Building a serialized story without history doesn’t work. The whole point is history. There needs to be change, growth, and progress, yes, but those need to build on what happened before. Otherwise, they’re just a bunch of things that happen. This is a common problem for a fast-paced show like The Originals, especially since it happened regularly over on The Vampire Diaries. Very little is more infuriating than a show seeming to deliberately forget its own story in order to make its current one run more smoothly.
The Originals hasn’t fallen as far as it could have in ignoring its history, but I noticed a dangerous trend in watching tonight’s episode (as well as the previous one): The name “Celeste” was never mentioned. Some of her actions were mentioned, particularly the corruption of the Harvest into a resurrection of the Mikaelssons’ enemies, but her? Her motivations, her speeches? Nothing specific was ever described.
The problem with that is that the story, as it’s being told, is her story. Her goal, more than anything else, was to set Elijah against his brother, to make Elijah see that his “nobility” in the service of his family was a fraud. This has essentially been accomplished. One of Elijah’s final lines in the episode, “If I want something, I’ll take it. And nothing—nothing—will stand in my way,” spoken to Klaus, indicates just how much the elder brother’s motivations have changed.
This should be good serialization—previous events have changed a major character!—but it’s frustrating, because it’s not acknowledged or discussed. Elijah doesn’t reach back into that history to add depth to his characterization here. He’s simply crueler now.
Elijah’s changes could very easily be dismissed as the show not wanting to waste time going over the past or the like, but the lack of recent history pervades “The Big Uneasy.” The final cliffhanger is the best example: Monique goes to Genevieve, ready to kill her in order to complete the Harvest, but she’s overtaken by the witch ancestors and goes into a trance, which she claims was the ancestors telling her that Genevieve could be spared if she killed Hayley’s child.
Here’s the thing: We’ve seen this scene before. It was already a major plot point in the first half of the season, when Sabine/Celeste used it to as a way to manipulate the witches into supporting her plans. To have the exact same idea, presented in almost the exact same fashion, without calling attention to the repetition, is frustrating, to say the least.
(An alternate possibility: Celeste took over Monique’s body the night she supposedly died. I don’t think the text of the show actually supports this as a possibility, but given the writers’ history of playing fast-and-loose with continuity when it suits the story they really want to tell, I can see it working. At a macro scale, it would be clever twist, even if the micro works against it. Still, until the show actually presents anything to indicate that this might be true, it’s merely a theory and not something criticism can be based on.)
The process continues with the other key change on The Originals in recent episodes: Rebekah’s departure. Like Celeste, her name isn’t mentioned in “The Big Uneasy,” although she’s at least referred to as “our sister” in the occasional Klaus/Elijah conversation. But who she is, what she wanted, and why she left—those things aren’t mentioned. Instead, her references are only to when other characters betrayed her. Elijah uses them as reasons not to trust characters like Oliver and Genevieve, because they attacked “our sister,” but Rebekah leaving town because she couldn’t handle Klaus, or that Klaus “let” her as proof of his vaguely increasing goodwill, is again, ignored. What could be a good use of characterization and history is instead, just a bunch of things that happened.
There are positives to Rebekah’s departure, however. Apparently, the behind-the-scenes gossip suggests that she was forced out by Phoebe Tonkin, but if that’s the case (and I doubt it’s that simple), it may have been worthwhile. Tonkin’s character, Hayley, for the first time, actually gets to be a character with agency on the show. Lines like “I knew you were tough, I knew you were cunning, but I never knew you were a queen” aimed at the suddenly-dynamic Hayley may be a little premature, but at least they’re not ridiculous anymore.
With Rebekah gone and Elijah engaging in his renegade side, The Originals is also lacking a moral center. This plays out with Marcel, who was previously one of the “good” vampires, taking the role of the villain here. And he is a villain, destroying Elijah’s hard-won peace for the sake of his own personal ambition, with a brutal massacre that involves the deaths of many innocents.
The severing of The Originals current story from its recent history allows this to happen. There’s been a sort of reboot of the show in the last two episodes, as it switches from the specifics of Celeste’s campaign into a full-on race war, with werewolves, vampires, witches, humans, an Original vampire, and an Original hybrid all drawing battle lines. It’s a decent premise, but it feels too simplistic—some of the best moments in the show previously were about Originals and vampires and witches who would occasionally switch sides. I assume we’ll get there soon enough, but for now, The Originals feels like it’s redrawing battle lines that it wouldn’t need to redraw, if it just addressed its recent past.
- “You make even strong-arming seem noble.” They say that? That’s literally a thing that’s said?
- “Make enough noise and they’ll leave.” This just gets more implausible. Why on Earth would you say that, Marcel? What about the Mikaelssons has ever indicated that they’d leave at “enough noise”???
- Genevieve’s attempt to manipulate Klaus is terrible. I kinda like the idea that she’s utterly incompetent at being an evil mastermind, but I’m not sure the show agrees with me.
- The scene with the massacre was certainly visually impressive. It’s so rare for the vampires on these shows to actually seem like dangerous, uncontrollable monsters. “Though Marcel certainly took a page from my book of dramatic effect.”