Damon makes a decision he'll regret while two characters bid farewell
Credit: Richard Ducree/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…

So after an entire season of build-up, we’ve made the jump three years into the future. And guess what? It’s not looking great. Because not only did we lose Nora and Mary Louise, but Stefan is trapped in the Phoenix Stone. But before we get to all that, let’s backtrack to the start of the hour.

In present day — a.k.a. what used to be known as the three-year flashforward — Damon is contemplating if hashtags are still a thing while Stefan decides whether he’s going to let his brother transfer the scar. Long story short, Stefan decides yes, and when Rayna allows Damon to get the phone out of Stefan’s pocket, Damon loosens the vervaine ropes holding Stefan. Just like that, Stefan escapes with Rayna’s sword, and Damon knocks her out. (She also knocks him out but that’s not important right now.)

Flashing back to three years ago, we find Valerie convincing Stefan that he should use what time he has left to travel. But it isn’t until she convinces him that they can trace Rayna’s bloodline and travel to the land of her ancestors to find answers that he agrees. (Stefan’s only interested in travel if it has a purpose.)

And you know who probably wishes they’d spent those years traveling? Nora, who we find out has been trapped at the Armory all this time. And when Alex — Enzo’s family member — reveals that they’ve been experimenting on Mary Lou by giving her pills filled with Rayna’s blood, Nora makes a deal. See, Rayna’s blood is poisonous to witches, so in order to help Mary Lou, Nora agrees to find Enzo and return him to the Armory. Why Enzo? Because they believe he’s the one who freed Rayna.

Spoiler: They’re wrong! As we find out when Enzo catches up with Matt, it was good old Matty Blue Blue who set Rayna free. It was also Matt who convinced the cops in Dallas not to respond when Rayna aired that emergency broadcast. Turns out, Matt wants revenge on Stefan. But why? More on that later.

First, Damon and Rayna wake up in just enough time for Rayna to change Damon’s mind about absolutely everything. It turns out, it’s pretty easy to do that: Just mention Elena. If Damon lets Valerie transfer Stefan’s scar, then Damon’s life will be linked to Rayna. And seeing as how she’s human and is apparently going to die in 60-70 years, Damon will die right around the time that Elena wakes up. So is Damon willing to give up a future with Elena to save his brother? I think we all know the answer to that one.

Getting back on the road, Rayna calls Stefan from Caroline’s cell, which she stole, to try and convince him to let Damon take the scar. Like a couple women before her, Rayna seems to choose Stefan in the Salvatore equation. Apparently when the Armory had her held captive, she would often close her eyes and spy on Stefan. (It’s a perk of the mystical scar connection.) And what she saw — mostly the hero hair — made her Team Stefan.

But Stefan’s playing hard-to-get on this one. Running out of gas, he throws Rayna’s sword into the side of a truck and turns around. That way, he buys himself a little time as she chases after the sword. And if he’s following Damon’s plan, they’re all going to meet up at the hostage swap, where the Armory will once again kidnap Rayna.

As for the hostages being swapped, Enzo gets his hands on Nora, but the moment Nora mentions that Rayna’s blood is fatal to witches, he agrees to help her. He will return to Alex to help her get the antidote for Mary Louise (and clearly Bonnie).

Stefan heads that way when Rayna calls him and we find out that it’s Matt who won’t let her back in her cell until Stefan’s in the stone. Seriously, what did Stefan do?

Well, one thing Stefan did was kiss Valerie in the Philippines. In another flashback, we find the couple on a beach where an argument about constellations turns into their first kiss. Well, first kiss in a long time. And considering that was a year into their travels, we now know that these two have been together for two years at this point.

NEXT: A Thelma and Louise-style exit

While everyone heads to the meeting point, Damon knocks Valerie out before she can do the tranfser spell. By the time she wakes up, they’re both in the car on the way to the hostage exchange. And when Valerie tries to call Damon out on being a terrible brother, he mentions the fact that she’s been lying to Stefan all these years if she knew the transfer spell was a possibility. But as she sees it, she was protecting Stefan. Because the spell can only work on a blood relative, it would’ve meant waking up Damon, and when Damon’s awake, well, Stefan’s life (literally) goes to hell. So Valerie chose to keep Stefan on the run and Damon in a coffin.

And yet, Damon is quick to point out that he WAS a piece of crap, before “I met a girl and she made me good.” His plan? Once he gets Elena back in his life, he’ll be there for Stefan. But Stefan needs him now, and if Damon can’t be a good brother on his own, he’ll have to learn the hard way.

In a moment that reminded me so much of Damon’s phone call with Elena in the season 3 finale — when she chose Stefan — Stefan asks Damon if he’s going to take the scar. And all Damon can say is, “I have a plan.” But when Rayna shows up and Damon realizes he could lose his brother, he tells Valerie to perform the spell.

Standing over Stefan, Rayna once again reinforces the lesson of the Phoenix Stone: He can’t be happy until he lets Damon go. And yet, when Stefan’s scar opened up, he didn’t call Valerie … or Caroline. He raced right to Brooklyn — giving Rayna more time to find him – to wake up his brother. As Stefan once said, “Guess I just needed my brother.”

Now, is Stefan ready to truly let his brother go? He says yes, but we all know he’s lying. And yet, it’s not the last time he’ll face that question, considering that Rayna just stabbed Stefan, sending him back to the Phoenix Stone!

And to make matters worse, Enzo and Nora find out there’s no antidote for Rayna’s blood, which means Nora has to make the most of what time she has left with Mary Louise. And when Rayna throws her sword into their car (and marks Nora), the couple decides to go out with a bang. Combining their magic, they say one last “I love you” to each other before the car explodes, seemingly destroying the Phoenix Stone.

As Rayna screams, we get flashes of what appears to be Stefan? Oh god, this is worse than having to watch him drown over and over again!!!

And as Damon leans over his brother’s body, he says, “I’m gonna save you, little brother. I promise. I promise you.”

But the question remains: Has Damon finally learned his lesson? Is there a way to save Stefan? And can someone PLEASE get me a tissue?

Oh, and one last thing. Remember how Matt hates Stefan? At the end of the episode, he stands at a grave as says he “made Stefan pay for what he did.” And it’s Penny’s grave. So I think we can assume Stefan killed Matt’s latest love? Honestly, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t seem like a big deal. (Sorry, Matt.)

What did you all think of the hour? Will this be the thing that finally changes Damon? Be sure to check out Julie Plec’s blog, where she addresses the deaths of Nora and Mary Lou before letting Ian Somerhalder take over and answer your questions!

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