It’s June 11th, 1953, and Damon has just returned to Mystic Falls. He goes to see Joseph at Vamp Villa (then known as the Salvatore Boarding House), having been summoned via telegram. Joseph reached out to Stefan, too, but he hasn’t responded. Damon mentions that they haven’t spoken since they were both in New Orleans in the ’40s. “There’s always time to be a better man,” Joseph comments. “Not sure I got one of those in me,” Damon replies.
While Damon’s not looking, Joseph grabs a syringe and injects him with vervain. He explains that someone paid him to hand Damon over. That person enters the room as Damon jams a glass into Joseph’s neck and kills him. The visitor notes that now he doesn’t have to pay up. He introduces himself as Damon’s doctor and gives him more vervain to fully knock him out.
In the present, Damon is in a similar position as Wes has come into his cell to give him more vervain. Wes isn’t happy about losing a test subject the night before, so Damon is going to replace him.
Katherine has taken up journaling while under suicide watch at Vamp Villa. Stefan thought it would help her deal with the impending end of her life. She doesn’t see the point. Only self-centered people write down all their thoughts. Stefan just wants her to keep busy so she doesn’t try to kill herself again.
And how is he doing? Totally fine! Katherine doubts that, since he’s still having PTSD incidents. She asks how he’s supposed to keep her alive if he can’t help himself. Stefan thinks this means that she wants to live. Really, she just doesn’t want help from someone who isn’t at his best. That’s why she called backup. That backup is Caroline, who’s adding the job of therapist to her existing role as Stefan’s sober sponsor. She’s brought along the safe he spent the summer locked in.
Elena goes to Aaron’s room, where he tells her that according to campus security, Jesse killed himself the night before. Elena pretends she didn’t already know that he was dead. Aaron laments that his attempt to get a fresh start at college has just led to more tragedy. Elena can relate, though all of her problems just followed her from Mystic Falls to Whitmore. Aaron asks why she came by, but Elena doesn’t want to bother him while he’s mourning. He notes that his day isn’t going to get worse (oh, buddy, it can always get worse), so he might as well help her with whatever’s going on.
Elena asks about Wes being Aaron’s legal guardian. Aaron says he took on that role last summer, after Aaron’s Aunt Sarah died. Everyone around him ends up dead, and no one wants to be friends with a guy who keeps mourning loved ones, so he’s pretty much alone. Elena tells him that Damon went to talk to Wes last night, and now both of them seem to have disappeared. She asks Aaron to help her figure out where Wes might be.
Damon warns Wes that the last time he was in his cell, things didn’t end well for the people who put him there. Wes knows he was one of Dr. Whitmore’s “patients.”
1953: Dr. Whitmore’s wearing vervain, so Damon can’t compel him into letting him go. Dr. Whitmore says Damon’s there for scientific advancement. His blood heals others and his organs will regenerate themselves after parts of them have been removed. Time for some dissection! Also eye-cutting. ICK.
Present: Damon remarks that the Augustine Society seems to still be around. Wes says that Damon should have realized from his encounter with Jesse that the experiments have changed a bit since the ’50s. Wes was able to make a vampire crave vampire blood instead of human blood. Now he’s ready to take his research to the next level.
Aaron heads across campus with Elena, expressing disbelief that Jesse would kill himself. Elena notes that Aaron was friends with both Megan and Jesse; isn’t it weird that they both killed themselves before the first semester was over? Aaron definitely thinks it’s weird, since Jesse was having a great year and Megan had big plans for her life. Elena confides that she found Megan’s body and knows she was murdered. Wes forged her death certificate. He’s part of something big. Aaron wants to find him before they continue the conversation. He wants Wes’ side of the story.
They go to Whitmore House, which Elena still can’t enter because she’s never been invited in. But when Aaron tells her to come in, she suddenly can. She casually asks who owns the house. Aaron does – it’s part of the trust he inherited when his parents died. Aaron’s last name is Whitmore.
Elena spots a photo of some Whitmore alums and recognizes her father. Wes comes in and says Grayson was one of the Augustine Society’s best doctors. Then he injects her with vervain as Aaron looks on in shock. “I’m glad he didn’t live to see this,” Wes says.
Caroline announces that she’s going to use the safe to help Stefan get past his PTSD. And no, she’s not trying to avoid her feelings about Elena killing Jesse. Stefan, for the record, is Team Elena here because Jesse was out of control. Caroline thinks Elena’s judgment is off, just like her taste in men is. Anyway, since Stefan wasn’t able to heal his PTSD himself, Caroline is going to give it a shot.
Wes tells Aaron that he had to make sure Megan’s death didn’t bring unwanted attention to his research. He doesn’t study the transmission of infectious diseases – he studies vampires. Elena’s one, and Wes used an “anti-vampire drug” on her as a safety measure. His other safety measures include stakes, which I assume Wes calls “anti-vampire weapons.” He tells Aaron his work has been conducted for generations. It started with the Whitmores, and Aaron’s father continued the legacy. After his death, the Whitmore trust kept funding Wes’ research. He was going to tell Aaron everything on his birthday. The experiments are his legacy.
Elena’s now in a cell next to Damon’s, and when she wakes up from her vervaining, he tells her this isn’t his first rodeo with the Augustine Society. He fills her in on Dr. Whitmore’s experiments and how he was kept in the cell for about five years…and he wasn’t alone.
1953: Dr. Whitmore returns Damon to his cell after a day in the lab. A radio nearby is playing Patsy Cline’s “Walking After Midnight.” The cell next to Damon’s – the one Elena’s currently in – contains a vampire named Enzo. He welcomes Damon to life as a lab rat and tells him that they get one glass of blood a day, just enough to keep them alive.
Present: Damon tells Elena that Enzo was a soldier in WWII. Whitmore found him in a battlefield hospital and sent him to the U.S. after learning that he was a vampire. Enzo had already been in his cell for ten years by the time Damon arrived.
1953: Enzo advises Damon to drink his daily meal slowly. By gulping it, he’s living in the moment, not thinking about the future. Damon doesn’t think there will be a future for either of them. Enzo keeps it in mind because it holds the possibility of revenge. He plans to kill Dr. Whitmore’s dog and mail the body to his house. Enzo, no! Leave the dog alone! Bad vampire! He urges Damon to picture his own revenge. Damon finds a rock and carves his initials and the year into the cell wall as he starts to imagine what he wants for Dr. Whitmore.
Present: Elena tells Damon that Wes knew Grayson and said he was an Augustine researcher. Elena can’t imagine the father she knew as someone who tortured vampires. “People are full of surprises,” Damon replies. Thanks for the sympathy, man. He’s sorry that he got Elena caught up in this, though, and he promises to get her out of there.
Caroline is using her psychology textbook to guide Stefan through exposure therapy. Specifically, she’s locked him in the safe. Katherine joins them and asks if Caroline and Stefan have ever hooked up. Caroline seems to think that’s a ridiculous idea, but Katherine’s like, “I don’t hear a yes or a no, so…” While Stefan panics in the safe, Katherine and Caroline bicker about whether Caroline’s method is working. Eventually Stefan hyperventilates and passes out.
While Katherine doesn’t like Caroline’s brand of therapy, she agrees that Stefan needs to do something to overcome the hold the safe has on him. “So how do you help the guy who always comes to the rescue?” she asks. Stefan won’t come through for himself, even though he always comes through for others. That gives Katherine an idea.
Damon has flashes of memories about his time as an Augustine vampire. Elena asks how he survived all that time. He credits Enzo’s friendship with helping him hold on to his humanity.
1953: Damon is in bad shape, not so much from the experiments but from the psychological toll of them and his captivity. Enzo tries to find a conversation topic that interests him, finally landing on women. Damon’s still hung up on Katherine, and Enzo’s interested in someone named Maggie, who worked for Dr. Whitmore. She apparently didn’t know the full extent of the experiments, and she showed Enzo kindness. She left when she realized what was really going on. Damon, who’s starting to perk up, notes that they never would have been able to make a relationship work, since Enzo’s a vampire and Maggie’s human. Enzo tells him to work on having a positive outlook on things.
Dr. Whitmore comes to take a subject to the lab, deciding that Damon has more energy. Enzo offers himself up instead so Damon can have a break. Damon still has a rough time, though, because the lab is right down the hall, and he has to hear his new friend suffer. “Walking After Midnight” is playing again when Enzo is brought back. Damon demands to know why Dr. Whitmore is doing what he’s doing. Dr. Whitmore says he’s trying to understand vampires at the cellular level so he can put them to use.
Present: Elena thinks Stefan will eventually realize that she and Damon are missing and will find them. Damon tells her that Stefan doesn’t know anything about the Augustine Society or where they are. He spent his five years there waiting for Stefan to rescue him. Afterward, Damon never told him where he was so Stefan wouldn’t feel guilty about not finding him. In fact, Damon never told anyone what happened.
Elena asks how he eventually got out. Damon explains that he and Enzo were let out of their cells once a year on New Year’s Eve. The Augustine Society had a cocktail party and used the vampires for entertainment. They were locked in a cage and put on display, weakened from vervain and their meager blood rations. Dr. Whitmore would show off what he’d learned from his research.
1957: Dr. Whitmore cuts a Fell woman’s hand, then has her drink Enzo’s blood to demonstrate its restorative properties. The Augustine Society members are delighted. Enzo, however, is inspired. When he and Damon are back in their cells, he presents his idea: If one of them gives up his blood rations for the year, the other will be able to build up his strength and fight back next New Year’s Eve. The guys play Rock Paper Scissors (Enzo’s British so he calls it Scissors Paper Stone) and Damon wins. Enzo hands over his ration and starts the 364-day countdown.
Present: Elena asks if the plan worked. “More or less,” Damon replies. He doesn’t want to go into details because “it wouldn’t pretty.”
Upstairs, Wes gives Aaron a “safety precaution” in the form of a watch that belonged to Dr. Whitmore (Aaron’s great-grandfather). Aaron spots a news clipping about his parents’ deaths, as well as pictures from the scene of their supposed animal attack. He now knows that was a lie. Wes says he found them and Aaron that day, and he immediately knew that vampires were responsible. That’s why the research had to continue. Wes has to make sure something like this never happens again. He wants Aaron to join him. Aaron, however, wants to punch Wes in the face, grab some weapons, and leave.
“So…try not to be mad at me,” Katherine says as Stefan regains consciousness. She had Caroline lock her in the safe with him. Now Stefan will have to overcome his PTSD triggers so he’ll stay calm and keep from hurting Katherine. He’s the one who wants her to stay alive, after all. When he panics, she responds the same way he did when he saved her at the clock tower: “You’re Stefan Salvatore. Suck it up.”
Elena bugs Damon to tell her how he escaped in the ’50s. He still refuses, which makes her think he’s worried that she’ll judge him. She loves him and won’t care what he had to do to free himself after five years of torture.
1958: Enzo’s weaker than last New Year’s Eve, since he’s only had a few drops of blood all year to keep himself from desiccating, but Damon’s strong from his double rations. At the party, Dr. Whitmore calls for a toast with vampire blood. He brings Damon out of the cage, and Damon immediately frees himself from his chains and gouges out Dr. Whitmore’s eyes. The party guests start screaming and running as Damon feeds on Dr. Whitmore. Someone knocks over some candles and the room catches on fire.
Damon feeds on a few guests until Enzo’s like, “This was supposed to be an escape attempt, not a trip to the buffet.” But there’s vervain on the bars of the cage, so Damon can’t bend them to get Enzo out. Plus, the fire is growing.
Present: Damon tells Elena that he was in danger of either being burned in the fire or being recaptured. He chose to save himself and leave Enzo behind.
1958: Enzo begs Damon to save him, but Damon just says he’s sorry.
Present: To save himself, Damon knew he had to stop caring about Enzo, so he turned off his humanity.
1958: Damon walks out of the burning room, leaving his friend behind to die.
Present: “After that, everything was fine,” Damon says.
Stefan’s still hyperventilating, though you’d think Katherine’s nonstop talking would be enough of a distraction to get his mind off of his panic. She thinks there’s something to the doppelganger “prophecy” after all. She believes Stefan is still a little in love with Elena (just a little?) and is miserable because she chose Damon over him. He wants to get out of town, but he keeps finding excuses to stay. Katherine is just another excuse.
Stefan grabs her by the throat and threatens to kill her. Katherine urges him to keep letting out his emotions. She reminds him that he loved her before he hated her. He asks why she decided to have this conversation now. She says it’s to show him that the safe isn’t the problem. It’s easier for him to focus on the pain he felt dying over and over in the safe than on the emotional pain he’s feeling from losing Elena. He needs to focus on the reality of the moment.
Vamping out, Stefan leans closer to her, focused on her neck. She asks if he’s going to feed on her or save her. She presses him to fight the urge to hurt her and grounds him by saying she’s with him. They start to kiss, but Caroline, worried about how quiet they’ve become, opens the safe and lets them out. Stefan’s much better, and Caroline thinks it’s because of her exposure therapy when it’s really because of Katherine.
Aaron finds Damon and Elena and takes advantage of his captive audience to get more information. He tries to load a gun, but he’s nervous and has never done it before, so he drops some bullets. Since Wes says a vampire killed Megan, and Aaron now knows Elena’s a vampire, he put A and B together and got C. Elena says Megan was killed inside Whitmore House before Elena had ever been invited in. Aaron asks if Elena’s responsible for his parents’ deaths, too. She says that’s impossible. He asks why Elena was so interested in him if she’s never done anything to hurt people he cares about. Damon calmly says that while Elena’s a vampire, she’s not the one who killed his parents. Damon is.
Aaron turns the gun on him and demands more information. Damon tells him that with Enzo gone, he had to enact his revenge against Dr. Whitmore alone.
1953: After carving his name and the year in the wall, Damon shares his plan with Enzo. He’ll kill the Augustine Society, then kill all of Dr. Whitmore’s family members except one. Then when that person grows up and starts a family, Damon will kill all of them except one. There will always be one survivor to carry on the family name and provide Damon with more victims to continue his revenge forever.
Present: Aaron asks how many Whitmores Damon’s killed. Damon says he’s lost count. Elena demands to know when he last killed one. Damon admits that it was just a few months ago – Aaron’s Aunt Sarah. He took a weekend trip to Charleston without Elena knowing. “Told you it wasn’t pretty,” Damon says just before Aaron shoots him in the head.
Stefan acknowledges that Katherine’s assessment of his situation is correct and he needs to move on from Elena. She notes that that means he’s admitting that she knows what she’s doing. He says he never knows what she’s doing. She admits that she doesn’t always know, either. She gets really close to him and he doesn’t move away. They kiss, and after a pause where he considers the situation, they keep going. Meanwhile, Caroline leaves Elena a message saying she’ll be staying at her mom’s for the night. She hears Stefan and Katherine making out and tells Elena to call her as soon as she gets the message.
Aaron calls Wes from his room and asks if he needs to worry about vampires coming after him. Wes assures him that he’s safe and can go back to his normal life. Aaron puts on Dr. Whitmore’s watch and thinks about how he expected to get an education at college, but he didn’t expect to learn all this.
“I guess I had that coming,” Damon admits as he regains consciousness in his cell. He realizes Elena’s not in hers. She’s in the lab, awaiting her turn as a test subject. There’s another vampire already in line, humming “Walking After Midnight.” He welcomes his fellow Augustine vampire and introduces himself as Enzo.
Etc.: I didn’t realize this in the last episode, but the fact that Damon was able to go to Wes’ lab at Whitmore House was a hint that he’d been in the building before. His invitation from 1953 was still open.
I wouldn’t think Whitmore’s administration would want to use suicide as a cover story for two students’ deaths. The parents would start to suspect that something’s wrong there. Why not just say Jesse or Megan died in an accidental fall?
Oh, Enzo. So boring/annoying in seasons 5 and 6. So much more enjoyable in seasons 7 and 8.
If Damon had told Stefan about his experiences with the Augustine Society, I bet Stefan wouldn’t have felt as bad about Damon and Elena not rescuing him from the safe. Like, he only drowned over and over for three months. Damon had his eyes cut up for five years. Call it even.
So we’re supposed to buy that in the summer between seasons 4 and 5, when Stefan was gone and Damon and Elena could spend every second of every day together, he deliberately left her for a weekend to go kill someone just to continue a 60+-year vendetta he was still thinking about despite having gotten everything he wanted and knowing that that kind of act could make him lose Elena? Uh-huh, sure. The plot should have been that someone else – Silas makes sense – killed Sarah, and Damon had to convince Elena it wasn’t him.