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TV Review: ‘Supernatural’ – ‘Slumber Party’

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9x045After last week’s “I’m No Angel,” I was a little anxious about Supernatural’s first Monster-of-the-Week episode.  However, “Slumber Party,” written by Robbie Thompson and directed by Robert Singer, is a good restorative.

The ninth season’s fourth episode introduces Oz as part of the fairy realm. Like all of Thompson’s episodes, “Slumber Party” is richly complex with subtext, subtlety, and, loveliest of all lovely things, continuity. The narrative occurs across two timelines: The past story, presented in black and white, features Dorothy, the Wicked Witch, and the first two Men of Letters who resided in the bunker, James Haggerty (Gildart Jackson) and Peter Jenkins (Andrew Jenkins).

In the present, Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam Winchester (Jared Padalecki) enlist the help of tech-guru Charlie Bradbury (Felicia Day) to access the bunker’s antiquated computer system, only to discover that Dorothy (Kaniehtiio Horn) and the Wicked Witch (Maya Massar) have been bottled up in the Men of Letters bunker since 1935. As flying monkeys prepare to invade the world of Supernatural, Dean, Sam, Charlie, and Dorothy team up to bring down the Wicked Witch.

The episode opens with Haggerty and Jenkins, who echo the bond between Dean and Sam. Both Dean and Haggerty have paternal attitudes towards the younger men, each of whom struggles with his waning (if not already lost) idealism. When the Wicked Witch possesses Jenkins, Haggerty’s attempts to break through can be seen as part of Supernatural’s long-running concern with when someone can (or cannot) thwart possession. Dean’s ability to do so is something of a superpower (5×1, 5×22, 8×17). However, in this episode, Haggerty can’t reach Jenkins, and Charlie can’t reach Dean.  Haggerty kills Jenkins, and the younger man’s last words are, “You were right. There’s nothing worse than adventure.” Doesn’t that line sound like someone we know? A really, really tall guy who tells Charlie, “Magic? Quests? Suck.”

Thompson nicely establishes an explanation for Kevin’s absence (he’s on a break in a warded motel room in Branson) and acknowledges Castiel’s. While I’d have personally liked more of a bridge between the heartbreaking ending of “I’m No Angel” and “Slumber Party,” I very much appreciate that in less than two minutes, Thompson manages to incorporate Dean’s grief and guilt over Cas and Sam’s concern for their friend. Dean’s admission, “Nobody wants him here more than I do, okay?” somewhat soothes nerve-endings frayed by Cas’s blunt eviction from the bunker.

9x048The first present-day scene also stresses Dean’s lying and Sam’s trustful questioning as the latter comments, “By the way, I still don’t understand why [Cas] left in the first place…” Of course, Dean doesn’t have a good answer for his brother, and if Ezekiel’s not outed soon, we’re going be able to create a drinking game out of Sam’s “By the ways…” This short but pivotal scene also reminds us on the Sam’s possession: Dean asks Sam if he thought of the tracking plan on his own, and Sam replies, “Do you see anybody else in here?” Of course, we know that Dean does.

Sam’s idea to track the angels propels the plot forward. Charlie arrives to help; Dorothy and the Wicked Witch are released; Crowley is the “little birdie” who reveals what the witch is after; and the rest of the episode follows the ensuing pursuit.

There are a few moments that seem a little flat. For instance, as much as I love the slumber party scene, something about the inflection of the conversation between Sam and Charlie simply feels off; I’ve noticed this effect in other scenes with Sam, and I’ve wondered if it is intentional foreshadowing of something going on with Zeke or something else entirely, perhaps the execution or the season settling into itself? Whatever the answer, it’s fun to speculate.

As the Winchesters’ little sister they never knew they wanted, Felicia Day’s Charlie enriches the family dynamic and allows us to see different sides of Dean and Sam. While “Pac-Man Fever” (8×20) emphasized Dean’s bond with Charlie, “Slumber Party” balances her interactions with both Sam and Dean. Amusingly, the Winchesters take turns playing the concerned older brother, particularly when they question her about hunting alone.

The introduction of Dorothy, a tough, snarky hunter, strengthens Charlie’s injection of female agency and strength. When it’s the female hunters against the possessed Winchesters, the former save the day. I cheered as Charlie took Dorothy up on her offer to stop the rebellion and help “find [her] damn dog.” The fast resolution – in this case, Charlie’s quick acceptance and immediate departure without her tablet or a spare plaid shirt – is surprising, but the episode is nearly over. Hopefully, both characters return soon, but in the meantime, Charlie and Dorothy’s chemistry has launched a new ship.

9x044“Slumber Party” reveals more of the Men of Letters bunker, including the garage where Baby now has a home, the kitchen, the computer room, and Sam’s bedroom. The revelation of Sam’s personal space opens up a discussion about “home,” which spoilers said would further expose the growing differences between Dean and Sam. I wrongly assumed that Sam would want a “real” home, whereas Dean would be happy with the bunker.

Instead, we learn that Sam feels that every time he tries to create a home, “it really hasn’t ended well.” This discloses more of Sam’s psyche, and it helped me better understand his acceptance of death (9×01). For both Sam and Dean, individual identity has long been a focus of the narrative. Sam has struggled with soullessness and hellucinations, both the result of outside forces that he could not control. Ezekiel’s possession of the younger Winchester and Dean’s enabling of the possession denies Sam’s agency in ways that cannot (should not) be overlooked.

Dean’s character progression is no less complicated. After Dean’s stint in Purgatory, season eight managed to propel his character growth by leaps and bounds. (For a detailed discussion of how Dean has “dismantled his own machismo,” see here.) As these early episodes focus on Dean’s choices, the numerous parallels being employed cannot be overlooked, particularly in how they foreshadow what is coming in Dean’s arc. While parallels can be interpreted in vastly different ways, here’s my take:

Sam lies near death, and Dean enables Sam’s possession (9×01). Inhabited by Ezekiel, Sam is no longer “just Sam,” a point made ever more clear by Zeke’s increasing visibility. So, while Dean “saves” his brother, he also loses him.

Cas is in mortal danger, and Dean is unable to prevent his murder (9×03). Zeke resurrects Cas without being asked, but then demands that Cas leave the bunker. So, despite his efforts, Dean loses Cas.

Kevin doesn’t present a tidy parallel, though if he had left the bunker, he would have been at risk, so in essence, Dean’s assurance that he’s family, does “save” Kevin (9×02). By “Slumber Party,” Dean has settled Kevin in another safe place, so the prophet isn’t “lost” and the decision isn’t (so far as we know) forced.

9x046When Charlie sacrifices herself to save Dean, who is unable to protect her, he calls on Zeke, who brings her back with the promise that doing so prolongs his possession of Sam (9×04). Dean agrees, and Charlie is saved. She then exercises her agency and leaves with Dorothy for an adventure in Oz. So, while Dean “saves” Charlie, he also loses her. Importantly, the loss is in no way forced.

There are notable differences between Dean’s decisions that forced the losses/absences of Sam and Castiel versus his decisions that enabled the losses/absences of Charlie and Kevin. While Dean hasn’t outright deceived Charlie or Kevin, he has deceived Sam and Castiel and continues to do so. Dean’s ties to his brother and (regardless of platonic/romantic interpretations) his former angel constitute the center of his world. Dean’s increasing willingness to acquiesce to Zeke’s demands (possessing Sam, kicking out Cas, staying in Sam longer) to save the people he loves is disturbing.

I continue to see the potential for substantial change regarding Dean’s co-dependency and inability to distinguish and discuss “love… and love” (9×03), though in light of episode three, I’m no longer as confident in how that change will occur. In spite of this, I do anticipate that when Dean’s web of deception – and, oh man, is that web growing ever more tangled – unravels, and all is revealed, the fallout will be epic (as it should be).

“Slumber Party” is a much needed, if a bit jarring, shift from “I’m No Angel.” The season’s fifth episode, “Dog Dean Afternoon,” airs Nov. 5 on the CW. Though nervous about its crackfic potentiality, I’m hoping for comedy gold in the vein of season four’s “Yellow Fever.” Watch the preview here.

Other notes:

  • Robbie Thompson live-tweeted the West Coast’s airing of “Slumber Party,” and per his behind-the-scenes tidbits, Padalecki and Ackles switched the dialogue regarding reading the Game of Thrones series. Of course, they know their characters. Personally, I would have loved to see Dean tease Sam about reading; it becomes more obvious when the episodes are viewed sequentially that the narrative can often be interpreted as privileging book smarts (Sam) over instinctive ingenuity (Dean). It’d be nice to have more evidence that the boys’ aptitudes, while different, are given equal narrative weight.

9x047

  • Mark Sheppard’s Crowley steals his scenes, particularly when he convinces the witch, whom he recognizes immediately, to “write it down so daddy can help.” The Witch does, and he sends her in a false direction; he then uses the information that she’s searching for a key to gain some physical freedom. The Winchesters reluctantly oblige but only within reason, as evidenced by Dean shooting Crowley to provide the demon with the “airing out” that he’s demanding.
  • The episode is rife with meta-madness, from the Supernatural books to Frank L. Baum’s Wizard of Oz series. “I thought it was fanfic at first, but it was clearly Edlund’s work,” said Charlie when discussing the uploaded, unpublished Winchester Gospels.
  • I really want to see Dean on Dorothy’s motorcycle.
  • If Zeke had not already been on my “suspicious” list, this episode would put him there. At this point, I’ll be more surprised if he turns out to be one of the good guys.
  • So many wonderful lines in this episode:

Charlie says, “[The Men of Letters] may have been sexist, but like all librarians, they were wicked smart too.”

After the witch trashes the kitchen, Dean says, “Dammit, I just cleaned in here.”

When Dean is possessed, Charlie asks, “Is that your Batman voice?”

When possessed, Sam states, “I’ve missed you my pretty.” That whole sequence was campy fun – flashing green eyes and all.

  • What did you think of “Slumber Party”? What great lines did I miss? Share in the comments below!
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About Lyda Scott

Lyda Scott is a freelance writer and editor, among other things. A good day is one spent over-analyzing film, television, and literature. Follow her on Twitter @Lyda_Scott.
  • Ginger

    I couldn’t disagree with you more strongly about this episode, and here’s why. This is the story so far:

    Angels are falling and gobbling up vessels all over the world

    Bart is amassing an angel force to do…. something

    Metatron is up in Heaven all alone…for some reason

    Abbadon is trying to take over Hell and have all the humans and angels bow down to her

    Crowley in their basement doing not much of anything at the moment

    Zeke is possessing Sam, Sam is MIA whenever anything important comes down, and Dean lies to him. The smart, questioning everything Sam is looking pretty dumb these days in not figuring out something is going on, and we don’t know what Zeke wants from Dean, or even what he is up to

    Dean has lost all perspective about getting the job done, choosing instead to risk the mission and save some family member in each and every episode (Sam, Cas, and Charlie). Is that a sub-plot? Will he end up losing his family? Where is it going, because we all know Sam and Dean (and probably Cas) will always be on the show. This episode didn’t further that story at all.

    Given all of that, I don’t care about support character Charlie having an adventure in OZ or Dorothy having daddy issues. What did any of it tell us about the Winchesters, about the SPNverse, or any of the current plots?

    The episode was pointless. Charlie in any episode is always pointless. Does Oz, Dorothy, or the Wicked Witch shed any light on any the current plots or the Winchesters this season? No. Nothing. No bells. I think it could have worked better had the brothers interacted only with Dorothy.

    The MOL information gave us no insight into how the hunters and MOLs worked together, or even how the MOLs worked as a group to fight demons; nor was any of it relevant to Sam and Dean.

    And let’s talk about Zeke. From the last three episodes, I have to ask why Cas was de-angeled and all his angel powers transferred to Zeke. The show now has an even more glaringly Mr. Fix-it problem on their hands. I do think this will eventually go somewhere.
    This episode was written for Felicia Day and it came off much as a beginning fanfic writer — make a OC, write a story for that character, and plop; usually a her, down in the SPNverse and have her take over the episode. This is what Robbie Thompson has been doing A LOT of lately (Charlie and Bitten comes to mind immediately), and I don’t even know why those kinds of scripts are getting passed on. I have decided not to watch any more Robbie Thompson episodes, because I just can’t take any more of his Kudzu Charlie hero worship.

    • Lyda Scott

      Moving from three heavy episodes into MOTW format *is* a little
      jarring. For me, though, this episode shows us the effects of the first three – We see Dean still trying to cover up Zeke; Sam still trusting without question (other than “who’s zeke?”); and Cas is off on his own… I think Charlie’s character allows us to “see” what’s going on with Dean and Sam in this ep. The brothers can’t interact as usual because of Zeke (Dean especially can’t talk to Sam about anything that’s bothering him), so they interact with Charlie instead, giving us more insight into their state of mind. I also thought that Dean and Sam playing big brother shows the audience (particularly new viewers) how important family is to both of them.

      I’m especially anxious to see what happens with Dean. He’s increasingly desperate (how much heartache can one guy take in just a couple of weeks?), and eventually he’s going to crack… how that manifests will be telling.

      There are *a lot* of balls in the air at this point, and I’m curious to see how the storylines converge. In “Slumber Party,” I read a lot between the lines, so to speak, and do believe that in the grand scheme, this episode (especially its subtext and parallels) connects to the season’s arcs.

      One of my favorite parts of this episode, and I didn’t go into much detail
      about it above because of space, is its meta-ness; the convos between Sam & Dorothy and Dorothy & Charlie especially highlight the role
      of interpretation when it comes to constructing narrative. I loved that
      part because it points directly to how many of us interpret the show in different ways while encouraging our close readings.

      Thank you for reading & commenting – and I hope that the next episode will give us all many good things to discuss!