“What if it doesn’t work, Elena?” – Narrative and story arcs in The Vampire Diaries

The timeliness of this post is unparalleled; the second season of The CW’s runaway supernatural hit has concluded and now we’re in the long summer hiatus until we’ll be joined once more by the buzz, and indeed the folk, of Mystic Falls. The finale of the second season was as-expected in many ways, and it’s pacing (oft termed as “breakneck”) has developed its own rhythm that is both awesome and problematic. Beyond the fiendishly cliché pilot, The Vampire Diaries has very rarely confined to the television form offering episode, and even season-esque cliffhangers in the second act of an episode (which may perhaps be best termed chapters). This pacing can be both advantageous and dangerous, as previously in Josh Schwartz’ teen-soap The O.C. The show became a critical darling (for a soap) because of it’s fresh, brisk use of storylines; with arcs that could have earned themselves entire seasons being dead and buried after seven episodes. The trouble was to keep up that pace for however many seasons the show would continue, and that was apparent in the subsequent seasons, notably the third (regaining energy for the fourth). Since then, Gossip Girl has continued to use Schwartz’ inherent beat for stories somewhat making it the norm amongst Primetime soap consumers. It was only a matter of time then, that that energy is sustained and is built upon for the next show — The Vampire Diaries.

Something of an departure for co-developer Kevin Williamson, who’s previous credits include Dawson’s Creek and the Scream films, The Vampire Diaries takes plotting to a new level. It doesn’t work on the season-long story arc that would now be expected of the form thanks of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It dances to it’s own beat and ends what should have been a cliffhanger for the season seven episodes in, swiftly opening up another arc before the former had time to sink in. The concept of The Originals is something I’ve had trouble to grasp all along, because after two (literal!) minutes of letting the characters soak up their drama-free lives we were thrown into this new mythos that lacked any connective tissue to the preceding 30 episodes.

Similarly, one of my frequent complaints about the second season is that there’s no time to breathe – and it sometimes lack reason for us, too. If we’re meant to care about a character, their life, and indeed their death – that death should hold some weight over the characters and show tonally. Creating the precedent that almost anything can happen is troublesome for obvious reasons – if a character can be brought back from death; why do we need to invest in such a character? When characters can be brought back whenever the plot necessitates it (which isn’t inherently a bad thing*) death instantly loses its significance. Although, weirdly enough, the show embraces this fact and doesn’t allow time for grievances or conclusions that most writers might strive for. A loss should bring back the significance of someone’s life: if they were horrible, you may get relief; if they were amazing, you may cry but for a show that tries to manipulate it’s fandom through romance, bringing it’s characters and their lives to the forefront is something that needs to return once more. No more plot machinations and meaningless anger directed at inanimate objects – Elena, Stefan and Damon, the core of the show need to be giving the direction, not being directed.

* The finale set-up for Jeremy’s past loves coming back to haunt (?) him will could feasibly change how I feel about it using death as a cliffhanger over it raising emotional stakes (which, it in fact successfully did in the first season with both Vicki and Anna’s death.

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