Character Development . . . or Regression?
Recently, I had read Lisa Eiseman's review of "Necromancing the Stone" and found the following:
“Phoebe has always sought out the stronger "alpha" male, and really is best when she is the "damsel in distress" needing rescuing. She has an innate need to be watched over, her own self-assurance was very low when the audience was introduced to her five years ago. Over the years her confidence grew, only to be beat down after Cole’s second turn to the dark side. Yet, her self confidence has been getting stronger and stronger this season after fighting and vanquishing Cole and, of course, her success in the business world. However, this episode only showed how much further she has come in shying away from dependency. Instead of taking Jason’s offer, she realizes that she can exist on her own and still be a strong woman and witch.”
Ms. Eiseman’s words had led me to thinking about Phoebe Halliwell’s development on CHARMED. I must admit that I agree with her original statement about Phoebe. She has always been the type who wants an “alpha male” to look over her. A recent example is a description of a scene from the upcoming “Generation Hex”:
“Cole does appear in a few flashbacks-- once in his first meeting with Phoebe when he grabs her calf (Coops says it was a cute meet but Present Phoebe just tells Coop that Cole was setting her up, and another flashback from Cenntenial Charmed when Phoebe throws the potion vial at him and Coop hugs Present Phoebe as Cole vanquishes into flames.”
Not only does the above statement verified Ms. Eiseman’s statement that Phoebe will always require an alpha male in her life (at some point, Prue had served this role before Phoebe met Cole), but that Phoebe had never overcame this desire. Even now, she is using Coop as the role of “prince charming” or “knight in shining armor” in her life.
On the hand, I disagreed with Ms. Eiseman’s statement on one matter. I DO NOT believe that Phoebe had displayed any strength when she finally rejected Cole in Season Five. In fact, I believe that she had behaved in a cowardly manner. Instead of facing the troubles of her marriage, she ran away. Neither she nor her sisters had ever bothered to find out how Cole became the Source back in late Season Four or in early Season Five. When he finally came back, she pushed him away – refusing to discuss their problems or what happened. I cannot help but feel that if Phoebe had not done this, she could have learned the truth about the Source’s possession of Cole. But she didn’t. Instead, she pushed Cole aside and ran away. She behaved in a cowardly manner. In the end, her behavior drove Cole to an emotional breakdown.
Was Cole wrong in his attempt to keep Phoebe in his life? Yes. Back in late Season Three, he had proven with his decision to infiltrate the Brotherhood of the Thorn that he was capable of making a morally correct decision without Phoebe’s encouragement or approval. But one-and-a-half years later, Cole seemed incapable of remaining “good” (if that is the word most fans are willing to accept) without Phoebe in his life, because of his fervent desire to hold on to his marriage. Cole was wrong in his attempt to cling to Phoebe to make his life better. But Phoebe was wrong to push him away, especially when she knew that he was on the verge of an emotional breakdown.
The show’s portrayal of the sisters’ emotional breakdowns in compared to Cole’s struck me as interesting . . . and perhaps a little hypocritical. Prue had suffered an emotional breakdown in “Death Takes a Halliwell” and nearly beat a Seeker to death for the wrong reason (Cole had to stop her). Piper in “Hell Hath No Fury” and Phoebe in “Look Who’s Barking” both suffered from emotional breakdowns and found themselves at the mercy of supernatural entities due to their inabilities to get over their problems. The writers made sure that the viewers would be sympathetic to the sisters’ . . . even when they were doing wrong. But when Cole had his own breakdown in mid-Season 5, the writers had expected the viewers to be glad that Phoebe was pushing him away . . . even when he tried to commit suicide twice. What makes this worse is that even after all of these years, Phoebe still does not have the guts or is too blind to realize that BOTH she and Cole were responsible for the failure of their marriage – and not just Cole. In the end, Cole erroneously believed that he could not stay good without Phoebe in her life. And the Halliwells’ continuous declarations that he was “evil” did not help overcome this state of mind. Alyssa Milano once stated that Cole was nothing more than a “bad boy” for Phoebe to indulge for at least two years of her life. I hate to say this, but I find Ms. Milano’s statement very hard to accept. In my opinion, I believe that Phoebe was simply too immature to deal with being involved with someone as complex as Cole. She wanted a one-note heroic alpha male. And Cole proved to be a complex individual with a light and dark side – something that Phoebe could not handle or deal with.
In another passage of Ms. Eiseman’s review of “Necromancing the Stone”, she claimed the following:
“However, this episode only showed how much further she (Phoebe) has come in shying away from dependency. Instead of taking Jason’s offer, she realizes that she can exist on her own and still be a strong woman and witch.”
Apparently, Ms. Eiseman had been premature in this assessment of Phoebe. The latter eventually did accept Jason Dean’s offer to accompany him to Hong Kong. And in the course of their ten-month relationship, failed to tell him that she was a witch. He had discover this, accidentally in “Used Karma”. Why? Because Phoebe was afraid that such a revelation would end her relationship with the millionaire (or billionaire). Ironically, it was Phoebe’s ten-month lie that eventually destroyed the relationship and not her role as a witch. The end of her relationship with Jason ended up signaling nearly a two-year search for Phoebe to find her “true love” and a father for her future baby. In the end, Phoebe still needed a man . . . and apparently a child, to find meaning in her life. And she found her “Prince Charming” in a man who obviously did not have any problems with serving as Phoebe’s future “alpha male protector”, if that scene in “Generation Hex” is anything to go by.
Did Phoebe develop as a character? I cannot honestly answer “yes”. Granted, many fans will argue that Phoebe eventually acquired a career. She also moved out of the house . . . something I believe that she had to do to stop revolving her life around her sisters. Moving out of the house may have helped her learn to become Phoebe Halliwell, instead of part of the Charmed Ones. But in the end, I do not think that Phoebe really developed as a character. Many believe that her romance with Cole had stunted her growth. I agree. But unlike others, I do not believe it was Cole’s fault. I believe that Phoebe could not handle dealing with the moral ambiguity that he represented. As Paige once stated, whenever Phoebe found any of her relationships in trouble, instead of dealing with it, Phoebe ran away from her problems. I believe she did just that with Cole by pushing him away. She did the same with Leslie St. Clair in early Season Seven. And with Jason Dean and Dex Lawson, she resorted to lies to avoid any problems that might arise with them discovering her role as a witch. With Coop, one of the Cupids, she finally gets her knight-in-shining armor or her “alpha male protector”. But she did so at the expense of her characterization. Personally, I find that sad. Phoebe gets her fairy tale ending without really growing up as a character.