In retrospect, it wasn't all that shocking that it took less than a season for “The Originals” to usurp “The Vampire Diaries.”
“The Originals” wasn't just a spinoff that took one character away from “The Vampire Diaries.” For the better part of two season, Joseph Morgan was a menacing force on “TVD,” while Daniel Gillies and Claire Holt supplied both charm and threat. [I'm not going to try pretending that Phoebe Tonkin's Hayley was any particular key cog in the “Vampire Diaries” machine, but y'all know I like Phoebe Tonkin.]
Stripped of Morgan, Gillies, Holt and Tonkin, “Vampire Diaries” was left with a fundamental adversarial weakness in its fifth season and the show compensated by doubling and tripling down on doppelgängers and by trying to make viewers care about Travelers, who were scary enough to make you clutch your passport if they sat next to you on a Eurail journey, but nothing more. In only a season, “Vampire Diaries” went from a show that constantly made fans say “Whoa” to a show that mostly left me saying, “Huh?”
In contrast, “The Originals” went through the sort of early series growing pains that every new show goes through — Denizens of Mystic Falls were compelled to forget Stefan's time as a football stud — in short order. There was a clarity of purpose that was admirable and understandable. See, vampires and werewolves and witches all wanted a piece of New Orleans' French Quarter. And who could blame them? Oysters! Po Boys! Gumbo! Jazz! Even if I couldn't always understand the in-fighting within the factions, I knew that vampires, werewolves and witches don't get along under normal circumstances and as those factions battled and a seemingly human faction interceded as well, that made for a clear narrative thrust.
Did I still have problems with “The Originals”? Certainly.
For one thing, although the show had a lot of diversity, they introduced maybe 10 actresses who were basically interchangeable, so if you expected me to be able to tell half of those witches apart? Mistakes were made. Ditto, actually, if you expected me to be able to tell half of the scruffy male vampires and werewolves apart. I get that this is The CW and all actors must adhere to a certain standard of “pretty,” but “The Originals” dallied too exclusively in one favored corner of that gene pool.
And one of the few actors who I could consistently recognize, Leah Pipes, was being so consistently and reliably wasted that there were at least five times during the season when I thought the writers were on the verge of surrendering and killing her off, but they pushed on, finding new and not especially creative ways to put Cami in jeopardy on a weekly basis. [More on that later.]
And while it's utterly pointless to say this given that “The Originals” only had occasional access to New Orleans, but let's try showing more of the city than just two blocks around Jackson Square and some generic bits-of-bayou.
But those quibbles — and more — aside, “The Originals” came to be something close to the narrative freight train that “Vampire Diaries” was in Season 2 and Season 3, churning through surprises and twists and reversals at an admirable rate. By the end of the season, when “The Originals” settled into straight-up gangster/yakuza rhythms, I was quite enjoying it, even if every time they introduced a new character I thought it was somebody I'd already met. [Peta Sergeant is a very attractive woman, but there wasn't a single time Francesca appeared on screen that I didn't think, “Oh. That's one of those witches, right?”]
While last week's “The Vampire Diaries” premiere had lots of things that I liked in it, it wasn't a swift enough pivot from the more ruinous detours of last season and I still don't get The Witch Twins.
Meanwhile, I quite liked Monday (October 6) night's “Originals” premiere, which offered an admirable number of little shocks, an unexpectedly early plot reset and some mighty big twists at the end.
Let's talk about some stuff, with spoilers, after the break…
*** So I guess I don't have to remember who Francesca is anymore? When we left things in the finale, the Guerrera Werewolf Family had taken over and they were seemingly the biggest obstacle for Klaus and his family's security, other than obviously Klaus' resurrected witch momma and his vampire-who-kills-vampires dad. But before you could say “Go to the mattresses,” Klaus and Elijah orchestrated a dozen killings to get back the moon rings that were weakening Klaus once a month. That was a GREAT sequence, blending “The Godfather” with “Kill Bill,” with nattily dressed henchmen, cheerful decapitations and artist blood painting. It was gory, playful and well-executed. See what I did there? I'm really not going to miss The Guerreras. And we have plenty more to deal with.
*** Get ready for some family drama. So Originals mother Esther is possessing Cassie, who was one of the Harvest girls who I only barely managed to recognize from last season. There's zero chance I'd have recognized her if Esther had inhabited Abigail. But then we also have Finn and Kol back an inhabiting a couple other bodies and producing much confusion as we try to flash back in our own minds — Or perhaps just in my mind — to the way these characters were featured on “The Vampire Diaries” and generally trying to tell them apart and figure out what their agendas are going to be. I mean, Esther's probably not happy that Klaus tore her heart out. I get that. But it's still much easier for me to keep track of what Mikael's after here, or what Mikael would be after if he weren't bound to Davina through a magical Fitbit bracelet or something. The family stuff is what's important and we didn't need the Guerreras getting in the way of that.
*** But what does this mean for New Orleans? Last year was about the battle for the Crescent City and when Marcel observed, “We're not fighting for real estate. We're fighting for the soul of this city” in the premiere, you know that this is, indeed, what Marcel is fighting for. And I get that Klaus is fighting for New Orleans out of a perverse, “I had it. I left it. You made it better. Now I want it,” childish competition with Marcel. But what does anybody else care about New Orleans? Elijah is just there for Klaus (and Hayley). Hayley is just there for her family in The Generic Bayou. But Esther and Mikael and Finn and Kol? They don't care about New Orleans. Or do they? I just want “The Originals” to have more connection to New Orleans than “The Originals” probably will ever be able to have. Oh well.
*** Davina and Cami adrift. I don't know whether I laughed harder at the idea of Davina going back to high school or Cami completing her certification to become Shrink to the Stars. We're never going to see Davina in high school and why would we? She sure didn't take any classes last year and while I've been compelled to accept the Mystic Falls Gang talking their way out of high school on “The Vampire Diaries,” it's really not necessary here. Davina's mom is dead, her dad's irrelevant. Let's just accept that she's not living a normal life and move on. And as for Cami, was her decision to get her certification just an excuse for her to end up with a reincarnated Original as her advisor? What would they have done to people Cami in jeopardy if she hadn't reprioritized her academic pursuits? I need them to either give Cami better things to do or set her free. She inherited a lot of knowledge and data last season from her uncle. Can we at least make her into the early-“Buffy” equivalent of Willow? Banging Marcel and getting coffee for stalkers is no way to go through life. Every once in a while, there are sparks between Cami and Klaus, but “The Originals” doesn't know what to do with them and the show hasn't decided if she's supposed to be an intellectual equal for him or just another potential blonde sex object or what. Figure that out, eh?
*** That was some well-handled emotional subtext. “The Vampire Diaries” has killed off and resurrected so many characters and killed off so many of their family members that no matter how hard they try to pretend like each moment of misery is unique and particularly raw, like Rhett Butler, I've run out of damns to give. But the stuff with Klaus and Hayley as estranged parents grieving the loss of their child? That was dynamite. It doesn't matter that Klaus and Hayley never especially liked each other before. And it doesn't matter that Baby Hope is fine, or relatively fine. But I liked that Klaus and Hayley's torment was grounded in the premiere. There's almost a “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf” shading to their discord and I'd love to see more of that, the idea of how you grieve when you know your grief could be eternal. Joseph Morgan is always good with this kind of heightened drama and Phoebe Tonkin mostly matched him, except…
*** Sigh. That accent. Shouting and crying bring out the worst in basically every foreign actor attempting American accents on the telly. Matthew Rhys? Spectacular 95 percent of the time with his accent. But he can't shout without rounding the vowels and slipping Welsh. And Phoebe Tonkin is no Matthew Rhys with her accent in general, so if you give her scenes with as much emotion as Hayley was going through in tonight's episode, you might as well just write “[In an Australian accent]” next to the dialogue, because she's not gonna bother being American anymore. And this is sad for me, because outside of the accent, I think tonight was probably the best Tonkin has ever been. I completely bought everything she was selling about her character's in-transition hybrid physical confusion, her rage at being without her child and the emptiness she felt after getting that vengeance. But oy. That accent.
*** The Rebekah Problem. I don't know the truth of what happened with Claire Holt and the “Originals” producers and who wanted to go where and who said they'd taken which character to what point-of-conclusion, but I just can't buy it when the writers say they weren't sure they needed Rebekah or could use Rebekah on a regular basis. “The Originals” needs Rebekah. It needs Rebekah when we see Claire Holt in the opening scene and we go, “Oh right. We miss her.” It needs Rebekah when Marcel is in bed with Cami and we go, “Yeah, sorry Cami. You're nothing but a placeholder for the women he actually loves.” It needs Rebekah when the episode climaxes in Esther and two Originals plotting some consanguineous chaos or another and we go, “How is this season going to be about family and The Originals if Rebekah isn't around?” As it stands, we know that Rebekah will be coming back eventually this season, but we don't know for how long and I don't know how they're going to justify her absence with this as the seasonal hook.
*** The stake for stakes. The Originals are, in principle, cool because of how powerful they are. But they're cooler when they're the villains and you're trying to stop them and you realize that only one thing can stop them. Somehow it's different, though, when they're the heroes and you realize that only one thing can stop them. It means that once again we're all, “Oh. The White Oak Stake. Again.” And since we currently know that killing any of our remaining Original vampire characters would set off a bad chain reaction over in Mystic Falls and beyond… It's a limited threat. Or it's a familiar threat.
*** Some even quicker takes: It took me a long time to realize I kinda recognized Kaleb from “Teen Wolf” and then very little time to forget that. Eventually Josh has to become a real character. He can't just be Davina's Gay Best Friend, forcing us to ponder how “Vampire Diaries”/”Originals” dodged having major gay characters for so long.
What'd you think of the “Originals” premiere?