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.
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.
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.
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.