a review by Nalini Haynes
Spoilers. You’ve been warned.
Charmed season 5
Charmed season 5 went straight back down the soapy path. Phoebe and Cole had broken up because Cole is evil. In the beginning of the season there were some episodes where they loved each other still but it ‘just didn’t work out.’ In other episodes I got a creepy abusive ex-husband-turned-stalker vibe although Cole wasn’t an abusive husband, he was just evil towards everyone OTHER THAN Phoebe. Eventually this story arc crossed a line and Cole was definitely creepy stalker guy, just because Phoebe had said ‘no’ genuinely and clearly, but Cole was still pursuing her, manipulating and trying to attack the sisters. This story arc lasted for WAY TOO LONG in my opinion, especially as Phoebe could have vanquished Cole and CHOSE NOT TO, because she wanted to vanquish Cole ON HER TERMS NOT HIS.
Piper was pregnant during this season and then had the baby, Wyatt. Piper wanted proper medical care during her pregnancy and then a hospital birth with painkillers and full medical backup, but she was denied this by her husband and sisters. Piper’s lack of agency in her own pregnancy was horrific, especially as the issue of abuse denying someone necessary medical care was not adequately addressed. Late in the pregnancy Piper was diagnosed with Toxaemia, a complication that is detrimental to both mother and baby. After this diagnosis, Piper was supposed to get bed rest but didn’t, with predictably ridiculous antics surrounding her, and then – guess what? – she had a home birth regardless of her repeatedly stated preferences. But it was all ok because MAGIC. The multitude of issues surrounding this story arc include denial of medical care by others and denial of personal agency: this is ABUSE, people! Not to mention potential increase in infant and maternal mortality rates due to home births; I wonder if those in charge of scripts were reacting to a home birth fad at the time.
After Phoebe’s plot arc was finally over, the soapy turned toward Piper and Leo having marital problems. Kudos to the series for keeping their baby, Wyatt, and facing some real-world issues like sex in pregnancy, baby coming between them and misunderstanding each other. This story arc included the traditional role-swap story to create greater understanding and, after the birth of the baby, they saw a shrink to get counselling.
Throughout this season there were innocents to protect and demons to vanquish every week, with special music features and fashions to parade on screen. My favourite aspects were some of the guests, like Armin Shimerman (Quark from Deep Space 9) and Tony Amendola (Master Bra’tac from Stargate); sadly some familiar faces didn’t survive past the teaser. I am not sure but I think Peter Dinklage may have been a leprechaun whose screen time lasted less than a minute.
You may have realised by now that I’m not a huge fan of Charmed; this being the case, I didn’t rage with the next story arc plot twist. Leo was made an Elder – ok, saw that coming – but now he’s an Elder he has to stay upstairs in Elder-land and not be married to Piper anymore although they both still love each other and the marriage counselling sorted out their problems. The best analogy for this storyline is that Leo got a job somewhere he couldn’t geographically take Piper, he felt he couldn’t turn down the job so they go their separate ways. Only Leo DOESN’T stay in Elder-land, he pops down to visit LOTS: can anyone say self-conflicting plot-hole?
MAKE UP YOUR MIND, PEOPLE.
After a psycho start caused by Leo taking away Piper’s pain at their marriage break-up, Piper gets ‘fixed’ so she can start dealing with the new situation and live as a single mum. This isn’t easy for her although it’s a damn sight easier than it is for the majority of single mums as she has two sisters living with her, an elf nanny who turns up now and then, the new white-lighter (who is very fishy, but that’s the next plot arc), AND Leo popping in frequently.
Piper and Leo break up and within a few episodes Paige and Phoebe are trying to get Piper laid as if that will fix her broken heart and make all good with the world. No recognition is given to the need to grieve and work through her issues in order to move on; SEX WILL FIX IT. The flip side to this is that when Piper tries to have sex she’s invariably interrupted, it never happens. It seems that there is a ‘moral’ underpinning to this storyline: married woman abandoned by husband is not allowed to have sexytimes.
Chris, the new white-lighter, was downright annoying nearly the entire season. He proves himself to be untrustworthy: Wyatt doesn’t trust him, Chris brings a demon to visit Wyatt and all sorts of shenanigans, and yet the family forgives him and trusts him and keeps him around. It’s pretty obvious what the big reveal is well before the big reveal because Leo and the Halliwell sisters kept Chris around in spite of his behaviour. And boy is Chris whiney! Both before and after the reveal.
I found season 6 to be increasingly annoying with over-acting possibly getting worse, increasing reliance on melodrama with frustration for the viewer nurtured by silly plot twists, enormous plot holes and inadequate engagement with real issues even when they’ve been raised.
Then I watched episode one of season 7.
Although I’m now 3/4 of the way through this series I’m really not sure I can continue… Ghostly disembodied heads suspiciously reminiscent of the Elders in the Council floating around stirring up trouble between Leo and demons? Seriously? THAT’S the big bad for this season? They’ll probably continue as a theme in most if not all episodes until the big reveal…
On a more positive note, I think I can understand why Charmed is heralded by academics as feminist: the women are responsible, they do the work, they have lives and loves and babies while the men are… kinda redundant really. It’s just an enormous shame that the Elders all seem to be men and, of course, the menz are in charge except when the wommenz rebel. And Leo is the handyman; the women are helpless to do any home maintenance without him >:( I hope that shows like Charmed and Buffy can lead the way to more quality TV. And please, PLEASE, don’t put a show like Charmed in the hands of people like Aaron Spelling who specialises in soapies.
I really think Charmed is aimed at people who enjoy soapies, in which case this is a soapy with a twist because MAGIC. Women are central to the story and are powerful – to a point.
PS After writing this review I watched season 7 episode 2, the BIGGER NAKED BREASTS episode that clearly gave Julie-Ann Naumovska her inspiration for her ‘Bigger Naked Breasts’ talk during the Tights and Tiaras conference. Then I watched a few more episodes. So far this season is MUCH better than previous seasons although episode one was woeful. They also introduced a female Elder. I’ll plod along with the series, probably until the end now. I added this note to giving credit where it’s due.