The holiday episode is here, which can only mean one thing: Bodies are gonna drop like presents under the Christmas tree.
Let's get right to the bloodshed.
In Chicago, three years from now, Stefan has already burned his car. (I'm glad to see the show establish a time line for these events.) Oh, and he's also with Valerie, which means that she isn't the "she" they keep referencing. That list keeps getting smaller. And yes, I've seen some of your theories as to who "she" might be in the comments, but I'm enjoying the mystery.
Then, this happens:
Stefan: "She already has two people I care about. I'm not going to let her have a third."
Valerie: "If anything happens to you, I will rain hell down on anyone responsible."
I like you, Val, but you're turning me into the Grinch. Don't kiss Caroline's man! She does, I cringe, and Stefan is off to confront the mystery woman.
Our present-day story begins with two brothers trudging through the snow to bury their mother — again. I loved each character's individual good-bye to Lily. I'll admit that I hated her from the beginning, but perhaps I empathize with her a bit more now. She tried to redeem herself in death, and in life too, it seems. "If only she knew that would be only one of the things that made me different," Nora says, speaking about her mother's rejection of siphoning magic — and, of course, about her sexuality. Lily accepted Nora and Mary Louise. She accepted Valerie and Beau and Oscar into her family, even though they were different and strange and dark. She was their mother when she couldn't be Stefan and Damon's. It's a good reminder: While the holidays are about family, it's often the family you choose that matters most.
Damon refuses to give his mother a proper good-bye, but Stefan vows to make things right. Whether he intends to make Damon come to terms with Lily's death or seek vengeance for her death, I'm not sure. (Probably both.)
And on that heroic note: I'm starting a petition to patent and sell that thing Paul Wesley does just as he's starting to cry. What IS that? Magic?
Post-funeral, we find the brothers Salvatore at a full-blown SantaCon. (This is no longer Christmas, it's my worst nightmare.) They're supposed to be tracking Julian, but Damon is drinking eggnog out of a reindeer cup and Stefan is fed up, especially because Damon won't stop needling him about the Caroline situation.
"It's Caroline. You think she's going to hand over those kids to a functioning alcoholic with no adult supervision?" Damon isn't wrong. Stefan pretending that Caroline won't be attached to these children is one big pile of nope.
Finally, they stumble upon a lead to Julian's location: a bar full of rippered SantaCon participants. Julian is obviously not handling Lily's death well. Damon thinks they're in over their heads and wants to call for backup — surprisingly sound thinking for a totally sloshed dude. Stef, on the other hand, is feeling impulsive: "You are my backup. You're just terrible at it." I love when these boys bond.
They try to call Bonnie I-Need-Something Bennett to pinpoint Julian's location, but he winds up coming to them. "You're a drunk sorority girl who ruins everyone's night by losing their cell phone." (That's an A+ burn on Damon's part.) Soon enough, Damon regrets his outburst, seeing as how Julian has united the Scary Sword with the Scary Stone and become King Arthur — a.k.a. he's going to try and kill them, trapping their souls in the stone. I'm intrigued by the stone, but this is our third version of "hell." First, we had the Other Side. (R.I.P.) Then we had the actual Prison World. Now we've got this stone, and that can only end in two ways: Someone we love will go inside it, or we're flashing back to see Julian in it. Either way, it better be good.
After it's revealed that Julian has allies in this town — thankfully NOT in Santa outfits — things get hairy. It's six against two, so the boys detonate their vampy grenades, set everything on fire, and race out of there. Damon wants to call it a day. Julian is a hard vampire to beat, and he doesn't want to end up yet another version of Undead in the process. Stefan doesn't agree, so after Damon ditches him, he calls Valerie to help out. I'd be on board with this, but after seeing them in the future opening, I'm pouting. Caroline can't get close to vampy grenades in her condition, but dude, keep your girlfriend clued-in. Gone is the Stefan who would have attached a GPS tracker to Elena Gilbert's bra strap if he thought it would keep her safe. That's a good thing, I suppose — maturity and trust and all — but there should be a happy medium.
Stefan finds Mary Louise — who's in a sad state of affairs for reasons we will shortly discuss — and with Valerie's help, they vervain her. Ah, the old "use a loved one as bait" tactic. I have such fond memories from season one. And two. And four. And probably three, five, and six too.
Damon, mayor of Denial City, tries to get Julian to lay off. But for once, Julian is actually speaking some serious truth: Damon isn't doing him any favors by avoiding the role he played in his mother's death. Damon's reaction to being told the truth is to fistfight, because ugh … the patriarchy.
"I don't know what your hell will be, but I hope she's there." Julian tries to kill Damon, but Stefan swoops in and saves the day — until two minutes later, when their valiant tag-team efforts are just not enough to beat Julian. He stakes Stefan, and Damon gets the sword — which takes his soul and leaves him doing a great impression of Elena Gilbert, who's doing a fabulous performance-art piece on Sleeping Beauty.
He's in a coma, is what I'm saying.
Except inside, he's not. He wakes up on a Civil War battlefield, wounded in the gut, flashback hair at the ready — and he's totally scared out of his mind. Will he remember that it's actually not 1864? Will he travel to other areas of his life and suffer there, too?
And most importantly: WILL STEFAN BE OKAY? BECAUSE OH WAIT, NORA STABBED HIM WITH THE SWORD AND HE'S GONE TOO.
We should probably back up a bit.
Kill Them With Kindness
We get an extra peek at Nora this week — a character I find almost as fascinating as Beau. (Miss you, boo!) She shows up at the charity drive Bonnie is running at Whitmore … to help? It seems like a genuine effort, even coming from a girl who took a murder selfie in the first episode of this season. She's signed up for classes too, no doubt to distract herself from the pain of her epic breakup with Mary Louise and the loss of Lily.
Bonnie's basically like "get out of my face," which I can't blame her for, even though Nora has great sad puppy-dog eyes.
On Mary Louise's side of things — a.k.a. the WRONG side — she once again accuses Valerie of lying, or in her mind, the worse crime of telling the truth only once it was convenient to do so. "Nora will blossom without you," Valerie says, dropping the mic.
And it's true — Nora helps Bonnie volunteer at the hospital, telling a little girl she can be anything she wants to be when she grows up. We see her shields come down. She confesses that part of the reason why she loved Mary Louise was because she validated her … which I can understand. They must've been the only girls they knew who liked other girls. That was validation in and of itself.
Just as quickly as we see Nora begin to blossom, though, her kindness withers and dies when Julian texts that Valerie and Stefan have kidnapped Mary Louise to use her as bait. Nora siphons Bonnie's magic and cloaks herself in the Salvatore living room, using Stefan's own trick to stab him with the Phoenix Stone sword.
Sigh. Hell hath no fury like a heretic after her loved ones are messed with, I suppose.
Out of Our Hands
How is Caroline handling her pregnancy? In the most Caroline way possible. You've heard of bridezillas, but Caroline is 100 percent a birthzilla. "Someone really dug into that suggested reading list," this poor woman says, and Caroline practically glows with superiority. I love her.
I wasn't exactly sure how Caroline was planning to address the fact that she and her obviously much-older professor are having not-their babies together, but the answer quickly becomes clear: She'll rip the head off anyone who tries to say something about it. Perhaps pregnancy affects her vampirism in a way that doesn't exactly spell "Mother of the Year."
Also of note: She's not telling Stefan about the increased surge in bloodlust. Steroline is starting to feel like a dream presidential ticket that never has a chance of winning. You know, like Amy Schumer/Jennifer Lawrence 2020.
After realizing that she can't control or explain everything about this pregnancy — or, okay, anything at all —Caroline freaks out, attacks her not-baby-daddy, and bails. But she doesn't decide to go the Ripper route. Instead, she takes the human road and visits her mom's grave.
This recap started with death, so let's end it with life. Caroline's memories of her mom and their relationship, represent that life. "I know they're not mine, but they're still my responsibility. I have to do this right. And I have no idea what I'm doing, and all I want to do is sit on our kitchen counter while you burn our dinner and ask you a million questions." Sometimes, you need a reminder that life is precious and all-too-short to live the way it should be lived.
And so, when Caroline finds Stefan kneeling on the floor, his eyes filled with tears, she puts everything else aside. "Let's figure out a way to save your brother," she says, because Caroline always picks saving a life. That's why we love her.
Unfortunately, it looks like she has two brothers to save now, as both Damon and Stefan's souls are trapped in the Phoenix Stone. Are they together? Are they alone? How will they get out — and what kind of world will they find when they do?
It's going to be a long break without our vampires to keep us warm. All I want for the holidays is a happy Steroline, so it looks like I'll be stuck with a lump of coal. You can reach me on Twitter at @TalkativeTara until TVD returns on January 29. Happy holidays and have a great new year!