FIRST KILL – created by V.E. Schwab – (minor spoilers)
The Atwood-Fairfield family are vampires who claim ancestry dating back to the Garden of Eden, and specifically to Lilith, who, according to their legends, frolicked in the garden with her sister Eve until the two were confronted by the serpent, which frightened Eve away but was “embraced” by Lilith, and made her the First Vampire. These “Legacy Vampires” are able to spend extended periods of time in the sunlight, are reflected in mirrors, and can eat the same foods humans eat without becoming ill. More importantly, conventional anti-vampire weapons don’t work against them. (There is a way to kill them but we don’t find out what it is.) Legacy vamps hide in plain sight, passing as humans. They feed on human blood, but (mostly) do not kill. It would seem that they don’t need to kill at all, but for each of them, the “First Kill” is a traditional rite of passage.
Juliette (Sarah Catherine Hook), is making things difficult for her family by avoiding her first kill because she believes it’s “wrong”. Her grandmother Davina (Polly Draper) is the Keeper of the Serpent (presumably the legendary one that turned Lilith) and Julia’s iconoclastic behaviour becomes harder and harder for her parents to ignore especially since Julia’s mother Margot (Elizabeth Mitchell) is the Keeper-in-Waiting, and (years ago) alienated much of the Atwood family when she rejected the marriage arranged for her and instead married Sebastian (Will Swenson). Margot made Sebastian a vampire, but could not convey Legacy powers.
Juliette has a crush on Calliope Burns (Imani Lewis), the new girl in school, and strikes up a conversation that leads to both of them attending a nearby party that evening. What Juliette does not know is that Cal and her entire family are monster hunters working for a global organization called The Guild, which kills vampires as well as other unusual beings (e.g. shamblers (a reference to the Robert Bloch story “The Shambler From the Stars“?), kitsune, ghouls, zombies, and banshees). Vampires are allergic to silver, so Cal tests Juliette before the party by dropping a silver bracelet in front of her locker and watching it burn her when she picks it up.
At the party, Cal and Juliette make out in a pantry, and director Jet Wilkinson shows us the beautifully choreographed scene twice, first with Juliette biting Cal, and a second time with Cal staking Juliette. (In actuality, both things happen.) The bite of a Legacy vampire disappears quickly, leaving no scar, and vampires heal rapidly so no physical evidence of either attack remains, but someone else at the party dies causing Margot and Sebastian to assume that Juliette has made her First Kill. The Emerald Malkia, however, can’t be fooled, and the snake would certainly reject her should Juliette’s coming out ceremony take place.
The Burns family attacks the Atwood-Fairmont compound as the ritual is beginning, saving Juliette from the serpent’s judgement. The ensuing battle between overconfident paramilitary monster hunters and vampires in evening dress is memorably bloody and also a bit funny at times. Long story short, Juliette gets her first kill during the battle while saving Cal’s life, and Sebastian is severely wounded. Juliette’s power-hungry (and slightly mad) sister Elinor (Gracie Dzienny) convinces Grandma to heal Sebastian by offering to marry the son of the guy that Margot once jilted, and Davina’s snake administers the cure, at the same time turning Sebastian into something much more powerful. Elinor eventually backs out of the wedding arrangement, leading to conflict between Davina and Margot’s newly-empowered husband.
Calliope has two brothers, Theseus (Phillip Mullings Jr) and Apollo (Dominic Goodman). Theo is adopted and preoccupied with the death of his birth mother who was killed by a vampire. Juliette has one brother (Oliver, played by Dylan McNamara) who was exiled and more or less disowned by his family at an early age. Oliver’s significant other is Carmen (Walnette Marie Santiago) who is a witch, and his return to Savannah, ostensibly for Juliette’s ceremony, is more important to the story than one might initially think. Ashley Stanton (Sarah Stipe) returns from the dead as a zombie after having been killed at that party where Juliette and Cal first made out. Ashley was supposed to be Juliette’s First Kill, but zombie Ashley ends up being Cal’s.
Juliette Anastasia Atwood-Fairmont (Anastasia means “resurrection”) introduces Cal to her parents for the first time in Episode Seven, and Margot immediately launches into one of her bullying rants, belittling Juliette because she buried a body instead of properly disposing of the thing. Margot is quite taken aback when Calliope responds by blurting the best line of the series: “Wow. You’re awful!’
We learn that The Guild has previously posted the Burns family to Paris, Alaska, and Tokyo. One wonders if it is entirely a coincidence that shortly after they arrive in Savannah, monsters begin to re-appear there. (It seems that some twenty years earlier the city was afflicted with a plague of monsters and somehow overcame the threat. That would be about the time that Margot married Sebastian.) One also wonders if Juliette’s immediate and intense attraction to Calliope might stem from the fact that both are predators, and were, at the time they met, each seeking their first kill.
V.E. Schwab told James Kleinmann of The Queer Review: “In terms of the general inspiration for the story, I grew up with Buffy and Supernatural…I came out when I was 27. So a lot of it was me wanting to tell a story that 16-year-old me might have seen herself in, kind of breaking down the binaries of what queerness looks like. Also, I really wanted to write queer existence, because we’ve come so far, we have so many amazing queer narratives these days, especially on television, but the vast majority of them are about queerness. We get to have space if we’re talking about our identity, but we’re so much more than our identity…Of course, there’s taboo in the story, but the taboo is that one’s a vampire and one’s a monster hunter, not that both are girls.”