Charmed: The Complete Fourth Season Review
The fourth season of Charmed was a very challenging one in the life of the series. The third season ended with a major blow to the Halliwell sisters and this season therefore had to pick up the story where it was left and immediately integrate a new character into the heart of the show. Luckily, it was pulled off pretty well and the addition of Paige Matthews to the Halliwell clan was a good one, breathing a little fresh air into an established format.
The series starts off on a sombre tone, with Piper and Phoebe in a state of shock and depression over previous events. This allows for a certain breadth of emotion, especially for Holly Marie Combs in the key role of Piper. Paige Matthews meanwhile, whose adopted parents had died while she was a teenager, has come to the end of a journey of discovery to find out who her biological family are. And everything points firmly towards the Halliwells. After disbelieving they could possibly have a half-sister out there, Piper and Phoebe are quickly persuaded by the evidence – The Source has sent a demon after Paige because of the threat her appearance has created.
Like Piper and Phoebe, Paige is a witch – she just doesn't know it yet. But even once she accepts the fact, the two older sisters must take her under their wings and teach her everything they know about witchcraft. In addition, Paige is half-whitelighter, so she has to learn from Leo also. It is this teaching scenario that allows the writers to explore the problems of experimentation with magic that couldn't have happened during season three, where all three of the Charmed Ones were quite assured in their use of their powers. And there are a fair number of episodes dedicated to Paige's steep learning curve and where things go wrong, and also her need to integrate into the family, even at a time when emotions are running particularly strong.
But luckily, this isn't the only focus of stories in season four; if it were, things would quickly become just a little too samey. The real strength of the series and its story arc is the relationship between Phoebe and Cole once again. As the sisters continue to up their fight against The Source (the head of all the demons in the underworld), Cole struggles to contain his dark side, especially once The Source picks him as a worthy successor to the title. Season three may have seen Cole move from evil to good, this season sees him struggle to stay good, which is just as engaging to watch. Piper does get some character development during the series, especially at the top end, but she is far from the focus for most of it.
The fourth season of Charmed does manage to keep up the momentum of the third season, and the story arc is definitely an interesting one. As with the previous season, things are never dull when Cole (Julian McMahon) is the centre of affairs, so it's great to see him getting so much airtime here. The difficult introduction of Paige goes a lot better than I'd have expected too, and it's not long before you get used to the idea of her being around – perhaps because Rose McGowan does such a good job with the role.
The show is basically still a bit of fluff, nothing to tax your intellect – but it's a fun show and there's nothing wrong with a bit of light entertainment. The cast all know what they're doing and play to their strengths and the writers manage to deliver another strong season. In fact, I'd say that this and the season that preceded it are my two favourites of the whole run because of the Cole storylines if nothing else.
1 & 2: 'Charmed Again (Parts 1 and 2)'
After the events at the end of the previous season, Piper and Phoebe are left in a state of mourning, and the future of the Charmed Ones looks bleak. However, that's before the appearance of Paige, a previously-unknown Halliwell sister works out her parentage and after a demon fight the sisters are persuaded she is indeed their own flesh and blood and start to explain the witchcraft situation to her.
3: 'Hell Hath No Fury'
Paige hasn't quite got the hang of being a witch and borrows the Book of Shadows to enable her to cast a few basic spells at work – to predictably comical effect. Piper is still raging in her grief and gets possessed by one of the Furies.
4: 'Enter the Demon'
Featuring Daniel Dae Kim, this episode sees the sisters step in to help a daughter when he father becomes targeted by his ex-apprentice. It also sees Paige and Phoebe switch bodies as part of another of Paige's experimental forays into witchcraft.
5: 'Size Matters'
All three sisters get involved when Paige has a strange feeling about a house she passes everyday. It ends up with the sisters finding themselves on the wrong end of the demon's shrink ray – the demon here being played by Robert Englund to good effect. The moral of the story is that through working together, the Charmed Ones are stronger than when they try and act apart.
6: 'A Knight to Remember'
Another experiment gone wrong – Paige summons a medieval knight who is under the influence of an evil sorceress. The knight manages to get in the way by believing Paige is the love of his life.
7: 'Brain Drain'
In one of the strongest episodes in this series, Piper is sent into a coma by The Source. In the coma she lives an alternate life and everything in the real world is explained away as being her fantasy during an extended coma. Alienating Piper and feeding her anger, sadness and paranoia, The Source does a good job. Her sisters, meanwhile, have to fight to return her to actual reality and stop her surrendering all her powers to kill off the Charmed Ones for good.
8: 'Black As Cole'
Cole is the focus of this episode as he has to face his demonic nature once again. Even during this, he finds time to propose to Phoebe which brings thoughts of the future and potential children to Leo and Piper.
9: 'Muse to My Ears'
When a warlock finds a way to kidnap Muses, the Charmed Ones have to find a way to save these fragile inspirational spirits. A Muse manifests to help the Halliwells by providing them with inspiration when they need it. There's also some action in the political landscape of the underworld.
10: 'A Paige from the Past'
It's all about ghosts. Paige travels back with Leo to try and achieve closure over her parents' death and to see exactly how the accident happened. Phoebe and Cole get possessed by 'Bonnie & Clyde' type ghosts who cause chaos by robbing a jewellery store while hanging out in their new host bodies.
11: 'Trial By Magic'
Phoebe is on the jury at a murder case, but her premonitions get her in trouble as she discovers the defendant is innocent but has no proof of this and has to convince her fellow jurors. The rest of the gang help Phoebe by trying to locate and flush out the real killer, even with demon involvement.
12: 'Lost and Bound'
Piper and Leo explore parental issues and arguments when they get involved in trying to protect a 10-year-old firestarter (apparently a very valued skill) from a demon. Cole gives Phoebe Grams' wedding ring, but they discover it holds a curse which transforms her into a Stepford Wife, well, a '50s housewife actually.
13: 'Charmed and Dangerous'
The Source steps up his campaign and breaks an agreement between good and evil, absorbing the powers of both Piper and Paige. Cole steps in to help them, despite Phoebe's concerns and premonitions.
14: 'The Three Faces of Phoebe'
Cole discovers The Source is starting to take over his entire being, while the Seer (Debbi Morgan) dabbles in politics by trying to persuade The Source's rivals to kill the Halliwells. Phoebe, not knowing of Cole's new inner struggle, casts a spell to bring her young self and her old self together to help her decide whether she should marry Cole or not.
The Seer instructs her 'boss', The Source in how to marry Phoebe in the 'dark' way to insure his line will continue to be powerful. Phoebe, meanwhile, prepares for her wedding day in complete ignorance that Cole is now the Big Bad!
16: 'The Fifth Halliwell'
Paige feels very alone amongst the happy couples of Phoebe and Cole, Piper and Leo. But despite being the newest addition to the family, Paige's instincts tell her Cole isn't to be trusted and she slowly starts to work on these instincts. Cole (as The Source) and the Seer plot to impregnate Phoebe.
17: 'Saving Private Leo'
Two ghosts from Leo's past are looking for him for revenge over their deaths. Paige is left to try and save Leo mostly on her own as Piper's life is under risk and Phoebe is more concerned with Cole's suggestion that they look for a place on their own. Leo may have faced many demons over the years, but now he has to face some of his own personal demons and guilt.
18: 'Bite Me'
Phoebe starts to feel ill through all the attempts to impregnate her. Meanwhile, in a kind of 'filler' episode, a vampire tries to take over from The Source as ruler of the underworld.
19: 'We're Off To See the Wizard'
Phoebe reveals that she is expecting Cole's baby. Piper and Paige meanwhile are talked into joining up with a wizard (Armin Shimmerman in fine form) as he knows the one way to stop the coronation of the new Source. Little do the sisters know that Cole is the new Source and that it's his coronation they're meddling with…
20: 'Long Live the Queen'
The coronation is done and Phoebe accepts her new role with some internal conflict – after a premonition she still goes to save an innocent from a demon, and works together with her sisters too.
21: 'Womb Raider'
Finally we learn some more of the plans the Seer has for Phoebe's child and for its parents. The child seems to have some interesting ideas of its own and starts to take control of Phoebe's body.
22: 'Witch Way Now?'
The series draws to a close with an interesting conflict for the Halliwells. The Angel of Destiny offers them a chance to surrender all their powers and live normal lives because of all the things they've accomplished. Each sister has a different take on the offer, but they have to get into action while dealing with what's going on in their lives. Cole is trapped in another realm and calling for help, Piper discovers she's pregnant and an FBI Agent (Bruce Campbell) has them under his watchful eye.
The picture is shown in its original 4:3 aspect ratio and is still fine, though a little disappointing due to grain that's apparent in many scenes. I didn't have any problems with the vividity of colours or naturalness of skin tones, all the levels seemed fine throughout. It's only the quality of the picture that seems to suffer from the grain, and while this is a television series, so we can expect some glitches, we're now up to shows broadcast in 2001, so I was expecting a little better.
The sound is provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, with both English and French tracks. The dialogue is clear and solid throughout and there's some usage of directionality, but not a lot.
As with the previous three seasons' boxsets, there are no special features included here.
The fourth season of Charmed manages to move the plot along at a fairly rapid pace, especially as it has to make space to introduce and amalgamate the new Halliwell sister, Paige, into the already established mix. The main focus is Phoebe's relationship with Cole and his struggle against becoming the new Source, and because the focus is quite interesting, the series manages to maintain the standard of the third season and build on it. The DVD set is a good way of getting to see the entire season, though I remain disappointed that no extras have been included here.