In the most recent episode of TVD “O Come All Ye Faithful” Stefan and Caroline have a moment together in which they both confess they feel bad about leading Klaus away to what they thought was his death (or death-ish state). Leading to Stefan uttering the line “I’ve been sitting here trying to figure out what makes us, any better than him.” with a small conversation about the difference being that they have family they can trust ensuing (the conversation is somewhat less effective than I think it could have been because of the segue into the whole love triangle thing and the suddenness and briefness of the conversation). Still I believe this is a remarkable moment of self-awareness for the show and for the characters coming from Stefan here. It is true that in TVD a very grey morality is presented to us (something I wish the show would dig into a lot more). And while I don’t agree that the difference is related to family in any significant way, obviously this got me thinking about whether they really are any better than Klaus from a “moral” point of view.
Let’s start with Caroline. I think Caroline is indeed “better than Klaus” not only does she attempt to help everyone quite often and risks her life for her friends on more than one occasion, she even feels terrible for leading this killer (who’s brought her so much grief, albeit I believe mostly indirectly) off to his death. In addition while she has killed at least one person, she did this immediately after being turned and on impulse. She also confesses that she felt terrible afterwards, and while the show doesn’t dig into the implications of killing like say “Breaking Bad” it’s clear to me that if it did it would be obvious that for a vampire Caroline is relatively morally sound on this. In conclusion while Caroline has indeed murdered a person, her regret afterwards and her altruistic actions make her relatively morally sound (probably the most morally sound member of the gang).
Now what about Stefan, our knight in shining armour. I think Stefan too is “better than Klaus” although unlike Caroline, Stefan has a much more significant body count, he’s also much older. In addition much of his killing is due to his insatiable blood lust, which I believe is half of the determining factor. While Klaus kills to achieve his goals or out of sheer sadism (coupled with a need to connect to people which he feels he cannot accomplish in any other way), Stefan kills because he’s a drug addict, because he has a powerful compulsion coming out of his vampiric nature and most likely his own addictive nature (and of course because he too feels alone, albeit in his case because of what his ripper nature does to him). Obviously there’s more to it than that and Stefan can overcome these urges later on (showing that he had at least some semblance of a choice) and while these are mitigating factors I think his reason for doing these things still makes a significant difference. And then the second part of it being that Stefan feels terrible about it. And not just a little, he suffers day and night because of it and at times can barely find pleasure in life because of what he has done, this is most explicitly expressed in season 1 when he almost kills himself in order to avoid hurting anyone else and as penance for his crimes and pointed out in what he says in this moment. In addition Stefan has clear moments of “altruism” he dives off into the creek to save the family that had driven into it, he risks his life for his brother and his girlfriend on many occasions, he helps both Vickie and Caroline after their transitions (two people he didn’t know all that well at the time) and against what he wants to do he respects Elena’s choice when she asks him to save Matt before her. My conclusion while Stefan certainly is no saint, he certainly struggles often to do better and when “lucid” attempts to follow a certain moral code to the best of his ability.
Now let’s talk about Elena. Elena is an interesting case because much of her immorality comes from inaction or indirect action rather than direct action. One of the reasons I loved it when Darklaric pointed out that vampires have a natural urge to kill and with their long lives are almost sure to relapse, many of them having killed before and then told Elena to kill Caroline, was because it made a valid point and it confronted Elena with something I suspect she spends a lot of time denying to herself: namely the people around her these days are almost all murderers, many of them are likely to relapse, none of them have faced judgment for their crimes and Damon even continues to threaten and kill people. And yet she protects these people, loves them and helps them on many occasions with their plans while at the same time condemning others that don’t fall within this circle for immoral behaviour. I could dig into this far more but in the interest of keeping this as short as possible, it seems Elena has simply grown cold and distanced herself from the reality of her situation and that this leads her to separating her moral view, turning it off when required (ignoring the implications) and when not required to act on her morality as she would otherwise. Now aside from this she’s often risked her life for others (most clearly her attempts to hand herself over to Klaus to protect the people she loves) and shows a general kind attitude. In conclusion I’d say with these recent events Elena has become heavily traumatised, I suspect she feels as if everything is constantly falling away from her and she has become extremely overwhelmed and overstressed causing a certain degree of detachment towards these issues but that under different moral conditions, she might be as moral as any person her age (and certainly not as “bad” as Klaus).
Now let’s take on the big one, and the one most likely to “fail” this evaluation, Mr. Damon Salvatore. Much like Klaus, Damon has left a wake of bodies in his time on this show. He has toyed with people’s lives, killed others to get to his goals and shown himself to be capable of great sadism. His abusive relationship with Caroline (although he has faced allegations of rape for this, I believe it is more akin to an abusive relationship in part because it does not have the same psychological effects as rape) and his murder of Lexi being chief among these, and let’s not forget his goal to let the tombpires murder an entire town because 150 years ago their ancestors wronged him and his “friends”. Although he apologised for Lexi’s murder, his assumption that Stefan should forgive him for it (rather quickly I might add) and his lack of any real actions to attempt to make up for this (not that he could, but he could try) make it seem like a simple acknowledgment of that he’s indeed done something wrong (most likely rationalised as “but what does it matter I’m a piece of shit anyway” and a continuation of his self-deprecating attitude) in order to get his brother back rather than real regret at taking her life and at bringing his brother such suffering. In addition although he has at times shown some care towards Caroline, he is far from having made up for what he did to her and has yet to make his regrets clear to her (if he has them). And of course Damon continues to threaten and murder people, seemingly with very little trouble. That being said, Damon has on occasion also shown some signs of attempts at moral behaviour such as saving Tyler from Klaus in the season 2 episode “The Last Day” even though there was no real reason for him to do so (I’m not counting saving Caroline, because he did that to avoid hatred from Elena rather than because he regretted it) and of regret (for some actions) albeit generally buried under a smug attitude and a mountain of self-justification. In conclusion while Damon is certainly twisted and far from “moral” his struggles with this mostly come from his fear of dealing with the disappointment of others and his own twisted attempt to accept his vampire nature (which he lies to himself is the reason he is so twisted, which is I suppose indirectly true), in addition Damon has shown at times a willingness to attempt change himself but has simply relapsed into his immoral behaviour because of his strong impulse to act selfishly, his natural disregard for others and the aforementioned attempt to justify his previous actions through his vampire nature. However in light of his attempts at moral behaviour and his occasional regrets I would say that he is still not quite as bad as Klaus.
Finally to evaluate the man himself, Klaus. Obviously Klaus is as bad as Klaus but let’s see exactly how “bad” Klaus is. When we first meet Klaus he’s an enigmatic ancient evil that’s coming to town for Elena and he kills several innocent people to get to her until he finally kills Elena as well and takes Stefan hostage for some unknown purpose. In season 3 we find out that he’s doing this to create a family which will accept him and he’s forcing Stefan to accompany him because he wants to rekindle their long lost “friendship” however the very way in which he attempts the reach these goals (taking away the will of others) corrupts these actions. In the end what this is about is control, he wants to control others and force them to admire and love him because it makes him feel good. What they want isn’t important, his feelings towards them are not important, they simply need to love (and serve) him. The same could be said for his family, whom he attempts to control constantly and expects to take him and stand by him regardless of what he does (“they just didn’t want me”). In other words he did have a family that he can trust (aside from his father that is), he simply betrays and hurts them so often that he pushes them away (in other words his immoral behaviour precedes the loss of his family). Now I’ve heard people mention his “relationship” with Caroline as some sort of showcase for his humanity, I would argue that this is not true. First of all let’s think about how all this started, he had Tyler bite her to reach his goal and came to heal her after this. That’s not very nice, now is it. But maybe he had feelings for her before this, let us go back a little further. Before that point in time I believe the only time they’d ever met was when he was turning her boyfriend (Tyler) into a hybrid against his will. Well that’s not very romantic either. Now you can believe that somehow he developed real feelings for her while doing that or in the two seconds he spent in her room but I would argue that that’s a rather naïve position. What I think is most likely, is that he simply thinks she’s beautiful, and he wants her. Not as a person, not because he loves her, but as an object, because she’s pretty and he can’t have her. And the way he goes about this is using his charm, sob stories about horses and the fathers who attempt to use them to imitate scenes from the godfather, a smoke screen of niceness and pretty pictures and letters and dresses which seem to endear him to the audience so. Most importantly perhaps, as far as I know he has never, ever shown any regret for his actions and most certainly never acted on any regret he may feel (and the face he makes when he stabs Rebekah again in 4x04 is most likely not regret I’d say, most likely it’s fear of how she’ll act when she finally wakes up again and/or the disapproval he hears in her angry “Do it!”). Even though he has had 1000 years of time (which most likely also gives him a much larger body count than any other character btw) in which to better himself he has remained a controlling and murderous psychopath. In conclusion although I do not believe that Klaus is some one-dimensional evil (and Joseph Morgan’s portrayal of him makes me wish he was in every scene) and that he obviously does have reasons for having become so twisted and destructive and that he does have human qualities (such as feelings of loneliness), I would argue that simply because he has some humanity this matters little, because he never acts on it except in immoral ways and that Klaus thus still comes much closer to being “evil” than any other TVD character.
Anyway, I’d love to hear the thoughts of others on this subject (if you manage to get through my gigantic wall of text).