The Vampire Diaries: Better Living Through Brainwashing (PHOTO RECAP)

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A lot can happen in seven weeks. You could buy a house. You could write a novel. You could meet the love of your life, knock him or her up, and prepare to raise a beautiful family together. You could become the mayor and decide who lives and who dies. You could train an elephant seal to drive a car. Any of these things can be done in seven weeks, but you know what you can't do in seven weeks? Wait patiently for a seven-week Vampire Diaries hiatus to end. It's just impossible! It cannot be done. The fact that we somehow made it through that harrowing ordeal represents an astonishing mystery that I'll leave to the Stephen Hawkings and Morgan Freemans of the world to figure out. The important thing is, TVD is back! Not only that, but it's still mad good and last night's episode "The New Deal" had at least three huge moments. Let's talk it out!

We began with a rare Bonnie-centric cold open, and she was just doing what she does best: walking around looking suspicious of everything. "Does this tree wish me harm?" "What is that house up ahead that I once lived in for a few weeks?"

That's right, she was back creeping around in that decrepit house her ancestors used to haunt before they got all ticked-off at her for saving her boyfriend's life. (Relax, ancestors.)

Look what she found!

Coffins! And look what was inside one of them:

Klaus! Except he wasn't all gray and veiny, and he was holding Elena's necklace. See, this was getting weird. Very dream-like, you know?

But then Bonnie heard something or someone sneaking up behind her!

Whoops, it was only a dream. Phew, for a second there I thought there were actual stakes! But hey, anyway, had we ever seen Bonnie's bedroom before? I seriously can't remember.

Anyway, dang, Elena was doing some mad jogging out in her neighborhood.

Although, honestly, with the amount of stress and action-heroine stuff she does on the regular, did she really need more exercise? Oh, but look, a sinister-looking hoodlum was jogging after her!

Because he had a square jaw and dark features, Elena was probably confused as to which direction she should run (toward him or away from him) but luckily she high-tailed it and eventually lost him. Only to fall for the oldest vampire trick in the book: He's behind you!

Okay, so he was no Salvatore, but he was definitely bad news. Elena played it off like she didn't notice he'd just run around her at lightspeed, and she went on with her day of being bummed about Stefan still.

Oh, Bonnie. She has one nightmare after eating a bad baloney salad and now everybody has to hear about it.

Anyway, nearby at the bar, Alaric was waiting on Jeremy to show up for work, but it turned out he'd been fired from Mystic Grill? (Now who will Matt change T-shirts with?) And Alaric also had caught Jeremy plagiarizing his history paper? Wuh-oh, it seemed Jeremy was on the wrong track all of a sudden!

But those things weren't as bad as the company he'd been keeping:

Yeah I don't know how it happened so quickly, but Tyler's pretty terrible now. He's all muggy and sanctimonious and he even had the nerve to tell Jeremy he's pissed at Caroline? Yikes, them's some bad brains Tyler's got. Nobody has any right to be pissed at Caroline ever. But at least he can catch an arrow! That was pretty cool.

Anyway, the stress was starting to get to Elena, and in what would become the main recurring theme of the episode, she turned to Damon for comfort when she needed it. Seriously, at least four scenes in this episode ended with Damon cupping her face in his hands and murmuring gentle affirmations. If I was Elena I'd be like, "Look, I get it, there's something going on between us. But if you touch my face one more time I will have an acne beard by morning."

Yup, Klaus was still hanging out in town. Considering his white-hot rage regarding the theft of his family, he was actually in a pretty playful mood. Anyway, he made it clear that he'd be very willing to murder everybody if Stefan didn't return the caskets. Typical Klaus.

Later on Alaric and Elena were setting the table for dinner? Lunch? A midnight snack? It's getting to the point where I not only can't follow the main timeline at all, but I don't even know what time of day it is, ever. I think it was morning earlier at Mystic Grill? But then Bonnie walked over to the ghost house for real and chilled out with Stefan. But who sets the table for lunch? You know, I truly wouldn't mind if this show had a clock in the lower right corner like on 24. Anyway, the important thing is, Elena and Alaric were both hell-bent on confronting Jeremy, and it wasn't gonna be easy.

First off, Jeremy's not doing THAT badly. He lost a dumb job? Sure, plagiarism is pretty bad but he's better off now than when he was a mean stoner during Season 1. Anyway, the main point was that they didn't want him hanging around Tyler, whose loyalties to Klaus can't be underestimated. At that point, Jeremy went ahead and invited Tyler in to join them.

Yeah, it was weird. So then Tyler faced some tag-team questioning by Alaric and Elena about the extent of his brainwashing and he gave straight-up cultlike answers: He'd do anything for Klaus, Klaus would never tell him to do something he didn't want to do, Klaus is goodness, Klaus is the way. And then Tyler admitted he would probably commit suicide if Klaus asked him to. Cool situation, Tyler!

Meanwhile Klaus had dropped by the Salvatore mansion to shoot the breeze with Damon. Except it was more like threaten him, but you wouldn't know it from all the witty banter Damon was throwing his way.

At that point, Klaus had to remind Damon that he's an evil mastermind and could create carnage using only his pay-as-you-go cell phone.

Then Jeremy immediately hung up his phone and disappeared. Luckily two of Mystic Falls' finest detectives were on the case.

Oh no! Jeremy had been compelled to suicide himself!

That's when Alaric had no choice but to spring into action!

Poor Alaric! He got REALLY killed that time. The driver of the SUV was that one sorta-handsome hybrid from earlier. Anyway, yeah. Rude right?

As it turned out, Tyler was indeed involved. He'd been hanging out with Jeremy in order to get him to kick vervain. It's unclear how that works, seeing as he'd been wearing a vervain bracelet, but whatever. Tyler was sorta miffed at Klaus for making him almost murder his bud.

Klaus just laughed off Tyler's concerns and reminded him that human suffering is of no importance to them anymore. But you know what IS? Klaus's hot new pad! Check it out, he's having it totally redid! Looks like he'll be staying in town a while, doesn't it?

So after Alaric's run-in with a car, Elena suggested they actually try and meet Klaus's demands. Fair enough! A quick call to Bonnie alerted them to Stefan's whereabouts and they marched on over there like Mulder and Scully in bad moods.

There was a running joke about how Bonnie's witch ancestors (who are back not because of anything Bonnie did, but more just because they hate Klaus a ton) de-powered Damon's ring, so every time he walked into the house sunlight would burn him. I'm not sure why this dark, condemned house gets so much light-ray penetration, but whatever... can you imagine the SMELL that must happen when a vampire burns? I bet it's like burnt hair times a thousand. Yucky.

So Damon waited outside while Elena confronted her ex-boo about what went down when he foiled their plans to kill Klaus.

It was a pretty harsh conversation, actually! It's unclear if feigning apathy is part of Stefan's scheme or if he really truly doesn't care about Elena anymore, but one thing's for sure: He's a freelance revenge artist now. It doesn't matter how weird or destructive or counterproductive his plan is, he's dead set on ruining Klaus. In other words, Stefan is kind of awesome.

But then Damon dragged him outside and stabbed him a ton and got him to admit why he saved Klaus.

It was to save Damon's life! This seemed to piss Damon off even more, for reasons we'd learn later.

Somewhere in the woods, Jeremy confronted a slightly more humble Tyler about trying to kill him earlier.

Oh, Tyler.

Guess who came back to life after spending the day staining the couch?

Well... sort of back to life.

Then there was this weird scene that I didn't really understand where EMTs arrived to take Alaric away, but then this hybrid dude sent them away and offered to heal Alaric with his blood, but then Jeremy straight-up murdered him. With a decapitation by butcher knife and everything!

By the way, I love that this is the kind of neighborhood where you can murder another person, dismember his body, and then scrub the blood off your porch over the course of about four hours and nobody notices or objects!

So after their tussle in the front yard, Damon proposed that Stefan let him join the team, reasoning that nobody is a better schemer than Damon. Stefan agreed to let Damon help so long as Elena took no part in it. That brings their official band of outsiders to three, including Bonnie. That's when Stefan revealed that he'd been hiding the caskets via an invisibility spell.

Also, in a major squee-inducing moment (for readers of the book series, anyway) we were introduced to Dr. MEREDITH Fell.

I haven't read the books (and never will, I promise you that), but I know Meredith is one of the best-loved characters in the books and her absence from the series thus far has been a major disappointment for book fans. But here, rather than being another high school girl, she's an older physician who's clearly set up as being a love interest for Alaric. I don't know. She seemed nice enough. Weird doctor though. She literally asked Alaric whether his fast healing was due to a guardian angel or a pact with the devil. What medical school did she go to again? Vatican State? (The real answer was that Damon's blood healed Alaric, which means that Alaric's ring is kinda effed now?)

In another weird timeline thing, Elena scooted over to the Salvatore mansion and invited Klaus over so she could cut a deal with him.

The deal was that she'd give up Rebekah if he'd leave Jeremy alone. Klaus agreed!

That's when Elena informed him that Rebekah would want vengeance against Elena and Klaus offered his protection.

Elena was cold-blooded! So right then and there Klaus knew that whenever Rebekah woke up she'd be a whirling dervish of anger. So he made a quick decision.

Fair enough! But on the other hand, poor Rebekah! Wake up soon, girl!

Then came a super sad part. Finally deciding that Jeremy shouldn't be spending his teenage years beheading monstrosities on his front porch, Elena and Damon decided they needed to do something about it.

It was very sad! This was like Season 1 all over again when Damon erased Jeremy's memory of Vicki dying and also gave him a better personality? I barely remember, all I know is it worked out pretty well, and at least he stayed in town! Now he's supposed to go to Colorado and live with "family friends" and drink beer and hook up with girls and take an art class. Poor Jeremy!

That being said, I'm not sure I buy this. First of all, Jeremy would've had to have been a moron to not have gotten all vervain'd up immediately after his near-death experience. Secondly, it's been more than suggested that he's kind of a natural born vampire hunter (crossbow stuff, that time he invaded Katherine's tomb, etc.), so an ordinary teenage existence is no more possible for him than it would be for Elena. My guess is that he's just pretending to be compelled, he'll take a few episodes off, regroup, and then return with some kind of surprising agenda. Same thing happened to Tyler last season and Bonnie the season before. It's kind of a TVD tradition at this point. Come back soon, Jeremy!

After the supposed brain-scrubbing, Elena and Damon reconvened on the front porch (site of the infamous Damon-Katherine fake-out kiss) and cheered themselves up over their good intentions.

So yeah, just a great midseason premiere. Full of twists and turns and scares and laughs. Okay see you next week BYEEE!!


All right, the episode ACTUALLY ended like this:

But you're gonna have to examine Elena's body language and reaction to gauge just how much she was feelin' it and how much she was giving it back. The main thing to take away was that Damon essentially admitted that he needs Stefan to remain a villain so that he won't feel as guilty about falling in love with his lady. Elena didn't so much respond to that statement as much as listen and accept. I'm not saying she's still holding out hope for Stefan because what a jerk! It's more just that she must be so exhausted of romantic feelings by now. Oh well, that's love triangles for ya. So yeah, it's anybody's guess as to how this will all play out.

And then Bonnie woke up AGAIN!




... Does Bonnie's alignment with Stefan mean she's headed down a dark pathway?

... Why did Alaric's ring not work properly?

... What will Bonnie and Stefan find in Klaus's locked casket? (And what did her dream mean, anyway?)

... What will Jeremy do when he's away? Besides push-ups.

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