Truth is a hidden thing. We often hide our emotions, our motives, our very selves is the process of living. Sometimes, it’s to save others from pain. Sometimes, it’s simply for our own protection. And sometimes, it’s to keep others from knowing our selfish goals in order to take advantage of their innocence. We all, at one time or another, embrace the masquerade.
Actors do this for a living, becoming someone else completely, layering levels of truth and lies in each character they portray. Many times the best characters to play are the ones with hidden secrets, unseen motives, or manipulative ways of achieving their mysterious goals. What’s really exciting to watch is that whole process of the truth unraveling, and characters having to face the consequences of their lies not just to each other, but to themselves. And the bigger the lie, the farther the fall. And the furthest fall from grace is to give up your humanity forever. Enter the world of Kindred: the Embraced.
“We call ourselves Kindred. Vampire is a word humans invented. They needed a name for their fears in the night.”
–Julian Luna, Prince and Leader of the Kindred
Premiering in 1996, Kindred: the Embraced is dark, mysterious, powerful, and sexy. It dealt with the power struggles and temptations among the Kindred society, secret from the ordinary human world, yet living within it. That society consisted of five clans, each vying with the others for power and control of the Kindred. Julian Luna (Mark Frankel) is their Prince and leader, tasked with guiding these factions and enforcing their ancient laws and customs. The often violent and bloody internal conflicts of the clans, along with the need to keep up the “Masquerade” (hiding their existence from humanity), formed the basis of the show.
We enter this world through the eyes of a San Francisco cop, Frank Kohanek (C. Thomas Howell), who is investigating the mysterious Julian Luna for suspected mob activity. His investigation leads him to Julian’s former lover, one of the Kindred, who breaks their strict code of silence and reveals the existence of their society. She ultimately pays the price of “final death”, the cost of revealing the Masquerade to humans, but extracts a last promise from Julian that Frank will not be harmed. Frank and Julian now become both enemies and allies, each forced to use the others resources to protect their own kind, never completely trusting each other. And it seems that trust is a very rare commodity in the Kindred world….
Ancient custom deems that the leaders of the various clans form a ruling council, with Julian as their head. This does not stop any of those leaders from coveting more power, or even Julian’s position, although to openly defy him would be foolhardy at best.
The clans themselves are unique: Lily (Stacy Haiduk) leads the Toreador clan, who are artistic and beautiful, but use temptation and sex as a weapon (and it is a weapon she’s aimed squarely at Julian). Archon (Patrick Bauchau) is Julian’s closest advisor, from the Ventrue clan (as is Julian), whose power base is in business and politics. The Nosferatu are the oldest clan, lead by Daedalus (Jeff Kober). They embody the Kindred’s darker spirit and ancient knowledge, and would prefer not to take sides in any disputes… but do not hesitate if they themselves are threatened. The brutal Brujah clan believes in power through strength, and their leader Eddie Fiori (Brian Thompson) feels that he should rightfully be in charge of the Kindred and not Julian, and has set wheels in motion that hopefully will bring him that position. Finally, Cash (Channon Roe) is the new young leader of the Gangrel, the chaotic and wild gypsy force whose loyalty is often (and rightfully) questioned… but once that loyalty is given, it cannot be broken. Lots of different forces, pulling different ways, all out for power and, quite literally, blood.
Finally, we have two other humans who are drawn into this dark web. Catlin (Kelly Rutherford), a reporter doing a story on Julian’s alleged mob activities, ends up as his romantic interest (much to the anger of Lilly, who desires Julian’s power… and his bed); and Sasha, a young “niece” of Julian’s (actually his great-great granddaughter… vampires live a long time). Sasha and Cash are attracted to each other, to the dismay of Julian, who wishes to keep Sasha untainted by the Kindred. This ultimately is used as a weapon against him, when she is “embraced” (turned into a vampire) by the opposing Brujah clan, creating a Romeo and Juliet-like scenario for those characters.
So, there are power plays, betrayals, temptations, and all the delicious lies and maneuvering you could ask for, portrayed in a dark and sexy world going on, unseen, within our own.
“The Godfather film presents a subculture of the Mafia, as a world apart from ours, existing along ours, but separate, complete unto itself. The Kindred world is more passionate than ours, more loyal, more erotic, more savage. A world we want to be in.”
–Producer John Leekley
The mob analogy is a good one, as both types of society have to protect themselves from the regular world, yet interact within it as well, which is where all the lies, manipulations, and loyalties are tested (and many found wanting). One reviewer described Kindred: the Embraced as “Melrose Place meets The Godfather“, and I would have to agree that a young, attractive cast with lots of sex and violence would likely fit that description. But the show’s basis was actually neither of these shows. It came from a different “secret” society, also existing alongside our own. That group is still out there, active, in real life today. Believe it or not, the show came from, of all things… a game!
Originally published in 1991 by White Wolf Games, Vampire: the Masquerade is what is known as a LARP, a Live-Action Role-Playing game. Groups of people gather (from five people on a weekend night, to literally thousands at a national event) to meet and play, in character, parts based on the clans and power struggles of a secret Vampire society. As I write this, I have numerous friends who are attending one of those national events in New Orleans, participating in both free-form and structured events as their characters within the game.
For the uninitiated, this is basically improvisational storytelling between players, each of whom has specific goals or motives within the game which are not necessarily known to all. It encourages both alliances and misdirection, and creates the interaction necessary for “playing” the individual characters. This leads to a continuing storyline created in broad strokes by local game organizers and integrated into larger and larger scenarios, leading to the national events. And all this is happening, every week, across the country (my own medium-sized city has 50 registered players, ranging in age from teens to retirees, and there are numerous groups in other locations they interact with, in person and online).
Television producers Aaron Spelling (of the aforementioned Melrose Place, among many other succesful TV series) and John Leekley took this format, simplified it (because there are many more clans and sects available in the actual game), and created Kindred: the Embraced. The show only produced eight episodes, and although it was canceled by FOX, negotiations were underway with Showtime to transfer the show there for a second season (where the sex and blood content would be less constrained by broadcast standards). Unfortunately, lead actor Mark Frankel died in a tragic motorcycle accident later that year, and the cast declined to go on without their “leader”.
MARK FRANKEL (Julian Luna) was on the cusp of a great career, having been a regular in Sisters and starring in Fortune Hunter before Kindred. His unfortunate death in fall of 1996 ended a potentially bright future far too soon.
C. THOMAS HOWELL (Frank Kohanek) was first noticed for his breakout performance in the movie The Outsiders. He also starred in the Canadian series Amazon, and recurring roles in the series Criminal Minds and Southland.
STACY HIADUK (Lilly Langtree) has had a lengthy run in many TV series, beginning with The Adventures of Superboy in 1988. She’s also had lead roles in The Round Table and Seaquest 2032, and recurring roles in Melrose Place, Heroes, and Prison Break. She’s become a soap opera actress, most recently in All My Children and The Young and the Restless.
PATRICK BAUCHAU (Archon) speaks five languages fluently. He’s best known for playing Sydney, the mentor of The Pretender for 4 seasons in addition to playing on the HBO series Carnivale.
JEFF KOBER (Daedalus) was a regular on China Beach and recently was seen on multiple episodes of Sons of Anarchy. He’s also an accomplished painter, and was responsible for many of the paintings seen in Luna’s mansion and Daedalus’ “lair” on Kindred: the Embraced.
BRIAN THOMPSON (Eddie Fiori) has played the villain in many Sci-Fi TV series, starting with the early FOX series Werewolf. He also played a Klingon on Star Trek: The Next Generation, a Jem’hadar on Star Trek DS9, and most notably, the Alien Bounty Hunter in a menacing recurring role on The X-Files.
CHANNON ROE (Cash) played a sudden millionaire in the short-lived series Windfall, and was seen in a number of episodes of both Deadwood and Dirt. His most recent appearances have been in the FX series Terriers.
KELLY RUTHERFORD (Caitlin Byrne) is one of the favorites of this blog, and has already been mentioned in the article about The Adventures of Brisco County Jr. Her list of other regular series appearances includes Homefront, Melrose Place, The District, and a current run on Gossip Girl.
BRIGID WALSH (Sasha Luna) now acts under her married name, Brigid Brannaugh, and has had featured roles in CSI and Angel. She currently stars in the Lifetime series Army Wives.
In addition to the actual Role-Playing game (which is now known under the name Vampire: The Requiem), Kindred is available on DVD (unfortunately with no extras). There are also bountiful resources available online for the show. The entire series is “chunked” on YouTube, and an excellent fan site is available here.
If the show had aired now, with the mania of the Twilight series and the resurgence of the popularity of vampire-themed books and movies, it would probably be a success. And who knows, since vampires have such a long life, maybe they’re just waiting for the right time to return. Or maybe they’re already here, and we just don’t know it yet…
“We’re a secret and ancient breed set apart from Man. We’re the other side of life.”
In acting, truth isn’t necessarily what you get to actually see in a performance, but it is still what the actor plays. In my own acting pursuits, one of the best pieces of advice I ever got was “Unless you’re playing Jesus Christ, everyone lies. Either to others, or themselves.” Actors get to lie for a living, and the best create many layers of truth and falsehoods. Numerous people do it in the form of a game, gathering for just the sheer enjoyment of getting to live a different life, sharing their creations with others in a grander masquerade. Some, unfortunately, do it every day in their own lives, and the worst don’t even realize they’re lying to themselves. But when used as drama, and used well, the results of these “untruths” can be exciting, enthralling, terrorizing, and mesmerizing. That’s what brings people back to the Live-Action game each week, and brings people back to shows like Kindred: the Embraced. That’s really the hidden truth.
7 aired episodes — 1 unaired episode (later aired on cable repeats and available on the DVD)
First aired episode: April 2, 1996
Last aired episode: May 9, 1996
Aired Friday 8/7 Central? Not with all this sex and violence. Most of its run was Wednesdays at 9/8 Central, following Beverly Hills 90210.
Comments and suggestions encouraged, as always.