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The Secret Circle: Pilot

Based on a book by L.J. Smith (author of the Vampire Diaries series) and produced by Kevin Williamson, Julie Plec, and Elizabeth Craft and Sarah Fain, The Secret Circle has a strong pedigree. All the requisite components are in place: orphans, missing parents, and wacky parents; a small town (Chance Harbor, Washington); supernatural secrets; woodsy settings; romantic lusty drama.

The cast is promising, as well. Britt Robertson (as Cassie Blake) did a serviceable job on the otherwise lackluster Life Unexpected, and Thomas Dekker (Adam) gets better in each role I see him in, from Heroes, to Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, to Cinema Verite (an interesting film, by the by). Natasha Henstridge, as the school principal and mother to the brattiest witch, is still lovely and rather interesting.


I am either too old or too young for this show. It was absolutely horrifying. Not horror-film horrifying, either—more like watching a car crash, or watching a mother beat her child at the grocery store, or watching someone take a shine to black tar heroin. Specifically:

1. The show opens with a murder: someone (we find out later it is one of the residents of Chance Harbor) kills Cassie’s mother by burning her alive in her own home, with magic. Later in the show, the same bad guy does some magical waterboarding.

It’s dark, yes—dark is what we get in the 9pm time slot. But I think it’s actually too dark for me. Something about hands-off murder, burning alive, and waterboarding strikes me as unpleasant. Do I want to invite that into my home each Thursday night? I’m really not sure.

2. One month later, the day after Cassie’s arrival in CH, a teen witch decided to try to burn her alive in her car, using magic. That teen witch, the appropriately-named Faye, claims that fire wasn’t her fault, but she is so creepy looking that I can’t believe her. The actress who plays her is not particularly impressive, but her smile is deeply creepy. I never knew dimples could look so unsettling.

Despite the obvious parallelism, none of the characters seem to realize just how tacky it is to trap someone in a burning car just 30 days after her mother died in a similar manner.

3. Diana, the good-girl witch, is so perky and full of good intentions that she will clearly wind up making the world explode, or killing all left-handed people, or doing something equally Hitlerlish. “We can do great things, but we need to control the magic,”* she says at one point, with a crazed-zealot gleam in her eyes. I’m truly not sure if she is supposed to be even more disturbing than Faye. Today, the student council; tomorrow, invading Poland? (*That is also not an exact quote; see below.)

4. The witches—five in all, until Cassie joins the eponymous circle—decide that, having waited approximately 36 hours for Cassie to realize she is a super-powerful witch, they need to lure her to an abandoned house in the woods, gang up on her, and try to convince her to join their witchy cult. Cassie, with perfect logic, runs away. I would have done exactly the same thing, with a bit more shin-kicking. But then she stops and chats with Thomas Dekker, and lets him hold her hands in the woods while her eyes are closed!

I don’t care how long his boy-eyelashes are, that’s just creepy, dangerous, and stupid.

5. Above all, I was disturbed by the amount of power these witches, both teens and grown-ups, had. Faye’s mad rush to create a storm, her glee at shutting down lights on boats—it was upsetting. “Kids shouldn’t have this much power, gosh darn it!” I exclaimed to an audience of no one.

This must be how people who don’t like vampire shows feel about vampire shows. “What are they thinking? Blood-sucking, murderous pasts, and sex that seems a lot like rape (and sometimes is rape)?” I like vampire shows, but I am not sure I like The Secret Circle. Crazy teenagers who can bend the laws of nature to their whims, just for the rush? Give me puppies nailed to walls any day, but not that.

6. This isn’t a big deal, but I’m still confused: if there are five+Cassie members of the teenage secret circle, and all of their parents were witches, that would equal an earlier-generation circle of 12, right? So, if 6 is the magic number for super-powered magic, is 12 like double-super-duper magical?

The Promising and Not-So-Promising

I was dead wrong about Vampire Diaries, which soon became one of my favorite shows to watch and to review. The skin-crawling, soul-itching unpleasant sensation I got from The Secret Circle could certainly disappear. Many of the ingredients for success are there. And, frankly, my aversion to this show is sort of hard to pin down. Ultimately, it just rubbed me the wrong way, like black licorice and olives.

However, VD has some handsome, funny, older characters for us grown-up ladies to lust after. Damon’s quips are wonderful, but there’s no quipper in Chance Harbor (at least not yet). I typically watch episodes twice, noting funny quotations the second time. I couldn’t bring myself to watch TSC again, but I also don’t remember anything funny that I would need to take note of. Without humor, this show could quickly turn into a turgid supernatural soap opera.

I’ll give it another try next week. But if I keep getting the bad kind of goose bumps from it, I’m giving up unless you all can convince me otherwise.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)


  1. “or killing all left-handed people”

    Damn, that's me done for. Bloody witches, they're always taking it out on us poor lefties.

  2. My first reaction to Faye setting fire to Cassie's car for japes was: what about her no-claims bonus? Granted, it was a test. But she totally fried the car's electrics, and made sure next year's insurance premium will be through the roof.

    I think I liked this more than you. Actually, I really enjoyed it. I'm willing to bet the bits I did cringe at were bits lifted directly from the book series. I had a similar problem with VD (he says, scratching himself). Once the series moved further away from the books it caught fire. I'm guessing "The Secret Circle" will do the same. For such crap books, I'm amazed they keep making TV series' out of them.

  3. I quite enjoyed it! Not as much as VD, but still enough to keep watching and see how things develop. They shared enough to peak my curiosity about this place (were the parents' magics stunted when their circle fell apart? why did they want Cassie back so desperately that they killed her mom?). Plus that love triangle they've set up looks like it will be interesting ;o)

  4. Mark, you're a lefty! I'm a lefty, too.

    We are an awesome people.

  5. I enjoyed it, too. But I'm a Brit Robertson fan, so... yeah. Obviously. :) Also... I may be the only one, but does anyone else think, that when Charles said "The Circle will take care of it without even knowing it.", that he means the spell to limit their powers?

  6. That we are, Josie. So what if we tend to smudge everything we write down. It doesn't matter because we are awesome!

  7. Saying it's too dark is actually a great recommendation for a show, especially a CW show. Give me dark over soapy any day. :)

  8. I think I would have enjoyed the story better if they hadn't changed some key things in the book: for one, Diana wasn't a preppy, creepy-earnest character but an awesome force of good. Think "the only wizard ever feared" to have some idea of what LJS conveyed in her books. And Cassie had an instant, awesome girl-crush on Diana. It's Diana not Adam that rescues Cassie from Faye and she does it in a very bad-ass yet compassionate way that would make just about anyone fall in love with her. Instead the show is skewed from the start by making "Cassie" and Faye the two major powers* instead of in the books where the struggle was between Faye and Diana with Cassie as a very important but still pawn in the battle.

    *Was I the only one who found her "Stop rain stop!" moment utterly contrived and irritating. Isn't this the girl who was running away from magic/disbelieving in witches just that day??? Instead of just taking off when Diana goes to fight with Faye, she walks up to the storm and shouts it down? For real???

  9. I found it very predictable and a bit slow, though I did watch untill the end. And though I'm in my 30s I also felt a bit old for this teen romance.
    The words "make it stop" and "stop the rain" were a bit off - what happened to an old good spell. If she's as powerfull as everyone says she is there must be some spells buried in her memory considering she comes from generation of witches.

    It did not hold my interest, so I'm giving up right now.

  10. Didn't hate it. Didn't love it, either. It has delusions of The Craft, but without Robin Tunney or Fairuza Balk. I hated the pilot of Vampire Diaries, but it had Ian Somerhalder, who was immediately cool. There wasn't anyone in this pilot that appealed to me. So I don't know. I might give it a few more. Maybe not if my DVR gets full.

  11. Maybe waiting a week and letting my expectations lower helped, but I didn't hate this pilot. Not that I had much by way of expectations. I kept waiting for it to feel forced, and super cliche. Yet for some reason I never found it super predictable.

    That being said, there were obvious flaws. I wanted to like Faye more, cause the character seems interesting. But I think the actress needs to grow as an actor before she can chew scenery. Cassie was good as the straight girl, and she might be able to carry the series as the lead. Terminator guy was fine, but a little too nice. But I don't blame the actor for that.

    There weren't any real stand out performances for me, but I didn't dislike anyone either. Here's hoping they can pull another VD out of their hats.

    Lefties Unite!!!


  12. They should be able to do it, it's the same writing team after all.

  13. (Rubs hands together maniacally)

    The first steps of my plans for global change have begun!

    Lefties UNTIE!

    Imagine a world where left handed people weren't told that they were doing it wrong, where notebook paper was made for them, and where we could all use the same baseball gloves and guitars! Imagine a world without the dogmatic views of the right-handed, and their single minded attempts to ostracize and convert lefties to suit their conformist practices. Imagine a world without Righties!

    (Stares blankly at the computer screen)

    Did I really just type that for public viewing?


  14. After re-reading my last comment I should probably explain a little.

    No there's too much to explain, let me sum up.

    No there isn't that much to sum up so I'll say this, I do not endorse nor wish to incite the genocide of Right-handed people.


  15. TVNerd, I certainly hope that allusion is not a veiled attempt to explain that you, in fact, are not left-handed.

    To that, I cannot respond that I am not left-handed either, no matter how cool my raccoon eye-mask is.

  16. not sure I like gale here as a murderer,arsonist, pyromaniac? He is good at being the bad boy but I was starting to like Julian on Hellcats.

  17. Are you going to continue this series?

  18. Hi Anon,

    Me personally? Almost certainly not, unless enough people tell me I should give it another try. (And my schedule calms down.) For the site as a whole, we're still deciding on which shows to continue to review and which to let sit for a while.

    Should we assume you'd like us to continue to review it?

  19. After episode 2 i feel that it should have premiered with a 2h premire. Because the eponymous circle is formed at the end of episode 2, it would make sense to air it together. Of course then the changed hairstyles would be more prominent. ;)

    Also i think they solved one of your gripes Josie. Binding the circle supposedly makes them unable to do magic alone. With 6 people having to agree on every spell there is much potential for drama and less Faye doing crazy stuff.

  20. Hi Patryk,

    I should probably tell you to watch out for spoilers for post-pilot episodes in this thread, but that doesn't seem like a big one. Right?

    I couldn't finish the second episode. Should I try? I think maybe I just don't like witches. Except Willow, of course.

  21. No it's not really a spoiler. It's what everyone expected seeing the the title. Hence my comment about a 2h pilot. Imagine Lost without people getting, well, lost in the 1st episode. :)

    I'm not sold yet, but like i said we haven't even gotten to the plot yet. It's just setup so can't really tell if it's going to be as explosive as VD. It took about 6-7 episodes for it to become interesting so that's my mark for this show too.

    What will be certainly inferior is the flashbacks. Yes it will be nice to see the previous generations, but you can't beat a vampire flashback where the maina characters are still involved. Also I can't imagine Washington having as interesting setting for flashbacks as a southern state with the civil war and such.

  22. This is that Anon from earlier the one with the question. Also yes I like the show and I like your guys' reviews. I think it will get really good. Possibly better than VD

    -Trey (I'm going to do this to distinguished me since I'm too lazy to set up an account.

  23. Just finished the 3rd episode and was hoping for more reviews on the site by now. Is that it? After the pilot, no more reviews...it's not a good enough show?

    Just checking... since I found this site from following TrueBlood.net recently, I've been catching up on a lot of show reviews. Excellent work :)


    PS same thoughts on Ringer, btw :)

  24. Hi DebG.,

    We're still deciding which shows to stick with for the new season. I, personally, won't be reviewing The Secret Circle. Someone else may pick it up later in the season, though. We're just not making any promises yet.

  25. I wasn't impressed with ep 3, but with the writing staff they have I expect it to quickly improve. Ideally up to Vampire Diaries levels where every scene has me glued to the seat and every bit of dialogue may bring analysis-fodder.

  26. Episode 4, finally some world building beyond witches. Without spoilers but with a little hint. Something was introduced which was also introuced in the same numbered Supernatural episode. ;) Story potential rising, the pace should also pickup soon.

  27. Thank you for posting, Patryk. I was just wondering last night how the show was going.

  28. In solidarity with Vampire Diaries, I've pushed myself to stick with Secret Circle and just saw the fourth episode that Patryk was discussing (it's called "Heather"). It was actually pretty good and stuff that interested me started happening. So I'm going to stick with it a bit longer.

  29. The CW hopes you will stick through entire 22 episodes as it just picked up the series for a full season. Also picked up Hart of Dixie and Ringer.

  30. How about episode 5. We had secrets revelead, a legitimate threat to the main cast. All in all I think TSC is taking off. Now all I want is for the show to have it's own Alaric Saltzman, a late arrival character who's awesome. :)

  31. I agree, Patryk. It's getting more watchable. But I still feel like I'm doing Vampire Diaries homework. The only character that is grabbing me so far is our show dog lady from Heroes.

  32. Episode 6 and 7: Feels a bit like a new beginning. The main characters are more friendly with each other and they have external antagonists. It's also fun how each episode naturally leads into the next.


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