The one thing that Supernatural fans who are watching ‘The Winchesters’ have in common – possibly the only thing – is that they really want Dean Winchester back. Last week’s episode of ‘The Winchesters’ knew what it was doing when they finally “gave back” the beloved character – on his birthday. Jensen Ackles, who portrayed Dean for so many years, usually acknowledges his best imaginary friend’s birthday, but this year he did it up right, buying plates and party hats and a cake and having the young cast of The Winchesters sing happy birthday. To Dean.
The show was extremely fortunate that it airs on Tuesdays and last Tuesday happened to be Dean’s birthday, so the PR Gods all lined up and made for a fun celebration, topped off by Dean’s “return” to the prequel in a grainy black and white photo.
The Winchesters cast all got together to cook dinner and have birthday cake and then watch the episode, as they’ve done several times – it seems like they genuinely enjoy each other and it’s fun to “hang out” with them on Instagram.
Executive Producers Jensen and Danneel are a little like the mom and dad of the gang of mostly young actors, Jensen doing his best grumpy old man shtick to everyone’s amusement.
As they watched along with us in real time, we got to watch their reactions to the show. When Mary, eyes wide, demanded to know “who’s that guy?” we were treated to a video close up of Ackles looking like “what guy??”
And then when it was confirmed to be Dean Winchester, he sat there grinning like the cat that ate the canary.
All that interaction added to the fun and excitement of this episode – in fact, it was the most enjoyable episode so far for me. I’ll run down the things I liked about it in a minute, but before I do that, this show also makes me scratch my head a lot, and this episode wasn’t an exception entirely. I continue to struggle with lining this show up with the canon of OG Supernatural, and with seeing its characters as the people they will become in just a very short while. Tom Welling is doing a fine job as Samuel, but he’s so different than the Mitch Pileggi version I sometimes can’t see them as the same character. He’s also a bit of an enigma in this episode. He’s bristly, gruff, referring to his daughter as a jackass and admitting that she’s just like him (which fits fairly well with the Samuel we see a little later).
And yet, we also get this conversation, which to me seemed to come out of nowhere.
Samuel: Had I told you what I was doing, I know you would’ve charged in headfirst. I did everything I could to get you off my trail, because I couldn’t… I can’t let you turn out like Maggie. You could’ve been anything, Mary, anything. But when I put that knife in your hands, I chose this life for you. I forced you to follow in my footsteps, just like my dad forced me. It was wrong. I don’t want you to hate me like I hated him. I heard tall tales of an Oppenheimer– someone who found a way to nuke all these damn monsters, so that you could be free of all of this—forever… I can’t give you back all those years. But I’m your dad. I have to try.
That’s why Samuel disappeared? To get rid of all monsters so Mary wouldn’t have to hunt?? That was surprising coming from this Samuel, and would be even more surprising coming from the Mitch Pileggi version that we know from the future. This Samuel had been sending Mary on hunts for her whole life, encouraging her to be a hunter, making her feel so guilty about thinking about quitting that she’s been struggling with that all season. I mean, just raising her not to feel like she HAD to hunt them would have accomplished the same thing, and more quickly and effectively, Samuel, just sayin. This is not what I expected him to say to his daughter. And if he did feel that way at this point, he sure as hell lost it completely a year or two later!
It was also perplexing to hear John tell Samuel that he should treat Mary more like a daughter and less like a soldier, when John ends up doing that exact same thing to his sons. The EXACT same thing. It sounded like a bad joke when he said it, because it’s so not what John himself does – though I agreed with him wholeheartedly. Listen to your own advice, future!John…
Both of those are 180 degree turnarounds in the future, which isn’t impossible, but isn’t all that likely either. If a mind wipe is coming, it sure is gonna be a good one! I was sort of hoping ‘The Winchesters’ had Dean visiting an Alternate Universe so it wouldn’t need to line up with canon, but I’m thinking that’s probably not what this is. And that makes me anxious.
On the other hand, there were a lot of things I enjoyed in this episode. I did appreciate the little Supernatural call back of the “Sam” vs “Sammy” vs “Samuel” conversation that’s part of Dean’s relationship with his brother (as in, he’s the only one who gets to call me that). John makes the mistake of calling Samuel “Sam” and is gruffly corrected. I giggled.
And the more subtle callback to Loki warming his hands over the burning body of the hapless person who made a deal with him – just like the outsider pov of Sam and Dean when they’re doing a salt and burn.
One of the things that did make sense and that I could tie to the future was that Mary (when she comes back to life in OG Supernatural) tries the same thing that her father apparently did – ridding the world of monsters so your child(ren) don’t have to hunt them. I immediately thought of Mary’s unrealistic and ill fated alliance with the British Men of Letters, who somehow convinced her that they could do that same thing – so that her children, Sam and Dean, wouldn’t have to hunt monsters. Much like Samuel, she doesn’t tell them what she’s doing and just disappears a lot – something else Mary may have learned from her dad. At the time, I thought Mary’s decision made little sense (like a lot about the Mary-comes-back story arcs), but this at least provides some explanation. Mary following in her father’s footsteps (even if perhaps it turns out she doesn’t remember him saying that thanks to a canon-saving mindwipe of some kind).
This episode, more than the previous ones, offered a more organic bridge to the Mothership – Samuel leaving instructions for anti-possession tattoos, his derision for the Men of Letters.
I might have laughed out loud when he referred to them as “mole men” as in MOL, buried underground with all their books instead of out there risking their lives and getting their hands dirty. I have never heard anyone in fandom refer to the Men of Letters as MOLE but now I probably can’t unsee it.
Bianca Kajlich’s Millie is always a highlight for me, and I loved her push back when Samuel got all haughty with her about being a hunter. Here he is alive and well, after all, and Henry – a MOL – was lost trying to do the right thing. And he saved the day – and both John and Mary – just recently, back from the dead. So there, Samuel!
Apparently it was Bianca’s idea to have Millie cook up some Winchester Surprise too, another tie to Mary on Supernatural, serving up that old favorite to her son Dean who’s about to lock himself into the Ma’lak box for the rest of time. Oof.
Most of the fandom knew that Richard Speight, Jr. would be returning to the SPN universe in this episode, so that wasn’t a surprise, but it was still good to see him. (I smiled that Carlos’ friend was named Jericho, since that show is something that Richard and showrunner Robbie Thompson have in common).
Loki was always a bit over the top, and he’s even more over the top here. He’s fun to watch and his outfits fit right into the seventies vibe of the show. I would have liked them to slow it down just a little so I could appreciate him though – he was on 78 RPM for sure (that’s a 70s joke….ahem…) but I was happy to see him again, jaunty as ever.
I admit to being somewhat confused about whether that was Loki (as I assumed) or Gabriel possessing Loki (as Speight seemed to be saying in the livestream with the cast on Instagram). I also am not entirely sure what the point of his meddling with Jericho was or why Carlos being genuine and altruistic ended up breaking the spell and keeping him from catching fire. Literally. If he was Gabriel, would he have been able to be trapped in a mirror? I think not. Lata is clearly thrilled to have him there, though, whoever he is.
I was sure it was Loki until the cast did the IG live and face timed Richard Speight, Jr., who had a detailed explanation of who it was and how it was both Loki and Gabriel? I think?
This was Tom Welling’s face on the IG live when they were discussing this – and totally mine also.
The other highlight of this episode was the music.
First, one of my actual favorite bands (composed of some of my actual favorite people) were in this episode – Louden Swain were the backup band for Jericho and for Carlos! That was also not a surprise, but still seeing them all decked out in their seventies regalia was a thrill. (We didn’t know that Rob Benedict was going to be there too, and while I don’t think he was supposed to be Chuck, it was still extra thrilling to have him back in the ‘verse).
Adding to the charm was some fandom in-group historical knowledge that always feels good when it’s put out there – the band’s names were the names that Louden Swain used one long ago Las Vegas convention when they came onstage looking like they’d walked out of the 1970s and performed that way without any explanation, while we all were like HUH? We all called Billy ‘Sweet Jonny Highpockets’ for a long time after that – so I was thrilled to see those names return. I love that the SPNFamily has been around for 18 years and there are quite a few of us who remember those early days and cherish them.
Second, best music cue yet was Elton John singing Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting while the Trickster duplicated himself so he – all the he’s – could fight our hunters. It made the fight scene not at all serious, but that was clearly the intention.
And when he was serious, Speight still made Loki frightening, a nice contrast to his silliness. I hope we see more of him!
I also liked that this episode gave us a better understanding of Carlos and his backstory. Yes, the comic delivery is spot on (the deadpan “I’ll allow it” lol). But JoJo Fleites can rise to the challenge when given some serious scenes to do, and they brought a lot of emotion to their performance here (and not just the singing). Much like the acceptance and even contentment that Sam and Dean eventually arrive at on Supernatural, Carlos is nostalgic for his old life as a singer but also satisfied with his life choices and who he is now – a hunter – and able to recognize what being a hunter has given him.
Dean’s monologue narration echoes this idea.
Dean: Being a hunter, it means living a life of sacrifice– not a lot of room for dreams. But you open your heart and get a little lucky, you’ll find you gain more than you lose.
I get what he’s trying to say, and I think Dean did come to believe that, that hunting was what he was meant to do and he was good with that, both him and Sam were. But someone online said that Dean’s narrations sound like a Hallmark card and I can’t unsee it – that’s been why they haven’t been working for me, I think. That does sound like a Hallmark card, and that is not a characterization of Dean Winchester that makes sense to me.
As for the Rivers Gemini performance? Carlos, a queer character, and JoJo, a nonbinary person, singing “Hard Times Come Again No More” was more than a little moving for many people watching, and the performance was spot on. Also, wow, what a voice! (Is there a Saturday Night Special performance in JoJo’s future??)
Like many fans, I was also fairly certain that the mysterious man who gave John the letter was in fact his future son Dean – that was confirmed when John interrupts Mary’s attempt to move their romantic relationship along when he sees that same man in the background of a photo that’s Samuel’s.
So I wasn’t bowled over by the reveal, but it does mean that we’re probably going to get some hints about how and, more importantly, when and why Dean is there.
And please God let there also be some answers to why Sam is not with him, because a photo of Dean and the Impala without Sam where he would have been standing is pretty painful!
There are a lot of theories floating around now about what’s actually happening in The Winchesters. Is it an Alternate Universe that Dean has traveled to, a sort of mirror universe if you will? Or is this our world in the past, and Dean is trying to change things – which sounds like a really dangerous thing to do if you’ve watched all the movies and TV shows that have attempted it!
There’s a new episode of ‘The Winchesters’ this Tuesday on the CW that might bring a few more clues, so stay tuned!
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