Backdoor pilots can be pretty tepid, but if there's ever been a character who needs to get the hell out of his current show, it's The Vampire Diaries' Klaus. No shots at those of you invested in the inklings of romance he has with Caroline, but it's time. Klaus either needs to die or move on, so a spin-off—and the backdoor pilot to get us there—actually sounded like a really good idea to me. Throw in the promise of Elijah and New Orleans as a setting, and I was pre-sold to be in on The Originals.
And I still am. But, uh, this episode was certainly not without its issues, and now I'm not entirely sure how I feel about the prospects of The Originals (he says, knowing he's going to watch every single second nonetheless). It was hamstrung by typical backdoor pilot (and really, normal pilot) stuff like awkward exposition (Klaus just flat-out broadcasting to people that HEY Y'ALL I'M THE HYBRID, AND BY HYBRID I MEAN VAMPIRE AND WEREWOLF IN THE SAME BODY) and on-the-nose dialogue (Camille's armchair analysis of Klaus's severely damaged psyche), but also introduced one of the weirder, likely controversial, stories into the larger Vampire Diaries universe in Hayley's pregnancy and Klaus's possible future as a father.
We better start with the hybrid baby because, WHAT? There's been some discussion about why Hayley would play a role in the spin-off (well, other than The CW isn't going to let Phoebe Tonkin slink away so easily), but now we know: She's miraculously carrying Klaus's child after their almost-forgotten one-night stand some episodes ago. The episode chalked up the pregnancy to a loophole in the system, which is clearly the quickest and pilot-iest way to answer "how?" without actually answering it. The mystery behind the pregnancy will likely drive The Originals, as will Klaus's surely slow-moving journey of coming to terms with the baby's existence.
On one hand, what a cool twist. If you had "hybrid baby" in the TV.com community pool, pat yourself on the back and Andy will have some lovely parting gifts for you when he returns next week. The baby will, in theory, force Klaus to consider how much he truly cares about family, or really any living/dead thing other than himself. Klaus has gone on and on about family throughout his time on TVD, but it's mostly been a smoke-screen, or reflective of his centuries' worth of pain and trauma. Now, unless he decides to dagger an infant—which, wow—he will be forced to value family. For a character who's been stuck in a rut in Mystic Falls, sometimes evil and sometimes ineffectual, the baby—and Elijah's insistence that the Original family return to New Orleans, their previous home, and make it their own again—gives Klaus both an immediate purpose and a larger trajectory that could be very, very compelling.
On the other hand, the baby device is about as soapy as you can get, and though it suggests possible intrigue for the future, there's also a very likely scenario where the results don't match the positive expectations and he/she/it becomes an annoying crutch just like the cure, or the moonstone, or the daggers, or those 61 other things the show has used over the last four years. Plus, there's also this little thing: Klaus is sort of a monster. It was a little jarring to watch this episode and see the narrative and the world through his perspective and mostly be asked to identify with him. Clearly, the driving force of the spin-off will be watching this monster evolve into something more, presumably with the help of his family. And there are certainly less sympathetic or interesting lead characters on television right now. But it was all a bit odd to get comfortable with, at least for me.
The fascinating thing here is that the baby was the episode's hook, but also possibly its most problematic element. If you remove the baby from the equation, there was a lot to like about the hour. This version of New Orleans has energy, and Chris Grismer's direction did a fine job of establishing a slightly different visual palette for the new setting. It's darker, it's grimier and it's even more chaotic than Mystic Falls. The CW and Warner Bros' casting department succeeded yet again in finding performers that both look good and can handle the dialogue and energy without making it seem too ridiculous. Charles Michael Davis' Marcel was intriguing and he worked well with Joseph Morgan. Witches always get the short end of it in this universe, but Danielle Pineda was solid, as was Leah Pipes.
Most importantly, Morgan and Daniel Gillies did very good work here. Morgan was asked to do a lot more with what has become a weird character, but he managed to pull off Klaus' wide range of emotions. The Vampire Diaries likes to give Morgan extended monologues full of empty threats, so it was nice to watch him perform without having to say as much. Despite the heavy layer of cheese in the writing of the scene with Camille and Klaus near the end of the episode, Morgan was darn good. And Danielle Gillies sold Elijah's desperation and longing for familial bonds very well too. When this goes to series, their relationship is going to be at the core, just like on TVD, and with all the history between them, the spin-off should have no trouble developing strong material--especially if it allows these two actors to stop yelling and stabbing and have emotionally complex conversations.
If it seems like I'm being wishy-washy about the episode, it's because I am. With all pilots, backdoor or not, we have to consider potential for both good and bad directions that the story and characters could go. Although there's some really fascinating, surprisingly adult stuff happening in this episode, particularly with Klaus and notions of family, the hybrid baby scares me. It could be a wonderful element that well-serves Klaus, Hayley, Elijah and maybe even Rebekah. It could also open up interesting questions about the rules and logics of this universe in a way that doesn't necessarily involve a geocaching search in Nova Scotia. But bringing a baby into this kind of world, where the plot moves a mile a second and characters don't hesitate to stab even their closest friends and family in the heart, is going to take some real care, both from Klaus and from the writing staff. The baby is definitely going to be a plot device, but it has to be used well, and too often, even normal, non-supernatural shows struggle with babies, so I can't begin to imagine what kind of screwed up child neglect and abuse could happen here.
Still, those hopes, questions and concerns can wait until September or October. As an individual episode, "The Originals" managed to introduce a new world and a handful of new characters, while recontextualizing our relationship with a villain-turned-lead. That's not easy to pull off, and at times I was rolling my eyes, but this episode mostly does it. I think.
– Assuming it gets a series order, I don't know if The Originals will actually shoot in New Orleans, but I hope it does. I also sort of hope that it'll just stay away from Hurricane Katrina, at least for a while. Dealing with a baby is enough; we don't need any additional on-the-nose stories.
– Back in Mystic Falls, Stefan and Damon decided that they need to ratchet up the torture. This story turned really ugly, and really weird, really quickly. I know that Elena's pretty damaged, but I get tired of the show relying on Damon and Stefan talking about how to help/fix/save/break/unsire her. Let her live, and be active.
– Also: Katherine's around! I hope she'll stir some sh*t up in the coming episodes. Not enough of that on this show.
– Many of you are going to want to talk about Klaus's phone call to Caroline. I enjoyed it. Go nuts.