It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was The Great Boat Fire of 1995.
After six months of casually alluding to it, The Secret Circle finally ventured into the vaunted boat fire mystery that killed a dozen people 17 years ago, via Cassie incepting Jake. And after my huff last week about this show idling around without direction, this show finally rattled some momentum together.
Was it how you imagined? The boat fire? I’d been picturing something a little more Kennedy-esque, like on a boat out on the water — sailboat or fishing rig, you decide! — rather than in the elephants’ graveyard of Chance Harbor. Unlike past attempts at this whole “leaving breadcrumbs rather than the entire loaf of bread with the murderer’s name on it” thing, however, the writers deftly handled the Great Boat Fire of 1995, actually. We got a lot of information to play with and a few lingering hooks, the most prominent, of course, is that John Blackwell is alive.
But what else? For one, Jake knows the witch hunter Evan — which means he did not die when Blackwell lit him on fire. Back in the day, a rift in the circle developed between trusting Blackwell and an offer to appease the witch hunters; what’s kind of interesting is the way the show keeps insisting on dark magic’s utility. Cassie can solve the mystery — with black magic. Blackwell can survive — with black magic. And the witches who survived that day? They were the ones siding with dark magic. On the other hand, they also ended up like Dawn, Charles, and Ethan, so maybe that’s not much a call to arms.
Cassie’s descent into Jake’s memories and through the boat, however, worked. The writers drew it out properly where you’re trying to gather as much information as you can, while Cassie moves inwards towards the execution. Even in the one moment that played a little funny — when Cassie brushes off the girl who can suddenly see her in the memory, super casual, too, like the girl was one of those clipboard people on the street — it generally made sense because her dead father was in the room. Of course, she’d go further. Like Diana said, “I’d do it too, if I could. Just to see them? To know the truth?”
While we’re there, let me throw something at you: Adam is The Secret Circle’s Bonnie. He’s more or less an old school ghost with two holes cut out of a sheet, except instead of a sheet, it’s a wet blanket. And he looms in whatever plot he’s in, dragging it down with his clammy blanket hands, telling it things are too dangerous. Can we trust Jake? Can you trust Jake? In a box? With a fox? I can tell you who y’all can’t trust — your goddamn parents. Fortunately, finally, the story seems like it’s going to start shifting that way, now that we know Ethan was on the boat that day. Conveniently, Ethan has turned sober and not let Natasha Henstridge play him into giving up his newly acquired crystal. Worth noting (though much like Cassie turning into Malificent, it’s tough to believe our gentle town drunk is a villain): Ethan came from the direction of the room in which the others were murdered.
And elsewhere, Faye and Lee continued their sexy sexless conversation about the dark arts in his hilarious garage. Can this show pull off a magic drug plot without it being really cheesy? I have some doubts. But tonight what elevated the show was a combination of the show finally delving into the murders, and B- and C-plots with the parents and Faye that zipped along, if nothing else, and in the latter case provided the kind of uneasy distraction you need to preserve a good A-plot mystery.
- Quibble: I made the mistake of watching The Vampire Diaries before this and one thing the characters do really well on that show is respond with realistic shock to surprise stabbings, shootings, and other killings—even though Mystic Falls is some hellscape where Drive would be their Pretty Woman. Meanwhile, Cassie barely flinched when the witch hunter slit Jake’s father’s throat.
- Another quibble: Diana and Dawn have an off-screen coffee session. First of all that is weird that Diana and Dawn are having coffee to begin with. Secondly, the show hurts for inter-generational interaction.
- Third and final quibble: “I feel like the circle’s falling apart.” That was stupid when Diana said it not twenty-four hours after everybody cast off Faye into the night, and Melissa justifiably felt like catching up on some Downton the night after she almost died in a high school bathroom (pretty bad way to go), and then to try to make it into some latter-day echo of the problems of yore compounded the stupidity. They do not yet have the same problems as their parents.
- “If we agree to stop practicing, we’ll be safe again.” It was A Time for Choosing.
- “You know he’s in love with Cassie, right?” This is the most chaste teen drama I have ever watched. It’s like a manners novel, and the lesson when Nick died was that no one should ever touch anyone else again.
- I realize this is par for the course with teen dramas, but I’m generally the same age as this cast and it distracts me that they have absolutely no memory of 1995. Toy Story came out!
- For all the weird relative ages of the cast members on this show, the Secret Circle casting team does a stellar job of casting people who actually look like they could be related. Jake’s parents really looked like they could be Chris Zylka’s parents.
- Melissa gone again, and this time off with her mom. Melissa appears to have both her parents, or else a stepparent. Maybe the writers don’t even care.
- I like that Diana was, like, hiding in the bushes in the Blakes’ front yard, waiting for Cassie and Adam to get there.
- “Do I look like a waitress? Get them yourself.”