Don't get me wrong - it was a very entertaining instalment. For one thing, the slightly dull hybrid-turning storyline came to a drastically violent climax. For much of the episode, Caroline and Stefan are determined to keep Klaus alive, since he's their key to the cure as he holds the sword; on the other hand, Tyler has his own plan, which involves a repeat of the body-switching spell.
Basically, he wants Klaus's spirit to be put inside him and his body to be buried in concrete so that the hybrids can escape. Caroline, naturally, is not pleased at this plan ("martyr") and neither is Carol, though she quaintly focuses on the fact that Tyler will miss graduation. This storyline is hugely entertaining throughout; not only does it pit Caroline and Tyler against each other, but the moment when Stefan vows to stop Tyler from taking down Klaus is stunning, as the other hybrids crowd round him threateningly. It's just brilliantly done.
Luckily, it emerges that Shane ("Professor Shadypants", as Damon dubs him) actually knows where the cure is, so the sword is irrelevant (more on this later). With that in mind, Caroline comes up with a new plan - to put Klaus in Rebekah's body. Unluckily, this doesn't fit with Hayley and Shane's shady plan, and so Caroline is soon lying on the ground with a newly snapped neck (Phoebe Tonkin is always best when she's being violent).
In a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment, Hayley tips off Klaus about what Tyler had been planning, and so of course he is out for revenge. This was a reminder of what a great villain Klaus really is; earlier he'd been busy painting postmodern snowflakes and dropping evil-but-enjoyable lines about using his hybrids for slave labour.
But then, in a truly violent, gruesome, horror of a scene, he systematically rips apart his traitorous hybrids, ending up covered in blood and looking both powerful and deadly (brilliantly, it's cut with a brainwashed-sounding Hayley explaining to Tyler her true motives). It's high time we had a reminder of the dark side of Klaus - too much lately he's been a kind of charming baddie instead of a true villain - and the end of the episode cements his position as a naughty, naughty man perfectly. Instead of murdering Tyler, he chooses a much more devastating path - knowing that Carol is all Tyler has, Klaus unceremoniously drowns her in a fountain.
Everything about these scenes is done perfectly, from Klaus's wicked smile to the stunning decision to use versions of Christmas songs as backing music. It's undeniably sinister, and the final shot of the episode, pulling back to show Carol lifeless in the fountain as Klaus walks slowly away, is stunning.
This makes the prospect of a Christmas break before the next episode hard to stomach; what on Earth will the repercussions be? Will Tyler run, or be out for revenge? Will Klaus consider the betrayal over, or will he still turn against Tyler? And, more importantly, what will happen now that Hayley has done her part and Shane has the sacrifice of 12 that he needs for his mysterious plan?
I say it's a mysterious plan, but we did get some clues about what Shane could be up to in the other major storyline in this episode. He's at the Gilbert lake house, attempting to stop Jeremy from trying to kill Elena all the time, which is getting a little inconvenient. To his credit, he does manage this, eventually, through a little hypnotism to rejig Jer's subconscious.
In a lesser episode, this would have all stood out a lot more - particularly the moment when the process fails, and Jeremy spits that he hates Elena and will kill her, which is horrifying - but with so much else going on it faded a little. It was also a little of a sit-up-and-say-what moment when Jeremy chooses to think about Bonnie in an attempt to avoid getting all murderous. Like, they're still a thing? Poor old April.
Anyway, while this is happening, Shane's also taking the opportunity to reveal that he has tried to find a cure for loving too much; that his wife and son are dead; and that the cure for immortality (in other words, vampirism) is buried with a witch called Silas, and that he's already been to the grave and just needs the spell from Jeremy's hunter mark to dig him up.
Now, doesn't a sacrifice of 12 hybrids sound like the catalyst for the kind of dark magic that could bring someone back from the dead? Or maybe two people? Like a wife, and a son? I'm just putting it out there. If that is the case, it'll be interesting to see how the storyline progresses; we already know that Shane is willing to go to extreme lengths, and Elena may regret the trust she has placed in him.
And of course there's also development in the Damon and Elena storyline. Last time, we were left on a cliffhanger as Elena begged Damon not to 'set her free'; here, we learn that he was unable to go through with it. But though he travels with her to the lake house for the Jeremy conditioning, all of their interactions are so loaded with guilt. Elena's besotted, but all you can see on Damon's face is discomfort, and when Stefan calls and asks how he's doing after setting Elena free, the emotions on his face are wonderful - he's betraying his brother, who is being so kind to him.
Eventually, he can't take it any more and invokes the sire bond, sending Elena away while he helps Jeremy to complete his hunter mark. This is another stomach-wrenching moment; Elena begs him not to do it, while Damon tells her it will make him happy - his face saying the precise opposite. But Elena leaves with Bonnie, saying that it feels like the right thing to do.
So Damon did the right thing, perhaps against expectations. But it's too late, because he hasn't counted on the fact that Caroline knows he's with Elena at the lake house (nice work giving that one away, Bonnie). As Stefan and Caroline reflect on the events of the day - in a surprisingly moving moment, they question what makes them any different from Klaus, since all have done bad things - Caroline can't help but ask Stefan if he knows where Damon is... and where Elena is.
This is absolutely stunning stuff from Candice Accola, as she does not need to say anything - everything is on her face, and what has happened slowly dawns on Stefan with no words from his friend. Until this moment, I had momentarily wondered if we could be in for some Stefoline action (okay, so the moniker might need work), but that was swiftly undone with Stefan's pure anger at the discovery of his brother's betrayal. This, too, is wonderful - first, he simply knocks over a chess piece or two... the next minute, he's throwing the board across the room, as Caroline sits there, supportive but upset and flinching.
This, incidentally, was just the icing on a bloody brilliant Candice Accola cake - Caroline was amazing in her fury at Hayley after the neck-snapping, and she really seems to have become a confident, self-assured character. But she's not perfect, and though she seems to have sorted everything when she compels April - who discovered her lying lifeless in the Mystic Grill - it falls to Matt to warn her that April was actually wearing a vervain bracelet. Yep, April knows everything.
So when Tyler surveys the damage wreaked on his hybrids by Klaus, what he doesn't spot is April hiding in the Lockwood cellar, having seen everything. And when he leaves, he doesn't see her sneaking out to open Rebekah's coffin. This is such a thrilling moment - what does it mean? What will come next? And I'm so pleased that April won't be a consistently innocent participant; the show's moved on from protecting its characters from the Mystic Falls mania now.
So, all in all, this was an absolutely brilliant episode - we're left with so many questions, there was some delicious bloodshed, and there were even moments of quiet contemplation as Klaus ruminates on loneliness and Stefan finds himself in a moral quandary. More please... it truly does suck that we have to wait until January for more, and no, I'm not going to apologise for that pun.
What did you think of the episode? Let us know below!