Playing with Fire – Supernatural 12.13 Family Feud


Last week’s Supernatural won’t go down in history as one of my favorites – it was at times downright unpleasant to watch, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t impactful. Luckily, the difficult to watch scenes were interspersed with some lighter moments that I enjoyed and some excellent acting, which helped. And I just had the opportunity to re-watch after spending the weekend at a Supernatural convention in Nashville, which gave me some different perspectives on the episode, especially Mary’s situation.

The opening scene is classic Supernatural – dark, full of foreboding, and scary as hell. I don’t know if it’s just left over from childhood and none of us ever really outgrew it, but fear of the thing hiding in the closet or grabbing us from under the bed is always lurking underneath our adult composure. The opening scene played on all those fears, leaving my heart pounding by the time we transition into Sam and Dean at home in the bunker.

I will never get tired of seeing Sam and Dean in the bunker, so I was happy just to see them researching a case, hunched over Sam’s laptop together like it was Season 1 all over again.


My happy place was jolted, however, when the boys called Mary and she lied to them outright about where she was and what she was doing. I know she’s not the first Winchester to lie, and she undoubtedly won’t be the last, but it rankled anyway. It’s impossible for me to get myself out of her sons’ headspace – they are heartbreakingly vulnerable when it comes to their mother, and it’s very hard to watch her let them down. Her ‘I love you’ made me grimace, which can’t be a good sign.

Where are you taking us, Show? And if you decide to send Mary on a redemption arc, as it seems clear you will, are we going to be too far down the road by that time to follow? I worry, I really do.

Dean is clearly not buying Mary’s ‘I just need some R & R’, telling Sam that he feels like something’s going on with her. Sam, on the other hand, really wants to believe that his mom is okay.

Sam: She just needs a little time.

Jared Padalecki is killing me this season with Sam’s subtle but obvious yearning for his mother, his desperate need to believe that she loves them and she’s okay. Kudos on the acting, but ouch. It hurts to see the characters I care so much about hurting.


The theme of this episode, and this season, is parenthood, the first incarnation of which is Mary Winchester. We learn more about the BMoL’s Mr. Ketch and his role in her evolution in this episode. He’s smarmy to the max, keeps trying to get Mary to have a drink with him, and uses what seem like classic abuser tactics, trying to get her to cut ties with her family and devote her life just to the BMoL (like him). I don’t like him. (Though David Haydn-Jones is doing a bang up job). We also start to gain some insight into Mary’s rationalization for working with them – she mostly believes Mr. Ketch that Lady Toni was a ‘rogue operative’. If Mary has any maternal instinct at all, that would have to be what she believes, but it’s still a hard sell. Surely she’s smarter than that?

Mr. Ketch really shows his hand when he pushes Mary again to separate herself from her sons.

Mary: Nothing comes before my family.

Mr. K: You might play at being a good mommy… is that just what you want to believe?


Parenthood as a major theme has even made its way into the relationship between Crowley and the captive Lucifer. The two Marks, Sheppard and Pellegrino, are both delicious in their scenes with each other. You get the feeling that poor Crowley is in way over his head, much to Lucifer’s glee. Crowley’s zeal for revenge will perhaps be his blind spot. Some of those scenes were so heavy on exposition that I complained out loud about it to my television, but I have to admit, I’m grateful to Crowley for putting Lucifer in Mark Pellegrino’s meatsuit for perpetuity! Lucifer asking for advice as a father-to-be from Crowley on finding out he’s a dad was priceless.

The third parenthood story in the episode is Rowena’s, mother of Crowley and grandmother of Gavin. It was a treat to have Theo Devaney back as Gavin. I liked him when he was introduced, and was glad they spared him at the end of that episode. Anything that brings out the humanity in Crowley, I am all for. Devaney plays Gavin with a sweetness and innocence that makes you wonder who Fergus would have been had his life circumstances not been so tragic – or who Rowena would have been, for that matter.


Dean and Sam convince Rowena to help them in exchange for ‘something you’ll like’ – after Sam convinces her to “sit down” and listen to them in a voice that brooks no argument and made more than one fan have to go get a cold drink.

I get all tingly when you take control like that, Sammy.


Anyway. I enjoyed having Theo back, and I loved finding out that Gavin was indeed a good man who was willing to do the right thing. I think Rowena enjoyed him too, and was fond of him in her own way. She may even have meant it when she insisted that Fergus let him go, that he wasn’t like them. But the look on Crowley’s face when she held him back and Gavin said I’m sorry and goodbye to his father just about broke my heart. Damn you, Mark Sheppard! Those were tears in his eyes!


Even Sam and Dean seemed genuinely moved by Gavin’s willing sacrifice, and I might have reached for a tissue during that scene.

(Though I wanted to quibble with the blaming of teachers in this episode. Why didn’t Fiona go after sailors, since they were the ones who terrorized her? Did it really make any sense for her to just randomly go after all teachers?? I suppose this might be the professor in me taking it personally though).

The fourth parenthood thread in this episode is that of Kelly and her unborn Nephilim child. As Ramiel hinted at, his sister Dagon has indeed taken an interest – she saves Kelly from angels trying to kill her and convinces her that she’ll be safer with Dagon. Her speech is an interesting one, telling her that no one is born good or bad, and that it’s not all black and white – a repeated theme on Supernatural. Where Dagon (or Ramiel, for that matter) actually fall on that continuum remains to be seen.

The last few scenes – also focused entirely on parenthood – were difficult to watch. Mary, perhaps pushed a bit too far by Mr. Ketch, returns to the bunker with a peace offering of burgers and beer.

Dean: It’s been a long, long…long long while.

Sam: He’s dramatic, we missed you.

Oh Sam. Just keep breaking my heart.

Mary fesses up to working with the BMoL, and the gobsmacked looks on her sons’ faces tells us just what they think about that.


Sam points out the obvious.

Sam: For lots of reasons….broken ribs and burnt feet…we don’t trust them.

Mary to Dean: Don’t give me that face.

Dean: What face.

Mary: That’s the face!

Jensen Ackles can say entire pages of dialogue with a face, and he’s doing that in this scene.


No way are either of the brothers buying what Mary is trying to sell them. We end with her reminding them that they’re family, which at this point feels like rubbing salt in the wound to me, and asking them to hear her out.

At this weekend’s convention, Samantha Smith tried to reassure a fandom which for the most part does not like Mary Winchester one bit that she would start proving herself to us and that we would eventually like her again. In Samantha’s view, Mary is aligning herself with the team most likely to rid the world of monsters once and for all – and she does consider Lady Toni to be a rogue operative. I just hope Show knows how far it can push its audience in terms of not liking a character and still be able to pull everyone back from that end of the continuum. Emotional whiplash isn’t pleasant. I’m trying to keep an open mind, but right now I’m finding it hard to believe that we’re going to be easily convinced to go along for the ride with Mary’s redemption.

That scene was hard enough to watch, but the one that came after, for me was even harder. Crowley confronts Rowena on a bus station bench. The setting is bleak, dark, fitting.

Crowley: I know there’s an ugly reason you did what you did.


I don’t want that to be true, but Rowena confirms it. She knows that Fergus cared for his son, just as she cared for Oscar, the boy who she loved long after she couldn’t love her own son. The boy who Crowley, in his own grief and anger, made her kill. Now she gets to watch him suffer as his son dies.

Rowena: I’m your mother, dear. Who better to crush your shriveled heart?

I have to admit, I hated that scene. And yet, I recognize it as unbelievably well done. Crowley – Fergus – and Rowena, two broken broken people, full of emotion they repress and refuse to acknowledge, projecting it again and again onto others and hurting everyone, themselves most of all. It’s truly tragic, and Ruth Connell and Mark Sheppard make us believe every minute of it. Ouch.


Rowena’s line almost seemed prophetic, after watching Mary tell her sons that she’s been lying to them. No one can hurt you like your parent. Perhaps prophetic also is Gavin, out of place and time and feeling like he’ll never fit in there – the obvious similarity to Mary’s situation is clear. Is this a foreshadowing of what’s to come?

The Rolling Stones are a perfect soundtrack to the ending montage – “so don’t play with me, cause you’re playing with fire”. Dagon and Kelly, Mary and the BMoL, Crowley and Rowena, Crowley and Lucifer – it’s relevant to all. Does this show know how to use music or what?


There were a few more tidbits that I enjoyed in this episode, so I’ll end with those to cheer myself up a bit. A) Boys in fed suits. B) Dean getting distracted by a dagger in the Shipwreck Museum and then fumbling it back onto its stand, then glancing over at Sam across the room to find him staring with bitchface number two. C) Vancouver in the snow! And finally, D). Smart!Dean figuring out that vessel was the one that Gavin was on. Love me some Smart!Dean.


I think this week’s episode picks up where we left off with the Winchesters, so I’m holding my breath to see what Mary has to say and how Sam and Dean will react. And how many boxes of tissues I’ll need for this week’s episode.

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13 thoughts on “Playing with Fire – Supernatural 12.13 Family Feud

  • “Why didn’t Fiona go after sailors, since they were the ones who terrorized her?” I would say that she expected no less or no more from the sailors, but the teacher was someone she had known since childhood, some one who should have had her back – but did not.
    I do not like Mary either, I am finding it hard to keep looking for the goodness in her, I am sad for Sam and for Dean; she is not there for them at all. She saw first had what the BMoL did to Sam, her son, yet she is working with them, not impressed Mary, not impressed at all.
    Yes Crowley has surely bitten off more than he will be able to chew…it’s gonna be good (read bad).
    I want more hugs between the boys, and Dean and Cass. That contact has mostly been missing this season.

    • It’s still a weird choice to haunt the ones who didnt help you (as horrible as that is!!!) instead of those who hurt you in the first place. Maybe she had higher (moral) expectations from her teacher… and none at all from sailors in general? I still found it weird for a ghost to haunt teachers in general, not only the ones who did wrong by their students like her own.

      • According to Super Wiki:

        The Star sank in 1723 where it laid at the bottom of the ocean until 1981, where it was excavated and its pieces put on display as part of the “Treasures from the Deep” exhibit at the Maritime Museum at Andover, where Rufus was able to steal Gavin’s signet ring in “Weekend at Bobby’s”. Fiona’s locket was placed into storage and only added to the exhibit six months prior to the episode (“Family Feud”), which explains why her spirit only recently started attacking teachers.

        She’s angry, in pain and needs to lash out, and her betrayal from her teacher was the only thing she could really channel that anger towards, since the odds of sailors showing up to museums is slim.

  • Thanks for giving words to the irritation probably every fan of Show feels with Mary Winchester’s character. What bugs me the mist is that as a character, she is contradicting not only that idealized image we had of her through Dean’s eyes (deconstructing the glorified mom picture was done in a humurous way in the beginning of the season, which took away the sting a little, and at least it got Mary to be a person of her own, with flaws and issues). Mary seems to be two very different characters pressed into one. When Dean meets her in the time travel episodes, she confessed that she wants out of the hunter life. Then we are told in the “Asa Fox” episode that she very obviously did NOT stop hunting while having her family. In “The Dark Side Of The Moon” we see the short scene where Dean comforts his mom after she’s talked to John on the phone – about responsibilities of all things – yet she obviously lied to John about her hunter activities, or simply didn’t tell him. When she comes back from heaven, though, she tells us that she was with her family (the boys still young) – so that seems to be her place of eternal happiness. Yet she is able to act like one of the very driven hunters we met through the years (Gordon comes to mind) who put the fight against the supernatural world above everything else.
    I like how Show gives us a strong female character that’s not reduced to a (very traditional) role, a character that’s in a way reflecting the daily struggle every mother, or parent in general, has to fight – between the role they are to play as parents, and the life as a person with wants and needs, skills and flaws. The conflict always ends in some form of guilt I guess.
    Mary was presented to us as this larger than life Mom of Dean’s “memories”, and someone who decided to leave a life and profession behind, one they were extremely good at. Now she’s shown as this larger than life hunter figure, sought after by a powerful organization, who by torturing and fighting her sons probably brought her own conflict to the point. Mr. Ketch might be a manipulative bastard, but his words ring true. Mary seems to be too conflicted with her own choices, or the person she tries to be vs the person she simply is. Which makes her extremely vulnerable. never a good thing in Supernatural. When she agreed to work with the BMOL I honestly thought she had the smarts to use it to find out about their real sudden motivation to export their knowledge and methods. Now she is presented as a pretty naive “it’s all for the greater good” hunter who’s willing to accept questionable (or non-existent) morals (and a tight-knit system of control) to reach an end goal.
    What gives hope is that she goes back to the bunker to talk to her sons, ending the lie. Which in itself could of course have been Mr. Ketch’s purpose with pushing her so hard all along. The BMoL DO want all the Winchesters on board, after all. What better way to get to the sons than through their weak spot?

  • Fiona went after the teachers because he teacher said she was a whole (or something like that) and also didn’t protect her from the sailors.

  • Yes! Many, many kudos to Mark Sheppard for this episode! I have adored Crowley pretty much from the start, but he’s never made me teary before like he did in this one. It was an amazing job by Mark to convey Crowley`s fear and pain while practically immobilized by Rowena – and he really made us feel it. Beautiful job!

  • Your review ( as always) was enjoyable and spot on. I keep wondering when the boys are going to realize that the mom they didn’t grow up with, never existed. Mary still hunted after having Dean, and, she didn’t cook. The image and the reality are clashing right now and then boys are trying so hard not to see it. Dean especially, his memories are all so… mom. Making soup when he was sick, singing Hey Jude and tucking him in at night. He’s starting to realize that most of that was smoke and mirrors. Sam only has his brothers memories and whatever he saw on tv for what he thinks mom is. The wall is crumbling. It’s sad. On Mary’s side, like j said before, she is her father’s daughter. Saving people-no matter the cost. I wonder if she realizes that if the BMol had come back 8 years earlier, they would have killed Sam? He was-basically-a monster. My feeling is that this isn’t going to end well.

  • Yes, this is painful to watch. Mostly because we are protective of the boys but it hurts US in the audience as well. Let me explain:

    Last April I got to be part of a 10 min round table with Sam Smith at DCCon (VIP pkg) and when she first started talking, about routine things, I felt my body flush a bit with emotion! Sam has ‘Mom’s voice’. And I realized that in identifying with Show and the boys’ trauma, just being in the presence of ‘Mom’ made me instantly fond of her and reminded me how central she was to their lives. And this was before her surprise return at the end of S11. I dismissed it as a little interesting phenomena and moved on.

    Flash forward to now – I think I feel betrayed. Partly on behalf of the boys and partly because she was such a driving influence of love, sacrifice, and family. And now show is completely deconstructing that. And it makes me emotionally cling to the brothers a bit more. Because even if their basis for forming their tight bond was an illusion, it still created an epic relationship that is worthy of admiration.

    So, I’m personally mad at Mary, as irrational as that sounds, because I wanted her to be better. And I wanted her to heal the boys, not do more damage.

    I do think she’ll come around. But I feel like the show frittered away her resurrection. And if they kill her off, there’s no resolution for the boys.

  • I have been defending Mary all season. She has represented a very strong female role for me as a mother, career person, protector. She is her own person. Children always see their mothers in a different light as as mothers we lose our identity (Hey johnny;s mom, Mrs. so-and-so, etc.) Mary has shown both personalities of her boys in her actions. Plus carries some Campbell traits. This who season is Nature vs Nurture and the many different ways of parenting.

  • What I’m seeing in the comments and feeling myself about Mary is fascinating.

    Then: Sam and Dean didn’t know their mom except through John’s eyes and his stories (as in s11ep4: episode “Baby”, where Sam dreams about John playing one of Mary’s favorite songs). In earlier seasons (years ago!), Dean, and then Sam, learned more about Mary as a loving young wife, and a newly pregnant mother, in the time traveling episodes (s.4 ep.3; s. 5 ep. 13). The Myth of Mary Winchester developed; she was the self-sacrificing, devoted mother who died tried to protect her baby boy from the Yellow Eyed Demon.

    Now: Sam and Dean face the reality of Mary the Woman vs. the myth of Mary the Idealized Mother Figure.

    I’ve seen it here and read it in other places: Fans are disappointed and in some cases, they’re angry that Mary isn’t who we thought she was. We’ve discovered and are continuing to discover that she’s actually a flawed human being who makes mistakes, who lies, and really, who doesn’t love us (well…the boys) the way we *thought* she would. She’s selfish! She can’t really cook! It makes me think of the advice about how you shouldn’t try to meet your idols, because you’ll invariably be disappointed when they turn out to be a flawed and imperfect person and not the god(dess) you expected.

    In my opinion, that’s what’s so awesome about this show. We’re hopeful still, as is Sam, about “our” mom; we’re so very pissed about what she’s done, as is Dean. Show has connected with our hearts so well and so much that we are just as affected by its situations as its characters. My heart rises with hope, then shatters into a billions shards. I’m angered. I’m brought to tears. My mother figure–my idol!–isn’t perfect. She’s broken, just like we are, and I’m disappointed.

    So really, when I stop and think about it, I have to say–thank you, Supernatural. You’re doing it again. No, you and your characters are not perfect. But once again, you’re perfectly breaking my heart.

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