Phoebe Tonkin and Claire Holt

Death and the maidens never looked so good! When sexy Vampire Diaries spinoff The Originals returns tonight, it takes a break from the macho machinations of bloodsucking brothers-in-arms Klaus (Joseph Morgan), Elijah (Daniel Gillies) and Marcel (Charles Michael Davis) to give the ladies of Louisiana a little attention.

"It's the episode where our women fight back," says executive producer Julie Plec, who has tweaked a creepy New Orleans myth known as the Casket Girls to frame the femme-centric hour. "Back in the late 1700s, all the men working in New Orleans — basically building the city — were the scourge of the Earth who'd been shipped over from the prisons of Europe," she explains. Hard up for female companions, the men lured single women from Ireland and France with the promise of marriage. "These girls packed up all of their belongings in boxes that looked like caskets and set sail across the sea." However, once their ship hit our shores, the girls mysteriously disappeared. Legend has it that the Vatican swept in and sealed off the women — and their caskets — in the attic of New Orleans' allegedly haunted Old Ursuline's Convent, where the girls lived as captive vampires. "So we took that basic story and shaped it into a story of female oppression and empowerment."

Narrated by Klaus and Elijah's twisted sister Rebekah (Claire Holt), the episode finds the French Quarter preparing for a festival celebrating the legend while she flashes back to "her own experience with these so-called Casket Girls back in the day," explains Plec, hinting that it was "perhaps Rebekah who helped them find their own emancipation."

Back in the present day, it's the blonde bloodsucker who is ready to find her way after being ditched by beau Marcel. "It's time for her to stand up for herself," declares Holt. "She's been hurt, but this time she's got more of a cold fury as opposed to a broken heart." And because this woman scorned has never played nice, Holt hints that things will get ugly fast: "She'll develop a new alliance."

The Big Easy's other supernatural ladies, including Klaus's werewolf baby mama, Hayley (Phoebe Tonkin), and teen witch Davina (Dan­ielle Campbell), are just as over the centuries-old boys club and their bullying. Davina's still reeling from the revelation that Marcel and Elijah have been using her. "She feels like she's been betrayed by everyone," says Gillies. "Marcel was lying to her, and Elijah promised that he wouldn't kill the witches, then went on his rampage, so she has become her own faction in a way."

The first step in her revenge? Decompelling bartender Cami (Leah Pipes) to show her that Klaus has been toying with her sanity, adding yet another name to the list of unhappy hotties the guys need to contend with. She may be human, warns Plec, "but Cami is hard-core. Mess with her and she will bite back."

As for Hayley, "now that she's become more protective of her baby, it's bringing out this inner strength," says Tonkin. But how will she handle her blossoming relationship with Klaus's brother Elijah? "She's carrying the child of someone she doesn't particularly like, who happens to be the brother of someone she does particularly like," Plec says with a laugh. 

Tonkin is just thrilled to see the show's female characters keeping closer company. "A few of [us] meet for the first time in the episode, and we all offer each other a bit of support in this crazy world." Holt is equally excited to share more scenes with Tonkin, her former costar on the Australian series H20, as well as Campbell's killer witch. "They are really expanding Davina's storyline, and Danielle is such a great little actor," she raves.

Good thing they all get along. Aside from debuting "some new villains that emotionally and physically give our Originals a run for their money" in the second half of the season, Plec plans to revamp the way the women on the show are treated. "We started with all of them being slightly exploited or oppressed by men who hadn't quite caught up with modern times," she says. "Now, we are watching them find their strengths and move into their own positions of power. They are forces to be reckoned with...and they are going to kick some ass!"

The Originals airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on The CW.

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