It started out with such promise.
The pieces were all laid out: Jane’s stroke-like compulsion that’s erased 15 years of her social memory, Faye’s fight with her mother over her grandfather, a delightful introduction for Cousin Holden, and impending danger for the circle.
And it ended well enough, too: a little action, a little witchcraft, a twist ending. But The Secret Circle languished tonight in a middle section that set about proving Jake and Cassie’s connection and never properly realized the episode’s stakes.
It’s been an ongoing source of frustration in the comments that Jake is clearly a witch hunter and Cassie is clearly a moron. You’d think that in an episode about how Jake is a witch hunter, that would dissipate, but alas, Secret Circle doubled down on the concept. We see Cassie puzzling out of the family tree with Jake, and when he acts ludicrously sketchy, the only interpretation she can muster is a comment on her personal charms. This would be tolerable if the show didn’t immediately send Jake to deliver the Balcoin news to the witch hunters, which we’ve more or less already heard from Calvin, and then got to hear again, when Cassie heard it.
And then it just ground to an excruciating halt at the charity event. First of all, for the fall cliffhanger, that was some lazy ass CW Semi-Formal Event of the Week action there. What was the charity event even for? Teen murder prevention? I realize this is thinking too much about the ubiquitous events on CW shows, but when we have Faye “No, We Don’t Go to High School Dances Because We’re Not Lame” Chamberlain, I expect this kind of thing to either be awesome (Halloween party) or involve some kind of parental coercion (the kind of thing where all the teenagers stand in the back and sneak in alcohol). At the very least, nothing about the Heather Barnes, Teen Demon, Memorial Gala suggested anyone should care about with whom they’re attending.
So, naturally, Jake and Cassie “dance” (sway like cardboard cutouts in the breeze), and exchange miserable stilted monologues. (Pro tip: When a hot guy takes you out, immediately speak at length about your dead father, and then remind him that both his parents died. Make sure you wear your good lingerie, too, because those clothes are coming off.) The last two weeks in the comments, there’s been quite a bit of discussion about the tone of the relationships, and opinion’s split on the circle’s endless dislike for each other. I’ve generally enjoyed that mocking somewhat bitchy tone because it meshes well with the horror streak the show’s adopted. But I’m willing to embrace it if for no other reason because the show doesn’t seem to know how to do “people who genuinely like each other.” The angsting dance is a checkpoint, admittedly, for the teen drama genre, but what are we supposed to be getting out of this? Conflict, ostensibly. We are supposed to feel Jake’s conflict about this girl, and see this connection they have. Chris Zylka and Britt Robertson have good chemistry, but that dance should have shot for “charming,” or at the very least “conversational,” instead of dueling pathos monologues.
But if something was saving it all, obviously, it was good old Faye Chamberlain! Phoebe Tonkin continued her reign as most interesting, and performed interesting alchemy on whomever she’s partnered up in a scene with. Adam and Faye’s uncomfortable team work provided a little comedy and accelerated the last 10 minutes or so of the episode from revival to rescue. But even Faye and Adam's involvement couldn't make the idea that the witch hunters would steal Cassie away a real threat. Cassie was barely in danger, narrative-wise, and it never felt serious. If it had, the "twist ending" would have been the sucker punch after a good feint.
But even still, that ending is not a bad one for the new year, given the rate at which the show is adding witches. Faye and Cassie are half-sisters? Hopefully the show won’t drag that out, because the implication is pretty obvious: Dawn adored Blackwell, Henry hated Dawn, if anybody has a dark streak, and so forth. Within that tonal framework, the sister development could spur the relationship growth/shift people want to see. Some of the best casual scenes the show has done in the last few weeks were those Halloween episode scenes that paired Cassie and Faye together, and the pair also worked to entertaining effect in the Heather Barnes, Teen Demon, episode; that dynamic (Faye goads Cassie, Cassie humors her) could really work in that mystery-horror setting.
If nothing else, if that is the case (I suppose it could be another circle member), it should load up a couple extra cherrybombs for the revelation that Charles and Dawn killed not only Faye’s grandfather, but Cassie’s mother. Oh, and Nick.
So here, in this fall finale, looking at a show that's far, far better than it was in the pilot, a word of advice: Secret Circle, stick to your horror, your awkward reaction shots, and your ensemble scenes. You are so much better there.
- Cassie Blake, witchcraft moron: “I’m so stupid for not making the connection.”
- Adam Conant, espionage expert: hiding behind flowers. Also, it's increasingly hard for me to buy Adam as a romantic option for anyone.
- Last week, we referenced Melissa’s mom taking her away for the week. This week, her dad called up her cousin and planned a party. So... did both of Melissa’s parents survive the fire? Or is that a step-parent situation?
- Anyway, let’s talk about that delightful scene at school. Points for: Diana making a necklace out of the ribbons from the academic decathlon, Arlen Escarpeta and Shelley Hennig doing the awkward but flirty look-back, and the cousin dynamic. A thousand points for Jessica Parker Kennedy’s delivery of, “Yeah, that’s her.” That was fantastic.
- Britt Robertson’s dress had to be digitally extended because it didn’t meet standards, which explains why the hem looked so weird.
- Credit to the art department: That drawing of the anguished skeletor demon was creepy.
- Text of the week: JAKE IS A WITCH HUNTER
- That final shot of Jake staring mournfully off the back of that little ferry boat will crack me up until January. And so will Faye and Adam entering the party as though they could not be less happy to be there.