Reasons to Watch: The Vampire Diaries
Setting: Mystic Falls, a small town in Virginia. Like any other small town, it is filled with rich history. But with that rich history comes a problem; Mystic Falls is infested with vampires.
The Vampire Diaries is a television series based on the novels of L J Smith. Set in Mystic Falls, the show has an intriguing cast of characters, all with lives that have some relevance to the many plots explored. In essence, though, the show focuses on a single girl: Elena Gilbert. This seventeen-year-old's life is turned upside down on the day she meets the new guy at school. His name is Stefan Salvatore, and he happens to be a vampire. His brother, also a vampire, follows him to town shortly thereafter. And they both feel an attraction towards Elena. Elena and her friends become increasingly involved in vampire drama as her relationship with Stefan deepens, but viewers will come to discover that Elena has more of a connection to the supernatural than a vampire boyfriend. As the series develops, Elena and her friends become involved with vampires, witches, and werewolves, as well as the secrets, history, and curses that come with them.
You may think that this story sounds familiar. It certain ways, it bears a striking resemblance to Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series. While I like many aspects of the Twilight series in theory, I have many problems with its execution. Luckily for me, beyond the superficial similarities, The Vampire Diaries is nothing like Twilight.
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What I Hate About Twilight And Love About The Vampire Diaries
There are many vampire-centric television shows and movies nowadays. For this reason, it is rather easy to assume that all vampire tales are alike. This could not be farther from the truth. Again, while I like the idea of Twilight and its sequels, there are many aspects of the series that I... strongly dislike, may be the least inflammatory way to say it. Luckily, The Vampire Diaries is nothing like Twilight in all of these instances. For example:
In order to blend in with human society, it is helpful for vampires to be able to walk in the sun. After all, sunlight hurts vampires, doesn't it? To get around this little problem, Twilight has vampires that are not hurt by sun, but are rather revealed by it. In sunlight, their skin... sparkles. In The Vampire Diaries, sun does hurt vampires, but those lucky enough to know a witch can get a spelled ring that allows them to walk around safely while wearing it (an idea that was also broached in Buffy the Vampire Slayer). This idea is a bit more practical as it does not require vampires to relocate to towns with constant rainfall.
Sexual Tension... and only sexual tension
Vampires are often seen as darkly sensual beings. After all, you must have a special, intimate relationship with someone before you allow them to suck blood from your neck. In Twilight, the sexual tension is there, but it is restrained until after marriage. Sex is not everything, certainly, but I feel that the relationships in The Vampires Diaries take a more realistic approach to high school (and vampire) romances. Attraction is acknowledged and dealt with given the situation.
A Heroine to Believe In
Bella Swan is constantly getting into trouble. This conveniently allows Edward and Jacob the opportunity to swoop in and save her... again and again. In some respects, this is a tenet of the vampire romance genre. The easiest way for an evil vampire or werewolf to be redeemed is to have him play the hero. My main complaint is that Bella does nothing to stop this cycle. I prefer my heroines to have a backbone. Yes, sometimes they need saving, but they will do everything they can to make that unnecessary. Elena Gilbert is such a heroine. She fiercely protects her friends, human or supernatural, at any cost. It is easier for me to care about the plight of a character who cares so much about others.
A Realistic Love Triangle
For the reasons I mention above, I never could understand the appeal of Bella. No matter what she did, Edward and Jacob remained hopelessly in love with her. In The Vampire Diaries, the love triangle that develops between Elena, Stefan, and Stefan's brother Damon is far more realistic (or at least as realistic as something based can be when it is based in the supernatural). Elena looks exactly like the woman they both once loved, a woman who was the cause of the rift that now stands between them. That is the initial draw for the brothers: this physical connection between Elena and their dead lover Katherine. The continued attraction is based on the differences between Elena and Katherine, and the way she makes both brothers better men.
Oscar and Golden Globe nominated actress Anna Kendrick has a role in the Twilight series. Her character, Jessica Stanley, has some great one liners, but beyond that, there is little with which to work with regards to personality and backstory, even given her acting talent. In reality, the characters beyond Bella, Jacob, and Edward are little more than plot devices to advance the story. The minor characters in The Vampire Diaries do serve to advance the plot of the three main characters, but they have stories of their own as well. Of course, a television show has more time to explore these stories, so this may be an argument for format rather than plot. Nonetheless, this difference makes The Vampire Diaries infinitely more enjoyable in my opinion. Yes I care about Elena and the vampires who love her, but I also care about her friends and family and the struggles they endure as well (especially when it comes to Caroline, a personal favorite).
In addition, the main characters seem to have more depth as well. It may seem at first glance that Stefan Salvatore is the good brother while Damon is the bad. Seemingly, they are polar opposites, which explains the enmity between them. As their storied past is revealed, however, we see that this has not always been the case. Damon hates Stefan, but it is not because the woman he loved chose to love Stefan instead, as we first assume. The story complicates further, and the characters grow with it.
"Turn to Stone" by Ingrid Michaelson
Elena vs. Katherine
Other Reasons to Tune In
Like many vampire shows, The Vampire Diaries has some magnificent special effects. It can get bloody and gruesome, but being on the CW gives this show a slightly more wholesome flair than HBO's True Blood. There are also some beautiful costumes. Certain episodes contain flashbacks to earlier time periods, and the clothing befits the era and location. You will also find some period clothing at the annual decade dance in Mystic Falls.
Being on the CW also gives The Vampire Diaries a brilliant soundtrack. The network has an excellent track record when it comes to the score of their high school dramas, a history that traces back to Dawson's Creek. The music chosen to accompany the show is always current, often comes from an artist that is on the breach of popularity, and always perfectly accents the drama of the scene in which it is featured. One such song that comes to mind is the hauntingly beautiful "Turn to Stone" by Ingrid Michaelson. It is a song that expresses the need to experience life fully while we have the chance. It was used as inspiration in the achingly gorgeous contemporary routine choreographed by Travis Wall for contestants Melanie Moore and Marko Germar on the reality television show So You Think You Can Dance. In The Vampire Diaries, it is used to highlight a moment in which Damon contemplates ending his life.
Finally, some of the acting on the show is fascinating to watch. Personally, I could watch Ian Somerhalder smolder at the camera all day. The real draw, however, is the way in which Nina Dobrev handles acting out scenes as two different characters. She plays both Elena Gilbert and the historical Katherine Pierce, the woman who originally caused a rift between the Salvatore brothers. It is intriguing to see how a change in setting and clothing changes the way in which Dobrev holds herself. As the series continues, the acting the position requires becomes more complex. It is astonishing how well the series pulls off these challenges. See how Dobrev herself views her dual roles in the interview embedded to the right.
Catching Up with The Vampire Diaries
There is a lot to catch up on within the first two seasons of The Vampire Diaries. I would suggest taking the time to revisit these seasons at some point, but if you want to jump right, you can either stream or purchase season three episodes here:
If you need a quick refresher, here are some important points to remember:
The Main Players
Elena's love interest
Stefan's brother, resident bad boy
Steven R. McQueen
Elena and Jeremy's aunt and guardian
Elena's best friend
Elena's friend, resident popular girl
Matt's drug-addicted sister
Matt's friend, son of the mayor
After her parents are killed in a car crash, Elena and her brother Jeremy are trying to continue their lives with their new legal guardian, their aunt Jenna. That is, until the Salvatore brothers come to town and bring knowledge of the supernatural with them. Supposed "animal attacks" become a common occurrence in Mystic Falls, and people either wind up dead or missing. Here's a recap of important events:
- Jeremy's on-and-off girlfriend, Vicki Donovan (sister to Matt) is turned by Damon. When she endangers Elena, Stefan kills her. Jeremy is distraught by her death, so Elena begs Damon to compel him into believing Vicki left town and that it is best he move on.
- Elena learns that she was adopted. Her mother, Isobel, was obsessed with vampires and had contacted Damon to turn her. Her husband of the time, Alaric, had seen Damon with her, and believed her dead. This sets Alaric on a mission to find and kill the vampire that was responsible for her death; this mission leads him to Mystic Falls, where he becomes the resident history teacher and ends up dating Elena's aunt Jenna. Elena's father is her "uncle," John.
- After Damon compels Jeremy, Jeremy becomes a different person. He throws himself into his studies and stays away from the drugs that had been his shelter after his parents' death. As his history teacher, Alaric offers him an extra credit assignment: a paper on any local history. Tyler goes digging in his family's things and finds his ancestor's diary, which is full of fantastic tales about vampires. During his research, he meets a new girl to town, Anna. She happens to be a vampire, and through her Jeremy learns all that Elena has hidden from him.
- Stefan and Damon have fought ever since they were turned. They both loved a woman named Katherine Pierce, who happened to be a vampire. She fed them her blood, Damon willingly and Stefan when compelled, and played the brothers against each other. When the town discovers she is a vampire and captures her to imprison her, the brothers try to save her and end up dying in the process. With the vampire blood in their system, they turn. Stefan is the first to drink human blood, which ensures his survival. Damon is set on dying, but Stefan ensures he drinks as well so he will not have to spend eternity alone. While it is believed that Damon does not forgive Stefan for Katherine loving him most, he really cannot forgive him for taking the decision to die away from him.
- When Mystic Falls turned against the vampires, Katherine included, the townspeople locked them in a church and then set the building on fire. A witch, Emily Bennett (ancestor of Elena's friend Bonnie, also a witch), ensures that the vampires do not die. Instead, they are locked away to starve for eternity. Katherine, however, escapes the tomb entirely, and goes about her life, never contacting the Salvatore brothers until they return to Mystic Falls.
- The tomb is opened in the present day, and the vampires imprisoned within get ready to attack the denizens of Mystic Falls. A council made of the founding families, well aware of the vampire threat, uses an old Gilbert relic to render the supernatural beings vulnerable long enough to capture them and imprison them in another building set to burn. Jeremy's new girlfriend Anna is also caught in the raid, and dies with the rest. The device affects more than vampires, however, and causes Tyler Lockwood to crash his car, and Mayor Lockwood to be caught with the vampires in the fire. Luckily, Damon and Stefan survive, but so does Katherine.
Season two deals with werewolves and Katherine's history. More information is revealed about Elena's connection to Katherine, and more people die in a confrontation with an original vampire, Klaus.
- Tyler crashes his car because he is affected by the Gilbert artifact. He is not a vampire; he is a werewolf. Matt and Tyler survive the crash, but Caroline is gravely injured. Bonnie, Caroline's best friend, begs Damon to save her by giving her his blood. All is well until Katherine visits Caroline in the hospital with a message. Katherine kills Caroline and causes her to turn. Caroline, being in a hospital filled with blood, succumbs to her hunger and feeds, effectively completing her transformation. This brings some problems, because Caroline's mother is on the council that defends Mystic Falls from vampires.
- Elena is kidnapped by some vampires. She is wanted by an original vampire, Klaus, because she is the key to breaking a curse. To break the curse, the Petrova doppelganger, Katherine's look-alike ancestor, must be killed. Since Elena is Katherine's ancestor, and she looks exactly like her, it is her death that is required.
- A vampire and a werewolf must die to lift the curse as well. The only werewolf in town is Tyler's uncle, Mason, but Damon kills him. Katherine, working for Klaus, compels others to trigger Tyler's curse so that Klaus can have another sacrifice . In order to turn into a true werewolf, Tyler must kill someone, and Katherine orchestrates this to perfection. Tyler turns, and Caroline, newly supernatural, vows to help him through his transformation.
- The curse that must be broken is one on Klaus. He comes from a line of vampires and werewolves, and the curse keeps his werewolf side in check. The only way in which Klaus can be killed is to catch him at his most vulnerable: when he is transforming into a werewolf. This means the curse must be broken to kill Klaus. Elena must die. There is a way to bring Elena back to life after she has been drained, but Damon does not trust it, so he takes matters into his own hands and feeds her his blood. Elena will die, but she will come back as a vampire against her will.
- Klaus kidnaps Caroline and Tyler to fulfill the other demands of the curse, but Damon saves them to keep the ritual from happening (hoping that his bid to keep Elena alive will not have to be an option). In the process, Tyler transforms and bites Damon, which is a problem since a werewolf bite is fatal to a vampire. Unfortunately, all of Damon's plans are for naught as Klaus has a backup; he brings another werewolf and makes himself a vampire: Jenna.
- In order to save Elena from turning to a vampire, her father John sacrifices his life to save her humanity. Or course, this does not stop Jenna from dying and the curse from being broken. Klaus is about to be killed by his brother Elijah, who wishes to avenge the death of their family at Klaus' hands, but Elijah is tricked into letting him live. Elena lives, Jenna dies, and everything they have sacrificed is for nothing as Klaus still lives.
- Damon is dying from Tyler's bite, and Klaus is the only one who knows the cure. Stefan goes to Klaus to beg his cause, and Klaus gives him the cure at a price: to save Damon, Stefan must agree to tap into his darker side and follow Klaus. He agrees, saving Damon's afterlife but forsaking him and Elena in the process.
- Jeremy is killed by a bullet meant for Damon. Usually, his mystical ring will protect him from dying, but it only works when the threat is supernatural. Since the bullet comes from Caroline's mother, the ring does not work. Bonnie, having fallen for Jeremy, uses her enhanced power to bring him back to life. The result? Jeremy is fine, but he begins to see ghosts, specifically those of his dead girlfriends, Vicki and Anna.
At the start of the new season, we will revisit Mystic Falls after the disaster that killed Jenna and John. Elena and Jeremy have no legal guardian, and Stefan is bloodthirsty and following their enemy. Jeremy can now speak with ghosts, and Bonnie's powers are only growing stronger. And of course, there is the growing attraction between Damon and Elena to contend with. Just another year in Mystic Falls, where vampires, werewolves, and doppelgangers are ordinary occurrences.