Credit: Quantrell D. Colbert/The CW Photo: Stefan Looks at Damon in Vampire Diaries Season 3, Episode 12, “The Ties That Bind”

Back in 1864 when the Salvatore brothers became vampires, it was Stefan (Paul Wesley) who was blood-greedy and sneering. Damon (Ian Somerhalder) was a fly-under-the-radar goody-goody with a Katherine (Nina Dobrev) hang-up. In fact, Stefan said he was “worse” than his big brother ever was. Now that we’ve seen him go full Ripper, we’re getting a better look at just how bad Stefan can be.

Forcing a man to drink his own wife’s blood and turning scores of girls into gory versions of Humpty Dumpty (they can’t be put back together again) is pretty rotten, so we became very concerned when Klaus(Joseph Morgan) turned off Stefan’s emotions. That would make his antics go to 11 right? But even when asked to bite Elena, he held himself back — with difficulty, but he managed. That’s how strong his love for Elena was. Cut to Stefan being released from his Klaus-pulsion and still being a world-class jerk. What is going on? It can be difficult to parse out how all the vampire tricks work in Mystic Falls — especially once Original-levels of compulsion come into play. Did releasing Stefan also allow him to feel again?

In Vampire Diaries Season 3, Episode 11, “Our Town,” Stefan’s excuse to Elena was that he’d already lost her and basically no longer cared what she thought of him. He’s on a big “kill Klaus”mission and nothing else matters. But he saved Damon’s life, so he has to have some feelings somewhere behind those crazy eyes, right?

Again we have to return to a Salvatore brothers comparison. Damon forced Elena to drink his blood so that she’d become a vampire if Klaus ended up killing her. The alternative is permanent death, so vampirizing doesn’t seem like such a bad option, but Elena was livid. Yet Damon’s only motivation for the liquid diet was saving her life. When Stefan pulls the same trick, he’s executing one maneuver in his grand plan to murder Klaus — it’s not even his trump card. The cruel way he carried out his tactic, taking Elena to the bridge where she lost her parents and nearly died herself, has to be proof that Stefan’s emotions are currently in the “off” position, but is he solely motivated by revenge? Is killing Klaus all he’s really after?

Stefan’s talking the talk, but he’s not yet walking the walk. He didn’t turn Elena into a vampire, and while he says he doesn’t care if Klaus kills Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen), there’s only one Salvatore who’s snapped the neck of Elena’s little brother thus far. 

We’d argue that there’s something bigger at play, that Stefan knows there’s only one way to best Klaus. The Original is vulnerable because he loves his family. Stefan is divesting himself of his weaknesses in preparation for an epic showdown between himself and Klaus. That’s the only way he can win. Season 3 will be about beating Klaus; we believe Season 4 will show Stefan trying to come back from everything he did to achieve that goal.