‘The Secret Circle’ is about Cassie Blake, who learns she is a witch and has to struggle against internal and external dark forces. Although Cassie is the main character, two other characters have grabbed my attention; Dawn Chamberlain (Natasha Henstridge) who is Faye’s mother and principal of the local high school and Charles Meade (Gale Harold) who is Diana’s father.

Sixteen years ago, they were involved in events that caused a fire on a boat resulting in many deaths. As punishment for their actions, the Elders, which include some of their parents, had their powers stripped. Witchcraft has been banned in Chance Harbor for sixteen years, but Dawn and Charles yearn to practice magic again. To accomplish their goal, Dawn and Charles have schemed and murdered, and their actions make them the most fascinating characters on ‘The Secret Circle.’

We know Dawn and Charles are bad news from the beginning. Charles is first seen killing Amelia, Cassie’s mother, by setting her house on fire with the aid of magic. Dawn and Charles have a crystal, but they drain the crystal of its magic, so need another. Their search for more crystals led to Dawn killing Henry Chamberlain, the father of Faye’s dad. Alone, neither of them could get away with their misdeeds, but together they are a conniving, cruel duo determined to achieve their goals, even if that means bringing danger into their children’s lives. When their actions are examined, it becomes clear that Dawn and Charles are responsible for the majority of the darkness and destruction that has befallen Chance Harbor.

From the information revealed in “Heather,” “Slither,” and “Balcoin,” I think I have pieced together what happened sixteen years ago. Dawn, enjoying magic and wanting more power, became enamored with John Blackwell, a witch from a long line of dark magic. It is unclear if Dawn and John were intimate; John is Cassie’s father, but we learned from Isaac that there is another Blackwell child in the circle, so we don’t know who John had relations with in addition to Amelia. From her research and things she learned from Blackwell, Dawn summoned at least one demon sixteen years ago. Amelia tried to kill the demon, but the boat caught on fire, and the demon took possession of Heather. Blackwell did not force Dawn into summoning a demon; her own pursuit of power resulted in the deaths of many in her circle, leaving their children without a parent (or in Nick’s case, both parents).

Dawn’s hunger for magic has only become stronger over the years. With Charles’s help, she orchestrated Cassie’s arrival to Chance Harbor because the witches need their children to form a circle. They know that malevolent forces will be attracted to the circle’s powerful magic, but Dawn insists they can protect the teens and regain their powers. However, Dawn is proven wrong about keeping the circle safe. After Cassie broke the binding spell keeping the demon trapped inside Heather, the demon possessed Melissa and then Nick. The demon was the same one summoned by Dawn sixteen years ago. A possessed Nick meets Dawn, and she demands Charles drown Nick (demons can only die by fire or drowning). Dawn’s failure to resist the lure of performing magic has caused multiple deaths. With her thirst for power not satiated, more deaths are sure to come.

Charles is not an innocent being manipulated by Dawn. He is completely aware of his actions and is a willing participant. From the beginning he could have said no to killing Amelia, hiding Henry’s body, and drowning Nick. Charles felt remorse for killing Nick; he told Dawn that killing adults was one thing, but children is different, showing that Charles does have perspective, standards and a chance at redemption. However, Charles is not interested in redemption at the moment. Instead of confessing his dark deeds, Charles channeled his remorse and gained confidence. Charles found another crystal, but he refuses to give it to Dawn, saying that her way has lacked results, so he wants to control their plans from now on. His first decision was to alter Jane’s mind so she would forget seeing Henry’s dead body, but Charles’s spell has backfired and caused Jane migraines and multiple memory lapses. Of course, Dawn takes every opportunity to chastise Charles’s aptitude as a witch and abilities as a leader. Dawn obviously does not appreciate Charles’s new attitude. When – not if-  these two turn on each other, the battle should be epic, vengeful and ruthless.

Memorable characters are brought to life by talented actors, and Henstridge and Harold go beyond what is on the page and have consistently made two villains intriguing. The way Dawn walks, tilts her head when she plays at being sincere, and pauses to select her words carefully shows how Henstridge has taken time to make Dawn more than a catty harpy; Dawn is a woman with goals who is not ashamed about her desire for magic. A standout episode for Harold was “Wake.”

The guilt of being Nick’s murderer nearly shatters Charles, and Harold expresses Charles’s turmoil with vacant eyes, a sagging body posture, and moments of pure anguish twisting his face. Alone, Henstridge and Harold give solid performances, but together they are magnetic. During a pivotal scene in “Beneath,” Charles grows a spine and asserts he is a competent witch. As Dawn tries to convince him to give her the crystal, the charge builds between them as the scene progresses. Harold and Henstridge have chemistry, and the tension crescendos to a moment when I wasn’t sure if they were going to fight or fornicate. Many of their scenes crackle with such electrical tautness that they become hypnotic.

Sixteen years ago, Dawn’s actions led to many deaths, and the aftermath created ripples still felt in Chance Harbor. They instigated Cassie’s arrival to town, Charles likely planted Diana’s mother’s Book of Shadows for her to find, and they made sure the circle was formed to help them meet their endgame. They seem to want to protect their children, but I wonder if there will be a time when their yearning for magical power will overwhelm their parental instincts. Dawn and Charles propel the action on ‘The Secret Circle’ and give the show a menacing dark edge that keeps viewers coming back for more. Cassie might have been needed to form the circle, but without Dawn and Charles, there is no show.

‘The Secret Circle’ returns Thursday, January 5, on the CW.