The Originals "House of the Rising Son" Review: Sister Act Too
A great TV show demands a strong ensemble, and a strong ensemble should function like the candy aisle at a gas station. In a word: OPTIONS. You know, so many options that when you scan all the colorful wrappers you find it very difficult to settle on just one favorite. What character are you in the mood for? Peanut butter-based? Fruit-flavored? Something nourishing? Something that will make you sick because it's 3am and you haven't eaten anything since dinner, which was ice cream? For my money (which is mostly Monopoly money), TV's best gas station candy aisle is The Vampire Diaries. That is a show so stacked with compelling, heroic, villainous, sympathetic people that it can be very easy to forget that it's sort of about a love triangle. I guess the love triangle element of TVD would be the nutty, nougat-based candy bar that you could probably eat for breakfast if you were in a hurry. But me, I have always preferred the gummy candies. Are you tired of this metaphor yet? Here is the point: Ever since Rebekah Mikaelson was introduced toward the beginning of Season 3 she immediately became not just a gummy candy to me, but maybe even gummy cherries. The best gummies, basically.
Chalk it up to Claire Holt's unpredictable, charismatic, endlessly appealing performance, but especially chalk it up to the writers' whipsmart-slash-tragic characterization of the world's oldest living lady vampire: Rebekah's limited storylines on TVD have always ranked among the show's most compelling. (Also what does 'chalk it up' mean? Does it involve gymnastics?) Personally, I'm worried about a TVD without Rebekah. And I probably would have enjoyed both versions of The Originals' pilot even more had Rebekah been more integral. But I'm pleased to report that this current weird, troubling, Rebekah-lite era of The Originals is now over. Rebekah has ARRIVED.
First of all: OH, I get it, The Originals. You went and made a THREE-PART pilot. Just when we thought last week's premiere was the end of our introduction to this New Orleans saga, "House of the Rising Son" kept the heavy-handed exposition thing going like crazy. But instead of Klaus or Elijah at the forefront, this week it was Rebekah's turn to walk around the French quarter making speeches about family. It has to be said, though: This wasn't the same Rebekah we'd known from TVD, not exactly. If we're being real, Rebekah's personality on The Originals is already noticeably different from what we've come to know. Yes, her angry sass and Britishisms remain (she called Klaus a "wanker" this week!), but gone is the high school girl who'd fallen for a quarterback and picked petty fights with her harmless rivals. This Rebekah is a Type-A ass-kicker with a short temper and a results-oriented drive. This Rebekah is the best, basically, even better than I'd remembered, and her entrance to this world of The Originals was nearly terrific (I'll explain the "nearly" part in a sec). As shown in a maddeningly brief flashback, on her way into New Orleans Rebekah massacred a group of vampires who'd stepped to her in a pool hall. It was a clever reminder that although we'd grown used to seeing her all vulnerable and conflicted lately, Rebekah was still extremely powerful and fearless and exactly the kind of person we'd want a show based around.
But let's get critical: Rebekah's entrance was nearly ruined because, instead of The Originals just giving us a cold open of Rebekah awesomely fighting off her assaulters, we were presented with an excruciatingly stupid scene in which Marcel explained to Klaus (a 1,000-year-old vampire) how his vampire night club works. WHY? Knock it off, The Originals. I'm pretty sure Klaus is NOT impressed or interested by the fact that tourists are being drained and then compelled to forget. Klaus is, again, a 1,000-year-old vampire who taught Marcel everything he knows. These kinds of conversations are just happening way, way too often so far. Characters working with the same knowledge base are constantly stating obvious things to each other, ostensibly for the viewers' benefit, but in a way that is making me want to change the channel. I'm dumb but not THAT dumb, and I hate when TV shows tell me I'm THAT dumb. Another example? The Originals are still calling each other "Brother" or "Sister". STOP IT. People don't do that. I know you smart writers out there must have a list of terrible TV cliches to avoid. Please do a better job of avoiding them? The exposition on this show is reaching deadly levels of dumb, but I'm holding out hope it's just a vestige of setting up the world. Because man, I don't know how much more I can take of the characters having these dramatically inert, off-puttingly obvious exchanges. If these are network notes we're seeing, tell those execs this: What good is a thorough explanation when I am BORED? I would never change the channel over confusion. But I WOULD change the channel over dumbness. Feel free to mystify me, guys. I can handle it.
All that being said, for every scene that landed like a dead pigeon on the patio, there were scenes both incredible and excellent. When Marcel forced the two best friends and newly turned vampires to choose who would live and who would die? THAT was the kind of scene I wanted to see. I didn't need to know any backstories, I only wanted to see how that simple conflict would play out. Then Marcel's decision to murder the more ruthless of the two in order to set an example about how much he valued loyalty? Perfect and profound, credit where credit's due. That's good writing. Or really, any scene involving Hayley this week, who is easily the most improved character of The Originals so far. Did you laugh when Rebekah and Hayley introduced themselves to each other because you didn't remember that they never actually met on TVD? I did! But I loved how their relationship began contentiously only to slowly become meaningful after Rebekah defended Hayley from a Klaus temper tantrum and Hayley returned the favor by gifting Rebekah some magic daggers she'd found while snooping around the mansion. I even enjoyed the downright gutsy plotline of Hayley attempting to get a werewolf abortion, deciding not to, and then having a quiet, powerful moment with Klaus in which they both acknowledged how much they actually want to be parents now, if only because they're both cast-offs who fight when backed into corners. "It's time to fight, little wolf," is the thing that Klaus told Hayley that gave me chills for hours. CHILLS. Look, I know a lot of people weren't thrilled with the pregnancy plotline, but right now it may be the richest source of storytelling this show's got. And now Rebekah as a protective godmother just makes it even better.
Oh! I can't believe I didn't mention this sooner: It turns out slavery DID happen in this universe! The Originals really went there this week as the flashbacks explained Marcel's origins as a child slave. That's right, slave. He was not a "handmaiden" or whatever other polite euphemism TVD would have used. He was a straight-up slave whose moxie toward his owners attracted Klaus' attention and sympathy. Before we go further: Yes, this was uncomfortable subject-matter, and no, The Originals did not overcome how icky the white-man-savior cliché felt. But these flashbacks were undeniably compelling, especially when it became clear that a grown-up Marcel and Rebekah had fallen in love with each other. (Sweaty, shirtless, dueling matches just sort of have that effect on people.) Even that particular flashback's denouement—a jealous Klaus daggering Rebekah for 50 years and Marcel's decision to become a vampire rather than undagger her—felt surprising and meaningful. Little by little, Marcel's ruthless ways seem more justified, but I'm still concerned that the character won't truly come alive for me until he and Klaus have to inevitably join forces against some much worse threat. He's too likable and practical to provide enough dramatic conflict. But maybe that will change?
Confession time: I'm starting to like the attic witch! Earlier she was merely some boring shut-in, a personality-free deus ex machina waiting to happen. But this week we got a better glimpse of her role on the show, and right now it's just creepy enough to work. After Marcel begrudgingly brought Rebekah to see Elijah's daggered body (stored right beside the attic witch's bed!), Davina tossed Rebekah around the room like a rag doll and threw her out the window. Which was rude, definitely, but it made me laugh how much the attic witch loves to throw people out the window. Anyway, then when Rebekah described Marcel's new weapon to Klaus, she described her as something different from a witch, something more powerful. And I was like, "You got me. I'm in." It's probably just that the term 'witch' has taken on a truly non-threatening, almost pathetic meaning on these shows, so if you're telling me the attic witch is not a witch, but something more powerful? That's already an improvement. Davina is starting to seem weird and naive and sinister enough that I'm increasingly curious about what her deal is, and better yet, what'll happen when she no longer feels loyal to Marcel and decides she wants to walk the streets? That's just a good example of Chekhov's Attic Witch right there.
Camille and Sophie are still so boring though. And Elijah remains daggered, which felt slightly disappointing and I really hope this won't be a series where 1/3 of the stars are out of commission at any given time. But every criticism deserves a compliment: PERFECT use of a Yeah Yeah Yeahs song in this episode. Seriously, what a way to end an episode. Klaus and Rebekah bonding over a singular mission to free Elijah. Marcel and Davina bonding over a singular mission to learn how to kill an Original. Karen O screaming about sacrilege. That is all I want out of a show like this.
So we're clear: Overall I did very much enjoy most of this episode, particularly the Rebekah sections. It's safe to say this show is still in the middle of a fairly rocky take-off, but for me personally it's ignited just enough brain fireworks to keep me excited. Once we get past all the unnecessary exposition and into some real meaty storytelling, The Originals should be fine, or much better than fine. But at least we finally now have all three flavors of Mikaelson to choose from! OPTIONS.
... Do you require more or less exposition in an average hour of television?
... Which of the Originals are you most emotionally invested in currently?
... Has an attic witch ever thrown you out the window?
... Do you think Camille zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
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