Season 3 starts off with a bang, a body count, and a lot of bulging biceps 

The Vampire Diaries
Credit: Bob Mahoney/The CW

It’s summer in Mystic Falls, which means V-neck T-shirts instead of Henleys to show off the boys’ biceps, and short, sexy dresses that can be easily lifted over the girls’ heads. God, it’s good to be back.

Roughly two months have passed since Stefan left town with Klaus for their awesome ripper road show. We caught up with them in Tennessee when Klaus used the ol’ my-car-ran-outta-gas-and-my-cell-is-dead-and-I’m-not-a-serial-killer line to try to score himself an invitation into the house of a woman who’d come outside to find her dog. I guess the hybrid runs cold, because even though she was complaining about it being hot, he was wearing a V-neck sweater. Maybe long sleeves on hot days is a form of TVD hazing. The girl wasn’t as stupid as we originally thought, and she told Klaus he wasn’t coming inside, she’d bring the phone out to him. He compelled her to show him some Southern hospitality, and in he went.

He told Woman No. 2 that he was looking for Ray Sutton (played by guest star David Gallagher), who he suspects comes home once a month BECAUSE HE’S A WEREWOLF. Woman No. 2 ran to the front door — good friend — and I wondered why Klaus didn’t pop up to stop her. That’s because when she opened the door, Stefan was standing there looking hot in a black V-neck T-shirt (or, as I wrote in my notes, “HOTTTT”). Compelled Girl invited Stefan inside, and even though Woman No. 2 told them Ray was hanging out at a bar called Southern Comfort, Klaus still told Stefan to kill Compelled Girl quickly and to make the other one suffer. We saw Stefan take a bite, and I got distracted by how much darker TVD blood is than True Blood blood. We heard screams as Klaus walked away from the house as if he was leaving an explosion in a Michael Bay movie.

Elena awoke, all clean-faced, and told Jeremy he was late for work at the Grill. I liked how Elena paused before opening up the blinds, like she had to make the decision to start another day without Stefan. For a moment, I thought that she and Jeremy had had a slumber party in her bed, but then I rewound and saw the different comforters. Just some fancy editing. Those were his blinds she opened. He’s the reason she’s getting up each day. Caroline phoned to tell Elena the 18th birthday party Elena didn’t want was happening and that her mother had another lead for Elena — the third “animal attack” in Tennessee in a week. I love that Sheriff Forbes is on board now even if she didn’t get any screen time. Alaric, we learned, has been sleeping on Elena and Jeremy’s couch for half the summer because he can’t bring himself to sleep in Elena’s dead parents’ room or his dead girlfriend’s room. And Damon, well, he’s still into taking bubble baths with Andie, who has enough free will to tell him to go fetch his own champagne.

Ian Somerhalder told us he was naked on set for like two days to film those opening scenes, and I really don’t think it should have taken that long. But I guess Damon did spend some time standing still after rising from the tub so Andie could appreciate the view in the mirror, and, perhaps, it did take some time to line up those shots so that the candles in the bedroom and the glasses in the study would always cover his man bits. “Mornin’,” he said to Elena downstairs. I don’t think they used the take when Somerhalder replaced his modesty pouch with elephants ears taped to his thighs. Elena was surprised but not that surprised. “You should learn to knock… What if I was indecent?” he said, his eyebrows officially waving to welcome us to season 3. Elena threw him a towel, and we found out how things have been working: Once Elena gets a lead, she passes it to Damon, who gets an address from Andie and checks it out without her because they don’t want to risk Klaus finding out she’s still alive. I assume that’s because Klaus is vindictive, but also because her blood could, perhaps, be used to put the curse back on him?

NEXT: Outdoor dining at the Grill and a girl nicknamed Slutty Sophie — equally exciting!

Perhaps the freakiest image in this episode was Bonnie video-chatting with Jeremy on his cell phone at the Grill. It felt like magic, didn’t it? Like Minnie Driver’s character accidentally turning that guy into a book in Ella Enchanted. I have never felt more old watching this show. Anyway, Bonnie’s bored hanging out with her father’s side of the family, which is code for “We want you to be the last to know that Jeremy is seeing the ghosts of his dead exes, so you need to be out of town.” He’s got a summer job at the Grill and apparently does a lot of lifting because the boy has bulked up. The lights flashed, and Jeremy saw Vicki, then Anna. Why does he always see both of them and not just one of them? Matt came in and made Jeremy switch sections with him because he didn’t want to serve Caroline and Tyler. Have we seen outdoor seating at the Grill since Stefan and Elena’s conversation in season 1? It’s not a new eatery, but it almost feels like it! It turns out that Matt’s not the only one who thinks Caroline and Tyler are dating. So does Tyler’s mother. “That’s crazy.” “Right?” [Jeremy’s knowing smile.]

Even if producers hadn’t already said that things don’t end well for Ray, you’d have guessed it with the lyric “I’m a dead man walking here” playing as he walked into the bar. Klaus appeared, now in a Henley, and revealed what I’m guessing is only step 1 of his master plan: He wants to create more hybrids, so he needs Ray, the first werewolf he’d come across “in many moons, pun intended,” to tell him where to find his pack. Ray said he wouldn’t talk and couldn’t be compelled, so Stefan told him they’d play a new drinking game called Truth or Wolfsbane. Stefan had compelled the rest of the bar patrons, so no one minded that Stefan threw Wolfsbane-tipped darts at Ray, who’d been chained to the dartboard. The one in his forehead was a nice touch. I assume Stefan also compelled the bouncer not to let any new patrons in so he didn’t have to keep interrupting himself.

Damon, meanwhile, took Alaric, who was too depressed to wear a V-neck, to check out that lead Elena got. Think of all the bromance time we missed in those two months… Damon hasn’t been telling Elena the extent to which he’s been tracking Klaus and Stefan’s body count because this bloody crime scene confirmed that it’s Stefan who’s been doing the killing. Alaric and Damon found Compelled Girl and Woman No. 2 sitting on the couch. It’s his signature, Damon said, the reason they call him The Ripper: Stefan feeds so hard he blacks out and rips his victims apart, but when he’s done, he feels remorse and puts the bodies back together. Cue Damon tapping Compelled Girl’s leg and her head rolling off her body and onto the floor. AWESOME. Stefan is already three times as interesting to me. After they discovered the home was built to accommodate a werewolf, they torched the place.

Back at Salvatore Mansion, Elena, Tyler, and Caroline prepped for the party. Elena said she felt like she had to fight Damon every time she got a lead on Stefan, and Tyler suggested Damon didn’t want to find his brother after Elena kissed him. It seems Caroline has been telling Tyler everything. Swoon. It came out that Tyler was bringing a date to the party — a girl Caroline referred to as Slutty Sophie. (Please, let that be the character name listed on the actress’ IMDB page.) Tyler said it’s been kinda slow in the lady department and, well, “I’m horny all the time now,” he admitted. “Yeah, tell me about it. Sometimes I feel like I’m gonna explode,” Caroline said. It’s a vampire thing, she said. Emotions are heightened and on overdrive. “It’s a werewolf thing, too,” he said. He can’t turn it off. The way he looked at her… instant rewind. “Well, I hope you get lucky tonight,” Caroline said to cut the tension. That scene was so good, you almost wish that tension would have lasted longer than an episode. Almost…

NEXT: “Not cool, brother.” “You’re just saying that because the promo blew it.”

Over at Southern Comfort, where Stefan was taking aim at Ray, Klaus got word that Damon was still on their trail. Stefan convinced Klaus to let him Damon. Elena’s party had started by this time, and it was filled with people we’ve never seen before holding red cups. After Damon returned Elena’s necklace (Alaric had found it in his apartment), Damon went on booze patrol (“You don’t want that. You want the cheap young stuff over by the cheap young people”), and Elena and Caroline stumbled upon Jeremy and Matt in the stoner den. This was where I decided that if there was a Teen Men’s Health magazine, Steven R. McQueen should be on its cover. The TVD costume department finds T-shirts with sleeves that fall at just the right spot. Jeremy told Matt he was smoking pot again because he needed to relax. Ever since he came back from the dead, he’s been seeing “things” — he didn’t mention that one of them was Matt’s dead sister, Vicki. Elena presumably told Jeremy to put out the joint and just join her in underage drinking. “Is his stash any good?” Damon asked when Elena told him and Alaric that Jeremy was smoking again. Elena told Alaric that Jeremy would look up to him, but Alaric was right: “I am every parent’s worst nightmare. I am the chaperone teacher from hell.”

Now things were about to get really interesting. Andie had done the 10 p.m. news (guess she’s on a CW affiliate), and was the last one at the station. The minute I saw that set I realized it was her falling to her death in the promo. I wish the CW hadn’t blown that. It’s kinda like CBS showing Will and Alicia in the elevator in the promo for last season’s Good Wife finale. Both scenes were still amazing, but they could have been even more jaw-dropping. Andie found herself with a spotlight in her eyes. When Stefan’s silhouette finally appeared in front of it, it would have been great if instead of running, Andie had just been like, “Oh, Stefan! I can tell it’s you by the outline of your hair.” But instead, she ran and tripped on some wires, which seemed slightly beneath her. She stood up, and Stefan was in front of her. She was relieved it was him. She told him they’d been looking for him. He just gave her that steely glare Paul Wesley has already perfected and vamped out.

Back at the party, Caroline was drinking straight out of the bottle and watching Tyler do some dirty dancing with Slutty Sophie. Tyler saw Caroline look upset after talking to Matt and came over to check on her. “Great party, Caroline,” Slutty Sophie said. “Thanks. Now leave it,” Caroline said, compelling her. That’s classic season 1 Caroline. Loved it. I’d like to think Tyler took Slutty (for short) home, and that’s why we had time for Caroline and Elena to argue about how Elena needs to move on with her life. Elena was willing to blow out the candles and make a wish, but only if that wish was her confirming that Stefan was still alive. They were in Damon’s room and, for some reason, he’d left his Cop Closet open with all the work he’d done tracking Klaus and Stefan hanging there for anyone to see.

Damon had gotten a text from Andie that she wanted him to pick her up at the station. The fact that he would actually do that says he really did like her and enjoy her company, even if he compelled her. Damon showed up at the station and was, of course, greeted by Stefan, now wearing a crew neck. Stefan said he doesn’t need saving, he just needs Damon to leave him alone. Damon said Elena won’t let him. Stefan was prepared to make his message stick. “Hey Andie, you still there?” he asked. She was standing up on the rafters. She told Damon that Stefan told her she couldn’t move. “Not cool, brother,” Damon said. “Oh, come on. A little bit cool, no?” Stefan answered. He told Andie she could move now, and as she fell to her death, Stefan pinned Damon against the wall so he couldn’t save her. Damn, Stefan. Between that and Truth or Wolfsbane Darts, we have severely underestimated your creativity. Unleash the beast!

NEXT: Matt remains an oblivious human even when he’s in the know.

Bringing a little levity, we joined stoned Matt outside Elena’s party looking for his truck. Jeremy offered him a ride, and thank MADD, Jeremy decided they should walk home after Vicki appeared in the passenger’s seat of his car and said “Help me” and Anna, never far behind, appeared in the headlights. Seriously, why does he always see them both? Caroline had returned downstairs and moved her way through the crowd physically picking up one guy and lifting him out of her way. Tyler is a smart guy, so I’m glad he understood why she was upset. If she didn’t want him dating (other people), all she had to do was say something. She shot him down once, so he wasn’t going to let himself fall for her again unless she made it crystal clear — she interrupted him with a kiss. Yes, that should do it. “Let’s get out here,” he said. “Uh-huh,” she answered. What was your rewind tally? (Imagine small shame type: I did three times.)

Damon returned home — like us, he missed the cake — and Elena confronted him about why he hadn’t told her he’d been tracking Klaus’ victims. He finally told her it’s because they’re not Klaus’ victims, they’re Stefan’s. Stefan’s flipped the switch. He’s a full-blown ripper, and he’s gone and not coming back — “not in your lifetime,” Damon said. You could see he regretted having to say it, but I think he was grieving too much on his own to comfort her.

Back for more comic relief, Matt was at Jeremy’s house with some serious munchies. He decided to leave and take the ice cream with him, but he sobered up enough to ask Jeremy what he’d meant when he said he was seeing things and then spoke Vicki’s name in the car. Jeremy told Matt he’d been seeing Vicki, and Matt didn’t believe him. There’s a nice twist! Matt just assumed it was like him thinking he sees Vicki all the time because he wants to see her. So Matt accepts the existence of vampires and werewolves but not ghosts? I assume Vicki’s “Help me” referred to her wanting closure with Matt, so Jeremy will have to get Matt to believe somehow. Or is that too simple? Probably. Perhaps Vicki wants Jeremy to help her get revenge on Damon? Or get Bonnie to bring her back to life? (Okay, maybe that’s beyond Bonnie’s power.) Is Anna always there because she wants to stop Vicki?

With Stefan’s message delivered, he returned to Southern Comfort to find a very uncomfortable Ray laying on the pool table. He’d told Klaus where to find his pack, but Klaus wasn’t through with him. He made Ray drink his blood, then broke his neck. So is that it? Ray’s the second hybrid? Stefan is there to help Klaus corral the werewolves, then Klaus will turn them? I worry that Klaus also does, ultimately, want to make Stefan kill Damon. You never stop caring about family, but every time you feed, he told Stefan, the blood makes it easier to let go. Stefan licked his lips and smiled. It’s true.

Elena went home and found Alaric packing his bags in the living room. He decided he’s not a role model, and now that Elena is 18, she can handle things better without him, by herself. The girl has lost her parents, her biological parents, and her aunt — maybe you could have given her a choice, Alaric. I lost a bit of respect for him then. But fingers crossed he crashes at Salvatore Mansion with Damon!

NEXT: Sex!

Over at Lockwood Mansion, Caroline and Tyler made out in the hallway leading to his bedroom. In superspeed, she threw him back onto the bed, and he flipped her over. This is why I love this show: They know when to spend money on special effects. You felt how hungry they were for each other (and how much Stefan has been missing being with Elena — I said it!). Rewind tally this time? I’d rather not say.

Speaking of tossing things, Damon did a number on Stefan’s room. Then we cut to Stefan, who walked out of the bar looking terrified, lost, and numb all at once. He called Elena’s cell (caller unknown), and when she finally answered (it would have so cliché if she hadn’t), he said nothing. “Stefan? Stefan, if this is you, you’ll be okay,” she said. And both Stefan and I fought back tears. “You’ll be okay” is exactly what he needed to hear, what we all need to hear when we can’t speak because articulating the heartbreak we’re feeling will make us sob (or when we’re afraid a hybrid will hear us). “I love you, Stefan,” she said. “Hold on to that. Never let that go.” It’s moments like that one that make two seasons of Stefan being Mr. So Right He Could Be Boring worth it. Paul Wesley made you believe that that Stefan is still inside him, so you felt the pain of him having to bury that part of himself again and again for Klaus. And because of that, we’ll buy it when Stefan has to truly flip the switch and become a guilt-free ripper to live with himself.

The last scene was Caroline slinking away after sleeping with Tyler and being caught on her walk of shame by Mrs. Lockwood. Caroline reached for her purse, which Mrs. Lockwood had apparently sprayed with vervain. Caroline screamed, and Mrs. Lockwood shot her in the back with three vervain darts. I’m torn: I kinda like that Mama Lockwood is smart and packin’, and yet, I kinda want Damon to rip her throat out. What’s she going to do with Caroline? Will it be as simple as sitting her and her mother down for a talk with Tyler and telling the kids not to see each other because they could kill one another? Too simple. Will she torture Caroline to find out about other vampires? Will we get to see Sheriff Forbes locked and loaded again? (Hopefully she’s gotten over shooting Jeremy.) Regardless, I appreciate that producers found a way to give us what we want — hot werewolf-vampire sex — and then take it away immediately so the hunger can build again. It’s not quite as classic as Buffy‘s supernatural dramatization of a girl sleeping with a boy and him no longer being nice to her after getting some. But it’s a fun take on getting busted by a protective mother who probably doesn’t think anyone is good enough for her son, and, should they give the mothers some meaty scenes, a badass Romeo and Juliet.

Your turn. What did you think of the season premiere? Is Ripper Stefan everything you hoped for? Did you tear up? And for real, how many times did Caroline and Tyler get you to rewind?

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The Vampire Diaries

Ian Somerhalder, Nina Dobrev, and Paul Wesley star in the CW’s romance-infused vampire soap opera.

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