Doppelgänger Hijinks Ensued: Doubles in Season 2
With Katherine’s arrival in Mystic Falls at the end of season 1 of The Vampire Diaries, Elena was destined to come face to face with a “living, breathing double” of herself in season 2. Though there were issues of doubles and shadow selves in season 1 (in particular with the Salvatore brothers, and the mysterious Katherine Pierce), in season 2 the writers took the trope of doubling and brought it front and center, extending it far beyond literal dop- pelgängers to help illustrate (both visually and through the pairing of certain characters) the identity crises these characters face.
The term is derived from the German words for double (doppel) and walker (ganger) — and in folklore it was most often interpreted as a harbinger of death. In literature, thankfully, the character who is doubled won’t neces- sarily drop dead. The tradition of “dualism” — whether there is a separate living double (a doppelgänger, twin, or shadow self ) or an internal splitting of one character’s identity into two (think Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) — was prevalent in the Romantic period and in Gothic fiction, as writers saddled their characters with issues of unstable identities. There’s the “beast within” motif (as Linda Dryden describes it in her book on doubles, “the Hyde in each of us must be suppressed”) as well as the “conflict within the soul” motif where one character experiences an internal split into two selves. While some fiction features literal doubles (like Edgar Allan Poe’s 1839 story “William Wilson”), other authors have created a more subtle twinning, like Catherine and Heathcliff, in Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847), who can be interpreted as mirror images of each other, parts of a whole split in two.
Particularly in the early 19th century, the characters who found them- selves confronting a double were frequently orphans. Described by Dryden as “the literature of solitude,” these “double” narratives featured lone children facing isolation. Those features are also present in The Vampire Diaries: the show is littered with orphans (Damon, Stefan, Katherine, Elena, Jeremy, and arguably Bonnie and Matt), and most characters struggle with their feelings of isolation. Other traditions of the literature of doubling are also part of TVD:
- Characters often have a hereditary tie to the doubling (the doppelgänger “gene” runs in the Petrova/Pierce line, the Lockwood curse is genetic),
- The character is tempted by darkness (most notably Damon and Stefan),
- The character is an outcast of society (those involved with the supernatural feel separate from the rest of the townsfolk),
- The doubles are bound together and both feel the same pain (the spell tying Katherine and Elena made this idea literal in “Masquerade”),
- The likeness between doubles is unaccountable — it’s out of the ordinary and it threatens the stability of the social fabric by enabling confusion and trickery with the presence of more than one of the same person (which sums up the experience of Elena and her friends once Katherine enters her world and toys with it), and
- The language in narratives of the double often employs verbal ambiguity; it’s full of puns and double meaning (something the TVD writers love to play with).
Once the doubles have met, will they become enemies or partners? Which is the original and which the copy? Will the double destroy the original, or lead that character to become a more stable whole through the conflict between self and shadow self? The figure of a double calls into question the assumption that we all have a single, stable self — one identity that we carry through adult life, rather than a multiplicity of selves within a single person, often battling for dominance. And this is where the psychology comes in. Swiss psychologist Carl Jung (1875–1961) wrote about a “shadow self ” — the darkness within each individual that is cut off from his or her conscious being — and it’s a useful concept to consider in regards to doubles and dop- pelgängers. “We carry our past with us,” said Jung in 1937. “[For someone to be cured of a looming shadow self ] it is necessary to find a way in which his conscious personality and his shadow can live together. ” The idea being, if one ventures into the “darkness” of the self and brings the self and shadow into a “precarious unity,” then it’s possible to assimilate the dark side rather than be overwhelmed by it (a likely result of denying and repressing it). “The hero’s main feat is to overcome the monster of darkness,” wrote Jung, refer- ring to the victory of the conscious self over the subconscious urges. Does that bring to mind any vampires we know and love?
There is a multitude of dualism issues present in season 2 of The Vampire Diaries — from splits in personality (Damon, Stefan), to physical transfor- mations (Tyler morphs from human to wolf, Caroline becomes a vampire), to mistaken identities and doppelgängers (Elena and Katherine). To begin with the physical doubles, Katherine’s debut in Mystic Falls in “The Return” plays out like her character will be the archetypical evil doppelgänger: she’s destructive, manipulative, sexual, violent, cavalier, and enjoys the danger- ous fun in her “doppelgänger hijinks. ” She seems at first to be literally the harbinger of death, as she threatens to kill everyone Elena loves and she’s later indirectly responsible for bringing Klaus down on them all. She’s the antith- esis of Elena; where Elena is virtue, Katherine is vice, a devil with instinctual, anti-social tendencies. Katherine fits into the tradition of a devil- or demon- as-double: she has great knowledge and power, she’s older by centuries (as Damon likes to point out), she obstructs the double’s plans (forcing the breakup with Elena and Stefan, and plotting twice to turn her over to Klaus), and she must be circumvented by cunning (see “Masquerade”).
The femme fatale versus fair maid archetype doesn’t stick around for long: as discussed in the preceding episode guide, Elena quickly adopts manipula- tive and strategic techniques more readily identified with Katherine. And in “Katerina,” Katherine is humanized. Though she pretended to be an orphan when she arrived at the Salvatores in 1864 to elicit sympathy, it turns out that Katherine really is an orphan. She lost her parents just as Elena did, and both feel culpable for their deaths (Katerina for angering Klaus by fleeing, and Elena for being the reason her parents were on the road the night of the accident).
In Elena’s fake fight with Stefan in “Kill or Be Killed,” she says of Katherine, “It’s like we’re the same person. How could you hate her and be in love with me?” In that moment, Elena and the audience actually believe there’s a world of difference between the two. But as the storyline develops and the lore of the doppelgänger is revealed — their existence is the result of a spell, and they are both doubles of a third, as yet unknown, Petrova — there is an undeni- able bond between the two. And that is another hallmark of the doubles’ tale: whether the double is an antagonist or a confidant, at some point in their narrative, the twins share a feeling of closeness and sympathy. Elena identifies with Katherine in “Katerina” (though importantly not with the decisions she makes), and the two are mirrored in their parallel affection for the Salvatore brothers. In the finale, Katherine very pointedly says to Elena that she should not be ashamed to love both brothers — after all, Katherine did.
A good-doppelgänger/bad-doppelgänger binary is too simple and boring for The Vampire Diaries, and by muddying the distinctions between Katherine and Elena — of what each girl is capable of doing and feeling — the writers have made these characters delightfully layered. As Katherine gets better at impersonating her younger twin, the two characters reveal more similarities. But beyond the literal double they have in each other, both Katherine and Elena have an internal split. There is Katherine, the vamp in both senses of the word, and there is Katerina, the girl who believed that a life without love was not worth living (“Klaus”). We know that the much-ballyhooed “emo- tions switch” for vampires is not real: Katherine is actively suppressing the feelings she has in order to survive at any cost. In the tomb with Stefan in “By the Light of the Moon,” she says she knows she’s done “terrible things” but she doesn’t regret her actions, which were motivated by a fierce sense of self- preservation. Both Salvatore brothers give her a “look where that’s got you” lecture (Stefan here, and Damon when she’s trapped in Alaric’s apartment), and in the finale, as if she has taken the criticism to heart, Katherine chooses to repay her debt to Damon, by saving his life instead of immediately fleeing. Not much in the grand scheme of things, but a huge step when you consider the villain who landed in Mystic Falls in “Founder’s Day. ”
Elena’s split identity in season 2 comes with the discovery that she is the doppelgänger. To some vampires, she is an object to be collected and destroyed along with the moonstone, her human life having no value greater to them than an old rock. Her new identity as “the doppelgänger,” a super- natural entity, threatens to destroy her true identity as Elena Gilbert — a human with family, friends, and a future (and we see the significance of it to her in “The Last Day” when she mourns losing that life). In moments over the course of the season, Elena refers to “the doppelgänger” instead of speaking of “I” or “me,” when talking about the sacrifice; she separates her two identities. While Katherine chose to save herself by fleeing the sacrifice, Elena chooses to save those she holds dear (a plan which fails spectacularly when Jenna dies, along with John) by going through with the sacrifice. Elena is rid of her supernatural identity: the doppelgänger has been killed, and in her resurrection she returns to her true self.
When Damon announced his presence in the pilot — “Hello, brother” — and Stefan very shortly thereafter tackled him straight out the window, the “hostile brothers” motif of TVD was established. While the audience became acquainted with the brothers, the battle was external — one good brother, one bad — but it didn’t take long for the writers to take that tradition and layer it by giving each of Damon and Stefan internal conflicts that derive from and further complicate the relationship between the two. Their external conflicts reflect their internal struggles between self and shadow self.
Stefan sees in Damon (particularly in the killing-spree Damon who arrived in town) several aspects of himself that he is repressing. Instead of iden- tifying as a vampire, Stefan tries his best to be human again by embracing his emotions and denying himself the sustenance and satisfaction his body craves — human blood. His vigilance in the present is contrasted with his violent past, which we learn about gradually over the course of season 1 and season 2, most fully in “Miss Mystic Falls” and in the flashbacks in “The Dinner Party” where Stefan “the Ripper” is revealed. Stefan sees a hard line within himself that separates the monster from the man. In his advice to Caroline in “Brave New World,” he reveals how tempted he is by the monster’s instincts. It feels good to give in, he says, but those feelings must be repressed. In the finale, Stefan’s two selves come into direct conflict: in order to atone for his past wrong against his brother, Stefan feels he must find a cure for Damon’s werewolf bite at any cost, and that cost is “the man” being devoured by “the monster. ” The boundary he painstakingly erected within himself over a cen- tury was torn away in one night by the more powerful Klaus.
While Stefan keeps constant vigil to repress his vampire instincts, he is either “man” or “monster. ” His brother, on the other hand, balances on the threshold between the two, teetering throughout the second half of season 1 and season 2. When we meet Damon, his “shadow self ” is in control: he is a killer and he has thrown off the identity he had when he was human. His struggle to date has been to reconcile his “humanity” — his love for Elena, his love for his brother, his fervent wish to feel human again, and his instincts to do good (exemplified in his relationship with Sheriff Forbes) — with his desire to kill and to hunt. That conflict comes to a head in “The Descent” in his speech at the end of the episode, and from then on, Damon attempts a kind of amalgam of both identities: using Andie to indulge his vampire side by night, and fighting to save Elena from Klaus by day. He’s a self-described “work in progress. ” By season’s end, Damon is yet to resolve the two halves of his self: he is still by turns impulsive and selfish, considerate and selfless. Will Elena’s deathbed validation — “I like you now, just the way you are” — help Damon resolve his identity crisis, or will he feel fraudulent because she is ignorant of his recent spate of violence (murdering Jessica, abusing Andie)? While Damon remains a character balanced on a moral threshold, he has a unique view from the precipice, a position that bridges both worlds and allows him to often adopt the role of narrator of events and of characters’ development, as if he is aware of the story unfolding.
Last season, Tyler Lockwood was an otherwise normal jocky teen with rage issues, a guy who didn’t always feel like himself, who could get so out of con- trol that he’d beat the crap out of his best friend (after making out with that friend’s mom). The “beast within” Tyler Lockwood is manifest in a literal way in season 2, when he learns of the Lockwood curse and (unintentionally) activates it. In werewolf narratives, the afflicted character is split between savage beast and regretful human, and Tyler’s journey in season 2 falls into that tradition as we watch him physically transform from one self to the other and back. Unable to rid himself of that part of his identity (a family legacy), he is cursed to a lifetime as a lycanthrope, living with the secret and the potential for extreme violence once a month. As a wolf, he twice attacks Caroline, who is arguably the person he cares for most, next to his mother. His dark self attacks what his true self holds dearest. But with Tyler’s “mon- ster side” becoming so clearly distinct from his human identity, he is given the opportunity to control it in a way that wasn’t possible when he was just an angry jock, and that isn’t possible for a vampire, who lives day to day with temptation. By casting off his old self when he and Jules leave town (“Crying Wolf ”), Tyler learns to manage his new identity. When he returns, he seems to have brought the two parts of himself into “precarious unity. ”
Tyler’s journey was paralleled with Caroline’s this season; both charac- ters successfully navigate the transition from human to supernatural creature with minimal casualties and damage (RIP Carter and V5 deputies). The strength Tyler and Caroline draw from each other serves as a positive exam- ple of mirroring; far from being enemies (as they have been told they should be as werewolf and vampire), they find common ground and become allies (and, judging by that finale snuggle, potentially much more in season 3).
It’s hard to find a character on The Vampire Diaries who doesn’t fall into some form of doubling. Secret-keepers — like Alaric (teacher/vampire hunter) and Liz Forbes (mother/sheriff/vampire hunter) — constantly main- tain separate selves, as does Matt when he deceives Caroline, and Bonnie who lives her life hiding that she’s a witch from society at large.
In addition to doubles, there are multiples on TVD, where several characters represent a single concept. For Jeremy, his father figures are repre- sented by a diverse array of men — his actual but deceased father Grayson, his uncle John (now also deceased), his teacher and buddy Alaric (who acts as his guardian in the finale), and Damon, who Jeremy tags along with early in season 2. For Elena, the concept of mother is embodied by Miranda, Jenna, Isobel, and perversely, as her oldest living relative, Katherine.
As we head into season 3, the fractured selves, monsters within, and lit- eral doubles will still function as a powerful and meaningful narrative layer, one that adds not only more depth but a great opportunity for play, trickery, and those trademark Vampire Diaries jaw-dropping moments. . . .