A Regrettable Retrospective – Season 3’s Missed Opportunities

The Originals’ third season is at an end and with this end, I think a retrospective is appropriate. As I was thinking about the season, I found myself often wondering about things that I thought were underdeveloped or missed opportunities. And through the magic of the internet I now get to bother all of you with my findings. 

Now let’s get this out of the way first: Personally, I liked this season. I thought it was a solid third season, a season which was arguably better than the second season. Though in my opinion still inferior to the first season in many ways. While I kind of feared this season would be a step down for the series, since I think the third season is when The Vampire Diaries began to decline in quality, I’ve found that the season 3 curse skipped The Originals. But, as with almost any TV-show, there were some flaws. In the case of The Originals’ third season, I think a lot of these flaws were missed opportunities. So, let’s take a look at my top 5 in this department from least wasteful to most wasteful:

Kol and Davina embracing

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5. Kol’s Resurrection 
Now, as some of you may already know I’ve never been a huge fan of the Kol character. I always thought he came off more as a 16-year-old brat than an intimidating 1000-year-old aristocratic vampire. In The Vampire Diaries he was often beaten up and defeated by far less powerful vampires and he was, to say the least, fairly underdeveloped (with the characterization mostly being confined to him being a cheeky bad boy).
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So with his resurrection towards the end of season 3 I think they had a real opportunity to make him a fully fleshed out character with a backstory to explain his motivation and personality better, to make him seem as powerful as his fellow originals, make him into some kind of Loki-esque figure (a trickster god with enormous power and intimidation factor), etc.
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In this, I think they failed. When he finally came back, most of his story was about this sudden love (which I believe is fairly unbelievable and out of character to begin with) he had for Davina and the few other struggles he did seem to deal with upon his return (like the craving for blood) ended up being explained away by plot and magic instead of being used to further deep characterization. Once again he mostly failed in fights he was involved in and failed to be a particularly cunning individual and real player in New Orleans.
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4. Finn’s Resurrection 
Unlike with Kol, I’ve personally always

Finn dyingliked Finn. I’ve liked him since season 3 of The Vampire Diaries. While I certainly thought he was underdeveloped in that season (being in the series for only about 2 or 3 episodes), I found the contrast between him and his siblings quite interesting. Unlike the rest of his siblings he seemed to have remained purely good instead of having become a monster or using honour simply as a mask. He also had an interesting emotional arc built in with his family having all agreed to leave him in a box for 900 years.

I think season 2 of The Originals already did a good work of laying the groundwork for deeper characterization, with things like his history with Esther and the trauma of losing Freya, his competition with his younger siblings and distance from them and his determination to uphold the moral good being disturbingly black and white. So in season 3 I expected, with his return in flashbacks and later also the present, that we would see this be built on even more. Fully explore his dynamics with his family members and what made him into the person he’d eventually become.
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Unfortunately, it was not to be. In the flashbacks he had very few lines and featured only tangentally. In the present he was killed off only a few episodes after his resurrection. Now, unlike with Kol I think they did have some good moments with him while he was around and resurrected (for example the fact that he convinced Elijah that maybe he’d want to save the white oak bullet for themselves and him admitting that he knows he became mad) but I think this was far too little to really make use of all of the groundwork, to make him a truly complex character worthy of being part of the original family (of which after all the show derives its name). In short, I think the choice to kill him off instead of keep him around for the sake of plot (demonstrating the power of the beast) was artifical and a waste of a promising character.

3. The Trinity 
The trinity assembledI’m not gonna lie, when I first heard about three vampires joining the show as old as the originals I was excited. Not only for the chance it brought to further see into the past of the originals (into their first years as vampires) but also because of what that implied about how badass these guys were. And I don’t just mean because they promised to be physically powerful. Because unlike the originals, these guys were never indestructible. The only way they could have survived for 1000 years without being able to rely upon that invulnerability was skill and cunning, so I was expecting quite a bit. I was expecting vampires that were almost as powerful as the originals but a thousand times better schemers than they were. With more connections and more subtlety. In addition I expected monumentally complex new characters. After all, with a thousand years of history to draw on and a close, love-hate relationship with the members of the original family as well as an important role to come in the show, they’d have to be.  Instead what we got was, in my opinion at least, a bit of a mixed bag.

Now, credit where credit is due. I think Lucien had some interesting things going on. He played the game fairly well, though still not nearly as impressive as I’d hoped (a bit “oh and he did this in the background using magic” instead of “he knows how to play on people perfectly and make them do what he wants, etc.”), and there were some interesting bits of characterization. While his characterization too was a bit limited, there was definitely something more there to drive his motivations than simple revenge. A feeling of always being the underdog, still feeling like a trod upon servant standing in the shadow of his betters (Klaus specifcally) despite all he’d accomplished as a powerful vampire and as a result wishing to assume the role he’d always envied. Wishing to free himself from servitude and finally claim everything that was denied him (specifically Klaus’ role and Tristan’s sister). So while that characterization wasn’t expanded on as much as I wanted (a lot of it being revealed through brief pieces of dialogue in the last few episodes he was in) and while it was a bit monotonous for a full character (there’s one thing that drives him and all his actions as opposed to many), I think they did an alright job with him. Plus, he was funny and a good team with Klaus, and that never hurts.

Tristan and Aurora on the other hand, well… While I have to give the writers props for making me feel somewhat for them as a brother and sister bound together out of love, even in misery, that’s almost all I can say about them. Their characterization was mostly limited to the superficial personality traits they displayed and their relationship with each other and while they had a plan and did some nice scheming, it was nothing compared to what I was hoping for. In short, not terrible but they certainly didn’t live up to my, admittedly high, expectations. And we barely ever even saw them kick ass. This is of course somewhat of a minor gripe but since they were the most powerful non-original vampires I was really looking forward to that.

This lack of depth also affected the flashbacks. Instead of seeing a clear arc of how psychologically the originals went from Viking wildchildren to the monsters they are now (or at least the basis of it) and the people that influenced them to become that, this was never truly explored (despite there being great potential to do that with these early flashbacks). Save for with Klaus who was the only one who seemed markedly different and the only one to have at least a bit of an arc there (though not nearly enough, in my opinion).

2. The Sirelines 
Elijah at the Strix partyWe’re almost at the top now and I have to admit one of my biggest disappointments for the season was the sirelines. When it was announced that season 3 would involve the originals’ sired vampires coming to town and a potential sireline war, I was really hopeful. Mostly because it opened up an opportunity that had only been hinted at on the show before. Marcel once said “Every vampire that’s ever been sired is an extension of you and your family.” and “Like it or not, vampires exist because of you” and I figured that this was going to be the continuation of that. That Elijah and Klaus were finally going to be confronted with the responsibilities they had foresaken, a mirror being held up to them so they could see their own twisted reflections in those they chose to sire, a group of people that have power because the originals chose them to have that power and what that means.
Klaus at Lucien's party
But we barely got any of that. We got a nice juxtaposition between Klaus walking into Lucien’s party (with open kissing, heavy music, etc. going on in a modern appartment) and Elijah walking into the strix party (with very formal attire and regulations, a classical decor, fancy wine, etc.) to indicate the differences between their sirelines. We got some occassionally somewhat meaningful interactions with people like Lucien, Tristan and Aya. We got Klaus’ sireline hating him so much they came to kill him as soon as they could. But other than that, we really got very little of the above mentioned.

We barely got to see Klaus and Elijah interact with the lower ranking members of their sirelines, we barely got to see how their choice in the people they sired affected what vampires are now, we barely got anything of them reflecting on their foresaken responsibilities and we never got a clear sense of how seeing those people affected them. This all could have been very deep (both for the characters and the mythology) and very expansive, but in the end it just wasn’t. That would be the biggest disappointment of the season if it wasn’t for…

1. Elijah and Klaus’ Conflict 
Klaus and Elijah toasting their rekindled relationshipNow, Elijah and Klaus have had disagreements before. They’ve had spats, spent some time apart and usually they make up. I don’t necessarily have a problem with that, it demonstrates an interesting pattern: Elijah will forgive Klaus almost anything and come running back to him. But I think in season 3 things were all set up to investigate exactly why that pattern exists (character-wise) and how far that pattern can be pushed. We’d seen the pattern demonstrated in the past, this time the entire season (season 2) ended with Elijah speaking out against Klaus and abandoning him, things in the beginning of the season seemed to be clearly demonstrating that forgiveness wasn’t going to be so easy this time and the plot was developing to support this arc. This was the time to see this conflict through (especially because not doing it meant that any future splits between the two would not be taken seriously dramatically anymore).

In addition to all this, with their sired vampires coming back into town and huge parts of their sirelines being present they also had something they’d never had before on the series “an alternate family.” The originals have pretty much only had one another to rely on for the past two seasons. Yes, they’ve had help and allies temporarily plenty of times, but none that could truly be relied upon and none that they had a deep, personal connection with. Their sired vampires could have been the exception to that. Imagine Lucien introducing Klaus to a room full of people that admire him, are bound to him in loyalty due to his life (somewhat like the hybrid slaves he sought to create), share his spirit for fun and his philosophy of “take what you want from those who are weaker.” Imagine Lucien saying exactly that to Klaus when he reminds him that “you are Klaus Mikaelson.” Encouraging Klaus to be as selfish as possible, to take what he wants without regrets. It’s so easy to imagine Klaus, after feeling so rejected by Elijah, would take solace in this. That wining Elijah who’s always trying to fix his ways, there’s nothing wrong with him. He doesn’t need Elijah. It’s so easy to think of how that could make him, after having apologised for months before that, basically tell Elijah to fuck off and give in to his worst impulses (at least for a while). That on its own would also be interesting in demonstrating how far he’d come. How would he feel about acting like he used to now, after two seasons?

And imagine in turn Tristan coming into town with the strix. A bunch of people who would give Elijah the power he never quite had over his brother, a chance to protect those he loves even against Klaus and complete autonomy from him for once. An organization of people that now needs Elijah (in the sireline war) just as much as Klaus did, but unlike Klaus will actually live up to his expectations instead of always letting him down. Couple that with the idea of Tristan and Elijah being estranged comrades (which in my version they would have been) and you’ve got a chance for Elijah to finally stride out on his own.

Couple all of the above with the paranoia the prophecy brings in “one by family” and the two sirelines (Elijah’s and Klaus’) both accusing each other of plotting and it’s easy to imagine a rift between the brothers for once getting bigger instead of mending (even though at the beginning of the season Klaus would have tried that).

I also would’ve had it look like the pattern was going to repeat as normal but then have something happen which pushes it over the edge from normalcy (at the start). 

This increasing rift would itself also have presented numerous interesting opportunities. Plot opportunities, like a plot involving a true war between the sirelines with Elijah and Klaus on opposite ends (even though they are still family and still do care about each other inside) but with a twist eventually leaving them both out of power (with the trinity working together in secret). But more importantly, characterization opportunities. First of all, it would help answer the questions “Who is Elijah without Klaus?” and “Who is Klaus without Elijah?” This could have been connected then with another thing that I think was wasted: “the 100 years Elijah and Klaus spent apart in the 20th century.” 

This season we finally get an answer to why Klaus told Elijah he’d dropped his siblings in the ocean and why Elijah ended up trying to kill Klaus in season 2 of The Vampire Diaries. But despite getting an answer, this answer is relegated to a few sentences and it never gives us any further insight into the characters or their dynamics. I would have gone about that in an entirely different way.

The 20th century was a period of time where Elijah and Klaus did for once exist separate from each other and from the rest of their family. So flashbacks from how they behaved and changed without each other throughout the 20th century could fit in perfectly with the question of who they are without each other in the present (which threatens to become a reality again with their fight). It could also hang over that entire arc as a threat of what would happen to them both if they didn’t make up. Imagine seeing, peppered throughout the third season, these flashbacks. The first flashbacks taking place not long after they leave New Orleans, when they’re separate but Elijah is looking for Klaus and Rebekah after they got separated when he held off Mikael. When they’re still the Elijah and Klaus that we know, who can depend on each other. Then imagine a second flashback where Klaus’ paranoia causes him to lie to Elijah like that. A scene where we see Elijah react first with disbelief then rage, then hopelessness and seeking out his family. How would they evolve after that? We might see Klaus slip more and more into selfishness and surround himself with yes-men (like Elijah about to kill KlausGreta and Maddox), isolate himself more and more from the world as the consequences of his immoral actions build up without Elijah around to do damage control. We might see Elijah first seek out his siblings, try to find ways to find them in the ocean, but eventually grow distant and cold and believe he has no more family (including no longer having Klaus). Maybe even seeking out Mikael but not finding him (since he was entombed by Bonnie’s mother). We could see him turn into the distant cold man we meet in Rose (episode 8 of season 2 of The Vampire Diaries).

This could also pose us a question, a question Elijah may ask himself: When will I ever give up on Klaus? Is there anything he could do to make a permanent rift? Because the 20th century is the one time in all of history where Elijah had given up on Klaus (and the fact that Klaus finally revealed he hadn’t burried them at sea may even convince Elijah in the present that no matter what it seems like, there’s goodness in Klaus, opon further reflection).If you couple that with the flashbacks to the very early 11th century where Elijah and Klaus’ bond first grew into what it was today, that could’ve been marvelous. It could have been a long exploration of exactly what makes Elijah so pathologically invested in Klaus. What in the past happened between them despite them being brothers that made him so pathologically invested in his brother, grew them together like that. Because when we leave off after they’d just become vampires, they’re estranged brothers that are otherwise close but their current dynamic (of Elijah being the one who does damage control for Klaus) has yet to emerge. That all could have been a fascinating look at Elijah and Klaus both. But instead we got a few episodes of distance followed by a small tiff of a fight scene, followed by toasting.

And overall I suppose that sums up my feelings on season 3, as much as I loved the set-ups, too often they didn’t deliver on what was promised.
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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.

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