Thursday, March 21, 2013

What The Vampire Diaries Is Doing Wrong [so far]

I have many guilty pleasures.  In fact, I don't even feel that guilty about most of them.  Glee, Taylor Swift, Project Runway, any Final Fantasy game, Dungeons and Dragons...the list goes on.  I'm a nerd, there's no getting around that, but I'm proud of it.

One of my most recent acquisitions in the guilty pleasure scene is the TV show The Vampire Diaries.  I began the show because I heard it had a thing or two in common with Buffy the Vampire Slayer (my favorite television show of all time), and I knew that it made fun of Twilight in like the first or second episode (how can I pass up something that makes fun of Twilight?).  What follows are some of my first impressions of the series--mainly what I think the show is doing wrong so far, but to keep up the appearance of fairness, I'll also include a few things I think are going well at the end.  Keep in mind:  (1) THERE ARE SPOILERS AHEAD, so don't get all bloodlusty in my general direction when you see them, and (2) I'm only on the first season, I think there are two episodes left before I completely finish season one, so what I comment on here may or may not get better or worse as the series progresses.

So, two major things I'd like to point out.

First:  How the series treats sex.  Particularly adolescent sex.  I don't like it.  And here comes the inevitable, if unfair, comparison with Buffy.  BtVS did this phenomenally.  The episodes "Surprise" and "Innocence" (Season 2, episodes 13 and 14) not only handled teenage sex in a realistic way (quite the feat for a vampire tv show), but set the tone for the rest of the series as a television show willing to handle tough, intense issues both head-on and through metaphor.  When Buffy and Angel make love, the first consequence we see is Angel going kind of psycho-crazy-man and giving Buffy the cruel shoulder--pretty typical of teenage boys, actually.  The second, and perhaps more important, is that Buffy is obviously changed by the experience (which was her "first time," incidentally).  There's a great scene that shows her sneaking into her house the morning after, and running into her mom.  The awkwardness and tension there is brilliantly done and seems so real, it's wonderful.  That was Buffy's first representation of adolescent sex.

Vampire Diaries, on the other hand, doesn't do that well with the subject.  In the episode "Turning Point" (Season 1, episode 10), Stefan and Elena do the dirty for the first time...

...and its no big deal.

Stefan and Elena supposedly love each other (something I had a hard time believing that early in the season), which I guess is something--at least it isn't casual adolescent sex, even if that might be more, er, "historically accurage"--but what gets me is that there are no consequences to this act.  They just carry on with their lives.  As you were, and all that.  That's what bothers me.

I'll be honest, I don't think it's the brightest idea for teens to be having sex; that's just not where my morals stand.  I'm not naive about it; it happens, and I acknowledge that, and I understand that some teens even choose to have sex in relatively safe, controlled circumstances.  But whether it's your significant other of twenty-two months, or the drunk person you hooked up with at the party last night whose name happens to slip your memory, there are going to be consequences.  To not address those consequences, in my opinion, is dishonest as far as storytelling goes, and misleading teen expectations--perpetuating the idea that people can have sex without consequences.

I just wanted to see those consequences in VD (which is how I'm hereafter referring to Vampire Diaries, even though I'm uncomfortably aware of its ironic double-entendre).  I wanted to see Elena change after such an intimate encounter.  It may have been for the better, it may have been for the worse, but as things played out, Elena and Stefan carry on with their relationship as if that were perfectly normal.  The opportunity was definitely there, but the show really just dropped the ball.

Whew.  Okay.  Here's the second one:  There's a scene in episode 17 of the first season ("Let the Right One In"--named after a phenomenal, and I mean phenomenal, book and movie by the same name) that bothers me.  In the scene, Elena is trying to get an incapacitated Stefan to safety while being chased by an angry, angry vampire.  Elena manages to trank the angry vamp--good for her!--but then, and here's what bothered me, instead of grabbing a nearby tree branch and just staking the vamp and getting it over with, she cries over Stefan, shaking him, begging him to get up to protect her.  And, when he doesn't, she still doesn't get the stake; she gives Stefan some of her blood so that he can man up and take care of the vamp himself.  Worst.  Scene.  Ever.

Now let me clarify something.  If this whole self-sacrificing thing had been in Elena's character, I would have been okay with it.  I still wouldn't have appreciated it very much, but I would have been able to tolerate it, at least.  But Elena is not that kind of girl.  She is tough.  We already saw her fend off a vampire with a pencil and a mop handle, for crying out loud ("Unpleasantville"), and just a few episodes later she demonstrates incredible bravery by standing up to an on-edge, blood-addicted Stefan ("Blood Brothers").  Elena is exactly the type of person who would have staked the angry angry vampire and called it a day.  But, for what I can only assume is the sake of plot, the writers seemed to have compromised her character in that scene.  That bothered me.  There are relatively helpless people who would have made the decision that Elena made in that situation.  That's fine.  There are self-sacrificing people who would have done the same thing.  But Elena is not either one of those people.

She should have staked the bloody vamp.  (Trying to think of a "Han shot first" pun, but nothing's coming to mind.)

Anyway.  Those are my two big issues with the show so far.  That said, as promised, there are some good things going on.  Bad-ass vampires, for one, that don't sparkle in the sunlight.  That's always a plus.  A strong female lead (although she could be stronger--nay, I think she is stronger, but could be written more strongly, if that makes any sense).  While I grudge against Damon for uprooting Jame's Marsters/Spike's seat at the top of SFX's Top 50 Vampires list, Ian Somerhalder does a pretty good job of playing the bad boy vamp with a hurty past and wit to spare.  The writing for the show, in general, isn't that bad.  Also, did I mention these vampires don't sparkle?

So, yeah, VD (Ick.  Just...ick.) has some good things going.  It also has the potential to crash and burn.  I've got a couple more seasons to get caught up, so we'll see what future episodes have in store.  In the meantime...aren't guilty pleasures great?

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