A number of familiar faces return as everyone works to snap Damon out of a catatonic state
Nostalgia's a Bitch
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…

Tonight’s episode felt like the old Vampire Diaries in all the best ways. But before we get too far into it, let’s dissect the title.

“Nostalgia’s a Bitch”: It’s season 2, and Anna has just walked into the Miss Mystic Falls event. As she starts to get emotional remembering the days when she almost participated in the pageant, Damon informs her that, well, nostalgia’s a bitch. And if we’re talking about how that fits into this episode, it’s kind of obvious once you figure out what’s going on in Damon’s head, so let’s not waste any time.

We start the hour with a jogging Bonnie waking up Caroline, who’s currently sleeping in Stefan’s bed and just generally moping. But what Caroline doesn’t realize is that Damon is sitting downstairs in some sort of catatonic state — a fact that Bonnie points out when she shows up for breakfast. (She’s in need of best friend advice about the whole “should I give Enzo the cure” thing.)

So while Stefan finds and kills poor Violet, better known as the Miss Mystic Falls Stefan turned last week, Caroline and Bonnie try to figure out what’s wrong with Damon. But when Caroline enters his mind, all she sees is fire and pain. As Sybil explains it, she turned Damon’s humanity back on, and as a result, his mind has shut down because it can’t handle all of the emotions.

Conveniently, Sybil is the only one who can help Damon, and in return, she wants the super powerful bell that can kill her. But Caroline doesn’t have it. Matt does. More specifically, Matt told his father to drive it out of town, because as we all know, Mystic Falls is arguably the least safe place in the world. (Hence the most recent sheriff quitting because of all the homicides.)

When Caroline tells Matt why she needs the bell, he throws some truth her way: Why is it that no matter how many innocent people die, everyone seems more worried about Stefan and Damon? It’s a completely fair thing for him to say, and yet, even he knows that he’ll probably give in.

Back at the Salvatore mansion, Caroline and Bonnie free Sybil so that she can figure out how to help Damon. According to her, Damon’s consciously in hell, because that’s where he believes he belongs. In order to convince him otherwise, they’re going to have to go into his subconscious, and Sybil’s the only one who can send them there.

Spoiler alert: Damon’s subconscious is filled with familiar faces. First up, Caroline and Bonnie visit the Salvatore Boarding House and run into Henry, otherwise known as Damon’s fellow soldier. But as he informs the women, Damon Salvatore died in the Civil War.

When that doesn’t work, Stefan shows up with a bit of wisdom that could help: When he and Damon were kids and did something wrong, Damon would hide until Stefan could find him and tell him that it’s okay. So now, they just have to figure out where Damon is hiding.

And apparently, he’s hiding in season 1 of The Vampire Diaries, because when Sybil sends Caroline and Bonnie back into Damon’s subconscious, they find themselves at the Mystic Grill with a newspaper headline about an animal attack and Vicki Donovan as a waitress! Yep, Vicki’s back, and you wouldn’t believe how loud I gasped!

But Vicki’s not the only big return of the hour. Caroline quickly spots a familiar sheriff across the way. And in case that hint was too subtle for you, IT’S HER MOM!! As Caroline puts it, “I forgot how pretty she was.”

While Caroline talks to her mom, Bonnie finds out that Vicki Donovan has no idea who Damon Salvatore is. As for the bandage on Vicki’s neck? It has nothing to do with fangs and everything to do with, well, kissing. It’s a hickey, okay?

The bad part of all of this is that Liz doesn’t know Damon either, and when Caroline lets it slip that the knows about vampires, Liz quickly throws some vervain on her daughter’s hand. Just like that, Caroline is right back in the very torture chamber where her father tried to “cure” her in season 3.

Caroline tries to convince Liz that Damon is Stefan’s brother, but according to city records, Stefan’s brother died a long time ago (like, say, during the Civil War?). Unable to take more torture, Caroline finally tells her mom the truth: Damon isn’t the one who’s dead. Liz is. Caroline explains that Damon was there for Liz the entire time she was sick, and that’s why Caroline is enduring this pain for him. “Because he was the only person who truly understood how much it hurt to lose you.” And that’s the thing that made Caroline forgive Damon for all the bad that he’d done.

Just like that, Caroline is kicked out of Damon’s subconscious. It seems her forgiveness isn’t what he needs to wake up. So now it’s Bonnie’s turn to try.

NEXT: Cade returns to Mystic Falls

But before we get to that, Matt tells his father to turn the car around and return the bell the Mystic Falls. However, that’s not to say that Matt has decided to help Damon. Instead, he invites his father to meet him at Vicki’s grave and tells him the truth. He tells his dear old dad that they can either leave town with the bell or return it to Mystic Falls and help the man who murdered his daughter. Not surprisingly, dad wants to let Damon suffer.

But when Stefan decides he’d like to have the bell, things get even more complicated. Long story short, Seline wasn’t being completely honest about the bell. Sure, if a Maxwell rings it 12 times, it will kill a siren. However, it will do so by ripping a hole between Cade’s world and our own, thereby unleashing hellfire on earth and killing anyone who’s within miles. Or in this case, all of Mystic Falls.

Stefan, for one, loves the idea of burning this town to the ground, especially if Matt’s the one who does it. So Stefan rips off Matt’s vervain bracelet and gives him a choice: Either forgive Damon for killing Vicki or burn it all to the ground. Matt has until 9 p.m. to make his decision.

Meanwhile, back in Damon’s subconscious, Bonnie returns to Grams’ house for some help! GRAMS! As amazing as ever, Grams informs her granddaughter that getting involved in vampire business is a bad idea, but as Bonnie explains, it’s a bit late for that. Not only has Bonnie surrounded herself with vampires, but she’s even in love with one. “I’ve never been this happy,” she tells Grams. And if Grams can perform a locator spell on Damon using the letter Damon wrote her before he desiccated himself, Bonnie will be one step closer to getting back to the life she’s always wanted. And how could Grams say no to that?!

The spell leads Bonnie to the Salvatore crypt, and more specifically, to the location of Damon’s grave, which says he died in 1863, otherwise known as a year before he became a vampire. It’s there that Bonnie finds Tyler, who’s not in the mood to forgive Damon for killing him. So it’s a good thing Damon doesn’t need Tyler’s forgiveness. As Bonnie realizes, in Damon’s mind, he lived and died as a human being, which means they need Stefan.

Next up, Sybil sends Stefan into his brother’s subconscious for a chat at the graveyard, which includes my favorite Stefan line maybe ever when he tells his brother, “Sweet gargoyle, bro.”

Stefan tells his brother that he’s forgiven, but that’s not what Damon needs. What Damon needs is to forgive Stefan. As Damon explains, there’s a reason why Stefan is always the one to straighten Damon out when he goes off the rails. It’s because Stefan blames himself for turning Damon into a vampire in the first place. And apparently, Damon does too. So now, Damon officially forgives his brother.

Only, that sets Stefan off. As Stefan repeatedly punches his brother, Damon explains that the vampire running around in his head has always been Stefan. “I forgive you for making me what I am,” Damon says, absolving his brother of all the death and destruction Damon has caused as a result. Why? “Because you’re my brother and I love you.” GUYS. Earlier this season, we got the first brother “I love you” from Stefan, and now we have Damon’s response to match! And he one-ups his younger bro by adding, “There’s nothing you could ever do to change that.”

But as far as Stefan’s concerned, the only way to get rid of Damon is to watch him go up in flames like the rest of the town, which by the way, actually might go up in flames. After Matt’s father refuses to kill his son — he’ll abandon him, but murder’s a step too far — Stefan’s compulsion forces Matt to start ringing the bell.

And he rings it 11 times before Damon wakes up, snaps Stefan’s neck, and knocks Matt out. (And yes, I LOVED the moment when Matt’s head hit the bell and Damon said, “Let’s hope that one doesn’t count.”)

So with that, Damon saved the town, and once Matt wakes up, Damon finally says the one thing Matt’s needed to hear for years: “I’m sorry about Vicki.” Is it enough to make Matt forgive Damon? Of course not. But considering what he did tonight, he’s on the right track, and Matt isn’t ruling anything out. As for now, he hears Mystic Falls needs a sheriff. As Damon puts it, “I always did like the sheriff in this town.” GOOD LORD MY HEART IS EXPLODING.

Back at the Salvatore mansion, Caroline has Stefan chained up in the dungeon. She’s fully aware that Damon means more to him than she does, but she doesn’t care because she loves him. And she’s going to do whatever it takes to get him to turn his humanity back on, even if Damon’s the answer, because all she knows is that she’s getting Stefan back. And from there, they’ll either make their relationship work… or they won’t.

Outside, Damon finds Bonnie reflecting on all the good things that have happened. She tells Damon that everything he did while under Sybil’s control is not his fault, and in return, he reads her the letter that he wrote her all those years ago. You know, the one she refused to read because she was so mad at him for leaving her? Yeah, he has it memorized.

In the letter, he admits that he’s a coward, but he knows that Bonnie is going to make him face a future without Elena and make him the best man he can be, much in the way Elena did, and he’s “absolutely terrified of failing you both. So I’m leaving, because I’d rather let you down once than let you down for the rest of your life. And I hope it’s the happiest life, because you, Bonnie Bennett, are an amazing woman, a mediocre crossword puzzle player, and my best friend.” Bonnie cries, I cry, we all cry. I know Stefan’s the writer, but as Bonnie says, “It’s a hell of a letter.”

Damon once again apologizes for leaving and promises it won’t happen again, so Bonnie gets up and hugs her best friend.

In the episode’s final moments, we catch up with Sybil and Seline. They’re chatting at a diner when Cade walks in. It seems when the bell rang 11 times, something changed, and now, he’s going to “handle it.” So he has both of them burst into flames. NBD.

There were a lot of things to love about this episode: The familiar faces, the beautiful, earned moment between Damon and Bonnie, and the final twist. But the thing I loved most is what this episode means for Damon’s journey to find redemption. You’ve seen this character come so far since the pilot. Heck, even Matty Blue doesn’t hate him anymore.

The only minor issue I have is more of a hope: I hope we also get to see the other side of this brotherly forgiveness. Yes, Damon needed to forgive his brother for turning him. That’s an issue they first brought up in season 1 when Stefan told his brother that he was sorry for the first time. But on the other side of that equation, once Damon became a vampire, he made his own choices, many of which have hurt his brother. This is a two-way street, and Damon still has to earn some forgiveness of his own. I hope Stefan will get the chance — and want the chance — to forgive his brother in return.

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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