Allow me to say this without qualifiers: Vampire Diaries is currently the best show on TV.
It is fearless, it moves at an insane pace, and it’s grounded in some really spectacular performances from young actors.
You may not expect much from an actress who got her start on Degrassi, but Nina Dobrev flawlessly embodies two wildly different characters, and she can draw the line between them with the tiniest of gestures. Paul Wesley does some awesome eyeball acting. Ian Somerhalder, who started off a scenery-chewing villain (having more fun than anyone else in the business), has demonstrated the skill to pull Damon in for the quiet scenes. And Candice Accola has turned Caroline into an endlessly fierce and heartbreakingly human vampire.
Episode’s like tonight’s (“The Reckoning”) are prime examples of The Vampire Diaries doing all the things it does best: tight, fast plotting, detailed character work, foreshadowing and follow through.
“The Reckoning” had several different plot lines going (Stefan and Elena and Klaus, Tyler and Caroline and Rebekah, Bonnie and Matt and Vicki, Damon and Katherine and Jeremy and Anna) all of them interwoven, all but one taking place on the high school campus, all within a single night, mostly within a twenty minute period. All of the stories were given about equal screen time and nothing was wasted.
Vampire Diaries has a knack for setting up its stories–both long and short term–and it always plays them out to their end, but it doesn’t waste time. The series moves lightning fast, the writers dive right into the action, but they weave it through the narrative, telling small stories about senior prank night alongside big stories about eternity and love and loneliness and addiction. Klaus can find Elena, his supposedly dead doppelgänger, almost immediately, but then you’re going to get a scene where Tyler and Caroline rig a door handle with honey and chat about Matt. But then they’re going to get interrupted by a crazy, ancient vampire, but she’s going to be playing with a camera phone and dealing with a small jealousy issue. Our leading lady’s life will be on the line, but Bonnie and Matt will have time to talk about how weird their lives are now, compared to a couple of years ago when they were just lifeguards. And then Matt’s going to try to kill himself so he can talk to his dead sister.
Three characters were technically dead for part of tonight’s episode. Admittedly they all came back, but that’s not always the case on this show. There is an innate fearlessness attached to the show that makes watching it absolutely thrilling. You literally never know what’s going to happen next because you can’t rely on the series to stop where most shows would. Characters can and do die. And they can and do lose themselves.
Vampire Diaries knows its characters and it relies on the audience to know its characters–sometimes that’s Elena’s absolute faith in Stefan and Stefan’s love for Elena, sometimes it’s Damon’s moral gray areas or Bonnie’s moral absolutes. The show also knows that making a change on the character level can completely shake up the story. Tonight that meant Stefan losing his last piece of humanity, his love for Elena. It also meant Elena putting her faith in Damon. The stories they set up on the character level–Stefan moving back to Mystic Falls, but without the emotional attachment that was tying him to the town before, Damon giving into Elena’s need for him to be the “good brother,” though we’ve seen it tear him apart in the past–will always be more compelling than a crazy chase scene. And Vampire Diaries has offered up some excellent chase scenes.
Mostly though, this is a series that knows where it’s going and it leaves breadcrumbs along the way. Often we don’t know that’s what they are until we’ve moved past them, but there is a clear path through this story. Everything is relevant eventually.
So when I say Vampire Diaries is the best show on TV I don’t feel the need to qualify it. I don’t mean it’s the best fantasy show on TV, or the best show on Thursday nights (which is stiff competition anyway!). I don’t mean it’s the best show on the CW, or the best network show. I mean it is the best show.
And you should really be watching.