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Dear Julie Plec, Executive Producer,
Hi. You don’t know me, and you’ll also probably never read this, but that’s okay. I guess it’s more for me than for you. This is an open letter to address your decision to kill the Hayley/Elijah romance on The Originals.
I want to preface this by saying I don’t actually care if you want to stop writing that romance. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I am complete trash for this relationship. At points it was the only thing that kept me watching, but this is your show, and I’m not going to make a fuss if you want this particular piece of it to end. This isn’t about my poor shipper’s heart. This is about storytelling, and politics, and your relationship with your viewers.
Here’s a quote of yours that I’m taking from an IndieWire article. You said, I believe at an ATX Television Festival panel, that “[Elijah] beat her up. We realized at that moment they can’t be together anymore. And we killed a love story on that day. One that people who watch the show are probably rooting for. Narratively we were going down this path, but my conscience can’t advocate that kind of violence.”
I’ll start with the truest thing about this quote: “Narratively we were going down this path.” Yeah, you were. For three goddamn seasons. And in season 4 alone you had Hayley and Elijah both expressing the sentiment that even after five years apart, their feelings remained, and Hayley explicitly stating, “I want to build a life with you, Elijah. With Hope.”
That doesn’t come out of nowhere. These are specific, clear steps in the progression of a relationship. Narratively, it’s bad storytelling to jerk fans around for three and a half seasons just to pull the rug out from under them because things got uncomfortable for you.
This is where I want to take the time to laud you for your desire to be politically aware. It would be foolish of me to assert that the election of Donald Trump didn’t change a lot of things for a lot of people in a lot of ways. I know that I, for one, feel like I’m living in a shadow world, one of which I’m not sure I can trust the reality.
I understand that it must be incredibly hard to be a showrunner trying to be both an interesting, innovative storyteller and a person with morals and a desire to make a statement in the face of adverse conditions. Your quotes from the aforementioned article made me think of the final third of this past season of ABC’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., in which (spoiler alert) the bulk of the main characters are sent into a computer-generated alternate reality in which a Nazi-like fascist regime governs the nation. (Sound familiar?)
This season is brimming with timely references to current sociopolitical issues, my favorite being a direct quote of, “Nevertheless, she persisted.” I think S.H.I.E.L.D. did a fantastic job balancing the telling of their story with their aim of critiquing the current administration.
What you’re doing is not a critique. It is not commentary on the current state of affairs. It isn’t even casual shade thrown at the President. It’s deciding that not telling a story is more important than telling a difficult one: that people who love each other sometimes also hurt each other.
And let me painfully, explicitly clear here: I am not advocating, nor will I ever advocate, for the romanticization of abusive relationships on television, particularly in programs geared toward teens and young adults.
In fact, the romanticization of abusive relationships has been one of my greatest critiques of another show you might have heard of: The Vampire Diaries. That show spent three seasons having the “bad brother,” Damon, repeatedly and incessantly violating the main character Elena, to different degrees, from kidnapping her in the name of keeping her safe to forcing blood down her throat so that if she died she would come back to life as a vampire (without her consent).
The theme of consent (and Damon’s total and utter disregard for it) was omnipresent in the early years of TVD, as were Elena’s feelings of hurt and betrayal toward someone she considered a friend, and yet, before the fourth season was out, they were in a relationship.
Weird how someone who abused her (and raped her best friend, but that’s a conversation for another day) could end up being her true love or whatever. (Truth be told, I haven’t finished TVD. I keep getting to the end of season five before just having to give up.)
So, yeah, your objection to portraying abusive relationships rings false, because you’ve done it before. (I mean, Jesus Christ, season one was just a parade of Klaus violating Cami, but we were all supposed to ship them, weren’t we? And for fuck’s sake, Kol murdered Davina, and they’re still being shipped together.) But that’s not even the real issue here.
At the time I’m writing this, we are 10 episodes into the 13-episode season four of The Originals, and I have yet to see anything that even hints at an abusive relationship between Elijah and Hayley. In fact, the only instance I can think of, when both of them were in full control of their faculties (e.g. not tripped out on a werewolf bite), in which one of them hurt the other was in season one, when Hayley slapped Elijah across the face. That was supposed to be a cute scene, I think? Because she was a pregnant girl and he was a thousand-year-old undead, unkillable vampire, I guess?
Again, the conversation about women hitting men in television is one to be had another day. I’m more concerned with the scene that you seem to think constitutes abuse.
Let’s talk about this scene, shall we? And when we do, let’s talk about it in its fullest context, because context is important. Elijah, a vampire with an explicit history of PTSD and, though it hasn’t quite been established (I believe), OCD, has his soul trapped inside a magical pendant, but the spell to do so goes wrong and the pendant shatters, his mind along with it.
When Hayley ventures into his mind to find “the real him” (this part was a little fuzzy for me, so bear with me), she finds him in the hours after his mother turned him into a bloodthirsty killing machine (without his consent, just to add) over a thousand years ago. Elijah is completely out of control, because, hey, he’s dealing with this insatiable need to drink human blood and absolutely zero control. It’s a millennium ago, so he has no idea who the hell this woman trying to reason with him is, and, oh yeah, his mind has been shattered into, like, a million pieces.
He’s got some shit going on, and to think that he has an ability to discern right from wrong is laughable.
So yeah. He bites Hayley. And let’s take a second to commend Phoebe Tonkin’s acting in that scene because, wow, it cut deep. It was chilling, to see a broken man hurt someone he loves, even if, at the moment, he has no idea he loves her, and to see a woman be afraid of the person she loves.
But what happens when Hope snaps him back to reality? He understands the full extent of what he has done and apologizes. Not, really, that he has anything to apologize for, because, again, this is all happening inside his mind, and he had no idea what the fuck was going on.
To describe this scene as abusive is both a gross mischaracterization of what actually happened and, frankly, an insult to people who have actually experienced domestic abuse. You’ve claimed that it was Trump’s election that sparked this discomfort in you, and we all know that Trump is no stranger to abusing women. But to put what Elijah did, without presence of mind or any knowledge of what the hell kind of beast he was, on the same level as the shit Trump does, knowingly, purposefully, gleefully, is revolting.
It’s also just unbelievable. Maybe I’m alone in this, but when I saw this scene, I certainly didn’t think, Damn, what an unhealthy dynamic they’ve got going on here. Instead, I thought, Wow, these are two people who have some shit they’re going to need to work out together. And that’s what this whole season has been about up to this point.
Elijah has been doing some admittedly shady shit in the name of protecting the family — nothing too much more extreme than he’s done in the past, to be sure. And all of a sudden Hayley’s got a problem with it, which is… weird, but I’d give her the benefit of the doubt — it’s been five years, after all, of raising a child to be a good person — except for the fact that she explicitly states in episode 3 of this season, “[I] killed people just to cover my tracks, keep Hope safe.” Seems to me like she’s guilty of doing… well, exactly what she’s been put off by Elijah doing for several episodes now. But whatever.
That’s interesting stuff for a couple to work out. In fact, one of the reasons I’ve always thought Elijah and Hayley work well together is that more than any other characters on this show, these two grapple with their desire to do what is right and their need to do what is necessary. This is what makes them interesting, what makes their dynamic engaging and sometimes difficult.
By characterizing their entire relationship as abusive because of one instance that Elijah had no control over, you are retconning over three seasons of character development (even more, if you want to factor in their time on The Vampire Diaries) for the both of them, making the rest of the show a complete waste of time.
In fact, this rewriting of Elijah’s character is particularly heartbreaking, because I’ve always found him to be a powerful metaphor for the human condition. There’s a darkness in Elijah, parts of him that crave death and destruction. And every single day he has to be conscious of these parts, has to fight them, and sometimes he wins and sometimes he loses. I have that darkness in me, too.
I think all of us have it, that impulse to hurt, to take, to destroy. That’s something I live with, something I have to know about myself if I want to be a good person. And to see Elijah, a man struggling with his inner demons, with the things that make him hate himself, still find someone who loves him, who is invested in bringing out the best in him, gave me so much hope. Maybe someday, despite all the shit I’ve got going on in my brain (let’s not forget, as I’ve already stated, that Elijah has several mental illnesses), someone will love me, will see the good in me, and will help me see it, too.
(DISCLAIMER: I actually abhor plotlines in which it is up to a woman to help a dark and depraved man see the light in himself, because, wow, sexism. I’m looking at you, Cami, Davina, Elena. But this particular relationship is different, because Elijah and Hayley both have this impulse inside of them, just to different degrees. So yeah, I’m not saying that these two should be together just so that Hayley can “fix” Elijah, because that’s reductive and gross.)
To bring it back to the scene at hand, you’ve decided that this one moment means that their entire relationship is abusive, and therefore must be torpedoed. You came to that conclusion because the minority of American voters put a known abuser in the White House. Again, props to you for examining your work through a sociopolitical lens, but when I read what you said, the only thing I could think is that you must think I’m an idiot.
You must think that your entire audience is just full of morons who are utterly incapable of understanding context and nuance. The Originals has been an extremely violent show from day one, and many times, violent episodes have erupted between family, friends, and even lovers, and never before have you expected us not to be able to understand the context of each episode, to decide for ourselves what is and is not okay.
I do think it’s important to remember that, at this point, the majority of the characters on this show are physically way stronger and way more durable than your average human, and even if they’re not, they’ve got magic on their side. That’s not something to be ignored just because it grates against the larger cultural narrative of the moment.
Now I don’t know what the average age of an Originals viewer is, so maybe it’s a bit on the young side, but as someone who was a teenager not too long ago, I implore you, do not treat your teenage audience like they’re idiots. They’re not. They’re smart. They’re capable of thinking for themselves. Some of them are going to come to appropriate conclusions, and some of them aren’t, but that’s no reason not to tell good stories.
And speaking of good stories, whatever your reason for sinking this ship, the way you’re doing it is super unbelievable. Hayley only fell in love with Elijah because he made her feel safe? A, why is that a bad thing, and B, that’s literally not true? Here are just a few reasons why it makes total sense that Hayley would love Elijah, just off the top of my head:
- He treated her like a member of the family from minute one, even when Klaus just thought of her as a “walking incubator.”
- He championed her actually consenting to her marriage to Jackson, in case Klaus was forcing her into it.
- She married another man and he basically said, Well, you’re all my family now, gonna protect you like my own.
- Whenever she asks for space he gives it to her, no questions asked.
- He’s the only character thus far to canonically describe himself as a feminist.
- He told her to marry Jackson, breaking his own heart, because it was what was best for Hope.
- He looks damn good in a suit (not, like, a key thing, but also shouldn’t be overlooked).
- He listens to her, no matter what.
- He tries every single day to be a better person, and when he fails, he just tries harder tomorrow.
I’m nearly 2,500 words into this thing, and even though I honestly do have more to say, I’m just going to end my letter with this: Tell good stories. Tell hard stories. Tell stories about people who hurt each other and love each other and help each other grow. Tell stories that challenge the status quo, that establish narratives for us to follow and to question.
I don’t envy your position, not for a second. You have to make a ton of really difficult decisions about these characters, and on the whole, I think you do a really good job. But I just wanted to take some time, work through my thoughts on the end of the Hayley/Elijah relationship and your justification for it. I do look forward to the culmination of this season and what else is to come.
Thanks for your time, and I hope you have a great day.