Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Supernatural 9.04 "Slumber Party" Review: There's No Place Like Home

This week's Supernatural episode "Slumber Party," was written by Robbie Thompson and directed by Robert Singer. It was another memorable episode as the series paid homage to The Wizard of Oz. A very, very twisted Wizard of Oz, of course, but this wouldn't be Supernatural if they didn't make us re-think what we thought we knew!

The episode also features the return of fan-favorite (well, this fan, in particular!) Felicia Day as Charlie. We get to see a lot more of the Men of Letters bunker in the episode, so I'd be remiss in not including a shout out to Jerry Wanek (Production Designer) and his amazing crew. I loved Sam's (Jared Padalecki) room, the kitchen - loved Dean's (Jensen Ackles) dismay over it being dirty when he'd just cleaned it, the lab, the computer room, and, of course, the garage - even baby has a home now! There was a lot to like in tonight's episode, but it won't go down as my favorite episode.

First, what I really liked about tonight's episode. Robert Singer's direction is once again the perfect choice for this episode as he handled the direction of season four's episode "Monster Movie" which was entirely filmed in black and white. We start out in black and white and switch back in forth throughout the episode. Having the past in black and white was a great choice. It was a great shout out to The Wizard of Oz movie which starts out in black and white and only turns to color when Dorothy lands in Oz. In this case, all of the present is seen in color, which is a nice reflection that the Supernatural world is actually Oz to the audience. I also really liked the parallel of Dean and Sam's first entry to the bunker and the agents' in 1935. There are some excellent transitions between past and present too. I would also be remiss in not giving a shout out to the VFX team lead by Mark Meloche, Grant Lindsay, Ryan Curtis, and Adam Williams. There were a lot of effects in tonight's show from the glowing green eyes to fireballs to flying monkeys. Truth be told, I was a little disappointed by the flying monkeys, but with so many other effects in this episode, I'm willing to let that one go.

The other thing that I really liked about this episode was how it carried the theme of home throughout the episode. The theme of home and the desire for adventure are at the very heart of the Wizard of Oz story. The theme of home and the fact that Dorothy (at least in the book/movie) is also from Kansas - so she has the same home as Dean and Sam - have always linked it to Supernatural for me. Dean has clearly settled in, even getting baby her own room by the end of the episode. I was really disappointed that we didn't get to see Dean's reaction to that garage and the treasures in it though! Sam, on the other hand, tells Dean that he never had the childhood home that Dean remembers and all his subsequent homes (think Jess and Amelia) have ended badly. At the end of the day, while it's sad that Sam is afraid to trust in a home, the bunker gives what Sam needs to be happy, so it really is a home. I think it will be a telling moment when (if) he finally acknowledges that - and it will also make Dean ridiculously happy.

There's a nice parallel between the shiny faced, adventure seeking young agent and his desire for adventure and the cynical agent (who drinks from a flask!) in the past and Charlie and Dean and Sam in the present. Both die in the episode, but luckily for Charlie, Dean had an angel at his disposal. I'm getting a bit tired of them throwing these impossible decisions at Dean's feet so he keeps having to dig the hole deeper. At least the scene with Zeke helped to clarify that he's only at half strength and every time Dean asks him to heal someone, it weakens him and means he will have to stay in Sam longer. Zeke certainly seemed sincere in this episode, but why wouldn't he have swiped Sam's memory of Dean saying Zeke?

Charlie discusses her desire for a quest with Sam. She grew up with Tolkein, and let's not forget her larping hobby. I have a feeling that even though she finds her quest and magic in going off to Oz with Dorothy, she'll be back. The scene with Sam is also a nice reiteration of the boys own quest: hunting things, saving people, the family business. As always, I loved what Charlie could bring to the episode. Her geeking out over the old computer. Her joy at finally getting a quest with magic. She brings out the brotherly side of Dean, yet is also an asset to the team, and even saves Dean's life. And she keeps Dean honest - she calls him on trying to bullshit a bullshitter and bringing her back from the dead. Luckily for Dean, she takes a rain-check on her explanation.

Fan response to Dorothy (Tiio Horn) seems to be mixed, but I loved her. A strong, kick-ass woman hunter. I loved the clues that L. Frank Baum (author of The Wizard of Oz series of books that the movie was based on and that were very different from the movie) was her father. I'm happy to say that I'm enough of a geek to have gotten the reference in the first scene when the agent refers to her father Frank. I loved her sitting with the men of letters and telling them about all the things she'd done to the witch. And then making a point that "her lady parts" didn't prevent her from being a kick-ass hunter - yes! She shared Dean's love of the open road, and Sam's disdain for home. I think she'll make a good partner for Charlie - the brawn to her brains. Another great scene was her explaining to Charlie that Charlie had died, and telling her you're not a hunter until you've died. Don't we know it!

I loved Sam's discomfort when they find out that Becky is the one who's uploaded all the unpublished works of Carver Edlund. It was a nice shout out to Becky after her less than stellar treatment in season seven's "Time for a Wedding" episode. I wonder if this means we may see her or Edlund (Rob Benedict) again? Please bring back Chuck! I loved the parallel between the books - revisionist history as Dorothy says. But Charlie points out that Baum had written the books as a guidebook - we already know that there are clues in the Edlund books - and it's Becky that tells them where to find the colt based on the books in season five's "The Real Ghostbusters." Dorothy also tells Charlie that there's a big difference between fiction and life: "sometimes your life is darker than fiction."

Also loved the scenes with Crowley (Mark Sheppard) - I can never get enough of his snark. However, I wonder how long we are going to have to wait to see if there really is something different about him - that he was truly affected by the trials. I really hope they don't spin that out too long.

Things I did not like about this episode. We don't actually get to see what Dean said to Cas (Misha Collins) to get him out of the bunker. I'm going to somewhat remove my displeasure over that in the hopes that we will eventually get that scene or at least a fuller version of that conversation related to us. And how long can it be before Sam puts all the inconsistencies together and figure out that Dean is lying?

Other issues with the episode? How did the witch get out of that cocoon with no help when Dorothy had to be cut out and was incapacitated. And really? The witch in general was my very least favorite part of this episode. Even in the movie, the witch gave me nightmares - she was scary! This witch was not scary - she just looked like a caricature of what a witch should be who had drunk a bunch of black paint. That's not to say that Maya Massar didn't do a good job. For one thing, I never saw her tongue in the whole episode... She had to convey everything without being able to speak and that's never easy, but despite all the powers that the witch had, she just came off as ridiculous to me. She was the typical old crone witch that is such a stereotype and that Supernatural had never resorted to up until this episode. As a big fan of the movie, I was very, very disappointed by the shoes and the flying monkeys as well.

One thing both delighted and disappointed me. Before the episode aired, Padalecki tweeted a special title card that contained a wonderful shout out to the fans - just as the movie used to every year when it aired on tv: "This is for the SPNFamily whose dedication and love drive us to continue creating this wonderful world. Keeping up the Family Business." Combined with the shout out to Becky, it once again demonstrates the unique relationship the show has with its fans. However, the title card didn't air with the show - no doubt due to clearance issues. Sam's final thoughts to Dorothy about having a book written about them are telling. Sam tells her that "at the end of the day, it's our story, so we get to write it." It seems clear that Sam is speaking for the writers - this is their story, and we as readers are along for the ride.

What did you think of the episode? Do you think we'll see Charlie again? Were you as happy as I was with the final musical selection of AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock"? Also quick shout out for loving them watching Game of Thrones and Charlie's final "Ding dong, bitches!" How long do you think it will be before Sam calls Dean on his bullshit? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
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