Damon is on the ground at the Confederate front line in the fall of 1863. He’s been shot, and he’s still in the middle of an active battle. Lily appears and asks if he had a nice nap. An explosion goes off and she disappears. Henry calls for help nearby; he’s trapped under the wheel of a cannon. Damon rolls it off of him and helps him to safety.
The next morning, Damon wakes up to the sound of a bugle. He and Henry are in a medical tent. Someone delivering mail gives Damon a letter from Stefan. He’s all emo about Valerie, as well as Giuseppe’s drinking and the approaching anniversary of Lily’s death. Stefan is struggling to sleep at night because he can’t stop thinking about a “waking dread.” Her name’s Katherine; you’ll meet her next year. He wishes Damon were there to help him.
Damon does, too, so he goes to his colonel to ask for two weeks’ leave. The colonel is reluctant to grant it, so Damon offers to earn it by doing anything he needs done. The colonel tells him to check out a farmhouse a few miles away, where Union sympathizers are rumored to be hiding Confederate deserters, and bring the deserters to him.
Henry is allowed to tag along, and he eagerly agrees, thinking about all the time he’ll get to spend with his girlfriend, Olive. He’s not sure about their mission, though – there’s nothing wrong with not believing in the cause you’ve been forced to join. The deserters are regular people like him and Damon. Damon agrees, admitting that he only enlisted in the army to please Giuseppe. But the deserters made their beds, so they have to face the consequences.
The two arrive at the farmhouse and ask the woman who lives there to give them dinner. She declines, so Damon reminds her that it’s her duty to quarter soldiers, as well as the law. (I guess the Third Amendment went out the window during the war.) (This is the first and likely last time I ever have or will mention the Third Amendment in a recap. Enjoy it.) She lets them in and takes them to the kitchen, where an older woman and a teenager are preparing dinner. Henry slips away to search the house while Damon chats with the women, saying he’s just doing his job and he’s sure they’re not hiding anyone or anything.
As he’s looking through cabinets, the teenager opens a hidden door in the pantry. Two deserters pop out with their guns drawn. Damon points his gun back at them, but when they tell him to put it down, he does. He says he doesn’t want any trouble. One of the deserters says that if he leaves now, there won’t be any. They just want to go home.
Damon spots Henry creeping back to the kitchen and tells the deserters that he wants to go home, too. He ducks, giving Henry a clear shot at the deserters. But when one of the women runs over to help, Henry accidentally shoots her, too. Damon joins the firing and shoots the teenager. The older woman rushes Damon with a knife, and he shoots her, too. One of the deserters fires at Damon and Henry, and Damon takes him out. He and Henry are both horrified at the sight of all the bodies.
They hear a creaking noise from the pantry, so Damon goes to check it out. He finds a hidden entrance to a cellar and goes down, calling out for anyone who’s down there to drop their weapons. He’s surprised to find Lily there. He thought she died years earlier of consumption. She confirms that she’s dead, thanks to him.
Damon’s confused, but he’s also starting to see things clearly. He knows this isn’t real. Lily tells him that his spirit is in the phoenix stone. As he looks around the cellar, she realizes that he’s in a memory of something that really happened. He tells her about Stefan’s letter and his mission to capture deserters. Everything went bad so fast. Lily asks if Damon and Henry ever took responsibility for what happened. She knows they covered it up and never talked about it. Damon doesn’t know how Lily could know that. “Maybe it’s time to give yourself up,” she tells him.
He asks why – the deserters ambushed them. Damon and Henry didn’t go to the farmhouse with the intent to kill anyone. Lily notes that he proceeded with the mission even though he had reservations. Damon asks if Hell means being punished for something he hasn’t thought about for 150 years. “You’re gonna have to do a lot better than that,” he says. Lily tells him that the longer he avoids dealing with his trauma, the harder this will be.
Damon guesses that this “PTSD puppet show” is an attempt to make him feel remorse for Lily’s “pointless death.” She tells him this isn’t about that. There’s a click, and Damon looks down to see that she took his gun from him. She says this is about punishment, then shoots him.
Damon wakes up at Vamp Villa with the phoenix stone on his chest. Bonnie’s relieved to have gotten the spell right and pulled him out of the stone. He tells her he feels like he experienced a day from his past. She informs him that he was in the stone for three months.
Bonnie determines that Damon is psychologically fine – in fact, he’s probably better than she is physically, since she had to do by herself what took three Heretics to do for Julian. He notes that they’re alone; shouldn’t there be a parade heralding his return? She tells him that Caroline’s at school and Matt and Alaric are working. They had to keep living their lives even with Damon and Stefan gone.
Damon asks about his brother, and Bonnie breaks it to him that Nora stabbed Stefan after Julian sent Damon into the stone. She hasn’t been able to bring Stefan out yet. Damon’s upset that Bonnie brought him back before Stefan. She promises that she’ll get him next, but she needs to recover from using so much magic to save Damon. Damon orders her to do it now. But when they go up to Stefan’s room, where Bonnie left his body, he’s not there. She finds a note that says, “Who’s up for a barbecue?” stuck to a candle with a dart.
Caroline joins Damon and Bonnie as Damon calls Matt. Matt doesn’t think Julian could have come back to Mystic Falls without being detected. More likely, he wouldn’t come back without announcing himself. Caroline reminds Matt that if Julian burns Stefan’s body, they can’t get him back. Damon says that Julian’s trying to lure them somewhere. Bonnie offers to do a locator spell, but Caroline doesn’t want her using magic after having to use so much for Damon. Matt suggests checking surveillance tapes first, since Bonnie’s spent the past three months exhausting herself. Damon shoots that down.
While Bonnie does a locator spell, Damon pours himself a drink and offers Caroline one. She points out that she’s 28 weeks pregnant. “Is that a yes or a no?” he replies. She asks what it’s like inside his head: “It must be wonderfully liberating to only see what you want to see.” Damon implies that his personal Hell in the phoenix stone would have been much worse if Caroline had been there instead of Lily. Caroline replies that this is why she wanted Bonnie to get Stefan out first. Bonnie chose Damon, though, because it was more logical.
Damon doesn’t get what she means. Caroline tells him that the longer you’re in the phoenix stone, the more of your humanity is stripped away. The gang didn’t want Damon to come back humanity-less and kill Bonnie so he could revive Elena. Damon seems stung by that. Bonnie finishes her spell and announces that Julian took Stefan to Route 29.
Damon heads off alone and finds Stefan and Julian in a diner (I think it might be the same diner where Elena and Bonnie held Jo’s bachelorette party). Julian has soaked Stefan’s body in gasoline, and he uses the threat of a lighter to get Damon to join him at a table. He wants to swap “war stories” with a fellow phoenix stone survivor. Damon says he’s willing to chat later, but Julian ignores him. He repeats what he told Damon and Stefan before about his time in the stone – he killed Lily every day for a century. He had his heart torn out of his chest over and over.
“Over all, I’d give Hell one star for horror and two very disappointed thumbs down for clever use of parable,” Damon says. Yeah, and there were no good roles for women and absolutely no people of color. Julian confirms that the stone didn’t succeed in punishing Damon. Damon says he had different expectations for what was supposed to be Hell. Julian thinks he resisted. He strikes the lighter and throws it on Stefan’s body.
Julian holds Damon back from getting to his brother and tells him he resisted facing the pain he was supposed to experience. Damon pushes him aside and tries to put out the fire. Lily appears and tells him it’s too late. Damon realizes that this isn’t real, either. Lily says the pain and his feelings are real. When he figures that out, he’ll be “one step closer.”
Damon wakes up in the medical tent to the sound of a bugle. Everything is exactly the way it was the morning he and Henry went on their mission. He gets his letter from Stefan and asks for leave, guessing that the colonel will turn down the request before he even asks. Damon offers to capture the deserters, clarifying that if he brings them back alive, he gets his leave.
He and Henry head off like before, and Damon tries to wrap his head around what’s happening. When Henry asks if he has a girlfriend, Damon says yes, then no. He agrees again that the deserters are just like the two of them, but now Damon thinks they symbolize something bigger. They go to the farmhouse and request dinner, though Damon throws in a little present-day Damon chat that his Civil War self wouldn’t have said (“I also love pie”). When Henry says he’ll check upstairs, Damon tells him not to; he knows there’s no one up there.
He asks the older woman to put down her knife and moves the women away from the pantry. He tells them he knows about the deserters in the cellar. He and Henry will take the men to their camp, and that will be that. If only the deserters had heard this. They shoot Henry in the leg from the pantry, then burst into the kitchen. They shoot all three women before Damon and Henry take them down. “Well, that didn’t go well,” Damon says.
Again, Damon wakes up at Vamp Villa with the phoenix stone on his chest. Bonnie says everything she said the first time around. Damon knows this isn’t real, and he tells her he’ll go get Stefan. But Stefan’s there, alive and well. He asks Damon not to be mad at Caroline for having Bonnie rescue Stefan first. “Never even occurred to me,” Damon replies. He asks if this is the part where they analyze the symbolism of their experiences and talk about being survivors. Stefan would rather not, since he relived 168 years of his worst experiences on a loop. He wants to get drunk instead.
He asks what Damon went through, but Damon just says it was Civil War horror. He wasn’t really affected by it. Stefan can’t believe he didn’t feel anything. Damon says he just wanted to get home to help Stefan get over Valerie. Stefan confirms that innocent people bleeding out in the farmhouse really didn’t make him feel something. Damon realizes he never gave any details about his experience, so this can’t be real. He pulls out Stefan’s heart to “hit the reset button.” Yep, Damon wakes up in the medical tent again. He tells Henry to get his gun so they can solve this puzzle.
In real, actual, genuine reality, the gang is at Lockwood Landing, where Bonnie’s trying to put Damon’s spirit back in his body. She’s already succeeded with Stefan. Bonnie can’t figure out why saving Damon is so difficult; it’s like the stone is hiding him. Matt urges her to take a break, but Stefan wants Damon out ASAP before he loses too much humanity. Bonnie shoots back that he doesn’t get to lecture her. Caroline calls for peace and says Bonnie can take her time.
Stefan thinks Damon is still in the stone because he’s not ready to come out yet. Stefan could barely remember who he was in the stone, and he had to endure a bunch of tests and visions. The worst part wasn’t experiencing Hell but having a tiny bit of hope that he could get out on his own. Bonnie asks why it was so easy to reunite him with his body. Stefan says he “submitted to the kind of suffering that just breaks you.” Damon will resist that as long as possible, which means they might never be able to get him out.
Damon and Henry head to the farmhouse, Damon now fully aware that he’s in a loop and none of this is real. He wasn’t sure why he was reliving this day. Out of all of his “greatest hits,” this was “barely a B-side.” Then he realized that this was the first time he ever had blood on his hands. He accepted the mission and gave the orders.
In the weeks after the deaths, the only person Damon wanted to talk to about his guilt was Stefan. Stefan must be the solution to this puzzle. They just need to get to him, and Damon will stop reliving the same day. Henry thinks Damon’s sick, but if it’s follow a guy who’s talking crazy or give up his chance for leave, Henry will choose the crazy guy.
At the farmhouse, Damon takes his first crack at solving his puzzle. He orders the women out of the house while he goes in alone. He goes to the pantry with his gun drawn and tells the deserters to toss out their weapons or he’ll kill the women. They obey, but one of them has held back a grenade. He pulls the pin and blows Damon back into the beginning of his loop.
This time when he goes to the farmhouse, he announces that he knows the deserters have a grenade and tells them to slide it out first, followed by their guns. This works, but the women have taken Henry hostage. “I’m really starting to hate you three,” Damon grumbles. The teenager shoots him and resets him.
Damon rips up Stefan’s letter instead of reading it, then writes him back, telling him not to send him any more mail. Whatever happens after that, it still resets Damon. He asks his colonel if he still gets his leave if he brings the deserters back dead. It’s not clear what the response is. He goes to the farmhouse and shoots the deserters through the pantry door, but again, his mistake is ignoring the women. Grandma has a gun.
On this reset, Damon decides to just go AWOL. Henry want to come, too, but Damon tosses a grenade at him and says Henry’s wrong about him being a hero. Well, that was unnecessary! Damon bypasses the farmhouse entirely…but somehow ends up outside it anyway. Lily comes outside and tells him to come in – they’ve been expecting him.
Inside, Lily says the Confederates are looking for deserters, so he needs to hide in the cellar. Damon tells her not to bother with the urgency, since this isn’t real. Lily sends him to the cellar anyway, and Damon finds Stefan there. He calls Stefan “the light at the end of the tunnel.” Stefan knows all about what happened in the farmhouse, even though Damon never talked about it. Damon says Stefan was the reason he took the mission.
Stefan notes that Damon always has a reason for everything he does – it’s usually Stefan, Alaric, or Elena. He reveals that Elena’s coffin is with them in the cellar. Damon says that Stefan will have to do better than confronting him with his tendency to do bad things for the people he loves. Stefan says this isn’t about what he does in Elena’s name – it’s about what he does in her absence.
There’s a knock at the front door upstairs, and Stefan tells Damon to be quiet as people enter the house. Damon doesn’t get what’s going on. Stefan says that Damon pretends he does what he does to protect Mystic Falls for Elena and convinces himself that he’s keeping her safe in any way he can. That’s how he justified Lily’s death – it was punishment for what she did to Elena. Does Damon ever think about what Elena would actually want? Damon says he can’t ask her because of Lily. Stefan points out that Damon should be able to know what’s right without Elena guiding him. “It’s gonna be a long century, brother,” he says.
He wonders if Elena will even recognize Damon when she wakes up. He’s the man who spit on Lily’s grave and lies to himself about what happened in the farmhouse. Upstairs, they hear Lily begging someone not to hurt her. There’s a gunshot and she falls silent. Stefan tells Damon that she’s gone. The mission went bad and innocent people died. Damon walked away with blood on his hands.
Stefan asks over and over what Damon wanted, not accepting his answer that he wanted his brother. He’s lying to himself. In the moment before Damon buried his secrets and learned to hide from the pain, who did Damon really want? Blood runs down Damon’s face and he stammers out that he wanted his mother. “Well, it’s too late,” Stefan says, tossing him aside.
Damon wakes up back on the battlefield, but this time, instead of Henry being stuck under the wheel, it’s Lily. She asks him to help her but he doesn’t see the point, since this isn’t real. She repeats what she said earlier about the pain and feelings being real. She thinks he’s enjoying the fact that she’s going to die. He confirms this, admitting he hates her because she tried to take Elena from him.
Lily cries out in pain and asks why Damon won’t help her. “Because you took the one thing that made me happy,” he replies. Because she wasn’t strong enough to leave Giuseppe. Because she got sick and left them. Because she never came back. He hates Lily because she could have come back, but she didn’t. He lost her when Giuseppe went away, and he lost her again to the Heretics. Now he’s losing her to death. He lost her three times, and he had three chances to tell her how he felt, but he ruined it every time.
Lily tells Damon there’s still time. She asks what he wanted to say. He takes her hand just says he’s sorry. He cries and asks for a change to make it right and let her love him. But it’s too late – he’s lost her a fourth time.
Damon wakes up at Lockwood Landing with the phoenix stone on his chest. He’s upset that Bonnie pulled him out before he could finish what he needed to with Lily. He insists on going back to get one more chance. He knows what to do now. Stefan tells him what he experienced in the stone wasn’t real. Damon says he knows – none of this is real.
He breaks Stefan’s neck, then breaks a chair leg and uses it to stake Caroline. When Matt tries to jump in, Damon knocks him out. He slams Bonnie against a wall and chokes her out with a fireplace poker. “I have to get back to her,” he says.
Once everyone is dead or unconscious, he waits to reset, but nothing happens. It was all real.
Etc.: All the repeating-day stuff in this season and season 6, and not one person ever mentions Groundhog Day. I’m disappointed.
I like that instead of introducing some random guy to hang out with Damon, they brought back Henry so we can see a little more of his history with Damon.
A nice little detail: When Damon first wakes up in the stone, Lily ask if he had a nice nap. The next day, Damon says the deserters have to face the consequences of their actions because they made their own beds. The last thing Damon said to Lily as she was dying was, “You made your bed. Have a nice nap.”
The contrast between Civil War Damon and present-day Damon is similar to the contrast between just-turned Klaus and present-day Klaus. Damon is almost timid when he first gets to the farmhouse. He doesn’t want to have to fulfill his mission (since we know from other episodes that he’s also a Union sympathizer), but it’s the only way he can get what he wants, so he powers through. Present-day Damon would never give up so much control.
I don’t have a problem with the Damon-is-out-of-the-stone-oh-wait-not-really fake-out, but the fact that it comes only ten minutes into the episode makes it seem fishy from the get-go. Like, obviously he wasn’t going to just go through one time loop after all that setup.
Damon’s face when he wakes up after the grenade is hilarious: “I can’t believe that motherf%$@#^ had a grenade.”
Just to drive home how much power Bonnie has: It took Nora, Mary Louise, and Beau to extract Julian, but Bonnie extracted both Stefan and Damon by herself.