Thursday, November 5, 2015

"CHARMED" RETROSPECT: (1.16) "Which Prue Is It Anyway?"

"CHARMED" RETROSPECT: (1.16) “Which Prue Is It Anyway?”

Most fans of ”CHARMED” seemed to harbor the opinion that the series’ early seasons are much better than episodes that aired during the series’ last four years. After viewing Season One’s ”Which Prue Is It Anyway?”, I can easily see how they managed to form that opinion. Mind you, I believe that this particular episode was not exactly the best of Season One. But it certainly seemed like a masterpiece in compare to most of the episodes from Seasons Four to Eight. 

Penned by Javier Grillo-Marxuach, the episode began with Phoebe experiencing a premonition of Prue being stabbed to death by a man with a large sword. The Halliwell sisters discovered that their new enemy is a mortal named Gabriel Statler, a Lord of War. The sword renders Gabriel invulnerable to all mortal weapons and steals power. Gabriel is after Prue because one of the family’s ancestors, a Warren witch named Brianna had bested him during the Crimean War back in the 1850s. To become fully empowered again, he needs the power of a first-born witch. Prue is specifically targeted, because he also wants revenge against the Warren family. To protect herself, Prue used a spell to multiply her strength by three. Instead, the spell created two clones of Prue. Hence . . . the title.

As much as I enjoyed ”Which Prue Is It Anyway?”, I had problems with it. One, I found the humor behind Prue and Piper’s discovery of Phoebe’s martial arts lessons tacky and slightly racist toward those of Asian descent. The episode also featured a bad moment for Phoebe to showcase her new martial arts skills – which only featured kicking. During the sisters’ final encounter with Gabriel, Piper froze him so that Prue could kill him with his sword. Unfortunately, Phoebe chose that moment to kick Gabriel, causing Piper’s freeze upon Gabriel to end. Bad timing . . . eh? I am certain that Grillo-Marxuach had deliberately written the scene to unfold as it did. I just found it rather contrived.

Another problem I had turned out to be Gabriel’s motive for hunting Prue. As I had stated earlier, Gabriel wanted revenge against the Warren family line because one of the sisters’ ancestors – a great-great-something aunt named Briana – had managed to get the best of Gabriel during the Crimean War. The Warren family had been in America since the 17th century. What was Briana Warren doing on the peninsula of Crimea (which was under the Russian Empire in 1854-56) in the mid 19th century, in the first place? Also, Gabriel went after Prue, because the latter was the oldest sister . . . and the most powerful. Frankly, I found Gabriel’s reasoning rather limited. He could have acquired a lot more power if he had hunted all three sisters . . . one at a time.

But my main problem with ”Which Prue Is It Anyway?” centered around the main villain, Gabriel Statler. Mind you, Alex McArthur portrayed the character with great relish. The problem with Gabriel rested upon his characterization as a Lord of War and his motivation for going after Prue. According to the episode, Gabriel and his sister, Helena, are members of the Lords of War, a clan of supernatural warriors dedicated to war. The Lords of War are also mortals that have started most of Earth’s wars throughout history. Why? Who knows? But this description of the Lords of War illustrated a major irritation for me – humans’ tendency to use fantasy or science-fiction as an excuse to distance ourselves from our flaws or fuck-ups. In the case of ”Which Prue Is It Anyway?”, humanity’s responsibility for its penchant for aggression is blamed on supernatural beings. Even worse, Grillo-Marxuach had never explained why the Lords of War even bothered to start wars. Perhaps the audience was simply expected to believe that Gabriel and his kind want to start chaos because they are evil. If we were . . . I cannot buy it.

Despite its flaws, ”Which Prue Is It Anyway?” turned out to be a pretty damn good story. One of the consequences that resulted from Gabriel’s witch hunt resulted in the creation of the two Prue clones. This situation provided comedic gold for the episode. As stated earlier, Prue had cast a spell to triple her power and ended up inadvertently creating two clones of herself – a perky Prue (Pink Sweater) who possessed an overbearing manner masked by a cheerful demeanor; and a sensuous Prue (Blue Sweater) with an intense penchant for male attention. Both Prue clones provided some hilarious moments – especially with Pink Prue. But the two clones also provided moments of poignancy when the real Prue was forced to feel the pain that each clone experienced while being stabbed by Gabriel’s sword. The expression in Andy Trudeau’s eyes spoke a thousand words when the good police inspector discovered Pink Prue’s body in the city morgue.

I certainly found no fault in the performances featured in this episode. Holly Marie Combs and Alyssa Milano gave solid and humorous support as their characters (Piper and Phoebe Halliwell) dealt with Prue’s alter egos. T.W. King (a great favorite of mine) did an excellent job of conveying Andy’s grief over the death of Pink Prue and his suspicions that something was amiss with the Halliwells later in the episode. It was nice to see Bernie Kopell (”GET SMART” and ”THE LOVE BOAT”) as the city morgue’s sarcastic coroner. Both Alex McArthur and Shannon Sturges gave first-class performances as the evil Statler siblings – Gabriel and Helena. I also have to give them kudos for hinting an incestuous relationship between brother and sister without being too obvious. Apparently, they had failed to be a little more subtle for even Blue Prue managed to pick up on their incestuous vibe:

”And Gabriel has this weird binding passion for Helena. So, if we grab her we can use her as leverage. A sword for his sister.”

I also have to compliment McArthur for his exuberant portrayal of Gabriel. I may have found the character’s background as a Lord of War rather purile, but I cannot help but admire the energy that McArthur infused into the role.

One could not discuss ”Which Prue Is It Anyway?” without mentioning the woman of the hour – Shannen Doherty. Watching her in action reminded me of how much ”CHARMED” had benefitted from the actress’ presence during the series’ first three seasons. I would not call Doherty’s performance in this episode as her masterpiece, but I would certainly view it as one of her better performances during her three-year stay on ”CHARMED”. In ”Which Prue Is It Anyway?”, Doherty managed to portray three facets of Prue Halliwell. Not only did she portray Prue in all her complicated glory, she also had the opportunity to portray extreme aspects of Prue’s personality. In Doherty’s portrayal of Pink Prue, she revealed the domineering and perfectionist traits of the oldest Charmed One that must have been the bane Piper and Phoebe’s lives . . . and irritated Original Prue to no end. Doherty also got the chance to reveal Pink Prue’s traits with a humorous perkiness rarely shown in Original Prue. With Blue Prue, Doherty allowed her character’s sensuality to be unleashed with comic results at Quake – the restaurant where Piper worked during Season One. Considering how Doherty managed to nab these different nuances of Prue, it was not surprising to learn that she had earned two Saturn Awards for her portrayal of the character.

I am almost inclined to rate ”Which Prue Is It Anyway?” as one of Season One’s best episodes. But due to the episode’s limited approach to Gabriel Statler’s villainous goals and the unsatisfying and one-dimensional description of his background as a Lord of War, I cannot give it that much credit. However, writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach did pen a well-paced episode filled with humor and pathos. The first-rate cast did his script justice with a solid cast that included an exuberant performance by guest star Alex McArthur and exceptional work by star Shannen Doherty.

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