Charmed is becoming increasingly like Forrest Gump’s famous box of chocolates – you never know what you’re going to get. In its first five episodes, it’s felt like when it’s good, it’s moderately good, but when it’s bad, it’s quite often. Two reasonably okay stories and three overwhelmingly duff ones is not a ratio to be welcomed in a new show.
Thank goodness, then, that there’s been an upswing with ‘Kappa Spirit’, which has done a relatively good job of carrying on the series arc while also developing some of the characters, with one or two twists into the bargain. If more of the series was like this tale, Charmed would be on a far more even footing. It’s just disappointing to see such inconsistency in the overall quality of the show so far. You have to get to a point where this stops being teething troubles, and starts being reflective of a much more serious underlying problem. Thankfully, we haven’t actually got to that stage yet, but the makers really need to be careful that things don’t end up slipping any further.
When we last saw the Charmed Ones, the timeline had undergone a very significant rewrite, all thanks to Mel (Melonie Diaz) deciding to alter history to protect Niko (Ellen Tamaki), her detective girlfriend who’d crossed paths with an assassin who was gunning for her. However, one of the unintended consequences of this was Mel finding out that she’d never actually got her job at Hilltowne University, as in this new timeline, there was no Niko to wake her up on the day of her big interview, so she overslept and missed it. We start the episode with Mel truly in the doldrums, and feeling hugely sorry for herself – no girlfriend, no job, and no reason to even get out of bed. That still doesn’t manage to quite stop her spouting some trite talking points like a woke feminist Speak & Spell when her sisters eventually manage to get her out of the house, more’s the pity.
READ MORE: Charmed 1×05 – ‘Other Women’ – Review
Thankfully, the episode manages to get by without too many of those sorts of bumps in the road, and tells a fairly entertaining little tale, continuing the story of the rift between Maggie (Sarah Jeffery) and Lucy (Natalie Hall), president of the Kappa Tau Kappa sorority which Maggie had hoped to join before kissing Lucy’s boyfriend for reasons far too convoluted to recap here. Suffice it to say that the conflict between the two of them is central to the plot this week, with Hall getting a further chance to add more depth to Lucy, fleshing her out as more than just a shallow Heathers type cypher. The sorority is also featured at the very heart of the action, as a literal ghost from the past comes to wreak havoc on Kappa Tau Kappa.
Lucy has fallen firmly under the influence of Brenda Mancini (McKaley Miller), who turns out to be the malevolent spirit of a 1980s Kappa pledge who was rejected by the then-president after it turned out that she had been bullying sorority members. Devastated by being kicked out, Brenda got drunk and fell to her death from the roof of the Kappa sorority house while trying to hang a banner making plain her feelings. A number of copycat deaths have occurred over the years involving Kappa members, all thanks to Brenda recreating what happened to her, and looking to take retribution for her fate, tormenting them as a vengeful banshee. It’s nice to see the first appearance of an actual ghost, as it at least helps to maintain the variety in the range of villains and ne’er-do-wells.
Maggie gets suspicious of Brenda, noticing her and Lucy virtually joined at the hip, despite never having seen her at Kappa: she does some research, and finds out that Maggie actually died 30 years before. We get to see just how much of a product of the 1980s Brenda is when Maggie and Mel cast a spell which takes them back to 1989, just before Brenda’s death, in order to try and get some useful information. It gives us a chance to see the ’80s in all its gaudy, dayglo glory, with spandex, bubble perms and legwarmers in abundance. For those of us who lived through the decade, it seems as quaint and fun a look back as Happy Days must’ve seemed in the ’70s. Not that it’s a bad thing; it just reminds us the past is very much a foreign country in many ways, but a bit of a nostalgia kick is certainly no bad thing.
However, all this seems to be a pretext to bring the sisters back in time, so they can stumble across their mother on campus, who’s heavily pregnant at the time with their half sister Macy Vaughn (Madeleine Mantock). Maggie and Mel eavesdrop on Marisol (Valerie Cruz), and overhear her telling a friend that she feels her baby is filled with darkness. Quite a revelation, and one which finally starts to provide Macy with some characteristics beyond the few broad strokes we’ve had so far (scientist; insecure; virgin; unemotional due to her upbringing; etc.) – none of her traits have really been fleshed out much, and despite Mantock’s best efforts to try and imbue some life with every last facial tic and wide-eyed stare, Macy has still ended up being particularly dull (and in a show populated by characters of various degrees of tedium, that’s no mean feat).
Having her following round her colleague and on-off potential love interest Galvin (Ser’Darius Blain) like a moping, lovesick puppy certainly hasn’t helped to give her any much-needed ooomph, so maybe this revelation of there being more to her than meets the eye could be the shot in the arm the character so desperately needs to get her into first gear at long last. Carrying on her investigation into the mystical mark she noticed on Galvin, Macy manages to wangle an invite to his birthday party, and takes her Whitelighter Harry (Rupert Evans) along as her ‘plus one’, leading to a rather lovely bit of business where he gets to wow everyone there by bringing along with him a plate of Welsh Rarebit. Evans is always effortlessly charming, and lifts every scene he’s in, so he’s doing a grand job of keeping the British end up, in the great tradition of Anthony Stewart Head as Buffy‘s Giles.
Trying to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Galvin’s magical mark leads to Macy crossing swords with his current beau, Summer (Meagan Tandy). After seeming insufferably perfect when we first met her, it’s reassuring to see her mask slip slightly, as she warns off Macy from what she feels is her making a move on Galvin. Summer may not have turned out to be the succubus Macy and Maggie suspected last week, but she does seem to have a dark side of her own, so this love triangle may get interesting (that is, if it’s even possible when two of the sides are as thoroughly scintillating as watching paint dry, but hey-ho).
Macy finding out about the mark being something intended to protect the wearer from magical beings ends up taking her to consult a Yoruba priestess, who tells Macy about seeing the darkness within her – it means all three sisters know about it, but Mel and Maggie are afraid to tell Macy, and vice versa, laying the groundwork for potential conflict down the line as they all dance around discussing it, not realising they all know the secret. The development also opens the door for Macy playing a part in the return of the Harbinger of Hell – the blood of a powerful witch is needed, and a vial of Macy’s is stolen from the lab where she works by the same mysterious assassin we saw last week. If Macy truly does have darkness within, it’ll certainly be interesting to see what this means for the Harbinger, and whether it means she will end up turning from the light, pitting her against her sisters.
It’s déjà vu all over again, with a sense of us having been here before – the feeling of the show turning a corner, only to end up hobbling itself the following week. We can only hope the ‘good episode / bad episode’ pattern of the series thus far will finally be broken next week. Still, if nothing else, ‘Kappa Spirit’ has certainly given us some necessary character studies, along with much needed time to breathe after the major plot twist of last week’s instalment. A story about secrets, reconciliation and needing to let go of anger and bitterness ends up being one of the most engaging and diverting of all the tales we’ve had also far.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed that things remain on an even keel from here on in.
Charmed airs weekly in the UK.