The Vampire Diaries has only been on hiatus for a few weeks, but we're already having withdrawal symptoms from the Mystic Falls crack pipe. No other show on television quite manages to pull off the miracles that TVD accomplishes regularly.
Sure, The Vampire Diaries force-feeds us melted cheese by the gallon, as if we were some rare breed of insatiable cheese-vampires. (Cheese-pires?)
But at the same time, TVD isn't just our crack because of all the eye-candy. It's our crack because there are some basic storytelling things that this show does better than any other that we've seen. It's not even close.
Sometimes, when watching other, non-TVD shows, we want to tie down their producers and force them to watch this show, just so they can see how Kevin Williamson, Julie Plec and their mob of psychotic geniuses do it. Here are 10 lessons we'd really love to see the rest of television learn from our vampire addiction.
Warning: Major spoilers for The Vampire Diaries, through the end of season two.
10) A love triangle doesn't have to be insipid.
This one sounds like a no-brainer — but sadly, it's not. When Vampire Diaries first came out, everybody dismissed it as Twilight: the TV Series. But something funny happened — the central love triangle, between Stefan, Damon and Elena, became a lot more interesting and spikier than your usual "girl torn between two shirtless boys" story. Like, Damon's love for Elena is kind of psychotic. Elena has been making huge strides towards seizing control over her own life away from both Salvatore brothers. And
Muppet Angel Stefan keeps managing to show more sides to his personality than just "lovable good guy" — and that's before the insane season-ending twist.
9) Sometimes when an ancient prophecy or curse sounds totally ridiculous... it is.
The Vampire Diaries earned a huge dose of "benefit of the doubt" for this one. We spent most of season two hearing about the totally ludicrous-sounding "Sun and Moon Curse," which bound vampires to the sun and werewolves to the Moon, and which could be broken by an elaborate sacrifice thingy. And we were prepared to swallow it, ridiculous ancient texts and all, because it's no more ridiculous than a million other plot devices we've taken on board over the years. But then the show whisked the ancient text out from under us, and the whole thing turned out to be a fake.
8) Our heroes can disagree — violently — and nobody ever has to be proved right.
Elena was at odds with one or both of the Salvatore brothers, over how to handle the ancient vampire Klaus, for most of the season. Who was right? It's still debatable. They were probably all wrong, to varying degrees. (The obvious solution to the Klaus dilemma, for what it's worth? Once you've stabbed Elijah with the ash dagger, decapitate Elijah and feed his head into a wood chipper, then bury the pieces in a million spots. After that, it's probably safe to reuse the dagger on Klaus.) Similarly, is Sheriff Forbes wrong about her daughter being a monster? Well, maybe — except that we've seen Caroline kill innocent people. I've seldom seen a show pose dilemmas, and then never tell us what the correct answer was, the way this show does.
7) Even when the audience has totally forgotten about a plot from 1000 plot twists ago, the show shouldn't
Seriously. If there was ever a show that could afford to get away with sweeping stuff under the rug, it would be Vampire Diaries — because so many storylines are brought up and then tossed aside in every episode, it feels like water under the bridge after a while. But that only meant it was surprising and gratifying when the show remembered about Matt's sister Vicki. Caroline spends several episodes working up the nerve to tell Matt that vampires are real, and she is one — and then Matt's only reaction is to realize his dead sister was telling the truth. And once you remember how horrible the whole Vicki saga, back in season one, was, then Matt's revulsion and anger makes total sense.
6) It's fun to watch people who do the wrong thing for the right reasons interact with people who do the right thing for the wrong reasons.
Some of season two's most thrilling moments involved the evil vamp Katharine talking to Damon. Or Elijah hanging out with Stefan. Almost nobody has pure motives on this show lately, and it's fun to see people on either side of the ruthlessly good/benevolently evil line interacting and seeing for themselves just how easy it is to cross over.
5) Just because people nobly sacrifice themselves doesn't mean it's going to do any good.
In fact, it seems to be a pattern — self-sacrifice never really accomplishes the goal you hope it will, on this show. It's like everybody tried to tell Augie Ben Doggie: "Don't be a martyr." Usually, when someone is prepared to sacrifice his/her life for someone else on television, it's not totally in vain. But the only self-sacrifice that I can think of that's actually panned out lately is Stefan becoming Klaus' wingman to save Damon — which actually does work. Although, tell that to the girl Stefan murders along the way.
4) An evil character who turns good doesn't have to become toothless.
It's usually a two-step process. A formerly badass villain gives up on evil, and shortly afterwards he/she (usually he) is turning cuddly and even a bit fluffy. Soft, like a towel fresh from the dryer with extra fabric-softener. But although the formerly evil Damon hasn't murdered anybody super recently, he's still a total dick, in all the best ways. He's still willing to turn Elena into a vampire against her will, and despite his remorse in the season finale, he's still basically totally self-centered and impulsive.
3) The supporting cast is there to be killed off.
What's the point of having a sprawling supporting cast, if they all survive? They just hang around, causing crowd scenes and cluttering things up. And having their supporting-casty feelings and things. If it wasn't for the fact that we just watched season one of Game of Thrones, I'd say that few shows are as willing as TVD to off people right and left. Even some of our favorite characters — poor Aunt Jenna! — are cannon fodder when the show needs to put an exclamation point on a sentence. (Although how the hell is Alaric still alive?) This show's body count, and its willingness to let people stay dead, is inspirational.
2) There is no trade-off between shocking plot twists, and character development.
I wish I could get this tattooed on people's foreheads. A good surprising twist is one that comes out of the development of the characters — like Stefan turning psycho in the season finale, or Matt's aforementioned reaction to learning the truth about Caroline. I feel like a lot of shows are willing to throw everything we know about a character out the window, in order to allow him/her to do something shocking during Sweeps or the season finale. But weird character lurches have almost no weight if we don't believe in them. The amazing thing about Vampire Diaries is the way it's managed to keep surprising us over and over, without feeling inconsistent. Which brings us to —
1) Pacing, Pacing, Pacing.
This is really the main thing that is gobsmacking about Vampire Diaries. I've lost count of how many times I've seen this show take an idea that could have sustained a suite of episodes, and play it out completely within half an episode. Without feeling rushed, at all. And really, that's what allows this show to get away with being so cheesy — it never drags out a particular situation past its expiration date. If anything, having a lightning-fast pace allows this show to put its characters into more impossible, torturous situations, because we don't get bogged down in them. It's an incredible high-wire act, that defies everything we think we know about television — and keeps up this pedal-to-the-metal pace for 22 episodes a year.
I feel like there's sort of an unspoken understanding on television: standalone episodes move fast, but arcs move slowly. An arc on television plays out over an entire season, with a handful of "turning point" episodes. Even shows that have no standalone episodes often seem to unspool their arcs at a fairly leisurely pace, with just one or two major events per episode.
The Vampire Diaries laughs at your slow promenade of plot development. Vampires may live forever, but on this show, their storylines are mayflies. And we're all the more distracted and obsessed, as a result.