The CW’s new witchy drama, “The Secret Circle,” doesn’t waste any time before racking up its body count. The show kills off the lead character’s mother in a cold open reminiscent of the first scene of “The Vampire Diaries” — chilling, quiet and beautifully shot. It continues to take risks and while it’s far from perfect, the first nine episodes pack just enough character development and exposition to prove that this show is up to its pointy black hat in potential.
The Secret Circle
Thursdays at 9 p.m.
“The Secret Circle” is set in the fictional town of Chance Harbor, which becomes Cassie Blake’s (Britt Robertson, “Life Unexpected”) new home after her mother is murdered. Having lost her father many years ago, Cassie moves in with her grandma (Ashley Crow, “Heroes”) and attempts to start over at a new high school. Five students, all of whom lost parents around the same time, approach Cassie and give her the real news: She’s a witch. They are all witches and need her to complete the circle with a binding ceremony that will strengthen their collective power.
Spoiler Alert: The writers take a risk by killing off a member of the circle just five episodes into the first season. Nick (Louis Hunter “Out of the Blue”) wasn’t working as a character and won’t be missed, but for a brand new show to step up with a bold move like that is impressive and unexpected. Nick’s death allows the introduction of a more mysterious character: Jake (Chris Zylka, “Kaboom”), Nick’s older brother who returns to Chance Harbor after Nick’s death. He is both a witch and a witch hunter, a walking contradiction with some serious identity problems. Jake bounces between being a possible hero and a threat to the circle. The duality of Zylka’s performance is almost unsettling to watch, but it’s one of the show’s strengths.
But “The Secret Circle” could improve by developing Cassie. She’s often clueless and shows little emotional range in comparison to Faye (Phoebe Tonkin, “Home and Away”), a standout player and one of the best new female characters on television this fall. She is the most unpredictable and unstable member of the circle, following cruel insults with moments of sincerity. Though Faye is all over the place, Tonkin approaches the role with a finesse and precision that make it hard to believe she’s so young and inexperienced.
The love triangle that forms between unofficial circle leader Diana (Shelley Hennig, “Days of Our Lives”), her longtime boyfriend Adam (Thomas Dekker, “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles”) and Cassie might make the show look like a supernatural teen soap at the surface level, but in reality “The Secret Circle” is dark in tone and story. Someone is always out to get the circle, and when the witches finally attempt to have some normal fun at a Halloween party, they’re kidnapped by witch hunters.
“The Secret Circle” has a strong start, but there is vast room for improvement. Upping the horror will definitely help. “Slither” is the best episode so far — frightening and shocking, it allows the cast to show its range. The midseason finale established that Cassie comes from an evil lineage, which opens up plenty of opportunities for dark drama that will hopefully allow Robertson to prove she has more than just one facial expression.
Before tackling a complicated character arc, the writers need to focus on making the show’s mythology and timeline airtight. It’s odd that the generation above the the current circle all had children around the same time and at very young ages. Circle magic is confusing, and it’s unclear just how many other circles exist. Most of the questions that arise stem from careless writing and not mystery. These gaps need to be fixed and the less-developed characters need to grow before this show can make the transition from enjoyable to noteworthy.