“Mythology” has become one of the most important terms in modern discussion of television, particularly speculative fiction. Definitions of it tend to vary, though it largely focuses on big overarching questions that dominate shows in ways that overpower initial smaller-scale stories . Such was the case for the Original family when it was introduced on The Vampire Diaries, when the precise details of who Klaus was and how his family came to be were both critical to the story and overwhelming to the character work on Elena, Stefan, Damon, and the rest that had taken place before.
(For what its worth, my definition of mythology is: “information about the setting that acts on the characters, but which they cannot affect.”)
But there's another side to mythology, and that's, well, the conventional concept of mythology. These are events, characters, themes that are larger than life. The teen drama of The Vampire Diaries and the operatic quality of the Original family—and vampire history—always felt at least mildly at odds, as though it was utterly ridiculous that the most powerful beings in creation would always congregate in a small town in Virginia.
When taken on their own, separate from the pre-existing drama in Mystic Falls, on the other hand, the Original family is not a distraction, but its own epic story. The punishment of Niklaus for the sins of his parents, echoing through the centuries after the creation of the Original vampires, is, on its own, an archetypal story worth examining. The scale may be immortal, but the question is consistent across human experience: How much does previous abuse justify current bad behavior?
That's not a question that I can answer, and really, it's not a question I should answer. And nor should The Originals in any kind of direct fashion, because it's one of its key dramatic points of tension—as long as it’s examined intelligently.
What makes the mythology aspect work here is a secondary aspect of the idea of “mythology”: That it's history. All of what's discussed as the supernatural and familial premises for the show are events that took place in the past—the far distant past no less. By being so far in the past, they can be examined, altered, or even ignored at will, using the show’s storytelling techniques.
Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing largely depends on how well it's done. The idea of the “retcon,” or retroactive continuity—a change to what was previously known—is the strongest form of adjustment, but it's not the only one. There's also what I call an “open door” adjustment: where an event or revelation that's plausible but had not been previously divulged comes into play. I think this is different from a retcon because there isn’t a direct contradiction, but it can feel deceptive, especially to plot literalists.
In “Farewell To Storyville,” those open-door revelations occur via flashback to the Original family's life before they were turned to vampires. Initially, these depict the Mikaelsons as children, wit Klaus playing the role as the emotionally sensitive, masculinity-lacking youngest child. He gives Rebekah a toy and holds her hand as the two children deal with a thunderstorm. In later flashbacks, the Originals are shown as teenagers just before their conversion to vampires. In these, everything is stronger: Mikael's cruelty, Klaus's sensitivity, and Rebekah's resolute anger.
The next part of the story, the conversion of the family into vampires isn't show in this episode, or even really discussed. But I think that ends up strengthening its themes. One of the more powerful forms of tragedy available to storytellers is the idea that kids, as they grow up, don't realize the power that they hold in their semi-adult bodies. Supernatural stories often turn this into metaphor, where teenaged vampires or werewolves or the like wreak destruction based on their lack of comprehension about their (adult) desires and strength. It doesn't even need to be supernatural; after all, The Wire's famed fourth season was in many ways about the concept of children coming into power without any concept of how it worked. Not that The Originals is on that level at all, but more that it's tapping into the same archetypes: the children who know not what they do.
What makes “Farewell To Storyville” particularly impressive is that, for Klaus and Rebekah, it's a moment of realization that may not have ever occurred before. Both characters realize that the Mikaelsons, thanks to Mikael's behavior, may be irredeemably broken. “We are the definition of cursed. Always. And forever.” Yet even Klaus acknowledges that Mikael may have been as broken as he was, thanks to a potential abusive grandfather. Their family issues are as mundane as they are devastating.
Thus the story, as told, isn't merely compelling on its own, but it's compelling because it's about how it plays out on a grand scale. The Original family isn't merely a family on its own; it's the most powerful family in the history of the two shows. Thus the breaking point isn't merely that of a single family; it's of Family overall. The Mikaelsons' problems are demonstration that some scars are too deep, that some betrayals are too unforgivable, and that some violence crosses the line.
Yet there's also a cathartic aspect of the disintegration of their family. As all the past and present recriminations go back and forth, and as all the superweapons pass back and forth to the siblings, they present the possibility of healing through hatred. Not simply through honesty, although that's a part of it, but through the idea that by acknowledging the depth of their problems with one another, they can finally move on. To be honest, it reminded me of that early Simpsons episode where the family goes to therapy, and zaps each other with the electroshock buzzers. For them, the act of revealing their aggression is enough for both hilarity and resolution. For the remaining Mikaelsons? Well, hilarity isn't their strength, but they do manage resolution alongside tension.
This is what makes “Farewell To Storyville” probably the best episode The Originals has produced. It fully examines the concepts of the characters not simply from the premise of the series, but also from the details of the series. Only Celeste's spell could lead to these conversations, and only the flashbacks that might or might not be retcons could give them a form to make them meaningful. It's a mix of old and new, past and present, Vampire Diaries and Originals. And for this episode, it's riveting.
- “You look like father.” The Originals is really teasing out Mikael's emotional power quite well while they have the actor.
- “You of all people should have more faith.” Throwin' some shade at Father Kieran! Also, I was amused by Kieran's apparent cold due to his hex. Was that an accident of filming or a deliberate choice by the actor/director?
- “I never much thought about dying” says Rebekah EXCEPT FOR THE CURE THAT DOMINATED HER CHARACTERIZATION A YEAR AGO.
- “What is this, some melodramatic fiction designed to garner my sympathy?”
- “You, with your mask of civility and elegance, you're every bit the abomination I am. Or worse.” If The Originals is now doing an Elijah-is-as-bad-as-Klaus plotline... I'm in. I'm totally in. Make Michael Bluth evil.
- Another thing I'm in on: Marcel making his slave history explicit, saying he can't leave New Orleans because he's been exiled “Like they own me. Took my home. My people. Everything. I can't just run away.” At least one of you in comments suggested that I should focus on this narrative, and I think it'll be crucially important in the next few episodes.
- “Thousand years with Klaus. I guess you do deserve a few vacation days.” As though Hayley's contractually obligated to appear in a single scene. Not that it wasn't a decent line/scene, just felt a little tacked on.
- The actress portraying Genevieve was… notably weaker than a couple of weeks ago. I hope this can be resolved.
- FLASHBACK WIG GRADE: It's been a while since I've done this, but A++++, this is why I invented this category, especially Mikael's bottle blond.
- I'm going to be at a convention next week, but Carrie, our Vampire Diaries reviewer, will be giving her opinion. I'm quite looking forward to reading it, actually, and I hope you are too.