Credit: The CW © 2012 The CW Network, LLC. Photo: Damon in Season 3, Episode 22: “The Departed”

While she’s out, Elena takes us into another flashback. It’s later the same day. She has broken up with Matt. She’s outside of the bonfire walking down a lonely road talking to her mother on her cell phone. When she wakes she’s furious to find herself in Matt’s car speeding out of town.

Damon calls Stefan to tell him of Klaus’s demise. He also wants to see if his brother is feeling okay. Stefan is fine. They both are — for now. But they’re worried because it has been less than an hour since Klaus died. Is their end near? If it is, Stefan points out that Damon will not have time to drive back to Mystic Falls. Damon thinks Stefan’s saying this because he wants to have an “epic goodbye” with his brother. But Stefan’s thinking of Elena and how Damon won’t have time to say goodbye. “Well, I guess you’ll just have to say goodbye for both of us,” Damon says. “Call me if you cough up a lung.”

After Stefan hangs up, Jeremy tells him that Damon wouldn’t be able to bid adieu to Elena anyway because and Matt had conspired to take her out of town.

Matt has a more optimistic outlook. When Caroline calls to tell them about the death of Klaus, Matt tells Elena she’s got just enough time to see one of the Salvatores. Either she heads back to Mystic Falls to Stefan or onward to the storage units to Damon.

Elena finally makes her choice, and she chooses... Stefan. When she calls to check on Damon, she tries to soften the blow by saying that she was returning to Mystic Falls to see Caroline and Tyler as well. But Damon sees through it and he asks her, if she would go home to Stefan even if Car and Ty weren’t there. She says she would. “I love him, Damon,” Elena says of Stefan. “He came into my life at a time when I needed someone and I fell for him instantly. No matter what I feel for you. I never unfell for him.”

Damon nearly breaks our hearts when he replies, “Yeah, I get it. Stefan. It’s always gonna be Stefan.”

Meanwhile Caroline’s main concern is Tyler. She vamps through the woods into the old Lockwood dungeons to meet him. She sobs as she tells him that Klaus has died. Ty puts on a brave face and comforts her. “I’m a lost cause but you’re strong and you have a beautiful life ahead of you,” he says. They kiss and hug. Then Ty bends over, coughing. He tells Caroline to leave but she won’t. He falls to all fours and starts to change, painfully. She still refuses to go. Tyler punches the floor, looks up at Caroline, and growls with hungry hybrid eyes. “Go!” Caroline vamps out.

Credit: The CW © 2012 The CW Network, LLC. Photo: Stefan and Elena in Season 3, Episode 22: “The Departed”

We should have known that we were in for one heckuva episode when Elena (Nina Dobrev) woke up in a good mood. At the start of “The Departed,” E’s smiling as she puts on her cheerleading uniform. She’s in a pre-Salvatores Mystic Falls, circa Spring 2009. Downstairs, her parents are still alive, as is Aunt Jenna (Sara Canning), who is visiting. All is right with the world.

But this is the third season finale of The Vampire Diaries, so it takes next to no time for things to go deliciously wrong. Then, before we know it: One member of the Mystic Falls Scooby Gang is dead, another’s probably undead, and a third is possessed by a fourth who decides to time-share a body. But we are so getting ahead of ourselves here. Let us go back to the beginning and suspiciously happy Elena.

This episode picks up exactly where the last week’s tale left off. Turns out, our girl, isn’t dreaming. She’s remembering while in a concussive sleep at Mystic Falls General Hospital. Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen) found his sister lying on the floor bleeding into the paint, and now she’s in the hospital where Doc Meredith says she has “a slight concussion.”

When they hear this news, the Salvatores, who are still driving towards the coast with the body of O.V. Klaus (Joseph Morgan), have a hissy fit. How dare Jeremy dial 9-1-1 and let paramedics take his bleeding sister to the hospital where O.V.s and hybrids could easily get to her. How dare he react like a normal human would! After reaming Jer, the Salvatore bros make a decision: One of them is going to head back to Mystic Falls to check on Elena while the other hides Klaus. Stefan (Paul Wesley) gets the good end of the coin toss.

Before Stefan can race back to Elena, Vampire Alaric (Matt Davis) shows up at the hospital all upset that no one called him to come pick up his ward. He stops by the lab to destroy Meredith’s vampire blood supply and to ream her for well, everything. “I’m getting this town back under control,” he says before promising to get her fired and have her medical license revoked. When Alaric finally walks into Elena’s room she’s gone.

Missing Alaric by minutes, Jeremy, Caroline (Candice Accola), and Matt (Zach Roerig) take Elena back to the Gilbert house, where uninvited vampires may not enter. They dote on her. Caroline even offers to make her “tea with vodka.” Elena is touched by all the attention. She drinks and flashes back to 2009 — to the fateful day of the homecoming bonfire when she and Matt were still a couple but not for long.

When Elena wakes up, Matt’s looking down at her the way he used to. “I’m sorry that I strung you along,” she says. “I should have figured out what I wanted and been honest about it.” Elena goes on to tell Matt that she making the same mistake with Damon (Ian Somerhalder) and Stefan.

Speaking of the Salvatores, Stefan arrives minutes before Elijah (Daniel Gillies) does. Yes, that Elijah. The Original vampire shows up at the front door of Casa Gilbert. He wants to make a deal with Elena: If she helps him locate his desiccated brother and take the white oak stake from Alaric, he promises not to wake Klaus while she and her offspring are still alive.

Damon listens over the phone while Elijah negotiates with Elena. He does not think she should trust Elijah. Heck, he doesn’t even think she should be allowed to broker such a deal. But Stefan lets Elena make the decision on her own. When Matt points out how stupid it is, Stefan says, “There’s nothing wrong with free will, Matt. Trust me. You don’t realize that until you lose it.”

Credit: The CW © 2012 The CW Network, LLC. Photo: Elena in Season 3, Episode 22: “The Departed”

Caroline calls Elena and tells her about Tyler. Matt rages at the steering wheel. “This isn’t how our lives was supposed to be Elena,” he says.

Rebekah tearfully tells Elijah she couldn’t stop Alaric from killing their brother. They hug. Elijah tells Beks that the rest of the gang is still alive. They both agreed that Klaus sired the Salvatore line. So they don’t understand why the brothers still live. “How are they alive?” Elijah asks.

Cut to Bonnie walking into the old Lockwood dungeon. Tyler struts out to meet her. Only it’s not Ty. He’s been possessed by Klaus. “I must say you really did that spell brilliantly. I didn’t think you had it in you,” Klaus says. Bonnie replies, “I did it to save my friends and my mother, Klaus. Not you.”

Rebekah’s sorrow has turned to rage. She refuses to leave town. Instead she plans to avenge her brother by killing Elena. Beks goes to stand in the middle of the road that leads back into town. When Matt’s truck comes barreling down it, he veers right to avoid hitting her. They go over the rail and into the water at the same spot where Elena’s parents died.

Again we flash back to 2009. Elena is in the car with her parents. Water rushes in. She and her dad struggle, trying to break the windows. Neither can. Elena’s father takes her hand just as Stefan shows outside their submerged car. Elena’s father gestures for him to save her first. He does.

History repeats itself beneath the Wickerly Bridge. This time, when Stefan dives into the water, Elena gestures for him to save Matt first. He does.

Meanwhile, Alaric’s trying to beat the cute out of Damon. D refuses to fight back. Instead he tries to play the but-we-were-friends angle. It’s not working very well. Alaric slaps Damon with the white oak stake. And, this time, it’s Damon who flashes back to the night of the bonfire.

Turns out, Damon and Elena met before she ever met Stefan. Damon saw her there on that road and mistook her for Katherine. They chatted, flirted even. She tells him what happened with Matt. He tells her “you want a love that consumes you. You want passion and adventure. And even a little danger.” Then, as her parents drive up, Damon compels Elena to forget that they’ve ever met.

Damon is still thinking about that moment when Alaric gets the better of him. But then, suddenly the hunter grows weak. He looks around panicked. He doesn’t understand what’s happening. But Elena does.

Next we see a saddened Stefan sitting next to Elena as she lays on a metal table in the morgue. Doc Meredith’s freaking out. As Damon arrives in hurry, she tells him that Elena’s head injury was more serious than she’d led Jeremy to believe. She confesses that she “helped” Elena heal. By “help” she means that she gave her vampire blood.

In the last seconds of the episode, we see Elena wake with a gasp.

 

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Credit: The CW © 2012 The CW Network, LLC. Photo: Matt in Season 3, Episode 22: “The Departed”

While Elijah negotiates with Elena, Alaric tries to make a deal of his own. When Jeremy drops by the Grill to pick up some takeout, Evil ‘Ric bumrushes him. He asks Jeremy to help find where the Salvatores are hiding Klaus’s body. In exchange, he promises to kill Klaus and all his siblings, effectively wiping out the vampire species. After he does that, he offers to sacrifice himself. When it looks like Jeremy will side with Elena and the Salvatores and Co., ‘Ric threatens, “I’m going to get Klaus either way Jeremy. Be on the right side of this.”

Across town, Caroline and Tyler (Michael Trevino) leave Elena’s house to go meet with their moms. When they show up at the Lockwood mansion, the mayor and the sheriff tell them that Alaric outed them to the council and, now, they must leave town — go anywhere. And hide.

At first Caroline doesn’t want to run. But Tyler talks her into it. “If we have to spend the rest of our lives running. I will run with you,” Caroline tells him. They agree to meet in two hours — after she has had a chance to help Elena.

But, as usual, Bonnie (Kat Graham) is already helming Team Save Elena. The witch of Mystic Falls meets Damon 100 miles outside of town at a storage unit where he has stashed Klaus.  They open the casket to look at the O.V. He’s wrapped in silver chains, all dried and crusted. Suddenly his eyes open. “That’s creepy,” Damon says. But Bonnie sees it as an opportunity. She asks for a few moments alone with the man. Damon grants Bonnie’s wish and leaves her in the storage unit with the O.V.

Back at the house, Stefan and Elena have a moment. “Lately I feel like every time someone walks out of this house there’s a chance they might not come home,” Elena tells him. Stefan promises to do what he can to keep everyone safe. As Stefan moves to leave, Elena calls out to him but then says “never mind.” He turns walks back to her, grabs her, and kisses her. Theirs is a hot, memorable smooch. “That’s just in case there is no later,” he says. Awwww.

Back at the storage unit, Bonnie leaves without telling Damon what she said/or did to Klaus. Damon sticks around to wait for Rebekah (Claire Holt). Wrong move. Before the Original Sister arrives, Alaric does. He surprises Damon, and chokes him while trying to force him to tell Klaus’s location. When Damon doesn’t spill, Alaric breaks his neck and drops him. But ‘Ric doesn’t stake his former friend.

Damon wakes later just in time to save an unsuspecting Rebekah from hunter Alaric. They grab Klaus’s coffin and head for the door, where Alaric catches them and easily puts them down. Next, while Rebekah screams in horror, Alaric takes out the white oak ash stake and sticks it deep into Klaus. The O.V.’s chest bursts into flames.

In town at the Gilbert house, Matt brings Elena a strange-tasting tea. He sits and listens while she has a pity party. “I wish I had my mom here to give me advice,” she says before going on to talk about what she loves about each of the Salvatores. Just when it seems like Matt’s being too good of a friend, Elena passes out. He loads her into his truck and heads out of town.