Flashbacks! Flashforwards! A heretic origin story! A drunk, partying heretic! A pregnancy scare! This episode had it all! (Except Matt Donovan and Enzo, although the former got a great, and slightly meta, shoutout from Damon: “Thanks to Donovan, a phrase no one has uttered…ever.”) But the biggest reveal of the episode was meeting our (likely) new Big Bad: Julian.
You just thought Lily and her herd of heretics were going to be the obstacles for our heroes to overcome for season 7. But seeing that we’ve lost two in three episodes, Lily seems to be softening, and even the heretics hate Julian, my money’s on him.
We first meet Julian in a flashback to 1863. This is the year that Lily is going to leave for Europe, and Julian is the one spearheading this trip. When she tells Stefan this story in the present (over driving lessons—which would be an adorable mother/son role reversal if the mother wasn’t a murdering psychopath), she says that Julian was a “vampire gentleman friend,” the kind you’re “not supposed to fall for.”
Before leaving with him, Lily wanted to make sure her boys were safe. So she sent Valerie to check on Stefan and Oscar to check on Damon. Both were merely witches at the time, so they couldn’t compel Lily’s sons to do what they want. So using ordinary, human talking skills, Oscar was able to talk Damon out of fighting with the South (a win for everybody) and Valerie was able to make Stefan fall in love with her.
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That’s right — at the 1863 Mystic Falls County Fair, we see human Stefan lose his virginity. He’s so smitten with Valerie that afterward he takes her to visit his mother’s grave (so romantic). He tells her that he blames himself for his mother’s death; his father sent him to get flowers for an herbal tonic, but Stefan didn’t make it home before she was taken to the infirmary. He, as we know, thought she died there.
The conversation ends abruptly because Julian arrives to pull her away. Valerie whispers to Stefan that she’ll find a way back to him. “So it’s kind of like The Notebook, except you two never reconnect and he totally forgets about you?” says a still-captive Caroline when present-day Valerie tells her side of the story.
It must be awful for Valerie not to get any cultural references past 1903. But that doesn’t stop her from rubbing it in Caroline’s face: That’s not the end of the story. She sent Stefan a telegraph saying she would meet him. Stefan waited and waited and waited, but Valerie never showed. Valerie tells Caroline, “There was a change of plan” and stops telling her story.
But we get to see what happened next: The day she told Stefan to meet her was the day Lily and Co. were setting sail for Europe. Valerie didn’t want to go, but Julian knew if she didn’t go, Lily wouldn’t go. So he stops her by taking away her amulet of witch power and then beating her until she’s nearly dead. He beat her so hard that he killed the unborn Salvatore baby that was growing inside her. WHAT!?!?! If you did not gasp, scream, or yell at this revelation, just stop watching this show right now. (It did feel a little strange that they hinted at a Salvatore baby to only take it away — my guess is down the road Lily will find out and go mental about the death of an actual family member, but TBD.)
Stefan, of course, doesn’t know why Valerie never showed; he tells Lily he’s not mad — it’s been 150 years! — but his eyes say yes. He later goes to sit on the same bench where he waited for Valerie all those years ago, and she shows up beside him. She says that she used to visit that bench in her 1903 prison world. She tells the heartbreaking story of how Julian told Lily he found her robbed and beaten. Lily healed Valerie with her blood, but the siphoning witch didn’t want to live a minute longer with Julian. She took some medicine and drowned herself in a bathtub aboard the ship to England. And that ladies and gentleman is how you make a heretic. Valerie was the first of her kind.
Oddly, Stefan doesn’t respond to any of this — including the fact that he could have been a father — but that’s because Valerie has cloaked herself. She’s telling him all of this, but he’s not hearing it. It’s such a touching moment… Is it okay to like Valerie? Her story is tragic, and I just want someone to hug her. Later when Caroline is freed by Lily (as a reward for Stefan’s truth or driving lessons or something), she asks Stefan if he still has feelings for Valerie. He says, “Things have changed,” but I don’t know y’all…
NEXT: From Mystic Falls to Myrtle Beach