Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Charmed: The Jung and the Restless (8.19)

Kaley Cuoco is probably the biggest problem with season eight. Because, shockingly, I actually like the concept of Billie and Christy as explained here. Lady-Elder tells Piper that the existence of the Jenkins sisters was set in motion long before the Charmed Ones came into their powers, as a means to destroy the essence of good in the world -- the Triad being keenly aware that it's not just ultimate power than would tip the scale, but sisterhood. It's an interesting approach that entirely resuscitates the Jenkins women as characters, grants them added purpose and calls back to what this show was at one point actually about: the Halliwells being, deeper than any of their powers, strong women with a sisterly connection.

But Kaley Cuoco got hired to play one half of these doppelganger sisters, and her manic, shrieky delivery entirely bulldozed any chance she had of becoming even slightly absorbing. Of course, the writing for her character at the start of the season was consistently hacky, the writers seemingly unaware of how she was supposed to work long-term. Sometimes she was this reckless pun-machine, other times she was positioned as adorable and ingratiating. Then she suddenly became whiny and rude, the sisters treating her like an annoying houseguest. She was messy at the best of times, but a stronger, more confident actor could have probably played the role more consistently, in spite of the horrible material she was handed every week.

Take guest star Sara Downing, an actress who here makes her stale 'doomed charge' character far more engaging than she has any right to be. She projects a certain something, an energy that doesn't quite jar with Charmed's tone, and makes Mikelle smart and naturally inquisitive -- a sensibility that Billie as a character was crying out for. Cuoco, however, always struggled to craft a different schtick to the one she perfected in sitcoms before and after Charmed, and it dragged the character down. Don't get me wrong, she's an actress who has since carved out an incredibly successful career and absolutely owns that, but was so miscast here. Which sucks, because as a concept, Billie could have been a strong presence to help close the series.

The Jung and the Restless is, without a doubt, the strongest episode of season eight. At its heart is the interesting running theme of self-analysis, all the sisters left wounded by Christy's belief that they've lost track of their responsibilities and have instead become driven by their own selfish desires. It's something I can't entirely disagree with, since I've always believed the Halliwells became increasingly shrewish and flaky over their last couple of seasons. But while the introspection leads to the ultimate declaration of "Yeah, we're selfish -- so sue us!", it's annoying that the ladies believe that wanting personal success is all that Christy is talking about.

There's nothing at all wrong with wanting a child, or wanting to settle down, or wanting to save your soulmate from being Han Solo'd. What is wrong are the many, many times in recent memory when the sisters martyred themselves and disregarded their duties in favor of whining about said duties -- in the process completely ignoring all the wonderful positivity they have in their lives already. Like the successful careers they have, or the businesses they run, or the important work they embarked on before irrationally abandoning it. It's not selfishness that made the sisters unlikable, it's all the success that they took for granted.

I bring all this up because The Jung and the Restless at least addresses it. Sure, it isn't entirely winning as an episode, but it's an hour that dares to treat its protagonists as less-than, or maybe not as amazingly-wonderfully-flawlessly perfect as Charmed does on a consistent basis. For that, it deserves significant praise.

It also looks gorgeous, the dreamworld given a sinister visual quality with its moody imagery and blurry focus. The dialogue is appropriately vague and ambiguous, while I adore that genuinely creepy moment in which dream-Paige opens up her mouth and projects a strange, detached scream. Elsewhere, I loved seeing the sisters actively working together again, instead of being permanently scattered across the show like they have been all season.

This is the only truly decent episode in Charmed season eight. While there are obviously overriding problems that the story could never entirely navigate around, it has strong themes and a sense of ambition that has been completely absent from the year so far. B+

Guest stars
Marnette Patterson (Christy Jenkins); Sara Downing (Mikelle); Peter Wingfield (Salek); Elizabeth Dennehy (Sandra); Victor Webster (Coop)
Writer Cameron Litvack Director Derek Johansen


  1. I find it hilarious how you don't like Kaley's performance, but don't really comment much on the actress who played Christie. I agree with Kaley was miscast, but I think she gave a much better performance than her sister who always looked silly trying to overact at being evil.

  2. I actually mentioned last week how hammy Marnette Patterson is on this show. But she at least brings some consistency to her performances, scenery-chewy as they may be. Kaley Cuoco never seemed sure of herself, not that you can really blame her.

  3. You know where I stand on the whole Kaley thing. I don't think the fault is as concentrated on her as you think it is, but she was definitely the wrong actress for the part.

    I loved what you said about the idea of this episode addressing the girls being less than perfect. It gives Christy's weird accusations some weight.

    I loved Sara Downing here as well. Remember her in Roswell? She was loads of fun in that. Mikelle really shone as a character, too. There were a few random guest spots in Charmed that really worked, it's a shame nothing more ever came of them.

    Anyway, great review, especially all the parts about sisterhood and all that. I think I discuss it myself, but not half as well as you do here! I still didn't like this episode all that much, especially with Piper continuing to be a violence obsessed freak, her dedication to resurrecting Leo aside.

  4. ^I loved Downing in Roswell, too. Particularly the hostility between her character and Maria, and a certain reveal that I won't spoil here.

    Actually can't remember much about this episode, but your review made me want to watch it, max. The next to reviews should be interesting, even if episode twenty one is only good for five minutes and Forever Charmed is a mess. Eh...

  5. Echoing the Downing love on Roswell. Granted, I can't remember why I liked her so much, but I remember enjoying her general presence on the show. She was the new waitress, right? Courtney? I'm blanking.

    I actually thought of you, Panda, with the Kaley stuff here. I actually kept editing it recently to make it seem a little less of a bashing party. That and I'm trying to be a little less negative and dramatic in general, as I've said before.

    And agreed about the "good for five minutes" thing, tvfan. It's actually something I write about. Great ending, horrible episode otherwise. And Forever Charmed? Hmmm. You'll have to wait and see. Heh.

    Thanks, guys.

  6. I liked this episode too. The moment where Paige went up to Billie was a great moment for both of them. I feel that was the moment where Paige finally realized how important her being a whitelighter is, and how she'd neglected it too much. And I love that you could see Billie was affected because of it.

    I think the real conflict at this point, is that yes, the Halliwell sisters have fallen from grace a bit and have grown complacent in the 8 years they've been doing this. The Jenkins sisters on the other end of things, are pretty fresh into this world, and their lives haven't been changed or impaired that much.

    Now that they've lost their parents, Billie knows how painful this life could be. It's not simple fun "just do back flips, hunt demons, use our powers to enhance our endurance and strength". They have pain, they don't know how to deal with it. And Billie's seeing her role models as human.

    Imperfect. Flawed Humans. And at this point she is struggling with having lost so much. These strong, capable women not being what she felt they were supposed to be, she hadn't seen their first 7 years. And with her sister, who had been warped to such a degree by the Triad, that she seemed to be incapable of redemption, but Billie was looking past it. She lost her parents. Her 'role models'. Her innocence. She couldn't lose the only family she had left.

    I guess that's why I'm rather empathic to the character.

  7. See, I love all of that (about Billie), and think it would have been such a cool story in a lot of ways, but I just didn't get that from what was depicted on-screen. I still don't totally understand Billie's motivations, and I sure don't think Kaley really conveyed any of that either.

    But, yeah, interesting character on paper, but I just didn't enjoy her on-screen at all.