Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Vampire Diaries

The Vampire Diaries
Episode 20: The Originals
By: Carlos Uribe

The Vampire Diaries is a show about Elena's love triangle with two vampires.

Spoilers Ahoy!

The Originals is actually a backdoor pilot that follows Klaus to New Orleans. As with any backdoor pilot, three questions must be answered:

1) How good is the backdoor pilot?
2) Does the potential spin-off have any potential?
3) How does this spin-off impact the actual series?

The Originals is actually a pretty great backdoor pilot. It had been introduced last week when Klaus gets a quest from Katherine to check out some witches. She tells them that they're plotting against him but it turns out they only want his help in order to take down Marcel. Marcel is a vampire that Klaus sired and now controls the city of New Orleans. He's gotten the locals to look the other way, the witches under his thumb, and has driven away the werewolves. Marcel makes a great character in his mixture between his good nature and the ruthless monster inside. The witches do resent him so they want to force Klaus to take him down. They do this because it turns out that Hayley is pregnant with Klaus' kid! This comes as a huge shock since vampires can't procreate but the series explains this away because Klaus is half-werewolf. I'll buy it. This allows the series to basically provide the Originals with a baby to keep them together as a family. It's basically the premise of a lot of family sit-coms but it works with the Originals because family has always been an important aspect to them all. Only Klaus doesn't really care much for being a father. The only reason he agrees is because he wants to take over Marcel's spot. As for his child? He'll let it live because he needs a heir or something. It's a pretty decent set-up at a series that has a lot of interesting machinations at work: vampire politics and a last attempt to have a happy family.

The potential for the spin-off is mixed. The main plot of the series is established. The Original Family goes back to New Orleans so that they can start a new family while Klaus seeks to take over the vampire culture that's been set up there. I can get behind this premise but it does have a few problems. The first is that it doesn't answer why Klaus doesn't kill Marcel in the first place. This is frustrating on two levels. The first is that the character of Klaus should have just killed him as soon as Marcel got in his way. There is nothing stopping him and it's actually part of the reason why Klaus has become an ineffective villain on this show: he holds back too much. The second is that the plot demands it because there's a plan. There's something to be said for keeping mystery alive so it makes sense that the writers wouldn't reveal the whole plan but they should have at least explained why Marcel has to be kept alive. It's kind of a big deal since a huge element of this new series is going to be Klaus infiltrating Marcel's little kingdom. The whole Marcel staying alive bit can be remedied but there is one problem that the spin-off series is going have to solve and that's how to create the proper stakes. Klaus is able to flaunt his immortality to Marcel but that reveals a weakness to the spin-off: Klaus is immortal. It's hard to do life-and-death stakes when Klaus can't die. So why then is Marcel such a threat? The spin-off can be a good show but it's going to have to deal with the stakes issue and why Marcel has to live pretty quickly. It's also going to have to have quite a lot more Elijah because Klaus remains a rather unlikeable character to act as a proper protagonist.

The answer to the third question is actually a little bit more complicated so I'm going to split it up into two answers. The first is going to deal with how the spin-off affects this specific episode. The second is how the spin-off affects the series as a whole. The Originals can hardly be called an episode of the Vampire Diaires. The only plot development relevant to this season is when Elena gets hungry enough for Damon and Stefan start to torture her. They only appear at the beginning and the end of the episode. Katherine makes a few more appearances but she's largely in the background. The mass majority of the episode is spent with the characters who are going to be in the spin-off project. The plot is singularly about that as well. This is a slight curse as it slightly breaks the narrative momentum. It's been building up over the whole season but having an episode basically take a complete detour to unrelated events in New Orleans breaks that momentum. Granted, there was some plot movements (Hayley's pregnancy) in this backdoor pilot that came to be because of what happened this season but for the most part it was separated. Having the backdoor pilot dominate the whole episode is one way to do a pilot but the break in momentum is going to make the surrounding episodes suffer a bit as a consequence. Which is okay as I'm sure this series will be able to easily rebuild the momentum, even if this season as a whole has had a problem with it.

So how does this spin-off affect the series as a whole? It removes a certain element that was great for a while but has overstayed it's welcome. I'm talking about the Originals, with the possible exception of Elijah. There might be opportunity for cross-over but separating them from the narrative will finally allow the Vampire Diaires to properly move on. The whole mythology with the Originals and their continual threat worked until the point where Klaus stopped being such a credible threat to the characters. They did try to kill him like a hundred times with very little relative cost. So it's good in that by branching the Originals out the series will have room to breathe again but it's also a bit sad because the Originals were a big presence for a reason. They're still relatively fun and they can always make a plot, like the search for the cure, more complicated. I, for one, approve of sending the Originals to New Orleans but it's not without some sadness that their era on the Vampire Diaries is finally drawing to a close.

Will the Originals be a good series? It might be but it'll have some difficulties. Klaus isn't the most likeable protagonist, his immortality renders the stakes irrelevant, and the reason Marcel gets to stay alive needs to be explained. On the other hand, the backdoor pilot was actually pretty good on it's own and it'll be interesting to see where the Vampire Diaries goes now that the Originals aren't going to be tying the writers down. The spin-off has been picked up to series and you can bet that I'll be covering the first season.

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