Christmas Eve dinner quickly turns deadly while Stefan makes a new deal with Cade
RECAP: 12/9/16: ALL CROPS: The Vampire Diaries -- "The Next Time I Hurt Somebody, It Could Be You" --Image Number: VD807B_0325b.jpg -- Pictured: Paul Wesley as Stefan and Candice King as Caroline -- Photo: Bob Mahoney/The CW -- © 2016 The CW Network, LLC.
Credit: Bob Mahoney/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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I came into this episode wishing this show would do something big and really shock me. Because lately, I haven’t felt the stakes. Yes, we’re talking about hell and an eternity of unbearable torture, but there’s a part of me that doesn’t believe the show will really go there — or at least if it does go there, I still see our characters finding a happy way out of it. And considering this is the final season of a show that has made me gasp out loud more times than I can count, at this point, as much as it might hurt me, I want to feel that finality. Because as much as I love the throwbacks, I haven’t felt the weight that should come with a final season just yet in terms of the plot. (No offense to Tyler, but I need something bigger than killing a character who’s been in a handful of episodes in the last year and a half.)

Tonight, the show didn’t shock me. However, I found myself enjoying this episode more than the past few. Because the next best thing to shocking me is making me feel things by dangling nostalgia in front of my face, and by using that nostalgia to further the current plot. This episode did that and more. Let’s get into it.

We start in Monterey in 1917, which for diehard fans of the show can only mean one thing: Ripper Stefan. And in an important update, Ripper Stefan didn’t believe in shaving. In other words, Ripper Stefan is even less attractive than Stefan-with-blood-dripping-from-his-chin. (Because this time, there’s blood in his beard. I know, I know, I’m sorry.)

Back in present day, Stefan is perfectly groomed as he writes what might be his last diary entry ever to Elena. He updates her on the deal he made and asks her to remind Caroline that he did everything he could to get back to her … but that’s only if he doesn’t actually get back to her.

Once his journal is set, it’s time for him to enjoy the perfect Christmas Eve dinner. He and Caroline have been planning the event forever, and all he wants for his last day is to eat more than he should, to drink until their friends and family seem somewhat normal — buddy, there’s not enough alcohol in the world — and to spend time with Caroline. She agrees.

Just then, Alaric arrives with the girls, but in some bad news for Ric, Damon and Sybil aren’t far behind. Quick reminder: Ric and Matt thought they killed Damon in the last episode — they even buried him! — but they didn’t know about the whole “deal with the devil” thing. So once Damon shows up, even though he and his date promised not to harm the girls, it’s no surprise that Ric decides his evening will be best spent reading bedtime stories to the girls while Caroline handles the dinner.

First up: Drinks! Caroline checks in with Bonnie, who just received her present from Enzo — a trip to Paris! — to tell them not to come by. Instead, Bonnie and Enzo are on a mission to find where Sybil has been staying, because there, they’re sure to find the tuning fork. And once they have a weapon, then and only then can they crash dinner.

But in order to get Sybil to reveal where she’s been staying, Caroline plans to get her drunk off eggnog — or in Damon’s opinion, a glass of bourbon that’s been poisoned with milk and cinnamon. Just as Caroline tells Sybil “you can’t fault one sibling for the sins of the other,” Damon asks to speak to Stefan alone.

It seems Damon’s death allowed him to have a little quality one-on-one time with Cade, and during that time, Cade requested a chat with Stefan. (Poor Damon, is he second choice for everyone?! I’m surprised Cade didn’t say, “It’s always going to be Stefan.”) So, following orders, Damon kills his brother so that Cade can show Stefan exactly why he’s the “perfect choice” to serve the devil.

Back in the kitchen, Sybil mentions that her favorite part of Mystic Falls is all the big houses with pools, and considering there are so few of those in Mystic Falls, it takes no time for Sybil to reveal she’s staying at The Pond Estates. So, with that, Bonnie and Enzo are off on their mission, and when Bonnie mentions that Damon wouldn’t be doing “any of this” if Elena were still around, Caroline gets another idea. Someone get this woman another gift box!

Meanwhile, Cade takes Stefan, not surprisingly, back to Monterey. As he puts it, “If death is your canvas, this is your masterpiece.” (Not going to lie, that was pretty eloquent. Also, Cade’s teeth are BEAUTIFUL. Even I might serve him if it’d get me those teeth.)

Cade reminds Stefan of his Christmas murder back in 1917, but Stefan doesn’t believe him. Sure, he remembers Monterey, but even he wouldn’t commit such an act on Christmas. And yet, Cade informs him it was that day that Cade decided Stefan was his. Confused? We get more of the story when Bonnie and Enzo come across the house where Seline and Sybil have been staying.

After Seline calls Ric and tells him she needs to see the girls in order to remove the psychic imprint she left on them, she shows Bonnie and Enzo her list … of victims. It seems someone was inspired by a certain Salvatore.

Here’s where we get more of the story: Seline was in Monterey in 1917 and she watched as a remorseful Stefan returned to a cabin where he carved the names of his victims into a wall — much like he’d go on to do in the 1920s in Chicago. It seems Seline was there to collect Stefan for Cade. She tells Bonnie and Enzo that she had every intention of eating his flesh — there’s a sentence you don’t get to write every day — but when she looked into his mind, she didn’t see evil. “I only saw anguish,” she tells them.

Even as Stefan begged her to kill him, she saw someone who was innocent, someone who had to become a monster in order to survive. So instead of killing Stefan, she altered his subconscious, which is why he doesn’t remember his Christmas massacre. And the moment someone was capable of turning Cade’s best servant into a mush of morals? Well, Cade’s interest was piqued. From that moment on, he’s wanted Ripper Stefan to serve him. But Stefan’s not willing to make that deal. Not yet, at least.

NEXT: The return of Elena’s necklace

Back at the house, Matt and Peter show up just in time for gifts — though we don’t see what Caroline hands out — and a little game: Damon is prepared to give one person an all-expenses-paid trip straight to hell. (So sweet!) First, he just has to figure out who wins the title of “most evil person in the room.”

So as Caroline serves dinner, Damon and Sybil grill Peter. Sure, he gambled and cheated on his taxes, but Damon wants to know what kept him away from his family for 20 years. And sadly for Matt, Damon eventually gets an answer. (That tends to happen when you hold a knife to someone’s throat.) Peter admits that when Kelly got pregnant with Vicki, he left because he was ashamed. He couldn’t be another “toiler-scrubber in this town.” So basically, he left because he wanted to.

Peter might win the game, but before Sybil can pry whatever it is she wants from his mind, Bonnie and Enzo show up with the tuning fork, which also hurts Bonnie for some reason. But that doesn’t matter for now. All that matters is Damon grabs Sybil and runs. And yet, they don’t get far before Damon gives Sybil her present (which just so happens to be the present Caroline gave him). Spoiler: It’s Elena’s necklace (formerly Katherine’s and Rebekah’s and originally belonging to Esther Mikaelson).

Damon, flashing back to Elena’s birthday party in the season 3 premiere — better known as the moment Elena realized she loved Damon — has a moment of clarity. Just as he sees the necklace hanging around Sybil’s neck, he rips her heart out, grabs the necklace, and walks away. Even without his humanity, he won’t do wrong by that necklace (read: Elena).

Now, back to Stefan’s field trip, which also features an Elena memory. The final stop on Cade’s tour of the worst things Stefan’s done lands Stefan back at Mystic Falls High School, in the very hallway where he first bumped into Elena all those years ago. But how can this be a place of evil? As Stefan tells Cade, this was a good chapter in his life. He loved Elena.

But that’s the problem. Cade claims Elena already had enough tragedy in her life, but Stefan just had to insert himself. Using his own words against him — has he been reading Stefan’s journals? — Cade tells him “you had to know her.” Cade claims Stefan took a girl who was headed down the right path and veered her right into the median. See, the only way to protect Elena was to never meet her. Instead, Stefan turned her into something dark. (This is where you could argue many things, from the fact that she met Damon first to Elena choosing this life in season 1 to the fact she was a doppelganger and therefore her fate was pretty much sealed, but none of that is the point.) Cade’s point is that he wants Stefan to do that again … to someone new.

He wants Stefan to find people who would get into the pearly gates by an inch and make them into folks who would miss it by a mile, like Elena. (Sorry, Elena.) Apparently, good people who can be made wicked are evil at their core. Furthermore, their souls are unusually potent. They’re the one Cade wants to feed on most of all. (So really, it comes down to taste. Figures.)

With the Stefan Misery Tour over, it’s time to talk business. If Stefan refuses, Cade threatens that he’ll suddenly become patient enough to wait for Caroline’s girls to come of age. So instead, Stefan has an idea: What if he can get the job done faster by becoming a ripper? He will turn his humanity off in the name of being more effective, and when it’s over, Cade will let Damon and Stefan go. Both men agree to one year. If Ripper Stefan serves Cade for one year, he and Damon will be free … though, Cade has a hard time believing Ripper Stefan will want to leave after a year. (I guess we’ll see.)

As the hour winds down, Stefan gets his final moment with Caroline — a kiss under the mistletoe — before he tells her he’ll be done in a year. And while they live in the moment, Ric allows Seline to come erase his girls’ memory of her before Caroline has to say goodbye to her daughters.

Then there’s Bonnie, who’s realizing that the tuning fork affected her because all witchcraft is rooted in psychic energy (and therefore she, the sirens, and Cade are all connected). I’m going to put my money down now that Bonnie will be the key to defeating Cade and/or saving Stefan and Damon, and using her magic will kill her, thereby waking up Elena. Any takers?

But for now, she’s headed to Paris because, as Enzo tells her, “you are the gift I’ve always wanted.” Ugh, how cute are those two?!

The hour ends as Damon pulls up alongside Stefan and offers to give his brother a ride. Just as they exit Mystic Falls, Stefan flips his switch. (I did love that shot.) Now, the Salvatores are ready for Christmas.

Altogether, I really enjoyed this hour. No, it didn’t shock me in any sort of crazy way, but the dialogue was great, I loved the throwbacks, and as much as someone turning off their humanity has become a somewhat ordinary and meaningless activity on this show, I will admit I’m excited to see both Salvatores humanity-free at the same time. I’m not sure snarky Damon is going to know what to do with snarky Stefan. We shall find out in 2017!

Episode Grade: B+

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

Episode Recaps

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