Vampire Reviews: Kindred: The Embraced

Vampire Reviews: Kindred: The Embraced

October 20, 2019 100 By William Hollis


Good evening and welcome to vampire reviews
I am the Maven of the Eventide your critical mistress of the darkness a
whole world of darkness so back in 1991 a little company called
white wolf came into existence I don’t know maybe you’ve heard of them they
only produced one of the most popular franchises in gaming history the world
of darkness and the RPG that launched this supernatural kitchen-sink
vampire the masquerade it was such a sweeping success in the gaming community
that less than five years into its existence someone got the bright idea to
share it with the rest of the world via a TV series
this was kindred the embraced and it was unceremoniously canceled after only
eight episodes yeah it got really low ratings it premiered on Fox in April of
1996 and was gone by May they never even aired one of the completed episodes in
the US and stopped production on the 9th episode already planned it was produced
by Aaron Spelling who was supposedly a huge vampire fan and always wanted to do
something with vampires and hoped this would be his chance but this was the
same guy behind 90210 and Melrose Place and when kindred failed to bring in the
viewers Fox pulled the plug on the supernatural primetime soap opera to
keep its focus on the contemporary real world once instead after it was canceled
in May there were talks over the summer about potentially reworking and reviving
kindred potentially maybe sometime down the line but then in September the
show’s star Mark Frankel died in a tragic motorcycle accident so they
declared the show permanently canned but if the real world wasn’t ready for
Supernatural primetime TV in 1996 that changed real fast because Buffy came out
the next year and the year after that Aaron Spelling tried his hand at witches
instead of vampires and produced charmed neither were well rated in their first
seasons but they didn’t get cancelled so why did these show succeed when kindred
flopped so hard some people say well kindred was just ahead of its time and
unappreciated but the real answer women especially young women you see in
the 1990s teenagers were going through a serious witch phase girls getting
magical superpowers uh hell yeah we were all about that these shows developed a
huge female audience and powerful attractive girls in general appealed to
enough male viewers as well to bring in the ratings kindred the embraced however
had a very different vibe it featured a predominantly male cast
full of older tough guys in a police vs. mafia style situation teenage me would
have called it a boring boys show it wanted to be the paranormal Godfather
now mobster and cop stuff had their appeal in the 90s as well but the target
audience for those kind of gritty real world stories was turned off from this
show by the schmaltzy way the paranormal aspect was handled as well as the
Melrose Placey soap operaness of the storytelling the very narrow
cross-section of public interested in the two halves of this mashup wasn’t
enough to keep the concept afloat the show wasn’t bad it’s very 90s so
nineties but so were we back then we were a lot more forgiving of cheesy
storylines and scenery-chewing actors with floppy hair the initial premise of
the show is a cop learns about the existence of vampires living in secret
among humans and though he wants to bring this vampire mafia Illuminati down
he ends up having to team up with the leader prince to resolve bigger problems
of the week resulting from inter vampire conflicts this is all set up in the
pilot episode but over the course of the seven remaining episodes this focus is
quickly lost and the cop character is set aside as the prince’s human
interactions become centered on his romance of secrets with an unwitting
reporter now neither of these vampire human dynamics are a bad premise they
were both different enough from the classic hunter versus vampire storylines
that had become so overdone by the time this show came into existence but they
are a huge divergence from the sort of conflicts that make up the premise of
the game the show’s based on now the show changes a lot from the game
a lot some out of necessity like making the vampire’s able to go out in
daylight because the budget couldn’t afford night shoots and some for reasons
inexplicable but in the game at least back then it was seriously rare for
vampires’ interactions with individual humans to be important plot points like
this humans weren’t playable characters I mean it’s a storytelling RPG you could
theoretically make it be about anything you want with NPCs but that wasn’t what
the game was about if you’re unfamiliar think of it as Dungeons & Dragons but
with vampires and that’s it just vampires but what vampires so many kinds
of vampires you see we have this trope called our vampires are different and
what that means is every time a vampire story is thought up by some brilliant
conceptualist it’s put upon the writer or artist to find a way to set their
vampires apart from vampire stories that came
before see you may think that my vampires are kind of like Anne Rice’s
vampires but mine can only drink the blood of millionaires and wooden stakes
don’t kill them but gold ones do and also they’re green because that
symbolizes money and the modern economic system in our society is the true
vampire God so deep nobody steal that idea I am brilliant
by the time the nineteen eighties rolled around there is already a big pushback
against what people thought of as Dracula type vampires
nobody wanted their vampires to be the same old Halloween icon that had been
done to death and so in that decade we saw the vampire get reinvented again and
again in a surge of new properties yes now there’s a vampire type for everyone
what’s your favorite type of vampire? is it the suave and sophisticated type the
sexy and wild the animalistic and crazed the tortured lonely romantic the
Rockstar the punk with amazing hair this game has them all now imagine getting to
pretend to be that kind of vampire and get into RPG skirmishes with other types
of vampires vampire versus vampire only to determine the ultimate vampire lord
of all what how do you play just kidding all my friends refuse to play with me I
have friends the main difference between vampire the masquerade and games like
Dungeons & Dragons was that instead of focusing as much on battles and quests
and campaigns the game was meant to be one of personal horror focusing on
character development and interaction even though there are good and bad
vampires in this universe you are still playing a blood-drinking undead monster
no matter what and the characters you develop deal with that fact on an
emotional and moral level the game has this concept called the beast which is
an innate demonic predator that awakens within you as soon as you become a
vampire and the struggle of being a vampire centers around a personal
relationship with this inner beast in constant opposition to a vampire’s level
of humanity each of the different specific types of vampire you can play
have levels of difficulty regarding this at least that’s how it was supposed to
be white wolf released updates every year and the game very quickly turned battle
focused it was what the RPG community was used to with the action-oriented
games and it couldn’t refrain from falling into that model they did
revamp the franchise in 2004 to bring it back to that original idea of
personal horror and introspection but in 1996 when kindred the embraced came out
it had already drifted from that concept vampire the masquerade wasn’t so
sweepingly successful because people were bored with D&D and wanted something
fresh there is a certain appeal to playing a vampire character for a
certain type of person white wolf sites Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles with their
vampire versus vampire stories and hierarchical structure as a chief
influence for their games especially the character of Lestat the 18th century
romantic fop turned James Bond cowboy biker rock star of the 1980s was
the trailblazer for the our vampires are different tidal wave but why were Anne Rice’s ideas
about vampires so revolutionary in the 1970s and 80s
well here’s how she puts it on vampires they are the most powerful metaphor for
the outsider I ever encountered I a woman with no clear gender identity
strong erotic drives great ambition and a fractured cultural background felt
normal when I wrote about vampires intelligent outcasts who refused to
accept the world’s contempt as their story
I didn’t inject philosophy into my vampire novels it was just there they
were living breathing allegories all crying for the right to live to have a
place in the universe she wasn’t the first to write vampires as persons with
feelings and angst instead of one-dimensional scary monsters but she
was the one who did it well enough and at the right cultural moment to deeply
resonate in a sweeping fashion with certain types of people the real world
outsiders now things have changed significantly in recent years but
believe it or not back in the 1990s being a nerd wasn’t considered cool like
at all especially if you were the kind of nerd into tabletop role-playing games
or god forbid a larper the kind of people who love these games were
understandably one of those who identified with these allegorical
outcasts so playing an emotionally complex vampire how perfect the
masquerade in the game’s title refers to the challenge the vampires face to keep
their existence secret as they survive among humanity humans do not know
vampires exist no matter what happens between vampires the masquerade is not
to be broken no humans allowed a TV show has to find a way to appeal to a much
wider mass audience so kindred the embraced included the
human characters as audience inserts I don’t know if they dropped the focus on
Frank the cop and switched to Caitlyn the reporter because they realized after
the pilot they desperately needed female viewership but
if that was the case they didn’t go far enough with it and she was little
more than a love interest they didn’t make it her story the way True Blood is Sookie’s
story so the normie audience wasn’t hooked but this is a vampire review so
let’s talk about the actual vampires in the original game there are 13 types of
vampires each with their own powers and weaknesses and attributes that make
playing them a distinct experience they’re called clans but they’re more
like breeds or species once a person becomes a vampire via a certain clan
it’s permanent originally only seven of the clans were playable and these were
basically the good vampires and there were six non playable clans that served
as evil antagonists but like I said the game changed fast by the time the show came
out you could be all thirteen clans because nerds love playing bad guys but
the show stuck with the original good vampires and focused on their conflicts
amongst themselves instead of against NPC villains they cut out two of the
clans so we only have five in the show which thank darkness because believe me it
is confusing enough for newcomers as it is but I’ll break it down for you here
is the super simplified version first there’s the ventrue the blue bloods
these are the snobby elite of vampires who believe they should be ruling
everything other vampires and especially humans are beneath them though the game
made an effort not to be too dracula with any of its vampire types because
everyone was so over dracula the ventrue are still reminiscent of aspects of what
hollywood liked to turn dracula into sometimes with his suave lordliness and
old money charm though the show muddles their powers and weaknesses the general
vibe of the ventrue is pretty similar to the game and you can see why they
thought going for a godfather feel was appropriate
next there’s the toreador these are the vampires closest to Anne Rice’s the
sensitive artists obsessed with beauty of the world passionate musical they’re
the ones who mix most easily with human society rock stars and socialites the
show doesn’t get much chance to really explore the personality differences
between the ventrue and toreador in our main characters so it’s really hard to tell
them apart or get why they’re even separate clans we do get to see a bit
of it in the supporting characters maybe if it lasted longer than eight
episodes they would have had a chance to make them more unique but you snooze you
lose next there’s the brujah in the game this clan was inspired by the Lost Boys
rebellious biker punks with attitudes but with feeling such feelings deep down
they’re philosophers the same way anarchists are philosophers sure but
they feel in the show they’re all suit-wearing power-hungry mafiosos the
only difference between them and the ventrue is that they’re meaner and
angrier about how they think they should be the ones ruling everyone and since
they’re all jerks with no redeeming qualities they are the antagonists of the
show next is the Gangrel in the game this clan is the most animalistic
they’re inspired by the same classic Eastern European vampire lore that Bram
Stoker borrowed when he gave Dracula the power to change into a wolf and rats and
a bat and commune with the children of the night the gangrel would rather be
roaming the woods and howling at the moon then mingling with society in the
show now they’re the biker bad boys they’ve got an ancient feud with the
brejah probably because they totally stole their style but the ones we
actually get to see are loyal and obedient to the ventrue so their whole
rebel vibe seems to be purely aesthetic last is the Nosferatu these are vampires
who physically look monstrous and cannot pass as human they live in the sewers
and can’t exist in society but aren’t outcasts among vampires they’re
supposedly colder and less sensitive than other clans but like the rest there
are good and bad members of each type in the game this physical monstrousness can
be any hideous deformity you can think of
but in the show it’s represented by bald veiny heads and big ears and there’s
actually not a single one that even looks as inhuman as the classic
Nosferatu they’re named after whether this was due to a limited makeup budget
or the network’s desire to make them more appealing to audiences who knows
but at least they’re distinct from the other clans
besides being unable to tell most of the vampires apart on sight the show also
conflates the powers associated with each they can all transform into wolves
now they can all mess with human memories sure it doesn’t matter as much
about each clan’s power restrictions when you’re not playing the game for points
and just trying to write a show with interesting stories and characters but
when you have such powerful supernatural creatures with so many types limiting
their abilities would have been a way to make it more interesting and make the
clan differences actually relevant and less confusing also by taking away their
weaknesses and making them so much more involved in human society their level of
outcastness is so diminished that what’s the point of them even being
vampires at all instead of just some sort of actual mafia or secret society
the game’s personal horror premise of each individual’s constant moral battle
with their inner beast is completely minimized they don’t kill or even hurt
people to drink blood they can go out in daylight whenever it’s convenient for
the plot and there’s no way to tell who on screen is a human or a vampire why
does cop Frank even want to destroy them all is it simply casual racism to
consider them monsters the other thing is OK the game sets up the different clans
as archetypes intentional cliches but you’re not necessarily supposed to play
your characters as stereotypes of your clan you use the clan archetypes as
guidelines but then you’re free to follow or subvert those expectations and
creative ways to develop a unique complex character within the parameters
allowed but when it comes to our main vampires in the show the representative
for each clan if you don’t know anything about the stereotypes going into it
subverting the tropes just homogenizes everyone if Harry Potter taught us
anything it’s that people love sorting themselves into houses and the show really
we lost out on capitalizing on that fascination when it dropped the ball on
establishing what made the clans distinguishable the first vampire we’re
really introduced to is Alexandra she’s a toreador that’s the artsy
passionate clan and she’s killed off by the end of the pilot but she’s the one
who brings Frank the cop into the world of vampires and forces prince Julian to
agree to keep Frank safe even though he knows about the masquerade because
Frank’s tasted Alexandra’s blood he’s apparently immune to some of the vampire
powers that could mess with his human mind until he isn’t his cop partner has
no trouble wiping his memories when Frank finds out he’s a secret vampire
but plot holes aside alexandra is a vampire with very specific wants she’s
unhappy with the cold loneliness of being undead and wants to feel alive and
in love again though why having a human boyfriend is necessary for this is
unclear she’s attracted to Frank because as a cop he leads a lonely life and
understands her pain but you know who else would understand your loneliness
Alexandra every single other freaking vampire
hence the entire premise of the game for lonely outcast nerds this show was based
on maybe having the premise for the show reliant on a relationship that makes no
sense in the context of the source material might have something to do with
why the show flopped just the thought Alexandra’s
melodramatic desperate need for man’s love and acceptance isn’t necessarily a
bad character motivation at least it wouldn’t be if there were many other
female vampires with other types of motivations to balance her but
considering she’s one of four amid the sea of male characters it comes off as
cliche emotional women am i right especially in this scene when Prince
Julian tries to explain to her what he thinks she should want as a woman I was a woman once Alexandra you’re free to be a woman means to be bound
that’s right I wanted to be a woman lost in love the other toreador
character we get is also a woman this is Lily Langtry played by stacy haiduk who
is the token chick of the vampire leaders in each city the vampires have a
prince and then each clan has a primogen and they make up the vampire
government Lily is also Julian’s girlfriend because if a woman’s there of
course she’s got to be sleeping with someone so in the pilot we get to see
both of the only female characters undressed Lily talks about how as a
toreador she’s an entertainer and she owns a club but we don’t actually get to
see her display any of those supposed clan personality traits
she’s instead cold and conniving and snobby when Julien starts dating the
human reporter Caitlin she gets jealous and catty there is one problem of the
week episode that features another toreador a cliche Rockstar artiste she
becomes obsessed with so for once her plot doesn’t revolve around her
boyfriend but around a different man instead in this episode we finally get
to see some of the ideological differences between her clan and
Julien’s she’s free-spirited and he’s strict to the rules she gets fixated on
beauty and passion but these traits are gone by the next episode and she returns
to the femme fatale soap opera character trope the Prince Julien Luna played by
Mark Frankel who perished in the motorcycle accident is a ventrue his
sire Archon is the ventrue primogen and former Prince in Archon we do see a
stereotypical lordly snob ventrue portrayal but not until late in the
season so when we’re first getting to know Julian none of those traits are
apparent as a basis of comparison Julian is a competent leader but he’s a softy
he cares about peacekeeping and doing the right thing he can be tough and used
to work as archons enforcer but it’s revealed later that that one time he
slaughtered a whole bunch of vampires he didn’t know what he was doing so he’s
not actually ruthless at all he cares deeply for his family and relationships
and just wants everyone to get along Tony Soprano this guy ain’t we never
really get any sense of snobbery or entitlement from him
nor do we ever see him struggle with his inner beast he mingles publicly among
humans easily and being a vampire seems to affect him emotionally very little
for fans of the game it’s interesting to have a prince be a focal point of the
series because that kind of high level political intrigue wasn’t something most
players would get to experience but because Julian’s such a nice guy for a
mob boss much less for a vampire there is very little at stake for him when it
comes to existing among humans once he starts dating Caitlin the reporter he
can’t let her know what he is because of the vampire rule about keeping up the
masquerade but that conflict seems trite when him being a vampire feels like it’s
a name only because of how human the show makes him in the show’s last
episode she does find out his secret and it’s exciting because they’re finally
about to deal with all the ensuing drama then he just wipes her memories so there
are no consequences to the stakes the episode raised at all perhaps they were
planning on building this conflict in a bigger way later but of course they
never got the chance Julian doesn’t outright say why he’s
attracted to Caitlin in such an unventrueish way but similarly to how alexandra
was attracted to Frank because he was a rare human who could understand her
outcastness Caitlin feels like an outcast because you see she can’t let
herself get close to people she’s afraid to have sex after she got pregnant when
she was 17 and had to give up her child of course her tragic backstory has to do
with babies because women am i right I keep pointing this stuff out because the
show failed to capture that coveted young female demographic you think
having good-looking men in the show is enough to get girls to watch it
nah you need more than that Caitlin is otherwise a generally decent female
character for what little time the show had to develop her but back to the
vampires the other main ventrue is Frank’s cop partner Sonny played by Erik
King you know who that is right surprise motherfucker he was sired by
Julian but unlike the prince’s softie sentimentalities or Archon’s snobby
Ventrueness he is a conniving double agent in both the
human and vampire worlds however these three characters are supposed to be the
same clan is completely lost on the audience
Julian’s other grunt man is cash the Gangrel promogen for a rebellious biker
boy he spends a lot of time worrying about what other people think of him
he’s also super loyal and hard working for Julian he gives up what he wants for
the sake of others for the representative of the clan that’s supposed
to have all this untamed beastial ferocity cash sure is a good dog the
brejahl primogen is Eddie Fiore who’s actually played as a complete
stereotype of the show’s gangster business man version of his clan the
brejah are the show’s villains so they get to be one-dimensional Eddie wants to
take over the vampire mafia and become the prince because he’s power-hungry and
all the other brujah are exactly the same but you see this is a good thing because
the exception is Sasha played by Bridged Walsh Sasha was cash the gangrel’s human girlfriend and Julian the Ventrue’s human descendant but she was
forced to become a brujah against her will so dramatic she doesn’t want to be
like the other brujah so she subverts those stereotypes to resist her nature
and if we didn’t have Eddie the walking cliche as a basis of comparison we
wouldn’t be able to grasp the full impact of her struggle
Sasha actually has a lot going for her despite her rape as character
development backstory she’s the same kind of young angsty female character
that worked in Buffy and charmed and the craft if this show had started off with
a focus on her instead of making her a side plot to the macho mafia political
stuff perhaps it would have reached that audience it needed to survive she
comments multiple times on her difficulty in denying the brujah blood in
her veins it makes her so angry but when she gives in to it it only comes off as
her acting out like a rebellious teenager going through a rough time and
considering the show introduces her as such a bad girl how is that any
different from when she was alive and when she struggles with being rejected
by cash because their clans are enemies it turns out to be more political than
actually part of their inherent natures they are still clearly quite attracted
to each other and they could get past it if not for society
judging them by removing the visceral qualities of the differences between
vampire clans the fact that they’re vampires ends up meaning nothing they
might as well just be gang members or children of an old family feud like the
Romeo and Juliet episode title implies why even make a show about vampires if
you keep taking their vampireness away from them the big exception of course is
Daedalus played by Jeff Kober he’s the Nosferatu primogen and Julian’s bestie and
even though he’s the prettiest of all the Nosferatu he’s still super angsty
about the fact that he’s not completely human looking though you know if he put
on a wig he’d look pretty normal why can’t I see you I couldn’t stand to
see your eyes afterward I’m too monstrous that’s crazy yes yes it is
he’s the only member of his clan we get to know until episode 7 so as far as the
audience knows for a while all Nosferatu have sculpted full lips and
fabulous high cheek bones and soft puppy eyes but regardless of how the makeup
department failed to convey it he sure feels monstrous on the outside on the
inside he has the soul of a poet an artiste is so tortured beautiful face of
the toreador clan with the heard of a nosferatu you have all the
beauty of the toreador clan but the relentlessness of the nosferatu for as
much as the shows trying to tell us Nosferatu are cold-hearted Dadalus the
warmest of all vampires in one episode he falls in love with a human singer
drawn to her because her music is so soulful that surely she must understand
his loneliness and in another episode he takes a human boy under his wing to
protect him from an abusive doctor it’s so deep you see he’s the most monstrous
looking but has the most sensitive heart his romance episode is super Phantom of
the Operay by the way he’s afraid his singer girl will be terrified if she sees him
but the actual visuals the show provides gives us nothing to believe that so the
effect is that he comes off as a paranoid whinger he uses magical alchemy
to make himself look acceptable so he can sleep with her one time though why
he had to use magic just but a wig on I have no idea but when it wears off and
she sees him unmasked turns out he was right and she is horrified he was
hideous his face was horrible and his eyes were black and empty I thought I
was looking at the devil himself eh? the show’s telling us one thing but
showing us another I guess they were afraid the audience wouldn’t find him
sympathetic if he actually looked as monstrous as everyone keeps saying he is
they had no trouble making one of the evil Nosferatu Goth look much worse yes
his name really is goth and his gal pal Camilla who turns good the second
someone asked her to well a bald woman with a protruding brow and no makeup
what a butterface but Daedalus he’s looking even less monstrous than the
sunburn phantom from 2004 just one more instance of how the show is trying to
play it safe to appeal to a mainstream audience vampire shows that succeed are
ones that take risks that’s the whole point of the our vampires are different
trope and this show completely missed it as the only vampire who seems to
actually credibly feel like an outcast Daedalus emerged as a fan-favorite
enough so that they brought the actor back to do a special extra for the fancy
DVD boxset they released in 2013 it’s probably because the only people who
were actually fans of this show are the same sort of people who like the game
and managed to get past their nerd rage at the changes the show made but you
know lonely outcasts who long for a sense of community especially one where
they could play awesome powerful supernatural creatures who were still
outcasts but embraced their outcastness kindred is the vampire’s word for
themselves and that’s significant kindred means family and family means
nobody gets left behind or forgotten a sense of belonging of being understood
for a show that uses the word and its very title
it’s sorely lacking in insight to why it’s necessary and important if you want
an uber 90s show with cops and vampires that wasn’t trying to be a Melrose Place
for men just go watch the series this one was trying to be forever knight I’m
the Maven of the Eventide and my vampires also have their fangs all up in the
stock market or should I say stake market no no no I really shouldn’t But i’m so green she cried how could you ever love
me you’re a yellow yellow is the color for money in my country
she said it is and they lived horribly ever after I’m brilliant join my patreon
I love you