Spin-offs of hit television shows are rarely good things. Too often the lightning in the bottle that made the first show worthy of a second property can't be captured; ideas are diluted and repeated. There are exceptions to the rule, of course. Some shows not only thrive once characters leave the mothership, the new show explores fresh emotional terrain, digging more deeply into ideas that had only been skimmed in the original property. When they really get it right, spin-offs leave their old shows better than they used to be, giving the characters left behind room to stretch. 

I'd argue that "The Originals" and its mothership "The Vampire Diaries" fall into this happy exception. Last night's episode of "The Originals" took our Mikaelson family, who had been cramped into a bad-guy clump on 'The Vampire Diaries," and let them breathe. The opening was one of those perfectly crafted scenes in which we get a laser-focused snapshot as to who Rebekah, Klaus and Elijah are as well as who they are in relationship to one another; Klaus the needy little boy, Elijah the righteously indignant older brother, Rebekah the exhausted mother hen. More than that, it was damn funny. 

What makes both of these series so watchable is their ability to find both the pathos and the humor in the idea of blood sucking vampires, something that sometimes get lost when an excess of plot ramps up the action to a breakneck pace. The fact that our three Original siblings trade barbs and bicker while a body lies dripping on the table is a perfect mash-up of gothic horror and a sick joke, the proverbial elephant in the middle of every room (Also awesome? Hayley griping that someone needs to put milk on the grocery list, while Rebekah suggests bleach). As much as we are charmed by these characters, we can't forget that they'd probably see us as snacks.

"The Originals" has a plethora of players, but so far the show has been able to juggle several storylines without either stopping the action to give viewers a classroom lecture on witches' spells and vampire folklore. A hybrid baby is pretty easy to understand, as is Klaus' interest (though wavering) in keeping it around. If anyone's going to kill his baby, it's going to be him and no one else. 

Hayley's witchy link to Sophie is initially just a nuisance. Once it's broken, Rebekah hopes everyone can skip town, or at least get their little werewolf incubator to a safer area. Elihah has a genius plan to put Davina to work on an unlinking spell, thus fulfilling his promise to her (it's from one of dear old Mom's grimoires) and further cementing her bond to Elijah. 

Of course, it's never so simple or there wouldn't be much of a show, and it isn't long before Agnes, a powerful witch, is kidnapping Sophie and injecting a bad, baby-killing substance into her body to destroy Hayley's baby. Thus, we get our ticking clock -- and an episode that manages to control the roller coaster that has in the past run amok on "The Vampire Diaries." "The Originals" seems to have given Julie Plec and her writing staff an opportunity to, if not slow down, not overstuff an episode. The focus in "Fruit of the Poisoned Tree" is saving Hayley's baby. It's not the only storyline, but it's the driving A line, and it's a humdinger.

The path to saving Hayley splinters as the Originals explore different courses of action. Klaus busts in on the meeting of human leaders in the community led by Father Kieran. He reveals that he wants Agnes delivered to him -- and that she was the one that caused Sean to kill his fellow seminary students, and then himself. At first Father Kieran wants to exact vengeance on his own (a decision he makes without hesitation, which makes him maybe not the best priest but an interesting one), then Klaus manages to convince him that having an Original to help out might be the better plan.

Meanwhile, Sophie and Rebekah try to lower Hayley's body temperature (the spell causes miscarriage via fever), and Elijah goes in search of Agnes. He promises Sophie he won't let Klaus kill Agnes, which is the moment when (I'm guessing here) everyone watching pulls their hair and rolls their eyes. Yes, we love Elijah for his nobility, his loyalty, his honor among thieves approach. But our loyalties are with Hayley, and we're pretty sure Agnes won't rest until she's killed her baby.

Then, the twist. It's an excellent twist and one that is an extension of Elijah's character even as it surprises us. When he finally finds Klaus and Agnes, he tells his little brother that he will grant him forgiveness if he doesn't make him break his promise. Klaus very reluctantly steps back from snapping Agnes' neck. As much as he wants to destroy her to save his unborn child, he values family in his own weird way even more. A guy who keeps his family members in boxes as both a punishment and a way to keep them close cares strongly about family, even if he has a crazy way of showing it.

So, Agnes is off the hook, right? Elijah steps forward and snaps her neck. No one comes between him and his family, no one! Elijah is a man of his word, but Sophie might have wanted to be more specific. 

Of course, an episode without Marcel would be like an episode without sunshine, and we get more of his growing realization that Klaus may be more garden variety enemy than frenemy after all. To find someone he trusts, he has to dig up Thierry and slowly starts piecing together the truth. Klaus may be a brilliant manipulator, but Marcel is no dumb bunny, either. He gets the ultimate checkmate (or so it seems) when he captures Hayley. Though I don't want to see too much more trading of people back and forth (Elijah was starting to feel like the Arc of the Covenant), I'm curious to see how Marcel handles his stash this time around. 

Let's not overlook the Marcel-Rebekah hot sexy time session, either. There's still a lot of story here to explore, but I'm fine with that being handed out piecemeal. I hope Rebekah doesn't really leave, but if she does, let's hope she heads back to Mystic Falls.

Though I'm not entirely on board with Cami (lately she seems more interested in wallowing in her angst instead of appreciating any relief she gets), her scene in which she slaps Klaus served a purpose -- to give Joseph Morgan a chance to play a boatload of conflicting emotions in just one moment. Hurt, anger, regret, confusion, you name it. "The Originals" has many, many gifts to give, and just one of them is a solid cast. Now, who says spin-offs suck? This one does, but only literally. 

What do you think will happen to Hayley? Were you surprised Elijah killed Agnes? Did you love the opening?