Charmed has been touted as an unapologetically feminist reboot of the original series. It jumped out of the gate with a series premiere about consent and sexual assault, letting audiences know exactly where it stood.
So, I was shocked and disappointed to discover that the latest episode refused to recognise that it was about the exact same issue. And it’s not the first time Charmed has failed to meet the bar it chose to set for itself.
It’s an unspoken rule in fantasy and sci-fi storytelling that you need to make at lease one episode about bugs. I didn’t make the rules. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Xena: The Warrior Princess, The X-Files, and countless other genre shows did. Charmed decided to get its bug episode out of the way early with “Bug a Boo,” all about a sentient race of demon insects that find human mates using a Tinder-like app.
It’s an interesting premise that follows the fantasy show model of examining our modern world through supernatural means, but it also did something pretty terrible—without acknowledging it.
Over the course of the episode, we see a series of male and female characters (including Macy) go out on dates they met through the app, not knowing they’ve been chosen by the demon bugs as human mates for their queen. At the end of each date, in order to knock the humans unconscious so they can be impregnated with eggs, the bugs forcibly penetrate their victims through their mouths and paralyse them. You see this happen, and it’s incredibly disgusting. It looks, feels, and reads like sexual assault.
This isn’t even the first time Charmed has made a misstep like this. Two weeks ago, there was “Kappa Spirit,” a monster of the week episode about a vengeful ghost who haunts a sorority. The episode centered around Maggie’s former sorority sister Lucy, who got depressed after learning Maggie had kissed her now ex-boyfriend Parker. The ghost convinced Lucy to get drunk on wine coolers, head to the roof, and jump to her death.
Let me remind you: Lucy wasn’t pushed. She may have been coerced by a spirit, but the decision to attempt suicide was hers. This suggests that Lucy is in a lot of pain and needs help, ideally from someone trained in helping people with suicidal thoughts. But the show completely ignores this. Lucy woke up the next day, having forgotten that she tried to commit suicide, and no one brought it up. And what’s more, not only are Maggie and Parker dating now, we haven’t seen Lucy since.
I feel genre television is in a unique place to approach controversial topics in a healthy, even therapeutic way. When done well, like with Netflix’s Jessica Jones, it can help the audience process complex feelings in a safe space.
Since the acts are usually supernaturally influenced, audiences can process them from a comfortable distance of implausibility, but they still connect with the real, emotional ways these tragedies affect people. But, when dealing with sensitive subjects on a genre show, you have to know what you’re doing and execute it respectfully. Charmed did neither in both instances.
Charmed failed to handle its own trauma because it didn’t recognise that it was actually happening. But guess what, it happened. Showing someone being forcibly penetrated through an orifice and impregnated by their romantic partner is symbolic, and what it symbolises is date rape. It’s not ok, and it’s not something to laugh off afterward like “Dodged that being-eaten-by-larvae bullet!” Plus, all of the other victims had their memories erased, effectively silencing their sexual trauma.
If Charmed acknowledged what was really going on with the victims on their show—whether it was Macy surviving a supernatural sexual assault, or Lucy’s very real suicide attempt—I would be more understanding. I might even be praising these decisions, instead of criticising them. But the show continues to fail by omission and is, therefore, failing to meet its own standards. If Charmed wants to be unapologetically feminist, it needs to do fewer things it should have to apologise for.