Knowledge, Bliss, & Danger in the Female Narrative by Audrey T. Carroll
"Ignorance is bliss."
In the story of Adam and Eve, knowledge is sin. Eve is the one who tempts fate by seeking out something beyond her familiar experience. Cue expulsion from paradise. In the story of Pandora's box, it is Pandora's inquisitiveness that releases all the evils of the world upon humanity. In the story "Bluebeard," his last wife nearly meets the same bloody end as all his previous ones because she, too, is unable to restrain herself from exploring the one room forbidden to her.
The fatal flaw of these women is their curiosity. If the outcomes of the tales are any indication, it is a sin to pursue knowledge. We, the audience, are left to contemplate "Why didn't she just leave things be?" as if we were watching a character in a horror movie decide to go down into a dark basement alone with a faulty flashlight.
With the rise of the demand for complex female characters in media, contemporary media has become less shy about challenging the idea that women should keep out of danger by turning a blind eye to the ugly truths of the world, and by suppressing any sense of intellectual pursuit. The CW's The Originals is hardly at a deficit of female characters who do just as much as their male counterparts, whether they're humans, vampires, werewolves, or witches. Though expectations may dictate otherwise, human Camille O'Connell stands up to the supernatural creatures of the town without hesitation. When the series opens, she's unaware of the sinister paranormal city that New Orleans truly is. Blindly, Camille searches for the reason her twin brother committed homicide and suicide, without warning and seemingly without cause. Camille's uncle works with the vampires and other creatures as a human ambassador to keep peace in the French Quarter, and refuses to inform Camille of the dangers all around her. In traditional narratives, her digging around would be a punishable offense.
When Klaus Mikaelson (a 1,000-year-old sociopathic vampire/werewolf hybrid) returns to town, he immediately keys in on Camille as an object of the local vampire boss' affection. Klaus uses his supernatural ability to place her under his mind control, ordering her to act as a spy and making her forget that she's even been ordered to do this. Because Camille is being made to forget, because knowledge is robbed from her, she doesn't have to internally struggle with the risk of what Klaus is forcing her to do, or with the general supernatural threat New Orleans offers, when she is going about her day-to-day life. This lack of awareness won't save her, though, if it's discovered that Camille is playing the part of spy, or even if she happens to run into a vampire in a dark alleyway. In this way, Camille becomes not only a pawn, but also one who is put at the most possible risk. Knowledge is the weapon that could grant Cami some level of self-defense here, but it is a weapon that she's not afforded.
While a victim of Klaus' mind control, Camille realizes something paranormal may be responsible for her brother's tragedy. Klaus tells Cami in the episode "Girl in New Orleans" that "the knowledge will eat away at you. Your quest for truth will only put you in danger." In a heartbreaking scene, Camille begs Klaus not to take away her realization, as this is something she's been searching for since she lost her brother. He, of course, ignores her protests in pursuit of his own gains, and perhaps in some genuine, albeit misguided, effort to keep Cami as safe as he thinks he can.
During a mission to fight off the weekly threat the Mikealson family faces, Klaus discovers the witch responsible for what happened to Camille's brother. In "Fruit of the Poisoned Tree," Klaus informs Camille that he "had a hand in the matter" of that witch's death, thinking she'll be pleased. Cami slaps him, which throws Klaus off. He claims "now you can find comfort in the truth," but this isn't good enough for Camille. She wasn't given any kind of choice in how the situation was handled, and she's only allowed to even know that some kind of conclusion in her investigation was reached when Klaus deems it convenient. Horrified that she has become an accomplice in murder against her will, Cami vows to fight her way out of his mind control.
In truth, ignorance, for Camille, is danger. She doesn't know who to avoid. She doesn't know who might have conflict with her family. She doesn't know that she is working for Klaus, a decision which is taken away from her with little more than eye contact. Her agency and knowledge are stripped from her under some ostensible idea of keeping her out of harm's way. Cami is walking around without a clue that, at any moment, she might kick any one of a number of hornet's nests.
When, in "The Casket Girls," Cami declares "I want to remember everything," the viewer is hoping for her to recover her agency and knowledge. She is a human in a creature-filled world, and that alone is enough to create a link between Camille and the viewer. Eventually, through a painful process and help from a young witch, Camille is able to recall everything that's happened to her, to gain control of herself again. This is not her grand moment of transgression. Instead, it's her moment of triumph. The woman unafraid to stand up to Klaus Mikaelson (a creature feared by everyone, including his own powerful siblings) has been set free from mind control, as well as the imposed ignorance. Ignorance might be bliss for her, as Klaus uses his control over her mind to force Camille to be at peace, but this "peace" is false. Her true peace can only come in the wake of retained knowledge and free will.
The fatal flaw of these women is their curiosity. If the outcomes of the tales are any indication, it is a sin to pursue knowledge.
Camille's decision to look the evil of New Orleans in the eye is not without significance. Her chasing the reality is what has kept her alive. She doesn't simply save her own skin by knowing where the hornet nests are. Camille, now armed with knowledge, is able to genuinely contribute to the issues her friends are having. For instance, at one point she threatens to expose Klaus and his secrets to the world if he hurts her friends. At another point, in "From a Cradle to a Grave," Cami provides her friends with a supernatural arsenal that her uncle had stored away.
This shift that awareness brings in Camille impacts the way not only that she navigates her own life, but also the way that she is viewed by the people she interacts with on a daily basis. A year later, in "When The Levee Breaks," when a young beloved werewolf is killed, Klaus Mikaelson is blamed. Though he was not responsible, he lets everyone think it was his doing, to encourage them to continue to fear his wrath and paranoia. Camille, as bold and fearless as she always is with Klaus despite his persona, approaches Klaus one-on-one. She demands Klaus tell her he didn't do something as unforgivable as take the life of "that sweet boy" for no other reason than because he felt offended. Klaus finally admits to Cami that he was not responsible for the werewolf's death. She is the only one who he tells—not his brother or sisters or the mother of his child. He acknowledges, in this gesture, Camille's right to the truth, a right that she fought for, with the confession that "A better man would protect you with that lie, but I am not that man. And so I leave you with the burden of a truth that no one will believe."
Cami is a character who fights for her right to know. She is burdened with that knowledge, certainly, but no more or less than any other character on the show. The narrative doesn't target her as a prying woman and dole out "just desserts" because of that hunt for the truth. Instead of a cataclysmic punishment for her tenacity (say, being banished from paradise or releasing all forms of evil upon the world), Camille is rewarded: with freedom, with being able to help those she cares about, and with true closure in regards to her brother's tragedy. In this way, The Originals breaks with the female narratives of old, opting instead to portray a strong, resilient woman who does not doom humankind with her awakening.
Queens, NYC native Audrey T. Carroll is an MFA candidate with the Arkansas Writer's Program and graduated with a BA in Creative Writing from Susquehanna University. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Fiction International, Hermeneutic Chaos, So to Speak, Feminine Inquiry, the A3 Review, and others.