So, here we are, a fourth time through. I'm hoping to catch all the reviews I've missed. The first time around I thought this was mostly a kick into neutral after the substantial start of the first episode. However, with a repeated viewing, I see this as yes, a necessarily slower character-driven episode that not only further developed the characters but also set up some key threads for Season 1. Prue got her job at Bucklands, and Charmed's first recurring bad guys, Rex and Hannah, were both introduced. Prue also starts the most start-and-stop relationship in the history of the show with Andy. Prue appears to be taking the stance that being a witch prevents her from having a normal life. It is something to be dealt carefully with.
Piper hates being a witch. That is the main development for her character, and we will see this same theme capitalized on throughout the remainder of the series. No character changes as much as Piper's, but this will remain the same. Her subplot of being afraid of being evil and using a church to test it is mostly in the show for humor. Holly's acting here is tremendous. I loved the reaction after she was able to enter the church.
Ironically, Phoebe jokes that she is the one that needs to worry about being evil. Yes, and THAT will be a recurring theme for her character. Phoebe has a somewhat light part here. She has an important scene in the attic with Piper where she plays Leo, before Leo, and she becomes the first to find out that she can't use her powers for personal gain, a lesson that really doesn't take. She also does her normal fighting with Prue. Andy and Darryl continue their Mulder and Scully routine here. The writing is still mediocre, but the acting is better. The episode is light on magic, actually dipping into Islam for the vanquish of Javna, rather unique. Decent vanquish at the end, but still somewhat quaint compared to the effects of later seasons.