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Who are Damon, Elena, and Stefan, the triangle at the center of the show?
Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon (Ian Somerhalder) are estranged vampire brothers who both recently returned to their hometown, Mystic Falls, Va. Damon is the bad boy who drinks human blood, while Stefan is the good guy who usually feeds on less fortifying animals. (He did go on a Homosapiens bender late last season after his teenage girlfriend, Nina Dobrev's Elena, made him drink from her so he'd be powerful enough to save them in a fight.) Damon's hobbies include getting drunk, dancing, and using his expressive eyebrows to enhance dialogue that has earned him a spot on Entertainment Weekly's 2009 list of TV's Best Bitches and the recent title of EW.com's Ultimate Sexy Beast. Stefan enjoys brooding, reminding his brother that Elena (the only human Damon cares for) will not be his, and presumably working on his rock-hard abs.
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What powers do the Salvatore brothers have?
Besides the ability to make us frequently rewind? Like other bloodsuckers in the Vampire Diaries world, Stefan and Damon have superspeed and superhearing, and can use mind compulsion on humans to control their actions and erase their memories — unless the human is wearing or has digested vervain, an herb that can also physically incapacitate a vampire. (Elena wears a vervain necklace given to her by Stefan.) Unlike other vampires, Damon and Stefan can walk in daylight because of the magical rings they wear. Also of note: ''Feeling'' is a button vampires can choose to turn on or off, which accounts for the varied level of humanity found from vamp to vamp. The older the vampire, the stronger the vampire. Witches can give vampires serious headaches.
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How did Stefan and Damon become vampires?
Pay attention to this one, newcomers! Stefan and Damon's past — specifically, their vampire lover Katherine — has come back to haunt them in season 2. The brothers were turned in 1864, when the undead in Mystic Falls were rounded up by members of the founding families known as the Council to be burned in the church. They tried to free Katherine (also played by Nina Dobrev), and were shot and killed by their own intolerant father. They died with Katherine's blood in their system — Damon had drunk from her willingly, Stefan only under compulsion — so their bodies began the transformation. Each brother intended to die a true death rather than consume human blood to complete the transformation into a full-fledged vampire, but Stefan's father accidentally staked himself when Stefan went to say goodbye, and the blood overpowered him. Damon had wanted to become a vampire only when he thought it meant spending eternity with Katherine, but Stefan — wanting to spend eternity with his brother — tempted Damon with a tasty young lady and the promise that if he turned, he would no longer feel the pain of losing Katherine. Damon vowed to spend eternity making Stefan's life hell because Katherine had chosen to turn Stefan as well. Whew!
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So how is Katherine back?
It turns out Katherine's handmaiden, a witch named Emily, used magic to save the Mystic Falls vampires — sort of. She sealed them in a tomb underneath the church. Damon spent 145 years trying to find a way to free Katherine, and in the end, he used Elena's best friend, the witch Bonnie (Katerina Graham), and her powerful grandmother (Jasmine Guy), pictured, to open the tomb using their ancestor Emily's spell book. The plan was for Damon, who'd racked up a body count by this point, to take Katherine and leave town. The problem: Katherine never went into the tomb. Damon later found out that Katherine had convinced a guard at the church who was obsessed with her that she'd turn him if he let her go. Katherine knew where to find Damon all along; she simply didn't care.
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How did Stefan hook up with Elena?
Our brooding protagonist was on one of his occasional visits to Mystic Falls in spring 2009 (to check on the family mansion) when Elena's parents' car went off a bridge. Stefan was in the woods nearby and got to the scene of the accident quickly, but not before the car was submerged. He was able to reach Elena's father, who wouldn't let Stefan help him until he'd saved Elena. Stefan rescued Elena, and went back for her parents, but it was too late. Stefan noticed Elena's striking resemblance to Katherine (they are portrayed by the same actress, after all) and spent the next few months watching her to make sure she wasn't his long-lost vampire lover/nemesis. He fell in love with Elena, and enrolled in high school to be near her. However, this isn't the only way their lives had intertwined before they met...
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Who are Elena's biological parents?
Elena found out that she was adopted, and that the man she called ''Uncle John'' was actually her biological father. He'd fathered Elena with a girl named Isobel (guest star Mia Kirshner, pictured) when they were teens. John's doctor brother delivered the baby (Elena) and raised her as his own. Isobel went on to become a paranormal psychologist who spent her career at Duke researching unexplained activity in Mystic Falls. Uncle John sent Isobel to Damon for research, not knowing that Isobel wanted to be turned into a vampire...
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Why DID Isobel want to become a vampire?
We don't think we've heard the real reason. Boredom? Not buying it. Alaric (Matt Davis, pictured), the man she ultimately married after parting ways with Uncle John, is hella hot. Anyway, here's what else we know: Alaric walked in on Damon draining Isobel's blood, then saw Damon flee with her body. Alaric came to Mystic Falls for answers, and to kill Damon — while working as a high school history teacher. We found out after Damon ''killed'' Alaric that the magic ring Isobel gave her husband protects him from dying at the hands of a supernatural being — as long as he's wearing it. (Actually, he'll die, but come back to life.) Though she compelled him to forget it afterward, Isobel eventually told Alaric that she ''wanted'' and ''needed'' to be turned, that it was a mistake she'll regret forever, that she loved him and hurts thinking about what she gave up. Alaric and Damon, oddly enough, have proven a highly entertaining duo. They joined forces to save Stefan from some grudge-carrying vamps who escaped the tomb when Bonnie and Grams failed to reseal it. An exchange that sums up what we hope is the beginning of a beautiful friendship:
Damon: ''That was fun. Oh, don't look at me like that. I know you hate me. Guess what? Everyone hates me. But you can't deny we were badass.''
Alaric stands to leave, and punches him in the face.
Damon (to bartender): ''It happens.''
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Why does Bonnie dislike vampires?
Bonnie's grandma made it clear that witches in their family will keep the existence of vampires a secret — as long as the vampires understand that witches protect their own first. Bonnie blames Damon and Stefan for Grams' death. She died after exerting so much of herself to open the tomb. (She'd intended only to crack it so Damon could go in, but no vampires, including Damon, could come out. But after Stefan went in to save a screaming Elena, Grams and Bonnie pulled out the big magic.) Combine that with the fact that Damon had already tried to kill Bonnie earlier in the season — when ancestress Emily possessed her to destroy a comet-powered crystal that could've opened the tomb — and you can understand why Bonnie backstabbed Damon, Stefan, and Elena in the season 1 finale...
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So where exactly did we leave off?
All hell broke loose at the Founder?s Day festivities. The vamps who'd been sprung from the aforementioned tomb when the witches didn't have enough juice to properly close it were there to munch on the founding families. Uncle John planned on using a device (one that he and Isobel worked together to obtain for Katherine, who wanted the tomb vamps dead — interesting) to round up those vampires and set fire to them in the apothecary basement. The one-time-only device had belonged to his ancestor Johnathan Gilbert, who fancied himself an inventor, but it was Emily who made it work. For an estimated five minutes, it would emit a frequency that would incapacitate vampires (and other supernaturals, it turns out) so the police/Council could capture them. Isobel had kidnapped Elena's brother, Jeremy, and threatened to kill him if Elena didn't get the device from Damon. Damon gave it to Elena — only because he trusted Elena, and she believed that Bonnie had taken the magic off it so it wouldn't work. Turns out Bonnie lied. Damon was among those captured. Luckily, he had thanked Bonnie for her supposed help at the parade earlier in the day, and she had a momentary change of heart. She helped Stefan save Damon (pictured).
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Cliff-hanger No. 1: Did Jeremy, Elena's brother, just try to turn himself into a vampire?
Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen) had a tough first season. He recently read Elena's diary and found out the truth that his sister had let Damon erase from his memory: Vicki, the one equally screwed-up person who?d made his life bearable after his parents' deaths, had been turned into a vampire by a bored Damon, couldn't control her fangs around Jeremy at the school Halloween party, and was staked by Stefan when she tried to attack Elena. He also just learned from Damon, fresh from that basement fire, that Anna — a vampire who?d fallen for Jeremy while successfully trying to free her mother, Pearl, from the church tomb — died at the hands of his uncle John. (John had previously killed Pearl after he found out she?d passed Johnathan Gilbert?s device along to Damon. Johnathan had supposedly fancied Pearl in 1864 until his magic vampire-detecting compass revealed her true identity and he turned on her.) In a moment of kindness, Damon offered to take away Jeremy?s suffering again by erasing his memory of the night. Jeremy declined, but asked Damon if being able to turn off the pain as a vampire makes life easier? ''Life sucks either way, Jeremy,'' Damon said. ''At least if you're a vampire, you don't have to feel bad about it.... I did it for a very long time, and life was a lot easier.'' Jeremy drank the vial of Anna's blood that she'd previously given him hoping he?d change for her and downed a large number of Elena?s prescription pills. He'll awake in the season 2 premiere — but as a human saved in time or one mid-transformation?
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Cliff-hanger No. 2: Damon kissed Elena, but it was Katherine. WHAT?!
After his conversation with Jeremy, Damon ran into Elena on the front porch as he was leaving her house. He told her he'd come home to Mystic Falls wanting to destroy it, but on that evening, he found himself wanting to save it. ''How does that happen? I'm not a hero, Elena. I don't do good. It's not in me.... It's reserved for my brother, and you, and Bonnie — even though she has a reason to hate me — still helped Stefan save me,'' he said. He knew Bonnie did it for Elena. ''Which means that somewhere along the way, [he moves closer] you decided that I was worth saving. And I wanted to thank you for that.'' Damon landed a kiss on her cheek, but then there was a steamy lip-lock (pictured) that got rewound an embarrassing number of times. It was the payoff for much sexual tension. See: Damon explaining why he hadn't used mind compulsion on Elena when she wasn't wearing her vervain necklace on a road trip (''I didn't compel you in Atlanta because we were having fun. I wanted it to be real'') and Damon stepping in to dance with her at the Miss Mystic Falls pageant when Stefan was off the blood wagon. Elena's aunt Jenna, with whom she and Jeremy now live, interrupted the kiss and told Elena to come inside. Bad move, since that invitation went to Katherine...
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Cliff-hanger No. 3: Did Katherine kill uncle John?
We still thought it was Elena when she went into the kitchen and found Uncle John (David Anders), who was suddenly superchatty now that Elena knew he was her real father. He told her he'd loved Isobel, and part of the reason he hates all vampires is because of what she became. (Maybe that's why he staked Jeremy's friend Anna when she begged for her life and he had agreed with Isobel when she said Damon and Stefan had to die or they'd bring Elena a lifetime of pain.) John offered to help Elena put away some knives — and she cut off the fingers on the hand he wore a magical ring like Alaric's. (Yep, Damon had tried to kill Uncle John earlier in the season too, so we knew about it.) ''Hello, John. Goodbye, John,'' Katherine said and stabbed him in the stomach. Cue the real Elena walking up to the house on her cell phone, telling Stefan someone took her belongings at the school. She entered the house, and as she yelled upstairs to check on Jeremy, she heard a noise in the kitchen. Will he die? It'd be poetic, since Stefan's father died after refusing to believe that any vampires could be good and launching an offensive against them. (He sensed that Stefan was sympathetic to a vampire — because Stefan had tried to reason with his dad against Damon's wishes — and slipped his son vervain, which revealed Katherine when she drank from him.) But in John's defense, he didn't turn on Elena when she wanted to save Damon.
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Cliff-hanger No. 4: Why is Katherine back?
We know from previews that she says it's for Stefan. The good news: It turns Stefan into kind of a badass this season. ''He's a little fed up with the danger that's consuming the people he cares about, and he kind of takes matters into his own hands,'' teases executive producer Kevin Williamson. ''When Katherine comes back to town — not okay with him. He's not gonna sit by and be quiet about it.'' The bad news (that's also kinda good for fans): Katherine can still manipulate Damon. ''The thing about Damon is, every time he does something to make us love him and look at him like a hero, he then has to follow that up with the most treacherous, villainous move because the character himself is really struggling with whether he deep inside is a hero or a villain,'' exec producer Julie Plec says. ''He's just gonna be up to no good. Rest assured it's not the Extreme Damon Makeover from villain to hero in one season. He still has a long way to go.''
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Cliff-hanger No. 5: Is our ''normal couple,'' Caroline and Matt, caput?
Matt (Zach Roerig) is Elena's sweetheart of an ex-boyfriend who has a deadbeat cougar mother and a dead sibling (Vicki was his sister). Caroline (Candice Accola) is Elena's frenemy who began season 1 as Damon's unknowing snack food, which is funny because her mother, Liz (Marguerite MacIntyre), the town sheriff, now considers Damon a trusted member of the Council. They're the unlikely couple who you root for because he makes her a better person. When we last saw them, Caroline had just collapsed after their classmate Tyler crashed while driving them home from the Founder's Day festivities when the device went off. Fingers crossed she survives. ''Matt and Caroline are fated and doomed in all the ways that any relationship on our series usually are,'' teases Plec. ''They're not gonna have an easy time of it as a result of what happened to Caroline in the car accident and her near-death experience.'' (''Near death'' = promising!) Will Matt ever find out that vampires exist? ''Our goal is to keep Matt blissfully in the dark for as long as possible, keep him safe, keep him human, and not make him too stupid,'' Plec says. ''That's the challenge every day, wanting Matt to represent one of the great unspoiled human characters on the show.''
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Cliff-hanger No. 6: So Tyler's a werewolf?
We spent most of season 1 intensely disliking Tyler (Michael Trevino) because of his anger issues. He was abusive to both Vicki and Jeremy as they fought over her. Plus, he made out with Matt's mom. But you had to feel for the kid when you found out his father, Mayor Lockwood, was a total douche who'd been known to get physical with him. We didn't grieve for the mayor when he bit it on Founder's Day. And we won't now that we've seen Tyler's sexy uncle Mason (Taylor Kinney), who comes to town for the funeral and stays to slowly reveal the meaning and scope of the family's anger and pretty full-moon eyes...a werewolf curse! ''Damon and Stefan are not aware of werewolves,'' Williamson teases. ''That will be a sort of interesting concept for Damon to wrap his head around. How could he be alive for 150-some years and have no idea that werewolves exist? That's what he wants to know.''
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Cliff-hanger No. 7: Is Aunt Jenna gonna get to do anything juicy? Ever?
Jenna (Sara Canning) fluttered in and out of season 1 as needed, flirting with Alaric when he was curious about Jeremy's ''crazy'' ancestor's journals that mentioned vampires, confirming that Elena was adopted, falling back on her party-girl ways when it was time for Damon to meet Matt's mom (technically, he was older than her). But Plec assures viewers that Jenna will get some action this season. Literally. ''Jenna's gettin' laid!'' she says. We look forward to your shirtless scenes, Matt Davis.
Want more Vampire Diaries? Read our recap of the Season 2 premiere