It should go without saying that people who wear genie pants are not to be trusted. This is especially true for genies. Do not trust a genie, basically. Anytime a mystical creature offers to grant you a wish—be it money, power, success, chewy candy, or even happiness (gross), that devious mystic will always have a trick up his or her bell-sleeve. It's like, "Oh cool, look at this enormous pile of Starbursts, I'm gonna burrow into it mouth-first and fall into a delicious slumber." But then Boom! Diabetes. That's how genies get you. They give you the thing that you want most and then make it so you can't enjoy that thing. Guys, last spring a genie tricked us, it tricked us bad. When The Vampire Diaries finally gave birth to a wet, frightening bundle of drama called The Originals, it was a joyous moment for us all. Spinning off the three living Originals into their own show was a GREAT idea. They are three of the best characters on all of television and they were running out of things to do in Mystic Falls, let's be real. In other words, we'd finally gotten our wish. But then WHOOPS. That spin-off episode was not very good! Sorry, just being real. It was borderline terrible. Easily one of the least-good episodes in TVD history, and a very disappointing start to what was supposed to be our new favorite show. But I'm here to tell you to forget that episode. Throw it in the dumpster. This week's official series premiere of The Originals undid or fixed A LOT of the things that were not-so-good about the backdoor pilot! The tables have been turned once again. A classic genie double-cross! Guys, I really like this new version of The Originals.
Before I get into the specifics of why The Originals' rebooted first episode was so good (and "Always and Forever" most definitely WAS a reboot), let's have a quick chat about why the original The Originals didn't work. First and foremost, it almost completely destroyed Klaus as a character. This was a guy who entered TVD on a cloud of sinister magic and straight-up terrified everybody with his unpredictable, unknowable omnipotence, his dark wit, and his ability to remain ten steps ahead of everyone else at all times. Now suddenly he was a weak, uncertain, overmatched naïf getting pushed around in crummy nightclubs? That was NOT the show I wanted to see. Same with Elijah: He entered TVD as a mysterious badass with a Eurotrash haircut and a penchant for destroying vampire coffee shops by throwing handfuls of quarters at them while occasionally karate-chopping the heads off of other vampires. Suddenly he was walking around giving whiny soliloquies about how families should love each other? Again, that was NOT the show I wanted to see. I suspect that some people behind the scenes decided that these characters needed to be more well-rounded and vulnerable in order to carry a show. Because I can't think of a SINGLE recent series that was centered on a ruthless, cunning antihero who always got the upper hand and vanquished his enemies on his own terms while trying to protect his family. Can you? I'm really drawing a blank there. I just did not understand why The Originals would present us the absolute worst versions of Klaus and Elijah and assume we'd continue to care about them.
Then there were the new characters. That cook witch? Boring. That blonde bartender? No way. Marcel? Fine, but why should I care? Hayley? Yeah girl, but remember when you used to have funny lines? The attic witch? Whotf ARE you? Uh, and we need to talk about New Orleans as a setting. Like, great city. Fun, ancient, full of flavor. But you're telling me that an immortal British-accented dreamboat who would give a dying teenager a deathbed rallying cry about the grandness of life, classic art, and world-class travel would be caught dead anywhere NEAR Bourbon Street? I just do not buy it. I don't care if Klaus wanted his kingdom back or whatever. Kingdom of what exactly? Frozen Hurricanes and puke-filled gutters? He and Elijah should've just grabbed Hayley and headed for Vienna. Don't get me wrong, New Orleans is fun. But it is so beneath these characters it's outrageous. SORRY. These are ancient and powerful immortals who throw BALLS. It made no sense for them to settle like this. Not for this city and certainly not for a small-beans conflict between lame witches and some French Quarter rascal.
That said, I liked the pregnancy twist A LOT. Sorry, deal w/it. All the best Klaus moments from TVD involved the occasional glimpses of his humanity. Even at his worst (forcing Stefan to murder most of America) he was really just lonely. That was never more true than in the endlessly compelling inner struggle he faced when a simple high school girl refused to like him back. Those rare moments where Klaus showed he still had feelings for others are what make this character so great, and the idea that he might soon receive unconditional love from another creature—his own blood, even!—is just so full of possibility. But again, Klaus's moments of vulnerability should be RARE as H. We do not want to see a show about a constantly vulnerable Klaus. We want a scary, mean, brilliant Klaus with the potential for kindness. Mere flickers of goodness that make our brains tingle from time to time for maximum impact. You know? Dang, I am still just so steamed about that backdoor pilot. May you be carried away by seagulls, backdoor pilot.
Okay, sorry for all the rants. Let's talk about "Always and Forever," this week's much-needed course correction. It was terrific! Yes, some of the elements I've just finished yellin' about were still present, but it's pretty incredible what a bit of restructuring and change of perspective can accomplish. This episode was indeed a reboot of the same story and characters we met last spring, but if this new version is to be believed, The Originals will now center on Elijah and not Klaus. From his opening narrations (in a flashback wig! With a British accent! And a daggered Kol in a Louis Vuitton casket!) to the episode-long detective work he did around the French Quarter, Elijah is now the man we'll follow into the dark. Which: YES. Klaus has rightly been relegated to the shadows, his sinister and unpredictable nature restored, while also giving us a handsome, conflicted, and powerful hero at the fore.
Similarly, "Always and Forever" demoted Marcel to something more intriguing: a self-appointed king with a mean streak. It's too soon to tell whether he'll still give very on-the-nose karaoke performances of "How You Like Me Now?" or continue to boast of power without really demonstrating it, but "Always and Forever" added shadows to his undeniable star power, making him instantly more interesting. Uh, the attic witch thing is still kinda stupid and feels like cheating. I mean, Marcel is basically the same age as Damon and Stefan. As much as the writers needed to bend over backward to make Marcel stand toe-to-toe with the Originals, after two seasons of the Salvatores (or the even smarter Katherine!) failing to get the jump on Klaus, I really doubt Marcel could do that either. But! Charles Michael Davis remains insanely charismatic. There's a lot of potential in this character so long as the writers can come up with a better, more compelling plot than a simple witch-vampire turf war. That plot (and Marcel himself) still doesn't feel important enough to be on the Mikaelsons' radar, but at least he seems more like a real person now with a better defined set of stakes. (Vampire pun NOT intended, not now not ever).
Hey speaking of witches, "Always and Forever" introduced a few new ones, and they are instantly better than the so far very not-compelling Sophie character. We're only one episode in and she's already making bad decisions and unconvincing threats that don't seem very thought-out, so it's nice to see older, more seasoned witches stepping in to make the New Orleans coven seem more formidable. (For NOW. We'll see just how formidable they seem after the new season of American Horror Story starts.) Uh, that blonde bartender lady is still 60 percent less charming than the writers probably intend and also 100 percent useless in general, but she seems nice? She's basically the April character here. Oh, and again, not to slag on New Orleans, but this Atlanta-based version of New Orleans looks MUCH better. Sorry. It's much sleeker and better-lit. Like the mansion that the Originals rented for Hayley? Amazing. And I can't deny it, it all just feels more like The Vampire Diaries now, which probably subconsciously makes me feel all warm and cozy and in good hands.
Even some of the sketchier plot points from the backdoor pilot have been reworked and/or ret-conned for the better. It suddenly makes way more sense for Klaus to want to have a child and also destroy Marcel. And it suddenly makes way more sense for Elijah to care about any of it. As for Rebekah, it wasn't clear before just what would compel her to join the fray, but Klaus's last-minute daggering of Elijah will probably bring her to town. (That last bit also served to remind us that Klaus is a major asshole. Just the way we like him!) And Hayley's personality came back! Phoebe Tonkin remains a jewel in The CW's crown, but the main thing The Originals' writers need to remember is how well she knows her way around a one-liner. "Always and Forever" not only made Hayley funny again ("Vampires are DEAD" was her excuse for not using birth control with Klaus), it also hinted at possible sparks between her and Elijah, which was just the right amount of love triangle. I definitely don't require a love triangle in my supernatural dramas (and they can frequently be annoying), but the potential for one is undeniably thrilling. Oh and Klaus and Elijah had a POLE fight. Again, their adversarial nature has always been a thrill, and "Always and Forever" brought it back stronger than ever. Fewer balcony speeches about family, more pole fights and daggering. The Originals 2.0 is a definite upgrade.
Overall I still believe the premise and setting of The Originals are beneath these characters. Characters this powerful and with such a flair for theatrics deserve something much grander in scale than some tourist trap turf war. (Set it in Washington, D.C.! Make it Scandal with vampires! Klaus should crave nothing less than world domination!) But even shows with brilliant concepts frequently forget that it frankly doesn't matter how brilliant the premise if the characters are awful. The Originals already boasts three of the best and richest characters on television, and their creators have more than earned our trust. I'm not sure this is the show we expected, but I'm fairly sure we can expect it to go somewhere special. Sort of like that other show about small-town vampires that wasn't 100 percent excellent right off the bat. So far The Originals does not have vampire fog or nosy crows, so in this respect (and most other main ones), it's already off to a pretty great start!
... Did you think "Always and Forever" improved on the backdoor pilot?
... What's your favorite element of The Originals' premise? Least favorite?
... When will Rebekah finally get her fill of mashed potatoes in Europe and come to New Orleans?
... Klaus or Elijah? Be honest.
AIRED ON 5/20/2016
Season 3 : Episode 22