Image credit: Bob Mahoney/The CW
FLASHBACK TIME Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Stefan (Paul Wesley) reunited in New Orleans, 1942
Back at Salvatore Mansion, the girls were having a dance party. Should Bonnie REALLY be taking videos of Elena doing vamp speed on her phone. NOOOOOO. They ended up in Damon's bathroom, with Elena sitting in the tub. For a second, I was worried Elena would be naked in there taking an actual bath -- but this isn't an episode of Girls. Caroline took the opportunity to diss Damon again and call him a man slut whose tub would be filled with cooties. Elena admitted she'd slept with Damon and said she'd asked the girls there that night to tell them how happy she is. Oh, Caroline is gonna tell her about the sire bond, I thought.
And... she did. Elena eventually told them she thought she was falling in love with Damon, and Caroline blurted out that it wasn't love, it was a sire bond. Once Elena heard that Caroline had been talking to Stefan about this, she asked Caroline and Bonnie to leave. When she opened the door, Kim and Adrian were there. Who are they? They are the two hybrids Tyler had pissed off earlier at the Grill. We'd found out Hayley is going to deliver Professor Shane 12 unsired hybrids in exchange for information on her biological parents. Adrian, Klaus' new righthand hybrid, wasn't up to the challenge of shifting until it didn't hurt, so Kim had called it quits for the day. Hayley needed Adrian to be broken or Shane would use Tyler, so she'd convinced Tyler to show Kim was the alpha at the Grill. Kim and Adrian were supposed to be going home to rest. Instead, they went to kidnap Caroline to pick a fight with Tyler. Bonnie tried to stop them and made some lightbulbs break -- her magic is back (balloon drop) -- but Kim reminded Bonnie that one bite from a hybrid and Caroline was dead. So yeah, Bonnie did nothing.
Back to New Orleans. Damon and Stefan went to a witchy shop and asked for
Giles a spell that could break a vampire sire bond. Turns out Nandi, my cousin who works there, was the great-granddaughter of Val, whose grimoire had supposedly had a spell. Nandi said she doesn't practice at all, and all her grandmother's grimoires were lost during Hurricane Katrina. Damon knew Nandi was lying -- she was a daughter, not a granddaughter, and since she doesn't look her age, she's practicing all right. She was ready to kill Damon with a severe headache until Stefan stepped in and got her talking. That spell Val had told Damon about -- the one that required the sacrifice of 12 human souls in exchange for breaking a vampire sire bond -- doesn't exist. Her mother had just wanted access to that dark magic that you pay for with human sacrifice -- witches call it "expression" -- and Damon gave it to her when he killed 12 people. Nandi said a vampire only develops a sire bond with her maker if the feelings were there when she was human. Vampirism only heightens those emotions. The bond can't be broken with magic. The only way is for him to set her free -- to tell her to live her life without him, to never think of him again, and to stop caring for him -- and then leave her be.
Back to Tyler, he took Elena with him to find Caroline and had time to tell her that the sire bond doesn't change your feelings, just your actions. So I took that as Stefan being right: Elena's feelings for Damon are real, but without the sire bond, she may not have chosen to act on them. I think of it as fancying a married man. You may really care for him, but you won't let yourself go there because you know it's wrong. The sire bond strips away those inhibitions -- for better or for worse. They found Caroline, and Kim was ready to make her power play in front of the unsired pack. She was about to stake Caroline when Elena said to torture her instead since Klaus wants so badly to keep her alive. Kim moved toward Elena, and Tyler broke free and threatened to rip her heart out. With his hand in her body, he told her and the pack that they have to work together if they want to live freely or they'd all die. Kim apologized and the rest of the pack joined her in kneeling before Tyler, who is officially the alpha. That reminded me of the pack kneeling before Alcide on True Blood. But werewolves do love to kneel.
Returning to Damon, he set a teary-eyed Charlotte free as nicely as he could. Stefan worried that Damon wouldn't be selfless enough to release Elena. Flashback to a moment that made me tear up. Damon was there that day in uniform at the train station, ready to leave with Stefan. Lexi knew he'd just killed 12 innocent people. She said Stefan serving in the war was meant to be his penance for his Ripper days, but if he found out that Damon killed and lived with the guilt, Stefan would ask how he did it and become a Ripper again. Damon told her he'd basically been on his own since 1912, so he might need his little brother now. She told him joining Stefan might be good for him, but he needed to think about what was best for Stefan and let him go. That got me. I imagined what it would be like if someone kept me from my sister, who I don't get to see often enough. "Good luck, brother," Damon said to himself. Stefan had never known that part of the story. He assured Damon that he wanted Elena to have her free will back, whether or not her feelings ever return for him. Choice is the "dreaded C word," Damon said.
At Salvatore Mansion, Caroline and Elena hugged it out, and Bonnie told them -- and us, incase we hadn't connected the dots -- that Shane is teaching her "expression." Elena told Caroline she'd tell Stefan about her having slept with Damon, but she just needed to figure out some stuff first. Good luck with that. Meanwhile, Hayley reported to Shane that Adrian had broken the sire bond, so he's got his dozen souls. Shane told her that her parents are dead, but said that doesn't mean that she can't see them again: "This is far from over, Hayley. We are the beginning." Theories?
Stefan updated Caroline and told her that he feels sorry for Damon. Caroline wondered how he can trust Damon to break the sire bond, and Stefan said it's because he thinks Damon loves Elena as much as he does, so he can't be selfish with her. Not anymore. Damon was prepared to do it, too, when he got home, but Elena somehow knew he was about to set her free and asked him not to. She's happy, she said. That's when he said what would make him happy is knowing that all this time he was in love with her, it was real. He wasn't going to give up: He knows he's not the good guy, he's the selfish one who lies to his brother, falls in love with his girl, and doesn't do the right thing -- but, he said, he has to do the right thing by her. She put his hand on her heart and asked if it felt wrong. She touched his face and asked if it felt wrong. He didn't answer, but again, the promo for next week leads us to believe that he thinks that all feels right. So yes, the question is: If Elena's feelings are genuine, does it matter if the sire bond is making her act on them? Since Damon isn't a married man, I'd say no. But the problem is really Elena having to take everything Damon says so literally. He'd never be able to share his opinion again for fear of coloring hers. What kind of relationship is that?
Your turn. Sound off below. And bonus, check out our video naming the Top 10 reasons to get shirtless on The Vampire Diaries in 2012 (this was cut before Damon and Elena got it on, but obviously "to have sex" was already on the list), and our Best of 2012 (Behind the Scenes) interview with supervising producer Chris Grismer on how they filmed Elena's drowning scenes in the season 3 finale. (Nina Dobrev asked for one more take and improvised the "I love you" to her father. Tears.)