As much as I was looking forward to the return of “Vampire Diaries” tonight, I can’t say I wasn't prepared for the worst. When we left our determined Klaus hunters, Stefan had thrown a pretty substantial wrench into what otherwise seemed like a nifty plan to overthrow the fickle, pouty, daddy-issue-plagued original. Mikael, the daddy in said equation, was dead before we even had much of a chance to know him, Stefan was off the grid – but off the grid with leverage (he just happened to have snuck off with Klaus’ family, all conveniently pre-packaged and poked) and Klaus exactly who was out to get him.

But, as usual, nothing is as it seems, and this midseason premiere delivers not a follow-up slaughter-a-thon but actually pays off some dramatic tension from the last season and adds some unexpected but welcome twists to the already twisty plot. Klaus may be angry, yes, but he's hobbled by Stefan's little game of hide and seek -- though that doesn't mean he's powerless. And what this means for Elena and her family is, yes, tragic. Yet again, Elena, Jeremy and Ric must face a new normal -- and, as usual, that new normal pulls them deeper into a dark world that no high school kid (or really anyone) should have to face. While Elena's been on a romantic roller coaster for a while now, the high price of her vampire dalliance is becoming crystal clear to her. Not that she can do much about it -- she's in too deep -- but she makes some hard decisions in this episode. Though, depending on your point of view, it can be argued she gets one pretty decent reward at the end -- a payoff that, again, comes with an emotional price tag.  

Luckily, we aren't thrown neck-deep into all this drama. First, we see Bonnie entering the old witches' house, where she discovers Klaus’ family and, in fact, Klaus stuffed into a coffin – along with that ugly but powerful ring. Of course, this is just a dream, a way to gently remind us that, though dead and staked, Klaus’ family is going to play a more important role in the coming drama than any living person.
 
Meanwhile, Elena jogs. God knows the girl needs some way to relieve her stress. But any hope of lowering her blood pressure is blown when she sees a guy in a black hoodie following her -- then bumping into her head on. She suspects she's paranoid. But is it paranoia if everyone's out to get you? In a later conversation, Bonnie tries to reassure her, but Elena is too battle-scarred at this point to be easily placated. Klaus is going to make his move -- and Stefan will be no help. After Stefan's final betrayal, Elena has finally given up on him -- a decision that took a mighty long time but now seems to be as firmly set as her loyalty once was.
 
Ric goes to the Grill to see Jeremy -- only to find out he's been fired. Elena shows up, also worried about Jeremy. She thinks he's spiraling out because Bonnie dumped him (and, also likely, because he had to let go of Anna). Damon tries to reassure Elena that everything's okay -- which might have been more effective if Klaus didn't show up at exactly that moment. I have to hand it to the vampires -- they have excellent timing. 
 
But we can't forget about Jeremy. Since he's not at work, he's out in the woods with Tyler getting drunk and shooting stuff, of course! Tyler, still drunk on the good, culty feeling Klaus' hybridization has given him, invites Jeremy to shoot him in the chest -- a shot he easily sidesteps. You'd think this might be a warning sign to Jeremy, but Jeremy's too wrapped up in his girl problems to think this through, apparently. But Elena might want to write him a note sometimes -- friend of Klaus = dangerous. 
 
Back at the Grill, Klaus reveals two things. One, that guy who was following Elena? He's his hybrid Tony, so Elena is not paranoid in the least. Also, he's looking for his sister, and as long as everyone behaves themselves he doesn't want any trouble. Oh, there's a third thing. He wants Stefan, because Stefan stole something from him. Klaus neglects to mention that the something is Klaus' entire family, but that will be revealed soon enough. 
 
Bonnie, having gotten the hint from Elena that her seemingly random dream wasn't random at all, visits the witches' house and finds, of all people, Stefan. Stefan needs her help to hide Klaus' family. Bonnie doesn't think she has enough power, but Stefan suspects otherwise. I'm guessing the witches, dead or otherwise, will be able to help, and now that they've moved on from being angry at Bonnie for bringing Jeremy back to life, they'll have no problem giving her an otherworldly boost. 
 
Jeremy, who is acting a lot like an actual teenager in this episode, comes home just as Ric and Elena are taking a stab at domestic normalcy by making dinner. He can't stay, as he's going to hang out with his new BFF, Tyler. Elena forbids him from seeing Tyler -- which only inspires Jeremy to invite the hybrid into the house. While his behavior seems bratty, it also seems normal. Why shouldn't he hang out with his friend, skip dinner with his dour "parents" and have some fun? 
 
But even Jeremy has to see the error of his ways after Elena and Ric engage their guest in conversation. Tyler tries to convince everyone that he's his own man, but no one's buying. Being sired is simply having faith, but isn't compulsion. It it wrong that I love this scene because it's practically yanked from the "how to tell if your kid is in a cult" playbook? Elena, a true deprogrammer at heart, asks, "But what if Klaus wanted you to rip out his own heart?" Tyler, frustrated, admits he probably would do it, but it would never happen! Klaus would never ask him for such a thing! Uh-huh. Even Jeremy does a double take. This guy has drunk the blood-flavored Kool-Aid, and there's no way for his new pal to deny it.
 
Klaus decides to drop in for a drink with Damon, who's already drinking quite a bit in this episode. But Damon starts feeling pretty sober when Klaus decides to give him an "incentive" to find Stefan for him. He makes a phone call, the effects of which play out in short order. Jeremy takes a call, Tyler runs out, and Jeremy disappears while Elena and Ric are looking the other way. When they head out of the house to see where he's gone, he's standing in traffic -- while an SUV being driven by Tony barrels toward him. Ric being Ric, he pushes Jeremy out of the way -- and hits the windshield with deadly force. 
 
Jeremy, stunned, admits to Elena that the call he took was from Klaus -- and Elena quickly figures out he was compelled over the phone. Klaus hardly needs his battalion of hybrids -- he truly can get to anyone, anywhere, anytime. 
 
 
Though I thought Tyler might be standing on the side of the road, ready to scoop up a body part of Jeremy's to show off to his sire, instead he rushes to confront Klaus. Why is he trying to kill his friends? Klaus talks to him in a calm, soothing voice and Tyler seems to be swayed by the batcrap crazy logic of a sociopath. All Tyler needs to do is shave his head and hand over his bank account at this point. Klaus makes a convincing cult leader, and sweet-natured Tyler is the perfect foil. 
 
Back at the house, Elena tends to Alaric, though the initial urgency falls away when she realizes he's wearing his ring -- yes, he's dead, but he'll be back. There's time for her, Damon and Jeremy to debate their next move. And while Damon wants to continue the caper and find Klaus' family, Jeremy has a perfectly logical suggestion -- that they get out of town. Elena, still stuck in Vampireland, suggests they just give back Rebekah to Stefan instead, even though that means she'll have to deal with an Original who wants some payback. 
 
Elena, I guess having completely dismissed the idea of packing a bag and moving to Guam, calls Bonnie for help. Bonnie, ever logical, thinks Elena should just stay the hell away from Klaus -- until Elena tells her that the guy tried to kill Jeremy. So much for keeping Stefan's secret -- Elena and Damon are soon on their way to the witches' house for a chat with Stefan. 
 
As the witches tend to hold a grudge, Damon can't go inside, but Elena can -- where Stefan coldly informs her that Klaus trying to kill Jeremy is not his problem. Elena, no longer wounded and watery-eyed, slaps the vamp in the face and tells him to go to hell. It's nice to see Elena free of her sad sack, lovelorn pining over Stefan -- as he now has an adversary worthy of him. 
 
Elena goes to the car to wait for Damon, who is determined to give his baby bro a piece of his mind. And a stake in the guts. It's payback for Stefan screwing up his attempt to kill Klaus, but more than that -- he wants to know why. Stefan, still being a mushy marshmallow despite an increasingly crispy outer coating, admits that he was just saving Damon. If Klaus had died, his hybrids had orders to kill Damon (and, I'm assuming, anyone else in on the deal, although I have to think Rebekah might have been exempt if she'd been there). The brothers still have some issues to sort out, however. Stefan reveals that he wants to get even with Klaus -- and he's positive there's another way to kill him. Damon wants in on the plan. Stefan says no. But Damon wants to help! Stefan buckles like a cheap belt and agrees to let Damon help -- but only if he doesn't breathe a word to Elena. Oh, Stefan. Though I'm sure he does this because, again, he wants to protect Elena, it's also a pretty good way to screw up whatever budding romance his brother has with the girl. Well played.
 
Jeremy, who now realizes all his drunken good times with Tyler were just a set-up for his foiled demise, confronts his former best friend -- who STILL defends Klaus. But, perhaps realizing his loyalty is, though stuck, hugely misplaced, Tyler tells his friend to go home and stay inside, because Klaus isn't done with him. It's not a long moment, but a painful one, as both of these guys need a friend badly. Tyler has lost both Caroline and now Jeremy due to his loyalty to a man who'd think nothing of throwing him under a moving train, while Jeremy has lost Bonnie, Anna and Tyler as well as his job. Ironically, they're two people who can absolutely understand what the other is going through -- and yet are even more isolated now than before.
 
Ric's recovery, which seemed like a gimme, is turning out to be anything but. He comes back to life, yes, but is coughing up blood. When Elena calls an ambulance, that rat hybrid Tony shows up and tells Elena she can save Ric -- but only by drinking his blood. Oh, and he'd like an invite into the house. Before Elena can really freak out, though, Jeremy shoots Tony in the back -- then, with grim efficiency, grabs a meat cleaver from the kitchen and finishes the job by lopping off Tony's head. Even Elena, who's seen some blood spatter in her day, seems traumatized. Thanks to Klaus, killing monsters is no longer confined to a relatively simple jab -- it's now horror movie material, gristly and nightmare-inducing. Yes, the new normal is here, and it is very, very wrong.
 
Damon, having made his vow of loyalty (and secrecy) to his brother, is allowed to see a room in the house which seems empty -- but is actually where Stefan is hiding the coffins. The witches are doing him a favor -- and, at least for the time being, they're giving Damon a pass as well. I guess that old adage about the enemy of my enemy is my friend fits perfectly here. 
 
Ric has a miraculous recovery (we later learn Damon gave him a booster) and meets a concerned and attractive doctor in the hospital -- Dr. Meredith Fell. Remember her, she'll be back soon. 
 
Elena, who has officially had a Very Bad Day, decides to cut a deal with Klaus. She'll give him Rebekah just as long as he leaves Jeremy alone and keeps his sister away from her. Klaus, of course, is fine with that deal -- but he senses something else. He knows she's lying about not knowing where Stefan is, and while he'll stay away from Jeremy, she has plenty of other loved ones for him to pick off until she coughs up the information she wants. Elena sticks to her story, though, and tells him that Rebekah wants him dead -- she knows that he killed their mother. 
 
Elena has some more heavy lifting to do -- and it's dealing with Jeremy. "He shouldn't have to live like this," she tells Damon, and though it could be argued she shouldn't either, she knows he's dealing with the fallout from a mess she inadvertently created. It's time for a family meeting -- one in which Damon compels Jeremy to leave town, stay with family friends in Denver, and forget all about Mystic Falls. He wants him to have a happy, normal life, one that he can never have in a town littered with vampires and werewolves, oh my. It's a heartbreaking decision for Elena (and it's clearly not a cakewalk for Ric or Damon either) but after you see your kid brother chop off someone's head, it's time for heartbreaking decisions. 
 
Klaus is dealing with his own troubles as well. He apologizes to Rebekah and promises they'll be together again -- then plunges the dagger back into her chest. He knows that it might be a long, long time before she forgives them for their mother's death, and he has other fish to fry at the moment. For Klaus, though, this means being a little lonelier a little longer. 
 
Meanwhile, Bonnie's still helping Stefan out. He can't get Mikael's coffin open -- which means there's a spell on it. It also means it could hold something important -- and we can bet that will be revealed, not in this episode, but soon. Maybe we haven't seen the last of Mikael after all.
 
Finally, it's time for Damon and Elena to have a chat. Elena has to tell him how thankful she is for everything she's done, and she finally drops the sarcastic little sister routine. Damon admits to her that Stefan didn't really screw them over by botching their plot to kill Klaus -- he saved him. Which makes it that much harder to want what he shouldn't (Elena). Damon walks away -- then goes back. If he's going to feel guilty, he might as well feel guilty for SOMETHING -- and then he kisses Elena. Hard. For a long time. Passionately. Fill in your adjective here. And Elena does not push him away. She seems a little stunned, yes, but she's not unhappy about this. When Damon finally comes up for air, Elena says nothing and, I'm guessing, has no idea what to say. Since it's nighttime and her face is half in shadow, I couldn't even say if she has much of a reaction. But the important part is the door has been banged open for Elena and Damon, and I can't wait to see what happens next. 
 
In the promo for next week, there's lots of fighting and one important bit of information -- Stefan confronts Klaus and orders him to get his hybrids out of town. It seems Stefan is in control. But I have to wonder what how he'll feel when he realizes his brother is moving in on his ex. 
 
Were you glad to see Damon kiss Elena? Do you think Jeremy and Rebekah are gone for good (or a long while, at least)? Do you think Stefan has a chance against Klaus?