An Important Note
This review was published during the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes of 2023. The work being reviewed would not be possible without the labor of writers and actors. We support the writers and unions that protect the creatives of our favorite projects. We stand in solidarity with them.
Intro and Disclaimer
The Vampire Dairies is something that had me in a chokehold for years. It has also long been the thorn in my side. It had interesting lore and characters. There was cheesy romance, hot people making out, and lots of violence and gore, for network tv. I genuinely had some good times with it. However, I also found myself rolling my eyes, scratching my head, and screaming in frustration more than once.
I have mixed feelings about this show, but mostly negative. The mistreatment of Black and queer characters was offensive. The worst ships and most annoying characters overstayed their welcome. They diminished characters that could’ve been great.
This article is about everything I found wrong with this series the most. There are more problems with this series technically and creatively than I could possibly list. The article would never end.
The most important thing is to know who to blame. A show with some of the worst problems, and one of the most toxic fandoms ever to exist. Julie Plec.
Racism in Mystic Falls
Let’s begin with one of the biggest issues of all. Julie Plec and company changed the origins of Stefan and Damon Salvatore from the Italian Renaissance to… the Civil War… Guisseppe Salvatore, their father, for some reason, was all about the Confederacy and Damon enlisted to please him. Yikes. Later seasons would retcon Damon as a Confederate loafer and deserter. Yet Stefan would later cite Damon’s involvement as a positive because it “pleased their father”.
Julie… are you okay???
Tyler Lockwood (pictured above in Confederate garb) is probably the wealthiest person in town and his mother, Carol, talks about their lovely antebellum structure and the parties they would have. Tyler mentioned cells below, with chains, and Carol says “We don’t talk about those rooms”. Mind you, these chains were for the Lockwoods being werewolves. But this is also an antebellum house, in the racist South… so it can definitely be inferred that the cells and chains served more than one purpose. Not to mention the implications either way. Carol also claimed, “People don’t like to reminisce about the slave days”. Which people, Carol? Because I highly doubt you, your family, or your peers happily taking part in antebellum-styled social events, dresses, and curls take issue with that.
The horrendous mistreatment of Bonnie Bennett could easily fill a book. Bonnie, who was a white redhead in the books, became a Black girl in the show and the most powerful person in the main cast. And what did Bonnie do with all that power most of the time? Serve, rescue, and help her white friends out of jams. Very rarely were Bonnie’s motivations or goals explored. She had to be there to help the writers out of corners they wrote themselves into and to prop up her friends. Bonnie got the weakest of romantic options, which I will get into later because that is important in this show. Plus the wigs they forced poor Kat to wear were often horrendous.
Bonnie’s powers were impressive but often inconsistent. Her own powers knocked her out. There were weird rules and consequences to using her magic that didn’t seem to affect other witches. She rarely got to take out any enemies at all even on a casual basis, despite her many powers. Elena. Elena of all people, got more action and took out more enemies. Caroline too saw a lot of action sequences. Bonnie mainly got to do big rituals for narrative purposes. They were not to really make her look badass. It’s like every white person got to flex and be cool. But Bonnie was just a tool, used and ignored.
Plus they took away her powers, often for seasons at a time! She died and became the ‘anchor’, so she wasn’t a witch anymore and had no magic powers. Then she had to give up her powers later on and didn’t get them back until Enzo died. With telekinesis and pyrokinesis, among other things, Bonnie should have been taking out vampires and other enemies left and right, but Plec just couldn’t let Bonnie be as cool as any other character, especially the white ones. Rebekah, Katherine, Damon, Stefan, Klaus, Elijah, Caroline, and even Elena and Jeremy had to outshine her in action sequences.
The Vampire Dairies mostly developed or elevated characters through their romantic relationships. Yes, the show was also heavily about supernatural lore, the history of the town and characters, and the actions and motivations of the characters themselves. But as a teen drama, the relationships were very much at the forefront, or at the very least everpresent alongside the other elements.
Delena and Stelena
The most popular ship seems to be Delena: Elena and Damon. It was the classic “good girl and bad boy” as well as the human girl/supernatural boy pairing. But it was terrible and obnoxious. It did not make sense with who these two characters were. Elena wanted normalcy and agency. Damon loved being a vampire and wanted to take control and had no problem taking Elena’s choices away when it suited him. While Stefan was boring, he cared about Elena and respected her choices. He too also wanted to be normal again and didn’t like being a vampire. He and Elena were the most compatible.
Meanwhile, Bonnie and Damon were also a ship from the books the show was based on, but Plec and company saw fit to avoid them getting together at all costs. Despite Damon having been a Confederate as well as a (mostly formerly) sadistic vampire, Damon would have been a great asset to Bonnie’s character. He was the most popular character in the show, and anyone paired with him got screen time and development. This would have elevated her. Most Bamon fans didn’t want it to happen because they thought Damon was worthy of Bonnie or deserved her, it was about what the ship would have done for her character.
And if there had been Black writers worth a damn in charge, Bonnie and Damon could have unpacked how and why his involvement in the Confederacy was fucked up and what that meant for people like her and her ancestors he knew (namely Emily). Despite all of that, Damon and Bonnie still managed to be more viable for a romantic relationship anyway because their friendship took seasons to develop. One-sided fear, to enemies, to grudging respect, to genuine concern, to deep friendship. When Elena was basically dead, Bonnie and Damon had the perfect opportunity to get together. But the writers felt that the most popular character should mope and cry for two more seasons than be sexy and eligible again.
Klaus and Caroline were also popular but their ship, like Delena for Damon, make Klaus a softie for a teenager rather than the badass he should have been. Matt and Caroline were sweet, but it was puppy love and not meant to last.
They handed Jeremy to Bonnie like an afterthought. She was his third choice after Vicky and Anna. He also cheated on Bonnie with Anna’s ghost. They gave her Luka, which didn’t even really happen and then quickly he died. Her sorta-stepbrother Jamie disappeared from the show and was never mentioned again. Bonnie wasn’t even Enzo’s first choice! He was sweating Caroline, but the fans didn’t like it so they killed that. Then he wanted Stefan and Damon’s mom but they killed her. And then time skip and… and he and Bonnie are soulmates??? Zero development, zero buildup. They’re “in love”. And she didn’t even get that because Enzo also dies. Worst of all, he becomes a ghost and he’s invisible to her… despite the fact that she’s both a psychic and a witch and has been able to see ghosts the entire series…
Disposable Black Characters (Mostly Witches)
Literally, all of these characters (except for Jamie who just disappeared from the show) all died. Some of them died in the same episode they appeared. Gloria and Bree were witches who were antagonists for only an episode, so it makes sense. The main insult is that powerful witch Gloria couldn’t tell “Elena” was Katherine and a vampire. I know witches aren’t inherently psychic… but couldn’t she sense the power or evil of Katherine..? As for Bree, she didn’t even use her powers at all before Damon violently killed her and she went out pleading… what a waste of Gina Torres! Emily died offscreen, but she was basically Katherine’s slave… even if the wiki wanted to say “handmaiden”. Sure, Jan.
Lucy promised to come back and see Bonnie… back in season two. She isn’t mentioned again until season 7 where it’s revealed she died and then her ghost is shown helping Bonnie in the series finale… yay. Rudy Hopkins, Bonnie’s dad is the only Black character besides Bonnie with any real import because he got to be mayor for a while… until he was violently murdered in front of the entire town who was mind controlled not to react or do anything… Plec sure loves killing Black people in fucked up ways! Just like the entire Martin family in season two. All dead. All forgotten.
And then there’s More…
There are more dead Black witches and characters than I showed here. Many of the witches were just slaughtered by (mostly white) vampires, despite having powers literally designed to kill them. Even Gloria could have stopped playing around with her enemies and actually set their asses on fire or telekinetically threw stakes in their chests, but no… death for her instead. I guess in a show where everyone dies, it doesn’t matter when you kill off marginalized people..? Speaking of marginalized…
All Four LGBTQ Characters of Note… All Dead
Bill Forbes, Caroline’s dad, was originally mentioned as a throwaway line/dig from Caroline to her mother “If I want advice about guys, I’ll call dad. At least he’s successfully dating one”. Ooh, burn! Caroline’s mom lost her man to another man! How hilarious!!! It gets… so much worse when we meet him. Bill’s storyline is a gay conversion storyline in which he, a gay human, is figuratively straight and homophobic wants to “cure” his daughter, a straight vampire, into being human again… via torture. Shocker, it doesn’t work.
Later Bill dies because he is in the process of becoming a vampire (against his will) and refuses to complete the transition, opting to die instead. It’s like the only way to survive is to be “gay” one time, but he’s like “No!!!!” and he dies. His boyfriend is mentioned but never appears and when Bill is about to die, Caroline asks if she wants her to call him so they can talk, and he says no… because they haven’t spoken in a while… Amazing gay representation.
Luke, like his twin sister and other family members, was a powerful witch. He was also gay, which we knew because he announces to his sister “I’m gay, and your brother”. She was about to get dressed and he was just in her room and was annoyed, and that line was his rebuttal. As if you being gay and someone’s brother means it’s not still creepy or a violation of privacy to just be in people’s spaces unannounced where they could get or be naked.
I’m gay and my sister’s brother, but I do not want to see her in any state of undress and would be deeply uncomfortable if she just changed in front of me. Luke also mentions an ex as well as a hot radiologist we never see. In college, he was never shown kissing or interacting with any guys in any romantic or sexual way, while Elena and Damon smashed every episode.
Nora and Mary Louise
These two lesbian heretics (siphoner witches, aka witches who have to absorb magic in order to use it, as well as vampires, the combination meaning they absorb the magic in their own vampire blood in order to use magic all the time while also having vampire powers) were cute, but they were in one of the worst seasons. In general, villains worked best when they were independent (with the Original Family of vampires being the only exception, but they were also fleshed out individually). But groups of villains never worked well, namely the Travelers and the Heretics. Unlike the other gay characters of import, Nora and Mary Louise did show physical affection and kisses, and they were in love onscreen together.
But they also died together not long after reuniting after a falling out. Bury Your Gays on top of all your racist tropes and bad ships… oh Julie, you’re like the gift that keeps on taking.
Katherine, Stefan, and the Series Finale
Katherine Pierce was the character that really showcased Nina Dobrev’s range as an actress. She was badass, fun, and very powerful. More powerful than the vampires she made, Stefan and Damon. As I mentioned in my Iconic TV Villains article, I love seeing women vampires being stronger than the men they made who always seem to forget how vampire aging works and that they cannot defeat vampires older than them (strength-wise) let alone their own sires. But boy do they try anyway…
I couldn’t put any of the Vampire Diaries characters in my previous article because they either became woobies for love and thus less threatening or enjoyable (Damon and Klaus), they came in aspiring to go to the prom and dances despite being a thousand years old (Rebekah) or showed racist tendencies that were not taken seriously by the writers or fandom (Elijah, more on this in my article on The Originals coming up).
In Katherine’s case, while being enjoyable ninety-nine percent of the time, her ending sucked. No longer a vampire stronger than the vampires who weren’t the Originals, Katherine was just grabbed and manhandled without a fight, and burned. She was allegedly the “queen of hell” who got over on Cade (who was basically the devil) but she had no real powers to defend herself or raise hell (no pun intended).
Stefan too. Long brooding, long suffering from the guilt of his actions as a vampire, decided he needed to die for his brother and the woman he loved to be together. He forced-fed his brother the cure in his blood and held Katherine as they died together. Mind you this was right after he just married Caroline, his consolation prize because the woman he really loved decided she loved his brother instead. Stefan, a man who always wanted to be human, never wanted to be a vampire, loved Elena and wanted a normal life… sacrificed his life so that his brother, who loved being a vampire, could have a normal life with someone who wanted different things from him… glorious.
This show lives rent-free in my mind. It’s a part of me now. It’s not a welcome thing, as it has been a near-constant source of ire for me. It might be due to the years-long outrage I’ve had over it. Maybe it’s my love/protectiveness over Kat Graham and the character of Bonnie that had me watch the entire series at all. Either way, this series was very polarizing for me, and it did far more harm than good for Black and queer representation.
I will always have rants about this shit show, and I will always have hate in my heart for Julie Plec, Caroline Dries, and the other creatives involved that ignited one of the worst fandoms I ever experienced. The treatment of Bonnie and Kat Graham is also one of the first things that made me really see that the CW definitely has an antiblack problem.