Countdown to The Return is a series of guest posts by Vampire Diaries fans on topics they’re pondering as we head into Season 2. Blogger Katherine Welsh makes the case for why the show’s central love triangle is necessary for Elena to truly come into her own as an individual.
In a memorable scene near the end of the first season of The Vampire Diaries, Elena Gilbert’s birth mother Isobel tells her that “as long as [she] has a Salvatore on each arm, [she’s] doomed.” Isobel is, of course, referring to Stefan and Damon Salvatore, the vampire brothers who vie for the affections of Elena – and the viewers. At the end of the season, Elena has clearly told both brothers that she wants to be with Stefan, but she hasn’t exactly cut off her strong connection with Damon, either. So is Isobel right? Is Elena doomed?
I wouldn’t condemn her so quickly. What makes this love triangle so compelling is the fact that, while Elena has deep connections with both vampire brothers, she relates to them in very different ways. And while they both love Elena, they fill different emotional and psychological needs for her.
Shortly before the series starts, Elena suffers the traumatic loss of her parents in a car accident. When she begins to date Stefan, he provides exactly what she needs to facilitate her healing process. He offers her strong, unconditional love, of the sort that she can’t necessarily get from her well-meaning but overwhelmed aunt, her troubled brother, or her friends who are wrapped up in their own adolescent dramas. Obviously, nothing can replace her parents’ love, but when Stefan enters her life and shows that he is willing and able to focus almost all of his time and energy on Elena, she begins to feel a little less alone in the world.
Stefan’s supernatural abilities also mean that he can protect Elena in a way that mortal suitors such as Matt cannot. (Of course, it can also be argued that Elena is more likely to get into danger when she’s hanging out with vampires in the first place.) This sense of security is vital for a girl who has so recently lost the people who formed the very structure of her world. With Stefan – at least when he’s off the human blood – Elena can feel completely safe, and this allows her to start trusting people again and to begin to look away from the tragedies of the past and toward her future.
Damon, on the other hand, lets Elena occasionally step out of this ring of security and attain a higher level of agency in her own life. While he, too, tries to protect her, he tends to be more willing to recognize her as part of the team rather than as solely the object of protection. In Bloodlines, a defining episode for the relationship between Damon and Elena, Elena saves Damon’s life, and this puts them on more equal footing. Later, Damon and Elena bond and become a real team when they work together to wean Stefan from human blood. Obviously, Elena can’t compete with the vampires’ supernatural strength or speed, but she can still play an active and important role in the events that unfold, and Damon – perhaps less terrified of losing her than his brother is – sees this more readily.
While Stefan gives Elena someone she can trust implicitly, Damon allows her to be that trusted person. Elena is probably the only person Damon really trusts, and the knowledge of his unique trust in her makes her more confident and increases her self-worth. Damon even goes so far as to trust Bonnie because Elena asks him to, and this backfires when Bonnie lies to Elena about neutralizing Johnathan Gilbert’s weapon. Damon doesn’t seem to hold it against her, but how will Elena deal with this inadvertent betrayal of Damon’s trust when the new season begins? Will she blame herself for the circumstances that almost led to the deaths of both Damon and Stefan?
Even though he trusts her completely, Damon is more willing than Stefan to acknowledge that Elena is a complex adult with her own issues and faults. One reason why Damon can see Elena as a more complicated individual is because his feelings and intentions toward Katherine are more complicated, too. He spends much of the season trying to find Katherine, but depending on his mood, he may be as likely to kill Katherine as kiss her when he does eventually find her. Stefan, on the other hand, insists that he has no interest in Katherine anymore. To reassure Elena about her place in his heart, Stefan tends to play up Katherine’s (considerable) faults. And while he can’t pretend that he didn’t initially become interested in Elena because of her resemblance to Katherine, he’s spent a lot of time convincing Elena, Damon, and everyone else that he loves Elena for herself, rather than as a Katherine substitute.
It’s more complicated than that for both Salvatores, of course, and Damon is more apt to see the shades of gray. He realizes that Elena and Katherine both have their good and bad points, so Elena doesn’t have to be perfect with him. This means that she can relax around him, leading to scenes such as the one in Bloodlines when they do shots together at the bar. Without the pressure of Stefan’s sometimes-idealized picture of her, Elena is free to explore what it means to be herself, rather than the sad Gilbert girl the rest of the town sees or the anti-Katherine who Stefan loves.
It turns out that Isobel has it all wrong. It is only by having a Salvatore on each arm that Elena can recover from the trauma of her parents’ deaths and grow into the strong, independent woman she’s meant to be. That’s why I hope the love triangle continues through the second season and beyond. Elena needs both the Salvatores to stick around long enough for her to grow up and reach the point at which she knows herself well enough to choose the future that’s right for her.
Katherine Welsh is a New Hampshire-based writer and taxonomist. (No, that doesn’t involve dead animals.) She writes about The Vampire Diaries, other TV shows, books, knitting, and more at her blog Kat with a K, and covers Bones, Castle, and The Event for TheTelevixen.com. She’d love to talk to you on Twitter at @katelinnea.
Everyone is subject to these rules and guidelines, whether they read them or not.
If you have problems with any of the comments posted, flag them to bring them to our attention. You can do this by hovering your mouse over the comment so the 'flag' link appears. You're also welcome to contact us to let us know about any problems.
Do not flag comments you just disagree with - it wastes moderator time. The flagging system is not there to give a post a thumbs down, it's there for genuine problems.
Be excellent to each other.