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…

Image Credit: Bob Mahoney/The CWOnce again, The Vampire Diaries produced. So much went down, I barely remember Damon being shirtless. Now that’s impressive. Rather than do a straight recap, let’s address this week’s episode one issue at a time:

• How evil is Isobel? We started out thinking completely, but looking back, if someone feels the need to keep telling everyone that she has no redeeming qualities, she probably does.

She began by telling Alaric that there was no comfort or satisfying explanation she could give him for her wanting to become a vampire. She was just at the bar to see him because she needed him to arrange a meeting with Elena. When he politely declined (“Screw you, you selfish bitch”), she threatened to kill everyone in town, starting with his history students. Bad Isobel. Then, we met her minions — a female jazz singer and a gay cowboy (brilliant use of compulsion!) — and though I was hoping Uncle John had arrived at her foreclosure lair to have angry sex, he really does hate vampires and was just there to explain why he hadn’t produced Johnathan Gilbert’s device yet and get slapped. Bad Isobel, but you sort of applaud her for striking him. Then Isobel got her one-on-one with Elena at the grill and was far chattier than she needed to be. She told Elena that Katherine had found her after she was turned — “Genetic curiousity, I suppose. She would be fascinated by you” — and she helped her obtain the necklace that allows her to walk in daylight. She said human life means nothing to her, because that’s how it is for a vampire. When Elena said not all vampires, we found out Isobel knew all about the Salvatore brothers. “Why Stefan? Why didn’t you go for Damon? Or do you enjoy them both, like Katherine did?,” she asked. The only questions Isobel wouldn’t answer: who’s Elena’s father (the moment she said “teenage waste of space,” I knew it was Uncle John) and why did she want turned? She told Elena if she didn’t get the device from Damon, the blood would be on her hands. Yep, still bad.

Damon got the message and went to see Isobel. Of course he would be playing strip poker with the jazz singer. (Do you think they even bothered to make the sexy minions speak when they were cast? They got zero lines. Probably not.) Damon put his shirt back on for some unknown reason. I mean, I feel like his plan was always to get Isobel into a compromising position — like straddling him — so he could take her down to the ground with his hand around her throat and tell her she doesn’t come into HIS town and threaten the people he cares about — meaning Elena. She may think they’re both on Team Katherine, but if Katherine wants something from him (to give to Uncle John), she’ll have to come and get it herself. This made Isobel go her evilest. She showed up at Founders Day float headquarters and explained to Elena how easy it was for her to hurt the people Elena cares about. Not Bonnie (she wasn’t going near the witch), nor Caroline, who’d already talked her ear off. But Matt, who then got injured in a float assembly “accident,” and Jeremy, who was kidnapped. Stefan doubted Damon would hand over the device, but he gave it to Elena because he trusted her when she said Bonnie had agreed to remove Emily’s spell from it. Turns out, Emily had been working both sides: She was loyal to Katherine, but she didn’t want to see innocent people die. So, she made old Jonathan Gilbert think all his devices worked when really, she had just used magic to make them functional. The device is actually a weapon to be used against vampires. Bonnie did her magic, supposedly, and Elena gave the device to Isobel, who had some parting words: She knew Damon would help Elena because he was in love with her (Elena looked surprised but Damon didn’t — he just looked sideways to see Stefan’s reaction) and “As long as you have a Salvatore on each arm, you’re doomed. Katherine was smart, she got out. But we all know that you’re not Katherine.”

At this point, we thought she meant that in a bad way. But then, Isobel showed up at the school to say goodbye to Alaric. Alaric and Damon had had a conversation about what it means to be a vampire: Why was Stefan decent, Damon questionable (“You’re a d—, and you kill people, but I still see something human in you”), and Isobel pure evil? Damon said “feeling” is a button vampires can turn on or off. Isobel chose the easy way — no guilt, shame, or regret — while Stefan “wants the whole human experience, he wants to feel every episode of How I Met Your Mother.” HA. Alaric refused to believe there was nothing left of the woman he married in Isobel’s body. He threw his ring at her and tossed whatever vervain he was carrying, and told her to kill him or use compulsion. She chose the latter. I thought for sure he’d digest vervain daily as well as carry some (that’d be the smart thing to do, no?), so he would have just been faking it to hear what she had to say. But no, he really won’t remember her saying 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, that it’s easier if he doesn’t recall the words she’s speaking and has a heart that’s free of her. She slipped the ring back on his finger. So now she’s not all bad.

What’s your theory about why Isobel was turned? I’m wondering if she was sick and afraid of dying, and thought becoming a vampire was the only way she could stay with Alaric. But after she fed on human blood for the transformation, she couldn’t bring herself to tell him what she’d done, so she left. The question is, has she really gone over to the dark side, or did she just team up with Katherine because their goals — killing vampires — meshed? Does she want the tomb vampires to die for whatever reason Katherine does, or because they could hurt or turn her daughter? We saw Isobel tell John that in addition to Katherine’s hit on the tomb vamps, she herself wanted Stefan and Damon killed — “I don’t want this life for her,” she said. “She’s our daughter, John. We owe that to her.” Think back to her grill conversation with Elena, and her insisting that Elena must have thought about becoming a vampire to stay with Stefan forever even though Elena denied it. She could have been worried that she’ll make the same mistake and choose immortality. John said offing the Salvatores was “always a part of the plan,” which made me think that John and Isobel are in cahoots and using Katherine. Then again, what’s great about the writers showing that Isobel isn’t pure evil is that it forces you to leave open the teensiest possibility that Katherine isn’t either. I doubt she wants the tomb vampires dead to save Mystic Falls (or Damon and Stefan), but maybe…

• How evil is John? It’s interesting, because while he’s definitely an arrogant douche, wanting to keep your town and daughter-you-made-believe-was-your-niece safe from vampires who’d treat her like a dog, isn’t evil. It’s just that he refuses to believe that any vampires can be good. Would you blame him less for that if it turns out Isobel, his childhood love-turned-vamp, is telling him that’s the truth? He tried to sell Jeremy on his zero-tolerance policy when they were being held captive by Isobel. (John wanted Jeremy freed and got his ass kicked for it.) But even though he played the “your dead father felt this way, that should mean something to you” card, I don’t think Jeremy will bite. He seemed genuinely concerned when Anna finally showed up in his bedroom to tell him that her mother had been killed and she had nowhere to go (except for wherever she had been?). There was no mention of John’s name, but it can’t be long before they piece it together. And when they do, I think that’s when Jeremy makes up with Elena, who now knows that he’s read her journal foolishly detailing everything about Vicki. Anna needs to work with Damon and Stefan to defeat John.

• Seriously, why was Damon the only one who pieced together that John was Elena’s father when Isobel made no secret of the fact that Uncle John and she dated when they were teens, which is when she got pregnant, delivered a baby, and handed it over to John’s doctor brother? The fact that Damon can see the big picture is why I’m fine with him being the one who told Elena that she didn’t have to meet with Isobel if she didn’t want to, killing spree be damned. (“I take it that’s not okay with you guys.”) Yes, that was meant to show how close Damon and Elena had become during Operation Save Closet Blood Junkie Stefan, but Damon really is the brains of the operation. That’s what also makes it painful when he’s smart enough to know what’s happening — Bonnie confessed to Caroline that she lied to Elena about having done “something” (read: took the spell off the weapon) — and is talked out of following his gut because he trusts Elena. At least this time, she didn’t purposely screw him, and there’s no way he could think she did because Bonnie’s lie also endangers Stefan.

• When will Stefan tell Elena about John being her dad? Before or after John dies? There’s no way he’s surviving the finale, right? It’s not Stefan’s fault that he’s her father, so the only way I see Elena needing Damon’s shoulder to cry on is if she can be angry at Stefan for not telling her John was her dad before he bites it. (I suppose Damon’s out would be that he told Stefan it should come from him.) I think Stefan is taking Damon’s affection for Elena surprisingly well. Like, too well. There was that strongly enunciated “Do you understand?” after Stefan told him that history would not be repeating itself with Elena. But for the most part, he’s calm. He must really trust Elena. If he’d seen that dance Damon and Elena shared, would he feel differently?

• Is there any chance Caroline will perform some kind of routine on top of her Gone With the Wind-themed Founders Day float that could combine the monologue and “Dixie” routines from Shag: The Movie‘s Miss Sun Queen Pageant? Fine, I’m preparing for disappointment.

• Will we ever see Damon and Stefan watching TV? It makes total sense to me that Damon would reference Maury DNA tests. He would enjoy the drama and stupidity displayed on that show. I assume Stefan doesn’t really watch HIMYM, but I feel like Damon could totally get away with uttering Sheldon’s “Bazinga!” from The Big Bang Theory.

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.

  • TV Show