After 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.
The 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.
“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.
When 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.
- 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.
- 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!