Between ‘A Rock and A Hard Place’ – and it hurts! Supernatural 9.08

Warner Bros/The CW
Warner Bros/The CW

Rock and A Hard Place was a great title for this week’s episode, full of double meanings and a dash of innuendo, in keeping with the theme of the stand-alone plot. That is most certainly where Dean is right now, and it’s absolutely heartbreaking to see him there. Sam too is stuck between a rock and a hard place – he just doesn’t know it. Double heartbreak!

Before I talk about Sam and Dean and where we are in the main story arc (which is invariably what captures most of my attention), a few tidbits about the standalone part of the episode. Writer Jenny Klein pulled off the sort of wild veering between funny and terrifying and heartwarming and heartbreaking that is one of the hallmarks of Supernatural. I never thought I’d hear anyone pronounce Sam and Dean Winchester virgins, and the premise gave the brothers a chance to fall into their familiar patterns of teasing each other, with Dean being a horndog and Sam rolling his eyes with affection and trying to keep his brother in line. I can’t imagine a worse temptation than Sam and Dean Winchester being plunked into the middle of a purity group!

Awkward Dean is one of my favorite flavors, so I liked that part of his interaction with Suzy, as he tries to read her signals and go along with what she actually wants. I found that rather endearing. Also, seeing Dean Winchester hoist a girl up like she weighs nothing while she enthusiastically wraps her thighs around his slim hips? That was a damn nice image. Though I’m trusting that Jenny Klein tried to make a case for Dean taking his shirt off at least. We got a sex scene where he didn’t even take off his overshirt, for godsakes! Tell me you tried, Jenny!

Warner Bros/The CW
Warner Bros/The CW

I admit to being a bit confused about Suzy’s motivations, especially when she switched on a dime from determined abstinence to seducing Dean. She seemed to switch back and forth between sincerely wanting to step away from a past that she didn’t want to define her (which is perhaps not very funny) and sincerely wanting to jump into bed with Dean Winchester (which is perhaps not very difficult to understand…) I guess I’m going with the assumption that Suzy’s experience making porn wasn’t as much of a traumatic experience as it often is for women in real life – she had the DVDs in her top drawer, after all.

Dean’s excitement when he realized who Suzy was became almost a fanboy moment. Dean has never made any secret of his love for porn, or any of his hedonistic escapes – it’s the way he copes with a life that offers few pleasures, and he’s always taken the moments he could get and enjoyed them thoroughly. Dean’s glorification of her porn star past might not be based on reality, but it’s probably in character (and SPN, of course, isn’t reality). Dean is a ‘bad boy’. He’s a flawed character for sure, but Dean has never been portrayed as perfect. He’s also not likely to think about the sociological implications of porn from the perspective of a woman starring in it, in any sort of real life context. For Dean, porn is a welcome respite, an escape from the stress and violence of his life. There’s no ‘adios’ afterwards, something that Dean struggles with, if the hitch in his voice when he talked about it is any indication. Suzy is a fantasy figure for him, which made for an odd parallel – since Dean Winchester himself is a fantasy figure for so much of fandom (and stars in plenty of not-quite-G-rated art and fiction and vids). I just hope he didn’t leave Suzy with even more shame than she seemed to be carrying around already. (Yes, I worry about fictional characters, don’t mock me.)

Maybe Suzy got a chance to talk to Sheriff Mills for a bit, which I suspect could set her straight about the waste of time and energy that shame really is. How awesome was it to have Kim Rhodes back? I love that Jody is comfortable with both her spirituality AND her sexuality – YES! Thank you, Jenny Klein! While the people in the purity group were clearly still struggling with that combination, and resolving it in rather black and white ways, Jody has gone through hell and come out on the other side as a woman who knows herself and what she wants and needs. How refreshing.

She and Sam have incredible chemistry together when they’re working a case. They had some excellent lines too:

Jody: “Dragons? That’s a thing?”

Sam: “Too many things are things.”

Ain’t that the truth!

Kim strikes just the right notes as Sheriff Mills, part mother figure for the boys and part fellow hunter. She’s strong and smart and sexy, and she’s badass enough to pull a friggen’ stake out of her shoulder with her bare hands. She’s one character who I hope returns again and again (though I can’t seem to jump on the shipping bandwagon for her and Sam, I just get too many mom vibes. Sorry, Jody…Millchester is an awesome ship name though, gotta say…)

Also, I had to giggle that Suzy’s character in the Casa Erotica film is named Carmelita. That’s the name of one of the props buyers who we had the pleasure of meeting on set – in fact, she appears in our new book, Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls! Hi, Carmelita!

Warner Bros/The CW
Warner Bros/The CW

One minor plot point did niggle at me. I can handwave a lot of the potential problems with the Dean/Suzy scene, but I struggled mightily to handwave Dean not picking up the phone when it’s Sam calling – in the middle of a case, no less. But, like I said, that’s minor. Because there was a lot to like about this episode.

While there was plenty of humor in this episode, the humor wasn’t overplayed, and the music I hate with a fiery passion (that stupid music that broadcasts “something funny is about to happen, oh boy”) didn’t come on too often, so yay. But damn, in between the comedic moments, the episode was freaking SCARY! Kudos to Jenny Klein for writing the gory and the suspenseful and the frightening, and to director Johnny Mac for bringing it to life in a way that made me scream out loud – that’s exactly what SPN should be! When the girl was hiding under the car in the first scene, just barely pulling her feet in? AAAAHHH! Starving to death, buried alive, trapped underground in the dark….all the ingredients of an episode that made my stomach twist and turn with anticipation of something truly BAD happening. And the poor girl scraping her fingers bloody and then desperately licking up her own blood? OMG nice touch, so disturbing I could barely watch it. Jenny has been with the show since the Kripke era, and I have to say, I think Kripke would be proud of that moment. The VFX team did amazing work with that crazy blue fire, and the lighting worked perfectly to make the scenes in the dark a thousand times scarier. Nice work, Serge.

As usual, what grabbed me RIGHT IN THE FEELS about the episode was what’s happening to Sam and Dean. This episode definitely did not disappoint in terms of emotional resonance. From the quiet early scene in the bunker, Sam fallen asleep next to his bowl of cereal and Dean trying desperately to stay in denial that something is wrong, to the last scene that broke me, the episode delivered emotionally.

The scream-out-loud fear during the scenes with Vesta was nothing compared to my terror about what’s happening to Sam. With every episode, I become more and more terrified that all our suspicions about Ezekiel are being gradually proved right. When the goddess looked at Sam in horror and said, “You’re all duct tape and safety pins inside, how are you alive?” I gasped out loud. (And may have yelled at the television, “What the hell does that mean?”) The poor television takes a lot of abuse on Tuesdays at 9 pm.

It’s not that I ever trusted Zeke, but I was hoping against hope that at least he was healing Sam, no matter what his end game happened to be. That line, combined with Sam’s obvious fatigue in the opening scene, filled me with trepidation. How is it that this Show can still do that, after all these years? I still care about these boys that much, and I know this Show can put them through hell. Literally and figuratively. I ache for Sam, for how much he’s been through and how tired he is. For how much he always blames himself, no matter how many people he saves and how much good he does. He never feels truly okay or truly whole, and it breaks my heart to see that. I think it breaks Dean’s too, more than anything else. That’s why the last scene broke me.

The way Sam slumped down on the bed, every bone in his body just broadcasting defeat and weariness. The resignation in his voice, so quiet and small for such a big strong man, when he told Dean that maybe it was just him. Padalecki nailed it, all of Sam’s exhaustion and sadness right there, written in every line of his body, every expression. “Maybe that’s just who I am.” Oh, Sam.

Warner Bros/CW cap screencappednet
Warner Bros/CW cap screencappednet

I can’t imagine anything worse for Dean than watching his little brother hurting, and feeling so damn bad about himself, and Dean not being able to make him feel better. The look on Dean’s face when he heard that, when he saw how much pain Sam was in…oh, my heart! With the two of them looking so sad and broken, it’s a no brainer that I had to reach for the tissues. There’s no way Dean could stand that, hearing Sam blame himself. And then you could see Dean come to a decision; Ackles sets his chin, straightens his shoulders, and you know that Dean is gonna do it, and you WANT him to. You hold your breath, hoping against hope that he’ll get the words out in time.

“I can’t let you take this on yourself…”

SAY IT, DEAN! TELL HIM! (That was me, screaming at the television again.)

Warner Bros/The CW cap by screencappednet
Warner Bros/The CW cap by screencappednet

Then BOOM, Zeke was there, with the perfect threat to tie Dean’s tongue. Sam won’t survive; Dean is stuck. Between a rock and a hard place.

That ending left me shaking. Like, for real. Which means that Jenny Klein did a damn good job.

Favorite line in the episode?

Jody: After Bobby, after Crowley, I was looking for comfort I guess.

Sam: I guess we’re all looking for that.

Jody: Except those that got it.

Sam: (looks up questioningly)

Jody: C’mon, you and Dean, that’s something special, don’t you think?

Why yes, Jody, I do. It’s what makes this Show something very special too.

Excuse me while I grab a tissue. Okay, better.

Some of the usual suspects watched along with fandom on Twitter, adding their own spin to the episode, which I’ve come to love. When the brothers signed Sam and Dean Winchester (for some reason I still can’t quite fathom), Jared tweeted:

“First time EVER signing our REAL names on camera…for a chastity pledge!!!”

To which VFX guru Ryan Curtis promptly replied:

“Pssst Jared, those aren’t your real names…”

I laughed out loud when I read it.

Guest actress Lindy Booth tweeted that the “boys spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to sign their names,” adding pointedly, “Important acting decisions!!”

And Kim Rhodes tweeted props to Ryan Curtis for the “stake stab” and then to Jared when he switched from Sam to Zeke:

“Husband and I both out loud, in sync, said, “Nice!” at the transition. You’re awesome. Thank you, always always always.”

Man, this cast. Both their affectionate ribbing and their support of each other never fails to get me all wibbly. #SPNFamily, everyone.

Let us know what you thought – and if you’re a Supernatural fan and still making up your holiday wish list, be sure to include Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls — click through the link at the top right of this page to order!

25 thoughts on “Between ‘A Rock and A Hard Place’ – and it hurts! Supernatural 9.08

  • You know what I find both sweet and funny…these grown men are called the “boys” by EVERYONE. On and off screen. IDK… it’s adorkable or something.

    I really would like to know if they had planned more of a Dean/Suzi resolution because I felt like her story got lost. Just a throw-away line that Dean took her home and talked with her would have helped.

  • ‘MILFchester’ came to mind when I read your ‘Millchester’!!
    I, too, wish for a shirtless (or naked ;D ) scene!!

    • The action happened off screen, so you can assume that the clothes all came off then. Of course they’re gonna be naked when they’re getting it on.

  • My group of 3–who watch SPN together by texting during commercials–wondered why they signed their “real” names to that pledge, and none of us have came up with any likely answers yet.

    • I figure since it was just a dumb purity pledge, no one outside of Bonnie/Vesta or some other church person would see it.

      • Makes sense, especially since this episode is their low point. They have no faith that anyone who matters would see it.

  • I think this is my favorite episode of the season. No, I know it is. The pacing was great, the writing was great, the directing, the sfx, the cast … BAMF Jody! … and as awesome as the bunker is, it’s nice to get back on the road sometimes, right? And for me at least, there weren’t any speed bumps (like having Dad hunt a creature when Dean’s 16 that he’s never heard of when he’s 30, ahem). Yeah, Dean didn’t pick up his phone in the middle of a case and that bugged me the same way it bugged me every other time in the series. I didn’t feel it was out of character at all, just like, c’mon guys, haven’t you learned ANYTHING about communication?

    I had a favorite Dean bit during the group purity session apart from the monologue, which, I mean really … But I also loved when Sam is sharing and says that whenever he’s been with a woman it hasn’t ended well and Dean jumps right in with “He ain’t lying!”

    And speaking of Winchesters and sex … we’ve got Sam who, at least in his soulless incarnation, is so amazing in bed that a hooker forgets to take her money, and Dean, who’s so hot he can get a born-again virgin counselor to forget her pledge! But notice, there were several people who hadn’t kept their pledges waiting to be sacrificed to Vesta, because, like Dean says, sex feels good!

    I couldn’t believe all the emotional places this episode took me, not the least of which is excitement that the show can still reach this level of awesome.

  • I wondered why Sam was so frail at the beginning of the show. If Zeke is healing him Sam should have felt better. I think we have cause to really be concerned and I don’t want to voice what I’m thinking. It’s just too terrible.

  • Not as emotional (or really as good in my opinion) as last week’s return to the basics of SPN, but very good episode. I don’t analyze the episodes but I have to say that listening to Jensen talking sex talk was amazing. A treat for the ears and the eyes. I am worried about Sam right now. Seeing the preview for next week I get the feeling Zeke isn’t being completely honest with Dean, and I was really hoping he was. Seeing Jodi Mills was great, and I also hope they bring her back over and over. I am waiting for next week on pins and needles!

  • Loved this ep with my whole heart. Adored Jody. My full review is over at Winchester Family Business under Robin’s Rambles. Dean as a renewed virgin? Priceless and hilarious! Jody saving the brothers’ butts in this ep? Joyful and perfect! The concept that Sam and Dean are each other’s church? Sweet and lovely! Sam all weak, Dean all set to reveal the truth? Me, shouting at my TV, “GO, Dean, tell him!” Zeke, showing up to stop Dean? Me, shouting at my TV, “Damn you, Zeke, you suck, I never trusted you!” Love, Robin

  • thanks for your rundowns of each episode; I look forward to these every week! Love your sympathy with the characters and show, I find myself every week vigorously agreeing as I read along

  • I am so happy that Jody lived to fight another day. That woman is as strong and complete and well rounded as a character as any I’ve ever seen. There’s no need to ship her with anyone, folks, she stands alone and doesn’t need to depend on anyone. Having said that, I wish she’d partner with the boys some more. Her strength and good sense adds to the Winchesters’ flair in so many ways.

    We’ve had two wonderful episodes in a row now. Come on, and keep going, writers.

    As usual, Jensen nailed the facial expressions that mirrored exactly what Dean was thinking without saying a word. His face during his (extremely brief) courtship of Suzy was a study in acting without lines, We knew what he was thinking right down to the last sleazy little thought that crossed his mind. Bravo!

    Jared deserves an A+ for his transformation into Zeke. He appeared to grow a few feet as Zeke took over him, and although it’s spectacular he doesn’t really need the blue flashing eyes to show that he’s a different being.

    Finally, I want to give a shout out to Lindy Booth, who was amazing. I’m going to use, “Well, I’ll be a squirrel in a skirt,” as many times as I can in conversation, starting now!

    Great writing. Please, Jenny, do more. You seem to have a talent for it!

    • I agree with everything you said. From Jody not needing to be shipped with anyone, Jensen’s facial expressions saying so much about how Dean is feeling without any dialogue, right down to Jared not even needing the VFX to convince us that he’s Zeke. I wasn’t sure if the Show could pull off another episode as great as Bad Boys was last week, but it definitely delivered again. I really enjoyed this episode too and can’t wait to see what Jenny Klein comes up with for us next.

  • Thanks for all your wonderful reviews. So many bloggers seem to focus solely on what’s wrong with episodes. I find that gets old really fast, so your positive focus makes me very happy. Not to say I don’t have issues with some things, but for me, the positives always vastly out weigh the negatives where Supernatural is concerned.

    I loved this episode from start to finish. Apart from anything else, it was nice to see the Dean of old “back in the saddle” so to speak 🙂

    Jody was awesome. We need her around more often. I’m so relieved she didn’t die.

    I’m worried that Zeke is now basically holding Sam hostage. Any time Dean even tries to tell Sam, Zeke can pop up and stop him. Sam should be way more healed by now. I’m scared. In fact I’m terrified.

    Looking forward to the next episode like a bird, mesmerized by the cat, before it’s pounced on and torn apart. Our feels will be thrown on the floor and stomped all over. I hate mid season hiatus with a passion!

  • Great review, as always! I agree with all of it, right down to your pick for favorite lines. I quoted that Sam/Jody exchange about comfort last night in a discussion group as my favorite part of the episode. I love it when we get to see the brothers’ relationship from an outside perspective, and Sheriff Jody really nailed it with the “comfort” aspect. The fact that she analogized it to attending church – i.e., something sacred – was a nice shout-out, IMO, to the church scene in Sacrifice in which Sam and Dean chose each other once again.

    It’s funny, because the only part of the Dean/Suzy scene that really bothered me (other than the fact that Dean remained fully clothed of course) was the fact that it was in the middle of a case and that Dean ignored a phone call from Sam at a pivotal moment in their investigation. But just tonight, I was watching Sex and Violence (the episode I happen to be up to in my current re-watch), and I noticed that Sam did EXACTLY the same thing. Just as he was about to have sex with Dr. Cara Roberts, he ignored a phone call from Dean, even though they were in the middle of case and he must have been aware that Dean could have some crucial information. What can we take from that? Eh, I don’t know. Just that it does happen. Both of the boys sometimes choose sex over communicating with each other, just because. Even Sam and Dean get caught up in the moment. Perhaps it’s not so out-of-character after all – it’s just that they’re human, and they enjoy getting laid. 😉

  • I have enjoyed all of your reviews, and have agreed (and disagreed) with you as we fans are wont to do. But your hands-down approval of this ep is confusing – the only part of the Dean/Suzy that bothered you was Dean not picking up Sam’s call? What about the portrayal of Suzy as a ‘reformed bad girl’ who could be talked out of her values by a hot guy? That was beyond insulting. “See, all she needed was Dean-o to get her off the purity train, nudge-nudge, wink wink.” Ugh. And if that was an attempt to rewrite a cheesy porn scene, SPN-style, it didn’t work. The whole 3 minutes was cringeworthy.

    It doesn’t bother me that the boys occasionally choose sex over bro-to-bro chats – don’t we all? But as the old song goes, “it’s in the way that you use it” and Jenny Klein failed utterly to add dimension and avoid cliches here. What a wasted opportunity!

    Imagine if the scene had been flipped – Suzy sees what she wants and goes for him – and perhaps in mid undress, Dean recognizes her from somewhere, she cops to being Carmelita on her own terms – Dean doesn’t slut shame her our of her panties, and the fun goes on. Suzy stays strong and true to herself, Dean doesn’t have to fulfill a stereotypical ‘adorable horndog’ cliche (YAWN), there’s sex aplenty, and our hearts go pitter-pat. If only, SPN. If only.

  • I apologize in advance if this sounds rude. Really not meant to be.
    The name if the goddess is Vesta. She is known for her Vestal Virgins. Thanks!

  • Episode had a positive figure. Jody Mills. Making the Dean idiot by writers continues. And Sam is I have quite a long time. Leg hurts, head hurts. Only ass still hurts. His problems are so boring and predictable that … This season is far worse even than the seventh season.

    • I’m sorry-but why are you still watching? Boring since 7….now 9….. isn’t there Something else you could watch that would thrill you? You certainly seem to be wasting your time here!

  • Eh, Dean not picking up the phone isn’t that big of a deal. Hell, Sam did the same thing in “Sex and Violence” in season five.

  • Jensen continues to do an amazing job as Dean, he’s always been amazing, but this season, I think Jensen has an incredibly difficult acting challenge. Dean is wound so tight and Jensen has to convey so many different and conflicting feelings, but he has to do it in a way that so very subtle and nuanced. Laura Prudom was right when she said that Jensen is one of the best actors on TV that can do that.

  • I didn’t like the way they made Dean be a sleazebag and deliberately set out to make a woman who was committed to her chastity break her vows, and this was before he knew she was an ex porn star! But then again, I love Dean, and it’s been way too damn long since he got some, which is sinful because this man is just too damn beautiful to go to waste. I just don’t understand why he had to hit on the woman who was trying to be good. He can pick up any woman any night(or day) of the week, just standing in a room breathing, so I think maybe the point was to reiterate that the Winchester boys are human and have some not so nice sides of their personalities.

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