Best Starting Point: ''Growing Pains'' (401) — A lot changed in last season's lead-up. It's probably best not to miss this season opener, which shows…

Before we get into the heart of this episode — which was whether or not there’s any humanity left in Damon — I just need to say that I have never felt older watching a CW show than when Mr. Tanner, the history teacher, instructed his students to settle the debate he and Stefan were having on the end date of the Korean War and they all pulled out their cellphones to search the Internet. Do high schools no longer have actual textbooks? I envisioned flipping to the index, saying ‘h-i-j-k-l’ in my head to remember what letters ‘k’ falls between, running my index finger down and across the page, then finally turning to the correct chapter and skimming. I. Am. So. Old.

Now that that’s out of the way… let’s start by celebrating the fact that Caroline isn’t dead, which, for a second, I thought might’ve been the outcome of that morning-after opening sequence in which she tried to fight Damon off with a blood-soaked pillow and he vamped out again. But then they pulled up in his car at cheerleading practice — him wearing a smirk fresh off Craig Sheffer in Some Kind of Wonderful, her a scarf around her neck to hide the bite marks — and all was well with the world. “I got the other brother,” she said proudly. Love her.

Someone I still hate is Tyler. I’m hoping Damon chows down on him soon. He threw a football at the back of Stefan’s head to show Elena that she chose the wrong guy (what would that prove exactly?), and Stefan turned around and caught it. Then he threw it back in a way that was supposed to be as impressive as when little Jonathan Lipnicki threw back that baseball at the end of Jerry Maguire. Elena encouraged Stefan to try out for the football team to make friends, and so he did. After he smoked Tyler on the field with his quick hands and nice cuts, Tyler finally layed him out. I found the shot of Stefan’s broken pinkie the most ewwww-inducing of the series to date. You? Luckily, Stefan heals quickly and the show swiftly replaced that image in my mind with a shot of him walking into his bedroom while putting on a shirt. You know there was a conversation about that on set: “So when you step into frame, the shirt goes over your head. Two steps through the doorway, it slowly falls to your waist.” I’m guessing it took multiple takes, and I would like to see them all as a special feature on the season 1 DVD, thank you. It’s also important to note that we were really seeing the brothers divided at that moment. Unlike last week when their choice of apparel mirrored each other, Stefan was wearing a long-sleeved Henley, while Damon, who was waiting for him, was sporting a short-sleeved T-shirt that made Ian Somerhalder’s biceps look twice as big as they were last week.

Elena invited Bonnie and Stefan over for dinner (read: takeout) so Bonnie would warm to Stefan, who she’d later admit to Elena made her feel cold, like death, when she “accidentally touched him” last week. Stefan won Bonnie over by telling her that Salem witches are heroic examples of individualism and nonconformity. Cue the doorbell and Caroline and Damon crashing the party. That Damon is a smart one: Stefan couldn’t stop Elena from inviting him into her home, which Damon later noted meant that he could visit her night after night and do whatever came natural to him. Now, I seriously doubt that Stefan would have left Damon alone in the kitchen with Elena, considering how he wouldn’t take his eyes off Damon when the three of them were all in the same room together last week, but maybe Stefan knew how much Damon enjoyed loading the dishwasher and decided he wouldn’t be a problem. Obviously, the writers had to get Damon and Elena alone so he could try working the “Stefan isn’t over his ex girlfriend” angle again. He told her that Katherine died in a tragic fire, and that she was complicated, selfish, and at times not very kind, but very sexy and seductive. Elena deduced that both Stefan and Damon had dated her, and in a surprisingly sweet moment, Elena told Damon she was sorry for Katherine’s death — he’d lost her, too. That also gave Stefan time to get Caroline alone and find out that Damon was glamouring her into thinking that she can’t ever take off her scarf. (I hope they keep showing Caroline talking back to an exasperated Damon before he glamours her into doing whatever he needs her to do at any given moment, like when he tried to get her to go help out in the kitchen so he could be alone with Stefan and she wouldn’t. “Does it look like I do dishes?” “For me.” “Um, I don’t think so.”)

Last week’s promo in which Stefan and Elena were making out was a bit of a psych-out. I thought it was a little too early for her to be taking off her top, and I was right: She was only dreaming that she was straddling Stefan, then when he took off his shirt, it suddenly became Damon. Ergo, the scream. Stefan told his diary that he had to figure out a way to protect Elena, which he did by giving her a necklace with Vervain, an herb that apparently calls bulls— on vampires trying to use their powers of compulsion. Damon cornered ex-cheerleader Elena at her car before the big game and tried to tell her that she wanted him, that she was going to kiss him, and instead, she smacked him and assured him that she was not Katherine. That set up what was probably the best scene between the brothers yet. Damon gave Stefan props for thinking of the Vervain but said, “Guess I could just seduce her the old fashioned way. Or I could just… eat her.” [Insert slow head turn.] Stefan said what we were all thinking: No, he wouldn’t. He feels for Elena. And because she reminds him of Katherine — who he still loves or he wouldn’t be keeping Stefan alive to torture for whatever role he played in her death — he’s not the total monster he pretends to be. There’s still a bit of humanity left in him. “If that’s my humanity, then what’s this?” Damon asked and killed Mr. Tanner, who moonlighted as the football coach and had come to tell his star player it was game time. “Anyone, anytime, anyplace,” Damon said. And suddenly, Stefan believed him. He told his diary Damon was “Only a monster that must be stopped.” Really, Stefan? Your whole humanity argument rested on the fact that he won’t hurt Elena. Of course, he would have no problem killing Mr. Tanner. The man was an a-hole. I’d written down in my notes that I wanted Damon to feed on him. And frankly, I expected it to be way more gory than it was when he did. But maybe that’s what was supposed to send a chill through us: That Damon killed him not for food, just for spite. If that’s the message, they should have offed a character that was semi-likable. Anyway, I still believe that Damon would not hurt Elena. The scene of him standing over her bed, caressing her cheek as she slept, conveyed that. Or, it at least kept that theory a possibility, which is what will keep this show interesting. What’s your read on Damon now?

P.S. Are you okay with the fact that I’ve just totally skipped over the Jeremy-Tyler-Vicki drama? That just needs to end. I’m glad that Tyler being such a douche has finally made Matt turn against him and call a truce with Stefan, but I do not need to see Jeremy and Tyler butt heads (or chests) over Vicki again. Jeremy needs counseling now. Taking a broken bottle to someone, even Tyler, is an issue that needs to be addressed, absent Aunt Jenna!

P.P.S. I’d also like to see some major movement on the Bonnie-is-a-witch storyline. Maybe now she’ll go to her drunk grandma and tell her about the numbers. Having not read the books, I have no idea how long it takes for Bonnie and Elena to figure out that Stefan and Damon are vampires. How soon do you want it to come out?

As always, if your comment includes a reference to the books, please begin it with the word BOOK so viewers who don’t want to read spoilers have fair warning.

Photo credit: Quantrell Colbert/The CW

Episode Recaps

Best Starting Point: ''Growing Pains'' (401) — A lot changed in last season's lead-up. It's probably best not to miss this season opener, which shows…
The Vampire Diaries

Ian Somerhalder, Nina Dobrev, and Paul Wesley star in the CW’s romance-infused vampire soap opera.

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