Forever Knight. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Angel. Moonlight. True Blood. The Vampire Diaries. There’s been a lot of beloved vampire content on TV over the years. I’m here to tell you that The CW’s The Originals, which took its final bow on Aug. 1, ranks at the top.
This is actually a bit funny, considering I had little use for this ancient clan of vampires when they were introduced on The Vampire Diaries. Klaus, who was quite the fearsome Big Bad in the books by L.J. Smith was kind of underwhelming. Though actor Joseph Morgan’s theatrical scenery chewing was mesmerizing, as a character Klaus felt like a Napoleonic manbaby whose slaughter of people was rooted in temper tantrums. I did like his stern older brother Elijah (the delicious Daniel Gillies) and his perfect combo of sociopathy + suit porn, and their inexplicably Australian sister Rebekah (Claire Holt), but I really didn’t root for them in any meaningful way. Not with the established core cast of Salvatore brothers, Elena, and Bonnie right there! In fact, my reaction to them getting their own show was, and I quote, “Tell me again why Klaus needs his own spin-off? Isn’t it bad enough that he ate #TheVampireDiaries with a giant, whiny spoon?”
I was soon eating crow with that same spoon. Because remarkably, on their own series—on their own turf of New Orleans—the Mikaelsons blossomed. The one-note vampires stirring up trouble in small-town Virginia turned into a gothic family saga of Shakespearean proportions. Klaus’ temper and constant posturing—baffling on The Vampire Diaries—made so much more sense amidst familial power struggles going back thousands of years! And each of his siblings and loved ones, imbued with their own goals, their own responsibilities to this loose cannon, got a chance to shine. We got to meet Klaus’ adopted son (and Rebekah’s long-time love), Marcel Gerard, played by the staggeringly hot and charismatic Charles Michael Davies. And the eldest Mikaelson sibling, Freya, who was long-thought dead. Awakened from a curse and brought back to her family, Freya (Riley Voelkel) quickly became the fiercest champion of their safety—almost at the cost of herself, until she realized she was allowed to have her own life. Indeed, the Mikaelson family motto— “always and forever”—often proved as dysfunctional as it was devotional…and provided the core thrust of the series. No matter what transpired over the course of five seasons, everything came back to those three little words.
I’d venture to say that “always and forever” was even more important to The Originals than “I love you.” While romances—frequently doomed—were a fixed part of the show, it began and ended with family. The kind you’re stuck with and the kind you make on your own. Brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, best friends, daughters…the emotional tug-of-war always took precedence over romantic entanglements. To the point where the very last scene of the series featured Klaus and Elijah. Sure, The CW is no stranger to severely codependent brothers. Between Stefan and Damon Salvatore and Supernatural’s Dean and Sam Winchester, it’s kind of their bread and butter. But Klaus and Elijah took it to a whole new level. Though—much like Stefan and Damon—they were involved with the same woman, it never got in their way. Caring about Phoebe Tonkin’s Hayley, who also came into her own after a lackluster stint on TVD, actually brought them closer together! So did being guardians to Klaus and Hayley’s paranormal wonder child, Hope.
Children are a tough sell in a supernatural setting. Odds are you that you end up with a Connor from Angel or a Renesmee from Twilight. Or some sort of farcical “Three Vampires and a Baby” situation. But aside from the occasional troubling question of who the heck was watching little Hope whenever shit hit the fan (which was frequent, let’s be honest), she was played consistently as the heart of the Mikaelson family. Not an instant redemption for this crew of immortal killers, but a reason to try. And unlike the Connors and Renesmees of the world, she grew up normally, with time jumps allowing viewers to see her at infancy and then as a witchy little kid and a rebellious teen.
That’s not to say The Originals was flawless. Being a good show doesn’t mean being a perfect show! I feel like the first few seasons were a little uneven, and season four was really where they hit their stride. There were characters and plot lines that didn’t always land like the writers wanted—season five, cramming so much into a shorter episode order, was definitely rife with issues. But The Originals also reveled in its strengths: the core family, the sweeping soapiness of it all, and the built-in diverse, queer, supernatural hotbed that is New Orleans. I loved the sense of community, bringing together vampires, hybrids, witches, and humans of all shades. I adored that Freya, who read as queer to me from her introduction, got a beautiful (and sometimes frustrating, like on any soap) love story with her partner, Keelin (Christina Moses). And I could probably pen an entire separate post about how Elijah is one of the best fictional vampires of all time (#sorrynotsorry, Angel and Spike). No matter how off the rails the series got, no matter its low points and fumbles, the Mikaelsons always brought me back. I guess you could say that “always and forever” worked on me, too.
A spin-off of The Originals, Legacies, debuts on The CW on October 25. It’s poised to pick up where the series leaves off—following the adventures of Klaus and Hayley’s teenage daughter, Hope (Danielle Rose Russell), at her Hogwarts-esque boarding school in The Vampire Diaries’ home base of Mystic Falls. I’m definitely rooting for it to live up to its name and do its predecessor’s legacy proud!