The CW has an interesting experiment on its hand with The Originals, the Vampire Diaries spin-off that focuses on Klaus (Joseph Morgan) and his family as they attempt to take back New Orleans from his former protege Marcel (Charles Michael Davis). This new show started as a backdoor pilot in the fourth season of The Vampire Diaries, providing an episode that while rich in complications in the new world it introduced ended up delivering less-than stellar ratings. Still, the network picked up the show to series the next day, and Morgan along with Claire Holt and Daniel Gillies packed their bags from Mystic Falls to head to the bayou on a more permanent basis. But the network by no means wants only The Vampire Diaries audience to be interested in The Originals, and their attempt to court those new eyes finds the show delivering a premiere at the start of fall launch that is different from the backdoor pilot in point of view but not events. What this results in is a repetitive and expository hour for anyone who either actually already watched the backdoor pilot, which has been readily available online all summer, or simply knows the story of the original vampire family. But it also sets up an underwhelming and potentially misleading world for anyone coming in new.
If you already saw "The Originals" episode of The Vampire Diaries, you can pretty much skip the first forty minutes of "Always and Forever," the official premiere of The Originals as a series (though admittedly the final three minutes are stellar and set the tone for where the show was in its backdoor pilot and where it needs to be going forward with the series). Not only are there full scenes that are repeated in an attempt to introduce brand new audiences to the concept of the show and the characters in general, but the episode would rather tell you things than show you them, and much of the action that pushes the story forward comes in rehashed and recapped dialogue as the character who experienced it relays the information to another character. Much of this is because "Always and Forever" follows Elijah's (Gillies) point of view, and he is a much calmer and more controlled character who would rather narrate in order to retain control but also because he is merely a witness to these events right now. Really, this is Klaus' story as he returns to a city he once loved, called home, and even ruled, only to find he didn't recognize it-- or the people with in it. The backdoor pilot allowed the audience to experience that "fish out of water" nature with Klaus and therefore go on the journey of emotions and events with him. But "Always and Forever" is told from Elijah's voyeuristic point of view instead.
The device of showing the same events from a different character's perspective is certainly an interesting one that allows you to get inside their head and understand things with more objectivity. However, that only works if you're one of the fans who followed these characters from The Vampire Diaries to The Originals. For anyone coming in brand new, following Elijah so closely in the premiere is a misleading way to tell the story, spying rather than actively being allowed to be a part of the action.
"Always and Forever" is repetitive and yet rushed in its pacing. After literally spying on a scene of Klaus arguing with Marcel and then biting one of his guys, the episode still takes the time in the next scene to have Marcel verbally recap the action. It's wasted screen real estate. The episode is also so concerned with giving a potential new audience all of the backstory about how Klaus came to be, how it's possible he can procreate, and what his relationships with his siblings have looked like for the past hundreds of years that it packs a lot of dialogue into a short amount of time. Sometimes this results in rapid-fire delivery that feels improperly affected, and sometimes it just means hopping from one scene to another before we can even really look around, to get our bearings and a sense of this lively new world we have stepped into. The backdoor pilot celebrated the colors and culture of New Orleans; it made the city and its people a key part of the look and tone of the show. But "Always and Forever" stays close on shots of the core characters instead, giving it a more claustrophobic feel. It feels like it all goes back to Elijah's perspective: he doesn't care to look around and reminisce; he has a mission and he's hyper-focused on it. With only two episodes, it's hard to know which is more indicative of the approach of the series as a whole, but it would be a shame to continue down this path of wasting the environment, especially when it is one that is so densely populated with the lore on which this show will thrive.
The backdoor pilot also celebrated the new characters a lot more than "Always and Forever" does. In a weird way, this episode feels much more like it came out of The Vampire Diaries because it spends all of its time on Elijah, Klaus, and Hayley (Phoebe Tonkin), characters that originated there. The new faces feel pushed aside as seeming background players, even though they are supporting cast with important parts to play. "Always and Forever" doesn't even set up Marcel as an equally dynamic, second-lead level character you want to get to know better. He was originally introduced as a fun loving, charming, suave guy; it was easy to see how he has the town under his spell, even before he starts using his supernatural skills on them. But here, in the few moments we do spend with him he is downright sinister and therefore painted as a one-note villain, rather than a complex guy with even more complicated relationships. It's an unfair and unfortunate imbalance that waters down what is supposed to be a really intriguing character. The stakes don't feel all that high with him here. Rather than jumping into a dramatic and dynamic world with both feet here, the episode leaves a lot on the floor.
Like we said at the start, there is a lot about The Originals that is an experiment for The CW, and this kind of passive premiere, most certainly is not the most effective way into this new series, is at the top of that list. This approach is certainly a gamble, and unfortunately it's one we don't think pays off as a stand-alone episode. The show we were introduced to in April seemed so much better than this.
The Originals premieres on The CW on October 3 2013 at 9 p.m.
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