Supernatural vs. Women, Part 2 of Whatever Continued: Fangirls, Part III of III

by sketchyfeminist

. . . .


This post is about Charlie Bradbury.

It makes sense to talk about Charlie Bradbury. She is the only “fangirl” aside from Becky to have a recurring, speaking role, so talking about her will nicely round out my bloggy Fangirls-in-Supernatural triptych.

I hate Charlie Bradbury.

Weird, right? She’s a strong, competent, collected, geeky, lesbian genius hacker. Exactly the kind of character Supernatural has been missing since–well, since it started, really.

And . . . that’s kind of the problem.

Charlie is just too much. Whenever she’s in a scene, I feel like she was created using some kind of girl-power checklist. It’s like the character was invented when the producers all sat down in a room together and went, “Huh. Looks like we killed off all our strong women characters. That doesn’t look so good. Let’s bring in one so exceptional that she will replace all of them.” And thus the most exceptional of Exceptional Women was born.

Part of my problem with Charlie is Felicia Day. I’ve seen Buffy (many, many times) and Dr. Horrible (many, many times) and I’m kind of sick of Felicia Day playing “quirky brave shy girl with a heart of gold and a spine of steel”–which is, granted, rather the odd niche. (And how tedious I find it is obviously in large part my fault, for rewatching these things so many times.) But because I’ve seen Felicia Day give pretty much the same performance for other characters, it makes it harder for me to ‘believe’ in Charlie. If I’d seen her play Charlie first, I might like Charlie a good bit better.

Or I might not. There are other problems with Charlie.

Charlie Bradbury/Carrie Heinlein appears in three Supernatural episodes, one in Season 7 and two in Season 8.

Appears in:

  • “The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo,” Season 7, Episode 20. Directed by John MacCarthy; Written by Robbie Thompson.
  • “LARP and the Real Girl,” Season 8, Episode 11. Directed by Jeannot Scwarz; Written by Robbie Thompson.
  • “Pac-Man Fever,” Season 8, Episode 20. Directed by Robert Singer; Written by Robbie Thompson.

Huh. Looks like Robbie Thompson* is the common denominator. Robbie Thompson, I blame you for this.

The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo

OK, so Charlie Bradbury is a special, special snowflake. Seriously. So special. She is so special that Dick Roman can’t even have her eaten and replaced with one of his Leviathan minions. Because she is a super genius or something.

Now, up until this point, the Levis have had no problem taking the form of anyone and using the sum total of that person’s knowledge and accumulated experiences with ease. These people have included a surgeon, a programmer and Dick Roman, who was a rich & famous CEO well before he got eaten. Not that any of these people were geniuses, necessarily. But one assumes that they all had specialized skills and some amount of overall special-ness going for them.

Charlie is more special than all of those people. All of those brutally killed people.

Levi Dick Roman: You’re kind of completing me right now, Charlie. You have that spark, that thing that makes humans so special. Not everyone has it, you know. Those people–they can be replaced. But people like you . . . are impossible to copy.

What makes her so flipping impossible to copy? “That spark,” obviously. “That thing.” Thanks for clearing that up, fake Dick Roman.

What makes her impossible to copy is that she is a special, special snowflake. All those other people? Not special snowflakes. Also: eaten.

Maybe this whole setup seems a little like victim blaming to me: “You, too, could have escaped being eaten and replaced by a mind+body copying monster, if only you were special enough. Oh, well. Too bad for you.”

I’m pretty sure I’m not thing-sparky enough to escape hypothetical gruesome death-and-replacement-by-monster, so this ticks me off.** Bah. I take things too personally.

And Dick tells her how special she is in “The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo,” which is actually my favorite of the Charlie-focused episodes. It advanced Season 7’s plot and Charlie’s quirky charm did contrast nicely with the sleek corporate setting.

So even though she was such a very special snowflake, I was cool with Charlie at first. She was a bit much, but she left at the end of the episode, so I figured no harm, no foul, right?

And then she came back.

“The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo” is a decent episode that advances the overall plot of Season 7, helping things build to a head for the season finale. “LARP and the Real Girl” is a terrible episode in the middle of Season 8 that does nothing. Except try to prove that Supernatural can be geeky and feminist. Or geeky-feminist, or something. (Um. Points for effort?) Well, it might also undermine fairy mythology as already established on the show, but that’s not really going in the plus column.

LARP and the Real Girl

Sam and Dean take a break from the stressful central plot of their lives to investigate something simple: a regular old case, one-shot episode style. The case turns out to involve a bunch of live action role players who have regularly scheduled “medieval battles” somewhere in Minnesota. (At least I think it was Minnesota.)

The fictional setting of these fictional battles is the magical kingdom of Moondoor, and Charlie Bradbury is its queen.

Charlie Bradbury has also changed her name to Carrie Heinlein, of all things–because she’s just so quirky and geeky, remember? Remember? She reads Heinlein! She can hold her own with the geek-boys! Fall in love with her, already. After all, all of the male LARPers have. Even though Charlie is openly lesbian, and flirts with the first “elven princess” she comes across (in the most obvious, awkward, why-is-Felicia-Day-mugging-for-the-camera-like-that? kind of way), none of the male gamers have noticed that she only ever invites women back into her tent.***

Anyway, Charlie’s the queen, and the villain turns out to be one of the obsessive fanboys, who just wants to win the next regularly-scheduled battle and be crowned “her king.” This fanboy is so obsessive, in fact, that he has embraced his in-game character–a mage named “Boltar the Furious”–and turned himself into an honest-to-evil mage, with an honest-to-evil spellbook. Because, in his own words, “There is no game! There is only Moondoor!”

Because Supernatural is really, really worried about fans not being able to tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

So Boltar, who used the name Gerry before he went all Mazes and Monsters, used his evil magic book to capture a good fairy named Gilda, and has been using Gilda to maim and/or murder other gamers that he viewed as threats to his master plan. (The master plan being winning the fake battle and becoming Charlie’s fake king.) At one point, he has Gilda kidnap the fake queen, planning to fake rescue her and wipe her memory later.

This leads to Charlie actually meeting Gilda. Who is an Attractive Female Person. Charlie’s Attractive Female Person radar pings, and she immediately starts hitting on the enslaved fairy, developing, as she does so, one long-term and one short-term goal. The short-term goal: bang the fairy. The long-term goal: free the fairy from the aforementioned enslavement. Why not the other way around? Well, in Charlie’s defense, she and the fairy maiden are being held captive together, and they’ve really got nothing better to do. But sexing up the innocent-in-the-ways-of-the-world fairy–especially before you rescue her, and can only offer vague promises of a possible future rescue, even though you don’t have a plan yet–seems a little icky. (Like, something James Bond would do to a woman.) Also? Impractical. A more practical plan would be to attempt escape from the magic-wielding murderer and then pursue fairy coitus.

But poor (Nice Girl [TM]?) Charlie is interrupted in her quest for grateful fairy sex when Sam and Dean show up with the worst rescue attempt ever–worst because they bring the evil mage along with them.

It all works out, though, because the evil mage also happens to bring with him the evil magic book, and Charlie saves the day after all, by stabbing the book. Which is awesome enough.

Considerably less awesome, however, is the fact that, right before she stabs the book, she raises her dagger dramatically and says “Hey Gerry! I’m the one who saves damsels in distress around here.”

Sketch of Charlie Bradbury (played by Felicia Day) holding a dagger

Hey Gerry! Guess who gets to save damsels in distress around here. Not you! And btdubs, Charlie’s small dagger will prove more effective than any of the swords in this scene. Because symbolism. Oh, it is so totally book-stabbing time.

At which point I start foaming at the mouth. Because I like “girl power” narratives. I really do. They are one of my favorite things ever. But when a show spoon-feeds its “girl power” message to the audience like this, it makes me feel like they respect women less, not more. It makes it seem like, in the show’s universe, female empowerment is so aberrant that it must be performed only in broad strokes, and remarked upon ad nauseum. Because women are such small and dainty and insignificant things, that unless the show tells us in an overt way how empowered its female character is, we’ll never notice on our own. Because women? Too unimportant to notice without prompting.

Charlie is a good idea on paper. In practice, however, I find her offensive. (Contrast her with Becky, who is a terrible idea on paper, but somehow manages to be awesome in practice.) For me, Charlie functions only in a feminism-by-the-numbers kind of way: you hit all your notes, you hit them all at once, and then you wipe your hands and announce to the world that your feminism soup is ready.

You go girl, Charlie Bradbury. You stab that book.

Pac-Man Fever

The third and final (so far) Charlie Bradbury episode is “Pac-Man Fever.”

Well . . . I like it more than “LARP and the Real Girl.” And that’s about all I have to say in its favor.

Not that it was atrocious or anything; I just found this episode kind of forgettable. Literally forgettable. Actually, let’s see what I can remember about it:

1. It was very focused on Charlie, and her backstory, and her comatose mother. It ended sadly.

2. There was a montage in the middle of Charlie trying on various outfits. I think this was supposed to be further proof that Charlie is endearingly quirky. This scene annoyed me greatly. [And I had forgotten this part, but when Dean stopped it (Thank you Dean!), she actually whined, “Montage.”]

[2b. I did not remember this scene either until reviewing, but: Right before the montage, Dean took her to a shooting range. She was a perfect shot, even though there is no established reason for Charlie to be familiar with non-video game guns. And most video game guns do not, as I understand it, have recoil. However, as my knowledge of guns is pretty much nil, for all I know this could be the most beginner-friendly gun ever. But even if it is, Charlie’s unexplained ability to expertly aim and fire it still irks me.]

3. There were djinn who fed on fear instead of happiness. They sent Charlie into a video game-inspired nightmare.

4. The video game-inspired nightmare was unutterably boring. How do you even make a video game-inspired nightmare unutterably boring? Also, Charlie was ‘rocking’ yet another endearingly quirky outfit in her own nightmare. Just to show off how she–unlike less exceptional women–knew the appropriate dress code for a good First Person Shooter. (If it’s a nightmare, shouldn’t she be more ill-prepared? What’s with the gun and ammo? Aren’t survival horror games scarier when you run out of ammo?) And–oh look–it’s a boots-to-eyepatch pan of Charlie in her new outfit. That will go nicely with the changing room montage, if I am ever possessed to make a digital scrapbook about how endearingly quirky Charlie is. I do not anticipate ever being so possessed.

5. Charlie read The Hobbit to her mother. This reminded me of my own parents reading The Hobbit to me when I was little. I was torn between finding this scene touching and feeling a subdued resentment that Supernatural seemed to be cashing in on the recent release of the Hobbit movie to give their audience more familiarity with the text. Not sure why that bothered me, except that it read as yet another thing I was supposed to find ‘quirky’ about Charlie–even though The Hobbit, by now, is comparatively mainstream.

6. Sam admired Charlie’s computer. Then Charlie admired Dean’s book. Apparently, in the game of monster hunting, book beats computer (this round). And rock, as it always has, crushes scissors.

7. Charlie read the Supernatural books! And let Sam and Dean know that they’re all up online. And finds Castiel “dreamy”–which is odd, considering that she was so devoted to her own lesbianism in “The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo” that the idea of even pretending to find a man attractive was mystifying to her. (Note: in no way do I find Charlie’s ability to appreciate the attractiveness of a male character–or even to be attracted to a male character–a threat to her identity as a lesbian. I just think it’s an odd move, considering the particular way that that identity has played out so far.) Maybe she ships Destiel and was giving Dean a hint?

If Castiel is in the books, then someone must have kept publishing Chuck’s series. This makes sense, since Crowley will later use the Supernatural books to choose victims to target. And one of the people he targets is Jody Mills, who is not even in the series until Season 5. (Originally, the Carver Edlund books stopped at the end of Season 3.)

So . . . Charlie’s news about the books was relevant to the larger Season 8 arc, I guess. And could lead to more fun high jinx later. So that’s nice.

And that’s Charlie. Charlie: a character I would probably like if the show would just stop trying so hard at all times to make me love her. Now I cringe each time it’s announced that Felicia Day will guest star in another episode–and she’s only been in three! Since she is so very exceptional (She can bond with Dean over porn! She likes ogling women too!) as well as immune (as a lesbian) from the mortality which seems to afflict all people who become romantically entangled with men who have the last name Winchester, the odds are good for her survival. In fact, the odds are good for her becoming the one untouchable recurring female cast member. Because when you put all your “girl power” eggs in the metaphorical basket of a single character, then it looks really bad to kill her off. Now, I’m not saying I want the character killed off; I would actually like some female characters to survive the full run of the Supernatural series. And killing off the genius lesbian hacker fangirl would, indeed, send a plethora of terrible messages.

I’m just saying: Why couldn’t Ellen (for example), a character I found legitimately strong and compelling, have had that kind of invulnerability?

I have the sinking suspicion that Charlie will keep cropping up.

If and when she does, I hope she at least hangs out**** with Becky. Because I would actually like to see that.

* * *

* As of Season 8, Robbie Thompson is also credited as a series co-producer. And while I do not love every single episode in Season 8, I do love Season 8 in general. So thanks, Robbie Thompson! You get both my thanks and my blame!

** I’ve noticed I have a bad habit of comparing myself negatively to heroes in paranormal plots. Like how I always assumed that I would not have been one of the women to benefit from the Buffy series finale. And yet, I always have all this involuntary empathy for villains getting their just-deserts comeuppance. This does not speak well for my self-image.

*** Was the “come see me in my tent” thing a Dragon Age: Origins reference? (In DA:O, you pursue sexual relations with party members by either inviting them into your tent, or being invited into theirs. Or both. Nothing says your Grey Warden can’t sleep around–except, in some cases, jilted party members.) I’m inclined to think it was, since at least one Supernatural extra is playing that very video game in the “tech tent.” Because meta! And Felicia Day, as it happens, has a character modeled after and performed by her in one of the Dragon Age expansions. Oh, and she stars (as that character) in that video series taking place in the DA universe. Because more meta! Supernatural is so meta it hurts sometimes.

**** When I first typed that, I accidentally wrote “hags out with Becky,” which is a weirdly appropriate typo (considering Becky’s love of Wincest and the faint hint that Charlie may be a Destiel girl), though it depends upon a term of which I am not fond.