Love on TV is so hard to get right. Whether it’s trying to find the right time to put a couple together that’s neither too soon nor too late, or trying to finesse the almost-impossible love triangle device, many times romance on television is a disaster. Sometimes writers give in to fan demand instead of sticking to canon and following what the story dictates, and the fact that the majority of TV series don’t have a set end date when they begin doesn’t allow for plotting from beginning to end. But sometimes despite the formulas and theories, it comes together. The romance may not be neat, but somehow it works.
The CW’s The Vampire Diaries has completely polarized its fan base. It struck at just the right time and hit the airwaves in the midst of the Twilight craze—despite its roots in a book series that preceded all other teen vampire books—capitalizing on the vampire phenomenon with the story of two very hot vampire brothers, Stefan and Damon Salvatore, and their human love, Elena. And from the beginning, the Stefan/Elena vs. Damon/Elena roar has been strong.
Stefan and Elena were supposed to be the couple set up from the beginning. And in fact, Stefan and Elena had a relatively smooth first season and beyond. Their romance developed nicely as the mythology of the show became more and more nuanced. And yet, hovering in the background, growing with a rumbling passion, was this dark, sexual attraction between bad boy brother Damon and his brother’s girl Elena.
But the show manages to employ really creative supernatural lore to fuel the love stories and keep both sides satisfied without risking the integrity of the characters to do it. In season three, Stefan makes a pact with the dangerous, morally corrupt original vampire Klaus to revert back to his “ripper” self and leave his home and Elena in exchange for Damon’s life. He cuts himself off almost entirely from those he loves and in the few exchanges he does have with them, he’s forced to be remote and cruel to keep up the act, while warring with the destructive vampire side he’s struggled to overcome. There’s an explanation for Stefan’s behavior and a reason for his absence—not to mention something poetic about the fact that he’s doing it all for his brother—while at the same time offering an opportunity for more contact between Damon and Elena as they try to find Stefan and bring him back.
By the end of last season, the real Stefan had returned and in the final moment, Elena had to choose between the two brothers, one she’s loved but didn’t recognize for so long and one she’s grown close to in ways she’d never imagined. It was appropriate that she chose Stefan given the love they’d shared, yet provided the angst and longing that fans on the other side needed to keep the hope alive after being denied yet again a real relationship between Damon and Elena.
Then everything was shaken up to its core when Elena was changed into a vampire by Damon at the opening of season four. Becoming a vampire has been a real character shift for Elena. She hasn’t felt comfortable in her own skin and her reaction to the lifestyle has been fraught with difficulties, from keeping down the blood to hallucinations. Many of these problems have triggered Stefan’s own issues, so it’s been Damon who has helped her through it.
It makes sense that while Elena’s human side gravitates toward Stefan, Elena’s vampire self would align more closely with Damon. Stefan wants to find a cure for her because that’s what she truly wants, while Damon accepts what she’s become. As Elena has really begun to change, in a somewhat abrupt but respectable move, she ends things with Stefan because her connection to Damon as a vampire has grown so astoundingly. But even as Elena and Damon consummated their relationship, giving an entire sector of the fan base what they’ve been waiting for, there’s a catch. As Damon was the one to transform Elena into a vampire, he inadvertently sired her to him, begging the question if Elena’s actions now are entirely her own or are influenced by the sire bond between her and Damon. So though the tides have turned toward a pairing that has a massive amount of hype and clamoring behind them, the other side also has a reason to hope, which is what the show continues to do so well. It’s managed to put both couples together now without alienating either fan base, a nearly impossible feat.
And there are arguments for each. Stefan and Elena are canon, perhaps the quieter choice, but no less solid because of their genuine love for each other. They shine a light through an otherwise dark show and offer hope: whether you’re undead or alive, they bring vitality and life, and their love is pure. Damon and Elena, on the other hand, are passionate and emotional, calling forth the heightened feeling that permeates this world of supernatural creatures of all kinds. Through Elena and his caring for her, Damon has shown layers that maybe weren’t so clear at the show’s beginning. And what’s really remarkable is that through it all, Elena’s behavior is never in question. Her character hasn’t suffered for being torn between the two brothers. She displays different qualities with each, further developing two distinct sides of her character well into the show’s run.
Whatever the final outcome of the Stefan/Elena/Damon love triangle, The Vampire Diaries has shown a nearly flawless execution of a too common, tired plot device and breathed new life into it, always handling the romances of both pairings with careful thoughtfulness toward the characters, their motivations, and how their actions are perceived. This messy love has nothing to do with the vampires of Mystic Falls, but instead offers the promise that Stefan, Damon, and Elena will end up just the way they’re supposed to.
Tiffany Tyer is a writer and editor who loves reading and analyzing all things romance. She also works as a vocalist, a tutor, and a non-profit ministry assistant, and she loves it that way. Her book reviews can be found at Happy Endings Reviews, a blog she co-founded.