Character Study: Damon Salvatore

Damon Salvatore

Damon Salvatore the vampire diaries
Damon Salvatore, The Vampire Diaries, image from Wikimedia Commons

Name: Damon Salvatore
TV Show: The Vampire Diaries (2009-2017)
Role: villain-turned-protagonist

Update: Season 8 of The Vampire Diaries aired its last episode in March 2017. In the first half of the season, we got an “Uh oh, Damon is evil again” and the writers spun the chore wheel to decide that this time he and Enzo would turn off their humanity switches. So we got Evil Damon for the first half, which, spoiler alert, changed by the end of the season to make him a good guy once and for all.

I predicted that his return to his sadistic roots from Season 1 would be short-lived and not only was I right, but also it felt very much like “phoning it in” Evil Damon–he did all the things he was supposed to do, went on the murdering sprees, obeyed the commands of the Siren Sybil, etcetera, ad nauseum. (Side note: when the ‘big reveal’ turned out to be that she was a siren with psychic mind control abilities, let’s just say her schtick got old. Fast.) Getting back to Damon: for some people, the show ended for them at the end of Season 3 or 4. Damon started out as an interesting character but with each successive season became whinier, mopier, and ended things on one of the hokiest, most saccharine notes I’ve ever seen.

Having said that, I haven’t been in the target age group/demographic for the show for some time (and probably was not really in it to begin with when it started), so I will concede that the show’s primary audience wanted Happily Ever After, and there’s nothing wrong with that per se. While you folks are reading the character analysis, I’m just going to drink my Bitter Ale over in the other room 😉

What I learned about characterization:

  • Damon started off on The Vampire Diaries as the main villain or at least the main opposing force of season one. He is shown to be vicious, remorseless, and having a huge sadistic streak. Unlike his goodie-two-shoes brother, Stefan, Damon has no qualms about killing humans. In other words, he’s the “scary” brother.
  • The crow thing–the ability for Damon to either manifest in the form of a crow or to send a crow as his harbinger, signalling his presence/ability to spy, was a great addition to the first season. I’m sure the writers had their reasons for removing it, but both these things made Damon seem even more interesting.
  • His secretive nature and unwillingness to address the real reason for his return to Mystic Falls provides a lot of intrigue and makes him seem more dangerous at first because he could fly off the handle at any moment.
  • The “voice” of the Damon character–his dialogue in the first two seasons, but especially in season one, was gold. Funny one moment and emotionally intense the next, this helped his character stand out and come across as very entertaining to watch.
  • Damon used to have bite–and sass. As the show’s seasons have progressed, specifically from seasons four to six, Damon has dulled. Characters must, by definition, change in order for the story to move forward. Damon couldn’t remain a bad guy and work with the rest of the characters at the same time, but what started out as a soft spot or softer traits to his personality have completely taken over and I miss the Damon from the first seasons. Far more interesting.
  • The fact that he didn’t even want to be a vampire in the first place and that the normally goodie-two-shoes Stefan was the one who forced him to complete his transition and become a bloodsucker is one of the more intriguing elements of season one.
  • Unlike his brother, Damon is unapologetic about the fact that he’s a vampire. This kind of got muddled in the last few seasons and the second half of the last season especially, as he donned the mantle of White Knight–nonetheless, vampires are at their best when they aren’t apologizing for who and what they are.
  • Major repetition/theme in his arc: Throughout the seasons of the show, Damon and Stefan are always at odds in some way. As with Supernaturalthe relationship between the two brothers is really the central focus, and the plot question is: will there ever be a time when they can find peace and just learn to get along?
    • We eventually discover the full context of how their history has played out and why they hold on to the bitter grudges that they do. Initially, Damon is miffed at Stefan for two main reasons: forcing him to become a vampire, and bitterness/resentment that Katherine Pierce played both the brothers while always wanting Stefan.
    • As the seasons progress, the brothers keep hammering away over and over again at fighting a different kind of battle: seeing which one of them is the bigger martyr. They take turns, and often it involves one of their humanity switches being off and one brother having to save the other for the zillionth time. By the end of the last season, not only did this schtick feel completely repetitive and derivative of things that had already played out their shock value, but also it resulted in the plot  losing the impact the writers were going for because the audience had already seen much of the same in the previous seasons.

Throughout the eight seasons of The Vampire Diaries, Damon showed a range of complexity. He constantly duels with his vampire nature, his past wounds, and atoning for his actions along with his desire to do good and to be better. In the later seasons, he considers the effect his actions have had on others. While I miss the old Damon from the first two seasons, his agenda completely changed somewhere in season 3 or 4 and his priorities shifted to become entirely predictable. Season 6 was when the character fully committed to the character’s direction as emo White Knight who also doesn’t think he deserves happiness–something that provided intrigue the first 100 times he experienced this arc over the course of the latter seasons.