I’ve talked a little before about how Charmed, with three women characters being the most powerful magical forces for Good, could have been a truly feminist and women-powered show. While it did well on some parts, like showing a diversity of life choices for women when it comes to balancing careers, love lives, and battling the forces of darkness, there was often an overarching male-dominated power structure, known as the Elders, pulling the strings in the sisters’ lives. You want so badly to root for the Charmed Ones as icons of female power, not as examples of female pawns in male power games. So, finally, I have finished watching the last season. Is there redemption? Yes, I believe there is. Follow me as we explore gender in the eighth and final season of Charmed. Spoilers for Season 8.
This final season, the menfolk are pushed to the background, letting the sisters finally have their stories for themselves. Leo, Piper’s husband and erstwhile link to the celestial, patriarchal Elders, was fridged—literally. He is taken away by the Powers That Be and put on ice (seriously, in a suspended animation chamber thingie) for the explicit purpose of giving the sisters the extra push they needed to fight the unknown “Ultimate Power”. However, the sisters are promised that he will be returned if they succeed in their mission, a privilege not usually afforded to fridged female characters in similar situations. Coop, a new character for Phoebe to fall in love with, was like what we more often see with a female character: two-dimensional, vague, mostly there to be a manic pixie love interest, most helpful in providing a magic artifact for a plot point (his ring allowed Piper to travel back in time to save the day in the finale). Paige dates and eventually marries a mortal man, who, in the grand scheme of things, has very little to do with their witchy adventures.
Even the celestial hierarchy, which we see strangely little of this season, has left its male-dominated roots behind. We see an Avatar, one of the highest and most mysterious of quasi-divine beings, briefly in Season 8, and it’s a woman—when first introduced in Season 7, there was only one main female Avatar out of four that we saw predominantly (and she was the first to be killed). The Elder who appears with this Avatar is male, but later Piper consults a female Elder with more lines and screen time. The arguably highest ranked celestial being, the Angel of Destiny, appeared as a man in previous seasons, but in this season appears as a woman (and a Black woman, at that). While these may seem somewhat trivial, the fact that for seven seasons the heavenly Powers That Be were shown as almost exclusively male makes it seem like a breath of fresh air, a potential turning point: maybe a better future is ahead if patriarchy is on its way out.
The biggest salvation comes from none other than Paige, our very favorite half-Whitelighter witch. “Long-lost half-sister” is one of the tropiest of tropes, but Charmed made it work pretty well. In the last few seasons of the show, Paige discovers that her Whitelighter side is just as much a part of her as her witch side, and eventually fully accepts this part of herself, including all the typical Whitelighter roles and duties, like getting “charges”—witches or future Whitelighters she must guide and protect. As one of the few female Whitelighters we see, she has been shown to have both male and female charges, turning on its head the idea from the first few seasons that the typical relationship was a male Whitelighter guiding and guarding female witches. In the final season, this is cemented when we really get to know one of her charges, Billie.
Billie is a young, powerful witch who is one of Paige’s charges. The sisters take her under their wing and she becomes like another sister (well, maybe cousin. Let’s not get carried away). Here we have powerful women guiding and teaching and training the next generation of powerful women. This is everything I’d finally hoped to see, the solution to that which I critiqued in my article “Who Will Watch the Watchmen? Or, The Curious Case of Ubiquitous Male Oversight”. Though a newly-human Leo helps out every now and then before he is taken away, it really is Paige and her sisters who take the role of guiding the next generation of witches. No patriarchal Watchers’ Council or Neolutionist science dudes controlling women and their powers here.
Billie, it turns out, has a sister of her own, and together the two of them end up being a rival power to the Charmed Ones. While her sister Christy is of the trope of “pretty girls brainwashed and trained since birth to be killers”, it’s pretty neat that the Charmed Ones’ ultimate adversaries are a pair of sisters and not just more male demons. Now, Christy has been kidnapped and brainwashed since childhood, which showcases male control over women in the worst, most exploitative way. But there is something to be learned from this whole storyline: Christy tries to convince Billie that the Charmed Ones are evil by stating that they are selfish. She supports this by saying they only care about using their powers for personal reasons, like saving a husband (Piper’s personal agenda) or because they are trying to do things like ensure they have the children they’ve always wanted (Phoebe’s dream). This is essentially shaming the women for merely wanting things and trying to do something about it. This ties into the idea that women have to be perfectly moral or at least held to a higher moral expectation than men, particularly when it comes to wielding mighty magic powers. Women are often expected to just accept their lots in life and not strive for personal goals the way men are encouraged to, whether those goals be career- or family-oriented. Furthermore, women are often looked down on even more if their main goals are domestic in nature, as they are for some of the sisters. By maintaining the underlying goodness of the Charmed Ones, the show sees these criticisms and dismisses them, siding instead with the sisters making their own choices and pursuing their own goals.
While Christy never gets fully untangled from the male demons who were using her to destroy the Charmed Ones, matriarchal magic triumphs over all. Piper manages to travel back in time and, with the help of her mother and grandmother, neutralize the threat of Billie and Christy. Generations of powerful women connecting to and supporting each other, taking charge and saving the day without the involvement of the patriarchal overseers, provide a beautiful image for what we could see on TV. Whether it’s the Watchers in Buffy, the spy agency leaders in Alias, or blood-thirsty male Alphas in Teen Wolf, we are always fed the opposite. The final season of Charmed shows us another way is possible.