Hayley Marshall is probably one of the more “controversial” characters on The Originals. Some people like her, but a lot of people really hate her. So, I figured, being ever-the-bandwagoner, that I might adress the character and what I personally think of her. This actually started off as a rather lengthy series of tweets, but after tweet 13 I fgured I may as well write a full article on the subject. So if you care about my opinion on this subject, or simply about having a lively discussion about her, listen up (and maybe comment)!
Let’s start off with this: I honestly think that Hayley is a character that could’ve worked really well and been really sympathetic. One that the audience gravitated towards and nearly universally liked. But, in the end, she obviously didn’t quite live up to that potential. Now, I personally don’t hate her as some do, but that being said I still have some issues with her as a character. Especially with how she was portrayed during season 2, where she felt very one-dimensional.
It feels like season 2 (except at the start) just had Hayley either threatening people or boasting about violence or as part of the love triangle with Elijah and Jackson. When every third sentence is a threat and every second sentence is about the love triangle, it can get kind of monotonous. Especially because, despite a few small attempts at this, there’s really very little focus on Hayley’s descent into violence.
But putting that aside, I do think that even back in season one she wasn’t quite as good of a character as I think she could’ve been. So why did I ever feel like she could’ve been a good, and particularly relatable, character?
First and foremost because she’s the “sanest” main character. At least, in theory. Most of the other characters, like Klaus and Elijah and even Marcel, are centuries old, powerful killers. Now maybe your experience is different, but I don’t know a ton of completely sane centuries old killers. Whereas Hayley is someone who grew up in our society, shares our values and is essentially “human.”
But more deeply because at her centre she’s a girl who’s never had a stable family. Someone who’s been searching for one all of her life and who is now thrown into a position where she becomes a mother and into a very, very, very (did I say “very” yet?) dysfunctional family, but a family nonetheless. There’s something sad and relatable about both this idea of never having had a family, this feeling alone in the world, and about finally finding one (getting your wish as it were) but it being quite damaging to you at the same time. Anyone knows what it’s like to feel alone and I think we all know how it feels for the people we love being the people that sometimes hurt us most. The idea that the things we love can sometimes drag us under is a powerful one and one that resonates well within the originals considering its themes of family. But despite all of this, which I think is a good fundamental basis for a likeable character, she falls kind of flat. I think this is for a couple of reasons.
First of all, there’s so little background. We hear vaguely about Hayley’s past, but we’re never shown it. There aren’t ever any flashbacks or even people from her more distant past. It’s never shown what bad situations she was in as a kid, how she was kicked out of her house by adopted parents that didn’t understand her affliction, how she roamed the streets as a teenager alone, never quite finding a family, never feeling safe or at home. So without that background, her desire for the family falls flat. It has no weight. And because of this, neither does her attempt to become part of the Mikaelson family. The cardinal sin of writing, namely “telling” instead of “showing”, is to blame here.
Secondly, this also plays into her complexity as a character. Because if we did have this illustrated and given weight, made very specific, then that could unlock quite an interesting conflict with the original siblings. Because yes they’re insane murderers, but they’re the first people to take her in despite what she is and treat her genuinely as family. So then there could be an interesting conflict of “yes, these people are immoral and dysfunctional, and yet they’re really the only people that have ever shown me true loyalty and familial love.” That would be an interesting conflict to explore. Which brings me to my third point: her place in the story.
Hayley’s main place in the story, a lot of the time, seems to be to serve some kind of purpose to the plot or other characters. Even when she’s made the focal point of some storyline, it’s often for the benefit of things such as her love triangle with Jackson and Elijah. It’s almost like they can’t quite decide how far to go with making her an actual main character, so they kind of, to use my prettiest French, go “half-assed.”
Where she does get her own storylines, but she doesn’t get the detailed exploration and shading of say one of the original siblings. She too often doesn’t act like a character, but feels like a plot device or a foil for other characters. This isn’t wholly true, she does have her own goals. But they’re rarely given a deep undercurrent, like is the case with, for example, Klaus’ relationship with Marcel. It seems more like she can have goals, but only as long as they align with the plot. And she can be used as a character only so long as she can act as a foil for other characters (like with the love triangle). And yes, you sometimes get moments of her just being her own character but they’re kind of few and sparsely populated (making them lack weight and complexity). For a character whom you want to be a main character, that you want the audience to be emotionally invested in, that just doesn’t seem sufficient. At least that’s my opinion.
As a sidenote, I specifically avoided commenting here on whether or not Phoebe Tonkin is a good actress, because it doesn’t matter directly to whether or not the character is optimally written. Though personally I think she does well enough, even if her accent can sometimes be a bit glaring.
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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.