Seeing Double

I’ve always had a weak spot for doppelganger stories, exploring one personality from two sides …

… seeing the living embodiment of a character’s id …

… the metaphor of protagonist and doppelganger going to battle for dominance only to realize their fundamental sameness.

I like the moment when the protagonist looks at the doppelganger and finally recognizes their own mirror image.  And, more than anything, I love the fall out; the protagonist’s reassessment of self in the light of a new, inextricable identity.

Vampire DiariesRinger, and Fringe have all built on this identity theme.

In each of these shows, though, the doppelganger is physically indistinguishable from the protagonist.   As a result, the question shifts  – from how to balance good and evil traits to how these traits are acquired in the first place. What makes you you?  Is your core identity predetermined by your molecular composition or do you choose it every day, with every seemingly insignificant decision?

All other things being equal, would you still be you if you had been born in a different time and place? Katherine might be a selfish, manipulative brat – but when push comes to shove, does that really make her so different from Elena? Fangs aside, is Katherine just Elena with a rough past and a reckless streak? For that matter, is Elena just a repressed version or Katherine – with a martyr complex thrown in for good measure?

Would you still be you if you disappeared into someone else’s life?  If you wore someone else’s clothes and slept in someone else’s bed and spoke someone else’s words and loved someone else’s family … would you become someone else?  Did the penthouse trappings turn Bridget into Siobhan or had the twins always been identically cutthroat?

Would you still be you if your life story had veered left a few times when it could have veered right? If Olivia hadn’t been orphaned and abused at the hands of her step-father and enrolled in Walter’s cortexiphan trials, who would she be? According to Peter, she would be “less intense” and “quicker with a smile.” But would she still be the woman he loves?  Would she still be Olivia? Is it some core, immutable Olivia-ness that defines her in every possible dimension? Or does the sum of her history make her her under only one set of probabilities?


I like doppelganger stories because they let us ask these kinds of questions. They encourage us to look a little more closely for the effects of our day-to-day choices on our character.  They allow us to consider what truly defines us, which qualities are fundamental and which are superfluous. They bring to mind our own darkness and light. They preach balance:

Don’t completely repress your dark side – but maybe don’t let it start a fight club either.


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