Bonnie calls Caroline while out for a run before Caroline has even gotten out of bed (she’s moping about Stefan, as Bonnie correctly guesses). Bonnie needs advice about Enzo, but Caroline doesn’t think she’s the person to ask for relationship guidance, considering her fiancé turned someone into a vampire just to spite her. Bonnie’s run takes her to Vamp Villa, and she tells Caroline they’re having breakfast whether she likes it or not.
But before Bonnie can go to the kitchen and start cooking, she sees Damon in the living room, just sitting and staring off into space. Caroline didn’t even know he was in the house. Bonnie realizes that Damon is completely unresponsive and tells Caroline to come downstairs.
A newly turned Violet is at the Grill, trying to find the balance between satisfying her appetite and not killing people. So far, so bad. Stefan finds her there and tells her everything will be okay. She says Caroline told her the same thing, but obviously she was wrong, since Violet has killed a couple people. Stefan empathizes with her for being placed in a situation she doesn’t want to be in – his brother forced him to make a deal with Cade and turn innocent people into monsters. Violet says this isn’t fair, and Stefan replies that life isn’t, either. He gave her a choice, and she chose to feed. That makes her the perfect victim for Cade. He stakes her and sends her on her way. ‘Bye, Violet! You truly were the April of season 8.
Bonnie and Caroline guess that Sybil did something to Damon, so Bonnie suggests that they do a head-dive and take a look around. It just shows them a vision of Damon on fire. When they jump out of his head, Bonnie notices that he’s crying.
Caroline’s vamp hearing picks up the sound of Sybil singing, and she and Bonnie find the siren chained up in the basement. She tells them she turned Damon’s humanity back on, and he must be catatonic because he couldn’t handle getting back all his memories and emotions at once. She can fix it if they give her what she wants. Bonnie refuses to free her and let her mess with their heads. Sybil says they don’t have a choice – it’s the only way for them to get Damon back.
Sheriff’s deputies have found Violet’s body in the alley outside the Grill. One of them tells Matt that the sheriff quit and took off that morning. Apparently no one warned him that Mystic Falls is a hotbed of murder. Caroline calls Matt to tell him she needs the charter bell, which he sent Peter to hide out of town. Caroline needs to give it to Sybil so she’ll fix Damon. Of course Matt won’t agree to that, partly because they’d be giving Sybil the only weapon they have against her, and partly because…well, it’s Damon. Matt doesn’t care if he’s suffering. He tells Caroline that a bunch of people were just found dead, including Violet. He’s frustrated that even when innocent people die, no one cares about anyone but the Salvatores. Caroline begs him to hand over the bell for her sake.
Sybil takes a peek inside Damon’s head, then tells Bonnie and Caroline that his subconscious thinks he’s in Hell, where he belongs. To convince him it’s not real, Sybil suggests that they go into his mind and figure out what’s holding him back. There’s a back entrance, so to speak, that will get them into his subconscious.
Sybil sends Bonnie and Caroline inside, and they find themselves outside Vamp Villa. It looks the same as it always does, but inside, things are a lot different. For starters, it’s still a boarding house, and Henry’s the manager. They ask for Damon, but Henry just points them toward a portrait of him in his Civil War uniform. Apparently he didn’t survive his service. Bonnie knows that Damon saved Henry during the war, and she won’t accept his claim that Damon isn’t around. He tells her and Caroline to leave and kicks them out of Damon’s subconscious.
When told that Damon wasn’t in his own mind, Sybil says that’s impossible. Caroline insists that she fix Damon, since she’s the one who broke him. Sybil says she’s trying, but she can’t do anything if they can’t find Damon. Stefan arrives and announces that he might be able to help. Caroline reminds him that she told him to stay away. He says he made a mistake and came to convince her to marry him. Okay, not really – he’s there because he wants Damon to pull his weight with killing people for Cade.
Stefan explains that since Damon’s humanity is back on, he’s “all emo” and doesn’t want to own up to his sins. When they were kids, Damon would hide when he did something wrong. Stefan would always find him and tell him things would be okay. They just need to find out where Damon’s hiding in his subconscious and reassure him. He asks why Sybil’s helping Bonnie and Caroline. She explains that she needs the Maxwell bell and is willing to work with anyone who can get it for her. Stefan says he’ll see what he can do while she works on fixing Damon.
The second trip into Damon’s subconscious lands Bonnie and Caroline at the Grill. They don’t see him, but Bonnie spots a newspaper with an article about an animal attack and is sure he’s in there somewhere. (Specifically, the article is about Darren and Brooke.) If they’re in his subconscious, he’s responsible for everything that happens there. They just have to follow the clues. Caroline asks what they’re supposed to do then – forgive him for all the horrible stuff he’s done to them? Bonnie notes that she was able to forgive him before, and she can do it again. Caroline isn’t sure she buys that.
A waitress with a bandage on her neck greets them. Caroline is shocked – it’s Vicki. The bandage is over the spot where Damon bit her years ago, so Caroline guesses that’s a clue they’re supposed to follow.
Matt meets up with Peter in the cemetery, having apparently told Violet’s parents that he would help them pick out a plot for her. They’re at Vicki’s grave, so Peter thinks Matt’s going to blast him again for leaving. Matt just wants to know if Peter even remembers his daughter, since she was so young when he left. He tells Peter that the person who killed her is suffering, and the bell could either save him or continue his punishment. Peter wants him to suffer.
Caroline’s confused about why Damon has Vicki hanging around in his subconscious when he could build himself a happy, friendly world instead. Vicki’s leaving, so Bonnie and Caroline decide to follow her. But before they can go, Caroline spots another familiar face: Liz. “I forgot how pretty she was,” she says. Bonnie tells Caroline to stay – even though this Liz isn’t real, Caroline must still have things to say to her mother.
Bonnie follows Vicki and asks if she’s seen Damon. Vicki says no. Also, her bandage isn’t covering a bite mark, it’s covering a hickey. Also also, she’s never even heard of Damon. Back inside, Caroline hugs Liz, who thinks this is just a normal day and Caroline’s experiencing normal teenage stuff. Like Vicki, Liz is unfamiliar with Damon. Caroline tells her that he’s on the council and is Liz’s friend. Liz still doesn’t know who she’s talking about.
Caroline continues that Damon is a vampire and is responsible for the recent “animal attack.” Liz is surprised that Caroline knows about vampires. Caroline wants to work with her to find Damon, but Liz is suspicious. She spills her drink on Caroline’s hand, burning her with the vervain in her glass. Bonnie returns as Liz is marching Caroline out of the Grill at gunpoint. Caroline tells Bonnie to find Damon, while Liz warns her to stay out of this.
While Peter does some welding in the bell tower, Matt meets with Seline. She’s pleased that he wants to help her destroy Sybil. It should be simple: Once the Maxwell bell is welded back together, Matt or Peter just needs to ring it 12 times. Matt knows there must be more to it than that. He asks why one of them has to ring the bell. Seline says it’s because someone from their bloodline forged it. This is the only way to kill Sybil and keep Damon trapped in his mental Hell. Stefan surprises them, having heard the whole conversation. He wants the bell himself so he can give it to Sybil and get Damon back. Seline thinks she can offer him a better deal.
Sybil notices that Caroline’s nose is bleeding but only comments, “That’s not good.” Inside Damon’s subconscious, Caroline is in the cell where Bill tortured her years ago. This time, Liz is the one doing the torturing. She’s ashamed that she raised the monster she thinks is killing people. Caroline insists that it’s Damon, but Liz can’t believe her – she checked town records and saw that Damon died a long time ago. Caroline begs her to stop the torture, then says she’s not leaving until she finds Damon. “Damon is dead!” Liz exclaims. “No, you are!” Caroline replies.
She explains that Liz got sick and died, and Damon was there for her the whole time. Caroline never thought she’d see the monster who harmed her and her friends being so kind. Liz asks why she’s going through pain for him. Caroline says he was the only person who understood how much it hurt to lose Liz. That made her forgive him for all the stuff he’d done. Liz says goodbye and leaves her in the cell.
“I was almost really worried about you for a second,” Sybil tells Caroline when she comes out of Damon’s head. “Then I got over it.” She confirms that Stefan was right about forgiveness being the key to reaching Damon, but Caroline’s forgiveness won’t do the trick. Maybe Bonnie’s will. She’s still in his head, taking advantage of the circumstances to pay a visit to someone she hasn’t seen in a while: Sheila. Who better to ask for help with a supernatural matter?
Bonnie asks Sheila to do a locator spell for a friend of hers. Sheila refuses when Bonnie says it’s Stefan’s brother; she doesn’t get involved in anything vampire-related. She thinks Bonnie should keep her distance from them, too. Bonnie’s like, “Most of my friends are vampires, as is my boyfriend, so…can’t really do that.” She’s happy and very close to the life she’s always wanted. She needs to find Damon so she can get back to it. Sheila teases that she’s cheating by using her happiness to manipulate her grandmother.
She needs something of Damon’s for the locator spell, so Bonnie goes looking for the letter he wrote her before he desiccated. She didn’t leave it in Sheila’s house in reality, but she figures that if Sheila’s willing to help, Damon’s subconscious will cooperate. She’s right, and she easily finds the letter. But she still won’t read it. If he wants her to know what it says, he’ll have to read it to her himself. For the first time in years, Bonnie and Sheila do a spell together.
Stefan, Matt, and Seline join Peter in the bell tower, where Seline details her offer to Stefan: She’s going to help him kill a few thousand people for Cade. The bell just has to ring 12 times. Matt says that wasn’t part of the original plan to kill Sybil. Seline explains that the bell kills sirens with hellfire. Hell is a psychic imprint of the moment of Cade’s death, and since he was burned at the stake, “his domain is pretty much a ball of fire.” The tuning fork disrupts that energy, and when it’s amplified by the bell and striker, it rips open a hole in Hell. The hellfire that’s unleashed wipes out everything within miles. Seline plans to be long gone before the fire destroys the town and everyone in it.
Sybil thinks Caroline’s pacing at Vamp Villa because she’s not confident that Bonnie can find Damon and get through to him. Caroline denies that, but Sybil reveals that Bonnie might not have the same confidence in Caroline. She saw in Bonnie’s head that she’s planning to give Enzo the cure. Caroline thinks that’s why Bonnie wanted advice. They just got too distracted to talk about it. Sybil notes that that tends to happen to Bonnie.
In Damon’s head, Bonnie goes to the Salvatore crypt and finds Damon’s headstone. Tyler shows up and tells her to leave before he makes her. In the bell tower, Stefan is fine with destroying Mystic Falls, and he plans to force Matt to ring the bell. His soul will be one of the ones Stefan sends to Cade. Peter jumps in to make Stefan back off, but Stefan just pushes him away and asks who he is.
Matt takes off his vervain bracelet so Stefan will have to compel him to do what he wants, leaving all the responsibility on Stefan. Stefan says the choice is still Matt’s, but he’ll have to follow his heart. If he doesn’t want to ring the bell, he’ll have to forgive Damon for killing Vicki. If he can’t do that, he has to ring the bell 12 times by the end of the hour. Compulsion makes this an unavoidable choice.
Tyler orders Bonnie again to leave, but she knows Damon led her to the crypt for a reason. Tyler says she can’t save him – Damon killed him, so Tyler’s the only one who can forgive him for that. Bonnie notes that Damon has a ton of things he’ll have to spend the rest of his life atoning for. She thinks he can do it. He just has to believe that he can. Tyler tells her that Damon’s dead, but Bonnie says that’s not how things work here. She just figured out what to do.
She pops out of Damon’s head and tells Caroline that they need to get Stefan back there. Damon lived and died as a human in his imaginary world. He wouldn’t let himself become a vampire because it was the only way he could keep people safe. The only person whose forgiveness matters to him is Stefan.
Stefan returns, willing to take his focus off of the bell if the women make it quick. He suspects that they might be trying to trick him, but Bonnie tells him all he’ll find in Damon’s head is the truth. Sybil sends him in and he ends up in the cemetery. He tells Damon they’re “cool” and he can let go of whatever’s holding him back. Damon gives him their favorite greeting, “Hello, brother,” and warns that there’s a killer vampire running around. Stefan wants to get things moving, so he says he forgives Damon. But Damon replies that that’s not why Stefan’s there – he’s there so Damon can forgive him.
Peter thinks Matt should find a way to forgive Damon so he doesn’t have to ring the bell. Matt doubts he can do that before his deadline, if ever. He tells Peter to go to the police and have them evacuate the town. Peter doesn’t want to abandon his son again, but this time Matt wants him to. When he rings the bell, all Hell will literally break lose. Peter again refuses to leave, saying that abandoning Matt and Vicki was the biggest mistake of his life and he’ll be damned if he does it again. “No, Dad, you’ll be damned if you don’t,” Matt replies.
Peter tells him that if he wants to ring the bell, he’ll have to go through Peter. Matt notes that he’s compelled, so he won’t stop until he’s done what he’s been told to do. That is, unless Peter kills him. Matt might kill him first if he doesn’t. At least Matt will die a hero and his life will mean something. Peter won’t do it, so Matt punches him and blasts him for still being a horrible father.
Stefan is incredulous that Damon thinks he needs to forgive Stefan after everything Stefan’s done to him. Damon says he forgives Stefan, who punches him and says he has nothing to apologize for. Damon asks why he always shows up to help Damon when he gets out of control. Stefan isn’t there for Cade – he’s there because he feels bad for turning Damon in the first place. Damon hated him for that until today. Now, he officially forgives his brother.
Stefan punches him a few more times, noticing that Damon wounds aren’t healing. Damon explains that he’s not a vampire here. The killer vampire running around in his head is Stefan – it’s always been Stefan. Once again, Damon forgives Stefan for making him what he is, and he absolves Stefan for all the damage Damon has done as a result. There’s nothing Stefan could do to change the love Damon has for him. “We’ll see about that,” Stefan says.
If Damon wants to forgive him for something really bad, how about the fact that Stefan’s about to burn Mystic Falls to the ground? Can he forgive Stefan again before the bell rings 12 times? Can he forgive Stefan for having only a small bit of guilt for leaving him to die with everyone else in town? It’s the only way to let Damon go.
Matt continues punching Peter, trying to get him to fight back and keep Matt from ringing the bell. The deadline is drawing near, and he can’t fight Stefan’s compulsion. With the first ring, Sybil and Bonnie both feel the effect of the tuning fork. Sybil realizes that Seline has the bell, which means Stefan lied. He comes out of Damon’s head and reminds Caroline that this is what she wanted: “‘Til death do us part.”
But Damon is also out of his own head, and he grabs Stefan’s heart through his back. He can’t forgive Stefan for destroying the town, but that’s just because he’s not going to let it happen. See you in Hell, Stefan! (For the five minutes you’re there before Cade sends you back.)
Matt begs Peter to get up and stop him as he rings the bell. He’s up to 11 rings by the time Peter grabs him. He apologizes and Matt says he forgives him. But before Peter can either kill him or knock him out, Damon zooms in. Peter drops Matt, who bangs his head on the bell as he goes down. “Let’s hope that one doesn’t count,” Damon says. Judging by the lack of hellfire, it doesn’t.
Once the guys have disassembled the bell and Damon has sent it off with Peter, he makes sure Matt is okay. Stefan’s compulsion must have worn off with his deadline, so Matt thinks they’re good. He doesn’t want to thank Damon for anything, though, since this is all his fault. Damon apologizes for killing Vicki, even knowing Matt will never forgive him. He regrets not saying it a long time ago. Matt guesses that his emotions are back. Since Damon just saved Peter and the town, Matt will give him a point. If Damon keeps doing good things, he might get more points. Damon offers him a ride, but Matt’s going to the sheriff’s department – he wants his job back. “Always did like the sheriffs in this town,” Damon says. Ooh, I think that might have earned him another point!
Stefan returns from Hell and finds himself where Sybil was at the start of the episode, chained up in the basement of Vamp Villa. Caroline tells him that she knows Damon means more to him than she does, but she loves him. Well, the other him. “This quarter of a man” he is now isn’t really him. If Damon is how they’ll get Stefan back, that’s fine with her. They’ll either love each other forever or they won’t. They’ll make their relationship work or they’ll break up. Either way, she’s getting him back.
Bonnie’s waiting outside when Damon gets home. He notes that it looks like she’s having a reflective moment. She says that for once, she’s reflecting on good things. She absolves him of the things he did while he was under Sybil’s control, since he didn’t have a say in the matter. “Dear Bonnie, I’m a coward,” he replies. He memorized the letter her wrote her, and he’s finally going to tell her what it said:
“I should be saying this to your face, not writing this letter, but I know if I do, you’ll talk me out of running away from all my problems. You’re gonna make me face the future without Elena and you’re gonna help make me the best man I can possibly be, the same way she did. And I’m absolutely terrified of failing you both. So I’m leaving, because I’d rather let you down once than let you down for the rest of your life. And I hope it’s the happiest life because you, Bonnie Bennett, are an amazing woman, a mediocre crossword puzzle player, and my best friend. With great love and respect, Damon.”
Bonnie admits that it’s “a hell of a letter.” He apologizes for leaving and promises it won’t happen again. She hugs him, accepting his apology.
Sybil and Seline meet up in a diner, even though one of them just tried to kill the other. Sybil thinks that if the Salvatores can make amends, so can they. Seline will try, but first Sybil has to apologize for cutting her out of her deal with Cade. Sybil notes that Seline sold her soul to Cade in the first place, then abandoned her (after turned her into a cannibal). Seline says she’d do it all again, since Sybil has always been the weak one.
Cade suddenly joins them, shocking them with his presence in the real world. He explains that though the Maxwell bell only rang 11 times, which wasn’t enough to unleash Hell, it made a big enough rift for him to visit. Seline promises that they’ll do a better job, but Cade tells her that won’t be necessary. The sirens begin to smoke, burning up from the inside. They both go up in flames and Cade happily watches them burn.
Etc.: Why, yes, I did enjoy picking out devil- and Hell-related titles for this season’s recaps. Thank you for asking!
Not only is Caroline still living at Vamp Villa, even though Fort Forbes is empty with Alaric and the twins gone, she’s still sleeping in Stefan’s bed. She really isn’t going to give up hope.
When Vicki first shows up, you can briefly hear Anberlin’s cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.” Vicki and Damon danced to the same song right before he turned her.
Matt has never been a big Stefan fan, but it’s interesting that he never blames Stefan for Vicki’s death, even though Stefan is the one who staked her. I think he gets that it was justified, since she could have hurt Elena and Jeremy. But he always says that Damon killed her, which, while technically true, isn’t the full story.
The scene where Damon keeps forgiving Stefan is even more like the Buffy yellow crayon scene than Damon’s encounter with Bonnie in “Requiem for a Dream.”
Amazing but true: When Damon kills Stefan, Caroline smiles.
Killing off Sybil and Seline when there are still six episodes left is a pretty good twist.