'The Vampire Diaries' Season 3 premiere recap: Lessons in letting go

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tvd-premiere-klaus-stef-simon-camden.jpg"The Vampire Diaries" Season 3 premiere packed a serious emotional punch -- it certainly had lighter moments than last season's opener, but the ultimate impact was devastating.

Thank you, Paul Wesley.

I'm so glad the show is back -- partly because I missed writing these recaps and discussing the show with you all! If this is your first time reading one of my recaps, welcome! This isn't a review, but it is bursting with my own opinions. Feel free to share yours in the comments section -- just keep it classy.

You guys ready to meet the ripper, celebrate Elena's 18th, and see some hot monster-on-monster sex? Cue up those DVRs. Let's go.

Previously on "The Vampire Diaries":
Stefan sold his soul so his brother could continue living a generally miserable existence. Elena kissed Damon goodbye, and he ended up sticking around. Tyler and Caroline smiled at each other and my cold dead heart melted. And then there was Klaus.

8:01 - If this was the first scene I'd ever seen of "The Vampire Diaries," and I had no knowledge whatsoever of the show, I would still know that this scene was a Kevin Williamson special.

Joseph Morgan's American accent is unsettling! Not to mention, it feels like a bit of an after-thought (was it dubbed in later?). Still, the scene reminds us of just how much he loves the chase. He could've gotten straight to the compulsion. Instead, he wanted to see if he could get her to let him in anyway.

When we learn that Stefan is in on the game, my heart sinks a little. Don't get me wrong -- I've been looking forward to the Ripper all summer. Still, Paul plays it so well that it's a little hard to watch.

My favorite thing about this scene is the way that Klaus has two blood-filled women right there, but he'd rather leave them for Stefan to devour. He gets a kick out of Stefan's addiction.

8:04 - Soundtrack junkie moment! Ingrid Michaelson's "Are We There Yet" is a nice mirror to the Season 2 finale, which used her song "Turn to Stone." The melancholy in the songs conjures the same emotion. Elena here strongly recalls the Elena from the pilot -- playing the "Everything is fine" game, minus the diary-writing.

8:05 - Alaric... has looked better. I completely understand why he doesn't want to sleep in one of the extra bedrooms, but I have to admit I'm confused about why he doesn't sleep at his own place -- after all, he's a failure as a babysitter for the Gilbert delinquents. Maybe he had trouble getting the blood out of his hardwood floors. Stefan is a sloppy eater.

8:06 - Oh, right. Andie. I actually like this interaction between them -- Damon doesn't compel the personality out of her, he just compels her to keep his secrets. It makes their relationship a bit easier to stomach to know that she's not a walking, talking blow-up doll.

Hello, strategically placed props. Here's a fun little tidbit: when I was on the "Vampire Diaries" set this week, Ian Somerhalder introduced me to Char, his favorite makeup artist -- who also happens to be the artist responsible for his strategically placed bubbles. He's so comfortable with her that he happily stood naked, reading his pages and rehearsing his lines, as she soaped him up.

You're welcome, for that image.

I love Damon and Elena's obviously increased comfort level with each other. Stefan doesn't live there anymore, and neither does Elena -- but she's still comfortable just strolling on in without ringing the bell.

This summer, Ian insisted in several interviews that Damon wasn't going to go after Elena, because "that's his brother's girl." We're glad that his sudden moral code doesn't extend to blatant flirtation and overt sexual advances. We wouldn't want to lose that.

8:09 - So... Bonnie's only in this episode in the requisite technology product placement? That's unfortunate.

It looks like everyone else in town has been having a rather mundane, human summer... and Jeremy has been getting flashes of his dead girlfriends. I wonder if it's because they died as vampires -- though, Jenna hasn't made an appearance.

MATT!!!! He's very cranky. And who knew the Grill had outdoor seating? They're stepping it up.

Caroline and Tyler are basically my dream TV couple. She thinks they're just friends, but she clearly lights up every time she sees him. Meanwhile, he's pining and dropping hints and smiling at her shyly and waiting for her to get a clue.

If you had told me in Season 1 that I'd want one of my favorite characters to hook up with douchey, mom-kissing Tyler, I would have laughed in your face. But they are just so sweet. (For more on the whole Tyler/Caroline thing, don't miss my video interview with Michael Trevino and Candice Accola, which we shot on set this week.)

8:10 - I see your facial hair, Simon Camden, but you can not hide your Seventh Heaven-ness behind a little grizzle and a whole lot of flannel. Where's Happy!?

"Your type are very hard to come by," Klaus tells him. If Klaus and Stefan have spent the entire summer on the hunt for Ray Sutton just because he's a werewolf, why didn't they take Tyler instead? They knew exactly where he was. My guess is that Klaus has been keeping Stefan away from Mystic Falls for a reason... or vice-versa.

Joseph is ten kinds of awesome in this scene. The casual arrogance in the way he leans against the bar and orders Stefan around is delicious.

8:12 - "I keep waiting for them to kick me out, but they don't," Alaric tells Damon. I imagine that the Gilbert kids, given what they've been through, don't mind having an adult in the house, even if that adult is a drunk with terrible hair.

Hey, Damon. Now would be the time where you mention to Ric that you live in a ginormous mansion with 47 bedrooms and that you'd like to spend the rest of your life with him.

8:13 - The reveal of Stefan's "signature" kill is, in my opinion, the best moment in this episode. Even in his ripper days, Stefan was a regretful person at his core.

"Stefan for sure. It's his signature. Feeds so hard he blacks out, rips them apart, but when he's done, he feels remorse. It's the damnedest thing. Puts the bodies back together." What a terrible thing for Damon to know about his brother. I hope we get to see a scene where Stefan is doing this; I think Paul would absolutely nail the solemn guilt.

8:17 - "He's into you, isn't he?" Tyler asks Elena. Well, at least someone has been paying attention. The casual friendship between Tyler and Elena is kind of weird. The only time they've ever really interacted before, he tried to capture her to break his curse.

More Caroline and Tyler perfection. Listen, Matt is my favorite character, and I absolutely loved the brighter moments between him and Caroline, but there's so much sexual tension in her relationship with Tyler that it literally makes me blush to watch the scenes. I feel like I'm intruding on a personal moment just by watching my TV.

8:19 - Stefan and darts; nice callback to the first season. Remember when he and Damon bonded over them the night that Damon promised to stop killing people for food? Misty, watercolored memories.

Frankly, this gratuitous mutilation of a Seventh Heaven alum is disgusting and terrifying and I love it. "He's not going to let me stop until you tell me, and I do whatever he says," Stefan says. Even knowing what he's done in the past, I'm unsettled by the way he seems to have given in to Klaus. The way Klaus described the Ripper last season, I imagined Stefan with a lot more confidence and swagger. He's just soulless, now; dead behind the eyes.

Even Klaus, it seems, wants Stefan to crack a bit. "It all sounds so tedious and indentured. Aren't you at least having the littlest bit of fun?" he asks. He's showing his underbelly here, a bit. He may be a whole new breed of monster, but he's got a very human emotion: he wants someone to give a crap about him.

VD301a_0936b2_lowres.jpg 8:21 - Nina Dobrev is so beautiful that sometimes it seems that they go to unnecessary efforts to make her look frumpier and more girl-next-door as Elena. That dress looks like a nightgown my mother would approve of.

Another soundtrack junkie moment as Damon give Elena her necklace, and how appropriate are the lyrics "I'm the one who put the rock & roll in your life" for these two? The song is Andrew Belle's "Make it Without You."

Can we just throw this out there: At this point, Elena knows how Damon feels about her. Standing all close to him and batting her eyelashes and asking him to fasten her necklace for her is just as bad as - if not worse than - him putting his junk on display for her. Last season, I bought the idea that she was trying to maintain her distance and make it clear to Damon that she didn't share his feelings. This year, she's just plain leading him on.

8:27 - And now she's entering the party on Damon's arm? I mean... come on now.

8:28 - Matt and Jeremy are spiraling downward together! I'm just going to throw this out there -- I like this new bromance development, though it is sad to see Jeremy returning to his old ways. I don't mind stoned Matt, though. All of these teenagers are suddenly delinquents and I love it.

Matt is laying it on thick with Elena, clearly for Caroline's benefit. Oh, how the tables have turned. Remember when he practically had to give himself a pep talk to hook up with Caroline while he was still pining for Elena?

8:30 - "I am every parents' worst nightmare. I am the chaperone teacher from hell." You're just now realizing that, Alaric? He really is terrible. Good thing all the cops in Mystic Falls are dead and/or busy  on the vamp hunt.

8:30 - Oh... Andie's going to die now. We're all devastated, I'm sure. This is another perfect Kevin Williamson scene -- it's straight out of "Scream." (The good ones, not the third one. Sorry, Scott Foley.)

Stefan with the light all around him is an amazing shot - ten points for Gryffindor, John Behring. Stefan looks like the angel of death.

I think he's about to slaughter Andie because he doesn't want to be found, but regardless, he does look really sad about whatever he's about to do. I see a glimmer of old Stefan here, now that there's no one here to see it. Well, no one who will survive the night.

tvd-premiere-matt-caroline.jpg 8:35 - MATT! Wow, Caroline. Why don't you just climb into the bottle and bathe in it? (Okay, but seriously... Sophie is kind of slutty.) I don't understand why Matt is being such a jerk. I understand that he's a monsterphobe, which is fine, but he did dump her.

Speaking of Matt being a supernaturacist -- a term which my roommate coined, so tweet her and worship accordingly -- I'd like to defend my favorite for a moment. All summer long, I've been reading your tweets about how mean Matt was to Caroline.

Yes, he did break up with her rather unceremoniously. But he's pretty much the only person in town with a brain. You find out your girlfriend drinks blood? You dump her. You find out information about your sister's suspicious death? You go to the cops. It's like everyone in Mystic Falls has been drinking the Stephenie Meyer Kool-Aid except for Matt.

Ha! Caroline is amazing. "Now leave." Sorry, slutty Sophie, try again later.

8:36 - "Hold the fort down, will you?"

"You mean the fort full of my drunk history students?"

"Drink more. You'll feel less weird."

Seriously, Damon and Alaric must become roommates. It is the only option.

Meanwhile, in the bedroom, apparently Damon has a whole secret Stefan-tracking command center operation happening. He's surprisingly organized, with his post-its -- John Winchester could learn a thing or two from him.

The coolest part about that wall is that they know exactly which monster -- Stefan or Klaus -- made each kill. Damon knows his brother far better than any of us realized, and it's sad. He needs to go to the vampire version of Al-Anon.

8:39 - You know things are bad when Damon is scared.

"Hello, brother." My poor heart is breaking. My favorite scenes are always the ones between Damon and Stefan, and this shift in dynamic is going to take a lot of getting used to.

Also - Paul is phenomenal in this episode, but he just doesn't deliver the "Hello, brother" quite as naturally as Damon did. Maybe that's intentional.

"I saw your latest artwork in Tennessee," Damon tells Stefan. There's a good parallel between the original brothers and Damon and Stefan here. In the Season 2 finale, Elijah mentioned that he'd made a habit of cleaning up Klaus's messes -- and here we have Damon, burning bodies that Stefan artfully arranges like a deranged serial killer.

I have to say, for a relatively underdeveloped character, Andie got a really good death scene. I'm glad that Stefan didn't go for the obvious bite -- he killed her simply to make a point, not to feed. She's the first person he's killed that he knew. She slept at his house, he bumped into her in the hallway on his way to school. Stefan is gone.

Damon seems genuinely sad. He may never have loved Andie, but he obviously liked her. She impressed him; people rarely do.

8:46 - MATT! "I can't find my truck." As Cheech and Chong fumble around the driveway, Anna and Vicki make disturbing appearances. Vicki asks Jeremy for help, while Anna simply flickers in and out of his vision. She looks like Samara from "The Ring." That's a compliment to Malese Jow, by the way. I'm so glad that she and Kayla Ewell are back in the mix.

8:47 - Did Caroline just lift a guy out of her way? She is flawless and amazing and the best female character on this show by a longshot. Girl. Crush.

And now, finally, she and Tyler are having the talk. "If I shouldn't be dating, all you've got to do is say something." They're my favorite TV couple right now. How did that happen?

Ian is pretty great in the scene where he returns, defeated, to the party. It's nice to see subtle emotion from Damon for once, since we're so used to him lashing out -- most of the time, his emotions are written all over his eyebrows, but in this moment, he's just devastated, and he's not putting on a show for anyone. Not even for Elena.

"You were an idiot," he snaps at her. "We both were." He's been doubting her ability to handle Stefan's actions -- but when faced with the reality, Damon can't really handle it either.

"Stop waiting for him to come home. Just stop," he says, and it sounds like he's convincing himself as much as he's convincing her.

8:53 - Poor Matt. He's still new to the whole supernatural world -- he doesn't understand that ghosts are hardly far-fetched at this point. It's almost sweet, though, the way he tries to make Jeremy feel better about his visions. He's doing the big brother thing. "I think I see her all the time, too... I want to see her, so I do," he says.

And then he asks if he can take the Gilberts' ice cream home with him. Poor Matt. He has no hot vampire girlfriend, no mom, and he can't even afford his own ice cream. Jeremy should give him a roll of toilet paper and a bag of coffee, too. Show a little empathy to the less fortunate.

8:54 - "I already told you where to find the pack," says Seventh Heaven, tied to a pool table, which is a little better than being chained to Stefan's dart board... but not much. Klaus explains that being turned into a hybrid is a three-step process. He has to drink Klaus's blood, die, and then... we assume he has to feed on human blood, but knowing this show, there will be a twist next week.

Stefan's return doesn't seem to ease Klaus's concerns much. "You never stop caring about family, do you? But every time you feed, the blood makes it easier to let go," he says.

Um, are we really talking about "letting go" with the dude who hoards the bodies of his siblings in a storage locker? Just saying.

8:55 - Oh my gosh, Aunt Jenna! We miss you. I'm glad that after spending a night being That Old Guy at a high school party, Alaric is getting his act together... by admitting that he doesn't have his act together. "I'm not a role model. I drink too much, I say the wrong things, I encourage bad behavior."

Maybe he'll fix his hair.

8:56 - This song, by the way, is "Drop in the Ocean" by Ron Pope. Not that you're paying attention to the song over Tyler and Caroline's sex noises. Don't get me wrong, I love them together (or haven't you been paying attention?) but this love scene does run a little long. We get it. Hot people getting naked.

Hey, Tyler has a bedroom! Congratulations! It looks like his mom picked out all of his stuff.

8:57 - Damon trashing Stefan's room is a great moment, though I'm concerned for that beautiful, beautiful set. He really cares, you guys!

8:58 - Did Jeremy draw a card for Elena? Cutest.

And now, ladies and gentlemen, Paul Wesley, doing that thing he does. This is a truly incredible scene, as he calls Elena. These are two characters who aren't even in the same room, and one of them doesn't even speak, and yet you can feel the connection between them down to your bones as his lip begins to quiver.

"You'll be okay. I love you, Stefan. Hold onto that. Never let that go," Elena says. After everything, she's still confident that she can bring him back. I have a feeling that when she learns that she can't save him, it's going to be a defining moment in her life. She's going to lose hope, not just for Stefan, but in general.

8:59 - Oh my god. There are two mothers in all of Mystic Falls right now, and they've now both shot guns at innocent teenagers. Suddenly, Julie Cooper is back in the running for Mystic Falls Mother of the Year.

Next week, on "The Vampire Diaries" - Simon Camden turns into Happy. Woof.

I've seen mixed reactions to the episode so far, but I loved it. The lighter tone in the party scenes was a relief after the darkness of last season, and the emotions felt more genuine than the ones in last year's season premiere.

In case it's not painfully obvious, Paul Wesley definitely wins MVP for this episode. He brought a whole new element to Stefan, and we're totally obsessed with the cold, unforgiving ripper version of him -- and the guy who cries on the phone on his girlfriend's 18th birthday.

What did you think, vamp fans? Which moment did you prefer - Damon and Elena bonding over her retrieved necklace, or the phone call scene with Stefan? Was the ripper road trip all you'd dreamed it would be? Are you looking forward to more Tyler/Caroline, or were you hoping Matt would see the light and get his monster mash on?

You know what to do. Drop me a line in the comments section below, let's discuss!
Photo/Video credit: The CW