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September 30, 2011 at 07:07 AM EDT

Shortly before the second season of The Vampire Diaries premiered, critics, bloggers and fans alike began to wonder whether it was headed for the all-too-common sophomore slump. At the time, I was confident that the show would manage to keep its momentum. And it did. Getting better and better with each passing episode. Yet, all that being said, as we headed toward season 3, even I began to wonder whether it could to sustain itself. After all, how can a show that sets the bar so high from the outset continue to not only satisfy expectations, but raise them?

The answer, it seems, is with a set of writers who care enough about the story (and the fans) to put together an episode like tonight’s, complete with a flashback to the flapper era that could not have been easy to pull off. From beautiful costumes to deep storytelling, for me, this episode worked on multiple levels. So let’s breakdown what made it so fantastic.

You know you’re in for a great ride when the first twist of the night happens approximately five seconds into the episode. Welcome back, Katherine, oh how you’ve been missed. Kat kicks things off right with a phone call to Damon to tip him off about Stefan’s whereabouts (Chicago in case you’re wondering). Turns out our vixen has been keeping tabs on Klaus all along. Though she claims she only did it so she could avoid his path, Damon suspects that it’s actually because she cares about Stefan — a theory I totally agree with. Armed with the new info, Damon heads straight to Elena’s house…correction, bed. Yes, that’s right, Damon, being the troublemaker that he is, decides to give Elena a wake-up call by snuggling up next to her. Maybe it’s just me, but she seemed mighty comfortable lying next to him. Okay fine, so she wasn’t even conscious but I like to read into things. Anyway, once she wakes up/flips out/gets over Damon being in her bed, she packs a bag and joins him on a road trip to the Windy City. What is this, their third one so far?

On the way, Damon (who really shouldn’t have a license) tries to get her to read old entries from Stefan’s diary to prepare herself for their journey into his past. But Elena refuses, citing invasion of privacy…because you know, when your boyfriend is on the brink of madness thanks to a power-hungry hybrid, what really matters is invasion of privacy. Sure. Okay.

Speaking of said boyfriend, he’s taking a little trip of his own. Except unlike Elena and Damon’s roadside adventures, Stefan is joining Klaus for a walk down memory lane. Klaus, it seems, wants to remind him of a time when all that mattered was partying, drinking, and binging on blood. Cue the flashbacks, narrated by Klaus (who is apparently a very good storyteller).

NEXT: It’s time for the roaring ’20s…

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