From the starting pistol on, “Traitor” nails everything Secret Circle could be and should be. This, here, this is a mini-horror movie that amps up suspense, distorts our ever-shifting perceptions of who can be trusted, coughs up a grotesque image, and peppers the whole brew with emotional confrontation and a serious sense of humor. It’s finally paying off.
Last week’s final scene—in which Cassie realizes Diana and she are half-sisters—was the first scene of this show that I actually went back and watched a few times afterward. Part of that is due to the performances. The other part is the use of The Naked and Famous’ “The Sun,” which is just four minutes of your blood pressure rising. That is the perfect set-up for “Traitor,” which lunges into all the complications of the previous episode with deft efficiency. I knocked the show last week for leaving Jane’s murder dangling from a plot perspective. I’ll take that back. We open with Cassie numbed and distraught at her grandmother’s funeral, until volatility takes hold, and she charges straight into everything Blackwell feeds her, almost murdering a witch hunter, clashing with Diana, and kissing Adam. I don’t know that Britt Robertson quite has the range to do all these things and still make Cassie sympathetic, but the likability factor surrounding Cassie this week was off the charts. Adjacent to that: When Cassie Blake, witch moron, is the valiant foot soldier in the war on common sense, is she even supposed to be likable? And, has there ever been a show with the protagonist and dramatic irony so at odds?
Diana and Charles also have some relevant footnotes that further complicate their relationship (i.e. his stint as a really bumbling Zodiac killer), but Shelley Hennig and Gale Harold knock their confrontation the hell out the park. I especially liked—well, not liked per se, but you know what I mean—Hennig’s choked, “Dad?” Secret Circle has accentuated Charles’ love for his wife and his daughter as of late, and it complicates Charles in a pleasant way for the inevitable reveal that he murdered Nick and Amelia. And, like good shows do, that Diana-Charles exchange steels up Diana for the remainder of the episode and touches off what Cassie Blake, witch moron, and this show need more than anything: some checks and balances. Hennig, fortunately, has the presence to make them hurt.
So we have our emotions. That’s the infrastructure. But “Traitor” ramps up the suspense. No one forgets what the hell they’re doing in terms of the crystal search, and even when doubts about Blackwell and the witch hunters emerge, the consensus to assemble the crystal makes sense anyway. Secret Circle has the discipline not to force Melissa and Adam to meet up with the rest of the group either, which delays resolution—in this case a good thing. And at every turn, and this is critical, more Blackwell lies turn up. I don’t know what the hell to think about it. And that’s kind of great.
Meanwhile, “Traitor” deploys Phoebe Tonkin and Jessica Parker Kennedy to full humor fire-bombing potential. Seriously, this is the Quotable Secret Circle—whether it’s Faye admonishing Jake, “But right now there are sad, fragile, old people here” or Melissa waving around a magazine and saying, “You’re a master elder with a badass cloaking spell, and you use it to hide your girlie mags?” The dialogue pops throughout, and elevates the whole enterprise, especially when the suspense could devolve into cliché. The creepy ass amusement park is overdone as hell, but three things saved this from being so. One is the weekly standout work from the Secret Circle location scout, who must have terrible, terrible nightmares all the time. The other is Faye Chamberlain, working sex magic chemistry with Chris Zylka and tossing off genuine laugh lines. (Faye: “I’ve had at least a dozen nightmares start this way. Most of them involving you,” and “If we live, remind me to download this song. It will be perfect for my running for your life treadmill mix.”)
The third thing, of course, is that objectively grotesque murder scene. Between Heather Barnes, Teen Demon; the tiny demon snakes; Cassie getting buried alive; and the hooded witch ghosts, Secret Circle’s been strong when it comes to horror images all year. The three bloodless slit throats fit the bill yet again! (I have to throw this out there: I played softball in high school, and for spring break, we played in a Myrtle Beach tournament all four years. When I was a freshman, some place we went had that exact kind of ride. For whatever reason, we rode that thing for like eight years, with Sean Paul’s “Get Busy” on a loop every time it ran. Really the only way this could have been more awesome is if the song when the power turned on was “Get Busy.”)
And then, hey, Nick’s alive! Price Peterson at TV.com has been speculating all year that Amelia or Nick would return from the grave, and while I wasn’t personally floored to see him, it should make all of this just a little harder to resolve, with every corner but Eben’s revealing competing loyalties and sympathies, making it that much harder to find an easy villain, much less kill them outright. It’s finally paying off—and it’s awesome.
- Even the Adam/Cassie kiss didn't make me want to open the door to my apartment and throw myself down the stairs. Maybe something's wrong with me.
- Harold’s delivery of “She’s too smart, and she’s too good” deserves a line of praise.
- I prefer to think that Melissa and Adam were drinking Everclear. Glad that Faye and Melissa keep encouraging sex, drugs, petty theft, and day drinking.
- Although: Pill bottles make pill bottle noises. Did Jake and Faye just think Dawn's Xanax or whatever had bunched up and congealed like a salt shaker when they forget to put rice in them?
- You’d think with the murder rate in Chance Harbor, people would lock their front doors.
- Dawn and Blackwell did sleep together.
- Zylka and Tonkin have some serious sex magic chemistry.