Warning: Spoilers Ahead
Romeo and Juliet meets Twilight in Netflix’s latest series, First Kill. Twilight may not be be most apt reference point for the show, but it is the only vampire franchise I have watched. And the fact they reference Edward and Bella in the show’s theme song makes it a natural point of comparison. However, the similarities would end at it being a vampire genre story of star-crossed lovers.
The show, created by Victoria Schwab, is an adaptation of a short story of the same name from the anthology, Vampires Never Get Old: Tales with Fresh Bite.’ The story follows teenage vampire Juliette Fairmont (Sarah Catherine Hook), who belongs to a family of Legacy vampires. She finds herself attracted to Calliope Burns (Imani Lewis), a new girl in town. The twist? Calliope belongs to a family of monster hunters. Despite being natural born enemies, neither are able to deny their attraction to each other.
There are many things that make the show a fresh take from the vampire genre, the most important one being that the lead characters are queer. Juliette’s best friend, Ben, who she briefly dated when they were 12, is also gay. The problems that arise in the plotline have nothing to do with their sexuality, and just their circumstances. A parallel plotline that runs through the story features Ben’s love interest, Noah, who is a closeted schoolmate, who prefers to hook up with Ben in secrecy, while getting serious with his girlfriend in public.
Unlike most vampire stories, both the main characters are in fact the same age as each other. Juliette is not secretly a thousand years old, but we can assume based on how young the older members look, she will age slowly and will live for eternity. So, there is no ick factor to power through or pretend to ignore, which is a huge win for me. This is not the only way that they have been given an equal footing. While Juliette may be a vampire with the ability to drain you, Calliope is a hunter, equipped with the sensibilities, power and skills to kill a vampire if needed. So, Calliope has no need for fear. In fact, she knows exactly what Julliete is (even before Juliette realizes that Cal is a monster hunter), and despite her disdain for all kinds of monsters, finds herself drawn to her.
Another factor that sets it apart is the fact that the existence of vampires or monsters are not news to the public. In that, there is a constant reference to a past when monsters existed freely and killed humans. Eventually, monsters were defeated and they retreated. Savannah, where the plot is set, is thought to be a place devoid of monsters, because as the Fairmont family constantly says, the ones who have continued to thrive have hidden in plain sight. Having had a history of monsters, the authorities are equipped with ways to deal with them; there are monster drills in place at schools and police checkpoints involve making people hold a silver coin. In such a scenario, the existence of a Guild, that exists to rid the world of such ghouls, doesn’t seem surprising.
However, things are not so straightforward. It is not just attraction that stops Calliope from killing Julliete. In fact, halfway through the first episode, Calliope plunges a stake into Julliete’s heart. Unlike your everyday vampires, Legacy vampires are not so easy to beat. A stake to the heart does not kill them; a fact the Burns family realizes a little too late. Unlike Calliope and Juliette, their families waste no time in showing their absolute disdain for each other and are ready to be at each other’s throats. However, circumstances (read: Juliette and Calioppe) makes it impossible for either of them to best the other. Their romance blurs battle lines to the point where the families even come to each others aid in situations.
The family dynamics are what makes the show interesting. The equations between family members and the one between the two families is what keeps the plotline going. At the onset of the show, Juliette is at the cusp of making her first kill, a moment that is important in the matrilineal family that are direct descendants of Lilith, who chose to be bitten by the serpent in the Garden of Eden. While Juliette is unable to come to terms with having to take a life, her older sister, Elinor, is unapologetic about it, and even keeps treasures from her kills. Elinor’s twin brother, Oliver, who was banished from the family adds another layer of mystery. Oliver is driven by the need to take revenge against Elinor, who convinced her family that her brother was evil because she “felt like it”. The Fairmont’s allegiance lies towards the Malkia (the serpent), and the legacy vampires are more cold in their approach to problems. Sometimes, the coldness seems unreal. At the end of the show, when Elinor is arrested, the family is less than perturbed and are happily romancing each other. It is the call for a meeting of the Legacy Councel challenging the fitness of the Keeper of Malkia, Davina Atwood (Juliette’s grandmother who had earlier been eaten by her father), that jolts them back. In absolute contradiction is the Burns family, who are so tight knit, and willing to look past the Guild’s rules to protect each other.
The show is interesting, but choppy in execution. While there is a good story at the crux of the show, the plot holes and the execution can seem difficult to ignore. For example, Ben, who is Julliete’s best friend, confidant and support system completely disappears towards the end of the season, making you wonder if he was created solely for the purpose of not allowing Juliette to come across as a loner. This is not the only narrative that the show abandons midway. At one point, a group of concerned neighbours come together and form the MAAMs (Moms Against All Monsters). The rise of the action includes them protesting outside the Fairmont’s house, because Julliette’s dad also happens to be the District Attorney. And, then you don’t see them anymore. While there is some reference to a past filled with monsters, there is no real clarity on what happened. While the history allows for a lot of the story to make sense, the lack of time spent on catching us up on it makes it a little difficult to understand where the actions and reactions of the characters are coming from.
With unestablished backstories and flimsy characters, it feels a little impossible to root for anyone. For example, Theo (Calliope’s brother) has some flashbacks about his mother and sets on a mission to find the legacy vampire that killed her. The problem? Until that moment, we did’t know that Cal’s mom was his step mom. And towards the end of the show, all we know about the incident is that brief flashback we are shown. Even the reason for Oliver’s ostracization, his relationship with the witch, all seem to be without major reasoning. Elinor, who is hungry for power, seems to have the ability to make people forget things. Why is she the only vampire with a power? What makes her special? Even Juliette’s decision to turn Theo seems forced, considering he seemed pretty dead and for him to have woken up just to ask Juliette to help, seems quite far-fetched. However, even if I forgive these gaps and expect it to be fixed in the coming seasons, I simply cannot come around the CGI used in the show. Considering the amount of money Netflix has, I would assume that they have the time and skills to create shows with better editing and visual effects. However, they really seemed to drop the ball here.
This is a show meant for binge-watching on days you don’t want to use much of your brain cells. If you are just looking for some good romance, the chemistry between Juliette and Calliope is palpable. Hook and Lewis put on a good performance and their efforts to navigate a relationship above and beyond these divisions is heartwarming, even if slightly nauseating.