This recap contains spoilers!  Proceed with caution!

Season 3 began tonight with a trip to Tennessee just a few months after Stefan has left town with Klaus.  Klaus has been tracking a werewolf named Ray Sutton, and pretty much immediately I thought, “I am so glad I’m not Ray Sutton.”  Klaus arrives at a house with 2 girls but unfortunately no Ray, and after one girl fesses up that he’s at a bar down the road, he orders Stefan to kill both.  At the end of season 2 we got a brief glimpse of Ripper Stefan, but now we see the way he stalks into a room and inhales the fear of the two unlucky girls.  There’s a moment when they plead for their lives and you think the old Stefan is going to appear to comfort them.  Then he pounces like a pointy-toothed blood-sucking cat and we’re left with their screaming.

Back in Mystic Falls, it’s Elena’s 18th birthday.  Caroline is planning a celebratory party that she hopes will distract Elena from her single-minded pursuit of Klaus and Stefan.  Sheriff Forbes is helping Elena track down mysterious “animal attacks,” (the old vampire/werewolf standby).  Damon has also been searching for the pair with the assistance of his compelled lady companion Andie.  Damon and Andie have been much more successful in their findings but have not shared them with Elena, afraid of her reaction to the gruesome and literal blood trail.  He also dissuades Elena from taking an active part in the investigation as he reminds her that Klaus believes she is still dead, and to prove otherwise to him would be deadly.  Luckily for the audience, we are also treated to an extended scene of Damon walking around the house naked.  Thank you!  No, really.  I will cherish this gift.

Jeremy has been working with Matt at the Mystic Grill, flickering the lights and seeing his dead girlfriends.  Caroline and Tyler have been getting cozy together, though they both insist they aren’t dating.  Matt, who has told Caroline previously that he can’t be with her because she’s a vampire, watches jealously from afar.  Meanwhile, Damon and Alaric follow a hot tip from Andie and discover the house in Tennessee where the 2 dead girls sit primly posed on the couch.  Tip: Posed dead people are always a bad sign.  Damon describes Ripper Stefan’s method of killing his victims: he gets so frenzied over the feeding that he blacks out, rips the bodies apart, then comes to and guiltily reassembles them.  As he explains, one girl’s head topples off and falls to the floor at her own feet.  Gross!  And awesome!  Before they destroy the evidence with a house fire, Alaric and Damon discover a secret werewolf-containment cell in the basement, which causes a light bulb to go off for Damon.

Klaus and Stefan find Ray, much to the dismay of Ray, as he spends the rest of his night being tortured with darts dipped in wolfsbane.  Klaus wants to know where the werewolf pack leader is, but when Ray doesn’t divulge the information, Klaus confesses that he’s looking to make more hybrids like himself.  We all know where this is going, and it is not in the direction of better fuel economy.  Stefan overhears a woman in the bar tell Klaus that Damon is getting close to finding them.  Promising that he can stop Damon from following their trail, Stefan leaves the bar and heads back to Mystic Falls, where Elena’s birthday party is in full swing.

Jeremy and Matt bond over a joint, and Caroline gets jealous over the way Tyler and his date are bumping and grinding on the dance floor.  The non-dating duo have recently discussed that along with their supernatural abilities, they are both crazy horny all the time.  I’ve never had this discussion with any of my close male friends, I guess because I’m not a vampire or werewolf.  After Caroline compels Tyler’s date to leave, she kisses him and they leave the party together to get supernatural together.  Even though this is Elena’s birthday party and she is looking super cute, and Damon found her lost vervain locket, she’s too distraught over the loss of Stefan to have fun.  Her only wish is to know if Stefan is still alive and, as if in answer, she stumbles upon Damon’s Clue Closet where he has been keeping track of Klaus and Stefan’s exploits.

Stefan has arrived in town, but instead of going to Elena, he finds Andie alone at work.  He lures Damon to the news station and forces Damon to watch as he compels Andie to jump off an exposed ceiling beam and break her neck.  He tells Damon to let him go and to stop trying to find him.  A bitter Damon returns to Elena’s party, where he tells her that Stefan is the killer leaving the blood trail, not Klaus, and that Stefan isn’t coming back – “not in your lifetime.”  Though he’s speaking to her directly, it’s clear that Andie’s death has shaken him, and he’s telling himself as much as Elena that Stefan is gone.  The Stefan they knew was compassionate and caring, and Ripper Stefan is cruel and malicious.

Ghost Vicki again appears, begging Jeremy for help.  He tells Matt that he can see her, but Matt takes this to mean that Jeremy misses her and claims to see her too.  Stefan returns to Tennessee, where Klaus force feeds Ray his blood and then breaks his neck.  Stefan takes a moment alone to call Elena from an unregistered phone.  He doesn’t speak, but she tells him “I love you, Stefan.  Hold onto that.  Never let go.”  Is there hope for Stefan’s soul after all?  Before we can think too long on it, Caroline sneaks out of the supernatural bed she’s been romping in with Tyler and runs into his mother on the way to the door.  As if this moment weren’t awkward enough, Mrs. Lockwood shoots Caroline with vervain darts until she collapses.

Another excellent, drama-filled episode from the VD gang!  Next week promises more hybrids.  I hope they come up with a catchy gang name!