I was once again at a convention for last week’s Supernatural episode, so that meant trying frantically to set up the Family Don’t End With Blood vendor table and then running upstairs to borrow a friend’s hotel room to watch the episode. But this time, the hotel actually had the CW – yay!! So I was sitting perched on my friend’s bed watching all by myself, which didn’t stop me from making a lot of noise at times. Sorry, neighboring hotel rooms!
‘Advanced Thanatology’ is an unusual title for an episode, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one. Season 13 has been making me pretty happy so far, which means I now go into every episode with all my fingers and toes crossed because I desperately want them to keep the quality up. It’s nervewracking to be a fangirl, what can I say? This episode was written by one of the newer writers, Steve Yockey. And guess what? My finger and toe crossing worked! This is the fifth episode of the season, and the fifth one I liked. Woohoo!
We start with an unusually long opening sequence, in which a few foolish kids play out the horror film genre stereotype of ‘never do this unless you want to die’ behaviors. It was scary as hell, so I appreciated that, even though I admit that part way through I started mumbling ‘where are Sam and Dean, come on!’ I know, spoiled Supernatural fan. I just want my boys!
The actor playing Shawn, Seth Isaac Johnson, did an amazing job portraying his character’s terror though – and Alisen Down as his mom totally broke my heart. Someday I really am gonna send a gigantic fruit basket to Supernatural’s casting agency, because not only are the regulars incredible, most of the guest cast is too! The mom and son pair who were this week’s side characters served as the emotional push for Dean’s building sense of failure to go over the edge, because they portrayed fear and grief and loss so vividly. Shawn initially escapes, but he makes the other stereotypical horror film mistake of bringing home one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen – a plague mask from the haunted house of a deceased demented doctor. I was honestly afraid I’d have nightmares that night! Kudos props department, kudos.
Meanwhile, once we do move into the Sam and Dean portion of the episode, I’m once again deliriously happy – because Sam and Dean are still talking! And talking about emotional things! And being emotionally savvy and considerate of each other! Once again, I have the relationship between the brothers that I signed up for loud and clear on my television screen and that makes me one very happy fangirl.
It’s clear that something is up with Sam from the first scene – he brings Dean a beer to have with his breakfast PBJ.
Weirdly, Dean says “no, I’m good” and as Sam continues to be kind and considerate, Dean finally demands to know what’s going on with his brother. (Though actually Sam is often kind and considerate, he’s just not usually so overt about it).
Sam suggests that they work a case, “just you and me.” He notes that it’s been a while since they’ve done that, which induced me to start yelling “Yes yes yes!” at the hotel television probably too loudly. They leave Jack behind watching Sam’s fantasy DVD collection, and Dean rallies to some of his more Dean-like behavior by questioning how Sam ever got laid. (Which made me smile just thinking about how many fans were watching and thinking just the opposite about Sam’s geekboy side, btw…)
So Sam and Dean put on their fed suits, climb into the Impala and head off to try to save some kids. Iconic Supernatural, and happy fangirl. The scene where Dean goes upstairs to talk to the traumatized Shawn was reminiscent of one of my favorite early season episodes, Dead In The Water. Lucas could also only draw what he’d seen, too traumatized to talk. That episode showed us the depths of Dean’s empathy for people who have been traumatized, especially children, and the depths of his own childhood trauma losing his mother in the fire. It was incredibly touching to see how Dean talked with Lucas, getting down on his level and sharing some of his own past in a willingness to be vulnerable that we hadn’t seen much of before. In this episode, Dean tries again, similarly empathic towards Shawn. You can see that Shawn senses it and wants to open up, but he’s too terrified, drawing that horrible mask over and over and over.
We always learn a lot about Dean in those moments too.
Dean: I know what it’s like to see monsters…you see them in your dreams…. My brother and I, we’re the guys who kill them.
Oh Dean. He’s the poster boy for PTSD but just keeps shouldering on, same as Sam.
The boys leave without much success, which doesn’t help Dean with his increasing depression and sense of failure. Sam, in keeping with his determination to try to make his brother feel better by whatever means necessary, suggests they go to a strip club. Dean (and me) are sort of incredulous, and he reminds Sam that the last time Dean bought him a lap dance, Sam used the time to try to convince the young woman to go to nursing school. Sam sheepishly protests that of course he likes strip clubs, but Dean doesn’t seem to be buying it. (Also, it’s called the Clam Diver? You really went there, Show!)
Sam: It got great reviews!
I love you, Sam Winchester.
Dean finally confronts Sam about why he’s doing all this for Dean – letting him be Agent Page, ordering him chili fries… (Awww, Sammy, you’re the best brother ever)
Sam: I’m just trying to be nice.
Sam: You know why.
And Dean does. See, that’s what I’m loving so much about this season – the show has remembered that the brothers know each other. Like, really know each other. They’ve grown up together and worked together most of their adult lives too, they’re both family and partners. They get each other. Sometimes Show forgets that, which makes me a cranky fangirl. But not this season!
Sam points out that Dean is not fine, that he doesn’t believe in anything at this point, and that is not Dean Winchester.
Sam: I just wanna help.
Dean insists he’ll fight his way back, that he’s done it before. With bullets, bacon and booze. Lots of booze.
Sam (and all of us) are skeptical.
Meanwhile, Show breaks my heart with another scene between Shawn and his mother. She runs in when he has a nightmare and soothes him, and he manages to say “okay” when she tells him to go back to sleep. You can see what that means to her, the sudden flare of relief and hope and so much love – her baby is getting better. Again, Alisen Down did an amazing job. But then, she tells Sam and Dean, when the house got suddenly cold (NOOOOOOOO I screamed at the tv), she came in to his room to close a window and he was gone.
You can see that Dean is almost as devastated as the mom, that sense of failure burgeoning.
Dean: I shoulda pushed him harder to talk.
Oh Dean. This is really not what you needed right now.
Next thing we know, it’s morning and Sam Winchester is waking up – and looking ridiculously hot. Sorry, shallow I know, but woah. Rumpled with a bit of bed head and clad only in a tee shirt Sam Winchester is just plain hot.
Either they went to the strip club and Sam came back early or Dean went alone, but there he is passed out on the floor snoring away – Jensen Ackles’ comedy genius and willingness to make himself look silly very much in evidence – still in his fed suit, disheveled with a pink bra tangled around his neck, his tie as a headband and what is that draped across his face? A flogger??
The imagination runs wild. Mine does, anyway.
Longsuffering Sam takes the keys and leaves Dean to sleep it off, and is able to convince Shawn’s friend to tell them where the boys were that fateful night. (Yes, we not only get kind Sam and hot Sam in this episode, we also get smart Sam!) When he comes back, Dean is awake (sort of) and happily piling on bacon from the free buffet. Which is totally what I do with free hotel buffets, just saying.
Sam at first questions what Dean is doing, and Dean grumbles ‘What happened to being nice to me?’
Sam pulls out a beer, and Dean immediately softens.
Dean: You are forgiven.
I pause for a few minutes to ponder just how someone who’s hung over and rumpled and wearing sunglasses inside can look so UNBELIEVABLY HOT. I mean, seriously? More Ackles’ comedy chops as Dean consumes lots of bacon, some of it falling out of his mouth. The face he makes when he looks around to see if anyone noticed before eating it anyway is priceless. I wonder if that was scripted or an Ackles ad lib. My guess is the latter.
The Winchesters go to investigate the deceased demented doc’s very scary old deserted house, which means we get gorgeous flashlight-lit scenes by the brilliant Serge Ladouceur. Once again, this episode got really scary really fast – the doctor appears behind Sam, tosses both the boys across the room, and then approaches a trapped Dean with an electric drill pointed right at his face. I legit screamed at the top of my lungs in the hotel room because OMG was that a terrifying scene, filmed brilliantly. AAAAHHHH!!!
Sam to the rescue (add heroic Sam to the list), temporarily vanquishing the ghost and then giving his brother a hand up. It’s those little moments that illustrate their relationship, Sam’s need to make sure Dean is okay and Dean’s quiet thanks. (Thank you, Steve Yockey, for that).
I was totally squicked by the row of masks they find in the doctor’s former operating room and couldn’t wait for the boys to burn them. They’re able to get rid of the ghost (with great visual and sound effects from the VFX wizards) and I look at my clock and think huh, it’s way too early for it to be that easy. Uh oh.
Sure enough, it turns out the house is full of ghosts – of all the people the doctor killed. Dean, now pushed way too far by his perceived inability to save anyone at all, is desperate to save these trapped spirits. He pulls out a small kit (from the same doctor who helped him kill himself temporarily in Appointment in Samarra, according to the Superwiki, with kudos to the continuity folks) and says he’ll go to the other side and find out where the bodies are.
Sam (and me) are understandably shocked.
Sam: No no no no, Dean, you’re talking about killing yourself!
Dean’s depression (with a generous dose of unwarranted self loathing) have put him in a very desperate place, because he impulsively jams the needle into his chest and immediately seizes up in pain.
Poor Sam, totally against the plan, nevertheless grabs his brother and soothes him through the death, holding him as he falls to the floor. (Because that’s exactly what Sam would do, and thank you again Mr. Yockey for knowing that!)
Jared did an amazing job in this scene, conveying Sam’s barely contained terror that something will go wrong and he won’t be able to bring his brother back as well as his unbelievable courage in forcing himself to wait the three minutes that Dean asked for. I felt for him so much as he lined Dean’s body with salt to protect him while he’s defenseless, then sat over him vigilant and so horribly anxious, needle poised over Dean’s chest. He pats Dean repeatedly, reassurance for both of them that he’ll be okay. That must have been the longest three minutes of Sam Winchester’s life, and Jared shows us all of that. He also shows us Sam’s anger at his brother for taking this ridiculous risk, which would have to be there too.
Sam: (leaning over Dean’s body) Stupid!
Meanwhile, Dean ignores his reaper (as he often does) and finally finds Shawn – and realizes that he is indeed dead. You can see what that knowledge does to Dean, how it amps up his sense of failure even more. Even this kid he couldn’t save.
Dean: I’m so sorry.
As the three minutes comes to a close, Dean finds what he needs to know and returns to Sam and his body on the floor. Sam stabs the needle in and then waits – but there’s no response.
Here’s where Jared really killed me, because it was like Mystery Spot all over again – and it had to be like that for Sam too.
Sam: (desperately) Dean! Hey, Dean! Wake up! No no no…. nononononono!
My heart absolutely broke for Sam. I think I had to grab some of the hotel tissues, in fact.
I wish I hadn’t known that Lisa Berry was coming back, because the reveal that Billie is now Death would have been so amazing. Even spoiled, it was an incredible scene – Lisa pulls off the gravity of being Death perfectly, an imposing figure with her long leather coat and her ring and that scythe. She’s both gorgeous and terrifying.
The entire scene between Dean and Billie was off the charts amazing. Lisa and Jensen have the same sort of chemistry that Jensen also has with Julian Richings, the original Death on Supernatural – he always looks torn between being in awe and wanting to be a smartass. And Death always looks torn between wanting to quash this brash human and being reluctantly fascinated (and maybe a little admiring) of him. All of that came through between Lisa and Jensen too.
When Billie asks what Dean wants in exchange for some intel about the rift between universes, she’s clearly shocked that instead of asking to go back to his life, he asks for her to free the ghosts. At that moment, he cares so little for his own life and feels like such a failure, all he can think about is to save those poor people.
Billie recognizes how significant this is right away.
Billie: You’ve changed. Maybe you’re not that guy anymore, who always thinks he’ll win no matter what. You tell people you’ll work through it, but you know you won’t. You can’t.
Boy, did she ever hit the nail on the head. I guess that’s the perceptiveness that comes from having a literally universal view on – well, on the universe.
Dean doesn’t dispute her take on him either. There’s just no fight left in him, and it terrifies me.
Dean: It doesn’t matter. I don’t matter. I couldn’t save mom, I couldn’t save Cas. I can’t even save a scared kid. Sam tries to fix it, but I just keep dragging him down…
Billie: You want to die.
Dean looks so vulnerable, looking up at Billie, lips parted, eyes blinking. There’s so much emotion there that he’s fighting back and he looks so lost.
Billie: I see you, and your brother. You’re important. You have work to do.
I was so riveted I was barely breathing through the entire scene. All the kudos to Lisa Berry and Jensen Ackles, because woah. And to writer Steve Yockey for putting in that call back to one of the most iconic lines in the show – it defines the show. We got work to do. And it’s still true, more than twelve years later.
(Oh, and how thrilled was I to hear that one of the way Dean Winchester possibly died was ‘burned by a red haired witch’?? Rowena mention, yay!)
Billie snaps Dean back into his body, and he wakes up to a desperate Sam still trying to revive him.
Sam: You okay???
Dean: (trying to catch his breath) Yeah…
Sam: (reassuring himself) You’re okay.
He has to repeat it in order to believe it, after what must have been a horrible scare.
The brothers lean against the Impala as the ambulances take the bodies out of the house and dig up the ones that were buried. My heart breaks again when they bring out Shawn’s body and his mother says goodbye, cradling her son’s face between her hands and looking utterly devastated. I needed to grab tissues again – it was actually hard to watch, it was so poignant.
Of course it hits the Winchesters just as hard.
Sam asks Dean what happened back there, why the shot didn’t work, why the ghosts are all gone.
At first, Dean tries to avoid talking about it, the way he most certainly would have last season. But this is Season 13 – and this is what I love about Season 13. Sam doesn’t leave it!
Dean: We’ll talk about it later.
Sam: No we won’t! You know that.
I actually screamed out loud in my hotel room: That’s right Sam, you know you won’t!!
And then they DID!
Sam: You okay?
Dean: No. Sam I’m not okay, I’m pretty far from okay. You know, my whole life, I always believed that what we do was important. No matter what the cost, no matter who we lost. Whether it was Dad or Bobby or… and I would take the hit. But I kept on fighting because I believed that we were making the world a better place. And now Mom… and Cas and I — I don’t know. I don’t know.
Sam: So you don’t believe anymore.
Dean: I just need a win. I just need a damn win.
The boys climb into the Impala and an awesome song by Steppenwolf begins to play, reminding us that “it’s never too late to start all over again, who says you won’t be back again”. Sam dozes, Dean drives, a scene so iconic to Supernatural it made me tear up.
And then the phone rings. You can see on Dean’s face the shock of what he’s heard, and then they’re parking in an alley (a glowing cross prominently displayed) and at the phone booth? Is Castiel.
He turns around, and we see Dean’s look of shocked disbelief – and maybe a bit of hope.
I was so worn out from all the emotions I wanted to just collapse onto a hotel bed that wasn’t even mine, but instead I hurried out into the hallway to get back to the vendor room. Multiple hotel room doors opened at the same time and Supernatural fans spilled out into the hall, everyone going OMG OMG OMG. It was a moment.
So we’re pretty much five for five, Show. Let’s keep this winning streak going!
Big thanks to @kayb625 for the beautiful caps!
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check out Family Don’t End With Blood – written
by the Supernatural actors and fans – at the
links on this page!