Kindred: The Embraced Review
In the beginning there was Dungeons & Dragons – we played elves, halflings, and humans saving the world from nasty kobolds and goblins. And then we grew up, and as we grew up roleplaying games (RPGs) changed; suddenly there were horror games like Call of Cthulhu and sci-fi ones like Paranoia, and each new game called out to a new set of roleplayers and became adopted into the genre with some interest. And then, in the early 90s a small company called White Wolf took standard RPGs and gave them a new twist – you got to play traditional monsters: vampires and werewolves in a world very closely based on modernity but with a slightly darker edge – a World of Darkness.
The first game in the White Wolf stable was Vampire: the Masquerade, which drew a picture of a world controlled by vampires… vampires who had chosen to abide by a set of rules which would help prevent humanity discovering them and therefore hunting them. These vampires were made up of seven clans and each city with vampires in it had a designated organisational structure, made up of a Prince (head of the city), the Primogen (leaders of each clan), and then the rest of the vampires. The game was very successful, reaching out to a new generation of roleplayers and thus inspired many spin-offs. Of course, the RPG itself was expanded, with more clans emerging outside the traditional structure… then came Werewolf, Mage, Changeling, Wraith and all the expansion books for these games. The computer games Vampire: the Masquerade and Hunter: the Reckoning were both inspired by White Wolf. And Kindred: the Embraced is the TV spin-off (you see, this ramble did make sense in the end).
That said - Kindred: the Embraced plays fairly fast and loose with its source material. While the show still features most of the clans laid down in Vampire: the Masquerade, they all seem to have the same powers as one another (unlike in the game). So expect to witness any and all of the vampires shapeshifting into animals (previously a Gangrel-only trait) and exhibiting other cross-skilling throughout the series. Oh, and these vampires seem perfectly able to go about in daytime too. OK, so they always say it's dawn or dusk, but it's clear, bright and sometimes even a little sunny.
Kindred is based in San Francisco, where the vampire Prince is Julian Luna of the Ventrue clan. He is close friends with Daedalus (the Nosferatu Primogen), a lover of Lillie (the Toreador Primogen), enemy of Eddie Fiori (the Brujah Primogen) and employs the Gangrel Primogen as his bodyguard. Now in the game all these clans would really mean something to you, they'd have different skills, different ways of doing things… but in the TV series, we're limited to pretty basic differentiations. The Nosferatu are ugly, the Toreador are artistic, the Brujah are thuggish, the Gangrel like motorbikes and the streets, and the Ventrue… well, they seem to like being in control. So that's five clans, but didn't I just say there were seven? Well, yes, but they decided to cut out two clans for the TV show – a marked difference made simply to prevent upsetting viewers (they got rid of the insane Malkavians and the magic-dabbling Tremere).
Of course there is a obvious comparison to be made between Ultraviolet and Kindred: the Embraced. Both deal with policemen beginning to enter the world of the modern day vampire. They both deal with vampiric plotting and intrigue in a morally ambiguous world. In Ultraviolet though, the cop becomes a hunter whereas in Kindred: the Embraced, the cop becomes an unwilling ally. Ultraviolet is darker in tone, with more dialogue and less action – something that appeals to me personally, but which isn't everyone's cup of tea. Kindred may have more soap opera elements in it, but it seems to me like they were hoping this would be the first of many seasons in a show that would probably have got better as it evolved.
The series stars C. Thomas Howell (The Outsiders, Soul Man), for anyone who wondered just what he was up to… he plays Frank, the cop who's out to get Julian Luna until he discovers just how unusual his 'prey' is. Unfortunately his role is a little melodramatic – both in dialogue and performance – but I enjoyed seeing him in front of a camera again. Mark Frankel (Leon the Pig Farmer) takes the role of Julian Luna – the definite central role of the show, which went to air shortly before the actor died in a motorcycle accident, so it's always a little weird to watch in that knowledge. The rest of the ensemble do a competent job, with the youngsters Cash & Sasha (Channon Roe and Brigid Brannagh), and Daedalus (Jeff Kober) particularly entertaining to watch in action.
Much of the series is spent laying the groundwork, explaining how the Kindred organise themselves and detailing their rivalries and political viewpoints. Each episode tends to open up more of the White Wolf system, explaining how vampires are made, what the laws of the Masquerade are and just how far vampires will go to keep themselves out of the spotlight. This is most definitely an introductory series.
The show is hardly great (even for vampire lovers), but it's not terrible either. The plots are OK, but with less intrigue than they might have had, the acting is a little hammed up, and some of the dialogue is cringe-worthy. There's quite a lot of action, and lots of hurrying through sub-plots so that overarching storylines can be focused on. There is some good stuff in here, but it's not exactly surprising that the show got cancelled after this first season – though I suppose it's nice that the studio went ahead and released it on DVD… unlike Brimstone for example (the cancelled show I'd most like to see come out on DVD!).
The episode summary below really covers the main plot of each episode. On top of these weekly plots, there are some plotlines that run throughout the series. Lillie's jealousy at Julian's interest in Caitlin (a human woman) and the change in the old lovers' relationship is one such theme. Another is the relationship between Cash and Sasha (both of whom I quite liked) which undergoes a number of interesting twists and turns, even if some of them are a little inexplicable. My undeniable favourite is Daedalus, the Nosferatu who helps Julian time and time again, but maintains a stand of neutrality on matters where others become emotional. There's a particularly great part where he saves a child from a hospital and wants to look after him, but feels he cannot turn him into a vampire and inflict Nosferatu ugliness upon him…
Detective Frank Kohanek is after Julian Luna, who he is sure is connected to the criminal gangs of San Francisco and he finally seems to be closing in on him. Meanwhile, Eddie Fiori and his Brujah gang stake the Gangrel Primogen and the body is found spontaneously combusting in the sunlight by Frank and his partner Sonny. While Frank starts to follow the trail, the vampires work to cover up the crime and Luna takes on Cash (the new Gangrel Primogen) as his next bodyguard.
Prince of the City
Frank turns his attention to Fiori, but his investigation just catches the attention of Internal Affairs and Julian Luna. Luna meanwhile bails out Sasha, one of his remaining mortal family members and brings her to his house for safety and to look after her – where she sees Cash and they feel an instant attraction. Luna also becomes fascinated with Caitlin, a journalist that has come to his house to press him for an interview.
Someone has turned a schizophrenic named Starkweather into a vampire and he goes on a rampage with his newly discovered powers. Julian wants him stopped before he is captured by the human police and the truth about him is discovered. He enlists the aid of Frank and Cash to help him in this hunt and Frank is shown how Kindred deal with these kinds of issues.
Romeo and Juliet
Fiori and the Brujah clan want to start a clan war in the city, and begin by killing one of their arch-enemies, the Gangrel, openly in the street. Cash and Sasha's relationship grows, and Cash asks Julian's permission to make Sasha a vampire so they can be together forever… but things do not entirely go to plan.
Live Fast, Die Young and Leave A Good Looking Corpse
Zane, and up and coming rock superstar, plays at Lillie's club, Haven. He's also a Toreador and a pretty wild, unmanageable one at that, with a penchant for female groupies and making them vampires then letting them run loose. Julian tells Lillie to get a grip on her clanmember.
The Rise and Fall of Eddie Fiori
Lillie, jealous of Julian's new relationship with Caitlin, hires the best private eye in San Francisco to follow Julian and get pictures of him with Caitlin. Of course, he gets more than he bargains for, and Lillie has to deal with the fallout. Cyrus, the Brujah Prince of LA, visits in an attempt to assist Eddie establish himself as the new Prince of the City, bringing a hired assassin of the Assamite clain to help by killing Julian.
Bad Moon Rising
An exiled member of the Nosferatu Clan, Goth, returns to San Francisco and snatches a baby from a young woman in Golden Gate Park. Julian and Frank begin a major search for him and his accomplices. But at the same time, Julian has to try and stop Caitlin from sensationalising the story too much in her paper.
Cabin In The Woods
Caitlin takes Julian out of the city to a cabin near to the town where Julian's family came from. An old Brujah clan still survives there, however… a clan Julian nearly wiped out many years before. They want to settle the old scores between the clans and see this as the perfect opportunity to do so.
This is a relatively recent television show and, as such, the picture quality is fine, though not outstanding. Colours are well-defined, including skin tones and the dark shades that are used so often to give this a true vampiric feel. There is a little softness from time to time, and some grain too (as the screenshots indicate), but not so much that it made me sit back and notice, nor which marred my enjoyment of the show at all.
The audio is presented in the original Dolby Surround and while basic it certainly does its job. The musical score is actually really nice, and clear throughout too. Dialogue and sound effects stand out well against it, even during the club scenes where the loud music is obviously intended to bring about the right atmosphere.
The menus are basic, but pleasant to look at. In the background scenes from the series play, clouded by red smoke that swirls around and accompanied by some nice atmospheric music. The menus are fairly simple because each disc contains only the episodes… and the only navigation problem is working out which order the episodes go in, but that was quickly solved by locating an episode guide on the Net.
There aren't any. Unless you count the scene selection menu for each episode, which are captioned and may spoil small aspects of plot for you. Oh, and you can't avoid them either, because when you select an episode to play it takes you into the scene selection screen and not into the episode itself. So be forewarned and try and click through it all quickly.
If Kindred: the Embraced had been allowed to develop into a long-running series no doubt it would have achieved a massive fan following and cult status. As it is, this first season shows potential, but not greatness in itself. There is a lot of expository detail needed to bring viewers into the world of the Kindred, and coupled with fast action and many stories to tell the series sometimes feels a bit rushed. The acting is mostly competent, and I did end up caring what was happening and even intrigued at some points – all good signs. Personally I much preferred Ultraviolet but Kindred: the Embraced still stands out as a fun, action-packed vampire series which looks at the vampires standpoint rather than that of the hunters and humans.