Charmed: Season Five

"My sister, the demon magnet."

A clear departure from the dark, mature tone of the previous two years, Season Five is where Charmed starts to go downhill. Following some network meddling to avoid the apparent doom and gloom of the previous season, there's a massive shift towards a lighter, and subsequently more banal form of writing. I do feel like I have to defend the first half the season to many, which features a few of Charmed's better hours, but the second half...not so much. Spoilers and, unfortunately, leprechaun discussion ahead.

You can kind of get why there would be an attempt to back track to the light-hearted tone of the early episodes of the series. Season Four was by all rights a bitter pill to swallow. With Prue's untimely death, and the Halliwells’ hard battle to rid themselves of The Source for good, things got pretty dark. Why not change tack and have a bit more fun? Sadly, for Brad Kern et. al, more fun means squeezing Alyssa Milano into the skimpiest costumes possible, and breaking the record for the highest number of irritating magical creatures in a single episode of television. Ugh.

 Initially, the dress-up games aren't all that terrible. Sure, the Mermaid fiasco in the two-part premiere was questionable, but the decision to tie it back to Phoebe's pain and desire to escape the toxicity of her relationship with Cole was oddly affecting. Even the fairy tale absurdity of 'Happily Ever After' feels rooted in similar personal struggles. By episode 5, though, we get our first taste of the tackless dreck that will become signature in the series' later seasons. The results are a mixed bag, to say the least. 'Witches in Tights' is a great title for an hour that serves very little purpose other than to get the girls in a "theme of the week" get-up to liven up the WB promos. This tastelessness carries through to the end of the season with Rose McGowan's pain coming through in spades during 'Nymphs Just Wanna Have Fun', where she spends two thirds of the episode prancing around in rags like some brainless dodo. The costume party even runs into the season finale, where a potentially great idea is squandered by a need to ham up every single angle of the girls' transformation into Greek Goddesses.

The first half of the season does shine in a lot of ways. Julian McMahon's presence is still welcome, though Cole's return feels little redundant in light of the rather conclusive ending his vanquish gave us in Season Four's 'Long Live the Queen'. Regardless, we get some great character beats throughout the first 12 episodes before Cole's humanity is eventually lost and he has to be vanquished for the final time in the 100th episode 'Centennial Charmed'. Despite an unnecessarily extended arc, Cole was still an integral part of the show's growth and maturity and Julian McMahon will be remembered fondly.

There are some clear high-points elsewhere, too. A great guest spot from Melinda Clarke in 'Siren Song' helps to buoy yet another episode dedicated to the never-ending push and pull of Phoebe and Cole's now defunct marriage. 'A Witch in Time' is one of my personal favorites. With a fun time-travel element at its core, and one hell of a twist mid-way through the hour, it’s one of the rare examples of how smart the writing team could still be this late in the game. The 100th episode toys with the idea of an alternate reality without Paige around to save the Power of Three. It's played well for the most part, and effectively ties a nice bow around Julian McMahon's time of the series. 'Sense and Sense Ability' is also a bright spot in the otherwise depressing haze of nymphs and leprechauns in the second half of the season. Its full of fun gags and is home to a clever idea that ties neatly back to the strength of The Power of Three, an element that's oddly rare at this point.

For the most part, though, Season Five is a big disappointment with some really low lows. 'Lucky Charmed' is one the worst hours of the series, drawing on cliched leprechaun tropes, and tired demon drama. 'The Importance of Being phoebe' is a tacky mess, and is one of those episodes where you question how good the girls are at spotting when there's something clearly wrong with each other. What's so sad about episodes like these is that you have to endure them knowing there's material that’s just as heinous coming up later in the series.

In the face of some dreadful episodic content, you would usually be able to turn to the sibling dynamics that were almost always well crafted. Unfortunately, Season Five marks a point in the show where the writers begin to favor a more segregated approach to the girls' individual arcs, with lifeless love interests and silly new jobs taking precedent over genuinely effecting drama. Phoebe's time is spent floating from guy to guy and building her career as the city's biggest advice columnist, a career development that makes Prue's quick hire at 415 Magazine seem like a completely feasible move. It's great to see her mature, though. Paige makes a rather questionable choice to leave her job as a social worker, one that causes her to drift for most of the season with very little purpose. Piper's role is probably the better one this season, with her pregnancy, and the subsequent birth of her first child Wyatt, taking up most of her screen time. Unfortunately, her journey this year ends with one of the biggest mistakes the show ever made; the dissolution of her marriage to Leo.

For reasons that stem from lazy writing more than anything else, Piper and Leo are pulled apart in the finale in order to allow Leo to take up a bigger role "up there" with the Elders, and to make room for the time-travelling Chris, who pops up in the season finale and will continue to plague the series next season. It's a move that's just as frustrating as it is contrived, and almost appropriately messy as we enter Charmed's problematic sixth season. There were some attempts to shoe-horn in some martial discord before the finale, notably in clip-show episode 'Cat House', but those small scenes do little to shake the feeling that the writers are now driven more by major story beats, and are far less concerned with the characters that were so well drawn when we started this journey five seasons earlier.

Potions and Notions

Sam makes his first re-appears here since season two, and it marks the first time he comes face-to-face with his daughter, Paige.

There was a lot of build up to Wyatt's birth. The moment itself is actually rather sweet, but the show doesn't really use his abilities to their fullest extent right away.

Phoebe's premonitions start to become more vivid this season, which basically means they're less blurry.

Spells and Chants

Cole: "What happened to us, Phoebe? How'd we get here? We used to be so in love! Even without your sisters, it's not working... Why?"
Phoebe: "I don't know... Maybe it just wasn't meant to be."

Piper: "Even if he can handle the demons, he must sense the tension, which means at the very best we end up with a neurotic infant."
Leo: "Look on the bright side. Growing up with your sisters, he was bound to be neurotic anyway."

Best Episode: A Witch in Time.

Honorable Mentions: Siren Song, The Eyes Have It, Sympathy for the Demon, Centennial Charmed, Sense and Sense Ability.

Worst Episode: Lucky Charmed.

There are some admittedly strong elements this season, but it's mostly a disappointing year that feels like a disservice to the well written drama that came before it.

5 out of 10 leprechauns.

1 comment:

The Fearless Freak said...

I'm not to season 5 on my rewatch yet and I'm basically just doing the best episodes from each of your reviews, but this show does not hold up on repeat viewings. I noticed it most specifically during the end of season 1 and all of season 2, both when Andy died and it's aftermath and when Phoebe was burned at the stake. When Andy died, all I could think was "finally" and "when can we get rid of Prue too" (side note, I've hates Prue since I watched Charmed weekly while it aired in 1998). When Phoebe was being burned, I enjoyed the story line, but felt nothing at her emotional speech about protection, not punishment. As a contrast, I've watched Buffy several times and when she dies at the end of season 5, even knowing that she's coming right back and I get to watch season 6 (my favorite season, even if no one else likes it), I'm a tear filled, snotty mess every time. I tear up when she has to kill Angel, when Tara dies, I'm a wreck. I care about those characters. I guess I don't feel the same way about the Charmed Ones, which is kind of sad. I still like the show, I just don't think they feel as real as other shows.