It’s Halloween time, and Mel (Melonie Diaz), Maggie (Sarah Jeffery) and Macy (Madeleine Mantock) are trying to track down the Harbinger of Hell, while at the same time struggling to balance juggling their training as witches with their own various personal responsibilities. There’s something strange in the neighbourhood. Who you gonna call? The Charmed Ones!
After settling down nicely in last week’s episode, it’s sad to see something of a slow creep back to the reactionary stance taken by the season opener, as the politics have started to come to the surface again. This instalment alone saw references to incels, toxic masculinity, and virginity being a tool of the patriarchy to control women. The way things are going, Charmed will be hard pressed to make itself look more ridiculous as a drama series. If only they wrote Mel as a credible character rather than a mouthpiece spouting off every single ‘right-on’ talking point, the show might have a fighting chance to try and be more than a 45-minute piece of hectoring radical agenda, which is going to rapidly become very tiresome.
That being said, there’s still an awful lot to like in this episode, as a lot of what’s going on evokes strong memories of Buffy The Vampire Slayer – Harry (Rupert Evans) is very reminiscent of Rupert Giles, being an urbane Englishman carrying out training to help the chosen one(s) learn that with great power comes great responsibility. ‘Sweet Tooth’ certainly brings that home, as Mel is finding it hard not to be able to tell her girlfriend that she’s a witch, and Maggie is trying to do all that she can to impress the Kappa Tau Kappa sorority in order to become a fully fledged member, trying to maintain a normal life outside of being a witch.
Thankfully, we also get to find out some more about Macy, who’s been something of an enigma so far, and the sister we’ve had perhaps the least insight into, as we find her grappling with the notion of responding to the attentions of a male suitor from her workplace, but interestingly enough for reasons which are nothing to do with witchcraft, giving a nice contrast to Mel’s situation.
Buffy generally managed to handle these sorts of issues with a deft touch, showing us what a normal person would do when faced with the weight of having to fulfil a destiny they didn’t expect or want – Joss Whedon did a creditable job of making Buffy and her friends seem relatable (even if they did speak in a rather witty, quotable manner all the time, rather than like real people, but that’s a small quibble overall). It appears that Charmed has so far been a bit clumsy and hamfisted in its attempts to make the sisters seem fully fleshed out, but that’s more to do with the writing than the performances – the three leads are all likeable enough, and do a good job having to perform the material they’ve been given so far. However, it’s still early days yet, and even Buffy (or the original Charmed, in fact) didn’t manage to crystallise everything so early into their respective first seasons, so there’s hope yet.
One of the frustrating aspects is that the writers don’t seem to know quite how to build a coherent timeline – we’ve just had two episodes which lead straight from one into the next, at the end of which we find the Harbinger taking human form in the body of comatose student Angela Wu (Leah Lewis), and the news is still fresh of Angela’s recovery early in ‘Sweet Tooth’, indicating there’s not been a lot of time which has passed since the pilot episode; however, the Charmed Ones also seem to have managed to do an awful lot of training and learnt a great many spells in that time, so it does seem as though there’s not an been awful lot of attention given to the pacing and timing of events. It also seems an odd choice to reveal the ‘big bad’ only three episodes into the run, as it’s something that you might expect to happen for a mid-season finale, at a point where the sisters would have credibly developed their powers to a point where they could be expected to actually take the Harbinger down without too much straining of credulity.
There’s another strange structural choice made at the end of the episode, after the Charmed Ones have managed to subdue the Harbinger. It’s at this point that Harry decides to have a heart-to-heart with Mel to explain exactly why he’s been so tough on her about misusing her magic for her own needs, right while they’re stood over Angela’s unconscious body. Now, this is a valid bit of background detail which did need to be imparted, but just at the point where you’ve temporarily vanquished a powerful evil force and not yet secured it? Based on this, it seems that common sense is in somewhat short supply within the magical community, and is one of those moments where eyerolling alone doesn’t do the job as a pained viewer. There was a perfect moment a few scenes earlier to have had that same conversation which would have made a lot more sense, rather than just throwing it in there. Perhaps, as Harry calls it, a teachable moment.
Returning to what works about the story, the Halloween setting is a lot of fun, as it allows the Harbinger-possessed Angela to go incognito by taking on the form of the ghost of Kayako Saeki from the Ju-on and The Grudge horror films, in order to be able to infiltrate the party which Maggie’s holding at the sisters’ house to impress the sorority. There are also nice moments earlier in the episode where Angela goes to her fridge for a snack, and casually sitting alongside bottles of blood is the head of one of her victims; and where she replies to a text message invite from Mel to the Halloween bash after just killing someone, saying that the party she’s at “is so dead”. A nice bit of black humour to help keep things darkly entertaining, but it makes you wish Angela could’ve kept her cover for a few episodes longer, as she makes such a big impact in so relatively few scenes overall, which is no mean feat.
With Angela/Harbinger hunting virgins, Macy uses herself as bait, and reveals to her sisters she’s not yet had sex, which has become a big hangup for her, as she’s 28 years old. By the end of the episode, Macy’s come to terms with it enough for it not to keep her from responding to the advances of her potential love interest, Galvin Burdette (Ser’Darius Blain), a character so bland and thinly written that I’ve had to look up his name while writing this review. And had to keep looking back at it, as he’s just that unmemorable. He’s a molecular geneticist who works at the Hilltowne University lab alongside Macy, but he’s clearly just there to be the love interest, and nothing more. It’s hard to know how much of it comes down to the writing (or lack thereof), and how much is from the lacklustre performance. If it’s the case that Galvin (yep, had to look it up again) is going to be a regular, hopefully the writers will attempt to actually do something with him. But then again, it’s a show about magic, not miracles.
It’s been a case of two steps back, which in a series that’s only had three episodes so far, isn’t a great look. If only they can stop filming what appear to be first drafts, and drop the po-faced preachiness, then Charmed might stand a chance of being enjoyable, rather than merely tolerable.