Stefan mastered self-control, while Damon played and got played
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Credit: Quantrell D.Colbert/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 love it when you can feel the big battle is on the horizon. By the end of this episode, you definitely sensed we’d entered the season’s final chapter (as well as that Damon maybe got a new haircut?). Team Salvatore! Let’s dig in…

So we began with Meredith giving Alaric an MRI to check if his homicidal tendencies were caused by something she could treat medically. Do all MRI machines have mirrors on the inside, or just this one so that Alaric could freak out when his reflection froze with him looking cocky and evil? Meredith told Elena she began suspecting Alaric was the killer of Council members when she remembered a story her grandmother had passed on to her about crazy Samantha Gilbert and her journal. Meredith said she protected Alaric because as a doctor, she hates to see anyone hurt by something he or she can’t control — and because Alaric is like a lost puppy that you want to save. (I’m paraphrasing.)

Physically, Alaric is fine, so he assumed it was the ring causing him to go crazy and he gave it back to Elena. Perhaps Damon hanging with Alaric, feeding him chicken soup and martinis, and making sure he didn’t kill anyone would have been a good plan. I mean, you might want someone stronger than him around to watch him. But no. All the vamps were preoccupied: Caroline was still at Abby’s house, with a cooler of refreshments (including her personal favorite, B+), and helping Abby through her transition. Actually, we didn’t actually see Caroline spend much time with Abby, who now has a day ring of her own. Instead, we saw Caroline with Bonnie after Abby stormed off because she could no longer feel her garden. Witches have a connection to the earth. They can feel life and make dead plants bloom. But now Abby’s lost it. (Did you notice Bonnie calls her mother “Abby” not “mom” when talking about her?) Caroline also had to lecture Jamie, who’d been steering clear of the house and Abby because he’s afraid of her, on what it means to be there for someone when something has been forced upon her. Abby didn’t choose to be a vampire, Caroline said, but she chose to continue living so she could be there for him and Bonnie.

Damon, meanwhile, was out ditching Alaric and Meredith at some Wickery Bridge event because Rebekah was there and he wanted to know why — also because Sage made her grand entrance to modern Mystic Falls. She told Damon she’d heard Finn was out of his coffin, and she came to find her one true love. The moment Sage referred to Rebekah as “that elitist Original bitch,” I typed “Welcome to the plan, Sage!” in my notes. Sage told Damon that Finn had turned her so they could be together forever, then Klaus daggered him, and she’s been waiting 900 years for him. She offered to help Damon figure out what Rebekah wanted from him by getting inside her head. Rebekah’s a girl, Sage said: If Damon finds her weakness and exploits it, Sage could walk right in. Damon worked his bad boy charm and invited Rebekah, who gets turned on hearing about how mean she is, over to party with him and Sage at his place.

Stefan was already at home doing more research into Samantha Gilbert. When Elena walked in on him preparing to pour himself a glass of blood, he told her that Samantha had been committed to an asylum and tried to give herself a lobotomy with a knitting needle. She bled to death on the floor of her cell. If the same thing is happening to Alaric, he said, then there’s nothing she can do for him. That could have been worded better, Stefan.

That left Meredith and Alaric alone. He found her police reports on him, and we got an explanation about his violent past: One guy had broken a beer bottle over a bartender’s head, another had hit his girlfriend, and a third was just a douche. Alaric had channeled his dark side into becoming a vampire hunter. He told Meredith he’d slayed her cousin Logan, and Meredith said she uses vampire blood and she doesn’t judge them. That felt a bit weird to me at the time. Clearly Alaric wanted her to say he did what he had to do. But she needed to say she was Switzerland so Alaric’s alter ego would consider her soft on vamps…

NEXT: Damon is in a towel for, like, half the episode

When Damon arrived home, he caught Stefan binging on blood bag after blood bag from the freezer. Stefan was annoyed that Damon was feeding Elena a line about how Stefan couldn’t nor shouldn’t ignore his need for human blood. He was stress eating. Ha. Damon’s pearls of wisdom: Stefan must learn moderation, whether he’s drinking a blonde or a blood bag, and Stefan best leave if he didn’t want to get caught in a “Sage-Rebekah sex sandwich.” That’s one way to make him lose his appetite!

Sage and Damon waited for Rebekah, whose craving for affection and pathological fear of being left alone they’d successfully baited. Rebekah had the line of the night when she showed up with a bottle in hand: “I stole it from Nik, who stole it from a queen. I’m not sure which one.” What next? A dance scene, naturally. Rebekah got jealous watching Damon and Sage and started to feed on the poor piano player. Damon played Rebekah beautifully, joining her for a “duet,” shoving the drained man’s body out of his way to move closer, and focusing all his attention on her. What about Sage? “I don’t want her. I want you,” Damon said. The makeout session eventually moved upstairs. The next time we saw them, Damon and Rebekah were naked in bed.

Staying with them, the sex must have been good, because Rebekah was fast asleep when Sage snuck into the room and read her mind — that’s a fairly rare trick on this show. Sage headed to Damon’s shower, we thought so she could tell him what she’d uncovered without Rebekah overhearing her. But no, Sage wanted to show Damon what she’d seen in Rebekah’s mind — which she did while kissing him. Damon saw Rebekah’s conversations with Klaus and the mayor about the old white oak tree and the Salvatore Milling Company. Damon could’ve put on pants, but thank god, he opted for a towel, which he stayed in for a really, really long time. He was looking for the milling company’s 1912 ledger in the business archives we never knew the brothers’ mansion housed. When he found it, he saw that the tree had been used for the Wickery Bridge.

My first thought was, okay, he should burn that ledger so Rebekah can never find it. And when we came back to him, he was still in his towel, now sitting in front of the fire doing just that. Sage had come back downstairs after being told to distract Rebekah, and though you may have wondered if Sage had tired Rebekah out again before Rebekah left, it would later become clear they’d spent their time talking. Hearing that Damon knew where the wood was that could kill the Originals, Sage threatened to rip Damon’s head off if he went after Finn. Damon offered her a deal: If she helped him kill Rebekah, he’d let her and Finn ride off into the sunset. We knew Damon was full of crap. So did Sage, it turns out. When Damon finally went upstairs to dress so they could go chop some wood, Sage bolted. Damon rushed to the bridge and found Rebekah and Sage having a bonfire. Sage had gotten busy with Damon in the shower to bring down his defenses — sex in that shower is his weakness, I guess — and she saw in his mind that the Originals were bound. Kill Rebekah, you kill Finn. She told Rebekah Damon’s plan to save Finn. Sage being older than Damon, he couldn’t kill her. But he did at least wound her with the truth about Finn’s current death wish. Finn didn’t love her. Damon said when he finds another way to kill the Originals, he’s going to start with Finn. I totally bought his rage…

NEXT: The truth about Alaric

Meanwhile, Jamie had had a change of heart. He came inside Abby’s house to build a fire and remind us that he and Bonnie aren’t related so it’s okay if they flirt. Abby hugged him and, of course, bit him. Bonnie separated them, and Abby felt horrible. Abby wanted to leave them before she hurt Jamie again or Bonnie. Bonnie told Abby not to give up on her again. They can make it work with blood bags. Caroline said she healed Jamie with her blood, and, since she’d talked to Elena and knew about Alaric’s condition, she told Bonnie she needed a favor from her now.

Alaric was losing faith that he could be saved. He even tried to give Elena all his bank account, will, and next of kin information so she and Jeremy would be taken care of. How sad is it when your life fits on one sheet of paper? But Abby believed Bonnie could use magic to reverse the damage to his psyche. Apparently this sort of thing happens to witches who become obsessed with dark magic — they start acting out their darkest impulses. Caroline would stay with Abby, and Bonnie would return home to perform the spell. Bonnie told Elena she needed something of Alaric’s that he wore before he started wearing his ring. Alaric suggested his wedding ring, which was in his apartment. Elena went to get the ring while Alaric stayed with Meredith and her tranquilizers.

Stefan was waiting for Elena at Alaric’s place, having heard from Alaric that she was headed there. He told Elena he wasn’t trying to hurt her by keeping his distance — he just can’t be who she wants him to be now because he’s not in control. So what was he doing there at Alaric’s? He’d done more research into Samantha and found some old newspaper clippings: she killed two people while institutionalized — a nurse and a guard. She’d been on suicide watch, which meant she had no personal effects with her, including her ring. The moral of the story: Violent behavior can still happen even if you’re not wearing the ring. Stefan and Elena continued snooping through Alaric’s desk looking for his wedding ring, and Stefan tried to tell Elena that not everyone can be saved. Elena made it clear that she’ll do whatever it takes to save Alaric because she wasn’t planning on giving up on him or Stefan. They found pictures of Alaric’s victims and a package for Jeremy. It contained a note that told him to continue Alaric’s work by letting the ring make him strong and cleansing the Council. The note was attached to a hit list. Elena found the wedding ring, and they left. She knew Meredith was in danger. Really? You think?

Alaric awoke from a nap and emptied out Meredith’s syringes. He joined her in the kitchen — the most lethal room in the Gilbert house — where she was trying to find mugs for the coffee she’d just made. Alaric asked her if she ever felt remorse. She should, he said, and stabbed her in the gut. Psycho Alaric is attacking Council members who look the other way and ignore their responsibilities — that’s why he’d murdered the medical examiner who covered up the vampire attacks and tried to kill Caroline’s father, who’d come to accept her. It doesn’t quite explain why he’d think killing himself was a better idea than letting himself live so he could kill other Council members, but okay…

NEXT: Game’s back on, brother (no, not you, Jeremy)

Alaric chased Meredith — who uses vampire blood and doesn’t judge them — upstairs. Matt Davis was genuinely chilling. Meredith locked herself into the bathroom, which taught me a valuable lesson: Never buy a house with multiple doors leading into the bathroom. That’s too many doors to shut when you’re being attacked. When Stefan and Elena arrived, Stefan sensed something was off and went into the kitchen and saw the broken mugs. Elena guessed something was off when Alaric came downstairs wrapping his wounded hand (which Meredith had managed to stab upstairs). Elena played it smart — she told Alaric that Stefan hadn’t caught up to her when he asked. Alaric saw the knife he’d used on Meredith on the floor — SERIOUSLY, IT’S TIME FOR PLASTIC KNIVES, ELENA — and right before he went for it, Stefan put a chokehold on him until he passed out.

Stefan smelled Meredith’s blood and told Elena to come upstairs with him — he was going to need her help. Stefan broke down the bathroom door, and Meredith was sitting on the floor, surrounded by blood that made Stefan vamp out. But then he fought it. He bit his wrist and fed Meredith his blood. Go, Stefan! He left, presumably to tie Alaric’s ass up until Bonnie arrived. Next we saw Alaric, he woke up in bed with a smiling Damon sitting in a chair next to him. It’s about time, Damon! He told Alaric that Bonnie had performed a spell to keep the killer in him at bay, that he’d be going on light house arrest at his apartment, and that Meredith would be fine. Bonnie told Elena that Abby said all the dying had chipped away at Alaric’s psyche and made it easier for the darkness to take hold. He’ll need to take the herbs that bind the spell twice a day. Bonnie looked happy when she told Elena that she and Abby were going to work on the garden. Elena told Bonnie she’d have done anything to make things turn out differently, and Bonnie said she knew that and she forgives her. Happy Bonnie?! NEVER!!! We cut back to Caroline and Jamie working on the garden. Leave it to the witch, kids. Jamie thanked Caroline for helping with Abby and told her that Bonnie was lucky to have a friend like her. Caroline said she went through a tough time with her dad and she didn’t get a happy ending. She wants one for Bonnie. Wah wahhhh…

Caroline heard Abby stirring and went inside the house to find her writing a goodbye note. Abby said she had to leave, she couldn’t do this. What, be a vampire or be a parent? You go, Caroline. I know turning into a vampire heightens whatever character traits you had as a human, but man, it sucks that Abby’s need to run is what got strengthened. She thinks Bonnie and Jamie will be better off without her. Caroline told Abby that Bonnie wants to make this work and begged her to stay. She had an eternity to make things right with the daughter she’d already abandoned once. “Tell them I’m sorry,” Abby said and walked out. WHAT A COWARD. And P.S. Is she not worried she’ll go on a killing spree if she hasn’t mastered self-control? WTF? I pretty much don’t care if we ever see Abby again. Don’t try to make me like her.

With her house finally quiet, Elena called Jeremy to check in on him. About time. Jeremy is doing well — not flunking any classes and hey, he got a dog. They miss each other, etc. Bye, Jeremy!

Back at Salvatore Mansion, Stefan was toasting to his newfound self-control with a glass of bourbon when Damon came home. We found out why the mayor had asked Alaric about the restored Wickery Bridge sign at the beginning of the episode — because Damon was going to unveil it as his secret weapon in this scene. It’s made of the same wood as the bridge. Sage and Rebekah think all the wood burned. “I sold my rage. Whew. You should have seen me,” Damon told Stefan. “We have a weapon,” Stefan said. “Game’s back on, brother,” Damon said. “Let’s go kill some Originals.” I just got chills typing that. Team Salvatore!

Your turn. What do you think will happen next week, besides Rebekah torturing Damon? Why is everyone forgetting that daggering an Original didn’t incapacitate Klaus last time? Do things just take longer to work on him because he’s a hybrid, or is the bond too weak to take him out if the other siblings bite it? Where does Alaric go from here? Shouldn’t Jeremy start an herb regime, just to be safe?

For more on this episode, check out our live blog with special cohost Julie Plec.

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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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