Kai causes serious problems, and Caroline deals with an evil that there's no plan to defeat.

Credit: Bob Mahoney/The CW

There’s something sweet about our favorite vampires getting to go home for the holidays, but this is not a feel-good episode. In the end, Bonnie burns her tree; Matt becomes Enzo’s reluctant partner; Kai is more powerful than ever, ready to merge with Jo, and just kidnapped Elena; and oh right, Liz Forbes has cancer. Because I’m sure a commenter will say it: Yes, this has shades of Buffy—a mother dying of natural causes is one thing neither a vampire nor a vampire hunter can fix. But it seems Liz’s illness might be more drawn out. Already, it’s served to bring Stefan and Caroline closer. He’s going to be there for her this time. Here we go.

We open with Jo phoning Alaric to tell him she’s going to be two hours late to dinner, so he should save her some. A young woman comes in with a massive wound to her abdomen. Surprise, Kai stabbed her. (Why is his face all bloody? Not that I’m a splatter expert, but…)

Bonnie is still stuck in 1994. She’s remembering holiday cheer of years past while dragging a tree to the high school parking lot because in her mind, it’s time to decorate the town tree. Caroline assumes she and her mom are canceling Christmas this year since Caroline can’t return to her home in Mystic Falls, but of course, Liz just brings the decorations to Caroline. And Stefan as well, who’s on light duty. “The little ones obviously,” as Caroline says.

Elena’s praise of Damon for helping her look through Alaric’s reference books for the Ascendant is interrupted when Alaric calls to ask her if she’s seen Jo. No one’s seen her since the previous night when she and one of the stabbing victims went missing. Oh, so Kai was posing as a victim them? Got it. Damon’s plan is simple: They’ll find Kai and kill him. Cut to Tyler telling Liv and Luke they need to help keep Kai alive so he can merge with Jo. Luke can see the bigger picture: If Kai becomes their leader, he’s still a problem. Damon calls Matt and asks him to keep an eye out for Kai, “think sociopathic Ryan Reynolds,” but he and Jeremy (a.k.a. Beavis and Butthead) are more concerned about killing Enzo. Did Damon just spend his long days in 1994 brushing up on pop culture? Love it.

Damon doesn’t seem worried about Kai searching for the knife Jo hid her magic in. He’s hidden it after all… and it’s gone. Looks like Liv and Luke did that locator spell for him after all. Their lives are on the line, sure. But does Jo get no loyalty from them for saving their lives 18 years ago?

Bonnie continues to try to make the most of her one-woman tree decorating while we see another flashback to the girls’ freshman year in high school. It’s right around the time Caroline’s father was getting ready to divorce his mother because he’s gay and Bonnie’s father was about to move away. (Pause as I realize I’ve never used popcorn garland. How long does it keep?)

Stefan tries to make amends with Caroline by helping her hang lights, but anyone can be friends when what you share is a task that easy. She wants Stefan to leave, but he returns when Sheriff Forbes passes out. So she’s going to die so Stefan can be there for Caroline through something difficult?

While Kai tries to stab Jo’s magic back into her, it doesn’t work. She put her magic in it by choice, it has to be her choice to take it out. Luke can’t watch, so he leaves. Liv stays and Kai threatens to slit her throat if she can’t figure out how to force it back into Jo before he gets back from finding a bandage so Jo doesn’t bleed out. You have a large knife, Kai. Maybe cut off the bottom of someone’s shirt and make it a tourniquet?

Elena joins Caroline at the hospital to wait for word on sedated Liz’s condition. If nothing else, Stefan abandoning her after Damon and Bonnie went missing gives her a new appreciation for Damon, who sticks with Elena through thick and thin. “You’re clearly malnourished,” Elena jokes. How long does it take Stefan to find a blood bag in a hospital anyway?

Damon figures out that Tyler and the twins helped Kai locate the knife. He phones Tyler, who insists he’s just trying to keep his girlfriend alive. Damon spots Luke at the dorm and reiterates Luke’s worst fear about what happens if Kai becomes the coven’s leader.

NEXT: Matt is badass… for a second

Enzo shows up to meet Matt, who claims he’s offering him a folder of information that Monique told him about Stefan’s real niece, Sarah, to get him away from Mystic Falls. The file is filled with blank pages, which Enzo realizes right before Jeremy fires a stake at him. Enzo catches it. Matt stakes him from behind in the neck? Why not aim lower, Matt? He turns to strangle Matt and Jeremy fires a stake into his back. Matt manages to kick him to the ground and looks pretty hot while doing so.

At the hospital, Stefan admits that after Tripp’s guys grabbed Liz, they brought her in for tests and they found something suspicious. Elena compels the doctor to tell her what’s happening: the MRI had shown a lesion on her brain stem that they think may have metastasized to her spine. If that’s the case, it’s terminal. And Liz hasn’t told Caroline any of this.

Jeremy wants to stake Enzo in the heart, but Matt wants to make him suffer. Jeremy, for once, is the less annoying of the two! He warns Matt that an us versus them mentality will drive him crazy and get him killed, but he still helps Matt move Enzo. Jo, meanwhile, assumes Liv wants to help free her, but Liv won’t. She wants Jo to stop running. You think it’s just because she doesn’t want to die or live with knowing she killed Luke, but then Liv surprises us: It’s also because she thinks Jo is strong enough to defeat Kai. After all, look how far she’s come without magic. Anyone else confused about how Jo wouldn’t be stronger than Kai considering he has no magic of his own? So it’s really just a fight for hers? Kai returns and steals some of Liv’s magic to torture her. Finally, Jo takes her magic back to save her sister once again.

Damon and Alaric arrive at the cemetery, not talking even after Damon apologizes for compelling him to steal from Jo. Damon makes a move on Kai, who then stupidly stands cockily on the no-magic side of the border. Alaric is there with a large handgun ready to blow his head off apparently, but Jo stops him. If Kai dies, Luke and Liv have to merge. But if Jo defeats Kai, they don’t. Damon begs Alaric to just shoot Kai, but he has faith in Jo and just knocks him out. You’re a good boyfriend, Alaric.

After Luke and Liv argue about whether Jo can really defeat Kai and what Luke sees as happening when she can’t (he kills their coven then turns on others because he gets bored), we go back to the hospital. Stefan tells Elena how much it sucks that they can have a plan to face any kind of evil but they can’t help Liz. (Vampire blood doesn’t work on cancer. If only.) Elena doesn’t want Caroline compelling the truth out of doctor, she wants her to hear it from a friend. Stefan says he should do it and be there for her now.

Jo thanks Alaric for being the most understanding boyfriend in the world, and they share a kiss in the woods after he wraps her in a blanket. So romantic, even with the talk of twin merging. Damon, meanwhile, is throwing rocks at the gravestone where Kai is bound in the hopes he’ll kill him. Through their conversation, Kai realizes that it must’ve been a huge spell to keep magic out of Mystic Falls. He sucks it up through the earth while Damon and Alaric fight about Damon’s desire to kill Kai and make himself feel better about Bonnie’s sacrifice for him. It ends with Damon throwing a rock to flatten one of Alaric’s tires. Very mature, guys.

NEXT: Home for the holidays

Bonnie lights her Christmas tree, and in flashback, we see Liz giving a lovely speech at the Winter Festival and tree lighting in 2009. Caroline is in no mood after Stefan gave her a snow globe key chain, but Bonnie is happy with her bracelet. Of course Caroline is good at Secret Santa. But really, the holidays are all about sharing each other’s good health and company. Cut to Stefan telling Caroline they need to talk.

Elena tries to phone Damon and tell him about Liz, but the wind of Kai’s magic vacuum has picked up. The reception is so bad, he just hangs up. Then he realizes Kai has stopped talking. Wait, he’s chanting. Yep, he sucks up all of the magic. Matt finds this out when he drives Enzo across the border and assumes he’ll open the van door to find him dying or dead. He goes to touch him and Enzo grabs Matt’s neck. Should’ve listened to Jeremy, Matty Blue Eyes. Kai rises and throws Alaric into a tree to show his newfound power. Remember when trees in that cemetery used to just be for making out against?

Damon tries to kick Kai’s ass, but Kai does the disappearing trick. Alaric takes Damon’s hand and gets up, so they’re sort of friends again. They realize the magic border is no more. Instead of killing Matt, Enzo tells him he was right earlier when he said he’s jealous of Stefan. Stefan has respect, family, and girls he doesn’t deserve and he’s willing to throw it all away. Enzo wants Matt to help him take every ounce of happiness from Stefan, and then he’ll decide if Matt gets to live. “Happy holidays,” Enzo tells him before shutting him in the van.

Damon heads home to Salvatore Mansion and gets a call from Elena. She’s not sure what they are to each other, but she knows that after the sad day she’s had, she wants to see him. Stefan breaks the news to Caroline who asks the logical vampire blood question. He shoots down her hopes time after time until all she can do is cry and tell him the doctors don’t know how strong her mother is. She’ll get through this. Right? He wants to burst into tears just looking at her. He holds her.

Meanwhile, Bonnie and Jeremy are both at the town Christmas trees in their separate worlds. Bonnie misses everyone, he misses her. She lights her tree on fire and walks away alone. She never liked to be without Elena and Caroline and Jeremy on the holidays.

Stefan arrives home at Salvatore Mansion and presents Damon with his fixed-up car. Ah, now we know why he was working as a mechanic. It’s an early Christmas/late welcome back to life present. He tells Damon not to die again and goes inside to see if Jeremy slept in his bed. Ha!

There’s a knock at the door and Damon answers it. Elena’s there marveling at his clever choice to hang mistletoe, but he can’t see her. Did anyone else quickly try to figure out how the hell one of them got to 1994. Was it the car? No. It’s just that Kai put a cloaking spell on Elena. He knocks Elena out with some kind of pipe. Sorry, Delena fans. You’ll have to wait until Jan. 22 to see if Damon can rescue her this time.

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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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