I began watching The Vampire Diaries by accident—it was on, and I needed a break from prepping and grading. The cast is pretty glitzy (yet sans Twilight glitter) and at times the dialogue is rather stale. So then how is this show able to get the strongest of reactions from me, from anger to anxiety to tears? It’s been troubling me for a while now, but after watching episode after episode, I’ve concluded that this show is about what I suspect all vampire stories are about: redemption. The hunger and fear of it. The hopelessness many of us feel regarding the redemption of our own stories. This show brings out all that vulnerability at the most surprising times, so that now I’m hooked.
Mystic Falls isn’t as much filled with witches, werewolves, and vampires as it is with sisters, brothers, daughters and dads. Damon and Stefan Salvatore (played by Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley, respectively) might love and fight over doppelganger gal pal Elena (Nina Dobrev), but more often you find how much their love for each other requires unspeakable sacrifices—even to the point of almost losing one’s soul.
Then we have Joseph Morgan, who plays Klaus, the most sadistic of all the original vampires. He kills at will and shows no remorse, but throughout the series we come to understand that his anger and rage mask a great terror of being alone. At one point his father Mikael (Sebastian Roché) and he come to a face off, with Mikael threatening his son yet once again: “Who do you think you have, other than those whose loyalty you’ve forced?” He leans forward, then whispers, “No one.” It is a brutal thing to say to a child, whether four or four hundred years old. Klaus was cursed with being a hybrid—part werewolf and part vampire—and it was the only giveaway that his mother had cheated on his father. Therefore, he is seen as an abomination and outcast for most of his life. And so when hearing his father’s words, tears slowly begin to roll down Klaus’ cheeks even as his face hardens. It is a scene so raw in its truth that I found myself crying. Anyone who has ever been rejected by a loved one has felt that anger and shame, that place of not knowing how to react.
The most touching story for me revolves around Caroline Forbes (played by Candice Accola) and her father Bill (Jack Coleman, of Heroes fame). He divorced Caroline’s mom after coming out that he was gay. You would think he might be a bit more understanding when his daughter is turned into a vampire, but instead he tells her in the tenderest of voices, “You're a vampire, sweetheart. I don't think you'll ever be okay again.” You have to wonder how many kids have heard or felt that sentiment from their parents when they opened up about who they really were—the devastation to be told in the tone of love that you are forever damned to be on the outside. It might be easy for us to hate Bill, but it’s really difficult to hate your father, and so we journey with Caroline as she processes his rejection, tries to forgive him for his torturing of her (to control the vampire self), and ultimately protects him when other vampires try to kill him. Yet her love in turn begins to soften Bill so that, when has the choice to escape death and live on as a vampire, he rejects the right to feed saying, “my strength is all in my beliefs” but he also tells Caroline that he is very proud of who she has become. It is a bittersweet farewell, but one that perhaps is more true to life about how we navigate our betrayals and unspoken longings.
Despite the fact that The Vampire Diaries is grounded firmly in fantasy, there are many moments when I am thrown into the realm of the fantastic, into being caught between the unreality of vampires and the very real rhetoric of damnation, forgiveness, and begging for redemption that shuts down my post-modern, cynical little noggin and pierces my heart. That’s the real gift the fantastic gives us—it dares to find our buried, broken stories and bring them into a narrative of healing.