Image: Charmed (The CW)

In “Sweet Tooth,” the sisters spend much of the episode trying to figure out which human vessel holds the harbinger, a demon that foretells the arrival of the Source Of Evil—all a part of the apocalyptic arc sparked in the pilot by their mother’s death. The entire time, we as the viewers know that the demon is in Angela Wu, the student who has been in a coma since the show began. So once again, Charmed isn’t really fueled by suspense. We know exactly who the demon is, and that doesn’t matter. Because instead, the story is really about how Mel in particular approaches trying to figure out who the demon is. And Maggie and Macy similarly get storylines that have much more to say than just what’s at the magical surface of the narrative.

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Mel has jumped into her witchcraft full force, and in training with Harry, she goes too big, putting herself and her sisters at risk for the sake of getting the job done. She’s reckless, but she also has bold ideas, and in the end, Charmed doesn’t punish her for those intense, audacious qualities. Sure, she does cross a line, and Macy gets caught in the crosshairs. But at the same time, she does technically save the day. Charmed ends up finding a balance between her and Harry, acknowledging that Mel’s bold energy is not something that should be squashed or controlled while also acknowledging that Harry just wants to protect.

His urge to protect, of course, comes from a meaningful place. He lost a witch named Fiona who Mel reminds him of, and that kind of fridging trope can be frustrating, especially in this case when we don’t know Fiona as a character at all outside of the use of her death as a plot device and as character development. It has been a bit of an odd choice for this show to have its mentor character be an older white man, but Charmed also sort of pushes back on its own choice. Mel makes it clear that she won’t be controlled by Harry (she literally snaps “please don’t take my ideas, white man” at him) or by the unseen governing body known as the elders. Harry is here to help, and the sisters ultimately make their own calls. And that’s why it’s important that Mel’s actions in the end do actually work to stop the demon. Charmed doesn’t dim her light.

Overall, it’s a particularly strong episode for Mel, especially as she struggles with the burden of not being able to tell Niko the truth. One of the most pleasant surprises about the Charmed reboot has been the way Mel is established, right away, as gay. Coming out stories can be extremely powerful, and they certainly helped me as a young closeted lesbian back in the day, but there’s something also very refreshing about young queer characters who don’t have to go through those motions. There’s no build-up or slow burn; Mel and Niko’s relationship just exists from the start. And they have believable chemistry, which makes the fact that Mel has to lie to Niko so often all the more affecting.

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Not only does Mel not go through a coming out story on the show, but “Sweet Tooth” establishes that she actually never went through a lengthy coming out process at all. Her mother knew she was gay before she even did and created such a warm and accepting environment that Mel was never in the closet at all. That’s what makes the lying now so difficult for her. She has never had to lie about who she is, and even though she’s the only sister in a serious relationship, there are deeper reasons for why she takes the secrecy part harder than they do.

And Charmed handles that kind of emotional storytelling quite well, even amid all the camp, which reaches very high levels this week thanks to Halloween. Angela as the harbinger demon is so over-the-top that most people just assume she’s in an elaborate costume without realizing it’s an actual monster. There are some genuine frights, like the harbinger hanging upside down in the woods, but for the most part, Charmed has some spooky Halloween fun with its demon this week, who literally keeps the head of an incel in her mini fridge and drinks blood from water bottles.

That blood, it turns out, is specifically virginal, another somewhat tired horror cliche that Charmed nonetheless turns into something a little more meaningful. (But it should be noted that Rupert Evans deserves a whole lot of credit for the seriousness with which he delivers the lines “virgin blood is a powerful source of energy for demons” and “no virgin in Helltown is safe” back to back.) Macy, it turns out, is a virgin, and Charmed uses this to unpack some of her background as a black woman in a mostly white space during her formative years. She attended a boarding school in Connecticut, where she was one of two women of color, and respectability politics and pressure to be seen as a “model minority” contributed to some of her discomfort with really expressing her sexuality. She bristles at Macy’s attempts to sex up her Halloween costume.

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And while her sisters are, of course, very supportive of her, Mel reiterating that the mere concept of virginity is patriarchal in nature, it’s understandable that she’s embarrassed by the revelation because of how pervasive stigma is surrounding young women and sex. The virginal blood detail seems derivative on the surface, but Charmed uses it to unfurl a genuine character moment, and those layers hint at the show’s real powers: using the over-the-top, often trope-laced supernatural stuff as metaphors, vehicles, and commentaries for more real-world, grounded stories.

Maggie learns the hard lesson that magic used for personal gain results in personal consequences. Her all-consuming desire to have her sorority sister’s approval gets her into a lot of trouble when the little spells she uses to glam up herself and her house party result in sudden headaches that literally almost get Macy killed. Maggie’s insecurity and desperation to be liked are the very human issues that she attempts to grapple with by way of magic, but magic can’t provide everything she seeks.

The sisters have to learn to deal with their human issues without magic and, in fact, also have to realize that magic makes their human issues all the more complicated. Macy finds herself withholding from Galvin thanks to both her deep-rooted insecurities about sex and romance and also because her magical duties pull her away. The way Charmed blends the sisters’ human problems and demonic problems makes the show look more like a family drama sprinkled with supernatural elements instead of just letting the magic dictate the story. Its careful approach to character development and relationship dynamics remains its greatest strength.

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Stray observations

  • The best part about Nico and Mel being an established, serious relationship is that they also are clearly so into each other still. I love to see a committed lesbian relationship on television where the spark is still very much alive.
  • To be fair, I would also probably use witchcraft to make margaritas.
  • Both Macy and Maggie making comments about how wild it is that they didn’t know their mother was a witch because of all the witchy stuff in the house is great.
  • Mel announcing that she’s not going to tell Niko for now is a really fun indication that she will tell her somewhere down the line. I really love supernatural “coming out” narratives.

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