Initially, this episode seems like it could be a light, frothy fantasy, a welcome respite from some of the dark drama of previous episodes. With pretty much everyone in town invited to Esther's elegant ball, it seems that life in Mystic Falls is finally going to become downright civilized. Klaus and his siblings are now defanged, the Salvatores don't have to worry about getting killed, and it seems pretty certain that Klaus isn't going to be creating any more hybrids from Elena's blood supply as long as his mom is on watch. But this is "The Vampire Diaries," so we'd best not get too attached to this happy scenario. With every promising twist we can always predict one thing -- more trouble ahead.

Matt and Elena walk out of the hospital, and Elena is about to drive home -- at least until Rebekah decides to rough her up. But like a good guardian angel, Elijah promptly pops up and reminds his sister she has to behave herself -- Mother's orders. Rebekah takes off, which gives Elijah an opportunity to get Elena up to speed on Esther's new rule book. 

Elena tells the Salvatore brothers about what she's learned about Esther, the secret prize at the bottom of the Crackerjack box that has kept Klaus so effectively at bay. With her out and about, neither Salvatore is feeling particularly safe, but Elena trusts Elijah -- and he says Mom is committed to keeping the peace. 

As if to underscore this, an invitation to a ball later that evening shows up on Elena's doorstep. Even better, Esther has lovely handwriting, as evidenced by her personal note suggesting she and Elena meet face-to-face. How could we possibly think Esther isn't just the epitome of refinement and good manners? 

Well, Damon isn't buying it. He doesn't want Elena to go to the ball, and if she insists (which she does), he'll go with her. 

At home, Caroline gets a voice mail from Tyler offering his condolences on her father's death. More importantly, he's following Mr. Forbes' instructions to wash Klaus right out of his hair and he will come home to her. Caroline doesn't have much time to dwell on this, because she promptly receives her invite signed by Klaus -- along with one hell of a gorgeous ball gown. 

While Caroline and Elena have weightier issues to discuss than what to wear to the ball (Esther's agenda being one topic), what's really bothering Caroline is the fact that Elena didn't tell her about making out with Damon -- she had to get the news from Bonnie. I'd argue that Elena may not have wanted to bother her with little details like this while Caroline's dad was dying, but luckily Caroline quickly forgives her. Someone who isn't as forgiving? Rebekah, who makes a point of inviting Matt to the ball just to tick off both Caroline and Elena in one fell swoop. 

Still, the ball seems like one elegant shindig, better than prom and far more expensive. Elena comes in, looking worried about her meeting with Esther, but that doesn't stop Damon from practically dissolving at the sight of her. Stefan, though he doesn't want to show it, melts as well. They're both determined to stick by her side, lest Esther prove herself to be up to no good, and thus Elena has two very handsome escorts into the ball. 

In one brief scene, Caroline tries to find anything to wear other than Klaus' gift. But, as most teenagers don't have ballgowns in their closets, it's pretty much a forgone conclusion. 

After Finn, another of Esther's sons, informs Elena she can only meet with Esther alone, Damon insists she dance with him instead to keep her occupied. This also serves the purpose of making Stefan slowly eat his own liver with jealousy. It's pretty clear he can't keep up this mean guy facade much longer, and I have to wonder how this will play out if both Salvatores decide to battle full bore for Elena's attentions.

But love is in the air, and the next couple on the floor are Klaus and Caroline. Not that Caroline is interested in Klaus -- at least, she's pretending not to be. 

Then there's a partner change, and Elena ends up with Stefan, whom she whisks outside for a private conversation. She needs to see Esther alone, and only Stefan can run interference with Damon. He promptly agrees, and it's a sad and poignant moment as she recalls that, just as he did when they were together, he always trusted her and supported her. At least some things never change. 

But the "Gone with the Wind" tone of the evening is about to change, as Rebekah reveals to Kol that she brought Matt to the party for one reason -- to kill him. What better way to make Elena and Caroline cry? Kol's in, as he just wants to kill anyone for any reason. 

Elijah, who does not seem to be related to his siblings in any way, asks Elena if he can trust her to tell him whatever Esther says after they meet. Elena agrees, although I doubt she realizes what she's agreeing to. 

Finally, after Stefan breaks his brother's neck and Elena is able to see Esther alone, it's time for the big meeting. She reveals that the with Ayana preserved her body after her death, and that she had to draw power from Bonnie and her mom to come back to life. But that's not the important part. She tells Elena she has a way to undo the evil she's created. Yes, she needs to kill Klaus -- but that's just part of it. She needs to get a drop of Elena's blood for a champagne toast that evening in order to perform a ritual with her children. Elena's blood will link them all -- so when one dies, they all will die. She loves her family, but it's her duty to kill them.

So, that frothy, elegant episode? Pretty much pitch black at this point. I'm already more than a little sad thinking that Elijah and Klaus may eventually get sacrificed, and I'm hoping that only comes after we've gotten to know Esther a little better. The idea that she's returned to life with the express purpose of killing not just Klaus but all of her children is one that promises some interior struggle. 

Meanwhile, Klaus is content to amuse himself with pursuing Caroline. He shows her his artwork and offers to take her to Rome, Paris, Tokyo, wherever she likes. Caroline isn't impressed. She suggests he do something to really impress her by letting go of Tyler. She basically tosses his complaints about his father in his face and suggests that he thinks no one can love him unless he controls them or buys them gifts -- and she doesn't roll that way. Klaus is furious and suggests she leave - but it's pretty clear her words struck a chord. 

Rebekah and Kol's plan to kill Matt hits a snag when, after she lures him outside, he gives her his jacket to wear. It's the kind of simple, high school sweetheart move that always makes Rebekah's icy exterior thaw, and Operation Kill Matt is temporarily put on ice. 

Elena, who has willingly given her blood to Esther for the champagne toast, then must try to lie to Elijah. As much as she winces and blinks and swallows hard, Elijah still somehow believes her when she says Esther just wants her family to come together as one. One by one, each of the children drink -- and are bonded. I'm suspecting that this ritual may have consequences Elena and even Esther may not predict, but right now it seems like the first step in a death sentence. 

Once Damon comes to, he finds Elena and tells her it's time to leave. He's furious, and admits to Elena he wants to protect her because he loves her. Without thinking, she replies that this might be the problem. Just like that, this emotional side of Damon we've been seeing is covered over with anger. He scowls that he cares too much -- and clearly he's going to stop doing that as soon as he's able. 

And an opportunity to be self-destructive conveniently presents itself. Kol is busily crushing Matt's hand as a prelude to killing him, so Damon saves the day by pushing the Original off a balcony and proceeding to smash his face in. This attracts the attention of all the Originals as well as Stefan and Elena. It seems bad, grumpy Damon might be back. 

Caroline gets home and leaves a voice mail for Tyler -- she misses him. But then, she discovers that Klaus has left her a new gift. It's a sketch of her and a horse, and at the bottom he thanks her for her honesty. It seems like Klaus is going to emerge as a vulnerable, sympathetic character right before his mom kills him, which would be such a shame, and not just because it will prove Caroline has truly terrible luck when it comes to men. 

Esther and her son Finn, who knows her plan and is ready to die, finish the ritual to unite the siblings.  

Stefan gets Elena home -- and Elena takes another stab at convincing him to care again. But Stefan hates himself for hurting her. If he lets himself care, all he feels is pain. 

He's not the only one suffering, though. Damon and Rebekah connect at the bar, both feeling sorry for themselves. Matt wants nothing to do with Rebekah after her brother crushed his hand, and Damon, well, he's getting the impression Elena isn't interested. So, what are two good-looking, sad vampires to do? Have sex, of course. Now, this could be a true power couple in the making.

Do you think Damon has given up on Elena? Is there still hope for Elena and Stefan? And what do you think about Klaus and Caroline?