Last fall, I thought the pilot for The Secret Circle was, at least, promising in a second-hand-trash kind of way. It didn’t promise anything original, but at moments such as the murder of Cassie’s mother and the little love idyl with Cassie and Adam in the woods, it looked as if there might be fresh spins along the way in a well-executed trip down an old, familiar road. (Sometimes I feel as if I must be the only person in the English-speaking world who hasn’t just struck it rich off a TV deal for the rights to a young-adult book series that I’d never heard of. The rest of the time, I feel as if I must be the only person in the English-speaking world who didn’t just strike it rich by selling the movie rights to a comic book that I’d created and that absolutely no one has ever heard of.)
Being an optimistic person by nature, I kept up with the show faithfully for several months and have checked in with it sporadically since New Year’s, with the result that I have grown ever more certain that the whole point of The Secret Circle is to make people whose remotes are stuck on The CW really, really miss The Vampire Diaries. Tonight’s episode was even directed by Joshua Butler, who has directed several episodes of The Vampire Diaries and presumably brought everything he learned about working on this kind of material to his chores here—for all the good that did anybody. It’s as if Steven Spielberg made Jaws in the hope of using it as a calling card when they were looking for somebody to direct Piranha 3D.
The Secret Circle received a shot in the arm last week thanks to the arrival of Joe Lando as John Blackwell, long-lost father, man of mystery, brooding hunk, and living embodiment of the line “I hope you guys weren’t talking about me while I was in the bathroom.” On the one hand, the stakes are higher when Blackwell is around, but on the other, what does it say about your sexy supernatural teen soap opera when the biggest male pot-stirrer is played by a 50-year-old actor who used to be on Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman? Blackwell didn’t have much to do tonight but wander around looking morose, in between run-ins with old friends: Dawn seems to enjoy having him slam her up against a locker in the high school corridor. (“Your funeral was lovely,” she tells him. “I wore red.”)
Ethan, meanwhile, stabs him, after which Cassie runs Ethan’s ass to ground and almost bashes his head in with a board. (This was recognized by all parties involved as proof that too much dabbling in “dark magic” was eating away at her natural goodness, just as it did to her father years ago. For the record, if anybody ever stabs me and a daughter of mine is present, I will expect nothing less of her than that she chase after whoever did it and whale on the son of a bitch with whatever blunt instrument is at hand.) Scenes like this would count for more with an actress with a dark side to access—or the ability to convincingly convey one. Watching Britt Robertson trying to play dangerous is like watching Billy Crystal trying to seem cool and with-it at the Academy Awards.
Blackwell also gets to deliver some beauts, especially when he’s lecturing Cassie on the dangers of following in his footsteps. He says that dark magic is not “a parlor trick,” and that it made him someone who others were “afraid of,” “and rightly so,” because “the darkness made me vengeful and destructive.” But the contrast with the stiff humorlessness that is so characteristic of both of Cassie’s love interests, grim Adam and glum Jake, only serves to enhance Blackwell’s appeal, since he at least looks as if he has something on his mind worth brooding over. One of the advantages of using vampires instead of witches for this kind of thing is that you can hire young-looking actors and still bestow upon them the sex appeal that comes from experience by having them casually say something like, “Man, that’s the worst burrito I’ve had since we divided up the last mule during Sherman’s march through Atlanta. Or to put it another way, ‘Holy shit, I’m old.’”
This is not to suggest that The Secret Circle is better off trying to invest its young men with gaiety and carefree charm—not if tonight’s episode was a test case in how they’d go about it. Diana, for instance, spends the night tolerating the attentions of an Australian git with ’80s New Romantic hair who must have gone to the same charm school as Jesse Spencer’s Chase. He shows up at Casino Night at the high school, showering Diana with stuffed animals and flashing his enormous wad. (Of cash, that is. Seriously, you think about your mama with that filthy mind?) Because of what I feel to be insufficient information on the show’s part, I have no idea whether the fact that these people hold casino Night at the high school is meant to be a sign of what a legacy of witchcraft does to shove a town’s sense of what’s normal into the red zone, or if that’s just the kind of thing people do on The CW. I can imagine The Vampire Diaries trying something similar, but most of the teenagers on that show have the decency to be well past voting age, while some of the ones here look as if they might still be young enough to be corruptible. It makes it so much more sordid.
Speaking of sordid, but in a good way, Faye has her own love problems to deal with—while taking revenge on all the censorious dullards around her in her customary fashion—by hogging all the good lines. For reasons that the show cannot make clear, Faye has decided that she has a good thing going with Lee, who has been spending his spare time nursing his ex-girlfriend Eva back from the brink of death, just the sort of thing that can give a still-interested ex-partner The Wrong Idea. Faye, being a good sport, does her best to be jealous, but the realist in her just can’t quite bring it off with conviction. “You can’t live in the past,” she tells Lee, wrapping her arms around his shoulders and generating enough heat that it’s a wonder the two of them don’t spontaneously combust, “especially when the present looks like me.” After they’ve had a spat and he comes crawling back, bleating like a little bitch about how the situation with him and Eva is “complicated,” she blows him off with, “I think you’re confusing me with one of those sad girls who’ll wait for a guy to choose.” This snaps him out of it, as it would anybody with half a brain, which is about what Lee has to work with on the best of days. But his next friendly chat with Eva does not go well for him. Again, the experience thing is a key factor. John Blackwell could have warned him that it’s always the clingy, mousy-seeming ones you need to watch out for.
The big news comes at the end, when Cassie and Adam finally throw caution to the wind—and themselves at each other. Literally—I found the wild calisthenics with which they announced they were simultaneously surrendering to their mutual attraction and getting in touch with their inner trampolinists absolutely goofy, even before the vibes given off by their love connection attracted flocks of birds to the house. No doubt some with more invested in the relationship—such as, I don’t know, maybe Thomas Dekker’s mom—found it all deeply moving. Sadly, these two crazy kids have a rocky road ahead of them. Even as they’re dancing on the ceiling, Adam’s knife-happy pappy is explaining to Cassie’s hot pop that “For the Blakes and the Conants, ‘written in the stars’ isn’t just destiny—it’s a curse.” Anyone who’s ever been swept away in the throes of passion can probably relate to that idea, but he doesn’t seem to understand that he’s describing a common syndrome, and the show itself is right there in sync with him. The Secret Circle itself needs to succumb to passion if it’s going to be any fun. But passion is best conveyed by people who’ve experienced it first-hand, and this show seems to be the work of people who’ve only heard misleading rumors about the stuff.
- Is it just me, or do these self-mocking Virgin Mobile commercials look as if Richard Branson wants to steal the thunder of the Most Interesting Man In The World? I know that’s not really an observation about the show, but this is the kind of show where you come to look forward to the commercials, and hope they’ll give you something worth talking about.
- Katherine will be back next week. That’s something for you to look forward to, anyway.