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Reading Room / Kindred: the Embraced Reviews

The blood is their life, your death

"Kindred: The Embraced" takes vampire mythology into the 90's, capitalizes on society's-death fixation

By B. Daniel Rösch


Editorial Staff Writer

"Take my flesh, I'll give you my soul," screams Heart's Ann Wilson in their song, "The Night." She echoes the sentiments of many vampyre fans, and she touches the surface of society's fascination with the undead.

The mythology surrounding vampyre legends is draped in romantic allure. They are creatures of great sensual energy, exuding raw, sexual, animal power. They have superhuman abilities beyond imagination, and they lack the human weakness of conscience, allowing them free reign over humanity.

Society feeds off the vampyre mystique. It provides a psychological outlet for people's fantasies of power and domination. It lends itself to sexual fantasies, and some people go so far as to live their lives in a "vampyre" way. Many die hard fans would give anything to become these fabled creatures of power and darkness.

Powerful, metaphysical abilities and sexual nature are not the only draws of vampirism. Their ability to live forever is a powerful lure. Eternal life is a common theme in much literature, music and movies. It's almost an uncontrollable drive, a key motivation for humans.

Along with living forever, vampires never grow older than whatever age they were embraced. For some, this is seen as a blessing. For others it's a curse. The desire for eternal youth is dominant in our culture. Products that restore our youth sell like hot cakes, playing on our fear of old age and, eventually, death.

In Bram Stoker's Dracula, Mina Harker (Winona Ryder) begged Vlad Dracul (Gary Oldman), "I want to be what you are, love what you love. Take me away from all this death." She wanted to be made into a vampyre. She isn't alone. Many people buy into the fantasy and have made vampyre stories into a bankable commodity.

Anne Rice's phenomenally popularVampire Chronicles feed society's hunger and envy of vampyres. She creates a lush, darkly romantic, decadent world where the vampyres are beautiful, angelic children of darkness. They are dilettantes, wealthy socialites and powerful creatures. They seduce the reader into a world where nearly every whim and desire is possible.

The main character, Lestat, lives amorally, but he is not without a personal philosophy. He muses about right and wrong, life and death, God and Satan. He questions his purpose on the world, like most people. Were it not for his dietary needs, he'd be like any human. He's rich beyond belief, and he is devilishly clever. With a life like Lestat's, who wouldn't want to be a vampyre and receive the dark gift?

Being a vampire is a fantasy, though, and many people actually bulk at the idea of being a vampire. They have sever moral conflicts with the necessary killing involved. They fear losing their humanity. The desire and pursuit of eternal life, while often a theme in literature, is often a folly of human nature; the heroes often lose their lives rather than gain immortality.

Is it really a gift then? Perhaps. In much of vampyre related media, a prospective initiate asks to be embraced. Their desire for the life-death of vampyrism becomes an all consuming desire, and the moral and ethical questions are ignored. The questions resurface, though, once the person has lived for several centuries and desire humanity. These questions and scenarios are addressed in Fox television's new drama, "Kindred: The Embraced."

Set in San Francisco with a background soundtrack of Leonard Cohen and Lorena McKnight and dark, macabre restaurants and clubs, "Kindred," based on the White Wolf role-playing game, is about vampyres living "regular" lives of power, intrigue and seduction. They are powerful, feared figures and hold considerable power in many aspects of that society. There are five clans in "Kindred." Together they are the Camarilla, and tension among the clans is the central motivation of the characters.

The five families of vampires that thrive in San Francisco include: the Gangrel (the loner, nomad clan), Brujah (the anarchist clan), Toreador (the art clan), Nosferatu (the shadow clan and most like the vampire of legend) and Ventrue (the aristocratic clan). The Ventrue clan, ruled by Julian Luna (Mark Frankel), hold the most power among the five clans. Luna is the prince of the city, and the other clan's leaders form the conclave, the ruling council.

The conclave's central role is maintaining the Masquerade, the tenants of the Camarilla. The Masquerade outlines a code of conduct and decorum; the strongest tenant is keeping their nature a secret from humans. It is the law among the Kindred, and breaking the Masquerade results in death by blood hunt.

The pilot dealt with the issue of the Masquerade. Alexandra, of clan Ventrue, struggled with retaining her humanity. She wanted the love of a human, Frank O'Hannig (C. Thomas Howell), to feel alive again, but in doing so, she broke the Masquerade and was killed. The pilot also established the mood of intrigue. Luna's position as prince of San Francisco is precarious, and he must constantly fight to suppress the Brujah's attempts to usurp the power.

As prince of San Francisco, Luna is responsible for maintaining the peace between humans and kindred. The vampyres within kindred society view humans as pawns to be fed from, used or embraced. Luna's compassion for humans is seen as a weakness, one that will allow him to be controlled or destroyed. His connection with his mortal family, specifically his great-grandchild Sasha (Brigid Walsh), is the plot of upcoming shows, and it looks juicy.

Not since "Dark Shadows," the campy, seventies, vampyre soap opera that was briefly resurrected in 1990 with a new cast, has television touched on vampyres as the main plot focus. "Kindred: The Embraced," on the ever experimental Fox network, has the potential to become a cult hit. It is also clever, dark and sensually fun. The characters become more than stock vampyre archetypes, and since the show is in the television format, the characters have better opportunity to develop as the season progresses.

Howell, the biggest name in the cast, is the weakest link. He over acts most of his scenes and his character (a cop who knows of the kindred's existance and wants to destroy them) is obnoxious. The vampyres provide the complexities; each deals with their gift, or curse, in their own way. Their psychological development and deterioration will prove interesting as the series continues.

The show is a must see for any vampyre fan. It's sexier than "Melrose Place," darker than "The X-Files" and more fun than "Friends." Once the rough edges are gone, it may prove to be the best science fiction drama to come from the recent deluge of "X-File" wannabes.

 

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