First off, Osric Chau was really the only choice for this role. He's managed to create a character that is both inside and outside the world of Supernatural, and to a great degree, he gives us a glance back at the younger Sam Winchester, who was himself brought onto a "path" that he did not choose. Chau's acting choices demonstrate an intuitive understanding of Kevin's situation, especially in the latter half of season eight when Kevin's anger is tangible as is his willingness to use his intelligence as cleverness. Kevin Tran loses a type of innocence to the Winchesters' world; he loses what Sam never had â€“ the ability to not know the world beneath the world.
When we first meet Kevin he's a smart high school senior who's on his way to college, perhaps reminding us that Sam, too, was like Kevin at one point - before being chosen as Lucifer's vessel, before images of a burning Jessica on the ceiling, just before. Kevin's evolution, as well, gives us an idea of how this world can affect "normalcy," the ideal against which Sam measures most of his and Dean's lives. Kevin's physical deterioration in Season 8 mimics Sam's own decline as both characters are put in service during this heavenly war. Kevin moves from an innocent looking teenager to a bedraggled, war-ravaged, young adult. It is interesting to note that for both characters, Sam and Kevin, the act of being chosen is disease-like, eating away their mortality from the inside, as if their bodies are too fragile for the work that "God" has given them.
Their bodies, then, are not so much vessels as they are vulnerable, more vulnerable than other bodies. It is almost fitting that the characters that are driven by intellect, by their minds, are held hostage through their bodies. It reinforces a sense that one can overcome bodily illness with the power of the mindâ€¦.of the soul. In season 8, both characters experience the trials of what it means to both be chosen but also to choose. Now the question for the Kevin Tran character is what becomes of him, what next? Is his journey that of a Winchester? Will he be drawn into this life, never to return to the normal that was his world? Will he be sacrificed, as so many others have been, to the cost that is the Winchester legacy?
If Kevin is comparable to Sam then I would argue that Charlie is Dean's psychological double, in certain ways, or she's the writer's (Thompson) view of Dean through a particularly affectionate lens. When we first meet Charlie, we are introduced to a classic fangirl â€“ a convention going, collectible loving fangirl. Now my initial reaction was hesitation. This show and its view of fandom can be quite troublesome, but both Felicia Day's performance and the narratives within which she's placed are not blatant commentary. Rather she comes into the world much like Kevin does, unsuspecting and chosen, although this time, like Dean, she is pulled into the hunting life by association. Her quirkiness is a mixture of intelligence and instinct. We find out that she didn't finish high school (like Dean) but that she's built a life full of fun and safe adventures, acting out her life through fan activities but not in an unhealthy or near dangerous way. She enjoys life.
As we get to know Charlie we see that she not only enjoys life but she has a moral core, such as in "LARP and the Real Girl" when she refuses to leave the Moondor game because her "people" are in danger. She shares this no soldier left behind trait with Dean and as we see her evolve we can see why he develops an affection for her. She also has a thread of insecurity, also seen in "LARP" when she doubts her heroic nature, a nature that Dean reaffirms by telling her that out in the "real world" she is, in fact, a hero. But seeing Charlie also allows us to see a side of Dean that is very much a part of his character - the caretaker. He cares for Charlie as he does for Castiel, as he does for Sam. Dean is both like Charlie but also utterly unlike her.
But also there is the mother issue â€“ the dying mother trope that Charlie shares with Dean. Having lost my own mother this past December, this storyline thread affects me in a very personal way. Charlie, for all of her carefree love of the world and humor in extraordinary circumstances, is still a daughter at heart. She's still a child in so many ways. The final scene that we see of her in Season 8 is heartbreaking, as she shares one last visit with her mother, opening the book they shared as a final goodbye. The brilliance of this scene is that it humanizes Charlie and pushes her back from the edge of caricature she was perched on. In a strange and comforting way, she comes into Supernatural to remind what there is to love about Dean and also how Dean loves others.
If Kevin and Charlie give us new perspectives on Sam and Dean, then Garth reminds us of the world outside the Winchesters. Like Charlie, Garth is carefree, fun-loving, and capable, but unlike Charlie, he seems to lack a tragic past. While on the surface Garth appears to take Bobby's place after the older hunter's death in season 7, he is more than simply a replacement. He understands the life in a way that Bobby and the Winchesters don't and he actually reminds me more of Rufus than Bobby.
Garth provides comic relief but he also gives us a touchstone for the hunting life, again reminding us that this is not just a Winchester story. Hunters exist. Hunting is work and not just a destiny or a heritage. While Garth appears in a handful of episodes, he is mentioned in many more. He's charged with protecting Kevin during Crowley's hunt for the young prophet. He's the person who assigns cases to hunters, including the Winchesters. The show moves him from a jester type character to a serious figure in the hunting world, allowing us to witness someone's evolution to expert in this world.
Just like with Chau's and Day's portrayals, Qualls gives Garth a sense of humanity through humor and sense. In the confrontation scene between possessed Dean and Sam in "Southern Comfort", Garth is the one who breaks through the emotional tension and confusion. He tries to reach Dean while Sam grapples with the trauma of the fight. Qualls brings to Garth a level of authenticity that makes us believe in Garth's sincerity and courage â€“ he is the everyman who deals with the extraordinary, but instead of being overwhelmed by this fact, he embraces the path that life has put him on. What a refreshing figure in an often dark and hopeless landscape.
I, for one, am happy that all three are in our lives. Thank you, show, for bringing them here. And thank you, Osric, Felicia, and DJ, for giving them life with your voices, minds, and bodies.