Charmed, the WB’s attempt to bottle the lightning that was Buffy and sell it to grown-ups by dressing Alyssa Milano in outfits that were wildly inappropriate for work at a newspaper, has long been one of my guilty pleasures. In recent months, I’ve joked that it’s one of the few pieces of pop culture that I can watch at home and for pleasure because it’s so feather-light that there’s no risk that I’ll accidentally slip into analyzing it. No more. After Sunday’s True Blood finale, I realized something: we’ve reached a point where Charmed is actually a better show than True Blood. Here’s why:
Gaining power changes people’s lives.
One of the things that bothered me most about this season of True Blood was what happened to Lafayette and Tara when we and they learned they had magical abilities: pretty much nothing. Okay, sure, Lafayette got himself possessed multiple times and killed his boyfriend, and Tara was slightly less passive than usual and was rewarded for it with a shotgun to the head. But what did it mean for their, and our, understanding of themselves? Not a damn thing. There’s an interesting story to be told about the gay black man in a rural community who tells himself his whole life that he’s special and then finds out he actually *is*. There’s another story to be told about a woman who has been routinely disempowered and finds the strength to build a different life. Hell, there’s even a story to be told about someone like Marnie, who found safety from a world that judged her in a quirky magical enclave and decided she wanted to make everyone who ever mocked her burn. But True Blood didn’t tell any of those stories, throwing out Marnie’s motivations in single lines, condemning Tara and Lafayette to the usual messed-up relationships black people are doomed to on this show. Magic can serve plot by serving characterization. I’d rather see Lafayette grow as a character than some silly special effects that bring Gran and Rene back from the dead. And not only did Sookie’s shiny new powers appear out of nowhere, they appeared to have precisely no effect on her whatsoever.
Charmed always got this. When Piper got the power to blow things up, it unnerved her, and she had to learn to embrace it. Cole and Richard both struggled against their powers — and then reclaimed them to ill effects — to keep their relationships going. Paige struggled against her whitelighter abilities before accepting them, and the responsibilities that came with them. Having power changes your self-image, the way you interact with other people, your sense of obligation and where you fit in the universe. Charmed has always understood that, even if its three sisters were never as isolated as Buffy — the show wasn’t afraid to sit with the Charmed Ones as they figured things out.