The first four episodes of Peacock’s Vampire Academy, titled “Pilot,” “Earth. Air. Water. Fire,” “Death Watch” and “Benchmark” set the stage for an adaptation that, in many ways, serves as a prequel to the story fans of the books are familiar with. Because yes, this all happens before the first book in the Vampire Academy series – even if it actually allows most of the main players to meet each other and interact much earlier than they actually did in the books.
In many ways, this works to the show’s benefit. There are still a lot of stories to tell, if anything, the show has barely scratched the surface. But, it’s done that while getting the hard work of establishing character dynamics out of the way. Well, that and the lore of this world that doesn’t truly look like most vampire worlds we’re familiar with. That means that by the time they get to the meat of this story, we’re already invested not just in the people, but in the relationships.
A good adaptation isn’t really about getting every single moment on the page to the screen (though a good adaptation will make sure to get some of the biggest ones because they are the reason the property had fans in the first place) it’s about getting the heart of the original into the new medium. That heart is usually in the characters, in the ways they relate to each other, and in the message behind the story. In the case of Vampire Academy, that message is about friendship, yes, and about love, but perhaps, above all those things, it’s about finding your own place within those relationships (platonic or not) and figuring out not just who you are, but who you need to be – not for others, but for yourself.
That is Rose’s journey. That is Lissa’s journey. And that, in many ways, is the journey of all of us, no matter how old we are. That’s why we’re here. That’s why we relate. And that is, indeed, why we will keep on watching.
THE FRIENDSHIP (AT THE CENTER OF IT ALL)
From the “Pilot,” the show is unequivocal about the relationship at the center of this story – that of Rose and Lissa. Sure, there are romances for both, and alliances to be considered, and they will all come to find that it’s really, really hard to navigate this world with only one person by your side, we all need a tribe, but that doesn’t mean the show is any less centered on their friendship.
In many ways, that has always been one of the most refreshing – and relatable – things about Vampire Academy. Being a teenager is about many heightened feelings, and one of the ones I remember the most is the connection with my best friend. This isn’t something TV has historically explored in the same way they’ve explored romances, and to see the show use metaphors to place such importance on Rose and Lissa’s bond is not just refreshing, it’s inspiring.
We can love a friend best, and yes, we can all get lost in what another person means to us – even outside of a romantic bond. And for all of us, the journey, especially as we grow up, is about not just finding ourselves, but making ourselves into the kind of person we want to be. We’re still far off from that moment for Rose and Lissa, of course, but the setup is there, the love is there. And it’s amazing to see – particularly because just as every other piece of this cast works perfectly, Sisi Stringer and Daniela Nieves are wholly believable as two friends who would give anything and everything for each other.
THE ROMANCES (THAT ARE ALSO IMPORTANT)
But if you want to talk sizzling chemistry – which is, to be fair, exactly what this dynamic needed – we need not go any further than Rose and Dimitri, the star-crossed lovers of this series. Things are much easier for Lissa and Christian (easier, not easy, because this is a TV show, who said anything was going to be really simple), who click right away, and who are both in a position where they can choose to spend time together, even if it’s frowned upon. For Rose and Dimitri, it’s not that easy, and it’s not going to be.
It works nonetheless, because of the chemistry – Moore does this thing with Dimitri where he literally lights up at the sight of Rose, like being in her presence makes it easier to breathe – the acting choices – Stringer’s Rose never loses her spark, but Dimitri’s presence seems to provide her with a measure of peace she cannot find anywhere else – and the writing. Yes, the journey is being written to lead somewhere, but it never feels like where it’s leading makes no sense. In fact, we welcome the journey. We’re eager to be part of it.
The same holds true for the other, background relationships. Mikhail and Sonya work because they don’t even need words to convince us. Mia and Meredith, meanwhile, are at least intriguing enough in the first four episodes that we’re interested in where this journey will take us. That is a strength of the show, it’s juggling many, many pieces, and they all, somehow, work. It’s never a chore to care for the main characters, and it also isn’t a chore to care for the secondary characters …which is exactly the way it should be.
THE SUPPORTING STORYLINES (AND CAST)
A good show is one that makes you feel like every piece of the puzzle fits in a way that makes sense, and that they all serve the larger story being told. Vampire Academy does that, with everyone from Victor to the Queen feeling like they’ve got a place in the narrative – and the story itself feeling like it’s going somewhere, even if we don’t exactly know where that is yet.
Some shows succeed by making one or two characters good enough that people care about them. Vampire Academy isn’t that kind of show. Here they want you to care about absolutely everyone, and so far, they’re succeeding. Whether they can keep it up or not, the fact of the matter is, there’s already enough here to make us wish not just for one more season, but enough to tell the whole story from the books. Ten, maybe? Sounds like a good number to us.
What did you think of the first four episodes of Vampire Academy? Share with us in the comments below!