I can say with confidence that the best new relationship The Originals introduced was the one between the controlling Klaus Mikaelson and his obstinate son Marcel Gerard. And one of the reasons for this is that it is in its very essence a tragic relationship. One that had so many positive emotions and kindness tied up with it, but at the same time was doomed to end up in suffering and anger from the start. Because it is those things that drew them together that were bound to rip them apart.
How it All Started
In order to figure out why the first thing we have to do is look back at how it started. Klaus walks with his family to the funeral of the governor’s (eldest) son, Rebekah’s former flame. Along the road he sees a poor slave boy brutally whipped. He stops and feels empathy but he only intervenes after this boy throws an apple at his assailant. He kills the man with the whip in one swift move and helps the boy up.
So what happened here? As Rebekah says, Klaus saw himself in the boy. But I would go further and say that he saw more than that. He saw his ideal self in the boy.
It’s no secret to The Originals fans that for years Klaus suffered Mikael’s abuse. Mikael brutally whipped and insulted him. What we don’t see, however, is Klaus ever fighting back. Not until the present anyway. In the flashbacks he screams and he cries and he seems horrified, but he meekly suffers all of Mikael’s mistreatment all the same. This is not the case for Marcel. Instead when mistreated and driven too far, Marcel picks up an apple and lobs it at the one doing it to him. He stands up for himself despite having no chance of winning this battle of wills.
This is something Klaus likely wishes, in retrospect, that he had done. That he had stood up to Mikael. This is not very surprising considering the ideals that Mikael imprinted on him. If there is one thing Mikael valued as a father and tried to instill in Klaus it’s bravery and strength. So, of course Klaus, who always sought the approval of his father, would value bravery and strength. A bravery and strength Marcel displayed in excess when he threw that apple, a bravery and strength that Klaus did not display under similar circumstances. Sadly this is also why Klaus and Marcel’s relationship was doomed from the very first moment.
We see the effects of this choice reverberate through their entire relationship. Marcel stands up to Klaus in trying to get with Rebekah, and Mikael coming to New Orleans is the result. Marcel stands up to Klaus in joining the Brotherhood of the Damned, Klaus yelling at him, trying to lure him back and a widening of the rift between the two is the result. And when Klaus comes back into town after a hundred years, what happens? He tries to show his dominance over Marcel, Marcel stands up to him and Klaus bites Thierry.
This is a pattern that appears over and over again throughout their relationship. Klaus chose Marcel because of his bravery and strength in standing up to an authority abusing its power. Even when that cause is hopeless. Because he had the strength to be his own man. But of course this is a lesson that Klaus was taught too. He was also taught to be dominant and strong. And in addition to that Klaus’ natural inclination for centuries has been to be controlling. And so it was inevitable, due to their personalities, that they would clash again and again. That Klaus could never have hoped to be a good father to Marcel. Klaus would always be controlling, Marcel would always react against this breach of the independence he so valued and Klaus would, as a result, always seek to assert his dominance. That’s just who he is. But it’s even worse than that.
The Green-Eyed Hybrid
As I mentioned earlier, Klaus didn’t just see himself in Marcel. He saw an idealized version of himself in Marcel. A version that would not have let Mikael push him around and shame him. One that embodied all the strength and courage Klaus had lacked (and been criticized for lacking by Mikael) as a child. And this is something Klaus’ ego could never have abided.
As Klaus says in the first episode of “The Originals” Marcel in his absence “…got everything I ever wanted.” and “I made him in my image and he has bettered me.”
This is clearly one of the biggest reasons for his anger at Marcel at the beginning of the series. And if I were to guess it’s one of the reasons why he kept Marcel under his thumb for so long. Because the idea that he would be second rate to anyone is one he is too prideful to bear, at least when he feels like a failure (a continuous feeling courtesy of his beloved father). He could’ve been happy for Marcel succeeding, but instead he only felt threatened and like more of a failure than ever.
He wanted to help Marcel and had a deep need to be a better father to Marcel than his own father was to him. Wanted to help Marcel become the best person he could be, without all the damage Klaus carries with him because of his father. But coupled with Klaus’ feelings of inferiority, this made it so that he could not have possibly succeeded at that. Because anything Marcel did better than him, even due to Klaus’ help, he would inevitably become envious of.
A Mirror Image
And despite this deep desire to do better he carries Mikael with him always. Which we can see not only in Klaus but in Marcel.
After Klaus saved Marcel, Marcel saw him as a hero. The man who saved him from a horrible world and lifted him up in to a heavenly paradise. Someone who told him he was fine the way he was and could choose his own family. Who gave him attention and affection he had never before had. But also someone who was controlling and tempestuous. Who was violent and taught Marcel that the world was an awful place where only the biggest monster survives. Klaus ran a violent regime and, as Marcel said, while Klaus tried to shelter him from it, on that count he failed utterly.
After all the hatred and conflict between them due to their clashing personalities, Marcel came to see Klaus’ controlling and violent behaviour as everything he hated. But as a result of that upbringing he cannot help but be violent himself. Seek dominance and power over others, just like his adopted father.
This is beautifully encapsulated in one scene from season 4 of “The Originals.” It’s the scene in the second episode right after the Mikaelsons have rescued Klaus from imprisonment in the compound. Klaus pulls Tunde’s dagger from him and then they flee from Marcel, who catches them. He threatens to kill them all, but then he decides to let them go. He says that “Despite being raised by you people, I am nothing like any of you…” and then adds “And now you can live the rest of your lives knowing that the only reason that you exist is because I am showing you mercy. Now go.”
Why is this important? Because of the following line Klaus says to Tyler in season 1 right before he lets him go instead of killing him: “And each morning you will wake knowing that your wretched existence continues only by my will. Now go.” An almost exact mirror to what Marcel said. So despite all his bluster and all his efforts, Marcel is more like his adoptive father than he would ever like to admit. Despite his hatred for everything Klaus represents, he cannot help but embody those things as well.
The Bitter End
And this is the way it was always going to go. Marcel’s strength and bravery was always going to come up against Klaus’ controlling nature. The insecure Klaus selecting an idealized version of himself to be his child was always going to lead to jealousy and envy. Klaus’ tendency towards violence meant his mission to be a better father was always going to leave Marcel and Klaus broken.
But in all this darkness there is a note of hope. Because while Marcel is similar to Klaus in many ways, he’s also different. He actually makes friends and improves people’s lives. He ends up in a happy reciprocal relationship. And Davina, Marcel’s own adopted daughter, ends up happy. Klaus didn’t end the cycle of abuse and violence as he intended, but his love for his adopted son and his desire to do better meant that Marcel could do better than him and Davina better than that. And so the cycle doesn’t end with a bang, but slowly unwinds.
This article was inspired by a great music video made by Mashutai Sh that I’ve linked below.
- Life Among Giants – A Psychological Examination of Marcel’s Childhood
- The Rise of the Mad Queen – Discussing Cersei’s Character Arc in Game of Thrones
- Shades of Blonde – A Short Look at the Symbolism of Blonde Hair in The Originals
Copyright: The images used in this article are screenshots taken from the episodes of the show. We are allowed to use them under section 107 of the US Copyright Act of 1976. The Originals belongs to the CW and Alloy Entertainment.