The following contains spoilers from the premiere of First Kill, S1E1, “First Kiss” (teleplay by Victoria Schwab, directed by Jet Wilkinson)
The premiere episode of First Kill, “First Kiss,” plays a lot more like a teen romantic comedy than the promo artwork would lead audiences to believe. Instead of the gothic imagery of the show’s cover art on Netflix, First Kill is a candy-colored teenage romp with more reminiscent of Clueless than of the moody, sparkly vampires in Twilight. The show is billed as a queer, modern, supernatural take on William Shakespeare’s most famous work about doomed love: Romeo and Juliet.
Juliette (Sarah Catherine Hook) is a 16-year-old living in Savannah, Georgia. The episode begins with her nightmares filled with monsters and there are brief glimpses of people with fangs. Juliette carries around a small pillbox containing red, oblong pills, and it doesn’t take much effort to realize that Juliette is a vampire. It seems as though her type of vampire is a little different than the tropes the audience is used to. She’s able to exist in the sunshine, but silver burns her and she needs blood to maintain equilibrium.
Calliope (Imani Lewis), or Cal, as she prefers, is also 16 years old. She’s only been living in Savannah for two weeks. Her family moves around a lot because they’re monster hunters and are sent to different locations by a mysterious organization called The Guild. Cal’s family only stays in one place for a few months at a time, so she’s a bit of a loner by default. Cal is in a few of Juliette’s classes, but the two don’t speak until Juliette accidentally knocks into her one day at school.
The premise of First Kill can at times feel as though it’s veering off toward a show that belongs on The CW. The moments when Juliette’s fangs come out often skew to the cheesy. But does it matter? From the first episode alone, there was a stupid smile on my face as I saw how far LGBT representation has traveled. To come out of the gates like this, essentially dedicating the majority of the pilot episode to a young lesbian’s heartsick pining, is extraordinary. It’s breezy in a way that isn’t usually provided to queer stories. Juliette and Cal are actively planning to kill each other to fulfill a demand put on them by their families, but the show is unexpectedly carefree. The conflict isn’t about the girls’ sexualities, it’s about a centuries-long feud between their families.
Of course this is an age-old conflict dressed up in a shiny new way. What elevates First Kill to something more than vampiric-Romeo-and-Juliet is the way Cal’s and Juliette’s lives are intertwined. There is romance between the two of them and they exist on opposite sides of a feud, but they have chosen each other to prove their worth to their families. Cal is the only member of her family who has never killed a monster, and she has her sights set on Juliette. On the other hand, Juliette is nearing the time when she can’t entirely exist on human blood pills, so she must kill a human.
A desire to see themselves on screen can force LGBT audiences to watch entire seasons of shows simply because they are desperate for any crumb of representation. First Kill is a feast. Not only are Juliette and Cal gay, but Juliette’s best friend, Ben (Jonas Dylan Allen), is gay too. There are no prolonged scenes of any of these characters coming out, no pushback from family or friends, no ostracization. Ben is one of the most popular kids in school and is introduced wearing a knit sweater that says, “I’m a luxury few can afford.” These teens are given the freedom to openly be themselves, and their confidence is exciting. It’s refreshing that their sexuality does not have to be a secret or something they feel shame about. Instead, the big secret is Juliette’s vampiric nature and Cal’s monster-hunting family.
Despite the immense amount of world building “First Kiss” has to do, it never feels overwhelming or as though it relies too heavily on narration for exposition. It was quite an inspired choice to spend the first half of the episode with Juliette and her family, allowing her voice to carry the audience through this new world of First Kill. Juliette describes her family’s expectations of completing her first kill with the same fervor as she describes her crush on Cal. It’s a distinctly teenage way of looking at the world and it’s incredibly endearing.
Halfway through the episode, as Cal and Juliette are kissing in the pantry at a party, it seems like Juliette is going to get her first kill. Her fangs come out, and just before she bites into Cal’s neck, the screen goes black. All of a sudden, we’re back at the beginning of the episode. Only now, it’s from Cal’s point of view. It’s interesting to watch the pieces of the day come into focus in a new way from Cal’s experience. Her hopes, dreams, and crushes are now on full display as she takes over the narration. The audience is given a new perspective that, in turn, affects how we interpret Juliette’s side of the story.
“First Kiss” is an exciting opener to the season, and its cliffhanger is an ingenious way to get the audience interested in what’s to come.
All episodes of First Kill Season 1 are now streaming on Netflix.