As someone who’s only seen one episode of The Vampire Diaries in their life, I didn’t come into the 2013-2014 television season anticipating The Originals. I thought it was a smart move for The CW to leverage the success of Diaries into a spin-off, especially after an underwhelming 2012-2013 season, but otherwise, it seemed like a show for a very specific fan base that, for better or worse, I was not a part of. However, The Originals soon generated the type of buzz that was unavoidable and transcended those with an intimate knowledge of Mystic Falls and the exploits of the infamous Mikaelson siblings, with special attention being paid to how the show used its New Orleans setting and the dynamic chemistry between the three leads. With several falls shows falling by the wayside, I caught up on the battle for New Orleans and the push-pull between domineering Klaus, noble Elijah, and fierce Rebekah, to the point where The Originals was a show I anticipated more than I expected.
Which is why the news of Claire Holt’s exit as a series regular hit as hard as it did. For all the witches, voodoo, flashbacks, and monologues, The Originals thrived when all three Mikaelson siblings were thrown together and allowed to bounce off of one another, likely as a result of a Klaus temper tantrum or a crisis involving the fate of Hayley’s child. Above all else, this was a show, as the seemingly endless exposition pointed out, about family and the type of situation that The Originals documented felt like a rare occurrence, a rare instance of a genre program finding a seam and a unique viewpoint in an increasingly crowded field. While The Vampire Diaries has been doing the good-brother-versus-bad-brother schtick for the past five seasons, Rebekah Mikaelson’s presence on The Originals was the heart of the show, the x-factor that made it such a compelling watch rather than a retread of the mothership. We know what a show with diametrically opposed brothers looks, feels, and sounds like and although Diaries has ridden that formula to some considerable success, it would have been terribly boring if The Originals was The Vampire Diaries: New Orleans, hence the beginning of the season being as invigorating as it was and Rebekah’s exit being such a blow. The show did need a change from its pattern of “Klaus does something bad, gets chastised, throws a fit, blames his father, and plays the victim,” but instead of keeping Rebekah, who proved herself as a strong counterbalance against Klaus and a voice of reason for increasingly forgiving Elijah, and altering the formula of the show another way, The Originals has become The Klaus Mikaelson Experience.
It’s not even that I don’t like Klaus; Joseph Morgan plays him quite well and I think the character adds a lot to the show, particularly when The Originals addresses issues of forgiveness, nature vs. nurture (e.g. is Klaus evil or did Mikael make him evil?), and the bonds of family. It’s that the show has allowed him to run wild through the streets of New Orleans with no real system of checks and balances to keep him in his place and, as such, has stripped itself of anything resembling dramatic tension. With Rebekah around, you knew that there was someone willing to call Klaus out on his shenanigans and remind him that as much as he cried about his feelings of loneliness and his need for a family, he was the one who pushed her and Elijah away and he was the one who made it clear that he’s unwilling to give up the control he’s exerted on both of their lives. While the show might not have allowed Klaus to make much in the way of personal progress, or positioned any of its characters as being powerful enough to stop Klaus from doing as he pleases, it made sure to remind him that he was the root of his own destruction, which was better than nothing. However, now that Elijah is the lone Mikaelson sibling left, Klaus likely won’t even have that type of reminder anymore, since we’ve seen that Elijah is unwilling to do anything to get on his brother’s bad side, lest the family unit he hold near and dear disintegrate before his eyes. Dramatic television thrives in conflict and obstacles and The Originals removed both when it got rid of Rebekah; unless the show is willing to toughen Elijah up and have him willing to call Klaus out without caveat, it just got much less interesting.
And then there’s the fact that Saving Hope, a Canadian medical drama co-starring Originals star Daniel Gillies, was renewed for a third season. That show took Elijah away from the action for several episodes at the beginning of the season, but it was okay then, as the focus shifted to powerful witch Davina, Rebekah’s complicated past with Marcel, and Klaus’ quest to rule New Orleans once again. Without Rebekah, though, The Originals isn’t going to be able to cover Elijah’s absence as well, throwing off the balance of the show in the process. Granted, they could bring in additional regulars between now and then or use Claire Holt for a quick arc; it’s just that the show now feels A) underpopulated and B) especially underpopulated of strong female characters. This season, the show has been quick to cut/declaw female characters who were either proactive (annoying witch Sophie) or had the power to really do damage to The Originals (Elijah’s former lover Celeste) in favor of female characters who barely do anything on their own volition (pregnant werewolf Hayley) or bring the narrative momentum to a halt (human cypher Cami), all the while bringing a been-there-done-that love triangle between Klaus, Elijah, and Hayley to the forefront. In the world of The Originals, women don’t get to go up against Klaus, nor are they allowed to steal any of the attention from the vaunted King of New Orleans; this is Klaus Mikaelson’s world and we’re all just living in it, at least according to the writers of The Originals.
Whether Claire Holt’s exit was a result of her not wanting to play Rebekah for any longer or a creative decision by the higher-ups at The Originals, the character of Rebekah Mikaelson will be greatly missed from here on out. Rebekah was the heart of The Originals, the vampire with the most humanistic qualities (e.g. her desire to be loved), and without her, the show threatens to evolve into a Vampire Diaries retread and, ironically, lose what made it such an original series in the first place. There’s still plenty of raw material to make The Originals a strong show, but Rebekah was the stabilizing element that kept Elijah from becoming too much of a Klaus sycophant, gave Hayley an ally in the Mikaelson family that didn’t hinge upon romantic feelings, and provided Marcel with extra motivation to go up against Klaus and retain his New Orleans kingdom. I hope the show has a plan in how it’s going to rejigger itself into a leaner, meaner version of its former self; I fear, though, that how in love the show is with Klaus will swallow everything promising, everything unique, and everything compelling whole.
The Originals airs Tuesdays at 8:00 on The CW.