TV reviews

Charmed 1×07 – ‘Out Of Scythe’ – Review

“Do I look like a debaucherous wine-swilling goat boy?”

An attack on a Satyr-turned-vintner leads to a Hellquake which draws the attention of the Charmed Ones, when it turns out a shadowy figure is stealing the pieces of a mystical artefact – the Scythe of Tartarus. When reassembled, the Scythe is the way to open Tartarus – a prison for the most powerful beings (think of it as Azkaban for gods, witches and demons). Will the sisters be able to stop the Scythe falling into the wrong hands?

First, let’s get that clunker of a title out of the way. ‘Out Of Scythe’? I mean, I guess it’s a play on the phrase ‘out of sight’, as Tartarus is a way of keeping the magical ne’er-do-wells all hidden away, and the Scythe is the key to opening it, but it’s not a great pun. Or even a good pun. And I like puns as much as the next person (if not moreso, in fact), but that absolute howler? Sheesh. Pun-ishment, it seems. Just have a word with yourself, will you, Charmed?

The big theme this week is about secrets, and the toxic, harmful effect that they can have. The Charmed Ones have their own ones they’re hiding from each other – Mel (Melonie Diaz) and Maggie (Sarah Jeffery) found out last week that their mother had been worried that her firstborn daughter Macy (Madeleine Mantock) has darkness inside her when they haunted back to the 1980s, after seeing her when she was still pregnant; and Macy had consulted a Yoruba priestess about a magical matter, only to be told that she had darkness within her. Mel and Maggie didn’t tell Macy what they knew, and vice versa, resulting in things coming to a head here, as evil forces start to move against them, and the secrecy backfires.

Meanwhile, an unexpected promotion at work for Macy leads to her being given an instruction to fire her unrequited love interest Galvin (Ser’Darius Blain), due to budgetary cuts. Macy tries to keep this to herself, as she can’t actually bring herself to go through with laying him off, which ends up with her trying to find some way of getting around the problem. Given all the attention given over the previous two episodes about the magical mark Galvin’s been carrying, it doesn’t even get a look-in this week, which is rather odd to say the least: it makes you wonder whether it was that significant after all, or whether they are keeping it back for a later episode to pick up the thread. But given the focus and urgency it was given, it does seem a curious choice not to even mention it at all.

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It also appears that Maggie’s new squeeze, Parker Caine (Nick Hargrove), has some secrets of his own: for starters, he’s the son of Alastair Caine (Craig Parker), CEO of Morningstar Biotech, which has taken over the Hilltowne University laboratory where Macy works. Caine is the one who managed to steal away the Harbinger of Hell after the Charmed Ones vanquished it, and has ever since tried to find a way to release it from the enchanted paint can (yes, I know) where it was imprisoned on a temporary basis. In order to do this, he needs the Scythe of Tartarus, and sends Parker – who turns out to be half demon – to gather the pieces and reassemble it. This means he’s set against Maggie, and has to fight her (in a shadowy form), so you do have to wonder just how much of his feelings for Maggie are real, and how much is manipulation by his father.

It looks as if secrets run deep in the Vera family, when it turns out that matriarch Marisol (Valerie Cruz) was the keeper of one of the pieces of the Scythe – the other parts were held by a Satyr, Leon (Callard Harris), and an Egyptian goddess, Sela (Aline Elasmar), but Parker – in demon form – takes them away with relative ease, putting the sisters in the firing line, once they discover the final piece is right under their noses. However, Macy’s discovery of a mysterious key at the end of last week’s episode – and her keeping it a secret from her sisters – turns out to be a vital part of the Scythe, and has consequences of its own. The writing unusually has several layers to it, rather than the WYSIWYG scripting we’ve mostly seen so far, and adding some proper depth of character here is a welcome – and much-needed – development.

Perhaps the most significant part of all the focus on characterisation comes with the changes seen in Mel – having altered the timelines to change history and save her girlfriend from a demon by making sure they’d never even met, she ended up inadvertently rewriting things so that she never had her job at the University. With no career and no partner, Mel’s been lost, and stuck in a dead-end bartending job to make ends meet, leading her to evaluate her life choices, and where she wants to be as a person. Introspection on this level for Mel is very unusual, as she genuinely seems directionless, and comes to realise that she needs to forge a new path, rather than trying to emulate her mother.

And, if nothing else, she’s at least 75% less shrill and haranguing than normal, so it’s a step in the right direction. Dare we see her actually becoming a proper, rounded character in her own right, rather than being just a loose grouping of uber-PC box ticking traits? Time will tell, but at least we get to see her loosening up a bit, and it’s something that’s well overdue. Even Maggie gets some positive moves forward this week, deciding to commit herself fully to her studies after thinking about dropping out of Hilltowne University. It’s also reassuring to find Macy stepping up to her new responsibilities after a shaky start, and questioning authority. This is the way the writers need to show female empowerment – not by spouting a load of woke, feminist taking points, but having the sisters act in positive, affirming ways that demonstrate their inner strength.

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The writers also seem to want to give Mel that chance to try and heal from the loss of her girlfriend by giving her a very brief flirtation with a goth-type character who turns up at the bar she’s working at. But, as with all things in the Charmed Ones’ lives, things are never as straightforward as they seem, and it turns out the flirter is Jada (Aleyse Shannon), a magical being who turns up at the last moment in the battle between the sisters and Parker (in demon form) to steal away the assembled Scythe for her own purposes. It appears there are more players in the game than first seemed to be the case, so this extra bit of added mystery certainly helps to pique the interest. Her use of electricity also injures Mel in a way which leaves a mark similar to that found on Marisol’s body, so could Jada be the killer? Most likely, it’s a red herring, but it helps to trigger some of Mel’s development, as it shakes her out of her rut.

It actually took a second viewing of ‘Out Of Scythe’ to pick up on all the elements which have been packed in, so that’s a testament to how much more substance there is this week than we’ve seen in pretty much most of the series to date. There’s also been a far greater balance between the drama and the humour, with it feeling far more organic and less forced than it has been at times. Seven episodes in, and there’s encouraging signs of the writing finally settling down and finding its shape and rhythm; it’s also managed to break the cycle of alternate good and bad stories we’ve had so far, so it’s starting to feel like less of a chore to make your way through an episode, and you can start to actually look forward to what’s coming up next time round.

But, please: no more forced puns. Thanks.

Charmed is now airing weekly in the UK.

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