The Salvatores defeat Cade, which results in a shocking return
It's Been a Hell of a Ride
Credit: Bob Mahoney/The CW
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THERE IS SO MUCH TO LOVE ABOUT THIS HOUR. Sure, you could say I’m on a bit of a high because, oh, I don’t know, KATHERINE IS NOW THE HBIC IN HELL, but that’s only one reason I’m madly in love with this episode. Let’s start where we always do, with a trip down memory lane.

“It’s Been a Hell of a Ride”: Damon first said these words to Elena in the season 1 episode “Blood Brothers.” It was right after he told her the story of how Stefan forced him to become a vampire. It might’ve been the reason Damon hated his brother for all those years, but as he told Elena, “I suppose I should thank him; it’s been a hell of a ride.” Eight seasons later, that statement stands, and in fact, it’s one he’ll make again by the end of the hour.

We start right where we left off last week: Damon is dead — or in limbo, technically — and Kai has made off with Elena’s body. Actually, about that …

When Cade visits Damon, he has a request: He wants the dagger, also known as the one weapon that can kill him. And in exchange, Cade has something Damon wants: Elena’s body. It seems Kai handed her over to Cade but kept the dagger as an insurance policy, and now it’s Damon’s job to get it back. But he’s going to need help.

That brings us to Stefan, who finally catches up with Bonnie to apologize and let her know he’s leaving town. Of course, Bonnie isn’t too heartbroken about his decision to leave, but — spoiler! — he’s not going anywhere anytime soon. The moment Damon finds his brother and tells him about Elena, Stefan knows he has to stay.

Using Yelp — Kai’s love for leaving bad reviews has its upside — Stefan manages to track down the karaoke-loving heretic. But when Kai realizes Stefan is human, he stabs him through the hand with the dagger that Stefan wants so badly. As Kai informs Stefan, when you kill Cade, hell goes along with him. Thankfully, Damon’s there to snap Kai’s neck before he does any more damage to human Stefan.

While all of this is happening, Caroline and Ric are still trying to figure out what’s happening with their out-of-control daughters. It seems Ric forgot to mention they were asked to leave their preschool. And just when Caroline and Ric start to try to form a plan, the Salvatores drag Ric’s biggest enemy into the Armory. They need a holding cell for Kai.

So while Caroline catches Damon up on the fact that Stefan thinks he needs a soul-searching journey to figure out if he wants to be with her, Stefan asks for Ric’s help — with what, we’ll find out soon.

As for Bonnie, she’s enjoying the luxuries of her psychic abilities, which roughly translates to: She’s spending every moment she has with Enzo, who thinks she should try to forgive Stefan. After all, Enzo knows what it’s like to kill for Cade, and yet Bonnie found a way to love him. If she has that capacity to forgive, she should use it. And she will. She just needs time.

Speaking of forgiveness, Stefan and Damon head to the quarry to meet with Cade. Damon confronts his brother about his decision to leave town, and Stefan explains he has to atone for his mistakes and furthermore, that he has no interest in dragging Caroline down with him. Stefan’s the one who compelled Matt to ring the bell, which means Cade is free because of him. That’s why Stefan wants to be the one to kill him.

But Damon refuses to let anything happen to Stefan or Elena, which is precisely why Stefan packed some vervain for the trip. He knew Damon would try to stop him, and after he takes Damon down, he’s headed off to meet Cade alone.

Behind the waterfall, Stefan finds Elena’s coffin. As Cade tells him, “I can see why you both love her. She’s a beautiful soul. Made dimmer perhaps by her association with the two of you.” (If this didn’t take you guys back to Isobel telling Elena she was doomed so long as she had a Salvatore on each arm, I don’t know what will.)

Cade admits he was expecting Damon, but it’s Stefan, the human, who thinks he can kill the devil … and there’s a reason. Just then, Ric starts ringing the bell. Because he’s neither a Maxwell nor a Donovan, the only thing that happens when he rings it is that it hurts Cade. But just before Stefan can finish Cade off, the bell stops ringing.

Why? Because Ric’s phone rings. It’s the girls. Something’s wrong. To catch you up: Kai told Caroline what’s wrong with the girls. It’s the fact that they’re being kept at the Armory, a place filled with supernatural energy. They’re siphoning magic all the time, even when they can’t help it, and speaking of which, Kai literally siphons magic from the wall and breaks out of his cell, snapping Caroline’s neck and going on a hunt for the latest Gemini twins. So yeah, that’s why Ric has to get home.

NEXT: Damon makes a huge decision

As for Stefan, Cade is about to kill him when Damon shows up. Now that Cade has the dagger, he tells Damon he needs a soul, and Damon can choose: Cade will either take Stefan’s soul … or he’ll take Elena’s.

Now, I don’t know about you guys, but this moment has been years in the making for me. Over the seasons, we’ve watched Stefan “sacrifice everything to save his brother,” if I’m going to quote Katherine Pierce. It’s an idea that just last season Klaus compared to his own relationship with Elijah: He’s spent an eternity watching Elijah put Klaus first. Stefan is Elijah: He will always save Damon. But would Klaus, or in this case, Damon do the same? This is not to say that one brother is better than the other. I’m simply saying: Time and time again, Stefan has put his brother first. And time and time again, Damon has been selfish, or more specifically, he’s put Elena first. Another point this show made this season? While Stefan was off with Klaus, Damon, instead of chasing his brother down, stole his girl. It’s a pattern.

So for years, I’ve thought about the moment when Damon would have to sacrifice himself for his brother. Personally, I always felt it had to happen. It’s a crucial moment for the evolution of Damon’s character. And this episode gave it to us.

When Cade presented Damon with the choice, Stefan did the thing we all expected: He tried to make the decision for his brother and sacrifice himself. But this time, it was Damon’s decision to make. As Cade explained, it’s the exact choice that has defined the Salvatore brothers’ lives ever since they laid eyes on Elena Gilbert. “Being torn between the two has only brought both of you an immeasurable amount of pain and suffering,” he tells Damon. And this time, instead of picking Elena over his brother, Damon chooses to sacrifice himself to save them both. He opts to give Cade his soul, which means he has to stake himself (with a piece of Elena’s coffin no less).

Before he goes, he makes Cade promise to leave Elena’s soul alone forever, and then, before he stakes himself, he tells his brother, “It’s been a hell of a ride.”

In that moment, Damon is giving up his future with Elena so that his brother can live. In that moment, he’s completing a huge part of his journey. He’s gone from the most selfish thing he’s ever done — telling Elena he loved her — to the most selfless — putting Stefan first. I’m not going to lie: I’m crying just writing about it.

But, of course, Stefan won’t let his brother go that easily, and neither will Bonnie. When Cade set Elena’s coffin on fire, Bonnie got some sort of physic alert, which is how she finds her way to Cade. Using her new abilities, she enters the plane where Cade is about to collect Damon’s soul and uses her powers to fight for Damon’s life. And just before Damon lets go and gives himself to Cade, Stefan shows up and puts the dagger through Cade’s heart. The devil’s dead. And everyone we love gets to live.

Stefan, after checking on Bonnie, who admits she’s taken a step toward forgiveness, hugs his older brother like he’s never going to let go. From there, Stefan and Damon share a drink on the hood of the Camaro. Damon tells his brother he’s crazy if he thinks leaving Mystic Falls is the answer. Sure, Damon will have to let Stefan go one day, but today’s not that day. Right now, things are looking up. And after going toe-to-toe with the devil, Stefan is nothing if not brave. So is he brave enough to stay?

Stefan tries to play the “I have to pay for what I’ve done card,” but that won’t work on Damon. After all, Damon himself has inflicted a “fantastic amount of pain.” In fact, Damon doesn’t suspect his slate will ever be clean, but he knows that his redemption is within reach. All he needs is the people he loves. It’s a list that’s short but profound, and Stefan’s at the top of it, along with a great girl he hopes to marry one day. “Don’t walk away from your list because you don’t think you’re worth it,” Damon tells his brother. (Speaking of Damon’s journey from selfish to selfless, let’s not forget that in that same season 2 moment, he told Elena “I don’t deserve you,” so he knows how Stefan feels about Caroline right now.)

With that, Stefan heads to the Armory, where Caroline and Ric have defeated Kai and handed him over to Bonnie. Outside, Stefan gets down on one knee and once again asks Caroline to marry him. He might be human now, but all that means is that he gets to grow old with his best friend and help her raise her children. “It means I get to fight to be the man that you deserve until the day that I die.” Spoiler: Caroline says yes!

As for the Bonnie-Kai situation, Bonnie uses the girls’ Gemini powers to create a new prison world for Kai, one that he can’t get out of. But before she leaves him, he has news for her: Killing Cade didn’t destroy hell. It simply put someone new in charge — “the only person worse,” to be specific. Someone who knows all their weak spots. The person who will stop at nothing to make sure they all suffer. The one who wants revenge for what they did TO HER. As Kai puts it, “The myth, the legend, the baddest bitch of all.” KATHERINE.

KATHERINE PIERCE IS RUNNING HELL. And all I can think is: OF COURSE SHE IS. What else did you expect when you sent her there?

I love this twist so much. I love this hour so much. I’m going to go watch it again.

What did you all think? Hits the comments with your thoughts or find me on Twitter @samhighfill.

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