Our introduction is the extremely fabulous manor house in the UK owned by extremely callous slave traders – and the mistress of the house sneaking to the slave cabins for an illicit liaison with one of the men there. While there we see an African (possibly Yoruba) ritual to heal a sick child, in which a chicken is killed.
Fast forward to the present, the series is set in an extremely exclusive private school which the old manor house of grand proportions has become. We have many teenagers going about their school business. We have Cassie (the rather soggy protagonist) her lesbian best friend Thelma (who is sassy, funny and several kinds of awesome), Troy the sexy love interest (played by the actor who plays Klaus in the Vampire Diaries, only with more shirtless and rear naked scenes. Yes, I’m shallow), Leon the sexy love interest’s annoying friend, and the not very bright girl, Roxanne. Pattern is well established, after all though I am impressed by the absence of grossly over the top mean girls (there are popular girls who snub Cassie but they’re not over the top mean girls we see so often). The main difference is the glorious settings and teachers who are both amusingly snarky and, probably, should be fired for talking to their pupils like that. Especially the extremely inappropriate yet outrageously funny headmaster.
But Cassie sneaking off for a crafty ciggy in an abandoned outbuilding and in there she finds a cross made of chicken bones – and the blue pot that was used in the chicken-killing ritual. Clumsily, she cuts her finger on the pot and lets her blood drip inside it to the sounds of very ominous whispering. Of course, she takes said ominous vase back to her room. As you do. Going to sleep next to the the pot results in creepy dreams back in time, to the woman and her liaison, to her pregnancy, to her calling on Azazazeal, to her being hanged and lots of similar pleasant images. Let this be a lesson to you – no spooky demon jugs by the bedside.
Spooky jug’s affects are felt later in the day with spooky whisperings of “Azazeal” and a traumatic, shaved head reflect of her appearing in a suddenly broken mirror and various other spooky goings on and flashed visions of the past. Causing her to be bad tempered and snarly to poor Thelma
The gloriously inappropriate headmaster (his lesson of what history teaches us: No matter what you do with your life, in a 100 years time no-one will give a toss) fills Cassie in on some history of the house – that it was built on the slave trade and Rachel McBain (the woman in her visions) who became fascinated with the religion of the African slaves (described as Voodoo), sacrificed a woman to try and summon something and ended up going mad. And Cassie starts levitating cups. Briefly anyway.
We have a side plot with Roxanne having an affair with Ben, the art teacher, which Cassie learns and agrees to keep secret for Roxanne. As her teacher says – Cassie is intelligent but would rather be less intelligent, but popular and uses this good will from Roxanne to get into the popular clique. Becoming more popular, trying to fit in and her magical happenings is pulling her away from the awesome Thelma. Roxanne, growing increasingly irritated with Cassie using her secret to ingratiate herself into Roxanne’s social circle, tells the obnoxious Leon Cassie likes him – causing him to get grabby and not take no for an answer – until Cassie’s magical oddness blows out the electronics nearby – nothing like flying glass and a shower of sparks to get the message across – Cassie runs home for more atmospheric haunting.
Cassie flees to Thelma, can’t quite tell her about Leon but tells Thelma about the magic instead for comfort and rebonding. Ironically later Thelma tells Cassie she sometimes feels Cassie watching her even when she’s not there- but Cassie isn’t listening and is watching a man in the distance. No chance Thelma, even when you are there you don’t have Cassie’s full attention. What she does get is to see Cassie absently move nail polish bottles with her mind.
Time for some more outbuilding searching where she finds a block of wood with “Azazeal” written on it. And some fiery magic aimed at Leon in art class. Taklking to the Awesome Inappropriate Headmaster about the incident also gives her chance to ask about Azazael (he’s a good info dumper), the leader of the Nephilim. 200 Angels who fell in love with mortal women and taught them the secrets of witchcraft – and as punishment they were hurled into the abyss.
Another party (do these kids have any lessons beyond art and English Literature? Maths? History? Anyone?) and more Cassie drooling over Troy (throwing in an unnecessary gay stereotype at Troy) and using her little mind tricks against Leon – seen again by Thelma.
And Thelma calls Cassie out for deliberately using her powers to hurt people (actually, I fully and completely support her using her powers against Leon – but not to try and get Troy to take his shirt off). And, in a beautiful speech, Thelma calls Cassie on her constant flirting with Thelma, knowing Thelma has a crush. She uses Thelma’s attraction to control her and hurt her. After this epic slap down, Thelma runs off, leaving Cassie to stare at the spooky ultra gorgeous man (hello Michael Fassbender) who disappears.
The next day there are police at the school and Headmaster and the police are questioning Cassie about where Thelma was. And why Thelma was upset since she has disappeared. Cassie wanders away from the drama to the church where she saw the strange, sexy man earlier and goes to do some exploring- she finds fresh roses on the grave of the long dead Rachel McBain. At the school she finally finds him – playing a piano in a library – and names him – Azazeal. He needs her help to regain his strength – and he gets to be so extremely sexy and sinister and beautiful tragic tears for the lost Rachel. Cassie demands to see Thelma. Through spooky secret passages he takes her to a long abandoned part of the school where Thelma is tied to a chair. Cassie tries to use her magic to crush Azazeal under a chandelier but fails poorly.
A sacrifice must be willing and it must be something truly loved. Cassie offers herself in place of Thelma – proving it must be love. He holds a knife to Cassie’s throat – Thelma runs to save her and Azazeal stabs her. Willing and loving – because Thelma would have sacrificed herself for Cassie. Azazeal then ruins all this glorious, terrifying, sexy menace by a badly done transformation into a winged demon. He was far more compelling and frightening as a human.
Then Cassie wakes up. Nightmare! But Thelma’s bed is still empty and there is still a police presence looking for Thelma, including dredging the lake where they find her body.
I was ready to scream at the dead lesbian when we move to her funeral. Really because I’m so very sick of this trope. But Thelma’s ghost shows up at the funeral. Not only shows up but is snarky “They’re bloody loving this. Don’t be a dyke or you end up topping yourself” and then speculating about the female vicar’s prowess in bed. Thank you Thelma for pulling it back from the brink (even if it did rather shatter the incredibly well acted grief)”
Ok it’s not perfect, she’s dead – but at least she’s a participant in the series still.
The pilot is long and not a lot happens but a lot of foreshadowing and atmospheric building. But that’s not a complaint – the foreshadowing, the scenes are incredible well acted, well displayed and beautiful to see. There’s some amazingly maintained tension and the spookiness. The setting, the pacing, the acting – it’s flawless, artful and really sets the scene better than I can describe
Thelma, Thelma. She’s a constant source of ribald sexy jokes to make the straight woman uncomfortable or smile, her extremely obvious unrequited crush on Cassie and her desperate urge to make Cassie happy are all sad and tired stereotypes. Yet, Thelma is gloriously funny, fully determined to be herself in a repressive climate, loves her good, is great fun and I can’t help but love her. She also calls Cassie on it – calls her on controlling her by offering support and flirting, giving false hope, to keep Thelma on side. She challenges this, even while being a lesbian side-kick with unrequited love, she challenges them. Every show should have a Thelma.
Inappropriate Headmaster is a POC, non stereotyped and great fun. I’m not sure how effective he is as a teacher but he has a grounding and common sense I love. There are some POC students but they don’t play a large role
I’m glad that the headmaster says that all religion is dangerous if taken too far – rather than yet again us singling our Voudoun as the big, bad scary religion. Yet, I’m not even sure if actual Vodoun (as practiced at the time in the US) is really appropriate to describe the practices of African slaves in Britain at that time. Especially if it goes on to connect to a very Christian demon, the fallen angel Azazael. Why would Yoruba (or any African religious practice) summon a Christian fallen angel?
Cassie’s near-sexual assault at Leon’s hands isn’t handled ideally. Though she’s upset and traumatised and begins to mention it to Thelma, but then she turns it to her fear over being haunted and the magical weirdness (which is, indeed, very freaky). I don’t like that it happened to Cassie after she dropped her “nice girl” clothes and went to the party dressed in something edgier and sexier. However, I do like that Cassie continues to thoroughly hate Leon and the incident isn’t entirely brushed under the rug