Jo was supposed to have another date night with Alaric (this one without him stealing the ascendant) but she calls him to delay because there’s an emergency at the hospital. They awkwardly establish that they’re officially boyfriend and girlfriend. The emergency involves some stabbing victims. One starts hyperventilating when Kai slowly creeps up behind Jo, then injects her with something that knocks her out.
2007: Since Bonnie’s alone for Christmas (and for what she expects to be the rest of her life), she’s thinking about happier holidays in the past. She remembers being with Elena and Caroline at Mystic Falls’ annual winter festival and tree lighting at the high school. Bonnie hits Elena with a snowball, which Elena says is a declaration of war.
Present: Bonnie drags a Christmas tree to the school so she can recreate the memory by herself. She tries to ignore the eclipse, insisting that it’s December, not May 10th, 1994.
Liz wants to cheer Caroline up for Christmas, even though she can’t go to Mystic Falls. She’s decided to skip the tree ceremony so she can celebrate with Caroline in the Super Suite. She’s also enlisted Stefan to help decorate. Caroline isn’t happy about that.
Elena’s at Scull Bar with Damon, looking through some of Alaric’s books for ascendant-related information. He busts her for staring at him and she expresses her gratitude for helping Bonnie. Alaric calls to ask if Elena’s seen Jo recently. She never showed up for dinner after her shift the night before. The two of them and Damon meet up at Alaric’s place, where Elena reports that one of the supposed stabbing victims is also missing. (Sounds like Kai faked being injured so he could be taken to the hospital and ambush Jo there.) Alaric guesses it’s Kai, since Jo was anticipating that he would come after her.
Damon thinks Alaric should have kept a better eye on his girlfriend. And done…what? He’s human now. Alaric snarkily asks if he should have asked Damon to compel Jo to skip work. Elena redirects the guys’ focus to saving Jo. Damon doesn’t think it’s a big deal – they just need to find Kai and kill him.
At Lockwood Landing, Tyler tries to rally Liv and Luke to agree to the opposite. If they help Kai and he merges with Jo, Luke and Liv no longer have to worry about the merge. Luke points out that Kai will then be the most powerful witch in the Gemini coven and will just kill them. Liv asks what Kai wants them to do anyway.
Damon calls Matt to ask if he’s had any encounters with Kai (whom he describes as a “sociopathic Ryan Reynolds”). Matt hasn’t, so Damon asks him and “little baby Gilbert” to keep an eye out for him “in between levels of ‘Mario Kart.'” Matt hurries to get him off the phone so he and Jeremy can go back to their plan to find and kill Enzo.
Alaric doesn’t get why Kai would go after Jo. She can’t merge without magic, and she got rid of hers in 1994. Tyler tells Luke and Liv that according to Kai, Jo hid her magic in a knife. Kai siphoned the 1994 version, and Damon tells Alaric and Elena that he hid the real-world version. Alaric notes that Kai could find it with a locator spell, but Elena explains that Kai can’t do magic without siphoning it. Liv guesses that that’s why Kai wants her and Luke’s help. If they find the knife, Jo can get her magic back, Kai can merge with her, and Luke and Liv can do whatever they want because they’ll both be alive.
Luke reminds Liv that merging is their duty to their coven. It’s why they were born. She corrects that they were born because the Geminis didn’t think Jo was strong enough to beat Kai in a merge. They shouldn’t have to die because their sister’s weak. Luke notes that a month ago, Liv was resigned to fulfilling their duty. Liv says that’s because Kai wasn’t there a month ago. Now they have the chance to live normal lives and be happy.
Alaric predicts that Kai will go looking for the knife so Jo can get her magic back. Damon’s still not worried, since he can just kill Kai when he shows up. He pulls a picture off the wall and opens the back of the frame to reveal the knife’s hiding place: “Tada!” Make that “womp womp” because the knife isn’t there. Luke and Liv meet up with Kai in a crypt at the cemetery, where he’s brought Jo (who’s still unconscious) and the knife. Even though he once tried to kill them all, he appreciates getting to spend the holidays with his family.
Bonnie continues reminiscing as she decorates her tree with a popcorn garland.
2007: Bill is missing the tree lighting because he’s helping his “friend” Steven “move a couch” or something. Sorry, Caroline. She complains that he’s ruining the tradition of the sheriff and her husband putting the star on the tree. Liz says the Lockwoods can do it. Caroline worries that something’s going on between her parents. She thinks she’s old enough to handle adult problems, now that she’s a high school freshman. Liz tells her to put aside worrying until the holidays are over.
Bonnie and Elena snack on popcorn while making a garland. Bonnie’s down because she has to go to a conference with her father and will miss Christmas in Mystic Falls with her friends. Elena offers to ask her parents if she can stay with them instead. The girls have never spent Christmas apart and Elena doesn’t want to change that.
Present: Caroline cautions Stefan that he can’t make up for ruining their friendship by hanging up some lights. He says he’s trying, but she chastises him for only taking on the easy parts of friendship repair. He decides to leave as Liz brings in some hot chocolate, but he rushes back when she gets dizzy and starts to collapse.
Kai uses a stick to draw a line in the dirt to mark the anti-magic border in the cemetery. Jo’s awake now, and she’s not happy about her siblings’ conspiracy. Kai stabs her in the shoulder, trying to return her magic to her. It doesn’t work. Luke tells him to back off, but Kai is more than willing to kill him. As Luke leaves, Jo explains that since she put her magic in the knife by choice, she can only take it back by choice. If Kai keeps stabbing her, she’ll just bleed to death. He tells Liv to figure out how to get Jo to take back her magic while he goes to get bandages. If Liv fails, she might be the next person Kai stabs.
Elena joins Caroline at Whitmore Medical Center, where she’s waiting impatiently for news about what made Liz collapse. Caroline asks for an update on the search for an ascendant so she can distract herself. There’s no news, though, and it just reminds Caroline that poor Bonnie has to spend Christmas alone. Elena hopes she doesn’t even know it’s Christmas. Caroline asks how things are with Elena and Damon – surprisingly, she’s happy that Elena has someone who’s there for her.
Damon calls Tyler after failing to find him or Liv in their dorm. He’s figured out that Kai, Liv, and Tyler (and possibly Luke) are working together. Tyler says he’s just trying to keep his girlfriend alive, something Damon can relate to. Luke spots Damon and tries to reverse course, but he can’t outrun a vampire. Damon asks where Jo is but Luke won’t say. He heads off Damon before he can hurt him, since killing him would just solidify the need for a Jo/Kai merge. “Is that what you people think of me? That I just instantly resort to violence?” Damon asks, pretending to be offended.
He gets why Luke doesn’t want to merge with Liv (“no one wants to see that face with her hair”), but what could possibly be the benefit of letting Kai merge with Jo? He killed four Parker siblings even without magic. Damon’s pretty sure that Kai won’t suddenly become a nice person when he gets all of Jo’s power. Luke realizes he’s sided with the wrong team and agrees to a longer chat.
Enzo meets up with Matt in Tripp’s cabin, thinking Matt called him there to give him the dirt he wants on Sarah. He’s suspicious about why Matt is suddenly being helpful. Matt’s reasoning is simple: If Enzo goes hunting for Sarah, he’ll leave Mystic Falls. He gives Enzo the information Monique told him about her past. But the folder is empty, and Enzo’s fully aware that he might have walked into a trap. He catches an arrow Jeremy fires at him after sneaking up behind him, but he’s not prepared for Matt to stab him in the neck. When Enzo turns on him, Jeremy keeps shooting until Enzo’s unconscious.
Elena checks in with Stefan, who tells her that a radiologist has joined Liz’s case. He overheard her using the word “glioblastoma,” a type of cancer. When Liz came in after Tripp’s minions kidnapped her, she underwent some tests that caught it. Apparently Liz hasn’t shared the news with Caroline yet. Elena compels a doctor to fill her in: Liz has a lesion on her brain stem that may have spread to her spine. It’s probably inoperable. Liz has known since the original tests, but the doctor says she might not have fully grasped the diagnosis yet.
Matt and Jeremy’s plans for Enzo hit a speed bump when they can’t agree on how to kill him. Jeremy wants to just stake him, but Matt thinks he deserves to suffer for killing Monique. Jeremy notes that Matt sounds like Tripp. Matt’s like, “Oh, yeah, Enzo killed him, too.” Jeremy says he’s being intense. Matt replies that that could be the problem – they keep looking the other way while vampires do whatever they want and innocent people end up dead. Jeremy asks if Matt would act like this if they were dealing with Elena, Stefan, or Caroline. He understands how Matt feels and has felt it himself; his hunter instincts made him want to kill his own sister. But Matt’s going to go crazy and even get himself killed if he keeps looking at the situation as “us vs. them.”
While Kai’s gone, Jo asks Liv to free her. Liv wants her to face the merge – she had 18 years of freedom, and now she needs to take back her magic and fulfill her responsibility to the coven. Luke is all Liv has and she couldn’t live with herself if they merged and she killed him. Jo reminds her that Kai could become more powerful than all of them. Liv, however, thinks Jo could beat him. True, she hasn’t practiced magic in 18 years, but she’s accomplished a ton without it. “You didn’t get here listening to people tell you you weren’t strong enough,” Liv points out.
Kai returns just then and siphons Liv’s magic. He starts to use it against her, wondering if it would be funny or sad to kill her with her own magic. (He has trouble keeping his emotions straight, thanks to being a psychopath and all.) He’s about to set Liv on fire when Jo grabs her knife and takes back her magic.
Damon and Alaric arrive at the cemetery together, but only because Damon blew up his car and needed a ride. Wait, then how has Damon been getting around? Whatever. He gives a typical Damon non-apology for making Alaric get the ascendant from Jo, then actually uses the words “I’m sorry.” In the crypt, Kai laughs at Jo for being predictable and doing what he wanted so he wouldn’t hurt Liv. She magically frees herself from her chains.
Kai hears someone whistling outside and leaves the crypt to check it out. Damon appears and Kai uses magic to blast him over the border. Damon quickly returns to the safe side as Kai crosses the border. But Alaric’s waiting for him with a gun, ready to end this whole thing. Jo emerges and tells Alaric not to kill her brother. She doesn’t want Liv and Luke to have to do the merge; it’s not fair to them. Damon doesn’t care, and he tells Alaric to kill Kai. Alaric is about to when Jo announces that she can beat Kai in the merge. She just needs some time to boost her strength. Torn between listening to his girlfriend and his (possibly former) best friend, Alaric chooses Jo. He hits Kai over the head with his gun and knocks him out.
At Lockwood Landing, Tyler confronts Luke for telling Damon where his siblings were. Luke says he’s switching sides and won’t be working with a monster anymore. As the two are about to start fighting, Liv arrives and tells them that Jo thinks she can beat Kai. Luke doesn’t think that’s possible – Kai will kill Jo, then everyone in the coven, then innocent people. Liv says she’d rather be selfish and live than be a martyr for the coven. Luke warns that people will die and it’ll be their fault.
Elena regroups with Stefan, who wishes they had a plan to deal with Liz’s condition like they have a plan for handling Kai. They’ve always been able to face supernatural evil, but this is something they can’t beat. He knows Caroline will fall apart if Liz dies. She’s a good person and doesn’t deserve to lose her mother. Elena decides to tell Caroline so she doesn’t have to hear the news from a stranger, but Stefan offers to do it. Maybe he can make up for not being there for Caroline the last time she needed him.
Jo and Alaric plan to lock up Kai until there’s a celestial event to use for the merge. Jo notes that of all the guys she’s dated, Alaric’s the only one who understands what she’s facing. While they kiss, Damon throws rocks at the pillar headstone (Giuseppe’s) he’s chained Kai to on the non-magic side. Kai asks for some clarification of the rules of the border. If Damon was in a plane that flew over it, would he die? Damon replies that once he kills Kai, Kai can ask all the dead Travelers who cast the spell. Kai comments that if multiple Travelers were involved, it must have been a big spell. That gives him an idea.
Alaric joins Damon and blasts him for throwing rocks, even though he’s in no danger of hitting Kai. Damon asks why they “continuously compromise logic” for Alaric’s new girlfriend. Alaric no longer cares for Damon’s opinion. Damon reminds him that Kai is the reason Bonnie’s stuck in the prison world. He admits that he hates himself for being able to come back when Bonnie couldn’t. Alaric knows Damon wants to kill Kai to make himself feel better, but it would be selfish. Damon responds by throwing a rock so hard that it bursts a tire on Alaric’s car. Nearby, Kai smiles to himself because the guys aren’t paying any attention to him.
Bonnie turns on the lights on her tree.
2009: Liz addresses the town at the tree lighting, where Elena and Bonnie are trying to act like they did sneak some alcohol. The gang did a Secret Santa gift exchange, and Caroline is disappointed in her present from Stefan, a Mystic Falls snow globe keychain. Elena teases that she’s forgetting the true meaning of Christmas. What matters is that they’re happy and healthy and together.
Present: Stefan finds Caroline and tells her they need to talk.
Damon calls Elena as wind whips up in the cemetery. They lose cell reception before she can tell him about Liz. Kai siphons magic out of the ground as Damon wonders what’s going on with the weather. Jeremy goes to the tree ceremony just as the tree is being lit. Matt heads toward the border in Tripp’s truck, with a now-conscious Enzo in the back. Enzo asks him to change the radio station so he doesn’t have to die listening to country music. Matt ignores him, ready to never have to listen to him again.
Damon realizes that Kai has stopped talking, something that has never happened in all the time they’ve known each other. Kai adds chanting to his siphoning as Damon sees that his chains are gone. Matt crosses the border and stops just past the “welcome to Mystic Falls” sign. Enzo feels the effects of the anti-magic spell, but when Matt goes around to the back to watch him die, he’s fine. “It’s a Christmas miracle,” Enzo declares, grabbing Matt by the throat.
Kai comes toward Damon, who’s realized that he siphoned the magic from the border spell. Kai uses his new power to throw Alaric into a tree, then disappear when Damon tries to attack him. Alaric’s okay, but he doesn’t want to accept Damon’s hand when Damon offers to help him up. He wonders how Damon was able to cross the border.
“If we’ve learned anything from today, it’s that we should kill our enemies with haste,” Enzo tells Matt. But he doesn’t consider Matt an enemy, so he’ll let him live. He admits that he’s jealous of Stefan for having everything Enzo wants. Even when he throws it away, he’s a winner. Enzo wants Matt to help him ruin Stefan’s life. Then Enzo will decide if Matt gets to stay alive.
Thanks to Kai, of all people, for removing the spell at the border, Damon gets to go home to Vamp Villa for the first time in months. (Music: “Winter Song,” Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson) He calls Elena, who’s pleased to get some good news for once. She tells Damon that she doesn’t know what they were before or what they are now or what they’re supposed to be, but she had a rough day and wants to see him. He tells her to come over so they can have dinner and complain together.
Stefan has broken the news to Caroline about Liz, but she doesn’t see the big deal – they can just give Liz vampire blood. Stefan gently notes that if that were a cure for cancer, it would be in widespread use. Caroline thinks they still have options, like surgery or chemo. Stefan shoots them down, but Caroline still believes that Liz will be able to beat the tumor. The look on Stefan’s face tells her she’s wrong.
Bonnie looks at her little tree while Jeremy thinks of her at the big one in the real world. They both say that they miss each other. Then Bonnie lights her tree on fire and leaves it to burn. At the hospital, Caroline puts her snow globe keychain in Liz’s hand while she sleeps.
Damon is preparing for dinner with Elena when he hears a familiar sound outside: the engine of his Camaro. Stefan has finished restoring it and wants Damon to have it as an early Christmas/late welcome-back present. “Do me a favor – don’t die again,” Stefan says. It was hard to find the right fenders. They both go inside, ready to reclaim their home. Stefan says he’ll kill Jeremy if he slept in Stefan’s bed while they were gone.
Elena arrives outside and sees that Damon stuck mistletoe on the front door. She knocks, but when he opens the door, he can’t see her. Kai appears behind her and reveals that he put a cloaking spell on them. Then he knocks her out for a little winter’s nap.
Etc.: “Sociopathic Ryan Reynolds”? Does Damon actually know who Ryan Reynolds is? If anything, Kai’s a sociopathic Chris Evans.
Fun fact that made me laugh: Tyler doesn’t have Damon’s number saved in his phone. I wonder what he would put as Damon’s name if he did.
Nice attempt at giving Enzo something to do, show, but no one cares.
I’d like a detailed summary of which ailments do and don’t respond to vampire blood, please.