The contentious reboot to beloved ’90s fantasy returns for its third season, though with possibly less action than fans may have expected
Starring Melonie Diaz, Madeleine Mantock, Sarah Jeffery, Rupert Evans, Jordan Donica, and Poppy Drayton
After putting an early end to their second season, like many programmes affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Charmed‘s third season finds the sisters in hiding after Julian (Eric Balfour) uses his money and influence to put out a sizeable reward for Macy’s (Madeleine Mantock) whereabouts, under the guise of trying to protect her. In typical Charmed fashion, the plot then diverges as Macy and Harry (Rupert Evans) elect to use a Clarion potion to neutralise Julian as a threat and head off to find all the ingredients; Mel (Melonie Diaz) and Maggie (Sarah Jeffery) try to interrogate Harry’s evil doppelgänger Jimmy (also Rupert Evans) for any information they can use against Julian; and Jordan (Jordan Donica) finds the clock urgently ticking forwards on his family curse, and enlists Abigael’s (Poppy Drayton) help to save a witch.
It’s a fairly typical Charmed structure by this point: splitting up a fairly basic plot into three different components, each with their independent trials and challenges to temporarily distract the audience from the vast, vaguely convoluted game plan. Perhaps some of the audience members may find this disconcerting, expecting a more traditional season premiere, in which the stage is set for the main conflict for the remaining episodes. However, with coronavirus having cut Season 2’s episode length down by 3, Charmed showrunners Liz Kruger and Craig Shapiro have elected to commence Season 3 with these scripts before diving into the new season properly. So, for those expecting a wild new direction in the same way that Season 2 massively diverted from Season 1, will likely have to wait until episode 4.
Having an episode that is reminiscent of the status quo of Season 2 is by no means a bad thing necessarily. It was a far more creatively assured outing compared to Season 1, which hued quite closely to the blueprint set by the original ’90s Charmed. Season 1 drew criticism for having far too many similarities: the unknown half-sister appearing out of nowhere; the powers; the Source of all Evil; the Elders; the Book of Shadows; the sister falling for a demon – all very familiar story elements. Though the storylines went in interesting new directions, such as Macy’s estrangement being explained by being revived from the dead, it never really emerged from behind the shadow of the original, despite attempting to give the Charmed Ones fancy magical weapons that disappeared as quickly as they had materialised.
Season 2 bravely stripped away everything that we knew about these Charmed Ones; displacing them geographically to Seattle (which looks suspiciously like British Columbia, if you ask me), destroying the Book of Shadows, stripping them even of their magical powers but granting them an impressive set piece in the Command Centre: a high-ceilinged dungeon-esque safe haven created by the Elders, which also gave the sisters the ability to expand their horizons through the use of portals. They also had another multi-storey set to explore: that of Safe Space, in Seattle, which features largely, I imagine, to cut down on the costs related to building new sets on a weekly basis. Additionally – likely due to the fact that they didn’t want to get rid of the house set, and the sisters are also apparently now meant to be dead – their house came with them too, for reasons loosely narratively defined, though it is now magically cloaked, which tends to come in handy.
Season 2 also brought with it some refreshing new additions to the cast. Maggie’s new love interest Jordan is a decent everyman character, which Galvin (Ser’Darius Blain) from Season 1 simply was not, while new supernatural character Abigael is simply a delight. There’s no other way to explain her, and the fact that her storyline is an entirely original concept also helps keep viewers on their toes. She’s massively conflicted, and that’s interesting in a villainous character, even if the show isn’t entirely sure how far she should go and exactly what her relationship with the Charmed Ones is. It seems to vary depending upon what the script asks for on a weekly basis.
Having said that, the last season did flounder at some points. Despite a strong opening premise, with Harry’s doppelgänger hunting down the Charmed Ones and attempting to discover his provenance, various plot revelations ticking away in the background became muddied and confused, though the ultimate payoff, that it was an organisation known as the Faction, who are a group of mortals who know about magic is intriguing. Having mortals as the enemy is a new concept, though their motivations and their ultimate goal is still ill-defined, as well as the powers that they have at their disposal, which does serve to reduce their appeal as they continue to be the main enemy more than a year after they were originally revealed.
This premiere episode was well paced. It was satisfying to receive some meaningful development in Macy and Harry’s relationship. With the cliffhanger from Season 2 of Maggie taking away Harry’s feelings, it could have dragged on for a significantly longer time, so the mature approach was refreshing, though Maggie has yet to answer for her part to play in that equation. However, Macy is showing some new colours here, pulling few punches and being far more assertive than we are used to seeing her. Perhaps that’s due to her finally getting her powers back, or maybe she’s just tired of everybody’s shit. Who can say?
Maggie and Mel’s storyline was probably the weakest of the three. Even though they were performing an important narrative function, Melonie Diaz simply isn’t a strong enough actress to make the abrupt changes in Mel’s personality feel organic or natural. It’s understandable that Maggie’s powers might make some change to her demeanour, but surely the character should still behave like Mel even if she is blissfully happy. It felt a little more than emotional manipulation and more like an entire personality transplant. While it was nice to get a moment of levity from Mel’s usual argumentative and combative demeanour, it doesn’t look like the rest of the season will see much improvement, as Mel is now the reluctant sister when it comes to magic (which seems wholly unexpected because she’s always been the most enthusiastic up until this point, but I’m not in the writer’s room so what do I know?).
Jordan and Abigael’s storyline was surprising. It was nice to have a slightly standalone adventure and to have all of the parts of the plot tied up nicely (more or less) by the end of the episode, and Abi’s demeanour with Jordan, while as acerbic as her conversations with the Charmed Ones, is far less guarded. It feels more genuine and truthful, and it’s always fun to delve into her insecurities. The revelation that she has a sister is also mind boggling and hopefully takes her character in an interesting new direction, as hopefully the sister is not yet another Caine sibling, but somebody from Abi’s witching side.
The conclusion to Jimmy’s storyline is intriguing. Not just as to how exactly they managed to make Canada look convincing as London, but also as to where it’s going to go. It’s fairly obvious that it’s not the last that we’ve seen of Jimmy, even though that’s how the sisters view it. Convincing everybody in England that he’s a good man might not necessarily work out well, but we’ve had megalomaniacal people in charge before, so anything’s an improvement really.
The premiere leaves us with a few more questions, some of which will hopefully be tied up before too long and others that should bleed forward into Season 3 proper. Maggie’s new powers are certainly interesting, even though I can’t see what actual usefulness they shall prove against demonic forces, but I have my fingers crossed that Mel’s malaise around magic comes to an abrupt end. The only thing more irritating than angry Mel is mopey Mel. Mel, in general, tends towards the annoying, so she needs precious little encouragement in that area.
We still have no idea what exactly the Faction are striving towards, other than we know that it’s bad, which may seem like intrigue, but honestly it just seems like ill thought through plotting at this point to shove the evil plan right to the moment it’s being enacted. Knowing what we’re fighting against can actually increase tension, but that literary gem has yet to grace the Charmed writer’s room, apparently. Julian appears to be on the side of good, but whether or not that’s genuine or just a ruse is anybody’s guess and is also, apparently, the plot of the next episode. Just to delay any actual action even further, of course.
Having said that, it was quite refreshing to see the Charmed Ones back on screen. Even if it isn’t the natural evolution that viewers probably expected, whether consciously or unconsciously, there’s still heaps of potential. Perhaps, however, it would have been better for the writers to have regrouped and streamlined these early episodes into a more speedy conclusion to this Faction storyline as, honestly, the writers have vastly overestimated its appeal.
Charmed airs on The CW in the US, on Sundays. Its UK broadcaster, E4, has yet to announce a premiere date for the third season.