Why I watch The Vampire Diaries
I'd planned to write about The Vampire Diaries earlier and all of a sudden, the season finale is almost upon us. Tomorrow! I was apprehensive about watching it, at first. I'd read the books as a kid, but while I vaguely remember the plot and characters, I wasn't worried about faithfulness to the original; I was more concerned about how the tween vampire craze might affect the series. I knew Kevin Williamson was writing it, though, so I had some hope.
I am glad I gave it a shot and here's why: (Note: There are spoilers below and you've been warned)
1. Ian Somerhalder
I liked his character on LOST though it was odd, at first, to see him playing such an earnest character. He was my favorite part of The Rules of Attraction and I find him not only incredibly sexy but he's also an excellent actor and one that is often undervalued, in my opinion. Take a look at these clips compiled by a Vampire Dairies fan:
2. It doesn't totally screw up contemporary vampire mythology and seems to understand, at least, in part the evolution of our vampire myths.
Okay, one of the reasons I like this show is because I'm interested in vampire myths. I don't really consider myself a purist, for the most part. But when it comes to vampires, there are few expectations I don't want f'ed with. I'm talking to you, Stephanie Meyer. I like the way the writers explore, twist and expand on vampire mythology. In The Vampire Diaries:
Vampires burn in sunlight. Damon and Stefan wear protective rings so they can go out during the day, but otherwise they would definitely burn in the sun. The books explore this myth as it is how Katherine supposedly "died." The series takes a different turn with Katherine and her death, but the danger of the sun is everpresent.
Vamps require an invitation to enter a house or err, bedroom window, though once invited in, it seems they can return whenever they want.
Though there are no coffins in The Vampire Diaries the vampires do love their sleep. Their house is always dark and there's also a creepy cellar with convenient cells for locking up each of the brothers at one time or another during the series.
Garlic has no effect on the the vampires in Mystic Falls, and Stefan jokes that he likes garlic because of his Italian heritage.
A stake in the heart will kill a vampire.
The herb vervain weakens vampires and prevents you from being compelled.
3. Family Relationships and Rivalry
It's no secret that I'm a sucker for family stories. I love Supernatural because of the chemistry and relationship between the Winchesters and now I've got the Salvatores to adore. Ian Somerholder is a big part of why the relationship between the Salvatores is so interesting. Sure, there's other family tragedies, traumas and other rivalries to watch unfold. It is, after all, a small town. The tension between Jeremy and Elena has been getting thicker as the season wears on, not to mention the tragedy that is Matt's mother, played wonderfully by Melinda Clarke. Then there's Uncle John and Jenna's outright hatred for one another. There's family drama everywhere you look and I like that the messiness isn't saved for just one family or set of characters. But it's the Salvatore brothers' past and present that drive the narrative. It's fun to watch the twists in their relationship unfold and to see that things used to be very different between them. They are certainly one another's yin and yang.
4. It doesn't shy away from the dark
It may take a while to get past some of the lovey, dovey stuff, but the series has been building up some speed toward exploring the darker sides of being undead, the whole thirst for blood issue, for one. The character of Damon seems to have embraced his flaws, his lust and desire a long time ago. Stefan, more recently, has been nobler, trying to fight it, which has been kind of annoying to me, honestly. Enough of the brooding, furrowed brow. However, in the past few episodes some clever and intriguing things have happened that shows the danger in getting mixed up with supernatural beings who can kill you. While, I much prefer Damon's approach to accepting his fate, Paul Wesley as Stefan plays the put-upon conflicted and sad brother well. There's more to it than we realize, at first and it takes almost the entire season to understand how and why Stefan's humanity is important to him and why Damon is able to turn it off so easily. I think Damon anchors the show as the character we hate to love but one that we, ultimately, understand. But there's an inherent danger with him, with them both, that feels more realistic than other stories. There's also gore and blood and people actually dying in horrible ways.
5. Supernatural elements
There are witches, and possibly (it's been hinted at) werewolves in addition to the vampires in town. This is similar to the supernatural mix you get in True Blood, though obviously toned down for PG-13 audiences. Still, it makes sense that if you believe in one kind of supernatural being, you probably believe in others and it would stand to reason that other beings exist. The dynamics between the witches and the vampires are tense and powerful. I'll be interested to see how this plays out in the season finale and in future seasons.
6. The small town narrative
I grew up in small towns and know enough about how they work to recognize the characters who think they're doing the best they can to keep everyone safe but are ultimately deeply invested in the power hierarchies. You can feel the claustrophobia, the drive to get out and yet always getting pulled back in, in almost every scene. There's a familiarity there that makes the series credible, for some reason. I love the history of small towns, and the way they always seem spun, in one way or another. And let's face it, Williamson certainly knows how to write small towns. Besides, vampirism is a thinly veiled metaphor for the way we consume and feed off one another, perfect small town metaphor.
There's genuine desire between characters. Elena is attracted to Stefan (and sometimes, Damon) and she isn't afraid to express it. Damon's lust never seems to be sated. It seems like everyone on the show is hooking up and while it isn't graphic like True Blood; it's at least honest about desire, sexuality, and passion.
8. Unlike the female characters in that other wildly popular but utterly horrible vampire series, the female characters here are strong and make their own choices. The entire history of the show is built upon the relationship between the brothers and the strongest female character on the show, Katherine. Though we only see her in flashbacks, the choices she makes show exactly how independent and powerful she is. The fact that Damon has pined for her for a hundred years or so should tell you something about her. The story is anchored by and mired in female relationships and none of the females are predictable or powerless. Everyone looks to the sheriff, Caroline's mother, to protect them. She stands her ground against and often with the "founding families" and works so hard at her job that her relationship with her daughter suffers from her overprotective nature. Bonnie, recently, stepped out of her best friend role because of her personal convictions. She drew a line in the sand that she can't take back, ever again. The friendships between the girls on the show is realistic, honest and thoughtful. They do screwed up things to one another and apologize for it; their jealousy of one another is not subtle but rather explored in meaningful ways. Even, Caroline, who was so easily compelled and manipulated by Damon, stands up for herself against her mother, Elena and Matt. She is suspicious but ultimately, oblivious. Elena asks questions. She questions her own motives as well as those around her and she does not let her attraction to Stefan or Damon, for that matter, control her. She is defiant and lacks fear in numerous situations where she should normally be afraid. Instead, she takes control, often the one to figure things out or in some cases, rescue the boys. Jenna, the aunt and reluctant guardian, knows enough to be protective and she comes off like someone who's struggling between the life she has and the one she feels she could have had but isn't really sure she even wanted.
9. Malese Jow as Anna, who definitely fits into the strong female category and so perhaps, I'm cheating by including her here. I love this actress in this role. We know quite a lot about Anna, now. And all of her decisions seem justified. She's survived on her own for years, adapting to the technologies and advances of each decade. I love that she plays such a strong female, and that the tables are turned as it's her boyfriend who wants her to "turn" him. Jow is a talented actress, subtle and decisive. She embodies this role well and I hope she sticks around for a while.
10. The music Like most CW shows, The Vampire Diaries has fantastic music. Just this season I've discovered: Florence and the Machine, Silversun Pickups and Bat for Lashes while I've continued to love Vampire Weekend, Band of Horses, and The Fray among others.