After last week’s chase for the crystals, “Prom” slows things down to idle, passes through the ol’ navigational buoys of finale set-up, and then accelerates into a whole series of emotional revelations, confrontations, and the kidnapping of everyone’s favorite character.
It’s a testament once again to the recent improved pacing that “Prom” never feels too rushed, or even plot-heavy really, although quite a bit transpires: A Back to the Future escapade reveals John Blackwell’s Rosemary’s Babies plot, Blackwell pretends to murder Charles, Charles reveals to his daughter he murdered Amelia, his daughter and Amelia’s daughter have it out, Adam and Melissa sad dance, Faye and Jake sexy dance, Zombie Nick shoves people into things, Melissa stabs Zombie Nick, Blackwell ends up in possession of the crystal, and Diana sobs in the rain. Of an aloof and surly temperament in high school, I never attended prom, but my roommate informs me that this is more or less how prom goes.
The centerpiece of the first 40 or so minutes, however, was the relationship between Diana and Cassie and the abysmal lineage from which they sprang. “Prom” doesn’t drop the tension between the half-sisters—in fact, it cranks it up to some awful dubstep level.
While the Amelia and Elizabeth Act Out an Ironically Relevant Contemporary Drama portion of the episode lags, the subsequent confrontation between Diana and Cassie riffs on the teen drama conventions of this sort of thing in an interesting way. Generally, there are two routes to pursue in this sort of storyline: immediate flight (Diana just hauling ass on out of there) or a perfunctory acceptance of apologies that then shifts into action items (where Diana would say something like, “I know. But we’ve got to find that crystal”). Secret Circle is not having that, however. Cassie apologizes, Cassie realizes she was a moron… and Diana cuts her throat out basically. Then she bolts. Shelley Hennig hits a number of nice notes throughout the episode, especially trailing after the departed ghost of her mother. Of course she’d turn heel on Cassie in that state of mind.
That whole ordeal, of course, confirms the hilarious/horrible Blackwell Insemination Inception plot. All year, we’ve all wanted to know how and why the hell six teenage mothers all had children within a calendar year of each other in 1995, while they were in high school. (Lately, I’ve been thinking that maybe the parents weren’t all in high school during the fertility spike in the ante-Great Boat Fire of 1995 period. Jake’s parents, for instance, weren’t the same age as Amelia because he’s 20—well, God, let’s hope they weren’t in high school.) The idea that Blackwell engineered the lives of the characters before us like an urban planning witch doctor is not flooring, at this point, but the introduction of that sickening knowledge into the circle adds another layer to the proceedings. They know they can’t trust him, and none of them can even really begin to process that. At Blackwell’s proclamation that he has the crystal in the last scene of "Prom," Melissa’s face, for instance, exudes the kind of exasperated, “Oh, Jesus Christ” one would expect.
I mean, Melissa has a lot going on. She could use a nap. What’s going on in the margins of “Prom,” actually, reflects Secret Circle’s improvement in the back nine here. While I question the macroeconomic merits of shoving together Melissa and Adam (blessed are the platonic friendships on teen dramas, for theirs is the rarest and purest of loves), Jessica Parker Kennedy and Thomas Dekker have an easy chemistry, the show has laid appropriate brick and mortar with the pairing, and, most importantly, their Woe Is Us Witches conversation feels earned. Melissa’s somewhat obvious prom ennui aside, her complaints with their entire situation underscore how much this show—for better or for worse—isn’t about the witchcraft as metaphor. It’s like if National Honor Society involved people trying to kill you and revelations about a really sordid sex cult your parents were in. The show emphasizes the characters, and that’s paying off, for me at least.
It’s at least somewhat likely next week’s Secret Circle will be the last, likely in epic form, due to the unique target of this show—it’s a companion piece to The Vampire Diaries, but a low-rated one, and therefore very unlikely to keep its Thursday night slot, with a Vampire Diaries lead-in. Unfortunately, the Ratings Slide this spring is indirectly proportional to the concurrent Quality Shuffle taking place. You can tell the writers and producers watched the game tape and made pacing adjustments, tweaked personalities, emphasized character pairings that worked, and minimized the ones that didn’t, and so on. Secret Circle, my friend, at least you’re going out with a bang.
- Occasionally, I’ve kind of wished this show could just be some neo-noir Nancy Drew, where there’s no magic, and this team is just solving mysteries to avenge their parents or something. Melissa's troubles reminded me of this. Could the CW make that happen? It’d be like an AU version of this show. No crystals! All banter and problem-solving!
- Diana doesn't know if she wants to participate. No dark magic involved! “All we need is your blood.” Oh, in that case, cut a bitch up!
- I mentioned the objective improvements above—most of all? Faye Chamberlain into a true supporting character in the best sense, maximizing Phoebe Tonkin’s toughness and her talent for delivering a laugh line. This week’s round-up: “He definitely seems more into massacring people now.” “Next thing, you’re slow-dancing, and my date is dead in my arms.” “Why couldn’t he hide in a mall or a nice hotel?”
- And here’s my weekly note about this: Chris Zylka’s really upped the leading man aspect in the last few weeks, and the Faye/Jake situation continues to entertain me greatly.
- Adam’s grandfather is like 12 in 1995. Maybe it’s the high murder rate in Chance Harbor (tonight: the cop, Zombie Nick). They’re living their lives like medieval times and aging rapidly.
- “When they start dancing, you’ll see her dress,” I said to my roommate, who had been in the kitchen when it was last visible, during Melissa’s speech. Because, obviously, they were going to dance. But what a heinous, heinous dress. Poor Melissa. I keep hoping we’ll see her parents in one of these flashbacks.
- On the reverse note, I liked that Diana—who’s separate from the group in so many ways in “Prom”—wears red while the rest of the circle is more or less in black.
- So, the witch helping Eben is either Blackwell or Ethan. My money’s on Ethan.