By Kayla Upadhyaya, Daily TV/New Media Columnist
Published January 12, 2014
Falling out of love sucks. At first, you don’t really know what’s going on. You look at the other person and don’t necessarily see a stranger, but there’s something different, something off. They chew too loudly or their hands are too rough or their laugh grates on your ears. Is it in your head? Were these imperfections there all along and you just found them endearing, even sexy, before? Small fights become big fights, and the apologies are fewer and farther between. You wish things could go back to the way they were. But they don’t. Things worsen. You’ve fallen out of love, and falling out of love sucks.
Recently, I fell out of love with “The Vampire Diaries.” And even though we’re talking about a TV show and not a fellow human being, I can assure you that in this case, falling out of love still sucks.
I first fell in love with “The Vampire Diaries” during my freshman year. Despite my love for Kevin Williamson and most things supernatural, I avoided the show for a long time. Vampires? Who write in diaries? Please. At the time, I was the person I would soon came to hate, the TV snob who was better than the CW, the person who insisted that network television can’t possibly hold a candle to its cable superiors.
“Just get past the first four or five episodes,” my friend and TVspiration LaToya insisted. “It’s terrible for the first several episodes, but then it transforms into an amazing show. You’ll be obsessing by the end of the week.”
I was officially considering it.
“Oh, and they ditch the diaries,” she added.
OK, let’s do this. I fell fast and hard for “The Vampire Diaries.” Pretty soon, we spent all our meals and evenings together. I introduced her to as many friends as I could, talked about her (perhaps a tad too often) in the dining hall, at parties, in my dorm room. I started calling her by her nickname, “TVD,” and dedicating 90 percent of my tweets to her (almost all of them including a generous helping of OMGs and WTFs).
And I didn’t just fall in love with the show; I fell for its brilliant cast, its well-written characters, its wicked smart creative team led by Williamson and Julie Plec. I fell for Candice Accola in every way. I fell for the deftness with which Nina Dobrev so expertly played two different characters, to the extent that you forget both were her (which led me to write a lengthy blog post about the differences between Elena and Katherine’s physicalities … Dobrev’s mouth moves differently depending on which she is playing! I’m not making this up! Look for it!). I even fell for the emotional tumult of it all, the fact that no character is ever safe, that death is as much a part of the series’s narrative fabric as young love is.
I watched most of the first season with LaToya (forever thankful I finally listened to her) and our friend Ilona. Even though we all lived in different states, we scheduled group gchats, pressed play simultaneously, and spent the next 43-ish minutes going through a whole range of emotions together, because that’s what this damn show about too-pretty teenagers and their vampire cohorts does to you.
It wasn’t long before I caught up and the binge-watching had to come to an end. But I still found ways to spend time with “TVD” between its Thursday night airings. I read Price Peterson’s flawless photo recaps and continued, almost always unsuccessfully, to convince my friends to start watching. When I read reviews disparaging my favorite character, I posted a manifesto on my tumblr that declared my love for Caroline Forbes, in both her human and vampire forms.
But something started happening during season four. At first, I didn’t really know what was going on. I watched “The Vampire Diaries,” and it was more or less the same show, but there was something different, something off. The dumb Elena-Stefan-Damon love triangle was suddenly taking up too much of the narrative. Caroline had been pushed to the back burner. Nothing Bonnie did made any sense anymore. Careful character development that had been steadily building since season one was balled up and thrown in the trash. Had these imperfections been there all along and I had just found them endearing, even sexy, before? Small qualms become big qualms, and the redeeming qualities were fewer and farther between. I wished things could go back to the way they were. But they didn’t. Things worsened. I had fallen out of love, and falling out of love sucks … even when it’s with a TV show.
At least in this case, I wasn’t going through it alone. Ilona stopped watching entirely. LaToya returned to the early seasons so she could remember how things used to be. Reviews became more and more critical. Ratings for season five have dropped, on average, by one to two million from what they were per episode in the first two seasons.
I could forgive some of the baseless character changes and story missteps. Most shows slump at some point. And season four, despite its troublesome sire bond plot and overemphasis on the love triangle, also includes episodes that embody everything “TVD” does well: “Memorial” jerks tears from even the most heartless of monsters while also serving up a blinding dose of suspense.
But now, we’re in the midst of season five, and “The Vampire Diaries” doesn’t just look unfamiliar; it has morphed into something absurd, toxic, even nauseating. Love has taken center stage, and the show that once burst with themes of family and friendship now sags with some seriously fucked up philosophies on romance. The once strong and clear-sighted Caroline has melted into a helpless, lovesick vamp who clings to her fading relationship with Tyler. Elena constantly asks herself: Stefan? Or Damon? When really, she should be asking: Can’t I just be single for once and stop letting these men dictate my every move?
The writers room also seems to have become obsessed with the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder. The writing feels sloppy, as if someone opened up their kid’s psych textbook, found a basic definition of PTSD and said “yeah, let’s do that,” without trying to connect it to the characters’ emotions or the story’s trajectory. So now, Stefan suffers from PTSD. Which, yeah, makes sense. I mean, the dude was trapped in a sealed vault and tossed into a river, where he drowned, died, and came back to life about a thousand times over the course of several months. That’s going to take a psychological toll on a fella. Caroline attempts to cure him by trapping him in the very vault which causes his trauma (a solution she pulls from her own psych textbook), but it’s Katherine who finally gets through to Stefan. In the process, Katherine reveals that Stefan’s PTSD results not from the whole drowning repeatedly for months thing but rather because of … wait for it … Elena dumping him. Huh?
I get it. We all do stupid things for love. We’ve all had tiny panic attacks when someone doesn’t reply to a text message in less than three seconds. We’ve all wondered about exes and read too much into tweets, putting subtext where there is none. And I’m not suggesting “TVD” eliminate love from its thematic spinnings entirely; it would lose an essential part of itself. It hasn’t always gotten romance wrong. Early on, Caroline and Tyler’s relationship was wonderfully complex, and Rebekah and Matt’s unlikely pairing glistened with honesty. For a while, the show’s characters were so intertwined in each others’ lives that it seemed anyone could hook up with anyone and it would make sense on a deeper, more emotional level beyond just “they’re both pretty.”
But the current season of “The Vampire Diaries” has a lot to say about love, and none of it is healthy: Do anything for love, even if that means placing yourself or others in danger; love is all that matters; love love love. The show’s current conception of love resembles that of a pre-teen who still doesn’t know or understand anything about this nebulous concept beyond the borders of their diary.
Well, I’m sorry, “TVD,” but I don’t love you anymore. I can’t love you anymore. But if you want to win my love back, you can start by letting these characters remember who they are, what they care about, what drives and scares and worries them. Because right now, they look like strangers.