THE RACE TO SAVE STEFAN — Determined to capture an escaped vampire named Ambrose, who may be the key to getting Stefan back safely, Damon heads to Memphis with Alaric in tow. However, reluctant to step back into his former vampire hunting ways, Alaric makes his unwillingness to participate clear, while revealing the truth about the past three Damon-less years of his life. Meanwhile, in the psych ward, Bonnie meets a young woman named Virginia, who provides her with some valuable information about why The Armory may be after her. Finally, Enzo takes matters into his own hands when he learns some devastating news from Rayna.
|Alaric likes life better without Damon. Then there’s Bonnie, who’s gone undercover at the mental hospital to find out why the Armory is after her. And finally, when it comes to the question of which lady has Stefan’s heart, it seems the answer is Caroline.
We start on the brother road trip, where Stefan is only getting worse as Marty’s body begins to quit on him. And because Marty can’t show his face at a hospital what with the cops being on the lookout for him, Damon calls an ambulance and compels the EMTs to save his brother’s life or have their thumbs become squirrel food.
And while they stay with Marty, Damon and Ric head to Memphis as Valerie gets a motel room where she can prepare for the spell that will put Stefan back in his rightful body. Because if Marty’s insides shutting down don’t kill Stefan, his lack of hair conditioner just might.
With Ric replacing Stefan on the road trip, Damon tries to use the time to get information on Bonnie, but that doesn’t pan out too well. And when Ric doesn’t seem too excited to talk about Damon’s goodbye letter either, the eldest Salvatore tries to pitch this as “one more mission for old times sake.” But again, Ric has a rebuttal: He’s not exactly Stefan’s biggest fan considering that Stefan broke Caroline’s heart. However, Ric can’t deny that losing Stefan would kill Caroline, so he begrudgingly follows Damon to a frat house in Memphis.
Once there, it seems poor Damon didn’t get an invite to the party if only this were a sorority. Thankfully, Ambrose which is the name of the evil vampire in Stefan’s body gives Damon a call and is ready to make a deal: If Damon kills Rayna, he will jump into the body of a transitioning vampire and give Stefan his hero hair back. Damon agrees.
The problem? Enzo just kidnapped Rayna, determined to find an anecdote to her blood pills. But it turns out, Enzo taking Rayna is bad news for everyone involved: Not only can Damon no longer give Ambrose what he wants, but Rayna informs him that the effects of her blood cannot be reversed.
While all this is going on, Stefan-Marty is hanging out in an ambulance, remembering his days spent in The Philippines. In a flashback to two years ago, we find Stefan sitting at a bar attempting to write an apology letter to Caroline. As he explains to the freakishly optimistic bartender, she’s returned every one of his letters unopened. And when Marty-Stefan wakes up in the ambulance, he asks for pen and paper in case he doesn’t make it through this.
Back in the car, Damon and Ric are working on a Plan B when Ric catches Damon up on the Bonnie-Enzo situation. Basically, he informs him that Enzo saved Bonnie from the Armory, after which the two fell in love. But their conversation is interrupted when Ambrose calls, rather disappointed in Damon’s inability to kill Rayna. As he puts it, “This sense of disappointment must be what it actually feels like to have you for a brother.” DAMN. Harsh burn, Ambrose.
By the time Damon and Ric make it back to the frat house, everyone inside is dead. And that’s when Ric has an idea: Could Ambrose have used his vampire hearing when Damon told Valerie where they were sending Stefan? Yes. And that’s why Ambrose just flipped the ambulance and killed the EMTs helping Stefan. Luckily, Stefan is able to make it into a nearby home which Ambrose can’t enter.
While all of this is going on, we finally get a glimpse inside the mental hospital where Bonnie is spending her days in North Carolina. After speaking at a group therapy session about how the person she cared about “more than anyone else in the world” betrayed her oh, Damon she finds herself being followed by some girl named Virginia.
Virginia accuses Bonnie of switching her med, and as Bonnie tells her, it’s true, which might be the most inappropriate thing Bonnie’s ever done. But she has a plan. It seems Virginia is a member of the St. John family. She claims that when she tried to save her family from “something dark,” they faked a story to get her checked into the psychiatric facility. And when Bonnie reveals she’s a Bennett witch, she asks Virginia why her family’s after her.
Virginia wants proof that Bonnie’s a witch which is fair but it seems the whole reason Bonnie has been taking Rayna’s blood pills is because it keeps the Armory from being able to find her with a locator spell. However, it also prevents her from being able to do magic. But Bonnie does have something to offer Virginia: Bonnie claims she has an “in” with a doctor who can check them both out if Virginia gives her answers.
And the answer to Bonnie’s question is our newest mystery. It seems there’s a vault in the basement of the Armory, which was sealed by a Bennett witch many years ago and can only be opened by a Bennett witch. For years, the Armory only knew of Lucy mostly because of the fact that Bonnie was “officially dead for a while.” Now that she’s back, Virginia begs Bonnie not to open the vault. And when Bonnie refuses to promise that until she knows what’s inside, Virginia actually loses her mind and slashes Bonnie with a piece of glass. Add in her screaming “she’s a witch,” and I doubt Virginia is going to get out of that hospital anytime soon.
Ambrose is throwing everything he can through the door of the house, until finally, he threatens to burn it down. Thankfully, Damon and Alaric show up in just enough time to tranquilize him. As Ric admits, “I hate how good that felt.”
Now, it’s all in Valerie’s hands to see if she can perform a spell that usually needs two Geminis to complete. She promises she can, and the moment she begins the spell, we get a glimpse inside Stefan’s head, where he wakes up back where he belongs at the Salvatore house.
Valerie joins him as she starts talking about their next destination and how Stefan will soon have the chance to go back to his “real life.” As she starts to bleed from her nose, Stefan tries to tell her that “you are my real life.” She asks him to be honest when she asks, “Have I only been a pleasant distraction these past few years or am I something more?” But Stefan claims she’s never been a distraction.
Back in the real world, Damon refuses to let Valerie give up on the spell. And despite Stefan begging her not to sacrifice herself for him, she completes the spell. Only it doesn’t kill her. And with Stefan now awake and back in the right body, Ric leaves.
He’s finally going home, where he’s wanted to be this entire time. Damon once again tries to apologize for abandoning his friend, but as Ric explains, the last three years have been the happiest of his life because he got to start over. He has kids and a fiancé “that makes me feel so lucky to be alive.” And he got all of that because Damon wasn’t “barging into my life and screwing things up.” So unlike Damon, Ric doesn’t want things to go back to the way they were. (So it seems even being a surrogate brother to Damon gets old? Regardless, seeing these two fight is nothing short of devastating.)
Ric then points Damon to the mental hospital, informing him that Bonnie is undercover and he might have better luck winning her back. Yeah, he doesn’t. But we’ll get to that.
First, Valerie uses the time Stefan’s in the shower to write him a letter. As she tells him, she heard the fear in his voice when he thought she was going to sacrifice herself for him. Stefan was afraid of Valerie’s sacrifice because “it wouldn’t have been worth it, me sacrificing myself for you, because you don’t love me the way I love you,” she says. If she’d died, the guilt would’ve eaten Stefan alive. “I’ve never loved anyone the way I love you,” she tells him. “But that’s not true for you.”
Valerie knows Stefan loved her in his own way, but it’s time for her to find a new life. After one last kiss, she leaves. at the mental hospital, where we find out Bonnie still hasn’t opened her letter from Damon. Apparently, when she was involved in an “incident,” the hospital called her doctor. And her doctor is a very handsome vampire with a sexy accent. Enter Enzo, who can’t wait to see the woman he loves. She’s pretty happy too, at least until Enzo tells her that there’s a decent chance that she’s going to die again.
The only thing worse than news of her possible death? Seeing Damon again. Just as Damon shows up at her door with flowers, Bonnie slams the door in his face.
- Antagonist: Ambrose.
- Bonnie has been taking pills The Armory created with Rayna Cruz's blood which suppresses magic in order to avoid being detected by locator spells in order to stay off The Army's radar. Near the end of the episode, Enzo tells Bonnie the pills will be making her sick as they did Mary Louise.
- Enzo tries to get answers from Rayna to possible cures for witches who takes pills made with her blood. She tells him The Armory already tried and failed to make a cure, and that the effects of her blood cannot be reversed, only enhanced.
- Bonnie entered the mental hospital to learn from Virginia what the Armory wanted with her under the alias Bonnie McCullough and had a doctor who could sign her and Virginia out at anytime.
- Bonnie McCullough is her name in the novel series.
- This episode marks the first appearance of Virginia.
- Bonnie learns from Virginia why The Armory needs her as a Bennett witch sealed something so terrible in the basement that Virginia attempts to kill her in order to keep her being used to free it.
- Lucy "Bennett" is revealed by Virginia to Bonnie to have been missing for about 4 years believing The Armory may have been responsible, though she could have gone into hiding. This would have been sometime after Damon got some her blood in I Alone to use to activate The Ascendant in their first attempt to free Bonnie from Kai's 1994 Prison World.
- Alaric tells Damon that Bonnie is in Asheville, North Carolina.
- Valerie tells Damon that Gemini Coven spells require 2 people to perform but it will be hard for her do the transfer spell alone. She is successful in placing Stefan's soul back into his own body before Marty could die.
- Valerie ends her relationship with Stefan telling him it's because she believes he still has feelings for his ex-girlfriend Caroline and that she's decided to strike out on her own into the world alone.
- There is not a single scene set in Mystic Falls.
- Bonnie Bennett was last seen in I Would for You.
- Enzo was last seen in Days of Future Past.
- Lucy was mentioned by Virginia. She was last seen in Masquerade. She was last mentioned by Damon to Elena in I Alone.
- Valerie mentions Malcolm, Beau, Lily Salvatore, Mary Louise and Nora Hildegard.
- Alex St. John is mentioned. She was last seen in Days of Future Past.
- Caroline was mentioned. Her voice was heard in Days of Future Past.
- This is the 21st and final episode of the series in which she does not appear.
- Jo Laughlin was mentioned by Alaric. She was last seen as a corpse in Best Served Cold.
- This is the fourth episode in which Elena Gilbert isn't mention or referenced in any way this season.
- Asheville, North Carolina
- The Philippines (flashback)
- Memphis, Tennessee
- Memphis College
- Alpha Rho Tau Fraternity House
- Stefan's Hideout
- Wildwood Motel
- Unnamed people killed in a frat house - slain; killed by Ambrose and themselves (through influence by Ambrose)
- Sully - smashed; killed by Ambrose
- Frank - drained of blood; killed by Ambrose
Behind the Scenes
- Valerie makes a reference to the Salvatore House’s “upstairs study” (she asks Stefan if he’d rather spin the old globe in the upstairs study). That is Rebecca’s in-joke. We used that set only once: in ep 507, for the three doppelganger blood-knot ceremony, and then the set was dismantled and carted away, never to be seen or spoken of again.
- In order to execute the ambulance stunt, production had to buy two identical ambulances: one to flip, one to shoot inside of. Our stunt coordinator Paul Burke was cast to play EMT driver Sully, who meets a quick and horrible end.
- This isn’t the first episode that Damon threatens to feed a victim’s body part to the squirrels. In 316, Damon mulls over chewing out Meredith Fell’s tongue and feeding it to the squirrels for accusing Ric of the Founders’ Council murders. It’s fun to see that this particular threat has been part of Damon’s lexicon for a long time.
- The writers particularly loved Valerie’s goodbye. These characters live in a dangerous world, so it’s not often that all our great supporting characters get to survive their departure from the show. But since Valerie’s life was always controlled and manipulated by others — leaving her mostly hurt and alone — it seemed right that she get to walk away and have a chance to live her own life for the first time.
- After a relatively balmy shoot for 717, nature got cruel for this episode, which involved a lot of outdoor location work. The cast and crew worked in temperatures in the low teens for an entire week, leading to some crankiness and some unwelcome intermittent snowflakes that you can spot throughout the episode. 
- Hashtag during the airing is #SavingStefan
- "One Way or Another" is the fourth single by American rock band Blondie from their second studio album Parallel Lines. The song was released on May 14, 1979.