Charmed-a-versary: Top 20 Episodes

Happy Charmed-a-versary! It's been 20 years (!) since the show first aired, so I've put together my 20 favorite episodes in celebration.

Charmed was always so intrinsically linked to my formative years that it's hard not to be smacked in the face with a wave of nostalgia whenever I dive into the series for a re-watch. In truth, some of it has aged badly, mainly the later seasons which are generally pretty shit. Thankfully the early days remain essential viewing for me, which is why the following list features just three episodes from the latter half of the series.

20. Centennial Charmed (Season 5, Episode 12)
Kicking off the list is the series' 100th episode, where a desperate Cole rewrites history so Paige didn't come into the Halliwells' lives after Prue died. The episode is really well crafted, and I loved badass demon-hunter Piper, and how the hour explores how unhappy and trapped Phoebe would have been if she stuck by Cole.

19. Sleuthing With the Enemy (Season 3, Episode 8)
Another Cole-centric episode, this one is from back when his true identity as half-demon Balthazar is revealed to Phoebe and her sisters. Phoebe's subsequent heartbreak is pretty hard to watch, as is the painful goodbye between Phoebe and Cole when she fakes his death so he can live. It's a moment that has so many repercussions for the Halliwells, and this episode sets up that hard path beautifully.

18. The Fifth Halliwheel (Season 4, Episode 16)
Again, Cole features heavily here, but the hour is mostly focused on Cole's manipulation of the new Charmed One. Paige is filled with suspicions in light of Cole's sudden success in the real world, suspicions that are well founded since his success is all down to his new role as The Source.  Rose is phenomenal here, and the parts that feature Cole torturing Paige are beautifully shot.

17. Witchness Protection (Season 7, Episode 10)
The only Season Seven entry on this list is an hour that's elevated by a wonderful guest spot by Charisma Carpenter as Kira, a demon longing to be human. She stays true to form, with her role here feeling like Cordelia 2.0, but she plays off every cast member with ease, and her death at the close of the hour kicks off a chain of events that lead to some great material in the subsequent episodes.

16. Sight Unseen (Season 3, Episode 5)
This episode makes an appearance on the list based mostly on the fact that it's one of the few episodes of the series to feature a fully human antagonist in the form of Abbey, a Prue-obsessed stalker who happens to work at P3, and the shake-up in antagonist does wonders for the writers who milk Abbey's straight-up craziness for all its worth.

15. Brain Drain (Season 4, Episode 7)
Of the three (four?) sisters, Piper was always the one who struggled the most with sacrificing her normal life to fulfill her destiny as a Charmed One. That longing to escape her magical responsibilities is used to great effect in this episode, as the Source does his utmost to manipulate her into relinquishing her powers by causing her to believe that her existence is based solely on a mental delusion. The transformation of the Manor into "Halliwell Hospital" is kind of genius, with those green walls giving it a lifeless, sterile feel.

14. Black as Cole (Season 4, Episode 8)
Part of Cole's initial struggles revolve around his inability to suppress his demon half in order to be good enough for Phoebe. His dark past comes back to haunt him in this episode, with a protégé of sorts unearthing all his old Balthazar feels. The biggest twist of the episode revolves around a wronged widow unintentionally vanquishing Cole's demon half. Julian McMahon is great in this one, perfectly encapsulating the anguish and sorrow Cole is feeling as he has to come to terms with the people he's hurt now that he's learned to suppress his dark side.

13. Coyote Piper (Season 3, Episode 9)
One of many possessed Halliwell episodes, Coyote Piper is one of the better ones, thanks to its ties to Piper's very relatable struggle to fit in during her high school reunion. I love that she was a big ol' nerd in high school, it feels very in-line with the neurotic sister we know at this point.

12. Charmed & Dangerous (Season 4, Episode 13)
The sisters finally vanquish The Source in this episode, which is no easy feat considering he uses the Hollow to steal their powers in the moments leading up to his attack on the manor. There’s a major sense of dread permeating the hour, giving that final confrontation a serious amount of gravitas that make The Source’s ultimate demise incredibly satisfying. Then there’s that cliff-hanger reveal of Cole taking The Source’s powers which set up a tumultuous back nine.

11. Sense and Sense Ability (Season 5, Episode 20)
What I like about this episode is that it deftly uses a bland idea and just has fun with it. The comedy is quick and fun, the action is perfectly shot and it all ties back to the girls' powerful bond that still holds them together, even when they’re stripped of their most valuable senses.

10. Deja Vu All Over Again (Season 1, Episode 22)
The first season finale features the show’s first big loss; Andy Trudeau. I mentioned in my review of the first season that his death comes as a bit of a relief, but that doesn’t stop his death from stinging, if only for how sad it is to watch Prue deal with it after the fact. Outside of that, the time loop is used to great effect, and I loved how Phoebe is given some sort of awareness of each day repeating itself so she can adapt to it and eventually save the girls from certain death.

09. Death Takes a Halliwell (Season 3, Episode 16)
Prue was always one of the darkest characters, if only because her life has been driven by an intense need to protect her sisters in light of their mother’s death when they were all kids. Taking on a role like that gave her a warped view of death, and the anger she feels towards it is dismantled in this episode, to great effect.

08. Sin Francisco (Season 3 Episode 18)
One of Charmed’s funniest episodes, it’s paced to perfection and it's clear the cast all had a blast filming it, too. Plus, each of the sins are perfectly selected to coincide with each of the sisters’ flaws. I especially loved Prue being hit with pride, which is just so in-line with her tendency to take the lead.

07. A Witch in Time (Season 5, Episode 8)
This episode is great thanks to that incredible shift in perspective half-way through the hour after Phoebe and Paige literally bite the dust and it's up to Piper to stop Phoebe from saving the life of her boyfriend who is fated to die. A rare fifth season highlight.

06. Chick Flick (Season 2, Episode 18)
It's not often that Charmed is able to poke fun at itself with such sharpness, but 'Chick Flick' is the best example of that self awareness at its peak. The fun references to their final manor confrontations and the mess that each of their battles leaves behind are great, but it's the smartly directed horror sequences that are the crowning glory of the hour.

05. That 70's Episode (Season 1, Episode 17)
Charmed's first time travel adventure is also the series’ first perfect episode, tying the girls journey back in time into the huge sense of loss they all still feel over their mother's premature death. They each get to see her again, here, and Phoebe finally gets to know the woman she was too young to ever remember.

04. Long Live the Queen (Season 4, Episode 20)
While the episodes leading up to this one feel rushed, 'Long Live the Queen' deftly explores Phoebe’s internal struggle over whether to side with her sisters, or her husband. That final scene with Piper and Paige comforting Phoebe in the wake of Cole’s vanquish makes it, though. I always break down when I watch it.

03. Pre-Witched (Season 3, Episode 17)
The interspersing flashbacks are the highlight of this episode, detailing how much magic has changed the sisters’ bond for the better. The quest to stop the Cat Warlock is also a hell of a lot of fun, and guest star W. Earl Brown is the perfect blend of sinister and sarcastic.

02. Morality Bites (Season 2, Episode 2)
Personal gain is mentioned countless times throughout the show, with several ramifications causing chaos in the Halliwells’ lives when they cast spells for their own personal pleasure or otherwise. This episode takes that concept even deeper, when Phoebe kills a guilty man out of revenge in 2009. The sisters try to free Phoebe only to learn that leaving her to her fate is the right thing to do. It's gut-wrenching, and the realizations here are pretty much ingrained in the series from here on out. The performances, the pacing and the visuals are all pitch perfect, but Alyssa Milano owns the episode; it makes her shoddy phoned-in contribution in later years seem even more uninspired and unnecessary.

01. All Hell Breaks Loose (Season 3, Episode 22)
Charmed's greatest episode is also Shannen Doherty's third time as director, and her expert hand helps to craft an hour laden with excitement, chaos, action that very subtly, yet quickly builds on the intensity of the girls' exposure to the outside world. The episode is pretty much unmatched, and the only negative thing about it is that its ending is wrapped up off-screen thanks to Shannen's firing from the show.


Thanks for everyone who read my season reviews. I'll be posting my thoughts on the reboot next week, something I'm remaining open-minded about. Naturally it won't be able to recapture the unique magic of the original, but if we're lucky it might be able to drum up some magic of its own.

4 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Panda, congratulations on finishing the season reviews as well as the top twenty -- great job, and pretty much perfect timing! I never saw the original series, but I'm thinking about trying the reboot.

Panda said...

Thanks Billie! I’m hoping the reboot will be decent. Fans have had a pretty negative reaction but until I see it and hate it I’m going to approach it as positively as possible.

sunbunny said...

I definitely don't remember all of these specifically (been years since I rebinged the series) but bravo on being able to condense eight seasons down into 20 episodes. That's quite a feat. I couldn't do it for Buffy (my favorite show). But maybe that's just because I'm so indecisive.

Honestly your Charmed reviews ALMOST got me to rewatch but it just gets so depressing towards the end when they spend their time dressing the girls up in the skimpiest possible costumes. Like...sigh.

Panda said...

It’s great to dive back into again. I would recommend rewatching up as far as episode 100 and just stopping. Not much to look forward to after that, bar a few rare highlights, and the Cole story is all wrapped up by that point so the best is past.