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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Originals: “Le Grand Guignol”

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A few months ago, we did an Inventory on underutilized actors on TV shows. The headline ended up being a slight reframing of the question that had gone to the writers, which focused more on underused characters. Hence my nomination of Buffy The Vampire Slayers Darla, which was less for the character/actress (who only gained depth halfway through Angel), and more for the structural issue I call “The Darla Problem”: when a show kills off a historically important character well before that importance has been examined.

The Vampire Diaries did it twice. First with Lexi, a character whose importance in making Stefan who he was—and providing demonstration that vampires could be “good”—shaped that series in a manner well beyond her single episode. So she came back, in flashback after flashback, and even as a ghost a few times, only really having a satisfying ending eighty-odd episodes later, in the fourth-season finale.

The second example wasn’t too much of an issue over on TVD, but it is over here on the spinoff. That’s the death of Mikael, the Original patriarch. At the time, it was yet another in a string of plans to kill Klaus that had misfired, or, in this case, backfired, and Mikael’s placement as chief danger to Klaus was quickly taken by Esther, the Original matriarch, and we were able to continue hoping that the show wouldn’t be an endless circle of Klaus-murder plots someday again.

Yet Klaus got his own show, becoming the subject, not the object. The decision was made to set The Originals in New Orleans as a reclamation project of the Mikaelsons’ safe home before their initial engagement with The Vampire Diaries in 1920s Chicago. Mikael’s destruction of that safe city, and the separation of Marcel from the rest of the family thus became an integral part of the history of the show, albeit unseen.

“Le Grand Guignol” remedies that, taking the unseen attack on New Orleans and finally depicting it on-screen. In terms of action, it's mildly disappointing. Mikael shows up, has a few threatening conversations, throws a few people around, and then the kids bail. Apart from the dramatic visuals of the curtain being raised on the “opera” and the audience laughing, it was, on the surface, anti-climactic.

But the importance of his arrival wasn’t necessarily the actions that he took, as we already knew their rough shape. It was in having Sebastian Roché inhabit Mikael, and give him a physical presence on the show. Mikael, in his existence, immediately changes the dynamic all the other characters share. Nobody on the show forces Klaus to cower. Mikael forces Klaus to cower. And in that moment, we see more about Klaus than we have since his days on The Vampire Diaries, how much of his posturing is bluster, what he really cares about. Mikael threatens to destroy his body, and Klaus bluffs, but Mikael threatens to destroy his reputation, and Klaus cringes.


Meanwhile, in the present of the show, there’s a similar rediscovering of a physical, historical fact, as Klaus pulls out the White Oak Stake which fans of The Vampire Diaries knew was around somewhere, but which The Originals has seemed to avoid any discussion of. (Between the White Oak Stake and Tundé’s Dagger, it’s turning into a regular RPG around here.) Its reintroduction to the story—for the first time since late in season four of TVD if I recall correctly—is similarly anticlimactic in a visual sense, but critically important conceptually. It reintroduces a real, direct level of danger to the Mikaelsons.

In a sense, that makes this week’s episode the reverse of last week's. Then, we had an occasionally overwhelming sense of style masking an episode without much solid content. This time, we have the solid story, but a surprising lack of dramatic flair. This holds true through the climax of the episode, where Sabine/Celeste is finally killed by Elijah. Perhaps it’s true that her story had run its course, with the Mikaelsons as divided as they are and the single greatest threat to all of them revealed, but it all feels unresolved.


That’s in large part because the story mechanics which led to the climax in the cemetery feel more like they wanted to lead to the end, with the three siblings trapped together, than making sense on their own. I’m still not certain if the far-too-fast scenes with Elijah and Monique explaining the plan to kill Celeste actually made sense, but it certainly didn’t make any sense for Elijah to know exactly where Celeste would be in order to have Monique be there at the same time. Likewise, Marcel and Rebekah turning back to a find a witch only makes any kind of sense if you don’t acknowledge the thousands or more witches worldwide implied by both this show and The Vampire Diaries. (I wouldn’t mind having Marcel show up in Mystic Falls for a bit, though.)

Nevertheless, this is leading more toward plot nitpicking than real complaints about the episode, which I found fine overall. These shows have generally operated more on the idea that “what” is happening is interesting enough that if “how” is a little weak this time, it'll be strong again next time. That’s certainly the case with “Le Grand Guignol.”


Stray observations:

  • Elijah is a diiiiiiiiiiccccckkkk to Cami. “Because of all the people who could be here, you’re probably the only one he wouldn’t immediately slaughter.”
  • “My 16-year-old self would probably think I’m really cool.” You were on Angel, Cami! This isn’t new to you!
  • Is Klaus’ werewolf friend the first person on the show with a strong southern accent?
  • “I told him not to blame himself, when your father wants to kill you, your father wants to kill you.”
  • Cami “sees the good” in Darth Klaus. This character trend with her works if it’s about her unwillingness to kill, not if it’s about him being in some way special. A bit worried.
  • One piece of visual flair: the moon shining through the tree leaves on the way to the cemetery. It seemed super artificial, but in a way that really worked.