Good and evil, it’s a tale as old as time, but it can get a little dull. The past decade has proved the popularity of the anti-hero, characters who inhabit the messy grey area of morality where most audiences also reside. Ranging from Deadpool to Arthur Fleck, anti-heroes are a reflection and spokesperson for the allure of darkness that keeps us hooked. Enter Klaus Mikaelson.
The charming, intelligent, bloodthirsty original vampire-werewolf hybrid was introduced to us in the CW network’s The Vampire Diaries. While the anti-hero is often a would-be hero with some less than admirable tactics, Klaus is a tried and true villain with a fierce brightness buried within, which makes for a compelling journey.
Klaus Mikaelson: “To Be Or Not To Be”
The Vampire Diaries provides an interesting twist to the genre by including the vampiric benefit of turning off your humanity to clear your mind in high-stress situations. The downside of the trait, however, is that switching off one’s compassion often leads to what the show refers to as rippers — vampires who slaughter in outstanding numbers without remorse, a title that would seem to fit Klaus if the story ended there. Due to his popularity on the show, Klaus received a spin-off series called The Originals that allowed audiences to gain a fuller picture of the character.
What makes Klaus different is that while his humanity is always turned on, it’s usually the most frustrating thing about him. In a fantastical show about werewolves, witches, and vampires, the scariest foe is Klaus’ self-destructive patterns in human nature. He is the main protagonist and antagonist of his story — and that is why we watch.
“The Great Evil”
We’re conditioned to hate Klaus from the beginning by being given a list of his transgressions. He was not officially introduced, however, until much later. “Klaus Mikaelson” is the ghost within the paranoid whispers of our protagonists, which is far more ominous. When we do meet him, he saunters onscreen saying, “You’ve heard of me, fantastic,” a greeting full of arrogance. From there, he’s vengeful, egotistical, and above all, chillingly manipulative. The rate at which he decapitates people could be (and probably is) a drinking game; the audience becomes numb to, if not expectant of this behavior. He’s a villain, and that’s what villains do. Cleverly, though, these apparent facts have to be repeated throughout various interactions with the character.
Klaus himself responds to these reminders by declaring his darkness evocative, saying, “don’t underestimate the allure of darkness, even the purest of hearts are drawn to it.” And he’s right. People love a charismatic villain. Klaus, though, wants to be something else, as shown through his budding courtship with Caroline. It’s not groundbreaking that Klaus softened through the introduction of a love interest (the show is a teen drama, after all), but the peek into Klaus’ motivations feeds hers and our intrigue.
In a pivotal scene, Caroline calls his bluff by pointing out that his behavior is a reaction to being hurt, and to be hurt is to be human. Shock enters Klaus’ face along with tears. Just as our sympathies for Klaus turn, however, he reminds us why he’s untrustworthy by horrifically reacting to the news of Haley’s pregnancy. Besides the typical denial of something that, admittedly, should be impossible, he plans for the death of his child and her mother instantly in one of his usual tantrums.
We Should Hate Him, Sometimes We Do Hate Him, But We All Have A Klaus In Our Lives.
He’s the man you won’t have a future with but wants to show you the world, and you crave adventure. He is the brother you always make excuses for but also loyally accepts every side of you. Similarly, we’ve all been Klaus at one point or another, and we hate to admit that even more. He is the darkest part of ourselves, and his reflective quality is why we root for him. We selfishly need him to be more than the villain.
A Metaphor For Control & Hope?
Klaus is a skilled painter, and throughout the series, we see him at an easel as he processes emotional stress. For Klaus, painting is a metaphor for control by creating a world through “pure force of will”. After coming to terms with his forthcoming fatherhood, Klaus begins to attack his inner demons aggressively, and time after time, we see him lose the battle. He has tremendous trust and abandonment issues that color a lot of his erratic behavior. He was taught that vulnerability equals weakness, and weakness is associated with fear. Klaus does not tolerate fear, he is “the thing lesser men fear”. Many, many, many times Klaus slips into his bestial role to provide a protector for his family, but his actions only isolate him further into self-loathing.
During Haley’s pregnancy, his family also started to hold him more accountable for his actions, which was a hard adjustment for Klaus. He’d been allowed to run rampant, but with an heir on the way, he has to reign in his selfishness. Slowly, a more contemplative Klaus begins to emerge. After Hope is born, Klaus realizes the image his child sees is very important to him. He went from planning her death to killing anyone who’d dream of hurting her. Nonetheless, he edits himself and his actions around her. He’s still Klaus, but a much more conscious, gentle version.
Klaus Wants To Be Better Than His Father
That reason alone may be the most heartbreaking element of his character. We love Klaus because he can be all the things you want him to be. He’s an adoring father, a loyal brother, a thoughtful lover, but he can’t get out of his own way. It hurts more in a real-world sense when he lets you down. You can handle him snapping necks and feeding on people, it’s a fantasy show, but not calling his daughter for years because he’s embarrassed she saw the “real him”— unacceptable.
An Honorable Death
Before he could really get his father’s legs, though, the demons in Klaus’ world proved too prevalent. An evil power fills Hope, and the control Klaus thought he could order into his life gets stripped away. He does something remarkable (for him) and asks for help, any help he can get.
He tries anything and everything to save his daughter and wrangles the rest of his family around him in support. When an opportunity arises to save Hope by taking the darkness into himself, he doesn’t hesitate. What can we do as an audience, but let him? It’s frustrating to watch an evolution like Klaus’ because happiness is always just out of reach, the solution to having it all grazing his fingertips in all the wrong moments. Caroline acts as an audience surrogate when she says,
You’re being a good father, and you’re being a good person, and how can I tell you not to do that when that’s all I’ve ever—.
In the show’s final act, we receive closure. Klaus is open with his daughter, vulnerable with his family, and honest with himself about being afraid of uncertainty. He dies feeling unconditional love, and that’s all he’s ever wanted. It’s a fitting end for a character who has endured so much of his own torment.
Always & Forever With Klaus Mikaelson
It would’ve been easy to keep Klaus Mikaelson as the Big Bad Wolf. It’s more enticing, though, to let him act as a mirror for our own darkness. Watch him tear himself apart so that we may question our actions and desires. It’s not a short journey, either. Klaus’ evolution through the villain, anti-hero, and possible capital H, hero spans two series and nine seasons of television in total.
He earns his redemption. Although his legacy remains “The Great Evil,” Klaus Mikaelson is a lesson in potential, and we all need to know that the best versions of ourselves are possible in even our worst moments.