When I think of plot devices, the last thing that comes to mind is a character. And honestly, can you blame me? Plot devices are things after all, not people. Okay, I just checked almighty Wikipedia and the plot device article says that a plot device can be a character too. Not an answer I like, and I would probably change it myself (Wikipedia: if you don’t like the answer, you can always change it) except The Vampire Diaries has once again grabbed my storytelling expectations by the balls and given them yet another hard ruthless yank. They’ll stop screaming sometime this year.
Three famous ‘object’ plot devices that come to mind are the One Ring from The Lord of The Rings, The Sorcerer’s Stone from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and the spice from The Dune Chronicles. Each of these items is so crucial that without them, none of these stories would go anywhere. They may as well not exist. I mean, seriously, I like Frodo Baggins, but who wants to hear a story about him drinking beer, gorging on good food, and raising a family? Because without the One Ring popping in and screwing up everyone’s lives that’s exactly how his story would have played out. But as The Vampire Diaries has informed me, a plot device can not only be a character, but possess an importance to her story that rivals the One Ring itself. Said plot device is vampire Katherine Pierce.
Up until the last episode of season one, Katherine does not make a personal appearance. We only see and hear of her through pictures, dialogue, and flashbacks, but her vitality to the movement of the story becomes undeniable very quickly. In fact, let me make a list of the story points that come about because of Katherine in season one alone.
1. Stefan’s a great guy, he’s cool, he’s good, and he loves Elena for who she is but he never would have fallen for her if she hadn’t looked like Katherine.
2. Damon comes back to Mystic Falls for the sole purpose of releasing Katherine.
3. Damon retaining his humanity through Elena because Elena looks like Katherine.
4. The bond of brothers being broken due to betrayals committed thanks to their love of Katherine.
5. The brothers becoming vampires because of Katherine.
6. Bonnie losing her grandmother thanks to the spell that was supposed to free Katherine and therefore, becoming harder and more ruthless.
7. The release of the tomb vampires.
8. Damon falling in love with Elena.
9. John and Isobel slaughtering the tomb vampires on Katherine’s orders.
10. Isobel becoming a vampire (Damon sired her, who was in turn sired by Katherine)
I probably haven’t even named them all, and remember, this is just from season one. Despite her complete lack of physical presence, Katherine’s influence makes The Vampire Diaries literally The Vampire Diaries. If you even try to subtract her when she’s not even there, you get next to nothing.
Okay, so now that we’ve established Katherine’s importance, let’s talk about her as a character. In the season one 1864 flashbacks, she is portrayed as very charming and provocative. But the talented Nina Dobrev is able to skillfully add an underlying slyness to all that sweetness that hints at an inner psychopath. I wasn’t at all surprised when Anna revealed that Katherine knew all along where Damon was, yet didn’t care. In fact, the whole time I “knew” that Stefan and Damon were just two more poor, stupid slobs in a very long list of poor stupid slobs that Katherine strung along and then left hung out to dry the moment she got bored. When in the beginning of season 2, she claims she loves Stefan and came back to Mystic Falls for him, I thought the most appropriate reaction was derisive laughter at the very least. Couple that with toying with Damon’s feelings, stabbing Stefan when he doesn’t give into her lies, and turning Caroline into a vampire, the one thing that didn’t make me want Katherine to die screaming was the mystery of her actions. Why did she turn Caroline instead of outright killing her? Why is she rutting around with Mason Lockwood? Why is she searching for the moonstone? Why the hell did she return to Mystic Falls in the first place?
But the biggest and most unnerving mystery of all is: who the hell is she scared of? She’s over five-hundred years old, the strongest vampire we’ve encountered apart from Pearl, and she’s terrified of someone to the point where she would sell out her vampire family in order to fake her own death.
All our questions are answered in the same episode where we see an entirely different side of Katherine. As a human teenage girl living in 1490 Bulgaria, her life included traumas such as having to give up her illegitimate infant daughter to being exiled to England for “disgracing” her family. Misogynistic bastards. And just when she thinks she may get some happiness when she falls for an English lord named Klaus, that rug is brutally yanked from under her feet when she learns Klaus is a vampire who wants to sacrifice her for his hybrid ritual. Even when she uses Trevor’s love for her in order to escape and then abandons him and Rose to the mercy of Klaus, we still feel for her. Also note that Rose was perfectly willing to sell Katherine out to Klaus in order to save herself and Trevor. As a Machiavellian, I would say that Katherine merely returned the favor. But the most excruciating blow is coming home only to find her entire family has been slaughtered by Klaus in vengeance for running.
But five-hundred years later, we see that scared, desperate even still happy and idealistic girl who told Elijah that a life without love wasn’t worth living is little more than a memory. Her priority is and always will be her own survival, and even those few she cares for are fair game if it means they’ll buy her some time. There’s no better example than the fact that she condemned her entire vampire surrogate family to almost a century and a half of torture and isolation just to fake her own death. But it’s not even her actions that disgust me as much as the way she gloats about them. She “likes the poetry” of turning Caroline into a vampire, and smiles when Elena demands if she was really going to sell out three innocent teenagers to the most sadistic Original vampire in existence before saying, “Better you die that I.”
I’m sure none of us can blame Elena for just standing there in silence as she struggles to process the reality that not only can someone be that heartless and selfish, but take great pleasure in their own despicable qualities. Psychopathy at its finest.
Same with Klaus, it would have been easy to make Katherine just another black and white needs-to-die-screaming-and-in-agony-villain but of course, the writers never fail to show how much they value complex characters. Katherine outright admits that she truly loves Stefan and Damon (though we can see she prefers Stefan), and when tears brim in her eyes when she looks at a drawing of her deceased mother, we know that the death of her family is a wound that has never and will never heal. Don’t get me wrong though, the only reason why I wouldn’t love to see Katherine die a slow screaming death is because she adds so much to the story. She may have genuine humanity, but it’s not dynamic humanity, and she admits as much herself.
“Humanity is a vampire’s greatest weakness. No matter how easy it is to turn it off, it keeps trying to fight its way back in. Sometimes I let it.”
Sometimes she lets it in. She gave up the best chance she had at killing Klaus to save Damon’s life, but she’s shown before that she has no qualms in writing him off for something she really wants, such as freedom from the tomb or Stefan’s life. For the sake of consistency, I believe the only reason she saved Damon is because Klaus was the one who would have had him killed like he killed her family. Had it been someone else wielding the axe, Damon would have been mincemeat.
But psychopathy aside, Katherine’s role as a plot device remains just as strong in season two as it did in season one. Because of Katherine:
1. We are introduced to our first Original, Elijah, when Rose and Trevor attempt to barter their freedom (which was stolen thanks to Katherine’s actions) in exchange for Elena’s life.
2. Klaus becomes aware of Elena’s existence.
3. Caroline becomes a vampire.
4. Tyler’s werewolf curse is activated.
5. Mason Lockwood comes to Mystic falls and gets murdered by Damon.
6. Our heroes become aware of and make enemies of the werewolves.
7. Caroline and Tyler become romantically involved due to bonding over their new lives as supernatural beings.
8. Jules, Jenna, and the entire Martin family are killed.
9. Klaus’ hybrid curse is lifted.
10. John Gilbert dies to save Elena after she is sacrificed in the ritual.
11. Damon gets bitten by Tyler.
12. Stefan becomes a ripper again in the service of Klaus in exchange for the cure to a werewolf bite.
Which in turn leads to the events of season three.
Post character analysis follow-up, Katherine gets a 10/10. Whether she’s manipulating from the shadows, or ripping someone to pieces I don’t even have to mention her influence in season three to label her as the One Ring of The Vampire Diaries.