Tonight, The Originals came of age as a show.
In a serialized show, there’s a point where the story tensions set up in the show’s premise give way to stories that have developed over the course of the show so far. Chapter one turns to chapter two. This is almost always a good thing. Storylines developed before actors are cast, writers work together, or fan reactions can be known may not work as well as anticipated. Or the increasing shared history between characters leads to interesting new potential directions for the story to go in.
For most shows, this turn takes place at the end of the first season. That was the case on The Vampire Diaries, where the central mystery of why the Salvatores were so keen on Mystic Falls and Elena turned into the question of what to do about Katherine and the suddenly-turned Caroline. Angel had a similar turn, as Darla’s reintroduction changed the character and story structure dynamics. Buffy might have taken even longer, with the “Surprise”/“Innocence” two-parter in the second half of its second season switching it from often-goofy metaphorical standalones to more intense, darker character-based serialization.
The Originals can move faster than those other shows, thanks to its four years of knowledge of how to tie fast-moving plots together derived from The Vampire Diaries. Over the past four episodes, it’s taken the critical aspects of the initial premise and reworked them, generally into a more interesting form. So let’s look at what aspects of the premise have been flipped.
When The Originals began, Marcel was in charge of New Orleans, and Klaus wanted it. That simple situation has been resolved into a more complex and dynamic shared power system (along with Elijah). At the very least, the new situation puts most all of the main characters in the same location most of the time, which means less time spent on gathering, and more spent on drama. It also gives Rebekah—the odd woman out—something to do. Her plan to seize New Orleans from her brother and Marcel continues to slowly build momentum, which is an interesting direction for a character who had largely lacked interesting direction since she showed up.
In “Après Moi, Le Déluge,” the second big aspect of the premise gets turned. From the start of the show, Davina’s massive power has been a wildcard, but other than last week, it has been a largely dull one. She’s described as “a tool” in this episode, and that’s been true for the show’s structure. The Harvest, the ritual that gave Davina her power, has always been for the future, until suddenly this week, it reaches its climax. The ritual gets completed, Davina is sacrificed, and then... nothing happens. Regardless of whether Davina somehow comes back to life or not (my money’s on yes), she’s unlikely to remain the mysterious superweapon.
On the other hand, superweapon status has been transferred to at least one of the witches, in the biggest change from the premise. While the character of Sabine has long been present on The Originals, she’s rarely been anything but a sounding board for Sophie, at least on the surface. But turning her into a mastermind—into Celeste, who is apparently now evil—the show has promoted a side character and a potentially entertaining fashion. At the very least, it makes an uninteresting character much more interesting. But, after the stylish, tense finishes of the past two episodes, I’m also looking forward to what happens.
While structurally “Aprés Moi, Le Déluge” does good and important things for the show overall, it seems to once again hit the snag where it doesn’t feel like a great, complete episode. There are a lot of scenes of characters running around trying to find one another, and not enough confrontation or character drama through the first two-thirds (the chief exception to this: the Elijah-Sabine conversations about love, which takes on a whole new meaning thanks to the twist). But once it hits its climax, and then its resolution, it becomes impressive. Klaus consoling Marcel about Davina’s death was exactly the sort of deepening of that problematic character I’d hoped to see with The Originals. And those new witches had style.
My hope is that, by largely dispensing of its initial premise and moving on to telling the stories it wants to tell, The Originals can clean up how it structures its individual episodes, and become able to maintain the power of its best moments. This show is putting its pieces together quickly and confidently; it just needs to be able to maintain that.
- “Are there any more inopportune deaths you’d like to wave in my face?” “Give me a month. I’ll get you a list.” Poor Klaus. Everybody's makin’ a fuss.
- At some point during this episode I remembered that Tyler was running his own faction. Briefly. What a bizarre waste of a crossover, at least in his second episode.
- Speaking of superweapons, infusing Sophie with Esther’s power seems like a REALLY BAD IDEA.
- In this episode, Rebekah plays the role of Theme Describer, with this line: “Sometimes what’s more important is not who you’re siding with, but who you’re siding against.”
- And this one: “Kill a demon today; fight a demon tomorrow.”
- Elijah does his part as well along those lines. “This isn’t a democracy. This is family.”