The Helpless Heroine Era Is Coming To An End

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The Vampire Diaries will kick off its final season on Friday, October 21. Eight years isn't a bad run for any TV show, and the series has been limping toward a natural conclusion for a while. ("Jumping the shark" doesn't quite capture a story line in which a college-aged vampire carries her former history teacher's twins after his pregnant, magical wife is murdered at their wedding.) But it's not just a twisted web of supernatural silliness that has finally brought an end to what was The CW's shining star: It's a dramatic shift in the teen entertainment landscape, which has moved away from championing the damsel in distress to training a lens on heroines who control their own destinies.

premiered in 2009, just before the release of Twilight: New Moon, a movie that bravely asked the question: Can the safety of a poor, helpless teenage girl really be entrusted to one supernatural guy — or does she need two? The first installment of the film franchise went on to gross more than $296 million, ushering in a wave of think pieces about the dangers of teen girls identifying with Bella — a young woman willing to waste away in front of the window, waiting for her vampire in shining armor. Thankfully, the early 2010s introduced a different kind of female protagonist. Not that the badass teen heroine was entirely new. Before Katniss Everdeen came Veronica Mars and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among many others. But the latest wave of strong female protagonists was ushered in by The Hunger Games and its arrow-slinging girl on fire who wasn't necessarily opposed to romance, but had more important things to do with her time. In the years since the first film was released in 2012, there have been myriad more high school movies anchored by female characters who act as leaders, and who could take or leave the obligatory make-out break. Beautiful Creatures (2013) is one movie that flips that script by portraying a girl who must learn to control her magic not just for herself, but to protect the poor, powerless boy who has a crush on her. The Fault in Our Stars (2014) shows that two young protagonists can save each other. And The Duff (2015) is a contemporary, low-stakes comedy that lets the main character choose herself before getting the guy — who, by that point, just seems like the cherry on top of an already delicious sundae.

As the series embarks on its final lap, the broader landscape of teen-friendly TV is filled with girls who don't need anyone to save them.

The Vampire Diaries couldn't even save its waif-like narrator from the need to be protected in death (her boyfriend is guarding her frozen-ish-in-time body). As the series embarks on its final lap, the broader landscape of teen-friendly TV is filled with girls who don't need anyone to save them. The CW alone has launched Supergirl, Reign (starring a widowed queen who is taking back her country all on her own), and The 100. One theme that's cropping up relatively often now: Teen guys seem like more of a burden than a boon to their female counterparts. It's a shift that has made for more exciting stories — but it's also a change with a deeper importance: We've gone from damsels in distress to heroines who suffer no fools. Now these strong leading ladies are also finding allies among their peers — proving that there are so many ways to be a powerful young woman, both on and off the small screen.

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