When the Charmed reboot was first announced, there was some probably rightful fan hesitation – after all the original is a beloved classic among pop culture geeks and witchy aficionados everywhere. Right out of the gate, new Charmed proved to be likable. Hell, it was even fun! It had three women of color leads (they originally conceived of as three Latinas, but that changed with casting and has been handled with surprising care and nuance within the show’s narrative). Its take on pop feminism might be a little “on the nose” for some, but dammit I find it delightful for three young witches to call patriarchy out by its demon name week after week, and then eviscerate it just in time for some hot chocolate and sisterly bonding before bed. Plus, the lesbians!
Oh my goodness y’all, THE LESBIANS! Mel Vera, the middle Charmed sister, is an army boot-wearing activist who spends her time warning sorority girls about the dangers of rape culture and posting Time’s Up flyers on her campus, where she is, of course, a gender studies grad student. As I said: lesbians. In anyone else’s hands she’d become a cliché, but Melonie Diaz has found her humanity in between all the slapstick fighting and witch spells. Mel starts the series dating Niko Hamada (that’s two lesbians), then she starts dating Jada Shields (that’s three!!), and then for reasons we’ll get into later – Niko ends up engaged to Greta (THAT’S FOUR!!). On any given episode of Charmed you can find four queer women living their best — ummm I mean, most complicated — lives.
It’s the love triangle between Mel, Niko, and Jada that has become Charmed’s heartbeat. I don’t have to tell you how one-of-a-kind it is that a lesbian love triangle is actually the biggest romantic storyline on a network television show! Even in 2019, so often being a queer woman viewer looking for representation is an act of patience and endurance. If you wait for ten episodes or five seasons and cross your fingers real hard, maybe you’ll get one scene. I’ve learned how to savor those scenes, how to turn them into dinners that will sustain me. And if you’re a queer woman of color looking for representation? Forget about it!
Well, Charmed is out here serving filet mignon every freakin’ week! And they’re doing it with a whole lot of fun and very little pretentiousness to be found. It’s steak with a strawberry milkshake. Who wouldn’t want that? I love Mel, Niko and Jada. I love that for the first time on network television, there are three queer women of color characters who are this fully developed and interacting with each other and on screen at the same time without having to starve myself between showings. I love that we are watching a queer love triangle that’s sexy without being all about sex; that’s emotional and intricate without being rooted in petty jealousy.
I’m the kind of person who, when I have good things, I WANT US ALL TO HAVE GOOD THINGS! So with just two episodes left this season, I made you a Charmed Cheat Sheet filled to the brim with all the important details! Let’s open up our Book Of Shadows and begin!
I’m going to assume that via cultural osmosis, you already know a little bit about Charmed, either the new version or the original, but just in case: Three sisters (Macy Vaughn, Mel Vera, and Maggie Vera) have their bond tested after the loss of a loved one. At the same time, the three find out that they are witches – but not just any witches. Oh no, they are THE CHARMED ONES. Their venerable (and iconic!) Power of Three is one of the strongest powers in all of witch-kind. They are destined to fight The Source (the Big Bad of black magic) and stop the dawning of the Apocalypse. They are protected by their mentor, known as a Whitelighter, and are governed by a group of witches known as The Elders.
The Charmed Ones. You have Macy Vaughn, who is the eldest Charmed One and wasn’t raised with her sisters. Macy’s a super nerd science type. If you have a soft spot for girls in lab coats with a warm heart who just want to protect those around them, then Macy is for you. Her powers include moving shit around and throwing that shit across the room.
Then there’s Maggie Vera, the youngest sister. Maggie starts the show as a sorority girl who wants nothing more than to be “normal.” To be honest, that’s never been someone I could relate to, so it took me a while to warm up to the baby Vera. What’s interesting is that Maggie’s magical powers make her an empath. She feels thing so deeply and sometimes that plays towards a lot of adolescent tempertantrums, but when she slows down even just a little bit, her spirit is kind and deep.
NOW HERE IS OUR LESBIAN MEL VERA! Who I already told you plenty about! But here is even more! Mel’s power is that she can stop time with her mind! Full of righteous feminist rage, she’s also the bossiest of the Vera sisters and always thinks she’s right, even though her romantic life is in constant shambles. You know how Autostraddle sells “Dyke Drama” t-shirts in our march store? Yeah, my girl Mel Vera needs at least seven of them, one for every day of the week.
Niko Hamada. Niko Hamada starts the series dating Mel. They’ve been together for years. She’s also a police detective and has sweetest smile you see (seriously, am I the only one who has to suppress the urge to gather Niko up in my arms and give her a bear hug whenever I see her?). The thing about Niko is that she is very effing good at her job of solving crimes. So good, in fact, that in order to protect her from demons, only a few episodes into the season Mel is forced to wipe her memory! Which is absolutely as horrific and heartbreaking as it sounds. Mel was told by The Elders it was the only way to protect her love from the evils that lurk, but I don’t suuuuper trust The Elders (more on that later), so we will see what happens.
￼Having your memory wiped is traumatic and awful, even if you obviously cannot remember it, but Niko seems to be doing OK. In this brave new world, she’s now engaged to Greta (a very cute soft butch dreamboat) and working as a Private Investor instead of police detective. It’s in her role as PI that fate brings her back into Mel’s life.
Jada Shields. Y’all, what can I say about Jada “Sex on a Stick” Shields. NOTHING. All I can say is give me more and please give it to me all the time. Jada is the ultimate bad girl with a heart of gold. She’s the head of this revolutionary witch sisterhood called The S’Arcana (more on them in a bit). At first Mel doesn’t trust her, and for good reason. Jada’s original M.O. for getting whatever she wants is “flirt with Mel until she’s a puddle in my hand.” That makes for hot television, but not confident girlfriend material, you know?
But there is so much more to Jada than she first appears. With time, and more than a few hiccups along the way, Mel and Jada come to trust one another. Vulnerable Jada is absolutely heartbreaking. She ran away from home after realizing she was a witch, and doesn’t know how or if she could ever go back. Instead, with sweat and tears, she built her own chosen family with the women of The S’Arcana. All she wants is for Mel to join her, so that they can love and protect each other. The problem there is that Mel already has love and protection from her sisters, and when those things come in conflict, it’s not often Jada that she chooses – no matter how much Jada wishes that it was.
The Love Triangle. After being forced to wipe Niko’s memory, Mel is absolutely heartbroken. It takes a long time for her to open herself to even the idea of Jada. But just when she finally lets her guard down, on the night of their first kiss no less, that’s the exact moment that Niko Hamada walks back into her life.
Except of course, Niko has quite literally no idea who Mel Vera is anymore. Mel has to hold on to the weighty secret of their past love against this burning bright new chance that she has with Jada. It’s heart wrenching, but also intriguing? How rare is it to see a love story that takes seriously the hearts of three queer women, three women of color who are their own people with their own invested stakes right in the middle of this topsy turvy magical world.
Here’s what I’ve written before about Charmed’s central love story. I can’t say it any better so I am saying it again:
Much to the show’s credit, over its first season Charmed has made strong arguments for both Niko AND Jada as they circled around Mel Vera’s heart. If you’re a believer in first loves, and the purity of romance, in sweeping epic tales of OTPs that find each other no matter what the universe throws at them – the Niko Hamada is your girl. If your interest lies in the throes of raw passion, in bad girls with sensitive souls, in the hard fought trust and vulnerability that comes with the messy pain of letting someone in to know the real you – then you’ve probably found yourself swooning for Jada a time or two.
Quite frankly, we’ve never had three queer women of color characters who are this fully developed at the same time on a network television show. So in that aspect, no matter who Mel ultimately chooses, we are all winners.
The War is Coming. Charmed has a lot of moving magical parts and it’s pretty easy to get lost in the woods. The main thing to know about the first season is that it can be explained by two overlapping arcs:
The Elders vs. The S’Arcana – We went through this already, but in Charmed The Elders are a council of very old witches and warlocks that legislate all the other witches. I tend to think of them as some kind of magical British Parliament (even though they aren’t all British). If you love Harry Potter, you can also think of them as the Ministry of Magic. You’re supposed to believe The Elders are a force for good. HOWEVER, The Elders’ whole thing is about control. They don’t want The Charmed Ones thinking for themselves or owning their own power. In fact, if any of the sisters (or any witch, really) steps out of line,The Elders immediately move to punishment. Those punishments are never pretty.
On the other hand, you have The Sisters of the Arcana (or S’Arcana for short). Now these are a group of dope ass rebel witches who reject the rules of The Elders and use unsanctioned magic when necessary to protect those most vulnerable. Long ago, the S’Arcana were founded by an Elder who went against the strict laws of witchcraft and took matters into her own hands. The S’Arcana mounted an insurrection against The Elders decades ago and were believed to have been defeated. But nope! They just went underground to start wearing lots of heavy eyeliner, get gay haircuts and dress like outcasts from The Craft. The sisterhood is currently led by Jada and they have been plotting for their return to magical greatness. A key part of that return? Well, that brings us to what comes next.
Fiona vs. Charity – Before there were The Charmed Ones there was Fiona and Charity: two powerful witch sisters who The Elders once thought would rule, until Fiona picked a different path.
You see, Fiona got in good with S’Arcana, betraying her sisters and The Elders and everything that they hold dear. So, The Elders had her killed – or so we thought. After their murder attempt, The Elders realized that Fiona was immortal so instead they banished her and just told Charity that her sister had died (Y’all, The Elders are fucked up). So, Charity spent all this time thinking her sister was dead. Fiona retreated back to the S’Arcana to start going by “The Keeper” instead of her given name, and began regaining all her strength in preparation for her major bad bitch comeback.
Meanwhile, Charity grew up to become one of The Elders. We all thought she was “the good sister,” but she actually turns out to be a villain in her own right! She did some, ahem, super duper bad things that I won’t spoil because it’s tied to the central plot of the show.
What we have here are two sisters who are both evil in their own ways, one who you never see coming and one who you never quite trust.
Curated Episode Guides
Ok! You have all the bullet points, are you ready for the deeeeep dive? WONDERFUL! I’ve crafted a few “Build Your Own Adventures” just for you!
No matter what, start here. Need more convincing? Here’s what I said about Charmed’s very first opening lines back in October and damn it, I still believe it:
“This is not a witch hunt. It is a RECKONING.”
Last night’s Charmed let us know right away that it’s aware of the moment we’re in. Not that there’s anything new about politicizing witches. They’ve been been a convenient scapegoat for how society talks about women in this country since at least 17th century Salem. The original witch hunts, of course, involved women, who braved their lives outside puritanical social norms, being burned at the literal stake by men; now the phrase “witch hunt” is used by men (and the women supporting them) who cry that it’s unfair to demand justice for sexual abuse, assault, harassment. If you listen to them, the treatment of Harvey Weinstein was a witch hunt. The Kavanaugh testimonies were a witch hunt.
Women standing up for their own are “witches.” They’re “nasty women” who should be “locked up.”
It’s never been a hunt at all. It was always a reckoning.
Now we can really begin.
Give Me Those Sweet, Sweet Sisterhood Vibes
102 “Let This Mother Out”
109 “Jingle Hell”
111 “Witch Perfect”
112 “You’re Dead to Me”
115 “Switches & Stones”
118 “The Replacement”
Witches Kicking the Patriarchy’s Ass
111 “Witch Perfect”
113 “Magic Pixie Nightmare”
115 “Switches & Stones”
OK Carmen, This is Autostraddle So You Know That I’m Here for this Lesbian Love Triangle You Promised. GIVE IT TO ME!!!
102 “Let This Mother Out”
103 “Sweet Tooth”
105 “Other Women”
108 “Bug a Boo”
110 “Keep Calm and Harry On”
111 “Witch Perfect”
112 “You’re Dead to Me”
113 “Magic Pixie Nightmare”
114 “Touched by a Demon”
115 “Switches & Stones”
118 “The Replacement”
Charmed dropped some major bombs in this past episode (118 “The Replacement”) that are going to change the way forward for Mel, Jada, and Niko forever. And just in time for the Witch’s War that promises to be an adrenaline pumping last two episodes for the season. If you’ve been waiting to catch up – the time is NOW.
WOW Carmen! What a gift!!!
This show is one of my favorite shows right now! I love this reboot, it feels a lot like the old Charmed but also it stands on it’s own; it’s a perfect blend. And the lesbian love triangle is great, I am excited to see how Mel and Niko move forward.
that curated love triangle episode guide is exactly the kind of hard-hitting gay journalism that makes autostraddle my favorite news source. thanks, carmen!!
I love this show so much ! Thank you Dr Phillips for this terrific recap. I’m living in anticipation for the finale.
…this show has been renewed, right ?
Yes! Charmed was renewed for a second season back in January.
VICTORY DANCE !
AHHHHHH I LOVE THIS SHOW SO MUCH!!! My only complaint is that I want SO MUCH MORE JADA. She’s such an interesting character and with everything else going on in the show I never get enough of her or her relationship with Mel.
I was super surprised when this became one of my favorite shows last year, and it just kept getting better and better with each episode. I love Mel so much, she’s definitely my fave. And the fact that she usually looks smoking hot om every outfit she wears doesn’t help my crush. More people should definitely watch this.
Thank you for this incredible piece, Carmen! Also:
“The S’Arcana mounted an insurrection against The Elders decades ago and were believed to have been defeated. But nope! They just went underground to start wearing lots of heavy eyeliner, get gay haircuts and dress like outcasts from The Craft.”
Hilarious and perfect writing.
Amazing dissection of this show! The way CW presents tbis shiw is such a gift. I was a huge fan of the original Charmed and I think the reboot does it justice, while forging it’s own gayway. I keep reading negative reviews online about it and can’t help, but wonder am I missing something or do people have really bad taste? The latter sounds about right. This show is fly and I’m here for it. I hope they stick around.
Thank you Carmen! I have a show to binge watch as I rest hurt lower back from yet another move 🙌🏻
This is great. I’m really into this show and enjoyed this piece. The episode guides will be great for a rewatch binge!
I’ve been trying to convince everyone I know who appreciates patriarchy-smashing to watch Charmed, but have been somewhat unsuccessful thus far. I don’t understand! What more could one want in a show! Here’s hoping my IRL friends get around to it.
I have been having this problem, too, and I don’t understand either! What more could one want, indeed.
Thanks for this article, Dr. Carmen! It inspired my gf and I to get back into the show. I really hated the memory-wipe choice (bad Willow/Tara flashbacks), and that soured me on the show, but it’s good to see them questioning the necessity of that later in the season.
I love this show sooooo much. The love triangle is great, but so are story arcs dealing with cultural identity and belonging, what constitutes a family, and perhaps best of all the take down the patriarchy vibe that permeates every episode. It is a balm for this beleaguered soul.
big yes to this. hit me with that nuanced biracial representation
i just love this show so so so much. it’s hard for me to encapsulate how refreshing and fun it is seeing three lesbian women of color on the same show with different motivations and storylines, not just see the love interests solely as love interests.
they also manage to use magical storylines the way buffy often would, helping the sisters work through their personal and emotional conflicts, or turning tropes on their head. anyway, i just really love charmed, lol.
Come for the lesbian love triangle, stay for every single one of Maggie’s outfits.
So true !
I’m really enjoying the show and the love triangle but am especially grateful to the show and the episode Jingle Hell for introducing me to coquito!