“My siblings and I are the first vampires in all of history. The Original Family. Three centuries ago, we helped build a town called New Orleans. Now a plot by witches has lured me back, hoping that I will defeat a tyrant, a vampire I created. My brother hopes I will find redemption through the power of family, a miracle child, part werewolf, part vampire, a hybrid. My sister is doubtful; she thinks I am beyond redemption. Despite my brother’s best efforts, I have a plan of my own. I will take back my home and reclaim what was mine. I will be king.”
If you’re a fan of The Vampire Diaries, you need no introduction to Klaus Mikaelson and his family of original vampires. They were cursed by a powerful witch, their mother, to live forever as vampires. Klaus was her bastard son and also a werewolf. His cruelty and brutality are a millennium-long Grand Guignol of the most graphic kind. Can you build a spinoff show around a creature who has pretty much been the vicious villain of the mother show? That was my biggest question going in. The answer was a very resounding yes.
The Originals is actually an example of the way things work thanks to the internet. These days fans can actually have some kind of relationship with the actors and showrunners of a series. The concept began when fans first saw the potential of a series for the original family. They began to create fan trailers and fan fiction that centered around them. Not willing to let a good opportunity pass them by, Joseph Morgan and Claire Holt started to fan these attempts. They would re-tweet/post/hashtag them. They made sure that the powers that be were inundated with the idea. The campaign worked, and what might be a big loss for The Vampire Diaries became a huge chance for a show that I consider to be much better than what it came from. My previous reviews are a testament of how much I’ve liked The Vampire Diaries, but this stuff is far more compelling indeed.
It begins with a huge shift in concept. The Vampire Diaries, as good as it has been, suffers from the trend of vampire stories we are completely inundated with. Some of us are getting a little tired of the teenage angst and badboy love that these shows continue to serve up. The Originals is different. It maintains the rules and universe of the The Vampire Diaries, but it takes the storytelling in another direction. Certainly there’s still the love affair for those of you who hunger for that like these vampires hunger for blood. But this show offers a much more powerful and ultimately more compelling sort of action.
The opening quote pretty much says it all. Klaus (Morgan) has been summoned to New Orleans by witches. It used to be his town. He built it into the great city it once was along with his brother Elijah (Gillies) and sister Rebekah (Holt). 100 years ago they fled the city when their father Mikael (Roche) arrived. We find out in this season that his arrival was the result of an intimate betrayal. In those 100 years the town as been ruled by Klaus’s protégé Marcel (Davis). He’s come down on the witches with an iron fist. He has a secret weapon to use against them and has decreed that any magic performed here is punishable by death. The witches can’t simply leave because their power is derived from their ancestors who have been consecrated into this ground.
Klaus returns to find an all-out war brewing between all of the factions of the city. He also learns he has an unborn child through Hayley (Tonkin). It’s a miracle child who hasn’t gone unnoticed by the various factions. She’s a werewolf and will fight for the rights of her faction. Humans are represented by Father Kieran (Stashwick) who has maintained the peace so far. Turns out that New Orleans is more of a hopping town than anyone ever realized.
Of course each episode builds on the tension. We get a never-ending parade of betrayals, acts of violence and secrets revealed little by little that lead to changes in alliances and even more tension. Elijah is the noble one of the group and attempts to broker a peace that is doomed to fail. To his own regret, he finds himself more and more in league with the tactics of brother Klaus.
“A city where vampires and witches are at war, how very tragic”.
Not for us. There’s a ton of history here that is revealed in the many flashbacks. Both character and city history are revealed, and the writers have found a way to make the city itself an intricate part of these characters and their motivations. Give the writers credit for combining actual history with the back story of these characters. It provides not only for a very rich history and culture, but it contains enough actual truth to lend a certain realism to the material. I’m not saying the show is realistic. There so much bloodshed here that it’s hard to imagine it going on for centuries without anyone catching on. You have to look the other way from time to time; this is still fantasy, after all. But it’s a wonderfully atmospheric fantasy. The Vampire Diaries lives in a fictional town that could almost be anywhere. I’m really loving these roots and how it does tend to interact with things that are very real. It’s an advantage these writers know they have and one they exploit quite cleverly.
“Family is power”.
That’s another aspect that sets this show apart. The family bonds here are powerful and also allow for the deepest kinds of betrayal. It’s also a great stage in which to place these actors. They will be a loss to The Vampire Diaries, because they are so good.
“Being diabolical has its perks.”
Joseph Morgan is an incredible talent that inhabits the body of Klaus in a manner that’s a little scary to think about. Yet no villain truly sees themselves as the bad guy, and we do get to see some of the humanity in Klaus. He cares for his family even when they disappoint him. He actually believes his rule will be best for the other people living here. He loves the city itself. Morgan allows us to see all of these emotions working just under the surface. Can an immortal be afraid? Regretful? Hurt? Morgan answers all of these questions with a huge amount of talent on display.
Daniel Gillies never had quite this large a canvas to work with on the other show. Here we see a more quiet display of power, but the power is never doubted. Gillies lets us in on his own disappointment and evolving anger. He’s also in love with Hayley, who carries Klaus’s child. He tries to keep a distance even though Klaus has expressed no interest in a girl who was essentially a one-night stand. We don’t get enough of Claire Holt, and I suspect she won’t be carrying on as a regular in the future. It’s a loss, to be sure.
There are many new characters played by a pretty solid cast. Father Kieran is played by Todd Stashwick, and this character is put through the slow deteriation of a hex. Yet he’s the pillar that has kept the peace for decades. Leah Pipes plays his niece Cami. She’s a psychology student who is now finding herself immersed in this supernatural world her uncle kept hidden from her. Klaus also uses her as a weapon against Marcel. Charles Michael Davis plays the roadblock named Marcel. His position changes with each episode, but he’s forever scheming. He’s the least trustful one of the group, because creatures like Klaus never claim to be trustworthy. Marcel has the silver tongue and the dramatic flair that makes him a charismatic leader and so a true adversary for a creature that could, in reality, kill him quite easily. Klaus also looks upon him as a son, which often gives Marcel the extra second he needs to stay alive.
A true standout is the young actress Danielle Campbell, who plays the secret weapon Davina. Through a botched harvest ceremony she ends up with more power than she can contain. Marcel uses that power to keep his control. But he does care for the girl almost like a father. Campbell doesn’t let her inexperience show here. I’m amazed at how well she holds her own against such a forceful cast. She’s got a bright future.
While the show shoots mostly in Atlanta, there’s plenty of New Orleans atmosphere to go around. The pilot was shot there and is basically a retelling of the backdoor pilot in The Vampire Diaries. This time the events are told through Elijah’s point of view. It was a good way to get new viewers up to speed. You do not have to have seen a minute of The Vampire Diaries to fall right in.
The show is great at the tease. No matter what we get, the stories are always teasing something bigger and better. Even the season finale only teases a much bigger danger when a feared creature comes to town. Characters die and return from the dead, so you never know if someone is really gone. The show will entertain and keep you guessing the entire ride.
Each episode is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec. Warner has done things right by providing only six episodes on a disc. That means a solid high-definition image presentation. Most impressive are solid black levels that allow a lot of shadow detail on the many darkness scenes. Colors are not flashy but are quite strong. There’s plenty of texture that allows you to appreciate some outstanding production design. Flashbacks are a bit over-bright to allow you to realize you’re in a different place or time.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a huge asset here. There’s those celery crunches as vampires dig into flesh and the sucking sounds that follow. The show has an amazing score, and it really does sound dynamic here. Ambient sounds abound, and the surrounds put us right in the thick of the action. Dialog is always clear.
Deleted Scenes for select episodes
Comic Con 2013 Panel: (29:21) Cast and crew tease the crowd about the upcoming show. Of course, they answer questions and laugh around a bit.
The Origins: (13:25) Creator Julie Plec takes us through the process of spinning of the show and shooting the pilot in New Orleans. Cast and crew each offer their own thoughts.
A Bite-Sized Back Story: (5:33) This montage of scenes from both shows gets you caught up on any history you might want to know before digging in.
Re-Mixing History: (9:32) Writers talk about infusing the real history with the fiction. There are some specific examples here where they show how some event fit perfectly into their story.
Panel At Paleyfest 2014: (29:49) It’s another cast and crew panel but this time after several episodes have aired. This crowd is loud and particularly in love with Daniel Gillies.
The show does a great job of keeping itself separate from The Vampire Diaries. Sure, there are mentions of Mystic Falls, but not of many characters. No mention of Elena that I can recall. I think it was a good idea to limit any crossing over. Tyler shows up for an episode, but it fits in with what is going on here. I think this is a superior idea and that it will remain when The Vampire Diaries are gone. Between the two shows I’m going to be spending a lot of hours binge-watching them for years to come. “I’m going to enjoy this.”