With its initial run of episodes complete as of tonight, the most impressive aspect of The Originals is how self-assured it is. The Originals knows the sorts of stories it wants to tell; it knows the sorts of characters it wants to have; it knows the overall tone it wants to take; and it knows the pace it wants to tell those stories at. While the first three of those are largely adapted from The Vampire Diaries, the last of those—pacing—is quite different. The Originals seems content to take a step back and breathe for a seemingly important episode, its midseason finale.
Last week I described the climactic confrontation between Klaus and Marcel as inevitable but mildly disappointing. Yes, they fought, and yes, Klaus won. What makes “Reigning Pain In New Orleans” fascinating is that it focuses on the fallout of that conflict without major new story additions. Klaus won. He's the king. So what now?
The primary focus of the episode is the Klaus-Marcel relationship. After stealing Marcel's empire, Klaus is eager to make amends. But under advisement from Rebekah, Marcel is playing at friendship with Klaus for survival. So the two undergo a fun little mental dance where Klaus is overly conciliatory out of guilt, and Marcel is overly conciliatory out of self-preservation, but the two actually do want to be buddies. Morgan and Davis also have a nice chemistry together, so scenes like Klaus “laying his cards on the table” for Marcel were both simple character work and quite entertaining.
Focusing on Klaus and Marcel also makes the low-key climax of the episode work. Klaus realizes Marcel's usefulness at dealing with people in ways that aren't violent threats, and offers to work with him as co-kings. And Marcel, well, Marcel offers the most GIF-worthy grin at the prospect that I'd forgive him anything, although Rebekah may not. The episode overall follows the general Klaus pattern of taking offense at something, responding violently, responding even more violently at a counter to that, then demonstrating contrition. But unlike most of those previous contrite moments, both in The Originals and in The Vampire Diaries, Klaus actually does seem to care enough about Marcel (and Cami's moral counters) that he might have the impulse to change.
The further away from Klaus and Marcel “Reigning Pain In New Orleans” gets, the less successful it is. Cami is still relatively close to the two kings, so she's got some good scenes. The one in which Marcel realizes that she's been unwillingly working for Klaus is fantastic: “And I thought you really liked me” he says, to which she replies with enthusiastically bitter irony, “So did I!” But when she's outside of Klaus/Marcel's compound, we get a re-creation of the plot from last week, with the people trying to protect her encouraging her to leave town. Not only is this is a duplicate, but it's also a non-starter—if we don't want Cami to leave, we don't want Cami to leave; if we do want Cami to leave, we don't want her on our screen already.
A little bit further away from that story are Klaus' three prisoners at the compound, Davina, Hayley, and Joshua. While I'm still skeptical of Davina's strength as a character, this combination did, for the first time, give Hayley the chance to take an active role in the proceedings. I know Phoebe Tonkin can act well enough when given interesting things to do, but there's no good reason that it should have taken nine episodes for that to even begin. Still, it was good to see her engaging in some good old-fashioned negotiation-with-powerful-forces with Davina, and I hope we'll see a lot more agency from Hayley in the future. Davina's final move—trying to get away by going to Cami—was a really odd cliffhanger for the show to end its 2013 on, but Davina making any kind of move on her own could lead to great things, especially as she's the most likely being to take on the Originals and succeed.
Much less likely: the “Human Faction,” who, after a typically petulant/posturing display from Klaus at a sit-down, decide to go to war. This is the “action” of the episode, and seems almost cursory. None of the characters involved are actually characters, and most of them die in the end, with the only point that Klaus will trust Marcel more. As far as plotlines go, it's simple enough, but I can't help but feel that it was wasted as a twenty-minute diversion instead of a multi-episode arc.
Meanwhile, two of the biggest threats to Klaus don't even appear in this episode. Tyler getting his neck snapped and removed from the big confrontation last week was an amusing misdirection, but his current status not even being mentioned this week, as Klaus attempts to consolidate his power without any obvious threats is egregious. Likewise, the witches, who are at least mentioned as the impetus for Klaus making his move against Marcel, fail to appear. I'm totally fine with a character-based episode that alters our perception of Klaus, but it's odd to avoid his biggest threats in a mid-season finale, which TVD always used as something extremely dramatic.
Finally, furthest away from Klaus and weakest, Rebekah and Elijah are off saving the werewolves of the Bayou. Perhaps it's that the show never really makes the werewolf genocide seem to be either a viable threat or an interesting one, but other than Elijah being cool and Beks being snarky, there's not a lot going on here. It does, all too conveniently, bring up the mythology of Klaus' werewolf parentage (something we discussed in comments as being a potential focus for this show after TVD largely ignored it). But this isn't interesting on its own, and not enough is done with it in this particular episode to make full judgments.
But having a fairly entertaining side plot as the weakest part of an episode is still a good sign for The Originals. It can go into its winter break knowing that it's established itself as an equal if not superior to the show it spun off from, while also standing reasonably well on its own. That's a good record in nine episodes, especially as there's room for it to get better.
- Hayley's snark starts early: “I assure you, I will not.” “Father of the year.”
- “And, for the record, the awkwardness we're all feeling is entirely genuine.” Klaus gets smarmy about the idea of compulsion.
- Dear Cami: you should watch Memento.
- “I've had enough of family to last me a lifetime.” Well there's a theme and a half!