1) Which character had the strongest emotional arc?
2) Which character drove the most story?
3) Which character had the most key focus in their scenes (and in scenes not involving them)?
4) Which character interacted with the most characters?
First of all, these are the characters that I consider lead: Elena, Damon, Stefan, and the secondary leads are Caroline and Bonnie -- they've driven multiple episodes, and have been the lead B-story in more than a few episodes). They are all regular cast members and main characters (ie, even though Katherine is played by lead actress Nina Dobrev, I don't consider Katherine one of the main characters). Alaric, Jeremy, Vicki, Jenna, Tyler, Klaus and Matt fall under the supporting roles for me. While we've seen them lead some stories, it's generally the B-story, and more often than not, they are supporting.
- Central Character Per Episode (The Vampire Diaries), part 1
- Central Character Per Episode (The Vampire Diaries), part 2
- Central Character Per Episode (The Vampire Diaries), part 3
- Central Character Per Episode (The Vampire Diaries), part 4
- Central Character Per Episode (The Vampire Diaries), part 5
- Central Character Per Episode (The Vampire Diaries), part 6
SEASON THREE, Episodes 10-15
3.10 - The New Deal | Damon Salvatore -- Damon began the episode upset about Stefan and in a state of near-Damonstyle-depression. By episode's end, however, he was a much happier camper, knowing his brother wasn’t lost to him, and he got to kiss the girl. So the emotional arc is his definitely. He also drove much of the story, in that he’s the one who pushed Stefan to make his move, which led to Klaus going after Jeremy. Elena also drove a lot of the story as well, but I’d go halfsies between her and Damon as he drove the first half of the episode, and she drove the second half. Of the lead characters, Damon and Stefan (along with Jeremy) were the focus of various characters, so that's rather a draw as well. Character interaction was evenly divided too among Damon and Elena, which leaves us with the emotional arc taking the cake and that would be Damon.
3.11 - Our Town | Caroline Forbes -- I went back and forth with this one a lot, trying to decide between Elena and Caroline, but I finally gave it to Caroline because she experienced a more pronounced – in this episode specifically -- emotional arc than Elena did, and she drove Elena to where she was at episode’s end. Caroline was also a key proponent in the Tyler/Klaus story, leading to the beginning of the Klaus and Caroline relationship. Elena was only the focus of Damon mainly, with Stefan being more focused on Klaus than her, and Bonnie only tangentially focused on Elena during moments of frustration, and Matt only in the final scene. On the other hand, Caroline was the focus of Elena, Bonnie, Matt, Tyler, Klaus and Liz. And, again, it was the focus on her life (and lack thereof) that played throughout all of the other stories to a degree. So Caroline finally gets one this season.
3.12 - The Ties That Bind | Bonnie Bennett -- Like with almost every episode that features Bonnie as the central character, she easily captures the title. She has the strongest emotional arc (with regards to her mother), and she drives most of the story being as how she is the witch who is necessary to open the coffin -– that is the key to kill Klaus -– and needs another witch, her mother. Elena, Stefan, and even Damon gets a little in on her story. She is the focus of Elena, her mother and ward, as well as Damon and Stefan to a smaller degree. And while she's tied with Elena for character interaction, she has a bigger pull with the other characters.
3.13 - Bringing Out the Dead | Damon Salvatore -- The closest thing to an emotional arc of sorts in this episode was Damon coming to the conclusion that he needs to stay away from Elena, and Caroline losing her father, but Caroline's story was the B-plot, while Damon's was the A-plot. And Damon definitely drove the most story. He undaggered Elijah, and cooked up a secret plan with him which led to the dinner. The dinner also was a cover-up for the un-daggering of the other Original!Siblings, and wouldn’t have happened had Damon not done the first undaggering. Damon was also the focus, even tangentially in almost all of his scenes, and was also involved in not only the Bonnie/Abby subplot, but also Alaric's story. And, other than Caroline's story and the other siblings, Damon interacted with all of the other characters.
3.14 - Dangerous Liaisons | Elena Gilbert -- Damon had the strongest emotional arc, feeling a part of the planning at the beginning, then it slipped out of his grasp throughout the episode before leaving him alone (well, from the group) in the end. However, other than Klaus' crush on Caroline, and Rebekah's revenge-yes, then no plan, Elena drove everything else that happened in the episode. As the key to the death to the Originals, Elena was pretty much the reason that Esther organized the ball, and brought all of those folks together. Her words and actions are also what led to Stefan walking off into the night, and Damon to walking into Rebekah's rejected arms. She also interacted with every single character on screen except for Matt (although, she did discuss him with Caroline), and was the focus of every character (again, except for Matt) at some point. So, this one’s all Elena.
3.15 - All My Children | Elena Gilbert -- Following the events of the last episode, this one features a lot of fallout from that episode (Esther's attempt to see her plan through, Damon pulling away from Elena, Elijah using Elena as bait to save his life and those of his siblings) and thus it falls on Elena again. She is the reason that most of the action took place in this episode, and was the focus of every character at some point in the episode, with quite a bit of focus on her from the episode's key players: Damon, Elijah, Rebekah and Stefan. Others interacted with a few more characters than she did, but not by much, so this episode goes to Elena as well.
Damon - (S1) 6 | (S2) 9 | (S3) 6 = 21
Elena - (S1) 7 | (S2) 7 | (S3) 4 = 18
Stefan - (S1) 6 | (S2) 1 | (S3) 2 = 09
Bonnie - (S1) 1 | (S2) 3 | (S3) 2 = 06
Caroline - (S1) 2 | (S2) 2 | (S3) 1 = 05
As we make more headway into the season, it's becoming clear that barring the majority of the rest of the season featuring Stefan as the central character, my original assumption that this season would be his (as season 01 was Elena's, and season 02 was Damon's) appears to have fallen flat. After the first batch of episodes, I wrote that "even though Damon is featured as the central character the most in this first batch, he doesn't feel like an overall central character. That feeling is more there for Stefan or Elena." At this point, I'm leaning towards the season going to Elena.
The last couple of episodes seemed to hint at an emotional awakening for Elena regarding her feelings about a certain Salvatore brother, and so much involved with the Originals, as well as her friendship with Bonnie and her status with Stefan, still seems likely to be played out. We know where Damon stands, so I don't see him grabbing too many more episodes, and Elena is only three episodes in the count behind him, so she could easily swoop in and re-take the lead.