The Originals: “Crescent City”
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The Originals: “Crescent City”

There’s a moment in the middle of “Crescent City” that demonstrates that The Originals has been playing a longer, more intelligent game than I had suspected. It occurs when Elijah confronts Sabine, and reveals that he knows she’s his old love, Celeste. What evidence leads him to this conclusion? The most awkward line in the season premiere, where Sabine meets Elijah and describes his characterization from The Vampire Diaries. What appeared to be an over-the-top introduction for non-TVD viewers is now reframed as history between the two characters, leading to tonight’s events. I don’t know if that was intentional, but I’m not sure it’s too relevant: It worked in “Crescent City” and didn’t betray what came before.

It also demonstrates that The Originals has been working directly toward the Celeste storyline, which helps explain why the show is getting better. It’s not merely that this is a more interesting story (although it is), but also that the show has been deliberately working up to it. The lack of witch drama as the first third of the season climaxed was an ominous premonition, not a mistake. Because the witches are not interested in the petty power struggles of New Orleans’ vampires—they simply want the vampires removed.

If there’s a theme to “Crescent City,” it’s fanaticism. Later in the episode, Bastiana, one of the recent resurrected witches, tells Cami that “To oppose us is to oppose the natural order.” This is not the point of view of someone who can be dealt with, compromised with, or bargained with. And “let’s make a deal” has been the hallmark of most long-term Originals/Vampire Diaries characters. Klaus is a villain in this world because he will make deals, but he may betray them. But fanatics who won’t consider alternatives to their worldview? They’re the most frightening villains in this world—and rare to boot.

We see that in the final scene of the episode, the first where The Originals kills off a major character with apparent permanence. Sophie spent half of the season trying to get Monique back, only to die at her niece’s hand. Why? Because she couldnt maintain the faith. Monique, played with delightful creepiness by Yasmine Al-Bustami, executes Sophie for her crimes against fanaticism, and then returns to the fold with Celeste, Bastiana, and Genevieve.

I’m torn about Sophie’s death. It’s disappointing, as I found the character underdeveloped and underwritten, especially given the potential involved with a witch who gets in over her head for her family. On the other hand, for the show to have stakes, it needs to have death.

It’s especially useful to the story in this case because it means that that only witch character who was able and willing to work with multiple factions is gone. Monique leaving Sophie’s body and joining Celeste and the others isn’t simply one person making a choice—it’s symbolic of the “witches versus vampires” story that the fanatics have forced. We’ll see what comes of this story, but I think it has enough potential that the loss of Sophie’s potential will probably be mitigated, especially since this setting is friendly to resurrection. (Still, I do feel a finality to Sophie’s death that I didn't with, say, Davina’s.)

Fascinatingly, there is one character who isn’t fully committed to the fanatical battle lines, and that’s the woman who drew them up: Celeste. In that scene where Elijah reveals that he knows her, and she starts to reveal her plan, we start to see her motivations: She wants revenge on Klaus, and she wants to manipulate Elijah in order to get it. The second part is, I think, the most important part. Over the past few episodes we’ve seen more and better attempts to depict Elijah as a villainous enabler of his evil brother, but here Celeste wants to directly confront him on that count. She manipulates him, with pain, into choosing between saving Klaus, Rebekah, or Hayley. And in doing so, once he chooses the werewolf, she believes she’s broken his vow (I believe the exact wording was “Family first” but I may be misremembering).

Another aspect of Celeste’s crew that I find fascinating is their femaleness. With Papa Tundé’s death and Monique’s ascension, the characters in charge are all women, and they’re all standing in opposition to Klaus, who almost defines violent masculinity. Klaus-the-abuser brings his power based on his maleness; his ability to be physically imposing backs up all his emotional and logical manipulations. This is especially notable in his control over his sister, Rebekah. Like a proper patriarch, he demands complete control over her sexual agency, beating, killing, or imprisoning her or her lovers. He doesn’t even offer marriage as a way out, except perhaps to Stefan, for a hot minute. So it’s hard not to see a wider component to Celeste’s rejection of all that Klaus stands for. The Vampire Diaries almost always steers clear of feminist themes, either explicit or implicit, only managing to hit them accidentally (Elena seizing agency by threatening suicide in the second season is about as close as it got).

And yet the feminist narrative supporting Celeste and supporting her manipulation of Elijah makes The Originals significantly more interesting. It’s not just that she may be morally right to attempt to defeat Klaus and Marcel—villains by any other name—but that she can represent striking out against dominant patriarchal forces. Right now, the only thing preventing me from cheering for everything Celeste does is the fanaticism of her allies, Bastiana and now Monique. (Genevieve is a wildcard for the moment.)

By the way, here’s a secret for my reviews, if not necessarily everyone’s on the site: If we’re focusing on the thematic relevance and overall seasonal structure for a review, then that means that the individual episode we’re talking about is really good. And “Crescent City” is really good. In fact, it’s easily the best episode The Originals has done yet. My only complaints are “plot hole” complaints—Celeste’s gambit required that Rebekah be around for Hayley’s werewolf party, which required that Celeste know that Elijah would convince Bex to go to the plantation, and then that Hayley would convince Bex to stay, neither of which were at all in Celeste’s power. But given the storytelling power on display throughout the rest of the episode, I’m more than willing to forgive a bit of writerly handwaving. The Originals has arrived.

Stray observations:

  • Line of the night, with Klaus talking to Elijah examining Tundé’s body: “Can I get you anything, brother? A magnifying glass? A pipe, perhaps?”
  • “A vampire is trying to reverse a witch’s hex placed on you, and it’s the cup you find sacrilegious.”
  • Pack hierarchy, says Hayley’s supposed betrothed Jackson? More like pack patriarchy with your arranged marriages!
  • “You poisoned me with a kiss! A least you haven’t lost your sense of irony.”
  • “Your tragic sister.” What a lovely description of Rebekah.
  • Climb a damn tree, Rebekah. WOLVES CAN’T CLIMB TREES.

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