Just before the last break in episodes, Zap2It’s Carina Mackenzie said something on Twitter about The Secret Circle that threads together a lot of the chutes and ladders of this frustrating show: If you approach The Secret Circle as a witch-problem-of-the-week show as opposed to a The Vampire Diaries type show, you appreciate it more.
I’ll take it one step further: The Secret Circle’s secret is that it’s really a hang-out show, in need a few of a few tweaks, trapped in a plot-chewing thriller’s body. (That body is sick, like Jake.)
What were our witch problems of the week? Cassie and Adam fire up a sex magic turbine and kill several dozen birds because a curse is supposedly attached to romantic entanglements between their families, and then they give Jake a sex magic strain of avian flu (I’m ignoring the “twist” for a second, because the episode doesn’t really play on those terms). Meanwhile, the other half of the circle investigates Lee’s disappearance. There are a few key differences between the former and latter—the former’s all about this chasing the Vampire Diaries ideal and falling short, and the latter’s all about embracing this show’s strengths.
Let’s deal with the problematic one first.
So, Cassie and Adam kill more than two birds with one bone. Their love is “written in the stars” (an actual thing people say with straight-faces on this show), and then “their love is a curse” (an only marginally better thing people also say on this show). This is the sort of plot—our heroes’ love is doomed—that ideally begins as a slow burn, then knifes you in the chest with the injustice of it all. But pacing and believability are the keys to such a plot working, and that just isn’t there.
First, we know Jake won’t die. We know this anyway, I think, but we especially know this because Blackwell has a cure in mind within minutes of the supposed death sentence. So the show minimizes the stakes from the outset, then doubles-down with the ending: There is no curse, and Jake’s life was never in danger.
Second, like the birds, I, too, wanted to die when Cassie and Adam had sex. I can’t figure out if my distaste for this pairing is based on acting, writing, my not being a pre-teen, or some combination of all three, but the two are spectacularly unappealing in the very episode that depends on their appeal. While Jake is apparently dying because they had sex, Adam and Cassie have the gall to take umbrage when he makes fun of them.
And the pay-off is weak. Because the infamous John Blackwell’s big move is an elaborate scheme in which he waits until his daughter has sex with her boyfriend, gathers up and executes a bunch of unsuspecting blackbirds that probably didn’t want to be anywhere near Adam and Cassie having sex, infects a third character with an illness, and then puts to work an entire team of teens all to split up his daughter and her boyfriend? Well, actually, put that way, it does make some sense. But only because he wants to keep the peevish son of a former rival away from his daughter—not because he’s so worried that Adam and Cassie, who kiss like siblings, will give into destiny and dash out of Chance Harbor.
John Blackwell has impotent, impotent magic that can play tricks on teenagers in their teenage games that they don’t even know they’re playing. The show’s shooting for Katherine Pierce, but this is like Katherine Pierce turning out to be Gretchen Wieners—he’s not a big bad, because the circle trusts him. Even when the circle doesn’t trust him anymore at some inevitable point, he’s still Cassie’s father, and they’re just never going to be able to unite behind killing one of their parents.
Meanwhile, the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency investigates Lee’s disappearance, and shenanigans ensue.
We can just tick off what works: There’s comedy with the Pacific Northwest’s worst police officer (there’s a dead body in the house, champ!); there’s suspense with the unsettling Eva whose turn from angry to pleading was a nice riff on the crazy ex trope; there’s creepiness with Lee’s body; and there’s a general joy to the proceedings. Horror and awkward comedy—Secret Circle’s strengths.
It’s the little touches, you know—Faye checking her makeup in the vanity while breaking into a car, Melissa suggesting they sex Diana up, the awkward shrugs when Diana turns on them. What made the witch problem of the week work here, most importantly, beyond the horror and the comedy and the suspense, was the sense of friendship at hand. A lot of y’all complained earlier in the season that none of these people liked each other, and that’s changed. Three friends went out Nancy Drewin’ around, and it entertained the hell out of me.
I’m telling you, The Secret Circle is a hang-out show trying to be something it isn’t.
- Thanks to Phil for filling in for me last week. I’m sorry he, and Cassie’s neighbors, had to see that acrobatic sex.
- The Secret Circle really missed out on an opportunity to have all the birds in the hokey opening credits fly up to form the words, then drop dead.
- Also, did no one pick up the birds? Cassie’s lucky she didn’t snare a Golden Eagle in the sex turbine. That’s a federal crime.
- “Why are you doing this?” “Because, Cassie, you banged him, and I’m dying.”
- “It’s just last night was so amazing.” Gag.
- Strains of the hang-out-show mentality in the sex magic turbine plot: All of the reactions to Cassie and Adam’s said sex magic turbine. Blackwell’s discomfort, and Britt Robertson’s pitch-perfect, “Oh, God” mortification! Faye’s laughing! The awkward explanation to Jake!
- One suspense note that was distracting to me and would have made the B-plot better: Lee, a regular sketchy human with a Mustang out in front of his house, is dead. Dead dead dead. And nowhere in the subsequent fall-out from his death, did anyone mention calling the police—or even worrying about the police incriminating Faye or one of the other girls. That definitely could have been used to amp up the tension.
- Before John Blackwell ruined everything, I’d planned to use bird puns throughout the entire review and actually solicited these on Twitter earlier today. The best two? “Cassie and Adam killed two birds with one bone” (which I did use above), and “Those are the wrong kind of b-jays,” which isn’t really a pun, but Rowan Kaiser suggested it, and I laughed.
- Speaking of laughter, I actually had to rewind the part where Cassie informs Adam their relationship must end to save Jake, because I started laughing so hard I couldn’t hear the rest of the dialogue.
- Are we sure this show isn’t an elaborate, Saw-like prank to force poor Natasha Henstridge—an adult—to say things like, "You’re driving Adam and Cassie apart because you’re afraid of their destiny"?