Thursday, March 10, 2011

Charmed: Morality Bites (2.2)

The idea of "personal gain" is always brought up in regards to witches. I remember Sabrina Spellman was always being lectured on the results of personal gain, and the Charmed Ones equally experienced first-hand how selfish acts of witchcraft can result in unpredictable side effects. Morality Bites, one of the series' finest hours, is all about the growth of a selfish act, and how one small moment of magic being used as a weapon can result in murder, public outcry and state execution.

It's heavily implied that the Charmed Ones' actions in the teaser sequence not only impacted Phoebe's future, but also the lives of Piper and Prue. Both end up in an unhappy state. Piper is a divorced single mom, driving the same car ten years later, and at odds with her ex-husband. Prue is a lone wolf, somebody who has cut her family out of her life and exhibits power-mad tendencies while being entirely unsympathetic to 'the little people' who make up her auctioneers enterprise. Plus she has awful dress sense and that heinous blonde wig. She should have burned at the stake just for that.

The episode is also fun from a historical standpoint. I mean, it's now 2011, and the future depicted here is over a year old now. It's amusing to see that we all thought things like this were possible back in 1999: televised executions, vocally interactive TV sets. Then again, maybe it's not too far from where we're headed...

Morality Bites is the rare Charmed episode that is played mostly straight. It features intelligent ideas at its core and some of the series' best acting (especially Alyssa Milano in her pre-execution scene). The show frequently coasted on its trademark of being perky and lightweight, but when they really tried, episodes like this came about. A+

Guest stars Brian Krause (Leo Wyatt); Pat Skipper (Nathaniel Pratt)
Writers Chris Levinson, Zack Estrin Director John Behring


  1. This was at the heart of where Charmed succeeded as a show. This is what truly sold me on the series, I remember on first viewing it had me thinking long after the credits rolled (granted I was 13 at the time) and had genuine moral questions at its core. The acting was excellent and the sisterly interaction heartfelt. It was also one of the first times the sisters were willing to let one of their own die for the greater good - Apocalypse Not being another example.

    I also really bought into Piper and Leo as a couple here after rooting for them in Love Hurts in the previous season. I know Leo might not be that popular in some circles but it was in this episode that they showed us that there was life in that relationship, that they could marry, divorce and have bitterness and anger afterward was evidence that it could be something more than most of season one suggested.

  2. Incredible episode, agreed. And my lack of interest in Piper and Leo came about later (around season five, I think), but I really liked their whole 'epic love' thing at the start of season two, particularly in P3 H20.

  3. It really is probably Charmed's finest hour, or at least one of them. What this means to them as sisters, witches and just people really resonates. There is a sense of family and responsiblity that comes through here that was part of what made Charmed great. Granted it slipped and faltered a bit in the latter seasons but here it is front and centre and the real heart that made the show incredibly lovable.

    Once again I have to say I am loving your reviews of all the shows I watch/ed. When I have finished watching or re-watching a series I think I will throw my two cents in. (Currently around mid-Season 4 on Angel and not enjoying the entire destruction of Cordelia Chase very much, I am probably disliking it more than the first time round and reading your reviews after watching a few episodes. I am nearing the end of a first watch of Dirty Sexy Money, not seeing the love a lot of people have for it. And will move onto Buffy again when i get the DVDs.)

    Glad to hear you were not against Leo and Piper completely. I loved the Piper and Leo relationship throughout, other than in season 6. I found the destruction of Cole as pointless as the abovementioned Cordelia Chase tragedy and many of the short arc men in Phoebe, Paige and Prue's lives quite pointless and annoying (Dex - I had to IMDB the name, I had blocked it out - truly terrible), so for me Piper and Leo were solid and special during the run of the show, especially in contrast to the throwaways.

  4. I found Piper and Leo a little "blah", primarily because Leo was a "safe" guy lacking in a ton of drama, but I never had a real issue with the two of them as a couple. What bothered me was the faux-drama that the show handed the two of them down the line, where they were randomly sniping at each other every couple of episodes.

    Also neat to hear about the other shows you're watching, but I sort of disagree about the Cordelia thing. I don't know where you're at in the season so I won't say anything more, but I thought the whole "they destroyed Cordy" mentality gets a little muddled after a while, considering where the story ends up.

    Anyway, thanks for all the comments, Smibby.

  5. I never found them "blah" but it was their "safe" aspect down the line that I really respected the show for. Genre shows love the "epic" romance with lots of passion, star-crossed lovers, sometimes spilling it over into angst, but they made the general through line of Piper and Leo a more real-world relationship. They had closeness that came across as more like real life not some lustful magnetic attraction. But the whole mess they threw their way when Leo became an elder was a bit much.

    When I wrote my comment about Cordy I was mid-season 4 but I remembered more or less what happened and I had read a few spoilers online that refreshed my memory on the outcome of the season. Writing now I have finished season 4 and though I love Angel and appreciate what they tried to do in Season 4 story-arc-wise, I feel the writing let them down badly and often. I am actually harsher on it now on the re-watch than on first viewing (Cordy's dialogue pre-reveal, post-reveal, consistently not good and Connor picked up the idot ball a lot, as did Angelus, etc. etc.). I felt the writing for most of the villains was poor, I felt that Skip and to some extent Jasmine were the only ones who were really sinister and "big-bad"-ish.

    I have no problem with turning any of the main protagonists evil in a show and when doen well it's great, but when done in a mediocre manner I feel like the writers throw away a good character (case in point Cole circa Season 5). I feel that if a main protagonist is going to become evil then the writers better make the whole thing awesome, turn them back to good, kill them in the end, make them suffer, whatever, but respect a long-running character enough to give them good material if they are going to take the plunge. Though Charisma may be no no Oscar winner I think she did her best with dialogue that was really very poor at times. The overall season was nice though certain episodes really didn't work for me, but ultimately I feel it was bad dialogue more than anything that showed up the show and a dangerous lack of logic displayed by what otherwise are smart characters in some key points.

    I have more to say on this but I will leave it to specific episodes.

  6. I actually agree with the Piper and Leo stuff in principal, but I still thought they relied on too much contrivance by giving them random arguments every week. Medium is actually a great show to do the thing you appreciate on TV, featuring a couple who are happy and normal and not constantly fighting or facing marital drama. It sort of made that whole show.

    That's an interesting angle to view the Cordelia story, too. I guess whenever people complained that the show destroyed her character I imagined they were talking about season four and her whole transformation, but I agree that it was more of a gradual thing. Like the writers had grown tired of her. I think she started going downhill in season three, got removed from most of season four, and only truly recovered in season five. But, yeah, she became confused as a character, and I guess it's arguable that the writers were doing a disservice to Charisma at the time.

    Interesting discussion, Smibby. Thanks for writing.

  7. I probably agree with you on the latter seasons of Charmed. Though Piper and Leo Seasons 5 through 8 are not fresh in my mind, so we will have to see when I re-watch. I agree completely about Medium, I loved that show mainly for the family, Patricia Arquette and Miguel Sandoval (okay David Cubitt too). Allison and Joe were which helped the show a lot.

    I will say I didn't like Cordy being turned evil when I first watched it (teenage me didn't want my favourite character evil), but on the re-watch I was frustrated over and over again by sloppy wriiting for her. Actually I totally agree the rot in writing for Charisma started in season 3, the last few episodes of that season it was very apparent (I'd say the beginning of the slide was everything post Waiting in the Wings). It was actually jarring every time Cordy interrupted from glowy-ville with some inane line or two in the beginning of season 4. I think the same could be said for Connor though there was more reason for his character to be capricious and it paled in comparison to Cordy. I think she was done a disservice and like I said it was frustrating for me to see my favourite character given less than great material.

    And thanks for the feedback... I think I might go post on Season4 now. :-)

  8. I have been searching to see if anyone else has the same problem with this episode as I do, well app. not.
    The fresh charmed ones are in 10 yr older bodies and young Phoebe might have to die in it and Prue and Piper might not get back. All they talk about, even Leo,even Phoebe herself, is that Phoebes death cannot be avoided. None of them even considers that by letting Phoebe die they are going to lose 10 yrs of history leading up to the witch trial. Without her growing up she will never commit the murder! As to the other sisters, if they are not going back there will be no future for them either like the one portrayed, so why worry about the sad lifes (workaholic vs single poor mum).

    This episode can be considered as a shared moral nightmare, teaching them the lesson in the now, but still the girls should have been too clever to not consider the paradox of letting young Phoebe die in the older body.
    I understand why many ppl love the story and the acting, but this thing kept nagging at me and so did not let me go with it. Didn't work for me.
    Amiche - Ireland