The Vampire Diaries has a race problem. There. I said it. God, I feel so much better. Also I feel so much worse — because The Vampire Diaries has like, a very real race problem. I was delighted when the show returned to the air tonight — and with episode directed by Paul Wesley himself, no less! It’s been a long cruel winter that has felt even longer and crueler than usual in the absence of this, one of my long-standing favorite television programs.
That tonight’s return was smart, expertly paced, and well-acted made the rancor I felt about yet another black character being introduced only to be murdered almost immediately even more intense. This is a smart show, it’s clever and dark and sexy and it’s got a serious race problem. But first, let’s talk about where we are in the season and what is really working.
Wesley, Julie Plec, and the team of writers at the helm of season six really delivered this week. The episode picks right up where we left off at the mid-season finale. Jo is trying to master her powers in the Salvatore mansion (which Damon wryly remarks has been turned into Hogwarts), Elena has been abducted by Kai, and Caroline is in staunch denial about the severity of her mother’s cancer. It was a well-balanced episode in terms of plot, and extremely deftly structured — as much as we love Tyler and Jeremy, it was good to get out brief check-ins with them and continue about the biggest business of twins sucking up other twins and Elena being quietly tortured by the greatest villain the show was ever birthed (apologies Klaus. If it’s any consolation, I would still make out with you).
As gripping as the story of Jo and Kai’s approaching battle is (especially inasmuch as it provides the perfect dramatic backdrop for Elena and Damon to rediscover each other romantically), this week it was Caroline’s journey to Chapel Hill to find research to potentially stop her mother’s cancer that caught my eye. Admittedly, there was a little too much plot packed into this story-line — Stefan revealing the real Sarah and having a tete-a-tete with Enzo could have been held off for another week with ease — but not so much that Caroline’s struggle to make the right decision for her mother’s sake wasn’t totally palpable throughout. When Caroline decides to try out her blood on a terminally ill patient, it’s a shocking move — and it’s supposed to be. But I couldn’t shake that feel that we were supposed to forgive Caroline this moral lapse because one, the man she was experimenting on was dying, and two, he had no family.
I’d argue that both of those facts make her actions even more shocking. Also, to have the role played by a black actor is problematic — because every featured black actor on this show is either rapidly killed or repeatedly trapped in other dimensions (hi Bonnie, what’s up?). Sure, white people get killed too, I won’t argue with you there.
But if your main cast is completely lacking in diversity it’s not wise to compensate for that by introducing black guest stars WHO YOU THEN ALWAYS MURDER. For a show that’s extremely intelligent, this seems like an insensitive and tone deaf move — and it’s been a problem since season one.