The Originals: “Dance Back From The Grave”
B+

The Originals: “Dance Back From The Grave”

B+

The Originals

"Dance Back From The Grave" 

Season 1, Episode 12

Finally, a complete episode! After last week's shift into becoming its own show, The Originals took full advantage of that and put together probably its most coherent hour yet. So far, at least, my hope that shifting outside its premise would lead to a more coherent show has been fulfilled.

The focus of the episode tonight is Papa Tundé, one of the witches resurrected by Sabine/Celeste at the conclusion of the Harvest ritual. He’s a powerful user of sacrificial magic, which means he derives power from killing snakes and vampires. He’s been resurrected by the Harvest spell that Celeste hijacked, thus the episode is divided into explaining who he was before he died, and his plan in the present.

It’s a model that has served The Vampire Diaries very well at times, after all, because it allows for a single theme to dominate an episode. If there’s an imbalance at any point—like, for example, a too-simple story of a powerful being hunting the main characters—the episode can refocus on a flashback. There, we can all be dazzled by bowties and a brief re-enactment of Boardwalk Originals, as well as getting some character depth. That third of the episode that might have been spent on side characters doing their thing out of tone with the rest of the story is instead spent building up the main dramatic focus.

The key strength, though, is that it can demonstrate Papa Tundé as a major threat in the present without necessarily having him upset the balance that he did in the past. So he, and his jaunty hat (which is very important) can stroll in, appearing to be the ultimate badass (or at least, lacking in a sense of humor) and threatening the main characters. And he does that very well, even taking Rebekah out and stealing her power for a confrontation with her half-brother.

Through Papa Tundé, we get a sense of Originals-only style and danger that was largely missing from the first half of the season. This is a character who wouldn’t fit all in Mystic Falls, but here, the African warlock fits the mood very well. The vodoun component of New Orleans’ magical history can fit an African magician well while building the show’s personality—and if you didn’t get a charge from him showing up in his pristine white suit, sacrificing the snake, then I’d be surprised.

On the other hand, Papa Tundé also fits in with TVD and The Originals association of magic with black-skinned people. The vast majority of magic-users on both shows have been non-white, and in doing that, both shows have unintentionally reinforced the stereotype of non-whites as being magical, in touch with nature and powers. Using a pair of skeptical white women to introduce Tundé reinforces him being the “Other.” That it does fit with the concept of vodoun makes it entirely plausible here (and, to a certain extent, fit with the “Expression” sacrificial magic of TVD season four), but I’m still cocking a skeptical eyebrow at the racial component of that aspect.

The ironic thing is that, by most standards, given the information we’ve been given about Papa Tundé and the witches, he’s a far more moral person than the majority of the cast. He kills snakes, which, yes, is a bit of animal cruelty, and Mayors, which is a bit of human-relieving-cruelty, and vampire grunts, whom nobody cares about. Meanwhile, Klaus is a mass murderer of epic proportions, and most anyone who’s not Cami is at least a minor murderer or murderer ally. So why on Earth should we cheer for Tundé to lose? This may sound like it’s a criticism, but I actually think it’s a strength of The Originals—as long as it maintains the question of how much Klaus is the “hero,” the smarter and more relevant it seems as a show.

Rebekah seems to know it as well. The abuse metaphor that was implicit in the first half of the season, and Elijah’s tacit endorsement thereof, drive her motivation through the episode. Both parts of this are major improvements for the show: Rebekah has meaning in her life and character, and Elijah is accurately treated as a villain, honor be damned.

There are a lot of other little things I liked in this episode: Cami taking action, bashing Tundé with a bottle instead of crying; Sophie feeling integrated into the story instead of an extraneous force; Marcel’s slow descent into alcoholism. Even the final twist, where it’s revealed that Rebekah and Marcel conspired to drive Klaus from New Orleans via Mikael, doesn’t offend my retcon skepticism. I care much more about making Rebekah an interesting character now than I do her (lack of) personality in the past. Likewise, it has the added benefit of making the underutilized Mikael a more relevant character, at least in who he knows, in retrospect.

Given the advantages there, I can forgive the occasionally huge leaps in logic that the episode tosses in. (Cami’s on vervaine, she can’t feed Marcel! How is Tundé’s plan both to defeat Klaus and to grant Celeste power?) The Originals seems to be ready to climb on the roller coaster that served The Vampire Diaries so well when it got halfway through its first season, and includes the relative depth of morality that separates it from its predecessor.

Stray observations:

  • It’s mentioned that Klaus went to Mystic Falls. While I loved that episode of TVD otherwise, the Klaus/Caroline scenes were by far the worst/only bad part of it. So I hope it's never mentioned again. At least, until Caroline shows up pregnant in New Orleans.
  • Papa Tundé has an accent that’s not “vaguely British”! Still waiting for Creole to show up on the New Orleans show, but West African will suffice.
  • “It’s a little early for day-drinking. Let me guess. Klaus problems.”
  • “Strange, she’s not typically attracted to unremarkable men.” Elijah throwing some damn shade.
  • Chekov’s vampire garden always seemed to be waiting for use against Marcel or Klaus. Tundé stealing all their power... that’s a twist I wasn't expecting. Well done, The Originals, you’re going all in on this Celeste plot.
  • Seriously, those bowties. fans self

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