"CHARMED" RETROSPECT: (1.12) "The Wendigo"
I really do not know what to say about the "CHARMED" Season One episode, (1.12) "The Wendigo". You know what? Of course I do. After all, it is one of my favorite episodes from that first season. In fact, it is one of my top twenty (20) "CHARMED" episodes of all time.
"The Wendigo" began with one Piper Halliwell stranded at a local San Francisco park, thanks to a flat tire. The episode immediately kicked into high gear when a supernatural beast attacked her. The beast managed to inflict a deep scratch on her arm before a savior arrived in the form of a young man, who used a flare gun to scare off the beast. While being treated at the hospital for her scratch, Piper and her two sisters – Prue and Phoebe – learned that Prue’s old flame, Inspector Andy Trudeau of the San Francisco Police Department, had been in contact with an FBI agent named Ashley Fallon, due to previous attacks by the beast in the city. The three sisters also discovered that Piper’s savior, Billy Waters, had a previous encounter with the beast that left his fiancée dead, in Chicago. Ever since his fiancée’s death, Billy and FBI Agent Fallon have been tracking the beast. It was Piper who learned from the family’s Book of Shadows that the beast is called a Wendigo, a werewolf/Sasquatch hybrid that hunts victims during the three days of the full moon in order to eat their hearts. Because of her scratch, Piper ended up in danger of also becoming a Wendigo.
Written by Edithe Swensen and directed by James Conway, ”The Wendigo” had its flaws, despite my feelings about it. The majority of those flaws stemmed from moments of bad acting and a problem with the script. The only problem I had with the script centered on FBI Agent Fallon’s failure to work with agents from the local FBI office in San Francisco. I realize that the local law enforcement would have been drawn into the case, once the attacks in San Francisco began. But it never made sense to me that Fallon, an agent from another regional office, would be the only one from her agency working on the case in San Francisco and not an agent from the local FBI office.
"The Wendigo" also featured a subplot in which Phoebe manages to wangle a job at Bucklands as Prue's assistant. While handling a bracelet to be sold at auction, Phoebe has flashes of a car accident. She discovered that the car in her vision had belonged to a private detective who was conveying a five year-old girl that had been kidnapped by her father. The subplot ended with Phoebe and Prue delivering the now eleven or twelve year-old girl to her mother. The subplot struck me as short, emotional and yet somewhat meaningless. Mere fodder to pad the episode.
As for the acting, there are three moments I found . . . questionable. One involved Piper’s gradual transformation into the Wendigo. Perhaps Holly Marie Combs had been instructed by director James Conway to portray this as a comedy scene. Unfortunately, Combs did not come off as funny to me. Her timing seemed off. Nor did she seem ominous. Just awkward. Another moment featured Jocelyn Seagrave’s performance in a scene in which her Special Agent Fallon had described a past heartbreak over being rejected by a former love. No offense to Miss Seagrave, but she did come off as slightly theatrical. The last scene featured Prue and Phoebe confronting the original Wendigo and Piper, who had finally transformed into the beast. After Phoebe fired a flare gun at Wendigo Piper, the latter froze the flare and the original Wendigo. While Prue and Piper debated over who was the real Wendigo, the actor or actress (it could have been Holly Marie Combs) inside the Wendigo Piper suit stood in one spot with hands in attack position, stood in one spot and wore an idiotic expression that seemed to say "what do I do next?". It was a rather stupid moment.
But despite these minor quibbles, I genuinely enjoyed ”The Wendigo”. It was an entertaining monster-of-the-week episode that featured a first-rate performance by Holly Marie Combs as the anxiety-ridden Piper who feared she was turning into a monster. Although both Shannen Doherty and Alyssa Milano gave fine support, I was especially impressed by T.W. King, whose Andy Trudeau seemed suitably torn over his broken romance with Prue and his attraction to Special Agent Fallon. Despite my complaint over Jocelyn Seagrave’s reading over one particular scene, I must admit that she did a stand-out job of portraying a credible Federal agent and had a strong screen chemistry with King. I also have to commend actor Billy Jayne for giving a strong and charismatic performance as Piper’s savior, Billy Waters.
Thanks to director James L. Conway, ”The Wendigo” was not only entertaining, but well-paced. And despite the missing presence of local FBI agents in San Francisco and the subplot, I have to admit that Edithe Swensen wrote a lively and solid episode with plenty of horror and suspense. Swensen was also sensible enough not to reveal the human identity of the Wendigo, until two-thirds into the episode.
Watching ”The Wendigo” reminded me of how entertaining ”CHARMED” could be during its early seasons. Before the writing in the series began to decline at a serious rate. Before the dark times. With the entire series now on DVD and airing as reruns on TNT, fans have a constant reminder of its glory days . . . including episodes like ”The Wendigo”.