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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

In a classic moral dilemma, the Charmed Ones have to save the girl or save the world

Illustration for article titled In a classic moral dilemma, the Charmed Ones have to save the girl or save the world
Image: Charmed (The CW)

Charmed has fun playing around with supernatural expectations. The sisters are new to the world of magic, and every week turns up new surprises for them, new rules for how all this stuff works. “Exorcise Your Demons” introduces one of the elders, the governing body that presides over all good magic happenings and attempts to pull the strings behind the scenes when it comes to the Charmed Ones. Charity, it turns out, is nothing like what the term “elders” signifies (and, for what it’s worth, nothing like the austere, robed beings that were the elders in original recipe Charmed). Nope, 2018 Charmed modernizes the elders: Charity is essentially a powerful witch-slash-businesswoman. Alongside her magical duties, she also runs an organization meant to empower female business owners and entrepreneurs. It’s a fun little “twist,” one that taps into the show’s bright personality amid the magical darkness.


But Charity also presents another obstacle for the sisters, particularly Mel. Charity arrives to instruct them how to kill the harbinger, the demon that has taken over Angela’s body, and shuts down any alternative options. The demon, she argues, cannot be exorcised because it’s simply too powerful. Mel, of course, doesn’t take no for an answer. She’s convinced that Angela’s soul is still in there somewhere, and even though it means risking missing the window to kill the demon, she wants to explore the other options.

Ever the logical one, Macy sides with Charity and Harry over Mel. She can’t fathom saving Angela when it means potentially letting the demon loose to feast on Helltown. Television loves a good trolley problem (original recipe Charmed also tackled an even more personal trolley problem in the standout second season episode “Apocalypse, Not” when the witches have to choose between saving a sister and saving the world), and the stakes are high for this one, particularly because of Mel’s personal investment in saving Angela. She carries guilt for convincing Angela to come forward as a survivor of professor Thaine’s abuse, which she sees as the beginning of the dark path that got Angela here—possessed by an apocalyptic demon hellbent on destroying the world. Charmed again succeeds in putting grounded emotional underpinnings that have nothing to do with magic behind the sisters’ decisions and actions. Mel can’t imagine any other option than saving Angela, and that determination is fully felt in all of her choices throughout the episode.

But Macy’s preference of the utilitarian approach comes from a deeper place, too. It’s not just that she’s a scientist, as she initially suggests. Galvin helps remind her that there’s a place for emotions in decision-making, that even though they’re scientists, they don’t always have to think with just their brains. And then Charity drives it all home by telling Macy about a time she helped the Charmed Ones’ mother perform a very complicated spell in order to shed all the pain she felt from losing Macy (we still don’t know exactly why she gave Macy up, but the implication here is that it came at great personal sacrifice). Macy didn’t have the benefit of magic to erase her own pain and sense of abandonment, so instead she developed her own non-magical coping mechanism: emotional repression. She pushed her emotions to the side, preferring hard logic and science, not allowing herself to really feel and make choices from the heart. This genuinely huge personal realization helps her see the Angela/harbinger situation from a more emotional place, in line with Mel, and she resolves to help her sisters.

At exactly the right moment, the Book Of Shadows reveals the spell needed to exorcise the harbinger, written by the sisters’ mother, who had the power of prophecy and knew they would choose to save Angela. This is all, of course, extremely convenient storytelling. But it still works, if by nothing else because of the sheer power of hearing the sisters read this spell aloud in Spanish. The little organic ways that the sisters’ Latinx identities have surfaced throughout the show so far have been powerful yet grounded, a part of them more familiar than their new identity as witches. It makes the spell personal, adding a surprisingly sweet touch to an otherwise very over-the-top exorcism scene. Along those same lines, the fact that Maggie has to reach Angela through her thoughts to fully complete the exorcism infuses the scene with even more emotion. Charmed leans all the way in on some of its more sentimental moments, and that works in its favor, adding a touching sense of earnestness.

For the first time, the sisters’ witchcraft actually leads to a casualty. In the process of trying to exorcise the harbinger, they’re caught by Niko’s partner Trip, who grows increasingly suspicious of their behavior throughout the episode (to be fair, none of the sisters are particularly good at lying). In the mayhem, he ends up dead, and Charity helps cover it up while also framing him for the murders committed by the harbinger. That’s likely to have some huge ramifications, especially for Niko and Mel. The stakes of Mel hiding the truth from Niko are even higher now, because she understandably takes the loss of her partner—and the fact that he could be a killer—very hard. And Mel has to comfort her, all the while knowing the truth. Trip wasn’t bad; he was just rightfully suspicious and got caught in the crossfires. Suddenly, there are real-world, life-or-death consequences to the sisters’ witchcraft.


Stray observations

  • Ellen Tamaki gives a very good performance at episode’s end. She has been consistently one of the strongest actors on the show, and I hope that this deal with Trip ramps up her presence in the story beyond just being Mel’s girlfriend.
  • I’m such a sucker for the implied romantic history between Harry and Charity. Harry tries so hard to just be a mentor presence, but little shades of his backstory peep through in interesting ways.
  • Oh right, Maggie kisses Lucy’s boyfriend to keep him from seeing a demon (but also because she definitely wants to kiss him). I’m not totally sold on their chemistry, and the fact that Maggie can only find her inner strength because of a guy she pretty much just met isn’t all that compelling. (And I like to imagine what Mel would have to say about that.)
  • At least Charmed keeps it real about the fact that Maggie would be flunking out of all her classes. Usually supernatural dramas set in high school/college glaze over the fact that balancing demon-hunting with schoolwork is a tall order!