OH MY GOSH I LOVED THIS EPISODE SO MUCH. Seriously, I've been having a hard time figuring out how to write about it, because it was probably my favorite episode of the show ever, and it's much harder to praise things interestingly than to criticize them. But I'll try to be coherent after the break . . .
Almost all of the characters had their own stories going on this episode, and they were all so good. (Um, except Bonnie. She didn't even show up via video chat, I don't think.) Joseph Morgan did an incredible job of portraying Klaus, the titular hybrid, as a ruthless, power-mad killer who is also lonely and emotionally vulnerable - which, of course, makes him all the more terrifying. His attempt to turn a werewolf pack goes awry, and he doesn't know why, but the audience does - it's because he didn't actually permanently kill the doppelganger. Well. That can't bode well for Elena's continued health and safety.
Stefan is acting as Klaus's right-hand man, but he's still with-it enough to save his brother, who has ventured into the werewolf-filled woods on a full moon - and this, of course, leads Damon to conclude that Stefan is still worth saving. Damon is in the woods because of Elena, but it's really because of Stefan - just about everything the brothers do for Elena is really about each other. Forget shipper wars. The core relationship of the show is the one between the brothers; at some level, everyone else is incidental or serves as a proxy for some aspect of this relationship. At the end of the episode, Damon finally states what everyone else has been able to see since the beginning: as much as they talk about hating each other, Stefan wouldn't actually kill him. But will this hold true as Stefan slips more and more into his Ripper self? That should be interesting to see.
Elena's actual choice for a hiking buddy, though, is Alaric, not Damon, both because she has given up on Damon wanting to find his brother and because she knows he'll try to keep her home and out of harm's way. Alaric is a self-admitted mess, but he is there for Elena when she asks - and he's wise enough to call Damon in as back-up. He's not so sanguine about his BFF in other contexts, though, as he skeptically asks Elena if she knows what she's doing with Damon (as he's moving back into her house. Yay! The Gilberts could use a semi-responsible adult around).
Elena answers that no, she doesn't know what she's doing, which might be the most honest thing she's ever said about Damon. They had a powerful scene together at the end of the episode, in which Damon made Elena admit that she had agreed to leave the forest before finding Stefan because she didn't want a wolf to kill Damon. Damon's not holding out any particular hope, here, and he comes across as honest, realistic, and completely sincere when he says that what he wants is for Elena to remember her complicated feelings for Damon even after Stefan comes back.
Even though all of those stories were great, Tyler was really the standout for me this episode. When he finds out that his mother has imprisoned Caroline because she thinks all vampires are monsters, Tyler realizes that she doesn't know what he is, and decides to show her his transformation. Kevin Williamson has said he deliberately made this mirror a traditional coming out story, and Michael Trevino did a wonderful, understated job with the material. By the end, his mother is convinced and vows to stop anything from happening to Caroline, but she's already called in a vampire hunter - who happens to be Caroline's father. Eek! Don't hurt her!
I continued to be slightly less into Matt and Jeremy's ghost story, but again, that's more because the other stories were all so compelling and less because there's anything wrong with this one. Matt had a wonderful moment when he offered to get past his supernatural issues and their fractured friendship in order to help Tyler with his transition if necessary, and another when he found a picture of himself and Vicki as kids. Aww. Matty.
As I said at the beginning, all of these elements combined to make my favorite episode ever, and next week's going to include 1920s flashbacks, so I'm beside myself with excitement. Whee!