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First Watch: The Secret Circle 

Photo Credit: Frank Ockenfels III/ The CW

If ever a pilot needed to be 90 minutes, this was it, because the 43 minutes or so we got was way too speedwarped for us to get a bead on the characters. Just getting that out up front in case I’ve completely misread everybody. I haven’t read the books, so feel free to correct me in the comments! Also, this is going to be ridiculously long because there was A LOT of setup and a huge cast. I liked it enough to watch it twice, but I didn’t immediately fall in love with it. It has potential, though.

The Secret Circle is a thematic cousin to The Vampire Diaries in sharing an author, a network, executive producer, and finally, characterizations, but I think it’s a disservice that that’s been hammered all over the teasers, promos and press when TVD took a little while to get its groove on. I think TSC will get there, too, but we start right out of the gate with a lot of information and who’s who and are immediately introduced to about a dozen people. It’s a neat trick (or is it) that we’re as overwhelmed as Cassie when the episode ends.

We begin with a 16-year old Cassie (Britt Roberston) driving alone at night (in the exact Subaru my dad had until a few years ago) when another driver comes up on her and causes a flat tire. She gets out to fix it and the driver stops to watch her get out and then speeds away. (When she rolled a tire out to change it herself, I almost applauded that she could, would, and did.) She calls home to tell her mom (Amelia) that she’s running late and mom says she’s coming. But we know she won’t be, because outside her window, the driver who ran Cassie off the road (Gale Harold) is coming up the lawn as he pours out a trail of gasoline behind him. Inside the house, water and fire fight with each other as Amelia panics, seemingly tamping down whatever’s trying to happen, but when the man outside finally gets a match lit and throws it down, she can’t fight anymore and the house goes up in flames. I so wanted her to look directly at him but she never did.

Cut to a month later and Cassie is heading to her grandma’s picturesque seaside village that looks like the same Vancouver-adjacent (score!) town that was used in Disturbing Behavior. Grandma Jane welcomes her home and puts her in Amelia’s old room, where she is freaked out fairly quickly by the boy next door staring at her from his room across the way. The exposition fairy tells us that Amelia hadn’t been back home since Cassie’s dad died, right after her birth–so while Cassie apparently has a relationship with Jane, she’s never been to this town, or this house. It’s apparent pretty quickly, though, that everybody knows about her.

The next morning at school, Cassie meets the principal, Dawn (Natasha Henstridge), who knew her mom, resident mean girl Faye (Phoebe Tonkin) and her sidekick Melissa (Jessica Parker Kennedy), and then seemingly too-nice Diana (Shelley Hennig), who invites her to the Boathouse hangout after school. She catches a glance from Adam (Thomas Dekker), who we see beforehand asking the guy from across the street if “she” is there yet.

We skip the rest of the school day and pick up with Cassie arriving at the Boathouse, where she meets the owner, Ethan (Adam Harrington), who also knew Amelia. He tells her quite plainly that he loved her mother and that their families are written in the stars, but is stopped short when his son, Adam, who also might be a little too good to be true, arrives. He formally introduces himself, apologizes for his dad, and tells Cassie she can sit anywhere.

She sits down by the window and Faye and Melissa descend and establish that they know about her mom, too, that Faye is Dawn’s daughter, and then Faye veers into enough inappropriate things about Adam that Cassie decides to leave. Once inside her car, she can’t get it to start. Inside the restaurant, Faye and Melissa realize Cassie “doesn’t know,” and Faye suggests a nudge. The car catches fire, and Cassie panics. Inside, Faye urges Cassie to put it out, but the flames get higher and higher.

Adam finally calls bullsh-it and puts the fire out, breaks Cassie out of the car, and scoops her up to carry her away from the smoke. They have a moment and then Diana rushes up to throw the cold water that Adam is her boyfriend and he’d be happy to take her home, which won’t be awkward at all.

Adam and Cassie arrive at her curb and he asks her very genuinely how her first day was and deflects her theory that the fire was odd. She asks him how long he’s been with Diana and he says three years and they agree that Diana is very nice. Later that night when Cassie finally gets to rest, the stars on the ceiling above her bed start to move, which freaks her right the hell out. Diana goes to see Faye and tells her to back off of Cassie and Faye tells her she’s not the boss of her.

The next morning, Cassie’s getting a little desperate about the weird and is looking in town for her grandmother. She bumps into the man who killed her mother and is making her apologies as Diana rushes up and introduces him as her dad, Charlie. Cassie is increasingly anxious and vents a bit to Diana, who offers to help.

She drives Cassie out to an abandoned house (because that’s always a nerve settler) and there they meet up with Adam, Faye, Melissa, and Nick (boy next door, played by Louis Hunter), and Diana tries to ease into the reveal when Faye just blurts out “You’re a witch. You’re a full-blooded 100% witch. We all are. There, done.” Which would have been WAY more compelling had it not been the key promo sound bite for three months.

They explain that they’re each one of six families that dates back to 1692, and Cassie completes the circle. They each have a grimoire (although they don’t use Bonnie’s word for it), and Diana is the only one who’s actually found hers. Now with Cassie in the circle, they can have absolute power, but there’s a binding spell that must be done first to control them, and Faye’s not down with that. Cassie logically starts to flee the crazy but Faye stops her because she’s afraid Cassie will tell Jane, and Diana cautions that their families can’t know (um, chat with your dad, dear).

Photo Credit: The CW

Cassie pushes past Faye and runs out into the woods and Adam follows her. He explains that their parents were all part of a circle until something went sideways and people got hurt and witchcraft was abolished. He also tells her each of the current circle have lost a parent. He and Cassie have another moment when he teaches her a spell, putting his hands around hers, amping their energy enough to make water float. It’s actually a neat looking scene of still droplets floating around them in sunlight. They almost kiss until she pulls back and runs away, and I’m guessing, walks a long ass way back home.

Adam goes back in the house and reports that yes, Cassie’s gifted, but he leaves out the near smoochies. They split up to go look for Cassie, who winds up at the Boathouse, where she asks Ethan why her mom left and why they weren’t together. He tells her again that their families are written in the stars and meant for each other, that she and Adam are destined for each other, too, and that they don’t want to mess with fate because bad things happen if they do. She pushes her question again and he sadly asks her why she wants to hurt more than she already does. She begs him to tell her and he gets out “Your father was a bad man,” just as a menacing Charlie skulks up and Cassie protests that they were just talking. Adam arrives just in time to keep it from getting ugly, promising to take Ethan home, and Cassie leaves.

Out on the dock, Faye is doing a sultry little dockside sashay where she twinks out the lights on the boats one by one. Further down the dock, Cassie is set upon by Diana and she asks her what happened to her father and Diana tells her that there was an accident 16 years ago and each of the current circle lost a parent (so 12 became 6) and the survivors are keeping a secret about it. Diana says they can resume witchcraft now and control it (naïve, party of one), that it doesn’t have to be bad. Cassie tells Diana that her mom ran from this life and didn’t want it for her, either. She wants to know why but Diana can’t tell her.

Back in crazy town, Faye compels a rainstorm that kicks up in a mighty way that she can’t control and it’s Cassie who shuts it down. Afterward, she tells Diana and Faye that she doesn’t want any part of this and goes home, where Jane just asks her about being wet but nothing else. Earlier, we saw Jane confront Dawn, telling her she never would have brought Cassie home if the kids were practicing. Dawn smiles her way through an “of course not.” I really do hope Jane and Cassie get on the same page and that we find out Jane herself is a badass.

Back at the Boathouse, Charlie arrives and spell-drowns Ethan to make his point that he needs to keep his stories to himself. Adam comes to Jane’s house and tells Cassie that Diana caught him up on the Faye debacle. He says they’re worried about Faye because she’s a loose cannon. He apologizes for almost kissing her, says he doesn’t know why that happened, it shouldn’t have happened because he loves Diana, and it can’t happen again–not sure which one of them he’s telling. He tells her she’s one of them, and although he can’t tell her what to do, she’s not alone.

Charlie goes to see Dawn and they confirm that they did the right thing bringing Cassie to town, and that Charlie has chatted with Ethan. Charlie asks if Cassie can get them what they need and Dawn says the circle will do that without even knowing it. Finally home in bed, Cassie freely move the stars on the ceiling around and is happy about it, when she also unwittingly moves a cornerstone on the fireplace and finds Amelia’s grimoire, with a handwritten note from Amelia apologizing for the secret catching up with Cassie now. Amelia writes that not telling Cassie before has left her unprotected, but she has great power inside of her and people will come for it and come for her (way to be vague, mom). And that’s our setup!

So, I was surprised about the show listing six executive producers–that seems like a lot of folks with final say that might draw the show in different directions. I liked the cast—as Tina and Kara covered, we have some delicious daddies, and Henstridge is still gorgeous. I was so pleased to see Ashley Crow as Jane. I was an intern on a TV movie she did in 1990 and it was a bit jarring to realize that really was 21 years go. The show looks gorgeous—love the location.

As for the circle itself, I’m glad for Britt to have landed here—I didn’t watch all of Life Unexpected because it felt a little too much like Felicity, which wasn’t one of my shows, but I do like her and she’s very good about playing Cassie all over the map as her world is upended. I didn’t watch Terminator, so I wasn’t familiar Dekker, but he has a solid chemistry with Robertson, which is awkward becasue I’m not a gal who roots for cheating. Tonkin and Hunter are Australians, so I haven’t seen their work before. Hennig is a DOOL alum (ditto on the not seeing). Kennedy is Candian, so Ive seen her in a few TVMs.

Where I had trouble with getting a read on the characters is that I think Diana is genuine in her naiveté and that Faye is potentially dangerous, like Cassie’s dad was, but I also think Diana could be just as dangerous. We don’t know enough about Nick and Melissa yet. As for Adam, if Cassie is his true love, has he been told about her all his life by an alcoholic, grieving single dad, or is this the first he’s heard of her? And, if he’s predestined, then what is Charlie pulling by allowing Diana to be in a relationship with Adam, and then very specifically bringing Cassie to town?

There’s A LOT of malice in all these machinations. I kind of don’t enjoy that part of it–that all of the pilot turned on an extraordinary, deadly ruse by two adults to complete the circle and inflict further drama on their children. I hope we get light with the dark. Not sure this will be appointment TV every week, but I’m intrigued, and I’d guess that on the nights I get to watch TVD live, I’ll watch this, too, or I may end up DVRing and watching the episodes in sets later this fall. That is how TVD got me, after all.

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