The Vampire Diaries employs many twists and turns of plots in its depiction of the supernatural roller-coaster that is the life of Elena Gilbert (Nina Dobrev). And it needs these twists to keep the story going through now, its third season. If Elena and her vampire boyfriend Stefan (Paul Wesley) vanquished all the bad guys, found a non-Elena true love for Stefan’s brother Damon (Ian Somerhalder), and lived happily ever after, the show would be over. Many series deal with this dilemma with a shrug, paying no heed to continuity or character development in pursuit of ever more soap-operatic happenings to keep viewers engaged (paging Lost). The Vampire Diaries does something different though: it adheres to an unwavering ethical conviction in second chances that grounds its continuous switching of allegiances—romantic, familial, political, or all-of-the-above.
The motif of redemption characterizes the entire love triangle between Stefan, Damon, and Elena. When the series begins, she’s looking for a new life after the death of her parents, Stefan’s looking to fix the mistakes of his past by loving Elena, and Damon comes to strive for the same endeavor—albeit with seductively wiggling eyebrows and the added moral quandary of not hurting his relationship with his brother. This dynamic continues in seasons 2 and 3 when Stefan “turns off his humanity” and becomes a monstrous, murderous “ripper” who Elena and Damon, nevertheless, believe can be saved. Elena functions, in many ways, as the moral compass for both brothers and for the show as a whole. However, she’s no pure and wilting damsel, making mistakes of judgement herself that often require apologies or other attempts to fix what’s broken. In the end, no matter how despicable either Stefan or Damon is, was, or will be, all three of the central characters believe the offender can be redeemed.
We see a similar emphasis on second chances in the rest of the boys who round out the cast: Elena’s emo younger brother Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen); the high school quarterback Matt (Zach Roerig); the tortured vampire hunter/history teacher Alaric (Matthew Davis); and the town bully turned self-reflective werewolf Tyler (Michael Trevino). Tyler epitomizes the group’s belief in second chances perhaps best of all, transforming from a swaggering ass to a tortured werewolf to Caroline’s boyfriend to a hybrid werewolf-vampire unable to exert self-will against the orders of his “sire,” Klaus (Joseph Morgan). Through each of these transformations—emotional and supernatural—Tyler grows as a character and, therefore, rises in the audience’s connection to him. Continue reading