If you are familiar with The Vampire Diaries, then you know the “Original” vampires (and hybrid!) are generally a whiny, entitled lot, with a proclivity for treachery, dagger play, and excruciating lectures about the importance of family, particularly the originals we’ve seen in action most: Elijah, Rebekah, and Niklaus. Though they've not been my favorite group of TVD's villains-turned-allies, I felt compelled to check out their eponymous new digs.
In any spin-off media—be it book, film, or television—the challenge is to provide newcomers with enough background info to jump in, without alienating the core fan base you hope to attract from the original outlet—all this, while hopefully telling a compelling story that will hook both groups. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like The Originals accomplished this with their premiere, but first a recap.
While you wouldn’t necessarily need to watch the pilot episode (which aired as “The Originals” in The Vampire Diaries, Season 4, Episode 20) to understand The Originals season premiere, it would certainly help new viewers.
The premiere opens with a mysterious ghost ship arriving on the shores of the Mississippi River, 300 years ago. The family Mikaelson is aboard, already cranky and bickering having depleted their ship's supply of
in-flight snacks crewmembers as they fled from Europe. The recently compelled dockworker who discovered the boat informs them that they’ve landed in New Orleans (about 5 years before New Orleans was officially founded, and roughly 80 years ahead of the next wave of vampire immigrants).
Zipping to the present, a low-key bar where Elijah, not standing out sore-thumb-like at all in a shiny three piece suit, flirts expositionally with a self-proclaimed “cliché bartender.” Staccato flashbacks of Klaus’ origin story punctuate the forced conversation as Elijah reveals some of Klaus’s less appealing qualities (temperamental, ill-mannered, a weird jaw line…that last one might just be mine). Elijah and Klaus have a love/hate relationship, as do all the Mikaelsons. But family is very important to Elijah, as he mentions approximately 1.4 million times throughout the episode. So he’s back in New Orleans to help Klaus find out why a group of local witches have targeted him. He tells cliché-tender he’s looking for a Jane-Anne Deveraux. Alas…Jane. Anne. Is. Dead.
Out on the streets of New Orleans, Sophie Deveraux prays over the body of her sister Jane-Anne, a witch recently murdered by the vampire Marcel (Klaus' former protégé) for practicing unauthorized magic in New Orleans. Marcel and The Gang spring and leap from the shadows so choreographically that I am certain they’re going add a little flash mob action to this impromptu funeral. Sadly, it is just an opportunity for some “I’m the big bad boss of the French Quarter” pontificating from Marcel. He wants to know why Klaus was looking for Jane-Anne, but Sophie denies any knowledge of Klaus’ motives.
The first half of the premiere is basically the same story as the pilot, but told from Elijah’s point-of-view. However, since the timeline jumps around so much in this episode, it was initially a little jarring to see Jane-Anne still bleeding on the asphalt, since it felt like she’d been killed several months earlier. There were a few of these timeline speed bumps throughout the premiere, which I felt threw viewers out of the story a bit, especially when the episode wove-in actual previously-aired bits of the pilot. It made the story arc feel unnecessarily clumsy. But I digress, back to the action.
Elijah's all, “Oh hey, let’s call Rebekah!” Becca (don’t call her that) is taking a romantic 1980s Calgon bath, which is interrupted by her exposition-y chat with Elijah. They establish that she too has issues with Klaus and his temper. In the ’20s, Klaus staked Becky (and seriously, never call her that) with a white oak ash dagger, the only tool that can immobilize originals (but even it cannot kill them). I didn’t think this was adequately explained for new viewers, which becomes a bit of an issue later, when the daggers reappear.
Sophie brings Elijah to the graveyard hideout of the witches, where she explains the hybrid birds and bees to him. Why? Because it turns out that Hayley, a werewolf (and possible doppelganger of Twin Peaks’ Mädchen Amick), is preggers with a little Klauskin. Hayley smartly points out that vampires are dead and thus can’t have children
while looking directly at a copy of Breaking Dawn. But apparently, since Klaus is a hybrid, he was able to keep the ol' music in his maracas when he was turned to a vamp.
Elijah pulls a Renesmee, “showing” Hayley the Mikaelson family history with his mind in a 1,000-year flashback featuring more braids than a Pinterest board. Elijah explains that Klaus is actually the Original sibs’ half brother, fathered by an unknown werewolf, and turned to a vampire (with the rest of the Mikaelson kids) by their witch mother, at the command of their father.
Hayley: “Your dad was a dick.”
Elijah then (hilariously) ponders aloud if fatherhood might improve Klaus’ cantankerous personality. My guess—only if the baby is born with a straw taped to its back like a Capri Sun. Sophie interrupts to reveal her plan. The witches want to overthrow Marcel and they need Klaus to infiltrate Marcel’s inner circle and help them to defeat him. They are holding Hayley and Klaus’ unborn child hostage until Klaus agrees to the plan.
When confronted with the news of his impending fatherhood, Klaus is a total gentleman, lovingly caressing Hayley’s belly, while singing a soft lullaby under his breath. No, wait, actually he accuses everyone of lying, implies Hayley is a slut, and then storms away. The witches threaten to kill Hayley if Elijah can’t convince him to help.
Klaus confronts Marcel to find out how he is controlling the witches, but Marcel refuses to tell him and then raises the stakes by proclaiming himself king of New Orleans. Klaus openly defies his authority and dares Marcel to retaliate. Later, as Elijah tries again to get Klaus’ cooperation, he reiterates the Mikaelson sibling oath, “family above all.” Klaus and I both laugh out loud because seriously, the Originals have the worst family dynamic ever. But Klaus finally agrees to help the witches, not because he cares about his child, but because he wants to reclaim New Orleans from Marcel.
Hayley moves in to a conveniently preserved Mikaelson estate at Elijah’s request, stressing again that she and Klaus were just a one-night stand—perhaps leaving the coffin lid open for some Caroline cameos later in the season. Klaus must have unpacked quickly, because his fancy silver daggers are out and in Elijah before Elijah can say “family” or “oath” one more time. The episode closes with Marcel consulting a mysterious young witch, who is apparently (and inexplicably) policing the magic users in New Orleans for him.
Will The Originals do well as a stand-alone for new viewers? Probably not. I’m not even sure it works for fans of The Vampire Diaries. I’m familiar with all the crossover characters involved, and still I’m only barely interested in what happens to them next. As such, I can’t imagine they came off very well to an uninitiated audience. Especially since the only sibling that demonstrated any remotely likeable qualities in this episode, is staked before the credits roll.
Though the previews indicate that Rebekah will be joining Klaus sometime this season (and apparently has sexy-time with Marcel), her character hasn’t historically been the most endearing or charismatic either. For TVD fans, I suppose Klaus can be seen as a tragic antihero, searching for his notion of “family” across the centuries. But the premiere only showcased bratty teen-Klaus. I doubt that was enough to hook anyone. Furthermore, the Marcel featured in last year’s pilot, was far more charming and well rounded (he laughs! he sings!) than the bare-bones version seen in the premiere.
For me, Hayley was the obvious choice to be the emotional conduit for the audience. Who is more sympathetic than the orphan werewolf who accidentally gets knocked up and is exploited as a pawn in a bigger political game? But the show didn’t use her enough and thereby missed an opportunity to connect with the audience, make them care, and bring them back.
Lacking that emotional connection, or TVD’s wrung-out Elena-Damon-Stefan love triangle, it’s hard to see why viewers will want to watch the power play of characters who are so unlikeable, they don’t even want to be in the same room as each other.
When Nancy Lambert doesn’t have her nose buried in a book, she’s busy writing, cutting down restless draugrs in Skyrim, or putzing around online. Don’t be fooled by the cavalier attitude, she is totally team Delena.