Supernatural S1 E5: Blame Games

Let’s talk about blame.

Content note: interpersonal violence, domestic abuse, suicide

That’s pretty much what Supernatural’s “Bloody Mary” is about. You’ve got a ghost in a mirror going after people who’ve done bad things, or think they’ve done things. There’s the guy who either killed his wife or drove her to OD on sleeping pills. There’s the teenage girl who killed a young boy in a hit and run. There’s Sam, who blames himself for Jessica’s death because he didn’t take his prophetic dreams seriously or tell her he’d been a hunter. And then there’s Charlie, who blames herself for shit her abuser did.

Charlie is pretty much the poster child for girls who’ve been socialized to blame themselves for the toxic behavior of the men in their lives. We’re taught from a very young age to be careful of boys’ feelings, to let them get away with massive amounts of awful shit because they just can’t help themselves. We’re taught to see abusive stalkers as romantic. We’re taught to let ’em down easy if we’re allowed to let ’em down at all. We’re at fault for the things they do to us. We’re at fault for the things they choose to do to themselves.

We’re taught this by the adults who raise us. We’re taught this by our peers. We’re taught this by the books we read, the movies we watch, the magazines and news sites we pore through. Too many of us don’t realize we should be questioning all of those messages until we end up in a horrible situation. And when we try to get out of it, we too often end up blaming ourselves for the consequences the dude brought on himself.

Bloody Mary goes after people who have a guilty secret. Charlie thinks she has a guilty secret, so she ends up becoming a target. It’s all over this asshole she was dating:

Dean: Something happened, didn’t it? In your life…a secret…where someone got hurt. Can you tell us about it?

Charlie: I had this boyfriend. I loved him. But he kind of scared me too, you know? And one night, at his house, we got in this fight. Then I broke up with him, and he got upset, and he said he needed me and he loved me, and he said “Charlie, if you walk out that door right now, I’m gonna kill myself.” And you know what I said? I said “Go ahead.” And I left. How could I say that? How could I leave him like that? I just…I didn’t believe him, you know? I should have.

Image is a frame of the face of Charlie, a young woman with dark blonde hair. Her face is tearstained and her eyes downcast. She is speaking. Caption says, "I said, 'Go ahead.'"

That’s a favorite tactic of abusers. “I can’t live without you.” “If you leave me, I’ll die. I’ll kill myself.” They rely on the fact girls and women have been socialized to put men’s needs above their own.

Charlie did the right thing, the strong thing. You know we tell abused women to do that, right? We give them a bunch of cultural messages that tell them abuse is not actually abuse, that he really loves you, but blame them for staying and being abused. We tell them to leave, and then if they do, we blame them when the abusive asshole falls apart. We send them the message all their lives that they can change their broken men for the better, and then blame them for getting involved with such a messed-up piece of shit in the first place, and then for leaving him just as broken in the end.

Women can’t win.

And Charlie’s absorbed all that toxic shit. She’s believed it so well that she now has a homicidal spirit after her.

She blames herself for this jackass’s suicide, and breaks down sobbing, and then we cut away. I about lost my shit right then, because how, how could Sam and Dean leave her that way? Even on a dudebro show, it’s godsdamned time to stop blaming the women for the men’s failings. Men need to pick up their own broken pieces. Men need to take some fucking responsibility. Charlie’s not at fault for that dude’s suicide. His choices are all on him.

But, soft! What light of reason through yonder window breaks?!

Dean: You know her boyfriend killing himself, that’s not really Charlie’s fault.

Image shows a white hand holding a microphone towards the camera. It's in the bottom right of a black background. Caption in white letters beside it says, "Say that again. Louder, for the people in the back."

Dean: You know her boyfriend killing himself, that’s not really Charlie’s fault.

Sam: You know as well as I do spirits don’t exactly see shades of gray, Dean. Charlie had a secret, someone died, that’s good enough for Mary.

Dean: I guess.

Dean, you are my fucking hero, dude. My love for you increased to infinity just then. You’re godsdamned right it’s not really her fault. And you’ve just told a horde of young fangirls and fanwomen that it’s not their fault, either. Fuck what Bloody Mary thinks. Spirits are apparently no better than the religious right. Fuck them all.

And neither Sam nor Dean are willing to accept Mary’s verdict. They find a way to defeat her. Sam has to confront his own misplaced self-blame in the process. And he takes that lesson back to Charlie. This show doesn’t leave us with Dean’s lukewarm “I guess” as the final word on the subject of suicidal ex-boyfriends:

Sam: Charlie?

Charlie: [turns around]

Sam: Your boyfriend’s death…you really should try to forgive yourself. No matter what you did, you probably couldn’t have stopped it. Sometimes bad things just happen.

Charlie: [Smiles faintly, goes into her house.]

Dean: [to Sam] That’s good advice.

Image shows Charlie, standing outside with a jacket on. She's looking at someone off-camera, and although there is still sorrow in her face, she's almost managing a smile.

Now, it’s not the message I would’ve sent. Mine would’ve been along the lines of, “Good fucking riddance to asshole abusers who are so desperate to control you they’ll go so far as to kill themselves. Better him than you. Good for you for not falling for his controlling bullshit. If you ever find yourself in a similar situation, just leave him the number to the national suicide hotline on your way out the door. What happens next is all on him.” But at least Sam is there saying to these girls, “Don’t blame yourself. You couldn’t have done anything differently that would have made it better.” And that’s an excellent message, too.

It’s not your fault. It is never your fault. You need to take care of yourself. Your abuser has the option to take care of themself. If they choose not to take it, that’s not on you at all.

And I love the fact that even a dudebro show is sending that message.

I do have some sympathy for people who are so hurt and broken they’d rather die than live without the object of their obsession. I know what it’s like to live with a malfunctioning brain. I’ve done my share of hurting people because of untreated mental illness. The thing is, that’s not anyone else’s fault. At some point, no matter how messed up you are, you’re going to have to take responsibility for your own actions. No one else can fix you. No one else is obligated to, especially not if you’re abusing them. They need to take care of their own selves, and you need to take care of you. So, if you’re the Charlie’s boyfriend in this scenario, there are things you can do. There are actually resources for domestic abusers to get help. If you’re suicidal, call or chat with the National Suicide Hotline folks. You can even text them. They will get you the help you need to get better.

And for those of us who have a friend or a relative currently or formerly in an abusive situation, there are some things we absolutely need to say:

This is not your fault.

You don’t deserve this.

It’s not your responsibility to fix them.

What happens to this person after you leave is their choice, not yours. Because:

It’s not your fault.


Supernatural S1 E5: Blame Games

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