"The Vampire Diaries" is back with more intrigue, more Katherine, and the juicy ramifications of that Damon-Fauxlena kiss that left us panting in Season 1's shocker of a finale! See how "TVD" keeps its balls in the air and ties its story threads together in the most unexpected ways (while giving us steamy action, love triangles, murder galore, stabbings, and a hunky new maybe-werewolf) in its Season 2 opener.

[It's back! Full recap of Thursday (Sep. 9) night's "The Vampire Diaries" after the break...]


It's safe to say that even after a long, agonizing summer sans "VD," none of us have forgotten the jaw-dropping last-act shenanigans that closed out Season 1 with a bloody bang. But just in case you did, "The Return" gives us a handy refresher on the last moments of "Founder's Day," weaving together slightly different snatches of moments -- Uncle John getting his finger chopped off in the kitchen with Fauxlena (Katherine, pretending to be Elena) just moments after she swapped spit with Damon on the porch.


Elena walks in the door after a long, crazy night at the Founder's Day celebration only to stumble upon John in the kitchen, lying in a pool of his own blood. As she tends to him and calls 911, Katherine appears behind her. John squeaks out a warning and Elena turns, realizing Katherine is in the house. Grabbing the bloody kitchen knife, Elena hunts for Katherine through the halls, but she vampire-flits out of sight and out the door. Elena rushes to Jeremy's room to find him unconscious, because remember? He drank Anna's vampire blood and tried to overdose so that he could become an aloof, unfeeling vampire himself.  Oh, those emo kids.


Stefan arrives as paramedics come to tend to Uncle John; he checks Jeremy for signs of vampiness, but Jeremy's still human. He didn't take enough pills to really kill himself, and besides, Anna's vampire blood actually healed him. (Her final gift to Jeremy! How sweet.) Stefan warns Jeremy that if he tries to kill himself to turn into a vampire, he could just die for reals as the vampire blood is rapidly exiting his system.


Bonnie finds Matt waiting outside Caroline's hospital room, who recounts the car crash and Tyler's weird screaming headache that caused the accident. Damon shows up to check on Sheriff Forbes, who asks him for help. Distraught over the night's tragedies, she asks Damon to find out why Mayor Lockwood was affected by the magical vampire torture device in the first place, which led to his eventual death among the tomb vampires.


Damon, still sweet on Elena from the kiss he thinks they shared, offers to give Caroline some of his vampire blood to heal her. He tries to bring up the kiss, but Elena has no idea what he's talking about. Aunt Jenna arrives, but Elena can't remember talking to her either! Damon figures out that Katherine has been posing as Elena.


Katherine, posing as Elena, arrives at the Gilbert home to find Stefan, who's babysitting Jeremy. They embrace and Katherine goes in for a smooch, but Stefan can tell the difference between her and his current girlfriend. They vampire tussle in the living room, but are interrupted when Damon and Elena walk in. Katherine splits. Damon guesses that Katherine was just there. Now everyone's up to speed!


The brothers Salvatore pow wow, trying to figure out what Katherine's up to. Elena, meanwhile, has told Jeremy what happened, because she can't lie to him anymore. Damon suggests that if Katherine wanted Elena dead, she'd already be dead… so she must have other plans for Elena. Damon confesses to Stefan that he kissed Katherine thinking she was Elena, but Elena stops a bro-fight before it starts. She'd never do such a thing, she tells Damon.


Bonnie and Matt visit Caroline in the hospital, who's all of a sudden healing really quickly thanks to Damon's vampire blood. Matt shows his affection by kissing Caroline on the lips. "Jersey Shore's on!" shouts Caroline, which is how we know she's back to normal.


Damon mediates between Mrs. Lockwood and Sheriff Forbes at Mayor Lockwood's funeral, where Tyler's hunky uncle Mason pulls up; he's been away for years. He is easy on the eyes.  


Stefan and Elena go to the hospital to interrogate Uncle John. Elena gives John his magic ring back and asks him to tell them why Katherine's returned. Stefan asks John to help them for his daughter's sake - Elena's sake (subtle reminder of previously unveiled revelations, "Vampire Diaries!") but John claims he never spoke with Katherine directly. Also, he hates to see Elena dating a vampire. Typical overprotective father routine. Elena tells him his hatred is going to get him killed and leaves in a huff. Stefan hesitates for a moment before grabbing  John by the head to play bad vampire: he forces John to drink his blood and threatens to kill him and turn him into the very thing he hates most if John doesn't get out of their lives and leave town within 24 hours.


Back at the Lockwood wake, Damon gossips with Sheriff Forbes, who gives him the skinny on Mason Lockwood. We now know that Mason Lockwood is A) "not an ass," B) doesn't believe in Mystic Falls' legends, and C) is a surfer dude.


Katherine swaggers into the wake, wearing her leather jacket bad girl outfit. Tyler greets her thinking she's Elena, but we know better. She lingers outside the doorway before walking across the threshold undeterred, and a wicked little smile of triumph creeps across her face.  Ladies and gents, Katherine has arrived. (I hope she stays a while.)


Stefan and Elena leave the hospital as awful soap opera music underscores their conversation and they talk about their feelings and hug. Booooring. In the full daylight you can see just how supernaturally smooth Paul Wesley's pores are. Stefan wants to find Damon and have words over Damon trying to kiss Fauxlena, but Elena reminds him that Katherine is the real problem and that she's already messing with both Salvatores' heads.


Damon and Bonnie exchange banter at the Lockwood wake, where Damon points out that Bonnie is responsible for Caroline's injury because Tyler was affected by the vampire torture device that Bonnie let John use. (Didja get all that?) Bonnie threatens, yet again, to take Damon down; Damon is so intimidated he mainlines human food hors d'euvres with a smirk on his face. Bonnie demonstrates her witchy abilities by giving Damon the stink eye, which makes Damon's pretty face contort in pain.


Aaaand just because Bonnie can't go another episode without screwing something up, she walks right over to Katherine to bitch about Damon, thinking Katherine is Elena. Katherine has her fooled until Bonnie touches her arm and gets a Vibe of Evil, then awkwardly begs off to make her super obvious getaway. Inside the house, Bonnie frantically calls Elena's cell, who tells her she's running late and then promptly hangs up on her.  Bonnie makes the horror movie victim spin only to find Katherine standing right behind her. Katherine calmly introduces herself. Bad ass.


The evil vampiress has been piecing together bits of Elena's life and knows that Bonnie is her BFF and an anti-vamp witch. Nina Dobrev as Katherine is most delicious, folks - especially when she feigns a vampire migraine to show Bonnie that her magical stink eye doesn't work on her.


Katherine grabs Bonnie by the throat and swings her around the room, baring her fangs. Comic highlight of the episode: Katherine covers her fangs and gives Bonnie props when Bonnie psychically opens the doors to the room so that other partygoers can see them. Stefan pokes his head in and tells Katherine to leave Bonnie alone -- and she does.


Katherine and Stefan talk in the middle of the gathering. She glides in and out of Elena mode easily when Matt approaches; Dobrev does Katherine doing Elena so masterfully, both characters inhabit the same body in the span of a few seconds quite impressively. Stefan wants to know what game Katherine is playing, but she demurs and reminds him that they used to just have fun, with no rules in place. Stefan breezes past Katherine into another room and she follows just as Elena, Jeremy, and Aunt Jenna walk into the house.


Elena spots Damon and asks him, as a friend, to tell her what happened the previous night on the Gilbert porch. "I kissed you, thought you kissed me back, doppelganger hijinks ensued," he explains. She accuses him of being hurt that it wasn't really her kissing him; he accuses her of being scared that Katherine's going to drive him insane. He doesn't need Katherine for that, he says, and walks away hurt when Elena tells him she'd never have kissed him back anyway. Nothing hurts a pretty boy's pride more, ladies.


Jeremy finds Tyler drinking by himself listening to awful, inappropriate dance music and pays his respects for his father's death. Jeremy tells Tyler he understands what he's going through; they bond over shared memories of dead parents and how mean Mayor Lockwood really was. (Is it me, or does post-"Piranha 3D" Steven R. McQueen look a little hunkier, a little more confident?) Tyler offers Jeremy a swig from a flask he found in his father's desk, but Mason walks in and chases Jeremy out.


Stefan walks through the Lockwood estate with Katherine. She notes that he's changed a lot; he's stronger and meaner. Katherine checks out Stefan's ass and admits that it bothers her to see him in love with someone else. Stefan says he was never in love with Katherine, but she says deep down he knows that's not true.


Stefan makes plain his animosity for Katherine, who says she came back for him -- but when he tells her he hates her, she stabs him with a garden rod and runs off.


Elena finds Stefan and tends to his wound, which brings us to How to Tell Katherine and Elena Apart. Katherine wears all black and leather, like Sandy in Grease, post-transformation. Elena wears an ensemble of jeans, a green top, and a sensible jacket. Katherine's hair falls in sexy curls, still wavy from the night before. Elena's hair is straight and demure, just like she is. Katherine will stab you in the stomach with a garden rod and leave you bleeding on the grass. Elena will blot the blood from your already-healing six-pack while gazing sympathetically into your eyes to make sure you're alright.


Damon shows up to the garden and provokes Stefan into the long-awaited showdown over the Fauxlena kiss, prompting Elena to make a tasteful exit to check on her family. Stefan admits that he's angry at Damon, but the need for them to stay united and not let Katherine drive them apart is greater. He understands why Damon would kiss Elena, too -- he sees that it's because somewhere in Damon's cold, cold heart, he actually cares about another person, and Stefan thinks that's beautiful. By this logic Stefan might be persuaded into swinging, too, or maybe one of those three-way marriages. He's Mystic Falls' most progressive vampire.


Back at the Gilbert home, Uncle John says goodbye to Jeremy. He explains that he and Jeremy's father were raised to hate vampires. Jeremy wonders why Uncle John's magical ring of life, which belonged to Jeremy's dad, didn't protect his dad from the car crash. Uncle John explains that the rings can't protect against accidents of nature. He also tells Jeremy that as a Gilbert who now knows all about Mystic Falls' supernatural history, he has a responsibility to carry on the family legacy.


Cue emotional acoustic guitar moment of the episode: Tyler, grieving his father's death, smashes up his dad's office and accidentally roughs up his mother before Mason pins him down to calm him.


At the Salvatore mansion, Damon pours himself a drink and finds Katherine sitting on his couch. She's come to say goodbye -- or to probe and taunt him out of curiosity, for old time's sake. She straddles him down to seduce him, and they kiss. Kissing leads to a full on shirt-ripping, bra-exposing vampire make-out session, but Damon interrupts, melting everyone's hearts with his vulnerability and hurt and willingness to forgive Katherine for everything, to ask Katherine one Very Important Question: did she ever love him?


Katherine leaves Damon stunned with her answer: "I never loved you. It was always Stefan." Katherine makes her exit, leaving Damon heartbroken.


Elena later finds Damon, drunk and sad, sitting in her bedroom. He can't believe that she wouldn't have kissed him back, because he feels something between them that she's denying to herself. Drunk Damon kisses Elena, hoping to force a romantic connection, but she protests, telling him she cares for him but loves Stefan. Jeremy comes to the rescue, interrupting the awkward interlude like a good protective brother, but Drunk Damon turns on Jeremy. Remembering that Jeremy wanted to become a vampire, Drunk Damon snaps Jeremy's neck, leaving Elena crying over her brother's body and us wondering if there was enough of Anna's blood in Jeremy's system to actually turn him and save Steven R. McQueen from unemployment.


But we and Elena needn't worry! Jeremy is wearing his father's ring, a parting gift from dear old Uncle John. Hurrah for magick!

Back at the Lockwood mansion, Mason consoles Tyler after his distraught mother has gone to bed. Tyler doesn't understand why he Hulks out so often. Mason explains that it's the Lockwood Curse and that he's learned to control his rage, but Tyler doesn't get Mason's meaning. DUH -- YOU'RE A WEREWOLF, DUDE!


Stefan consoles Elena as she waits for Jeremy to come to, explaining that Damon must have seen Jeremy's magic ring before killing him. But Elena doesn't think Damon knew, and she doesn't think there's anything good left in Damon anymore now that Katherine's gotten to him. Elena now hates Damon, who returns home in such a funk that he throws a perfectly good glass of scotch into the fireplace.


Meanwhile, Caroline wakes up at the hospital to find Katherine standing over her.  Katherine introduces herself and gives Caroline a message to give to Stefan and Damon. Her message? "GAME ON." Caroline's all, "Huh?" but then Katherine smothers her to death with a pillow and we suddenly remember that OMG, Caroline has Damon's vampire blood in her and Katherine totally just turned her into a vampire!!


Next week: Caroline gets hungry, the carnival gets crazy, and stuff gets lit on fire!