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TV Review: Supernatural: “Slumber Party”

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This week’s episode was by the wonderfully quirky Robbie Thompson, one of the bright lights on the Supernatural writing team, which has lost almost all of the original writing staff from the first five seasons. Robbie Thompson is not quite Ben Edlund quality yet, mostly because he struggles a bit with tone occasionally, both in dialogue and atmosphere. But he’s darn good.

“Slumber Party” gets the dialogue right, but there will be some viewers who will not embrace the tone. I’m not among them, as I think Thompson’s strategy of tagging the high fantasy elements to Charlie rather than Sam and Dean works. But I do think there are dangers in going too far down the yellow brick road, even accompanied by the excellent Felicia Day.

Dean and the Impala

Dean and Baby on the road again.

Part of the charm of Supernatural is the way it has both has an established gritty working class middle America atmosphere and welcomes out-of-the-box episodes that push its boundaries. Creator Eric Kripke was adamant the show should not rely on high fantasy elements like spells and wands and instead have two working class brothers with shovels and pick axes in the trunk, throwing punches and rock salt rather than spells. His vision had the boys cruising through small towns in a muscle car, always on the move, with only each other and the Impala as their home.

Yet he greenlit episodes like “Monster Movie,” allowing Ben Edlund to put the boys in a black and white B-movie with all the associated tropes. Jeremy Carver’s season three “Changing Channels,” with the boys hopping from TV show to TV show, is a classic. The writers have always had a lot of leeway in their approach to story.

But Kripke kept a strong hand on the narrative nonetheless. He burnt down the roadhouse because he felt it was important Supernatural stay a road show, and he kept Sam and Dean grounded in the reality of the world he built.

Carver’s turn at the wheel has introduced some changes and most of them have worked. The Men of Letters story line both gives the boys character development as they wrestle with this unexpected legacy and a home. I love the character development, but wonder what the long term effect will be of building such an elaborate set that is so expensive it demands to be used extensively.

“Slumber Party” introduces yet more rooms to the already massive set, giving us a computer room, kitchen, garage and finally Sam’s bedroom. Thompson said his inspiration for the story was a tour of the set, as he loved it so much he wanted to set an entire story within it. The Wonderful  Wizard of Oz offered him the framework, as he reimagined that story as a hunter narrative.

It’s a bold idea well pulled off. Sam and Dean plan a relaxing weekend at what Dean considers home and Sam considers a workplace, only to end up with the wicked witch running around the place. “There’s no place like home” is thematically resonant throughout the episode as Sam takes a break from witch hunting to point out he has no memories of a home, and he’s been hurt by his attempts to build one.

Dean, who does have pre-hunter memories, looks at the bunker as a place the boys can make truly their own, fitting their lifestyle while allowing them a personal space in a way none of their previous attempts at domesticity allowed. It’s a revisiting of the rather sad “Dark Side of the Moon” conversation the boys had, and it’s a little more hopeful. Sam ends the episode giving Dean a little glance as he says Charlie will return from Oz because there’s no place like home.

I love that the MOL story line offers the possibility of home—but at the same time I’m rather leery of the show moving away so dramatically from being a road show. The set is beautiful, but the concept of the show is the boys on the road in the Impala, cruising America. There may end up being some tension between the building of a home base and the atmosphere many expect to find on the show.  It’s great Baby has a place to sleep, but she shouldn’t be sleeping too often.

“Slumber Party” has a number of elements that work in the context of the episode, but I think signal trouble if they turn up too often in the series. Felicia Day’s Charlie is a welcome contrast to daisy duke clad derrieres used as vampire bait. She’s smart, charming, quirky and brave, and as it turns out, so is Dorothy, who channels Amelia Earhart with aplomb. I love the way Thompson writes strong female characters and handles gender and sexuality—there’s no preciousness about it; Charlie and Dorothy exist in the story without needing any politically correct commentary on their queerness.

Felicia Day as Charlie

Felicia Day as Charlie

To a large extent, Charlie is a well enough developed character to escape the label of a Mary Sue—an authorial insert character who is so perfect as to be annoying. But there is perhaps just a slight whiff of Sueishness here, as Charlie turns up trumps in every situation. However, I love the scene where she sacrifices herself for Dean, forcing him yet again to have to wrestle with using Sam’s possession to save another member of his family.

Thompson wisely weaves in more exploration of Dean’s dilemma as he gets mired in more and more lies. Having used Ezekiel last week to save Cas, he doesn’t hesitate to call on the angel again to save Charlie. Ezekiel tries to tell Dean he should hesitate, that the more he has to use his power in this way, the longer he has to stay in Sam, and neither of them want that. I felt Ezekiel was trying to give Dean a message that his possession of Sam may be a difficult thing to end, though exactly why isn’t yet clear. Is Sam changing him as much as he’s changing Sam? Is he enjoying being in this vessel a little too much?

Dean is so focused on saving Charlie, he doesn’t take in the warning undertone. This story line is challenging, as Dean makes decisions that so clearly will hurt Sam when he finds out. And he’s already suspicious. Dean has to be imagining how he will try to justify first overriding Sam’s consent and then using him as a tool.

The really sad part is this conversation will have to take place just as Sam is finally prepared to try looking at the bunker as a more of a home and less as just a base.  And yet the story is doing a good job of showing how Dean is making the decisions he does. Having lost so many people, he’s finally gathered a new family, only to face losing them one by one. In these first four episodes, he’s faced losing Sam, Cas and now Charlie—how is he supposed to process that much loss? Logically?

 The decision to save Sam was a mixture of selfishness and love—which side will Sam weigh the heaviest? And though he will justifiably be hurt and angry at Dean using him without his consent, will he think Dean should have let Cas and Charlie die as the only alternative? Sam needs a sense of family, too.

I do hope we get to see some development of Cas and Sam’s relationship, because it’s not clear now whether they consider each other family. I get a sense we are supposed to think they are, but to my mind we’ve never seen that in action, and given their history, we really need their current relationship established for us. But I digress.

Charlie and Dorothy in Oz.

Charlie and Dorothy write their own adventure in Oz.

Wrapping up this episode, I like it a lot, though I don’t want to see the show change its gritty road show atmosphere for high fantasy on a sustained basis. Felicia Day lights up the screen and the guest stars all carried their parts well.  The special effects team deserves kudos as of course does Jerry Wanek and his designer team. But I’m happy the boys did not head down the yellow brick road themselves. They need to stay firmly in Supernatural’s world, not Tolkien’s or L. Frank Baum’s.

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About Gerry Weaver

  • Ginger

    I have decided not to watch any more Robbie Thompson episodes until such time that he writes for the Winchesters and not his very special characters (Charlie especially, but things like Bitten come to mind, too). For me, this episode clearly showed that Thompson’s Charlie hero worship is out of control.

    I hated the episode. It was much too embedded in fantasy, and I completely agree with you that Thompson is no Ben Edlund. I think he never will be, because he creates these ‘very special characters,’ inserts them into the Winchester world, and has them outshine the brothers in every way. Charlie easily stepped into hunting; but it’s not challenging enough for her. She got designated a woman of letters because of her superior smarts. She is physically gifted, calm in crisis, and saves the Winchesters every time. It’s fanfic on the beginning writer’s level. And the topper was that Thompson even had the balls to assure us of Charlie’s return from Oz, after ending the 75 year old rebellion, I’m sure, and just in time to save the Winchesters from another improbable situation. Nope, I can’t do Thompson any more, and I’ve never even considered that with a Lemming/Buckner episode.
    Your review did provide answers as to why this episode was passed on, which I had not been able to figure out. But in the end, I find Charlie episodes pointless and Charlie as a character in the SPNverse as pointless. I think this episode would have worked better if the brothers had interacted directly with Dorothy.
    I found the dialogue atrocious and the acting by everyone clunky, except for the actors playing the first two MoLs and Mark Sheppard’s scene. Even JA couldn’t save this one, IMO, and he has managed to save a lot of clunkers. I actually wondered if Mark’s scene was filmed at an earlier time.
    I also share your worry with the MoL bunker and the tone of the show. (The tone has been gone ever since Carver took over.) My worries extend into what Carver’s intention is into changing the Sam and Dean. Intentional or not, what I see is a pattern of Dean giving up on the missions to save whoever he considers as ‘family.’
    For those who have complained about the show’s depiction of women, I would say that they should be very happy with this episode.
    Unfortunately, next week’s episode doesn’t look any better than this one. I really hope I am wrong, but I was embarrassed for JA when I watched the promo.

    • Gerry

      Hi Ginger! I had a strong suspicion you would not enjoy this episode, and I do understand where you are coming from. I enjoyed it much more, but I do think there are some worrying tendencies in it that I hope Robbie Thompson will not continue to expand in his writing.

      I have enjoyed Charlie and felt in past episodes we saw her frailties and damage, which did not prevent her from also being strong, which to me fits in well with the Winchester world. But this episode, I did find her stepping into Mary Sue territory as she, as you say, adapts to hunting so well she finds it mundane and not fun enough.

      That aspect of “fun” to me didn’t ring true. I think Supernatural has always been about taking the hero narrative and deconstructing it, showing how it would be to actually live it. Being heroes has not been “fun” for Sam and Dean. They pay a huge price and they don’t save everyone.

      Why does Charlie heading off to Oz look fun? Why does being a hunter not bring her into tension with a personal life, like it has for Sam, Dean and Dorothy? At this point, I have to agree that Charlie belongs in a different show. If the writers bring her back from Oz, she’d better be incredibly damaged from having to sacrifice Dorothy in order to stop the witch, who hasn’t really been stopped in a permanent way, while the munchkins have turned on Charlie as a war criminal. Sam, Dean, Bobby, Cas, Kevin, Ellen, Jo–these characters did not get fun validation from their willingness to fight for what they believe in.

      However, I do love that Charlie is smart, independent and has a backstory to flesh her character out, so I have enjoyed her character over all.

      In regard to Dean’s story, I have a different read. I think Dean’s choosing family over quest when push comes to shove has always been a part of the story. In season one, he and Sam fight over whether to bring the colt to rescue their dad. Sam privileges the revenge mission and says the colt should only be used to kill the YED.

      Dean is just as adamant he will bring the colt in case he has to rescue his family and that the mission is important to him, but saving his dad and brother is the most important.

      That tension gets played out again when John is possessed and manages to break free to tell Sam to kill him. Sam considers whether he should, but he is swayed by Dean’s impassioned plea not to kill his dad, YED or no YED.

      Dean makes the same choice when Sam is possessed by Meg. She tries to push him to the point of killing Sam for the greater good, but Dean won’t do it, even when Sam threatens Jo.

      I think Kripke felt making Dean accept Sam’s decision to sacrifice himself to save the world was heartbreaking–and even then, my read is Dean realized that to protect Sam, he had to allow him to destroy himself, because a living Sam was not Sam at all and was everything Sam had been fighting so hard not to be. Yes, Dean cared about saving the world, but he also knew he was saving what was most important about Sam.

      In this episode, I really liked that Charlie’s willingness to sacrifice herself for Dean had a parallel to Jo doing the same. Dean has already walked down the road of someone he cares about following him and believing in him, only to have Dean use her death strategically in the fight. He did it with Jo, but he never forgave himself–and her death didn’t even accomplish anything in the big picture. Dean didn’t kill Lucifer nor stop Death from being bound. He didn’t even save any townspeople.

      I didn’t have any difficulty believing that a situation that brought those memories up in Dean would result in a wash of terrible emotions and that he would look for any way not to be in that position again. Dean doesn’t want to be Endverse Dean. He’s faced terrible losses, but he hasn’t closed down his emotions. He still knows how to love and he still values his relationships. But of course, given who the Winchesters are and what they have been charged with, love and duty are often in conflict.

      It will be interesting to see how Sam sorts through his feelings on saving people. He helped Dean blow up Jo and Ellen. How will he weigh Dean using his possesion to save Cas and Charlie? I think he’ll find the matter is not black and white.

      Well that was longwinded. Sorry. I hope you find future eps more to your taste. I do have a bit of trepidation about next week as well. Dogs and Supernatural so far have not been a good mix. But I liked Yellow Fever, so I’m going to be optimistic!

      • Ginger

        As a general rule in movies, TV, and books, I don’t like comedies. However, with SPN, the comedy episodes have turned out to be some of my all-time favorites (Tall Tales, Hell House, Monster Movie, Wishing Well, French Mistake…God, I loved all of them). The problem with Thompson’s Charlie episodes (and Charlie herself) is that they are written specifically for her and specifically to say, “See how AWESOME Charlie (Day) is.” She doesn’t belong in the SPN story and I can’t take any more of her.
        In the opening of the episode, I liked the B&W and the two first MoLs. I saw that Haggerty was similar to Dean and Jenkins was similar to Sam, and I started looking for the dots to connect to the Winchesters. As it turned out, they were just plot devices.
        Seeing the expanded MoL bunker was good, but I wondered why these two top-shelf hunters had not checked out the bunker sooner. I can’t buy that Dean just now discovered a garage for the Impala.
        Learning that Sam didn’t accept the bunker as a home, but Dean did really wasn’t necessary in the sense that it is no surprise. Sam has never committed to the job, so why should he think of the bunker as home. It’s not his idea of ‘normal;’ normal would be away from hunting, and Dean has always made a home for he and Sam. Dean, in the past anyway, always enjoyed the simple things about life and found pleasure where he could. So, none of that told me anything new about the Winchesters or added any backstory to their characters.
        None of the episode told me anything about the plots going on this season: the angels gobbling up vessels, Bart amassing an army, what Metatron is up to all alone in Heaven, how Abaddon is coming along with all humans and angels bowing down to her, what Crowley’s intentions are, or what Zeke wants from Dean, is he good or bad. We learned one thing; that Zeke will be in Sam longer than either Dean or he wants. I took that as a line to inform the Sam fans that Sam will be MIA for a while — don’t get impatient.
        You are right about Dean. Of course, Dean has always chosen family first, so Charlie is now permanently, until the show ends, Dean’s beloved sister. Oh, goodie. I hope the next Charlie episode doesn’t include “Bam,” “Bonk,” “Zonk” call out cards during the fight scenes.
        Like I said, no more Thompson episodes for me until he decides to write stories that reflect something going on with the Winchesters….or at least have a point related to the Winchesters or the story going on.
        Hey, I was long-winded, too. Thompson can take the blame for that :)
        For next week, my hope is that the writers don’t turn Dean into a familiar and put a collar around his neck. Beyond that, I’m willing to go into it open-minded.

        • Gerry

          Hi Ginger, hee on the dog collar wish! Yep, please don’t revisit THAT image.

          I think we did learn something about Sam. It does feel like movement to me that he’s opening the door to looking at the bunker as a home, that he and Dean are actually talking about their definitions of home. I detested Sam’s arc last season, but unfortunately, it happened, so anything that shows me Sam is considering how to feel comfortable in his life as Sam Winchester rather than running from it is valuable. I thought there was movement in Sam’s position and he moved closer to Dean’s view of the bunker.

          I liked seeing the boys lounging around watching movies, because it’s just that type of scene that Bobby felt turned his house into a home. I think the same could be true for Sam and Dean–though exactly what that means for the show needs to be considered, too.

          Supernatural has always been willing to interrupt the forward momentum of the over all arc with a stand alone, so as long as the character exploration benefits the story, I’m OK with it.

          But I’m ready to see what’s up with Abbadon!

          • sharonally

            Sam should be allowed to see the bunker his way. He isnt Dean and does not have to see everything the same way. Sam carries his own scars and gave his reason,s why he feels the way he does about the bunker and Dean giving him a few words and a look shouldnt really change that.

            If he comes to see the place as a ‘home’ then it should be because he has reached that point. But considering what will be the upcoming fall out from Ezekiel that might be a while.

          • Gerry

            I agree, Sharonally, I’m not expecting Sam to change his views because he’s ordered to. I didn’t actually see Dean ordering him. They just actually had a discussion on something emotional and important to the both of them, which I think is great. Sam made his own decision to embed his observation on Charlie with a comment on “home.”

            I think the discussion made him examine why he’s resisting the idea of the bunker being home. His reasons are understandable and valid–but perhaps not etched in stone.

            Both boys’ previous attempts at creating a home ended when the tension between the identity they needed to have in the civilian home and the identity they need to have as hunters clashed. Sam tried to solve the issue by deciding he didn’t want to be a hunter and to get rid of that identity.

            But that didn’t hold and we found out in the finale that he wasn’t comfortable with himself when he made that decision. So now he’s hunting again and trying to decide what that means about having a home. He starts the episode thinking he just never gets to have one. But he doesn’t seem as sure at the episode’s end, because the bunker is a place that does allow the boys to have a private space which still allows their identity as hunters. That’s new for them.

            I agree with you the upcoming lie reveal is going to put a big spanner in the works. But I think the examination of “home” is going to be part of the eventual resolution. That’s my read at this point, anyway.

          • Ginger

            I, too, hope that the changes we are seeing in Sam are permanent changes. I haven’t liked Sam in a very, very long time, but I am liking the Sam we are seeing this season.