Charmed: Season Two

"Our job is to protect the innocent, not punish the guilty."

In a lot of respects, Charmed's second season is stronger that the first. With no real "sophomore slump" to speak of, the series quickly settles into a fantastic run of episodes that make great use of the groundwork laid by the debut season. Spoilers and Gordon bashing ahead!

Season opener 'Witch Trial' is brimming with confidence. There's such an ease to how this season uses each sister, and how they interact has never felt more organic and fun than it does here. Following the previous season's finale, Andy's death is still causing ricochets through the Halliwells' lives, and Prue's struggle to get back on the “witch's saddle” is played really well. There's a heart-breaking monologue in the premiere in which Prue voices her struggles with her ability to do good, when she feels like she's responsible for her first love's death. Shannen was always one of the strongest cast members, and that scene always springs to mind when I think of how great she was in this role. The way Piper and Phoebe comfort Prue in this moment feels so right, too. I love these three gals.

The best of episode of the season (and a series highlight) is 'Morality Bites', an even more affecting hour than the premiere. It features the show's third major brush with time travel- this time to the future - where a decision to punish a guilty man leads to Phoebe literally burning at the stake. Though it relies on some simple ideas, there's a powerful lesson to be learned, with the sisters facing the hard truth behind why they can only use their powers to protect, not punish. That one line always hits me where it hurts: "The wrong thing done for the right reason is still the wrong thing.". 'Morality Bites' is also Alyssa Milano's best work; you can really feel Phoebe's pain throughout. There's a further brush with time travel later on in the season as well and although it doesn't resonate quite as much as 'Morality Bites', there's still a lot of fun to be had. 'Pardon My Past' toys with the theory of past lives and how souls can grow and evolve over time. The hour neatly ties into that recurring theme of Phoebe's latent dark side, a concept that was explored to great effect in last season's 'Woogy' episode. And who can resist an opportunity to dress up the cast in 20's garb?

Season Two also picks up where episodes like 'That 70s Episode' left off, delving further into the intriguing Halliwell family history, notably in 'P3H2O', a powerful chapter that reveals the girls' mother's affair with her former Whitelighter Sam (a twist that becomes quite significant - and very useful for the producers - come season 4). The episode itself features some beautiful and heart-breaking moments for each sister: Piper falling into her mother's footsteps with Leo and eventually realising that she has to let him go; Phoebe being forced into reliving her mother's final moments in order to stop the demon who killed her; and Prue confronting her fear head on and eventually avenging Patty's death. There are some lighter episodes that make great use of the dynamic performances of the core cast, too. Despite some questionable examples of this ('She's a Man, Baby, a Man'), episodes like 'Astral Monkey' and 'Chick Flick' are a lot of fun, with the latter standing out as one of the best examples of how inventive and sharp the writing team could be when they really wanted to.

What lets the second year down is the introduction of the series' first truly sucky characters: Dan and Jenny Gordon. The latter's brief run of episodes seems to serve very little purpose other than to throw in a younger person's perspective into the series and force Dan into the Halliwells' lives. Her barely explained disappearance after just a handful of episodes seems to indicate some sort of an awareness of how grating a character she ended up becoming. As dull as he is, Dan isn't necessarily as problematic as the storyline he represents; the show's worst love triangle. He's a total bore, but I feel like he's more of a victim of circumstance than anything else, primarily serving as a c*ck-block between Piper and the then well-established Leo, who were clearly the end-game couple of the series. His hasty exit at the close of the season is probably the only reprieve where his arc is concerned, allowing Piper and Leo to properly pursue their love affair, which leads to more threatening, and subsequently more interesting roadblocks in Season Three. I do feel obliged to point out how awful Leo is for a significant portion of this arc. He's unfair, judgmental and forces Piper into some very uncomfortable situations just to prove a point. Give a girl some room! Leo's struggles with his temporary transition back to human form are mildly interesting, though they don't last very long and are drowned out by the melodramatic hoopla of the love triangle.

An unfortunate amount of this season’s run time is spent on Piper's conflicting feelings for Dan and Leo, but we do get some great character work elsewhere. Piper's professional life sees a major overhaul following her decision to quit her job at Quake last season, as she transitions from restaurant manager to club owner. Said establishment, P3, is a fun hub of activity for the girls, and a handy way for the network to parade a multitude of musical guests onto the show. It also feels like the right move for a character who's starting to really come into her own and take control of her life. Prue's deconstruction from the uptight matriarch of the family continues this season, with episodes like 'Ms Hellfire' playing with her wild side. In that regard, her decision to leave her by-the-numbers job at Buckland's to pursue her actual dream of becoming a photographer makes total sense, though it still baffles me how an inexperienced photographer like her managed to worm her way into a job at an established magazine. Phoebe's arc weirdly feels like it's bringing both Prue and her back to some kind of middle ground; just as the eldest sibling starts to let go of her inhibitions, Phoebe makes the decision to start becoming more responsible and actively pursues her unfinished college degree. Gone are the days of the hotel lobby psychic! Like Prue and Piper's arcs, Phoebe's also feels natural and right for her character, and is satisfying for those who have been following her journey since the first episode.

Potions and Notions

Daryl is brought in on the magical secret in 'Ms Hellfire', which thankfully curbs the risk of any repeat of the antagonism the girls faced from a frustrated Andy last season.

Prue is the first sister to develop a whole new power this season; Astral Projection. It's actually a fairly cool advancement and it's used really well.

The Source, the leader of the underworld, is mentioned for the first time in ‘Give Me a Sign’.

Spells and Chants

Phoebe: "The wrong thing done for the right reason is still the wrong thing."

Prue: "I know someone who can see anything."
Phoebe: "Oh, no. Wait a minute. You tiptoe around the subject of Mom, you deny looking like her, you can't even go to the end of that dock because you're afraid to walk in her footsteps and now you want me to relive her last moments? How is that fair?"
Prue: "It's not. None of this is. Mom's death, Sam's guilt. But I'm asking you to help me end it."

Piper: Wait, Phoebe, you enrolled? This is huge!"
Phoebe: "Hugest thing I've done since I came back home. I mean, aside from vanquishing demons and saving the world from evil, of course."

Billy: “Don’t you just hate exposition?”
Phoebe: “Tell me about it…”

Best Episode: Morality Bites.

Honorable Mentions: Witch Trial, P3H2O, Ms Hellfire, Pardon my Past, Murphy's Luck, Chick Flick, Astral Monkey.

Worst Episode: They're Everywhere!

The show's second year is permeated by some drab and drawn out love-life drama, but it's largely a solid follow-up to the show's charming opening season, one that ups the ante and includes several episodes that are among the series' best.

8 out of 10 magic monkeys.

2 comments:

Hw said...

I'm loving your Charmed season reviews and I'm glad to see somebody else thinks that "They're Everywhere" was not a good episode. I constantly see it on a list of people's favorites, much to my confusion, and I usually just wonder if those people are also fans of Supernatural.

Panda said...

Thanks, Hw. Yeah, I feel like baby Misha is probably what a lot of people like about it, but I honestly just couldn’t get with the dull as mud “scared scripts” plot. And those syringe warlocks? I don’t think so!