Stefan adjusts to a human life while a surprise return could help with Cade
What Are You?
Credit: Erika Doss/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…

I’ve said this a few times over the last several weeks, but there was a lot about this episode that felt like old school TVD, which is what I want out of the show’s ending. Whether we’re talking about the last-minute surprise, the brotherly love, the flashbacks, or just the general theme of redemption, it’s all familiar — even, unfortunately, the grief.

“What Are You?”: I love that they chose this as the title for this particular episode — the first in which Stefan is human — because it dates back to the moment Elena Gilbert rushed to the Salvatore mansion and demanded to know WHAT Stefan was. His response? “I’m a vampire.” And even then, he hated that fact. So much of this hour brought me back to “Blood Brothers,” in which we first saw what Stefan was like post-Ripper binge. As he contemplated killing himself, he told Elena, “It hurts me, knowing what I’ve done, and that pain, that pain is with me all the time.” Now, he’s finally escaped being a vampire, and yet, that pain and grief are possibly worse than ever. After all, your humanity can never be more ON than when you’re, you know, a human.

We start the hour with Matt dreaming of the moment the Maxwell bell rang and burned 100 witches alive. When he wakes up, he’s somehow found his way into the tunnels at the Armory where they found Ethan Maxwell’s remains. Also, he’s VERY sweaty. Thankfully, Ric is back in town to help Dorian with something, so he’s able to sit Matt down to try to figure out what’s going on. Between Ric and Dorian, they decide it might not have been so much a dream as a memory. Turns out, the Maxwell necklace is more of a talisman. (So Matt is Bonnie in season 1?) Dorian thinks there could be a psychic link between Matt and Ethan Maxwell. And yet, they have to press pause on that theory when Ric gets a phone call updating him on what’s happened.

In case you forgot, what happened is that Stefan killed Enzo, and then Bonnie gave Stefan the cure. Now, Bonnie’s refusing to answer her phone — except to briefly update Damon — and Stefan’s just been arrested. Turns out, you can’t speed and have blood on your hands when you’re a human. Well, you can, but you’ll end up in jail thanks to a lack of supernatural compulsion.

But before Damon can meet Caroline at the police station, he has to deal with the devil sitting in his living room … literally. Cade pays Damon a visit to let him know their deal is officially void. Considering the deal was for two immortal beings, the fact that Stefan’s a human means Damon’s free to go. That is if by “free,” you mean he has to deliver Ethan Maxwell’s journal to Cade by midnight unless he wants Cade to kill his brother and drag him to hell. I guess we shouldn’t have expected a literal deal with the devil to end so easily, huh?

At the police station, Stefan is presented with photos of each of his victims — it’s the new “name of the wall” — as his prints have matched with 32 murders … in the last month. But before things go any further, Caroline arrives and compels Stefan’s crimes away from everyone except Stefan. In fact, while she’s compelling people, Stefan — who pockets his daylight ring seeing as how he no longer needs it — overhears a little girl ask the cops for help finding her mother. And her mother? It’s the real estate agent Stefan left for dead in the trunk of a car before he killed Enzo. In order to make something right, he and Caroline decide to try to find her.

Damon, trying to get his hands on the Maxwell journal, shows up at the Armory and explains his situation, but between Matt’s visions and Cade’s interest in the journal, Ric takes matters into his own hands. After locking Damon up in a cell, they decide to put Matt in a hypnotic state in order to trigger his visions. If they’re lucky, the answer to their question is in Matt’s head. (As Damon puts it, “That’d be a first.”)

Once in the hypnotic state, Matt takes us back to the house where the witches were burned. It’s there Ethan Maxwell and Beatrice Bennett are putting the finishes touches on the magical bell that’s going to drive the beasts from their land. Only, when Sybil and Seline show up, they siren Ethan into helping with Cade’s plan for the bell. It seems Cade has made a few tweaks, and by adding the tuning fork, the bell, when rung 12 times, will release hellfire. And because of the mind control of it all, Ethan has no choice but to ring it.

But it seems Ethan Maxwell was pretty smart, so he finds a loophole in the mind control. He might not be able to tell Bea what’s happening, but he writes her a coded message, warning her of what’s to come. She relays the message to the witches, so they stand united as Ethan rings the bell and do their best to fight back the hellfire. In the end, they save their city, but all 100 of them fall.

NEXT: A surprise return

At this point, Matt starts having a heart attack, so Ric frees Damon so that he can give Matt some vampire blood. Once he does, Matt finds the answer they’re looking for. After the sirens told Ethan to kill Bea, she used magic to lock Ethan in the tunnels where they’d eventually find his remains. But before Bea left him behind, he claimed to know how to kill the devil, so he left Bea a coded message in his journal. The only problem? Damon stole that journal and is already long gone.

While all of this is going on, Abby arrives to comfort Bonnie. (Caroline called her.) Now that both she and Bonnie are magic-free, they decide to lay Enzo to rest, but when Bonnie reveals that Enzo’s been reaching out to her, they try to connect with him. Only, when they ask for a sign, Abby sees the moment of Enzo’s death. She feels his pain, and in that moment she realizes Bonnie must’ve opened a door to wherever Enzo is, which seems a lot like hell. Naturally, Bonnie wants to bring him back — she’s done it before — but Abby warns her that whatever has Enzo is reaching out for her, and when Bonnie collapses, Abby does the only thing she can think of: She burns Enzo’s body. She explains it’s the only way to break the connection. Enzo wouldn’t want Bonnie to get dragged into the darkness, so Bonnie’s only choice is to let him go.

Back in the woods, Stefan and Caroline find the trunk where he left Karen, but when she’s not in it, their search party continues. Stefan eventually finds her, but when she sees him, her reaction is to stab him. And seeing how he’s human now, it actually hurts. Caroline shows up in time to save Karen, but because Stefan took the cure, he can’t drink her blood. Together, they have to wait for an ambulance, at which point Caroline gives Stefan a pep talk about how he’s going to keep living so that he can make all of this right.

And she’s right. He is. Once they leave the hospital, he tells her the truth: The two of them are living different lives now and they can’t ignore that. But as Caroline points out, that also doesn’t mean they have to throw everything away. Neither one of them knows how to make things right, but they both know it has to start with Bonnie.

Speaking of Bonnie, she arrives home to find Matt waiting on her porch. He tells her a bit about the fact that their families go way back, but more than anything, he tells her to take comfort in the fact that Enzo loved her and will always be with her. He then kisses her on the head and says goodnight.

As for Stefan, he heads home to change. Cade is now gone after he burned Ethan’s journal and informed Damon that no one has ever earned their way out of hell — a question Damon posed for his brother, of course.

Stefan finds Damon and thanks him for saving his life. In doing so, Damon gave his little brother a chance to undo some of the damage he’s done, and Damon himself has some undoing of his own to do. In a line that makes me cry, Stefan asks his brother, “Do you think that there’s a chance for us? For redemption?” And Damon, lying through his teeth considering what Cade just told him, comforts his little brother by saying, “Absolutely.” Already, you feel the dynamic shift between these two, ever so slightly, with Stefan being human again, and it’s a powerful thing.

Stefan then heads to Bonnie’s where somebody tases him before he can make it to the front door. As for Damon, he returns to the Armory to make things right with Ric. After explaining for the 100th time that he’s “selfish,” Damon tells Ric that, if he’s lucky, he has 80 years left to make peace with the fact that Stefan’s going to die, so he had to do everything he could to make sure it didn’t happen today. Furthermore, Damon might be able to make up for giving the journal to Cade. Apparently, Sybil had an insurance policy against Cade, and he thinks it’s this crazy dagger thing. Apparently, it was made “when the ash and bone of Cade was forged into glass by the fire of hell’s creation.” So perhaps the very thing Cade created could kill him?

Well, that’s one idea. But Kai has another! Yep, Kai is back! (And so is his wave!) According to him, he has a better idea.

All in all, I don’t have much to dislike about this hour. The emotion felt real, and more than that, it felt earned. It was equal parts moving and suspenseful, and did I mention that Kai is back? Plus, it finally feels like this series is starting to conclude. Something about Stefan putting his daylight ring in his pocket really hit me. This show is actually ending, and I can’t wait to see how it does.

What did you think of the hour? Hit the comments with your thoughts or find me on Twitter @samhighfill.

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