It’s been over 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: 7.13 ‘Charmageddon’
Writer: Henry Alonso Myers
Director: John T. Kretchmer
When it came to creating alt-worlds, Charmed often slayed the competition. Whether depicting a weirdly plausible near-future (in ‘Morality Bites’), the manor as asylum (in ‘Brain Drain’) or a post-Prue apocalypse (in ‘Centennial Charmed’), the show often excelled at turning its iconography on its head. And while the alt-world in this episode doesn’t quite pack the same punch as those other episodes, it still takes an interesting look at the impossibility of utopia.
Season seven’s Big Bads were the Avatars, an impressively ethnically diverse group of black-clad pacifists who first seduced Leo (by, uh, appearing as a scary floating head) before enlisting the Halliwells to help them bring about their vision of a ‘perfect’ world. In ‘Charmageddon’, that utopia has been rolled out globally, resulting in thinner newspapers (crime’s down), generally happier people (cue lots of awful bit-players) and, most importantly, a genuine shot at a demon-free existence for the Halliwells.
Of course, it’s not that easy. Phoebe’s boss (Elise, always welcome) may claim “it’s like everybody’s been taking happy pills”, but this supposed utopia hides a dark side – the cost of a ‘perfect’ world, it seems, is extreme fascism. With the Avatars stating they “simply cannot abide” conflict, anybody who rocks the boat is immediately scrubbed out of existence. Which, clearly, is sort of a problem.
‘Charmageddon’ came just 13 episodes after the hyper-happy world of season six’s (ultimately disappointing) finale, but it has starker questions in mind. Charmed was always best when it blurred the line between good and evil and, in this episode, it becomes increasingly clear that the Avatars are basically soft-spoken extremists – damn-near supernatural terrorists. Their message is essentially: “We want peace and we’ll kill to get it.”
On the flipside, demon Zankou (the excellent Oded Fehr) sees through the whole thing and quickly pairs up with Leo to try to fix things. We all know this utopia can’t last but it’s interesting seeing why it can’t. In particular, the peculiarly trauma-free issue of death (if you lose a loved one, you immediately accept “they’re in a better place”), which culminates in one of Phoebe’s best scenes of the season as she suffers an uber-premonition reminding her of every loss the Halliwells have experienced since becoming witches (yes, that includes a shot of Prue’s grave).
This is notable as the only time Charmed ever delivered a mid-season two-parter (it follows the brilliantly-titled ‘Extreme Makeover: World Edition’), and the concept certainly justifies it. Though its depiction of utopia is ultimately a little thin, ‘Charmageddon’ features a handful of great moments – Piper’s tearful breakdown at losing Leo, Zankou’s Egyptian tomb foraging (a clear nod to Fehr’s role in the Mummy movies), that uber-premonition. There’s even a poignant send-off for Kyle Brody (Kerr Smith).
The Avatars ultimately retreat, setting the world back to rights (and wrongs). If their withdrawal feels anti-climactic, it’s leavened by the fact that Zankou’s still around. There’s a wonderful cinematic shot in which he vanishes when a bus passes him on the street, and his prickly presence throughout the rest of the season offers a controversial explanation for why a ‘perfect’ world would never work – when the baddies are this good, who needs utopia?