Last night's Vampire Diaries had a pretty interesting set of metaphors for what it's like to be immortal and yet bound by the past. On the one hand, Stefan tries to explain to Elena the need to start a new life every 30 years. On the other, we see how badly Damon's attempt at a "clean slate" turned out.

Spoilers ahead...

The more I think about it, the more interesting this episode of Vampire Diaries seems. It's encouraging to realize that this show, in spite of how many plot devices and ideas it's already thrown around, can still pull out a thought-provoking installment occasionally.

In fact, Stefan gives us a bit of a new perspective on the conundrum of immortality, one that the new-to-this Elena can't fully appreciate yet. She's still just a college student, on her first "lifetime," but Stefan knows that to avoid raising too many questions about your eternal youth, you need to disappear every few decades and start over. Hence Stefan moving to Savannah and becoming an auto mechanic, until Enzo screwed it up for him.

But the paradox is that, even though you have to keep hitting the reset button on your life, you can't leave the past behind. And you can't stop being who you are — which in Stefan's case, means he's still heartbroken over the "death" of Damon. And he's kind of pissed that Elena had herself brainwashed to forget her love for Damon, which is why he finally blows the whistle on it — in a scene that actually shows that Stefan kind of liked seeing his brother with his ex.

And meanwhile, Damon and Bonnie are trapped in 1994 with psycho-killer Malachi — which is another interesting metaphor for being imprisoned by the past. It turns out that this weird Groundhog Day space isn't a punishment or Hell designed for Damon or Bonnie at all, but rather for Malachi, who murdered his entire witch family back then and has been stuck here ever since.

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But we still find out why Damon erroneously thought this was his hell — back in May 1994, he came back to Mystic Falls and tried to "start over" with Stefan and good ol' Uncle Zack. Only to fall off the wagon in a pretty significant fashion, until Stefan had to lock him up without his daylight ring — only to have Damon go nuts and kill a ton of people including Zack's pregnant wife. (Who turns out to be the mom of Sarah, the woman Elena nearly killed.)

So Damon tried to "start over" just like Stefan is now, except that it was Damon's own nature and his unresolved asshole tendencies that thwarted that attempt. And now he's trapped in a literal recreation of the past he can't escape from. But at least Damon feels remorse (hence his making pancakes for Bonnie) unlike the totally psycho Malachi.

Elena is dumb enough to think that the secret to getting a "clean slate" is just to get her memory erased by Alaric — but that strategy is already failing, and she gets handed a note from her past self warning that remembering the truth about Damon is like an illness that turns her into a monster.

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(Oh, and I'm liking Alaric's slow admission that he kind of sucks as an authority figure or source of wisdom. His scene where he tells the whiny Jeremy to suck it up because Alaric has lost as much as any of them is pretty great, too. So glad this how got Alaric back from Cult-land.)

And meanwhile, Trip (aka Sheriff Carter from Eureka) reveals his backstory to Matt: His wife died and Trip believed it was his own fault, until he crossed the border into Mystic Falls and all the suppressed memories came flooding back. And now he knows about vampires, and he's got Enzo chained up in a barn.

I kind of hope Matt does the right thing and helps Tripp to kill Enzo — but this show loves Enzo, so I doubt that'll happen. Trip hasn't killed Enzo yet because he wants to torture him for information about the other vampires nearby, but if Matt has any sense he'll just tell Trip the truth and explain that torturing Enzo is a waste of time. After all, Trip isn't wrong about wanting to kill most of the vampires on this show — he's just wrong about Caroline, and maybe Elena and Stefan.

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In any case, in a show that's done a ton of old-timey flashbacks and weird glimpses of history, this was still an unusual (and somewhat thought-provoking) take on the theme of immortality.