Monday, June 23, 2014

The Vampire Diaries: Why Do We Love Damon?

Thanks to Netflix and YouTube videos, I'm obsessed with The Vampire Diaries, the CW’s uber-popular series based on the books by L.J. Smith. 

In case you’re unfamiliar, TVD chronicles events in the fictional town of Mystic Falls, a place populated by vampires, werewolves, hybrids, doppelgangers, and witches. Oh, and some humans. With Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec at the helm, TVD is a sprawling, intricately woven saga which captivates from Episode 1 until the last moment of Season 5.

I’m still recovering.

But this die-hard romantic watches TVD for one main reason: the dynamic romance between Damon Salvatore and Elena Gilbert, expertly portrayed by real-life sometimes-couple Ian Somerhalder and Nina Dobrev. You can get the deets on Damon and Elena's history here, but know this: their epic love is one for the ages. It is wild, passionate, and all-consuming, everything you want in a relationship.


Beyond their supernatural struggles, Damon and Elena face the same issues human couples do: communication, respecting each other's decisions, dealing with the past, planning for the future, and learning to enjoy the present. But with the constant threat of one inhuman enemy or another, their attempts at normalcy are that much harder to come by.

And Damon's "kill first, regret it never" approach to life doesn't help.

Here’s Damon and Elena in Season 5's “While You Were Sleeping." If you're at work, you might want to plug up the headphones around 1:40.  

Break-up sex aside, they have a point. I’ve lost count of how many times Damon has killed or threatened to kill someone Elena loves. Chemistry is awesome, and theirs is through the roof. But knowing your beloved is fully capable of offing your family and friends because he's having a bad day?

Not so much.

On TVD and its spinoff The Originals, Joseph Morgan plays Klaus, an ancient vampire who makes Damon look like a boy scout. He also happens to be in love with younger vampire/Elena’s best friend Caroline. At Comic Con 2013, Morgan describes the typical fan reaction to Klaus this way:

"…I get to sort of win the audience’s heart and then right when I’m in their good books, I get to mess it all up again and do something utterly terrible and almost unforgivable. Everybody keeps forgetting about it along the way though. Like, wait a minute, I killed Aunt Jenna. I drowned Tyler’s mom in the fountain after slaughtering 12 hybrids. But everyone’s just like, ‘Yeah, but when you said to Caroline, "I fancy you," that was really nice.'”

Yes, Joseph. In that British accent of yours, it is especially nice.

Against all logic, the man is right. Romantic villains steal many a heart on page and screen, raising our pulse rates and making us swoon despite their irredeemable extracurricular activities. We cringe when they murder and maim yet eagerly toss those moments into the sea of forgetfulness when they look into our eyes and say things like, "He was your first love. I intend to be your last. However long it takes."

*sways, faints*

What is up with that? Why do we do this? Why do we focus on Klaus’ vulnerability with Caroline instead of his violence with everyone else? Why do we pardon Damon for killing Elena’s brother more than once (he has a magic ring which brings him back to life) and for admitting he couldn't care less about her friends?

Is it because we believe Damon means well? Is it because we want to see him as Elena does? Is it because he does that thing with his eyes? 

Uhhhh, maybe.

But though those reasons are important, I think Ian Somerhalder himself best explained why we we pardon Damon's dastardly deeds:

“…the cool thing is that he does everything, even if it's awful, with so much heart, that the audience finds justification to forgive him.”
Right, wrong, or dead-wrong, Damon never waffles or weasels out, acting only with audacity, intention, and a flirting-with-fatal dose of heart. And if  we're going to invest our free time and energy watching anyone do anything, that's what we want to see: a man...or vampire...blazing through life without apology in the name of protecting his woman. We don't love Damon because he's a villain. We love him because through his villainy, we see straight to his heart, his gigantic, throbbing heart which beats only for the love of Elena.

And no, I guess the eye thing doesn’t hurt.

Season 6 of The Vampire Diaries begins Thursday nights this October on the CW.

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