TV reviews

Charmed 1×04 – ‘Exorcise Your Demons’ – TV Review

“In reality, I run an investment fund that uses microloans to help women in developing nations start their own businesses. We are tackling poverty and inequality through ethical, female focused Capitalism.”

And that was the point at which my teeth started to itch, and my eyes rolled back so far in my head, I could almost see the rear of my skull from the inside. Oh, Charmed, why do you keep doing this? I want to like you, I really do. But sometimes you make it so hard.

Yes, we get it: smash the patriarchy, rah rah rah, girl power, ad infinitum, etc. It hasn’t exactly slipped beneath the radar, you know? Subtlety clearly not a word in the vocabulary of the writing team who work on this particular show. In fact, this constant agenda-heavy hectoring is like a brick in the face almost every time they do it. ‘Exorcise Your Demons’ does seem a rather fitting title for this week’s episode, as the creative staff appear to have more than a few of their own they they need to cast out. The power of Christ could barely compel me to get beyond this scene.

When the above quote cropped up in the dialogue from one of the guest characters, I had to remind myself to try and look for the positives. Mainly, I was positive that it would all be over in around 45 minutes, and I could get on with my week. Based on what you’ve read so far, you’re most likely expecting the rest of the review to be a scathing hatchet job. Well, Spoiler Alert: it gets better. Thankfully, this one brief moment was but a small bump in the road, and the episode managed to get itself on the right track very quickly. Not saying it was perfect, but there seem to be green shoots giving the hope of growth in the right direction. There’s certainly a lot more positives in this episode than it had appeared some 15 minutes in, when that dreadfully written utter clunker of a speech dropped onto the screen.

At least Charmed has managed to keep up its sense of momentum, carrying on from last week’s episode, where Angela Wu (Leah Lewis) was revealed as being the mortal vessel of the Harbinger of Hell, and subdued by the Charmed Ones before being chained up in their attic by Harry (Rupert Evans), the sisters’ Whitelighter, until the ruling council of witches – the Elders – arrives. Ending on a dramatic moment like that, you might expect the action to perhaps follow on directly from the cliffhanger. However, we’re instead given a brief pause to gather ourselves as we get some deeper context by way of a flashback. This breathing room is much needed, as it gives us time to learn more about Angela’s own backstory, along with her connection with the sisters’ mother, Marisol (Valerie Cruz).

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Way back in the pilot, we learnt that one of the professors at Hilltowne University was accused of sexual harassment, and Angela had come forward to speak out against the perpetrator, Professor Thaine (who later turned out to be a demon). In this opening sequence, set six months prior to the series, we see Marisol doing all she can to support Angela, along with Mel (Melonie Diaz). This helps establish the bond Mel feels she has with Angela, and is why she’s so determined to go against the later determination of the Elders that the only course of action to be taken is to kill the vessel (i.e. Angela), and that there’s supposedly no help to bring her back from possession. Mel’s dogged, tenacious nature helps to drive the action forward, as she takes a stance and does what she feels is right, by doing all she can to prove that Angela’s soul is still in there, and can be saved.

Complicating matters is the fact that due to Angela’s disappearance – the latest to take place on campus (with all the others being Angela/the Harbinger’s victims) – Mel’s cop girlfriend Niko (Ellen Tamaki) and her partner Trip Bailey (Brendon Zub) are snooping around, as the last place Angela was seen was at the sisters’ Halloween party. It’s a bit of a cliche to have the suspicious cop who takes it on himself to doubt his partner and follow his own line of investigation, particularly when he starts tailing Mel, feeling (rightly so, in fact) that they’re hiding something. If the character hadn’t been written and played so wholly one-dimensionally as a generic cop, then it might have helped to avoid Trip falling into that particular trap, but it sadly wasn’t to be.

It’s especially galling when Trip ends up being collateral damage at the end of the episode, after he gets caught up in the Charmed Ones’ efforts to exorcise Angela, having defied the Elders’ instructions to kill her. Sadly, cliche begets cliche, as poor bland old Trip – who’s followed the sisters without their knowing – gets taken out by a piece of falling scenery, which actually looks about as light as a feather. In what comes across as an absolute duffer of a moment, we cut to Trip lying dead on the floor in the immediate aftermath of the exorcism, without any foreshadowing of his impending demise. Yes, there’s debris flying around, but there’s no indication he’s in harms way, nor any shot showing the offending lethal article coming loose or heading in his direction. It’s a payoff without an adequate setup, and looks like a monumentally duff piece of editing.

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Where poor hapless Trip is concerned, things get even worse as the Elders – represented here by Charity Callaghan (Virginia Williams) – use his death to set him up as the perpetrator of the campus’ Halloween murders, scapegoating him for the expediency of misdirection. Poor, bland, cliched Trip, having indignity upon indignity thrust his way. Given the Elders’ firm insistence that the only thing that could be done with the Harbinger was to kill Angela as its host, as well as Harry’s ominous insistence that there will be consequences for the sisters after they proved the Elders wrong, it turns out that these witches are bitches. There’s clearly a strong hint here that the Elders may not be quite on the level, and it looks as if this thread will be playing out during the rest of the series; if so, it’ll be a very welcome boost, as a bit of healthy suspicion and mistrust on the part of the sisters would certainly add an extra layer to the show, as they work out just exactly who they can and can’t trust.

If nothing else, you can just tell Charity’s a wrong ‘un, courtesy of the dreadful pile of verbal incontinence she spouts out (which can be found at the very top of the page). Surely no-one can be that wilfully verbose and totally on the level.

‘Exorcise Your Demons’ manages to do a creditable job of balancing out the drama with comedy that thankfully doesn’t fall flat, and the writing manages to create a sense of urgency and consequence, with the tension being ratcheted up throughout the episode. It also manages to expand the series’ backstory and mythology, letting us find out that Marisol used to be an Elder herself before her death, and giving us a necessary glimpse into the wider world of magic and witchcraft, indicating there’s much more going on under the surface, and that more interesting and complex times lie ahead. Coupled with a kicker in the very last scene, showing we aren’t quite finished yet with the Harbinger storyline, it fills me with hope that we’ve started to turn a corner at last, and things might start to be on a far more consistent footing from hereon in.

Not perfect by any means, but hopefully signs that Charmed has finally cast off a dodgy spell.

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