Wait, what’s this, a well-written, emotional, very entertaining Supernatural season ten episode? A Mark of Cain story that actually hit home??? Parallels that didn’t trigger a shower of falling anvils (although there was a drizzle or two). Be still my beating fan girl heart.
Yes, I know, my reviews have been laced with attitude lately, but that’s what happens when you care. My frustrations with “Supernatural” season ten have been well documented, so let’s just say you’ll get little of that here. “There’s No Place Like Home” had everything we desperately needed right now, primarily a resemblance to the classic “Supernatural” formula that I remember.
So where do I begin? For starters, there was actually a sci-fi plot! Yes, the whole Oz story started by writer Robbie Thompson last season was definitely more fantasy than sci-fi, but in this episode he toned it down and made it believable. I’m not a real savant of the Wizard of Oz lore, but I do recall there are adaptions where the Wizard of Oz is a tyrannical ruler, so that was the choice made here. I’m still skeptical that they find all these old Men of Letters when they were all supposedly wiped out, but for this story, I forgave it. Probably because I liked the old fart. The story was also focused and kept my interest the whole hour, something that I used to take for granted but now I welcome it with open arms.
But enough about all that, because “There’s No Place Like Home” was the return of Charlie. In this case, two Charlies! I’ll admit, I never liked the idea that she ran off to Oz in pursuit of a magical adventure. It was too out there for my tastes. I was very skeptical of evil Charlie returning based on the previews, but it turns out dark Charlie and good Charlie made an excellent parallel for Dean and his situation. In a sense, taking on the Mark of Cain was Dean unleashing his true darkness. He did that out of desperation to kill Abaddon, and what do you know, Charlie made the same deal with the Wizard to win the War in Oz. To quote Scooby-Doo, ruh-roh!
In this episode Dean starts channeling his inner Sam, eating healthy and keeping a sound mind and body regiment. He even gave up drinking! Except that mind wasn’t so sound (lack of alcohol does that to people). Temptations hit him at every turn, like when he retrieved his machete for the case. Bring on the tremors of extreme angst! When he almost drank at the bar though evil Charlie really hit him where it hurts. “You lied to yourself. It’s kind of your move.” Yet, how interesting was it that Charlie used the same line the end, but the delivery and intent of the line was different. It goes to show, delivery is everything.
So evil Charlie gets Dean, good Charlie gets Sam. It’s an interesting setup because both sides of Charlie get to play both sides of the Winchesters. Good Charlie and Sam got to be the enthusiastic research geeks at the Men of Letters cave (wasn’t it great to see that adorkable side of Sam again?). Since evil Charlie broke the key to Oz, they got the fun job and worked the history in attempt to restore the key. Enter the MOL history! Dean did the leg work on evil Charlie, forcing him to look at his dark side while going through the motions working the case. I kind of get it, who wants to go all out to protect the drunk driving bastard that was responsible for killing Charlie’s parents (real name Celeste) and ruining a young child’s life? His half hearted attempt was stifled by evil Charlie convincing him there’s good in her and she only wanted to talk to the guy, which makes sense. Dean desperately wants to believe that about himself plus he’s always had a soft spot for Charlie (that turkey wrap with kale didn’t help either). Too bad he forgot that Charlie was pure evil, aka the whole nature of the spell splitting out good and bad. Still, countering pure evil with pure evil was probably not his wisest move.
That’s when we hit the shocking part of the episode. Sam and Charlie were able to work their end successfully, aka good triumphing over evil. The good MOL man offered himself in sacrifice, and good Charlie managed to go against her nature and kill him to save Sam from an evil wizard choking. Unfortunately it did her no favors, because her evil side did the one thing no one should be doing right now, pissing off Dean Winchester. He went full throttle, not caring (or forgetting in his rage) that harming the one was harming the other. Luckily Sam showed up in time with a barely conscious good Charlie to remind him what he was doing.
And then that’s where I really fell in love with this episode. The emotional sucker punch. The two Charlies were helpless on the ground, each staring at the other, each accepting one side cannot live without the other. Felicia Day reminded us under no uncertain terms what amazing things she can do with material that lets her expand that emotional side. She delivered far and away the best guest acting performance of the season. Sam tenderly provides the ring from the dead wizard that merges the two sides together, and the staging of this effect is gorgeous. Often times over the top VFX and a weepy score comes across as cheesy and frivolous to the story but for some reason, it worked here. This all happens while Dean watches stunned and horrified over what he did, breaking my heart in two. While Sam embraced a newly restored but still wounded Charlie with a hug and emotional support, Dean kept a very cautious and mortified distance. I must say, there were glimpses of compassionate and sympathetic early series Sam in this episode. I so missed that. More please!
So the question is, after this encounter, how much does Dean believe he’s pure evil like evil Charlie? Can he ever learn to forgive himself? He looked awfully rough afterward at the bunker, so guilt ridden over what he did that he could only sit in the library and withdraw. Charlie was intimidated by Dean at the end, but that didn’t stop her from offering him forgiveness. Her offer to do research in Tuscany for Dean’s sake, despite what he did, is the big contrast between Dean and Charlie. She overcame what her evil self did and decided to make good of it. She still cares and knowing that she’s out in the world again to protect her adopted big brothers, it offers me comfort. Heart has been missing in almost all of these scripts, especially in characterization so when Charlie comes along and is nothing but pure heart, it’s hard not to grow attached. That Charlie is exactly what was missing in “Slumber Party” and I’m so glad she’s back.
What does it take for Dean to overcome and do good again? I suppose his situation is more dire than Charlie’s in that he has that mark on his arm overpowering his urges to kill. Charlie’s dark side probably isn’t so dominating. Then again, maybe she learned to control it long ago, since her early profile painted her and dark and dangerous. Maybe she was as bad as Dean at one point. Seeing poor Dean losing confidence in that library though, and somber Sam on the phone with Castiel unsure what to do next, it’s going to take more than Charlie’s faith and forgiveness to get these guys out of their deep hole. But yes, Dean’s moment of control of the tremors is a start (brilliant contrast shot to Dean earlier). He just needs a boost to get started. I’m dying to see that process happen though and not at the glacial pace that things have been moving this season. Something has to give and give soon. I want my boys back. Remember when it was all about hunting things and saving people?
Now, I’m not going to call the episode perfect. I still thought that the pacing was off at times, especially in the beginning when the story unfolded. Also, I thought Dean was a little too dumb and lackadaisical at times. I get he’s been distracted but even at his worst he’s usually sharper than that. Also, despite the fact that it was meant to show Charlie’s strength when it comes to moments of life and death, I usually don’t enjoy seeing Sam be yet again the damsel in distress. It’s a fall back that the writers use way too often, even if it was excusable in this case. There are also some examples of contrivance (like the MOL guy being alive) but considering it resulted in a fluid and enjoyable story for once, I can forgive this time.
Can I say how much it thrilled me to see the guys doing actual research in the library at the MOL bunker? We’ve only ever heard up to this point that they’ve searched all the lore. It was refreshing to actually see it.
Dean driving a mini van again. Ah, the fond soccer mom memories of early season two.
Overall, I give this episode a B+. Given all the bad grades I’ve been dishing out lately, it’s something that Robbie Thompson can take knowing it still puts him at the head of the class. It’s a tough curve!