The Originals is hitting all the right notes this season.

No real spoilers below, just some discussion of where the show is right now.

I don’t know where this Sire Line War thing is going, but I like it. Like its parent show, The Originals initially had a bad habit of long setups that were suddenly rendered unnecessary thanks to what someone thought was a clever plot twist. (Remember the crazy priest who fought evil? Or Mikael?) But as it ventures into its third season, the show is pacing itself quite well. There’s plenty of plots up in the air, with Klaus, Elijah, and Rebecca being forced to deal with their progenies even as they maintain the delicate balance of power in New Orleans. Instead of the single, looming threat of a big bad, like Dahlia last season (whom I loved: Claudia Black is the shit) there are lots of unseen players making moves behind the Originals’ backs, with no clear villain in sight.

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Joseph Morgan just is Klaus. He radiates smug, merciless menace in a way that, while sometimes annoying, never seems false.

The flashbacks, which have always been a staple of this show in one form or another, are delving into new territory. The exploration of Klaus as a vulnerable, naïve monster-in-training is fascinating, if only because it lets Morgan show a broader range of emotions. While we saw his daddy issues depicted quite thoroughly last season, Morgan seems to be having a better time showing a Klaus who, while still vulnerable, is not quite as wounded as he once was. Seeing The Originals stick together in their formative years, while they bounce and stumble their way through their new abilities, is surprisingly satisfying. They discover their ability to make other vampires, compel people, and test the limits of their strengths and weaknesses.

And just look at that face.

While Kol and Finn remain pointedly offstage in the flashbacks, the nature of Elijah’s present-day relationship with (and fondness for) Klaus becomes more nuanced in the past. Elijah, the well-dressed, well-spoken, gentlemanly older brother clings to Klaus not out of love, but out of guilt over his first-ever use of Compulsion... on Klaus’ old girlfriend. When Elijah and Klaus finally came to blows a couple of weeks ago, I got chills.

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While The Vampire Diaries made much over Klaus’ superiority as a werewolf/vampire hybrid, The Originals plays that card sparingly in an effort to prevent Klaus from seeming overpowered. Seeing Elijah go toe-to-toe with Klaus and holding his own reminds us that Elijah, while not a hybrid, is no one’s bitch. That confrontation truly felt like a parting of the ways, especially with all of the pressure building for a Sire Line War. But the opening scene of the next episode, where they lick their wounds and gruffly push aside their differences, was pitch-perfect in a way I hadn’t expected it to be.

Oh, and, that whole Elijah-Hayley thing has died down.

Sorta.

Freya also makes a nice addition to the cast, rounding out what initially was a boys’ club and giving some much-needed big sister guidance to Klaus and Elijah. She seems to manage them in a way that all of Rebecca’s heel stomping and smarminess could never quite accomplish. At first I was quite annoyed with the character of Freya, which felt really ham-fisted and retconned, but she’s growing on me. Her role in the extremely cheesy prophecy about the Originals’ impending death will likely take up her time this season, which is good. She’s earned an arc of her own.

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And lastly, Marcel endures as one of the most compelling characters. Charles Michael Davis continues to play Marcel straight, while I get the impression he’s being written a bit more clever and wily than he’s being portrayed. Davis flashes his colgate smile and delivers nearly every line with a cool baritone voice that would be more appropriate coming from a late-night DJ playing smooth jazz, instead of a scrappy street rat with a heart of gold. Marcel is very much the everyman of this show, a “common” vampire in a world of super-hybrids and indestructible Originals. He navigates his way with street smarts and charisma, and pretty much gets beat up nearly every episode by someone stronger than him.

Yet despite his tendency to get mixed up with stronger adversaries, he demonstrates his wits in a way that is *almost* always clever, if not devious. Perhaps I’m being too hard on Davis... after all, Marcel used to be the King of New Orleans, and is now little more than a means to an end to his beloved Originals. The fall, rise, and fall again of Marcel has always been a mere subplot since Klaus slaughtered his whole gang in season 1.

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There’s much more going on, of course. There’s a serial killer loose in New Orleans who is keeping Cami busy. The progeny of the Originals are chewing scenery left and right. Davina is spending a lot of time in her crypt/base and being unsure of herself. Some shady company is killing werewolves. To be honest, these feel like subplots that, while entertaining, are mere distractions from the heart of this show: the conflict between family.

All in all, I like the maturity the show is exhibiting. It’s still fun, still quick with the random plot twists and totally merciless to the poor denizens of New Orleans. But there’s a large-scale structure to the over-arching plot this season that looks like it might just be a damn good one, as far as these things go. We’ll see.

photos credits: thevampirediariesfans.com