Supernatural’s fourth episode of its fifteenth and final season reminded me of all the reasons I’m going to be a sobbing mess when the show wraps – and I don’t have this sort of episode to dig into and enjoy! Written by Davy Perez and directed by Jensen Ackles himself, ‘Atomic Monsters’ ran the gamut (as some of the most enjoyable Supernatural episodes do) from action hero sequence to humor to meta to tear-your-heart-out boys in the car conversation. In other words, exactly what I want from my Show.
I was bouncing with anticipation for the opening sequence after hearing Ackles talk about it so excitedly and hearing some of his original ideas (never doubt that the man can write), and then reading some of his interviews about the sequence. Jensen sent a full pitch to showrunner Andrew Dabb, who came back saying he loved it but it wasn’t possible unless they were doing a full length feature film. (Um, who’s on board to watch that film? Line up to the left).
Ackles and stunt coordinator Rob Hayter posted the two of them practicing some of the John Wick type moves in the studio. Jensen’s conversation with Rob: “Let’s go hard here. We’re gonna go big, we’re gonna do like a full Dean Winchester as John Wick.”
And that’s exactly what they did.
All the applause for triple threat writer/director/actor Ackles for creating the perfect showcase for the character he loves so much, making Dean badass (and bearded) and showing off his own smooth stunt moves in the process. He filmed the sequence red lit, much like the scenes of demon Dean tracking down his brother in the bunker, with the lighting giving it all a surreal feel and somehow accentuating the violence and desperation.
We get the feeling this is Dean, but not our Dean, as he takes down demon after demon, stalking the familiar halls of the bunker. The dread builds as he encounters a fallen comrade – and we realize it’s Benny.
I’ve complained already about too many characters being brought back in one episode, but this time it worked for me, in part because Ty Olsson was in a short but emotional scene. Despite his few lines, the chemistry between Ackles and Olsson was clear, as was Dean’s genuine affection for Benny, and the lines that he did have hit right in the heart. The show is understanding and leaning into the power of the call back this season, as we all try to prepare ourselves to wrap it up. Benny’s words to Dean echoed his words from many seasons ago, as Benny once again dies.
Benny: I’ll see you on the other side, brother.
Well done, Ty Olsson and Jensen Ackles.
Jensen also shared that it was he who wanted someone memorable to be killed in the fight sequence, and suggested Olsson. Although Ty was working elsewhere, he was able to fly in for just a few hours to do the scene, and he killed it. And we got another fan favorite character back before the show ends! Interestingly, in this sequence – which seems to be an alternate reality – Benny is human. But it seems like in every universe they’re in, Dean and Benny care about each other.
Our sense of dread builds as the body count increases, and when Dean finally demands “Where is he?” I think we all knew who he was looking for. It’s still shocking to see Sam standing there, lit in red, a halo of beautiful hair around that handsome familiar face – which looks totally unfamiliar because of the cold expression. All Sam’s empathy, which Jared Padalecki is so skilled at showing us, is gone. Erased. Sam’s voice is cold, even in the face of his brother’s pleading. Long before his eyes go black, we know that this Sam is not going to hear Dean. And that is profoundly terrifying, upending the one thing that we all count on for this Show. The Winchesters always, always care about each other.
What’s worse, we know from Dean’s entreaty to Sam to fight the demon blood that’s causing this, that this really is Sam. Not Lucifer!Sam, but Sam himself, gone down that dark dark road that he’s always feared. He’s become that monster that John Winchester once told Dean that “he might have to kill”, that our Dean has spent his life making sure isn’t a prophecy and that our Sam has never entirely stopped worrying about. In this reality, Sam has killed Jody and Bobby and Benny, and as Dean begs “Please, Sammy,” we know with awful certainty that he will kill his brother too.
Still, Jared’s cold and calculating head tilt and Jensen’s instant corresponding head turn and full body collapse made me gasp. It’s the thing that’s hung over the Show since the start, and the thing it feels like we have all fought against. The ultimate horror of one brother killing another. Is it foreshadowing? A warning of what might happen if things were different? A vision of the future? I’m going with Sam seeing into other realities for now, especially since we find out that Chuck can no longer see the Winchesters. That God wound that’s tying them together, I think, has given Sam a glimpse of the other AU’s out there. And they’re not pretty.
I got stuck on Dean’s face and voice as he pleads with Sam. Even knowing what Sam has done, Dean doesn’t come there to kill him; he comes to talk to him, to try for redemption even though it’s clearly too late. The look on Ackles’ face and the desperation in his voice kills me – the fact that Ackles directed himself in this scene just makes it more emotional. He knows Dean, knows exactly how he would feel and what he would do in this situation, no matter what universe the Winchesters are in. God, I love this show.
Sam wakes up gasping as though from a dream, looking around the room frantically for a second to be sure that Dean isn’t on the floor.
We breathe a sigh of relief along with Sam, and then the tone shifts as Sam joins Dean in the bunker’s kitchen. I love when the Winchesters are on the road, but I admit I do have a fondness for their talks in their very own kitchen. It feels incredibly real when you sit in it, every detail fully rendered, and that shows on screen too.
Dean offers Sam veggie bacon, saying that Sam has been asking for it.
Me: Awww, Dean taking care of his little brother.
Sam: I’m good.
Dean: No you’re not, you’ve barely come out of your room the past few days.
I love their conversations now, how real they are. For years and years, when one of them avoided ‘going there’ by insisting that they were fine, the other shrugged and didn’t push. Those days are over. They’re more open with each other than ever (although of course they still have their secrets). But I liked this whole conversation. Dean doesn’t try to cheer Sam up with false reassurances. Instead he empathizes, sharing that he knows how hard it is, that he knows that realizing Rowena knew what she was getting into doesn’t make it any easier. He doesn’t try to talk Sam out of his feelings, just validates them. Then finds them a case to distract Sam – what both Winchesters do when the other needs to feel a sense of purpose that’s been quashed by loss and grief.
Sam is hesitant, perhaps because he just watched himself snap his brother’s neck.
Sam: You can handle this.
Dean: No. You and me. Sam, we need this.
He’s right. Dean also plays up his self-professed moniker ‘the meat man’ for a little levity for his brother, even as Sam uncomfortably protests that it doesn’t mean what Dean thinks it means. (The entire fandom knows what it means now, btw, and most of us are fairly sure Dean Winchester knows exactly what it means too. According to fanfic, it’s pretty accurate. Just saying.)
Sam: (takes a bite of veggie bacon and spits it out) This is real bacon!
Dean: (comically backing up into frame because Ackles’ comic timing is flawless) Damn right it is – meat man!
That whole scene was flawless. Sometimes, as Becky rightfully points out later in the episode, the best parts are not fighting monsters. They’re those small moments that the characters share, when they get real and show how much they care about each other. Ackles and Padalecki know that too. So thanks, Davy Perez.
Sam and Dean put on their very attractive Fed suits to research the case Dean found for them, which leads to the annoyingly named Beaverdale High School and some truly annoying parents who are more concerned about their son’s lacrosse career than a cheerleader’s death. Sam uncharacteristically has zero patience for the annoying parents, so we already know that his empathy is worn dangerously thin.
Annoying mom: It’s the end of the world!
Sam: No, the end of the world is the end of the world.
Oh Sam. You would know.
I recognized the dad right away from the early season’s episode ‘Bugs’, but I didn’t realize until later that the mom was also the mom from that episode (Andrew Airlie and Anne Marie DeLuise)! I love that random call back, and both those actors were top notch in this episode.
Sam and Dean visit the crime scene, and director Ackles gives us some very lovely shots of them in suits, including lots of Dean from behind and yes I did notice how that suit jacket stretches so tightly over those broad shoulders and then tapers down to…. Anyway. Nice shots, director Ackles.
Despite Dean’s insistence throughout this episode that he’s doing better than Sam, he pulls out his flask and takes a few drinks as they realize another cheerleader is missing and as Sam sounds frighteningly cynical about the weight on their shoulders as they know the truth about what’s out there and protect other people’s white picket fences. Dean reminds Sam that when he was young, normal was all he wanted, but Sam can’t go there anymore. It’s clear he knows too much. He sounds bitter, and right on the edge of giving up, and I think that more than anything is why Dean’s day drinking again.
Sam and Dean figure out it’s a vampire doing the killing/kidnapping, Dean eats a hot dog (and offers either Sam or Jared some according to behind the scenes pics but not the episode).
Then they confront the cheerleader who’s third in line to the “throne”. Oh, small quibble, Show. I don’t know anyone who says “gag me” anymore even if they are sixteen. Anyway, smart boys figure out this isn’t the vamp because she has braces (brilliant!) and Supernatural fan and Outsiders author S. E. Hinton gets a shout out from the character Susie in “stay gold”. Show is really all about paying homage to everyone for whom this show has been special this season!
Smart boys also notice the school surveillance camera and go to the annoying parents’ house to confront them, thinking the dad is the vampire.
I’ve mostly known that Emily Perkins would be back on the show this season, and Becky was in the ‘Then’, so it wasn’t a shock when she showed up in this episode. What was a shock was that Becky was all grown up, married with children and a nice house and SO much happier than when we last saw her. I’ve written about this many times, but I loved the character of Becky the way Kripke created her, as an affectionate poking fun at the show’s passionate fandom the way Kripke liked to poke affectionate fun at everything about his show that he loved. She may have been overly passionate sometimes, but she was also the one whose encyclopedic knowledge of the Supernatural universe saved the day, and the fangirl even “got the guy” for a while when Chuck was the avatar of the show’s creator. How much more love between fandom and creator could there be and how much more meta could the show get? I loved it, even when some cringed a little. And I loved Emily Perkins, who I got to know a bit personally and whose thoughtful takes on her complicated character were fascinating.
Then came Season 7: Time For A Wedding. The affectionate poking fun at fandom that characterized the first incarnations of Becky became instead critical and humorless. Becky herself became a delusional frightening character who crossed the line in multiple ways and ended up assaulting Sam. Then the ending had Dean being incredibly cruel to her and in the process voicing what sounded like the writers’ derision and judgment of the show’s actual fans. I loathed that episode and refuse to even consider it part of the show’s canon most of the time. And I grieved the loss of a character who I had really enjoyed and an actress I wished could return to the show.
So I was ecstatic to have Emily and Becky back! Emily was perfect as Becky, playing the character with enough coherence to make her believable and familiar, but showing us clearly her evolution. I loved the role reversal, that this time it’s Chuck who needs Becky, and she gets to say “I don’t want or need to see you.” Chuck is at first a lot like the “old Chuck” that Becky knew, needy and pleading with her and saying he has nowhere else to go. (I will never 100% buy that Chuck was never Chuck and that he was this vengeful spiteful asshole all along, but I do buy that we’re supposed to buy that. If that makes any sense. Becky dated this guy for a while, I mean…. Anyway.)
I love Davy Perez for letting Becky address that train wreck of an episode in Season 7 and to shudder at what she did to Sam (which is what all of us did at the time) instead of just glossing over it and pretending it didn’t happen. A little canon fix is a good thing! Becky got some counseling and now makes Supernatural miniatures and runs a successful Etsy site and is happily married and damn, I am happy for you, Becky. And happy for the meta message that acknowledges fannish creativity and sanity too.
Side note of awesome: Jason Fischer in the production office actually reached out to fans who had sent things to the office over the years and was able to use many of them in the actual episode. What a perfect shout out in a meta episode!
Becky also realized that she was never in love with the actual Sam Winchester, because of course she wasn’t. She was in love with the character, and that means she can write the character any way she wants – in fan fic! The way so many of us do it.
Becky: So I wrote my own characters…and they’re not hunting monsters all the time, sometimes they sit around and talk and do laundry. That’s what people like the most anyway.
Me: YESSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS gimme that laundromat episode that Robbie Thompson wanted to do so badly, Becky!
Chuck: (unconvinced and perhaps channeling real life writers and showrunners and studios…) People like monsters.
Becky: (channeling a significant portion of fandom): Nyeh.
Chuck seems so sad here, and Rob Benedict is insanely good at making him appealing. I know he’s a bad guy, but I couldn’t help but feel bad for him anyway.
Chuck: So I came to see my #1 fan, to see if you can help me feel….big again…
Becky: So you want me to… fluff you?
I literally burst into laughter at that line. I’m surprised the CW allowed it, but omg it was hilarious.
Chuck: What? I mean…no?
Becky lays into him like anyone who has ever had a down-on-their-luck ex wander back into your life and say hey, how about we pick up where we left off.
Becky: You thought you could just come back to me, your pathetic fan, and get what you used to. No. I like myself. So I don’t need you.
Chuck: No, you don’t. No one does.
Damn you Rob Benedict, that got to me – and it got to Becky. In part I think she’s just trying to get rid of him, with lots of fic deadlines hanging over her and we all know how that feels, but she takes the bait and asks Chuck what makes him happy. When he says writing, she jumps on it.
Becky: Then see, you have to write!
We learn that Chuck can’t see Sam and Dean, his favorite story, anymore. He’s insecure about writing, procrastinating. Becky shares some writerly wisdom to inspire him, and he wonders aloud how she learned all that.
Becky: I’m a writer too, Chuck.
Chuck: Fanfic’s not really…
Becky: (fed up to here) Writing’s writing!
The best thing about meta episodes is when you get that kind of message from the show you love. Keep on writing that fic, fandom, because Becky is right – writing’s writing!
Predictably, things go south between Becky and Chuck. He writes, she gives lip service that it’s great mostly to get him to leave, he demands a note and….she gives him one. Or more accurately lots. Here we veer into more dangerous meta territory – Becky the fangirl has lots to say in terms of critique, from thin stakes and villains who aren’t scary to the lack of classic rock and too long monologues. Some of this critique is for real, and we all know it, and that makes the meta message less positive than the ones before it. Yes, fans are critical – but it’s because we love you, Show!
Rob Benedict is brilliant in this scene. You can see Chuck’s pleasant façade slipping away, and the dark and dangerous God underneath.
Chuck to Becky: You want jeopardy? Danger? MOVE.
I don’t know how Rob Benedict, one of the sweetest people on the planet, can go from bumbling cute Chuck to holy shit scary as hell, just like that. But he does it.
Back to the Winchesters confronting the annoying parents, and Sam rescues the cheerleader-used-for-blood and figures out that it’s not the dad who’s the vampire, but the son. (Ackles films these scenes with lots of stops and starts, almost like stuttering, as we try to figure out what’s happening in sort of the same way the Winchesters are). The parents, it turns out, were trying to protect their newly turned son in rather horrific ways.
Sam: Awesome parenting.
It becomes clear that the vampire kid story is probably a parallel to Sam’s fears of going dark side and turning into a monster, and perhaps of Dean’s long-standing fear that if that happens, he might have to kill his brother. Sam’s vision of how things could be suggest that too.
Dad: You don’t have children, do you? When you see your child in pain, it rips your heart out. You’d die for them.
Mom: Or kill for them.
Dean and Sam are brothers, but Dean has always been a parent figure for Sam. I think he knows exactly what that feels like, and he’s feeling some of it right now, as Sam is wracked by such pain and Dean can’t fix it for him.
Vampire kid tells his parents that he can’t control this, even though he didn’t ask for it (just like Sam didn’t ask for it), as we see flashbacks of his unintentional but violent killing of his girlfriend.
Billy: I’m a monster.
(It’s what Sam fears of himself in his darkest times)
Billy tells his tearful parents that he needs to go with the Winchesters, and we know what he means. My heart broke for them, and for him, because he didn’t have a choice and he didn’t ask for this and yet he’s determined to do the right thing. He’s a good person and that won’t save him, and that’s heartbreaking.
‘Sounds of Someday’ starts to play and all of fandom got even more emotional than we would have been otherwise as Jensen Ackles’ voice became the soundtrack for the scene. Jensen’s album was released the very next day and most of us already had heard some of this hauntingly beautiful song. It fit perfectly for the beautifully lit tragic sequence as the Impala carries Billy away and he kneels before Dean in the forest, Sam watching as Dean raises the giant knife and swings….
It’s reminiscent of when Dean was about to kill a kneeling and repentant Jack. And is that a foreshadowing too? Are we heading for an ending that sees Dean finally have to do the unthinkable and kill his brother? Is that also a way to kill Chuck since they’re attached somehow? Does he do it with the God gun so he dies too? I have no clue, but I’m not sure I’d survive.
Back to Chuck and Becky, where nothing gets any less heartbreaking. Becky reads Chuck’s new writing.
Becky: No. You can’t. This is just an ending.
Chuck: (with a dark almost smile) But I know where I’m going. Fans are gonna love it! I can see it now, “Supernatural: The End”. And the cover is just a gravestone that says “Winchester”.
Becky: No, it’s awful, horrible. Hopeless. You can’t do this to the fans.
Oh the meta, it burns.
Chuck ignores her, zapping away both her husband and her children as they return. Becky whirls around, dumbfounded.
Chuck: (deadpans) Oh yeah, I’m God.
She begs him to bring them back, but he refuses, telling her he can do anything, then zaps her out of existence too.
Chuck: I can do anything. I’m a writer.
Like I said, the meta for the last part of this episode doesn’t sit as well as the meta for the earlier part. Is this Andrew Dabb and Bob Singer and the writers’ room reminding fans that they’re the ones with the power here, that they can – literally – write any ending they want? They can devastate us, in a very real way. And that’s….terrifying.
I want to trust them, and I want to trust Jared and Jensen and Misha when they say that the ending makes sense and will feel at least somewhat satisfying. But I’m not gonna lie, that was ominous.
The last scene of the brothers is one of my favorites of the last seasons. Sam and Dean in the Impala, which is my favorite way for an episode to end. It’s night, the boys having had to do something tragic but heroic, saving the day even if it cost them to do it.
And Dean is still worrying about Sam, still trying to help him. He’s so gentle in this conversation, listening closely to Sam’s feelings and trying hard to understand. It makes me tear up just thinking about it. I admit to feeling a little dizzy with how Sam and Dean are switching back and forth between who’s hanging onto relentless optimism and who’s falling into despair. In the first episode it was Dean despairing and Sam talking him into keeping fighting, then Dean was suddenly despairing again like that conversation had never happened. Now he’s pulled it together and is trying to keep Sam from falling into despair. I suppose sometimes it happens like that, and the Winchesters are well aware that they work best when they balance each other out, but it’s jarring.
Dean tells Sam he gets it, that they’ve lost way way too much, that it’s hard not to feel like just cashing out.
Dean: I felt like that. After Chuck, back at the crypt. But you know what brought me back? You did. By saying that what we do still matters.
He tells Sam that they still do the job, to save lives, that they do it for the people they’ve lost – for Jack and Mom and Rowena. (I’m assuming they’re assuming that Cas is eventually coming back.)
Dean: We owe it to anybody who has ever given a damn about us to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what. And hey man, like you said, now that Chuck’s gone, we’re finally free to move on, you know?
Sam looks so pained, probably so tempted to just say yeah like he would have in years past. But that’s not who they are anymore, so he tries to share with Dean how he’s really feeling.
Sam: I don’t know, I don’t know if I can move on, you know. I can’t forget any of them. Dean, I still think about Jessica. I can’t just let that go.
And Dean tries so hard too, he wants desperately to be understood.
Dean: No, man, that’s not what I’m talking about.
Sam: I know. I know, I know. I’m sorry, I know.
Side note: That little exchange was so REAL. I don’t know if that was Jared repeating that or if it was scripted, but it rang so true. Sam wants to make sure that Dean knows that Sam understands and appreciates what he’s trying to do. It’s so important to him that he repeats it, apologizes for Dean ever thinking that he didn’t understand. It made me tear up, and I could see the tears glistening in Sam’s eyes too. Padalecki was masterful in this scene, Sam’s struggle and emotions written all over his face.
Sam: But what I’m saying is that I don’t feel free. What we’ve done, what we’ve lost, right now that’s what I’m feeling. And sometimes it’s like I can’t even breathe.
Dean says nothing, but he hears his brother.
Sam: But maybe tomorrow, you know, maybe I’ll feel better in the morning.
Dean: And what if you don’t?
Sam: I don’t know.
It’s such an honest and real conversation. I saw so many people post that this scene rang so true for them, that this is so much what it feels like to be depressed and want to give up, and to take it one day at a time and keep saying maybe I’ll feel better in the morning. I think we all appreciated both the writing and the incredible acting and directing. I love how real and open the brothers were with each other here, both being honest and neither trying to hand wave the other’s valid feelings or just quick fix it.
The episode ends on an ominous note, Chuck typing away on Becky’s laptop.
Chuck: Oh yeah, this is gonna be good…
Ackles gives us a close up shot of the Sam and Dean Pop Funko dolls that most of us have somewhere in the house, their bobbleheads shaking in what looks like trembling fear as Chuck pounds the keys. It was a fitting ending for a tightly directed episode – Ackles more than held his own in the director’s chair this time out!
Perhaps because this is the last season, we’ve been treated to lots and lots of press coverage of the show. (Where were you in the early seasons, when the fandom was scrambling to keep the show on the air??)
Jensen spoke to TVGuide about this episode, saying that Dean is in fact quite worried about his brother, saying that “Sam’s state always worries Dean. That’s who he fights for. Sam’s been the reason he keeps fighting.”
He went on to say that when Sam wavers, Dean needs to figure out a way to help him out.
Jensen: So it’ll be a struggle, not against each other, but for each other. Sam is struggling to find purpose and Dean is struggling to help Sam find purpose.
All that came through beautifully in this episode. I’m going to keep on biting my nails and angsting about the eventual ending that ‘Chuck’ seems to be taking such evil pleasure in and that Jensen has said he was initially a bit traumatized by (like Becky), but I’m also going to continue being extremely grateful for episodes like this that make me write ten page reviews because I have so damn much to SAY.
Thank you, Show.
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