The Best and Worst of Charmed: Season 4

 

Season 4 is considered the last good season the show ever had, which also serves as a soft-reboot given Shannon Doherty left the show over potential feuds with other cast. McGowan’s Paige was a great addition, bringing a freshness to the series already 3 years old. Unfortunately, things would get lighthearted in future seasons while also a bit more crappy, I mean campy.

Charlie Weber of Buffy the Vampire Slayer played the Prince in A Knight to Remember.

 

The Best:

Charmed Again, Hell Hath No Fury, A Knight to Remember, Black as Cole, A Paige from the Past, Lost and Bound, Charmed and Dangerous, The Three Faces of Phoebe, The Fifth Halliwheel, Bite Me, We’re Off to See the Wizard, Long Live the Queen, Womb Raider, and Witch Way Now?

Qotu

  • Charmed Again reinvigorates the show with the addition of Paige Matthews, following the death of Prue;
  • Hell Hath No Fury sees Piper finally deal with the death of Prue, by turning into a Fury, a vigilante demon that punishes evil-doers;
  • A Knight to Remember is a cinderella story complete with a Prince and Evil Enchantress, who is also an Evil Demon Seductress (see Feminist Frequency‘s #4);
  • Black as Cole starts the mistrust Paige will have of Cole throughout the rest of the season, but such mistrust won’t become valid until after Charmed and Dangerous;
  • A Paige from the Past is the only episode with the Paige’s name in the title, and the only episode which explicitly explores her past after becoming one of the Charmed Ones;
  • Lost and Bound features Phoebe going Stepford (see The Stepford Wives), and the first appearance (only one on TV) of a firestarter (see Firestarter film series);
  • Charmed and Dangerous sees the Charmed Ones defeat the Source of All Evil for the first time in the series, and season;
  • The Three Faces of Phoebe is a nice exploration into Phoebe, but alas, she did not stop dressing like a tramp;
  • The Fifth Halliwheel becomes convinced in this episode that Cole is still a demon;
  • Bite Me sees Paige get turned into a vampire, and finally, not only Paige suspicious of Cole;
  • We’re Off to See the Wizard, features Armin Shimerman (Principal Snyder in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Quark in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), sees Phoebe at her dumbest ever;
  • Long Live the Queen sees Phoebe at her most evil, and arguably, most stupid as explained by both Cole and Piper;
  • Womb Raider sees The Seer plot to steal Phoebe’s baby, which turns out was never Cole’s anyway; and,
  • Witch Way Now?, features Bruce Campbell (Army of Darkness, Spider-Man 3), which sees the sisters be given the choice to relinquish their powers and lead normal lives, or retain them.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Charmed Again, Part 1:

This was always going to be a challenge. Not only does it have to reboot the series, it also has to deal with the death of Prue Halliwell, an event made harder since she was played by an actress who, for whatever reason, was scrubbed from the show’s history. Even trickier was the fact that season three ended on two explosive cliffhangers, both of which have to be wrapped-up off-screen since Shannen Doherty had, over the summer hiatus, become theWoman That Shall Not Be Named, an awkward after-effect of behind-the-scenes catfights and tensions. Her absence is definitely felt, the two cliffhangers wrapped up clumsily via some awkward dialogue about Cole saving Phoebe from the underworld and Leo only having time to save one sister after both Prue and Piper were flung through the Wall of Doom. But, generally, Charmed Again Part 1 successfully resurrects the series with its intriguing new star, while insisting on a surprising level of humanity: Prue not casually dismissed and the show declining to ‘Cousin Oliver’ in a young and hot long-lost sister.

I don’t know if it was the influence of a justifiably pissed Holly Marie Combs, but the introduction of Paige isn’t as easy as it could have been. Piper doesn’t want to be distracted from her mourning, let alone want to get a new sister. Phoebe is a little more open to the idea, but it’s still something that is disturbing and shocking for the two of them, a surprisingly human concept for a show that usually depicts so much silliness.

Rose McGowan was, at the time, an interesting choice for the new sister. She adds a little flavor and energy to the show that was previously missing, giving Paige an inquisitive and sexy vibe which blends nicely with Piper and Phoebe. I also like that she’s naturally a protector of some sort, with her job at a social services office. Obviously, Rose isn’t the world’s greatest actor, but at least in her first season she seemed to be trying in some form, instead of just phoning in her performance. Here she’s interesting and dynamic, which is exactly what the character called for.

Charmed Again Part 1 is forced to maneuver around an array of roadblocks (Prue’s death, Shannen’s absence, Paige’s introduction, Cole’s shifting personality etc.) and mostly pulls the whole thing off. The show looks darker, more expensive, and Holly is pretty remarkable. The show is evolving, in general, and that’s obviously a good thing.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Charmed Again, Part 2:

It feels a lot like the writers stretched the season premiere to two hours because they thought it should be two hours based on the subject matter, not because they had a story that needed to be two hours. Charmed Again Part 2 has a couple of interesting moments, but in general it’s pretty badly paced, too much time spent on stories that feel kind of silly. The most obvious is the idea of a forty eight-hour ‘window’ after a witch discovers her abilities, where she supposedly can choose between good and evil. It feels a lot like something casually pulled out of Brad Kern’s butt to create some conflict, and it’s never truly realized and has little effect.

Similarly redundant is the conclusion to the Inspector Cortez subplot. His presence isn’t necessary at all, while the repeated cuts to Leo, Cole and Darryl trying to convince him to drop the investigation majorly slowed down the pace of the episode.

However, the sisterly interaction here is expertly scripted. Like part one, it feels surprisingly authentic, especially when you consider this is an Aaron Spelling show. Spelling series so often have new actors casually replacing other actors, and he could have easily gotten some personality vacuum ’90s brunette like Susan Ward to take over and play Prue instead of Shannen Doherty. But you should at least appreciate that the show is trying a little.

Intriguingly, the two-parter doesn’t end with the sisters hugging it out… as that’s still a work in progress. Paige is a newcomer, Piper is uncomfortable with her, and Phoebe is hesitantly trying to bridge that divide. I love the direction the series is going in at this point. Prue’s absence is hard to deal with, but it’s clear that Charmed isn’t over just yet.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Hell Hath No Fury:

The characterization here follows an overly familiar path, with the fallout from Prue’s death taking some expected turns here. Piper, the person affected the most by her death, is swimming in a river of denial, evident by the gung-ho demon-vanquishing bender she’s embarked on. The story unfolds in as predictable a way as possible, finally ending in the unsurprising ‘breakdown at Prue’s grave’ closer that was inevitable. But Holly Marie Combs is undeniably great in these moments, and that final scene where she visits Paige at work and offers an olive branch of sorts was beautifully performed. She knows it’s the right thing to do, opening up to her newfound sister, even though part of her is still holding back after recent events.

Continuing the themes of the season, there are some explicit discussions of the changes in the sisterly dynamic: Piper now the maternal figure, Phoebe the middle-child stuck trying to maintain balance and perspective, and Paige young and reckless. Paige’s adventures with the Book of Shadows are pretty dumb (struggling to drive with her giant boobs, most notably), but I guess it’s interesting to see a sister having fun with magic once again. Eh. I’m grasping here.

What ends up surprisingly flat is the entire Fury plot. Maybe it’s because of how little they were on-screen, or maybe because of all the references in the script to previous (more impressive) possessions, it kind of didn’t work. It’s also unfortunate that they’re so reminiscent of the Banshees from last season. Or, to be more specific, from four episodes ago.

Nonetheless, Hell Hath No Fury is another fine episode. The budget increase is still evident (I liked the opening car chase), and the fractured dynamic between the sisters is again intriguing.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of A Knight to Remember:

I’m so used to assuming that all of Charmed’s ‘fairy tale’ episodes were the televisual equivilant of an Anthrax attack that I incorrectly assumed A Knight to Remember was a heinous disaster. While it is pretty stupid, there’s at least a ridiculous charm to the whole Evil Enchantress story, with Rose McGowan doing her campy, vampy thing and ‘Ben is Glory?’ being reliably vacant.

The real fun occurs with the sisterly chemistry, like always. Piper and Phoebe want Paige to move into the Manor, something Paige is vehemently against, in order to maintain some banality in her life. The scenes where the sisters try and convince Paige are pretty funny, Holly Marie Combs’ delivery genuinely on point this week, despite Piper still generally being written as a whiny hag.

There’s not a whole lot ‘new’ this episode. Most of the ideas have been done before, and Paige’s efforts to maintain her ordinary life are reminiscent of Charmed’s first season, but everybody is acting with enough conviction to make the hour work. Great chemistry between the ladies, too. Dumb, but entertaining.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Black as Cole:

He’s spent most of season four whining about ‘bounty hunters’, so it’s only fair the show actually utilize Julian McMahon for a change. Black as Cole sees the series attempting to dive head-first into moral ambiguity once more, and it’s an effective hour all about Cole’s history. Finally we have somebody out there who wants Belthazor to pay for his crimes, and this time it’s cleverly not another demon but in fact another human, whose husband Belthazor killed.

The story also ties in with Phoebe’s latest predicament, of whether to accept Cole’s proposal or not. There are some intriguing attempts to depict rehabilitation and redemption here, with Piper and Phoebe accepting of Cole’s past atrocities, and Paige not so into it. Paige displays some extremely conservative opinions here, believing that Cole isn’t worthy of support due to his history, despite entirely missing the point that it was Belthazor’s actions, and not the man Cole is today. There are two distinct sides of Cole, one that is heroic and loving of Phoebe, the other pure evil. What makes Paige’s opinion carry some water, however, is the fact that Cole can blur those lines by simply ’embracing’ his demon side, as he does here. There’s always that lingering possibility that he could potentially be consumed by it.

Piper and Leo’s baby subplot surprisingly avoided merely remaking the Reckless Abandon baby comedy in season two, and was actually pretty funny. I always like that uncomfortable humor of having baby-substitutes getting horrifically destroyed. Like Niles and the ‘flour child’ on Frasier years ago. I think Popular did something like that at one point, too, with electronic babies. I loved the gag where the baby’s leg just fell off as Leo picked him up. Heh. This is a strong episode all-round.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of A Paige from the Past:

This isn’t the greatest of episodes, though it does at least explore Paige’s history, made into typical TV movie hoodoo via an ugly car wreck that killed her adoptive parents. Rose McGowan does fine with the material here, in particular in her attempts to depict that sense of trying to tell your parents how much you love them, even when they don’t want to hear it. Paige was a huge pain-in-the-butt as a teen, a whiny brat who skipped class and smoked cigarettes. It’s not great characterization (very Angsty Teen 101), but Rose makes the story work.

I also liked the implication that fate is always going to work out, whether you like it or not. Regardless of how Paige tried to reschedule the day’s events and avoid the car wreck that killed her parents, her parents were still fated to die, and Paige was always destined to grow up without her parents around. The story completely falls apart, however, during that horrible closer with Leo bringing back the ghosts of Mr. and Mrs. Matthews. It’s another annoying representation of Charmed’s eagerness to ignore the conventions of ‘death’, while at the same time insisting that Prue can’t come back and visit her sisters because ‘it isn’t the right time’. Snore.

The subplot involving Frankie and Lulu isn’t great, and easily could have been removed from the script. But I guess they had to give the rest of the cast something to do. I did like Piper taking charge by herself, though. A Paige from the Past is a fine, if heavily flawed, episode that probably could have been a lot better. But, for what it is, it mostly works.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Lost and Bound:

It felt a little out-of-character for Piper to be so against binding her children’s powers, considering she has always been the most vocal sister to whine about wanting an ordinary life. Here, she’s stubbornly insisting that she and Leo allow their kids to grow up with full access to their powers, seemingly to prevent future crises. Surely it would make more sense for Leo, a magical being for so long, to want their children to have their powers from an early age? Eh. This is one of those things that really bugs me about Charmed, how writers didn’t exhibit any real respect for the characters, re-writing their personalities at the drop of a hat. It’s pretty disrespectful.

The firestarter story had some interesting ideas. I liked the bounty hunter step-parents, and additionally Piper and Leo going undercover as the two of them. I liked the concept of a demon attempting to get hold of various ‘magical kids’ before they choose to side with good. Ray Wise is a great character-actor for evil characters. But, in general, the story flatlined after each promising idea was raised. Wise, in particular, is criminally wasted in such a thin role. And that pre-meth Aaron Carter lookalike is ridiculously heinous as firestarter Tyler.

Alyssa Milano’s performance manages to salvage the dumb subplot with Grams’ ring. She does a great Elizabeth Montgomery impression, and a couple of moments (the over-cooking, the ignorance of all things serious) were a lot of fun. Neat special effects, too, with her black-and-white flickering. But this is another filler episode in general, with a lot of ‘blah’-ness that doesn’t go anywhere decent. Meh.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Charmed and Dangerous:

People like to compare this episode to All Hell Breaks Loose, but away from both involving some kind of epic event (in this case, the defeat of the Source), there’s little similarity in quality. Charmed and Dangerous is, obviously, a very good episode. It explores the Charmed mythology successfully, offers up a battle sequence which is technically impressive, and features a wonderful and unexpected cliffhanger ending. But, for the most part, the episode involves a lot of waiting around, mildly repetitive ‘shock’ incidents (Leo getting shot by a poisoned arrow; Phoebe getting impaled in the back four episodes after the last time that happened) thrown in every ten minutes or so to increase excitement.

Before I’m accused of ragging on this too much, I like the Seer a whole lot. Debbi Morgan is clearly doing some scenery-chewing Eartha Kitt impression, but it works. The Source, too, is creepily effective with his half-melted face and scary eyes. The guardians of the Hollow were a little too ‘magical junk by numbers’ for me, but I at least appreciated the introduction of more mythology.

Elsewhere, I really disliked Piper’s attitude towards Paige. Paige is involved in an important spousal abuse case at work involving a lady who’s come down with a bad case of collagen lip, and her attention is unsurprisingly diverted to that throughout most of the episode. And yet Piper is happy to whine at her when Paige is called away after the lady is beaten up by her boyfriend. What exactly would Paige be doing otherwise? Sitting around waiting for the Source to attack? Obviously there’s always been that thing about personal life versus demon-fighting on Charmed, but Paige can’t just abandon her professional responsibilities at the drop of a hat to basically sit around worrying with Piper. Gah!

Charmed and Dangerous works on various levels. The bad guys are effective, the big coda at the Manor is fun, etc. But the hour drags a little in places and there are too many annoying moments to make it rank up there with Charmed’s best. But it does promise some interesting things for the future…

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of The Three Faces of Phoebe:

For an episode with a dangerously heinous-sounding central idea, The Three Faces of Phoebe surprisingly depicts some interesting discussions about fate and desire. The writing of Older Phoebe is remarkably powerful, reflecting an elderly woman with a lot of regret and justified hostility as a result of the decisions she has made in the past. She knew at one point that Cole was infected by the Source, but has always been left with that lingering doubt over whether vanquishing him was the right thing to do. So she allows events to play out differently, in the hopes of changing her fate. It’s a well-constructed idea, and Frances Bay (marble rye!) is wonderful in the part, with a performance layered with subtle emotion. And who doesn’t love a character who finally calls Phoebe out on her trampy wardrobe?

The Cole saga is moving forward, and it’s a lot of fun. The Seer’s plan is a little vague, but both Julian and Debbi Morgan are selling the story; Julian in particular is pretty great as a weird hybrid of Cole and the Source, stuck between his love for Phoebe and his desire to take over the Underworld.

The rest of the hour is a little ‘blah’. While it did allow for the great Older Phoebe character, present day Pheebs and her dithering about Cole is seriously played out. She has worries because he’s a demon, she has worries because he’s a human, she doesn’t want to become a boring housewife, now she’s sensing something is ‘off’ with him. Gah! Make up your damn mind, girl!

Elsewhere, the demon story and Paige’s office shenanigans both feel unnecessary, and the little girl playing Young Pheebs is seriously awful. But, thanks to Frances Bay and that entire element of the episode, The Three Faces of Phoebe mostly works. And the Cole arc is becoming more intriguing by the episode.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of The Fifth Halliwheel:

There’s a confidence to this episode which is really entertaining to watch. The Cole arc is in full swing, and the idea of sisterly conflict has brought out the best in the writers. Great direction by David Straiton, too, who adds some interesting visual flourishes throughout, notably that great post-credits sequence with the Halliwells in the bathroom together. The idea to isolate Paige from her sisters is continued from last episode, but depicted as far more hurtful and evil than it was in Marry-Go-Round. The scenes with Cole tormenting a mentally weakened Paige are incredibly difficult to watch, both actors entirely selling their respective mindsets at that point.

Phoebe definitely brought out varying emotions in me here. I really liked seeing her as an advice columnist, regardless of how contrived her hiring was. Alyssa was a lot of fun in those scenes, especially whenever she was distracted by her work during demon attacks. However, that final scene at P3 was really ugly. You can understand why she’d be frustrated with Paige, but to so casually attack her like that and flee before Paige can truly explain her opinions on Cole was really obnoxious.

The Fifth Halliwheel continues Charmed’s aggressive pursuit of momentum, utilizing the show’s greatest actor (Julian McMahon) and giving him some truly entertaining and layered material. Rose McGowan, too, is really good here. Great lines all round, an intriguing demon M.O., and more Seer hoodoo. The Piper/Leo beneath-the-counter sex scene is clearly the work of very, very sick people, but even that doesn’t dent the creativity of the episode.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Bite Me:

This episode is fine, if a little over-familiar. It’s, what, the fifth ‘sister turns evil’ story this season alone? Though Rose McGowan did look ridiculously hot in her vampire get-up, it’s become the go-to plot device for most of the writers now. Introducing vampires to theCharmed mythology is interesting enough without having one of the sisters get ‘turned’, and it would have probably been beneficial for the show to ease back on that idea for a while. Then again, these ‘evil sister’ episodes were obviously popular, so maybe I’m just needlessly whining. Call me out on it if I am. Heh.

The vamps themselves were a little melodramatic, but the show thankfully pursued an Anne Rice tone over a Whedon one. Everything here was pretty silly, though, from the scenery-chewing head vamp and the annoying underlings to the vaguely lesbian subtext of the Paige/Vamp Queen interaction. Gah. But Rose was convincing, and I’ve got to admit the storyline never bored me. Charmed-by-numbers, but fine.

Cole’s continued exploits as the new Source remain a lot of fun, but I’m missing the Seer. She adds some campy hilarity to the whole arc, and Cole’s skanky assistant is no match for her. I liked the depiction of various underworld factions all attacking each other, as well as the reveal that Cole becoming the ruler of all evil is a little more challenging than he had previously thought. Equally enjoyable were Cole’s continued attempts to alienate Phoebe from her sisters. And she’s knocked up now! That can’t be good.

Parts of Bite Me are well-executed, but the feeling that we’ve seen this kind of storyline repeatedly already was about as distracting as Paige’s nipples in those P3 scenes. Turn the heat up, girl!

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of We’re Off to See the Wizard:

Phoebe’s descent into evil is unfolding masterfully. The past two seasons have very much been about evil trying to separate the sisters, Cole in particular driving a wedge between both sets of Charmed Ones. Here, it’s not only her unborn child that is corrupting her and her powers, it’s also her love for a man who isn’t trusted by her sisters. It’s all played pretty convincingly, at least until Paige comes along and steadfastly claims that Cole is evil and that both she and Piper believe that he’s a bad guy once again. Seriously? Not the best way to handle it, honey. But I guess it then ensures that Phoebe becomes even more distant from the two of them, and those final couple of scenes in which she’s lured to the dark side with a pep talk from the Seer were ridiculously chilling. This is suddenly a new Charmed where all bets are off. It’s an interesting approach.

The bones of this episode aren’t hugely great, if only because the script doesn’t seem to know what tone to reach for. The wizard story in particular is a victim of that, the show treating it as far more comedic than it probably should have been. And the Grimoire is such a cool idea (that of an evil doppelganger to the Book of Shadows) that it’s a shame it wasn’t given more focus, likewise unfortunate that it’s never been mentioned before. Was it even mentioned post-season four? I’m blanking, but they really could have utilized that more.

Regardless of some of the faults here and there, the general direction the show continues to take is both ambitious and necessary, allowing the actors to play around with some heavier material. It’s so easy for this show to sit back and churn out standalone episodes forever and ever (it’s a direction Charmed ends up taking), but here the show has a focus and a drive that is making this entire arc really powerful.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Long Live the Queen:

The mutual concepts of good and evil are intriguingly explored here, Phoebe even stating that the sisters have stumbled into an area that is no longer black or white. You can understand Phoebe’s conflict. She loves her husband, she loves her sisters. Obviously the two ideologies could never co-exist, but you can almost see why Phoebe thought she could work around it. She could have been the broker for some kind of mutual peace between both sides. Phoebe’s development here is really well-plotted, from her casual anger towards her sisters and Elise, to her gradual realization that the Seer’s tonics aren’t as advertised.

And then there’s Cole’s final vanquish, a gut-wrenching sucker punch of emotion as Phoebe finally comes to terms with what ‘must be done’. There’s also some really great sisterly interplay here, from Piper’s emotional checking-out of the whole thing, Paige’s determination to get her sisters back together, and Phoebe’s conflict between both sides. And it’s capped by what is probably my favorite scene of the post-Shannen years, that gorgeous ending with Piper and Paige consoling a weeping Phoebe on her bed. Just a beautiful moment of sisterly support and connection. Aww.

What knocks the episode down a notch is the pacing. There are certain moments thatreally drag, notably the AA scenes. And despite being the star of this story arc, the Cole sequences also feel like they needed a re-write. Maybe I’m just not a fan of the various personality-free demons who are part of his little evil ensemble?

But the ideas on offer here are mostly successful, while the last fifteen minutes or so are ridiculously powerful and contain a bunch of twists that are surprisingly shocking, notably that great reveal of Cole having morphed into Phoebe at the Manor. Part of me thinks the ‘evil-Pheebs’ arc could have gone on longer, but Long Live the Queen is still an admirable closer to the story, however brief the arc was.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Womb Raider:

Considering the quality of the recent Cole arc and the fun of Debbi Morgan’s throaty-voiced Seer, it’s crazily underwhelming for the grand finale to essentially be a huge light-show that lasts for all of fifteen seconds. Even the Charmed Ones seem surprised at how remarkably easy the resolution was. Womb Raider also casually re-visits the demonic rituals and underworld politics that have already become more than a little tired, with random demons with names like Dane and Malik still squabbling over who gets to become the Source. Meh. It’s a ridiculously flat closer.

Similarly annoying is Phoebe’s random bouts of Paige-related violence due to her unborn demon spawn. Elements of the story could have worked, but it was so irritatingly played as comedy that the whole thing fell apart. While I’ve enjoyed this last run of episodes, it’s been undermined somewhat by Alyssa Milano’s performance. What should have been a dark story here was rendered almost ‘cutesy’, like a bad sitcom called ‘That Darn Baby!’, with Alyssa mugging for the camera whenever her kid did something bad. Same with last week when Phoebe was possessed by evil. She didn’t entirely inhabit a genuinely evil character, instead playing the character like Cher Horowitz playing Annie Wilkes in a bad school play. She’s just incapable of toning down the chipperness.

One of the few decent elements in the episode is that one small scene where Piper talks to Paige about her pregnancy issues. It’s a somber moment, and Holly Marie Combs is particularly affecting in it. She’s always great with the calmer, more human material.

Womb Raider cribs too much from other episodes, closes with a disappointing finale and ends with an unnecessary Cole-related cliffhanger. Considering how strong the Seer was a character, she deserved a better exit. And this arc in general deserved a better send-off, too. Blah.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Witch Way Now?:

Similarly to Womb Raider, this is another flat episode, made even more glaring by the fact that it’s the season finale. At the heart of the episode is the Angel of Destiny’s offer to grant the sisters an ordinary life. While there are parts of the story that work (notably Paige’s “Will we remember?”), the whole idea is too illogical to realistically work. So somebody out there has the power to entirely brainwash all of good and evil into forgetting the existence of the Charmed Ones? Who’s going to protect innocents from now on? Huh? It’s another example of Charmed mythology that entirely falls apart when you think about it.

Meanwhile, Cole continues to exist, and it’s a decision which is entirely weak. I like some of the things the show did with Cole in season five, but his demise in Long Live the Queenwould have been a really fitting finale for his character. Instead we get another run of episodes where he’s insisting that he isn’t evil, while Phoebe whines about him. It’s at this point that the character became tired, the show unnecessarily dragging the story out far longer than it needed to be.

Bruce Campbell’s antagonist subplot at least attempts to have a mid-way twist, but it’s ridiculously predictable nonetheless. And, again, we’ve seen this story depicted too many times already, detectives investigating the Halliwells. Witch Way Now? does try something fresh, but it doesn’t cover up the weakness of the story, especially for a fourth season finale and after an episode like All Hell Breaks Loose, which did the whole ‘exposure of the Halliwells’ thing with flying colors.

My opinion of season four as a whole sort of changed during this re-watch. There was way too much coasting, and a strong Seer/evil Phoebe arc ended up pretty underwhelming. However, I do give the show credit for introducing Paige so successfully, and for the writers at least having the guts to explore serialized storytelling, instead of just random standalone stories each week. Guess which road they went down from here on out, though.

 

The Worst:

Enter the Demon, Size Matters, Trial by Magic, Marry-Go-Round, and Saving Private Leo

4.11

  • Enter the Demon sees body swaps meets stereotypical Chinese people;
  • Size Matters, features Robert Englund (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Urban Legend), sees Paige investigate a creepy house and ends up getting transformed into a figurine;
  • Trial by Magic, much like future episodes featuring corporate America, Charmed doesn’t do courtroom drama episodes good either, as this one was just silly;
  • Marry-Go-Round is yet another stupid Phoebe episode, as given their magical knowledge and understanding, “Why agree to get married in a cemetery?”; and,
  • Saving Private Leo sees two ghosts from Leo’s past as vengeful World War II spirits, which seems better fit for the TV show, Supernatural.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Enter the Demon:

Body swaps in genre television work best when both actors take on the ‘quirks’ of each other’s performances, showcasing their awareness of their co-star’s skills, and replicating them in an absorbing way. Body swaps also work in exploring some kind of psychological trauma, the idea of a character wanting to ‘become’ somebody else in order to cover up their own shortcomings. Charmed’s version, in which Phoebe and Paige swap bodies, is a little weak not only because their relationship hasn’t reached that point where it’s actually interesting to see them inhabit each other’s bodies, but also because Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan aren’t great performers. Alyssa plays Paige with the same ridiculous baby voice she used in Once Upon a Time last season, while Rose displays the same tics and gestures she always has, even when playing a completely different character. Ugh. A story like this needs some extra attention from the actors, and they kind of failed entirely here.

Enter the Demon’s A-story is pretty much Charmed-by-numbers. It’s filled with annoying Mulan-esque ramblings about ‘true Zen masters’ and ‘keen warriors’, and it’s all shot in a stereotype-ville sound stage with a ton of bamboo. All the guest actors speak in that annoying ‘reactionary statement’ way where they’re literally just reading from a script, not actually attempting to create an interesting ‘being’. That faux-Michelle Yeoh (or should that be Michelle Faux? -Rimshot-) is the worst. Ugh.

I should also mention that Piper is a complete hag this week. Yes, she’s in mourning. Yes, she’s frustrated at having to suddenly be the responsible older sister in the Power of Three. But yeesh can she quit with the whining and yelling about ‘almost getting killed’. She has a real bug up her ass.

Enter the Demon is the weakest episode so far this season, full of annoying characterization, weak demon filler and unconvincing performances. The latter affects the hour the most, since this is the type of script that, more than ever, needs performances with some conviction and drive. And Alyssa and Rose just didn’t deliver.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Size Matters:

Paige drives the episode here, attempting to prove her worth by highlighting how a creepy old house she walks past every day naturally gives her the wig. Genre legend Robert Englund works well as Gammill, and the story unfolds pretty nicely, with Phoebe and eventually Piper and Paige being trapped in the house and shrunk to miniature stature. Finn’s presence could have been improved a little (his death, too, is pretty unsatisfying), but in general the A-plot works.

Piper’s subplot, in which she hires a club promoter for P3 who quickly changes the entire club into some Hooters jiggle-fest, doesn’t make even a tiny lick of sense; but I guess it’s another step in the right direction of salvaging the Power of Three and making Piper a little more open to that idea. I assumed the show had resolved the Piper/Paige animosity inHell Hath No Fury, but whatever. Neat ending, too, with the fixing of the P3 sign.

Size Matters has some decent lines (“Remember me, the girl with the melons?”), a generally absorbing demon plot, and some fine sister interplay. The whole show is still a little blah-worthy at this point, but it’s still mostly fun despite that.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Trial by Magic:

There’s a huge sense of ‘what’s the point?’ in regards to this episode. Phoebe’s adventures as a jury member were promising, and it could have allowed for some interesting attempts to prove the validity of her outlandish claims if she were to, say, experiment with low-level ‘magic’, or try and convince the jury of the possibility of the defendant being innocent. Instead, we get an elaborate ‘summoning the murder victim’ scene, and everything getting undone in the end via some convenient memory dust. It’s a really patronizing story.

The messy script issues continue to the end of the episode, with the jury storyline dropped ten minutes before the end and a clumsy ‘Rat Demon’ vanquishing and kidnapping tagged on, presumably to fill time. And was it really such a great idea for Phoebe to immediately converse with the defendant right after the verdict is announced? Couldn’t that open up a huge can of worms? Yeesh.

Paige’s subplot with Glenn is annoying, principally because his characterization is so awful. There’s ‘sensing something is weird about your best friend’, and then there’s ‘being aggressively invasive of your best friend’s privacy and snooping around their house to dig up dirt’. Ugh. And the spell-gone-awry was pretty underwhelming, too, casually disappearing after one or two scenes. Strangeness. I don’t know if the script just didn’t come together with Trial by Magic, but the episode really felt like one big mess. Filler junk.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Marry-Go-Round:

Thematically, this is very similar to last season’s Power Outage, another episode in which Cole exploits the most vulnerable aspect of the Power of Three (their sisterly connection) in an attempt to destroy them. But, unlike Power Outage’s family blow-out, the tension here has a huge dose of humor to it, with Cole going out of his way to sabotage his own wedding and make Paige the fall-guy for an array of errors. So, we have scenes of oversized wedding dresses, the bride’s face covered in pimples, and oversleeping on your wedding day.

The season’s major story arc continues to intrigue, with the Seer increasing her ambiguity and the writers offering a surprisingly entertaining resolution to the events of the episode, Cole morphing into the Seer and allowing the sisters to believe that she is entirely responsible for everything that has happened, with the ‘real’ Cole locked up in the mausoleum. Despite how (most of the time justifiably) maligned Charmed was, it’s only fair to give fair credit to Brad Kern for crafting such an interesting big bad this season, with a story arc that isn’t full of ridiculous plot twists or nonsensical characterization.

Apart from Coolio’s distracting guest spot, Marry-Go-Round skillfully extends the various plot strands at work right now, creating an episode that in general is the epitome of what should make a great Charmed episode: humor, sisterly interaction, and intriguing demon hoodoo.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Saving Private Leo:

Leo isn’t really a character. He operates primarily as exposition fairy, but even in that role his information is mostly useless. He obviously has his relationship with Piper, but for me they never exhibited the chemistry nor the huge romantic obstacles that usually affect and endear ‘endgame’ couples on TV. I bring this up because whenever Leo is pushed center stage, the results are usually appalling. Because of this, Saving Private Leo drags something fierce, and it’s not helped by Brian Krause’s whiny-voiced emoting. Gah. He’s never been more heinous.

The Lang brothers story is mildly intriguing, another exploration into long-held resentment and an epic quest for revenge, but its performed in such a flat way that it has none of the power it could have had. The fact that so much of the story (Leo’s teacher charge, the hoodoo with her nutty student) feels tagged on doesn’t help either.

Phoebe is super obnoxious throughout the episode. She’s taken on one of those annoying characteristics people sometimes get whenever they get a new job or start doing something different, where they act so precious about their shit and make sure you know exactly how important they suddenly are. Ugghh! I enjoyed Cole’s continued machinations, including his skank-o-rama new secretary, but Phoebe’s attitude drowned out most of the subplot. Annoying crone.

 

3x04-Phoebe-Broom

Next in the best and worst is Season 3.

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One thought on “The Best and Worst of Charmed: Season 4

  1. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Charmed: Season 3 | The Progressive Democrat

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