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Can I watch The Originals if I don't watch The Vampire Diaries? This is the question I asked myself as I sat down to watch the pilot episode of The Originals. So if you're looking for a review of the vampire spinoff series from a die-hard TVD fan, I apologize but you'll have to search elsewhere. My knowledge of The Vampire Diaries is limited to vague memories of the first few episodes of the series. I had no idea who Klaus Mikaelson was going into The Originals, and I'm pleased to report that this new series offers enough catch-up and introduction to allow newbies to get on board this New Orleans-set drama.
Before we get further into this review, I'll admit I cheated a bit and watched "The Originals," the Vampire Diaries episode that served as the backdoor pilot for The Originals, which aired last spring during The Vampire Diaries. I actually used that episode as my tester to see if there was anything about the series that might appeal to me, answering the question, would I even want to watch The Originals if it turns out I'd be able to follow it with limited Vampire Diaries knowledge. It did the trick to pique my interest, but like The Vampire Diaries, I don't think it's required viewing ahead of tonight's premiere -- and just so we're clear, tonight's premiere episode is a new episode, not a replay of "The Originals." While you don't need to see the backdoor pilot in order to follow tonight's premiere episode, if you want to watch it, it's Episode 20 of Season 4 of The Vampire Diaries.
If you didn't see "The Originals" episode, here's what you missed: The backdoor pilot introduced us to Klaus Mikaelson (Joseph Morgan) , one of the original vampires and the original vampire-werewolf hybrid. He returns to New Orleans, the city his family helped build, lured there under the belief that there's a witch targeting him for some unknown reason. Klaus soon discovers that the city is being run by his former protege, Marcel (Charles Michael David), a manipulative and powerful vampire who has the humans and supernaturals under his control, giving vampires pretty much the run of the city. In addition to interacting with Marcel, Klaus learns that Hayley (Phoebe Tonkin), the occasionally pouty, occasionally sarcastic werewolf with whom he has a romantic -- or at the very least, physical -- history is now carrying his child. As Klaus is half-vampire, this is a pretty big deal. But it's evident from the start that his emotional range is limited, either by choice or nature. And he's about as interested in becoming a father as he is at allying with Marcel, which leaves the episode off in an uncertain place as Klaus makes more trouble than he does friends.
Tonight's series premiere, titled "Always and Forever," rehashes most of that, and actually recycles some of the footage from the backdoor pilot, which is why you don't really need to see that episode in order to follow tonight's. The premiere brings more of Klaus' history into the story along with his siblings Elijah (Daniel Gillies) and Rebekah (Claire Holt). While Rebekah appears mainly by flashback and telephone, Elijah is on the scene in New Orleans, essentially retracing the steps of the "Originals" episode in an effort to get some control over the situation. Meanwhile, also re-established is the friction between the New Orleans witches and the vampires. While Marcel holds the city by the throat, the witches aren't happy to be as restricted as they are, which wasn't always the case for their kind in this city. Marcel's reign seems set up to be a big part of this story, and it's one of the things I'm most interested in seeing play out, particularly because I'm intrigued by the character (and David's performance). Finally, there's a human psych-major/bartender named Cami who's introduced at the end of the backdoor pilot. She appears again in tonight's premiere, though her relevance seems uncertain… other than the obvious potential for her to be the human that gets caught up in a lot of vampire drama.
I can't speak from the perspective of someone who's familiar with some of these characters from The Vampire Diaries, but looking at The Originals as a new series, the premiere really works. Not only does it get the job done in getting us caught up on enough of the relevant history to introduce this story to us, but because it's a spinoff, there's already momentum built up. We don't need to be walked through the ins and outs of vampire history in order for this series to get started. The Originals' story feels warmed up from the start, while the premiere is a window to bring new viewers on board.
I'm assuming there are more layers to this story, which will be better appreciated by fans of The Vampire Diaries, but for those who aren't, don't rule The Originals out. The series seems set up to take some interesting twists as we watch Klaus and his siblings attempt to reestablish some roots in this beautiful old city, which is overflowing with history, magic and dark things lurking in every corner.
The Originals premieres Thursday, October 3 at 9:00 p.m. ET on The CW.