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The Vampire Diaries - Season 6 Finale - Julie Plec Interview


ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When you sit down to craft a season finale, what’s the first thing you do? Do you figure out the cliffhanger first and write backwards?
JULIE PLEC:
We feel like if we haven’t figured out what our finale is by the time we start shooting the season, we’re in trouble. The season becomes less about crafting the ideal finale and more about crafting the episodes that precede it perfectly so what you’re left with is all that you need to finish the season. It’s is a really delicate juggling act because you can get to the penultimate episode and realize, “Oh my god, we have so much that we have to do to clear the way for these things that we’ve known we wanted to do for the last eight months in the finale.” Or you can get to episode 19 and realize, “Oh god, we have three episodes before the finale, but really only two episodes worth of story.” So, it’s that do-or-die zone of episodes 17 to 21 that’s the hardest balancing act to strike more so than the finale. We always make the joke that the finale writes itself—which is, by the way, not true—but it’s less daunting to break a finale story than it is to break the episodes to run up right to it.

What have you learned in ensuing years of writing season finales that you wish you knew back when you first started?
The first couple years of any show, certainly the first season of any show, more often than not, anything that you thought you were going to do and save for episode 22 gets used up by episode 4 1/2. I’m being slightly hyperbolic, but you don’t know what the show is yet and you don’t know how the show is going to break and how the stories are going to break and how it’s going to work. If you try to save something, you’re creating a stall. If you try to bring up something too soon, then you’re blowing through too much story. It’s about learning your own rhythms in the first season.

For us, in season 2 of The Vampire Diaries, we really struggled with the finale because about halfway through the year the network ordered an extra episode. We went from 22 to 23, so everything that we were planning suddenly we now had to fill out an additional episode’s worth of space. It just became a struggle. What we ended up doing is making our penultimate episode feel very season finale-esque and then our finale kind of an emotional resolution to everything that had happened and a little bit of a tease of what would happen next year. You have to roll with situations like that.

For example, this year, when we started the season, we weren’t 100 percent sure if Nina was done or not. There was still a spiritual conversation being had, so we had two pitches. We had one for our cliffhanger ending that leaves everybody’s life in the balance and then we spend the first part of next season saying goodbye to our character, or we have the, “Well, she’s leaving, so therefore the entire thing we were going to do for half of next season, we now have to do in one episode and our cliffhanger can no longer be a cliffhanger, which means it has to be the penultimate episode.” You’re constantly rolling with stuff like that.

I tend to like the finales because they are, by and large, rooted in very emotional and nostalgic pieces, and those are my favorite things to write more so than the big plot-twisty, wham-bam-thank-you ma’am, run and gun kind of storytelling. I like exploring the character relationships, giving finality or making a new turn into the next phase of people’s life or ending one story and beginning another. It’s actually a very clean and fun way to write. The finales and premieres are always the two favorite episodes.

How do you find the balance of giving fans answers while also leaving some stuff open ended?
Thankfully, we’ve never been a show that’s rooted in a lot of unsolvable mysteries or unanswerable mysteries. Our entire series premise is not built around a singular question—unless you count the people who build it around a singular relationship survival question. We tend to try to clean up as much as we can by the end, if not everything, and then only let the remnants of what existed to tee up the next season last.

We had one season that was really hard. It was the season where Silas appears and we realize it’s Stefan and he throws Stefan over the edge. We had to start the next season almost as if we had no break, almost as if there was no season break. By the time we got six or seven episodes into season 5, we were almost exhausted by the weight of all the stories we were carrying because we carried them over with us from season 4. So we made a really concerted effort at the end of season 5 to broom out everything and to start season 6 with sort of a clean slate and a singular mystery of what happened to Damon. It’s a choice you make every year.

There’s a list of choices you make: Do I want to leave everything as a cliffhanger and then do a direct pickup and carry that baggage with me into the next season? Or do I want to clean everything up and just tease a tone for the next season so that I have the freedom to begin the next season as a true beginning and not as a serialized ending to the previous season? Any good network executive worth their salt will tell you, “Start clean!” but they’ll also be the same ones that will tell you, “Where are all the cliffhangers?” It’s a slippery slope.