The fourth season of ‘The Vampire Diaries’ contains all kinds of new components. The opening has changed into a more generic introduction to the show (don’t worry, they change it back later on). The show is losing some of its steam because it’s using a lot of familiar tricks (understandably so considering this is the fourth season of a show that packs more story than any other show out there). Oh, and the main character is very much dead. Season 4 feels fresh and vibrant. Because “losing steam” on ‘The Vampire Diaries’ means that it’s still pretty much the most daring, fast-paced, ahead-of-the-curb drama that is on the air, there’s still enough to enjoy. The visual effects rival that of ‘Game of Thrones’, the bloodshed and death count puts ‘Dexter’ to shame and the risk the writers dare to take make any show look like child’s play. And yet, ‘The Vampire Diaries’ is still seen as that teen show about a girl in love with two vampires. Which is true. But if you judge a show by its premise, you’re going to miss out on the most fun you can have on network television.
Elena is dead. RIP her. Main character is drowned in the Season 3 finale. End of love triangle, end of story and end of show. Right? Yes, but uhm, it’s not called ‘The Mortal Girl Diaries’. So in one of the shakier constructed (and somehow not even remotely less shocking) twist the show ever pulled, Elena has turned into a vampire. Or, is very much in progress of doing so when Season 4 starts back up. Elena, however, doesn’t want to be a vampire. Living forever is the worst, right? She was prepared to die and now has to decide whether or not she actually wants to drink blood or die anyway. And since this season isn’t one episode long it’s not really a spoiler to say the heroine of the show chooses to live. Where the first few seasons mainly focused on The Big Bad of the year, Season 4 is all about Elena’s emotional rollercoaster of becoming a vampire.
The only bad part about this show, for me, is that it needs to contain a core love triangle. Without Elena’s everlasting struggle between loving vampire brothers Stefan and Damon, millions of teenage girls would not tune in and this show would not exist. So, as a sort of necessary evil, the show keeps this love triangle fresh so us older creatures can enjoy it as well. Season 4, in particular, manages to do so in quite the remarkable fashion. Elena was on her way to Stefan in the season ender, so she chose him. But Stefan is very much pro-choice (a pro woman rights man, ladies!) and doesn’t want to force Elena to do anything she doesn’t want. Unfortunately, that’s not what she needs. Enter Damon who pushes Elena to become the vampire she is now destined to be. This is a very simplistic explanation of a much bigger plot. There’s a special bond, blood puking and, of course, Elena’s true feelings. What is important is that dying changes everything for Elena. The way she looks at life, the way she deals with it, but most of all, the way her body does. For a girl who has always put everyone above her own and who usually has a lot of emotions, becoming a vampire is like a bad side-effect of drugs. When she has to kill someone, because that’s her nature now, her soul cries in despair and regret. Elena is a human trapped in a vampire. Watching this plot unfold is very rewarding. Elena was beyond annoying as a lead character and a human, but as a vampire, she shows off many sides of her personality that never quite reached their potential before.
Luckily, this show is not just about Elena or a love triangle. Not anymore. Tyler swears a war against all-mighty vampire and werewolf hybrid Klaus. Caroline continues to be absolutely fantastic and steals the show like it’s her dayjob. Jeremy has to own up to his supernatural destiny which makes you forget all about that sad stoner from Season 1. And witch Bonnie still tries to be relevant to the plot but really just isn’t. This is all how the season kicks off and one of the sad parts about writing a review for this show is that I can’t spoil because it’s not at all how the season ends. Every single one of these characters (and many more: Matt! Rebekah! Elijah’s hair!) grows, shines and is pivotal at least every two episodes. Even more than before this feels like an ensemble drama. Many of the supporting characters are more interesting and dynamic than the lead triangle.
The editing on this show is ridiculously good. Just like the stunts and make-up (seriously, the hair!). So good it makes one actress playing two roles believable. But even the crew can’t fake the actress who plays these two look-a-likes so fundamentally different. Nina Dobrev is a gift. It’s an absolute shame and embarrassment that this lady hasn’t gotten any major award recognition. This is something I lament every time I get the opportunity, but it needs to be done. On any show, any actress of any age cannot outperform Nina Dobrev. That’s a bold statement that is too often made without much foundation. If you don’t believe me I strongly encourage you to watch the episode ‘Stand By Me’. Besides the fact it’s a crucial episode in the series that is bound to make you sob like a baby, Nina delivers in every way possible. What she does without so much as uttering one word is, well, not human. To say the other actors are good too would be offensive. There’s a reason why Klaus’s centric episode ‘The Originals’ got picked-up as its own TV show. Joseph Morgan plays the oldest and most dangerous vampire with such flair and charisma you can’t help but love the monster that is responsible for way too many deaths. Candica Accola as Caroline, besides having the ability to create plausible chemistry with everything and everyone, is charming, bad-ass and touching all wrapped into one. And because the fandom hates Bonnie, Kat Graham deserves a shout out for doing some great work with less than enthusiastic material.
As mentioned in reviews of earlier seasons, this show is incredibly well constructed. It might just be the only network show with a full 23 episode order that still knows how to weekly blow your mind. The stories move so incredibly fast it’s nearly impossible to predict anything (go ahead seasoned TV fans, I’ll wait while you count your losses). Instead of one big seasonal arc the seasons are divided up by multiple story arcs. It delivers quicker satisfaction and also allows the story to move beyond current issues. Aside from that the action is thrilling, the twists (and neck-snapping) are compelling, the characters layered and engaging and the story is unparalleled. The show does ask you to jump a few sharks every once in a while. After four years some are used to the fast-paced plot that you just go with some of the inconsistencies and mythology explanations. That’s a mistake. Every word uttered on this show is crucial to the plot and vital for your experience. The creative force that is Julie Plec and her gifted writing team (Rebecca Sonnenshine and Michael Narducci especially, who will serve as showrunners since Plec has two other shows to take care of come fall) are unstoppable. This might be a teen show about vampires, but it’s very mature in every other way.
Season 4 focuses on a new start while also featuring senior year of high school for these characters. Prom, graduation, we get to live it all. Well, not “live” for ALL of them, obviously. Without giving too much away, the season isn’t the shows’ strongest to date. But only because Season 2 and 3 are so ridiculously good it’s hard to trump that while using a lot of the same ingredients. When the show tries to make you care yet again about another object that is absolutely important for all mankind (stone, sword, whatever is in Damon’s soap dish), the novelty wears off. But perhaps all of that is changing now half of the cast is moving to New Orleans and the other half is graduating. Even so, a lesser season of this show outperforms nearly every other show out there. Season 4 manages starts off as a character exploration for the lead and ends… well, let’s just say we’ll talk about that ending when we get to Season 5.
‘The Vampire Diaries’ Season 4 delves even further into its leading characters and that’s rewarding. Even if some of the show’s tricks (new villains are not to be seen until weeks after their introduction) are running thin, the show still knows how to pack a few punches. Keep your tissues nearby, don’t fall off the edge of your seat and close your mouth after your jaw drops. Season 4 knows what its doing. In terms of acting and writing, but also twists and integrated storytelling this is top shelve material. Not bad for a teen show about a girl in love with two vampires.