“Once upon a time, there was a majestic king, who lived with his noble brother in a colorful kingdom where music and art were celebrated. The king did not foresee having a child, but he lived in an enchanted land where all things were possible. In time, he was blessed with a beautiful baby daughter for whom he wished only peace and happiness. Still, the king had demons who pursued him.”
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 to 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.
“There was a ruthless beast who wanted to take the kingdom for her own. Armed with a pack of untamed creatures, she drove the other magical beings from the land. And there was a wicked sorceress with enchanted stones that weakened the king on every full moon. Seeing the shadow his enemies cast upon his home, the king was driven to send his beloved princess away, convincing all who remained that she was forever lost. The king, in his sorrow, turned away from the world. The castle closed its doors and the kingdom fell. Some say that the only light that shines in the castle illuminates the shadow of the once mighty king in the room meant for his child. But as the ruthless beasts took rule over the fallen king’s realm, little did they know that he and his brother would not rest until their enemies were vanquished. For they believed that one day, they would heal their kingdom and bring their princess home. So that she might live happily ever after.”
That’s as good a recap and setup as you’ll find for the new season of The Originals. Kudos for the writers for putting it all together in one little opening narrative. Season 2 finds Klaus (Morgan) indeed sequestered after his daughter Hope was sent away for her own protection. He’s been reluctant to act, because he doesn’t know where the white ash stake is. Fans understand that it’s the only weapon that can kill an Original. The witches have been granting moon rings to any werewolf who will join them, and that army is growing.
Meanwhile Davina (Campbell) has brought back Mikael (Roche) but has him bound to her for now. She hopes to use him to kill Klaus, but she must first find a way to protect her friends. You see, when an Original is killed his entire line dies with him. That means every vampire he sired and down through the line. Father Mikael is getting restless and tries to break free. Eventually he will, and Daddy dearest will be after Klaus.
But it’s not just Mikael that Klaus needs to worry about. This show has always been about family, but you’re going to get more family here than ever before. Mikael’s not the only one back. Esther (Sohn) is back with brothers Finn (Gatewood), and Kol (Sharman), all in new bodies as strong witches. She wants to make up for the curse she put her family under. She’s going to try to force the remaining Mikaelsons into joining them in new bodies freed from their vampire curse. Naturally, there’s going to be resistance, and that means a war within the family. Even if Esther can be defeated, Finn is completely crazy and ends up being the stronger threat. Who knew? This is the poster family for dysfunction. They make the Corelones look more like the Cleavers. If that’s not enough, Esther brings back Klaus’s biological father as well. It’s family members coming out of the woodwork.
In flashbacks we learn why Esther put her family under the curse. She made a pact with her sister Dahlia (Black), who was a very strong witch, to gain strong magic. The price was the first born of her entire line. Enter sister Freya (Voelkel), who her siblings believed was dead for a thousand years. She had been given over. Now she’s returned as well, and she wants to be free of Dahlia. They each live a life where they must sleep 100 years at a time and can live only one full year a century. She seeks her siblings’ help, but trust in this family is a rare commodity indeed. There will have to be some allies, because Dahlia is a super-bad and wants the deal fulfilled. That includes Klaus’s daughter, Hope. Just what he needed. Someone else after his daughter.
The most welcome family reunion takes place when Rebekah (Holt) returns. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean we get to see much of Claire Holt. She’s one of my favorites and left in the middle of last season to protect Hope. Now she’s back, but thanks to a “prank” by Kol, she spends much of the season in the body of an evil witch named Eva Sinclair (Richardson-Sellers). That’s not just bad news for us but for the character as well. She might have traded being a vampire for witchcraft, but she’s also mortal now. Eva is also a hated witch with her own share of enemies. She’s got to convince them she’s not Eva even when Eva starts to reassert herself in the body.
It hits home this season just how many enemies Klaus has. His daughter inherits those feuds, and it seems she’s never going to be safe. So Heyley (Tonkin) develops a plan of her own. It just so happens that if two alphas marry, any werewolf who attends the wedding will gain control over their change without the need for the rings. That would create an army willing to defend Hope if she’ll marry Jackson. There’s just one problem. The ceremony includes taking a truth plant and revealing all of their secrets to each other. That includes the fact that Hope is still alive, and Klaus isn’t going to want that little secret out… until he is willing. Something about an army he figures will really be under his control wins out. Typical Klaus.
Elijah (Gillies) gets some of the more interesting things to play. Esther’s torture reveals a symbolic door in his brain where he’s been hiding the bad things he’s done as a vampire. It’s been keeping him sane. Now not so much. A flashback also serves as a crossover moment for The Vampire Diaries’ Nina Dobrev, who plays Tatia, the first of the doppelgangers and Elijah’s first love. He has to come face to face with the fact that he was responsible for her death. All part of Esther’s plan to convince him to give up his immortal life and join the “family” in her image.
Elijah also takes on a new protégée, Gia (Munshi), placed there by Marcel to foster feelings of family between Elijah and his clan of vampires. This brings back flashbacks to his own tutelage of Marcel as a child before Klaus turned him. Gia is a gifted musician who loses that ability as a vampire and needs Elijah to help her get it back. It’s just the kind of role he wants to be in, and Marcel takes full advantage of that need.
The season is another one of extreme blood and gore. Klaus gets to go on several tears, including his most brutal yet towards the season finale. I found a big flaw in the season to be how many high-stakes spells get going here. You know, the ground-shaking energy-draining stuff that manages to just work in the last seconds. It’s a bit of lazy storytelling with solutions that aren’t grounded enough in our world so they appear as just a cop-out. Look, it’s not new to this show. Science fiction has long leaned on that surprise new technology to save the ship at the last second. I just think they went to the well too often this year. Is this a witch show or a vampire show?
Another nitpick has to do with the werewolves. There’s a lot of that story here, but we never see a transformation in 22 episodes. There is a segment were Klaus forces a mass transformation as punishment for betrayal, but the camera cuts away before anyone really turns. Come on, guys. I know it costs money, but you could have paid that off at least once.
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.
“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. 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.
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. For some reason Warner has taken a backward step with this series. They have opted to cut back a disc and jam it all on three discs. It’s a mistake, and the extra 90 minutes causes the image to suffer a bit. There is wonderful production value here that is tailor-made for high definition. I’d like to see it return to that glory next time. Fortunately, it is the only series so far that has made this step with Warner’s television releases.
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 2014 Panel: (29:56) Cast and crew tease the crowd about the upcoming show. Of course, they answer questions and laugh around a bit.
Gag Reel: (4:31)
The Originals – Always And Forever: (13:00) Cast and crew talk. The topic is the Mikaelson Family. We also get a primer on who’s who.
The Awakening Web Series: Series of webisodes that deal with Kol trying to make a dagger that will work on Klaus. It leads up to the house where he attempts to steal the diamond, and his witch accomplices are locked in the house forever.
Commentary on select episodes.
A lot of family pops out of the woodwork this season. I can’t imagine there are any more family members to meet, but this is a clever bunch of writers, and I wouldn’t rule anything out for next season. I think that Davina is going to be another huge big bad. She gets a “promotion” at the end of the season, and she’s even more pissed at Klaus and his kin. For most of the fans, you just can’t get enough of these guys. If you’re not yet on board, what are you waiting for? “Why should you be any different from the rest of us? We’re dancing puppets in Nik’s End Of Days Marionette Show.”