By Mandi Bierly
Updated March 15, 2012 at 04:29 PM EDT
Quantrell D. Colbert/The CW

The Vampire Diaries

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The Vampire Diaries returns tonight with a flashback episode to 1912, when boxing vampire Sage (Smallville‘s Cassidy Freeman, starting a multi-episode arc) teaches Damon (Ian Somerhalder) how to choose victims for maximum enjoyment — a lesson that also leads to the creation of Stefan the Ripper (Paul Wesley).

Was it a platonic mentorship back then? “I wonder if Damon is platonically involved with anyone. That’s my question,” Freeman laughs. “I wouldn’t say that they have a burning love for one another, but there’s definitely sexual tension.”

It would appear to bubble over when Sage, who’s heard that her one true love Finn (Casper Zafar) is now out of his coffin, comes to Mystic Falls in search of him in the March 22 episode. A recent promo for the show’s spring run featured a steamy shot of Sage with Damon in his famed shower. “I can’t actually tell you how many of my absolutely grown-women friends squealed like teenagers when they heard that I was gonna be in this show,” Freeman says. “So I don’t doubt that his bathroom, and more importantly his shower, is a place of interest. So I felt very fortunate.”

A promo shot for the March 22 episode shows the two of them dancing, another of viewers’ favorite activities for Damon. “We’re party animals. We’re that friend that always comes to town and you end up drinking too much, and then you don’t really remember it the next day but you know you had a good time. That’s the kind of friends that we are, I think.”

Her visit takes an interesting turn, though. That recent promo also shows naked Damon and Rebekah in bed, with a clothed Sage caressing Rebekah’s face. “They’re all, ‘Shower scene, ambiguous sexual orientation scene, boxing in 1912 — do you want the part?’ And I’m all, ‘That’s not a question. That’s an offer,'” Freeman jokes. “It’s definitely a manipulating time. In the present day, I’m trying to help Damon figure out what Rebekah’s up to, and let’s just say that we’ll use any tactic that we can.”

We assume there plan doesn’t go well, since we’ve seen promo shots of Rebekah torturing Damon, and Sage looking distraught in the March 29 episode. “That shot has nothing to do with Rebekah or Damon, but I am very sad,” Freeman says. (We’re guessing it has something to do with self-loathing Finn, who, you’ll recall, is helping his mother Esther try to kill him and his Original siblings. To save Elena, the Salvatore Brothers thwarted her plan by having Damon turn Bonnie’s mother Abby into a vampire so Esther couldn’t channel the power of the Bennett bloodline. Rebekah and Klaus, however, just learned there’s apparently another white oak tree that can be used to kill Originals, so they’re still in danger.)

The introduction of Sage comes at an interesting time, of course, as Damon is trying to help Stefan through his detox. We found out in the last episode that Stefan hasn’t had a drop of human blood since the night he took Elena to the bridge where her parents died. “I think Sage’s idea is that of pleasure and that of embracing being a vampire. So anytime that Stefan comes in with his do all-good attitude, it just doesn’t click,” Freeman says. “I don’t think she’s necessarily anti-Stefan or tries to push him too hard. I think she just sees a lot of future in Damon, especially back in 1912, where he could be the kind of vampire that she is and she can be a mentor to him. So she focuses more on being able to craft the Damon that we all know out of who he was in 1912, rather than worrying about Stefan too much.”

In 1912, the Salvatore brothers reunite at a family funeral after being estranged for 50 years. “In that flashback, I’m almost courting his friendship, and in the present day, he’s almost courting my friendship,” Wesley says. “Back in the day, he was resentful of me, and in the present day, I’ve become very resentful of him. The episode is nicely interwoven in that regard.”

Now we know why exec producer Julie Plec told us she wanted #TeamSalvatore to trend on Twitter (which it did). “We’ve been so contentious and hostile with one another that when we have these rare moments of friendship, I think it reminds the audience that these two guys are also an integral part of the triangle,” Wesley says. “It’s not just them both being in love with Elena. It’s that they love each other as well.”

Tonight’s episode also features a bonding moment between Elena and Matt. Should Stefan consider Matt a threat to the show’s central love triangle? “I think he absolutely should be a threat,” Wesley says. “I think there’s a level of simplicity to Matt. He’s a good, uncomplicated kind of guy. At the end of the day, Stefan and Damon both bring a huge bag of complication and things don’t go very well when Damon and Stefan are around. So I do believe that Elena should have some sort of a relationship with someone who is not supernatural. I think for sure that’s a threatening thing, to a degree.”

As for Stefan’s relationship with Elena, there are promo shots from the March 29 episode, “The Murder of One,” of them walking through the woods carrying weapons — him a stake and her a crossbow — and them deep in conversation with him appearing to gently touch her face. “The two of them are on a bit of mission, but during that mission, they sort of divert and talk about their relationship and the reality of what they’ve been through. It’s a good story-line plot point that allows the two of them to be in a close situation and allows for a little bit of intimacy,” Wesley says. Like, verbal intimacy or something more? He laughs. “Verbal. Intimacy in an emotional way,” he says.

Looking ahead to the end of the season, Wesley says he still hasn’t read the script for the finale, but that he’s been doing scuba-diving training for a planned underwater sequence in the episode. We assume that means we’re still on target to see a flashback to the car crash that killed Elena’s parents before the series began (good Samaritan Stefan was only able to save Elena). He does offer one tease: “I think audiences can look forward to Stefan and Elena getting one step closer by the end of the season to potentially reuniting,” he says. One step closer to potentially reuniting? That was carefully worded! “I’m very good at that sort of cagey answer,” he laughs.

Follow: @EWMandiBierly

Read more:

‘Vampire Diaries,’ ‘Secret Circle’ vicious and sexy extended promo — EXCLUSIVE VIDEO

‘The Vampire Diaries’ cast teases Alaric twist, Originals’ ‘appetite for destruction,’ and more love triangle action — EW VIDEO

‘Vampire Diaries’: Exclusive behind-the-scenes shots from ‘1912’

Catch up with EW’s ‘Vampire Diaries’ recaps

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The Vampire Diaries

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