TV & Movies

7 Thoughts I Had After Rewatching ‘The Vampire Diaries’ (and Having an Existential Crisis)

written by MICHELLE LEMA
Source: Warner Bros. Television
Source: Warner Bros. Television

Though it ended not too long ago, The Vampire Diaries is a show I’ve been wanting to get back into, and rewatching it took me on a delightful and introspective ride I did not see coming. The show premiered in 2009 and ended in 2017, traversing nearly a decade. While the series begins with an almost Twilight-esque vibe, it soon leads the characters down a darker path, in which each new season moves away from being a predictable teen romance and toward more existential topics like mortality, what it means to be alive, and the difference between good and evil. The book series The Vampire Diaries was published before the Twilight books came out, and while each of these live-action versions premiered around the same time, have much of the same lore, and include a tangled love triangle, the comparison ends there. The Vampire Diaries still hits and hits hard but in a way different way than it did the first time I watched it. Here’s why:


1. There is so much going on in this show

It is wild how much has happened to these characters over the years. I remembered most of the main plot points but had forgotten so many details. Rewatching was kind of like watching for the first time because frankly all of the twists and turns (like how many times each main character dies and comes back again) are nearly impossible to keep track of. To try to describe the twists and turns of the plot out loud to another human who has not watched the show would probably concern that other human deeply. And yet, it all makes sense to me.

If you watch all the seasons in a row, you will notice a symmetry in the writing, various callbacks that connect the dots, and a beautiful arc from the pilot to the very final episode. While the early episodes rely on lots of horror movie jump scares, these tactics fall away as the seasons go on, in favor of more detailed plots and absurd world-ending stakes. That is to say, they are perhaps absurd to the outsider, yet perfectly believable to a resident of Mystic Falls, and this particular fan.




2. The pilot and the love triangle hold up

The pilot is so good, even now. Normally, I tire of love triangles, and yearn for them to be a thing of the past, but not this one. It held my attention once again. The Vampire Diaries premiered during a different time before streaming was really a thing. When a pilot came out, it had to hook audiences immediately for the show to survive 24 episodes per season on a network, let alone over eight seasons.

In the first episode, we learn Elena, played by Nina Dobrev, and her little brother Jeremy, played by Steven R. McQueen, have just lost their parents in a car accident. Enter the Salvatore brothers, Damon, played by Ian Somerhalder, and Stefan, played by Paul Wesley. Stefan is the “good guy” and Damon is the “bad boy” (but wow do we explore these tropes over the seasons). They are all incredibly attractive, as leads of early 2000s TV shows are required to be. We find out Elena looks exactly like Damon and Stefan’s ex, Katherine, whom they met in 1864. It’s a love triangle for the ages with a great cast, and I was fully invested once again.


3. The supporting characters keep it all together

Bonnie, played by Kat Graham, is the real hero of Mystic Falls. In the first season, she discovers that she’s a talented witch, and throughout the series is constantly saving her friends with her magic, often standing alone in her powers. While the vampires can all run fast, exhibit super strength, and heal quickly, Bonnie quite literally gets them out of hell and back with her powers. Then there’s Caroline, played by Candice King, who is at first glance a stereotypical high school mean girl but ends up revealing herself to be one of the most caring and pivotal characters of all. There’s also Matt, played by Zach Roerig, the quarterback with a heart of gold, who manages to hold it together while everyone around him is being turned into a vampire. And let’s not forget Tyler, played by Michael Trevino, who behaves heinously in the first few episodes, but then redeems himself and becomes a trusted member of the friend group over the years. They are the glue that holds the show together, and they manage to have just as epic and redemptive story arcs as the main three characters. 




4. The rules of the world are mind-boggling yet make perfect sense

When you know what the Cure, Sire Bonds, Hellfire, Hybrids, the Everlasting, and the Veil are without having to look it up, you know you’ve fully traveled into the world of The Vampire Diaries and may have become a vampire yourself. Or a werewolf. Or a hybrid werewolf vampire. Or a witch. You get the point. Over eight seasons, there is a lot of world-building and world-changing. And sometimes, one spell transforms the rules that we knew to be true as an audience.

So, what I would not recommend is skipping an episode when rewatching. You will be confused, you will wonder why that person is alive again, why that person has turned evil or into stone, or what the White Oak Stake is. Despite all this chaos, the series somehow does an impeccable job of making it all work. Having 20-plus episode seasons allows for even the most WTF storylines to start making complete sense. Or maybe I’m just too deep in it at this point.


5. There’s no such thing as villains and heroes, but there is a humanity switch

There are so many characters filling the role of villain or hero or both. This is a central theme of the show, and we see characters like Stefan, who begins as the “good guy” and struggles to maintain this while grappling with his dark past, and Damon, who begins as the “very bad guy” and slowly starts to turn his humanity back on. The humanity switch concept takes some existential thought spiraling to understand.

When characters in the show who are vampires suffer a loss, or some other type of extreme misfortune, they often consider flipping their switch. If they do switch it off, they generally become evil, care less about others, and tend to wreak havoc wherever they are. When the switch is flipped back on, they can experience human emotions again. The humanity switch is not a real thing in our world, but it is a strong metaphor for how we react in times of grief or sadness. Do we feel the feelings, or do we shut them out? And when we do either of these things, how do we treat other people? The show makes a strong case that heroes and villains and good and evil are just concepts, and there is a switch to access both within all of us.




6. The exploration of life and death is deep AF

Much like a soap opera, but with fantastical elements, everyone dies all the time in this show. And because sometimes characters come back through magic, you never know if they will live again, but there’s always hope. One of the only characters that does not die supernaturally is Caroline’s mother Liz, who was the Sheriff of the town over many seasons. She’s diagnosed with cancer and dies in season 6, in a hospital surrounded by her daughter and friends. She doesn’t die in the woods after being staked, or while trying to save the town from an immortal evil, or any of the other mystical things she fought to protect the town from. She dies a normal human death, and for this reason, it’s a point in the series to take note of. She’s one of the few main characters, aside from Matt, that remains human, and to see a human death amid the fantasy elements is jarring.

A few months after that episode aired, I experienced the death of my own mother, after an abrupt cancer diagnosis. It’s a heartbreaking thought, but the biggest feeling I had when rewatching the many scenes, like the one with Liz, in which a loved one dies, was jealousy. Jealousy, because in the world of The Vampire Diaries, that person might be able to come back. Or at the very least, they will show up as a ghost, and talk to you through another character, or stand in the same room as you. While the world of vampires is clearly fantasy, the world of life and death that’s created for the characters feels like the biggest fantasy of all. But one that felt oddly comforting in the wake of my own grief.


7. They are all feeling epic

Did I weep uncontrollably at the end of the final episode of the final season? Yes. Yes, I did. I was in shock at how much it moved me. When I first watched the last episode back in 2017, I do remember lightly, respectfully crying at the end. But this time around, it was a heaving, dramatic cry that built upon itself until it seemed like everything I had ever felt came out of my face, and it was very cathartic, if not a little creepy.

I don’t know what it says about me that a show called The Vampire Diaries broke through my guarded little heart, but this is what I loved most about rewatching it. They got me, and I respect any show that can last for that long and remain relevant. In one of the episodes in the first season, Stefan asks his oldest friend and fellow vampire, Lexi, why she helped him with Elena. She replies, “I was feeling epic.” This word, epic, is called back to many times throughout the series, and Stefan repeats the line in the final episode. The Vampire Diaries, through all its delightfully unhinged plot turns, constantly evolving good and evil characters, and endless switches and veils, knew exactly and unapologetically what it was as a series, and remains epic.