Only eight episodes into the season, The Vampire Diaries has finally spun up its might plot engine to give us some actual stakes, beyond just whether Damon and Elena will be together. And the good news is? It's actually a pretty good plot, that justifies a lot of the slow buildup. Spoilers ahead...
The bad news is, it's yet another case where our heroes are screwing around with things that were left buried for a reason, and they're going to bring about some terrible consequences because they just can't leave it alone. Basically, it's Silas all over again. (And releasing Silas, if you'll recall, led to a shit-ton of death, plus the collapse of the Other Side and the rise of the Travelers, who also screwed up a lot of stuff.)
This time around, it's Kai, the psycho witch who is trapped in the 1994 Groundhog Day thing with Bonnie, where Damon was previously stuck. We get Kai's whole backstory, through the patented TVD "several people are telling the same story in different places, and we cut between their bits of exposition" technique.
Basically, the Gemini Coven is insanely powerful and kind of loopy, and they have a stupid tradition that only twins can become the next leader — but when they turn 22, one twin has to steal the other twin's power, killing the weaker twin. Kai and Jo, the doctor who's been dating Alaric, are twins, but Kai was born without any magic of his own — and yet, Kai could have siphoned off Jo's magic and become the leader. Because Kai was a psycho, the coven decided to keep making babies until they got some twins, and this led to Luke and Liv being born. Then Kai went on his crazy killing rampage, and ended up getting himself banished to endless "Kurt Cobain just died" land.
So now Luke and Liv are 22, and one of them will soon have to kill the other and become the super-powerful leader. Unless Kai escapes from his prison, kills his twin sister, and becomes the leader first. It's actually not clear how the merging works — if the two people become one, with their attributes shared including personality traits, or if it's just "one kills the other." In last night's episode, every time someone talks about it, it sounds different, and I'm guessing even the writers haven't nailed it down yet.
In last night's "Fade Into You," Damon, Stefan and Alaric make a road trip to Portland to try and find Kai's coven, and wind up disturbing Kai's dad, who learns that Kai might escape and immediately tries to kill Jo to keep Kai from taking power. Meanwhile, Kai does actually put in motion a new plan to escape, using his sister's hidden magic and Bonnie's blood — a plan which, for some reason, involves eating dinner with Bonnie for a long-ass time first. And everybody else gets together for Thanksgiving dinner (well, not Matt or Jeremy) where they basically just overshare for an hour when Jo isn't almost dying.
How do people deal with all these reveals? Mostly by being selfish and dickish, because that's why we love this show. Damon decides he's going to get Bonnie back by any means necessary, even if it means releasing Kai — so he compels the newly-human Alaric to help him. (Note that he doesn't compel Alaric to forget that he's under compulsion, or not to tell anybody that he's compelled.)
Meanwhile, Tyler decides that the Gemini coven, in addition to being named after someone from Prince's Batman soundtrack, is wack and should not be able to kill his new girlfriend or force her to kill her brother — so he hides Liv in Mystic Falls, the place where magic doesn't work. (It's like a town of vegetarians called Meatberg.) No matter that if Liv doesn't play her part soon, Kai can become a super powerful Coven leader and maybe rule the world or something — Tyler's finally got a new blonde in his life.
In the midst of all this Elena's most short-lived romantic triangle of all time gets swept under the rug — Liam the sexy doctor face suspects that Elena is supernatural, and she agonizes over whether to tell him. In, weirdly, the episode's best scene, Elena asks Stefan how he decided to trust her with his secret, back when she was human and they had just met. Stefan replies that it was easy because he loved her (past tense!) and wanted her to know everything. Then he says "You owe me dinner," because he wasn't invited to Friendsgiving Dinner, and hangs up. Elena then realizes she's not in love with Liam (whom, to be fair, she's just met) and compels him to forget all of the huge amounts of mystical crap he's seen.
(Sidenote: I sort of assume this show will eventually end with Elena and Stefan getting back together, because it'll bring everything full circle and they're the doppelgangers, yadda yadda. I really hope this doesn't happen, not because I'm a Damon/Elena shipper in particular, but because I really like seeing them as exes who've gotten over it and started just treating each other like friends.)
Then Elena goes to Damon, who confesses that Bonnie's pointless self-sacrifice, letting Damon out of the cage at the cost of trapping Bonnie with a psycho, was motivated by having spent months listening to Damon whine about his love for Elena. Elena pretends not to understand this at first, then basically tells Damon that she may have a glimmer of feelings for him, and she'll choose him over everything else (for now, at least) if he helps her rescue Bonnie.
As for Stefan, he has an awkward scene with Caroline, who's been obviously into him for a while — as the teddy bear, animated by Damon, points out. Stefan tells her he pushed her away more than anybody while Damon was dead, because he knew she would be a shoulder to cry on and he didn't want to cry any more. Caroline seems to hate him a little less after this, although she doesn't let him say whatever else he was about to say, in his stumbly, awkward fashion. Muppet Angel, never change.
I keep wondering if I'm a Stefan/Caroline shipper — I kind of don't think so, because the chemistry feels more friend-oriented. But they're the most reliably decent people on the show, apart from Matt, and it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if the two of them went on a roadtrip together for a few dozen episodes.