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At a certain point, you’d think The Vampire Diaries would stop being able to pull off so many surprises. The show is 50 episodes in, and with at least two legitimate “oh shit” moments per episode, this means around 100 insane you’ll-never-see-it-coming moments for the writers to land. Yet somehow, they all work. If you ever think you know what’s coming next, just accept it: You don’t. This is a very, very good thing.

All of that is just a long-winded way of saying, HOLY CRAP, GHOST UNCLE MASON! Coming into this season the ghost storyline was the one that concerned me the most, but I can honestly say after tonight my concern has turned on its head and gone straight toward curiosity and eager anticipation. When Jeremy began seeing Anna and Vicki it seemed like an amusing oddity, something existing to give Jeremy a storyline and connect him more easily to the main narrative. Each week, however, the story has gotten more interesting until it exploded with potential tonight. I mean, ghost Uncle Mason! Does this mean all the dead supernatural beings are going to come back this season and haunt people for fun? Because I miss Lexi. Hint, hint, show.

From the beginning of the episode, before Uncle Mason showed up to ruin more of Damon’s favorite antiques, Matt was heavily into the news he can now converse with his dead vampire sister. Soon, though, it is clear Anna’s fears about Vicki are right and she is working a far more sinister angle; she wants to be able to come and go between her two worlds at ease, and a witch told her how she can do it. Poor, lonely, naïve Matt just wants his sister back, so he performs the ritual without asking the price, with the price being Elena’s life because that’s how things work in Mystic Falls. When Vicki goes to kill Elena, Matt realizes he’s made a huge mistake and tracks down Bonnie to help him get out of it. Bonnie manages to stop Vicki before she can do too much damage, even though she’s really sad because her boyfriend is in love with his other dead vampire girlfriend, Anna. Unfortunately for Bonnie, Anna loves Jeremy, too, and for some reason they can touch each other now. Who says ghost sex is just for Shonda Rhimes shows?

Besides just being generally well-plotted and kind of fun, this story had interesting implications for the landscape of season three as a whole. What witch wants Elena dead in order to stop Klaus? It could be Gloria, or it could be someone even more powerful we haven’t met yet. Did Uncle Mason show up because something in the balance has shifted, meaning other supernatural ghosties could show up as well? Also, does this balance shift have something do with Anna and Jeremy’s newfound hand holding skills? So many questions, and all of them seem to be leading somewhere good.

Witches and vampire ghosts are fine and all, but the focus of this episode was really on Elena and Stefan and the different ways they are dealing with Stefan’s de-humanizing. The thing is, they’re both dealing with it by becoming exponentially more awesome, just in diametrically opposite ways. Elena copes by ending her moping and whining and returning to the true badass she was becoming at the end of season two, this time by getting some slayer training from Alaric and lifting weights to ensure she can drive a stake through a vampire’s heart if need be. This is the Elena I fell in love with, the one who makes decisions, takes charge, designs and executes a plan, and takes no prisoners in the process. She’s hardening her external emotions and honing her physical skills out of necessity, but the beautiful thing is it doesn’t have an effect on her heart. She’s still having incredibly charged moments with Damon, like the scorching scene where he demonstrates the easiest way to stake a vamp. While she’s having these confusing feelings for his brother, she still truly believes she can save Stefan if only Klaus dies so the compulsion is lifted. It’s complicated, but none of it feels forced. It just feels like Elena.

As for Stefan, well, please excuse me while I do the Britta pizza dance of joy around the living room because Stefan without his humanity is perhaps my favorite thing to ever happen on this show. Every moment Stefan is a dick, every moment he plays with Elena’s emotions, and every moment he taunts Damon fills me with such glee I can hardly stand it. Part of this is because I’ve always been a big fan of Stefan as a character and Paul Wesley in the role, and part of it is because it’s just simply awesome. Leaving Stefan around to mix it up with the old gang while Klaus is off God-knows-where is one of the better ideas the writers have had in a while, and these writers have a lot of great ideas.

Another relationship that looks like it is about to be on the rocks is Tyler and Caroline's, and this is entirely due to Tyler being far too pleased about his new hybrid status. In a nice remembrance of the show’s own past history, Tyler’s new vampire nature heightens all of his innate characteristics, and if you remember Tyler from the beginning of the show, his innate characteristic was mostly that of a dick. After watching him compel his football coach for no real reason and side with Klaus and Stefan over Elena, Caroline realizes Tyler has gone off the deep end and tries to bring him back. Tyler appeases her concerns, but the reveal he has loyalty to Klaus because he was “sired” by him (I believe this was the first time this word has been used on The Vampire Diaries, by the way) is very concerning. His feasting on Rebekah’s offered snack of a live human at the end of the episode was even more so.

The most compelling thing of the hour, however, was likely Katherine and her quest to wake Mikael and get him to kill Klaus so everyone’s lives can stop being so messed up, at least until the next insane villain comes along. He won’t eat the humans she offers him but is cagey about what he does eat. Katherine soon learns this is because he only feeds on the undead, starting with her. The good news? He claims he can kill Klaus. The bad news? He’s probably going to eat everyone else, too. This, ladies and gentlemen, is going to be fun.

Stray observations:

  • Rebekah remains delightful. She’s like a meaner version of how I imagine Caroline will be in 1,000 years.
  • I know her boyfriend is crushing on his ghost vampire girlfriend, but man, Bonnie was a buzz kill tonight.
  • Poor Damon. He has the worst luck with rugs.
  • The callbacks to the pilot and beginning of the series in general were wonderful. First day of school! Tyler playing football! Tyler being an asshole! Bonfire party!
  • “Oh, I’m sorry; your tone implies I’m actually supposed to care.”
  • “I’m his first successful hybrid, Caroline. Don’t you think that’s the tiniest bit awesome?”
  • “Has anybody seen Dana?”
  • “Come on, Buffy.”