Charmed: Season Four

"Charmed... Again."

And so, whether we like it or not, we enter a whole new era of Charmed.

Following some behind the scenes drama, Shannen Doherty is unceremoniously ousted from the show and Prue is hastily written out. The big cliff-hanger ending of 'All Hell Breaks Loose' is clumsily wrapped up off-screen, with Piper revealed as the only sister to survive Shax's attack. After a few scenes of long-winded exposition courtesy of Patty and Penny, Prue is subsequently replaced with the girls' long-lost half-sister, Paige Mathews. There's a definite struggle to make all the pieces fit together so Paige can conceivably exist, but given the circumstances it mostly works, and sort of pays homage to past glimpses into the Halliwell family history, with references to Patty's affair with Sam, and the Elders' lack of tolerance for witch/whitelighter romances. Rose McGowan is actually great in these early episodes, with her mysterious, sultry allure giving Paige an altogether different appeal to Prue.

Naturally, a lot of this season feels like one giant dedication to the dearly departed eldest sibling, which is odd given that Shannen is so completely ignored it's almost comical. Piper is the hardest hit by the loss of her older sister. Initially filled with rage, she finds it hard to grow used to Paige, and who can really blamer her? Here's this stranger who is not only taking Prue's bedroom, but her position within their family and the Power of Three. There are some initial frustrations of course, but Piper eventually accepts Paige and, as far as I'm concerned, so does the audience. Phoebe handles Prue's death a little differently, initially denying it before eventually succumbing to her new position as the middle child. Though never the original intention, the death of the eldest Hallliwell opens the show up to a new dynamic, allowing Piper and Phoebe to adapt to new familial territory, while Paige finds her own place in the threesome; a place that's her own, and one that doesn't overshadow Prue's former role.

Outside of the shifts in family dynamics, we see a massive gearing towards the serial arcs, a change that started last season but is much more apparent this year. The quest to vanquish The Source and avenge Prue takes precedent, reaching a climax in 'Charmed and Dangerous', an episode that's filled with an overwhelming sense of dread, as the girls are forced into facing their sworn enemy without any of their powers. In the end they succeed, with their spell calling on their ancestors giving them the power to destroy him. Unfortunately, The Source’s power remains, and it winds up filling a void elsewhere.

Cole, stripped of his half demon powers in season stand-out 'Black as Cole', takes that unclaimed power in an effort to protect Phoebe and is eventually corrupted, even bringing Phoebe down with him as their unborn child causes her to doubt her sisters and side with her husband. After the original Source's destruction, the girls are faced with the all-together more menacing antagonist, with Cole secretly taking up the defunct role of leader of the underworld while slowly corrupting the newly middle sister. Parts of this arc are plagued by pacing issues, notably the tail end when Phoebe's turn to the dark side happens rather abruptly. Of course, her demonic pregnancy could be partially to blame, here. Phoebe's struggles are incredibly well documented in 'Long Live the Queen', as she finally accepts that Cole has been lost and re-joins her sisters to vanquish him. That closing scene always breaks me, too. Seeing the sisters comfort Phoebe in this moment of complete despair and mourning is something that's very reminiscent of the sibling magic of the first two seasons; it’s beautiful.

In the same way that Prue feels like the crux of many of the first episodes of the series, most of Season Four revolves around Phoebe; a natural side effect of her marriage and dedication to Cole acting as the primary arc. That being said, the remaining two Halliwells do experience some major changes of their own. Obviously for Paige that's becoming a part of this family for the first time, but she also takes up Prue's mantle of distrust, with her suspicions of Cole driving a wedge between her and Phoebe. This is resolved once Phoebe accepts what Cole has become, but before that it plays out in some really creative ways. 'The Fifth Halliwheel' is a fantastic hour that chronicles the different lengths that Cole will go to in order to break Phoebe away from her sisters, with Paige falling victim to his evil manipulation. Piper's life is still a complicated mess, even after coming to terms with her new role as the eldest child. Her marriage to Leo survives the season, though she is temporarily broken by her apparent inability to conceive. That heartbreak doesn't last too long though, as its revealed in the final moments of the season that she's pregnant with her first child.

Potions and Notions

One of my favorite moments of the season is the closing scene in 'Charmed Again' when Paige gets to meet Patty.

I briefly alluded to some pacing issues towards the end of the season, which were symptoms of the decision to accelerate the "Cole as the Source" arc so it was wrapped up this season instead of concluding in the 100th episode with the events that transpired in 'Long Live the Queen'. Honestly, this would have been much better in terms of making the story beats more organic, but it still mostly hits home.

Cole proposes to Phoebe after they vanquish a demon together and are covered in guts. The men in the Halliwells' lives do not like to do their proposals by the book, do they?

This season introduces, and later kills The Seer, The Source's right hand. She's pretty great throughout her arc and I like that she had her own plans and motives that lead her to take on the power of the Underworld herself in 'Womb Raider'. Though the plot is a little rushed in the end, her presence is very much appreciated.

Spells and Chants

Piper: "I'm not angry. I am pissed off! Don't you understand? You healed the wrong sister! You saved me because I'm your damn wife, and you should've saved her because she was the best! Because she... you should... Why did they put us through so much for it to end this way?"

Piper: "I've always had a big sister, and I don't know how to live my life without one."

Piper: "It hurts to talk Leo. It hurts to breathe."

Cole: "I don't think that's any of your business."
Leo:"You don't know sisters very well, do you?"

The Sisters: "Prudence, Penelope, Patricia, Melinda, Astrid, Helena, Laura and Grace. Halliwell witches stand strong beside us. Vanquish this evil from time and space."

Cole: "I'll always love you."

Best Episode: Long Live the Queen.

Honorable Mentions: Brain Drain, Black as Cole, The Fifth Halliwheel.

Worst Episode: Trial by Magic; a dull repetitive episode revolving around a murder trial. Welp.

It's a season that's partially hindered due to the unexpected rebooting of the core cast, but Season Four is a strong year overall. By the time the season finale comes around Paige is a cemented part of the family, and the pieces that were left scattered after Prue's death are mostly put back together, albeit in a very different way.

7 out of 10 grimoires.

2 comments:

TJ said...

I'm loving these Charmed season reviews!!

Yes, season four works, but just because of Cole and the overall arc. Paige never really could fit into those Prue shoes. I think if Shannen Doherty would have been here - season four could have been extraordinary.

Some really great episodes here though - 'Charmed and dangerous' is a fave.

Panda said...

That’s also a favorite episode of mine.

I do think they made a concerted effort for Paige to be an altogether different character to Prue so I try to not compare them straight up. Shannen was so involved in making the show better, which is something that is really noticeable when she steps away from it.