I was nervous about having so many new writers on my favorite show this season, but Thursday’s Supernatural episode proved once again that the new writers are doing their homework. Welcome to the family, Steve Yockey!
This episode had some great 80s rock, some remarkable VFX, some gorgeously lit scenes, and some amazing acting. And yes, the writing was great too. Let me list all the things I liked about this episode (nothing makes me happier than having an actual list!)
Those Are My Boys
I love having a plot that makes sense, and an emotional arc that makes me either reach for the tissues or bite my nails to the quick (or both) – but none of that is satisfying if I don’t recognize the characters I love. The risk with having new writers is that they won’t get it right – after all, eleven seasons of character development is a lot to catch up on! But Yockey clearly did his homework, and fandom very much appreciated it.
Sam and Dean felt like Sam and Dean – their unique bond, which the Show revolves around, was very much in evidence. The affectionate brotherly teasing when Sam outs Dean as being “an animated Japanese erotica chick” – both Dean’s mock affronted “how dare you?” face and Sam’s absolutely unrepentant grin after – was the stuff that Supernatural is made of.
Sam: Be proud of your hobbies. It makes you who you are.
Also, Mr. Yockey, if that was a shout out to fandom, we appreciate that too. We’ve written entire books with that exact message, and it was refreshing to hear it espoused on the show that IS my hobby.
(Btw, apparently Jared and Jensen pranked Kim in that scene. Whatever was actually on that television screen? It was not a G rated rom com.)
The Winchesters were also smart and capable in this episode, instead of dumbed down for the sake of comedy as sometimes happens. Mary even recognized that in Dean. Can you imagine how much it meant to him for his mother to call him smart? It brought tears to my eyes, thinking about how much Dean has always needed to hear that and how much trouble he’s always had believing it. Thank you for that moment, Mr. Yockey! (Let me know if I can call you Steve…)
My very happy timeline after that scene: #CompetencyKink
There’s a reason my timeline is my timeline.
And that’s not all when it comes to getting characterization right. There’s nothing that puts me off more than a Winchester who doesn’t care about his brother – that’s been the basis of the show since the pilot, and such an integral part of Sam and Dean’s psychological makeup that it’s non-negotiable as far as characterization. I struggled terribly with the one episode this season that lacked any urgency on Dean’s part about saving Sam, because that simply is NOT Dean. But this episode, it was all there.
Dean is at first all flip and seemingly unconcerned when Billie the Reaper appears. Until she tells him why she’s there.
Billie: I was reaping a fresh soul in there…
You can clearly see the moment Dean realizes that means Sam is in danger.
Dean: SAM! SAMMY!!! (takes off running to the door, slamming his shoulder into it and then trying to break it down with a stone statue)
And when Billie propels him through it, before he’s even fully on his feet he’s demanding “Where’s my brother?”
That’s the Dean Winchester I know and love.
Sam is also wonderfully in character, teasing his brother, pushing against the fatalism that Dean is steeped in about hunting, and being the compassionate and empathic voice of reason in between his brother and his mother. I loved Sam and Mary’s interactions, the warmth in their exchanged looks. Sam gets her, more than Dean does – it’s a parallel to the way Dean seemed to understand John. Mary has the same tendency as Dean to insist she’s okay when she’s not, and Sam’s not afraid to call her on it – and also able to make her feel better.
The way Sam escorts his mom to go say goodbye to Asa, and the way he escorts her to the Impala at the end of the episode, arm around her shoulders, made me all warm and fuzzy. Sam is just as emotional about Mary being back as Dean is, but he’s more optimistic – about hunting, living, and their mother. He also doesn’t have quite the abandonment history that Dean does, thanks to Dean’s stepping up to be Sam’s surrogate parent.
So both Sam and Dean felt like Sam and Dean.
A Glimpse Into the Hunters’ World
There was more to love in this episode, though. For eleven years we’ve wanted to see more of the world in which Sam and Dean were raised – the other hunters who we know are out there. (In Canada no less – how much do you want to bet that Dean’s “Oh Canada” was an ad lib? I loved it).
We got some glimpses of other hunters in the early seasons, when the Winchesters spent some time at the Roadhouse with Ash and Ellen and Jo (the fact that Ellen and Jo were in the ‘Then’ montage foregrounded both the exploration of the hunting world and the theme of mothering – I’ll never be over how amazing Samantha Ferris and Alona Tal were in ‘Abandon All Hope’. Or how much their death scene destroyed me as the mother of a daughter).
It was a tremendous treat to be able to meet other hunters – and to see the Winchesters through their eyes! When Jody, Sam and Dean walked into that wake and were accepted into that group of hunters, it almost felt like it does to walk into a Supernatural convention for the first time. Instant acceptance, instant understanding. Private jokes that nobody else would get.
I love that Sam and Dean are legends – that was an accurate reflection of lots of fanfiction out there, which is always my highest compliment. If it reflects fanfiction, you got it right!
Hunter dude: Dean Winchester? THE Dean Winchester??
Dean’s face right then was priceless, not quite knowing whether he should be embarrassed or proud and settling on a little of both – which Jensen Ackles has no trouble showing us.
Elvis the Sam fanboy was hysterical (if somewhat clueless about boundaries).
Elvis: You were possessed by Lucifer??
The Pretty Pretty Witch Twins: Woah. You can’t just ask someone about something so messed up!
I love that someone is defending Sam’s boundaries for a change, and I love the Banes twins to pieces. Memorable side characters who I instantly wanted to see more of, who happen to be persons of color, one of them gay, raised by a good witch and proud of it. They tell it like it is, know their stuff, have each other’s backs and stick together and even talk in sync much like two other siblings I know, and look really damn good doing it (again, much like two other siblings I know). Kendrick Sampson and Kara Royster did a fabulous job making their characters appealing enough that I think most of us immediately wanted to see them again.
Demons Will Be Demons
Partly because we’ve come to know and love Crowley, demons haven’t been nearly as frightening recently as they were in the early seasons of Supernatural. Instead they’ve been rather lame, sometimes used for comic effect. We know that Crowley probably won’t kill Sam or Dean or Cas, so we’re not on edge even when he’s around. But with the demon-of-the-week, on the other hand, we had no such assurance.
This episode was a throw back to the days when demons were scary, which I really enjoyed. We’re led to believe that JL has already killed one person (the hapless Asa), so there was a palpable sense of fear as soon as we realized that the wake had been infiltrated. I actually had to grab a blanket to clutch in order to save my nails, and I screamed NOOOOOOOOO at my television more than once, much to the dismay of everyone else in the house. That’s my Show!
Sam and Mary going to pay their respects to Asa and the drops of blood suddenly appearing on his forehead literally made me gasp – it was so perfectly, eerily reminiscent of the pilot that it gave me chills. At least Sam never saw it from that perspective (since he was the one on whom the blood was dripping) but still, it must have been a PTSD moment for him to be confronted with someone dead on the ceiling. And for Mary too, having been that person herself (though I guess we’ve established that she doesn’t remember). For us as viewers, though, it was absolutely chilling.
And then the suspense amped up as the hunters are trapped in a deadly game of Clue not knowing who the demon is possessing or who will be next to die. Dean goes outside to seek solace in a flask after the surprise of his mother showing up, and that gave us another wonderful thing – the return of Billie the Reaper and the lovely Lisa Berry!
The presence of Billie just added to the suspense – she reiterated what we already know but need a reminder of sometimes so that the gravity of it sinks in. She’s not going to make any more deals to bring the Winchesters back. If they die, they stay dead. So when the demon-of-the-week starts slitting people’s throats and snapping people’s necks, we know that all the Winchesters (and Jody, an honorary Winchester) are in grave danger.
Who wasn’t screaming when Jody was possessed and we knew that the demon could snap her neck at any second? Kim Rhodes was doing an amazing job at being bad and all I could think of was OMG NO DON’T KILL HER! Pretty sure I was talking to the Show as much as to the demon, and about Kim as much as Jody.
Everyone who took a turn being possessed did a wonderful job – that demon had sass, menace, and just a touch of crazy, which made it terrifying indeed. The final showdown with the demon was intense. Is there anything hotter than Sam and Dean doing a tag team exorcism? And how awesome was it to have their mom and the witch twins join in?
My timeline: That awkward feeling when you’re a demon in a room full of people who all memorized exorcisms and interrupt you constantly.
I think I jumped up and shouted when it worked!
Minor quibble: All those hunters and nobody had any holy water or salt guns? And nobody (including perhaps Sam) has an anti possession tattoo?? Does nobody think to try ‘Christo’? They must be better at their jobs than that, right?
Welcome Back, Jody
There was a moment, when we first saw Jody, that Kim Rhodes’ credit was onscreen too – and I had such an emotional reaction. It was like some much loved relative who hasn’t been around to visit in way too long was finally there, in my living room. That’s what it felt like. Those dorky smiles on Sam and Dean’s faces? Pretty sure mine was equally dorky.
To make it even sweeter, Jody is watching Netflix in her PJ’s without a lick of shame – which is exactly as it should be.
Kim Rhodes live tweeted the West coast airing and proclaimed her own lack of shame:
Kim: I do so love that Jody day-drinks in her PJs with zero shame. #supernatural #waywardaf
I love the casual intimacy between Jody and the Winchesters, as they all curl up and watch rom coms together. I love that she offers to cook for them, knowing how much they crave that caretaking, and that they’re comfortable enough with her to accept.
Dean can’t wait to tell Jody all about his latest accomplishment – he clearly wants her approval.
Dean: Oh uh since the last time I saw you… I killed Hitler.
Jody: Thank you?
Dean: (practically glowing with pride) You’re welcome.
Clearly this has become a thing, both for Dean (and Sam, whether he likes it or not) and for fandom…
Everything about Jody Mills (and Kim Rhodes) is awesome in this episode. She made me tearful when she found out about Asa’s death, clearly feeling so much more for this man than she’s letting on. When Dean and Sam insist on coming with her to the wake, she’s obviously so grateful, as much as she tries not to show it. She impressed me even as I was shrieking NOOOOO when Jody was possessed by JL, so full of sass as she stalked around the room laying everyone’s secrets out on the floor for derision.
And she made me love Jody even more than I already did when she stopped Dean to call him out on his habitual defense of “I’m okay” when he’s clearly not. I LOVE Jody in this scene, as she confronts Dean in the most empathic way possible. Jody gets Dean, and allows him to have his feelings, just offers to be there for him if he wants to express them.
Jody: And it would scare the hell out of me. Because what if it didn’t work out?
Dean: (very softly) Yeah.
Her empathy allows Jody to give Dean some insight in a way that he can actually hear it, because he’s not as defended as usual. He’s scared, and she knows it. And that’s okay.
God, I loved that moment. Kim Rhodes clearly did too, as she live tweeted.
Kim: In all seriousness, may every one of us be brave enough to accept help from someone who loves us when we need it. #supernatural
The Stuff Beneath the Surface
This episode was all about mothers. Jody is not only surrogate mom to Claire and Alex, but to Sam and Dean too, and the contrast between Jody’s brand of surrogate mothering and Mary’s struggle to parent two suddenly grown sons is evident. The show is undertaking a rather nuanced exploration of motherhood and womanhood this season. Jody is not only a mother, but a woman, owning her sexuality (and sometimes using it as a shield every bit as much as a certain Winchester has at times) and candidly admitting that “dating is hard.” Mary too is allowed to be not just Sam and Dean’s mother, but a person with her own needs and desires and emotions and struggles. She’s imperfect – because mothers ARE imperfect – but she’s trying. She both loves and lets her children down. And as much as I want to scream at her sometimes to just give them what they need, the show (and Samantha Smith’s performance) are doing a decent job of reminding me that there’s more to what she’s dealing with than I can wrap my head around. Or that Dean and Sam can.
The continued exploration of Sam and Dean’s relationship with their mother was deftly handled in this episode too. Jody’s overjoyed reaction to finding out that Mary is alive is illustrative of a) how well she knows Sam and Dean, and b) how important it is to them to have one of their parents there.
She KNOWS what that must mean to them, perhaps much more than Mary does. Jody has seen more of what Sam and Dean’s early loss and abandonment history has done to them; Mary hasn’t seen any of it.
Dean especially is still so hurt by Mary’s leaving and the distance she’s put between her and her sons – so suddenly being reunited with her by accident instead of by design must feel like adding insult to injury. (Also? Hell of a coincidence!) No wonder he turns away from her and flees. That’s in character for Dean when he’s hurt.
Dean: So you’ll text us once a week maybe – but you’ll drive all the way to Canada to see some dead guy? Awesome.
Sam understands his brother, though – another example of that good characterization. When Mary wants to go after him, Sam holds her back, knowing that his brother needs some space and understanding exactly why this is so hard for him. Nobody understands Dean’s issues with abandonment better than Sam.
Sam: He’s just scared we’ll lose you again.
It was interesting to see Sam in the role of trying to make peace between his mother and his brother; we saw that same sort of peacemaking in early seasons with Dean trying to intercede with Sam and their dad.
The last iteration of motherhood in this episode is Asa’s mom. She’s not depicted in a very flattering light, as she guilt trips Mary and blames her for getting her son into hunting (and thus killed) or as she clings rather futilely to the bannister when things in her house start to go south in a big way. (Of course she has no way of knowing that Mary was not being mysterious – she was dead!) But it turns out, in the end, that she’s human too. It’s clear some of her blaming came from grief and loss, not just the loss of her son but of the life she wanted for herself – grandchildren, maybe a picket fence.
That story paralleled Mary’s nicely, because she too is dealing with overwhelming grief and loss – of the husband and the little boys she left behind in Heaven. And she’s facing once again the loss of the life she wanted for her sons, the ‘normal life’ that didn’t include hunting. Asa is a reminder that she failed in that, both with him and with Sam and Dean.
The ending is hopeful, though. Asa’s mother apologizes to Mary, picks herself up and goes to meet the grandchildren she didn’t know she had.
And speaking of endings.
Just when I thought we were going to get a Winchester bonding hey-we’re-all-alive moment, instead Billie offered Mary a way out of her struggle to find a way to fit into her own renewed life. Billie seems to get it, offering a ticket upstairs to Mary out of compassion.
Mary considers it, and we can all see what that does to her sons, who stand there mute, knowing it’s her decision. I ached for them, having to wait to hear whether they’ll once again lose their mother.
And when she finally says no, she’s staying? OMG the look on Sam’s face!
Sam: Does this mean you’re coming home?
The Winchesters are reunited, if not returning to the bunker together, at least for bacon. ALL the bacon. Just seeing Mary snugged under Sam’s arm as they walk to the Impala just about melted me.
Though how was Jody getting home?
Kim (livetweeting) Hey, you guys were my ride!
Side note: I loved Kim, Sam, Lisa, Alaina, Kathryn, Ruth, Briana and Chad all either watching or tweeting together and showing their support for their fellow cast member’s amazing performances. I’ve said it before, but it’s so true. Best. Cast. Ever.
Also it’s a little weird to crave bacon after a funeral pyre, but I guess to hunters, it is what it is. This episode commented on hunting too – on Mary’s struggle to come to terms with it being her life, and her sons’ lives. Sam and Dean talk about it too, with Dean being pragmatic about the odds of hunters’ lives ending bloody (despite the fact that they both considered that retirement home as possible last season…). For most of the episode, it looks like Asa is a case in point, dying bloody at the hands of a demon. But Supernatural, as it often does, has a twist for us. It wasn’t the demon after all, but an angry human.
So what are we to take away about hunting? Even Mary, for all her motivation to leave the life,
apparently couldn’t get out as cleanly as we had been led to believe. And although Sam doesn’t entirely agree with Dean about the inevitable ending for hunters, he is as sure as his brother that hunting is what they do and who they are. It’s something I think Mary is coming to terms with too.
Sam: This life… It’s in our blood.
For better or worse, I think he’s right. And you know what? That’s my show.
Thanks to @kayb625 for the caps!
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