TV reviews

Charmed 1×02 – ‘Let This Mother Out’ – TV Review

Following on from last week’s premiere, this week’s Charmed managed to settle down into what will hopefully become the show’s house style, giving a good mixture of comedy and drama, as well as working to establish the characters and dynamics between them, plus also setting up what seems to be the season’s big story arc. It certainly bodes a lot better for the show, now that it has managed to drop most of its pious, preachy approach, and brought the storytelling to the fore in a very welcome – and, hopefully, ongoing – move.

Following straight on from where we left the Charmed Ones, this episode – which could have been called ‘The Trouble With Harry’ – sees Mel (Melonie Diaz), Maggie (Sarah Jeffery) and Macy (Madeleine Mantock) not only having to still come to terms with their newfound status and their powers, but also trying to work out whether or not their Whitelighter – Harry (Rupert Evans) – is all that he seems, after getting a message via a ouija board from a spirit which may or may not be that of their recently deceased mother, Marisol (Valerie Cruz). Picking up immediately after last week’s cliffhanger gives a nice sense of urgency, and avoids the copout of moving events on without any real sense of jeopardy or consequence, which can be a real source of irritation.

It means we also get to see the immediate aftermath of the climactic confrontation with the archdemon Taydeus, as a janitor who’s cleaning up the scene gets attacked and briefly possessed by a viscous black entity. Whether more by luck than actual intent, the creature closely resembles the Venom symbiote from last year’s movie, so at least there’s a nice bit of shorthand which tells the audience that the blob is very much in the business of trying to find a host, and is clearly up to no good. Although not immediately apparent how it fits into the story, it turns out to have a much greater significance at the episode’s climax, when it sets up the overarching plot for the year, as well as picking up on an innocuous-seeming thread from the pilot about a comatose college girl, Angela Wu (Leah Lewis), who seems destined to become the vessel of the Harbinger of Hell, which is the final part of a prophecy foretelling of a coming Apocalypse. It’s always nice to up the stakes in order to maintain interest for the audience, but hopefully it hasn’t shot its bolt too early in the season, and can keep up the pace as the weeks go by.

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The rebooted Charmed is very much a product of its time, not only by its use of text messaging in vision, similar to how it’s been featured in shows like Sherlock, but also references to Instagram, and a series of topical digs at President Trump (including references to ‘witch hunts’, as well as his tweeting), but also a pointed jibe at Brexit. Added to its clear position on politics – both gender and otherwise – the show tries almost painfully hard at times to be contemporary and bang up to date, and use satire to make its point on more than one occasion. However, it remains to be seen how this will play in, say, 20 years when we’re looking back on this the same way as we are now with the original Charmed. Hopefully, it won’t make the series look too dated as a result of it trying to be so current.

That being said, one of these references does lead to a nice bit of comedy, as the Charmed Ones try to find a way to avoid accidentally summoning up Harry by the use of his name, while they’re working out whether or not he can be trusted. In order to get around this, Maggie decides to give Harry the code name of ‘Meghan Markle’, not only referencing his sharing the name of her Royal husband, but also emphasising his Britishness by the same token. ‘Let This Mother Out’ actually does a good job of striking a much lighter tone than the pilot, and does a reasonable job with its humour. One example of this is when a classic switcheroo takes place as two identical flasks get mixed up – the one containing a truth serum intended for Harry ends up instead being drunk by Mel’s on-off partner Niko, who can’t help but compulsively blurt out just how she feels about everything. Another comic bit happens when Mel decides to hook up with her ex for some afternoon delight, but ends up being able to inadvertently read his every single thought with her telepathy while they’re getting in flagrante delicto, leading to a great deal of delicious awkwardness.

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The core of the episode is whether or not the sisters are receiving messages from their mother, and things step up a gear when they cast a spell to help manifest her into a corporeal form from the ouija board. She tells the girls Harry killed her, and he’s out to steal their powers for his own, so in order to stop him, they’ll need to recover the Prism of Souls, an artefact designed to take away magical abilities. The Prism is hidden inside a mirror in Marisol’s office at the college, which is a portal to a pocket dimension. While well realised, it does seem a bit odd the key to the girls escaping is a Latin inscription on the mirror frame, telling them the only way to leave is together. It does seem a very specific instruction, predicated upon there being more than one person at a time entering the pocket dimension, but as there was a prophecy there would one day be three powerful witches, perhaps it’s a bit of forward planning? Either way, it does seem a little contrived, and would be dramatically more satisfying if they’d not already telegraphed the solution quite so obviously, and instead had to work it out for themselves that they needed to use the Power Of Three.

Given the characterisation which they’ve already established in the show, it’s not unexpected that there’s some scepticism and dissent amongst the sisters as to whether or not the spirit is actually their mother, with Maggie casting the most doubt, as she’s unable to read her in any way using her telepathy. Harry’s warning at the start of the episode about ouija boards being unsafe turns out to be true, as ‘Marisol’ turns out to be an imposter demon who’s out to rob the Charmed Ones of their abilities, and ends up being defeated by seeing her true reflection in a mobile phone. They’ll be adding Snapchat filters to the demons and wraiths they encounter next if they carry on trying to be quite so hip and ‘with it’ as a series. However, at least there’s a real sense of peril when the imposter demon turns and reveals its true self, so it’s not a total letdown as an ending, even though the ‘twist’ was completely obvious, and about as predictable as one in a later M. Night Shyamalan movie.

In all, the episode is a definite lift on last week, and shows signs of settling down into its own rhythm and style, and not being slavishly adherent to its source material. The supporting cast are also shaping up quite nicely as an ensemble, and seem endearing enough. If only the makers can trust that their audience is reasonably smart, and not need to keep signposting every plot development and resolution, it should become quite a rewarding regular watch, and certainly seems less onerous a prospect than it did after the pilot.

 

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