There are a few different kinds of Supernatural episodes (yes, I’ve studied this Show so long I can now identify them). There are episodes where I’m bouncing up and down throughout, or screaming NOOOOOO!!! at my television set, or using up so many tissues that the living room looks like an alien landscape. There are (a very few) episodes where I get to the end and go, meh, that was okay (and a very very few where I say nope, that didn’t happen – canon erase!)
Then there are the episodes where I’m engaged the entire time, wondering what will happen next, watching the boys and trying to figure out what’s going on in their very handsome heads – but I’m relatively quiet. Okay, maybe I grabbed the arm of my chair a few times or asked my television “What now??”, but mostly I just watched, engulfed in the experience. This episode was like that. (It helped that there was one cohesive story line instead of the jumping around that we sometimes get). I didn’t reach for the tissues until that last scene, Charlie and Dean battered and fragile, and Sam standing there like the rock I’ve always known him to be.
Charlie: “There’s one thing that you have that he didn’t.”
Dean immediately looks to Sam, and I think, yes. That makes all the difference.
“You’re a Winchester,” Charlie says, and I feel my eyes start to water. That means something – it always has. Charlie knows it. We know it.
Sam’s face takes on that determination that is always there, even if it’s sometimes buried deep or Show denies me the frames to actually see it. He asks Dean if he’s okay, and miracle of miracles, Dean answers honestly that he isn’t. But Sam doesn’t falter.
“You can do this. We can do this.”
That’s when I lost it. Dean looks at Sam almost pleadingly, wanting to believe his brother, but stricken with guilt and clearly afraid.
His determination to fight off the effects of the mark, that he’s been clinging to throughout the episode, has been shaken by how much he lost it with Dark!Charlie (and how much Good!Charlie felt every blow). He looks at Sam, who he has always seen as the little brother who needs his protection, and I think he sees the tremendous strength there. It’s a strength that Sam has always had, that I wish we were privy to seeing more often and more explicitly, but I know it’s there. I think, now, Dean does too.
That ending scene made me go back and re-consider the entire episode, and what I found was a slow and subtle progression of the brothers coming to the point we finally see at the end. Let’s just say my reconsideration required a few more tissues. And when it comes to Supernatural, that’s not a bad thing.
I’ve been waiting for Sam and Dean to be fighting on the same side again, and despite the fact that the plot split them up for some of the episode, nevertheless they were on the same side here. At the beginning of the episode, after Dean got a smack-down from Charlie and her thighs of doom, he immediately screamed for ‘Sam!’, which will never not make me warm all over.
My twitter feed: Charlie had Dean Winchester between her legs… #ThatsPrettyNaughty…
The comic moments blended seamlessly into the more serious ones, especially Dean’s health food kick in an attempt to keep the mark at bay. At first, I watched those scenes and giggled. Dean eating egg white omelets and green health shakes and kale on his sandwiches – who would have expected that?
I love that he’s cooking for Sam, and relished the glimpse of the brothers at home in the bunker. (The episode title ‘There’s No Place Like Home’ plays over a shot of Sam in the bunker, which just felt so right). I loved the Misha Collins shout out with kale, and Dean’s disgusted reaction to it even as he gamely shoved it down his throat.
Thinking about it more deeply, there’s so much more to all those comic moments. Dean has always been the brother who salivates over cheeseburgers, while Sam orders a salad and tries to be healthy. When Dean decides he’s going to fight the mark, he looks for a way to be strong, to stay true to himself – he tries to be more like Sam. If that doesn’t say something about how much Dean respects his brother, and how far he’s come in recognizing Sam’s strength, I don’t know what would. The entire episode is about Dean struggling to hold onto his “good” side – he sees Sam as the man to aspire to be. A strong man. A good man. The best man, in Dean’s eyes. Those moments become powerful when viewed with that lens, and my chuckles become a little more watery.
This was one of those episodes when both Sam and Dean said a lot without saying much of anything. Again and again, the camera focuses on Sam as he watches his brother carefully, assessing. Is Dean okay? Should he intervene? You can see him struggle to decide how much he should allow Dean his autonomy, his space to deal with this problem and work it out, and how much he should be the protective brother who swoops in. It’s a familiar dynamic to anyone who’s loved someone struggling with addiction or some other psychological challenge, and it hurts to watch. At the same time, it’s inspiring. I want Sam to care, but I also want him to struggle with that decision. It’s a difficult one, and Robbie Thompson’s writing and Jared Padalecki’s acting bring that out, subtly.
We don’t get to see any canon confirmation, but I wonder how much of Sam’s patience with his brother and his conviction that they’ll get through this is colored by his own experience with addiction. I wish they’d talk about it explicitly, but maybe that’s just not something Sam Winchester would do. Still, I can’t help but think that he’s constantly comparing his demon-blood addiction, with its craving and painful withdrawal, to what Dean is going through. Jared is conveying as much as he possibly can without dialogue that goes there explicitly, and for the most part, it works.
Jensen Ackles does a similar thing with Dean. The character (and the actor) can say so much without a single word, and this episode took full advantage of that. I loved the scene where Dark!Charlie insults Sam, calling him the albatross around Dean’s neck, and Dean looks so confused and then so distressed – he reaches over to touch Sam’s arm as if to reassure him before he takes on Charlie. It was such a Jensen thing to do – something I’ve seen him do many times at conventions, always checking to be sure Jared is doing okay after something weird has happened. Jensen has said recently that they really are Dean and Sam, and it seemed that way in that scene, real life meshing with the show.
Ackles did a fabulous job conveying Dean’s struggle to not give in to his dark side. You can feel Dean’s agony as he fights the mark, hands shaking like an addict in withdrawal.
You can see the guilt on his face when he catches his reflection in the bar mirror, as he tries not to drink. And later, when he’s given in to the pull of the mark and nearly beaten both sides of Charlie to death, it’s even more palpable. It broke my heart, seeing Dean so full of guilt and self-hatred.
Charlie: “I forgive you, Dean.”
Dean: “Yeah well, I don’t.”
Me: “Oh, my heart!”
There are plenty of moments that just worked well and evoked early season SPN – Dean yelling “sonofabitch” every time Charlie messed with his baby (And hearing Dean call her ‘Baby’? Oh yeah. Never gonna get tired of that).
I always appreciate the boys’ aliases, and this time was no exception. Collins and Gabriel? Like many people probably did, at first my mind went to Misha and Richard Speight – then it hit me. Brilliant! Genesis….Cain…. oh Show, I do so love you.
There were also some great lines. Charlie: “You hit like a girl…who never learned to hit.” I loved that line. It started out like a misogynistic slur and then turned itself completely around.
And apparently Bob Singer got to be in the episode too, as part of Dean’s struggle to deal with the mark, this time through self-help tapes (Never thought I’d see that in the Impala!) “The key to quieting your mind, is minding your quiet…” I wonder if Singer has ever passed on that pearl of wisdom in the middle of directing. Hmm.
And speaking of great lines? “Let’s get to work,” was close enough to “We’ve got work to do” that it set off more tears. The boys standing there together, determined, did my heart good. Yes, they have a lot of work to do, but I have a hard time believing that when Winchesters put their mind to something, they won’t eventually succeed. Fingers crossed.
There were some moments when I worried that the parallels that Show was drawing between Charlie and Dean were in danger of becoming too heavy handed. I love that Show uses parallels often and well, but I’m hypervigilant for anvils at this point. I wasn’t spoiled for the fact that Charlie’s personality had been split, so I enjoyed the reveal tremendously. My mind immediately went to the classic Star Trek episode ‘The Enemy Within’, and I wondered if SPN could pull this off anywhere near as brilliantly. (Btw, I love that Robbie tweeted that they considered that as a title and then tagged in Supernatural fan William Shatner. Fandoms colliding!)
“You know what I learned about being dark? It sets you free,” Charlie says seductively as she tries to lure Dean to the dark side. You can see how tempted he is, and that entire scene was so charged that it gave me goosebumps. Charlie and Dean both checking out the bartender reminded me that while dark is scary, it’s also often damn hot too.
And speaking of hot… the scene where Dean nearly loses it on the guy they’re trying to get information out of was pretty damn nice.
Dean: “Talk, you son of a bitch!”
Me: “Hey, will somebody bring me a cold drink?”
I mean, look at his FACE! And that suit he’s wearing is absolutely straining as he leans in, and….yeah.
I loved Sam’s nervous glances at Dean throughout that scene, as he tries to decide how far to let Dean go.
Sam got a chance to be naughty (and hot) too.
Sam to Good!Charlie: “How about you guide me through the process, and then I’m the bad one…”
Umm, sure, Sam. Where’s that cold drink??
Of course, Sam also got to be tied up, which reminded me of early SPN and therefore made me happy. Yes, I want to see Sam have some self efficacy and save the day, but in the meantime, tied up Sam is a trope that’s sort of welcome in its familiarity. Much like the gorgeousness of Sam’s hair.
The parallels are broadly drawn, but in the end I think they work. The message ends up being that we all have a dark side, and we need to fight some of our darker impulses, but at the same time we’re not whole without it. If you try to get rid of what you consider “bad,” you risk limiting your good side too. It’s that elusive balance that we all strive for – that Charlie eventually is able to find.
The theme of this episode built on Castiel’s line about there being “a little monster in all of us”, which is an ongoing struggle for all the characters this season. The idea of being able to choose how much darkness you accept and how much you try to contain or get rid of underlies much of Season 10 so far. The theme of forgiveness also echoes throughout this episode and this season – it’s what Sam and Dean struggled with so much in past seasons, their ability to truly forgive themselves and each other. I wonder if that’s where we’re headed, to some true forgiveness. God, I hope so! They both deserve it.
The parallels also foregrounded some of the challenges facing the Winchesters for the rest of this season.
“Kiddo’s gonna have trouble dealing with the fact she killed someone,” Dean says, and we know he’s talking about himself too. I’m assuming Sam can relate too, after the implication that he crossed some lines in his attempt to cure Dean from being a demon.
“For us to win, I had to unleash my true darkness,” Charlie tells them, and I wonder if that’s where we’re headed with Dean. *shivers*
I’m gonna hope that mortally wounding yourself as a way to bring your dark side to you and integrate the two halves isn’t foreshadowing to what Dean will eventually have to do.
I confess to not being familiar enough with Rocket and Groot for that line to hit me, but apparently self sacrifice figures large, which makes me nervous all over again. Oh, boys.
I know some people wondered if one of the side effects of the mark of Cain is extreme gullibility, since Dean did seem to lose his ability to figure out when Dark!Charlie was obviously lying to him, but I put that down to his own subconscious awareness of the parallel between his dark side and Charlie’s. He wants to believe that their dark sides can be contained, not given in to. And that blinds him repeatedly to what the rest of us know Charlie is going to do.
I can’t end this without talking about Charlie, and Felicia Day’s portrayal of her. I love the character, and that hasn’t changed. She’s a fascinating character in her own right, and she gets the Winchesters like few others do.
“Dudes. Dudes. Secrets are bad.”
If only they would listen.
Felicia did a fabulous job of portraying both Charlies, and making both sympathetic characters in their own way. It would be tempting to exaggerate the split, but instead, Day and Thompson let us see that there’s strength in both sides, that’s it’s the balance between our dark and light that allows us to be whole. Jung would approve.
I was sad to hear that a scene between Charlie and Sam was cut, both because I always want to hear more of what’s going on in Sam’s head and because I’m dying to know what happened in Oz between Charlie and Dorothy! Damn that 42 minute constraint!
I’ll leave you with a few more things I liked.
Sam and Castiel touching base by phone on what seems like a daily basis to talk about Dean and how much they worry about him, aww.
Dean going on and on about how much he likes Jacuzzis and bubbles, which left me with some fascinating visuals…
The VFX team working their magic like always, without going over the top.
Felicia Day tweeting “I love this Rocket and Groot line so much, someone needs to make a fanfic picture of that.” Go fandom.
Robbie Thompson tweeting “BROMENT! I love, love, love writing these scenes”
And I love seeing them. I also love that he gave voice to my own thoughts at the end.
Robbie Thompson: “Wait– no bro-hug?!?! Boooooo”
Boo indeed. But I think we’re headed there, and damn, that feels good.
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