In 2009, everyone was talking vampires. The Twilight series was crowding bookshelves everywhere, with the second movie coming out in November. True Blood had aired the year before, an instant hit for HBO. Blood suckers — especially cute ones — were everywhere.
In the midst of all of this fervor, The CW created the teen vampire drama, The Vampire Diaries, and fans immediately fell in love. Based on a series written in the ‘90s by L.J. Smith, the books tell the story of Elena Gilbert, the golden girl of Mystic Falls high school. She falls hard for Stefan Salvatore, while he keeps a very big secret from her: he’s a vampire. In turn, his brother, Damon (also of the vampire persuasion), falls hard for her because of her strong resemblance to the woman from his and Stefan’s past. And he’ll do anything to capture her heart. The brother’s attraction to Elena sparks up a centuries-old feud as the brothers once again battle for a woman’s love.
The show stayed relatively true to the books, at least in the beginning. In fact, many argued that the show was better than the books, thanks to a less mean-girl Elena, and more mythology boosting all the characters. But somewhere along the way, the show took a sharp turn. Or several sharp turns. And maybe that sharp turn even died and got brought back to life a few times.
Because of its slowly-declining quality over the years, The Vampire Diaries has both failed it and nailed it. Here’s why.
Failed It: The Vampire Diaries, Seasons 4-present
Have you seen this show lately? Well, spoiler alert!, Elena is dead. That’s right. The main character is dead. I don’t blame Nina Dobrev for wanting to jump ship, especially when it is so clearly sinking. But it seems a little ridiculous to try and keep a show on the air when the main character isn’t even there anymore.
However, a show like The Vampire Diaries has never been afraid of pushing the limit with its plots. From the jump, main characters were killed off (sort of!), relationships were formed and later destroyed, and people flip-flopped between good and evil at an alarmingly fast pace. It was awesome. At first. But when you have to keep that kind of momentum going, you tend to run out of new ideas. And those remaining ideas get complicated to the point of ridiculous. At this point we have werewolves, vampire hunters, immortals, warlocks, dopplegangers, hybrids, witches, body-snatchers, etc, etc, etc. Each character has also died and come back to life a handful of times. Or almost died. Or become a vampire. I’m still not convinced Elena is really gone for good.
Don’t get me started on all the relationships. You need a comprehensive chart to be a ‘shipper on this show. Are you into “Bamon” (Bonnie/Damon) or “Delena” (Damon/Elena)? Are you “Steroline” (Stefan/Caroline) or “Stelena” (Stefan/Elena)? Or maybe you prefer “Klaroline” (Klaus/Caroline). How about Tyler Lockwood with…? Or Matt? Who even knows anymore?
I, for the record, was a real “Delena” ‘shipper, though I started out on Team Stefan. Then Damon stole my heart when he decided to become sort of good (he’ll never fully be good!), and some of those early moments between him and Elena were pure, sexy gold. But even this relationship has become tainted, mainly because of how Elena’s character has been handled in the past few seasons. Why should she have to go dark to love Damon? Why can she only love him as a vampire struggling to keep her humanity? It instantly created a veil over the relationship that felt unnecessary, and I haven’t been able to ‘ship it the same since.
It’s a shame that these years of The Vampire Diaries failed it, because once, long ago, they were definitely in the nailed it section.
Nailed It: The Vampire Diaries, Seasons 1-3
Before the breakneck plot got exhausting in its reimaginings, it was exciting, new and compulsively watchable. This was not like teen shows of the past, where it took an entire season for two characters to confess their feelings — and several more before they finally got together! No, The Vampire Diaries sped along, zipping through plot points and throwing new twists at us with each episode. It did cliffhangers alarmingly well, guaranteeing that anyone even remotely invested was coming back the next week and the week after that.
Watching human Elena try to find her place in this new supernatural world was both strangely relatable and excitingly different. Having two super-hot brothers love her to distraction didn’t hurt. This was that rare show where I didn’t even care who Elena ended up with, I just wanted to go along for the ride.
And it was a pretty wild ride. Up until the end of the third season. And then, Elena became a vampire. I was ready to keep my DVR on auto-record. Elena had a core group of friends and family who she relied on, and her humanity was one of the most important parts of the show. Once she lost that, it got harder and harder to watch. But those first three seasons will always stand out as one of the best teen shows I’ve ever seen. For that alone, The Vampire Diaries absolutely nailed it. If only they had stuck with the original formula.