The Secret Circle is so promising, and after years of films like Twilight, or shows like Secret Circle’s doppelganger The Vampire Diaries, our mind are already prepped for supernatural teen angst and ready to go. Bring on the witches!
A bit about the show before we dive into the recap, I promise not to do this every week unless there’s some amazing that needs addressing. The man behind bringing The Secret Circle to life, Kevin Williamson, may be best known to fans for his work on the hit series Dawson’s Creek, a show that ran from 1998 to 2003, and holds up shockingly well for being a teen drama. The drama there didn’t result from or revolve around supernatural abilities, but instead was driven by the often complicated enough truths of modern life and the difficulty of being both old enough to want to do something with your life, and not quite being able to do it yet. In other words, the drama that results from being alive and a teenager. The show is pitch-perfect late 90s, yes, but Williamson is lucky in that way. The target demographic for The Secret Cricle, which is almost undoubtedly teen or twentysomething girls, are likely too young to remember Dawson’s Creek, or expect anything other than a flip companion to The Vampire Diaries, a show that Williamson was also the Executive Producer on. And indeed, the two shows have much more in common than simply sharing a showrunner, the book series that inspired both shows were penned by L. J. Smith in the early nineties, but aside from a few strange references to fax machines and the fact that no one has a cell phone, the books read as modern.
Williamson and his writing staff have taken the core elements of the books, and tightened the story up, eliminating unnecessary characters and cutting through endless pages of thinking, and feeling, and thinking about feeling and feeling thoughts about thinking about your feelings. That isn’t to say The Secret Circle isn’t filled with meaningful glances, teen romance and plenty of withheld mystery, (they do want to wrangle several seasons out of the material) but the story is made stronger in a visual medium. The show takes the character of Cassie, a girl who loses her mother and learns she is a witch, all in a very short span, and makes her incredibly strong, self-reliant and brave, far more so than she is allowed to be in the books. Yes, avid fans will complain about the differences, but what I’m saying is that so far, we’ve gotten the better end of the deal. Williamson has neatly done away with what was unnecessary and cleanly set up problems for the show to work through. Being a teenager is hard, being a teenager with seemingly uncontrollable power over the natural world around you must be infinitely harder, right? But, you still have life to deal with, school and parents, thinking and feeling and thinking about feelings.
So, enough with the lecture and on to the witches!
RECAP, The Secret Circle, Season One, Episode One
A dark road and a creepy voiceover lead us into a brief nighttime driving montage set to the first song The Naked and Famous by Young Blood in what is sure to be an episode chock-full of music, knowing The CW. You can almost always piece together the entire plot using only lyrics from the songs chosen.
A young blond, presumably Cassie is run off the road by a mysterious car, conveniently under a very bright road light. She tries to get some help from a different nearby car to no avail. People are just not very nice here on Brightly Lit Lane.
Cassie makes a call to her mother who is cooking something delicious in her immaculate kitchen, (you know how moms are, always cooking) and Cassie tells her she’s gotten a flat. The two of them are kind of flirting in a way that lets us all know they want to be Rory and Lorelai but they totally aren’t. Some strange phone interference cuts off the date chat and a mysterious car pulls up outside the Immaculate Kitchen. Cue the creepy occurrences, when in rapid fire the water faucet explodes and the kitchen begins to catch fire. We know that the person from the car causes this because we see him empty a water bottle and also light some matches. At least it seems to be hinting at cause and effect? I’m assuming it’s some kind of magic spell since this is a show about, you know, witchcraft. The mom is trying to fix the water and then gets distracted by the fact that her entire kitchen has gone up in flames. Grease fires, man. She tries to run and then slips on the water. What then follows is a kind of awful scene in which she burns to death in her home, but still has to be kind of understated because it is The CW, a channel marketed to single women who probably live in fear of slipping and dying alone in their immaculate kitchens. The mysterious man heartlessly watches the house go up in flames and then walks away in slow motion.
It is now sometime later. Cassie is crying and looking over a lake, presumably upset about her mother going up in flames which leads us to our second song at three minutes and forty seconds in is the rather pointed I Go Away by MNDR, which intones “It’s over. How did I get here?” and in case you were wondering where here is, Cassie gets in her car and drives past a sign that reads, completely, CHANCE HARBOR, WASHINGTON. Ah, ha. These next few scenes of harbor-ness are pure Williamson and I start to get excited for what boat-related hijinks he has in store for our merry band of witches. Cassie pulls up in front of a beautiful old harbor house, on a quiet residential street. Surely nothing bad will ever happen here! She grabs her one small bag of non-fire-destroyed-belongings and heads towards the door. Cassie’s grandmother, who appears to be dressed as some sort of comfy rich lady fortune teller, pops out to greet her. As Executive Producer Andrew Miller quipped at a recent screening, all the grandparents in The CW are about forty-five, and this woman looks to be barely pushing fifty. Cassie has never been to her grandmother’s house and as her grandmother shows her to her mother’s room she asks why her mom never came back home. Grandma looks shifty and asks what Cassie’s mom told her. Yes, good, get your stories straight since I’m sure Cassie won’t learn everything there is to know about the situation in the next few days. Apparently Cassie’s dad had an accident and died when she was zero years old, which is all we really learn from the rest of this scene. Sad face.
A sidebar on Cassie’s Mom’s Room which Grandma claims hasn’t been touched in sixteen years. It’s pretty vintagey-looking and cool. It’s got a funky bed and some neato dressers and a tape deck? And a weird old digital clock radio? And a giant-ass computer monitor? Please, this is supposed to be a room from 1995 and… whoa, you guys, that means that Cassie was born in 1995. She was only a one-year-old when Tupac Shakur died. (I know this is a super common way to measure age or the passage of time, and so I used it out of deference to you, the reader.) She was a two-year-old when The Matrix came out. This is just going to send me spiraling into a white washed world of simple nostalgia, but here’s one last one, she was a three-year-old when Dawson’s Creek aired. Anyway, this room is pretty sweet and awfully clean and still shabby-chic contemporary for some old dumb locked away room. Where are the ugly bedspreads and Fiona Apple posters?
Cassie is getting ready for bed and, as she goes to wisely close the curtains in her brightly lit room, she spies another half-dressed blond individual much like herself in a house across the way. This boy has taken a page from the Taylor Lautner Guide To Getting Babes and is lounging around with his shirt wide open. He casually shoots a “Hey what’s up,” glance to Cassie who pulls the curtains shut and shakes her head. Ugh, MEN. As she goes to cross the room however, the curtains have mysteriously sprung open. As if by magic. Gramma creepily lurks in the doorway as Cassie turns down the bed and then tells Cassie that her mom used to count the stars. We’re treated to yet another quizzical look from Cassie, but after clambering into her big comfy bed she sees some glow-in-the-dark stars littering the ceiling. Kind of lame, Cassie’s mom, kind of lame. She grabs her cell phone from the side table, (where it’s not even plugged in? What kind of magical battery life does this phone get? Isn’t she gonna need it tomorrow?) and flips through some catalog-quality cell phone snaps of her mother. Tears, and then sleep.
It’s another beautiful day in Chance Harbor! Boats! Lighthouses! Sky! Chance Harbor High School! The hot and vaguely sexy Principal Chamberlain is disappointed that Cassie’s mom never talked about her. Too disappointed if you ask me. Like… “your mother was very special to me,” and one time we both got drunk after the homecoming dance at that big party at Chad’s house and then I told her I kind of liked her and she was drunk too so we ended up kissing and … oh yeah, sorry, uh, enjoy your classes Cassie! That kind of disappointed. Cassie heads to class.
Two boys including the shirtless wonder and a dreamy dark-haired boy discuss whether Cassie has arrived or not. She has. That’s about it for that convo, thanks for playing. Across the hall, Cassie is struggling with a lock as if she’s never seen one before. ‘Maybe if I just… turn this dial at random… why wont you open!?’ when a dark-haired girl wanders up, compliments her, tells her to try it again and stalks off. It opens. More looks of confusion from Cassie. God, teach a girl to fish once in a while, dark haired girl. We’re about to learn her name is Faye from another dark-haired girl named Diana. Diana chirpily tells us that she knows who Cassie is, that it’s a really small town and that everyone hangs out at The Boathouse after school. Cassie stares after her with joy.
Another moment brought to you from The Joy Formidable, the song is A Heavy Abacus as Cassie arrives at The Boathouse. Most importantly, this The Boathouse set is a lot like The Icehouse from Dawson’s! As if Kevin Williamson was like “Listen, I know a lot about boat-themed restaurants, promise.” A slurry gentleman greets Cassie not with a menu or a table assignment but by saying something about how she’s “Amelia’s girl!” and then over shares about being in love with her mom as he pours himself some whiskey. Cassie handles this okay, but then he starts babbling about destiny being written in the stars and things are getting weird when Adam the dark-haired boy rolls up and offers some very sage advice to us all, “no drinking before dinner.” Cassie and Adam make some cute faces at one another until Adam tells her to sit wherever, brings her a menu and then asks about her day. YOU GUYS, IT IS TOTALLY WRITTEN IN THE STARS. They banter. They chortle. Cassie is the perfect mixture of friendly and clever, Adam is confident and charming, and this heady intoxicating brew of youth is almost too much for me. Oh good, Faye pops in to disrupt Cassie’s pleasant afternoon with new character Melissa, full of talk about how cute Adam is and exposits that Principal Chamberlain is her mom. With a huge grin on her face she explains to Cassie about her mother (and in turn about herself) “Do not let her smile fool you. She can be bitchy.” Faye continues to chatter about how Cassie should totally go for Adam, and Cassie decides to leave since Diana is nowhere to be seen. Watching from the window, Faye starts a fire in Cassie’s car as soon as she gets in. This is particularly cruel and demented since Cassie’s mom died in almost this exact same way, but Faye keeps whispering for Cassie to put out the fire. Cassie is losing her mind as the doors are locked and she can’t seem to get out, when Adam saves the day, rescuing her from the car as the fire mysteriously goes out.
So far I’m on Team Cassie Is Destined For Adam, but when she says she doesn’t understand what happened, he says, “The car caught on fire.” And she accepts this. Yes, that… did occur. Thank you, Adam. That’s some real Edward Cullen non-answering nonsense if you ask me. Diana storms up, all concern and worry and spies Faye and Melissa leaving the Boathouse. She then coerces Adam into taking Cassie home, introducing him as her boyfriend. Adam is all nonchalant and Cassie looks like she swallowed a dumb burger from The Boathouse – disgusted.
Another song, We Won’t Run by Sarah Blasko accompanies Cassie and Adam to Cassie’s grandmother’s house where Adam has some nonsensical explanation for why Cassie’s car wouldn’t unlock, and then asks her how her day was again, all suppressed smiles and hotness. Cassie falls for it, because obviously she falls for it and there’s quite a bit of cutting back and forth between these dopey grins before Cassie pulls out the big guns “So, how long have you and Diana been together?” aaaand that wipes the grin off Adam’s face. They talk about how nice Diana is, and then about Adam’s father’s alcoholism which Cassie dismisses with, no joke, “He’s sweet.” Cassie walks up to the house and as the two of them share more dopey glances, Blasko intones, “Let’s not waste a minute more of our liiiives…”
Diana shows up at Faye’s house to fight with her about almost killing Cassie, oh wait, actually no, Diana is more worried that someone would have seen Faye and figured out she was a witch. Second to that, she’s worried about Cassie. Turns out Faye agrees that Cassie is a necessary component of ‘The Circle’ and then Faye and Diana have a tiny power staring competition. This is one of those moments in about three seasons we will all look back on and laugh. ‘Remember when you didn’t quite know your character? God, that was funny.’
Another scene of Cassie clambering into her cozy bed, this girl has a variety of pajamas, I gotta say. As she watches the stars they start to move and change, which freaks her out. She turns on the light, but must have been imagining things. Another confused stare.
Next morning, Cassie goes into town looking for her grandmother and runs into the man we know to be the mysterious killer of Cassie’s mother but who actually turns out to be, dun dun dun, Diana’s father! Apparently he, like everyone else was a very good friend of her mother’s, that again, Cassie has never heard of. Diana is dressed sensibly for the weather, pants and a jacket, but Cassie is tromping around in a short dress.
Principal Chamberlain is just out nabbing some coffee, see, she loves coffee, look at the coffee cup how it sways and… obviously has no coffee in it, but she runs into Grandma in the meantime and they have a harried conversation about the past and how they “can’t let it happen again.” Sounds both sexy and mysterious, whatever it is.
Back on the truth hunt, Diana leads Cassie to some sort of abandoned murder shack, where everyone else is already waiting. Melissa was texting or looking at her phone, which is the best part about this scene, because that’s all anyone else does anymore. Stand around and text. We meet Nick, the blond Taylor Lautner in the window, which feels perfunctory. Basically this is an unmitigated nightmare as they have to somehow explain to Cassie that she is a witch, and Diana does a terrible job of it so Faye jumps the gun and tells her point blank. Cassie is kind of cornered by everyone, as one after another they explain about the Secret Circle and that Cassie is the sixth member of the circle and Diana starts flinging around this spell book she found. To be honest it’s kind of not handled well and you can understand her fear. Cassie thinks they’re messed up and tries to run, but Adam catches up in the forest and tries to explain amidst the worried looks about how they abolished witchcraft in the town, and how they’ve all lost a parent. What happens next is some real heart-to-heart business as Cassie and Adam use their combined energy to cause a drop of water to float in the air. Admittedly this is some of the most beautiful imagery in the episode as thousands of drops of water sparkle and dance around them, adhering to the unifying principle of the world: all women love sparkly beautiful-ness, especially in a forest. The two of them are overcome by the uh, magic and very nearly kiss, but Cassie bolts again causing a mini-downpour. Back at the murder shack the five other witches discuss what comes next, and Faye decides to bounce, heading out to test her powers.
Back at the waterfront, Cassie decides to ask Adam’s dad some questions. It’s obviously after dinner, as he’s drinking. The song that accompanies this friendly little chat is Wrong Time Wrong Planet by Does It Offend You, Yeah? She tries to get him to talk about her dad but he starts up again with the old ‘aligned in the stars’ song and dance about how he was meant for Cassie’s mom, but then drops the bomb that Cassie and Adam are meant for each other. Cassie is obviously into it, and asks more questions which he’s about to answer when Diana’s evil dad Charlie-The-Killer rolls up and interrupts, when Adam pops up and breaks up this little soiree. Cassie escapes in the middle of it all, literally running out of the restaurant.
Faye is stomping down a row of boats, turning off the electric lights with her mind. Guess this is the ultimate way she’s dreamed up to test her unlimited powers. The Kills’ song DNA accompanies this, and the show is kind of excited about her ability to put the lights out even though it doesn’t seem like a big deal. At the end of the pier, Faye asks the skies to give her a sign and the lightening begins. Nearby, Diana finds Cassie, who does not want to talk to her, and explains that everyone in the last circle died – their parents, including Cassie’s dad, which explains why all these kids are from single-parent homes. Diana thinks something went wrong, and tries to get Cassie on her side. Cassie points out that her mother tried to escape this life and maybe she should respect that. Diana doesn’t have anything to say to that, really. They get interrupted when they spot Faye messing around with the weather and it begins to rain violently. Faye rips her coat off, getting all drenches and sexy looking as Diana runs up and begs her to stop it. Faye tries but is unable to and things look bleak for less than a second until Cassie uses her power to stop the storm. Guess she’s a witch after all. The others are overjoyed but Cassie wisely declines to join them in the merriment and heads home.
At home, Grandma is lounging around reading and wants to know what’s up with Cassie. These two seem super casual and uninterested in really getting to know each other for people who presumably don’t know each other at all and have been drawn together by a violent death? Ah well, ancillary characters, whatcha gonna do?
Late After Dinner, Adam’s dad is drinking at the Boathouse when Killer Dad Charles shows up again and starts threatening him. He does some more mean magic, making the poor alcoholic guy feel as if he’s drowning (and he is! In grief! In whiskey!) and pushes him almost to the point of killing him but doesn’t actually. This is actually the scariest thing that happens in the whole episode.
And just like that, we’re back to Grandma’s house, where she informs Cassie that she has a very late visitor, who turns out to be Adam. Grandma awesomely informs them that she’ll be nearby in the kitchen. Cassie wants to know if he came over to convince her to join the secret cult, and no, Adam says he came over to apologize… but also he’s probably there to convince her to join the secret cult. The two talk about their kiss and make some very unconvincing faces as they tell one another that it can never happen again. Adam leaves and Cassie pulls a confused face.
Principal Chamberlain arrives home, fumbling with her keys as the door flies open. Killer Dad Charles creepily stalks up behind her and you think some major crap is about to go down, but it turns out these two are in cahoots! They talk some crap about Cassie's mom, about the kids and how to control them, congratulate themselves on bringing Cassie there and other smarmy things. Are they dating? What’s going on here?
Cassie climbs into bed yet again, in what must be an absolute record for any of the fall pilots, and is happily watching the stars above her bed swirl and dance when a creepy stone starts moving in the fireplace. She pops right up, turns on a light and marches over there to Nancy Drew the situation. Me? I would have assumed it was a rat or something horrible but she pluckily pulls the stone away to reveal a book of spells exactly like the one Diana was flinging around earlier in the Big Fat Witch Meeting. (Confused look, but do I even need to say that?) She looks at a few old spells and then finds a card with her name on it. It’s from her mom, who explains in voice over that she thought she was making the right choice, that Cassie is very powerful and that people will come for her.