The two days leading up to Supernatural’s return – for the very last time – were a whirlwind the likes of which I have never seen in fifteen years of Supernatural fandom. For years, in the early seasons, the fans spread the word about the show and advertised it as best we could, sending postcards of support and starting online campaigns when the internet was still relatively new. In 2020, after an unexpected hiatus, Supernatural made its triumphant return with dozens of major publications and seemingly every CW local outlet covering the first new episode in six months – and the beginning of the show’s end run. I’ve been writing a weekly wrap up of everything Supernatural related, so I spent two days running between my laptop on which I was teaching my classes to the other laptop where I was frantically trying to keep up with the Supernatural news. I’m exhausted, but it was exhilarating – if someone had told me fifteen years ago that everyone from Variety to CNN would be celebrating this little show, I wouldn’t have believed it. But that’s Supernatural. It’s special.
More on that in my weekly wrap up article, with links to most of the coverage, but for now, I want to talk about the return episode, Jeremy Adams’ Last Holiday, directed by Eduardo Sanchez, who has directed some of my favorite episodes.
I really really enjoyed some of this episode, and part of me wants to just wallow in that joyful celebratory portion – just like the Winchesters wanted to do. In the midst of a seemingly endless pandemic, without our favorite show, I think we all desperately needed a feel-good episode, and I’m incredibly grateful that we got part of one at least. It felt so good to see Sam and Dean smile and laugh and enjoy their lives. They have had so little of that, their entire lifetimes, and they so richly deserve some happiness. Jack, in his short time alive, has had very little of that too. So, while we knew from the start that things would inevitably go south, I enjoyed every moment of Mrs. Butters taking care of ‘her boys’. And Meagen Fay was awesome.
The THEN segment reminds us that the Men of Letters weren’t all good guys, especially the problematic Cuthbert Sinclair. Jeremy Adams has said that he wanted to dig into the MoL history a little before the show wraps, so this episode did some of that. Though, as we all know, sometimes when you dig into things you don’t like what you find…
We get some lovely domestic Winchesters to start, Sam researching and Dean coming up from the kitchen, be-aproned.
Sam: What’s with the apron?
Unfortunately the power, the water, and eventually the air conditioning aren’t working right, so the boys go downstairs to fix the pipes. Oddly, they don’t seem to be very familiar with the control panels etc., which I find hard to believe. Yes, they’ve been busy, but who decides to live in an underground bunker without thoroughly exploring it and making sure you know how to keep it running? Dean especially is mechanically inclined, so his cluelessness is a little annoying. His impulsivity is more Dean-like, I guess, as he hits the giant Reset button while Sam expresses his doubts about that being a good idea.
Everything seems fine until Dean returns to his room with his burger and finds an older woman folding his Scooby Doo boxers (a little shout out to Jeremy’s first Supernatural episode)
They meet the wood nymph folding Dean’s “underthings”, Mrs. Butters.
Dean: Uh, then shouldn’t you be in the woods?
It’s the little things that make me smile.
Mrs. Butters tells her story of being a helper of the Men of Letters, doing their cooking and cleaning but not being a “lady of letters” herself.
Dean: Well, that’s progressive…
She’s distraught to learn that she put herself in stasis after the Men of Letters didn’t return (thanks to Abaddon) back in 1958, and that it’s now 2020.
Honestly, most of us feel that way about 2020, Mrs. Butters.
She announces that, as the only remaining Men of Letters, they’ll need her help with homecooked meals and holidays.
Sam: We’re not really holiday people…
Jared’s subtle comedic skills were on point this episode.
I take issue with her saying the boys’ clothes smell, though. We know Dean is a bit of a germaphobe and we’ve seen him actually ironing their shirts (with beer, okay, but still).
She also informs them that the Men of Letters used to use her magic to give the bunker a little ‘extra oomph’ and promptly turns it back on. Boom, they’ve got monster radar and the giant telescope nobody ever uses is glowing. The monster radar informs them there’s a vampire nest close by, so Sam and Dean decide to head out and investigate, leaving Jack still isolating in his room with a warning to be careful. Sam’s not sure they can trust her, but Dean wants to at least give it a shot – perhaps because of the home cooked meal offer.
Sam worries about the recently re-souled (and thus re-traumatized) Jack.
Dean: He’ll be fine. Look at me, I’m the picture of health!
Sam: Ignoring your trauma doesn’t make it healthy.
Oh boys, you break my heart.
The Winchesters break down the door of a ramshackle house where two not very scary seeming vampires are watching tv (Dark Shadows if I’m not mistaken, which made me laugh) and sipping blood from blood bags. I honestly thought Sam and Dean were going to think twice when they saw that but nope, no questions, no investigation, just whack off their heads.
There have been several episodes in this season that seem to walk back so much of the progress that the Winchesters made in the previous fourteen years – that not all monsters are monsters, and some don’t deserve to die. I really don’t like that all that nuance and emphasis on shades of gray instead of everything in black and white seems to have been lost in the show. It makes the stakes lower and the hunts less interesting and the boys’ moral compass less true.
But they return to find the bunker decorated for Christmas, and Sam and Dean – and me – forget about all that and just want to live in the moment and enjoy it. There’s holiday music playing, lights strung over the balcony railings, a trimmed tree, and Mrs. Butters dancing with a tray of Christmas cookies. Sam looks gobsmacked, but Dean’s face breaks into a little boy grin and he all but does the happy dance. That broke my heart again, because we know how much Dean wanted Christmas — how much it meant to him when Sam gave him a celebration of it, with an air freshener adorned little tree and a few lights and gas station gifts, back in the A Very Supernatural Christmas episode. We saw how hard he tried to give Sam a Christmas when they were both just little kids, left alone and trying to make the best of it. Dean has longed for these sort of celebrations all his life, and Jensen killed my by reverting to that little boy longing here so vividly.
Dean: We are SO keeping her.
I can’t blame them. Sam and Dean missed out on so many of the things that children should get to experience – holidays, birthdays, someone taking care of them. They deserved those things, as all children do. So if this wood nymph can give them some of that – before the show is over and they don’t exist anymore – then I’m going to be grateful, just like they are.
The next morning in the kitchen, Mrs. Butters admonishes Sam “don’t be so dour, Samuel – enjoy the world you’re fighting for.”
Jack comes in, however, and she recoils, her voice growing cold.
Mrs. Butters: What – what are you?
Before anyone can actually explain, which might have been helpful in forestalling what eventually happens, Dean appears wearing a real life (tv show) version of his nightshirt in the Scooby Doo episode and assures her that Jack’s a millennial and a good kid (not the whole story, Dean, but okay). Mrs. Butters doesn’t look entirely convinced, but offers Jack a smoothie. Hmmm.
Dean just wants Sam to appreciate his nightshirt, which make him feel like he’s “wrapped in hugs”. Sam does a double take as Dean flashes him, but hey, it’s not the first time Sam has seen more of his brother than he bargained for.
Mrs. Butters (channeling me in my living room): Boys….
The monster radar goes off and Sam and Dean head out, overjoyed when Mrs. Butters hands them their brown bags (with a D for Dean and an S for Sam on them) like nobody ever handed them their school lunches and Dean’s face lights up like he’s six years old and headed to first grade.
Mrs. Butters gets Jack to confide in her about killing Mary.
She gives him more smoothies. Uh oh.
But never mind (yes, this is both Jack and me saying never mind) because it’s time for the montage!
Halloween, Thanksgiving, family meals, pumpkin carving, the boys all smiling.
Sam and Dean following the monster radar, blowing down the door with the grenade launcher and wielding Thor’s hammer (why did they need those? Who knows – never mind, we’re having fun here!)
Sam’s birthday, complete with cake and festive blowers and is that a tiara? Dean being just as happy as Sam, like all those birthdays that he wanted his little brother to be able to celebrate properly and probably couldn’t (though I do maintain that Dean baked or stole or borrowed a cake for Sammy a time or two).
Dean: When it’s my birthday, can I put in a request for rice krispy treats?
Mrs. Butters at first teases him about at “his age” not wanting to celebrate his birthday, and I was kinda like WTF, stop being so mean to poor Dean! But she surprises him with some anyway, so I guess it’s okay. Sorta.
Episodes like this make me feel so protective of these fictional characters that I love, because their joy at such simple things is so heartbreaking. They never had much of this, and it’s so compelling to them that they forget to pay attention and be suspicious. They look the other way because they just don’t want it to end. That’s the best part of this episode, this poignant look at the Winchesters – and it’s so very Supernatural. Even being able to see them be happy brings so much sadness too, because they never got to have as much of it as I wanted for them. And now, in real life, their journey is almost over. This felt like their last chance, and my last chance to witness it.
Damn it, where are my tissues?
The montage, inevitably, ends, and with it our stubborn innocence about Mrs. Butters. She lets Jack see her pulling a file, and when he investigates, he finds a film that tells him the wood nymph’s history. Apparently she was captured from the Thule and indoctrinated into taking on the mission of the Men of Letters, and protecting them by whatever means necessary (including ripping the head off a Nazi captive).
Jack (speaking fluent Winchester): Sonofabitch.
He tries to tell Sam, but Sam has a date with Eileen, who is conveniently in the area but doesn’t come to the bunker to say hi to Dean before their date for some reason. Mrs. Butters has dressed Sam like he’s in the 1950’s but he looks pretty cute in his sweater vest anyway. Dean does the annoying thing where he leers a lot about Sam having a date, and I wonder what happened in between Eileen leaving, saying she couldn’t trust her feelings for Sam after being manipulated by Chuck, and now. We may never know…
I really love Shoshannah Stern and wish she could have actually been in the episode instead of just mentioned. But we get Sam out of the way, which I guess was the point. Mrs. Butters also gets Dean out of the way, fixing the TV in his Dean cave so he runs off excitedly.
That leaves Jack to go after Mrs. B (though he could easily just have followed Dean to the Dean cave and shared what he knew, which would have made a lot of sense). Instead he follows Mrs. B – to a basement dungeon room of all places – where she accuses him of relishing pain and says that Sam and Dean are scared of him, scared that he’ll hurt someone else the way he hurt their mother.
Jack tries to fight back but finds his powers diminished.
Mrs. B: You didn’t think those smoothies were for your health, did you?
Damn it, I knew those smoothies were suspicious!
She cuffs Jack and tosses him to the floor, issuing a chilling plan that sounded a little too close to reality: I’m going to make the bunker safe again – get rid of ALL the monsters! The Men of Letters clearly did a bang up job investing Mrs. B with a (not) healthy dose of paranoia to ensure that she’d protect the bunker from pretty much everyone but them.
Next she tells Dean that they’ll need to go kill Jack, after handing him a delicious looking grilled cheese sandwich. This is such a poignant scene, so well directed and written and so well acted by Jensen. As soon as she says it, he freezes, then looks down at the sandwich he so wants. It symbolizes everything he’s had over the past weeks — someone to take care of him, cook for him, mother him. And now he’s faced with it all falling apart. Again. Always.
Mrs. B: You don’t need to be afraid anymore.
Dean: Damn it.
He puts down the sandwich, giving it a long look of longing, and then she hands him a knife. You can see the internal struggle in him, knowing that if he doesn’t go along with her, that might be the last grilled cheese sandwich someone will cook for him.
The last brown bag with a “D” on it that anyone will pack. The last time they’ll have Thanksgiving dinner or carve pumpkins. He won’t get rice krispy treats on his birthday.
Of course, he turns away with a sigh. He’s Dean Winchester.
“How about we let Jack go and forget this ever happened?”
Mrs. Butters tosses him in the dungeon with Jack. Poor Dean.
When Sam returns, past curfew and sans tie, he’s smart enough to play along when she informs him that Jack has infected Dean’s mind and they both need to be killed.
“Let me go get my gun,” Sam stalls, and calls Dean, who she apparently locked up with his cell phone. And he didn’t call Sam to warn him that Mrs. Butters was a homicidal unhinged creature? Because Sam was on a date and “it’s been a while for you”? Really???
Not my favorite part of the episode.
They both realize that they never actually investigated Mrs. Butters, thanks to all the good food and pampering. Sam gets his gun and goes to kill (hopefully) Mrs. Butters, though nobody is sure the gun will do the trick.
It doesn’t – or rather he never gets a chance to fire it – and Mrs. Butters ties him to a chair. Shades of the other Supernatural Christmas episode, and that’s not the only similarity.
Mrs. B: I’m not mad, Sam. I’m disappointed.
She tells him more of her story – that when they found her, she at first didn’t understand that the most important thing was the mission of the Men of Letters.
Mrs. B: I’m going to help you understand, just the way Mr. Cuthbert helped me. He taught me that pain can be a wonderful teacher.
Me: Uh oh
And then she proceeds to pull out all his fingernails one by one. I thought A Very Supernatural Christmas was bad! But honestly, lady, Sam Winchester has been tortured by Lucifer himself, so I don’t think this is going to convince him to murder his brother and their sort of son. But it definitely convinced me to close my eyes for a minute!
Sam (defiant because he’s Sam f—king Winchester): Jack is not a monster!
Meanwhile, in the dungeon, Jack and Dean have a little heart to heart.
Jack: Do you still think I’m a monster?
I really liked this scene, both Jeremy’s writing and Alex and Jensen’s acting. Dean doesn’t sugar coat it, doesn’t lie to make Jack feel better. Instead, he tries to share his genuine feelings, even if it’s not exactly what Jack hopes to hear.
Dean: I’m trying, okay? But what you did? That isn’t easy to forget. I was angry with you for a while, maybe I still am. But I’m not gonna let some evil Mary Poppins take you out, understand?
I think Jack does. Dean’s words ring more true than a blanket denial would have. It’s not a magical forgiveness just to make someone else feel better, it’s the way emotions work in real life. No quick fixes. Of course Dean’s angry and of course he’s not just going to handwave it!
Dean tries to cut off Jack’s cuffs, which sends him flying backwards crashing into the wall and bringing half of it down.
Dean: Dang it! Dang – damn it! Language, my ass!
It felt so good to have Dean Winchester back, not gonna lie.
And then Jeremy Adams gives us some smart Dean, which I greatly appreciate. He realizes that Sam should have been there by now, and that means something must have happened to Sam. And that means Dean needs to get out of there, like NOW. He looks at the smashed wall, then at the door, and his face brightens.
Dean: I have an idea.
Dean: (grinning back) Yeah.
He lines Jack up, says “on three” and counts “one, two” then tries to cut through the cuffs again without waiting for three because that’s a Winchester thing, and Jack blasts right through the door, landing in the hallway. Dean is positively joyous over that, helping Jack up and heading to the basement to the control panel.
He smashes the reset button with a hammer, which seems like a bit of overkill, but the lights go out so yay?
Of course it’s not that easy. As Dean frees a bloodied Sam, Mrs. Butters returns. And she’s pissed.
Mrs. B (possibly channeling Dolores Umbridge): You’ve all been very bad.
She tosses them across the room, but Sam and Dean continue to plead for Jack’s life.
Sam: You hurt him, you hurt us. Mr. Cuthbert used you, okay? He lied to you, tortured you.
Dean: Jack can save the world. That’s the mission, isn’t it?
They manage to convince her with a bit of emotion and a bit of logical paradox, and when she wistfully says she’d love to see the woods again, they let her go. Oddly, they give her the photo of the Men of Letters to take with her, even though it seems to me she wouldn’t want that. I suppose it’s a bit of Stockholm Syndrome? Anyway, it’s kinda creepy.
She tells them that the bunker will power down again without her there, but they’re okay with that. The telescope, she says, is no longer an interdimensional geoscope.
Dean: That’s okay, I tried it earlier and didn’t see anything.
Mrs. B: Oh well that’s not good…
(Chuck must be making good progress in destroying all those other dimensions)
She leaves telling Jack to go save the world. After, Sam and Jack share beers and have a father-son sort of moment, Jack putting himself down because he let her get over on him because he was stupid. How will he be able to kill God if she got him?
Dean interrupts the moment with a birthday cake for Jack.
Sam (fondly): He loves that apron.
Dean: I made it by myself. Obviously. Happy birthday, Jack.
It’s a peace offering, but it’s more than that. It’s the Winchesters saying that they don’t need a wood nymph to find time for some enjoyment in their lives, even in the midst of how ‘busy’ they are saving the world. It’s Dean offering some of that caretaking to Jack, as he did for Sam when they were kids. It’s a family moment, and I ended the episode content once again, grateful for it. Mrs. Butters did give them something, a reminder that it’s okay to take a little time to be good to each other and celebrate family, home, love. Even if she also contemplated killing some of them.
Dean lights the candle.
“Make a wish,” Sam says, and Jack does. It remains to be seen whether or not it comes true.
It wasn’t a perfect episode, but what is? I thoroughly enjoyed much of it, and I’m grateful for that, with six more episodes left. I don’t think, in the end, it will be just Jack who saves the world. It will be Jack doing his part and trying his best, and it will be Castiel making a difference, and ultimately it will be Sam and Dean.
Until then, I’m going to enjoy every minute of these last six weeks with Supernatural!
To always remember how special Supernatural
is, check out There’ll Be Peace When You
Are Done, with chapters by the Supernatural
actors about the show’s amazing legacy, at
peacewhenyouaredone.com or at the links here