Charlie Returns: Some Thoughts on Supernatural Season 9, Episode 4, “Slumber Party”

by sketchyfeminist

This is my SPOILERFUL reaction to “Slumber Party,” Supernatural Season 9, Episode 4, which I am getting out only just under the wire before Episode 5 airs, because I am bad at time management. (“Slumber Party” was directed by Robert Singer and written by Robbie Thompson, because every Charlie episode is written by Robbie Thompson.) The following is full of SPOILERS.

Well, before I saw “Slumber Party,” I thought one of two things would happen:

1) The episode would fuel my irrational hatred of Charlie, furthering my contempt for a character who seems to have been constructed using a girl-power-by-the-numbers handbook.

2) The episode would be so ridiculously over the top that I would learn to let go of the hate and FINALLY love a Charlie-centered episode.

Neither of those things happened! In fact, my strongest reaction to this episode is my surprise at how staggeringly underwhelmed I am by it.

Except that I don’t think you can be staggeringly underwhelmed, because underwhelmedness (not sure that’s a word, but I’m running with it) isn’t exactly the kind of feeling that gets you to staggering.

My surprisingly long reaction to this episode that I didn’t have much of a reaction to is under the cut:

The Set-Up

In “Slumber Party,” Supernatural flashes back to 1935, when the butler from Whodunnit and his new protege take over the Men of Letters bunker. Gildart Jackson is as underwhelmed by the bunker as I am by this episode, while his rookie Man of Letters protege is all excited about the “adventures” they’re going to have in their sweet, sweet new batcave. Some time passes, and they haven’t had any adventures. Now the rookie is all underwhelmed too. Then one day, adventure finally turns up in the form of a Hunter coming to their door. This Hunter is Dorothy Gale, bringing with her a captive Wicked Witch of the West.

Um … yeah, OK, sure. I like silly things and I can deal with the appropriation of literary stories. It’s not like anybody’s forcing me to watch Once Upon a Time, for example–I do that of my own free will.

Apparently, L. Frank Baum was a Man of Letters and Dorothy’s father! He was also kind of a monster-obsessed absentee father who didn’t do quite right by his child, because Supernatural specializes in those. But! After Dorothy pops back up in the present day, Charlie points out to her that all those silly, inaccurate books L. Frank Baum wrote about Dorothy’s magical adventures in Oz are actually full of hidden clues left specifically to Dorothy! So now good old Dad is coming through posthumously.

Uh … L. Frank Baum had kids, y’all. He had four sons with his wife, Maud: Frank Joslyn, Robert Stanton, Harry Neal and Kenneth Gage. According to his IMDB biography, he was “a kind and gentle family man,” and apparently his big sin as a parent was that he was too kind and gentle to punish his kids, so his wife had to do it for him. Which is annoying, sure (unless Maud was cool with taking on the disciplinarian role), but hardly indicates an absentee father figure.

So, I’m not too thrilled by the show doing the big “Dorothy was Frank’s daughter all along” reveal while completely ignoring that the man had a real family in real life. I mean, if the writers were determined to make Dorothy his child, they could have at least brought up that Dorothy had four brothers, or perhaps four estranged half-brothers. Maybe Frank kept her a secret from them. Not that adding a fictitious affair would be a more respectful way of rewriting the man’s life, but I just–it’s like Maud and the kids don’t even exist in this universe.

But, as I may have mentioned before, I found this episode really underwhelming. I think the sum total of my reaction to the Dorothy’s-his-daughter reveal was: “Hey, wasn’t L. Frank Baum a family man? I remember watching a biopic in school. This seems inaccurate.”

So, anyway, Dorothy brings the Wicked Witch to the bunker because she can’t figure out a way to kill the Wicked Witch and she’s hoping the Men of Letters can help her. The Witch escapes and possesses the rookie Man of Letters, who is then killed by the Man of Letters played by Gildart Jackson. (I simply cannot remember the names of these flashback characters.) The Witch has a kind of neat power that allows her to possess people while still remaining in her own body. To protect all everybody, Dorothy casts a spell that traps both the Witch and herself in a jar, apparently with their souls trapped in some kind of grayish-purple viscous fluid. Because magic.

Dorothy and the Witch stay trapped in the jar until the present day, when Sam and Dean release them by bumping into a bookcase and knocking the jar over. Because the Winbros are too lazy to move stuff off shelves before moving their furniture around, even when they should know that their shelves are most likely full of magical junk, and their furniture is probably magical junk, and it would not be all that surprising if their couch was possessed by an eldritch abomination. Because Sam and Dean aren’t the best at thinking things through.

Sam and Dean aren’t just redecorating, though. They’re trying to access part of a magical, antique computer so that Charlie can reprogram it to track angels. The computer was somehow able to sense the Falling Angel Apocalypse in Episode 1, so Sam decided that maybe it could track angels, too, and so the Winbros summon Charlie, expert on all things even remotely computery.

And how does she reprogram a pre-1950s era computer? By hooking it up to her modern-day laptop, of course. And dragging and dropping files!

Yeah … I’m sure that works. Well, she does say the old computer runs on magic, at least. Maybe it’s the magic that lets her reprogram the more-than-60-year-old computer with her Surface Pro. I freely confess that my knowledge if computer programming is very, very small, but this seems implausible. (Also, if you pause on Charlie’s computer screen, you can see that she frequents a “Supernatural, by Carver Edlund,” page, which is a nice touch. What is a less-than-nice touch is that Charlie Bradbury, master hacker and lover of the freedom of information, is apparently still using Internet Explorer.)

OK, OK, so the dialogue suggests Charlie’s maybe not reprogramming anything so much as downloading files from the Men of Letters computer onto her own computer. Which I guess she will then use to track angels?

I’m not sure we’ll learn exactly what happened here until and unless we get to actual angel-tracking later in the season.

Oh, well.

Charlie’s Arc

Charlie has the sads because her hunting adventures haven’t been magical and questy enough. She complains that her life is not enough like Game of Thrones, to which I say–the HELL, Charlie? GoT is the least epic epic fantasy I have ever read. It’s almost all court intrigue with almost no magic, and all of its magic except maybe for the simple existence of dragons is scary and awful. (I’m cool with Charlie wanting things to be a little more Tolkienesque, though, because I totally get it.)

My sketch of Felicia Day as Charlie in SPN 9x04, "Slumber Party"

Where are my blood sacrifices and evil magic shadow spawn babies?

But, eh, fair point I guess, Charlie, unfortunately-chosen point of comparison aside. Supernatural is kind of heavy with the evil, bloody, wants-to-kill-everyone-you-love magic and low on the childish wonder.

When Dorothy shows up in 2013, it awakens all the childish nostalgia that Charlie holds near and dear for the Oz she read about in L. Frank Baum’s books. Charlie clearly wants to ditch this dreary ‘verse and head off to Oz’s greener–or at least more color-saturated–pastures.

Charlie bonds with Dorothy and helps Dorothy discover how to kill the Wicked Witch. Apparently you can kill somebody from Oz with something else from Oz, as long as that something else is magical enough–in this case, the magical something else is the ruby slippers, which are now just a pair of red pumps.

Ahem:

Dorothy looked, and gave a little cry of fright. There, indeed, just under the corner of the great beam the house rested on, two feet were sticking out, shod in silver shoes with pointed toes.

–L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, page 21

Even though Dorothy is the more experienced Hunter, Charlie ends up killing the Wicked Witch, because Dorothy is busy fighting off Sam and Dean, who have been possessed by the Witch.

Shockingly, Charlie kills the Wicked Witch! With the heels of two high-heeled shoes! Because that’s what girl power means, right? That high-heeled shoes are a weapon? In case we somehow don’t notice that Charlie is killing the Witch with heels, Charlie also yells “Heel!” when she stabs the Witch in the forehead. I love stupid puns, but this is not one. Because it’s not a pun. When you yell “heel!” at a dog, you’re telling that dog to follow closely behind you. Charlie is not telling the witch to heel, so why she feels the need to yell “heel!” at all is a mystery. Punning: you’re doing it wrong.

Then the Witch is dead and the Winbros are no longer possessed and all is peaceful in the bunker once more. Dorothy has unfinished business in Oz, and offers to take Charlie there with her. Charlie says yes, and they ride off into Oz, the Emerald City gleaming greenly in the distance.

Ahem:

“[…] Then I thought, as the country was so green and beautiful, I would call it the Emerald City, and to make the name fit better I put green spectacles on all the people, so that everything they saw was green.”

“But isn’t everything here green?” asked Dorothy.

“No more than in any other city,” replied Oz; “but when you wear green spectacles, why of course everything you see looks green to you.”

–L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, pages 178-179

Maybe all the good clues for Dorothy were left in the movie version (made well after L. Frank Baum’s death), and not in the books as Charlie assumes.

For somebody so big on showing off her knowledge of the books, Charlie sure seems to be ignoring a lot of inconsistencies.

Sam and Dean’s Arc

Dean thinks of the bunker as home; Sam thinks of it as a place to work. This is one of the big themes of the season (we know because the showrunners told us all about it in interviews this summer) and it creates tension between the brothers.

This episode explores this theme with all the subtlety of a brick wall collapsing on top of you. Or maybe Sam’s Hell wall from Season 6. Or a cartoon anvil. Anyway: not subtle.

“I believe the subtext here is rapidly becoming text” –Giles to Buffy in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 2, Episode 11, “Ted.”

Ezekiel

Dean has Zeke bring Charlie back from the dead. Zeke brought Cas back from the dead last episode. When all of this is over, Dean’s going to owe Zeke a really nice gift basket. Like, maybe one of those gourmet ones that comes with wine and chocolate and stuff. Like that.

The Performances

OK, so I think one of my problems is this: Felicia Day, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki are all really charismatic actors individually. And Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, acting together, have chemistry up to their eyeballs. They have to or the show wouldn’t work. But when Felicia Day, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki all act together, suddenly I feel like I’m watching a hurriedly put-together school play. The actors still have individual charisma, but there’s no chemistry; they have none of what Constantin Stanislavski or Sanford Meisner would call “communion” with their fellow actors. All of a sudden, Day, Ackles and Padalecki seem to be playing the “say my line and wait my turn” game. They’re still “reacting” to the other actors, sure, with body language and facial expression, but I’ll be damned if I believe they’re communicating with one another.

I really like Tiio Horn, the actress who plays Dorothy, in this episode. (According to her IMDB bio, Tiio Horn is a Mohawk actress from Ontario.) I don’t know if her acting choices entirely make sense in an episode as ridiculous as this one, but I think she evinces a kind of sincerity and underplayed quirkiness that would have worked well in an episode that took itself more seriously.

Mark A. Shephard’s performance as Crowley works really well in this atypical episode because Mark A. Shephard works really well as Crowley. When Crowley sweet-talks the Wicked Witch of the West without batting an eye–yeah, I believe that.

Gildart Jackson’s performance may be my favorite, though, because he’s all, “Go big or go home.” I think that maybe Jackson is the only one who fully understood how over-the-top this episode would need to be to work.

Maya Massar (who plays the Wicked Witch of the West) seems to be enjoying herself, at least. And she cackles well.

The Thing I Liked Most

Eh, the only reason this plot is happening at all is that Sam and Dean are trying to do something helpful for Cas. After Cas getting voted out of the bunker last episode, this soothes my fangirlish heart.

The Thing I Felt Like I Should Have Liked But Didn’t

All of the action this episode is caused by female characters. The big villain is female and the two main heroes (Dorothy and Charlie) are female. Dorothy and Charlie even run off to Oz together to be the protagonists of their own adventure, in classic “The Women Men Don’t See” style. (Though Dorothy and Charlie, to be fair, do not seem to be motivated by the desire to escape a misogynist universe, even if they kinda should be. A full-text version of “The Women Men Don’t See” is here, by the by.)

But the thing is: this is a throw-away episode. This is a one-shot, and except for, possibly, giving the Winbros a way to track angels, it does not move the main plot of the series forward at all.

It’s a kind of female empowerment consolation prize: “Yeah, sure, the women can be the driving force behind the plot–when it doesn’t matter.”

Now, as much as I dislike Charlie’s appearances on Supernatural proper, because her episodes (except for her first appearance) interrupt the main flow of the show, I would probably watch a show about Dorothy and Charlie road tripping through Oz. Because, if it were Charlie’s own show, (a) Charlie taking over an episode would feel less like an interruption and more like it was just supposed to happen, and (b) it would feel less like a show usually comfortable in its own misogynistic skin (because “God is a sexist”) was trying to throw me a feminist bone. Charlie and Dorothy’s Yellow Brick Road Trip Adventures could probably pull off, at the very least, a kind of Xena-influenced, camp girl-power vibe.

Missing in Action

Cas, Kevin, Abaddon and–you knew this was coming!–Jody Mills. I just feel like I should keep bringing the good Sheriff up until the show remembers that she exists.

The Missed Opportunity

So, young and conventionally attractive Dorothy shows up at the Men of Letters bunker with the less conventionally attractive, stringy-haired Witch of the West in tow. Dorothy has cut out the Witch’s tongue, so the Witch cannot tell her side of the story to the Men of Letters.

And there’s no bait and switch. Maybe it’s all that Buffy I used to watch, but the utter lack of any plot twists in this episode was kind of hard to take. I mean, the Witch couldn’t talk. How was she not Dorothy’s victim? Or Dorothy trapped in the Witch’s body after a bodyswap? Something.

::sigh:: This missed opportunity brought to you by the same Hollywood logic that taught us “only bad witches are ugly.”

* * *

Baum, L. Frank. The Wizard of Oz. 1899. Illus. W. W. Denislow. Chicago: Rand McNally & Co., 1956.

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