I’m absolutely fascinated by Charlie’s ‘game.’ I think it relates to A LOT of stuff we’ve been analysing throughout the season.
Not because it’s a first person shooter against vampires, that’s irrelevant (although that it’s vamps and not zombies might be significant in some way I suppose), but because of this:
Every time I beat the level and save the patients, I get reset back to the beginning, only there’s less weapons and the vampires are faster. It’s an infinite loop.
There is no way to win. It’s just the same thing over and over, getting harder and harder each time. And the set-up being repeated is a very clear cut ‘us vs. them’ situation.
Now, ever since my chess musings I’ve become a little obsessed with looking for chess boards in the show :p And been sadly disappointed not to have found any since Man’s Best Friend with Benefits. BUT, the set-up of THIS game, I think, is actually similar, or at least it relates to a lot of the themes I previously associated with the game of chess.
Because like chess, The Red Scare is a game of war. I said before that chess was a representation of the war within the show - Heaven vs. Hell, humanity vs. the supernatural. The war in The Red Scare relates even more explicitly to the plot of the show, pitting human soldiers (Dean is even portrayed in the game as a fairly accurate version of his hunter counterpart - a medical officer ie. a caretaking solider) vs. a supernatural enemy. And, similarly to hunting, and similarly to chess, there is no way to win. You can win battles, but you can never win the war. Because every time you win a battle, finish a hunt, complete the level, win one game of chess, you just end up starting again. The board or the level is reset, a new hunt is found, a new battle plan orchestrated. It might seem different, because this time your opponent is a bit harder to kill – perhaps they have learnt better how to fight against you, perhaps it’s a different variant of chess pieces, or perhaps there’s a new person instructing the army, a new person moving the pawns – but you’re still on the same board, the same level, it’s still the same old story (‘all roads lead to the same destination’ – ‘whatever facts you alter, you always end up here’).
And so it goes, until ultimately, inevitably, the struggle kills you (‘I win, so I win’ – ‘you can’t fight city hall’). As the looping ‘game’ of The Red Scare threatens to ultimately kill Dean and Charlie.
My conclusion to all this before was that by highlighting the either/or set-up in the ‘war’ of chess and how the wars against and between the supernatural in the show have been similarly painted as either/or, us vs. them, ‘you’re either in or you’re out,’ the show was actually breaking down the binaries implicit in that understanding, showing that actually life isn’t like that because nothing is black and white and it’s never as simple as ‘us vs. them.’ And that still stands.
What this episode may suggest, however, is that by understanding that, it is in itself a way to BEAT the game.
As Dean says -
I think the only way to break the cycle is to let go of the fear and stop playing the game.
Which is exactly what Charlie does. And success, The Red Scare dissolves, Charlie and Dean escape and Charlie is able to move on with her life.
But if we apply that to hunting and the war between Heaven and Hell… well, that’s not really something Dean and Sam and Cas and anyone else involved can just do, right? They can’t stop monsters/demons/angels killing just by thinking hard or reaching a moment of self-realisation.
But what they can do is change the way they view the situation, change the way they are letting it affect them. Break the destructive cycle of fear it’s inspiring inside them.
Because the chess boards and The Red Scare are simply metaphors to reveal issues involved not only in the ongoing supernatural wars in the show, but in the way different people have come to understand the world.
Because narrow-minded, black & white, ‘us vs. them’ thinking is not just a mistaken way of understanding war, it’s problematic thinking that applies to life in general as well. Thinking that Sam and Dean need (needed?) to un-learn, not simply to help them as hunters/soldiers, but to help them grow as people and go on to live more fulfilling lives. The whole comparison between chess and war and Sam and Dean’s situation is more about personal revelations than it is about revealing ways to deal with the supernatural.
And so it is with Charlie’s escape from The Red Scare. The problem was not the nightmare of the supernatural battle that never ends. It wasn’t the supernatural enemy keeping Charlie in her self-destructive cycle (neither the djinn nor the vampire-super-soldiers from her nightmares), they just provided the means for her to trap herself and profited from the cycle. What was keeping Charlie from moving on and growing as a person was HERSELF – her fear of accepting her mother’s death, fuelled by unnecessary guilt that it was Charlie’s fault, which had her believing she had to keep trying to save her mother, had her keeping alive something that died a long time ago.
Letting go of those negative, unnecessary feelings didn’t kill the djinn or mean that djinns stopped existing and it didn’t even stop the game The Red Scare and its vampire soldiers from existing. Since The Red Scare was a reoccurring nightmare of Charlie’s I’d say there’s a good chance it’s not even going to stop her having the nightmare.
What letting go of her negative thinking/feelings did for Charlie was mean that all those things no longer had any power over her. She may still end up facing a djinn in the future – but if she does she can do it with more confidence, knowing it will be harder for that djinn to create a loop of fear in her because she is no longer so susceptible (well, providing it’s a fear feeding djinn, of course :p). And if she ever does have the Red Scare nightmare again she will be able to overcome it this time, because she has let go of that need to save something that doesn’t need to be saved.
Conclusion? This is what the chess and games of war and their comparisons are about for Sam and Dean as well - at least for me :). Not the idea that by letting go of something or changing your worldview (or both) can WIN the literal supernatural wars they are facing, but that it can help them BEAT/ESCAPE that infinite loop they’ve been trapped in (which is not just a loop of hunting the supernatural over and over, but the destructive loop that has been their own relationship – the dying and selling their souls and/or becoming monsters to get each other back, the belief that they can’t have lives outside of each other without leaving and/or betraying each other etc.) by allowing them to escape the destructive psychological/emotional effects those wars have been perpetuating.
So when they go on to fight in those wars, to work on closing the gates of hell, to hunt a MotW, anything – those things will have no, or at least less, power/influence over Sam and Dean. They will not force Sam and Dean into a dreary existence where they can’t enjoy the world they are trying to save, instead Sam and Dean WILL be able to enjoy the world through the struggle, they will be able the LIVE their lives, despite the supernatural enemies/wars they might encounter.
Because the breaking down of the either/or way of thinking IS a ‘letting go’ of something both Dean and Sam have been trying to keep alive that is already dead. It is, as this wonderful post so clearly relates, JOHN and John’s ideology - John is gone and who’s philosophy Sam and Dean have both already moved on from, even if they are maybe only consciously starting to realise it now.
Though, for Dean, I think there is something else at play as well. Because Sam was one of those patients next to Charlie’s mother, not John. So I think Dean had to let go of something that had moved beyond being simply his dead father. He had to let go of a version/understanding of Sam. One that was influenced/inspired by John, but that has also over the years become Dean’s own image of Sam. A Sam that is weak and helpless and in need of protection. But that Sam, the one in that hospital bed, unable to do anything to help himself – that is NOT SAM. Oh yes, Sam is weak right now, but he is FAR from helpless (as his ganking of the other djinn proved), and to consider him so and treat him so is not helping anybody, it’s maintaining the cycle of Dean as Sam’s parent who must tell him what to do and how to live and Sam as the little kid who must obey, which only leads to frustration and rebellion on Sam’s part and hurt and feelings of bitterness and betrayal on Dean’s, then apology on both sides that grows more and more strained each time and then reset. So that version of Sam in Charlie’s (partly Dean’s) nightmare? That’s a Sam Dean has been keeping alive that, like Charlie’s mother, and like John and John’s philosophies, is long gone. Sam is not a helpless child anymore and hasn’t been for a long long time. Dean has been, like Charlie, trapped in a loop trying to save someone/something that doesn’t need to be saved. And, thank GOODNESS, I think he’s finally let that Sam go now! (hopefully… pls…)
(edit: linking also to this meta, which strongly relates and says a lot of this better)