Supernatural meta, reviews & fic recs

SPN10.11: “There’s No Place Like Home” Review

Sam and Dean Winchester

Supernatural writer Robbie Thompson brought back his favorite girl genius in “There’s No Place Like Home” this week, and from my perspective at least, it benefited from a lack of angel, demons, and multiple storylines. I join fans critical of the interwoven storyline episodes like last week’s “The Hunter Games” as being too chopped up and frenetic. It’s like trying to watch the individual balls in a juggler’s act. By the end of the performance, it’s a success if he just managed to keep them in the air. Maybe, that’s the idea.

No such problems with “There’s No Place Like Home,” and I can’t say that I missed Castiel gallivanting around playing daddy and Crowley having mommy issues. Instead of the usual crowd, TNPLH saw the return of Charlie Bradbury followed the yellow brick to Oz with Dorothy early in season nine, and she returned a changed woman … or two. That’s right Thompson dipped into that age-old plot device in which a character has some kind of “dark” doppelganger – and just when Dean is going dark as well. Coincidence? Not likely.

Anyone who’s followed my reviews for awhile knows that despite my love for Felicia Day, I’ve had mixed feelings about Charlie. I really wanted to like her when she was introduced in season seven, but over the course of her appearances she’d become rather callous to Sam’s feelings as well as a bit of a, ahem, Mary Sue. She was just a little too perfect – the brainiest in the room, an ace shot, quick on her feet, a bit of a lady killer, adorable, yet quirky and sassy. Maybe Thompson saw it too because dark Charlie showed there’s some real ugly under the cute and cuddly.

Dark Charlie resulted when the Wizard of Oz used the internal key of Oz to open Charlie up and let her Id go free. There are similarities to Sam being separated from his soul when Castiel pulled him from the Cage and to Dean taking the Mark of Cain. It isn’t surprising, given Dean’s circumstances that Sam ended up aiding good Charlie on her quest to vanquish dark Charlie and Dean trying to stop dark Charlie in her quest to murder the man who killed her parents in a drunk-driving accident. One of the things that linked dark Charlie to both soulless Sam and demon Dean was a statement she made to Dean about how going dark “frees you.” She pointed out that she thought he knew what that meant. She was right. Being dark freed each of those characters from worrying over moral judgments. They acted at will without remorse or regret. It’s why neither soulless Sam and demon Dean wanted to be “cured” of their ailments.

In their first encounter with dark Charlie, the boys got a dose of her judgment. They confronted her at a victim’s home and when told to drop her weapon, she said, “Oh Sam, you’re adorable. You’re not gonna hurt me. In fact, that’s your problem. All good guy code. No bite,” and to Dean, “What a waste. And you, always letting this albatross hold you back.” It’s important to remember that this is Charlie – a part of her, the critical side that was there all the time. Everyone has that voice in them, but a balanced personality knows the value of that good-guy code and knows when to tell that voice to shut up as well.

In addition, what dark Charlie said wasn’t entirely true. While Sam may hold himself to a pretty high moral code, he does break it – usually for Dean. Charlie should know that from reading the Carver Edlund books, and even as late as his search for Dean this season, he tortured a possessed person and led another, admittedly horrible, person to sell his soul. Conversely, as dark as Dean has gone, he has continued resisting the pull that dark Charlie was wallowing in.

Thompson used an interesting device to ramp up Dean’s anger at Charlie so that he wasn’t just fighting her to protect other people, but tapping into negative feelings about her. First, when running from the Winchesters, she sliced a tire on the Impala, and then when she went in pursuit of Sam and good Charlie, she stole the Impala. What better way to anger Dean than an attack on and then theft of his most precious possession? The device of dark Charlie gave Thompson good opportunity for Dean to get some ugly truths thrown in his face.

Dark Charlie’s goal was to find the drunk driver who killed her parents and kill him, but when Dean confronted her outside the guy’s office, she convinced him that she just wanted to make the man see her and understand what he’d taken from her. It was a pretty flimsy story, but Dean bought it. When he next met up with her, he accused her of lying to him, and she replied, “You lied to yourself. That’s kind of your move.” Of course it’s true. Dean lies to himself about his motives, about other people, about just about everything so he can get up in the morning and put one foot in front of the other. Later, Dean would say, “You hurt my friend,” and she replied, “I learned it by watching you.” These truths aren’t revelations to Dean. They are a part of his self-loathing but also how he copes.

I can buy Dean being fooled by her the first time, but the second time … yeah, I don’t know. Dean was having a drink – against his professed twelve-step program – when she sat down with him at the bar. Now, one might think that having achieved her goal, she would have taken off somewhere in order to avoid the Winchesters, but no, she decided to ogle the bartender and bait Dean. He at least had the forethought to lie about where Sam and Charlie were when he told her that her good alter-ego was going to end her because he fell for her lie when she said she was going to hit on the bartender and instead slipped out the back door to steal the Impala.

Both of the times that she fooled him, it was by doing the same kind of thing he would do in a similar situation, and while he might fall for it once, because he was thinking of her as “Charlie,” I found it dubious that he would fall for her trick the second time.

Nonetheless, Dean was having a really bad day – egg white omelets, kale, self-help tapes, and then he had to steal a minivan. His sense of self had been pretty battered as well, and it brought out the worst in him. When she arrived at the house where Sam and Charlie were working with Clive Dylan to summon the Wizard of Oz, Dean wasn’t about to be fooled again.

Dark Charlie: Figured you’d lie about where to go next. That’s what I would do. …
Dean: … you take one more step, I’m gonna put you down.
Dark Charlie: There’s the Dean I love.

While Dark Charlie may have almost single-handedly won the war for the Emerald City, she was still no match for Mark of Cain enhanced Dean. While was legitimately protecting Sam and good Charlie, his rage pushed him further than he needed to go. He knew that harming dark Charlie would also hurt good Charlie but he continued pummeling her until Sam called out to him.

While Dean had been off chasing and fighting dark Charlie, Sam was helping good Charlie find a way to unite her two selves again. It’s worth noting that good Charlie couldn’t hack into a victim’s bank account because “good” as she would put it. She was unable to do anything bad. Sam suggested that she walk him through it because then he’s the one being bad – a reminder that Sam does “bad” things all the time from impersonating police and FBI to breaking and entering and auto theft and the list goes on. Sam and Dean have tried to walk a line between doing bad for the greater good and doing bad because it’s more expedient.

In the end, Sam and Charlie found a surviving Man of Letters, Clive Dylan, who like Charlie was separated from his dark side in Oz, but it turned out, his dark side was the Wizard of Oz. Because the key to Oz was broken, they couldn’t go back so Clive shot himself knowing that the Wizard would come to him because, like the two Charlies, if one was injured both were. Upon breaking through a mirror, however, the Wizard attacked Sam, and to stop him Charlie shot and killed Clive. Seeing that her friend was being killed, she was able to overcome her inhibition to do “bad.”

As she was laid out next to her dark counterpart, dark Charlie said, “You did, didn’t you? You killed the wizard. The magic was in you all the time … Celeste.” It didn’t take a key to put Charlie back together. She had the power, the magic, within her to draw her dark side back in. It was there all the time. She just had to have the catalyst to make it happen and that catalyst was the threat to Sam. She did it to protect him.

A couple of days later back at the bunker, Dean and Charlie still looked battered. She volunteered to travel to Tuscany to find a book that may help them with the Mark of Cain. She tells Dean:

Charlie: We are going to fix this. I’m not going to let what happened to me, happen to you.
Dean: But it’s already happened.
Sam: Cain found a way to live with it.
Dean: Yeah, after centuries of murder.
Charlie: Yeah, well, there’s one thing you have, that he didn’t.

Dean glanced over at Sam, a reminder of Dean saying something similar to Sam in “Nightmare.” His answer to Sam had been that Sam had him. It’s almost as though Dean’s glance said he knew that he had Sam. Charlie had a different answer.

Charlie: You’re a Winchester. [she stepped toward him] I forgive you Dean.
Dean: Yeah, well, I don’t.
Charlie: I know. That’s kind of your move. How’s that working out for you, huh?
Dean: [he hugged her ] I’m so sorry, kiddo.
Charlie: Then prove it.

Charlie held a mirror up for Dean again. He’s much harder on himself than others are. Sam, Castiel, Charlie, all his friends and family will forgive him, but he never forgives himself. No wonder he liked being a demon and never feeling remorse for his actions.

After Charlie left, Sam asked Dean if he was okay, and Dean said he wasn’t. It wasn’t a brother hug, but Sam said, “She’s right. You can do this. We can do this.” As discouraged as Dean was that gave him the fortitude to go on. “Then let’s get to work,” he said. Sam’s attitude toward Dean’s going dark is a far cry from Dean’s attitude back when Sam was drinking demon blood and after breaking the last seal, but that makes sense. Sam has the benefit of experience – from both sides. He knows what it’s like to be in Dean’s shoes as well as how Dean’s behavior affected him. He knows that what he needed was love and support not recrimination and shame. For Dean’s part, I think he realizes that Sam could throw the past in his face, and the fact he isn’t, makes Dean not want to let Sam down. Sam has faith in him, always has, and Dean is trying to live up to that.

It’s hard not to love how supportive Sam has been this season, and I hate to complain. Seasons eight and nine were more often than not teeth-grindingly difficult to watch with all the brother conflict. But I’m going to complain because once again we got Sam tied up. Far too often, Sam does little but research and support. I’m often left with a hollow feeling when it comes to Sam. He’s a reactive character rather than an active character. Oh sure, there are times when he’s active like when he killed the hellhound in “Trial and Error” or forced Gadreel from his body or cured Dean’s demonism and he’s had a few action scenes, but generally Sam doesn’t do much. Sam can be an active character even when it’s Dean’s myth arc. The reverse was true in early seasons of the Supernatural. I’d like to believe that the writers have something interesting planned for Sam. Remember when he used to get a couple episodes a season that focused on him? But the truth is I’m unconvinced the writers know what to do with Sam anymore and none of them seem inclined to figure it out.




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