May 17, 2013



I get it:  teen vampires, ick.  THE VAMPIRE DIARIES is never going to win a major Emmy–it’s never even going to win a Golden Globe.  But there isn’t a long-running show on television that hums along as smoothly, and this fourth season was no exception.  Under the guiding hand of co-creator/showrunner Julie Plec, Vampire is unmatched at rooting melodramatic, supernatural plot twists in character, lacing it all with wit and surprising amounts of emotion.

Season 4 started with the series on a precipice, the previous season’s finale having pulled the trigger on one of the biggest bullets in its chamber:  the transformation of heroine Elena (Nina Dobrev) into a vampire.  Elena’s humanity had been at the core of the series thus far, so making her supernatural changed everything.  To the extent a plot development like this can be called “realistic,” the transition was well thought-out and emotionally convincing, as Elena went through the early part of the season guilt-ridden and horrified over her lust for blood.  But eventually, her emotions were turned off (her brother had been killed and she was really, really upset–anyway, long story), which brought Evil Elena to the fore, a wanton, vicious killing machine.  This meant Dobrev was essentially playing three versions of herself:  original Elena, Evil Elena and her previously-established scheming doppelganger, Katherine (a feat topped only by Tatiana Maslany, who plays so many versions of herself on Orphan Black that it’s easy to lose count).

On Vampire Diaries, though, all that was just a starting point.  It turned out that there was a potential cure for vampirism (but just one dose), and a major chunk of the season’s plotting turned on the various parties that wanted to get their hands on it, either to take it–Rebekah (Claire Holt), one of the “original” vampires, decided she wanted more than anything to be a real girl; to give it to others–both Elena’s beaux, the brothers Salvatore, Stefan (Paul Wesley) and Damon (Ian Somerholder), were determined that Elena should have it; or to control it–Katherine, among others, wanted the power it would give her.  Most seriously, another ancient vampire named Silas wanted to use the cure to bring down the barrier between living and dead, meaning every supernatural being who’d been killed since the beginning of time would return to pretty thoroughly mess up the world of the living.

All of this built to the season finale, written by Plec and Co-Executive Producer Caroline Dries, and directed by Chris Grismer.  It found time for guest appearances by a host of previously-dead series characters, including fan favorites Alaric (Matthew Davis, who recently went down in flames with Cult) and Lexi (Arielle Kebbel), the respective best friends of Damon and Stefan, along with multiple murdered witches, vampire hunters, and vampire/werewolf hybrids.  It also resolved the issue of the cure (Elena fed it to Katherine just before Katherine could kill her, knowing that mortality was the last thing on earth Katherine wanted), brought Elena’s brother Jeremy (Steven R. McQueen) back from the dead (more or less) permanently, killed off witch buddy Bonnie (Kat Graham)–although she can still make appearances as a ghost–and had Elena finally, after four seasons, make a definitive decision about her love life, choosing Damon over Stefan.  Thinking of love lives, the finale found a way to make a romance believable between Rebekah and Matt (Zach Roerig)–despite the fact that she’d tried to kill him several times over the seasons, and he’s just about the last full-time human left in Mystic Falls.  It even squeezed in a devastatingly charismatic farewell scene for Klaus (Joseph Morgan), allowing him to decapitate a murderous witch back from the dead, clear the way for vampire Caroline (Candice Accola) to bring her hybrid boyfriend Tyler (Michael Trevino) back to town, and yet tell Caroline with absolute certainty that he intends her last love to be him–before going off to be the star of next fall’s spin-off The Originals.  And it set up next season, with Silas taking over as doppelganger for Stefan, as whom he’ll doubtless wreak havoc, which should give Wesley a chance to do the kind of multiple-persona acting Dobrev did this this year.

The remarkable thing about Vampire Diaries is that all this byzantine plotting never feels out of control or random, but rather like a very carefully crafted plan that’s been beautifully executed.  You never see the show sweat.  Dobrev had what would be an Emmy-caliber season if anyone considered Vampire Diaries for Emmys, and everyone else in the cast delivered the kind of wry but emotionally committed performances this show needs.  There wasn’t a weak episode in the entire season.

The biggest threat to the continued health of Vampire Diaries will come next season, because Julie Plec will have not one but two new series on the air, The Originals and the X-Men-ish The Tomorrow People.  She won’t be able to give her full attention to Vampire, and she’s leaving giant shoes to fill.  It’s incredibly difficult to balance the plots, tones and logistics of a show like this, and so far it’s been done astonishingly well.  Fans need to hope that Plec has a functioning doppelganger of her own.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."