Image: Charmed (The CW)
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Merry Christmas from Charmed, a show on which demon dads drink eggnog, guardian angels make Christmas fruitcake, a shapeshifting demon enters a room by saying “Ho ho ho; you’ve been very naughty girls this year; Santa’s going to make you pay,” and another character utters the line “Magical! Gene! Therapy!” with complete and total earnestness. That latter bit comes courtesy of Parker’s human scientist mother, who is desperate to help kill his human half in order to save his life, potentially pretty compelling character motivation that’s doled out quickly and blankly, deadening how compelling it ends up being.

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In favor of a fast-paced story structure, Charmed burns through plot faster than it can keep up with. In some ways, it’s nice that it doesn’t drag some of its reveals out too long. By the end of “Jingle Hell,” Maggie already knows she’s dating a demon (er, half demon). But in order to keep that pacing, Charmed lays everything on so damn thick. Parker’s character arc isn’t without its virtues. There’s something decidedly grounded about his struggle within his family. He feels pressured to manipulate Maggie because of his father’s expectations on him, both his dad and older brother taunting him for being different from them, weaker. There’s also the matter of his demon half literally killing his human half. He thinks he’s doing what he has to to survive.

And he isn’t weaker than the men in his family; he shows strength when it matters, literally banishing his brother to a pit filled with hellfire when he finally chooses Maggie over his family. It’s technically strong supernatural storytelling, but it has humanity to it, too. But because of this rapidfire pacing and the broad strokes that Charmed often paints its characters and their emotions with, it’s difficult to be totally invested. We only just learn about his mother’s role in all this in one scene at the top of the episode. The father and brother are fun, campy villains but little more than that.

Maggie’s emotional side of the Parker situation, however, is much better developed and has some more shades to it, even when it does lay things on thick and move quickly, too. “Jingle Hell” introduces Maggie and Mel’s differing views of their father, who is alive but hasn’t been a real part of their lives since the day after Maggie’s fifth birthday. Maggie represents the typical younger sibling view of a bad divorce, forgiving of their father and trusting that he’s capable of change. Mel’s more disillusioned by their father. She wants to keep Maggie’s expectations in check so that she doesn’t wind up getting hurt, but Maggie reads that as Mel babying her and accusing her of being naive. It’s all believable character work and sister dynamics, and it also connects with the rest of the episode, too.

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Because Maggie clearly has an issue when it comes to the disconnect between her powers and her emotions. All of the sisters’ powers are affected by their emotions, but Maggie’s power happens to be all about emotions. Yes, she can read people’s minds as a witch, but as a human, she tends to see the best in people, and that clouds her abilities. In life, she sees what she wants to see, which is why she ends up getting burned by their father when he doesn’t show up for Christmas. And when it comes to her powers, she sees what she wants to see, too. She has been reading Parker’s mind, but she still never picked up on the fact that he was hiding something so huge from her. That does, admittedly, seem like a pretty big loophole to her powers, but Charmed at least does a pretty convincing job of contextualizing that loophole. There’s a real, grounded, human reason that Maggie missed this huge piece of information.

I’m a little less convinced by how long it takes everyone to figure out that Parker’s brother Hunter is posing as Macy. This bit plays into the show’s somewhat throwback camp factor that can be super fun. And it lets Madeleine Mantock do something new, and she does the over-the-top evil schtick quite well! But it verges on overly schlocky, as Hunter just in general is more caricature than character.

It’s a busy episode, also tackling the new issue of Mel joining the Sarcana in order to be a double agent for the Elders. Mel’s characterization here has been a bit inconsistent. Just last episode, she was pretty skeptical of both sides but especially of Charity’s framing of the Sarcana as total terrorists. Suddenly, she has very little sympathy for the Sarcana, seemingly convinced that they were the ones behind her mother’s death, especially once she finds out that the Sarcana use crows to do their bidding. Maybe Mel’s just telling everyone what they want to hear while she figures out what she really feels about the Sarcana. But she does seem to be whiplashing between how she feels, which can be a difficult place to operate from because it’s hard as a viewer to really trust what the character says and feels.

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Overall, there’s some strong character work in “Jingle Hell,” but it sometimes takes a second seat to the heavy-handed attempts to advance the plot. Its best scenes are the ones that don’t even necessarily have any magic happening in them, as with that initial conversation about their father between Mel and Maggie and also with Maggie’s big scene with Parker after she finds out he’s a demon. Maggie rightfully feels betrayed, and it’d be easy to imagine this conversation happening between two people sans magic at all. She sounds like someone who has been lied to or cheated on by a partner, and it throws her completely off balance. Charmed is always best in these moments, when its magical problems are grounded enough to feel like human problems. It’s by far Sarah Jeffery’s best work on the show.


Stray observations

  • Charmed will be back on January 20. I welcome any and all conspiracy theories about what the future holds, especially about the Sarcana.
  • On that note, Jada and Mel have to be just a couple episodes away from kissing. In case you don’t know, one woman calling another woman by just her last name the way Jada calls her “Vera” is Lesbian Flirting 101.
  • On that note, I do still miss Niko.
  • I love whenever the show weaves in the sisters’ Latina identity. The runner that everyone loves the coquito here is great.
  • I guess Galvin knows about magic now! Hopefully that’ll make Galvin more interesting.

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