Legacies, for those of you not in the know, is the most recent spin-off (the cynical among you might say “cash grab”) belonging to the Vampire Diaries universe. Following the life of Hope Mikaelson, daughter of Klaus Mikaelson, and the lives of the other students at the children’s death trap (also called the Salvatore boarding school) in Mystic Falls. Now, naturally, this has left old school TVD fans and The Originals fans with one vital question on their pursed lips: Is this show worth watching? Well, fear not, for I your selfless paragon of virtue Analyze have sacrificed a good 12 hours of my less-than-precious time to answer this very question. You’re welcome.
This article will NOT contain any actual spoilers for Legacies, though I will make vague and undoubtably ominous references to events in the show, but will contain spoilers for all seasons of The Vampire Diaries and The Originals. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s begin the slaughter.
The Whot? The Plot.
I started watching The Vampire Diaries all the way back in 2009 when the show was still in its first season. Without dwelling on how fucking old that makes me (and yes, I am actually 500 years old) the thing that really caught my attention above all was the plotting.
As the first two seasons of The Vampire Diaries progressed they became more and more focused on a single central plot. Something the show delicately interwove with all of the various storylines and character arcs. With each episode advancing it, often covering what would in other shows have been seasons worth of material in a mere few episodes.
The best example of this being season 2 where they managed to blend the werewolf storyline, the Katherine storyline, the originals storyline, the doppelganger storyline and various arcs such as Damon’s redemption all into one beautiful symphony, the same one that sadly came crashing down into a cacophany in season 3. With Klaus being a werewolf-vampire hybrid, Katherine having been chased by Klaus, Elijah’s epic face-off with his bro, the doppelganger being needed to break the curse and Damon showing both his worst and best sides when it came time for the ritual. On top of that managing to somehow cram three fantastic villains (Katherine, Elijah and Klaus) into a single season. A real rollercoaster of love, blood and tears.
If this is the kind of storytelling you enjoy, fast paced and with lots of interweaving plot threads, Legacies… might not be for you. Legacies’ approach is less like a high speed rollercoaster ride and more like an old man walking through a rest home to get his puddin’.
Most of the episodes of the series have a monster-of-the-week format. Meaning that most of them are focused primarily on one thing: What is the monster and how do we beat it? Often with little connection to what happened in the previous episode and often… quite literally. As fists solve many more problems than careful planning on this show.
There is an overarching plot concerning a mysterious character and an even mysteriouser organization as well as a few even more more mysteriouserer objects, but this plot is only advanced slightly every episode (and some episodes not at all). Questions that would’ve been answered in one or two episodes on The Vampire Diaries, often take the entire season to answer. And there is really only one overarching villain to the story and they do not directly drive the plot forward most of the time. Since this is the case the overarching plot is also reasonably straightforward, with other plot threads only being occassionally interwoven.
The Vampire Diaries’ famous plot twists do happen, but less frequently and usually they are not game changers (being only relevant within the episode). Legacies also does not have the stakes to make them truly heart-stopping.
The Ouroboros of Character Arcs
But joy oh joy, we’re not finished. The self-contained nature of the episodes also has some delightful implications for the characterization on display in the show.
The Vampire Diaries did a great job (for the two seasons I admit exist, anyway) of blending together characters’ arcs and the larger plot. Usually these arcs developed slowly over the course of a season or with several important turning points spread throughout the episodes.
Slowly turning Damon from a card-carrying villain, into a sympathetic anti-hero is probably the best example of this. Damon in season 1 started off being the clear baddy, what with the throwing poor Stefan across the room and making fun of his hair… oh yes, and the murders. His motivations surrounding Katherine were subsequently revealed making him more human and sympathetic. His trust then developed with Elena after a bout of mild kidnapping. And being up against the Tomb Vampires allowed him to form some new bonds with his hitherto estranged brother to the extent that by the end of the season he’s trying to help save the town of Mystic Falls that he originally came to destroy. Nothing like this really exists in Legacies.
Often character development is more episodic. A character will start an episode in a certain place or with a certain mindset and over the course of the episode will learn some sort of lesson. These lessons don’t always carry over into the next episode and sometimes are seemingly plainly forgotten or simply irrelevant going forward. Chalk it up to severe concussions from the monster, I suppose.
This even applies to characters who are set up to have longer character arcs. As they will often seem to advance forward in these, only for the writers to decide that character development was a little too character developmenty and revert them back to what they were before. With one episode in particular being such a bad offender it had me looking for the nearest ball of twine to try and hang myself with. Imagine Damon showing enough trust in Elena to help her open the tomb, only to then have Bonnie go “ugabugaboo” and have him go back next episode to trusting no one. That’s about the level of writing we’re talking about here.
Variety Is the Spice of Strife
Its monster-of-the-week format does have what some might consider an upside however, especially those of you who are also easily distracted by colourful lights and funny noises: There are plenty of new creatures.
Unlike The Vampire Diaries and The Originals which was primarily focused on the three main beings; vampires, werewolves and witches, this show brings in a whole host of mythological creatures. It beats both shows in sheer scope and variety, that much is clear. A true plentitude, a cornucopia of monster madness one might say. This however also comes at a cost: this cornucopia is about 2 inches deep.
The Vampire Diaries was king at exploring its lore in-depth. It only had a small variety of creatures, but it really took the time to explore those creatures. What they were, what the limits of their powers were, where they came from, how they operated, how their world operated, etc. and how all this affected the plot, the story and the characters. There was a strong sense of history to every aspect. Every box was ticked and every inch was explained.
The originals themselves are a testament to this sort of storytelling. With many of their abilities being related to plot points. Elijah coming back after Damon’s staking and the revelation that the white oak ash daggers don’t work if they are not kept inserted both nearly gave me a heart attack the first time they happened because of how they amped up the plot’s stakes. The fact that the daggers couldn’t put Klaus down due to his werewolf sides made the adrenaline-filled ritual episode possible. The origins of their vampirism were also thoroughly explained and tied right into the hybrid curse plotline which carried the second half of season 2. How they fit into the vampire hierarchy, and how they maintained that privileged status through murder and mayhem, was extensively explored on The Originals to the displeasure of many a’ mook. And how these lives of blood and violence affected who they were as people, especially for Klaus, was the basis for that entire show. This is not the case for Legacies.
Most creatures introduced have a fairly direct parallel in real-life myth or pop culture with nothing too new added. They often have one major ability which gives the episode’s plot shape. Their origins are often not really explored or only briefly mentioned and their effect on the world is usually not explored any further than: They’re trying to kill us, let’s kill them first. They’re usually not particularly heavily connected with any other characters or events either and they rarely have an extensive history akin to the Gilbert rings or the Bennett bloodline. And generally they’re forgotten the episode after they die.
Imagine if in season 2 of The Vampire Diaries in the episode where Elijah showed up he showed up out of the blue (with no Rose or Trevor). He had no connection to Klaus or anybody else. He was just a standard old vampire who just happened to be a bit stake resistant. They then conveniently figured out in about minute 35 of the episode that he was vulnerable to white oak stakes, went out into their front yard, tore a branch off an oak tree and stabbed him to death with it while delivering a snarky one-liner. This is the formula for most (though not all) of the monsters on the show. Though there are two or three who are given a bit more attention, backstory, involvement and, once or twice, they even go so far as to give them a personality (though never any characterization as complex as what we saw for Damon, Katherine or Klaus).
Now, considering its origins, you might come to the reasonable conclusion that Legacies is a vampire show. If you thought this, golden star to you, but you would be completely wrong. Legacies is not a vampire show.
The Vampire Diaries and The Originals were vampire shows through and through. This can be seen in almost all aspects of them. In TVD two of the three main characters are vampires (later all three). The idea of feeding on humans and what that means is quite prominent as a plot point and plays a major role in the character arcs of main characters. As is the idea of hunting or being hunted (such as by the Founding Families). The long lives of these characters are thoroughly explored with lots of fancy historical costumes to boot. There is a lot of blood and brutality and murder. There is an overall Gothic horror vibe to both shows. Themes of existential loneliness, outcasts and death often take centre stage. And gods be damned if they don’t look great brooding. And there are, of course, the hopeless romance and perilous relationships between humans and vampires as embodied by characters like Stefan and Elena. Most of these elements are not part of Legacies, only of minor importance or thoroughly overshadowed by other elements.
Depending on where you draw the line of “main character” either none or, being very generous with that title, only 2 (of potentially 8) of the main characters are vampires. The bloodlust is a topic that comes up and certainly affects the lives of these two characters, but since most characters don’t have to deal with it it’s a lot less prominent for most of the show. And, with rare exceptions, they don’t act like vampires until it’s time to get the fangs out for a quick boxing match.
Though the dangers of “exposure” are mentioned it feels more as if it’s part of Charmed than some high-stakes vampiric masquerade, and very few plot threads actually involve a significant and consequential risk of exposure and of being hunted as a result. One such moment in particular is treated almost completely as a joke. Which is in stark contrast to The Vampire Diaries’ first few seasons where this was very prominent due to the presence of the Founding Families and with the implication of dire consequences.
Since most of the main characters are children, at least ostensibly, there are no flashbacks to old timeywimeyness for them, and really only one flashback episode. So no frilly dresses, nor any overly tight corsets.
Despite there being violence, there is very little actual brutality like there was as part of the power plays of New Orleans. This is partially because most of this violence is either non-lethal or directed at monstrous creatures that seem not to bleed or feel. The weighing of the value of human life, which was quite prominent in The Vampire Diaries with characters like Stefan and Damon, is also not very relevant. And, in fact, when human lives are lost it is often reacted to fairly casually. Though admittedly one episode does deal with this topic with a bit more depth.
Themes of loneliness, being an outcast and death are relevant. But not as relevant as they once were. There are characters that experience some form of loneliness, but usually whatever episode they’re in will solve that problem for them by the end. There is a feeling that they are outcasts from the normal world, especially when the plot places them in it, however this is somewhat subverted by the fact that we spend most of our time in the Salvatore school where they are among people who are just like them. And while the old grim reaper pops up a few times as a theme, particularly in two crucial episodes, due to the overall lack of stakes and character development it’s rarely that important or deep.
Overall Legacies feels more like a version of Charmed or a more light-hearted version of Buffy the Vampire Slayer than it feels like The Vampire Diaries or The Originals or other shows with vampires as their central protagonist.
Put on Your Floppy Shoes
Which allows us to add another point of divergence to our ever-expanding list: Legacies is a lot less serious overall.
One of the things many appreciated about The Vampire Diaries, and something that really made its plot twists impactful, was its stakes. In the first two seasons there was rarely an episode that went by that didn’t have clear life and death stakes where one choice or miscalculation could bring everything crashing down. Vicki’s death, Jenna’s death, Elena nearly being turned into a vampire due to Damon giving her vampire blood before Klaus’ ritual or Stefan selling his soul to Klaus at the end of season 2 to save his brother’s life are all examples of this. In The Vampire Diaries you were playing for keeps… at least until they introduced the other side (also known as the black hole of tension) and started haphazardly resurrecting characters as if they were throwing darts at a board.
But there’s pretty much never any playing for keeps in Legacies. There’s not even the pretense. In this show it’s usually very clear that the stakes are fairly minor, and often only relevant within the episode. Main characters get hurt or are placed in confrontation with monsters, but it’s usually clear their plot armour is the thickness of your average battleship’s. This is noticeable for a variety of reasons, and I won’t go over all of them now, but I will go over a few: There’s the fact that dying to some random monster is not something that tends to be very impactful or meaningful. So you know most writers won’t dare to kill off a main character that way and, wadda you know, most enemies just happen to be random monsters. There’s the fact that there’s little opportunity for meaningful long-term consequences when episodes are mostly self-contained. There’s the fact that many of these characters, especially the tribrid Hope Mikaelson, are demonstrated to be extremely powerful and so it’s hard to conceive them being in actual danger. There’s the fact that we know these monsters are usually just there for one episode and they’re not built up to be anything particularly impressive. And there’s the fact that a lot of the time the main characters seem completely indifferent to the danger themselves. And if they don’t give a shit, then why should you?
Instead of fearing the next monster, often times they’re just making snarky remarks and jokes while they either beat its ass or run from it. Sometimes in very genre savvy ways. Teacher’s going to give them a stern talking to after class if she ever finds out how much they’ve been cribbing from Buffy. Though with Legacies there is an overarching air of silliness and playfulness to it that goes beyond even the sillier moments of Buffy and which takes away much of its edge. Something more akin to a comedy (and not even a particularly dark one) or an after school special. In fact one scene towards the end of the first season feels as if it were written for kids who are just out of diapers. And so overall the high stakes gambits of The Vampire Diaries are replaced mostly with humorous, and admittedly sometimes entertaining, confrontations and even some quite wacky plots.
The Love Dodecahedron
So stakes are out. But if you liked The Vampire Diaries for its love triangles… well, you might just enjoy Legacies. Maybe? Perhaps? Possibly? Why don’t you tell me?
Legacies does have lots of relationships and love triangles, not surprising from what is essentially a high school drama. And you will, once again, not be disappointed with the variety. That being said if you’re into the slow burn… you won’t get your jollies on here.
There are one or two romantic relationships and love triangles that play out over a longer period of time, like the Damon-Elena-Stefan one, but many of them are much shorter in duration. Often lasting only an episode or two before the people involved move on to someone else and seem to mostly forget about their former crush. With one character even being told at some point by another to just get over someone, after which… well, he does. Cuz that’s how humans work. The writers truly do have an excellent grasp of the psycholology of us humains. It’s just about one hair away from the writers recording a video of themselves where they turn to the audience and say “We had fun with this love triangle, but now it’s over so we’re moving on.”
This also means the idea of undying love is dead, how two people might fit together refers only to their genitals and the beloved “will they or won’t they” dynamic is often resolved before you even manage to remember the participants’ names.
Nostalgia’s a Bitch
Finally, there is continuity. If you’re considering watching this show because you simply want more of your favourite characters and world… you’ll probably be crying by episode 3. Unless you really like Alaric. And nobody likes Alaric, that’s why he drinks so much.
Very few main characters from The Vampire Diaries or The Originals actually play an important role in the story. Two main characters from The Vampire Diaries, other than Alaric, do appear but neither of them stays for very long. They also do not have very many scenes or any lasting impact on the story that couldn’t have been achieved by some rando with a crossbow. We also don’t really learn anything new about either of them, other than getting a vague idea of what they’ve been doing for the past few years (and spoiler alert: it’s not that interesting). We don’t really get any new insights into who they are as people. Nobody at all from The Originals appears on screen, save Hope, though one still living character is, hold on to your seat for this one you adorable wankers, briefly mentioned.
Alaric does play a major role as the school’s headmaster however, and we do get to see his relationship with his daughters and with the school. He also happens to be a mentor of sorts for Hope. Though considering the amount of alcohol he drinks, well… let’s just say Hope has poor taste in father figures. We do also get some new insights into his psychology, though not very much. But if you were a big Alaric stan, you might still like it. And he does offer some pretty funny moments.
If you found Hope Mikaelson an interesting character in the final season of The Originals, you might enjoy seeing her here as well. She is the protagonist of the story and she does get a lot of screen time. That being said, the amount of new things we learn about here is limited and she only goes through limited character development (though by the end of the season the writers certainly choose to pretend that she went through lots). What happened with her in The Originals (i.e. her father’s stake dinner) hangs over her often, but really only one or two episodes deal with it extensively. She also feels like a fairly different character away from her family, far more cynical and very much a loner. The writers clearly took her snark dial and turned it up to 11.
The familiar elements of The Vampire Diaries world aren’t deepened very much by the first season of this series. Nor do they often play a very important role in its story. Things like the vampire hierarchy, New Orleans, Qetsiyah, etc. are all fairly irrelevant. Though some elements, like the werewolf pack mentality, play some role occasionally. Mostly, when the plot demands it. For the most part however Legacies introduces its own new elements, often only paying lip service to what came before. Though there are some easter eggs perceptive viewers might pick up, and one episode particularly is one big matroishka easter egg.
The Final Verdict
So after all these long ramblings, what is the conclusion? Well, being the free thinking cocktease that I am, you’ll have to decide that for yourself. But as you might’ve noticed if you read the whole thing, you brave soldier you, I spent most of my time talking about the differences. What things about Legacies are different from The Vampire Diaries and The Originals, rather than what things are the same. This is not what I set out to do. I set out to include both in roughly equal measure. But I struggled to find much, except the basics and maybe a coat of paint, that was shared between the shows. Take from that what you will.
If what you liked about The Vampire Diaries was its strong, involved and fast paced overarching plot, its long and deep character arcs, its focus on vampiric elements like bloodlust and secrecy and its deep and involved lore then you probably won’t like Legacies.
If however you’re looking for a monster-of-the-week show that you can easily get into, which can be funny and silly, with a large variety of monsters and magical elements and a bunch of teens trying to learn lessons about life and love day-to-day then this is probably your show.
I hope you choke on it.
- The Fiend Behind the Mirror – Why The Necromancer Was the Best Written Villain of Season 1
- Missing the Light at the End of the Tunnel – Why The Originals’ Ending Doesn’t Work
- Groundhog Die – Why Hell is Other People is the Best Vampire Diaries Episode of Season 7
Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the episodes of the show. We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. Legacies belongs to the CW and Alloy Entertainment.