Three years from now: Stefan is in Chicago, packing for a trip to Dallas to rescue Damon and Caroline. Valerie’s there, and he asks to borrow her car, since he torched his. She wants to come with him but he doesn’t want “her” to get her hands on a third person he cares about. Valerie vows to punish anyone who hurts him. Then they kiss.
Present: Stefan, Damon, Valerie, and Nora gather in a cemetery to bury Lily. Beau was too sad to come, and Nora hasn’t been in touch with either Mary Louise or Julian in days. Stefan thinks they should say something instead of just unceremoniously putting the coffin in the ground.
Nora talks about her mother turning on her after learning that she was a siphoner. (She notes that her mother had no idea that wasn’t the only thing that made her different.) She thought she would never find a mother’s love again, but Lily proved her wrong. Valerie appreciates how Lily always saw the light in her, even when she was in her darkest moments. She’s brought along the same kind of flower Stefan told her he was sent to fetch when Lily was dying.
She and Nora leave so Stefan and Damon can say goodbye in private, though Damon doesn’t need the time. He says that Lily was a terrible mother both dead and alive. Left alone, Stefan puts the flowers in Lily’s coffin and promises to make this right.
Some unspecified period of time passes and everyone shifts into Christmas mode. Caroline (who’s now visibly pregnant) is in charge of a Toys for Tots collection at Scull Bar. Stefan calls her from a town called Sunbury, where he’s hoping to track down Julian. While they’re talking, Caroline gets distracted by the thought of feeding on some random guy. Stefan complains that his “traveling companion” has turned their search for Julian into a pub crawl. That would be Damon.
Bonnie’s also at Scull Bar, and she busts Caroline for not telling Stefan about her weird pregnancy cravings. (She got up at 2:00 in the morning to mix blood with what Bonnie thinks was mayo. It was actually marshmallow fluff. Either way, EW.) Caroline doesn’t think Stefan needs to know about the specifics of her pregnancy. Alaric arrives to pick her up for a birthing class, which Caroline, being Caroline, has prepared for as if she’s getting college credit. Bonnie promises that she can handle running the toy collection while she’s gone.
Damon wonders what Stefan will have the twins call him when they’re older and realize he’s Mommy’s boyfriend and not their father. Stefan points out that they’re not Caroline’s kids, so it doesn’t matter. Damon doesn’t think there’s any way Caroline will just hand the babies over to their functional-alcoholic father and walk away. Stefan says he’s fine with whatever she decides to do. “You’re going to make an amazing not-father,” Damon tells him. But that’s his thing – “just barely not being a father.” Ouch. Stefan doesn’t appreciate how dark Damon’s humor has gotten recently. Damon knows Stefan won’t send him away, though; he needs Damon’s help to take on Julian. He’s fully loaded with vervain in various forms, including grenades.
Valerie goes to Vamp Villa to get some of her things. Mary Louise asks if she’s seen Nora. She blames Valerie for the family’s destruction. She still doesn’t believe what Valerie said about Julian, since the timing of her revelation seems suspicious. She thinks Valerie was just looking for sympathy. Valerie shoots back that Nora is better off without Mary Louise.
Speaking of Nora, she shows up at Scull Bar to make a donation. It’s technically a regift, since she bought the board game Sorry to give to Mary Louise when she came crawling back, which hasn’t happened. Bonnie accepts the donation and sends Nora on her way. Nora asks how the tot who gets the toy will know who it’s from. Bonnie says she’ll tell them. Nora announces that she wants to be more involved. She’s enrolled in classes at Whitmore, partly because Mary Louise didn’t want her to before. She wants to help with the toy drive. Bonnie reluctantly agrees, mostly because it would be pretty Grinchy of her not to.
Back in Sunbury, Damon tells Stefan that his help killing Julian is the only Christmas present Stefan should expect from his brother. They narrowed down his location to Sunbury thanks to a locator spell Bonnie did, but they haven’t found him yet. Damon needs a refill so they duck into a bar. Inside are a bunch of dead Santas. Stefan notes that they could have prevented this massacre if Damon hadn’t insisted on stopping at every bar along the way. Damon replies that they could have been killed, too. Julian’s “clearly off the proverbial rails,” so maybe they should hold off on just rushing in to fight him.
Stefan asks when Damon started thinking logically. Damon’s like, “When you started acting on impulse because of your mommy issues and your resentment that you can’t be a father.” Yes, Julian needs to die, but not if going after him will get Stefan and Damon killed, too. They need to think this through and maybe wait for backup. Stefan says Damon is his backup; he’s just bad at it. Maybe it’s good that Julian’s out of control – he’ll do something careless. The Santas were killed recently, so Julian must still be in Sunbury. Damon calls Bonnie and asks for a more specific location for Julian. Bonnie can’t help with that but she thinks Nora might be able to.
If Caroline and Alaric’s birthing class were graded, Caroline would already have an A++. She’s surprised that Alaric has been reading the same books she has. She overhears a couple of their classmates gossiping about the fact that she’s a student and is having a professor’s babies. She starts to vamp out as she decides to tell them that families come in all forms, and that while she has a boyfriend, and he’s not the babies’ father… Alaric stops her. She blames her hormones for her sudden outburst.
Nora criticizes one poor guy’s choice to only donate stickers to the toy drive. Okay, but don’t underestimate the joy kids get from stickers. Bonnie makes small talk with her about English professors and gives her a hot chocolate spiked with bourbon. She apologizes for being rude earlier, now that she knows that Nora sided with Lily and Valerie against Julian. It’s obvious that Nora doesn’t have anyone else and is trying to be a better person. Nora doesn’t want a pity friend, but Bonnie thinks she should accept one anyway, since she could be lonely in college without one. Nora guesses that Bonnie’s buttering her up because she wants something.
While waiting to hear back from Bonnie, Stefan and Damon help themselves to drinks. Stefan asks when Damon thinks he’ll finally deal with his emotions over Lily’s death. He doesn’t believe that Damon really cares so little about their mother. Damon says that her death doesn’t erase what she did. In fact, it just lets him care about her less.
Julian comes in, looking for the phone he left behind after killing all the Santas. He’s really drunk and, to Stefan and Damon’s surprise, doesn’t seem homicidal. He’s just in mourning. Stefan doesn’t think it’s genuine, since there’s no way Lily actually meant something to him. Julian angrily denies that.
He pulls out the phoenix sword and fills in the gaps in the brothers’ understanding of what it does. When you put the phoenix stone in the hilt of the sword, then stab a vampire with it, their spirit goes into the stone. The sins that vampire has committed become pieces of a personal Hell they then have to endure. Julian spent 100 years in his personal Hell until Lily saved him. She was the only thing that kept him sane. “Wait. That was you sane?” Damon asks. Yes, and with Lily gone…well, things are about to get really bad.
Bonnie tells Nora all the towns Stefan and Damon have tracked Julian through. Nora recognizes them as places he used to live – and since he doesn’t like to be alone, he’ll have friends there. Bonnie texts Damon with the warning that Julian has backup. Julian isn’t looking at the brothers, so Stefan gestures for Damon to give him the phone so he can read the text, too, but Damon won’t hand it over. Julian tells them that his old life was pretty awesome because he had tons of friends. Some vampires enter and Julian laughs at how outnumbered the Salvatores are now.
He knows the brothers have been following him for a while and hopes it’s not for “nefarious reasons.” Stefan’s like, “We’re going to kill you; does that count?” Damon tries to smooth things over by saying that Lily wouldn’t want Stefan and Julian to fight. Stefan refuses to back down, so Damon tosses out some vervain grenades. Their explosions set fire to the dead Santas’ costumes as he and Stefan zoom out.
Nora goes with Bonnie to a hospital to deliver presents. She’s always loved Christmas, especially being surrounded by her loved ones. She gets a little teary over a Barbie because the doll looks like Mary Louise. Bonnie encourages her to move on and become her own person. She needs to live in the present instead of the past. That means no more talking about Mary Louise. From now on, Nora should act like Mary Louise is dead to her. That’s exactly when Mary Louise arrives and asks to talk to her ex.
At Alaric’s apartment, Caroline tries to calm down and satisfy her cravings, though now she wonders if blood is okay for the babies. There aren’t any books she can consult to find out. Alaric assures her that she’s doing a good job. She’s making him happy, for one thing; she’s turned his life around. Caroline vamps out again and shoves him up against a wall. She immediately feels horrible and runs off.
Mary Louise invites Nora to apologize to her for accepting her proposal, then giving back the ring. Nora reminds her that Julian provided the ring. She blames him for Lily’s death. Mary Louise tells her that Julian is as upset as the rest of them. Valerie’s story is the real reason Lily’s dead. Nora can’t believe that Mary Louise still thinks Valerie lied. Mary Louise would like to pretend she’s on Nora’s side so they can just make up and go home, but Nora can’t accept that. She tells Mary Louise they’re really done.
Mary Louise accuses Nora of wanting this all along. As soon as they broke up, Nora started changing her life, doing things that Mary Louise disapproved of before. She’s even making friends with the gang. Nora realizes that Mary Louise has been following her. She wanted to do something different with Mary Louise, who’s too scared to change. Nora asks the last time Mary Louise engaged in any charitable acts. “Probably when I started dating you,” Mary Louise spits out. BURN!
Stefan wants to find a way to separate Julian from his buddies and take him on alone, but Damon is ready to call it a day and go home. The situation back in the bar is a hornet’s nest they don’t want to kick. Stefan says that Damon should be more eager to take Julian down, considering he’s the reason Julian’s alive and Lily’s dead. If it weren’t for Damon’s desire to hold off on killing Julian so Lily would be happy first, they would have taken him out a long time ago. Damon points out that she killed herself, so this is on her.
Stefan says he’s spent the past few weeks hoping that Damon would show any kind of regret over Lily’s death. She was dying and he couldn’t say even one nice thing. She wanted forgiveness, which Damon says she didn’t deserve. Stefan wonders if it’s because of her mistakes or because she didn’t choose Damon over Valerie. Damon taunts that Stefan is “giving her a hall pass like always.” Stefan shoots back that he’s being a coward and a brat. There’s still a chance to make things right. Instead, Damon calls an end to their road trip.
On his way back to Mystic Falls, Stefan calls Valerie to let her know that Julian is still alive. He says Damon thinks he’s overreacting. Valerie tells him that after everything Julian’s done, there’s no such thing as an overreaction. She’s sick of everyone giving him a pass. She wishes she’d gone with Stefan to end everything. Stefan says there’s still time, then asks if she’s seen Mary Louise.
The Heretic in question is at Scull Bar, drinking alone after everyone’s left post-toy drive. Stefan asks to join her, guessing that her attempt to reconcile with Nora didn’t go well. Valerie appears behind her, having cloaked herself, and injects Mary Louise with vervain. Stefan snaps a picture, then tells Valerie to say with her until Julian’s dead.
Nora has retreated to the Super Suite, where Bonnie asks why she loves Mary Louise in the first place. Nora lists her good qualities (none of which we’ve really seen). She says it’s nice having a person who loves you without needing anything from you. Heh, I don’t think Bonnie knows what that’s like. Nora thanks her for being kind. As she’s leaving, she gets a text from Julian letting her know that the gang has taken Mary Louise hostage. Nora thinks Bonnie was involved and siphons her into unconsciousness.
Damon is at Villa, burning some of Lily’s things, when Julian gets home, having been summoned there by Stefan to get Mary Louise. Damon doesn’t know what’s going on but he admires Stefan for having the guts to kidnap a Heretic. Julian’s annoyed that he had to take a plane all the way back there from wherever Sunbury is. It was Hell. He threatens to stab Damon with the phoenix sword and put him through an even worse Hell if he doesn’t get Mary Louise back.
Damon calms him down, saying he has no problem with Julian. Julian didn’t kill Damon’s baby, and Lily’s death was her own fault. Julian accuses Damon of trying to erase Lily’s existence, He always knew that her love for her sons would get her killed. Damon denies that she had any love for them. Julian says that’s convenient because it means Damon doesn’t have to take any responsibility for Lily’s death.
Damon repeats that she killed herself. Julian tells him it’s because she couldn’t turn her back on Damon. Damon scoffs that he wouldn’t have had a problem turning his back on her. Julian rushes him and says he hopes Lily is in Damon’s personal Hell. As he’s about to stab Damon, Stefan runs in and tackles him. Julian zooms out instead of just stabbing them both.
Caroline goes to Liz’s grave and leaves her a Christmas wreath. She’s just realized that this will be her first Christmas without her mother. She has two special presents for Liz, though, in the form of the twins. She used to imagine telling her mother that she was pregnant. Even though the babies aren’t Caroline’s, she still feels responsible for them and wants to do everything right. She doesn’t know what she’s doing and wishes Liz could help her.
Julian returns to Vamp Villa, so Stefan and Damon decide they might as well end this right now. Damon is close to being able to stake Julian, but Julian’s older and angrier, and he throws Damon off. He says he would have killed Damon on sight if he hadn’t respected Lily so much.
Julian knocks Damon out, but Stefan comes around behind him and throws a vervain dart into his neck. As he’s going after Julian with a stake, Julian strikes first with one of his own. Damon rushes Julian next and is repaid with the phoenix sword in his chest. Julian leaves and Stefan kneels next to his brother’s body, unable to do anything.
Valerie waits with Mary Louise in an empty part of the medical center. She hears a noise, and as she goes to investigate it, someone takes off with Mary Louise. Back at Vamp Villa, Caroline finds Stefan with Damon’s body. He tells her he should have listened to Damon and let things go. Caroline understands, though – Lily was their mother, and it’s not easy to just accept your mother’s death. Instead of letting Stefan grieve, she tells him they need to find a way to save Damon.
She texts Bonnie, who doesn’t answer since she’s still recovering from Nora’s siphoning. Caroline tells Stefan to call Valerie instead. Stefan says that Damon won’t survive being in the phoenix stone. It’s punishment for all the sins a vampire has committed, and Damon’s committed a LOT. Stefan doesn’t even want to know what he’s going through.
Damon’s personal Hell might be unexpected to some people. It has nothing to do with Elena or Katherine or May 10th, 1994. Instead, he’s back on the front lines of the Civil War, a helpless human who can’t immediately heal from his injuries or easily defeat his enemies. He’s scared and surrounded by danger and death.
Caroline assures Stefan that Damon will survive. Nora arrives and says it’ll change him. “Just like you,” she says as she plunges the phoenix sword into Stefan’s chest. His spirit joins Damon’s in the phoenix stone, doomed to face his own personal Hell until the gang can find a way to save them.
Significant item update: The gang has the phoenix stone and sword. (I mean, it’s because they’re in Stefan’s gut, but it counts.)
Etc.: The way Bonnie answers the phone when Damon calls her screams, “I knew you would call me for help because you’ve never gotten through anything without it, and also you don’t respect my time, so let’s just get this over with. Also, I’m giving you coal for Christmas.”
At least one Whitmore student knew Alaric was going to marry Jo, and at least one knows Caroline is having Alaric’s babies. So what does everyone think happened there?
Shout-out to the little girl Nora delivers a present to who asks for boy toys instead of girl toys and picks out a football.
Alaric, you’re going to have to cut out the day drinking. That’s a no-no with two newborns.
Obviously the answer is, “So Nora could do it,” but why didn’t Julian stab Stefan, too? And why didn’t Nora stab Caroline, just for the heck of it? Why not take out as many enemies as possible?