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Revisiting the Vampire Diaries

Culture

Good luck spending the rest of your life career-distancing from a show with cult following.

The Vampire Diaries have been out for a while, and there is not much that I can say that hasn´t been said before. However, kids of my generation, the children of the late and mid-late 90s, all probably experienced the whiplash of re-watching the Vampire Diaries with a fully evolved brain. Because when this show was at its peak, we universally agreed that it was the best thing on TV and that we were all eventually going to marry Damon.

Then, you re-watch it at the age of twenty-four, twenty-five, twenty-six ... And all the memes in the world cannot express the shellshock. Because boy, does this show not stand the test of time.

I don´t think that it´s fair to criticize a CW show based on how timeless it is - some products just hold up better than others and CW is on the list of my arch nemesis as THE garbage network to go to if you want some mindless action and soap operatic dialogues.

However.

You have romance films like Dirty Dancing, family dramas like Star Wars (yes, it is a family drama, I will die on this hill) or even cringe adventure comedies like The Mummy 1999 - which would be more in the arsenal of terrible but enjoyable to which the Vampire Diaries falls in - that have an indescribable charming quality to them. No matter how much time passes, you will never look at those properties and die of second-hand embarrassment.

Then you have a show like The Vampire Diaries, which gets worse each year while it ferments in the CW´s mediocrity vault. So, with a renewed outlook and a Zara Miller spin on this iconic jewel of terrible-ness, we will reexamine the theme of timelessness by using 2009´s Vampire Diaries as a case study.

Virginia - A Wonderland Without Racism

We should tread lightly around this one, and normally, I wouldn´t even touch it, but this element of the show is so on the nose and so disruptive that we must address it.

Despite Mystic Falls being a small town in Virginia where they double-down on having an event about the Civil War in every episode, the show conveniently ignores racism to the point where they virtually erase it from existence. And when you´re twelve and dumb, only caring about Damon´s leather jacket or shipping Elena and Stefan on Tumblr, you might miss just how comically unaware the show is about flaunting the Southern pride of the town.

You can tell, especially in the first two seasons, that the mysticism around Katherine goes hand in hand with romanticizing the Antebellum South. Katherine, with her whining, a sense of entitlement, and the despicable way she treats men, is supposed to be evocative, or rather reminiscent of a more menacing Scarlet O'Hara, complete with a loyal-to-a-fault African-American witch, Emily, who´s introduced as her maid and a friend when we all know the correct term would be a slave.

And I personally cannot stand it.

It could work, if only this ancient vampire, who is the biggest jerk on the planet, acknowledged the reality of the 1860s´ Virginia. And she´s not the only one who refuses to do so.

As we go along, the showrunners keep treating African-American characters as disposable plot-fillers through the apparatus of their main ensemble. It takes me out of the story in every episode. Because somehow, these vampires, werewolves, hybrids, and ancient beings have no problem ripping out some hearts and guts, but they refuse to go anywhere near the past (or the present for that matter) of the town they live in, despite one of the main characters being a former Confederate soldier.

Anytime you think the CW cannot stoop any lower, they one-up themselves. It´s honestly impressive.

That´s one of the reasons why people won´t be able to relate to the Vampire Diaries in any significant way in twenty or thirty years. Because it treats most of the characters like plot devices instead of people and sometimes, those mistakes need a little more time for us to notice them.

Elena

Chances are if you screw up the writing of the main protagonist, your entire story falls apart. This is exactly what happened to the Vampire Diaries and why the show lost its mojo after season 3, and its potential for timelessness. The charm of the protagonist is rooted in the intentionality of the writing. You can absolutely create an unlikeable main protagonist, or even position them in the role of an anti-hero, or an antagonist.

Hell, you can make a story about a villain as a protagonist, and convince the audience to root for them. The Gladiator, Terminator, Batman, Frank Underwood, Charles Foster Kane, Darth Vader, and James Stewart are just a few that come to mind.

They are all deeply flawed people with inclinations toward selfishness, questionable morals, and violence. The difference is, that all these character traits are acknowledged and treated as such. The problem with Elena is that the show is trying to convince the audience that she is goodness personified, but in actuality, she´s an annoying brat that never really grows out of it.

And when a show is not treating the audience with respect, looking us dead in the eye and telling us that Elena is a selfless, self-sacrificing beacon of hope even though everything she does and says speaks to the contrary, it makes me want to hate her even more than I normally would have.

Because I don´t like being lied to by a network that green-lit seven seasons of Riverdale, it´s insulting.

Caroline Forbes is the perfect example of a character being annoying and still winning the hearts of the viewers. She´s supposed to be annoying, she´s written that way and eventually gets over it by a virtue of a character arc. Too bad Elena never received such treatment.

If you don´t get your protagonist right, like a domino, every character, by proxy, because of their emotional ties and journeys they´re taking by their side, gets ruined as well.

What´s really funny to me, is that the same actress plays Katherine, but because her motivations and behavior are clearly defined and congruent with her character traits, people love her.

Katherine is mischievous, devious, and evil. She knows it and she loves it. She´s ruining everyone´s lives with a purpose and agenda, not because she needs to be the center of attention and put herself in danger for the sake of being a martyr. If you ask me, this show should have been about her, not about Elena.

And since Elena is such a poorly written protagonist, her bad writing has a direct impact on every single terrible decision the show and its characters make in the process. It never makes sense, it gets repetitive, and, yes, it loses timelessness. When you feel like sticking a sock in a protagonist´s mouth every time they´re on screen, it´s a huge red flag - that maybe the show you are watching is not worth your time.

Broken Mythology

No one likes a mess. Unless you´re Logan Paul or Kim Kardashian. You should keep your stories straight and not change the rules halfway through the narrative. It creates a disconnect between the storyteller and the audience and completely misuses the trust we as consumers put in a product.

"Messy Mythology in TVD" could be a ten thousand-word essay on its own, but nobody has time for that, so let´s address the most glaring problem the show has that makes it tough to take it seriously, much less call it "timeless". The mythology of the series shows some cracks at the early beginning, but keeps expanding until it breaks completely half-way through season four. And the show never really recovers from its insane plot to introduce a cure to vampirism that fluidly contradicts its own established rules based on what the plot needs.

If anyone has any idea how the cure works, please email me at idontgiveadamnaboutyourexcusesforshoddyscreenwriting@aol.com.

The concept of immortality is an important element of many fantasy stories, especially that of the Vampire Diaries. Everyone chooses to tackle a different aspect of the lore of immortality and vampirism, anywhere from goofy capes in Dracula to serious gore in Interview With The Vampire.

I don´t think there are any rules a storyteller should stick to when it comes to creating the lore, but once you create it and establish that vampires are essentially dead and kept alive only by a form of ancient magic, I´m not sure how you can walk that decision back by seven seasons and introduce a pregnant vampire. It raises a few eyebrows.

We could go one by one and rip into every insane decision the showrunner Julie Plec makes to keep the characters who no longer have any place in the story around, but as I said, we´d be here until Pfizer finds a cure for mortality.

Long story short - don´t waste anyone´s time, keep it nice and simple. Convoluted mythology leads to convoluted plots and convoluted plots lead to all the relationships Kim Kardashian has ever had. And while we can all agree that it is entertaining to watch for a certain period, we eventually get sick of it and abandon ship.

Everyone Is Dating Everyone

Dating is a strong word but you know what I mean. And yes, I understand certain requirements a teen soap opera has for sustaining the viewership, but I would beg to differ. I want to present you with an argument that I will never live down but choose to make anyway for the sake of quality writing - I am going to make Riverdale a positive example of something.

(I know, I regret it already.)

For those who claim that a teen drama with hot people cannot function without the entire cast interchanging partners every couple of episodes - Riverdale is the perfect example of why it can and should. Promiscuity should be integrated if it services the story, otherwise, it takes away from the emotional connection people create with the on-screen couples.

A lot of people were invested in Betty´s and Jughead´s relationship and, for a good reason - it felt real, they were very different people trying to make it work while reconciling with all the situations their families and their town manufactured for *drama*. But they stick it out for the majority of the show, and the monogamy strangely works and is even endearing.

Now, let´s look at the Vampire Diaries, where everyone dates everyone even though the only person for which this kind of behavior is in character would be Damon. I take that back, the Salem witch Bonnie Bennet is excluded from debauchery and fun times. For more on passive-aggressive racial jabs, read Julie Plec´s Twitter feed.

Frequent love interest fluctuations make it hard to be invested in a love story. That´s why people are so obsessed with Damon and Elena. The gradual build-up and the devotion injected into the relationship by both parties are easy to root for. Timeless love stories make for timeless television.

Pointless Spin-Offs

Audiences can tell when the universe needs expansion and when it needs to die a swift death with a satisfying conclusion for all its inhabitants.

Disney´s Cinderella didn´t need any sequels, and neither did The Vampire Diaries. It is not a universe interesting, original, diverse, or charming enough to sustain two supporting series.

The Originals as a family of villains worked because they were a part of a larger story, they worked because they were the antagonists to the protagonists, they do not work as heroes, so telling me that a bunch of thousand-year-old vampires who I´ve seen acting like childish lunatics for four years are suddenly the good guys as soon as they leave for New Orleans, is a bit of a stretch.

The same goes for Legacies, which follows Klaus´s daughter and a group of other supernatural beings that have no distinguishable personalities or cool story arcs. They feel like blank Word documents, a copy and paste of their more successful predecessors with absolutely zero emotional centers.

Overwashed, overused, and underwritten are not exactly words you´d pair with the word timeless.

What Did We Learn?

There is a phrase called "Art From Adversity." As artistic expression progressed, it became more liberal and therefore more obvious that the most beautiful things are created during difficult times when people turn to creation.

When there is destruction all around, artists escape into a world where there is nothing but beauty. I am not saying that you have to be homeless, lonely, broke, or broken-hearted to be a good artist, but it is a peculiar phenomenon to observe.

I´d like to think that despite the intention of making money, there is always some kind of artistic spark that ignites every creative project, and it just happens to be that Kevin Williamson, the showrunner for the first couple of seasons of the Vampire Diaries, decided to adapt LJ Smith´s books because he connected with Elena´s tragic backstory. At the time, he was trying to cope with a huge personal loss, as was Elena at the start of the show.

Whether it was just another coincidence supporting the "art from adversity" argument or not, the Vampire Diaries connected with audiences on such a deep level because there was something incredibly genuine about the central trio of the show.

The loss, immortality, mortality, broken promises, and family dysfunction - in the first couple of seasons of the Vampire Diaries, despite the corniness and the somewhat questionable choices for the pacing and the character development, were effective and engaging - it was human, if you will.

Once you suck out all the humanity out of the story, you suck out the likeability and timelessness along with it.

So, farewell, TVD. I re-watched you once, and unfortunately, I can´t say that I will ever be doing that again.

Zara Miller
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Zara Miller is a published author, writer, and blogger. She is a graduate of Middlesex University London where she studied International Relations. Her debut YA novel I am Cecilia attracted the eye of prominent speaking conferences such as the Career Grad Festival and Association of Writers and Writing Programs. She writes for The Teen Magazine where she handles the culture and student sections.