Finally! An episode of “The Vampire Diaries” in which we learn things. Like how vampire biology works. Why they don’t sparkle in the sunlight. How Catherine died. What fashion designers Damon likes to wear. You know, the essentials.

[Full recap of Thursday (Oct. 1) night's "The Vampire Diaries" after the break...]

We were getting tired of the kind of opening scene where a main character wakes up/has a dream/wakes up from a dream, so thank goodness this one begins when Elena investigates a noise downstairs. She goes to downstairs in her darkened house in a sequence straight out of Horror Filmmaking 101 when a television report catches her eye; another victim of the strange “animal” attacks in Mystic Falls has been found dead, and it’s…Elena Gilbert!  Whaaaat? Damon pops up and chases her around the house, finally catching her and sinking his killer vampire fangs into her warm, inviting neck…and then, Stefan wakes up. Yup, another dream.

Turns out Stefan’s nightmare was planted in his head by Damon while he slept, which begs the question – what happens if a vampire doesn’t get a good night’s sleep? Why does he need to sleep at all? But never mind those details. This is “Vampire Diaries,” not “Twilight!” Who needs explanations?

We’re reminded once again how much stronger Damon’s powers are than Stefan’s because Damon drinks human blood when they take turns shanking each other with a penknife. Damon heals fast, while Stefan needs a bit of a minute before his perfect abs go back to all-the-way perfect. In an episode filled with references to Twitter and “Twilight,” we are gifted with the episode’s best mandatory pop culture citation as Damon sulks off after Stefan ruins his shirt: “This is John Varvatos, dude. Dick move.” HAR!

Meanwhile at the Gilbert house, Elena is watching Aunt Jenna watch the news. Jenna’s hurling insults at the news reporter on the screen – Logan Scumfeld, the guy who broke Jenna’s heart years ago. Meanwhile, Elena’s getting the family heirlooms out of storage because they’ve been promised to the Mayor’s wife, Mrs. Lockwood, to go on display during the big town Founder’s Ball celebration.

Stefan shows up, and he and Elena kiss. Upstairs, they kiss some more on the bed – and get horizontal, even! Stefan stops when he sees himself getting vampy in the mirror. Message so far to teens: foreplay is ok, but don’t go too far or someone might get hurt!

Elena asks Stefan to the Founder’s Ball, while elsewhere Caroline is vampire hypnotized into asking Damon to be her date. He makes her promise to take him. He really wants to go. We wonder why?

More importantly, Damon is reading a book, and that book is Stephenie Meyer’s “The Twilight Saga: New Moon.” It’s about TIME this show address the coincidences between the two vampire romance properties! Even better is how they do it with sly emphasis to what makes “VD” different from “Twilight.”

“How come you don’t sparkle?” Caroline asks Damon. “Because in the real world, vampires burn in the sun,” he answers. Damon matter of factly explains a lot of things about the vampires of VD, like why they need their class rings and how a mere vampire bite (or, in Caroline’s case, lots of them throughout the erogenous zones) isn’t enough to turn a human into a bloodsucker. “This book has it all wrong,” he concludes.

It’s nice to see Caroline’s enjoying her vampire relationship. She asks Damon if he’s going to kill her, and is unperturbed when he says he is. Almost tenderly, he tells her he’s not quite ready to kill her (Aww!) because he still needs to use her for something (Oh…). But Caroline doesn’t care. Such is the power of the Somerhottie.

At the Mystic Grill: high school douche bag Tyler and his parents being waited on by Vicki. Tyler is clearly embarrassed to be associated with her, and so we hate him. We learn that Tyler’s dad is the Mayor.

Meanwhile, Bonnie is complaining as usual; everyone’s got a hunky vampire boyfriend to bring to the Founder’s Ball. What about me?? Soon enough, Caroline guides the convo to a more important subject: Caroline! She’s itching to tell Bonnie about Damon’s secret past and why he and Stefan don’t get along: Catherine had chosen Damon, and Stefan got so mad he acted out and manipulated her until she switched bros. I’m convinced that Bonnie is acting out because all of her best friends are busy with their vampire men, because she tells Damon’s story to Elena and plants a seed in her mind that Stefan is not to be trusted.

Back at the Salvatore house, Uncle/Nephew Zach demands to know why Damon has returned. Damon’s not pleased with Zach’s tone and choke holds him until Stefan walks in, ruining the fun. Zach and Stefan talk about getting rid of Damon, but Damon is too powerful because of his all-human diet. Only one thing could weaken him; the mystical verbane plant inside the locket Stefan gave to Elena, which helped her resist Damon’s vampire mojo. If Damon ingested said verbane, he’d become weak enough to defeat! Too bad the plant’s been extinct for generations… or has it? Zach leads Stefan through a secret passageway in the house to reveal his own personal stash of healthy, live verbane plants, cultivated under a grow light.

Stefan is getting dressed for the party, which means he’s wearing a wifebeater to show off his guns. Guns which he doesn’t have permits for, I’m sure. But just when you’re drooling over his hotness (and noticing his shoulder tattoo), in walks a shirtless Somerhottie. Damon FTW!

Elena gets a call from Tyler’s mom, Mrs. Lockwood. The pocket watch is missing from the Gilbert family jewels that were meant to go on display. Elena goes to interrogate Jeremy. Did he Ebay it? For once, Jeremy didn’t do something bad for drugs/alcohol/Vicki – he hid the watch because it was supposed to be passed down to him. He gives her the watch grudgingly, but after thinking it over, she lets Jeremy keep it.

As Damon and Stefan get ready to party, they have a nice brotherly moment reminiscing over the very first Founder’s Ball, which they attended over a century ago. “It’s cool not getting old,” Damon says. “I like being the eternal stud.”

“Yes, being a 150 year old teenager has been the height of my happiness,” Stefan answers dryly, raising his glass of scotch. Is this the existential convo Edward Cullen needed to have? Meanwhile, we’re wondering why a vampire is drinking scotch, and furthermore, if vampires can get drunk? Questions, questions.

Damon spies a photo of Catherine and muses back to1864. He hated watching Stefan and Catherine together at the dance. Damon pours himself a drink, but he’s figured out that Stefan’s spiked it with verbane. “I’m not some drunk sorority chick,” he says, somewhat miffed. “You can’t rufie me.” Damon’s a little pissed. He leaves for the party.

On his way out, Stefan discusses the failed verbane scotch with Zach, revealing that he never thought Damon would drink it, he just wanted to put him off guard. He’s going to try to slip him an even more potent batch at the party. Stefan, incidentally, is pimped out. These vampires clean up nice.

At the Founder’s Ball, Tyler takes Vicki in the back entrance to avoid introducing her to his parents. Caroline and Damon show up and are spotted by Caroline’s mom, who is revealed to be… a lady cop! When her mom disapproves of Damon, Caroline tells her that her dad is in Memphis with “Steven.” Does Caroline have two daddies? Stay tuned and we’ll see if that storyline plays out…

Night has fallen on the party. Aunt Jenna is cornered by Logan the News Guy, who she doesn’t want to see. He asks her out. She says no.

Artifacts from the town history decorate the house, including a pair of wedding rings from Elena’s family. Elena finds the original guest registry of the first Founder’s party and notices something strange. A Stefan and Damon Salvatore signed the book at the Founder’s Ball over a century ago! Damon walks in just in time to fib that they were the “original” Salvatore brothers, who coincidentally had a few issues of their own over a lady. Elena would love to hear more! Caroline asks Stefan for a dance, leaving Elena and Damon alone together. Was this Damon’s plan all along?

Damon apologizes for trying to kiss Elena last week and gives her a history lesson: the Battle of Willow Creek -- which Stefan schooled Mr. Taylor on soooo many episodes ago, before Damon ate him – was a tragic incident in which union sympathizers were shot by Confederate soldiers inside a church. Catherine was one of the victims trapped inside, and Damon and Stefan couldn’t save her in time.

Tyler’s keeping Vicki way out of the way, out in the garden. She accuses him of being ashamed of her and tries to get him to go inside to the party. He grabs her arm, but just before things can turn abusive Tyler’s mama comes out to say a polite hello. Vicki leaves, upset at Tyler. After she’s gone, Tyler’s mama chides him for “bringing trash to the party.” We now feel bad for Tyler, and we learn that his mama is a beyotch.

Poor, lonely Bonnie sits by herself at a table. She’s such a Debbie Downer. A candle blows out and she idly concentrates on it, causing it to alight. Sacre bleu! Does Bonnie have super witchy fire powers, too?

Logan the News Guy is still pestering Aunt Jenna. He gets serious for a second and gives his condolences for Elena’s parents’ death. Did you know he came to the funeral? And that he wants a second chance with Jenna? Too bad for him Jenna still remembers how he cheated on her. After he resorts to groveling, Jenna agrees to have lunch with Logan.

Slow dancing to some emo singer-songwriter ballad, Elena and Stefan talk about Damon.. Elena asks Stefan about Catherine, but he doesn’t feel too chatty. Stefan thinks Damon planted some seed in her mind, but it’s not about that. And here, folks, is where Stefan and Elena then have their first lovers’ tiff. To be honest, it’s an argument every couple goes through: She’s obsessed with his ex, and he doesn’t want to talk about anything. Typical!

Over in the mopey corner of the party (read: wherever Bonnie is), Elena is eating ice cream with Bonnie. Bonnie feels bad about the fight and says it’s all her fault, because she’s a “doubt planter.” Elena tells her it’s not her fault – but seriously Bonnie, yes it is. Totally your fault, you lonely witch!

Mrs. Lockwood really wants that pocket watch. She comes over to Elena to ask about it, and Elena lies and says she couldn’t find it. What could this be all about?

Upstairs, Damon locates an old wooden box with a round, amber crystal hidden inside – a very important magic crystal! He hid it there a long time ago and now with Caroline’s help he was able to get it back. Does that mean he’s now done with his human girlfriend?

Bonnie finds herself in a dining room, where Mrs. Lockwood is berating a waiter for not lighting a billion candles at the table. They leave the room, giving Bonnie the perfect opportunity to test her newfound powers. OMG, she totally lit all the candles in the room! That saves the waiter so much time and energy! What a marketable skill! Now maybe Bonnie can stop being Such. A. Downer.

In the powder room, Caroline senses that Elena and Stefan have had a fight. But before she has enough time to revel in Elena’s suffering, Elena spots the ginormous bite marks on Caroline’s back and neck. Feeling protective, Elena makes a beeline for Damon and tells him to keep his hands off Caroline – otherwise she’ll report him to Caroline’s mom, the lady cop. Elena goes back to Stefan and apologizes for being so wrong about Damon. She may not know that Damon’s a vampire, but she knows that Damon’s hurting Caroline and messing with her head. But when Stefan doesn’t react with shock, Elena demands to know what’s really going on. He asks her to just trust him, but she can’t.

Jeremy, who to his credit hasn’t shown up high or wasted this entire episode, is home alone playing video games. The doorbell rings, and it’s Vicki! She’s decided again that maybe Tyler’s not the ideal boyfriend and has come to make-out with Jeremy.

Outside the party Damon’s pissed that Caroline let Elena discover her bites, ruining whatever plan he had for the night. He looks mad enough to kill her, but relents and forgives her, whispering sweet nothings into her ear. Just kidding! Damon softly tells Caroline he’s over her before sinking his teeth into her neck – and these are not the sexy vampire nibbles that Caroline’s used to. She falls lifelessly to the ground. But then, Damon falls to the ground! Out of the shadows, Stefan walks toward them. As Damon writhes in pain, Stefan explains that since he couldn’t spike Damon’s drink, he spiked his date. Brilliant move, Stefan! (For the record, we saw it coming.)

Unfortunately for Caroline haters, Caroline wakes up, still alive. (Will she die for real one of these episodes, please?) She spies Damon’s magical crystal on the ground and pockets it. Elena finds her, and Caroline breaks down in tears.

Beneath the Salvatore mansion, Stefan and Zach lock Damon away in a cell. Mission accomplished! But elsewhere, something’s a brewin’ with the townsfolk, and this episode gets way more interesting in its final 30 seconds.

Back at the Lockwood house, the party’s over but the Mayor and Mrs. Lockwood are having a secret powwow. Of great interest is the missing Gilbert family pocket watch, which Logan the News Guy thinks he can steal. Aha! We knew he was a scum bag, after all! Even Caroline’s mother is in on this, which blows my mind. I did not see this coming, and I am delighted by it. The Mayor & Co. have seen the warning signs and the “animal” attacks and deduce that vampires have returned to Mystic Falls. Should Damon and Stefan be worried about more than just each other? And what’s the deal with that magic crystal that Caroline picked up?

Next week: Damon escapes! Elena goes online!