By: Kristen Carter
Now that The Vampire Diaries has ended, I have some time to reflect on what it means to me.
I saw the trailer and was immediately captivated. It reminded me of Twilight because of the palpable teenage angst, and the two lead actors looked similar to Bella and Edward. Looking back, I can see why it was so important to me. I grew with the characters. When I began the series, I was the same age as the main character, and it ended with her as a twenty-something trying to figure life out.
The Vampire Diaries had many flaws, but its biggest flaw was that Bonnie Bennett never got her due. From the very beginning, the series wronged her. In the earlier seasons of The Vampire Diaries, we never got to see Bonnie’s home life, her interactions with her parents, or what she did outside of being a gofer for Elena Gilbert.
In the first season, Bonnie discovered her magic and tried to figure out where she belonged in the supernatural world. Because she had trouble controlling her magic, she went to her Grams for guidance. Their relationship was powerful and loving, and it could have been a crucial part of her characterization, except the show killed her before she could do any mentoring. Following her grandmother’s death, Bonnie vanished from the series for a few episodes only to return as a character in touch with her magic. It was an empowering set of scenes and gave me hope that Bonnie would take her place as one of the series’ stars.
Unfortunately, by the second season, there was a reversal on Bonnie’s empowerment. She got bullied and pushed around by vampires while simultaneously being reduced to a lackey for Elena. Mostly everything she went through in the series—including the death of her grandmother–was to help Elena. Throughout the season, we saw Bonnie preparing to fight an Original, Klaus Mikaelson. Before we could see that happen, Bonnie admitted to Jeremy that she was willing to die if it meant she could save Elena and Mystic Falls. At that moment, Bonnie descended from being a best friend to being a magical negro. She cared for everyone else but herself and didn’t have an ounce of self-preservation. The show reinforced a dangerous narrative, one in which Bonnie existed to help Elena and one where she would gladly die for her. In the episode “The Last Dance,” Bonnie “dies” and yet her death centered around Elena.
Throughout the series, that narrative continued, and Bonnie kept lending a helping hand to her “friends.” In the third season, we had our first visit from Grams ghost. Although she died, she was still determined to help Bonnie. Those moments felt far, and few because we didn’t get to see Grams as much as I hoped we would. Then we met another member of the Bennett family, Abby Bennett Wilson. We finally met Bonnie’s absentee mother who left when she was five years old. Despite that revelation, it felt cheapened by the fact that Bonnie only decided to search for her, so that she could help her friends kill Klaus.
A disgusting pattern emerged, and it illustrated that Bonnie couldn’t have anything for herself, not even her magic. Everything up to that point had benefited Elena Gilbert or another white character. As a young Black woman, I held out hope that things would change for the better. To see someone as powerful as Bonnie Bennett, a witch who could fight Klaus Mikaelson, reduced to being her best friend’s servant hurt immensely and I wondered if they were ever going to show someone doing the same for her.
In a small way, the fourth season took a departure from the status quo. Bonnie started to experiment with dark magic. Initially, it was done to help Elena avoid transitioning from a human to a vampire, and Bonnie somewhat flipped the script on the other characters. The story arc illustrated a lot of issues we didn’t know Bonnie had. While fans were dying for Bonnie to get a mentor, it seemed like our prayers finally had been answered. However, it left a lot to be desired. It seemed like Bonnie was so desperate for a mentor that she accepted the first person that came along and said all the right things. We later learned that Shane was using Bonnie to revive his long dead wife. She trusted him, and he used her, just like everyone else in her life.
Furthermore, Bonnie felt slighted by her father when he told her that she needed help. She assured him that she could use her gifts to protect the town. Later, Bonnie renounced the spirits and was fed up with being tied to them. Once again, she went above and beyond to help Elena and Jeremy–even though her mother and father came together to help cleanse her of Expression. Because Bonnie decided to help Elena (and Jeremy by extension), she suffered the consequences. She tried and succeeded in bringing Jeremy back from the dead, but not without a price. She exhausted herself and paid the ultimate price–with her life.
Sadly, Bonnie’s second death wasn’t about her either; it was about how the loss would affect her friends. She attended her graduation as a corporeal ghost and decided not to tell anyone because she didn’t want them to know that she was dead. She asked Jeremy to lie and tell the others that she went to stay with her mother for the summer. Even in death, Bonnie was willing to focus on her friend’s feelings and well-being instead of her own. She said that she would be okay because she had Grams and the other witches. She was just happy that Jeremy was alive and well.
Her story arc in the fourth season gave us some insight into the mind of Bonnie Bennett. Bonnie believed and saw herself as the protector of Mystic Falls. She seemed slighted when her father wanted to implement more rules so that he could better protect Mystic Falls. Also, Bonnie didn’t place much value on her life. I felt as though she connected her self-worth to what she could do for her friends and that explained why she was always game to help them, even though they never reciprocated on the same level.
Fortunately, the charade didn’t last too long. By the fifth season, the Mystic Falls gang became aware that Bonnie was dead and they decided to hold a memorial. On the surface, it seemed touching, however, if you went deeper, it was all about the others and how they felt when it should have been about Bonnie. They reflected on their memories of Bonnie Bennett, and she gave them a few heartfelt words about how it wasn’t their fault.
The Mystic Falls gang found a way to bring Bonnie back from the dead but not without a price. We got to see Bonnie attend college, though we have no idea what she was interested in or majored in, unlike Elena and Caroline. In addition to seeing Bonnie go through college, we also witness her suffering in a way we hadn’t seen before. Because Bonnie can’t come back from the dead without consequences, we later found out what it means to be the anchor. As the anchor to the Other Side, when supernatural creatures die, they have to go through Bonnie. For years, we had seen Bonnie suffer in many ways, but none as painful as that. It seemed like Bonnie had to let supernatural creatures pass every day. Initially, she told no one but Jeremy, and he showed concern, whereas her friends didn’t. At that point, she accepted it and decided it was manageable because at least she was alive.
Later in the season, we learned that the Other Side was imploding on itself. With that hanging over her head, the gang assigned Bonnie game plan duties. Damon hounded and threatened her as if it wasn’t her life on the line too. Which further demonstrated the pressure they placed upon Bonnie Bennett. In addition to being the only woman of color in the series, they made her the magic negro, protector of the gang and Mystic Falls.
The sixth season quickly picked off where the last season left, and we learned that Bonnie and Damon were alive but located in a mysterious dimension. Luckily season six gave us something new by pairing Bonnie and Damon together.
Bonnie’s biggest story arc was escaping the 1994 prison world. Her relationship with Damon grew and deepened, and we saw a dynamic that we haven’t seen in a long time. Unfortunately, this was also the same season where Bonnie unwillingly had her life tethered to Elena’s. While Elena was in a magically induced coma, a la Sleeping Beauty, she would only awaken when Bonnie died and stayed dead.
With Elena out of the picture, Bonnie was allowed to be front and center in season seven. The flash-forwards revealed that Bonnie and Enzo were a couple. She briefly became a huntress and then a magicless human. During that period, the show tried to sell us on Bonnie and Enzo’s love, but it didn’t feel real because there was no buildup. We never got to see what Bonnie saw in Enzo. However, that was the first relationship in which we kind of get to see Bonnie be sexual. Before, they often portrayed Bonnie as a desexualized young woman while Elena and Caroline got to be in control of their sexuality. Although she was with Jeremy, it felt more like a puppy love situation, and that may stem from the two-year age gap between them.
I felt as though the writers put her in last minute relationships that nobody cared about because the writers never made us care (except Jeremy). And if anyone was ever interested in Bonnie, in the end, they were only using her for their own devices (see her relationships with Ben, Luka, and Shane). The Bonnie/Jeremy relationship introduced in the second season was supposed to mark a new path for Bonnie, but it didn’t.
In the final season, we see Bonnie, Caroline, and Stefan doing everything they could do to get Damon and Enzo back. However, only Bonnie cared for Enzo, so she figured out that she had to fight for him. Throughout the final season, everything that Bonnie did was for someone else (except Enzo). It wasn’t until Enzo died that Bonnie’s magic resurfaced. From that point on she was determined to find a way to bring Enzo back to life. And if she couldn’t do it, she would gladly die to be with him.
In the series finale, Bonnie protected Mystic Falls from Katherine and the hell fire she wanted to unleash on the town. And her ancestors joined in to help Bonnie complete the task. Even in death, her ancestors were still protecting Mystic Falls. Once more the show drove home the narrative that Bonnie Bennett’s sole purpose on the series was to help and serve the white characters around her even if it was detrimental to her or her family. It’s extremely problematic because she was the only woman of color on the show that was there day in and day out.
As a result, she never was treated the same as Elena or Caroline. We never got to see what her home life was like or the full extent of her dynamic with her parents. We didn’t get to see her dress up and attend the same events Elena and Caroline attended–such as the Mikaelson’s Ball or participate in Miss Mystic Falls pageant–even though young ladies who aren’t a part of the founding families are allowed to participate. From the beginning, they desexualized her, and no one desired her like Elena or Caroline. The show waited entirely too long to present her with people who cared for her as she cared for them. I found Bonnie Bennett’s treatment telling. Especially, when you compare Bonnie’s treatment to that of her peers, Elena and Caroline.
I believe The Vampire Diaries could have fixed their problem with Bonnie Bennett during the fourth season. I know some say it should happen sooner, but I will quickly explain. I think that season four would have been the perfect season for them to course correct because it was also the same season in which she began to experiment with dark magic. She was fed up with all the pressure everyone put on her–including the spirits. I honestly believe that would have been a perfect time, the series showed the audience that there were a few cracks in her armor and that Bonnie wasn’t as strong and composed as we were led to believe.
The series could have shown her interests outside of her friends. Or what career path she was interested in since she was headed off to college. Especially, since college is a time when many young adults find themselves and learn that who they were in high school isn’t necessarily who they are going to be forever. Honestly, I imagined Bonnie taking over Grams former position, Occult Studies, at Whitmore College. I would have liked to see Bonnie teach the next generation. However, I don’t hate the open ending they gave her because at least she’s alive and living life to the fullest. She kept her promise to Enzo, and my version of the future can still happen.