Pilot Watch: ‘The Secret Circle’


The CW’s newest teen supernatural offering is based from a book series that I truly can’t believe I never read as a youth. Fantastical teenage adventures with witchcraft? That’s, like, all I read for three or four years straight. Somehow, L.J. Smith’s series slipped through the cracks. (L.J. Smith is also responsible for the Circle’s companion show on Thursday nights, The Vampire Diaries.) Gratefully, the CW saw fit to bring it back, albeit ten years past my prime appreciation point. But luckily for them, teenage magical drama with just enough camp is still something that I am very much invested in. The Secret Circle, much like Ringer, is one of those shows that need pre-set expectations. Week-to-week, I expect a fun story, pretty teenagers, and plot twists that I totally predicted. Nothing more, nothing less. That being said, let’s dive into the pilot.

Cassie, our young heroine, gets a flat tire in the middle of the creepy, dark farmland. She calls her mom, because she is sensible and caring, but assures her mother that she can take care of it herself. I like her spunk. Everything about Cassie (played by Life Unexpected‘s Britt Robertson) is very relatable. She fits the Emily VanCamp mold of CW Prettiness (TM) but isn’t prissy about it. It’s like they genetically engineered the perfect combination of insecure yet sorta confident and blonde and–boom!–here you have a teenage girl that every single teenage girl would want to be friends with. Oh, also, SHE’S A WITCH. I’m already working on picking out the perfect BFF necklace for the two of us.

While Cassie is battling the flat tire, her mom is at home putting out fires. Literally, in this case, because there is a straight-up crazy guy (we know this because he has a chiseled face and lanky hair) burning her house to the ground. The cut of this scene is so tragic and intense–exceptionally well-done for the hook of a pilot episode. If I just happened to start watching without any prior knowledge of the show, I would have stayed until the end of the episode for that scene alone. Post-opening credits, we cut to one month after the death of Cassie’s mother. She’s going to stay with her grandmother in Chance Harbor, WA. Cassie lacks a certain level of awareness about her surroundings, in what I can only assume is how she is coping with the grief of losing her mom. There are certain things that she reasonably SHOULD have picked up on, but since it’s the pilot, we have to watch her fumble her way through the discovery. Clue #1 that she’s a witch: Her grandma dresses like she was the fourth player in the Macbeth coven poker game every Thursday night. Clue #2 that she’s a witch: Her two friends at school are named FAYE and DIANA. How many Fayes and Dianas do you know that aren’t witches, hmm? Clue #3 that she’s a witch: Everyone makes a big fuss about her being there and how special her mom was to them and how beautiful Cassie is. In teen fiction, having the townspeople make a big deal about your presence is one of the main signs that you’re something special. The only thing that could have made it possibly more clear would have been Hagrid showing up at her door being all, “Yer a witch, Cassie.”

The show spends too much time exploring the town and introduction of the characters. You know the adage about when you’re writing a book, just cut the entire first chapter? As something of a seasoned tv viewer, I would have preferred starting with the second episode and all of its presumed action. Backstory can always come later, as evidenced with Veronica Mars. But keeping in mind the expectations of the show–I’m neither surprised nor really disappointed with the exposition of the pilot. We get some interesting tidbits dropped about the relationships of Cassie’s mom with the principal and also with Adam’s dad. I totally eat up that “written in the stars” stuff.

We get a brief introduction to Nick (Mr. Shirtless) and Melissa (Little Miss Sidekick). I’m really intrigued by these two. Nick’s got the bad boy vibe and you can just tell that Melissa is getting irked by her sidekick role. I look forward to finding out more about what happens with their characters. Our main cast includes the aforementioned Faye (Phoebe Tonkin), Diana (Shelley Hennig), and Adam (Thomas Dekker). Here’s where all the soapy deliciousness comes into play. You see, Faye wants to use her powers for evil–so much so that I kept thinking that she’s like a young version of Lord Voldemort. So much so that I’m just going to refer to Faye as Lady Voldemort or She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named. (Sidebar: In the Circle, do they call the guys Warlocks? I don’t believe that was ever established.) Diana is the Responsible One–you can tell because she wears button-down shirts and vests and the like. And sweet, dreamy Adam is dating Diana but he’s totes into Cassie. It’s written in the stars, y’all.

Cassie spends the majority of the episode following around people she BARELY even knows and anytime she’s like, “I don’t know where we’re going,” they respond, “Oh, TRUST ME.” and she’s all, “Eh, why not? My mom just died so I’m going to do anything they tell me to do until I can go home and watch the stars on my ceiling dance around.” I’m not complaining, as the discovery of her powers was fairly entertaining. It started with her going out to the magic shack in the woods. Faye spills the magical beans, much to the chagrin of the circle. (It’s a secret circle because NOBODY knows about it. Get it?!) Adam runs off to comfort Cassie and then they do magic in the woods, which sounds much less scandalous than it actually is. All they do is make the dew drops rise around them and it’s gorgeous. It really is. Props to the FX team, even if it means that it did blow the budget for the rest of the episode. So the car-on-fire (not gonna even touch on that level of crazy from Lady Voldemort) didn’t work, but a cute boy brings her powers out.

Faye ends up at the harbor (by chance, I am sure), and drunk off her power invokes a massive thunderstorm. My recollection of this scene is tainted by the fact that I realized, “Hey, I’ve been to that pier!” They’re filming in BC and I had the best halibut burger of my life at a restaurant just up the street from there. I ate calamari at the Sockeye City Grill, which you can see in the background. I stood where Faye stood! I pull myself together right when Cassie runs to the rescue and uses her newfound powers to calm the raging sky.

As with all teen fantasy, magic is used as a metaphor for teen shenanigans. The parents do their parent-y stuff, even though it’s also shrouded in secrecy. And they wonder where their kids get it from! Right now I’m more interested in the lives of the teenagers, so we’ll see if that changes as the series continues forward. Cassie finds her family magic book right before she goes to bed. Her mom wrote her a note with enough info to truly confirm her suspicions that she is a powerful witch, but raises even more questions than it answer. Like, who exactly is after Cassie? Will she ever be able to do magic that doesn’t involve the elements? And when is Adam going to ask her to the Prom? While the pilot is far from perfect, I believe the series holds a lot of promise. I can’t wait to watch everything come…wait for it…full circle.

7 Responses to “Pilot Watch: ‘The Secret Circle’”
  1. Ashley says:

    1. “In teen fiction, having the townspeople make a big deal about your presence is one of the main signs that you’re something special. The only thing that could have made it possibly more clear would have been Hagrid showing up at her door being all, “Yer a witch, Cassie.”

    I love you.

    2. “All they do is make the dew drops rise around them and it’s gorgeous. It really is. Props to the FX team, even if it means that it did blow the budget for the rest of the episode.”

    Hands down my favorite scene in the pilot. It felt so *magical*. (By contrast, the scene where Cassie stands at the end of the dock and stops the giant storm felt very detached and anticlimactic.)

    3. My favorite part about this pilot was my least favorite about Ringer: the production values. This show (even on my crappy non-HD CW feed) looks gorgeous, and the movements of the camera and the music and the lighting all felt very polished, but not in a cold way. It felt warm and inviting. It made me want to come back for more.

    4. P.S. This is my first Kevin Williamson show. Never seen Dawson’s Creek, never seen The Vampire Diaries. I am a Kevin Williamson virgin.

    • Gretchen Alice says:

      1. Aw, thanks!
      2. I keep looking at that picture and sighing. So pretty!
      3. I would love to feel the way about Chance Harbor the same way that I felt about Stars Hallow. I mean, it will never be EXACTLY the same, but I want to get to know the town and all of the various crazies that live in it.
      4. Hey, me either! Although I’ve been told that I’d really like Dawson’s Creek. And one of my friends is obsessed with The Vampire Diaries. But it’s like you said once…Thursday is a clustercuss of television.

  2. Dan says:

    Yes to everything you wrote here. I’m not sure if I had zero expectations or if the pilot just met whatever expectations I had for it (mostly pretty actors and over-the-top melodrama)–and, to be honest, I’m okay with either option. It was fun.

    Also: between the actress playing the grandmother and the dude playing Adam, I kept expecting Cassie to turn into Hayden Planetarium in that bloody cheerleader outfit. (Hmm…I guess they decided naming Cassie “Eve” was maybe just a little too twee.)

    • Ashley says:

      That’s where I knew that actress from! It was driving me nuts. Oh, Heroes. You fell so far.

    • Gretchen Alice says:

      All I want is a fun tv show. (See, Parks & Rec qualifies as fun, but I also care very deeply about those characters. It’s a different kind of fun.) And I’ve got my hopes set on The Secret Circle.

      • Dan says:

        Oh, yes. Absolutely. The Secret Circle is the kind of show that will keep me entertained for an hour, but I’ll probably have zero attachment to any of the characters. And I’m okay with that–I cried three times during “The Girl Who Waited”…I don’t really need to do that during every show I watch.

        Also: I think you and Ashley would both enjoy Dawson’s Creek.

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