be equated to a food addiction. He needs blood, biologically, to survive. Without it his body will stop working -- the same way that humans need food. A human with a food addiction can't just go cold turkey and stop eating forever, because they'll die. Stefan's body needs blood.

Damon definitely has some unorthodox methods, but he's helping his brother the only way he knows how. Both the Salvatores are admirable here. Stefan, for his commitment to getting better, even though it's hard and it forces him to confront his demons. And Damon, for his devotion to his brother and his willingness to physically stop him from overindulging.

Wesley is so good in the feeding scenes where Stefan just completely loses control. I love how wide his eyes get, like he's completely shocked by his own behavior.

Elena's reaction reads very well, too. I don't think she's judging Stefan or Damon or angry at them for what she accidentally stumbled upon. She's just genuinely shocked and scared, the way that any young girl would be if she happened upon two people she loves doing something that's gruesome to watch.

And then there's Matt, always the voice of reason. "Elena, let's just go." Genius, that boy.

Stefan needs to start carrying Wetnaps if he refuses to learn some basic table manners.

8:44 - Back at Elena's, she and Matt have a post-game recap. I know a lot of people didn't like what Elena had to say about the Salvatores, but it's one of my favorite Elena scenes ever. She comes off as mature, and self-aware, and eloquent. Occasionally we've seen Elena be very judgmental, and I like the knowledge that she's also turned that critical eye on herself and examined her own relationships and faults.

When she says that she felt safe with Stefan because she knew that he'd never die, she's not saying that she didn't also love Stefan because of who he is. There's never been any doubt that the love between them is strong, and she probably would've loved him if he wasn't a vampire. She's just admitting that the negative -- loving a guy who drinks blood -- was outweighed by the positive -- the idea that she wouldn't have to watch him die. Remember, when we met Elena, she was 17 and she'd just lost her parents. She was a child who was alone and vulnerable. She's not that girl anymore, so she's matured enough to reflect on the decisions she made with a more insightful perspective.

As for what she says about Damon -- that he got under her skin and now she can't shake him -- again, I don't think she's saying he doesn't deserve to be in her life. She's admitting that maybe things would be easier for her if she didn't love him, but she's also admitting that she does. When Matt says, "Once you fall in love with someone, I don't know if you can ever shake them," she doesn't deny that she's in love with Damon. She just changes the subject to Matt.

Poor, selfless, awesome, reliable, solid, wonderful Matt. He never asks anything of her, you guys. (!!!)

I'll stop now. I just love this scene so much, for both of them.

Alaric interrupts it by coming home! Elena doesn't even care that he smells like jail, she hugs him like her life depends on it. Alaric is the new man in her life who won't die (or, who will die, over and over, but will totally come back after). I'm going to ignore the weird sexual tension because I'm pretty sure that's not actually Alaric, but Matt Davis.

8:47 - Back at the Salvatore Broodinghouse, Damon comes home, skipping, all, "Yay, my BFF is free from jail and he is allowed to have a playdate tomorrow!" But Stefan isn't in the mood to celebrate, because he's too busy staring at the fire and wishing he could burn up all of his feelings like Klaus burns up pictures of Caroline.

Another fantastic scene with the brothers. Damon's words here are so simple -- "I know it may not seem like it, but you did really well tonight." No animosity, no unnecessary jabs, just a guy who is sympathetic to and even a little proud of his kid brother, who is clearly going through hell.

Stefan brings up the fact that Elena still hovers between them. "What, you feel guilty because you kissed her, is that it, Damon?"

He refuses to believe that Damon cares about him, and I don't think it's because he thinks Damon is incapable of caring. I think it's because he doesn't believe he's worthy of Damon caring for him at this point. As sad as I am to see Ripper Stefan go, because Ripper Stefan was all kinds of sexy swagger, I am so delighted by the care that's gone into peeling back the layers of these brothers as they lean on each other. It's perfect.

This isn't about Elena at all, for either of them, and that's great. I think the reason this episode felt so strong to me is that it didn't fall back on the love triangles -- which, frankly, are beginning to feel less like triangles and more like endless circles, treading the same ground over and over.

tvd-1912-salvatores.jpg8:49 - In 1912, Damon convinces Stefan to take a taste of human blood once again. I'm not sure why Stefan goes for it, but given the hopeful look on his face when he saw Damon at the funeral, I'd deign to say that Stefan, at this point, is willing to bend his principles if it means getting his brother back. When Damon says, "Let the past be the past," he's offering Stefan his forgiveness -- so long as they can be together in this.

And so, Stefan drinks... and drinks... until he's gnawed straight through the neck of his innocent victim. Stefan's desperate, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry," was completely heartbreaking. Add to that the fact that he instantly blames Damon, and the rift between them is suddenly Grand Canyon sized once again.

Damon blames Stefan for making him turn. Stefan blames Damon for shoving him over the line from vampire to monster. Second verse, same as the first.

"I watched you go over the edge, and I didn't do anything to stop you," Damon says. All that time, while Stefan was running around without a conscience, Damon bore the guilt of the Ripper of Monterey for him.

8:54 - Things seem to be returning to normal at the Gilbert house... or at least, to normal levels of crazy. The thing that I've always really liked about Elena and Alaric's relationship is how they always seem to be on very equal ground. He's not an authority figure to her; he respects and values her opinions. And, conversely, she's not up on a pedestal when she's around him. She's not The Doppelganger, key to every supernatural spell and every celestial alignment. She's just a kid he really cares about. That reinforcement is important given what's about to happen to them.

8:55 - After their intense heart-to-heart, Stefan brings Damon some family archives while Damon plays the piano. Who knew? "Want me to go back to being mad at you?" Stefan says. Translation from brother-speak: I'm not mad at you anymore, and I'm sorry.

Meanwhile, Meredith shows up at the Gilbert's house to try to explain things to Alaric. Elena is upstairs reading Samantha Gilbert's diary, which chronicles her descent into insanity.

All of the evidence - Meredith's, the journal, and the Salvatore archives - point to one horrible truth.

Samantha Gilbert was wearing the Gilbert ring in 1912 -- the one Alaric and Jeremy wear today to protect them from supernatural death -- and, because of the ring, had died and come back to life at least once. For reasons connected to the ring, she began to go crazy. She committed the string of murders, including Zachariah Salvatore. After confessing a decade later, she was institutionalized, and the Founders kept the story quiet to protect their reputation.

That ring is now on Alaric's hand -- and he was the one who committed the present day murders. He even nearly skewered himself, and, it seems, he did attack Meredith with the knife at the end of last week's episode; we just didn't see it from that angle.

What we don't know is exactly how the ring is affecting him. I go into this all in more depth in this post (click!), but for brevity's sake, let's say there are two possibilities: One possibility is that the ring possessed Alaric, infecting him with evil, and once he ditches the offending man-jewelry, he'll be okay.

The other possibility is that death itself poisoned Alaric. Having died and come back so many times, the dark side he always had (fighting, restraining orders, drinking -- it's there) is surfacing and stronger than ever. If he takes off the ring, will his killer urges be cured?

I highly doubt it's that easy. If I were to make an educated guess, I'd say that the damage is done, and if Alaric doesn't want to hurt his loved ones, he's going to have to make that jail cell feel more like home.

Truly, I think this is the series' most spectacular, unexpected twist yet. I can't wait to see how the repercussions affect Jeremy and how Elena handles this -- but more than anything, I'm looking forward to seeing Matt Davis play Alaric in all his psychotic, maniacal glory.



MVP this week goes to Team Salvatore, because they are stronger together. Somerhalder and Wesley have always brought out the best in each other, and this episode brought out the best of their best.

Can't wait to hear what you all thought! Isn't it good to be back from that pesky hiatus? Take it to the comments below; let's talk.
Photo/Video credit: The CW
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