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The Secret Circle: “Family”

Illustration for article titled The Secret Circle: “Family”
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There is a rollercoaster, the Grizzly, at a park called King’s Dominion in Virginia. Very traditional—it’s wooden, rickety as hell, and not exactly a going attraction at the park. There aren’t any loops or even tricks, except the brief flash through a dark tunnel. But it’s weirdly one of the most fun rides there, and the one that threads through all the memories of the times I’ve been to the park over the years. One night, for instance, we ended up riding the Grizzly over and over again with a group of middle-schoolers, and every time we looped back, we all built up a slow-clap until the first big drop.

“Family” is basically the Grizzly—no big loops and a little rickety as an episode, but fun anyway, and underscored with some memorable character moments. The episode’s kind of fitting, actually, as the season finale to The Secret Circle, an up-and-down show that performed best with traditional horror elements and a set of increasingly complex dynamics between its various characters.

The episode picks up where “Prom” left off, with Faye kidnapped and Diana fleeing. The opening juxtaposition has a lot of promise, because the smash-cut was precise. Diana has a fleeting moment of calm and relief, and then, boom, Faye’s shackled up.

But the episode immediately jumps into a tenacious exposition onslaught I’m not sure the finale needs, given the strong episodes that preceded it. Does Cassie really need to inform Diana, standing 50 yards from Blackwell, “There he is”? The episode has the feel like maybe the producers over-shot the material, and had to cram a lot in the first half—thus producing a lot of awkward cuts, and some choppiness. For example, Faye regains her powers, cued to Phoebe Tonkin’s always satisfying delivery (“Please let this be happening”), and blows out of her captivity, breaking chains, unlocking doors, and slamming some tool into the wall. When we return to Faye, with no segue, that nascent escape turns abruptly into a panicked call to Dawn. The momentum was with Faye, and the stakes are never such where she is really in danger. The shift does not work.

The episode rushes Dawn and Charles’ exploits, as well, or at least escalates their concern about the boat situation too quickly. After a season of never interacting with her daughter, Dawn lapses into near hysteria when she can’t locate her. So Charles and she enlist a suddenly present Grandma Kate, who with no prodding at all from either, ponies up her powers. Couldn’t Grandma Kate just go kill Eben her damn self? And where the hell was Ethan?

And then there’s Maude. Or the crystal skull. The episode squares off Diana and Cassie in this reason vs. impulse conundrum that in the first half of the season often went in Cassie’s favor. Here again, as it has of late, Diana emerges the victor, as John Blackwell completes his heel turn—and I find that kind of interesting for a teen genre show, where good choices are not usually so starkly drawn, and so routinely triumphant. Earlier this week, actually, Lena Dunham was on NPR, and mentioned that the main character of Girls, Hannah, will examine a situation, and weigh the good choice and the bad choice carefully, and will make the bad choice in good faith every time. Cassie is a good soldier in that cause.


Nevertheless, the crystal skull formation scene is ludicrous. Cassie drags the crystal skull from Indiana Jones, if it looked like a jellyfish, right out of the lake and resuscitates it with sex magic, like a dying friendly ghost. It is weirdly sexual. And the whole thing becomes disorienting as the scene drags on. Is Cassie onto Blackwell’s deception? Is she trying to engender Diana’s trust? Does she want the skull’s “seductive” powers all to herself? Does she suspect the skull actually contains tequila? The writing and Britt Robertson’s acting choices don’t sell any particular answer, and so the “reveal” that Blackwell has played the characters falls flat. This is an unflattering analogy, but: You know when you’re playing basketball, and you spit into your palm to give your sneakers some tooth? The lake scene requires a hard pivot of a reveal, and I’m not sure the elements there had the right tooth.

Continuing along: Charles sacrifices himself (sort of) for the children, Blackwell tries to kill them, and the children kill Blackwell. And after all of that, just when I thought I’d be a little disappointed with the finale, the Secret Circle finishes strong. “Family” hustles as a season and potentially series finale.


The last few minutes flip or riff on the dalliances and trajectories of all the characters in a satisfying way. Jake and Faye have their moment—and it is a good moment—then Jake has new purpose, and Faye and Melissa regain what they wanted all along, which is fun. It's, for lack of a better word, nice to think of Melissa and Diana dancing through her room and drinking champagne and laughing. Elsewhere, in places of lesser tranquility, Cassie turns towards the darkness, Adam finds the allure of that darkness, and Diana's smile falters as she realizes she can’t escape it. And there are four more coming for them.

That's how you end a season.

If this is the end of the Restoration Hardware: Instagram line, this was… well, this was a weird show. It was weird, however, in intriguing and frustrating ways—the former entirely the cast and writing staff’s own doing, and the latter not entirely in the show’s control (the titanium yoke of the family structure in the source material).


If nothing else, in a genre where the classic baseline is Beautiful Orphan or Beautiful De Facto Orphan, Secret Circle actually deals in the loss and grief involved with that. I mentioned last week that the show’s growth throughout the season was clear, and a lot of that came from the way the show shifted to play to the strengths of the show. Jessica Parker Kennedy’s versatility turned Melissa into the cohesive balance in the ensemble; Phoebe Tonkin can work a goddamn line, so Faye became an honest and honestly awesome girl (and, should the show return, a potential Blair Waldorf or Damon Salvatore-type); Chris Zylka exudes a little pithy action-hero masculinity, so Jake became forthright and commanding; Robertson plays exasperated and angry well, so Cassie became the flip-side of the coin for the show’s essentially second lead, Diana, because Shelley Hennig plays both warmth and rigidity well.

And if it is the case that the show does not return, I will be very keen to see what all involved do next, but especially executive producer Andrew Miller, Tonkin, Kennedy, Zylka, and Hennig.


Stray observations:

  • There’s a new comic from Kate Beaton this week, and every time somebody got tied up to that pole, I couldn’t stop laughing about it.
  • Melissa wanting to have sex with you is really the kiss of death, isn’t it?
  • Enjoyed Diana’s half-assed tossing of the rocks into the water.
  • Imagine if you were fishing and you pulled that out of that lake. You probably would not massage it.
  • One thing that’s interesting/inconsistent to me: She’s been in a constant state of action for about six or seven episodes, so it might be hard to recall, but Cassie doesn’t seem like a person particularly dependent on the company of others. She’s desperate for Diana to stay, but does that sound right? Don’t you think Cassie would be, like, "All y’all get out of my house, I need a weekend to reboot"?
  • Not that I am complaining, because I love that Faye and Melissa choose friendship and partying, but did anyone else think Faye's plans were with her mom?
  • Also, I guess the reveal on Dawn and Charles murdering everyone will just have to wait until next year.
  • Eben wasn't much of a villain also, in the end.
  • I'm actually lying above: The people whose careers I'll follow with the most interest are the show's location team. (Not kidding.)
  • If you're pregnant, John Blackwell probably did it.
  • “And then everyone burned to death like the Toy Story toys! The end.”