Damon makes a selfish decision... or did he?
Credit: Annette Brown/The CW
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…
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Throughout season 7 we’ve seen that three years into the future, the Mystic Falls gang isn’t doing so hot. Yeah, there’s the whole “the huntress is hunting them” part, but the bigger issue is most of them aren’t friends anymore. Tonight we saw the cause for most of that division is because of a decision Damon made. Although, Matt takes a fair share of the blame, too.

But before the flashbacks made full sense, we started back in the past (present?). Fresh off her Originals crossover, Rayna emerges from the ashes again. She makes a quick trip to Mystic Falls… just in time to save Matt and Penny’s lives. They’ve been flirting and ridding the town of vampires for the past three days, and Julian’s crew finally caught on to them. But Rayna handily takes out the pack of vamps trying to kill them, so the two cops owe her.

They pay her back by helping her torture vampires at Mystic Grill. She’s trying to find out where Stefan is, but no one knows. Damon walks in and says he can help. Based on last week’s ending, I thought he might have come there for Rayna to just take him out. But instead he takes her out. (Matt had texted to let him know where Rayna was.) Matt shoots her, Damon rips out her heart, and Penny stands by confused.

She thought all vampires were bad, but Matt explains that some are his friends. She clearly doesn’t understand the good vamp/bad vamp equation, and instead tells Matt that it’s his fault that Mystic Falls is in ruins. She says he has to stop standing by. Which I guess isn’t wrong, but ugh, Penny, go away.

Meanwhile, after leaving New Orleans, Stefan is still on the run with Valerie. They’re headed to a witch garden where they’ll find herbs to make more of Freya’s paste, which conceals his huntress mark. Only problem is the herbs are all gone, a lady with a very burned face tells them. Someone came before them and took them all. Because the herbs are dangerous to witches (hence the burns), they had been eradicated from the earth a century ago except for this stash. Now that it’s gone, there’s no hope of Stefan getting any more magic paste. (I hope we get to see the garden witch lady again. Her creepy “night night” as she knocked out Stefan and Valerie was perfection.)

So Stefan and Valerie go back on the run. He calls Caroline to see if she wants to “tag in” for Valerie, but she says Alaric still needs her in Dallas. There are two babies who need to be fed, burped, changed, and put to sleep over and over again. She asks him about moving to Texas, and Stefan doesn’t seem too into the idea. So for now, he jumps back in the car with Valerie to avoid Rayna.

But Damon is working on a plan to get Stefan off the run. After ripping out Rayna’s heart, he hacked her into pieces, bagged the pieces, and threw those bags down a well. He’s sitting near the well with a bloody apron on (I love Damon so much) when she phoenix rebirths herself again. He makes yet another joke about how much she looks like Elena; she makes a Silence of the Lambs joke back. I kind of like their banter, but he’s not keeping her in the well to make a new friend. He thinks maybe he can help her change her huntress nature (it’s not that crazy — it worked on Jeremy).

NEXT: Bonnie+Enzo time (don’t get too excited)

But while he is doing that, Bonnie is getting info on The Armory (which looks an AWFUL lot like the bar they hung out at by Whitmore). Alex St. John — Enzo’s “family” — apologizes to Bonnie for Enzo’s techniques. She says they want to work with Bonnie. So she shows her into the lair, where the eight shamans who took their lives for Rayna’s transformation lie. Alex calls them the “everlastings,” but as Bonnie points out only three of them look “everlasting.” The rest just look dead.

Alex freaks out because there should be four who look like they’re just sleeping. Once she leaves the room in a panic, Enzo tells Bonnie that these represent Rayna’s lives. Every time she’s reborn, a shaman dies. And he cuts the story off there (way to not give all the details, Enzo).

Bonnie texts Damon the info she gathered, so Damon kills Rayna again. But as soon as Enzo sees another shaman “die,” he tells the rest of the story to Bonnie. Once Rayna’s last life is spent, everyone who has her mark will die with her. Put simply: If Rayna dies one more time, so will Stefan.

Now, this is incredibly problematic since Damon buried Rayna. His plan was for her to wake up underground, suffocate, and die. Kinda brutal, dude. Quickly, Bonnie tells Damon, and he rushes to dig her back up. She’s already rebirthed and died. Cut to Stefan’s hunter’s mark spreading out and killing him. Valerie is trying to siphon out the magic, but it won’t work. Luckily, Damon knows CPR and is able to revive Rayna. She coughs up dirt (I’m gonna need a gif of that), and then throws Damon across the field.

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Rayna tells Damon she’ll give him a head start, but instead he wants to talk about the man in her life she had hinted at earlier. He was a vampire, and she ended up staking him (flashback episode please!). She’s about to stake Damon when a team of Armory people come and shoot her with approximately 1,000 tranquilizer darts. And it still takes her a while to fall. She’s pretty badass is what I’m saying.

Once Rayna is in captivity, Alex tells Enzo that Bonnie Bennet is the Armory’s second priority. Umm, what?

There isn’t much time to think about this, though, because Stefan has come back to town. He thinks Rayna is dead, but Damon explains that she’s contained for now — that she can’t die because he would die. Then Damon hands him a letter. “I’m not a good brother when I’m not with Elena, and when I’m not a good brother, people get hurt.” His way of remedying this: Desiccating himself for the next 60 years.

NEXT: Goodbyes and hellos

Stefan is not happy. “If there’s even a fraction of you that cares about me, your brother, your family, then you will not walk out that door,” he says. And then Damon walks out. The Vampire Diaries has shown us a lot of heartbreak — but it’s never worse than when it’s brother-related. And Stefan doesn’t even have time to wallow in it.

Matt walks into the Salvatore mansion and says he’s taking the town back. “Vampires need to leave Mystic Falls for good. All of you.” Penny must have been really convincing for him to turn his back on Stefan like this, because he’s not f—ing around. He has CCTV footage of everyone doing non-human things that he’ll share with the world.

So Stefan gets in his car and takes the short drive (LOL) to Dallas. He pulls up to Ric’s house and starts to walk up when he sees Caroline, Ric, and the twins looking like a nice little family. THIS GUY IS NOT HAVING A GOOD DAY. So he texts Valerie and says they should hit the road again. Bye, Steroline. Hello, whatever the Alaric/Caroline and Stefan/Valerie ship names are.

After leaving a note and a bottle of bourbon for Ric in Dallas, Damon heads to Brooklyn. (The way that people get around the U.S. so quickly on this show will never not amuse me.) He’s in the storage space with Elena’s coffin, about to get in his own coffin when Bonnie shows up. Enzo told her what he was doing — and she is pissed. Damon says he left a note, but she says, “Are we friends?” He tries to reply with his characteristic wit, but she stops him. She says she’s not okay with his decision — if he stays in that coffin until Elena wakes, that means he stays in that coffin until she is dead. So not only is Bonnie losing a friend, but he didn’t have the courage to tell her to her face after all they’ve been through together. It’s a heartbreaking scene, and, honestly, probably one of the best performances by Kat Graham we’ve ever seen on this show.

He tries to explain, but she stops him. “No. You don’t get to say goodbye.” And with that she walks away. As much as I was hoping he would run after Bonnie and be friends with her a little longer before making the desiccation decision, that didn’t happen. He climbs inside and closes the lid.

Then we jump to the three-year “future” we’ve been watching all season. In rapid succession, we see the flashbacks from the past 11 episodes and skip to Stefan tied up in that Dallas news station. (What are the people of Dallas doing for news in this trying time??) Rayna is there saying she’s exhausted now that she finally caught him, but she doesn’t take credit. She knows it was because he came for either Damon or Caroline, though he won’t answer which one.

Maybe Rayna is able to fight her huntress nature because she doesn’t kill Stefan right away. She tells him there’s a Plan B: She can “transfer” the mark to someone more deserving. She says it should have been Damon all along anyway. So she tells Stefan to choose who gets to die: himself or his brother. And the kicker… This was all Damon’s idea.

So now for the questions: Did Damon have this plan before he went into the coffin? The brothers don’t seem to have the best relationship in this future/now present, so would Stefan actually choose his brother? (I mean there’s no way either of them will die, right?) We still don’t know what made Bonnie end up in a mental hospital… any ideas? And when do she and Enzo fall in love!? (I’m here for that.) Is it okay to hate Matt now? I think we can assume that Penny died, and that’s what he referred to a couple episodes back about sacrifices he’s made? (I’m not mad about that, honestly.) Will Caroline keep her job at the news station after all of this?

Now that the timeline has finally come together, I’m ready for some answers! Let’s chat below or on Twitter @realdalener.

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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