Most fans of the show will tell you that for the first three seasons, The Vampire Diaries was one of the best dramas on television.
It had great twists, solid acting and a lot of excellent chemistry between the core group. Outside of my own person shipping and character preferences, it was a solid show, especially season two.
Then everything changed when The Original vampires, Klaus, Elijah, Rebekah Mikaelson and others all came together to be really entertaining and take up too much screentime. The general fun and excitement waned, and the cracks in the system and areas where the show really lacked became much more noticeable.
As I was working on another piece about the big three female human love interests of the vampire craze that defined my youth, I was reminded that CW’s TVD/The Originals spin-off Legacies is going to be coming out soon (namely, the first episode is on October 25th).
The first season of The Vampire Diaries came out in 2009, and while it ended in 2017, its mythology was continued by The Originals, which ended after five seasons this year. Now with Legacies coming out this franchises has had two spin-offs (three if you include the canceled Secret Circle).
So I started thinking: what is the legacy of that show for those of us who started watching it? And the answer for me was the writing for their female characters and (few) people of color.
When it comes to the female vampires, especially Caroline, Rebekah, Katherine, and eventually Elena, they are constantly and endlessly defined by their romantic relationships. Rebekah is always talking about how she needs to be loved and how she can’t have a family, children, and grow old. Which might be interesting if she had any other dreams, but all she does it make excuses for her brothers, attempt to stop them from doing irritating things, and pouts about love angst.
Female characters like Rebekah, Katherine, Hayley (who is a hybrid) and others who start out as superpowerful are always eventually powered down for the sake of the male heroes. Except for Bonnie, because she a plot device magical negro and therefore doesn’t need love.
The Originals goes through an endless rotation of female love interests who are abused, killed off, and whenever they attempt to call out Klaus or Elijah’s emotional abuse, it’s handwaved. Cami is compelled to become Klaus’ therapist and then after she dies (after being turned by Klaus’ ex), she comes back as part of Klaus’ self-conscious. Powerful witches like Davina Clair and Freya Mikaelson just end up as plot devices, expendable plot devices for other people in their lives.
But now we dip our toe into the other water: race.
Bonnie Bennett and Marcel Gerard on their respective shows have suffered a lot from being the token black characters on the show. Bonnie gets no love except from the most basic of boys: Jeremy Gilbert and eventually Enzo, a relationship that takes place during a flashback that we did not see (and that I didn’t care about). She can go for episodes without appearing and then pop up into the narrative to provide help for her friends before vanishing right back into the plot box.
There are people who will say that “every character on the show suffers” and therefore Bonnie’s emotional pain isn’t different. The difference is that while every other character gets quality screentime, and compelling love stories, Bonnie doesn’t get that. In a CW show who you date is part of your character’s value (as those lady vampires above perpetually harked on), and I can think of no sadder fate than having your value tied to Jeremy Gilbert.
While Marcel isn’t as tokenized as Bonnie by the end of The Originals, what is disturbing about his character on the show is how little understanding the show has for Marcel’s identity as a former slave adopted into a white family that constantly tells him that he will never be good enough.
Every time Marvel shows power, he is cut down and compared to his adoptive father, Klaus, yet we are always supposed to have sympathy for Klaus’ condition because
he has beautiful eyes he was abused by his own father. Then there is Keelin, a black werewolf who is kidnapped, held captive and tortured by Freya Mikaelson. They end up falling in love with each other and getting married.
Vincent Griffith, a black witch, starts off as a vessel for the white ghost of Finn Mikaelson. He is eventually freed and spends the remainder of the season trying to be a voice of reason and mediation. I say trying because he is also broken down and forced to compromise and accept that the Mikaelsons should be in power in some way … because. I mean he starts off as an enemy of Freya Mikaelson and then ends up being the surrogate so that she and Keelin can have a baby.
It. Is. A. Mess.
And it is a mess that black fans have been talking about for what would be almost a decade now, but the writers don’t listen, don’t think and continue to act as though we as viewers aren’t noticing these things.
Overall, The Vampire Diaries fails upon long-term rewatch because it spends too much time using lust and chemistry to prop up characters whose character development is motivated by their romantic partner at the time. Watching Caroline have to go through all of these moral and mental gymnastics because of her attraction to Klaus is irritating for the same reason it is with Elena: it’s the fact that the show doesn’t seem to know how these characters would function if they aren’t helping or taking care of a dude in some way. And for characters of color they are either: food, props, or character devices who are called a friend, a son, a brother, a best friend, but easily cast aside.
So now that Legacies is going to continue I hope it will carry on the good aspects of the series: solid acting, fun mythology, and the cute actors, while avoiding the sexist and racist tropes that have been a known problem with this franchise from the beginning. We shall see when Legacies airs tomorrow on The CW.
(image: The CW)
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