All Hell Breaks Loose is the finest episode this show ever did. It's an effectively chilling hour chronicling a real end-of-the-world scenario, at least in regards to the sisters. It perfectly captures what could likely happen if the sisters were exposed, and how the media would react if the secret got out. We at first witness the unfolding of the 'hero' narrative, the media casting the Halliwells as protectors of the innocent as they save the world every week. But inevitably, in their quest for ratings, the media turns on the sisters, treating them like villains and otherworldly menaces. As the hour unfolds, it becomes more clear that it's not just the media who target the women, but also the police and potentially the CIA. It's a sinister depiction of what could happen, and it's wonderfully played all round.
The script unfolds beautifully, from the humor of deciding whether to appear on Oprah or Barbara, to the horror of Alice Hicks and her big gun. Equally effective is Phoebe's time in the underworld, especially the moment where she realizes something terrible must have happened 'up there' for the Source to think she'd agree to his plan. Finally, there's that cliffhanger, the horrible irony of Phoebe and Leo both disappearing, and Prue and Piper left pretty much defenseless.
Obviously, this is also the final Prue episode, Shannen smashing into the wall of doom, never to be seen again. It's a fitting end for the Shannen years, especially with her directing and all. Prue is kick-ass, emotional and heroic throughout this episode, putting the safety of her sisters before herself and attempting to save the day while under the microscope. Prue was such a strong character, and definitely played an important role in the group dynamic. In the end, Charmed became a show about two gaggling morons and their whiny older sister. Prue's presence always added some levity and seriousness, which I really appreciated.
Shannen gives one of her greatest performances here, along with Holly. Their scenes following Piper's shooting are heartbreaking, the two of them having so much chemistry together anyway, but being fueled this time by Piper's sudden knowledge that she is dying, and Prue's abject devastation. Shannen's direction is also gorgeous, especially in the visual flourishes of the slow-motion close-in of Prue's breakdown in front of the crowd at the house, and later the reverse-time bullet at the end. Shannen really held the show together, as evidenced by the numerous accounts in recent years where some of her co-stars claimed that she did a lot of overtime on the show, always there to try and make Charmed as great as possible. In the long run, the series did fall apart without her.
Phew. Sorry for sounding like an annoying fanboy there. Ugh. But All Hell Breaks Loose is pretty much a masterpiece, the perfect send-off for the show's strongest ever season. When the one negative thing here is Leo's weeping gorilla face, you know you've got something special. A+
Guest stars Matt Malloy (Dr. Griffiths); Mercedes Colon (Elana Dominguez)
Writer Brad Kern Director Shannen Doherty