(Note: the following post contains spoilers for Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars. It also has passing reference to The Vampire Diaries, though no specifics are given. I’m sorry, I know, I have to separate Vamp Diaries and Secret Circle from each other eventually. Just give me this one.)
The Vampire Diaries didn’t get big for The CW for no reason. Sure, initially it had the popularity fallout of Twilight to get it started, and it’s also based on a popular series of books, but the former has produced truly awful pop culture drivel as well (there’s a whole section of it in my Barnes & Noble called “Teen Vampire Romance”) and the latter has produced ABC-Family’s entire line of stupid soaps (disclaimer: soaps are not inherently stupid; the ones that ABC-Family airs, however…) and means little to True Blood.
No, what keeps The Vampire Diaries running long after most people think it should have died is that it has a strong theme at its core. The core love triangle isn’t a simple love triangle, as genre shows go — it’s one that spans centuries. It’s the epic kind of romance that Logan talks about at the alterna-prom in Veronica Mars‘s second season. It’s the kind of romance Spike and Drusilla (yay, more Buffy references!) had before their unfortunate breakup. That simple little story seed can provide plenty of metaphorical material to deal with. Coupled with the show’s on-going developments of its fictional city, and, well, you’ve got a show that’s earned its spot on Thursday nights.
I bring this up because, if The Secret Circle intends to work as a complement to The CW’s monster hit, the show needs a similar core theme that it can comment on through the characters and their actions. “Bound” finds it. If you ever need to pitch this show to someone, just say this: “The Secret Circle is a metaphorical battle between generations explored through the explicit use of magic.”
Of course, the show’s flaws are a bit more apparent now that it has a purpose. “Bound” is about getting the Circle to finally bind together, and while I appreciate going for broke on the best elements in the teens (the hedonistic Faye, the confused-but-trying-to-learn Cassie, the handsome and completely self-confident Adam), I wish we knew a little more about all of them. I don’t even remember the name of Faye’s other Circle friend, or the guy that said friend slept with who also lives next door to Cassie (man, sometimes I hate small town shows), though Faye provides shorthand for the both of them when she says she’d “have to leave [her] self-esteem at the door” in order to sleep with The Dude. (Can we call him Shirtless Guy? Does he own a shirt? Calling Robert Pattinson!)
But as the episode went on, I sort of let all that go. It’d be silly to lay down everything that ever was written about witch power in one episode, so “Bound” wisely focuses on the consequences instead. (The power basically works like the Force from Star Wars, but with more of an active quality to it, which is fine enough shorthand for me, and it was only implied by Adam in the Twilight Moment of the Week scene at the abandoned house. Yay subtlety!) We meet the charming Sally Matthews (Logan Browning, who has been in exactly nothing I like but made an impression anyway), find out that she and Faye hate each other (typical) and then… Faye throws her off a pier and onto some sharp rocks. Now THAT is exactly how you convince someone to do something they might otherwise not want to do. The whole hour, the other Circle members were trying to convince Faye with words that they had to bind together, but it’s Faye’s own actions that push her to make the decision. Cassie and Faye still despise each other, but the chaos of the energy encircling the town has to be contained, and the only way to do that is binding together. It’s a really cool way to present an astoundingly mature decision to people who aren’t entirely mature enough to make such a decision.
Oh, but Sally doesn’t die, either! Let’s back up. Dawn, Faye’s mom (and also the principal of the school, which… okay), is secretly working with Charles, the dude that killed Cassie’s mom. Ostensibly, they’re manipulating their children into binding the Circle. This week, we get a look at why, and why their magic was banished after an accident killed most of the Circle’s parents. Dawn’s father-in-law drops in, sees Faye and What’s-Her-Face performing magical ring tosses at the Sea Fair, and confronts Dawn about it. Turns out, the Circle that came before Dawn are the ones that banished their magic, due to the explosion of energy that caused the deaths of the parents. But then Dawn uses this magic crystal thingy (apparently, it’s the remnants of her Circle’s powers or something) and causes him to have a heart attack, revealing that Dawn is pretty much like her daughter: hedonistic to a fault. She uses this same magic crystal to save Sally, thus protecting Faye while also betraying her. Awesome? Yeah, basically.
So: generations. If I had to pick a favorite non-Faye scene in “Bound”, I’d have to go with the very beginning and the very end. The episode opens with Cassie flipping through her mom’s old diary while the voice-over from the previous episode is repeated. (I hope that voice-over dies; Vampire Diaries doesn’t need it anymore, Secret Circle certainly doesn’t need it either!) Then she tries to bring light to her room by lighting a candle, but instead the curtain flies open, giving her sunlight. That is, instead of giving her the solitary candle, the magical energy granted her light through the ever-burning sun — and, not incidentally, the window to the other Circle guy’s room; in either case, the magic is pointing her to bind the Circle… maybe, perhaps, even her mother is asking that of her. In the end, of course, the Circle binds around a burning fire, which flares up at the final words.
Like family, like ancestors even, fire can provide warmth, but it can also consume everything in its path. Both the parents and the children in The Secret Circle are making mistakes in their lives (at least, I’m sure Cassie still sees using magic as a mistake, even though she agrees to bind the Circle by episode’s end; also, blah blah Thomas Dekker’s Adam blah blah Diana blah blah love triangle). But it’s not really about choosing between warmth and consumption; it’s about what you do (or intend to do) with this volatile force. As the younger generation makes a choice to help contain it, the older generations fight to unleash it.
See how this works? This is how you make fun television. I don’t even care that some of the romance stuff is rough and sickening in that Twilight sort of way. This show knows what the frack it wants to do! I’ll take any self-confident show, flaws and all, over the fall premiere shows that have multiple identities and no heart.
(That’s also how I date, but I don’t think we need to read too much into that. Yet.)