If this episode does nothing else, it gets “Whatta Man” stuck in your head. But chances are, it also makes you tear up as Elena finally admits she first felt love for Damon on her 18th birthday when he selflessly gave her back her necklace, and Alaric successfully erases her feelings for him. Now, Damon is just Stefan’s brother who snapped Jeremy’s neck that time and later died. Ouch. And that isn’t the only development: Damon and Bonnie realize they’re living a Groundhog Day in 1994 and they’re not alone, Enzo is a bit of a hero (in his own way), and we have a villain (hello, Tripp Fell). Here we go.
Four months ago, Damon and Bonnie didn’t really go anywhere. Well, technically, they stayed in Mystic Falls but went back 20 years to May 10, 1994. No one else is around, but otherwise, everything is as it was that year. As Damon goes on a bourbon and pancake-making bender to “Whatta Man”—an instant classic Damon moment, right up there with him dancing with Vicki—Bonnie visits her old house and finds her old teddy bear and Grams’ grimoire. Maybe she can teach herself magic again and get them out of there. When they realize they’re reliving the same day, Damon decides it’s his own personal hell. Granted, these two notoriously dislike each other, but he’s back in Salvatore Mansion, so it’s tough to feel bad for him when the alternative would be, you know, a real death. In the end, Bonnie wonders if it’s her hell they’re in, but the two of them seem to understand that they need to coexist because they’re all each other has. When the crossword puzzle answer that has escaped Bonnie for weeks ends up solved (27 across: YellowLedBetter, the episode title), they know someone else is in that house that they can’t see… Who? Is it someone we already know? A new character? Why did we have to go back 20 years?
Alaric, meanwhile, sits down with Elena and tells her he’s going to use a combination of hypnotherapy and memory reprocessing techniques to erase her love for Damon. They have to find the signature moment—the moment she first knew she loved him—and then the rest of her memories would fall like dominoes. She tells Alaric about the first time she and Damon met in the road. Not it, so it wasn’t love at first sight. When he kissed her on the porch in season 3? No. When he rescued her from the embarrassment of being an escort-less Miss Mystic Falls contestant and they danced? No, but that was the first time she allowed herself to feel how sexy he was. It didn’t involve the sire bond (yes, let’s all forget about that). It wasn’t at the motel that night that she wanted to kiss him so badly and did.
Both Elena and Alaric get frustrated at their lack of success. She wants to give up, leaves a message for Luke asking for more herbs, and starts unpacking the box of Damon photos and shirts she tore open during sex. But Alaric phones Caroline, who tells him he just has to get Elena to admit she fell in love with Damon while she was still with Stefan. Alaric was so wonderful and nonjudgmental in the scene with Elena: He’s right, you’re allowed to fall in love with more than one person in your life, it’s just that Elena was lucky enough to do it while she’s so young (and okay, with brothers). Like Katherine used to say, it’s okay to love them both. Elena does know the exact moment: It was her 18th birthday party in the season 3 premiere.
“Even though he loved me, he gave me the one thing that represented hope for me and his brother. I knew how much it hurt him, but he did it. It was the most selfless that he’s ever been,” she tells Alaric. “And in that moment, I loved him. I didn’t want to—it terrified me. But, for that moment, I loved him.” Was that the moment you would have picked? Watching the clip above, it doesn’t seem as earth-shattering as, say, their season 2 finale kiss on what was supposed to be Damon’s deathbed when she admitted she liked him just as he is, and Katherine delivered Klaus’ blood to cure the werewolf bite and told Elena it was okay to love them both. But it makes perfect sense.
Elena tells Alaric, “Do it. It’s okay. I’m ready,” and the tears come—for her and for fans. Alaric tells her Damon never came into the room, never gave her the necklace. The party sucked and she spent the rest of the night watching movies and eating popcorn with Jeremy. Jeremy: She remembers Damon snapping his neck. Now when Alaric asks her who Damon is, she doesn’t say he was her boyfriend and she loved him. He’s just Stefan’s brother, a monster who died. What’s interesting, besides that beautiful rendition of “All Through the Night” playing, is that when Elena had earlier explained this plan to someone, she said Alaric can bring back her memories if Damon does return. Can it really be that simple?
NEXT: Stefan is a dick