The story of two vampire brothers obsessed with the same girl, who bears a striking resemblance to the beautiful but ruthless vampire they knew and loved in 1864.
The second was Buffy‘s Spike-type, a more dangerous vampire who takes gleeful pleasure in killing his victims but had a certain smoulder that’s impossible to resist. Both of these character types are quickly ‘woobified’ (adopted and endlessly apologised for) by the fandom, and battle lines will be drawn over who the heroine should ultimately have her happy ever after with.
Before The Vampire Diaries, teen bloodsuckers tended to fall into two categories. The first was the Edward Cullen-type, dark and broody but also incredibly endearing and romantic. He probably struggled with his true nature, and intense self-flagellation would follow the occasional binge.
All of this happened in The Vampire Diaries’ first season. In a sped-up version of Buffy’s own arcs with Angel and Spike, the first 22-episodes featured Stefan falling in love with Elena, revealing that he had a bit of a problem with blood, turn dark, be forced into “rehab,” and then return to his hero status. Damon, meanwhile, was redeemed enough by his own love for Elena that she started to have feelings for him also.
The love triangle was baked into the premise, but somewhere along the way the writers realised they could play around with expectations and play the long-game with its heroine’s affections.
It eventually settled, but the endless to-ing and fro-ing, apparently in service to the rabid fanbase that had developed for both couples online, betrayed what could have been a beautiful story of a girl growing out of one kind of love and into another. The safe choice versus the person who challenges you to grow. That’s what we got by the end, more or less, but getting there could be a slog at times.
So the love triangle itself was never the issue, but the lengths to which the show went in order to leave it unresolved bordered on the ridiculous after more than five seasons. After years of indecision, we’re told that Elena chose Stefan in the season three finale because she’d met him first, but then we discover that a prior meeting with Damon had been wiped from her memory. After becoming a vampire she decides that Damon’s more her speed, but then an ancient prophecy pulls her and Stefan back together.
In sharp contrast with the Bella Swans of the literary world, Elena remained adamant throughout the first four seasons of the show that she didn’t under any circumstances want to become a member of the undead herself. After straddling the line between both worlds for years, the show’s heroine was thrown headfirst into one full of misguided passion, hedonism and murderous impulse – as good a metaphor for adulthood as any.
But where Buffy may have used its supernatural elements to explore the horrors of experiencing high school, The Vampire Diaries was a little more nebulous with its metaphors.
Then somewhere along the way you realise that the heartache is just a byproduct of all the good things about being alive. Love, family, friendship, the chance for redemption—by not feeling anything at all, you don’t just miss out on the bad stuff. That’s the story The Vampire Diaries wanted to tell, and Elena’s arc demonstrated it beautifully.
At any one time the show could use a vampire’s ability to turn their emotions off at will as a metaphor for numbing depression and grief, falling off the wagon or just giving up on humanity entirely. The first was always the most interesting, with Elena flipping the switch after Jeremy’s death and Caroline doing the same when her mother died from cancer.
Elena turned into a vampire at just the point where adulthood was threatening to become not just something she could watch from afar, but something that would bring more pain and heartbreak into her life than she knew how to handle. Your early twenties are hard, and more often than not life finds a way to break us down until we’re tempted to stop caring about anything at all.