OMG, you guys! How did we all make it through the last two months without new episodes of “The Vampire Diaries?” One People’s Choice Award and countless dull Thursday nights later, the CW show is back with a bang in the form of a slow-simmering episode that picks off right after Elena’s spooky car crash. As new friends get to know each other and old ones get reacquainted, exciting developments are looming for our favorite Mystic Falls inhabitants – starting with a few big story reveals. Who’s excited?

To recap for those of you with foggy memories: Bonnie’s a witch, Logan’s back, Logan’s dead, and Damon wants to reanimate Katherine. More importantly, Elena had S-E-X with Stefan, freaked when she saw Katherine’s photo, crashed her car, and ran over a hooded man with reanimating limbs who then started coming for her. And that is where we pick up this week.

[Full recap of Thursday's (Jan. 21) "The Vampire Diaries" after the break...]

Just as the creepy hooded figure approaches Elena’s car – is it a vampire, or is it… something else? – he suddenly turns around and runs away in a blur. We quickly find out why, as Damon shows up with the quickness and helps Elena get free, showing a little bit of tenderness and concern. “I look like her,” she whines before fainting in his arms. Damon carries Elena off as sirens approach.

Voice-over Alert, but it’s not Stefan! (Shock) It’s Alaric! Dang, everyone in Mystic Falls has a little diary action going on. He writes/talks ominously about how back in the day, he fell in love. Something happened. He came to Mystic Falls, where he feels the evil throughout town. He flashes back to his wife, Isobel ("24’s" Mia Kirshner!) whose picture he keeps on his desk, which can only mean one thing: she’s totally dead.

Road trip! Elena wakes up from her crash nap in the passenger seat of a sweet vintage Mustang, with Damon at the wheel. They’re in Georgia. “Seriously?” “Seriously.” She jibber jabbers about the creepy hooded man she hit, wondering who he was. Damon wonders, too. (This is just like that road trip Pacey and Joey took on “Dawson’s Creek!” Wait, does that mean Damon and Elena are destined to be together?)

Elena’s still disoriented and confused, but not enough that she wants go home. Her cell rings; Stefan is worried about her, especially since she’s with Damon and doesn’t have her vervain necklace! But she’s still mad (understandably so) and as Damon points out, they’re already “almost there.” Damon promises not to mind-control Elena and she agrees to go with him on his mysterious journey. And thus begins what BuddyTV’s John Kubicek has brilliantly dubbed “Elena and Damon’s Excellent Adventure!”

Back at school – you know, where Elena SHOULD be?? - Jeremy finds Alaric in the parking lot. Alaric is looking desperately for his special man ring…meaning, he’s not wearing it in the sunlight. Meaning…he’s no vampire! Jeremy tells his new fave teach about his ancestor’s journal, which he’s all about this episode. You can be sure this will lead to something, just maybe not right now.

Elsewhere, Stefan finds Bonnie to help him find Elena. He asks her to cast a spell on Elena’s necklace just to know if Elena’s ok, but the witch thing is so new that she doesn’t feel comfy doing work-for-hire just yet. Ah, what the heck? Nobody will see, she thinks, before pulling some “Hocus Pocus” shizz RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF CAMPUS! No one actually notices, because Bonnie’s witchy mojo is M.I.A. Magic spell fail.

So who was that creepy, hooded, bone-snapping-back-into-place-man she ran over? Elena wonders. Damon doesn’t know. It’s not like he just knows every vampire in town. He explains. They arrive at a bar, where Elena reminds him that she’s not old enough to drink. Yeah right, Elena – we all know that every teenager in Mystic Falls is a closet underage drinker! (Which reminds us, where’s Caroline?) But those silly drinking laws don’t matter because Damon knows the proprietor – Gina Torres from “Firefly!” She and Damon greet each other like old friends. By which I mean, they swap spit.

Gina Torres’s name is Bree. She serves a round of shots to celebrate how Damon totally broke her heart 20 years ago, though she seems pretty ok with it now. They met in college; she knew his bloodsucking secret, but it was all good because she had a secret of her own. She’s a witch! Of course she is. She’s a black woman in Mystic Falls.

Back in school, Jeremy wanders the library, acting like it’s his first time in a library. He meets cute with a little brunette named Anna, and they get to talking about folklore and town legends and…yes…vampires!

Bonnie’s goes to her grandma’s house in a panic. Her powers are all gone, and none of their stupid secret witchy books can help her get them back! Jasmine Guy tells her that books won’t help her creative block. It’s got to come from the inside. Ah, the classic “You can’t learn what you need from books, you have to figure it out yourself with virtually no guidance and possibly by putting your life in danger” school of thought. Mystic Falls breeds some horrid parental figures.

Elena finally calls Aunt Jenna to explain that she’s ok, but lies about where she is. Jenna, of course, doesn’t question her story. (See aforementioned “Bad Parenting” fad.)

Bree and Damon rehash the last time he tried to bring Katherine back twenty years ago. Aha, so that’s what this trip is all about! Damon got Bree to help him back then, but it didn’t work. What if they use another crystal and another spell? he asks. She says it won’t work unless you’re a member of Old Timey Witch Emily’s family. It would appear that Bonnie will be of more use than we thought.

Bonnie goes back to the Fell’s Church ruins, where Emily possessed her and she lost her powers. She hears a sound in the trees, but doesn’t see anyone around. Then she falls, screaming, INTO A HOLE IN THE GROUND!

Stefan calls Elena, but she’s still angry. She demands to know how she’s connected to Katherine, but Stefan says he doesn’t exactly know himself. Damon appears concerned, but Elena doesn’t buy it. Inside, Bree calls someone to tip them off about Damon’s appearance.

Stefan shows up at Bonnie’s grandma’s house and introduces himself to Jasmine Guy. He’s looking for Bonnie and presents himself as a friendly neighborhood vampire good guy. Jasmine Guy tells him that she knows that he knows what she is, and she totally senses what he is. She wants him to help Bonnie, but will remain cautious since he’s a dangerous vampire type.

Anna guides Jeremy around the library, where he most definitely has not spent any time during the past few years. She sure seems to know her Mystic Falls history. She’s home-schooled, which is why we haven’t seen her before – and why she knows about the town’s history with vampires! (NERD!) Anna knows about vampires because her creepy grandpa told her they existed, but Jeremy still thinks they’re just allegories for the evils of Civil War soldiers. She’s impressed with his ability to carry on such an intellectual conversation. So are we! Anna mentions that her grandpa showed her a journal filled with spooky vampire drawings and scribbles, JUST LIKE the one Jeremy has! He’s intrigued and totally leads her on to learn more.

Elena and Damon chow down in the bar and share some insightful small talk. Elena wonders if she’s descended from Katherine somehow, but Damon assures her that vampires can’t have babies. He’s POSITIVE. Never in a million years! I mean, Katherine would have had to have a kid before she was a vampire, and he doesn’t think that happened. (…OR DID IT??) He eats Elena’s pickles, prompting her to wonder how he even eats real food. As long as he has blood in his system, he winks, he’s got perfectly normal bodily functions. Those of you watching at home who take that to mean bodily functions in every possible meaning of the term and are now picturing every facet of Ian Somerhalder’s physiology, get your mind out of the gutter! Meanwhile, Elena submits to underage drinking/peer pressure and has a beer. For lunch! Now that’s living.

After falling into the random hole in the ground, Bonnie is stuck in a stone-lined underground lair and slowly going out of her freaking mind. She hears noises coming from behind a door marked with a pentagram, and even though common sense tells you never to approach a door marked with a pentagram that has creepy whispery voices coming from it, she inches closer to listen. Suddenly, a shadowy figure drops down behind her from above, and Bonnie screams again! Katerina Graham’s pipes are getting quite the work out this episode.

Oh, but it’s only Stefan. (False scares, how we’ve missed them!) He’s come to help her by vampire-jumping her out of the hole. She tells him about the voices she heard down below, but he assures her that while they’re still barely alive, the evil vampires are weak and desiccated and locked safely down below.

Back at the bar, Elena’s sauced off of doing shots with Damon. Her good friends Johnny Walker, Jose Cuervo, and Captain Morgan are helping her deal with her boy problem, you see. A mysterious figure walks in and exchanges a look with Bree.

At what I can only assume is the Mystic Grill, Jeremy and Anna are having a quasi-first non-date over foosball and discussing (what else?) vampires. She thinks she’s found her dream emo boy and asks him on a real date to watch scary movies on DVD, but he’s not into her in that way because he’s still not over Vampire Vicki. But he’d love to hear more about this journal, friend-o!

Elena is drunkenly playing pool with strangers when Aunt Jenna calls, concerned for the first time ever. Bravo, Jenna. As Elena’s drunken ass walks outside to take the call, Mystery Man grabs her from behind and drags her away. Inside, Damon notices that his new BFF is missing and goes looking for her. He wanders into a lot, where the assailant beats him with a baseball bat and douses him in gasoline. Elena tries to stop him, but he flashes his vampire face as a warning. He explains himself – he’s just getting revenge on Damon for killing his girlfriend, Lexi. (Remember when Damon killed Stefan’s old friend Lexi just to get in good with the townsfolk? Yeah, that DID suck.)

Elena remembers Lexi telling her that her boyfriend was a human. Well, he used to be – he turned so that he could be with Lexi forever. How sweet! Elena begs him not to set Damon afire, telling him that Lexi loved him. Emotional, he lets Damon live before running off into the shadows.

Stefan brings Bonnie home to grandma, who thanks him for helping her granddaughter. Stefan calls her Sheila, and their polite stranger repartee melts – he remembers her from Mystic Falls circa 1969, when she was a young antiwar protester. Jasmine Guy practically blushes in the bask of Paul Wesley’s attentions! They reminisce down memory lane but keep a serious tone; she doesn’t want the townsfolk to see them together and put two and two together, putting her witch family in danger. They reach a tenuous mutual alliance but she warns she’ll always put Bonnie first.

Damon confronts an emotional Bree, a little pissed that she set him up. She comes clean; Lexi was her friend, and she’s distraught that he killed her. Their chemistry is fascinating; like Paul Wesley and Jasmine Guy, Ian Somerhalder and Gina Torres have a flirtatious young man-older woman dynamic going on; the brothers Salvatore are, technically, way older then these witches if you think about it, and the way the invisible currents keep changing between the two pairings gives these scenes an unexpected crackle.

Back to Damon, who feels betrayed. Bree warns him that she puts vervain in everything she drinks so that he won’t think of biting her. But she’s still scared of Damon, and tells him that Emily’s spell book holds the secret to reversing the spell. He apologizes before coldly killing her by stabbing her in the gut with his fist. Sigh. Sometimes men just can’t get over their exes. It’s clear that it was always about Katherine for Damon, and he’ll kill even the people he likes to get her back. (Elena, are you listening?)

Back on the road, an oblivious Elena asks Damon why he brought her along. He admits he kind of likes her company, plus he wanted to piss Stefan off. She rubs in the fact that she saved his life, which will ostensibly now prevent Damon from pulling a Bree on Elena in the near future.

Elena finally shows up to talk to Stefan. She can handle the truth about vampires and witches, but the lie about her resemblance to Katherine is too much. When did he realize she and Katherine were totally different people? She suspects that he confused his feelings for Katherine with his feelings for her, and that’s just too tangled a mess to undo.

Or is it? Stefan reveals that he first realized who she was the day that her parents died. Stefan had been nearby when the car crashed, and raced to save them all. Her parents died because he saved her first, which is when he noticed that she was Katherine’s doppelganger and began obsessively stalking her throughout Mystic Falls. Eventually he figured out how different she was (i.e. that she wasn’t a cold, lying biotch like Katherine), but couldn’t leave town without saying hi – hence, their random run-in that first day in the hallway. [Aaaaaand that is what we call a callback, folks!]

But why do she and Katherine look EXACTLY the same?? Elena still wonders.

Are you ready for this?

Are you??

Stefan explains that Elena was adopted.

Her parents weren’t really her parents! She COULD BE Katherine’s great-great-great-whatever granddaughter! Stefan’s pretty sure of this because around the time that she was born, there were no records that Elena’s mother had been pregnant. To know more he’ll have to investigate Katherine’s family, but that’s too dangerous at the moment. None of that matters to him, anyway: he loves Elena, and he tells her so. They kiss.

Elena comes home to an angry Aunt Jenna, who grills her about lying about where she’s been. But just like a teenager, Elena turns it back around on her: Was she adopted? Jenna’s face gives it all away. She says they asked her not to tell, but Elena’s pissed just the same and storms up to her room to pout.

Cut back to Alaric, sitting at the bar. He spots Damon sitting a few feet away and flashes back to the night he came home to find a vampire eating his wife. That vampire was Damon! Rather than jump to action, however, Alaric coolly puts down his drink. Plotting revenge for another episode, perhaps?

Next week: A sock hop! A stranger calls! Elena is attacked while wearing 1950s clothes!