There was always a certain inevitability to the events of “The River In Reverse.” At its core, The Originals is about supernaturally powered creatures who, generally speaking, have never been bested in physical combat. So this season’s political subterfuge, characters playing both sides, etc., was all well and good, but eventually, it was going to break down into direct violence. Klaus thinks his powers make him physically invincible; Marcel thinks his army of vampires makes him invincible. Why would either back down from a fight? Thus, the first part of this episode, in continuing from the last, is setting the stage for that fight. Marcel has the confidence to launch his plan once he gets Rebekah, Tyler, and Joshua on his side to lure Klaus in.
Thus, “The River In Reverse” only has to get one scene right to be an effective episode: It has to make the Klaus confrontation work. Klaus, Rebekah, Marcel, and several dozen angry vampires in a room—that’s how to start. Badass music, check. Dramatic swings in fortune, yes. Sped-up vampire fighting is also one of the few times where music video-style quick cuts illustrate the brutality of the combat instead of distracting from what’s going on. And Joseph Morgan is enough of a badass that I find myself rooting for him as an actor, even as I dislike Klaus as a character. So yes, the fight scene succeeds, which means the episode succeeds.
It’s also a good scene because it reveals what the characters are thinking, most notably, how poor in retrospect Rebekah and Marcel's plan is. Rebekah, the strongest character in the room after Klaus, can’t bring herself to join the fray—what is she there for, then, moral support? In fact, by her actions, she proves to be the best ally Klaus could have. She causes Marcel to overextend in a way that triggers a weakness of loyalty, she doesn’t join a fight only she could have tipped the balance of, and she convinces the wavering Marcel to surrender to Klaus, thus giving her bastard brother everything he wants. Actually, it’s even better than that: She takes Tyler out beforehand for having a plan that might actually work (even if it is ruthless), also removing another ally with the supernatural abilities to go toe-to-toe with Klaus.
The Originals may well come up with a convoluted explanation next week for why Rebekah was doing Klaus’ bidding, but I’d actually prefer it not. There’s another explanation, indicated at the end of the episode, when Klaus orders Haley into his truck as he leaves the plantation to reclaim his kingdom: Klaus is the abuser. Klaus has beaten his siblings into submission to the point where they can only see things from his perspective first. They can’t directly confront him with any kind of confidence. They’ve spent too long surrendering to his whims that surrender is the only thing they can think of. Elijah’s monologue to Haley about how he killed Celeste, instead of Klaus or the people who actually did, just reinforces this.
This marks the biggest question for The Originals: Does it know it’s about abuse? Does it know that it’s created Klaus as a metaphor for all the tiny bullies who gain a little bit of power and try to control their “loved” ones’ lives? If I were going just from my experience with The Vampire Diaries, I’d say no. That show only occasionally stumbles into themes by accident, and any time it realizes that it’s close to one, it runs away screaming. (Its take on revenge as a way to get past trauma just two episodes ago or not was terrifyingly literal, like the writers have no idea how to deal with anything that’s not pure plot.)
On the other hand, The Originals has Cami, whose primary function is thematic in a way that no long-running character on The Vampire Diaries ever was. She doesn’t have a lot to do in this episode, spending her first scene confronting Klaus about his destructive loop once again and the latter portion of the episode working out what's happening to her as her uncle, at Klaus’ prompting, attempts to push her to leave New Orleans. She still works as an effective anchor, a reminder of the insanity that the Mikaelssons bring wherever they go, but her storyline is clearly being prepared for a future episode.
Cami's lack of engagement with the primary story is part of the episode's biggest weakness, though. Other than the central fight scene, it’s quite disjointed. Elijah and Haley are off having flashbacks in the Bayou, which would be useful for continuing to establish Klaus as a villain if that was at all necessary. It also serves the purpose of escalating the Elijah/Haley relationship in plot terms, but those plot considerations are still way too far ahead of the character/actor chemistry (which, to be fair, Klaus does comment on later in the episode). It also takes Elijah and Haley away from the supposed climax.
Indeed, when taking a step back from the supposed climax, who’s not there is more important than who is there. Tyler, Elijah, Cami, and Haley, yes, but also the witches. The instigators of the plot of the entire series don’t even appear, nor does Davina, the show’s biggest wildcard (though she’s at least mentioned as a possibility). This all had the effect of making the inevitable Marcel-Klaus confrontation seem a little more trifling than it should have. But it had to be done.
- Love the blues playing at the start of the episode. Musical variety could be really helpful for this show.
- As the epic Klaus tragedy moves ahead, Rebekah utters a perfectly lyrical line encapsulating everything possible: “My brother is a crap enough individual as it is.”
- “Yes. It is ironic discussing free will with a mind-controlling vampire.”
- Flashback Hair Grade: B. This week was much more about the uniforms than the hair.
- Elijah's old lover Celeste is finally given the chance to speak and a vague personality this week, a backstory (she’s a witch), and she dies. Offscreen. It's The Vampire Diaries’ African-American Experience, rolled into two short scenes!