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…

I’ve been a fan of The Vampire Diaries from the start, but last night was the first time I ended an episode saying “Buffy it out!” aloud and thinking that I should really email the friends I went to a Buffy convention with (the series had just ended!) to make sure they were watching. I don’t bring up the “B word” to start a debate — they’ve got totally different plots and writing styles. But just to say that we’ve officially gotten past the love triangle arc, more characters are aware of what’s going on in the town, new vampires/enemies have been introduced, people who don’t actually like each other are or will be forced to work together (always fun), and everyone (even Aunt Jenna!) has a worthy storyline.

My favorite moments in this show are when the Salvatore brothers present a united front, as they did when Mysterious Hoodie Vamp (MHV), Noah, decided to stalk Elena because it was fun — cut to Damon smirking in agreement — and she looked like Katherine. Having not read the books, I don’t know if the show is just playing this out accordingly, but in my mind, Elena hitting Noah with her car and him terrorizing her with phone calls are nods to Kevin Williamson’s I Know What You Did Last Summer and Scream. The phone calls were only a quarter as a frightening as the one that opens the latter, but since that Drew Barrymore scene can make me wet myself just thinking about it, that’s still pretty darn scary.

After MHV posed as a pizza delivery guy to get invited into Elena’s house, and came back on the night of the school’s “decade dance” to hang from the ceiling and pounce on Elena (Stefan arrived just in time), Damon decided they should go to the sock hop and dangle Elena as bait. Two things: I see why Stefan gave Elena the vampire-detecting compass, but won’t she alwaysbe freaking out now because it will go off every time Stefan is coming but there’s no way of knowing if it’s just him in the vicinity? And was it really smart to lure a nasty vamp into a crowded place? Seems kinda selfish to put Elena’s safety above that of the rest of the teens in town. Not that I’m actually suggesting they didn’t attend the sock hop, because it allowed for more of my second favorite kind of moments in this series — Stefan showing some genuine personality. As Elena and he danced (“You are so teaching me how to do the hand jive” — ha!), she wanted to see some ’50s moves. He refused, and she pouted and started to walk away. He spun her around and did a classic swing lift, then laid one on her. Okay, so maybe the “moments” I actually like are those when Stefan kisses Elena kind of aggressively. “Now you remember that because it’s never gonna happen again,” Stefan said, referring to the dancing not the kissing. Thank god.

MHV — who, it turns out, was working in cahoots with Jeremy’s homeschooled vampire (!) friend Anna to get their hands on his ancestor’s journal — pulled a classic wardrobe switcheroo with a kid at the dance. As Stefan chased after the hoodie, Noah phoned Elena and told her he’d snap Jeremy’s neck mid-punch bowl duty if she didn’t leave the gym. She fled and — not that every girl needs to scream — but I think if your boyfriend has superhearing, we wouldn’t have blamed her for trying it. Fortunately, Elena managed to hold Noah off by stabbing him with pencils (okay, sure, why not?) and Stefan rescued her (again) right as she was about to get bitten. Seeing Stefan stab Noah with a piece of wooden broom, twisting it in and upward each time he refused to tell the brothers something, was totally hot and necessary for us (and Damon) to know that Stefan means business. Noah revealed that he knew Katherine (the brothers didn’t remember him?), and that to find out how to reverse the spell on the tomb she’s buried in, they needed to get Elena’s ancestor’s journal, which could tell them where to find Emily’s something or other.

The important thing here is not that I couldn’t figure out how to spell Emily’s something or other, it’s that Stefan, being smokin’ and brilliant, was able to convince Damon that he will help him find it and open the tomb because he wants Damon out of town that badly. Stefan told Damon he and Katherine would leave Mystic Falls, and the other 26 vampires would die. Damon agreed. I thought that was a pretty fair deal, but Stefan later told Elena that he’s just lying. He can’t let Damon open the tomb. He’s making Damon trust him so he’ll know about the “Diabolical Plan: The Sequel” and be able to stop it from the inside. Smart, but that made me feel sorry for Damon. I think he’s lonely, and wants a companion for more than dirty dancing. (“You really can’t take him anywhere, can you?” Elena said as Damon grinded against a blonde at the sock hop. I love that Damon will dance whenever, wherever.) I suspect Damon doesn’t trust Stefan as much as Stefan thinks he does, though…

The episode was full of nice little fakeouts, none better than when Anna appeared to be stalking bartender Ben in the final scene. You really thought she was going to munch on the guy before we got to see his date with Bonnie, which would have been appropriately crushing for this show. But he was revealed as a vamp, too, and he and Anna are a couple. Stefan said vampires can’t sense each other, but just how long has this old high school football hero-turned-bloodsucker hidden his secret from the town? Regardless, I’m just happy to have a real reason not to like him. (I’d already started turning on him when he told Bonnie he didn’t karaoke. I bet Damon karaokes.)

We are not supposed to like Anna and Ben, right? We don’t know for sure why they want the journal — which is now in the possession of Alaric, who asked to see “the porn for history teachers” after giving Jeremy an A on his paper. Presumably, they want to release all 27 vampires, too? In my dreams, Ben uses Bonnie, and when he’s ready to discard her, Damon arrives just in time to save her. The Damon-Bonnie relationship is one the writers could have a lot of fun with. Like Damon said, he could have killed her if he wanted to, doesn’t that count for something? We know he finds witches sexy (and useful). Let those love-hate games begin.

Speaking of games… Alaric was playing a dangerous one when he showed a little too much interest in Damon at the dance. Luckily, Alaric carried Vervain with him, which allowed him to fool Damon when he tried to use mind compulsion to find out why Alaric was really in town and if he knew he was a vampire. The big reveal from Alaric this episode: He told Jenna his wife’s name was Isabel, and that she was from around Mystic Falls. Jenna had told Elena that her biological mother was a 16-year-old runaway named Isabel who’d come to her father’s doctor office when she was about to give birth, had the baby, and left a few days later without it. So if Alaric’s wife was Elena’s mother, that means… you got me. Any theories? What do you think Aunt Jenna, who chaperoned the dance with Alaric and has now been asked out on a proper date, will do with that information?

Last but not least, we get to Caroline and Matt. LOVE THEM! Caroline was one of the lucky recipients of the Vervain jewelry Stefan made Elena to give to her friends. So she won’t have to worry about Damon again? Pity. Matt wasn’t taking their friendship to the next level, and Caroline finally confronted him about it as he worked his new part-time job as a busboy at the Mystic Grill. Turns out, he was afraid their relationship wouldn’t work, and he’d lose the only good thing in his life. Angry that he ended things before they really started, she stormed off. He followed her in his truck, pulled over, and as she yelled “What!” kissed her in the glow of the headlights. Sigh. Totally rewound. Twice. And thought of the Joey-Pacey interruption kiss outside his car on Williamson’s Dawson’s Creek.

Your turn. Did you love the episode as much as I did? What was your favorite moment? (Another contender: when Bonnie and Caroline asked Elena what Damon was doing at the dance. Elena: “It’s not like I can kill him.” Bonnie: “There’s a thought.” Caroline: “Hmmm, I’ll help.” Followed by Bonnie and Caroline clinking their plastic punch glasses.) How psyched are you for next week’s episode when we flash back to Damon and Stefan with Katherine?!! Me, so excited that I had to use two exclamation points.

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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