While we've been waiting a few weeks for a new episode of "The Vampire Diaries," tonight's episode is one centered upon a slow story build and, at the end, a few unexpected developments, which is probably about as much as we can handle after a CW-induced dry spell. More importantly, we're treated to flashbacks to 1912, which means retro hair, a flip-flop in Salvatore characteristics (Damon, so sensitive!) and just a little more backstory to keep things interesting. And while some of the seemingly urgent plotlines of recent episodes are back burnered (Rebekah seems to be the only one nervous about that white oak tree), it hardly matters when there's a serial killer loose in Mystic Falls.

We kick things off with a murder -- Zachariah Salvatore, a nephew of Damon and Stefan's, is stabbed in the town square. We later learn it's a crime that is never solved -- and it isn't the only one. Back in the day, someone was picking off founding family members, a trend that's seemingly been picked up today given the recent spate of slaughtering. 

But is there a suspect? If Ric's presence in a jail cell is any indication, you betcha.  Meredith claims he attacked her with a knife, which Alaric denies -- but he can't remember the evening particularly well, either. Damon, of course, can't believe his best friend would do anything worse than get a parking ticket and tries to lure Stefan into helping him solve a few murders to get Alaric off the hook. Stefan isn't exactly an eager helper bee, unfortunately.  Though the roles were reversed in... yes, 1912. 

Back then, Damon was still fuming at his brother for turning him into a vampire, and it was Stefan who had to beg for a little brotherly connection. While it's not the most revealing flashback, it's always interesting to see how the Salvatores have changed and, if not grown, at least grappled with their vampire status. Sometimes it's hard to believe Damon was ever anything but an enthusiastic bloodsucker, but then again, 1912 was long, long ago. 

Rebekah pops up at the Mystic Grill to ask Mayor Lockwood about, yes, trees. Just out of curiosity, of course. When Rebekah learns that the Salvatores had the milling records back in the day, she swivels her attention directly onto Damon, who isn't exactly forthcoming -- but also doesn't seem to clue in to what Rebekah's true agenda is. That's clearly a discovery for another time and another episode, because Rebekah is ultimately drawn into their conversation about who killed Zachariah. The name of Sage gets tossed around, and soon enough we get a flashback to the red-haired female boxer who taught Damon how to enjoy his liquid diet, at least when it came to hunting female women. Again, nice to see Damon as the fusty, almost prim vampire who needs to learn exactly how to enjoy seducing a woman, if only to drink her blood.

But that doesn't get them any closer figuring out who's offing people in the present, and an angry Elena confronts Meredith Fell. Dr. Fell suggests that Elena may not know Alaric as well as she thinks -- and rattles off some of Ric's more violent episodes to prove the point. It doesn't matter to Elena, of course, as she's fairly certain that the only person with a motive to kill is Meredith -- and she's determined to get evidence to get Ric off the hook. Thus, she and Matt break into Meredith's apartment, find a hidden box with files about all the founding family members who've been killed (or at least stabbed, as Ric's got a file of his own). It's great evidence, except for the fact Meredith finds the two of them and drags them off to the police department. And, oh yes, the best evidence absolving Ric of murder - a letter from the coroner -- is something Meredith has already submitted to the sheriff hours earlier. 

Stefan has been finger-tappingly jittery throughout the episode, and Damon is sick of it -- or more specifically, Stefan's attempt to go cold turkey when it comes to human blood. Damon preaches a measure of moderation. Drink to feed, but not to kill. He's seen his brother veer from all or nothing too many times, and he's determined to help him find a middle ground. Stefan isn't interested, but he should be. Stefan has, yes, a drinking problem (so to speak) and moderation may be his only solution. 

To that end, Damon tricks Stefan into feeding, biting into a young woman and then explaining if Stefan doesn't step in, Rebekah will helpfully finish her off. The only way to save her life, ultimately, is for Stefan to snack on her. Stefan, starved for blood, can't resist -- but just his luck, Elena and Matt stumble upon the scene. It's an ugly moment, but one Elena probably needs to see and remember if she ever wants to get her vampire fixation out of her system. 

Matt gets Elena home and the conversation turns to why she hooked up with Stefan in the first place. Elena claims he made her feel safe, but more importantly, she knew he'd never stop loving her -- and would never die, like her parents did. It's an odd conversation to have with Matt, but he's okay with it, as his role on the show increasingly seems to be walking pillow or boring buddy. Still, Matt does help Elena with something else -- he nicked an item he found in Meredith's house that rightfully belongs to Elena, as it's an old Gilbert journal. 

Ric, cleared of all charges, heads home -- and finds Meredith at the door shortly afterward. She had him arrested, then cleared as part of a master plan to make sure he wouldn't be bothered again -- even though she thinks he's really a murderer. What? 

It seems everyone starts piecing the mystery together at the same time. Stefan finds out that the founders family murders in 1912 were never solved -- but that 10 years later, Jonathan Gilbert's granddaughter Samantha Gilbert confessed. Elena, reading the journal Matt stole for her, learns that it's really Samantha Gilbert's journal, and recounts how she went slowly insane. Meredith points out that all of the crimes committed involved Ric's weapons -- and she eventually pulls it out of him that he's had a problem with blacking out. He also has one of those magical, mystical rings that prevents him from dying -- a handy thing when you're a serial killer. 

It's hard to believe Ric could be trying to finish his ancestors' unfinished business (although why it was their business is a question I have to believe will be answered eventually). But given how drinking seems to be tearing apart two primary characters on the show (one booze, one blood) and revealing their darkest impulses, it certainly fits a core theme for the series. It was a week without Klaus or most of his family, but sometimes an episode about evil lurking within the characters we like the most isn't such a bad deal.

Do you think Ric is really a killer? What did you think of the flashbacks? Do you think Damon will be able to teach Stefan moderation?