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TV Review: Vampire Diaries Season 8

vampire diaries title card

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD. If you haven’t watched any of the Season 8 (final season) episodes of The Vampire Diaries and don’t want spoilers, skip this post and come back once you’ve seen the whole season.

The CW supernatural drama The Vampire Diaries has wrapped up its eighth and final season, the second one not to prominently feature series mainstay Elena Gilbert (well, until the end anyway). This season’s “Big Bads” were essentially two Sirens and a “Devil” (even though the character of Cade/Arcadius is called the Devil several times and is said to be in charge of Hell, he was more like a glorified demon rather than having the full-on gravitas of The Devil).

Also, just when you thought that a certain villain had been dead and buried for good after multiple instances of mysteriously always finding a way to scurry back to life, it turned out they weren’t in what would turn out to be one of the most over-the-top and pointless character returns in recent memory. I’m not going to rant about this character, but let’s just say they should be on a list of “Top 100 villains who started out as compelling characters but quickly became repetitive and annoying with each subsequent return.”

This time in the “let’s spin the wheel and see which brother will be evil for the season” it was Damon Salvatore‘s turn–well, for the first half of the season, then it was Stefan‘s turn. I will say that even though this was one of the more annoying parts of the entire season, Stefan had some good dialogue and quips here and there.

The mystery from the final episode of Season 7 revolves around what happened to Damon and Enzo when they stepped into the creepy tunnel room in the Armory, AKA Alaric’s Indiana Jones-inspired playground. We find out that a woman called Sybil is controlling Damon and Enzo and getting them to be her errand boys by virtue of her psychic abilities and mind control. Because both of their humanity switches are off, they don’t really care about the implications of all the terrible things Sybil is forcing them to do.

Eventually, we find out that Sybil is a (wait for it) siren. A siren. Seriously. I mean, I’ll give the show some credit for introducing the ability of mind control through song and adding a sort of almost shade of a dimension we haven’t seen to sirens before, but where it gets murky for me is when Sybil just becomes increasingly annoying and irritating. This is a problem that villains on The Vampire Diaries have had since Seasons 3 and 4 pretty much. After the Original vampires headed for their own show, the writers have had a tougher time making other villains stick. I’m not even going to get started on Kai/Malakai. The show has given us some truly awful villains, but in my mind he’s one of the absolute worst (and not in a good way).

So once we find out that Sybil is a siren, we find out that the innocent-looking nanny to Alaric’s children, Selene, is anything but. She’s the siren sister to Sybil, but it is also soon revealed that the two have something of a sibling rivalry and do not see eye to eye. The reason she has been keeping such a close eye on Alaric’s twin girls is because it turns out that she and Sybil work for an even douchier villain, a guy named Cade, who was accused of being a witch and then burned at the stake. But as he burned, he cursed the townspeople, blah blah seen-it-a-thousand-times-before blah. Just as a refresher, Alaric’s twin girls are part of the Gemini Coven and are siphoners of magic though they have no idea they’re doing it most of the time. The sirens were kicked out of their villages years ago for, basically, cannibalistic behaviour. This is how Cade found them. He got them to be his soul collectors. But Selene has wanted out of the gig for some time. Her scheme is to try to offer up Alaric’s twin girls to Cade as a switch.

But, oh, I haven’t mentioned the ever-sanctimonious and permanently in competition to see who can be the whinier martyr brothers, Damon and Stefan yet. While Damon’s Evil switch is still on, Stefan offers Cade a counter-bargain: he’ll take the place of Selene and Sybil if Cade will leave Alaric’s twin girls alone. Cade accepts. Stefan turns off his humanity switch. *sigh*

This season, witchy character Bonnie Bennett spends much of her time trying to get the love of her life, Enzo, to turn off his Evil switch. He does, but the consequences are that Sybil hounds him constantly. While Season 7 gave me a harder sell in terms of getting interested in the episodes, Season 8 was a bit of an improvement in that respect: the stakes were clear, and the adrenaline was always coursing.

Eventually (and you knew this was coming), Damon’s Evil switch starts flickering on and off and the goal for much of the second half of the season is to get Stefan to turn off his Evil switch and to stop being such a Ripper. It’s sort of cute that The Vampire Diaries has consistently tried so, so hard to make their version of a “Ripper” seem scary or distressing.

Some things I liked about this season:

  • This time around, the rumours started to float early on about the fact that Season 8 would be the show’s last. Vampire Diaries fans received confirmation of this at some point and so the rampant discussion became whether Nina Dobrev would return to reprise her role as the central character, Elena Gilbert. Well, spoiler alert, we knew with some certainty that she would. Still, it grated on my nerves in a big way that Elena Gilbert is one of those characters who can be the central focus of an entire season with barely being in it.
  • Stefan’s dialogue when he had his Evil switch on was entertaining in some parts.
  • The mystical Bell that was made by the Maxwell family (which filtered down to become the Donovans, i.e. Matt) in a sirenly attempt to destroy Mystic Falls. I thought the historical connection to this relic and its abilities were interesting, and the tie-in to the dimension of Hell was also intriguing. I also thought it was cool to bring in more of the Bennett witches into play again–they were always one of the most interesting aspects of each season, and I would have liked to see even more of them during the show’s run.
  • Even though the constant back and forth between Stefan and Damon about who would be the biggest martyr of them all annoyed me to no end, the lengths both of them were willing to go to in the name of destroying Hell and saving Mystic Falls was noble, and after shedding that much blood and causing centuries of pain and misery to countless people around the world, they both atoned in the end.
  • That this was the final season. My interest in the show began to wane sometime around Season 4 or 5, and the show hasn’t had a compelling villain since the Original vampires took a hike (see above). I know I’m supposed to be focusing on things I liked, so I’ll say it was good to get a sense of resolution with this story.

Some things I wasn’t so crazy about this season:

  • Bonnie’s constant insistence that she has lost her magic only for her to *gasp* magically have it after all. Can you sense the sarcasm? Just checking 😉 Also, just the fact that the show continued to screw with Bonnie in general and the whole thing where she tried to die a bunch of times but it wasn’t her time yet. Sure, it’s okay for Elena to have her happy ending with sunshine and rainbows, but Bonnie has to settle for some creepy Ghost scenario with Enzo. *sigh*
  • The string of one annoying villain after another. The writers have relied far too much on flashbacks and backstory to try to convince viewers why their villains are supposedly so epic, but instead of building sympathy in the minds of viewers for the whole “wronged baddie” schtick, it ends up turning viewers off (this is the thing where the villain in this series always seems to be the same variation of “I used to be good but people were cruel to me so I turned bad”).
  • “I’m so eeeeeeevvviiiilll” Damon (and Stefan): Because the show has overused this plot point so many times over the course of the entire series, it lost its impact a long time (and a few seasons) ago. When his Evil switch eventually stopped flickering and stopped at “off,” his next battle became to see who could be bigger martyr for their crimes: him or Stefan. They both lost, incidentally 😉 Although I hoped the return of Evil Damon would lead to a more interesting character arc this season, it disappointed in that regard. Of course I knew he would eventually go into full-blown good guy mode, but again, this is something that lost the impact because it happened so often on the show prior to this season.
  • That villain at the very, very end: No. Just no. My first reaction when I figured out where they were going with it was…you’ve got to be kidding me. Again? I understand the reason, but it felt like the actor was just going through the motions and as a result, it had no impact. The introduction of this villain was brilliant but after the events at the end of Season 6, that’s where things should have wrapped up. Nuff said.
  • In my review of Season 7, I had mentioned that I got a distinct Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibe from the entity in the Vault of the Armory. I had originally thought viewers would be treated to something similar to The First Evil. That, uh, well, that didn’t quite happen. And the funny thing is that also in that review, I’d lamented the recycling of the “Oh no, what are we doing to do? Stefan is evil!” plotline except for Damon and Enzo, but it turned out that they applied it to Stefan yet again. Suffice it to say, I did not find it interesting at all to see where they went with this because they had gone there so many times before.
  • There’s not really any way they could have ended the series except with a Happily Ever After, but most of it made me feel like I was watching the Hallmark channel and not the CW.

Throughout its history, The Vampire Diaries had a big habit of repeating itself and recycling its own plot devices and tropes. No show is perfect, but I think that at the end of the day, this is a show that was made by the same people who produced Dawson’s Creek (well, at least one of them anyway). The emphasis on the love triangle between the three characters, which then became the “will the two of them get their happy ending? and what about that other one?” continued into a narrative focused on wrapping everything up as neatly and as tidily as possible in the 16 episode span of the last season.

As their characters made the transition from high school to university, the show did its best to present efforts to more maturity and more serious plotlines. And in some ways, they did well, but by the end, the show became one increasingly ridiculous plot twist after another. The writers very much adopted the “everything but the kitchen sink” approach. Part of that stems from the fact that this was the last season, so the creators wanted to end on a high note and try to tie up as many loose ends as they could.

I think that in a sea of so many vampire shows and films that have saturated the airwaves and theatres for the past 40 years, the show tried its best to offer something different or in some way unique, and I would say that from Seasons 1 to 3, that’s when things were at their most interesting for the most part–the peak of the show’s overall story arc.

Although some of the villains this show has introduced such as Katherine, Klaus, and Silas provided much entertainment and suspense when they were first introduced, it’s difficult to sustain that kind of momentum for any character and there were only so many times the show could achieve the shock factor with them. Still, they produced some addictive storylines that kept viewers coming back for more, and it was a fun ride while it lasted.

What about you, readers? Did you tune in to Season 8? What did you think? What were your thoughts on the series as a whole? Sound off below!

 

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.