The overriding question facing The Originals remains “Who is the main character of this show?” There’s been a general assumption, I think, that The Originals was going to soften Klaus up and turn him into an antihero. The Vampire Diaries even feigned at beginning that process early in its fourth season, as Klaus turned into more of a capricious force of nature, filling the role Damon largely vacated. But in “House Of The Rising Son,” he’s pure villain again. He sells his brother’s body to Marcel, he murders two tourists just to turn one into a spy, and physically threatens the potential mother of his unborn child.
Yet this doesn’t actually stop “House Of The Rising Son” from being fascinating. The scene where Klaus attacks Hayley, then Rebecca jumps in, turns out to be riveting. Part of that is performance, to be sure; allowed to do anything other than whine, Claire Holt is a revelation. But it’s also that seeing the Mikaelson family drama from their perspective that gives it a refreshing feeling. Their family politics aren’t a distraction from the show, like they were on TVD. Here, Mikaelson family drama is the show.
This makes me think that the question of “main character” being framed in terms of morality is askew. The issue is one of perspective, rather than. Who are the characters whose subjective experience is presented to us, and which of them can maintain interest? On The Vampire Diaries, Elena was immediately presented as the show’s subject, though it didn’t take too long for Stefan to join her in having his experience presented as normal. Over time, Damon, who had been that show’s initial object—“why is Damon doing what he’s doing?” was its most important initial storyline—became another perspective character.
When introduced on TVD, Klaus, Rebekah, and especially Elijah were relatively inscrutable objects. Now that they have their own show, all of them have the potential to be subjects—and so far, in The Originals three episodes, all have been. Maybe one of them will become the main character—maybe one of them won’t. That tension is creating the most dramatic parts of the show right now, as all the necessary but awkward world and character-building progresses.
But I’m finding myself increasingly curious about the characters who aren’t being treated as subjects. Chief among them: Marcel, who gets an origin story this episode. It’s still Marcel as seen through Rebekah’s memories, but now we start to understand where he came from. (Although we’ll see if the show understands it—TVD was never terribly interested in race, but The Originals seems delighted to jump right in visually by showing Marcel as a slave being whipped). As Marcel is currently the antagonist, this makes sense, but given the charisma that Charles Michael Davis brings to the role, I’d expect that we’ll see through his eyes eventually.
I’m far more curious about why Hayley hasn’t been treated as a subject yet. She has three things that make her seem like she could be the main character: She comes from The Vampire Diaries, she’s largely an innocent in all this, and it’s clear that someone at The CW thinks Phoebe Tonkin will be a star. But she’s been largely passive thus far.
And then there’s Sophie Devereaux, ostensibly the driving force behind bringing The Originals to New Orleans. She’s been kept at arm’s length by the show so far, barely even appearing in this episode. Yet she could, quite easily, be treated as the mastermind, someone whom Klaus has to report to as well as being pumped for information by Rebekah.
Part of what made The Vampire Diaries work so well at its peak was its willingness to adapt to its actors’ skills and its characters’ potential. Damon may have started a villain, but Ian Somerhalder’s flair in the role made him far too valuable to ever sideline. Likewise, Daniel Gillies’ introduction to the show as Elijah opened the door for Original family drama to exist alongside Klaus the killing machine. Both of these decisions complicated the show and eventually helped lead to a decline, yes—but at the time, they kept a fast-paced show moving.
The Originals is in the rare and exciting position of being able to experiment with its characters and storylines in order to see what works, while also being able to rely on the character history from The Vampire Diaries. That’s enough to make an episode like this entertaining even in its clumsiness. And given that I expect the clumsiness to subside, it’s enough to get me unreservedly excited about The Originals… at least for a season or two.
- “Which means Niklaus has done something dastardly and Klauslike.” Well, yes, Rebekah, that’s an effective way to put it.
- Speaking of Rebekah, less than a year ago I was convinced she was the worst Vampire Diaries character, by far. But since April Young (!) undaggered her, she’s been fantastic. Having a personality beyond “whiny” helps a lot. For example. “I’ll tell you what’s not bloody relevant! A coven of witches who can’t do magic.”
- So, uh, did Klaus free every slave that people were being mean to?
- Marcel’s game for picking which new vampire to keep was both an interesting scene and a good depiction of his character.
- Flashback hair grade: A-. Elijah, being the only character to live in a swamp, had terrible hair, but Rebekah’s curly wig, (or perhaps real hair), Klaus’ sleazy look, and all the costumes make it worthwhile.