‘The Things They Carried’ didn’t make me cry, which was a bit of a relief after some of the tissue-decimating episodes this season. It did, however, make me put aside the delicious slice of pie I had ready for the occasion – who can eat when there’s that level of disgusting on the screen? Jenny Klein, you’re the new queen of EWWW. You know, that version of horror that has you screaming and gagging at the same time? EWWW.
The episode felt a lot like old school SPN, which used to make me do both of those regularly, and I enjoyed the roller coaster feel of those parts. It had a compelling MotW – not the non-Kahn worm [snort] itself, but the hapless people infected with it. It was impossible not to root for poor Kit when his wife was so in love with him and he had clearly been heroic before becoming infected (much like a certain Winchester we know, also recently ‘infected’ with something awful). That parallel was nicely done and not dropped on our heads with a giant anvil, so kudos for that Jenny.
The scenes with Dean and Cole were particularly stressful (I mean that in the good horror-story way) and Ackles and guest actor Travis Aaron Wade were both at the top of their game selling them. Dean’s matter of fact warning that things were going to get very very bad was chilling, but his determination to save Cole (or to kick his ass until he manned up and saved himself) was very Dean. The heroic Dean who’s still fighting to stick around for as long as he can. Because the entire MotW story line was a parallel for Dean’s being infected with the mark, Dean’s speech to Cole worked as self-talk too. Keep fighting. Fight harder than you ever have in your life. Don’t let it take you. Fight the monster within.
Travis conveyed Cole’s increasing agony vividly, and the frightening way he began to lose the battle (and want to drink Dean like a fountain, which….never mind…).
The electrocution scenes were hard to watch, with both actors and director John Badham making them believable. Travis tweeted his thanks to Jensen for helping him get those scenes right, and my guess is the thanks goes both ways. I’ve heard Jensen talk many times about how acting is all about the interaction, and it’s clear that’s what made those scenes work so well.
We spoke to Travis a few months ago about the role of Cole and his own experience being on a show like Supernatural – click Travis’ name on the sidebar to read that insightful interview.
Now that he’s been in a few more episodes, we’ve got additional burning questions.
Like, was that actually Travis launching himself across the room to tackle Jensen? (Can’t say I blame him, btw. Who hasn’t wanted to launch themselves into Jensen Ackles’ arms??)
(We’ll be doing a follow up interview with Travis soon, so check back here!)
The scenes between Dean and Cole in the cabin were so intense that fandom needed to make light in order to keep from chewing our nails to the quick. That would explain why there’s a gif set floating around Tumblr that extracts some of the dialogue from this episode and makes it sound like something…different…
Would you do me the honor of tying me to that chair?
I want you to do that to me too.
Do it again.
How many times did you read Fifty Shades of Grey, Jenny Klein? Or was it some other variety of fanfic…
But seriously, I loved all those scenes. Kudos again to Ackles, Wade, Badham and Klein for making them work.
They also worked to allow us to witness the evolution of Cole’s feelings about the Winchesters. Only a short while ago, Cole had Sam tied to a chair and was beating the crap out of him, and tracked Dean down with the intent of killing him. That makes getting the three of them to a point where they’re on speaking terms – let alone friendly terms – a challenge. Cole’s change of heart is believable considering what he witnesses firsthand. He now knows that monsters are real, and he knows intimately what it feels like to lose yourself to the grip of a monster. In a sad and tragic way, he knows what happened to his father – and so he knows why Dean had to do what he did. His forgiveness for Dean feels earned and believable.
The entire Cole story arc works like one of my favorite flavors of fanfiction – outsider pov. I love seeing an outsider’s point of view on the brothers, putting the absolute weirdness of their life into stark reveal. Cole’s gradual discovery of who Sam and Dean really are and what they really do reads the same way, giving viewers a fresh perspective on our heroes as well.
So I get Cole’s newfound respect for the brothers. It’s a bit harder to reconcile the Winchesters’ forgiveness of Cole. If I were Sam, I’d really want to take a shot at Cole in return for that whole tied-to-a-chair-torture thing. And knowing Dean, he’d want to take a shot at Cole for that even more – you don’t mess with Dean Winchester’s little brother if you know what’s good for you. I’m putting their grudging acceptance of Cole’s help down to the fact that the brothers are a lot more accustomed to torture than most of us (that sounds really sad, but it’s true) and when they’re focused on a case, they’re willing to have strange bedfellows in order to save someone. Considering their past with Cole, he’s a strange bedfellow indeed, but they seem to recognize that he can also be a helpful one.
That’s the way I’m taking it, so that it makes sense to me. In a recent Entertainment Weekly interview, Travis explained Sam’s forgiveness of Cole and their seeming sense of connection as a result of Stockholm syndrome, where someone held captive forms a psychological bond with their captor. It’s a psychological survival strategy, though I’m not sure Sam would have had time to form such a bond with Cole. Perhaps a combination of that, Sam’s inherent forgiving nature, and the fact that being tied up and tortured just means it’s Monday for the Winchesters. And both Winchesters understand the motivation to fight for vengeance and to protect those you love, which I think they can see in Travis.
In the EW article, Travis also noted that Cole’s interactions with the Winchesters have always involved violence, whether it be torturing Sam or fighting Dean, which can create what he called a “weird” bond.
A lot of people tend to bond with the person they’ve been in a fight with,” Wade said. “I think there’s a natural occurrence within men once they’ve slugged it out, more so with me and Dean because we went toe-to-toe and we got a chance to fight each other.”
That “weird bond” is the basis for a whole helluva lot of excellent fanfiction, so I’m down with that explanation too.
So I can accept all that as plausible. Though the it’s-a-small-world coincidence that Cole is the person Gemma calls stretched the boundaries of credulity a bit, but okay. That’s what handwaves are for.
The episode managed to move Dean and Sam’s story forward as well, even though they were separated for a significant part of the time. We got a little bit of bunker interaction, which is always a treat, this time with the added benefit of Dean accusing Sam of trying to hide his porn (actually trying – very poorly – to hide his mark of Cain research). Dean’s matter-of-fact attitude struck me as completely realistic. These guys have lived in close quarters their entire lives, after all. Dean’s only concern is not making a mess of ‘where we eat’. Jared gives us an adorably flustered Sam when he’s caught out, mostly because it’s not porn.
Such a simple scene, but it gives us a glimpse into where Sam is – something that I’m always craving this season. Jared has had to become very proficient at showing us Sam’s emotions with just a quick facial expression, since Sam rarely gets to express himself verbally. He’s gotten good at it; Sam’s overwhelming fear for his brother is obvious in the way he’s staring at the screen, his impatience clear in the restless tap of his fingers as he searches. He’s decided to be secretive, because he knows Dean wants to give up. It’s clear Sam’s not going to go along with Dean’s hopelessness; far from it.
I also loved the brief scene with the cake. Dean’s obvious appetite, and Sam’s admonition. I get the feeling that Sam’s trying to be the backup for Dean’s willpower, whether it’s feeding the mark’s lust for blood or Dean’s sweet tooth. He’s right there, paying attention to everything, hoping he’ll be the support system that makes a difference. It’s what helps people beat addiction more than anything else – someone in your corner, ready and willing to stay right there beside you and help you be strong. Sam doesn’t need words to convey any of this, it’s clear from his tone of voice, his protective movements.
It’s also far from easy. Dean’s surreptitious swipe at the icing and the way he turns away and sucks it off his finger were perfect (and both adorable and kinda sorta hot too but hey, this is Dean we’re talking about).
Despite Dean’s occasional secretiveness, both he and Sam seem to have remembered what the Dean and Sam of early seasons knew without a shadow of a doubt to be true: the brothers are stronger together.
Dean tells Sam in the car: I’m gonna keep doing what I can for as long as I can. And I’d like you to be there with me.
It’s what Sam wants too. It’s what Sam is determined to do, and this time, I hope that Dean is going to continue to let him (At least until Dean decides it’s too dangerous for him to be around Sam, and then I don’t know what will happen….not gonna think about it not gonna think about it…)
We also get some much-needed Sam pov as he fights to save Kit. And we get large doses of both competent!Sam and competent!Dean in this episode, which I always greatly appreciate. I especially loved them not being fooled for a second by Cole’s attempt to ditch them.
Sam relates to Gemma’s desperate desire to hang onto her husband, who she loves. To save him. This parallels Sam’s equally desperate need to save his brother, and we feel for both of them as Kit’s humanity inexorably slides away. Jared does a masterful job of conveying just how crushed Sam is that he wasn’t able to save Kit. (There was a lot of rumbling in fandom about Show’s several seasons of the Winchesters and Cas no longer caring about the hapless vessels that monsters possessed, but I think the assumption is that most demon meat suits are no longer alive to be saved. Kit, on the other hand, was still alive and still human if the monster could have been extricated). It’s doubly horrible because of course, to Sam, this feels like a precursor to not being able to save his brother.
Sam: I tried, I did. I tried, I just…couldn’t save this one.
He looks so anguished, my heart was breaking at that moment. I came close to needing tissues.
What made that scene so wonderful is that Dean answers. With empathy. He says, straight out, what Sam needs to hear.
Dean: Don’t blame yourself for Kit.
Sam: It feels crappy.
Dean: I know it does.
I loved that exchange. Dean doesn’t try to talk him out of it, doesn’t diminish his feelings. Instead he validates what Sam is feeling, while reminding him that it can feel crappy and still not be your fault.
Dean: Sometimes you just can’t. You can do everything right and still sometimes, the guy still dies.
Oh, the look on Sam’s face. Dean is of course now talking about himself as much as Kit. Trying to prepare Sam that he’ll eventually have to let Dean go. And Sam? Sam is not having it. And I really love him for that.
A few minor quibbles. Well, never mind, this is actually major. We got Dean Winchester sweating his ass off and he didn’t even take off ONE of his shirts! Seriously? You let me down, Jenny. Perfect opportunity for shirtless Dean and you didn’t write it into the script. I’m hurt. All of fandom is hurt.
I, along with most of fandom, was also bothered by Cole’s overly friendly nicknames for the Winchesters. Nobody gets to call Sam “Sammy” except for Dean. This is a rule. Follow it. And Dean-o is too intimate, too familial. Cole is younger than Dean, so neither of these nicknames feel right to me. Stop it, Show. Seriously. (ETA: See Travis’ thoughtful explanation for the use of nicknames below – makes alot more sense now.)
All in all, I really enjoyed this episode. The title fascinated me, at first reminding me of all the fan art out there with the theme ‘He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.’ Dean and Sam have certainly carried each other – physically, emotionally. Dean has carried baby Sammy out of their burning house and Sam has carried Dean’s dead body back to the bunker. Next I thought of the weight both brothers have carried on their shoulders since they were children. Responsibility, shame, grief, loss. The determination to save people, and the terrible guilt when they can’t. All those associations make the title a powerful one.
Then I thought of another. I remember my son reading “The Things They Carried” in middle school and being very moved by it, so I went digging to remind myself what the book was all about. It’s a book of Vietnam War stories, told as fictional but ringing very true. In a significant portion of the book, we witness the bond that develops between two soldiers, Jensen (yep, for real) and Strunk. At first they drive each other nuts, but being in the trenches together, the shared stress and horrors, draws them into a deep respect and friendship. They eventually make a pact that if one of them is wounded, the other must deal the fatal blow as a form of mercy.
Oh shit, Jenny, I see what you did there.
Maybe I’m gonna need those tissues after all.
(Caps WB/The CW and MidnightRoad.LiveJournal)
ETA: A message from Travis Aaron Wade with some thoughtful insights into Cole’s journey and how he feels about the Winchesters. I so appreciate the clarification, which makes alot of sense to me. This is the only Show I know whose cast cares enough to want to communicate directly with the fandom, and to put this much passion into the characters they create for us each week. Thanks, Travis.
From Travis Aaron Wade:
“The Things They Carried”
First and foremost, I want to thank you for a wonderful article. Not only did I enjoy all your positive feedback from the episode but I enjoyed your writing as well. You are a very talented writer and you have a big future ahead of you. Keep doing what you love!
Second, I wanted to address the nickname controversy. I thought maybe you could help me get this out there to the fandom so that fans can better understand the reasoning behind it.
I write this with the utmost respect towards the writers, creators and fans of Supernatural
As a Marine, there are so many things we are trained to do in times of war & combat. It is also very common for military men to give friends and enemies nicknames. Everything I brought to creating the character of Cole from page to screen was taken from my own military experience. It is a strong character choice to identify the people whom you are talking to with nicknames. There are so many reasons as to why one would do this but in the case of Cole and Supernatural, the reason behind “Sammy Boy & Deano” very simply put; is because it’s what the character would do. Cole has been tracking Dean half of his life. This is a man he witnessed killing his father when he was just a boy. Until it was revealed that his father was a monster, Cole had only one agenda and that was to revenge his father’s death. Upon capturing Sam, Cole would call Sam, “Sammy Boy” for two very specific psychological reasons.
The first reason is to make Sam feel comfortable, as if they were pals, and by giving Sam a nickname it would create a certain relationship between the two. Cole is not an evil character. He did not want to kill or harm Sam. Trust me when I say that there were so many other options to hurt and torture Sam. Especially when Cole brought out the hammer and could have crippled Sam for the rest of his life. Cole opted to create a fake phone call so that if Sam had not given up the location of his brother without serious injury, then Cole was going to use another method by dropping the keys and following Sam. Believe me when I say that if Cole wanted to truly hurt Sam he would have and he also would have tortured him to the point where Sam or any human being for that matter would have broken down and given the information. Well, everyone except Jack Bauer. Cole chose the most humane way to get to Dean through Sam and that is just fantastic writing by the creators of the show.
The second reason, this applies to his first meeting with Dean, nicknames can be used to degrade. (hence the several names that Dean calls Cole aka “Kungfu Grip or Sparky” etc…)
So when Cole first meets Dean, two things happen. One, he wants to degrade the man who killed his father before he kills him. Death is a release and there is peace in it. Words sting more and are more painful than death because you have to live with them so he wants to hurt Dean in any way he can prior to killing him. (or thinking he was going to kill him lol)
Also, Dean has been his primary focus for 1/2 of his life. So he feels like he knows him. Hence the way he does his hair and even speaks like him. You must study, learn and become your prey before you can kill it. So Cole feels close to Dean hence close enough to give him a nickname.
And we all know that once nicknames are given, then they stay with you the rest of your life, so even if Cole and Sam were to become best friends, he would still use those names. No longer to degrade or harm but now out of love and respect.
One of my closest friends in my life is Alex Martin. The grandson of the legendary Dean Martin. Recently, he and his wife Megan honored me with the title of Godfather to their unborn son who is due in 6 weeks. When I shot Alcatraz I honored my buddy and his family name by giving the nickname “paley” to my co-star Graham Shiels. Dean Martin use to call all his friends “paley” on a regular basis. So this time around it seemed fitting to honor the announcement of being named Godfather to Dean Martin’s great grandchild and heir to the Martin family name, by respectfully giving the nickname “Deano” to the great character that Jensen Ackles has created in Dean Winchester. I couldn’t imagine a bigger honor.
So when I see the fans having a problem with the nicknames I felt it was necessary to better explain.
As you all may have read recently the tweets between Jared and I about Stockholm Syndrome. It is a very real thing and because Sam, Dean & Cole have all now bled together and if history tells us anything, once men go to war they either come back dead, bitter enemies or friends. Hell the first time I met my best friend of 30 years when we were 10 the first thing we did was slug it out.
So all in all, I have heard and seen so many comments about giving the boys nicknames, but when you have been an actor for 15 years and you are asked to come on a show as big as Supernatural, you need to make strong character choices. This is not Travis Aaron Wade calling Sam and Dean Winchester nicknames. I have so much respect for this show, its creators, writers and the two men that been the face of this show for 10 years! Hell I am in disbelief that I am even writing this now and saying that I am forever a part of this show and the Winchesters story line. It’s why I don’t watch shows I audition for because I as well become a fan and a fan would never call Dean & Sam Winchester “Sammy Boy & Deano” BUT Cole Trenton would and Cole Trenton is a HUGE fan of Dean Martin and that era. None of this was done without the permission of the writers of the show and It’s now part of history so you don’t have to like it but you are going to have to live with it because it was exactly what the character would do and I am very fortunate to be working with incredible writers that are so intelligent and specific they allowed me to use it.
To close out, I want each and every fan to know that it is an honor to be a part of Supernatural. This has been an experience. If you look at the 4 episodes that I have shot, I hope you can all see the amount of hard work and care that I put into Cole Trenton. I wanted to give you all a character that you could love, hate or be confused about? lol The writers have done an incredible job with this characters arc so far and knowing them a bit, it’s just a tip of the iceberg. I have no idea what is next but I can tell you this much, I have come to love the character of Cole Trenton, The boys, the cast and crew and the entire production of Supernatural. Thank you for welcoming me to this very special family. You have my word that I will always put this show and the fans first before my own needs. It’s what military men do and if Cole Trenton is called upon again I will honor the writers, creators and the fans of this show with nothing short of my very best.
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