Now that I’ve had a week to binge the entire second season of Legacies, and the mudmen have seemingly disappeared until season three, and the prison worlds have been broken, it’s time to address all the characters who still roam Mystic Falls, almost a decade after their peak.
More specifically, Legacies’ struggles to decide its tone after yet another highly-bingable, but extremely frustrating season of monster hunting and teenage romance.
Legacies, the third installment of Julie Plec’s Vampire Diaries television franchise follows Hope Mikaelson, daughter of Originals protagonist and Vampire Diaries villain Klaus Mikaelson. She and her ensemble of vampires, witches, werewolves, and random other mythical creatures that producers deemed “good” fight monsters at the Salvatore School.
After 15 seasons of the franchise, we get it — being a tall and attractive person in high school is tough. It’s even harder when you’re a supernatural creature; this has been established. And when Legacies’ sophomore season picks up, Hope Mikaelson is rife with more issues than she can count. Her boyfriend has no recollection of who she is — no one does since she jumped into Malivore, a black tar-looking swamp pit that once you submerge yourself in, the world forgets about you. Hope’s frenemy Josie Saltzman has started dating her boyfriend, Landon, and unsurprisingly, the two have more chemistry than she and Landon ever did. Life in Mystic Falls appears to have gotten insurmountably better since the tribrid took a dip in Malivore, although life for the orphan riddled with a god complex has gotten much more bleak.
And it’s in this struggle between the light and the dark that Legacies struggles to truly find its footing.
The spin-off of The Vampire Diaries’ spin-off The Originals, Legacies began to grace our screens bolstered with a decade’s worth of plot lines, characters, and a very vocal fandom. Initially, the show showed potential in its premise: bringing back the high school hijinks of The Vampire Diaries with the same dark tone and larger issues that made The Originals a success for The CW Network.
However, within the two seasons of Legacies, it flounders and has yet to find its place against its predecessors.
Legacies kicked itself off with the racial and sexual orientation diversity that both its predecessors struggled to confront throughout their early seasons. But despite the much-needed changes, Legacies is unable to live up to the shows that came before it due to its inability to choose a tone.
When Legacies refuses to define itself in either the teen drama, comedy, or horror genres, it creates a messy overlap that doesn’t seem fully fleshed out instead of being innovative and not conforming to the confines of genre.
Where The Vampire Diaries cemented itself as a dark teen drama, and The Originals followed suit, doubling down, Legacies breaks away from the pack and takes a more light-hearted stance. It’s hard to watch Lizzie Saltzman deal with poor self-image and struggle with her mental health when an episode later her classmates are watching the literal Santa Claus fight a monster.
The issues the show attempts to confront become washed over by lazy writing and an inability to balance over-the-top monsters and creating dynamic characters is failed time and time again. What made both of its predecessors so popular was their ability to portray flawed characters coming to terms with their actions with villains that were well-developed.
Unlike Legacies’ structure that pulls out a different common monster trope — gargoyles, mummies, zombies — each week, never delving any further than its popular lore that most watchers of the show are already aware of, both of the CW’s previous vampire dramas spend entire seasons, sometimes even more, going into the backstory of each antagonist, their motivations, and the larger implications of what happens if they succeed. More often than not, main characters would perish far before the villain is finally killed. Sometimes, these villains even won, as in the case of Klaus Mikaelson.
Despite being on its second season, Legacies has yet to kill a major character. The good guys have not yet lost. The expectation is that one of the menagerie of young supernaturals will sacrifice himself or herself to save humanity as a whole. This expectation has not been broken once.
After a certain point, viewers begin to realize that there is no chance a main character will die, and that the horribly named “Super Squad” will always prevail because of the jovial tone the Legacies always falls back on which prevents any other result from happening.
Legacies relies too heavily on the characters and lore set up by The Vampire Diaries and The Originals but destroys the history that those shows built by creating a re-vampired version that completely lacks a foundation.
In Legacies, there is no satisfying conclusion because each week ends the same. The sheer ability to generate the suspense that perhaps the good guys will fall caused Legacies to join a merry-go-round of monotonous success with little screen time for its actual villains.
Even when Legacies expands a villain’s backstory out as it has with The Necromancer, the weak conception of these antagonists makes these characters still one-dimensional and rather flat. The Necromancer became a tired gag that grew old after his first episode, yet throughout season two, viewers are forced to come back to him as he attempts to regain his power.
There was no chance of the Necromancer succeeding — Legacies wasn’t built for that — but the forced storyline dragged on.
The undisputed best episode of the season “Kai Parker Screwed Us Over” brings fans back to the old Salvatore house of the TVD era, before it became the Salvatore School. It was refreshing to return to a beloved location. And this episode brought back The Vampire Diaries’ most evil villain – Kai Parker.
By utilizing a character that already had a deep history in the Vampire Diaries universe, there felt as though there was potential for Kai to win, which he already had in the original show. The storyline dug deeper than how the protagonists would defeat this week’s monster, and finally Legacies seemed to work.
Kai is a notoriously funny villain, a true sociopath who is willing to joke his way through slaughter. The combination of his repeated quips coupled with the magic and violence promised by a Julie Plec show hit a sweet spot that Legacies had not reached before.
But often, in the quest to find that balance, Legacies falls short. The equilibrium never hits as actions and reactions do not exist on the same plane.
In “You Can’t Save Them All”, the thirteenth episode of the second season, Lizzie Saltzman’s vampire lover attempts to seduce and then kill her to nonconsensually turn her into a vampire. But all implications of these actions are quickly brushed off as her love for him continues.
Right before the prison world he is trapped in falls apart, he confesses, “I’m so sorry for what I did to you.”
She responds with, “I’m sorry that I have such terrible taste in men.”
Legacies struggles in reconciling the serious actions of its characters while having romance. For teen television, this toxicity is the norm. It is not having bad taste that leads to this situation, it puts the blame on the victim.
While Legacies has yet to truly establish itself, it is not to say that it is not an entertaining show. I binged both seasons each in three days when they dropped on Netflix. It is easily digestible, and a good quarantine watch for all those looking for one.
However, if Legacies hopes to have the same impact as both its predecessors, it needs to establish what type of show it is, and why viewers should keep coming back.