This week’s episode of Charmed literally hits the ground running right from the off, with the Charmed Ones in hot pursuit of Jada (Alyese Shannon), the mysterious figure who stole the newly reassembled Scythe of Tartarus at the end of ‘Out Of Scythe’. Jada turned up while they were fighting off a demon sent to retrieve the shards for Alastair Caine (Craig Parker), CEO of Morningstar Biotech, and father of Parker Caine (Nick Hargrove), the new boyfriend of Maggie (Sarah Jeffery), who happened to be that very same demon the sisters were fighting. Love is a battlefield, it seems.
Jada manages to shake them off, with her powers of teleportation, and she uses the Scythe to open up a portal to the prison of Tartarus, where the absolute worst of the worst in magical and mystical beings are locked away. We don’t get to see who she releases, but based on what we’ve heard about Tartarus, it clearly can’t be a good thing that one of the prison’s inmates has been sprung. It’s a breathtaking, dynamic start to an episode which does manage to sustain much of the momentum, but it’s rather telling that this brief pre-credits sequence manages to pack in far more action and incident than the entirety of some of the episodes we’ve seen so far.
It seems that the notion of secrets being harmful stretches beyond the confines of last week’s episode, and is becoming one of the predominant themes of the season. After a considerably patchy beginning, it’s now starting to pay off for viewers who’ve been with the new Charmed over the last two months, as various seeds which were planted by the writers are now starting to blossom. It indicates that they’ve been playing a long game, one which has at times been rather painful to stick with for the audience, but it’s rewarding to see the writers have been somewhat cleverer than it first appeared. The whole really is looking greater than the sum of its parts, and it’s intensely gratifying to see.
Of course, we have one of the most clear-cut secrets in Parker being a half-demon, sent to manipulate Maggie in order to get what his father needs out of her and the other sisters, in order to set about freeing the Harbinger of Hell. It’s now clear that he’s doing his father’s bidding by dating Maggie, but despite the warnings of his father and his fully-demon half-brother Hunter (Constantine Rousouli), it looks as though he’s developing genuine feelings for her, which should bode well for later in the season, as there will inevitably be a moment of reckoning where Parker ends up having to choose between Maggie and his family. His father’s antipathy towards him could prove a decisive factor here.
Divided loyalties are always good for a bit of dramatic tension, as are lies and half-truths, and there’s plenty of that promised here, not just in Parker’s case, but with some of the other main characters. Back in the episode ‘Sweet Tooth’, we found out from Harry that a previous charge of his named Fiona had ended up revealing her powers to the wrong person; Harry said that as a result, Fiona had ended up being committed to an institution before taking her own life, the guilt of which he’d lived with ever since. However, it appears that there’s more to the story than Harry has let on to the sisters, which may lead to a rift between them – particularly with Mel (Melonie Diaz) – when the truth inevitably comes out. Secrets never stay buried very long.
We learn Fiona was actually the sister of Charity Callahan (Virginia Williams), one of the Council of Elder Witches, and – we also find out here – ex-girlfriend of Harry (Rupers Evans), the sisters’ Whitelighter. However, there are even more revelations to come, as we’re told Jada is half witch, half Whitelighter, which could only be as the result of a forbidden union between such a pairing. Given the knowledge of Charity and Harry’s previous relationship, and hints that there’s even more than we find out about here, all the signs point to Jada being their offspring, which would certainly add an extra dimension and depth to proceedings, something that has been needed in the series for a while.
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However, it seems the deceptions don’t end there, as we find out just who Jada has freed from Tartarus – it turns out that Fiona didn’t kill herself like we’ve been led to believe, but that she was banished to Tartarus, and had been there all along. Jada reveals that she’s part of a group of rebel witches known as the Sisters of Arcana (or ‘S’Arcana’, for short), a sect which uses its magical powers for the good of all, breaking away from the rules laid down by the Elders which state not to interfere in any mortal matters or crimes. The S’Arcana are already at odds with the Elders, and their liberating of Fiona from Tartarus will only seek to drive them even further apart, so it looks as though sparks will fly, and the wheels have been set in motion for a major confrontation.
Charity tells Mel that she wants her to infiltrate the S’Arcana, after Jada tries to recruit Mel to the cause; however, when Mel finds out that her mother Marisol had not only supported the S’Arcana, but that she’d worked with Jada on writing a spell for the Book of Shadows, it’s questionable as to whether Mel will look to hold the line, or swap sides. It seems like a natural fit – Mel naturally kicks back hard against authority of any form, plus she feels the Elders are too restrictive in their rules as to just how magic can be used, so this all seems like a natural fit for her.
In addition, as a staunch feminist, it does seem inevitable she’ll be drawn towards any group of strong, empowered women. Plus, the use of the word ‘Sisters’ must be like a magnet to Mel, given how much her own sisters mean to her, and ‘sisterhood’ in general. It’s all perfectly in character for her, and shows that the writers have built a solid foundation over the previous episodes on which to now build upon. No doubt Mel will also come to question whether Charity’s motives are as pure as she makes out, once she finds out about Fiona’s fate, and cause her to look at whether the Elders can even be trusted.
Maggie’s been keeping busy by working towards getting herself an internship over the summer by landing a job helping to market a new dating app, AptitudeMatch. Charmed is very much a contemporary show, having text and instant messages shown in picture as people send them, as well as focusing in an earlier episode on social media. It’s a natural step to focus on apps, and particularly dating ones, seeing as how they’re increasingly prevalent, and have become a natural way for busy millennials to meet romantic partner. As Macy (Madeleine Mantock) has ended up spending more and more time at work since her promotion, and she’s also trying to get over her non-starter relationship with colleague Galvin (Ser’Darius Blain), Maggie gets Macy to sign up to the app.
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As with anything which crosses the path of the Charmed Ones, things aren’t what they seem, and AptitudeMatch turns out to actually be a front operation for a pair of Cicada Demons, who are using the app to find suitable specimens to use as hosts for their offspring. Maggie and Mel realise this only after Macy’s gone on a date after getting a response on the app, and ends up cocooned and paralysed, awaiting the Cicada Demons to impregnate her. The subject matter is probably also a nod to the social and sexual politics of Charmed, as topics of consent and #MeToo are all very current, so it wouldn’t come as being a massive surprise if they used this as an opportunity for a bit of commentary, but in a far less heavy-handed and unsubtle way than we’re used to from the writers. Perhaps things have turned a corner, and they’ve found the right way to go about tackling the issues they want to address, without browbeating the audience in the process.
The Cicada Demons and their lair are all very well realised, although it does feel incredibly reminiscent of the Racnoss in the Doctor Who Christmas adventure ‘The Runaway Bride’, particularly with the spider-like Queen. There’s a decent amount of body horror on show here, with the victims being webbed up and filled with egg sacs, which emphasises the jeopardy Macy finds herself in. After her near-death experience, she finally plucks up the courage to ask Galvin on a date, having found out earlier that he’d split with his girlfriend, Summer, who we’d seen in a couple of previous episodes. Nothing like striking while the iron’s hot, and a brush with mortality really seems to focus the mind.
It does seem odd that the writers would make such a big deal of the character of Summer, only to unceremoniously drop her altogether, and off-camera no less. We get that they needed to clear the decks so that Macy could have yet another shot at Galvin, but it does seem rather curious to just drop a character without a send-off or last scene, unless we get to see her again down the line. Anyway, we should know by now the writers aren’t going to make it easy for Macy and Galvin to get together, so they have him being run down by an unseen assailant, leaving his mystical protection mark glowing away as he lies unconscious in the road at the episode’s end. Given that he’s been a good 50% less annoying than usual this week, it’s a nice way of garnering further sympathy for him.
Charmed seems to be on the ascendant, and there’s so much packed into what is a densely-layered episode, it earned itself a second watching, not just for reviewing purposes, but for sheer enjoyment alone. That in itself is testament to how much it has done in the last couple of weeks to turn itself around. There’s still more to be done here, but it now feels satisfyingly like a work that’s well in progress, rather than a failed project in need of a page one rewrite. Onwards and upwards, Charmed Ones.