Damon: (smiles, cruel, badass, and bad boy) Hello, brother.
Me: Oh, God. How could I even think of giving this show a chance? First I’m fed some stupid tween love story, and now I’m being subjected to a villain that I know is going to have cliché, unoriginal motivations, and a cliché, dripping-with-retarded-angst, unoriginal back story.
Yeah. I’ll never get tired of mentioning how much I hated this show when it first came out, and how I didn’t know why I was torturing myself by watching it. The tween love story was the biggest reason and Damon Salvatore was second to Stefan in the realm of bitches-I cannot-fucking-stand. While my opinion drastically changed over the course of two seasons, I can’t bring myself to regret my original opinion of Damon, especially when it comes to the first episode. I mean, seriously. Using fog and a crow to intimidate Elena? Really? That’s really how you’re gonna show me how badass your villain is?
Fortunately, the writers seemed to agree with me, for the fog was used only in episode one, and it wasn’t long before Damon chowed down on the crow. We never see either again, thank God. I am sorry to say, however, that my contempt blinded me to the objectivity that I pride myself on. It took watching the Season 1 Damon scenes three times before I could truly appreciated the complexity Damon exhibited as early as the show’s beginning.
From the start, Damon reveals a very flippant personality, taunting his younger brother about his desire for normalcy, his feelings for Elena, and the limited power that comes with a diet of animal blood. He scoffs at Stefan’s attempts to make peace, reminding his little brother that he promised him an eternity of misery. Judging from the dialogue and Damon’s attitude it would seem he’s made good on that promise ever since the brothers were turned. But it would seem counter-productive for Damon to tempt Stefan into drinking human blood again if his goal was to make his brother miserable. After all, Damon knows very well that Stefan was a blood-addicted ripper during his first several decades as a vampire. If Stefan embraced his true vampire potential and turned off his humanity, his ability to feel misery would be greatly dampened. He would be just like Damon.
Huh. Looks like Damon wants his brother back as much as he wants him miserable.
This is confirmed when Damon later tries to blackmail Stefan by compelling Vicki into thinking Stefan was the one who attacked her. Being that many citizens of Mystic Falls are well aware of the town’s vampire history, Vicki would not be written off as crazy and Stefan would be hunted and killed. Stefan refuses to feed, in turn taunting Damon about his true desire.
Stefan: That’s what this is about? You want to expose me?
Damon: (exasperated) No! I want you to remember who you are.
Stefan: So what? So I’ll feed? So I’ll kill? So I’ll remember what it’s like to be brothers again?
Stefan refuses, proclaiming he would rather die. Damon acts flippant in response, but compels Vicki to forget what attacked her.
In a show like this, it’s inevitable that a villain like Damon would have humanity, but would also hate, absolutely hate to be reminded of it, and would never hesitate to punish those who do. When Stefan tells him that his hatred for his brother was born of his love for Katherine (Note: this is a contrivance though. The real reason Damon hates Stefan is revealed later), Damon rips a teacher’s throat out. In Season 3 after Damon confesses he released Stefan from his prison cell because he couldn’t stand to see his brother starved and locked up, Stefan’s reply is, “Careful, my brother. Your humanity is showing.” Damon proceeds to beat Stefan to a bloody pulp. Even Elena isn’t exempted. When she figures out that it’s not only Stefan who mourns the loss of Katherine, Damon tries to compel her into kissing him. He didn’t want to hurt her (of course, we all know mind-raping and molesting someone is hurting them), but he did want to make her pay for exposing him by stripping her of control.
However, hating to be reminded of his humanity is one of the only rare expected parts about it. A far more twisted aspect of Damon’s humanity is revealed in the turning of Vicki Donavan. After escaping from the cell Stefan imprisoned him in, he ruthlessly feeds on a group of high school students and proceeds to burn the bodies. One of the victims is Vicki, and just as Damon douses her with alcohol he sees that she’s still alive. He seems impressed by her resilience (this is far from the first time he’s victimized her) and instead of killing her he takes her home with him. They party, drink each other’s blood, dance, and then Damon snaps her neck in order to turn her into a vampire. He later claims he did it because he was bored, but when we see him look at a picture of Katherine and then a partying Vicky, we know there’s more to it than that. He learns that she’s a lonely, miserable junkie who basically has nothing to live for, yet she still refuses to keel over and die even after she’s continuously brutalized by a vampire who has no mercy for humans. Damon too is a lonely, miserable junkie (though he’s high on human blood and his own sadism), but at least as a vampire he can literally get away with murder, and there’s pretty much no limit on where he can go or what he can do. Also, as the scene with him looking from the Katherine picture to Vicky shows, he believes that his true love is waiting for him to free her. Happiness for him is literally days away, yet Vicki’s future looks very bleak. So he turns her as a twisted form of mercy.
Damon: (to Vicki) Your life sucked. Your afterlife doesn’t have to.
After Vicki is staked, Damon again reveals probably the only other expected part of his humanity: his growing love for Elena in relation to his deep love for Katherine. He realizes that by turning Vicki he devastated Elena’s brother, Jeremy, who loved Vicki. For Elena’s sake, he compels Jeremy to forget his pain.
Okay, I think it’s time to shelve humanity for a moment and talk about what an evil asshole this guy is. He shows his extreme disregard for human life by terrorizing his prey before he feeds, and compelling a vulnerable Caroline to do his bidding, while feeding on her and having sex with her. Even his great-great-grandnephew is just another stick to be snapped when he dares to say Damon’s actions always have underlying motives. Damon even outright says to Stefan that humans are either toys, tools, or food, and he views them as such because it’s natural to his vampire instincts.
Note: I’m going to go into detail about how that is such complete bullshit later.
Pretty much anyone is fair game if they either get in the way of Damon’s goals or if their pain/death/suffering is required to get him what he wants. When he learns Sheriff Forbes is very open to the idea that vampires may have found a way to walk in the sun and is now investigating recent newcomers into the town, Damon frames Lexi for his own murders and then stakes her in front of Sheriff Forbes. Never mind that Lexi is not only Stefan’s best friend, but the vampire who helped him find his humanity again during his ripper years. Even more tragic is that Damon actually pleaded for Lexi to help Stefan when he couldn’t stand his brother’s violent tendencies anymore. Soon after Lexi’s death, Damon reveals his true reason for returning to Mystic Falls: Katherine’s alive, but imprisoned in the tomb she was supposed to have burned in, and he wants her back.
But that’s only half of it. In order to save Katherine, Emily, Katherine’s witch handmaiden, had to save the other twenty-seven vampires the townsfolk rounded up in 1864. While Damon wants Katherine back above all, he also wants the others free so they can rain hell on the town.
So, Damon, you murder, terrorize, mind-rape, molest, torture, and now you want revenge on people who have been dead for over a century. But you can’t get it so you’ll settle for their innocent descendants, and also innocent immigrants who are completely unaware of what took place in 1864. Of course you do.
I mentioned several times in my character analysis of Katherine that she’s a vital plot device to the overall story, and the same can be said for the life, character growth, and downfalls of Damon Salvatore. During the ‘Getting Katherine Out of the Tomb’ incident, we learn that Damon is entirely justified in not trusting his brother since Stefan, in his naiveté, exposed Katherine as a vampire and got her locked up in the tomb. Instead of taking Stefan’s word that he’ll help him get Katherine back, he takes Elena’s instead, having grown to trust her since she saved him from Lexi’s vengeful boyfriend. He’s very hurt when Elena betrays him, yet instead of abusing Elena’s trust when she takes off her vervain necklace to prove her honesty he puts it back on and decides to trust her again. He could have compelled her, something she was afraid he did when they went to Atlanta together, but—
Damon: I didn’t compel you in Atlanta because we were having fun. I wanted it to be real. (pause) I’m trusting you. Don’t make me regret it.
In my opinion, out of all the aired episodes so far, that was Damon Salvatore’s finest hour.
After the tomb vampires are freed, Damon learns from Anna that Katherine had been free all along, knew where Damon had been all along, and didn’t a shit. Naturally, Damon is devastated, but even as he holds onto the pathetic hope that Anna’s wrong, he doesn’t fight his growing closeness to his brother and Elena. When Stefan is captured and tortured by the tomb vampires, he risks his life to save him. He even goes so far as to call Katherine a “little bitch” when he learns that Katherine’s plans endanger Elena’s life. But the writer’s still keep true to Damon’s evil in spite of the slight goodness he’s embracing. When he learns that Alaric has it out for him because he believes Damon killed his wife, Damon doesn’t hesitate to publicly taunt him about it, saying that Isobel was “delicious.”
At the end of Season 1, I was genuinely hopeful that Damon would find redemption, and that he would be good for Elena, should the writers decide to pair them up. Well, as much as a vampire can be good for a human teenage girl, that is. He confesses to Elena (although it turns out to be Katherine) that he came to Mystic Falls wanting to unleash the tomb vampires onto the town, yet found himself protecting it from them. Elena/Katherine suggests that it is in him to be a hero and he kisses her.
My hopes were high, but it only took the first episode of Season 2 to crush them completely and permanently.
When Katherine strolls back into town it seems as if Damon despises her and wants nothing to do with her. But at the end of “The Return” after a lot of making out and foreplay, Damon tells her he can forget all the hurts of the past 145 years if she tells him she loves him. Katherine mercilessly crushes his hopes by not only informing him she never loved him, but that it was Stefan she always loved. Damon gets drunk off his ass and tries to force himself on Elena. Elena pleads with him, saying that while she cares about him she’s in love with Stefan. Jeremy walks in and Damon snaps his neck.
That’s right. Damon murdered Elena’s brother in order to punish her for being in love with Stefan and not him, even though Elena is the only one in the entire world apart from Stefan who cares about him unconditionally and would do anything for him. And the reason why he went to Elena right after Katherine gave him the boot is almost as disgusting as killing Jeremy.
He went to her only because she looks like Katherine.
Yeah. He did. He never would have fallen in love with her if she hadn’t looked like Katherine, ergo he only went to her because she looks like Katherine. This guy was so desperate to be loved by a woman who didn’t love him back that he would sacrifice one of the only healthy relationships he has in favor of an illusion. When he forces himself on Elena, we can see the drunken madness in his eyes. Elena may not be Katherine, but she looks like Katherine and she cares about him. His twisted, unstable, intoxicated mind can easily rationalize the fact that she’s not Katherine easily.
He’s later remorseful, but also incredibly cowardly. At first, in an effort to get Elena’s friendship back, he tells her that he knew Jeremy was wearing a protection ring. Even after he mans up and admits he didn’t know, Elena informs him that he’s lost her forever.
Damon: But you knew that already, didn’t you? You used me today.
Elena: (flippant) You had information about Katherine that I needed.
Damon: I thought friends don’t manipulate friends.
Damon, you were willing to toss Elena’s friendship aside like so much garbage in favor of an illusion, and then killed her brother when she didn’t give you that illusion. You also killed Alaric when he tried to get you to back off on Elena in Season 3. You will never be anyone’s friend.
Dear God, the only thing that could make all this worse is if Damon tries to get Elena’s attention again by guilting her into feeling bad for extracting a very mild form of retribution for what he did. That would take cowardice to a whole new level.
Damon: (to Elena while she’s at The Grill) So this is where you go when you aren’t stabbing people in the back.
Bonnie, put this thing out of all our miseries and slowly roast it alive.
The killing Jeremy incident is just one of many incidents that show Damon’s incredible short-sightedness and stupidity. He isn’t stupid in general, but he’s not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. I wanted to laugh at the methods he used to try and goad Mason Lockwood into revealing he was a werewolf at the dinner party, and it was downright embarrassing when he tried to threaten Elijah into revealing his motives. While it is satisfying when Damon’s stupidity rears back to bite him in the ass like in the Elijah incident, there will always be innocent collateral damage, which is something he never learns. In “Plan B” he gloats to Katherine about killing Mason Lockwood, thinking he has put a huge dent in her plan. But he underestimates her intelligence and ruthlessness. In killing Mason and provoking Katherine, he indirectly causes Tyler’s werewolf curse to activate and Jenna nearly being stabbed to death courtesy of Katherine’s compulsion. When a mystery woman named Jules comes to town looking for Mason, he suspects she is another werewolf. You would think the nasty shock that werewolves are immune to silver would teach him a lesson, but no. He saunters into the bar without the slightest clue of what he’s dealing with and strikes up a conversation with Jules along with spiking her drink with wolfsbane You would also think that Jules revealing she can not only smell the herb, but his unique vampire scent would cause him to realize he’s dealing with someone very dangerous, very powerful, and very mad, but of course this is Damon we’re talking about. He outright threatens Jules, and that night she comes to his house, a full-fledged wolf. But it’s not Damon who gets bitten, it’s his lover Rose. He stakes her as a mercy killing and reveals his guilt to Elena, outright admitting that he should have died in Rose’s place. He then gets drunk off his ass and stops a young woman named Jessica on the road, and we have this very enlightening exchange.
Damon: What’s your name?
Jessica: (terrified) Jessica.
Damon: Jessica. I have a secret. I have a big one. And I’ve never said it out loud. I mean…what’s the point!? I mean, it’s not gonna change anything. It’s not gonna make me good, make me…adopt a puppy. I can’t be what other people want me to be. What she wants me to be. (grabs Jessica’s shoulders, eyes gleaming with desperate intensity) This is who I am, Jessica.
Jessica: (beginning to cry) Are you going to hurt me?
Damon: I’m not sure. Because you (smooths her hair down) are my existential crisis. Do I kill you…or do I not kill you?
Jessica: (crying) Please don’t.
Damon: But I have to Jessica, because I’m not human. And I miss it. I miss it more than anything in the world! That is my secret. But there is only so much hurt a man can take.
Jessica: Please don’t!
Damon: (pauses, considers, and nods) Okay. (compels Jessica) You’re free to go.
Jessica: (runs to her car. Damon turns around and rips her throat out)
This scene is vital in many ways. First off, it reveals something we’ve always known. In spite of what he said in “Blood Brothers” Damon’s hatred of Stefan doesn’t stem from the fact that Katherine turned the both of them. That made no sense from the start because–
1. Never once in any of the flashbacks to 1864 did Damon express any form of jealousy of Katherine’s relationship with Stefan.
2. Katherine never turned either of them.
In order to turn into a vampire you have to drink vampire blood, die, and then feed on human blood. Katherine fed them both her blood, but drinking vampire blood and turning into a vampire are two entirely different matters altogether. The brothers died by their father’s hands, not by Katherine’s. Stefan completed the process himself by drinking his dying father’s blood and then forcing Damon to drink a human woman’s blood. Katherine fed the brothers vampire blood, their father forced them into transition by killing them, and Stefan turned them by feeding them both human blood.
In short, Stefan turned Damon into a vampire, not Katherine.
3. Damon expressed hatred for his brother only after he was forced to turn.
While the brothers were in transition, Damon didn’t express an ounce of animosity toward Stefan, or even jealousy. He only expressed deep sorrow at Katherine’s death and a desire to die along with her. He even said that the whole point of becoming a vampire was to be with Katherine forever. But now that Katherine is supposedly gone, becoming a vampire will only mean living forever with his horrible loss coupled with violent urges that will never go away.
Damon: (to Stefan, right after he is turned) You were right. It is a whole new world.
Stefan: We can explore it together.
Damon: You got what you wanted. We both did. For all eternity. (walks up to Stefan) But hear this brother: I will make it an eternity—of misery for you.
And this exchange from “1912” says it all.
Stefan: So, you’re still mad at me.
Damon: (utterly calm) Why would I be mad at you, Stefan? You made me become a vampire and now I walk the world alone drinking other people’s blood.
It says it all, including the fact that Damon Salvatore hates what he is with every fiber of his being.
But these revelations, while highly compelling, don’t blind me to my objectivity. I know countless fangirls masturbate to the Jessica scene like no tomorrow, wailing about how heartbreaking it is to see their beloved Damon so broken and vulnerable. Poor Damon! All he needs is some love and a hug!
But the more intelligent, realistic fans out there can see the truth. The truth that this guy is weak and pathetic beyond our wildest imaginations. He’s fully one-hundred percent aware that his innocent girlfriend suffered horribly and died because of him, and what does he do afterward? He goes out to terrorize and slaughter another innocent all the while whining bullshit about how he can’t change because he isn’t human. And it is bullshit, complete utter bullshit. As was constantly drilled inside our heads episode after episode, as examples like Caroline, Pearl, Anna, Slater, Rose, Stefan, and Elijah constantly remind us, being a vampire does not make you a monster. Yes, the drawbacks of becoming a vampire are heightened emotions, a drive to kill, and an insatiable thirst for blood; but if you view innocent people as a means to an end, if you specifically target innocent people to take your boredom or pain out on, that’s all on you. Being a vampire has nothing to do with it.
Elijah: Mother made us vampires. She didn’t make us monsters. We did that to ourselves.
So, why exactly is Damon unwilling to change? He is weak, but that’s too vague an answer. In “Heart of Darkness” after Elena asks him why he won’t let people see the good in him, here is his answer.
Damon: When people see good they expect good. And I don’t wanna live up to anyone’s expectations.
So, underneath all that flippancy and callousness is someone who cares deeply about what other people think of him. When he acts evil their hatred may hurt, but at least his actions are expected. At least they aren’t—disappointing. But if he acts good, people expect just that. And when he does something bad instead, when he fails to deliver, people are not only hateful, they’re disappointed. They believed in him, and he failed them. It’s so much easier to wear a monster mask because when it’s securely in place he’s protected against the unbearable notion of failing those closest to him.
While this revelation increases Damon’s complexity, it also further solidifies his pathetic ness, and once again takes cowardice to a whole new level. He targeted Jessica because she was an innocent girl, and vampires are expected to prey on the innocent. He was about to let her go, but then realized that if someone found out it would only encourage the faith people like Elena have in him. And if, when, he fails to deliver…
The look he gives the picture of Jessica on the news expresses his regret, but in his mind it’s the lesser of two evils. If the price of not disappointing Elena or anyone else is to torture and kill innocents then he’ll gladly pay it.
Loathsome as this makes Damon, objectivity demands that I acknowledge his character growth and better qualities. I’ll outright say this for him: he is no self-righteous hypocrite. He knows exactly what he is, despises what he is, and doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what he is, even if he is too cowardly to change. While he’ll never be even semi-good for Elena, his love for her is genuine, and he knows damn well he doesn’t deserve her. Even when Stefan becomes a ripper again under Klaus’ command, Damon doesn’t dishonor his brother’s sacrifice by moving in on his girl. Instead he protects her. Yeah, Damon kisses Elena eventually, but he hadn’t been taking advantage so I won’t hold it against him. Damon also completely gave up on Katherine when it became clear how much her actions were hurting Elena and her loved ones. Not only does he lock her up in a tomb so she could spend eternity in torment (which was, in my opinion, his second finest hour in the whole series), when she gets out and tries to charm him, he throws her off not once but twice. And the second time he was leading her on.
Katherine: (after they kiss and Damon throws her back against the cat seat) What are you doing?!
Damon: Thought I’d give it a shot. Truth is, you just don’t do it for me anymore.
Post character analysis follow-up: Damon gets a 10/10. I’ll never get bored with his wit or actions, but my opinion of him is the flip-side of South Park’s Eric Cartman; He’s the character I want to like, but just can’t.