Written By: Andrew Miller
Draft Date: February 3, 2011
Two years ago, I reviewed a little show called The Vampire Diaries. In that review, I called it, among other things, boilerplate and Twi-light.
I completely stand behind those opinions of the pilot episode of The Vampire Diaries.
But something happened to that show that started after episode 3 or 4... it got damn good. It shed any Twilight trappings, built a still-deepening and engrossing mythology, and the supporting cast came into their own and really started standing out (I mean, who isn't in love with Caroline and Matt? And Caroline just in general). It is currently my favorite network TV drama (yeah, that's right, The Good Wife).
So, keep that in mind as I complain about this draft of Secret Circle, the new CW pilot based on another LJ Smith book series (and another series that I have not read, so I have no preconceived notions). I'm actually not sure if this "Andrew Miller draft" has been touched by Kevin Williamson and Julie Plec, who only boarded the project recently.
I want to like this because, like The Vampire Diaries, it has a lot of the things I love in a TV show. Teen romance (shut up, I'm a product of the 90s), supernatural forces, tragic pasts, and a core of real human emotion.
Secret Circle has all those elements. I just don't think that it's doing everything it can do with them. Yet. Thanks to what TVD became, I'm willing to give this series a LOT of room to grow on me.
But there is a nagging feeling I have that says this show can't be what TVD became.
Not because magic and witches and covens aren't as "sexy" as vampires. Not because TVD already features a witch. The magic works on a similar principle in Secret Circle as Bonnie's in TVD... minus some of the limitations. I think that's part of what's different. It's so important in shows with supernatural elements to make sure the audience knows "the rules." Y'know, like "Vampires can't walk in the sun without magic rings" or "Into every generation a Chosen One is born with the strength and skill to fight the Vampires. She is the Slayer."
Every series is allowed its own set of rules, and you either buy into them or you don't. The pilot is the opportunity to explain those rules (ideally in a way that doesn't just feel like exposition).
Secret Circle hasn't really explained the rules yet. It has given vague hints.
The other problem? Basically everyone in the script seems to have "powers." There aren't a terribly high number of "normal" people. How much drama has TVD gotten out of bringing character after character into the supernatural fold? And even there... many of the characters are "aware" of the supernatural, but are, themselves, normal and human and powerless (something that True Blood almost got rid of entirely in its third season, where I think Jason and Andy are the only two human people left in Bon Temps... yes, it's hyperbole, whatever).
There's also a minor romantic triangle between three of the kids in the coven, but it's very under the surface.
Okay. Secret Circle. Here's the plot (minus one major event that I'm choosing to not spoil).
[Show spoiler]Cassie Blake lives in Florida and is driving home when she suddenly gets a flat. Which is a good thing because, back home, there is an eerily beautiful shadowy man causing magical fire explosions (standing outside and using matches to light giant fire plumes inside) in her house and killing her mother, Amelia, in the process.
A month later, Cassie arrives at her grandmother's house in New Salem, Maine and is to start school the next day. Not sure what took her so long or, since her house burned down, where she got all "her belongings" but whatever, that's entirely besides the point. Cassie finds a pendant of her mother's and puts it on (given how important "magical artifacts" became to TVD, one must suspect that this pendant has more than just emotional significance).
Cassie goes to school, meets the Vice Principal (who was one of her mother's close friends, though we are pointedly told several times that Amelia never talked about her life in New Salem... and even claimed to not know who Cassie's father is), then is given a quick, terse guide through the school by Sally Waltman, who turns out to be the only "normal" teenager in the entire town (okay, no, just in the script). "The cliques are pretty standard," we're told.
Weird stuff keeps happening, like Cassie being unable to open her locker until Faye (the Vice Principal's daughter) and Melissa, the school's popular *****es, arrive. Like magic! Cassie also meets Diana in a class. Diana is described as smart and sexy (as usual, half the characters are described as sexy, so you know it's a CW script... because otherwise they might let an unsexy person slip through the casting process?) Diana lives two doors down and says she's been excited about meeting Cassie. And a bunch of other things that are REALLY WEIRD AND UNNATURAL AND CLUNKY DIALOG OH GOD, PLEASE SOMEONE POINT IT OUT HOW WEIRD THIS STUFF ALL IS!
Anyway, Diana invites Cassie to the Mystic Bar & Grill Marina's Boathouse Bar & Grill to meet people that night. Cassie is apparently a girl of quick temperament changes because I swear to god, she's put at ease and made uneasy about five times in two pages. She leaves, but her car won't start and then it catches fire and the doors won't unlock. Faye is testing her, seeing if Cassie has powers. She either doesn't or doesn't know how to use them, as Adam, Diana's boyfriend, has to save Cassie from the car. The fire mysteriously dies. Cassie, rattled, gets driven home and hums herself to sleep with a song her mother taught her... which just so happens to be MAGIC and points the way to a secret compartment in her mother's old room where a book of magic spells is kept. Yay!
Cassie attempts to boil water in a pot using magic and fails. She shrugs it off with a laugh until she sees that she accidentally boiled the water in a glass in the sink. She goes to the Boathouse to pick up her car, but she's told Jane has already had it towed. She meets Ethan, Adam's dad, who is drunk and cryptic and SAYS THAT HE AND CASSIE'S MOM WERE MEANT TO BE TOGETHER. Oh, and he says that Cassie and Adam are meant to be together, too (thus providing the beginnings of a potential love triangle that isn't really a key factor here). Ah, twisted adult relationships that reflect on / are repeated by their children (Rufus/Lily and Dan/Serena, anyone?) Adam is there and he takes Cassie to the woods and teaches her how to float dew water and then hundreds of droplets rise in the air and it's pretty and crystal-like and kind of reminiscent of Edward revealing himself to be a sparkly vampire in the meadow in Twilight.
Anyway, Adam takes Cassie to the secret coven cabin in the woods and she sees Diana, Faye, and Melissa and meets the other two dudes in the coven, Doug (football jock) and Nick (drug dealer, lives in the house next door to Cassie, their rooms look at each other so Cassie has seen him shirtless, oh, and he and Faye are an item but their sex life is only a 6 or a 7 - her score and his, respectively).
There are rules for the coven. Diana's rules, as she's apparently the strongest. She's also the only other one to have found her family's Book of Shadows (what they call the book Cassie found). They practice together. They don't use their powers for evil, or steal or cheat or hurt others... but those moral lines are slightly murky as they've used magic to help Doug realize his full potential as an athlete and helped Melissa get a B in Chemistry after failing the subject by "opening her mind up to it so she could understand it." They need to keep their power a secret, of course.
Per my (way) above complaint... those are self-imposed rules about the moral use of power. They aren't rules about the limits of power (i.e. Bonnie's nosebleeds when she uses too much magic or, say, her Grams DYING from over-channeling).
Cassie learns the history. There are seven of them; there were seven families who fled Salem (as in witch trials) and founded New Salem. These seven kids are the descendants. And they're all witches! And Cassie makes the circle complete! Yay!
Only Cassie wants no part. She's established herself as a loner, and she's sticking to that. We also see a bit of a power struggle between Diana and Faye. Faye says she's been practicing on her own (breaking Diana's rules) and she gets out of control making it rain later that night at the annual town Lobster Festival. Then she loses control and Diana almost drowns because of it, but is saved. Beyond this, the festival is surprisingly uneventful other than a run-in with "normal" Sally and Cassie meeting Thomas, Diana's father... who the audience will recognize as the guy who killed Amelia, Cassie's mom. Also, Jane talks with Dawn (the vice principal), worried that the kids are together and practicing magic (just like Dawn and Amelia and that entire generation of seven). Dawn denies it, strongly, as it would be absurd! She'd know! The lady doth protest too much (way too much, because she's either an Ignorant Adult or a Manipulative Villain) and it turns out she does know, and she's in cahoots with Thomas, and they need Cassie to do something that's left incredibly vague by the end of the pilot.
And then Cassie, putting her Book of Shadows back in its hiding place, finds a message from beyond the grave from her mother. Which tells her to not go through things alone, and apologizes for not preparing her for what's to come. And so she joins the other six in a magic bonfire circle.