It’s been 10 years since the Halliwells hung up their brooms, so I’m heading back to San Francisco to see if Charmed‘s special brand of supernatural entertainment still casts a spell…
Episode: 1.16 ‘Which Prue Is It, Anyway?’
Writer: Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Director: John Behring
It’s a question we all grapple with at some point in our lives: would the world be a better place if there were three Shannen Dohertys? On the evidence of this first season episode, in which Prue triples her power by magicking up a couple of colour-coded clones, probably.
‘Which Prue Is It, Anyway?’ is a standout hour for Doherty, who does much of the heavy lifting when a visit from a power-mad warlord prompts Prue to cast a spell that produces two doppelgängers. Essentially dividing her personality into three, we get Perky Prue (in pink, naturally), who’s a special kind of coked-up chipper, and Punk-Rock Prue, smouldering in black eyeliner and a constant come-on grin.
This really is, as Piper comments, “like The Parent Trap with a B-cup,” and the most fun is in the interplay between the three Prues, who compliment each others’ outfits (well you would, wouldn’t you?) and agree unanimously on everything. That latter development is particularly cute when Prue’s able to outvote her sisters with a ‘majority rules’ three-for-one.
With Prue dominating the story, Piper is sidelined taking inventory at Quake (who says Charmed never deals with real-life issues?). Phoebe fares a little better, having decided she’s “tired of being the one in the family with the passive power” and taken up kickboxing. It’s notable for a character who goes on to do much of the series’ fist fighting – and Phoebe even drop-kicks the week’s baddie in the final confrontation.
That baddie is a dull Jean-Claude Van Damme lookalike (check out that mullet) who wields a tacky fibreglass sword and comes complete with a useless sister who contributes nothing to the story. The episode’s biggest shortfall is the warlord’s dry, talky scenes, which would would have been better spent exploring Prue’s predicament.
Because, sadly, the clones ultimately give us little insight into the eldest Halliwell, and they prove ineffectual in the sisters’ fight against the Lord of War. They’re blade-fodder in an episode that takes macabre glee from repeatedly murdering one of its leads (small wonder Doherty became paranoid she wasn’t welcome on the show).
There’s also some truly terrible ‘grief’ acting from Ted King when Andy discovers Perky Prue laid out in the morgue. His attempt to deliver the news to Phoebe gives Alyssa Milano a chance to flex her comedy muscles, which only highlights how out of his depth King is. It’s hardly a surprise he was killed off six episodes later.
Season one of Charmed was definitely a see-what-sticks kind of year; the show ping-ponged between X-Files-type investigations and Buffy-esque monsters as it searched for its own identity. ‘Which Prue Is It, Anyway?’ is a confident step in the right direction, trusting its sisterly interplay and giving Doherty a platform to showcase her range – Perky Prue is a delight. The show often struggled to produce engaging villains, though, and this episode’s is a grade-A offender.
On the plus side, we end on a genuine cliffhanger as Andy puts together a creepy file on Prue. Seems he’s been keeping tabs on her for a while, and now he’s properly suspicious that she has some kind of witchy secrets. It sets up one of Charmed‘s first ever arcs (one that comes to a head in the season finale), and is perhaps the only really notable thing about an episode that never fully delivers on its fun premise.