An effective plot twist is about more than just throwing in some random element to shake things up.
The best plot twists also attend to a particular issue within the story. TVD’s plot twists do just that. The writers at The Vampire Diaries are the kings at throwing the unexpected at us. This is part of what makes the show upbeat, fast paced, and so damn addicting. But, their plot twists also mean something. Below I’m going to analyze some of the plot twists we’ve seen in the show, up to the episode “The Devil Inside” (which has a huge plot twist) and explain why they were not only interesting because they were unexpected, but necessary for the progression of the plot and development of the characters.
Episode 1.14 “Fool Me Once”
Plot Twist: Katherine isn’t in the tomb – Much of Season 1’s plot revolves around Damon wanting to free his long lost love, Katherine, from a tomb in Mystic Falls, where she's been imprisoned since the 1800's. This is the reason Damon is in Mystic Falls to begin with, and he does a lot of destruction while he’s there. When it’s discovered that Katherine was NEVER in the tomb it not only made the viewers say “What?!” but Damon as well.
Why it Needed to Happen: The Stefan/Elena/Damon love triangle that the show is known for never could have existed if Katherine had been in that tomb. This is huge turning point for Damon’s character development. He’s been pining after Katherine for hundreds of years, trying to figure out how he was going to save her. To realize that she not only didn’t need saving, but that she never really loved him, breaks him. It shatters his entire world, and he has to completely redefine himself. And, if it had never happened, he never would have been able to open himself up for Elena.
Episode 2.2 “Brave New World”
Plot Twist: Katherine turns Caroline into a vampire – Most viewers probably thought things were over for Elena's close friend, Caroline, when this happened. After all, it didn’t turn out so well for Vicki. This put viewers on edge for this entire episode as they waited for Caroline to kill someone, or for someone to kill her.
Why it Needed to Happen: Without this plot twist Caroline’s character was starting to feel flat. It’s not until after Caroline becomes a vampire that she really figures out who she is. She learns a lot about herself once she’s a vampire and she grows as a person. In many ways Caroline is better as a vampire. This is an important plot twist because it does a lot for Caroline’s character development.
Episode 3.22 “The Departed”
Plot Twist: Elena dies and becomes a vampire – Killing off a character is a great plot twist, one that TVD takes advantage of in nearly every episode. Killing off the main character has the ultimate shock value, and since it was kept hidden that Elena had digested vampire blood until the very end, viewers were left to think that she really died up until the very end.
Why it Needed to Happen: The love triangle depended on this plot twist. This could have been some random thing TVD did to stir things up, but it wasn’t, because they set it up right. There are a lot of secrets that Damon has been keeping from Elena up to this point via compulsion. When she becomes a vampire his compulsion goes away, and she starts to remember all of the things he's kept from her. This was necessary to move the plot forward. Season 3 ended with Elena making a choice between the two brothers – Stephan, but she didn’t have all the facts at the time. The show did a great job setting this up, and it allows season 4 to essentially restart the love triangle without making Elena feel wishy-washy in her decisions.
Episode 4.23 “Graduation”
Plot Twist: Katherine becomes human – Out of everyone who was after "the cure" Katherine was the last vampire viewers ever thought would get it. So, when Elena shoves it down her throat viewers were stunned and left to wonder just what this would mean for her in Season 5.
Why it Needed to Happen: Katherine becoming human made her relevant again. She didn't really have a place in Mystic Falls or a need to stick around until this happened. It also allowed for her to grow as a character. Suddenly Katherine becomes the weak human in need of protection. It flipped the scrip, making Katherine, the villain of the show so far, the victim in constant need of saving. It’s this plot twist that allows viewers to understand her better and see her as a person and not just evil. Without this plot twist Stephan would never have been able to rekindle feelings for her, and the viewers wouldn’t have been able to accept them. Viewers also wouldn’t have been able to feel bad for her while she lies on her death bed. This also sets up another plot twist, because right as we start to feel bad for us, she reminds us just how selfish and undeserving of our love she is.
Episode 5.10 “Fifty Shades of Grayson”
Plot Twist: Damon breaks up with Elena – What?! We never thought Damon would ever break up with Elena. Not after pining after her for two years (four and a half seasons). If anything viewers thought it would have been the other way around.
Why it Needed to Happen: Damon was right. “I'm bad, Elena. I'm bad for you,” he tells her, and he is. This is important because if Damon has any chance of becoming a better person he needs to acknowledge this about himself. And, if Damon had never broken it off with Elena he never would have been able to say this in 5.12: “You are literally the best person I’ve ever known. And for me to think I could change you gives me way too much credit and you not nearly enough. You’re the best influence on me. I need you. You’re the good and I need a little good in my life because without it there’s an awful lot of darkness.”
Episode 5.12 “The Devil Inside”
Plot Twist: Katherine takes over Elena’s body – Yes TVD just knocked off their lead role! (But, hopefully not for good.) What makes this truly horrible is that just when Elena and Damon have come to the decision to forgive one another, Katherine steps in and screws it all up by pretending to be Elena and ending things with Damon for good.
Why it Needed to Happen: My heart broke when Katherine/Elena broke things off with Damon. But if Damon and Elena were to ever make things work for the long haul this needed to happen. When Katherine tells Damon that they can’t be together because she can’t be the only thing that makes him a good person, she’s just trying to get rid of him as she’s not really Elena. But, she’s right. Elena shouldn’t be the only thing that makes Damon good. She shouldn’t have to worry that he’s going to go off the hinges whenever they get in a fight. Damon needs to be more than a serial killer on a leash, he needs to actually change. What Katherine tells Damon is important because it gives him the opportunity to be good for himself, and not just because it’s what Elena wants. (Now we’ll just have to see if he can do that.)
These plot twists are great because in each one they force a particular character to deal with a situation or part of their personality. They’re effective because they have meaning. So, if you’re writing a plot twist, don’t just think “What can I do to shake things up?” think “What’s something my characters need to deal with, that I can use to shake things up?”
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