There was only one reasonably stable adult human left on The Vampire Diaries — and they just borked him. The vampire-hunting history teacher and surrogate parent Alaric Saltzman has been forever altered by a supernatural plot twist — leaving the CW series with absolutely zero likable adults left who aren't vampires. Why does TVD hate adults so much?
The Vampire Diaries has never been big on parents. As a primarily teen-focused show about supernatural dangerous liasions, this isn't a suprising choice. But from the first season on, "bad parents" have loomed as prevailing theme, showing themselves again and again.
In the current third season this has reached dramatic extremes, with one witch of a mother attempting to exterminate her whole brood over the course of many episodes. Alaric, who had taken the de facto role of guardian to Elena and her brother Jeremy, was revealed to be an unwilling serial murderer and then turned an unkillable evil vampire slayer. We probably should have seen these developments coming, considering the show's track record where mentors are concerned.
Elena Gilbert has now lost a total of six parental figures: her parents died in an car accident offscreen pre-first season, leaving Elena and Jeremy to their free-spirited Aunt Jenna. Jenna was a pretty solid guardian for a graduate student, until she died horribly. Along the way Elena also met and had to cope with the attendant horrible deaths of her birth parents, "uncle" John and Isobel the latter-day vampire.
With the loss of hard-drinking, soft-hearted Alaric, a steady force since season one, Elena is more on her own than ever. "I can't think about the fact that Jeremy and I don't have anyone to take care of us anymore or that we've lost another friend," she says plaintively when Alaric is turned. Can you blame her?
The thing is that in Mystic Falls, Elena is far from alone in lacking responsible adults. None of her friends have fared better. Her childhood sweetheart Matt has a devilish drunk of a mother who, upon returning to town, made out with her dead daughter's ex and then exited stage left. The ex, Tyler, had to deal with a secret werewolf, not-so-secretly abusive dad and then a mayor-elect mom primed to hate his deviant supernatural lifestyle. And just when he was settling in, Damon ripped his werewolf-uncle Mason's heart out. If you're over 21 and not a vampire on The Vampire Diaries, look out.
Elena's best girlfriends don't do any better, either. Bonnie's mother left her as a child and proved to be a deadbeat even when turned into one of the undead. Her badass grandma died of magic. Caroline's mother, the tough Sheriff in town, has slowly come around since Caroline became a vampire, but her father subjected her to wrenching "anti-vampire" torture in an attempt to force her to sublimate her bloodsucking instincts before he, too (say it with me) died horribly.
Elena has grown up and come a long way since the first season – she's been training to be physically stronger, with overt references to Buffy. It's great to see our once-passive protagonist in an more active action role. But even high school-aged Buffy had to evade her mom so she could slip out at night to fight vampires and see her vampire boyfriend. She was forced to abide by the mundane bureaucracies of being in high school, especially one headed by an evil principal. We're used to seeing our teenagers have to follow more of the rules of adolescence. On The Vampire Diaries this season, school is the background set for dances, and the only teacher we've ever seen actually teaching is now a Big Bad.
Bad, unreliable and homicidal parental figures have provided for an excellent flip-side message: the family you're born with often doesn't fit you, and another kind of family can be forged from a diverse circle of friends who love you for what you are. That's a good, repeated theme. And it's true in real life that a lot of parents aren't worthy of the title, so it's somewhat gutsy of The Vampire Diaries to depict it.
It would be nice, however, if a single adult in town managed to stay on the side of reliable. It's one thing for teenagers to be self-sufficient, and another thing for them to be entirely on their own, like some kind of vampiric Lord of the Flies. The ever-repeating motif that adults will let you down or leave you or try to kill you has reached overkill levels. We do get some more mature interactions in the form of Mystic Falls' vampire population, but it's hard to hold them up as exemplars when they're hundreds of years old and in love with eighteen-year-olds. And all of the vampires had crappy parents, too.
Any viewer of The Vampire Diaries will already be aware we can never quite know what the creatives have in store. But it appears Elena herself is longing for a simpler time: teasers for Thursday's season finale indicate that she is flashing back to a point when her parents were alive — "when life was pure," in the words of series co-creator Julie Plec, before vampires came to town. We feel her pain. We don't envy any of her future professors, employers and other would-be Obi-Wan Kenobis, since we've seen the way things turn out for Elena's mentors.