‘The Vampire Diaries’: A Post-Mortem

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With another season in the books, I thought it was high time we took a closer look at “The Vampire Diaries” and its potential future- or possible lack thereof. Obviously, the biggest hurdle the show had to overcome was the loss of its leading lady, Nina Dobrev. While many felt the character had run its course already- including, one would argue, Dobrev herself- it was nonetheless the sort of hardcore blow that might have sank many shows- and has.

Witness, for instance, the likes of “The Office,” “Two-and-a-Half Men” and “The X-Files.” Sure, these shows limped along for a while after their leads left, but they never quite recovered, either, save maybe “The X-Files,” which was able to right the ship just enough in the end to get a few movies and a recent, highly-successful resurrection out of it, but notably, only by bringing back star David Duchovny.

There are, of course, the occasional success stories as well: “Charmed,” “E.R.” “Homeland,” “Teen Wolf,” and “Cheers” all essentially continued without a hitch, and, in some cases, are still going to this day, for better or for worse. Needless to say, a lot depends on who the replacements are for the lost characters, if any.

In the case of “The Vampire Diaries,” they have yet to even try, really, and the void left behind by Dobrev’s departure has been substantial. One could certainly argue that her shadow looms large over the proceedings, to the point that her main love interest on the show, Damon, would rather put himself in a coffin for years on end than go on living a normal life.

As romantic a notion as that may be- and some fans have indeed embraced it- it doesn’t exactly make for exciting television. If anything, it often felt like we’d ended up losing not just one characters but two, as Damon has never quite recovered from the event of losing his beloved Elena.

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Some have taken solace in the prospect of Damon eventually hooking up with Bonnie, but the show itself has stubbornly and steadfastly avoided such a pairing, arguably to its own detriment, not to mention wholesale derision on the fans’ parts.

Factor in some decidedly dubious pairings- looking at you, Bonnie and Enzo, but one could make a case for Stefan and Caroline and/or Caroline and Alaric just as easily- and the fact that no leading lady has really stepped up in Dobrev’s wake, and you’ve got a problem.

Just take a look at the show’s dwindling ratings, which have taken them from a highly-successful Thursday night run to the potentially deadly Friday night time slot, which is never a good sign. Now, with the announcement that both leading man Ian Somerhalder and key player Kat Graham are both leaving, the show’s fate lies even more in the balance.

Oddly, at least part of the problem is the show’s stubborn resistance to even let someone step up in Elena’s wake. Both Caroline and Bonnie were once strong, vital characters, and yet, the show has effectively neutered them both over the last few years, with both Caroline and Bonnie going from sassy, strong-willed and vital to brooding, wallowing, tortured downers that are constantly put upon by the writers, to the point that they perpetually seem like whipping girls for the show’s more sadistic tendencies.

Nor have any of the new recruits made much of an impact, for that matter. A constant stream of new characters since around the time of Dobrev’s departure have drifted in and out of the narrative, with the villains in particular suffering from being all too forgettable, to the point that killing them off has often seemed almost like an afterthought, i.e. Julian and Rayna. The only villain to really get one’s attention was Kai, and he was annoying AF.

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So, what, if anything, can be done? With several core cast members departing, it seems to me the show has a golden opportunity to get back to basics, in a way that could potentially bring the proceedings around full circle.

I can’t deny that the writers shot for the moon with its ambitious, time-jumping narrative this past season, but there’s also no denying it was a total misfire, often muddled and confusing, with the cast often seeming as lost as the audience probably was.

That tends to happen when you’re bucking against the grain of what we know to be true about their pasts and go out of your way to have them act out of character and do things that make no sense to what has come before in the narrative.

I feel like there’s an ongoing struggle between newly recruited and/or promoted writers and long-established ones to duke it out over doing something radical and forward-thinking, past motivations and what we know about the characters to date be damned, and those who want the motivations of the characters to be true to their respective pasts.

You see this latter part occasionally poking its head through the other stuff to acknowledge itself, as when Damon had a rabble-rousing phone conversation with Stefan, who was about to give up and freeze to death in “I Went to the Woods” or in the Damon-centric “Hell is Other People,” for instance. But then the other, bad tendencies take over and it’s back to being nonsensical and untrue to the characters in favor of “something new.”

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I think the best thing the writers could do is to take a long, hard look at themselves over the break and decide if they truly want to reinvent the show or stay true to its roots, especially with the end almost certainly coming. I think that, as much as it’s admirable to want to grow and change- and almost necessary to keep a show interesting and compelling under normal circumstances- it’s time to wake up and smell the blood-bags.

The simple fact is, the show isn’t long for this world. Losing Dobrev is one thing- I think even die-hard fans would allow that her character had grown stagnant in recent years, especially if you factor in the even earlier loss of the vital and compelling Katherine character- but losing both Somerhalder and Graham is a flat-out deathstrike.

Time to cut your losses, “Vampire Diaries” and start thinking about the endgame. Instead of becoming one of those shows that limps along until they get cancelled, go into this next season with the plan to finish the show on a high note. Think “Buffy” in its final season, when they knew it was over and were determined to go out strong, and more importantly, they did, and on their own terms.

As I mentioned in my review of the season finale, I’d suggest bringing things back around to include remembrances of characters past and beloved, complete with cameos from certain actors as available, with a few choice flashbacks thrown in for good measure- always a favorite of the fans, myself included- and, of course, a big finale set in Mystic Falls. I don’t care how you get there, but ending it anywhere else, much less with the characters scattered all over the continent, is a big no-no.

I get that it’s easier said than done, but you’ve got a good chunk of time to think about how you’re going to get there, and plenty of evidence supporting why you should go there, as in all of the disgruntled fans out there all but demanding their beloved show getting back on track. This next, likely last season is a gift to you from the CW- don’t waste it. Please?

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What do you fellow fans think? Can this show be saved? Do you have any other suggestions, beyond the ones I mentioned? Do you agree with my own? How would you like to see things end? Can the show revitalize things this late in the game? Can they get the characters back on track? Sound off down below, and see you next season!