It was always going to be difficult to follow Robbie Thompson’s ‘Baby’, which left me smiling for an entire week. Show was gutsy in giving the follow-up episode to a brand new writer, Nancy Won. But guess what? She pretty much pulled it off! The episode wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty damn good.
Good things? It was SCARY. Old school Supernatural scary. Creepy music and big haunted-looking mansion full of creepy dolls and Lizzie Borden paintings that evoked ‘Playthings.’ Filmed in classic horror movie fashion, so that a simple walk down the basement stairs had me wanting to cover my eyes. That moment when Dean discovered the mark on one of the papers in Len’s house? Truly chilling. I gasped out loud! Love when Show can make me do that.
There was so much old school goodness. EMF meters. Smart boys figuring out it wasn’t a ghost in no time flat. Winchesters picking locks (competence kink, mmm). Sam and Dean ending up in a hotel room with one double (and lots of doilies). Winchesters tied up (it must be Tuesday, though this time it was Dean who got knocked out – yay for saving Sam some brain cells!). A Ghostfacers reference! Boys talking while leaning on the car and overlooking water. Even the ending shot. Old school! And I like it.
And in the midst of all that scary, some truly gorgeous shots of our boys, lit by flashlight like only Serge Ladouceur can do, or staring up into a flickering light fixture or peering through blinds. I loved the way Dean tapping on the flickering lights was reminiscent of Mary in the pilot.
I also loved the use of music once again, including the horror film-esque instrumentals, and later the version of one of the brothers’ themes as Sam bonds with Jordy.
I also loved Len. Kudos to Jared Gertner for playing him with heart (if not soul) and nuance. When we first met Len, I was worried we were going to get another fannish stereotype, and to some extent, we did – Dean refers to him as a “psycho fan” and a “crazed fan” and the words “obsessed” “harmless” and “superfan” are all right in line with some of the stereotypes I’m not wild about. But Len was written (and acted) to be much more than a stereotype; much like some of Kripke’s fan characters, Len even gets to save the day. And he’s not a loser the way we were eventually told that Becky was. “I’ve always been quirky, but I had a life, I had friends,” Len says wistfully. And Dean seems to get that. He changes his mind about Len as we all learn what kind of a man he really is. For a guy without a soul, he comes across as very human – a good man fighting to still do the right thing even without the built-in sense of guilt that is supposed to keep us all from killing each other.
It’s a testament to Nancy Won’s writing that even in the course of one episode, I cared about Len. I almost had to reach for the tissues when he told Dean that he needed to be stopped, and volunteered to be put away for others’ protection. That’s really something for a man without a soul!
I especially loved Sam’s interaction with Jordy in this episode. Jordy was clearly set up as a young Sam mirror, so it’s extra heartwarming to see grown-up Sam consoling him. It’s a moment that mirrors Sam and Dean too, with one of the brothers’ themes softly in the background as Sam tells Jordy, “People are gonna help you.” Like Dean helped Sam. Like family will do, to get you through.
For a brand new writer, it certainly felt like Nancy Won had done her homework. She must have watched more than a few episodes, because she got her canon right, which I always appreciate. Sam and Dean even talked about Sam’s time being soulless!!!
Too often the characters seem to forget their own history, not referencing something in their past when it seems clear they would. Won didn’t fall into that trap, and it added a layer of realism to see that the brothers have the same memories of their journey as we do.
Which brings me to the theme of the episode, and the question that’s currently rippling through fandom. What does it mean to be soulless? This episode made it clear that people react differently to losing their souls. Sam reacted one way, Len another, Sidney and that other girl who killed her grandmother in a more violent fashion. What makes that difference? Did the two women just have more of an axe to grind (sorry…)? Does losing your soul just allow you to act out your revenge fantasies if in fact you happen to have them?
(Btw, it bothered me to hear so much about Sidney’s past. I couldn’t help but empathize with her, an abuse survivor and trauma victim struggling with PTSD symptoms that were written almost too well. I guess Show is trying to explain to us why she has a lot of rage, but it just ended up making me feel bad for her and not want her villainized. It’s a horror movie trope, but one I don’t like.)
Len kept talking about how the lack of a soul was pulling at him too, making him darker. He seemed sure that he’d kill again eventually. Will that always happen? Why didn’t Sam go more murderous without his soul?
And the biggest question of all: was Show using Len as a mirror because one of the Winchesters is lacking something in the soul department? Was that what Amara did to Dean when she leaned in for what looked like it might be a kiss in those flash-forward-or-backward visions?
There has been a lot of speculation that Dean is somehow “off” this season. That despite Jensen’s insistence that the brothers aren’t afflicted by anything, that Dean has been colder (especially to Sam) than expected, and that maybe that means he’s at least partially soulless. I haven’t really seen it, but this episode and all the discussion of how being soulless affects everyone differently – and Len’s demonstration of how well someone who’s motivated and has a bit of conscience left can convincingly “go through the motions” — made me wonder. There was so much emphasis on faking it in the conversation between Dean and Len, that it certainly seemed intentional.
Later, Dean describes his time with Amara in the same way as Sidney does: quiet. Dean Winchester has as much of a trauma background as the babysitter, and perhaps as much longing for that sort of quiet. Did Amara know that? Is that part of her ‘bond’ with him?
On the ‘not soulless’ side, Dean’s appetite seems intact, both for sex and food and drink. He slept in ‘Baby’ and if he’s faking it for Sam’s sake, why did he apologize to the Impala for all that befell her when he was all alone? He was also empathic in his conversation with Len, insisting that he didn’t want to kill him and looking distressed about the whole situation.
On the ‘but maybe’ side, he’s definitely grumpy and not Mr. Empathy, particularly in that strange exchange in this episode where Sam reminds him that they’re trying to save people, not kill them, and Dean says “oh that’s right, the new rules.”
Huh? Those are definitely not new rules, Dean. But I didn’t entirely understand Sam’s speech either, so maybe Dean’s just as confused as I am. Or maybe he’s logically reminding himself of rules that he can no longer feel emotional urgency about, just like Sam did when he was soulless.
The pointed things that this episode had to say about soullessness and the longing for ‘quiet’? That makes a much better case for *something* to have happened to Dean’s soul.
And there was an overt reference to Sam’s ability to be the sensitive, empathic one.
If Dean, it turns out, does have his full complement of soul, then why such deliberate parallels in this episode? And why are so many people finding him off? I wonder if it’s us who have changed, more than the Winchesters. Those boys have been through so much, including being estranged from each other and hurting each other (or in some cases trying to kill each other…), that having them go back to their Season 1 bickering and picking on each other maybe doesn’t quite sit right. With us, not with them. Maybe, after being right there with them as they truly did hurt each other, we can’t see their brotherly taunts as the sort of harmless almost affectionate ribbing that we did in the early seasons. I think we desperately need to see the brothers being more overtly affectionate, now that we’ve seen so much of the opposite. We’re protective of them, even when it comes to each other; perhaps even more when it comes to each other, because we know how much they can hurt the other.
Dean’s ribbing of Sam in this episode doesn’t seem to be out of line compared to how Sam and Dean interacted in those early seasons. I interpreted his snarky comment about how hard it is to work with family as the same sort of dig Dean loved to get in at his little brother back then. It’s on the surface something hurtful, but underneath it’s affectionate. Sam gives him a pursed lips look, but he didn’t seem hurt to me; it looked to me like Sam interpreted it the same way I did.
Dean ribbed Sam about how he was soulless too, but at the same time, he also listened to Sam and took what he said seriously. It’s like the obligatory ribbing has to come first, but more seriously, Dean seems to respect Sam. They’re working together, seamless (including that nonverbal communication that I love to see), and they’re each trusting the other to be smart and competent and to get the job done. (Other than Dean inexplicably not knowing what a marsupial was….really?? One small fail, Nancy Won. Dean Winchester is NOT dumb, despite a few poorly written scripts).
The way Dean teased Sam about his “serial killer fetish” felt affectionate to me as well; typical Dean behavior, trying to ruffle Sam’s feathers when in all likelihood Dean kinda thinks Sam’s interest in serial killers is a good thing for their line of work. These are the brothers who made ‘driver picks the music’ famous and don’t mind super glueing each other’s hands to beer bottles, after all. It just didn’t feel mean spirited to me.
At the very least, this episode really got people talking. And confused.
We also got Agents Collins and Gabriel, which may have been truly brilliant if someone was thinking of Genesis and how the Darkness predates everything. And creepy Amara with her serial killer eyes staring wistfully after Dean as the brothers drive away.
Someone on my timeline totally called it: Amara is me lurking in the bushes staring at J2
Smarter person than me on LiveJournal: Genesis = “The earth was without form and void (11.02), and darkness (hee!) was over the face of the deep.”
Oooooh. If you did that, Nancy Won, you definitely won!
Also I absolutely loved Sam and the squeezy thing. Jared can do humor so well, and he doesn’t get to put that talent to good use often enough. That whole scene, and both Jared and Jensen’s execution of it, was priceless!
As was Sam’s face when the hotel operator said that he and Dean could probably make a dent in their surplus pastry supply.
So all in all, I mostly liked this episode. It wasn’t ‘Baby,’ but I didn’t expect it to be. And it’s got everyone talking, speculating about what’s going on and why we had so much emphasis on serial killers and soullessness. I can’t wait to find out!
We even got a broment at the end, the boys leaning on Baby overlooking some pretty Vancouver body of water, eating and TALKING. That felt good to me, and I’m hoping it – and the bliss of last week’s episode – was real.
What do you think?
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