Relying on flashback episodes can be a tricky thing. Obviously it's worked fairly well for The Vampire Diaries, but The Originals, at least so far, doesn't have a good track record with them. Flashbacks incorporated into regular episodes, great, but full episodes dedicated to revelations from the past feel irrelevant so far. That's especially true in tonight's “Long Way Back From Hell,” an episode that does little but build to a revelation that's no longer revelatory.
The big reveal is that Marcel and Rebekah conspired to bring Mikael to New Orleans to get rid of Klaus in 1919. But this isn't a big surprise for us, because we saw it, just a few weeks ago. For Klaus (and Elijah), it's huge, of course, and building an episode on that idea isn't a bad one. But that's not how this episode is structured. The witch Genevieve spends the entire hour building up the story of exactly how Rebekah and Marcel decided to summon Mikael by manipulating her.
Were this an especially interesting story, that would be fine, but it ends up just being that Rebekah met Genevieve when she needed a witch, they hit it off, Genevieve cast the spell, then Bex changed her mind but Geneieve didn't, so the witch got murdered. The precise nature of the murder—Rebekah forces Genevieve to breathe in from a 1919 influenza rag, then compels hospital staff to quarantine her—is particularly nasty, and is a worthwhile revelation. Even still, Rebekah's friendship with Genevieve isn't conveyed well enough to make that betrayal sting, just the mechanics of the death. In terms of how the story is told, it's all about the slow build-up to Klaus discovering that Bex had betrayed him. That's a good story to build up throughout an episode about something else, but not on its after we already know it.
To The Originals' credit, it tries to sell the idea through style. Setting the bulk of the action in an abandoned sanitarium is pure horror movie, and visually it works. The director also has a great time filming characters through broken glass and mirrors, a trick that would work to build tension if there was tension to be built. But there's no tension to be built then resolved in the story. It's entirely about the moment that Klaus is convinced of Rebekah's betrayal, and then goes all Klaus on her. So the broken glass becomes a visual tic, coming across more like the discovery/overuse phase of such tricks than something especially useful.
Finally, an episode like this hinges on Genevieve having a strong presence, and she doesn't have that (yet). Janina Gavankar managed to turn a similar role on The Vampire Diaries into something special through sheer willpower, but Elyse Levesque doesn't have that strength. I don't necessarily blame Levesque, as she's not given much characterization through her writing—past Gen “is nice,” current Gen “wants revenge”—but regardless, she's enough to hold the episode together, but not enough to make it great.
This may come across as though I didn't like “Long Way Back From Hell” but that's not entirely accurate. It's more that it was a disappointment compared to the most recent episode, and the potential that it might have had. Celeste's plan to turn the family against itself remains an excellent conceit for examining The Originals' premise. And the climax, with Elijah finally turning on Klaus—because Marcel had convinced him that they were similar to he and Hayley?—certainly sets up a compelling shifting of motivations for the lead characters.
I think I'd have like the episode significantly more had the b-plot, involving Elijah and Marcel trying to figure out where the other Mikaelssons were kept, been prioritized. The two of them researching previous incarnations of Celeste and the history of the local witches, as Elijah tries to sneak info on the witch who cursed Hayley's clan, had a good amount of tension. (And I'm sure Elijah with his shirt off didn't exactly hurt matters with a lot of the audience.) Plus, while the flashback sequences may have been oddly structured within the episode, nothing about them was especially bad, they just didn't go anywhere. This was a reintroduction to the The Originals' story and characters more than being especially strong on its own.
- The Deveraux crypt, with Sophie taking Monique's spot, drops in a pretty fascinating visual cue: apparently there are “Laveau” members of that family. That is not a random name in New Orleans
- “Poetic, I guess, in a creepy vendetta kind of way.” This episode also reveals that Celeste has been bouncing from body to body among the witches of the French Quarter since her death. I'm not entirely a fan of this revelation, as it means that Celeste has been ignoring Elijah for hundreds of years, instead of appearing recently. I had had it in my mind that Sabine accidentally resurrected Celeste just prior to the show starting, which makes more sense to me.
- “Yeah, I don't think they mind.” SPEAKING OF CREEPY, MARCEL
- “I suppose we have our answer! Only I have no idea what it means.” Elijah solving puzzles could be its own show.
I do like that Levensque seemed to cast her spells in French, instead of in the usual Crappy Latin used by these shows.
- “Don't dismember the messenger.”
- Genevieve's resurrection is an interesting one. Bastiana and Papa Tundé were extremely powerful and notable on their own, but Genevieve seems historically minor. Only two reasons suggest her over others: Celeste wanted someone who loathed Rebekah, or Celeste befriended her as they died together. Whatever combination of those possibilities exists helps draw Celeste's character more than anything else we've seen.