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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Secret Circle: “Crystal”

Illustration for article titled The Secret Circle: “Crystal”
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So you have a sister.

Secret Circle returns and reveals it wasn’t just Amelia, Dawn, and Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman that in the night dreamed of love so true with John Blackwell back in 1995—Diana’s mom was into it, too.

As I wrote here before Christmas, I assumed Faye was the Blackwell sibling—but this solution offers far more in the way of narrative ammunition. Cassie’s romance with black magic has been something of an oddity, with a teen character portrayed as alternatively (but realistically!) dumb, angry, and chill about her life. Her dark magic saves her, or allows her to Bobby Petrino people straight off motorcycles so her potential suitors can banish them from Chance Harbor. We can all probably imagine Faye with dark magic—predictably tame bad girl antics, drenched in missed opportunities.

But Diana is a good person. Diana is also susceptible to stress and pressure, and until this moment in her life, she had the strongest family structure of the circle. Where Cassie embraces the utility of dark magic… well, Diana might not be so pragmatic.

The more you look at “Crystal,” actually, it reveals the episode pulls off a somewhat complex balancing act building up to Cassie’s realization about Diana. While hunting for crystals, Cassie must learn about her sister and Blackwell’s sketch motives without Diana present. Diana must be hassled thoroughly, and dragged up to the mine at the right time. Adam and Melissa must deal with complications to setup Diana’s mine troubles. Faye must have her dreams doused in gasoline and lit on fire to eliminate her from the logic problem of Blackwell Heritage. Oh, and Blackwell must kill Jane. This all blossoms on the way to the quality final scene, which Shelley Hennig and Britt Robertson handled with familiarity and the appropriate shift from annoyance to confusion—all set to an awesome song. And there was very little concussion logic!

The entire enterprise still lacks polish, though.

In an episode where so many of the mechanical decisions flow logically (Cassie volunteering to ride with Jake, for example, to avoid Adam), the show fumbles the setup for last two minutes. Cassie shows up at Diana’s because of a text? What the hell was she doing before? I only ask because her grandmother is lying dead in her own living room.


Jane dies—and there’s no resolution. Cassie does two big things in the latter half of the episode: take Callum out in the mine parking lot, and realize Diana and she are half-sisters. While both are awesome, both keep Cassie from entering the confrontation plot at all, and the confrontation affects Cassie’s narrative most—her father kills her grandmother, in the presence of the man who killed her mother, because Chance Harbor is hell, apparently. The blunt force of Jane’s death is left dangling, from an emotional perspective, yes, but also from a suspense perspective.

Ashley Crowe’s return to a more prominent, if fleeting, role in the proceedings underscored how underused she was once Secret Circle banished her off to the Mary Worth Ward for Witch Dementia. Crowe’s acid delivery of “I estimated his hold on Amelia…on all of you,” elevates the stakes of Blackwell vs. Blake all on its own. I actually felt that pang of, “No, not her! Don’t kill her!” Just seeing Jane’s brief, pseudo-return to form made me appreciate the worth of a trusted adult character on this show. While I don’t think this is intentional on the part of the show, taking away Jane produces a uniquely teenaged emotion—the feeling that a warm, fixed point of knowledge has been taken away, and the ground is a little less granite for it.


Meanwhile, in the other beat left a little mute, Faye suffers a subtle hacking of the heart. When I was running through my notes, I realized what a terrible-ass night Faye has herself: First, she learns her mother didn’t love her father; then, momentarily, she has herself a living breathing father and the affirmation that she actually is different and superior in a certain way, the kind of way she’s longed for; then John Blackwell kills that too. All that’s left is that ashen knowledge you’re as ordinary as you ever were—except in Faye’s case, compounded with an ugly revelation about her parents, and, perhaps, a kind of sickening affirmation that her obsessions may be just as deluded as her mother’s.

Phoebe Tonkin hustles as usual with the material, and runs through a slate of emotions in her scene with Blackwell—but the plot lacks punctuation. Instead of any kind of echo of all this fresh cruelty, the show serves up some schmaltz courtesy Blackwell, something it’s already done with Blackwell and Melissa, and Blackwell and Jake. In its little sixth act montages, The Vampire Diaries excels at emphasizing character beats to provide a wholeness to episodes, or upending a beat entirely. Secret Circle favors more cohesive episode cappers, generally with a strong visual—the sex birds, for example—and the show does that here again to quality effect with the sisterly revelation. It doesn’t, however, provide much sense for where we leave the others, who they are, and what the show thinks of them.


Stray observations:

  • “Oh my God, it’s really you.” The writing for Jake’s grandfather was pretty shaky. He was like a marshmallow peep with ADD for the first few minutes of his appearance.
  • Two stellar little moments from Chris Zylka: The wacky serial killer grin after he threatens Callum, and his torn expression when receiving that ounce of affection from his grandfather.
  • The line itself and Hennig’s self-aware delivery of, “Weirdly, I prefer it warm,” cracked me up.
  • Same for Tonkin with, “Well at least he’s kept himself busy.”
  • Props to the location team once more for that sketchy as hell mine.
  • The idea that Blackwell’s goal was to enact witchcraft domination through his sheer sexual magnetism is hilarious anyway, but it’s even funnier when you’ve got Dawn heaving herself, fruitlessly, at Blackwell while he’s having sex with two other girls. O Women Chamberlain, eternal is your desperation and its directly proportional disappointment.
  • Behind Faye, I had Melissa as the likely Blackwell.
  • Secret Circle: 1995 sounds, frankly, like a sexier show.