And so The Originals’ first season ends, with a resolution of the last remaining dangling thread from its premise. Hayley’s pregnancy, which was half the instigating event of the series (the other, less grounded half was the witches attempting to ally with Klaus). Over the course of the series that pregnancy has been treated as little more than an occasional plot device; its use by Sabine in order to manipulate the witches was as strong as that got. But it’s pulled significant thematic weight, thanks almost entirely to Elijah’s single-minded belief that the baby would redeem his brother.
While The Originals hasn’t always had a single hero or point-of-view character, it has, almost always, adopted Elijah’s point of view. On this show, Klaus is a uniquely dangerous but uniquely redeemable character. Elijah will always give Klaus a chance because he is his brother and his twisted psychology sees redeeming Klaus as the only way to make his damnation worthwhile. We will give Klaus a chance because that’s the premise of the show we’re watching, and Joseph Morgan is good enough to tempt us. That’s not Klaus’ point of view, nor Marcel’s, nor Hayley’s, nor Davina’s. What Elijah wants is, at least structurally, what the show wants.
“From A Cradle To A Grave” implies that The Originals has not merely embraced Elijah’s point-of-view, but also his thematic imagining of the events of the series. I’ve talked the last few weeks about Klaus’ subtle redemption (or not) in the late parts of the series, but his acts of kindness have gone largely unremarked upon as a pattern. Letting Rebekah go, treating Cami with respect, giving Marcel some level of forgiveness, these may have be praised for themselves, but they weren’t an example of Redeemed Klaus. The miracle baby born in this episode, however, is treated as the heart of Klaus’ redemption, right down to the painfully obvious X-Men wannabe name, “Hope.” Thanks to the baby, we see the show adopting the same view of Klaus as Elijah does, instead of merely presenting it.
Is that a good thing, though? There’s a huge amount of cultural baggage tied to a baby, for starters. For example, ideals that present the creation and raising of children as the height of morality. The Originals doesn’t entirely adopt this position, but it doesn’t exactly avoid it either. There are shots of Klaus lovingly letting the baby hold his finger, demonstrating a rare tenderness.
Instead, I think The Originals takes a more pragmatic approach to the baby issues. Klaus’ redemption is not simply based on the conversion of his role into “father,” but instead, the practicality of his role as a father. In order to raise a baby, he has to have the baby in a safe place. New Orleans isn’t that. So Klaus’ redemptive process first gets noticed, as a pattern, when he recognizes a pattern in his own life: He’s made enemies who will hunt him down, therefore the baby has to be separated from him in order to be safe. Instead of a temper tantrum at not getting his way constantly, Klaus recognizes that his actions have long-term repercussions. Of course, he’s still Klaus, and his goodbye speech to baby (ugh) Hope involves some fire-and-brimstone about destroying all her enemies to make her safe, instead of not making enemies in the first place. But it’s still an acknowledgment.
Both The Vampire Diaries and The Originals, of course, have long dealt in grand symbolic gestures to indicate completion of a storyline. (I’m not a huge fan of Stefan’s portrayal in the first half of this season of TVD, but I do admire that that show was willing to show how pointless his symbolic gesture of killing Silas was for dealing with his trauma.) Here, it’s Klaus giving baby (ugh) Hope over to the one person he trusts to keep her safe: Rebekah.
It’s an unexpected and beautiful moment in a show that does such things so rarely. It combines forgiveness from Klaus, with as much of Rebekah’s dream of starting a family and living a normal life as she can still get. I also had no idea that we’d see Claire Holt again this season, so it resolves some of the implied behind-the-scenes drama as well.
The scene also deals with more of the cultural baggage of babies: they’re boring for storytelling. Indeed, as Carrie mentioned way back in her review of the backdoor pilot, supernatural babies are a huge risk for a TV series, and often indicate the point at which a series falls apart. By this logic, the relative lack of import for Hayley’s pregnancy has been well-done, but all that could collapse when the baby gets born. So The Originals takes a single episode to deal with that baby, then quickly ships it off to parts unknown. Of course, it’s still a gun hanging on a mantlepiece behind the characters and writers, waiting to be threatened or used as soon as a storyline is required.
But for now? It gives The Originals the chance to be what it thinks is the best of both worlds—Klaus can be redeemed by the idea of the baby he’s protecting, but he can still be as violent as he wants to be in creating that protection. Really, it’s quite clever: The Originals doesn’t have to worry about changing the kind of violent supernatural drama that it’s been and wants to be, but it does have the ability to say that this is meaningful now. And because the scene where Klaus gives (ugh) Hope to Rebekah is so damn good, it might just get away with it.
The baby-saving aspects of the episode are still quite good, though, in the normal fast-paced, violent fashion. It announces its intentions in a big way, with the witches fighting Klaus and then granting Hayley a moment of mercy with her child before Monique slits her throat. Monique is ruthless and nasty; on a pair of shows that makes a big deal of having charismatic and potentially sympathetic villains, her fundamentalism made her one of the more frightening.
But in the climax of the episode, in a confrontation between the witches and the Originals, Monique gets hers. One of the ways that The Originals has separated itself from its parent show has been a willingness to use religious symbolism or even simply local flavor to draw visual power. On The Vampire Diaries, even when the kids are off saving the world, they’re dressed in fashionable but normal shirt and jean combos, in the Mystic Falls that attempts to serve as Anytown, USA. On The Originals, the witches dress in white gowns, and work in an above-ground cemetery. There is a visual drive to that scene, because of the location, the garb, and the quite cool special effect of the spirits of the ancestors defending against the vampires.
The other big news in “From A Cradle To A Grave” is that the big expected resurrection, that of Mikael, is a misfire—at least for him. Davina does bring him back, but she puts a collar on him. An impending confrontation with Klaus, which I—and probably many, many other viewers—expected to be the climactic event of the season is cut short by Davina’s more long-term revenge plans. Instead, we find out that the fourth Harvest girl, Cassie, appears to have possessed by Mama Original or is at least working directly for her. According to the Wikipedia summary of the episode, she was likely joined by a body possessed by Finn, the Boring Original, though I didn’t directly pick that up from the episode itself.
It’s another good misdirection by the show, but it may be too much. Unlike Mikael, I felt like we got enough Esther in The Vampire Diaries that I’m not sure we needed more—her actions had consequences (RIP ALARIC MISS U SO MUCH) in a way that Mikael’s never did. But there’s enough potential there that I’m willing to see how it goes next season.
As a full season, I’m torn with how I view The Originals. On one hand, it’s been a pleasant surprise, managing to pick up a lot of the momentum that The Vampire Diaries had, integrating new characters and new concepts without too many stumbles. On the other, it’s been a little bit too happy to bring up deeper and more interesting ideas, only to discard them in favor of chasing a shiny new storyline. Better than expected, not as good as hoped.
Season Grade: B