Before there were Elena, Stefan and Damon, there were Buffy, Angel and SpikE
Julie Plec’s The Vampire Diaries (2009) followed the lives of human Elena Gilbert and her vampire love interests, captivating teen audiences. However, before there was The Vampire Diaries (TVD), teens of the late 1990s and early 2000s followed Buffy Summer and her vampire boyfriends in the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show takes place in the Southern California town of Sunnydale, which just so happens to be on top of what is essentially a portal to hell. Buffy, as the “Chosen One” with supernatural abilities, is destined to fight vampires—and fall in love with a few along the way. As I watched Buffy recently, I could not help but draw parallels between the two shows outside of the obvious similarities. With tropes and genre shows come similar storylines, allowing the two to be compared on their own merit using the plots and characters that mirror one another.
Both shows offer two vampire love interests to their heroine, with Elena choosing between brothers Damon and Stefan Salvatore and Buffy dating Angel and Spike. Angel and Stefan share many similarities, both being broody but morally righteous characters who would die for the women they love. However, both characters are given an alternative dark side, with Stefan as The Ripper and Angel as Angelus.
At points in each show, Stefan and Angel undergo arcs as the villains and spend episodes torturing their former loves. Stefan, under the control of another villain, spends much of season three threatening the lives of Elena’s friends and family, torturing Elena emotionally and eventually turning his humanity back on after almost killing her. Stefan’s reign of terror, while incredibly entertaining, was short-lived and had few lasting ramifications for the character.
Angel becoming Angelus, on the other hand, turned Buffy on its head and changed his character and relationship with Buffy forever. Within the show’s logic, Angel is the only vampire with a soul, having been cursed with it after taking the life of a beloved village girl. He spent 100 years dealing with guilt until he met Buffy and immediately fell in love with her. Their love story unfolded over the first season and a half, with them ultimately consummating their relationship halfway through the second season.
Their moment of love is cut short, however, when it is revealed that Angel has once again lost his soul after experiencing a “true moment of happiness” with Buffy. Angel spends the rest of the season as the vampire he used to be, murdering a close friend of the main cast, torturing Buffy physically and emotionally, teaming up with her enemies and ultimately attempting to open a portal to hell that would end the world.
In the final battle of the season, Buffy ends up killing Angel and saving the world. While both characters’ dark storylines play out similarly, the brutality and emotional consequences of Angelus’ reign of terror remain far superior in writing and entertainment as TVD failed to commit to turning their main love interest into the villain.
As far as lead heroines go, anyone who has seen TVD doesn’t even need to watch Buffy to understand why the titular character is far better than Elena Gilbert. For the better part of TVD’s run, Elena tended to annoy viewers with her unintentional character flaws, such as the lack of character development and characterization outside of her love interests. The Elena of the pilot is fundamentally the same person when she appears in the finale, unlike the wide variety of side characters who evolved and stood out. Elena even leaves the show for two seasons, and while the show’s quality definitely declined, it had less to do with the lack of Elena and more to do with the show simply running out of steam.
Buffy, on the other hand, leads her show with a captivating personality and remains an active character throughout the series, never failing to take charge and bring her team of friends into battle. Her powers definitely give her a leg up over Elena as the hero of her show instead of the continual damsel in distress role Elena so often finds herself in. I have never heard of anyone who finished TVD and considered Elena one of their favorite characters, while Buffy is my favorite character in her show—and I am not the only one to declare so. Buffy’s journey from reluctant slayer to a true hero who stepped into her role captivated me and so many others while her staggering wit endeared viewers along the way. Buffy’s story and her role as a heroine continues to surpass Elena’s in almost every way.
Both shows additionally presented a main character who practiced witchcraft with a best friend. Bonnie Bennet of TVD and Willow Rosenburg of Buffy filled these roles and are still remembered as fan favorites of each cast. Bonnie specifically has been recognized as one of the best characters on TVD. Throughout the series, Bonnie has immense power, rooted in her ancestral line dating back thousands of years. Her character repeatedly sacrifices herself for Elena and her friends and undergoes an arc of growing power, coming into herself as both a woman and a witch.
Unfortunately, despite the strength of her character and the incredible acting of actress Kat Graham, behind the scenes, Bonnie and Kat, being Black women, faced discrimination from the showrunner and higher-ups of the network. Bonnie was repeatedly written out of the show for episodes at a time and was used as a utilitarian character to dig the writers out of plot holes they dug themselves into.
On Buffy, however, the writers treated Willow’s character with incredible love, giving her multiple strong love interests and a multitude of story arcs for her character to overcome. Willow began as an ordinary human and sidekick to her “chosen one” best friend before delving into the dark arts and growing into a powerful witch. Additionally, Willow functioned as great representation for her era with an extraordinary coming-out storyline in the show’s fourth season. While I may prefer the character of Bonnie, Willow was given much more screen time to develop as a character and was treated with love behind the scenes, unlike the racist treatment of both Kat Graham and Bonnie Bennet on TVD.
While both are iconic shows of their own eras, there are many ways in which The Vampire Diaries never lived up to the reputation and quality of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Angel’s villain arc remains far superior to Stefan’s, Buffy remains a much stronger heroine, and the treatment of Willow was far better than that of Bonnie’s. TVD never stood a chance against Buffy.