In the eleventh episode of the tenth season of Supernatural, at this point, the show should make Charlie a permanent cast member because all of her episodes are fucking brilliant. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Supernatural.
Trigger Warning: For discussion of trauma and PTSD, death, drunk driving, depression.
I know that I’m a broken record regarding my thoughts on Charlie, so I’ll do my best to expand on my feelings towards “There’s No Place Like Home” without this being a giant sobfest over Charlie’s entire existence. At times, I’m shocked that a show that openly queerbaits its audience and messes up so spectacularly when it comes to practically everything else is still able to give us a character as compelling and thrilling as Charlie Bradbury. Robbie Thompson’s script not only builds off her complex characterization, it gives us the season’s best story for Dean.
It’s not impossible for me to read a whole lot into Charlie’s struggle with her “dark” self because of her history with trauma. I know I project a lot into this character, but given what we know of her past, you could easily read Dark!Charlie as a manifestation of Charlie’s coping mechanism. As joyous and enthusiastic as she is, Charlie always has had a sadness to her. We learned the source of it after we discovered that her parents were killed in a drunk driving accident that she felt irrationally responsible for. The events in “Pac-Man Fever” absolutely inform what happens here, too, and that’s why I feel so confident to talk about the dual nature of her character.
Look, I’m someone who suffered trauma for an extended length of time when I was a child and on through my teenage years. I have PTSD, and only recently have I begun to accept how that manifests, how it has split myself into two distinct versions of me. I don’t think I necessarily hide that other part of myself, and I feel lucky enough to have an audience like y’all because I can share aspects of me that I have spent decades hiding from the world. But I think that a lot of us who have had traumatic things happen in our lives understand this notion that we have a darkness within us, one that alternately haunts us and gives us a sense of power. I’m definitely of the mind that rage and anger and spite can be empowering in certain contexts. I know that the spite I feel towards all the bigots and assholes I grew up with helped fuel my journey throughout the years. It wasn’t that I felt compelled to prove myself to them; I just relished the idea that I could become better than them.
But that’s a positive manifestation of that darkness I felt, and I think there’s a value in how “There’s No Place Like Home” explores the negative connotations of this darkness. That’s a literal case here, since Charlie’s soul was split along moral lines while in Oz. For what it’s worth, this episode even manages to do one thing I hate AND I DON’T HATE IT HERE. I prefer showing, not telling, and somehow? We’re told of Charlie’s adventures in Oz fighting the War of Emerald City, and it doesn’t come across as patronizing or useless. It gives us context for her split body/soul, yet it’s not distracting or overwhelming. It’s the right amount of information to help us understand what’s going on.
Which is necessary because Robbie Thompson’s script goes to an incredibly dark place. Again, I’m thankful for that. I much prefer to feel uncomfortable and unnerved by all of this than to get a safe story. This is not safe. The show does not try to claim that Charlie or Dean are not responsible for their actions; rather, they’re forced to accept their complicity in the events that unfold, even if there are extenuating circumstances. Obviously, this is a complex situation for Charlie, since a physical manifestation of her dark side is off getting revenge, but Robbie’s script brilliant parallels all of this with Dean’s own struggle with the Mark of Cain. Is he not also someone who desperately wants to do good but feels like he can’t control the darkness within him?
So what does that mean for either of these characters? It’s not like we can’t understand why Charlie would want revenge on the people who enabled Russell Wellington to escape responsibility for killing Charlie’s parents. And yet, we still understand how serious and upsetting it is when Dark!Charlie stabs Russell to death. We understand why that would make Charlie question her own goodness as a person. Dark!Charlie is still a part of her, and she knows that deep down, she’s probably always wanted what Dark!Charlie gave to her. Therefore, we can assume that Dean’s struggle is very similar to hers. There’s got to be some guilt and shame that’s tearing him apart. In this specific instance, Dean’s overreaction to Dark!Charlie is horrifying to watch because we comprehend why he needed to prevent Dark!Charlie from getting to the good version. Does that mean it’s at all easier to watch Dean beat the shit out of Charlie and break her arm? Absolutely not, and I’d say it’s one of the most disturbing things this show has ever done. And Dean knows it. You can see the shame and hatred all over his face in that final scene in the bunker.
I think the openness of Dean’s flaws is what makes this season so compelling to me. The writers have stopped hiding this shit and letting it go unacknowledged. Everyone knows now, and unfortunately, so does Charlie. It’s fascinating to me how that’s confirmed both with the dialogue and the imagery within “There’s No Place Like Home.” From the bloodstained hands (a visual confirmation of Dean’s guilt) to the looks of shame, to the repeated motif of forgiveness and when that is genuine versus a performance, both Dean and Charlie struggle with their own role in adding to the violence of the world. Does it matter if they had temporary or long-lasting reasons for that violence? I don’t think there’s a simple answer to that question, and I appreciate that Supernatural doesn’t pretend to know one either. Charlie is always going to be heartbroken that she killed someone, both as Dark!Charlie and Good!Charlie. I think she might have had an easier time if she’d not killed Clive as Good!Charlie, but that’s a reality she’s got to accept, even if she did it to save someone’s life. That’s a choice she made without a shred of darkness within her.
Dean, increasingly consumed by the darkness within him, beat the shit out of his best friend. That’s his reality, and he has to work incredibly hard to find a way out of this terrible future that’s set before him. There are a lot of things I adore about this episode, and I don’t know that I could choose a single one over the others. (Charlie. It’s Charlie.) I just appreciate that this quest of Dean’s is being set up as immensely challenging and unrepentantly uncomfortable. This is not going to be easy, and to be honest, it shouldn’t be. Finding goodness within a world so full of evil is an ongoing struggle for Dean outside of the Mark of Cain, and now it’s only worse.
There’s work to be done, and I’m glad he’s willing to do it.
The video for “There’s No Place Like Home” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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