The art of the brotherly love triangle: What 'Reign' could learn from 'The Vampire Diaries'

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Image Credit: Mathieu Young/The CW

Love triangles on television are equal parts frustrating and entertaining. Many times, they’re the reason we tune in and also the reason we spend the next hour screaming at the characters involved. But there’s one particular type of love triangle that’s a little more complicated than others. I like to call it the brotherly love triangle.

The brotherly love triangle — two brothers fighting over the same woman — is particularly popular among supernatural shows at the moment. The Vampire Diaries, The Originals, and Witches of East End all contain a little brotherly love at the center of their stories. By making two sides of a triangle related, you increase the stakes. The familial aspect aside, there are multiple relationships at risk, both between the woman and each brother, as well as between the brothers themselves. Plus, the competitiveness between siblings always ups the ante.

With Reign being the newest show to join the brotherly love trend, I think it has a little bit to learn from say, The Vampire Diaries, which has done it so well for five years. Only five episodes into Reign‘s debut season, the love triangle is starting to feel a bit rushed, which, if the show isn’t careful, could damage its shipper component.

Reign started slow, using the pilot to simply hint at potential romances between both Mary and Francis, her court-assigned fiance, and Mary and Bash, Francis’ bastard brother. Both romances were put on the back burner in the second episode, and after last night’s fifth episode, we’d still only begun to watch Mary and Francis fall for each other. They’d shared a total of three kisses before Francis’ ex came to town and threw a wrench in things … on the very same day he had declared himself Mary’s. That’s royal for being exclusive.

After Mary and Francis fought about his ex, she had one too many swigs of alcohol and ended up kissing Bash. Some context: We’d only seen Bash and Mary interact a few times at this point. He always looked at her adoringly, but they hadn’t had any deep conversations or what I like to call “almost” moments where she seemed interested. She was completely oblivious to his feelings for her until her friends brought it up last night, after which she got mad, drank too much, and made out with him. At that point, I wasn’t even fully on the Mary-Francis train, and now I’m definitely not on the Mary-Bash train. If the show doesn’t start to flesh some things out, I’m going to be on the first train out of town. Okay, that’s probably a lie. I’m hooked. But I will be on the first train out of shipperville!

So after obsessing over The Vampire Diaries for five years and falling in love with both Damon and Stefan as they fought for Elena, I think there are several very valuable lessons Reign could take away from the vamps in Mystic Falls:

First rule: To kick off a proper brotherly love triangle, there needs to be an established, shipper-worthy relationship between one brother and the woman at the center of it all. For example, by the time Damon and Elena had their first real moment where they connected, we were 19 episodes in, and she and Stefan were already firmly in place as the show’s core couple. She was clearly in love with Stefan, which made the way she was looking at Damon feel both wrong and intriguing. It’s also important to notice that Damon and Elena had bonded a few times during the first 19 episodes (road trip!), so nothing felt as if it had been sprung on the viewers.

Second rule: Never underestimate the simple power of the tease. (Also, longing glances.) Damon and Elena didn’t share what I would call a legitimate kiss until season 3. Sure, she kissed him at the end of season 2, but she thought he was dying. Viewers endured three seasons of sideways looks, almost kisses, and hidden I love yous before these two really locked lips. And guess what? It was worth the wait. By giving us a hefty amount of time before letting them go that far, it helped viewers to see Elena’s side, a.k.a. not hate her for kissing both brothers.

Third rule: A change of heart requires big drama/outside forces. Elena finally kissing Damon only happened after Stefan was forced to leave town and murder people with Klaus. And when she actually made the decision to be in a relationship with Damon, it was four seasons in, and only after she was turned into a vampire. So maybe the drama doesn’t have to be that big on Reign, but if Mary simply switches brothers without other dramatic things happening in her life, the audience will turn on her in no time.

Fourth rule: There must be brotherly love! The brothers need to have established a firm relationship outside of the triangle, and they need to maintain that relationship throughout all the drama. One thing that really bugged me about Bash kissing Mary was that he didn’t seem at all hesitant about it. Maybe he will feel a little regret later, but at least Damon always felt guilty for wanting Elena. In the brotherly love triangle, it needs to come off as if all involved would get out of the triangle if they could, but they simply can’t help what they feel. Bonus if there are tears. Also, when the woman makes her choice, it helps if the brothers still love each other.

Basically, Reign needs to firmly establish all relationships up front, give us little teases throughout, and make sure the stakes are big. When all else fails: Teary I love you’sfrom both brothers!

What do you think, PopWatchers? Are you a fan of the Reign brotherly love triangle?

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