One of the greatest strategies that any storyteller can use for villain buildup is to keep the main bad guy off screen or off page for a while. Instead of an outright physical presence, put your audience in the same boat as your heroes. Your heroes know the villain is out there, they know he’s powerful and evil, but they don’t know exactly what he wants or the precise lengths he’s willing to go to in order to accomplish his goals. The heroes desperately try to keep themselves safe along with unraveling the mystery behind him, and dreading his upcoming presence. They don’t see him yet, but they feel him, which makes the atmosphere all the more ominous. And the audience feels that extra ominousness along with the heroes.
This strategy was used in a masterful way during the second season of The Vampire Diaries. After Elijah is introduced, after we feel the ominous power and mystery of an Original vampire, yet another bomb is dropped on us. There is a vampire out there that makes Elijah look like the Easter Bunny in comparison, and he’s after Elena.
For the next several episodes, we see neither hide nor hair of Klaus. Instead, we feel him in the air as Damon desperately tries to find him, and as Rose sobs in terror after Elijah delivers an intimidation tactic out of sight. Damon is confused by its origins, but Rose is not.
“It’s Klaus! Don’t you see? It’s Klaus!”
Slowly, we learn about him in the most terrifying ways. In “Katerina” we see what happened to Katherine’s family after she escaped him.
“He killed them. My entire family. Just to get back at me for running.”
And how cruelly Klaus punishes those who cross him, or even try to protect themselves from him.
“Whatever you do to escape Klaus, he will get his vengeance. And your friends, your family, and anyone you have ever loved.”
The terror volume has just been cranked up a thousand. Stupid as it is, we can’t blame Elena for trying several times to give herself up to Klaus in order to keep her loved ones safe. The only thing that stops her is when Elijah offers to do just that in exchange for her cooperation. While they make the deal, Elijah reveals that “Klaus is the most feared and hated of the Originals, but those that fear him are desperate for his approval.” Despite being an Original himself, through the way Elijah talks, the audience can only assume that he is no longer in Klaus’ trusted circle because he has metaphorically fallen from grace. Despite his power and status, Elijah has no idea where Klaus could be. Dangling a Petrova doppelganger out as bait is the only surefire way to draw him out and kill him. Just how powerful is this guy?
Another character trait that we learn off-screen is obsessiveness and paranoia. Klaus only trusts those in his inner circle and has spent the last five centuries trying to break the curse without the doppelganger. He’s enslaved generations of witches and warlocks in order to help him. Yet another evil meter crank up. But the ultimate crank up is delivered when Elijah tells Stefan that as punishment for failing to get Katherine back, Klaus daggered the rest of their family and scattered the bodies out to sea.
So far, we have every reason to believe that Klaus is the embodiment of evil, the ultimate psychological sadist, cares only about himself, and his affection for his own family is based solely on how useful they are to him. Meaning we also have every reason to believe that he wants to break the curse and sire an army of hybrids so he can take over the world and rule it with an iron fist. Typical black and white bad guy that needs to die screaming and in agony.
But as season three progresses, a deep complexity is slowly revealed through the genius of the writers and Joseph Morgan who gives one of the most brilliant performances I have ever seen in movies and television alike. And believe me, I’ve seen The Dark Knight and There Will Be Blood. That’s right. Morgan’s performance is Heath Ledger and Daniel-Day Lewis level. In “The Hybrid” Klaus claims to Stefan that he doesn’t view his future hybrids as slaves, but comrades. Of course, no sane person would believe him, and the temper tantrum he throws when his first batch dies only solidifies his instability and selfishness. But after he heals Stefan from the werewolf bite, he says softly, “It appears you’re the only comrade I have left.”
I couldn’t believe it at first, but when Klaus himself confirmed it to Rebekah, I had no choice but to: Klaus’ greatest fear is being alone. A fear that was nurtured by the abuse and neglect of Mikael his stepfather, and the abandonment of his mother. The reason he wants to create hybrids is so that he wouldn’t be the only one of his kind, and therefore, not be alone forever. Klaus is not black and white after all. He has humanity. But one thing that makes Klaus such a damn unique villain is that he’s the first villain whose humanity actually makes me hate him all the more. The thought of being alone for him is so terrifying, so unbearable, that when he sires his hybrids he binds their will to him to the point where disobeying a direct order is impossible. This is shown when Tyler poisons Caroline despite believing it’s the last thing he would do. His phobia also drives his evil. I believe that he kills his victims’ loved ones because he wants them to know the pain he’s suffered with throughout his thousand year existence.
Despite this, it’s impossible for me to have an ounce of sympathy for Klaus. Mikael’s abuse and Esther’s abandonment nurtured his fear of being alone and his anger, but Mikael and Esther are not responsible for Klaus’ ego-driven evil. We learn from Rebekah that as a human, Klaus already had not an ounce of tolerance for those who disappointed him. A quality that would make him an incredible control freak to begin with. But even to say he’s an incredible control freak would be a vast understatement. He believes that because Rebekah is his sister, she has to do everything he says. When she tried to leave him because she wanted a life for herself, he kept her daggered for over ninety years. He wrote off Katherine’s life because Elijah had feelings for her that he didn’t approve of. When Elijah failed to retrieve Katherine, he fed him that horrible lie as punishment. He daggered Finn and Kol so he could keep them compliant and controlled while he finished his plans. And that’s the way he treats his family whom he claims he loves. We know his attitude toward humans from his callous dismissal of Katherine’s life, but the scene that hit home for me was what he did after he learned Elena survived the ritual. In order to make her suffer for having the nerve to survive, he compels a teenage girl to raise her foot above the ground and a teenage boy to beat her to death when she couldn’t keep it up any longer. Being a geek, I know a lot of fictional villains. But this scene made me think ‘This thing is without a doubt the most despicable creature I have ever encountered in a fictional world.’
As season three went on, I believed Klaus couldn’t get any worse, and ohhh boy was I proven wrong. Even worse than treating people the way he does, he expects them to ‘let bygones be bygones’ when he wants to make up with them. He expected this of Stefan after torturing him, compelling him to suppress his humanity, and compelling him to drain Elena dry of her blood. When he threatened to compel Damon to chew out his own tongue as punishment for Stefan lying to him, Stefan asked with soft disgust, “What is wrong with you?” And here is Klaus’ furious reply.
“What is wrong with you!? Do you really have no appreciation for me!? I have given you someone to hate, to loathe. A target for all of your anger! So you don’t have to turn it on yourself. I’ve given your life purpose as your friend.” Laughs. “I really think you should be thanking me.”
He also pulled the “you should be thanking me” bullshit on Tyler too. By turning him into a hybrid, he freed him from the agony of the werewolf transformation. And, hey, all it cost was Tyler’s free will. A practically insignificant price, wouldn’t you say?
Though the two minimal requirements for being a psychopath are a ruthless disregard for others and a gift for hiding said disregard behind charm and or normalcy, there are many other qualities on the psychopath checklist that Klaus fulfills in spades. Indignation runs very, very strong in the psychopath. Nothing is ever their fault (in fact, it’s almost always someone else’s), and even if they do express regret for their actions it’s always poisoned by self-justification.
Rebekah: You destroyed our family.
Klaus: I wanted a family. They just didn’t want me…I’m gonna take Elena and use her blood to create a new family of hybrids.
Your siblings didn’t want you because you tortured, imprisoned, and disregarded them when they did something you didn’t like. But that’s all on them, right?
If there was any hope that Klaus felt true, genuine love for his siblings, the second episode of Season 4 completely crushes it. Despite everything he did, Rebekah remains loyal to him and is completely devastated when Alaric “kills” him. While in Tyler’s body he rushes to Caroline’s rescue after she and Rebekah are captured by Pastor Young’s men. He succeeds in rescuing Caroline, but abandons Rebekah with the parting words of “keep ’em busy, little sis.” Rebekah is furious and tearfully reminds him that she has loved him unconditionally, and stood by him throughout the thousand years they’ve been together. She also rightfully tells him that he doesn’t know what family means.
Klaus: I know how easily they can be silenced with a dagger.
Klaus’ callous flippancy toward Rebekah’s grief and feelings is proof like no other that any love he felt for her when they were humans is long gone. He only values her as an extension of himself. After she destroys the remaining bags of Elena’s blood, he disowns her, saying she is nothing, and snaps her neck.
The fact that Klaus would rather have a group of brainwashed yes-men as a “family” also makes him the most pathetic thing I have ever encountered in a fictional world. He achieved Jeffrey Dahmer’s dream to create “zombie” companions that would obey his every command, but he’s also worse than Jeffrey Dahmer. In an interview when Dahmer was asked if it was possible for him to have a relationship with someone without hurting them, his reply was ‘they would have to do exactly as I said when I said. And there aren’t many people like that in the world.’
Klaus’ ego would never permit him to admit such a thing or even think it. How do you like that, Klaus? A sadistic, psychopathic, necrophiliac human serial killer has a stronger sense of personal insight than you do. Isn’t irony the most beautiful thing in existence?
The writers’ last-ditch effort to give Klaus any humanity is with his relationship with Caroline. Through it we get to see a completely different side of Klaus. A side that desires love and acceptance. After Tyler bites her, he gives her the choice of whether or not to drink his blood. He also paints a vivid picture of the wonders Caroline could experience now that she is a vampire and not bound by human limitations. During the Original ball, he tells her that he fancies her because she’s beautiful, strong, and full of light. He tries to impress her with his artistic talents and reveals his insecurity when he claims he believes no one would notice it. In this scene, Caroline also comes to a conclusion.
“I get it. Your father didn’t love you, so you assume no one else will, either. And that’s why you compel people, or you sire them, or you try to buy them off, but that’s not how it works. You don’t connect with people because you don’t even try to understand them.”
Klaus responds to this by drawing a picture of Caroline next to a horse and thanking her for her honesty.
While the writers succeed in giving Klaus humanity with his relationship with Caroline, it still makes him all the more hateful. Having Klaus for a boyfriend is like having Ted Bundy for a boyfriend. He’ll be all charm and insecurity in the beginning, he may even thank you for a few honest comments, and he may want you to be willing, but once you open your heart and give yourself over he will take it all and never let it go. And the moment you do something he doesn’t like, you’re done for. Fortunately, Caroline is too smart and strong to let Klaus in, but if she did that’s exactly how the relationship would have turned out. Also, Caroline’s conclusion is only half-right. Klaus sires and compels for control and sadism just as much as he does out of his fear of being alone. And he doesn’t connect with people because he’s a Nazi, not because he doesn’t try to understand them. I also wasn’t fooled by his show of getting to know Caroline when he told her he wanted to know all her hopes and dreams. For people like Klaus, this is nothing more than a power-trip. The more he knows Caroline’s soul, the more power he’ll have in their relationship, and over her in general.
Wait a minute. Why the hell did Klaus save Caroline at all? They had never even spoken before. He just saw her as another one of Elena’s friends whom he could threaten. And he wanted Tyler to bite her in the first place so he could blackmail the Salvatores for the final coffin. Why would he save her?
The answer? Contrived.
Post character analysis follow-up: Klaus gets a 10/10. A highly complex, remarkable villain that you want to see suffer and die as much as you want to see what he’s going to do next.