The Vampire Diaries season 3 review: Delayed sophomore slump

Note: Everything that happens in season three is spoiled in this review.

The third season of The Vampire Diaries opens up with perhaps the most grandiose season drives it has created to date: Damon and Elena are alone together, the third part of the triangle is out with the Biggest Bad of this show yet being lured by the darkness, Jeremy can see ghosts, we are being introduced to the originators of the vampire species, and one of them has made it his mission to create an army of hybrids — much more agile and dangerous than any vampire or werewolf league.

But those storylines do not progress much more beyond that. The Originals, the first vampires, take over the series (especially in the later half), consuming storylines and screen time that could have been better spent focusing on our current cast of characters — in fact, a couple of them, Tyler and Jeremy, even leave the fictional town for a long stretch of episodes. Other characters are relegated as nothing but collateral damage and used to further extend the stories the “more important” characters are going through, mainly Bonnie. The hybrid army that Big Bad Klaus created did little to convince anyone that they were an actual threat, being easily killed by humans and overall a futile attempt. The idea that Klaus is a direct threat to Elena (since she’s supposed to be dead) or anyone else is automatically done with once he finds that the secret to his hybrid army’s creation is her blood. From then on, we spend half a season with Klaus being all talk, and no action; his threat level is almost embarrassing. So much so, the tension for the second half of the season comes with his mother trying to kill him and his siblings.

The show switches gears. We’re no longer on the side of getting rid of him, but wanting him to stay alive. Unfortunately, his docility creates fervor for his departure (despite the passion the audience may have for the actor), something we never get.

Having Damon and Elena alone in Mystic Falls does help progress their story forcefully, with only a handful of scenes that payoff in subtlety (in the best way) during the first half of the season, and once Stefan leaves for the second time, it seems the tension is just ramping up. But the Elena character does a complete 180 a couple of episodes after her official first kiss with Damon. Now, she begs for Stefan to take her back in a sense, and the storylines shift to focus all attention on the love triangle (and many other love triangles, about five of them). Even then the story drags out, and other plots that seem to be dark and intriguing self-contained vignettes of other characters are nothing but tied to the triangle. Character-driven stories have never truly worked well for The Vampire Diaries, which mainly benefits from plot-driven ones, knowing what the endgame is, and taking its story there at an excitable and unimaginable pace. Instead, the latter half of season three sometimes spends entire episodes just with the characters and heightening the lovesick story. Certainly, that’s great if you watch mainly for that…but previous seasons had not made it the main story, only relegating it to the background more or less.

This season, it’s in full force. At times, it’s the only storyline. Others stop dead in their tracks, are left hanging, or do nothing more than be an extension of the plot to get rid of Klaus — who, as aforementioned, is not a believable threat.

The first half of season three definitely knows where it’s going: we’re getting rid of the evil guy. And episode nine, the winter cliffhanger episode, gets to that point (except the plan is foiled, obviously). But it’s a clear and concise roadmap, it’s a fast-paced journey as is the norm, and it’s as twisty and impactful as Vampire Diaries ever is. The latter half stays stagnant at times, seems aimless, and even predictable (unusual for this series). This isn’t even counting the ideology that everyone is dark and the muddled up moral compass that was created out of it. The only true storyline to root for is the magical ring storyline, where we find Alaric blacking out and murdering vampire sympathizers. And it quite strangely formed suspense on this series in a way we’ve never experienced before.

That’s not to say there are no good installments during the latter 13 episodes. There are. “Bringing Out the Dead,” which featured Elijah’s return, was an episode where not much happened, but resembled the fantastic dramatic, tense installments of season two (which I regard as an outstanding achievement as a whole for television). It’s an hour of our heroes sitting down with the antagonists, but it works — writing, production values, and suspense. “The Murder of One” was a reminder that this series can still pull a twist out of nowhere and shock the very core of this universe, especially convenient in a time when the episodes were stalling to a bore. And finally, “Before Sunset,” the season’s penultimate episode was quite the thrill ride (even if we quipped at some illogical happenings) where our group was finally somewhat victorious.

And although the final episode once again shifted most of its focus to the triangle, using almost every scene to aid it, it proved that this series is still fearless with its twist of turning Elena into a vampire. Albeit, the outcome was also predictable and it felt as though Alaric’s storyline was created just to push this twist, but it also remains as evidence that The Vampire Diaries knows when it’s time to amp aspects of its plot up. More so, it proved that emotional payoff and excitable twists sometimes go hand in hand with this show, that coalescing those parts of this series can create a — if not precisely ideal — beautiful hour of television.

And though Elena’s transition may mostly be used to put even more focus on the triangle, the story has yet to unfold. This is a series that told an almost flawless baby vampire story in early season two, morphing an annoying extraneous character into a fan favorite in Caroline. There is faith that it can recreate that (while not completely reiterating it). But it does, however, seem as though the “sophomore slump” — the idea that the second season of a show cannot live up to its first, certainly not the case with Vampire Diaries — delayed a bit and reared its ugly head during this third season. Not mentioned but definitely important and a huge plus, the first half of this season showcased compelling mythology for the TVD universe. Given this, coupled with the fact that the first half of this season maintained the momentum from its fantastic achievement that is season two and that even in its lull was able to create a couple of perfectly thrilling hours of television, season three was still entertaining as a whole. The latter half does not undo the greatness of the first half.

Even then, a bad hour of Vampire Diaries is usually a good hour of most things on TV.

Tags: | Categories: Recaps
About the author: Michael Collado
Michael Collado
Mike's a television junkie located in Miami, where he spends all of his time watching TV with his best friends couch and cable access.

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  • http://nowhitenoise.com Michael Collado

    And before anyone asks, yes I’ll be doing a photo recap of the finale soon :D

    • Mandy

      Yes, please!

  • James_Evers

    I agree so much with this. Here’s my issues with this past season which sorta touches on your position.

    The Originals: while there are some I enjoy like Elijah and surprisingly Rebekah to the one that I abhor Klaus (Kol is just there for me) they took over the story without adding anything to it as you mentioned. All the original characters suffered so much as far as development. The focus was even more palpable during the second half of the season. Had these characters felt like a real ally or threat, I would take them more seriously than I do now.
    Tyler was only there to serve Caroline’s story and we didn’t see any of the little character development other than onscreen. Making him a hybrid was probably one of the biggest mistakes of the series. Why? Because it was too soon and there is so much more story that Tyler could share that we the viewers had invested in but now can never get the payoff because that Tyler no longer exists. Also, I get that some of the actors have different contracts that have them missing a few episodes, but to do it in chunks like this season makes whatever development that has happened to them seem irrelevant and this is especially true for Jeremy and Tyler.
    Caroline, while I love the character, was too damn docile this season. There was no conflict with her other than her initial reactions to things, most notably, Alaric killing her dad. She just correlated it to the one time she was impulsive in season two after transitioning. And the way that she was having moments with Abby, Bonnie’s mom that SHOULD have been Bonnie moments, made me almost dislike Caroline. I’m glad I recognized that it was the writing but this needs to stop. Caroline too has yet to be intergrated into the main story other than being the prodigal victim and that too has become too much.
    My problem with Elena is her vacillating personality and once a young woman that despite tragedy was able to know what she wanted and executed her actions in a way that explained her feelings but now says ‘I don’t know’ every single episode makes me not root or care about her at all.
    And Bonnie, my favorite character without a doubt, I love this character so much and am so livid at how she was treated. I still do not understand how the most pivotal character is consistenly given no story. Bonnie literally keeps the plot going so why not reward the character and her fans? I get frustrated when the writers discuss witchcraft as this beautiful burden that they included in the mythology when that’s so not the issue. There is so much that can be woven into the vampire lore without taking the emphasis of the main focus, which is vampires away from the show while also not downplaying or “dumbing down” the characters which happens a lot in terms of Bonnie’s character. At the very least, the vampires and witches should be on the same supernatural playing field, not relegating Bonnie to in all honesty, a modern day slave. Sorry, you can’t have a show that centers its beginning around the Civil War with the protagonists living in the same town which has almost weekly celebrations of this era and not make parallels of like this especially having a witch who is African American who’s ancestors also cleaned up their messes and not given a voice.
    And you know what really left a sour taste in my mouth, is that at the end of the season, we don’t have a clear cut villian, and looking back at the season, there was no subsequent danger to the heroes of the story. Where do they go now with the series if they insist on “wobbying” every so called villian that will show they’re just misunderstood, sensitive beings? Personally, I never bought Klaus as the villian, but it was so apparent after Our Town that in the end of the season, there would be no real winners or losers. And the retconning has gotten way out of hand. For this to be the third season and to have to write your characters so out of context that it almost ruins the season finale? That’s a problem.

  • Eric Pharand

    F–

    1st Half: B-
    2nd Half F–

  • munki28

    Love the first half of the season when Stefan was fun as the Rippah [& Paul Wesley had so many opportunities to show us what a great actor he is] and the Original was an actual threat.

    The second half was not as good even though I still like a few things about it and the last few eps were awesome. I disliked the fact that every single villain just had to be connected to Elena in some way and at the end of the day, everyone in the show including the villains all went “Let’s protect Elena”. I know she’s the heroine here, but I can’t help but feel repetitive and boring. I also hated that characters were paired up constantly and for no good reasons except for creating more ships. rebekah v Damon, Rebekah v Matt, Klaus v Caroline, Elijah v Elena (not really but idk if they really had to show that Elijah also had affection for Elena), Bonnie v Jamie [for what? he's not even important and the couple didn't help anything with the story]. Stefan v Elena only kept repeating to each other “I will save you. Please feel again” – “I don’t (wanna) care/feel”. Then we have Elena constantly saying “I don’t know what I feel”. Damon v Elena was not convincing as they only look like really close friends who like to bicker with each other. Whatever “affection”/care Elena showed to Damon can be what someone shows to their good friends as well, except for the kisses of course.

    And why can’t they let Stefan go back to being good without losing the witty side of him? He’s even much more broody now than back then and I love this character (& actor) so much I don’t want to see people keep saying he’s boring. But honestly, the second half of the season has made him so boring. He went back to be like season 2 again – the main male lead but not really. He just kind of ran around helping people and doing something and being sad. he just didn’t seem to play an important role anymore. Now that he has got control of his blood issue, I was hoping that he could finally forgive himself and have a little fun. But then, maybe it’s not gonna happen in the near future as he sorta played a part in Elena’s turning into a vampire. More brooding to come sigh……
    All in all, still a very entertaining season to watch even though I couldn’t help but bang my head a few times for its fail logic. Hope next season will be better.

    • KATE 75

      I so agree with you Munki 28, i was really disappointed with season 3. They wasted good characters Elijah especially. I loved Alaric in the final epsiodes. Stefan was amazing as a ripper, the love triangle was just boring, i hope they don’t drag it again in season 4. They need to stop using Bonnie as a tool for spells and utilize Caroline, she is an amazing character.It was meant to be a season of the originals. it was just a
      wasted season.I rate it a D.

  • http://twitter.com/tessunia Aleksandra Gorska

    For me the first part of the season was very good. Then it was total fail and by the end of the season I was sleeping during episodes.
    This season was called “the season of the Originals” and what did we get? ONE episode about Original Family and that’s it. We could see Mikael for some time and everything was over. The only originals we could see were Klaus and Rebekah. Mikael was dead very quick and he meant absolutely nothing to the plot. Then we had only Klaus coz Rebekah was backstabbed by Elena (literally).

    • mel

      I agree! I was so excited that season 3 was going to be about the originals! More so after the great introducting they had with elijah and klaus in sesason2, but it all went downhill….
      Elijah was wasted, I mean waht did he do?? Rebekah and klaus, tough I love them, were too sensitive… They were suposse to be the villans! I mean, it’s great to have 3 dimentional characters, but they totally ruined them… Klaus in season 2 gave me the creeps, in season 3 was kind of pathetic, I only like him still because of the JM!! Kol and Finn had a lot of potencial but It was wasted by poor writting… I hope they can come up with better stories and more depth to the characters…

      • http://twitter.com/tessunia Aleksandra Gorska

        Well Klaus on the beginning of this season was creepy. But later when suddenly he fell for Caroline I was like – what the hell? He was totally pathetic, agree! Rebekah was just the whole time in the coffin, but when she was out she was like normal girl, I can understand her, she didn’t live, like never and now she could taste some of the normal life.
        Finn was just waste of space. Seriously. I don’t even remember him. Kol it is just lost potencial. He had some quallities, but it all was wasted.

      • munki28

        I still hate how they made Klaus draw to show his soft side. There are many ways to show his soft side without doing sth cheesy like drawing pony. Him falling in love with Caroline had no build up at the start to be believable. The only reason this couple is likeable is bcuz the actors are nice and both characters individually are great.
        But what annoyed me the most was how they made Rebekah become a weak, pathetic and needy girl in that episode with Sage. Totally ruined a good character. They had successfully showed that she was a dangerous hot tempered vampire but still a girl who didn’t get much love and just wanted to live a normal life prior to that ep. So I see no point of making her seem even more vulnerable by joining a sorta threesome with someone she despised.

  • GuinevereDeRaymaeker

    I thought the finale was beyond amazing. Maybe it’s just me, but I totally not saw it coming. I even cried a little, the same with the goodbye scene with Alaric a couple of episodes back. After a while I grew tired of TVD, but those 2 last episodes drew me back in.

  • Mandy

    I give this season a D overall, because if in s2 ever since the story line of Elena being the doppelganger was introduced, the writers made sure that everything from that point on was building up to the final two episodes, all the characters introduced (like Rose and Elijah) served a purpose, even Caroline and Tyler becoming supernaturals was linked to the main plot. S2 had a main SL and they stuck to it. Started out with a lot of promises to the audience – Season of the Originals! Finally we were going to be introduced to the family that started it all. But a midst all that it felt like the season had no general SL yet, but ok, we went with it, hoping that just like in s2, the purpose of this season would appear somewhere before the first half ended.

    However, after starting of well, I liked “The Birthday” episode, enjoyed “The Hybrid” and absolutely loved “The End of The Affair” and “The Reckoning”, the season went back to a familiar routine from s2 – Rebekah and Klaus were ALSO running from some dude named Michael, and you couldn’t help but have a deja vu. Again, so much fuss created around Michael that towards the end of the first half the season was still nowhere in terms of main direction – we never got an explanation as to why is Michael such a treat, what was Katherine’s deal all along, what purpose did Jeremy seeing ghost serve, why did Klaus need an army of hybrids….and overall, where were all those talked about Originals? Still, I had hope for the second half to explain that as I found Stefan’s revenge plot quite a logical conclusion after what Klaus compelled him to do. But the coffins SL was dragged out way too long and the result was not satisfactory as all – we were just introduced to two other Originals, who did not serve any purpose at all, and the Original witch. I mean, I give credit to the “Bringing out the dead” episode since they really did introduce them in a cool way and I thought, well, maybe now the dynamics of the season will change, I really did think that there would be a change of sides, Klaus would be left faced with his siblings teaming up against him and thus Mystic Falls would be divided into two battle fields. Unfortunately that is not what went down, and since that episode TVD turned into a show where there were soooo many characters and plots, which did not tie at all….and a midst all of that S3 STILL had no general direction. I liked how you pointed out that so much time was spent on these people, that could have been used for the main characters while others became plot devices and objects to be sacrificed to save Elena. TVD just felt like crowded place where you can not hear or understand anybody and you just hope to get out alive.

    I am not saying the second half of the season was completely useless and wrong but it was just not either properly written or properly shown to us. I liked the idea of the ring possessing Ric and the bloodline SL was good too, at least now it was sort of like playing Russian roulette, because it felt like the clock was ticking for all of them to finally change the course of the lives as everything could not just go on and revolve around Elena’s blood and safety. I just wished it happened a bit earlier to have the sufficient build up to the final two episodes. “Before Sunset” was a great episode – 100% TVD style, however like many pointed out maybe that should have been the season finale because while the actual season finale did have a general feeling of a finale, nothing all season long indicated that Elena might turn at the end of the show, literally nothing. I mean, if over the course of the season Elena either exchanged blood with the brothers or at least somewhere close to the finale, then, yes, I could buy it because you would feel excitement and danger in that – we would hold our breath everytime Elena did something that endangered her life because we knew and she knew she had vampire blood in her system. But making her turn because the worst doctor in the world decided to “treat her” like that…there is not enough shock and wow effect in that, therefore her turning did not surprise me at all.

    As for the triangle, I completely agree with your review of it. I especially hated the part where they decided to bring in “final” decision story in because it felt way too forced. Elena and Stefan were torn apart by the circumstances they were in, and by how Stefan has changed, and the same can be said for Damon and Elena, they have grown closer as a result of everything that was happening. Elena clearly had to spend some time thinking about what she still feels for Stefan and define what she feels for Damon, and we never saw that until the last 3 episodes. Elena not only dragged along both brothers, she also dragged on the viewers, who were getting tired of this not going anywhere again. This was the season where Elena was supposed to ACCEPT that Stefan has changed and Damon will never be what she wants him to be, however, it felt like Elena was still living on another planet hoping that everything will go back to normal. But none of that happened and Elena herself did not evolve this season, thus making people hate the triangle even more.

    So overall, I just think that s3 was not planned out well in the writers room, but TVD is a good show that stands out among all other shows for me, so I criticize with love because I know it can do better, and having let out steam about being disappointed in the finale, I still look forward to s4 and hope that it rocks!

    • katherine_fan

      I love this comment so much!!I agree with you on everything you said,especially the part about Elena’s character and her relationship with the brothers not evolving! Furthermore,her becoming a vampire was a letdown for me b/c a)I liked that she was human and could see things from that perspective,b)her turning might ruin the relationship between the brothers in which case I will stake her myself and c)I’m afraid her transformation is gonna be “Katherine’s transformation:the sequel”,with Klaus (still being alive) becoming vengeful,therefore,it will be sth we’ve already seen!

      • Mandy

        Thank you! =)

        I don’t want to sound like a hater but I just can’t find it in me to say that I am super excited about Elena turning, given her current character. I have read the books and book Elena was fit to be a vampire, tv Elena is not strong enough to handle it. So the writers will have a lot of work to do for s4 because Elena (human) does not have that big of a fanbase as it is (I am just judging based on the other forums I visit) and taking into account the people who have read the books, there might be even more less pleased viewers…but I am not going to get ahead of myself because the thing about TVD, its good at surprising viewers, so who knows?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001612393147 Lucas Oliveira

    Totally agree with you that first half was great, and was able to keep the rythm that we saw on season 2. Second half was… slower. But it also gave me great episodes, like: “The New Deal” (I thought it was the perfect return), “Bringing Back The Dead” (remembered me 2×15, one of my favorites episodes) “Dangerous Liaisions” (I liked how they executed the triangle in this episode, specifically), “All My Children” (which I thought it was thrilling), “Break On Through” (cray alaric and sage dance made the episode), “The Murder Of One” (needless to say). “Do No Go Gentle”, (the epitome of the second half), “Before Sunset” (needless to say) and “The Departed”, (the way the finale should be).

    So… I didn’t really like “Our Town”, “The Ties That Bind”, “1912″ and “Heart Of Darkness”.
    But, even the episodes I liked, wasn’t in the exact rythm we were used too. In general, season 3 was great… But it wasnt like season 2.

    My Grade: A-

  • http://twitter.com/iareally Ally Jay

    I feel like sticking a photo recap picture of “you’re thinking too much” on this entire post…. :// Idk I think I’m glad I don’t watch the show knowing I plan to review it afterwards. In fact I’m glad I don’t review my shows like this at all… I feel like your explaining this season like a doctor would explain a surgery or something… I found myself shaking my head at so much of what you said… for me I don’t feel like this was a slump, and a lot of that is because the entire show for me gets graded on the emotional response I get from the characters and the storylines and the post twists…. (i was going to keep going but i just got hungry and i dont have the energy to type any more without food… so yeah) :]]

    • http://nowhitenoise.com Michael Collado

      I take into consideration emotional payoff and entertainment as well. I think the finale was great emotional payoff. And the only reason the penultimate episode was good was because it was entertaining as hell; otherwise, it was as logical as 2 plus 2 equaling 7. The fact of the matter is, there were times in the second half where I nearly dozed off and was unfocused and uninvested. And the reasons for that were what I stated in the review; simply put, it was not a good latter half.

  • Tutu

    I disagree with you on almost everything and i actually think this has been the best season by far, but that’s just me =)

  • katherine_fan

    I’ve said it before but I have to say it again:you’re reading my mind!First of all,before reading this wonderful article of yours,I commented on Thomas Galvin’s recap saying that one thing that made TVD so legendary is that no one was safe;however,this season,everyone was safe and that’s boring!Second of all,I would grade this season with a C+ too!Ironically,for the same reason you graded it with a B-:This is TVD!It started as a mediocre teen drama but the first season finale was breathtaking!Season 2 had its ups and lows but I would have gradesd it with A+++ without thinking twice about it!And that’s why I would give the show such a low grade now!Because the show USED TO BE awesome,but it’s not anymore!In the first and second season,it was clear the writers had a plan;this season,however,it was fanfiction headquarters!!Furthermore,the storylines (some of which were set up from previous seasons) weren’t properly resolved or made little to no sense such as:
    *Katherine was running like hell from Klaus for centuries,but she was stalking him during the 20′s and made an appearance at the homecoming dance to spend the night barely 2ft away from him b/c she had to protect Elena whom she hated and wanted dead!
    *Klaus was obsessed with finding (and torturing) Katherine,but he didn’t even make an effort to find her all season!
    *The OW was using her necklace (a source of great power)to draw power from this side,but as soon as she was resurrected,she cast numerous spells without using it at all!
    *The white oak was also resurrected,even though the Originals had burned it down (and the explanation that was given to us was LAME!)
    *Mikael had been waiting for 1000 years to kill Klaus but as soon as the opportunity presented itself he had someone else do the job for him b/c he couldn’t get inside the Lockwood Mansion.It’s not like he could have waited another day,right?
    *But my biggest complaint is that magic ruined the potential for good storytelling (well that and the writers’ obsession with keeping the Originals alive at all costs).The witches have unlimited power while suffering no consequences (no more nosebleeds),they can perform any kind of spell no matter if their goal or the means to that goal is immoral (Bonnie was possessed when she gave her blood to Alaric,Esther used a woman’s blood for 2 rituals just because 2 of her sons were in love with her,Bonnie screwed Tyler over to keep Klaus alive,etc).
    I don’t want to conclude this comment with any more complaints so I’m gonna give a special mention to my favorite characters and the actors that played them:Paul Wesley and Matt Davis did a magnificent job this season!Stefan has been my favorite Salvatore (and character) since the pilot and he owned this season and Evilaric was the defintion of the term BAMF and the one who made the last episodes bearable!I love you both!

  • http://twitter.com/invinyourfuture Borednow

    This season is a solid F.

    The biggest problem with this season was that it was, in its entirety, purely directionless. Stuff happened, and then stuff happened, and then that stuff was made pointless by the next stuff that happens out of nowhere.

    The whole season was a huge Benny Hill Chase where they all went “Gee Brain, what are we going to do this night?” at the start of every episode only to end at the same place they began at the end of it.

    Whats more, the season RELIED on EVERY character in the cast doing the most utterly illogical and OOC decisions ever, in order to progress the “plot” and most of stuff that was actually INTERESTING and might have added some character development (Tyler’s try to break sire bond, Bonnie spending time with her mother) were sacrificed for the love triangle that has not been enjoyable since somewhere mid s2(let’s be frank, Elena is a horrible character and both pairings are horribly forced now).

    Entire show dragged on. Esther was horribly boring and pointless. Steffie The Ripper did not progress in any way and instead we got EVEN MORE crybaby-sh Steffie and whats more, his whole past got whitewashed and was handled in very underwhelming fashion. Melissa(refusing to call her Meredith) is still utterly pointless and annoying. The Original Family in the end was utterly bland and useless filler and Sage, the character that was hyped so much, ended up being a boring misogynistic love doll of one of originals. And Elena turned into even bigger bland mary sue than she started the season as.

    The last few episodes of the season were utterly horrible and predictable, with the twists of Heroes Season Three level of ridiculousness. And then finale topped it all. Finale that was supposed to FINALLY do SOMETHING about Elena’s character, wasted time on flashbacks that did ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to develop her.

    And then the end of finale made this and S2 completely pointless. In fact, they SHOULD HAVE turned Elena in the end of Season One, back then, when fanbase STILL cared about her and did not outright want to strangle her. Back then when we did not have 42165815 vampire turnings that completely took away any shock value Elena’s turning might have had. That would have spared us from horror that was TVD S3.

    TVD as it is, went from something exciting to a show I am happy to NEVER ever watch again.

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