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'The Vampire Diaries': Season Premiere Recap

Elena, Damon, Stefan and the rest of the Mystic Falls gang picked up right where they left off last season when the CW show returned Thursday night.

The Vampire Diaries - Season 3 Premiere - 2011
CW

After a long, vampire-free summer, the CW's The Vampire Diaries returned Thursday night. 

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And, just like viewers, the show's characters had gone through the summer on their own. But, Season Three didn't waste any time getting back into the action that ended abruptly with Stefan's (Paul Wesley) turn to the dark side in last season's finale. 

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Viewer didn't even have to wait for the opening credits to find out if Stefan's bad-boy sojourn was going to mean less screen time for the indentured vampire. The show opened with Klaus (Joseph Morgan) interrogating two girls in Tennessee for information about someone named Ray Sutton (7th Heaven alum David Gallagher). But, instead of killing them after he got the info he wanted, the vampire-werewolf hybrid brought in his henchman: Stefan. 

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After the title sequence, viewers were taken directly to Mystic Falls where we join Elena (Nina Dobrev) as she wakes up for her 18th birthday. And from the looks of it, she's still going through the motions. She wakes up Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen), who now works at Mystic Grill with Matt (Zach Roerig), before heading downstairs where Alaric (Matthew Davis) is waking up from his summer-long perch on the couch. And, once again, the show doesn't make Elena-Stefan fans wait long to know if the summer's absence has lessoned her feelings. She's been trying to track Stefan, following leads passed along by the Sherif. 

Fittingly, Damon's (Ian Somerhalder) Season Three entrance is via a champagne bubble bath. He's still carousing with news reporter Andie (Dawn Olivieri), who has been helping the bad-brother track Stefan. And fans of the Damon-Elena matchup get their due, with a sexual-tension-filled scene in which Damon surprises his unrequited love with a nude welcome. The palpable chemistry between the two may have something to do with the fact that they're dating in real life. But, for now, tension is all that will be going on between the two, as Elena explains the reason for their kiss, saying, "It was a goodbye kiss. I thought he was going to die." 

The show also jumps right back in to the ghost revelation from the Season Two finale. Both of Jeremy's exes, Vicky (Kayla Ewell) and Anna (Malese Jow) appear to him before the mid-way point. 

There's also the reintroduction of the Caroline-Tyler-Matt love triangle as we find out that Caroline (Candice Accola) and Tyler (Michael Trevino) have spent the entire hanging out, but not dating. Though that story line gets resolved before the episode ends, with the two going to bed together. 

From there the show returns to Stefan. And viewers get the real reason he's called "The Ripper." Apparently his killer calling card is that after feeding off of and killing his victims so voraciously, he feels bad about it and reassembles their dismembered bodies. Gross. He compels Andie to kill herself to send a direct (and in-person) message to Damon...stop trying to find me. 

That being said, Stefan's true character is also kept in tact as hints that he's not completely given in to his new blood-fueled life are littered throughout the episode (Wesley must have been practicing his tortured eyes in the off-season, cause he nailed it all hour long). And his crowning moment came during a silent call to Elena before her birthday ends. Though he doesn't say a word, she assures him of his lasting goodness, and place in her heart, saying, "I love you Stefan. Never let that go." 

But, Vampire Diaries isn't one to end on a saccharine note, so before the credit role, Caroline is shot in the back by none other than Mrs. Lockwood (Susan Walters). Twist! 

Noticeably absent from most of the episode: Bonnie (Kat Graham).  It remains to be seen, but humans, vamps, wolves, ghosts AND witches might just be too much for one show to juggle.