I have to applaud Supernatural’s latest episode, “There’s No Place Like Home”. It was exciting from beginning to end, with a few unexpected surprises thrown in. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Charlie again, an established, deep, sincere character. I love her independence, and her empathetic ability to slice through the brothers’ bravado, and call them on the carpet for their excuses. When I considered why I really enjoyed this episode, though, I realized it was because the entire hour focused on Sam and Dean.  The storyline remained with them, their insurmountable problems, and their interactions with their friends. The story was a cohesive unit with a sustained excitement that built upon itself with a momentum that flowed naturally through the action and the emotion. The viewers were invited into an adventure and were allowed to stay with the heroes and their foes as each attempted to understand and adapt to the obstacles in their paths. We could linger in the story, watching it slowly unfold step by step, without being constantly interrupted, bouncing between disparate plots each running at different speeds.  We were witnesses to a relatable human struggle between the best and the worst in each of us.

My only criticism of this episode might be the heavy handedness of its messages. The parallels were so blatant it was almost insulting. A fandom that routinely spends a week dissecting every line, facial expression, move, scene, prop, motivation and change in relationship within each episode probably doesn’t need such obvious telescoping of the moral of the story. Still, the pros outweighed the cons. The characterizations, story and emotional embrace of the episode were all perfection. I enjoyed it thoroughly and completely.

So, how did its masterful weaving add threads to the season’s tapestry?

MoC

The opening sequence of Charlie assaulting the D.A. immediately established a parallel between DarkCharlie and the worst side of Dean. “Who doesn’t love a little torture?” was a reflection back to Dean’s days in Hell and his admission that he liked torturing souls. This connection stood out because beating someone isn’t usually considered “torture”, yet the term was first used by Charlie, then again by Sam and Dean, then reiterated by the news article:
Sam: “I found this story about a torture vic”

Dean: “Are you saying Charlie tortured someone?”        

News Headline: “Local D.A. Victim of Torture, Assault”

Categorizing the assaults as torture also quickly established DarkCharlie as evil without having to provide a long backstory of past despicable deeds. Most importantly, her taste for torture equated DarkCharlie’s actions to Dean’s interrogation of Metatron, since that truly did involve torture, moving well past a beating. This character equalization illuminated the premise that the Mark of Cain is forcing a battle inside Dean between his “dark” side and his “good” side. With this parallel firmly grounded, whatever happened to Charlie could from then on be applied to Dean. 

This episode obviously explored the good and bad sides inherent in all human beings.  It presented it as a battle taking place within, and for, our souls.
Charlie: “He said for us to win I had to unleash my true darkness, which he meant literally. He used the inner key of Oz. It opens the door to your soul and lets the darkness out. We’re still connected physically. If you hurt her, you hurt me, but bottom line, she’s bad and I’m good….and being good is really annoying.”

Each phrase in that key line of exposition is important. It begins by explaining that the inner key “unleashed” Charlie’s dark side.

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The only slight visual we were giving of the “inner key”

The inner key of Oz was Charlie’s Mark of Cain. It accentuated all of the evil tendencies her good side had previously been able to suppress. The evil Wizard of Oz was her Cain – the people who had previously experienced the separation of good and evil within themselves and were willing to pass it along to someone who begged them for it. In both cases, Charlie and Dean had altruistic motivations asking for the supernatural power. Dean believed he needed the First Blade, and hence the Mark of Cain, to save the world from Abaddon. Charlie believed she needed the magical solution the wizard was offering to save Emerald City from whatever dire fate loomed if they lost the war. Both Charlie and Dean achieved their initial goals, but neither the Wizard nor Cain were entirely forthcoming about the side-effects of their “miracle cure”. Now Charlie and Dean’s good sides are at the mercy of their dark sides and both heroes regret the harm that has been left in their wake.
  Dean: “Charlie, it’s not who you are. It’s a twisted version of…”                
  Charlie: “…me.”

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Charlie’s pivotal exposition continued to explain that her good and dark sides “are still connected physically”. Obviously, the same is true for Dean as the battle for his soul is still being waged within his body. The physical connection accentuated the yin and yang nature of good and evil – one cannot exist without the other and everything done by one affects the other.
 Sam: “I don’t think that finding DarkCharlie and locking her up is going to work. I mean, she may be dark but she’s still a part of you.”

Since Dean was still physically whole, he was desperately trying to find a way to dominate his dark side. His first inclinations were a true warrior’s response - approach it as a battle and apply all your training as a soldier. He toned his body with sleep and healthy food to make it stronger for the “battle”.

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He exercised self-discipline by denying himself liquor and burgers to keep a sharp mind and practice the restraint he would need to not give into the Mark’s temptations. He listened to self-improvement tapes, presuming that they would offer him the strategy he would need for the battle taking place in his mind.

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These were all a soldier’s tactics – get sharper, stronger, better prepared for battle.

Dean may also have been emulating Sam, as Dean implied when he threw the egg white omelet at Sam:
Dean:...the breakfast of champions, you know, if you're a dork like you".
Sam had previously controlled a dark evil inside of him so Dean used Sam as his model. “Well if it worked for him, maybe it will work for me” may have been Dean's strategy. Unfortunately, Sam’s battles were, at their core, fundamentally different from Dean’s. Also, Sam’s diet and exercise regimen contributed very little to his victory over Lucifer, demon’s blood, Gadreel’s possession…need I go on? Charlie recognized, acknowledged and voiced Dean’s true battle when she confronted Dean about his guilt and inability to forgive himself.

The last phrase of Charlie’s explanation, “being good is really annoying” actually presented a curious new side-effect of the split between good and evil. The dark sides of both Dean and Charlie seem to be the smarter of the two sides.  In “LARP and the Real Girl”, Robbie Thompson specifically portrayed Dean as a skilled strategists, when Dean suggested battle plan improvements with just a momentary glance at combatants’ positions. Yet in this episode, this same writer had Dean blab the good guy’s next move to DarkCharlie? A Dean firing on all cyllinders would never reveal his battle plan to his opponent! Dean changed the name of the city? If Dean thought enough to disguise the real location, he obviously realized that the information was important and would have kept it secret. Other evidence of his blundering:

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-          Standing so far away from DarkCharlie when she confronted Russell. Her closing the door to lock out Dean was predictable. Dean would never have trusted anyone enough to make that obvious mistake

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-          Being shocked that DarkCharlie killed Russell

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-          Not anticipating that DarkCharlie would follow him from the bar to the location of the MoL survivor

I believe this was all done intentionally to expose that mistrust and skillfully lying are part of our “dark” sides.  Dean was trying so hard to be calm and suppress all “dark” inclinations that he unintentionally shut off his hunting training and instincts. He ended up being vulnerable and even a hindrance without them.

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Charlie was aghast at the idea of breaking the law

This idea was furthered when Charlie wouldn’t hack financial records that they needed to save a life, and when GoodClive woefully admitted that “lying is not good”. All of these inactions were part of the message that both Charlie and Dean needed their dark sides to be effective strategists, cunning and conniving enough to be heroes who save people.

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The admission that good is annoying may have had a second purpose as well. Charlie gave several examples of how her “goodness” was holding her back (not being able to act on sexual attraction being one of them). The message that being good was undesirable was reiterated when DarkCharlie taunted Sam:
Charlie: “Oh Sam, you’re adorable. You’re not going to hurt me. In fact, that’s your problem - all good guy code, no bite. What a waste.”
Immediately after establishing Sam as the personification of “good”, Charlie continued, turning to Dean:
“And you, always letting this albatross hold you back.”

To reinforce the premise that being good is bad, arguments were then put forward that being bad is good:
  DarkCharlie to Dean: “You know what I learned about being dark? It sets you free….and part of you knows that’s right too.”

Reminiscent of Metatron’s urging to Dean last week, “Good Dean. Go darker. Go deeper”, DarkCharlie also encouraged Dean to give into evil:
  Dark Charlie to Dean: “That’s it big boy. Let it all out”

This reminds me so much of SoullessSam’s conundrum. He was content being emotionless without a soul, but Dean kept telling him that being able to feel everything, both good and bad, was better. Why would Sam choose to have a conscious when he could hunt with sharper senses, ruthless tactics and no guilt at all? Dean is facing this same dilemma. The forces of evil (Metatron, DarkCharlie, Crowley) tell him that he can be “free” going bad, unfettered by emotion, untethered to Sam. He would be stronger, faster, and wouldn’t have the burden of guilt he now carries. When Crowley challenged him to “Pick a Bloody Side!”, Dean sat at a piano and calmly decided he was more demon than human and began proudly pronouncing “I’m a demon” to his adversaries. The troubling foreshadowing, though, is that Soulless Sam eventually turned against the one person telling him to be “good”, Dean. Sam tried to kill Bobby to preserve himself. Is the show headed down this same path? DarkCharlie seemed to be drawing the battle lines for Dean:

DarkCharlie to Dean: “Grow up. There’s no right. There’s no wrong. There’s just us and them.”

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Sam being portrayed as the personification of goodness when goodness is being reviled, and being called an “albatross” holding Dean back, all seem to point to a future where Dean resents and turns against Sam’s governance. What do you think? Could this be where all these clues in the dialog are heading?

The Story and the Truth
Dean: You lied to me.”
DarkCharlie: “You lied to yourself. That’s kind of your move.”
Although not specifically mentioned as a “story”, DarkCharlie reminded us again that we all tell ourselves lies to not have to face dark truths. Her words reinforce this thread that only the truth will set Dean free.

Redemption

The words “I forgive you” were uttered by several people in this episode. DarkCharlie said she forgave the man who stole her perfect life from her, yet her words were hollow and insincere. The man who killed her parents admitted his guilt, professed his sorrow and promised atonement, yet Charlie’s darkest self stubbornly held onto her rage, punishing rather than forgiving.

In contrast, Clive was sincere when he told Charlie that he forgave her for what she was about to do to him. This was the good side of the soul speaking, understanding that forgiveness can only be effective if it is sincere and felt in the soul. When offered truthfully, it releases not only the transgressor but also the victim.

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Wholecharlie to Dean: “I forgive you.”
Dean: “Yeah, well I don’t.
Charlie: “I know. Kind of your move. How’s that working out for you, huh?”

I consider that last line by Charlie to be the most important thing she has said to the brothers, and the most important message of the episode. Within a very short period of time, Charlie both needed to receive and to give forgiveness. She experienced the redemption of forgiveness from a man she had to kill, at the exact same time she was being beaten to a pulp by a violent act of cruelty.  Perhaps being forgiven by Clive allowed her to understand the healing power of forgiveness and how very much she needed to forgive Dean.

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Her courage to walk over to Dean and let go of the pain he had inflicted on her allowed her to “keep moving forward” to help both Dean and herself. She knew in that moment that Dean must let go of his rage in order to forgive himself, and that his current tactic of self-flagellation was not “working out” for him.  No matter how much he tones, strengthens, disciplines or tries, he cannot control the MoC without first letting go of the rage, and giving himself the gift of forgiveness. “How’s that working out for you?” was Charlie’s signal to Dean that his current path of endlessly punishing himself is his problem, and the fuel being used against him by the MoC. Maybe Dean will hear her and accept that the fundamental change has to come from within.

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You Were Right

Again in this episode, key characters went out of their way to acknowledge the wisdom of other characters:
Charlie to Sam: “You’re right.  I hate it, but you’re right.”

Then to close out the story with an emotional promise:
Sam to Dean: “She’s right Dean. You can do this. We can do this.”

Are the viewers being told that the characters should be believed because they are so frequently right? It may also be a way to underscore the lessons they’ve learned along the way or to showcase their growing maturity. I’m not sure of its purpose, but this thread is appearing in a growing number of episodes. What do you think?

Monsters

This episode continued the season's presentation of humans who do reprehensible things as “monsters”:
DarkCharlie: “Come on Dean. I’m not the monster here. He was. He got what he deserved. You know I’m right.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Granted it was DarkCharlie who killed a drunk driver who was guilty of manslaughter, but if she represents the side of us that judges others without compassion or rule of law, “she” was simply the darker instincts of Charlie being free to dole out vengeance on another human being. We now have an extended pattern of the “good guys” killing humans rather than supernatural creatures, because of the monstrous acts perpetrated by the “bad guys”. Even innocent Charlie had to kill GoodClive in order to stop his monster, DarkClive. Where could this undeniably repetitive message be leading the story? I’m open to theories.

Curiosities

-   Clive: “The six keys of Oz were forged from Oz steel.” There are six keys. I bet that will come back to us someday. Does anyone know if that comes from the original L. Frank Baum books?

-   Charlie: “Dudes, secrets are bad.” Finally!!! I love how Charlie voices what fans scream at their TVs every week.

-   It was nice to see Paul McGillion (Peter Harper) again. I recognized him from Star Gate: Atlantis (it drove me nuts until we figured it out).

-   The councilwoman’s house looked like Victor’s house in 8.18 “Freaks and Geeks”. If someone has time, check out the two images and let us know?

So…

I was thrilled with this episode. Aspects of it that annoyed me during the first watch (DumbDean for example), ended up having meaning that needed time to penetrate my understanding. This one was a keeper, but it opened up some troubling possibilities for the future. Why is Sam being portrayed as a “good guy” now when the beginning of the season went out of its way to call him a “monster”? If we move past “it’s just bad writing”, and “they don’t understand Sam” excuses, both good guys and human “monsters” are ending up dead this season. Given Sam’s parallel to Cain’s Colette, plus the original story of Cain and Abel, I’m starting to get a bad feeling about this! Also, do you think that Dean is capable of forgiving himself? His rage and self-hatred are deeply ingrained in his psyche. 

Now if we can just have an episode where Sam doesn’t get overpowered, tied up and threatened with death while Dean fights his way out of the jam!!

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Screencaps courtesy of www.screencapped.net.