Elijah has been “the nice brother” or “the honorable one” for so long that it's easy to forget how he was introduced—slapping a vampire's head off. He was, well, the ultimate badass. But he was that antagonistic when he was in the service of Klaus, who was even nastier—and proximity to Klaus made Elijah redundant if he was evil. So he became the one who was capable of honor, forgiveness, loyalty, and most importantly, he loved his family. When he refused to kill Klaus at the end of The Vampire Diaries' second season, “love of family” became Elijah's defining trait—in short, he was Flanderized until he became Michael Bluth. “Family first!”
From the beginning, The Originals seemed to treat Elijah as though he were the good and nice one, to the point where it became an ungainly piece of exposition in Elijah's version of the pilot. “Do you know me?” “YES YOU ARE THE TRUSTWORTHY ONE I CAN TRUST YOU” ran his scene with Sophie, at least in my memory. Other characters behaved as if he were. Klaus daggered him for being too nice; Hayley developed a crush on him; while Rebekah only showed up to help out her good brother.
But The Originals hadn't actually forgotten who Elijah was. Although he talks about family and redemption, Elijah's main character trait in The Originals up until two thirds of the way through “Fruit Of The Poisoned Tree” was his careful* curiosity. Elijah wanted to know what was going on in New Orleans, who the powerful people and factions were, and who he needed to befriend or worry about. Sure, it's in part to protect his family, but it's still a level of realpolitik that belies the superficial-but-tempting framing of Elijah-good, Klaus-bad, Rebekah-capricious. There were some clues—Elijah's willingness to turn a blind eye to the bloody murders of his siblings, both in flashbacks and in the present, has consistently struck me as a nice touch demonstrating how impossible it is for him to be moral while supporting his brother.
*not careful enough around his brother though, obviously.
Thus the climax of this episode, with Elijah returning to his ultimate badass ways, was not necessarily a surprise. It was clear that Elijah was going to kill Agnes when he framed his promise as not letting Klaus do the deed. However, it was how he did it—swiftly (albeit inexplicably) slaying the humans near Agnes, then disposing of her with disdain. And, marvelously, Klaus just watches and smirks. Both for its acknowledgment of the character's history, and for Daniel Gillies' skill at playing a villain, this was a great move.
Just having Elijah reintegrated into the main group was improvement enough. His relationship with Klaus—and Gillies' chemistry with Joe Morgan—was probably the show's main selling point. That's apparent throughout the episode, giving “Fruit Of The Poisoned Tree” a balance that The Originals has lacked thus far. I could watch them just playing good oververbose cop, bad animal magnetism cop for hours.
On the other hand, Elijah's return to the dark side means there's a morality gap at the center of The Originals. I am finding the show's attempts to use Cami in that fashion utterly fascinating. First, structurally, it's odd to have the one ethical character not be one of the show's subjects. We don't ever really see The Originals from Cami's point of view; almost every scene she's in is with a character we do see as subject—Klaus, Rebekah, sometimes Marcel (the one exception: when Cami was showing Davina around).
But what really stands out to me about Cami is that her morality is not a simplistic good things are good, bad things are bad ethical code. Camille's understanding of right and wrong is bound up in her ability to control and understand her self. She demands agency. Her reactions in this episode all stem from that—she doesn't understand why her emotions are suddenly different, which upsets her. Klaus paternalistically tells her he took care of revenge for her sake, she slaps him for attempting to turn the defining event of her life into his attempt to win brownie points.
As I described a few weeks ago, this is a good move for the show as a spinoff of The Vampire Diaries, which never really took mind control all that seriously. But it's also a good move to pair Cami with Klaus, a man who sees everyone in the world as means to an end. Almost everyone else has accepted this role, or perhaps fought it at a personal level. Cami's philosophical rejection seems new to him. The next step in Cami having free will is for her to demonstrate that free will with action. My girlfriend, watching with me, noted that while Leah Pipes may be quite good at crying, it would be nice to see her in a scene that didn't rely on it.
The weakest link in “Fruit Of The Poisoned Tree” is, somewhat surprisingly, the Marcel scenes. There's an overt attempt by the show to treat Marcel as a Shakespearean tragic ruler, but it seems to think that just mentioning Shakespeare is sufficient. This comes to a head in a surprisingly perfunctory set of scenes between Marcel and Rebekah as they seduce each other, then she tries to get him to join her in leaving town (why?). It seemed to strive for thematic depth when it has only set up plot developments.
There was one other point I found interesting. During the sex scene, and again at the end of the episode, music played that was notably different from the stuff that usually shows up on The Vampire Diaries. A bit of dubstep, a bit of hip-hop, both much more electronic than the pop/indie rock that usually showed up on TVD. It's a partial indication that The Originals is becoming its own show, even as the twisty, propulsive plotting indicates that it's learned quite well from its parent. I suppose that's what makes for a good spinoff.
- “I'm all for it... who do we have to kill?” says Rebekah, dragging a body and demonstrating her own amorality.
- “How did I get elected supernanny?” “More importantly, who put him in charge?” The three Originals in the same room, bantering quite nicely.
- I did love the scene between Josh and Marcel about Lord Of The Rings/Shakespeare. Comedy's another good way to separate from The Vampire Diaries.
- Flashback hair grade: n/a. No flashbacks!