Captain’s Blog: Stardate 110718.2
Full disclosure: This review is written by a caucasian, cis-male, gay/queer Jew. I continue to work on my awareness of my privilege and always welcome a new perspective. In other words, please call me on my shit if I mis-step, because I am always trying to listen, learn, and do better.
Sunday night, the fourth of episode of “Charmed” debuted on the CW. On the surface, the story was fairly innocuous and simple. However, the deeper you look at this episode, you realize that there is a cultural subversion lacing this series that speaks to some of the deeper issues of our day. In these forty minutes, they touched on concerns of white feminism excluding women of color, systemic racism, and cultural erasure, while tossing in fear of police violence against people of color, fear of coming forward with accusations of sexual violence, and gender imbalance in the workforce for good measure.
All of this was present in this forty minute episode, but none of it was so overt that it seemed preachy, forced, or distracting. In fact, if you weren’t looking for it, you might have missed it. But it was clear to me that there were deliberate choices at play every step of the way.
ONE MORE WARNING…SPOILERS TO FOLLOW.
First, the basic plot. Three nascent sister witches are faced with a decision. Either they kill a woman who has been possessed by a violent demon, or the creature will likely destroy the town. Their whitelighter (guide) brings in the “big guns” in the form of an elder witch. She insists killing the host is the only option, but the sisters believe they can save the soul of the human. The Vera sisters defy the elder and are able to exorcise the demon.
From a fantasy perspective this was a really fun episode! There was a solid conflict, really high stakes, glimpses into personal relationships, lots of layered storytelling, and even a surprise or two despite the familiar story. Now…for the subtle and brilliant social awareness of this episode.
Beginning with the visiting Elder, Charity Callahan (Virginia Williams). She is a powerful, blonde, caucasian, presumably cis-female who is in a position of power over three Latinx women. The irony that Charity’s “mortal” persona runs a business that supports women through Capitalism is tossed in to add an extra punch. In and of itself, this casting may not be indicative of social commentary, however there are two moments where this becomes extremely clear. The first is her willingness to sacrifice the demon host, a woman of color and victim of sexual violence, for the greater good. In it’s way, this speaks to an argument that many white women who claim the monicker of “feminist” often neglect or exclude the voices of women of color.
This is reinforced beautifully in a later scene between Charity and Mel (Melonie Diaz). Mel proclaims she will be trying to exorcise the demon without Charity’s help or approval. Charity responds by, literally, taking away Mel’s voice. This was already established as one of her powers, so it wasn’t uncomfortably out of the blue, but the message of this dynamic was very clear.
As for cultural erasure, this episode began to answer a question on a lot of people’s minds: If these women are Latinx, why is all their magic in traditional Latin? What about magic that is more in line with their cultural identities? We got a glimpse of that this episode and I cannot wait to learn more.
When looking for the proper exorcism spell, the Book of Shadows turned itself to a blank page. However, when the three sisters come together and join hands to form the Power of Three, the page reveals a spell written specifically for this moment in time by their late mother. Unlike the other spells, this one is in Spanish, and their whitelighter Harry (Rupert Evans) points out that it uses a “Santeria based spell, unsanctioned by the Elders.”
Courtesy of a two-second Google search:
Santeria has its origins in Cuba and Brazil and is widely practiced in both countries. The religion combines worship of catholic saints with the traditional Yoruba faith. ... Santeria is a powerful form of white magic that helped African slaves through difficult times.
So, in the mystical hierarchy of this iteration of Charmed, there is an “accepted” practice of magic, predominantly in Latin, which has rules that seem to exclude certain cultural and magical practices. This hints at systemic racism, cultural erasure, and implies a fear of the “other” within this ancient power system. Again, it was a two-line exchange, did not take time or focus away from the task at hand, but it laid some groundwork for some very interesting conflicts. It also suggests that the writing team is fully aware that they are writing for Latinx witches and they will be speaking to their cultural history in future episodes.
The other commentary was laced into the power dynamics between detectives Trip (cis-male caucasian) and Mel’s girlfriend Niko (cis-female, Asian lesbian). He behaves dismissively, ignores her input, and even has to be informed by Niko that Mel is uncomfortable around cops “like most people of color are.” The episode also opens with a flashback scene to before the series began when Angela Wu comes to Marisol (the mother of the Charmed Ones) asking for help with her sexual harassment at school.
Overall, this was probably the best episode of this new series yet. Does it have it’s flaws? Absolutely. So many first seasons have hiccups along the way. But there is a lot of potential here. The original is being honored in tone and in much of the lore, but this is definitely a new “Charmed.” And I really like it.