Remember last week when I decided to switch up the format of this series, mainly for the sake of time and sanity? Kinda sorta-ish? Well, in any case, we’re heading into another shift, but I promise that its the last, because this is my last– Charmed article that is. Yes, that’s right. This week finally broke me,
much like it broke Nico’s partner’s neck, so in lieu of a proper or even improper recap, I’m going to break down the break down that lead to the vanquishing of my viewership. If you’ve been following along since the show was cast, you don’t need the power of premonition to have seen this coming.
Plot and character-wise, the show stuck to the routine as usual with Exorcise Your Demons. Maggie let college and love distract her, Macy proved that her real magic power was scientific prowess and Melanie did everything she shouldn’t have because her power is knowing and proving she’s right at all costs. Also, there was a monster of some sort threatening the fate of the world that ultimately made way for another, bigger,
better tailored monster; you know, the usual. Thematically however, Charmed attempted to open up its mythology to explore the powers that be behind the power of three, namely: The Elders and the types of spell craft the girls are able to wield. One would think that this would have been a grand opportunity to finally push away from the safety net that is past, Aaron Spelling practices, but instead all it did was show just how much the series doesn’t seem to understand the changes its selling.
Initially, I was disappointed to see that, in replacing the stern, robe clad old men of Charmed OG, creators of the reboot chose to epitomize the highest of magical accolades in a well-dressed blonde with philanthropic hobbies; in layman’s terms, the series’ Elder was a real housewife look-alike with her act together and no alcohol in sight. For a show that, in spite of showcasing its non-white casting, already seemed to carbon copy it’s supernatural universe from many established and over-saturated eurocentric depictions, this doubling down felt rather unnecessary. That said, this decently predictable move wasn’t enough to warrant more than an eye roll on its own. No, the full weight of the misstep became apparent when, in what may have been an effort to over-correct, the episode turned to messily introducing a side of magic that wasn’t all Grimoires and Celtic knots.
While searching for a means to take down a fairly tricky bad guy without sacrificing the life of an innocent, the Charmed Ones were given a late-stage helping hand in the form of a miraculous Hail Mary ritual, purportedly left by their mother, and this is where I felt the need to draw the line. Those of you familiar with all things Charmed, both new and old may be wondering, ‘What’s so bad about that? That’s literally the first season in a nutshell,’ and that would be highly correct, my observant friend. However, my difficulties, and moral inability to keep tuning in, come from the nature of the ritual and how it was so cavalierly introduced.
To clarify, the ritual in question was presented as belonging to Santeria, a real life Afro-Cuban religion that has often been demonized in Western media, to a somewhat lesser but no less problematic extent than, say, Vodou. Insult to injury? This came with no precursor or grounding in any explanation of the Charmed Ones’ background whatsoever, something not just risky but irresponsible given its lax handling of what it means to be representative.
It seems to me that, in aiming for the diversity that is needed and very much wanted in new media, Charmed decided to model its attempt after the most basic definition: characters who just so happen to be outside of previously homogenized casting (in this case, women of an aesthetically similar shade of brown). It’s not the worst start imaginable, but it’s nothing more than a jumping off point, and by no means a place to end the conversation.
Yes, people of color are in fact just people, but that doesn’t exclude us from roots and a backstory, and to make a properly representative group of characters, some measure of work reflecting this has to be done. Could the girls’ mother, Marisol Vera, have been a practitioner of Santeria rituals, or even more loosely, had cause for educating herself in the practices? Of course. But without any kind of explanation as to why beyond the vague assumption that the Vera family has undefined Latin ancestry (and that Macy’s father could possibly provide the “Afro” in the Afro-Cuban classification that Santeria falls under), the whole affair just makes it appear that writers believe representation can be a catch-all of every commingled culture they deem fitting for an episode’s needs. This kind of picking and choosing is both disingenuous and a dangerous way to present the concept of diversity to audiences not familiar with the notion that people of color do not exist within a monolithic definition. Rehashing nineties plot-lines is uninspired and boring, but this ham-fisted way of setting the series apart is harmful, and not at all what’s needed.
I know I’m laying some very heavy responsibilities on a TV-14 fantasy drama, but when one of the tasks a show (or film or book, or what have you) sets itself to is to represent a real and existing minority group, I feel a critical eye is needed. Media like Charmed is making an attempt, however halfhearted, to forge a path toward normalizing the visibility of longed ignored peoples and ideas, and something that essential needs to be held up to a higher standard than just giving it any old try at all. It takes research and work, and no amount of hand waving, nose-wiggling, or finger snapping is going to change that. At the end of the day, If the creators of Charmed can’t readily come to that conclusion on their own, then I have little choice but to conclude my time spent with it, and exorcise myself from the situation. And yes, that was one last witchy play on words, and the episode title. You’re welcome, blessed be.
Final stray thoughts:
-More recycling of the original series: before they ended up turning one half of the pair into a red-shirt, I was sure that Neko and her partner Trent were going to be this series Andy and Darryl. Oh well. I’m also still not convinced Maggie’s love interest isn’t Cole 2.0. If the series makes it to the end of a full run, I’ll probably end up googling to check back in on this.
– Macy calling the [white] Elder Witch Olivia Pope? Um I think not, like ever. Just no.
– I was really hoping that somehow they would address that Melanie doesn’t seem to want to help people and support woman as much as she just wants to be right and do things her way. Almost everything she does is self-involved. I didn’t need any more of a bad taste in my mouth on my way out, but it provided nonetheless.
-Are they going to fridge Melanie’s girlfriend next episode, either with a murder or a magic mind-wipe? Yeah, it’s time for me to go…
Rating: One Exorcised Harbinger of Doom out of Five
For better or worse, Charmed airs on Sundays at 9 PM EST on The CW