At this point, almost everyone on The Vampire Diaries is a mass murderer — but even more than that, the show is about how our foolish notions of "romance" are a pure distraction from the ugliness of our violent world. And last night's episode beautifully uncovered the unromantic truth about Damon and Stefan.

Spoilers ahead...

I honestly thought last night's episode of TVD was going to a terrible place, for a good long while. The "A" story involves Elena getting super-hypnotized/compelled to forget Damon by Alaric, which spells two things: 1) A clip show of Damon/Elena moments, while Elena narrates all the stuff we already watched. 2) Elena explaining, yet again, why she loves this dangerous, impossible, dimpletastic vamp.

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And meanwhile, the "B" story is all about Enzo and Caroline tracking down Stefan in his new life, and reminding him that Damon is still dead, and incidentally that Elena is still lovable.

But then the episode unexpectedly went to a very ugly place, showing that Julie Plec (who wrote it) is still a master of pulling the rug out from under us, even on a show that's done everything five times.

At the end of the episode, after all of the Damon-and-Elena "memory lane" stuff, we're still no closer to finding the "signature memory" (sounds like an item on a menu at an Olive Garden) that anchors Elena's love for the psycho, so Alaric can snuff it out and Elena can move on. Until Caroline pinpoints the problem: Elena can't admit to herself that she fell for Damon while she was still "with" Stefan.

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Once that's solved, it's easy — the "signature" memory is Damon being there for Elena when Stefan was off being a serial killer or something, and Damon selflessly bringing Elena a necklace that reminds her of Stefan.

And once that memory is erased, Elena no longer loves Damon — and instantly she has a super vivid memory of the time when Damon snapped Jeremy's neck. He murdered her brother. Of course, Jeremy got better, because he had a magic ring on, but Damon didn't know that would happen. Elena's mushy feelings for Damon have kept her from confronting the fact that he murdered her brother. Which is a hell of a commentary on love, if you think about it.

Meanwhile, Stefan's new semi-perfect life isn't just him putting Damon behind him — it's also Stefan pretending to be a normal person for a while. Enzo tries to convince Stefan that he's still a "neck person" — meaning a vampire, but apparently also meaning that both Enzo and Stefan like to break (or rip) people's necks sometimes. As Enzo does at the end of the episode to Stefan's new girlfriend.

Sure, Stefan is just minding his own business in this episode. But he's also kind of a dick, as Caroline points out. He's blowing off his friends in their hours of need, and also lying to his new girlfriend and kind of treating her like shit in the process.

And the episode draws a kind of a clever parallel between the two Salvatore brothers — they're both total monsters, with a huge trail of bodies behind them. And they both get gussied up with romantic notions to hide their true monstrosity. The difference, apparently, is that Damon knows he's a monster and Stefan sort of believes the romantic gauze that makes him look like an okay person. Of course, you could argue that Stefan is better than Damon because he believes in his romantic façade, and that keeps him somewhat on the rails sometimes.

In any case, the theme of the episode seems to be "moving on" — both Stefan and Elena are making efforts to forget Damon and move on. But Elena is doing it literally, and Stefan only figuratively — and yet, it seems likely that Elena's attempt will bite her in the ass just as badly as Stefan's has. Also, Stefan really should make sure Enzo dies permanently this time.

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Meanwhile, we also see a lot more of what's been happening with Damon and Bonnie, who are stuck reliving the same day in 1994 over and over again, in an apparently empty Mystic Falls. Except that it turns out someone else is there with them. Oh, and Bonnie has found her grams' old lost grimoire and is trying to relearn magic, with not much success. And Damon apparently doesn't need blood any more, or the "Groundhog Day" thing means he never gets too hungry.

And in the episode's "D" plot, Jeremy and Matt are still fighting a lot because Jeremy is being a slob and doesn't care about anything any more, since his girlfriend lied to him and died — and in fact, the episode's most moving, emotionally raw scene involves Jeremy leaving a long, anguished message on Bonnie's voice mail that she'll never get to hear. Jeremy is shacking up with the woman that Elena nearly killed last week, and then it turns she's a car thief — so Matt is twice as eager to be rid of her.

And Matt's trusted authority figure Tripp, played by the sheriff from Eureka, turns out to be a "bad guy" (by this show's somewhat skewed definition) — we see him murder a bunch of vampires by driving them over the line into Mystic Falls, where they catch fire and are killed. On any other show, he'd probably be considered the hero.

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But that's the central irony of Vampire Diaries — this show knows that its main characters are all evil, and that its romance is just a sweet flowery disguise for psychopaths. And then it wallows in the romance and self-delusion anyway.