In the Vampire Diaries universe, The Originals are the first Vampires, a family turned to Vampirism by a spell of their own making, and the progenitors of the entire vampire race. Among them, the most notable, for being both recurring and alive, are Klaus, the Vampire/Werewolf hybrid and all around pain in the ass; Elijah, the Original Gentleman, honorable and honest; and Rebekah, the eternal bitch. First introduced during season 2 of The Vampire Diaries as villains, the Originals eventually became series regulars and while still sociopaths, their roles shifted more or less once per episode, switching between helpers and bad guys as the plot required, which, as a natural consequence, means they’re the least developed characters of the bunch, with, perhaps, the exception of Elijah who’s remained constant throughout his appearances.
After the spinoff series announcement and the backdoor pilot during The Vampire Diaries’ last season, I was concerned on how strong a series revolving around them would be, even if I thought the premise was good enough, with Klaus fighting a secret war for the throne with Marcel, one his offspring and current King of Vampires in New Orleans. Helping in his efforts are the covens of witches Marcel’s regime has oppressed, and it’s they who lure Klaus back into the city, holding Hayley, a werewolf girl pregnant with Klaus’ child after their one night stand, as a hostage to ensure his collaboration. Of course, Klaus doesn’t care about her but on Elijah’s insistence that the child can be their second chance at being a family, he eventually agrees.
Episode 1 of the series graciously recaps all the events of the backdoor pilot, which I’ve just glossed over without going into much detail, but from Elijah’s point of view. By the end, though, he’s daggered by Klaus for the umpteenth time (the Originals can’t be killed but they can be put to sleep if they’re stabbed with a special dagger covered in the ash of “The White Oak”…and Klaus daggers his family quite regularly), and I was concerned how the series would go relying only on Klaus as a main character, since he’s not the most likeable of characters, and tended to suffer from a bit of tunnel vision, focusing on one thing in particular and nothing else, which is good for a villain and NPC (Non-Protagonist Character), but is not the most desirable quality for the leading character.
It’s good that my concerns were unfounded.
Unlike other series I’ve reviewed recently, I didn’t give this series a set number of episodes to hook me in, instead I was planning on letting the season move along and if it didn’t convince me I’d just stop watching when I had enough, but 3 episodes in, my usual limit, the series accomplished its mission and now I’m hooked.
While Episode 2 doesn’t do much except bring in Rebekah into the mix, and set a bit of backstory with Marcel and introduce his secret weapon, it was Episode 3 that became the turning point for me, the moment the series sank its hooks into me (no, won’t say fangs…too easy), with Klaus’ masterful manipulation of people and events and how his Machiavellian scheme for the episode played out, not only advancing his goals but also screwing over the witches a bit. In fat, for the past two episodes Klaus has been the strongest character, and I’m happy the writers decided to focus more on developing him and showing other sides of him.
As a series, The Originals makes the smart decision of showcasing the beautiful city of New Orleans, by setting most scenes in the streets and open spaces, especially the French Quarter. I’d have been very disappointed if they didn’t take advantage of such a fantastic locale and focused on small cramped rooms; but then again, The Vampire Diaries does take every chance it has to show the wonderful scenery.
The acting is strong, convincing and consistent; something its parent series sometimes struggles with, with its ample cast of main characters and NPCs. The Originals, on the other hand, seems to follow this simple rule: if they have a name and they’re not set to die in the immediate future, you can expect strong portrayals…if not, who cares anyway? The actors portraying the Originals are the best, but they’ve had a few years of practice so I won’t talk much about them, with the exception of Joseph Morgan, who plays Klaus. His transitions from smug, manipulative and cruel to genuinely tender within the same episode are flawless, and will bring a tear to your eye. The very expressive Charles Michael Davis plays Marcel, in my opinion the best character and the strongest performance in the series, his portrayal letting us see not only the different sides of the Vampire King but also allowing us to get a glimpse of what’s running through the character’s mind, be it joy, anger, confusion or even paranoia.
I’d previously seen Phoebe Tonkin in The Secret Circle, another L.J. Smith adaptation and with only 1 season, as Faye and I wasn’t impressed, neither the portrayal nor the writing, and while my opinion of her acting has improved exponentially, I believe her character to be the weakest among the cast, but I blame the writers for not taking chances with her. Then again, with the show’s premise and New Orleans a Werewolf-free city thanks to Marcel, they’ve written themselves into a corner, making it almost impossible for the character to interact with others. Episodes 2 & 4 have shown her leaving the house, but on both occasions, she ended up in danger and needing a rescue, so I will be very surprised if they can keep it up for the rest of the season and not make her more of a recluse.
Leah Pipes plays Camille, a bartender and object of both Marcel and Klaus’ affections, but Klaus being whom he is, she’s a tool in his plot first and anything else comes second. Leah and Joseph and Charles Michael have wonderful chemistry with each other and their scenes together are some of the high points of the series so far, especially those during Episode 4, and the tear-inducing final scene in particular.
The witches are mostly a forgettable bunch, compared to the rest of the cast, but they‘re still pretty interesting (more so than The Vampire Diaries brand of witch-crafting), dependent on their ancestors and their spirits and remains to power their spells; which is why the witches live under Marcel’s oppressive rule and don’t leave, because their powers are tied to their homeland and the resting place of their ancestors. As such, the Lafayette Cemetery is the location of choice for Witch-centric scenes.
On the visual side, it’s very similar to its parent series, in that it’s very minimalistic on the eye candy, relying on sound effects for most power displays; which I still think is a brilliant way to “display” powers while not having the necessary budget for them. After all, a “woosh” and a quick camera cut is just as convincing as “super-speed”, as seeing the characters actually run, leaving after-images behind them.
The writing itself is very well done, and aside from the rhythm of each episode and the development of the overarching plot, the writers excel at making sense, something the series has inherited from the The Vampire Diaries. You’ll rarely see someone doing something that’s either out of character or outside the realms of logic. The writers, as with the parent series, make sure every decision made and every action both make sense to the audience and are consistent with the characters.
The Originals is a worthy addition to the Vampire Diaries franchise and I’m very interested to see where they’ll take these largely undeveloped characters.
The Mental Attic Score: Worth Watching. With both a good story and strong characters and a secret war between two villains, The Originals will grab hold of you and won’t let go.