Supernatural wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for Charlie Bradbury. Not only is she one of the few fully-fledged characters, she facilitates emotional communication between the Winchester brothers, enabling them to reconcile their feminine-gendered traits. Arguably, Dean and Sam both exhibit femininity throughout the show, despite their cookie-cutter emulation of American blue-collar, heteronormative masculinity. However, in the first six seasons, the brothers only show outward emotion in certain contexts—a pattern that Charlie disrupts.
In the first six seasons, even though Dean regularly denounces things like yoga and chick-flick moments, Tanya Michaels compares Dean to a soccer mom, who sees himself as the protector, nurturer, and upbringer. Michaels says, “In Mary’s absence, can there be any doubt that Dean was the most nurturing influence in Sam’s early life?” (82). Even in Sam’s adulthood, Dean watches over him and would give his life to protect him. There’s no question that female-gendered qualities abound before Charlie enters the scene; however, they seem to only surface in specific contexts.
Through most of the show, Dean would rather keep his feelings to himself and pound a few beers (or a fifth of whiskey) before talking to Sam about his feelings. The exceptions to this rule usually involve a heart-to-heart in the Impala, what Melissa Bruce notes as “visual space that is typically masculine, yet the series uses it as a device through which to filter the more intensely emotional moments” (154). In other words, the Impala renders the feminine show of emotion as acceptably masculine. In the rare instances where the boys do express emotion outside of the Impala, Lorna Jowett notes: “Dean and Sam sit […] facing straight ahead. (Typically, the characters do not look at each other while expressing emotion)” (45). Meaning, in the first six seasons, the Winchester brothers express emotion in specific contexts to uphold their carefully-guarded masculine personae.
Charlie Bradbury disrupts this pattern. With her disarming honesty, she cuts through Dean’s shield of emotional nonchalance. In “LARP and the Real Girl,” Charlie quickly creates an environment for Dean to open up. Alone in her tent, Charlie bluntly says to Dean: “You sent Sam a phantom text from his ex? Dick move, sir.” And then she says, “So he found some normalcy with this chick and now it’s gone, again, thanks to you.” Besides providing some exposition-dump, Charlie forces Dean to talk about his relationship with Sam, his guilt, and his feelings—a rare occurrence indeed, especially since the absence of Bobby Singer.
In the same conversation, Charlie unwittingly hints toward Dean’s perceived latent homosexual tendencies. When Dean tells Charlie that: “Trust me, this life, you can’t afford attachments. You just gotta let go,” Charlie retorts, “Are we still talking about Sam? Or did you break up with someone, too?” Of course, in the previous episodes, Dean did in fact say goodbye to someone—Benny Lafitte, his close friend and co-fighter in Purgatory. Many previous encounters between Dean and Benny teased homosexual subtexts, but Charlie’s implication is the closest thing to coming out and saying it, paralleling Sam’s romantic loss to Dean’s loss of Benny.
In “Pac-Man Fever,” Charlie helps facilitate emotional communication again. At the end of the episode Charlie opens up to Dean about her mom’s cancer and comes to terms with letting her mom go. When Charlie starts to cry, Dean pulls her into a hug and comforts her in a brotherly way. Later, before getting in her car to leave, she hugs both Dean and Sam and says, “I love you” to Dean, who replies, “I know,” gives her another hug, and kisses her forehead. After Charlie exits, it cuts to Dean walking into the bunker to meet Sam. As Sam starts to excitedly talk to Dean, explaining something to him, Dean cuts him off by grabbing him and pulling him into a hug. This abrupt and seemingly out-of-the-blue, just-because hugging is rare. In fact, the brothers usually only hug at the end of a season, when they have either just narrowly avoided death or they think they’re preparing to die. It seems that Charlie’s physical affection has rubbed off on Sam and Dean, showing an acceptable way to show sibling love.
In addition to helping the boys (and especially Dean) open up emotionally, Charlie enables Dean to channel his female-gendered qualities in other ways. In “Pac-Man Fever,” Charlie must choose the appropriate FBI-worthy clothing to prepare for her first time hunting with the Winchesters, and Dean accompanies her. During a musical montage, Charlie emerges from a dressing room in different outfits and Dean reacts to each one with expressions of “No” until Charlie finds her professional look. When she comes out in business pants and a suit jacket, Dean smiles and gives her a thumbs up. This is a side of Dean the audience hasn’t seen before. We’ve never seen him in a mall, let alone as an accessory to a girl while she tries on outfits. Dean is put in a situation where he cares about clothes, its signifiers, and its appropriateness, not unlike how women are normally depicted in media. The entire scene mirrors the countless makeover reality television programs, as well as the “transformation” teen movies, such as She’s All That and Pretty in Pink.
Aside from inspiring gender-bent traits in the Winchesters, Charlie is one of the few women on the show who consistently influences narrative arcs, solves episode puzzles, and saves the Winchesters on more than one occasion. She does it all with unabashed geeky flourish and unashamed references to her homosexuality—sometimes even stealing the stereotypical end-of-episode hero kiss, as she does in “LARP and the Real Girl.” I could go on about Charlie for days, and if you’re interested, I’ve written a chapter entitled “What’s Up Bitches?: Charlie Bradbury as Gothic Heroine,” which will be published in the book The Gothic Tradition in Supernatural: Essays on the CW Series, which will be published next year. Stay tuned for an official release date!
Bruce, Melissa N. “The Impala as Negotiator of Melodrama and Masculinity in Supernatural.” Transformative Works and Cultures. 4 (2010). Potsdam, NY.
Jowett, Lorna. “Purgatory with Color TV: Motel Rooms as Liminal Zones in Supernatural.” TV Goes to Hell: The Unofficial Roadmap of Supernatural. Ed Stacey Abbott, David Lavery. Toronto: ECW, 2011.
Michaels, Tanya. “Dean Winchester: Bad-Ass… or Soccer Mom?” In the Hunt: Unauthorized Essays on Supernatural. Ed. Leah Wilson. Dallas: BenBella Books, 2009.