The time frame is a little weird as we come into this episode. Bonnie is trying to get Caroline out of bed, then sighing as if they’ve been having this struggle for days or weeks as Caroline moped over Stefan. However, Damon is sitting right there waiting to be discovered in his catatonic state in the living room, so presumably it hasn’t actually been more than a day since all that went down. On the other hand, Violet Fell is already out killing a bunch of folks and freaking out about how Caroline misled her about how things would be…and if she’s only been a vampire for about a day, then she kind of has a point; Caroline, on whom I heaped such praise last week, anticipating her shepherding the baby vamp through the transition, must have given her a pep talk and then wandered off to start wallowing. So…based on Caroline and Bonnie’s chat, and my assumption that Care-bear would have at least stuck with Violet for a full day to show her the ropes, I would say this episode should be days after the Miss Mystic Falls pageant. But then why didn’t anyone see Damon in that chair until now? And for that matter, how’d he get in the chair? He got mind-jumped by Sibyl down in the dungeon, and he’s catatonic. How is he neatly seated upstairs now? These are the sort of questions it doesn’t pay to ask.
Anyway, Violet is, as mentioned, killing some folks. Stefan cheerfully kills her for Cade. Bye-bye, Miss Mystic Falls.
Back at the mansion, the dumbest plot point we’ve seen this season is about to go down. Just roll through the punches, because they’ll make it worth your while. See, Caroline makes a single attempt at mindwalking with Damon and can’t get anywhere, and Bonnie’s no longer a witch, so that’s just it. That’s the extent of their effort to reach to Damon before giving up and doing something unbearably dumb. (Enzo and Alaric aren’t in the episode, so we get no mention of “Enzo’s also been Sirened, maybe he has an idea,” or “Hey, let’s see what the Armory archives might have!”)
Somehow, their “only option to save Damon” is to let Sibyl have anything she wants in exchange for helping him. It makes no sense, happens way too quickly, and the stakes aren’t high enough–there’s no moment of explanation for the urgency. Maybe there’s a deleted scene in which they also explain the timeline weirdness, like, “It’s been a week since the pageant, and no one’s seen or heard from Damon in all that time; if he’s been in this condition for a week, we have to get him out before yadda yadda yadda.”
But let’s accept their ridiculous premise, because everything will get good very soon after. With Sibyl’s help, Caroline and Bonnie are able to get the mindwalk going. What they find is a Pleasantville version of Mystic Falls: Everyone Damon either loved or feels guilty about is still alive, and no one’s ever heard the name Damon Salvatore, except in the historical context of having been a local Civil War hero. He’s got his own little It’s a Wonderful Life story going in his head, because he thinks the world would be better without him. Caroline and Bonnie quickly figure out that the secret to getting Damon back is to convince him he’s worthy of forgiveness.
There’s a brief mislead with Vicki Donovan, but that’s just a treat for the fans and a way to introduce the “Who’s Damon Salvatore?” angle. The real action is going down with our beloved former sheriff, Liz Forbes. Caroline is briefly transported with joy at seeing her mom again, even though she knows this isn’t real. But hey, Damon loved Liz too, so his approximation of her is going to be pretty spot on.
But this is the old Liz, who never met Damon, and she quickly identifies that Caroline is a vampire…and reacts the way first-season Liz reacted to such things. She tortures the hell out of her. Caroline overcomes her own pain and emotions to remember what’s really going on here: This isn’t about her and her mom, it’s about her and Damon. She tells Liz how Damon was Liz’s best friend, the one person who truly understood the depth of her loss, because he wasn’t merely comforting Caroline; he was mourning for Liz himself. Caroline says that was when she realized she’d forgiven Damon for everything. (Granted, he’s done some really nasty stuff since then, but hey, that’s a story for another time, I guess.)
Bonnie needs guidance, but more importantly, she’s figured out the beauty of this situation: She gets to see her Grams again. They have a lovely talk, and Bonnie convinces Grams to help her find Damon. Of course, Bonnie’s keen to the rules of this place, so she knows that Grams is just another piece of Damon, which means that her agreeing to help is a guarantee of success. She uses the letter Damon left her before going to sleep for the rest of her natural life–the letter she refused to read–as the object for a location spell.
The spell takes us to the crypt, where we get a brief visit from Tyler Lockwood. But Bonnie comes back out with an announcement: Stefan is the final piece of this puzzle.
Meanwhile, out in the real world, Peter Maxwell was on his way out of town with the bell, trying to keep it from the Sirens. However, Caroline made the incredibly stupid deal with Sibyl and begged Matt to give Sibyl the bell. This reasonably pissed Matt off, and he did call Peter back to town, not to hand over the bell in exchange for Damon’s sanity, but to ring the bloody thing, killing Sibyl before she can save Damon. It seems Matt is really not over Damon’s killing his sister. Hard to blame him there.
Of course, there’s a catch–ringing the bell won’t target the Sirens, it will open a hellmouth and consume everyone and everything for miles. Stefan cheers that ringing the bell will earn Matt a spot in hell, and Matt points out that he won’t ring the bell unless Stefan compels him, and compulsion is a hell loophole–he won’t have chosen the evil action, so he won’t be guilty.
Then Stefan reminds us how clever he can be. He compels Matt to do one of two things by 9 PM: Either ring the bell, or in your heart of hearts, forgive Damon. If Matt can’t find forgiveness in his heart, then he is, in effect, choosing to ring the bell rather than putting the greater good ahead of his own emotions. It’s brilliant, classic evil Stefan.
Matt’s gearing up to ring the bell, begging his father to flee and try to get the town to evacuate. Peter picks right now to be a devoted father, refusing to leave his son again. Matt begs Peter to kill him, and…really? Straight to “kill me,” not “knock me out” or “tie my hands” or anything else that could be tried and failed along the way? Matt may still have a bit of a death wish.
Stefan arrives to the mindwalk party, and Damon reveals he really needs to forgive Stefan, not the other way around. After all, Stefan made the decision to make them both vampires, and Damon’s never really forgiven him for it. Stefan’s a dick, as usual. But this is one of those cases of forgiveness being for the giver, not the recipient.
Damon’s out of the trance just in time to superspeed over to the bell tower. He stops Matt just after the eleventh of the twelve rings that would open hell. And he does it by knocking Matt out, which somehow never occurred to Matt or Peter…whatever, it was mostly a fine episode and had some great moments, like Matt’s skull banging the bell as he falls:
Matt and Damon finally have a conversation they should have had long before now, but Damon’s pride is his greatest weakness. He finally tells Matt he’s sorry for killing Vicki. Matt, perhaps humbled by the realization that his anger at Damon nearly cost thousands of people their lives, accepts the apology with grace, even allowing that he could see himself truly forgiving Damon if he keeps on this path of redemption.
Matt announces he’s off to look into being the new sheriff, and Damon says, “I always did like the sheriffs in this town.” It’s a nice moment. After all the ugliness this season, they gave us an episode of remembering why we love Damon–it’s because of the people he chooses to love and how much they love him back.
Speaking of which, Bonnie finally gets to learn what was in that letter from Damon. She’d told him if he ever wanted her to know, he’d have to tell her out loud, to her face. So he does. He recites the whole thing, and it brings tears to her eyes (and mine). Their friendship is special, and I’d missed it this year.
Finally, Sibyl and Seline are sitting down to chat about how much they each think the other sucks and how much they each feel they have always been the wronged party. It’s a superpowered mean girls showdown, hilariously interrupted by Cade! The bell was rung enough to let him walk freely into this world for a visit, and he’s quite dissatisfied with his former employees’ performances of late. They start babbling desperately, each trying to make a deal, and he just sets them both on hellfire, because he is not having it. Bye, Sirens, you’ve been absolute evil wenches, and we’ve loved to hate you.
What about you? Were you able to forgive the weak plot points in this episode? After all, forgiveness is clearly good for the soul. Talk about it in the comments!