It’s a TVD Christmas episode, which of course means we’re celebrating the holiday in at least two timelines. We open in 1917, at a camp in Monterey, California. Some adorable kids are excited about Santa’s arrival, only to discover the noises outside their tent aren’t reindeer but a Ripper: Stefan Salvatore, at his worst.
Cut to the present: Stefan in his final 24 hours before handing himself over to Cade. For some reason, Caroline is asleep. I think if my love were around for less than 24 more hours before disappearing forever, I’d be drinking as much coffee as necessary to not miss a moment, but whatevs.
Also, for some reason, Stefan wants to have a big Christmas celebration with the whole gang. Again–on his last day of life. This is so strange. But okay, I’ll roll with it.
It also turns out to be the last day Caroline gets to see her daughters before Alaric takes them away forever. OMG are you kidding? Ric, do this part tomorrow, so she doesn’t have to split her “last day together” experiences. Seriously.
But alas, the weird pretend happy Christmas play isn’t meant to be anyway, because the next people through the door are Sibyl and Damon. Damon is quite sore at Ric for the whole stake-through-the-heart thing. Ric, for his part, is at least awkward about that particular elephant in the room. But there’s also a moment when his face seems to read, I should’ve known better than to think this guy could stay dead. Yes, Ric, you should have seen this coming.
Damon gets a moment alone with Stefan and explains that the brief sojourn from the land of the living gave him a chance to chat with their new boss, Cade. Who, by the way, would like a one-on-one with his other new hire…so Damon stakes Stefan. On his last day of life! So cold.
In a much happier place, Bonnie and Enzo are still in bed, cuddling and planning a trip to Paris. I really love the chemistry between these two. It’s just never getting old. The phone rings, and it’s Caroline, warning them not to come to Christmas after all, so Enzo won’t be at risk from Sibyl again. They lament the theft of the pitchfork, and it occurs to them that while they know where Sibyl is, they have a unique opportunity to go find the weapon…Caroline promises to charm Sibyl and learn where she’s holed up these days. And it even works; she girl-talks Sibyl into bragging about the sweet McMansion she’s Sirened somebody into handing over, in a division called Pond Estates. Caroline gives Bonnie and Enzo the tip, and they’re off.
Caroline is also the perfect friend, as always. She has a gift for Damon, which he pockets without opening, while she explains that as awful as he is right now, she knows there’s a future in which they are friends.
Damon, on the other hand, is a terrible guest, as usual…he manically announces that he’s going to kill someone here tonight. Everyone tries not to look at Matt’s dad, because really, that’s your quintessential redshirt in this group.
Stefan wakes up “beyond the veil,” as Cade describes it. It seems that while Stefan has technically agreed to work for Cade, that’s not entirely what Cade had in mind…he doesn’t want a reluctant worker bee, he wants a highly motivated Wolf of Wall Street version of Stefan. He’s requested this little meeting to woo Stefan into giving his all, rather than treating this as a 9-to-5 gig. They go on a mindwalk to, you guessed it, Monterey, CA, in 1917.
In the memory of gruesome bloody mayhem, Stefan stiffly acknowledges that this looks like his Ripper-era handiwork and that he certainly recognizes the place. Cade mentions that this memory is from Christmas, and Stefan objects that no, he’s sure that can’t be right, because while murdering a camp full of migrant workers, kids and all, sure sounds like his idea of a good time back then, he would never have done such a thing on Christmas. What???
Bonnie and Enzo have found the place where Sibyl is staying. Enzo can’t enter, because there is still a human owner of this house. He has to watch miserably from the door as Bonnie sneaks in to look for the weapon. She immediately finds Seline, however, who’s in a pensive mood now that she knows hell is truly her next stop. Seline calmly instructs the homeowner to invite Enzo inside. The family is creepily oblivious to everything going on, incidentally; it seems Seline has Sirened them to entertain her by celebrating Christmas as if there’s nothing wrong.
Seline fills Bonnie and Enzo in on her situation, while easily handing over the pitchfork. She also desperately wants to talk to Alaric, because she says that the girls need to be cured of the psychic link she forged with them, or they’ll never accept her absence. Why does she care about the girls, after she was willing to trade them to Cade just the other day? Well, it seems that now that deal-making is off the table, her only hope of avoiding hell is to redeem herself somehow. This is meant to reflect a death row conversion, I guess. To this end, she’s also making a list of all the people she’s killed; Bonnie recognizes this Stefanism and comments on it, which segues us back to 1917.
Seline saw Ripper Stefan standing over the bodies of the family he’d massacred, and she followed him back to his cabin to watch him scratch their names into the wall. This is where it gets weird again. She read his mind and thought he was full of “anguish, not evil,” so she edited his memories slightly…this is why he was sure he would never have killed on Christmas, which he characterizes now as, “she made me believe I was worthy of a life.” Again, what?!? What is this crazy crap where you can murder kids and feel okay about it as long as you only did it on the other 364 days of the year? This is stupid.
Back at creepy Christmas 2016, Damon is quizzing people about their bad acts, because he’s choosing the most deserving of hell for his first delivery to Cade. He actually throws Penny’s death in Matt’s face, which is just another dick move in a season of them. Matt rage-sputters to remind Damon that Penny’s death was not murder but a tragic accident and also, WTF, dude?
Damon turns to Peter (Matt’s dad), and asks the worst thing he’s ever done. Peter answers that he gambled his money away and lied on his taxes. Even Matt can’t help throwing the side-eye, because, as Damon quickly points out, Peter should really have listed abandoning his wife and kids ahead of fooling the IRS. Damon grabs Peter and demands a real answer about his crappy, selfish decisions. And they were crappy, selfish decisions…Peter found out his wife was pregnant a second time, and he realized he was doomed to be a poor husband and father instead of a free bird with plenty of spare cash and the world as his frickin’ oyster, and he just bailed. He’s a loser, and Matt suddenly deflates, no longer able to muster up so much outrage at the knife to his dad’s throat. Can’t say we blame you, Matty. You deserve better, and always did.
Cade has one more stop planned for the mindwalk: Mystic Falls High. It’s just moments from that scene in the pilot when Stefan and Elena met for the first time. Cade challenges Stefan to admit that his selfish insistence on being part of Elena’s life was the worst thing that ever happened to her. Elena was a kind, decent girl, a loving friend and sister. She had a devoted guardian. If Stefan had stayed away from her, she might have had a chance at a decent life…assuming that no one had ever noticed she was a Petrova doppelganger, that Bonnie’s emerging witchcraft hadn’t drawn otherworldly menaces to town, that Tyler hadn’t ever triggered his curse, etc., etc., you see where I’m going with this–it’s actually really dumb to say Elena had a chance at a normal, happy life, with or without Stefan. But it plays neatly into Stefan’s martyr complex, so Cade played the right card in this game.
The endgame for Cade is that he wants Stefan and Damon to do a different job than the Sirens did, one for which hot boys are generally better suited than hot girls. The Sirens were out there finding bad people and killing them, which is fine…but Cade wants the Salvatore brothers to find good people and corrupt them, because their souls are more valuable to hell. It makes sense; hot girls easily get the creepiest, most aggressive guys’ attention; charming boys can play a role and convince naive, good-hearted girls to do bad things. You use different lures to catch different fish.
By the same token, Cade believes he will ultimately win Stefan’s devotion naturally, by encouraging Stefan to indulge his darkness. He happily makes a wager with Stefan: Do what I ask, for one year, and if you still want to go home, I’ll free you from my service and from hell. He’s comfortable with the wager because the year will be quite profitable if Stefan really commits, but also because he believes Stefan will be corrupted.
Back at the Salvatore mansion, Bonnie and Enzo rush in with the pitchfork. Enzo strikes it, and Sibyl crumples in pain…but so does Bonnie! While Enzo attends to Bonnie’s distress, Damon whisks Sibyl away. Bonnie theorizes that her lost witchcraft ability is connected to psychic abilities, on which the Sirens’ powers are based. But it’s probably more than that. TBD, TVD.
Sibyl coos at Damon about how he instinctually rescued her, so he must really be devoted to her now. His humanity is off, of course, so he gives her his smarmiest whatever-you-say smile, because what’s really going on is that he’s kissing up to her until he knows for sure he’s safe from her mind control and that he doesn’t need her for anything.
She remembers the gift from Caroline, still wrapped neatly in his pocket, and she asks him to give it to her. He does, because he still doesn’t care about anything. But whoops, it turns out to be Elena’s necklace. Genuine disgust registers in his face at letting Sibyl play at being Elena, so he rips her heart out! Unfortunately, she will definitely come back from this, just as he did last week.
Alaric has agreed to let Seline see the girls one last time, because he is seriously creeped out by how they keep yammering on about Seline, so he can’t deny that they seem to be imprinted, as she said. She promises them they’re about to forget her.
Damon and Stefan drive out of town to start serving Cade. As they pass the city limits, Stefan flips his switch. The Ripper is back.