Thursday, November 1, 2018

Charmed, Season 1, Episode 3: Sweet Tooth

So, the theme for this episode is social justice concepts that the writers don’t seem to entirely understand and then actively sabotage!

Anyway, the sisters are training in a simulation to fight big bad demons with Henry and it all goes wrong because Maggie starts texting her sorority sisters mid battle, Macy freezes up and can’t use her powers and Mel decides to cast a super powerful spell she’s learned which catches them all in the blast radius

So, lessons learned: Macy needs to stop overthinking things and actually just go with the low and use her powers. Maggie needs to stop letting her sorority concerns distracting her. And Mel needs to be less reckless with her magic

I mean, even low level D&D adventurers know to watch your spell blast radii

Henry also has a big dramatic speech about the big bad Harbinger that they’ve heard so many times before they can quote it. He reveals that the Harbinger must have possessed someone - so Mel wants to charge in throwing magic around campus which Macy and Maggie don’t agree with and Henry suggests they wait for the elders to give them some input. Mel mocks the very idea, deciding they’re washed up has beens

Hey, y’know passion for social justice should not really come with dismissing experienced people because they’re old: especially since there’s a strong implication they’re female as well.

Mel decides she wants to cast a spell that will lure all demons within 20 miles so they can find the Harbinger. Macy is less thrilled with this plan and suggests they listen more to Henry since he was right about the whole spirit board thing. Mel will not succumb to his patriarchal control

So we have the reckless magic theme - in addition to throwing magic nukes within spitting distance and wanting to being mass attacked by who knows how many demons, Mel also repeatedly freezes entire rooms full of people, just asking for people to come in and find the room frozen or for her to unfreeze and not be stood in the correct place and everyone will notice her teleporting (or notice they’ve lost time). Henry, exasperated, puts a magical tracking bracelet on her to alert him when she uses magic

She is, naturally outraged by this because it is restrictive, infantilising. I could now have a discussion about having female characters show agency by having them repeatedly make obviously ridiculous and dangerous decisions, react with aggression when criticised for them and eventually have a man control them and seem JUSTIFIED because their decision making is just so bad it feels like someone has to. But I don’t have to - I just have to drop this Spunky Agency link here.

Macy does some science and they realise the Harbinger could probably be exposed if it ate sugar. Uh-huh, in the US? It better not eat. Anyway this prompts Macy to bake lots of biscuits (Americans, Henry is right) so they can get people to eat them and expose their monsterness. They go around pressing biscuits on people - including Angela. Angela was the woman who went into a coma when she was attacked by the Ice Demon professor and she has woken up - just as the Harbinger arrives. Mel is quick to realise they may be a link and talks to her, offering biscuits and reconnecting. It doesn’t work - which I’m honestly thankful for because otherwise the universal presence of sugar would make this the shortest possession ever

Angela is the possessed one - this isn’t kept as a secret even slightly, with her drinking blood and storing heads in her fridge.

A more poignant issue tearing at Mel and causing conflict between her and Henry is having to keep her secret from Niko. This is especially difficult with a series of close calls and the fact Niko is a detective. This is what she does. On top of that, Niko is already wary of Mel because she fears Mel falling back into her obsession over her mother’s death and is suspicious of any secrecy from Mel. Mel tells Henry how heartbreaking this for her

Which is understandable because keeping secrets from loved ones is hard. Except she compares it to being closeted. And after making a big speech at what a gift having an accepting mother was and how amazing it was to be openly gay, she then hacks that off at the knees by drawing a comparison between having magic powers and fighting demons to being gay. By deciding to compare the closet - with all the messages of self loathing, conversion, therapy, constant acting and pretending for years, to not using super powers. Not for something you’ve known about for a week that hasn’t had close to the opprobrium, soul searching or societal weight or context behind it.

Yay straight actors playing gay with straight writers putting words in their mouths.

Macy also continues to have issues with Galvin - he flirts with her a lot and she keeps trying to keep him at arm’s length, refusing dates and generally keeping space between them. Personally I think wanting to keep romance and work life separate isn’t bad… but Maggie is definitely pushing Macy to have more fun and be less serious

Which is why she invites Galvin to the party. What party? Well, in her quest to join the sorority, Maggie has been kind of slacking and to make up her credentials for the sorority she offers the use of the house for their hallowe’en party - since there’s a ban on alcohol on campus.

To make sure it’s an awesome party she also uses a lot of magic - cue the Personal Gain warning. Obviously the others are less pleased by this idea but realising they could test a lot of people for sugar all in one place, so they go along with it. And there’s a nice scene where Maggie pokes Macy about why she is so against being sexy (hey, I thought her Ruth Bader Ginsberg costume was cool but needed explaining) and Macy has a great personal development story about going to a nearly all white Boarding school and being pigeon-holed into a very narrow role: the smart and serious one. Not the sexy and fun

To which Maggie reject this little box and picks a costume - Persephone. Which Galvin ius very very impressed by. But he’s less impressed by how little time Macy spends with her. Nor can Maggie with her sorority sisters - who are duly impressed by her awesome party though. And whil Mel tries to talk magic with Niko - while dressed as a witch - Niko has to leave the party because there are three bodies on campus

A nun, a woman who was running a purity party and a misogynist podcaster and likely an Incel. So three virgins. Henry realises that they’re being killed by the Harbinger because virgin blood is empowering and they plan to leave and seal the house - protecting the partiers from attack (though they doubt the virginity of those inside for snarky jokes because SLUT JOKES ARE PROGRESSIVE!)

Except it doesn’t work - because Angela the Harbinger is there. Mel wants to go in spells blazing but wiser heads decide to lure her out - with Macy’s blood. Because she;’s a virgin. There’s a brief moment of shock at this 28 year old virgin and she feels embarrassed before both sisters dismiss that this is a reason to judge someone. Mel even saying, rightly, that virginity is a false, patriarchal concept

Which is true and I applaud. Except the show has JUST ESTABLISHED THE SPECIAL MAGICAL PROPERTIES OF VIRGIN BLOOD! You can’t dismiss virginity as a sexist, heteronormative, fictional concept and then say how magically special it is.

They lure the demon out, are surprised to see it’s Angela, and then their big spell falls apart because Maggie’s personal gain woo-woo catches up with her. She has to drop the glamour before she can rejoin the fight - which has Macy running from Angela, using her telekinesis to fend her off. Which works - because when her adrenaline is flowing and she isn’t over thinking her powers work perfectly. Problem 1 solved!

But instead of the big spell, Mel uses her nuke - which she’s been warned about (shall I include the Spunky agency link again?) it knocks Angela down… and Macy. With Macy not breathing and near death - luckily Whitelighters can heal.

Aftermath: Angela is restrained, the party was awesome and Maggie is accepted by her sorority sisters, Macy kisses Galvin, and Maggie sees that Nice Guy Who Has Been Flirting With Her is dating Lucy the head of the sorority

And he is so definitely going to be evil. Yes yes he is.

Maggie and Henry have a heart to heart - she admits she has been reckless and she’ll change. He admits that he has issues due to his losing a charge when she was reckless and told people her big secret and ended up dying after being shut up in a mental institution. He removes the tracking bracelet and promises, after the current war is done, to fight to get her permission to share her secret with Niko. Hopefully this heralds these two characters working together with less sparks