Every story needs a good villain. And for the beginning of The Vampire Diaries, Damon Salvatore (Ian Somerhalder) was that villain, the big bad brother who followed Stefan (Paul Wesley) home to Mystic Falls to make his life — or eternity — miserable. (And then there was Damon’s whole plan to free the series’ next villain from a tomb that she wasn’t actually in, but we’ll get to that.)
In the early days of the series, Vampire Diaries co-creators Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec worked to discover Damon’s voice, finding inspiration from within. “It’s just that inner voice that is so snarky, all the things you wanna say out loud but you can’t,” Williamson says during episode 1 of EW’s Binge: The Vampire Diaries.
The result was an arrogant (and glib) Salvatore who delivered a handful of enigmatic one-liners in season 1, including Plec’s personal favorite: Standing on a roof, Damon refuses to tell Stefan his evil master plan. When asked what he’s up to, he responds, “That’s for me to know and you to dot dot dot.” And it turns out, that line was Plec and Williamson’s way of answering a network note… or 10.
“For the first three or four episodes, any time anyone read a script at the network they were like, ‘Yes, but what’s Damon’s drive? What does Damon want?’ And we were like, ‘Oh my God, he just wants to be an a–hole,'” Plec says with a laugh.
So, the writers worked it into the script, with Stefan serving as the voice of the network, constantly asking the same question: What does Damon want? Until, finally, Damon tells him that it’s “for me to know and you to dot dot dot.” (Get it?)
But as season 1 continued, fans started to fall for Damon’s evil ways a bit too much, so much so that Williamson and Plec felt the need to reset some things at the start of season 2. “We can’t have a lovable villain,” says Williamson. “That’s great and that’s a fan-favorite character, but that doesn’t bring you real storytelling and real stakes.”
Plec adds, “We had this magnificent villain who could do no wrong in the eyes of the audience and we thought, ‘Let’s give him something really wrong that is unforgivable so we can buy ourselves another year of Damon as the villain and Stefan as the hero.'” With that in mind, they had Damon snap Jeremy’s (Steven R. McQueen) neck at the end of the season 2 premiere. But the fan response was not what Plec and Williamson had intended.
“They [were like], ‘Poor Damon, poor Damon, he’s so misunderstood! He just loves Elena so much,'” Plec recalls. “We were aghast. We were like, ‘What have we wrought? We have basically accidentally created the poster couple for toxic masculinity.’ The women loved him and we couldn’t understand it at all. That was a moment.”
Thankfully, Damon wasn’t the show’s only villain by that point. As Williamson puts it, “Every time one of the villains turned nice, we brought in a new one.” And that’s just what happened at the end of season 1, when, in one of the series’ biggest twists, Katherine Pierce (Nina Dobrev) shows up, kisses Damon, and then waltzes into Elena’s house and removes Uncle John’s (David Anders) fingers.
“That set the standard for Vampire Diaries,” Plec says of the season 1 finale twist. “That finale set the standard of: We always have to fight to get to as close to this amazing awesome twist and cliffhanger ending as we possibly can. We can never let our audience down with a finale. We put so much pressure on ourselves for eight years to make sure that we never failed a finale. There were some that were better than others, but we took our finales seriously.”
And to think, it wasn’t always the plan for Dobrev to play both characters. “It didn’t occur to us originally that Nina should play Elena and Katherine,” Plec says of what would become the Petrova doppelgangers. “In the books, they called it a striking resemblance. I remember Italia Ricci, who had tested for Elena early on, comes up to us at Comic-Con after the show gets picked up she’s like, ‘I am putting myself in front of you to say I would like to play Katherine Pierce.'”
But by that point, Dobrev’s photo had already been used for the 1864 snapshot of the curly-haired doppelganger, and a few episodes later, she’d take on both roles and nothing in Mystic Falls would ever be the same.