Who Is the Best Human Love Interest—Sookie Stackhouse, Elena Gilbert, or Bella Swan?
In the midst of the later 2000s/early 20teens vampire craze, the three biggest vampire stories were Twilight, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries. Among all the discourse of which property was copying which other property (answer: none of them), there was always a lot of conversation about the human* love interests that were attached to the vampires. We had Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev) from The Vampire Diaries, Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) from True Blood and, of course, Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) from Twilight.
Now, it’s easy when talking about these female characters to dip your big toe into misogyny and sexism, which is not a good look and just hides larger, more important points about the way writers screw up writing these ladies. So we are going to take a look at these three women, their good qualities, their bad qualities and how they fit into the world of female love interests. I started writing this last year and I stopped because Halloween just kept coming and I hadn’t finished. I came back to this post because the older I get, the more I realize how these stories start out being about the woman, but often just put that character to the side. Especially when we are talking about straight couples.
(*Yes, I know all of these women end up not being human at the end of their series.)
Elena Gilbert from The Vampire Diaries
When we meet Elena Gilbert at the beginning of the series, she is still dealing with the death of her parents in a car crash, where she ended up surviving. She cut ties with her human ex (Matt Donovan) and finds herself being drawn to new student Stefan Salvatore who is revealed to be a vampire, and the rest is eight seasons and two spin-offs. Throughout the series, Elena is part of the Salvatore brothers drama both Stefan and Damon; part of it is the fact that she is a Petrova doppelgänger and descent of Katherine Pierce, the vampire who turned both brothers and has ties to a lot of the big bads, especially the Original vampires.
Best Qualities: Elena has always done her best to be a proactive heroine. Yes she gets kidnapped a lot, but so does Damon (he gets chained up at least once a season), and she always finds ways to get information during her capture. Even before she became a vampire she had a sort of cruelty to her when it came to protecting the people she loved. For me Elena was always sort of a stand out at the beginning, she had this really grey mortal center, but it was understandable considering who she was dating. Then … everything went bad.
Worst Qualities: The biggest mistake was making Elena a vampire because her being a vampire was a way to fast-track Delena and that will always be when the show really took a solid poop on the bed. It’s not that I think Damon isn’t a viable love interest or that I think Elena couldn’t have been attracted to him. It was that the moment that Damon and Elena became a thing it was as if she’d just forgotten that Damon had been terrible. Damon killed her brother. Damon raped her best friend. And there were no consequences for that behavior when it came to Elena.
Beyond the Damon issues, Elena is a hypocrite and has that indecisiveness and self-centeredness comes from being a protagonist in a genre show: “It’s because of me, everything is because of ME!” Which yeah girl to a degree because you are a doppelgänger, but there is also plenty of supernatural baggage in the town that you could avoid if you just got the hell out of there. The issue with the first two more than anything else is that Elena is set up to be this really moral person with strong ideals, values, and beliefs and always believes in doing the right thing … which completely fly out the window whenever she is with Damon. However, that doesn’t compare to her destroying an entire line of vampires to save her brother, Jeremy, who is the worst.
Love Triangle: Of the three love triangles, I would say that Elena’s is the worst and among the most problematic. Let’s start off with the fact that Stefan and Damon are brothers. Not to mention as bad as Stefan has been as a murdering vampire, Damon raped Elena’s best friend and killed her brother (he got better). With Stefan, there is at least this separation of personal harm, where Damon from the beginning is a terror.
While Damon and Elena have “chemistry” for as long as Elena was human she was drawn to Stefan. She loved him, was drawn to him and wanted to keep him safe and structured in his humanity. Then she became a vampire and everything got weird. First, there is the sire bond to Damon, which made her do whatever Damon told her to do, even if it was something that Elena wouldn’t like or agree with. Slowly she begins to fall in love with Damon and it all comes as Elena loses her humanity and goes through her “bad girl” stage. Its just really generic. Part of Elena’s character is that she suffered huge trauma and wanted to be a better person.
Token Black Friend: Bonnie
Final Thoughts: Do I think Elena is the worst? Yes, but it’s because she highlights everything that is wrong with these love triangles involving one female character who is set up to be this moral, virtuous person and then slowly falls for the “bad boy”—it makes everything about them and not about her. Caroline is a romantic foil but is strong outside of her relationships, Bonnie is as well, and hell, Katherine is deeply in love with Stefan but still manages to be cool on her own. In the Vampire Diaries books (which yeah, I read them) Elena was an ice-queen mean girl and her softening in the series was a choice that I felt drained her a lot of some personal character development not tied to just the Salvatore brothers.
Sookie Stackhouse from True Blood
A telepathic waitress who has spent her life being seen as a freak because of her ‘disability’ (her words not mine). She attempts to rescue the vampire Bill after he is attacked by two human blood drug addicts. They beat her up and she ends up being saved by Bill and their relationship begins. Throughout the series, Sookie, due to her telepathic abilities and gumption, gets brought into a lot of vampire politics and is “vampire bait” to pretty much every character with fangs.
Best Qualities: Sookie is a person. That sounds like small praise, but Sookie is the main character and, unlike Elena leaving for a few seasons of The Vampire Diaries, it doesn’t feel like the story would exist without Sookie. The charm of bisexual queen Anna Paquin really elevates the performance and the character. Also, Sookie is not a passive player in her story, she feels like a hero. She saves the day, she protects people, she is the heart of the show. Plus, the fact the series ends with her, not with any of the main love interests, and leading her own life proves that True Blood is about her, not Eric or Bill. Also, she shot a werewolf with a shotgun. Twice.
Worst Qualities: I think of the three I have the most empathy for Sookie of all the “normal” heroines. Yet, ugh these shows really do not know how to produce heroines that can think beyond two steps forward. Must be a protagonist thing. Unlike with Elena, her relationship transition from Bill to Eric makes more sense and while it’s not my OTP (Sookie/nameless dude) it works fine. Still, the same issue happens where all of a sudden Sookie goes from being the person who slapped Eric to the one making excuses for Eric. It just bugs me. She honestly doesn’t seem to understand or have empathy for the human struggles that are caused by her vampire/supernatural boyfriends especially with it comes to her “best-friend” Tara. Her blinders when it comes to that are her absolute worst quality. Elena is pretty bad, but Sookie edges out slightly.
Love Triangle: Honestly, Sookie’s love triangle is one of the saddest of them all because it is filled with so much manipulation on the parts of both Eric and Bill. Due to getting and drinking Bill’s blood, she formed an attachment to him, which we find out was part of Bill’s plan to get Sookie for his queen. Then Eric is constantly putting her in sexually manipulative situations. For Sookie, someone who remained a virgin because she was unable to really get close to people due to her telepathy, to have both the men she cared for being such shitburgers sucked. Plus you had Sam’s slut-shaming comments about her all the time, and then Alcide was never taken seriously as a love interest, which is sad because he’s so big.
Token Black Friend: Tara
Final Thoughts: I’d forgotten how much I loved Sookie. She’s just a fun character and honestly what happens when you allow the female lead to, well, lead a show. The relationships that Sookie is in are as much for her own emotional development as everyone else. As someone who spent her years being somewhat sheltered, insular and babied, she ends up becoming this really epic hero. Yes, she suffers from silly protagonist syndrome, but Sookie has teeth, as much as any vampire. I don’t think the show always did right by her, but they always knew how to center her.
Isabella “Bella” Swan (Cullen) from Twilight
When Bella Swan movies from Phoniex, Arizona to Forks, Washington, she hates it. People are boring, dad is boring, but there are pasty hot people at school and one of them is named Edward Cullen and he is down to clown, once he gets over sending her mixed messages. Also a vampire. They date, it’s complicated ’cause other vampires, but in the end, they get married and have a demon child named Renesmee. Goals?
Best Qualities: Hmmm. When she attacked Jacob for nicknaming Renesmee “Nessie” after the Loch Ness monster. Relatable.
Worst Qualities: Before any of vampire stuff begins, one of the most irritating parts about Bella was how she arrived at Forks and just complained about everyone being backward and that was just really exhausting. She just isn’t a nice person, a good friend, or an interesting voice to tell this story. Which is a shame because there was obviously something about her that connected with a whole sea of teenage girls—not to mention older readers and movie viewers—but it is more her accessibility than her personality.
Love Triangle: Honestly, it is unfair to consider there to be a real love triangle in the Twilight series because Bella is all in when it comes to Edward, and Jacob is really just very aggressive and thirsty towards her the entire time. Neither choice is “good” but frankly, Edward at the very least was the one she wanted. Jacob was constantly invading her personal space despite knowing that she wasn’t interested, and rubbed in Edward’s face for the lols, which has some very gross connotations considering the racial element.
Token Black (Brown) Friend: j/k she doesn’t have friends, but technically Jacob.
Final Thoughts: As the revisiting of Twilight has happened, it’s been important to separate the legitimate criticisms of the series from the nonsense. Yes, Bella is a true self-insert character and is poorly written. Yet I do have a better understanding now then I did as a teenager of why Edward was popular. As someone who actual dates now, there is something really attractive about the idea of a soul mate, someone who is yours and drawn to you more than anyone else in the world. Problem is that Edward is an emotionally manipulative douchebag. Bella is not a good character, but if I did have to say something nice about her it would be that she is written to have sexual and romantic desires of her own and goes after them. If any character got the endgame that they wanted, it was Bella Swan.
The title of this post says “which is the best” but that isn’t really the point of why I wrote this. I wrote it because these three characters all represent something that I found really frustrating as a teenager/young woman: the female leads can be swallowed up by a love story. Especially a love triangle.
It feels like none of these women would have had stories without their love interest and that bothers me. I know that heroes have the call to action and even Aang was awakened by Katara in Avatar: The Last Airbender, but there is a story about why Aang is asleep. There is nothing wrong with romance or with love triangles, but a lot of the time when it’s a (straight) love triangle with a female protagonist in the middle, it ends up swallowing them up.
This is unfortunate, because at least with Elena and Sookie, there was already something special about them when the story begins, but it can’t be tapped into without the men in their stories. And that sucks.
Who is your favorite of the vampire love interest squad?
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