The Best and Worst of Charmed: Season 3

 

Season Three introduces the character of Cole Turner, as an Assistant District Attorney (and demonic assassin known as Belthazor) working for the the Triad. He had been dispatched by the Source of all Evil himself to kill the Charmed Ones, but ends up falling in love with Phoebe. Ironic, that only a season later Cole would become the Source of All Evil.

 

The Best:

All Halliwell’s Eve, Power Outage, We All Scream for Ice Cream, Blinded by the Whitelighter, Wrestling with Demons, Bride and Gloom, The Good the Bad and the Cursed, Just Harried, Death Takes a Halliwell, Sin Francisco, Exit Strategy, Look Who’s Barking, and All Hell Breaks Loose

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  • All Halliwell’s Eve features the Charmed Ones going back in time to the 1600s in order to protect a coven in danger of extinction. I liked the aspect of Phoebe attempting to invert the stereotype of witches as (evil) hags in the episode;
  • Power Outage features the first time we see the sisters seriously turn against each other, rendering them powerless;
  • We All Scream for Ice Cream features an ice cream truck that kidnaps children, which is quite creepy à la Children of the Corn;
  • Blinded by the Whitelighter is the first episode to feature a whitelighter other than Leo, the Heavens later seen in Oh My Goddess, and in which the Elders are referred to by name;
  • Wrestling with Demons sees Prue find out that her former college boyfriend is being led down a path to demonhood, and although the episode is poorly seen, it’s nice to see an inversion of roles in the ring;
  • Bride and Gloom sees the sisters turn into warlocks;
  • The Good, the Bad and the Cursed sees Cole and Prue go back in time to the 1800s of a western town in order to save Phoebe;
  • Just Harried sees Piper and Leo get married;
  • Death Takes a Halliwell features the first appearence of the Angel of Death, who, by seasons end, will take Prue, as he says “Don’t worry it’s not your time, well not just yet anyway”;
  • Sin Francisco finds the sisters cursed with the seven deadly sins;
  • Exit Strategy sees the Brotherhood try to sabotage Phoebe and Cole’s relationship. Also Rachel Luttrell appears as one of the witches who guarded a magical amulet (Stargate: Atlantis);
  • Look Who’s Barking sees Prue tranformed into a dog, and Phoebe transformed into a banshee; and,
  • All Hell Breaks Loose sees the sisters exposed as witches to the entire world, and the death of Prue at the hands of Shax, the Source’s personal hitman.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of All Halliwell’s Eve:

Finally, we have a semi-decent episode. All Halliwell’s Eve doesn’t at all have the emotional resonance of past time-travel episodes, but it’s a fascinating and mostly authentic-feeling depiction of old-time magicks. Most of the fun is derived from the various obscure magic that the 1600’s witches use, from leaves in apples to brooms sweeping away evil. Equally fun is seeing the sisters rendered powerless and having to quickly learn how to use all this old-time magic, in order to save the day once again. I’m not sure they captured the time period all that well, but in terms of enriching the Charmed mythology, this episode completely works.

Cole’s inclusion in the story is pretty successful, further depicting his evilness with some calculating attempts to win over Phoebe’s heart. I also loved the irony of his angel costume at the end. I always thought the ‘seeing the initial of your true love in the apple peel’ thing was silly, especially since you could never get, I don’t know, a ‘B’ via an apple peel. ‘C’ and ‘O’, sure, but what if your true love was named Xena or Zorin? Huh, writers?? Ever think of that?

You can understand why the show thought it would be interesting to throw Leo and Darryl together in a subplot, but their presence throws the whole hour off, especially when the scene keeps flipping back to the modern-day action… which isn’t interesting at all. The Grimlocks officially become the stupidest demons in the world, failing to kill Leo and Darryl’s asses in the, what, thirty-three times that they had good murderous opportunities? Eh.

The time-travel sequences are pretty great, especially the script’s emphasis on magic rather than annoying, badly-acted demons. And that shot of Phoebe flying across the moon on her broomstick is undeniably awesome.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Power Outage:

Can we talk about Jason Carter? Lord is he embarrassingly awful in this episode! Did the directors on Charmed actually tell its guest actors to be as hammy, theatrical and melodramatic as possible? Carter chews up, spits out, re-chews and then once again spits out the scenery throughout this episode, looking like he’s in physical pain whenever he talks. Poor Julian McMahon, who always portrayed Cole with a hint of subtlety, sharing scenes with both this guy and the increasingly annoying Alyssa Milano. I guess Carter’s performance is something to be laughed at. It’s like he saw everybody in The Wedding from Hell and just thought “Hey! I’ll do what they’re doing!”. Shudders.

Power Outage is actually pretty great, another sign that the show has an actual direction right now. The sisters are in more ways than one falling apart, leading incredibly separate lives which clash when they still rely on others to help them out constantly. Cole, being the Machiavellian dinosaur that he is, plays on this increasing anger, and the big, dramatic yelling match the sisters have with each other is a doozy. Screaming, fighting, using their powers on one another. It’s a great moment, the sisters finally unloading all the pent-up hostility that has been building all season.

There isn’t anything particularly new about this episode, and in some ways it’s difficult to distinguish it from the various similarly-themed hours around it, but it’s still an entertaining hour, helped by some great acting work from practically everybody. Julian McMahon, in particular, is stealing the show again.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of We All Scream for Ice Cream:

This episode is a much stronger introduction to Victor than that awkward season one version. While that episode spent so long setting up an “is Victor secretly evil?” idea, We All Scream for Ice Cream instead depicts Victor’s relationship with his daughters as a pretty ordinary family rift, the Halliwells still justifiably bitter over the father that seemingly abandoned them all at a young age. It’s something that’s a lot more organic and relatable, the sisters experiencing what so many regular folk also experience after parents divorce or separate.

I also really liked that we finally had some closure on the angst. Prue is still the most hostile towards her father, but they reach a new found resolution towards the end of the episode, and I loved those two scenes where they both have to save one another, Victor saving Prue from the Nothing, and later Prue saving her dad from one of those demon kids.

The story itself unfolds really well, some subtlety at the top of the show with Prue distracted by a song from her childhood, which then morphs into the idea of a murderous ice cream man (which is cool in itself), which then further turns into the revelation that the ice cream man is in fact a good guy and that the children he’s ‘abducting’ are in reality annoying kid-monsters. The kids are annoying as hell, but the sisters knowingly acknowledge that throughout the last twenty minutes of the episode.

This is another hour which expertly blends character-driven drama with absurdest demon hijinks, and it’s ridiculously successful. There’s a campiness to a lot of the script, but a vulnerable performance from Shannen Doherty and the abundance of cool ideas make it genuinely memorable.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Blinded by the Whitelighter:

I always loved the idea that the only reason the Charmed Ones are so good at their jobs is because of their personalities and their relationships and their ordinary distractions, not in spite of all that. It’s a subject explored pretty well here, with the sisters repeatedly criticized for their lack of preparation, their casual treatment of real threats, as well as their fashion sense (okay, the last one is justified). Whitelighter Natalie represents the by-the-book force of good who leaves nothing to chance. Obviously, she winds up dead within the hour, and the characters that try and live as full a life as possible end up saving the day.

It was about time that we got to explore the whitelighter mythology, even if nothing is too surprising. Their headquarters is an underwhelming palace-type building bathed in white light and a lot of people walking around in hoods and robes. Meanwhile, they all talk in their own language, which pretty much sounds like people clicking tabs on a computer keyboard. It’s pretty funny, especially in Holly Marie Combs’ reaction shots.

Finally, the show also addresses the imbalance in Piper and Leo’s relationship. She knows literally nothing about his world or his job, while he knows so much about her’s. It’s understandable that she’d be jealous of how ‘together’ Leo and Natalie were, especially with Natalie droning on about how inappropriate the witch-whitelighter coupling is.

Steve Valentine falls on the more palatable side of ham this week, and I also liked the character himself. His power was interesting, his motive actually intriguing instead of just ‘crush, kill, destroy’, and in general I liked his interaction with the sisters. The sisters themselves were a lot of fun together this week, especially in that quickly derailed training sequence. Pretty decent episode, all round.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Wrestling with Demons:

The run of above-average episodes hits a roadblock here, with a script that tries to do way too much at once. It also features an annoyingly long-winded wrestling sequence that ages the episode pretty badly. A bunch of early-2000’s shows did ‘the wrestling episode’, and this one also features a couple of WWE wrestlers flinging the protagonists around. I guess some of the action is fine, but I don’t get how Prue and Phoebe are suddenly experts at all kinds of kung-fu violence. It threw me out of the moment for a second.

While the show tried to personalize the storyline via Prue’s old relationship with Tom, I’m not sure this element really worked. We never knew Tom, so Prue’s connection to him subsequently felt a little half-assed. The story also wasted Ron Perlman, one of the finest character actors around. Considering the show built whole episodes around demons like Andras and Kierkan, two recent examples of actors with gesticulating tourettes, it’s unfortunate that they saddled a talented guy with a nothing part.

The only real success of the episode is in the continued Phoebe/Cole saga. It’s understandable that Phoebe would tell Piper and fear telling Prue, since Prue can get a little holier-than-thou at moments like these. I’ve ragged on Alyssa Milano a lot this year, but you could practically feel the emotional weight on her shoulders as she faces up to what she has done. Meh on the rest of the episode, though.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Bride and Gloom:

The show is now at that point where the writers are fully aware that making one or all of the sisters evil for an episode pretty much guarantees fun. And while Bride and Gloommakes literally no sense, in general it’s ridiculously entertaining. Piper and Phoebe ‘blinking’, Piper attacking the wedding planners, Phoebe shattering Dantalian’s hand. The transformations are handled in equal parts with humor and horror. And the moment where Phoebe repeatedly beats Cole and demands that he turn into Belthazor is one of the most interesting and weirdly psycho-sexual scenes this season. Maybe that was unintentional, though.

Holly Marie Combs is firing on all cylinders here. She’s owning Piper at this point, at times crazily neurotic as well as compassionate and caring. Holly’s performances are always right on the edge of shrill, but for the most part she’s been really impressive this season. She looks like she’s having a ball playing evil here, especially in that great moment where she tortures Dantalian. Phoebe, too, is pretty badass this week. Therefore, one of the downsides to the episode is Prue’s absence. Obviously, Shannen was busy prepping her directorial gig for next week, but the script loses something by not totally depicting Prue being overcome with evil and instead having her restricted to an underground slab for most of the hour.

But while so much of the episode is a lot of fun, it falls apart in those last ten minutes or so. The villains are way too easily dispatched, saving Prue is a less successful retread of the finale to The Wendigo, and all the “here’s what I learned” conversations at the end were plain awful. This is the kind of episode that doesn’t need a whole lot of moralizing, but the ending pushed it into annoyingly preachy ground.

Generally, however, Bride and Gloom is a lot of fun. Episodes like the upcoming Sin Francisco basically do this exact same story a lot more successfully, but this is an interesting attempt at least.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of The Good, the Bad and the Cursed:

Like this season’s previous time travel episode, I’m not sure The Good, the Bad and the Cursed has enough actual story to last a whole hour, the writers seemingly creating the idea of setting an episode in the Spaghetti Western era of the 1870’s and then forming the rest of the script. However, it’s another fun episode, made even more interesting through pairing together Prue and Cole, two characters who have an interesting dynamic even before they’ve truly met each other. It was probably helped by the fact that Shannen and Julian were a real-life couple during filming, but the two of them have a ton of sexual chemistry. It’d be hard for Julian McMahon to not have chemistry with somebody, but the sparks he has with Shannen are particularly memorable.

The story itself was only decent. There was little originality to the Western scenes, most of the ideas cribbed from every Clint Eastwood movie ever. There’s the stand-off in the middle of the saloon, the stand-off in the center of the town, the bar snitches, the racial tension, the stallions. And Prue even learns to pull off some neat gun play. It’s all pretty silly, but mostly entertaining. I’m not sure the idea of Phoebe experiencing Bo’s pain was elaborated on as much as it could have been. But maybe Shannen just wanted to force Alyssa to roll around in pain all episode. Heh.

Elsewhere, Victor is truly becoming part of the family. He’s going to lunch with his daughters, bonding with Leo, trying to gain back his position as the Halliwell patriarch. It was interesting to depict his resentment towards Leo after he discovered he was a whitelighter, but I wished they had explored it a little more. His daughter is marrying the same ‘type’ that his own wife cheated with, that’s gotta hurt somewhat.

Great direction by Shannen, and some memorable interplay between Cole and Prue. But the rest of the episode is pretty routine. Considering the pedigree of Charmed time-travel hours, it’s a little underwhelming.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Just Harried:

Distractingly for an episode featuring Piper’s wedding, this is once again all about Prue. Like Which Prue Is It, Anyway? and Ms. Hellfire before it, it’s another exploration into the two distinctive ‘sides’ of Prue, this time made even more literal by having her astral self take on a mind of its own. While the story isn’t new, I actually enjoyed Phoebe’s psychological take on the situation, something surprisingly rational and character-driven for this show. It’s so common to see magic employed to get the sisters out of a tricky bind, that seeing Phoebe use her own ingenuity to save the day was refreshing.

On the home front, I loved the reunion between Patty and her daughters. While the show eventually destroys the concept of death by bringing dead relations back at the drop of a hat, here there’s still that disbelief of seeing somebody long gone suddenly appear right in front of you again. Holly Marie Combs was particularly great in their scene together, unsure of whether or not she’s dreaming.

The Prue story, outside of the psychological, wasn’t hugely absorbing. Maybe it was just the biker bar locale, but it never really grabbed me. It’s a problem that affects the episode in general. Even though a lot happens and despite several intriguing and well-scripted ‘moments’, Just Harried isn’t particularly memorable. Great performances all-round, but pretty hollow nonetheless.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Death Takes a Halliwell:

Once again, I’m really enjoying Prue. In general, she’s such a sad character. She’s always been so isolated from her sisters in a way, forced to be a mother figure from an early age and forced to be the responsible one when both her guardians die and the other flees the family. Even now, she’s the odd one out in terms of relationships, and has put all of her focus this season onto demons and tracking down evil. Death Takes a Halliwell iss another excellent episode that focuses in on her isolation, made even more apparent via her interaction with the Angel of Death. Here’s a woman who has the weight of the world on her shoulders, and here she learns that she can’t always do what she thinks is the right thing.

This script is surprisingly ambitious, exploring ideas of morality and mortality, and forcing Prue to come to terms with death itself. The Angel of Death is an inspired creation, a complex character who is neither good nor evil, but somebody doing a job that needs to be done. Death is inevitable, it’s not a force that can be reckoned with or something that can be fought. The scene where Prue has to watch Inspector Davidson die is heartbreaking. She goes against her natural instincts, but it’s what needed to happen.

Cole once again is slipping seamlessly into the cast, and he still has demons attempting to hunt him down. The Seekers were hilariously creepy with their vampire teeth and their floatiness. Equally fun was the cute subplot with Piper and Leo arguing over to where to sit that ugly Whitelighter lamp-thing.

Death Takes a Halliwell is that rare Charmed episode that aims just that little bit higher than normal. It explores some tough themes and nobody really wins in the end. Prue is still alone, but she has overcome her fear of death somewhat. It’s not necessarily something to get angry about. It’s the inevitable event that nobody can ever completely prevent or prepare themselves for.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Sin Francisco:

This is one of the series’ funniest episodes. Prue’s interaction with the TV crews; Piper getting electrocuted; Phoebe’s account of seducing her professor; Phoebe checking out the old delivery man; Piper’s various ugly purchases (the swan!); Phoebe about to fall out the window; Piper and the boxing gloves; the sisters getting thrown into boxes and Piper getting buried under an enormous crate. It’s all just so, so silly, but hugely fun at the same time.

Surprisingly, Sin Francisco is also an interesting depiction of the various concepts of sin, each sin tying in neatly with each sister’s personalities. Sure, Piper’s sudden efforts to become ‘the perfect wife’ feel a little forced, but her spending sprees create some of the funniest moments. Phoebe is generally pretty slutty, so it’s unsurprising that her sin is lust. Prue, a lone wolf of sorts, experiences the sin of pride, causing her to become even more reckless and arrogant than usual. I loved Prue and Phoebe snarking at each other that they don’t seem all that different while infected.

Equally intriguing was the idea of pride being unable to overcome through selflessness. It’s understandable. Every heroic act Prue embarks on is somehow fueled by her own desire for compliments. After saving the pastor she’s immediately talking to the TV cameras, she loves being the only sister to want to save the day because it once again means that she’s stronger and more caring, she loves being the one making the sacrifice at the end. Prue’s a great character, and I love that she has those flaws and frequently acts like a martyr. It’s her personality, and it’s no more annoying that Piper’s whining or Phoebe’s naivety.

Later Charmed years generally confused all-out comedy with sex-crazed stupidity, but Sin Francisco is that rare episode where literally everything clicks. The performances, the writing, it just works so well.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Exit Strategy:

Way more successful than its preceding part, if only because all the annoying corporate-takeover shenanigans hilariously vanish. Seriously, that whole element of the plot is entirely removed. Obviously everybody involved thought it was a bunch of ass. Exit Strategy is pretty fine, but it’s again frustrating that the sisters (notably Prue) are background players to Cole and his demon drama. Cole is a great character, but the flat villains he’s usually paired with are all so ‘blah’.

Exit Strategy is obviously a means to an end, with Cole embracing his evilness at the end of the episode. Being Charmed, the actual storyline is ridiculously convoluted and relies almost entirely on coincidence and chance, but generally it’s fine. I also liked Janna the witch. We’ve seen other episodes where the sisters meet another witch who teaches them various potions and spells, but it’s still an effective story.

Meanwhile, Piper has gotten herself a new power: the ability to blow shit up. It’s one of those plot twists that in the end suck any dramatic potential from most situations (just like orbing), but it provides a whole bunch of entertainment here. Holly Marie Combs, like always, is straddling that thin line between shrieky comedy and mind-numbing whining, and she mostly works well with the comedy here. Generally the script is a little overwritten, but its intentions are worthy of praise.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Look Who’s Barking:

This episode doesn’t have a whole lot of emotional resonance, but it’s another fun detour involving the sisters morphing into something supernatural. Where it falters is in the execution of the banshee story. The idea of the demon is that each banshee is a former witch, and that banshees seek out those in great emotional pain. Phoebe unsurprisingly is taken over by the banshee, and it should have been an interesting idea to build an episode around. However, the emotional ramifications of the story aren’t exploited enough, and it’s disappointing that all Phoebe can learn from the episode is that Cole is, deep down, a good guy. Meh.

While what we are given is fine, it’s an element that could have been pushed a lot further. The banshee story, generally, is pretty effective, especially the creature herself. I loved the smashing glass, the old man bleeding from his eyes, and the sweeping curtains and visual flourishes given to most of her scenes.

Prue’s adventures as a dog weren’t at all interesting, but presumably Shannen needed time off to prep her directorial gig next episode. There were obviously all those rumors at the time that Shannen demanded time off because of the Alyssa drama, but the truth was probably a lot less scandalous.

Look Who’s Barking is an episode that works on the surface but falters a little when you try and analyze it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a lot of fun and the villain is pretty badass, but it’s kind of a filler episode generally.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of All Hell Breaks Loose:

All Hell Breaks Loose is the finest episode this show ever did. It’s an effectively chilling hour chronicling a real end-of-the-world scenario, at least in regards to the sisters. It perfectly captures what could likely happen if the sisters were exposed, and how the media would react if the secret got out. We at first witness the unfolding of the ‘hero’ narrative, the media casting the Halliwells as protectors of the innocent as they save the world every week. But inevitably, in their quest for ratings, the media turns on the sisters, treating them like villains and otherworldly menaces. As the hour unfolds, it becomes more clear that it’s not just the media who target the women, but also the police and potentially the CIA. It’s a sinister depiction of what could happen, and it’s wonderfully played all round.

The script unfolds beautifully, from the humor of deciding whether to appear on Oprah or Barbara, to the horror of Alice Hicks and her big gun. Equally effective is Phoebe’s time in the underworld, especially the moment where she realizes something terrible must have happened ‘up there’ for the Source to think she’d agree to his plan. Finally, there’s that cliffhanger, the horrible irony of Phoebe and Leo both disappearing, and Prue and Piper left pretty much defenseless.

Obviously, this is also the final Prue episode, Shannen smashing into the wall of doom, never to be seen again. It’s a fitting end for the Shannen years, especially with her directing and all. Prue is kick-ass, emotional and heroic throughout this episode, putting the safety of her sisters before herself and attempting to save the day while under the microscope. Prue was such a strong character, and definitely played an important role in the group dynamic. In the end, Charmed became a show about two gaggling morons and their whiny older sister. Prue’s presence always added some levity and seriousness, which I really appreciated.

Shannen gives one of her greatest performances here, along with Holly. Their scenes following Piper’s shooting are heartbreaking, the two of them having so much chemistry together anyway, but being fueled this time by Piper’s sudden knowledge that she is dying, and Prue’s abject devastation. Shannen’s direction is also gorgeous, especially in the visual flourishes of the slow-motion close-in of Prue’s breakdown in front of the crowd at the house, and later the reverse-time bullet at the end. Shannen really held the show together, as evidenced by the numerous accounts in recent years where some of her co-stars claimed that she did a lot of overtime on the show, always there to try and make Charmed as great as possible. In the long run, the series did fall apart without her.

Phew. Sorry for sounding like an annoying fanboy there. Ugh. But All Hell Breaks Loose is pretty much a masterpiece, the perfect send-off for the show’s strongest ever season. When the one negative thing here is Leo’s weeping gorilla face, you know you’ve got something special.

 

The Worst:

Magic Hour, Once Upon a Time, Primrose Empath, Coyote Piper, and Pre-Witched

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  • Magic Hour sees Charmed‘s version of Ladyhawke;

  • Once Upon a Time features the first appearance of trolls and fairies;

  • Primrose Empath sees Prue take on the powers of an empath from a demon;

  • Coyote Piper sees Piper possessed by an evil spirit; and,

  • Pre-Witched sees the Charmed Ones before they were witches.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Magic Hour:

The conceit of this episode is ripped straight from Ladyhawke, Piper even referencing the fact that she’s sure she’s seen it all before in a movie somewhere. Admittedly, the idea of two lovers cursed to exist separately in both night and day is an interesting one, especially if the lovers concerned are fascinating people. However, the guest characters here are so shallow that any sympathy you have for them is quickly dismissed. Throw in a sleep-inducing Piper and Leo subplot, Magic Hour is pretty darn awful, the nadir of the hour being that hilarious moment where Brooke weeps over her owl lover, stuck to the floor with an arrow through its chest. Hah!

Piper and Leo’s whiny relationship continues to bug, the two of them unsure of whether they should get married or not. I still don’t understand the logic in why the Elders would want to punish all three sisters (leaving the Elders themselves open to repeated attack), but I guess we’re not supposed to seek any truth in this story. There are some interesting elements to the story, in particular Phoebe’s suggestion that Piper getting married is a little selfish in these circumstances, but it’s all drowned out by a script which is shamelessly slow-moving.

While the show tries to tie together both main storylines here, Brooke and Christopher’s plague-ridden relationship contrasting well with Piper and Leo’s coupling, there isn’t really enough meat to this particular episode, forcing the characters to stand around mostly talking in circles. Another snoozefest, but this season eventually gets better.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Once Upon a Time:

If you look close enough, you can just about spot Shannen Doherty’s soul dying as she crawls around on the floor acting like a six year-old. Once Upon a Time is bad. Likereally bad. For some reason, Alyssa Milano believes she needs to put on a slurring, lisping voice and awkwardly stamp around like she’s stuck in a perpetual tantrum when playing her younger self. Seriously, the scenes where Phoebe and Prue become children all over again are hideously embarrassing. The rest of the episode is just as heinous, with strangely awful special effects, painful acting from the guest stars, and a storyline that makes you want to ingest battery acid.

Charmed became more reliant on it in its later seasons, but this was the first episode to really involve ‘magical woodland creatures’ of some kind, and it’s an element of theCharmed mythology that I was always uncomfortable with. Maybe it’s the most annoying aspect of my masculinity speaking, but all the ‘magical fairies’ junk always came off more than a little juvenile and… sorry about this… girly. It’s like the show is making episodes just for the couple of six year-old girls that are tuning in, filling scripts with random crap about fairytales and little girl fairies in oversized pink dresses. Ugh. It’s just not for me.

Elsewhere, Piper continues to whine about Leo’s abduction of sorts last episode. Like always, I don’t understand the logic in the Elders taking Leo away. Are they really so stupid to assume that removing Leo from Piper’s life will make her more reliable as a demon-vanquisher? Meh. This whole story is stupid. Great acting from Holly Marie Combs, but her performance was mostly drowned out by the suck everywhere else.

I admit that there are some interesting ideas here (especially the one about only seeing fairies when you’re young and innocent), but in general this is a pretty big clusterfuck of doom. Gah. Probably the worst episode so far, since it doesn’t even have the unintentional comedy of, say, The Wedding from Hell.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Primrose Empath:

Ordinarily I dislike it when an evil character seems to come up with a new evil plan every week. But, for some reason, I’m not actively disliking Cole’s various one-episode schemes. I don’t know if it’s Julian McMahon’s performance (which is as subtle as possible, making him stick out like a sore-thumb compared to the hideously melodramatic guest actors on this show), or if the writers are evolving Cole as a character at just the right speed, but it’s working for me. I buy Cole’s rash of feelings for Phoebe, and I also buy that he wouldn’t be so eager right now to cause Phoebe so much pain. It’s an interesting moral dilemma, and pretty funny that the most fascinating character on the show right now only appeared six episodes ago.

Primrose Empath is a pretty wonderful Prue episode. I can understand why people disliked how omnipresent Prue always was during her tenure on the show, but the story here could have only logically been driven by her. I said it last review, but she has a calm and relatable quality to her as a character, something that lacks in the increasingly annoying Phoebe and the shrill and/or manic Piper.

The story here is intriguing, depicting the idea of empathy as something painful and horrifying. It’s been done similarly on other shows, but Shannen is pretty spectacular here, offering some of the best dramatic acting the show ever saw. I didn’t like how the episode slid into Matrix-lite action at the end (and I still don’t get how Prue’s Astral self could have jumped inside Vinceres like that), but the episode in general is pretty successful.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Coyote Piper:

I can’t really watch Rainn Wilson’s guest spot in this episode without thinking of his later confession on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon that his performance here was the worst piece of acting he’d ever done. It got me thinking what the hell the show was thinking with its various demon characters, the far majority of whom were played with a scenery-chewing, melodramatic menace, like something out of a bad Shannon Tweed movie. I blame Billy Drago, presumably the bench-mark for all similar evil characters on the show. Rainn is spectacularly awful here, especially in that early scene with Terra that he recreated on Jimmy Fallon years later. But regardless of the ham, this is a pretty awesome episode.

Piper is dealing with the ritual humiliation of going to her high school reunion. It’s a tried-and-tested comedy plot device, and unsurprisingly the traditions flow through the episode. Piper is nervous about being considered unsuccessful, she has an embarrassing run-in with her old high school rival, she makes a fool out of herself, she eventually realizes that high school was forever ago and that shit really shouldn’t bother her anymore. But while the story is rote, Holly Marie Combs works her magic to create Piper at her most endearing, cute and funny. Her interaction with Missy Campbell was hilarious in the subtlety within her performance, while her transformation into Terra was equally a lot of fun.

There’s also great chemistry here (just like last episode) between Piper and Prue. They even get their own little catfight, too! Shannen and Holly are so great together, and I loved Prue’s palpable anger when she was demanding that Terra get out of her sister’s body. The resolution to the story was also pretty ingenious for this show.

The two subplots, one involving Phoebe investigating Cole’s ancestry and the other introducing a minor love interest for Prue, are a little too under-developed to create much resonance, but the Piper A-story is ridiculously well-constructed, the episode balancing successfully the absurdist aspects really well with the heavy drama. It’s kind of a Charmedclassic, and by far one of the greatest uses of the eventually worn-out ‘sister gets possessed’ idea.

According to the Unwelcome Commentary review of Pre-Witched:

Connie Burge always stated that Charmed was a series about three sisters who happen to be witches, and not the other way around. Prewitched, to me, is the series’ finest depiction of Prue, Piper and Phoebe as not merely demon-hunters, but as real, honest women. It’s a fascinating hour, one that explores the history of the sisters before they discovered their abilities, as well as depicting the power structure within the three of them. In the flashbacks, Prue is the sister eager to move away and start a life with her new fiancée, Phoebe is the troubled soul who thinks low of herself, and Piper is the one struggling to keep everything together. It’s Piper who is the emotional heart of the flashbacks, stuck in a dead-end job that isn’t her passion, lonely and single, and forced to seize control of the house and family when Grams dies.

The same themes affect the present day, too. Piper is understandably at that stage where she wants to move out. I mean, come on, she’s married! I loved the discussions on the subject, Prue and Phoebe uneasy with the idea of Piper being open to attack as well as the two of them being more vulnerable as a result. But what the concept does bring about are some wonderful sisterly moments, like the three of them going to lunch, Piper in the process trying to ease some of their worries.

Even outside of the family drama, the demon story is a lot of fun. W. Earl Brown just hits that correct note between intentional campiness and parody, and I loved the idea of a warlock requiring to be killed nine times in order to become immortal. Equally powerful was the sense of danger attached to the story, Shadow randomly grabbing and murdering that poor woman right in front of the Charmed Ones. It’s that rare Charmed situation where people truly are at risk, and people really do fall.

Prewitched is one of my all-time favorite episodes, a truly rich and powerful exploration into the Halliwell women, their flaws, their histories and their chemistry. The script is filled with neat little moments of interest (Grams debating whether to take their powers away, Piper bumping into Leo) and features some series-best performances, especially from Holly. Series classic, absolutely.

 

S02E08-Sisters_Leo_Sam.jpg

Next in the best and worst is Season 2.

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