It was my full intention to review episodes of The Vampire Diaries every week but I found that nitpicking and analyzing a new show from the very start isn't practical. Finding character development inconsistencies and plot holes doesn't exactly work when those elements are in the beginning stage – a show really ought to be given a little time to develop before going through some intense scrutiny. After watching the first few episodes I found myself reduced to one word descriptions like "great," "good," or "okay." Now that the show is six episodes in and gaining momentum, it's easier to string together coherent thoughts.
It's strange how much I'm taken by this show, especially since I’m not one for vampire stories. I’ve never seen Twilight or True Blood or read any vampire books. Heck, I've only seen season one of Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. But I decided to give The Vampire Diaries a try. Was it because of the pairing with Supernatural? Yes, that had a lot to do with it. So did interviewing the cast and producers at ComicCon. There was a lot of commitment shown to delivering an entertaining show so that was worth a few weeks of viewing. Now, I'm thrilled I've stuck with it and I'm eager for more.
I actually admire how the writers have taken a slower pace in getting things like character and premise established. Instead of coming on like gangbusters and overwhelming us with too much detail, we've gotten a chance to know and become familiar with everyone’s drama. That's not an easy approach to sell, especially in today's world of short attention span theatre, but not only has the slow build done the characters justice, it's allowed the darker tone to take control and constantly leave viewers in a state of suspense.
That darkness is easily what separates The Vampire Diaries from its CW teen show counterparts. These are teenagers with tortured souls and fractured psyches that are hardly living the glamorous life. Each has an ominous side as does the town in which they reside, Mystic Falls, Virginia. The strength of the show comes from the three lead characters: Stefan (Paul Wesley), Elena (Nina Dobrev), and Damon (Ian Somerhandler). These are deeply layered characters with great on screen chemistry from the word go. Sure, the main crux is the instant attraction between Stefan and Elena and their suffering romance, but the real scene stealer is evil brother Damon.
Damon is the ultimate antagonist; scheming, manipulative, dangerous, deadly, and yet smart enough to cover his tracks. His biggest appeal is leaving the audience guessing as to his true motives each week and if he really is pure evil. Plus he’s just so damned fun to watch. Just when I think there is no hope for him, small hints here and there surface that he may just be redeemable, especially with Elena. I actually find myself rooting for him at times, like when he's locked in the basement in a room full of Vervain and left to rot into an undead state by Stefan.
The brotherly strife and the triangle between Stefan, Damon, and Elena are the primary drivers of this gradually building plot. Since the Salavatore brothers have been around since the mid 1800's, there's plenty of bad history there. The primary catalyst is over a woman 145 years ago named Katherine, who looks identical to Elena. The sixth episode starts what will likely be a series of flashbacks involving Katherine and the once close Salvatore brothers. There's still plenty of story to tell and it might even explain why the brothers have returned to this town after all these years. I'm speculating though, which I'm sure is a good thing for a new show.
The brotherly scenes of conflict are the big highlights of the first few episodes. Their scene on the roof in the second episode stands out the most, as the fight is over control of not only Vicky, but each other. Damon wants Stefan to accept who he is, something un-human. Stefan would rather be discovered and killed than give into Damon and drink human blood. This moment defines their tussle and it surely doesn't end there. Their little humanity fight lead to plenty of trouble like the death of the high school football coach, but he kind of had that coming.
As for Elena, her grieving yet headstrong character is a pleasant surprise. She handles herself very well in the midst of the brotherly conflict. She's smart enough to notice the clues that things are amiss not only with her friends, but with her new boyfriend as well. Her confrontation with Stefan and figuring out the truth is the major highlight of the show thus far. Her pledge to keep Stefan's secret and becoming involved in Vicky's "change" can only get messier for her in episodes to come. I for one am intrigued to see how her determined character will handle such tests. That and how she and Stefan will grow closer together especially since she knows he’s a vampire now. Because you know that's going to happen.
The supporting characters and the time devoted to them has been the weak link of the show, but even that improves somewhat in the later episodes. Bonnie’s witchcraft lineage and surfacing abilities leave open some great possibilities. Caroline’s unfolding trauma over being controlled and fed on by Damon brings her character from faceless to sympathetic by the fourth episode. As for Vicky, I didn’t care for her character at all until episode six. Once she is turned into a vampire by Damon, all those pathetic self esteem issues finally make sense. These vampires prey on the weak. The characters I still don’t care for are Elena's brother Jeremy and his issues with drugs and Vicky, bland Matt and his torch for Elena, Tyler and his desire for pathetic Vicky, and Aunt Jenna with her growing up issues. Hopefully their parts will strengthen as the plot unfolds.
Beyond the characters, there's also the sordid history with Mystic Falls and several prominent townspeople that know about it. The town mystery that slowly builds in the first four episodes comes together with the Founders Ball. These citizens are ready to fight for their town and know ways to best the Vampires, leading to another twist that can only escalate down the line, especially considering the fact that Damon ends up killing one of them.
On top of everything else, the music featured on this show is fantastic. It compliments the somber mood well and each song choice vastly strengthens the emotional intensity of the scene in which it is used. I do wonder though if this show will take the path like Smallville and Supernatural and end up ditching the music for budgetary reasons once the series and feel is established. Let's hope they've at least secured the rights for the DVD release.
Despite the paranormal/fantasy theme and growing plots, there's no doubt that The Vampire Diaries is a character driven story. These are characters I find myself caring about more and more each week and that's a pretty good first step for any show aiming to be a long term success.
The Vampire Diaries is back with an all new episode Thursday at 8pm on The CW and will be taking over the Wednesday 9pm rerun slot this week.