The Official Supernatural: “The Spear” (14.09 – Christmas Finale) Live Recap Thread


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Can’t load up Facebook, which is annoying. Let’s get started. I doubt I will get this done tonight, as today was a day, ending with trying to get home on a flat tire (in the pouring rain, of course) by pumping it up at various places on the way home. Gotta get in to the garage early tomorrow to get it patched up.

Anyhoo, rather standard recap of The Road So Far starting with a rather awesome Dean monologue out of nowhere:

I know what it’s like to see monsters. And I know that when they’re gone, they never really go away. But me and my brother, we’re the guys that stop the monsters. We’re the guys that scare them.

Cut to Now in Kansas City, MO, to “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (never been a fan, especially of the Mel & Kim version that hits the British airwaves every December). Sounds like the Brenda Lee version.

It’s also the soundtrack on a particular floor of an office building, where everyone is being slaughtered by hyped-up werewolves. One of them then comes in to tell an elegantly dressed woman, whom he addresses as “Michael.” When he asks why Michael picked this floor, Michael just says, “I liked the view.”

Another werewolf brings in some recruits and among them is Garth. Michael recognizes him due to Dean’s memories and said he had been Dean’s friend. Garth says that’s all water under the bridge. He has a daughter now and he wants to be on “the right side” in the coming war. I’m rolling my eyes a bit, even if it’s a Garth-undercover-for-TFW thing, because the acting in this scene is pretty bad. I’m amazed any scenery was left unchewed, by anyone.

Cue title cards.

Jack is eating cereal (not the healthy kind, either) in the kitchen in the middle of the night when Castiel comes in and catches him. Jack asks Castiel not to rat him out to Sam about the cereal. Castiel asks why he’s up to so late and it comes out that Jack is still recovering from resurrecting. Castiel says that’s pretty normal (well … no, it’s really not, but it is for these guys). Castiel calls it “a rite of passage.”

Jack worries that his mother isn’t safe in Heaven from the Empty. Castiel calls Naomi “complicated,” but willing to fight to keep the souls in Heaven safe. Because that worked so well last week.

Jack also wonders why Castiel doesn’t want him to tell Sam and Dean about the deal he made. Castiel says he doesn’t want to burden them and also, he figures that with all the crap currently raining down on them, he won’t be giving himself permission to be happy any time soon.

It also turns out that Castiel stole the “secret decoder ring” from the cereal box.

Meanwhile, Sam is conversing with Garth, who is indeed spying for TFW. He says they want to “change” him by having him drink blood mixed with Michael’s grace. He claims he’ll be able to spit it out (don’t think grace works that way, Garth).

Garth has to hang up (and uses Bobby’s old “balls” line that I sure don’t miss as he goes in to get the change). Dean walks in just as Sam gets hung up on and reassures Sam that even though Sam was the one who recruited Garth for this mission, it won’t really be Sam’s fault if the mission goes sideways. Um, no, Dean. I’m with Sam. It will be his fault. But hey, maybe we’ll lose Garth this week. I’m okay with that. Early Christmas present.

TFW 2.0 gets a video call from Ketch, who boasts about liberating the egg they used on Lucifer two seasons ago from an Eastern European dealer, then having to mail it to the Bunker. It’s going to arrive, but a bit late.

Okay, so one new-used tire and a morning of Expensive Fun in the Rain with the Auto Shop later, let’s get back to this, in between bouts of math problems. Lots and lots of math. I have a Trigonometry final on Wednesday.

So, we have a new ragtime piano transition riff.

Back to Garth, with the other volunteer, who is all excited about his powerup. The head werewolf woman (who acts like a baddie extra in another CW show and that’s not a compliment) comes in and hands each of them a vial of glowing archangel grace. Garth tries to fake it, but when Michael walks in, he has to swallow. This ups his hearing, but what else has it done?

Michael is Evil Overlording about tracking down EVOL!Kaia and killing her, then getting the Spear (again, works for me! Not an EVOL!Kaia fan, either). This version of Michael probably won’t stick around long, but even so, I’m just not feelin’ her. I don’t think it’s the gender change because I actually miss Lanette Ware as Raphael and kinda liked her better than Demore Barnes (heresy, I know). I wish they could bring her back or that she’d at least stuck around a bit longer. Poor Raphael has gotten no mention-love since exiting at the end of season eight. Didn’t even have a counterpart in the alt-SPNverse.

But this version of Michael … I’m not even sure it’s the actress. Felisha Terrell is hitting all the notes she’s supposed to be hitting, at least on the surface. It’s just that Michael has never actually been a Dick Roman kind of villain, certainly not when Christian Keyes or Jensen Ackles was playing him. But this version is basically a female Dick Roman in a pantsuit and I’m very meh about that.

So, the other part of Michael’s plan (I’ll admit that it was such a lame retread that I ignored it at first) is to distribute upgraded monsters throughout Kansas City, and kill or turn the entire population on Michael’s signal. First of all, we know this never works because second of all, it’s been tried many, many times by villains on the show and it’s never worked. Like, ever.

The closest anyone ever got to doing this in such a short amount of time was in “Croatoan” back in season two and that was a small town in the middle of nowhere that had been cut off from the rest of the world. It just makes the SPNverse’s most powerful archangel look lame for even thinking up this plan. Especially with monsters that, for all of their upgraded powers, can be killed by a simple beheading.

So, Garth gets a call to TFW2.0 while they’re planning to go after the egg, which is stuck for the holidays in a postal depot (while this isn’t technically a Christmas-themed episode like “A Very Supernatural Christmas,” it is set right before or during Christmas). He warns them about the intended assassination of EVOL!Kaia. Sam is nonplussed.

And just like that, after almost half a season riding shotgun and being the wind beneath Sam’s wings, Dean just straightens up and takes over. It’s effortless and even a bit startling to everyone else how he does it, yet they fall right in behind him, anyway. Dean decides to split the team up – Sam and Jack will go get the box; Dean and Castiel will go hunt souped-up monsters and retrieve the Spear. Or at least prevent the monsters from taking it from EVOL!Kaia.

Off Dean and Castiel go in the Impala, on a road trip past those same sheep from that overhead shot that the show has been using for … what … 14 seasons now (it first showed up in season one or two)? When they arrive at what looks like a labyrinth of crushed trash, Castiel notes that the tape deck was broken (since when does Dean allow anything to stay broken on the Impala?), but Dean “didn’t complain once” about the lack of his favorite music.

Dean admits that he never realized before how horrible it must have been for Castiel and Sam, being possessed when they said yes to Lucifer. Dean hates that alt-Michael “tricked” him (I dunno, Dean. It’s not really a trick if it’s your only option left to save the world) and he won’t rest until he’s killed Michael, himself.

Back to Sam and Jack, who are breaking into the postal facility. Jack demonstrates a new skill – he can use a lockpick now.

Back to the trash labyrinth. Near the center of it, Dean and Castiel, who have armed up, enter a grotty old warehouse and then creep around a labyrinth of moldy boxes inside. Dean finds EVOL!Kaia’s camp in the middle, with an iron pot that’s still warm. As Castiel comes up to the same spot, they both hear a door slam to the outside.

Castiel is worried about the lack of monsters in the vicinity. Maybe they got E!K already? Dean thinks she’s “in hiding,” since she would have fought back and the camp is laid out neatly. But it begs the question of this being intel from inside Michael’s camp (and Michael has laid traps before), so what’s going on?

What’s going on is that when Sam and Jack leave the vicinity of the pilfered post office, with a strangely light box, Sam gets bonked on the head by one of Michael’s low-rent monsters, then sees Jack get kidnapped by two more of them (apparently, the extras budget was so low for this episode that despite Michael’s boasts of having upgraded thousands of monsters, we see the same four redshirts with bad teeth over and over again – lame). Then Michael shows up and melts the magic egg in front of Sam. While monologuing.

Ugh. Yeah, I don’t care if it’s the acting or the writing or what. I am officially over this version of Michael. Get a new meatsuit or something.

Oh, and then she knocks Sam out for real. Because Sam doesn’t already have stock in MRIs, already, or anything.

Back in the warehouse, Dean and Castiel are wondering what’s going on when they get a call from Garth. Nobody can get hold of Sam and Jack. As soon as Garth hangs up, he hears Michael fly in. Michael decides it’s time to…uh…talk with Garth. This won’t end well.

In the warehouse, Dean gets poked in the back by E!K. Some terrible sorcerer-in-a-Saturday-night-low-rent-Syfy-flick acting from her end ensues. Dean cuts it short by leaning into her Magic Spork and telling her to put up or shut up. He has family in danger and Michael’s about to murder thousands of people. Dean doesn’t have time to mess around with E!K and her stick. Either she can give up the spear or she can kill him.

Behind Dean, Castiel is making it pretty clear that if E!K takes Option #2, Castiel will kill her right afterward. Whoo, that glare could blister paint.

E!K decides to make a deal – she’ll give up the spear if they have Jack send her home. Dean lies and says that Jack can still do that, while Castiel looks surprised, and E!K buys it hook, line and sinker. At first, she wants guarantees, but Castiel points out that she’s not giving them guarantees, either. Clearly, she’s lying to them and has a new reason to go home. She admits as far as that she has her own people she wants to protect (presumably on the other side). I continue to fail to care about her storyline and look forward to its being wrapped up sooner than later.

Eventually, she gives up the spear, swearing she will kill Dean if he doesn’t bring it back. Ha, I say. Ha. Then she disappears.

Dean gets a call from Sam, in which Sam admits that Michael ambushed them and took Jack. This conversation is weirdly repeated before and after a commercial break, for reasons I don’t quite get. Sam drives off to Kansas City, as Dean says he and Castiel are coming to meet him. Castiel warns Sam not to go in alone. I’m sure we all know what Sam’s current plan is.

Meanwhile, Jack is being brought into Michael’s boudoir by the underwhelming low-rent werewolves who need to piss off  back to Legacies. They leave. Michael, who is standing the near the window, turns round and proceeds to bore Jack and the audience half to death with endless monologuing about the Grand Low-Rent Werewolf Plan, how things went for Kansas City in the alt-SPNverse, how they’re kin because they’re powerful beings with no limits (assuming Jack will eventually get his powers back), how Jack is too young to understand time and on and on and on and blahblahblah.

I’m sorry. That was just so hideously dull. Where was I?

Oh, yeah. Jack says that “Sam and Dean and Castiel will come for me.” Michael shrugs this off, so I guess the Really Obvious Trap Michael set is just that. Michael leaves.

So, remember when Castiel told Sam to wait? Sam didn’t wait (oh, come on, you didn’t think he would, did you?), possibly because he can’t get hold of Garth. The first werewolf he bags on camera is the guy who bonked him on the head at the post office, after he sent off the recruit who came in with Garth to infiltrate a church service. The second one is that annoying woman who kept tandem chewing scenery with Michael earlier and gave Garth his dose of archangel grace. Yay, Sam. My hero. Two of the more irritating redshirts at almost one go.

Sam enters the office where Jack is tied up and cuts him loose.  They hear footsteps and it’s Garth, apparently okay (but obviously not and Sam should have realized that). They get down to the parking garage with some rather ugly blue-silver Christmas trees.

As Sam and Jack come out of the elevator, Garth convulses. He still has his mind, but Michael is in it and has control over his body. Michael makes Garth wolf out, and attack and even flip Sam, but Sam is eventually able to choke Garth out. When Dean and Castiel arrive, they tie Garth up and dump him in the Impala’s trunk.

Castiel heals Jack, while Dean plays (badly) with the spear and TFW2.0 gets ready to take on Michael with the spear and an angel version of the demon cuffs, which may (but probably not) work on an archangel.  Jack is apprehensive, seeing as how he was just kidnapped, like, an hour ago and they’re going right back up there. Sam and Castiel reminisce about the obvious signs that this is a trap (including the obvious lack of monster guards or Michael coming down to check up on Garth’s interrupted signal). Dean just smiles because yes, obviously, it’s a trap. Duh. Good to all be on the same page now.

Off they go into the trap, Dean in front, to the tune of Movement IV from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (that big choral moment all the car commercials use since Die Hard used it 30 years ago – damn, I feel old, now). Okay, I legit laughed out loud at that.

Upstairs, Michael is waiting impatiently and doesn’t look nearly as sure as the face the archangel shows to the world. But then Michael senses someone and says, “There he is.”

“He” apparently turns out to be Castiel, whom Michael beats to a bloody pulp before dragging him back to the room with the view. Sam and Jack show up, and get choked out.

This may (or may not) distract Michael as Dean attacks with the spear from a closet. Michael gets into a fight with Dean, and even manages to disarm him and choke him a bit, while monologuing that Dean’s initial “yes” was a “mistake” and that therefore, everything Michael now does is “all on you.” Which is creepy and rape-y and not actually true, but there you go. Sam gets the spear back to Dean and Dean is able to slash Michael.

“Trust me,” Dean says. “That’s gonna leave a scar.”

But then he hesitates (partly as Michael, or perhaps Michael’s vessel, looks afraid). We see the same double vision, some flashbacks to Dean as Michael, and then a really quick and weird one of Dean standing in a bar, playing bartender and looking confused. And then, the camera slides back to Dean’s face. It’s no longer Dean behind the face, though. It’s Michael.

Castiel senses it first (he should; according to canon, he should have seen Michael enter Dean’s body) and calls out to Dean. “Dean” then breaks the spear in half and turns around, eyes glowing.

By this time, it’s pretty obvious to all off TFW2.0 that Michael is back in the house. Unfortunately. And Michael is determined to rub it in.

Michael: When I gave up Dean, you didn’t think to question? To ask ‘Why’? Dean was … resisting me. He was too attached to you [cut to Sam], to all of you [wider shot of all three of them]. He wouldn’t stop … squirming. To get out, to get back. So, I left. [picks up a drink of whisky] But not without leaving the door open … just a crack.

Castiel: Why wait?

Michael: To break him. To crush and disappoint him so completely that this time, he’ll be nice and quiet for a change. Buried. And he is. He’s gone. [drinks down the whisky]

And now, I have a whole army out there, waiting, ready for my command. Ready … for this. [snaps fingers]

Credits

So, that’s it for new episodes for now, though the show returns on January 17 and we already have a promo, which gives away a pretty large spoiler about how this cliffhanger resolves. We can discuss it in the comments if you like, but I’ll try to keep the following review free of future spoilers. Or not.

The show exited 2018 with a 0.4/2 and 1.43 million. This put it below the DC shows this week, who had a big crossover event that netted all but Legends of Tomorrow, Riverdale and Black Lightning (which weren’t in the event) in the 0.7-0.8 range, but comfortably above other CW shows in audience, including Legends of Tomorrow,  Riverdale and Black Lightning, with whom it tied in the demo. Honestly, even if it weren’t the only non-tie-in show on the network, with 13 and a half seasons of eagerly watched content across several streaming platforms, it would be ridiculously safe.

Review: This episode ended up being All About taking Michael down. In the process, it showed both the strengths and the weaknesses of the storyline and the character (at least, the alt-SPNverse version).

Jensen Ackles knocks it out of the park as Michael. The stillness, the coldness, the smugness and arrogance, the self-assuredness, all of these are the direct opposite of Dean’s fire and passion, his joie de vivre, his doubts and fears, his heroism; his ability to be humbled without breaking, to get back up no matter how many times he’s knocked down, to step back and let others take the stage; and his huge capacity for love.

Michael’s biggest strength as a personality is also his greatest weakness – he’s full of self-confidence, a born leader who’s sure he will always win. He’s also cocky, which gets him into trouble, over and over again, in this new alternate reality, especially when it comes to his chosen vessel, whom he does not know or understand at all.

I’ve probably said this in the past, but horror, of all the genres, is the one that most often uses monster metaphors for emotional states, for the human condition. In Sam’s case, Kripke was interested in the idea of Sam having superpowers and how it felt to be hunted for being the next step in human evolution. The audience, on the other hand, really latched onto Sam’s alienation from his family, of feeling that he had tainted blood, a tainted inheritance. Sam’s mixed feelings between settling down with a “normal” life and embracing the Family Business for good also showed the conflicts of growing out of adolescence into adulthood.

Dean central metaphors were clearer and brutally different. While there’s certainly a familial resonance, and he has grown beyond his being frozen into childhood parentification, the monster metaphor for Dean is mental illness. Always has been, probably always will be.

Some of the monsters are internal and some are external. Dean has a lot of rage due to seeing his family get torn apart, his mother burned to death, his father turning into an embittered person who had little time for his eldest, his brother growing into a puppet king of Hell. But in Dean’s case, as many of his demons are real, actual demons from Hell as they are bugs in his head. And Dean has grown very strong, madness and all, feeding on his own rage over the years, but also his great love. Dean has a powerful rage, but he has an even mightier heart.

Dean’s first two lines of monologue in this episode could as much be about his internal demons as his external ones: “I know what it’s like to see monsters. And I know that when they’re gone, they never really go away.” That line from “The Time Warp” in Rocky Horror Picture Show has frequently come to mind this season with regards to Dean’s journey – “Madness takes its toll.” It does indeed.

I’ll admit that when EVOL!Kaia was going on about how she’d kill Dean if he didn’t give her spear back in one piece, I had to laugh and thought of Dean’s line from season three’s “Malleus Maleficarum”: “You wanna kill me? Get in line, bitch!”

At the end, when Michael made his little speech about keeping Dean down – frankly, I think the show lost an opportunity not using The Rolling Stones’ “Under My Thumb.” It was exactly that psychology – the evil, entitled, abusive ex. How dare Dean fight back? How dare he say no ever again after the one time he said yes? How dare he try to leave the relationship? Watch me use your own hands to murder everyone and everything you love, Dean. And it’ll be all your fault.

Possibly the most bizarre aspect of that dynamic this episode was when Michael tried to woo Jack with the idea of growing eternal with him, knowing full well the entire trap this episode was set up to ensnare Dean for eternity, the person Jack most looks up to and emulates. Is Michael really so detached from human emotion that he doesn’t think about the effect wearing Dean’s face for centuries would have on Jack? And that’s even assuming Jack has centuries left. There doesn’t ever appear to have been an archangel Naphil before and the regular angel variety don’t seem to live very long.

There’s a part of Michael that I think resents that Dean has feelings for anyone but the archangel he was bred to house for the next billion years or so. And Michael definitely has underestimated Dean. Without getting too far into that promo for next episode, I think it’s very interesting that Dean knew about the angel cuffs, but Michael didn’t. Didn’t even mention them, let alone take steps to destroy them.

It seems possible that just as Dean has been resisting Michael and forcing him to avoid doing certain things, even to make certain mistakes, he has also been able to hide things here and there from Michael. Michael isn’t nearly in control as much as he thinks – or, at least, as much as he claims. Michael has the tail of the tiger and the ride is rougher than he anticipated.

This is the tension that makes Ackles’ portrayal of Michael so damned fascinating (and why I hope the writers will resist the urge to let anyone but Dean off Michael in the end). It’s the tug of war between an archangel and his vessel. We got some of this with Sam and Lucifer, but by the time Sam said yes to Lucifer, he had been buttered up for a long time (even a lifetime) as special and wonderful by Lucifer’s demon minions. I think the hardest thing for Sam wasn’t become Lucifer’s vessel (as we see with Nick’s storyline, Lucifer makes a connection with his vessels that they miss if they survive his departure). I think the hardest was Sam rejecting Lucifer long enough for Lucifer to tire of his vessel (or see him as ruined enough) to abandon him for other victims, and then having to deal with not being the Special One, anymore. It’s taken a while for Sam to get used to, and learn to like, being “only” human.

But Dean was never seduced in this way. His was a very rough wooing, He was beaten down all his life, told he wasn’t special. And now, Michael wants Dean’s body (and Dean’s memories, which Michael perceives as part of Dean’s body and therefore Michael’s too) while locking Dean away, apparently now in some weird dream of being a bartender in a midnight bar. Of course Dean fights back. Why wouldn’t he? But to Michael, this is an affront, an insult, and he cracks down harshly.

But Michael’s hold over Dean is not nearly as secure as he boasts. If you woo Dean, he distrusts you. If you beat him, it just gets his blood up. He understands fighting very well.

So, Dean distracts Michael and prevents him from killing people Dean loves. Michael makes a lot of excuses, but this elaborate plan he lays out in this episode shows that he is less sure and confident than he makes out. Rather than a victim who is simply overwhelmed and turned into a puppet for Michael, Dean appears to be Michael’s match, even if he doesn’t really know it yet.

That, however, is precisely why Michael doesn’t work when played by other actors. Whenever someone else plays him, whether last season or even this episode, this critical tension is lost. Michael becomes nothing more than a generic villain, a petty tyrant in his own world turned freebooting pirate in this new one. His external plan – to get all humans turned into monsters, or make them into cattle for those monsters – has been tried before, more than once, and never succeeded. It’s nothing new and seems a bit lame for a being who is some 14 billion years old.

People talk about what a great villain Lucifer was and yes, before he was played out, he was. But that’s because Lucifer personally oversaw the destruction of Sam and Dean’s family. And Michael was Lucifer’s older brother. The problem is that this isn’t our Michael. It’s a Michael from an alternate timeline. He was our Michael up until the point Mary decided not to bring John back. And then he wasn’t. He was never the Michael who oversaw Dean’s birth and the destruction of Dean’s family. He’s just a would-be conqueror, trying to take advantage of a cosmic loophole.

Is this Michael not aware that Heaven is about to fall and render his conquest moot? Does he simply not care? Surely, he’s aware of the existence of the Empty Entity. All of these things seem like a larger story than Michael’s low-rent monster army.

Michael’s war for Dean’s body against Dean is interesting because it’s Dean. And it’s interesting because it’s a metaphor for Dean’s own battle with his madness, just as Demon!Dean and MoC!Dean was. The rest of TFW2.0 is now in a Saving Dean storyline and that’s what makes their part in it compelling. Michael separate from Dean? Not so much.

Finally, I’ve seen spec about how TFW2.0 will manage to kill Michael now. Well, they didn’t have either the egg or the spear when they killed Lucifer for real. But there is one way left. Alas, only Dean can do it (unless they bring out the other Michael from the Cage). Only an archangel can kill another archangel, with an archangel’s blade. If Dean could regain control of his body while Michael was still inside, he could stab himself with Michael’s blade. As we saw with Nick and Lucifer, it might not even kill him. Or maybe they could figure out a way to steal Michael’s grace (Michael knows how). But that all would depend on Dean and Dean being able to regain control of his body from Michael.


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The Official Supernatural: “Byzantium” (14.08) Live Recap Thread


We need your help!

Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. I’m posting reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my research all month long on Patreon.

My collected recaps and reviews of season one, which first appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are now up (with a few extras) on Kindle. The Kindle version is available through Amazon and is on sale through this Friday. The print version is also up. If you buy the print version, you get a Kindle copy thrown in for free. I also get paid if you get it on Kindle Unlimited (for free), read the Kindle version, or lend it to a friend via the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Reviews also help with sales. Just FYI.

Recap of Lily Sunder’s story, as well as one of Jack’s predicament so far.

Cut to Now and a closeup of Dean looking devastated. He’s in Jack’s room with Sam and Castiel, who are looking after Jack. Jack says that maybe his early death was “meant to be” and Dean gets even more upset, going out into the hallway.

Even though Jack tells Sam to tell Dean “it’s okay,” Castiel goes after Dean and insists he come back in because Chuck forbid anybody take any emotional breaks or anything. I see Castiel’s back to his usual “Berate Dean” form.

Dean does return, but even though it’s only been a minute or so, Jack has died. Sam announces it and we get a closeup of Dean that looks … determined.

Cue title cards.

Outside, Castiel talks about “making arrangements” and Dean says that a wake and a “Hunter’s bonfire.” When Sam walks off, Castiel wants to go after him, but Dean tells Castiel to let Sam be.

Sam packs a bag and takes off, while Dean leaves a voicemail for Mary and Castiel moons about Jack’s room. Castiel sees Sam leave, but, per Dean’s instructions, doesn’t stop him. Dean is upset, since he didn’t mean to let Sam leave the Bunker. They follow Sam, who has left in the Impala, and find him sitting next to Baby.

Dean at first thinks Sam made a deal. In a flashback, Sam says he was trying to chop down trees to build a pyre. Sam admits that he feels utterly inadequate. Dean and Castiel reassure him that he’s not. Castiel claims that Jack’s death doesn’t feel “natural.” Oh, Castiel, honey, since when has anything about Jack been natural?

Sam asks what they should do. Dean suggests a wake (i.e., a heavy-duty drinking and reminiscing session montage about Jack set to The Allman Brothers Band’s “Please Call Home”), so that’s what they do.

Sam bows out first and then Castiel. As Castiel leaves, Dean asks, “We did all we could, right?” Castiel doesn’t even pause, just walks out. Dean pours himself another drink, and toasts Jack (wondering where he is, because there was some debate due to his Naphil status), but looks thoughtful.

Cut to Jack by the Impala on a bright, sunny day, eating a burger. He’s with the Brothers and Castiel, and Dean is outlining a hunt they’re on (while he and Sam bicker). But in the middle of teaching Jack how to read a map, Dean starts to glitch and the sun appears to blink. Jack is in heaven, but something is seriously wrong.

Jack walks out into the boring white corridor that has become the Heaven set (I really miss the night road version of the Axis Mundi, just saying). Everything is flickering. And then he gets chased by a black goo monster. Remember the Leviathans or the Empty Entity? Like that.

Dean wakes to a terrible hangover (Ackles sure milks that stuff) and voices in the other room. Sam and Castiel are talking to a woman with a black eyepatch. An older woman. Remember Lily Sunder from season 12? Her. Only, played by a different actress because, as Dean crassly tells her, “You got old.” As in, very quickly.

So, in other words, they recast her. I’m okay with this because I will take Veronica Cartwright (who played a witch-hater in both The Witches of Eastwick and late, lamented Eastwick the series) over Alicia Witt any day. Maybe Witt wasn’t available. Or maybe they wanted to change up the character’s look.

So, Sam got the idea sometime during the wake the night before to call Lily and see if she could help with deciphering Kevin Tran’s notes from the Angel Tablet. The idea is that maybe they can find a way to bring Jack back (since he’s half-angel).

The Angel Tablet, as we know, was broken along with Dean’s human life at the end of season nine. Kevin had transcribed the entire thing but into incomprehensible scribbles that only a Prophet could understand. And (as Dean points into in an understandable rant about Lily not exactly being their friend due to having tried to murder Castiel during their previous encounter when she was seeking revenge for her daughter) Donatello is obviously not going to be any help in his current state.

Lily suggests that she could use her knowledge of angels to decipher the tablet, which is why Sam called her. Unfortunately, it turns out she can’t.

“Well, thanks for stopping by,” Dean snarks. Nope, Dean doesn’t ever hold grudges forever, or anything.

Lily says she has a second plan. She can use her magic to resurrect Jack. Her magic draws on the human soul (and she only has a tiny sliver of hers left). If they can find a way to resurrect Jack, Jack can say a spell that will use a very small part of his soul to keep his body alive. Dean doesn’t like it, but Sam is for it and Castiel says that if he can find Jack in Heaven, he can pull his soul back down long enough for Jack to revive and say the spell.

But Dean is suspicious of Lily and calls her out on her motives. She admits she has a price. After killing “a lot” of angels (funny, I only recall two), she’s pretty certain she’s bound for Hell. She wants to change her destination.

Dean wonders how they’re going to make that happen. Summon Death? Billie’s not liable to be too helpful. Castiel gives up a new piece of information on How Things Work in the SPNverse – Death and her Reapers don’t decide who goes where. Since Chuck left, that job belongs to Anubis. As per Egyptian mythology, Anubis weighs a soul against a feather on his scales to decide where it goes after death.

Sam points out that in the mythology, Osiris was supposed to do that. Dean adds that they already met Osiris (and Sam put Osiris in a coma for the next few centuries) in “Defending Your Life” in season seven. Castiel handwaves this by saying that Heaven “passed over” Osiris as their new soul judge for some unknown reason in favor of his son Anubis. Though a pagan god, Anubis doesn’t work for Heaven. He works with Heaven.

So, they decide to summon Anubis and force him to change Lily’s fate. Lily is surprised at their sang-froid, but Dean says they’ve summoned gods before (and killed them).

Dean is not actually thrilled by this plan, having issues with the idea of Jack drawing on his own soul for power and also not finding Lily the least bit trustworthy. Sam says it’s worth it if it saves life.

Okay, let’s stop the presses for a sec, here. Everyone involved in this appears to be under the impression that Jack is in Heaven, even though they weren’t sure before. If Jack were in the Empty, I could understand the desperate desire to bring him back, even if it’s still an incredibly dangerous thing to do. But as far as they know at that moment in the episode, Jack is in Heaven and effectively enjoying Paradise. So, why are they dragging him back down to earth to have him live on his own vampirized soul again? I’m with Dean – that’s a bit creepy.

Anyhoo, the plot is at that moment conveniently turning in favor of making this moral dilemma irrelevant because Jack has entered his mother’s heaven (she starts off as a little girl playing ball with her dog). At first, Kelly is thrilled to see him, until he explains to her that she’s in Heaven, which means that they’re both dead.

Dean is drawing the trap when Lily hands Sam her angel grimoire (“the instruction manual”). On the pretense of getting some last-minute items, Sam leaves the room with an unspoken signal to Dean to go apologize to her. Dean sort of does this, but then takes the opportunity to call her out on her motives.

Dean astutely notes that she has intentionally stopped using her magic, is allowing herself to get old and die, even though she fears Hell. Lily admits that when she swore to kill Ishim, she was fine with using up her entire soul to do so. But as it turns out, she was left with a final “sliver … a whisper” of soul. She knows that her daughter May is in Heaven and desperately wants to be reunited with her if she has any soul of her own left.

In Heaven, Castiel is looking for Jack, and finds piles of goo and dead angels. Well, one dead angel, Azuriel. Duma wakes up and tells him they were attacked by the black goo, but she remembers nothing else. Castiel tells her he has to find Jack, but she’s afraid to be left behind. They go to Jack’s Heaven together, finding the scene Jack left when he exited his Heaven, sans characters.

Naomi shows up and identifies their enemy as the Empty Entity. It’s the one that has flung open all of Heaven’s doors (even the ones Metatron had closed) and left them vulnerable, able only to send out a distress signal on Angel Radio. It’s seeking Jack, perhaps because Jack is half-angel. Naomi insists they have to give Jack to the EE (she also calls it The Shadow) to appease it, but as she does so (and Castiel says no), she is attacked from within by the EE and overtaken.

There’s a wee retcon here. Naomi says that Heaven has “46,750,000,000” human souls, but in season five’s “Dark Side of the Moon” (which Dabb co-wrote, so you’d think he’d remember), Ash claims there are about 100 billion. So, which is it, Show? That’s a pretty large discrepancy.

Back on earth, Dean is lighting candles while Sam is saying a spell in Ancient Egyptian (sounds like, anyway) and Lily is cutting her hand to let blood drip inside the circle. Anubis appears suddenly, without fuss, inside the circle with a briefcase.

Anubis is … okay, I was disappointed by Osiris, who was a bit of a nutcase (apparently, Adam Glass didn’t like writing him, so that would explain why that episode sucked). But I like Anubis. Sean Amsing balances him just right (which is appropriate, all things considered). He’s impressed to meet the Winchesters, finally, saying he usually operates behind the scenes and allows Death and the Reapers to do all the face time, so he’s never met the Brothers, even though he’s weighed their souls many times. When Dean snarks at him, Anubis finds this charming (“just as advertised”) rather than insulting.

He calmly asks why he’s there and Lily steps forward. At first, Anubis hesitates, calling her request “unorthodox,” but figures that since he’s already there, he might as well grant it. He pulls out an abacus (amused at Sam’s confusion) and takes her hand. The abacus has black and white beads that zip up and down. When they settle, there are a few white beads at the top, but most are black and at the bottom. Anubis sadly tells her he’s sorry. She’s going to Hell.

At first, the Brothers threaten to keep him in the circle (he can be imprisoned in a ring of palm oil) or even kill him if he doesn’t change Lily’s fate. Dean even notes that God could make an exception.

Anubis says that’s not the way it works. Humans make their own fates depending on their own actions on earth, summed up at the moment of death. No one can change her fate save Lily herself and if the Brothers try to keep him there or even try to kill him, the only thing they’d accomplish is possibly changing their own fates (i.e., that their actions would be unheroic). Reluctantly, Sam gives in and lets Anubis leave.

In Heaven, Castiel and Duma are walking through Kelly’s colorful garden. Castiel is sure Jack is there, in his mother’s heaven.

Jack and Kelly are inside a house. Jack is peering out the front door, telling her that if an attack comes through it, he will distract whatever it is so she can run. Kelly just tells him she’s not running.

Jack is surprised when he hears Castiel’s voice and greets him warmly (but Castiel is an angel; why is Jack surprised that Castiel could find him in Heaven?). Castiel apologizes to Kelly, who tells him he has nothing to apologize for.

Castiel explains that he and the Brothers have found a way to bring Jack home, and the cost of the small piece of his soul. But Castiel also adds that the EE is looking for Jack in Heaven. If he leaves Heaven and goes back to earth, it will stop attacking Heaven. Castiel explains the EE is looking for Jack because he’s half-angel.

Duma then shows up and it turns out (yeah, shock-twist, not so much) that she is still possessed by the EE and now the EE knows Castiel’s plan. Oops.

In tears, Lily wants to bail, even though Sam begs her and says that Jack is their son. Dean is more cutting, using her previous confession against her, saying she must have so little soul left that she is not even human, because no one with a human soul who had gone through what she did with her daughter would do this to them.

Lily glares at Dean hard enough to peel paint off the Impala, but she comes back. They set things up with Jack’s body and she starts chanting the spell.

Upstairs, EE/Duma kicks Castiel and Kelly around a bit, then starts to take Jack. EE is apparently upset, still, about being woken up and dearly wants to see Castiel “suffer.” EE/Duma also sneers to Jack that the Empty is worse even than Hell because it’s “nothing.” Except that the EE was quite happy before it woke up, so how would it feel that way?

But EE/Duma savors the victory a wee bit too long, so that Castiel hears a prayer from Dean saying they are ready with Jack’s body for the resurrection. So, Castiel gets up and makes a deal with EE/Duma. He says that he was the one who woke the EE up, and the EE might have to wait a long time to get him. But if it takes him in Jack’s place, he will go “willingly” and “now.” EE/Duma is okay with this, with one alteration – it will come and take him when it feels like it, when he’s finally happy and he “feel[s] the sun on your face.”

I guess the EE will be waiting a long time, then.

Castiel agrees to the deal and the EE releases Duma, blasting up into a ceiling vent. Duma wakes up, confused, and Jack is upset about Castiel’s sacrifice. Castiel says that Sam and Dean are trying to bring him back right at that moment and that Castiel owed it to Kelly to save Jack.  He also begs Jack not to tell them about the deal they made. Jack agrees, because secreth and lieth have always gone so well on this show.

Jack says goodbye to Kelly, who says she will be waiting for him. Castiel puts his hands on the side’s of Jack’s face, which glows, and the Jack wakes up on the table in the Bunker (as Lily stops chanting and starts in surprise), deathly pale and coughing, but breathing. Sam quickly hands him the spell to heal himself, which Jack does with much hacking and choking. His eyes glow briefly and he asks in wonder if that is his soul. Dean asks  him how he feels and Jack realizes he’s healed. Dean hugs him and Sam manfully squeezes his arm.

In the background, Lily has been clutching her chest and backing away from the table. She sits down offscreen in a chair. When Dean turns to her to thank her (Sam does, as well), she is lying dead in the chair. The spell took the last bit of life out of her.

Lily finds herself in Anubis’ office, which is a 40s noir style set-up in a clock tower (pretty cool design). Confused, Lily asks what she’s doing there. In response, he pulls out his abacus and takes her hand again. This time, most of the white beads end up at the top.

Anubis asks Lily if she realized “what the spell would cost you”? She doesn’t answer (though her look says she did). The implication is that not only did she suspect it would cost her her life, but even the last sliver of her soul (since her spells were powered by her soul). By giving these up, she appears to have restored her soul and also won passage to Heaven because Anubis tells her, “Say hello to your daughter for me.”

In Heaven, as Castiel is exiting Kelly’s, he encounters Naomi. Naomi thanks him for saving the angels, even if he didn’t make his sacrifice for them. As a “reward,” she offers him what the angels know about alt-Michael’s location.

Downstairs, Jack is enjoying a burger (no doubt made by Dean) with the Brothers and Castiel. Dean tells Jack that Castiel got intel on alt-Michael. Castiel says they still don’t know where EVOL!Kaia is, or her Spork (though I’m guessing it’s with her), but they’re one step closer. Dean calls a clink of glasses over the prospect of taking down Michael once and for all.

Credits

Ratings went up a bit this week on this one, which is somewhat unusual for December (Christmas ratings for non-holiday shows tend to be dire). Perhaps fans wanted to know what happened to Jack. The show got a 0.5/2 and 1.53 million, which put it in second for the week on the network in both demo (tied with Arrow) and audience.

The promo for next week (which is the Christmas finale) is up. This will be the last episode until January 17. Since the show is only 20 episodes long this year and so far, they’re going with the usual number and spacing, it appears that we will have some looooonnnnger than usual mini-hellati in spring. They’re basically stretching 11 episodes out over 4 months. I’ll be doing some catching up with older seasons during those lacunae.

Review

So, the review. This episode obviously wasn’t going to kill off Jack (though, for a bit, they teased that it might turn out the way things did for Bobby in season seven, which would have been awful), but in order for it to have the necessary emotional weight, someone recurring needed to get thrown under the bus.

Castiel’s not going anywhere, either, but his deal will throw the usual spanner into the works when the time comes. And the time may come sooner than later (albeit I still think everyone else was distracted, with reason, by the horrific shiny of Jack’s illness from the fact that Dean is definitely not okay – with potentially cosmic consequences). Depends on where they go with the Michael storyline, which they finally revived this week, and how fast. I can’t decide if the EE will be the Big Bad for this season, with alt-Michael reluctantly recruited to fight it, or will be reserved for another season (yes, people, there will be another season – did you see those ratings?).

Since none of the regulars was going anywhere, the return of a guest star was required. Well, we technically got more than one, though Kelly didn’t leave Heaven. And while Duma and Naomi’s exits were teased, Heaven only lost one redshirt angel (sorry, Azuriel, or whatever your name was!).

So, hello again, Lily; goodbye, Lily. Initially, I was perfectly okay with this. I found Lily Sunder mighty unsympathetic in her first appearance. Not only was she up against Ian Tracey’s Ishim (yes, I know Ishim was whackadoo and jealous of Dean’s friendship with Castiel, but it was Ian Tracey. Sue me), but she was played by Alicia Witt. I’ve noted in the past that I’m not a huge fan of Witt. I fact, I just realized she’s actually been irritating me since the 1980s, as she played my favorite character not very well in David Lynch’s version of Dune. Yeah, she was a kid back then, so it wasn’t her fault, but she isn’t now.

But I liked Cartwright. She brought a twilight sadness and guilt to Lily Sunder that the character needed to hook us into her story arc. We still had the foundation of a frenemy we had met before as an enemy, whom the Brothers (well … Sam) called in desperation, but with more emotional pain and less angry snark.

Lily wasn’t just a sacrificial character the show threw under the bus to give Jack’s resurrection emotional weight. She was a character whose ending had been left undetermined in the previous episode. There was still a story to tell about/for her and the episode did a pretty decent job of doing so. Yeah, a lot was packed in, but Lily’s journey was never ignored or given short shrift. Her decision was pivotal for the episode, but made perfect sense for her. Anubis was right – only Lily could change her own fate.

The thing was that Lily was a very selfish character in her first appearance. One understands the concept of revenge. The entire reason the Brothers are so powerful in the first place is because of their familial quest for revenge for their murdered family. We hear a lot of demons and monsters and angels and gods make snarky references to the Winchesters’ violating the Natural Order, but the Natural Order destroyed their family, for generations, made them products of a eugenics program going back possibly billions of years, caused them untold misery. Why would they feel any loyalty to that? Excuse me, but the sheep get to fight back.

But the Brothers have always had the Family Business motto to project that mission outside themselves. It’s always been about more than just their needs. Though John gradually lost his way, he also saved a lot of people. And though Sam could be a lot more selfish than Dean (and Dean could be downright violent, albeit otherwise the most altruistic Winchester), Sam has always perceived saving others as a way to redeem the darkness he feels inside him. And, of course, there’s Mary, who could never quite stop hunting because there would always be innocents needing help.

Lily, on the other hand, didn’t care if innocents got hurt on her mission. She had no empathy for the vessels the angels she killed inhabited. Just collateral damage, as far as she was concerned. She couldn’t care less that Ishim was about to kill Dean. To her, that was just a convenient way to stall Ishim until she could get to him and kill him. She even got herself into her original predicament by summoning Ishim and messing with forces she didn’t fully understand.

Yes, she loved her daughter, but she then used May (and May’s death) as an excuse to become darker and darker over time. In Lily’s case, her use of her soul to fuel her power was really a metaphor for her gradual loss of humanity over time.

And it made sense that Dean would be the one to call her out on it. Sam gets moral tunnel-vision and often is willing to work with some shady people, doing shady things, without looking hard enough into what’s going on (this goes all the way back to, oh, “Faith”). I especially wasn’t too thrilled by how Sam brushed off the realization that Jack was in Heaven and that they would be yanking him back down to earth if they resurrected him, having him power his body with his own soul just to survive.

Dean doesn’t buy into that as much. Dean wants to know the hidden moral cost before he plays the game (and Dean was the one who questioned the soul battery idea for Jack). Sam had the idea of calling Lily but it was Dean who knew how to find her true motivation and bring it out.

So, Lily desperately needed redemption. The fact that there were any white beads in her favor the first time shows that she did manage to do some good, and that allowing herself to age and die was a promising start. But she needed something else, something where she set aside her selfishness for good and all. That involved sacrificing her life to save Jack.

By giving Lily a real story of her own, the episode made it possible for her sacrifice to anchor Jack’s return. A life for a life, but in Lily’s case, sacrificing herself is exactly what her story needed to end well.

I also liked Anubis. This felt like a do-over of the botched Osiris story in season seven and even of Kripke’s original idea of gods as just human-eating monsters. Anubis was not a monster. Nor was he an angel. He was an actual pagan god but a benign one. Don’t think we’ve ever had that before.

Yeah, it was sort of a retcon that basically ignored the Fates (“My Heart Will Go On”) and previous pagan god lore, but I’m okay with that. I didn’t like the Fates, anyway. Plus, the idea that all pagan gods were evil and dependent on the power of their worshipers (especially the whole “Hammer of the Gods” massacre) never sat well with me. And yes, I’ve read American Gods, and no, I didn’t like it. I felt it was disrespectful toward pagan religious systems (aside from being overlong and hideously boring at times).

Anubis has a place in the SPNverse, a critical place. He has basically replaced Chuck as the person who decides where human souls go when they die. Except that he doesn’t decide – the humans do. That was the twist. Anubis is just the psychopomp.

I also liked the way the actor played him. Anubis wasn’t going to put up with any crap, but at the same time, he understood the emotional stakes (fitting for a god who weighs human souls against a feather) and was willing to cooperate as far as he could.

He wasn’t mean. He wasn’t cruel. He felt compassion for Lily, even though he hardly ever had interactions with humans. He didn’t so much as balk at giving Lily a final accounting (after all, he did say that he normally only did it at a person’s death) or congratulating her when it turned out well. If anything, Anubis is a much nicer and kinder god than Chuck. Go figure.


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The Official Supernatural: “Unhuman Nature” (14.07) Live Recap Thread


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My collected recaps and reviews of season one, which first appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are now up (with a few extras) on Kindle. The Kindle version is available through Amazon and is on sale through this Friday. The print version is also up. If you buy the print version, you get a Kindle copy thrown in for free. I also get paid if you get it on Kindle Unlimited (for free), read the Kindle version, or lend it to a friend via the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Reviews also help with sales. Just FYI.

I have a confession to make. As much as I love this show, I have really come to hate Nepotism Duo scripts. I tend to drag my feet on recapping and reviewing them because they are so. Damned. Boring. The pacing is usually rushed on the important things and endlessly show on the unimportant things. And half the time, their stories are pretty offensive, brain-dead, and constantly contradicting themselves and other Show canon.

So, let’s get started.

Brief rehash of Jack’s story, focusing on how he lost his sparkly powers and is now sick.

Cut to Now and Nick sitting in an office in front of a nice stained-glass window, speaking to someone offscreen (behind the camera). Remember this speech from Psycho Debbie in Addams Family Values? It’s kinda like that:

Nick is confessing about killing his neighbor, while waving a bloody knife around (so his audience is likely either not real or dead). He says the really disturbing part is that he had “feelings” afterward of pure enjoyment. That’s a problem. But at the same time, he deserves to find out what happened to his wife and baby.

He starts talking about forgiveness and as he gets up, we see he is speaking to a priest. A dead priest. Who’s had his throat cut and has been crucified in a doorway. Nick pats the corpse on the chest, saying the priest should have just given him what he wanted, and leaves.

Cue title cards.

Y’know, I always wanted to find out what Nick’s backstory was and who killed his family (Kripke sure as hell didn’t care). But I always worried that the writer who decided to do it might take the cheap and easy route, and “blame” it all on Nick by having him conveniently go psycho. That way, nobody, either writers or audience, would have to deal with the uncomfortable cognitive dissonance of Nick’s years-long suffering over the course of the show, while the Brothers “failed” to save him.

The thing is that the Brothers didn’t fail at anything. They had no idea Nick had even said yes or been possessed until nearly halfway through season five and thought he went bye-bye at the end of the season. By that time, they had reason to believe that should Lucifer, say, be forced to leave his vessel, there wouldn’t be anything left to Nick anyway (which appeared to be the case after Sam said yes). Nor did they resurrect Nick or steal his body in season 12 – that was Crowley.

So, having Nick be an innocent victim of Lucifer wouldn’t have been a problem for the audience retaining sympathy for the show’s protagonists. The Brothers are innocent victims of Lucifer, too. The fact the show chose to have him go psycho in his “roaring rampage of revenge” was simple laziness and lack of imagination on the part of the writers. Oh, yay.

But those title cards are still nice.

Cut to the Bunker, where Jack is lying in bed, coughing up blood, while Castiel tries to heal him. It doesn’t work, which is what Castiel tells the Brothers, who are waiting out in the hallway, Dean a bit more loudly than Sam.

They hear a noise in the room and rush in to find Jack on the floor, seizing. Jack’s lying on his side, which actually is a good position for a seizure (less likely to choke), so Sam picks Jack up so he can choke for real and so the audience can see his face.

At that point, the three of them drag him to the ER, where Dean bosses everyone around. Or tries.

The nurse takes an awfully long time arguing with Dean over Jack’s personal information, even though there’s blood on Jack’s shirt (ugh, Nep Duo, do you think you could possibly have done a little research on medical procedures?).

Anyhoo, Jack collapses (which speeds up the process) and is rushed into a room, where the doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong with him or even stabilize him very well.

Meanwhile, Nick is meeting in a diner with a friendly female reporter, who investigated the murder of his family. He tells her the neighbor’s dead. Nick gets a little strange when she first turns cagey about having dropped the story. When he presses her on which cop covered his case, she mentions a guy who retired afterward and is doing private security up on Montauk.

The Brothers quickly conclude that the hospital is doing Jack no good (saying “all his systems are shutting down” is unhelpful and pretty non-medical, makes him sound like a computer). So, they check Jack out and Sam calls Rowena.

There’s a cute scene in which Rowena arrives at the Bunker, all perky to help … Dean (ha, knew she had a little torch for him). Sam had lied to her. When she finds out that it’s Jack (more specifically, Lucifer’s son), she’s equally ready to bail. Jack shows up and basically sweet-talks her into staying. Poor Rowena. Such a sucker for a wee magical bairn.

Unfortunately, she’s not able to cure him, though she can diagnose what’s going on. As a half-human/half-archangel, Jack’s body exists in a stasis kept by his grace. Take away the grace and his body starts to eat itself. Castiel offers his grace, but Rowena says Jack needs archangel grace.

As they talk, Dean gets dizzy and has a dissociative episode in front of everyone that no one whatsoever sees. I get they’re all worried about Jack, but it happens right in front of the whole group. Jeez.

Somewhere else at night, Nick is hanging outside a nightclub in the city. He strikes up a conversation with a girl outside using her phone, while hiding a knife from her. But when she refuses his invitation to go somewhere quiet, and instead suggests he come inside the club, he chases her away while holding back from killing her. Then he has a dissociative episode very much like Dean’s in the previous scene.

At the Bunker, Jack wants to go on a roadtrip and is packing when Dean walks in. To Jack’s suprise, Dean is fine with the idea of Jack living a little before he dies. Jack is tired of being “special” (he says people came to expect he’d be around forever, but perhaps that was not to be) and just wants to have a taste of life, so Dean agrees to go with him to Vegas.

Sam, Rowena and Castiel are all on the phone to various people when Dean comes out with Jack and the two of them announce this after we find out the only lead (via Ketch) is a shaman the LoL used to use. Sam asks if Dean thinks this is a good idea. After some hesitation, Dean says yes. Sam looks concerned, but neither he nor anyone else has noticed that Dean just had another dissociative episode right in front of everybody seconds before.

Well, alrighty-then. A dying baby Naphil and a slightly-more-insane-than-usual salty Hunter are off to Vegas. I’m sure this will end well.

After visiting Rollin’ Thunder Burger Barn, Dean impulsively decides to teach Jack how to drive. Fortunately, Baby’s an automatic (or this could get really interesting), so we get a cute montage of Jack learning how to get up to highway speeds, to Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s “Let It Ride” (my God! More Classic Rock!).

At one point, Jack blurts out, “It’s like I’m you!”

“No,” Dean says with a weird look on his face. “It’s not … eyes on the road!” And yet, you can see he’s touched by Jack’s enthusiasm about being out on the road with him. I don’t think Dean is used to being hero worshiped. Claire’s OTT adulation freaked him out, too.

Back at the Bunker, Castiel decides to go off alone to meet with the shaman (something-something about spreading out their resources; it’s not made very clear). He comments that Dean seems especially upset about Jack’s illness and that they can’t cure it. Sam tells Castiel that Dean was rough on Jack initially (well … um … yes, for the same reason Rowena’s reaction made perfect sense. He is the son of the Devil) and he thinks Dean feels guilty. He also says that while they have both “lost people” before, “this feels different.” Castiel says that’s maybe because it “feels like losing a son.”

The scene is a bit sappy (but hey, somebody noticed Dean’s feelings for once). Too bad nobody has yet noticed that Dean is slipping again.

Dean and Jack stop off to eat. Dean asks what Jack wants to do and suggests going to a local bar to hook up with a girl. Jack has another idea, so they run with that.

Meanwhile, Nick is showing up on the doorstep of the former cop who investigated his family’s death. The man is clearly paranoid and tries to slam the door on Nick once he realizes who he is. But Nick busts his way in, grabs the man by the throat and says they should “talk.” I’m sure this will involve lots of violence.

Jack has decided to go fishing. With Dean. He was inspired by Dean telling him once that he went fishing with John and it was “the happiest moment” Dean ever had with his father. Dean hedges that he “never said that,” but Jack says, “It was the way you said it.” This seems to be a callback to Dean’s fishing dream at the beginning of season four’s “The Rapture.”

Jack tells Dean that he doesn’t see happiness in going to exotic places, but in the smaller moments, specifically spending time with Dean, that if this is it for him, this is how he wants to spend it. The subtext is pretty heavy that Jack sees Dean as his primary father figure. Kinda sucks for Castiel (Sam was always more the responsible uncle).

Meanwhile, Castiel is meeting with the shaman, who lives in an old trailer. And is a Russian named Sergei. Sergei makes a ring of holy fire blast up around Castiel and comes out armed, but then they go inside and talk.

As far as I can tell, this is supposed to be a male version of Baba Yaga. I don’t really get why Baba Yaga is male in this version.

Sergei claims to be a healer, but comes off as very dodgy. Anyhoo, he pulls out a box and turns out to have some archangel grace from Gabriel. Gabriel had traded it for a cloaking spell to hide him (the time he hid out in Monte Carlo). The grace alone won’t heal (or, according to Sergei “restart”) Jack’s body. It also requires an intricate spell. He will accept no payment except for an IOU from the Winchesters (because that is considered valuable now in the magical world).

Meanwhile, Nick is beating up the ex-cop, who is tied to a chair, so yep, we got violence. Nick talks about killing the neighbor, but he also supplies some extra info we didn’t hear before. The neighbor had said he saw a police officer leave the house after the murders, but there was a cover-up. He mentions the reporter, who told him this guy was the one who was seen leaving the house.

The ex-cop finally confesses that he doesn’t remember what happened. He ran into a guy who called himself “Abraxas,” then has no further memory until he woke up with blood on his hands.

Nick realizes the guy was possessed. At first, it appears he may let the guy go, since he was actually just an innocent host. But then the bloodlust takes over and he kills him, anyway, beating him to death with a hammer. He looks agonized afterward. Also, covered with blood.

Back at the Bunker, Castiel admits that Sergei was dodgy, but this is what they’ve got. So, they do the spell and Jack drinks the archangel grace (I didn’t catch the first word, though it’s probably supposed to be “gratia” for grace,” but the Latin basically says that it will restore the person to how they previously were). At first, he appears to get better, but then he becomes much worse.

Furious, Castiel calls Sergei, who is getting stoned, and finds out the spell was experimental (um … yes? Wasn’t that obvious?). When Castiel threatens to find Sergei and kill him if Jack dies, Sergei tells him good luck doing that. I roll my eyes a bit over this exchange.

At the very end, Nick has gotten drunk while still in the dead cop’s house and admits that he enjoys killing and doesn’t want to stop. He’s lost without being Lucifer’s vessel (yes, yes, I know. Anvils for Dean). Just in case we were thinking the writers hadn’t gone sufficiently lazy with Nick’s storyline, Nick prays to Lucifer for help and Lucifer, very improbably, wakes up in the Empty.

At the very end, Rowena is doing a sort of read over Jack (there’s a hilarious BTS video that explains why Jack is smiling while asleep and dying).

Dean blames himself, but Sam and Castiel both say that Dean at least made Jack happy, which is more than anyone else has been able to do, lately. When Rowena finishes, they ask what she can do and she says they can only sit vigil while Jack dies.

Oooh, cliffhanger.

Credits

I’ll do a review-ish tomorrow night. Tune back in here for it and ratings info.

So, the promo for this week is here (the Christmas midseason finale is next week and, as usual, they’re actually stopping a bit short of halfway, even though the season is shorter this time).

Ratings were a 0.4/2 and 1.49 million in audience. This tied it in the demo for second and made it second (solo) in audience for the week on the network.

Review

What to make of this one? It has some good ideas, with nothing too terribly offensive. There are some scenes where the actors took the opportunity to chew the scenery and did really well.

Mark Pellegrino knocks it out of the park communicating Nick’s pain and confusion, and newfound bloodlust. The scenes between Dean and Jack were heightened by the easy chemistry between Jensen Ackles and Alexander Calvert. I doubt that the show will kill off Jack (they need all the actual break-out popular new and younger characters they can get), but Calvert got across a heretofore only implied notion that Jack was originally intended to be a mayfly person, with huge superpowers but not destined for a long life.

Ackles, on the other hand, got to explore a new (and surprising for Dean) dimension of his character in which Dean realized that not only did Jack look up to him as a father, but loved him as one, perhaps even more than Castiel or Sam. We even got a callback to season four with the two of them fishing.

I also got a giggle out of Rowena being easily lured back to the Bunker by Sam because she thought Dean was in trouble (he is, but nobody’s noticing that, yet). I thought she had a wee torch for him. And even a cursory glance at the last third of season ten would explain why she doesn’t trust Sam, even if we hadn’t had the reveal late last season that Sam is her fated nemesis.

Nor did I have any problem with her refusing to help Jack at first. Lucifer may not have been able to kill her permanently, but he sure did a number on her and it makes sense she’s still traumatized. If it’s okay for everyone to be freaked out just by having Nick around, it’s okay for Rowena to be freaked out by having Lucifer’s son around. It would be out of character if she weren’t.

And in all fairness to the Nepotism Duo, these character moments didn’t entirely come out of nowhere.  Jack has been emulating Dean as a model of behavior since the very beginning of last season, even when Dean was outright rejecting him. Dean certainly has more experience of actual fathering than either Sam or Castiel. And Dean did warm up to Jack enough by the end of last year to make his sacrifice to Michael about saving Jack as well as Sam.

And the thing with Nick (which is a rather obvious hint of what Dean may face in the near future as a former vessel) made some sense, too. I mean, he’s been Lucifer’s vessel since season five. There was bound to be some serious and probably permanent damage.

But a lot of this stuff popped back up out of nowhere, leaving unanswered questions behind. Why does Jack emulate Dean when he started out apparently modeling himself on Castiel? And why not emulate Sam, who accepted him first of the two brothers? Jack’s motivations confuse me here.

The concern between Sam and Castiel over Dean’s feelings was nice to see – finally. But at the same time, when the hell did this all come up? That’s a huge change of heart for those two characters since even season 11.

Since when do they feel concern for Dean and his feelings, and explicitly tell him things are not his fault, without getting angry at or exasperated with him? Since when do they feel bad for him rather than fear him when strange supernatural symptoms happen to him?

Why the sudden switch after Dean was possessed by Michael? That’s another big unanswered question that I don’t see being answered. I see it just being left as a big plot/character arc hole.

Also, it was quite exasperating for everyone to natter on about how concerned they were about Dean when they didn’t even notice him going dissociative right in front of them. The Show didn’t match the Tell there.

I totally get that the main emotional focus is on Saving Jack, who is the character dying and therefore in immediate peril at the moment, but when another character is looking openly vertiginous in front of everyone, especially as he’s about to go out driving in a car with said terminally ill person, maybe notice that, guys and gal? Jeez.

As for what’s happening with Dean, obviously, it’s related to Michael. I’ve seen theories that it was related to the sensation of drowning Dean talked about when he was possessed by Michael, that it was Michael reasserting himself. There are some problems with that theory (even if it’s plausible enough for this writing crew).

First of all, there’s simply no reason for Michael to hide out intentionally inside Dean and act as a spy in the Hunter camp. Michael is so powerful and already so aware of what’s going on that he really doesn’t need to do that.

One could argue that Michael has been hiding inside Dean after being wounded by the Magic Sparkle Stick, but again, that doesn’t really sound like Michael and still doesn’t answer the question of why/whether he would be hiding out. Trapped and unable to leave? Sure. Intentionally remaining in hiding when he just could take over? Not really Michael’s style.

Second, Nick had the same vertigo as Dean and if that penultimate (and really annoying) scene in the Empty is any indication, Lucifer is definitely not inside Nick, at least not right now. So, the foreshadowing still leans toward it being an aftereffect. A really, really nasty aftereffect. I’m not saying the writers couldn’t go that route of Michael hiding out, rather than being stuck or being elsewhere (they’ve gone in far dumber directions), just that it doesn’t exactly make me go, “Ooohhh, that makes so much sense!”

Speaking of that penultimate scene, ugh. I’ve seen some theories, as well, that it’s another character (Crowley, say), but I doubt the writers will be that creative. They’ve been mighty uncreative about Nick’s storyline so far, so I don’t expect them to swing for the fences now.

They could have had the killer of Nick’s family be an “ordinary” human, or a monster, or a pagan god, something we didn’t expect. But nope, it’s probably what we thought – some demon killing Nick’s family to motivate him to say yes to Lucifer, even though that makes no damned sense when at that time, Sam was all set to become Lucifer’s vessel (Nick’s wife and baby had been dead for a little while when Lucifer came to him and that Lucifer found him immediately after escaping from the Cage). It’s linear and it’s a retcon and it means we are probably going to get stuck with Lucifer all-friggin’-over again. I hope that won’t be so, but yeah, it probably will.


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St Andrews Day: The Witches of Fife


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MacDonald, Stuart. The Witches of Fife: Witch-Hunting in a Scottish Shire, 1560-1710. John Donald, 2002; 2014.


This was one of those books I was excited to read before I actually read it. I had (as most of you probably know by now) lived in St Andrews for six years and St Andrews was the primary town in Fife, even during the town’s low point in the 16th and 17th centuries. Today is St Andrew’s Day, the day for the saint who gave his name to the town for reasons rather legendary and complicated (they involve a shipwreck with the saint’s bones and a saint who may never have existed named “Regulus”).

St Andrews was a major hotbed for witchcrazes in the 16th and 17th centuries. According to MacDonald, over a thousand people (most of them women and most of them by burning) were executed for witchcraft in Fife over the course of about a century and a half, and a total of over three thousand were accused, some of them by “dying witches” who were either delusional or vengeful. Those are the low-ball numbers. We don’t know the real count.

Religious authorities were heavily involved, though local nobility participated. The rocky relationship involving the slow and not-so-willing union with England under one king (still nominally Scottish) turned the screws. But MacDonald tends to agree with other historians of the period that the witchcrazes in Scotland were mostly about “hunting women.” Can’t argue with that.

When I was in the Mediaeval History program at St Andrews, the Scottish History department was totally separate from us. Despite being right across the hall and up the stairs, they did an excellent job of utterly ignoring us. Something-something about us not being Scottish and being a bunch of total nutters. The upshot is that while I picked up a lot of local popular history and had chats with some notables like Peter Maxwell-Stuart, I got most of my impressions about the history of the Fife witchcrazes from looking around town.

What I found was bloody and ugly and scary. The Covenanters under people like John Knox who launched the religious sect of Presbyterianism had a passionate and stirring dream of a new society completely reoriented to God. Too bad that dream was twisted and fundamentalist and truly misogynistic to the core. MacDonald actually compares them at one point to the Taliban and that is not an exaggeration.

The Covenanters covered the Reformation period in Scotland in blood and no more so than in Fife (probably because St Andrews had been the ecclesiastical capital under the previous religious regime). The presbyteries of Scotland enthusiastically used accusations of witchcraft and the process of witchfinding to suppress all religious dissent. There is literally one woman in the book who was accused because she cursed out the minister and his wife. In another case, a man was convicted in the presbytery court of violating the Sabbath because he was riding on a Sunday to seek a pardon for his wife who was a convicted witch.

And a lot of people who weren’t quite accused (or whose accusations didn’t rise to conviction and execution) were denied the sacrament of Communion for years at a time by petty and spiteful religious authorities. Other people were “watched and warded” (a sort of torture that wasn’t actually considered torture in which people were kept awake and isolated from their families for days or weeks at a time) until they confessed, then executed within days of their trial with no appeal. The sheer viciousness, pettiness and self-righteousness of the Covenanters would be breathtaking if it weren’t repeated in so many situations and cultures over the course of history. Nothing scarier than a sadist who thinks God is on their side.

The scars of both the Reformation (when mobs stripped churches of their vestments and icons and even damaged the buildings) and the witchcrazes are visible in St Andrews to this day. There is what used to be a walled off area that had been a tidal pool for recreational swimmers. It’s near the St Andrews Aquarium, next to West Sands. The legend was that back in the 16th and 17th centuries, it was called “Witch Lake.”

Women were taken down there and “dunked” (in this case, tossed into the water with a thumb tied to the opposite toe). If the woman drowned and sank, it was assumed she was innocent (oh, well!), since witches floated and could not be drowned. If the woman managed to survive and float, she was dragged out and up to a nearby hill known as Witch Hill (also, Martyrs’ Hill, as some Protestant martyrs had previously been burned at the stake there) to be burned alive. Charming.

Unfortunately, one of the limitations of MacDonald’s book, which is rather short, is that it restricts itself to taking cases in Fife from a massive, country-wide compilation of cases created in the late 1970 called A Sourcebook of Scottish Witchcraft (1977). MacDonald himself admits that it doesn’t always deal with the most local cases, let alone the extra-legal executions, so we only get to hear about one such lynching from near the very end of the period, in 1710. No confirmation one way or the other about Witch Lake/Hill. So, that was disappointing.

Another disappointment was that MacDonald seemed to do a lot more scene-setting than he did actual analysis. Sure, I get that it’s an academic book (that’s why I bought it), that it’s got a specific focus and that we’re missing a lot of information about the cases (including, for many of the accused, whether or not they were ever executed). Even so, I felt he got bogged down in the geographical studies early on and rushed the general analysis of motivations and patterns at the end. I felt it would have worked better if he’d flipped that around and and that he chickened out a bit on extending his analysis as far as the information could have borne.

I also felt he left out a lot of potentially important context. If you didn’t know about Scottish history, and especially if you’d never been to Fife, you might well get very lost with this book. Even knowing about the period and having lived there for six years, I felt there were points where MacDonald could have fit his localized analysis into a more in-depth framework. I kept wondering what effect James I/VI’s obsession with witches had on the Fife witchcrazes, but found MacDonald’s suppositions too vague and unsatisfying. He seemed uninterested in looking too much at the few cases with lots of detail, with the excuse that we don’t have enough information on enough cases in general to tell if these more-famous cases were typical or not. This struck me as a cop-out. Nobody’s asking to invent information, but get wacky and take a risk or two, son. Come on.

I also found his conclusion that the witchcrazes fell apart in Fife because the coalition of religious and secular authorities responsible for them collapsed was too Captain Obvious. Well, duh, but surely, the repression of the Covenanters in the 1680s following the Restoration of Charles II had something to do with the timing of that collapse. Their successors called it the “Killing Time” because, like all fanatics, they would have to cast themselves as the victims, wouldn’t they, not all those poor women they burned? But their repression was a natural result of a bigger bully coming in and smashing the previous bully. Both the Covenanters and the lairds who supported them were crushed or at least diminished by the increase of English power over the country, so there went the coalition that created recurring witchcrazes.

I’m no fan of the English takeover of Scotland following the reign of James I/VI, but in this case, it appears the English invaders may have done the poor women of Scotland a favor.


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The Official Supernatural: “Optimism” (14.06) Live Recap Thread


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My collected recaps and reviews of season one, which first appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are now up (with a few extras) on Kindle. The Kindle version is available through Amazon and is on sale through this Friday. The print version is also up. If you buy the print version, you get a Kindle copy thrown in for free. I also get paid if you get it on Kindle Unlimited (for free), read the Kindle version, or lend it to a friend via the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Reviews also help with sales. Just FYI.

Recap of the story so far and where the principles and guest stars at (the latter mainly being alt-Charlie). Odd, clicky soundtrack, as though they wanted “Time Has Come Today,” but couldn’t afford The Chamber Brothers again.

Cut to Now in McCook, Nebraska, with this weirdly upbeat ragtime piano tune that sounds like something Randy Newman would write (specifically, “You’ve Got a Friend in Me,” but it’s not). We swing down past a closeup of a bronze statue of a bearded man in 19th century garb to a perky young woman jaywalking across a street.

She says hi to an elderly man then opens up the town library for the day. Later, we see her shelving books, while confirming (rather unenthusiastically) a dinner date with one guy, fending off the creepy stalking of another, and complaining that nobody ever comes into the library, anymore.

Okay, first of all, I am very sick and tired of the cliche of the young, nerdy woman who has guys swooning over her and treats them mean (especially in an episode that’s bringing back Charlie). Second, has Steve Yockey just not been in a library, lately, ’cause all my local libraries are pretty busy. If only because they have free internet and job hunting resources. And I don’t exactly live in a book paradise. More like a bookstore desert.

So, Date Guy leaves the library, all libidoed up ’cause he’s going out tonight with the hot librarian. And we get what I do believe is the first actual Classic Rock (okay, it’s Disco) of the season – The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.” That is, until he turns into a Doomed Teaser Guy and is grabbed by dead white hands into a bush, where he is messily murdered offscreen.

Cue title cards.

Jack is trying coffee with tons of sugar. Dean walks in and comments on this. Jack says that now he no longer has powers, “everything tastes different” and he can’t seem to figure out how to get the right taste on anything.

Jack says Sam went off on a hunt with alt-Charlie and didn’t tell Dean because Dean was already on an overnight drive to visit his mom and alt-Bobby. Sam left Jack behind to watch out for Dean because Sam is worried about Dean. That’s the story Sam told Jack, anyway.

Jack muses that Sam and alt-Charlie must be having a great time on their hunt. Cut to Sam and Charlie on a stakeout at a pest control place, in a pickup that looks suspiciously like the one Sam used while investigating Dean’s massacre of the late, unlamented Stynes.

Sam is so bored that he plays with a spinner, which is mildly amusing.

Dean notices that Jack has a cough, but Jack pretends it’s nothing and there’s no blood just yet. Jack tells Dean that Michael wasn’t his fault, then mentions he dug up some news about Doomed Teaser Guy, who was found dead with human bite marks. Jack wants to go hunting. Dean thinks it’s a bad idea and says he should go alone. Jack says he’s going stir crazy and feels guilty about not killing Michael when he had the chance. So, he eventually bugs Dean into letting him take him on a hunt. Dean tells Sam. Sam expresses concern, but doesn’t object (as if that would stop Dean). Alt-Charlie shrugs and comments that they’ve got four missing people and a jar of goo on their end. So far, so mysterious.

Dean and Jack arrive in town and first hit Dick’s Red Rooster Diner. Jack says it was the place where DTG (called “Winston”) spent his time on breakfast. This is the sneak peek where the counter person (who thinks she has a “working knowledge of the Constitution,” but doesn’t know any) is a jerk to them until Dean whips out some money and bribes her.

There follows a Fargo-like montage of local people (including Diner Jerk) talking about how sweet the librarian is, but since her boyfriend left, she can’t seem to keep boyfriends. They disappear or die and she’s just “bad luck.” It’s a little too on-the-nose, but Dean and Jack’s reactions are amusing.

Meanwhile, alt-Charlie is telling Sam that Dean will be okay, that he has friends. Sam then eulogizes her (dead) counterpart here, which rather-understandably makes alt-Charlie pretty uncomfortable. It turns out her life went very differently. She was working for Dick Roman (the real one, since the Leviathans never came out to play) and had a girlfriend named Kara. Everything was fine until the day alt-Michael and alt-Lucifer fought, causing a huge EMP wave to “fry” all the electronics in the U.S. Human society than fell into chaos and sometime during that, Kara died. Sam says that hasn’t happened in his reality and alt-Charlie just replies, “Yet.”

Back to the diner, where Dean has ordered Jack and him some pie and Jack is asking Dean about sex. As you do, when you’re about a year old and have the body of a teenage.

Dean and Jack mull over what to do about the librarian, Harper. Dean says that so much bad luck is a red flag that something is up, but Jack asks, how are they going to find out?

Dean’s idea is to run a Good Cop Bad Cop con on Harper, with Dean playing Bad Cop and Jack coming in to “save” Harper from his interrogation. I kinda like how unapologetically shady Dean is in this and how Jack enthusiastically goes along for the ride. Dean is a lot of things, but he’s also a great con man and thief.

Dean looks a little taken aback when Jack calls him an “old man,” but when he sees how eagerly Harper eats it up, he rolls with it and leaves. But he watches from the car (grumping privately about the insult) while Harper bonds with Jack (immediately taking him to her apartment for a book) and fends off her creepy, red-bearded stalker, Miles.

As Dean gets out to follow Jack and Harper, he hears Miles getting messily murdered offscreen in an alley, while putting out trash. When Dean investigates, he is watched from the bushes.

Back to Sam and Charlie. Charlie is reading through a lot of occult books, while Sam compliments her on her Hunting skills (FYI, Charlie hasn’t actually done any onscreen hunting at this point). This version of Charlie is the exact opposite of her perky SPNverse version. She wants to quit Hunting because all it ends up getting you is dead. Sam doesn’t understand why she would want to quit, which is pretty out-of-character for Sam, even now. I get that this is supposed to be an Anti-Charlie Charlie, and I guess that’s not a terrible idea, but the execution so far is still boring and the result is still a whiny Charlie.

Not only is alt-Charlie quitting Hunting, but this is her last case. She’s going to go off the grid and stay away from people and monsters.

Then they get to their MOTW (it appears we have two, since there are two hunts), something called a “Musca,” which is a man-sized fly. It turns out there is a “bad egg” of a male Musca that can’t find a mate and leaves its community to bind humans together and “nest.” Or something. Then then see someone (or something) sit down next to a pair of elderly women, wearing an all-black kind of combo of a Puritan minister and beekeeper’s outfit that completely obscures its face. It’s really lame. Like, the spider people in “Unforgiven” levels of lame.

At Harper’s apartment (which is bright and perky), Harper rather awkwardly flirts with Jack, who doesn’t get it. While she’s in the other room, getting the “book,” Jack drops a silver coin on the floor and covers his hands in holy water. When Harper appears to pass those tests, Jack covers a cough with a “Christo!” Dang, been a while (“Phantom Traveler” in season one) since anybody used that.

Jack says he’s from Lebanon. Harper says her family has been in her town for many generations and she’s “the last one.” To cover up a real bout of coughing, Jack sees a photo of Harper with a guy, whom she calls “Vance.” She says he was a former boyfriend who left town – and her – thus beginning her round of bad luck.

Harper stops Jack from answering a call to Dean and starts acting in love with him. Jack asks her where her bathroom is, goes in and answers the call (good Jack!). Dean is still at the site of Miles’ gruesome demise. As they’re talking about what/who is stalking the men around Harper, Dean gets attacked by the thing that apparently killed Miles. Jack hears the attack over the phone and rushes out of the bathroom.

When a worried Harper asks if she came on too strong, Jack reassures her that she didn’t. She asks if they should “go for coffee.” Before Jack can answer, Dean bursts in (having apparently not been messily murdered offscreen), making Harper scream in shock. Dean and Jack hurriedly do The Talk (not the sex talk, but the monster talk), while Dean grabs a chair and shoves it up under the doorknob to Harper’s apartment. They’re there to save her. When Harper asks, “Save me from what?!” the apartment door starts banging on cue and Dean says, “That!”

As Harper is asking who is out there, Dean says it’s a “what” and that “I thought it was a ghost until it punched me in the face.” (There’s an amusing exchange as Harper thinks Dean said it was a ghost and Jack says that no, Dean said it wasn’t.) Dean then spots a photo of Vance and picks it up, asking who it is and when he died.

Harper is very surprised to hear that Vance is dead, saying “He lives in Connecticut.”

“Not anymore,” Dean says (love Ackles’ delivery). Vance shouting Harper’s name from outside the door convinces her that it is, indeed, Vance.

As Vance busts the door down, Dean figures he’s some sort of revenant (a big callback to season two’s “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things,” in which Dean was also pretty messed up). Dean comments that silver will slow them down, but only one thing can kill them. He finds a silver knife in Harper’s apartment and grapples with Vance, yelling at Jack to get Harper out of there.

Meanwhile, it’s night and the Musca shows up at the bus stop (that’s what the bench turns out to be). Alt-Charlie is all for going after it, but Sam wants to wait. So, of course, a bus comes along and gives the Musca cover to kidnap a guy sitting next to it, except why would it wait until the bus came to do that if it doesn’t know two Hunters are sitting across the street. Isn’t it doing that right in front of a bus full of people?

Well, anyhoo, it finally gets them out of the truck to go after the thing, and Sam to shut up temporarily about trying to bully alt-Charlie into staying in Hunting. Thank God. ‘Cause that was really dull.

Back to the fight scene, which is actually fun. There’s an amusing Riverdale dig when Dean calls Vance “Archie.” But Vance, for whatever reason, decides not to continue fighting Dean (who is basically distracting him to help Jack and Harper escape, anyway) and runs after Harper and Jack. Who have run back to the library.

The storyline for Sam and alt-Charlie’s hunt is so damned thin that they actually infodump a conversation we never heard about how a “brass nail dipped in sugar water” is maybe the only thing that can kill a Musca. Alt-Charlie says they don’t have either of those things. Sam babbles that they can “improvise” before they bust into a warehouse with guns that apparently can’t actually kill the MOTW. Once inside, they comment on the stink and find a lot of flies and fly paper. Then they go stalking through the warehouse, nodding randomly to each other for no reason (I was like, “Whaaat?”).

Alt-Charlie finds a pile of bodies at the same time Sam finds the Musca’s briefcase. Turns out the Musca’s been chloroforming its victims. Charlie finds the latest one from the bus stop – he’s still alive – but manages to get grabbed by the Musca and tossed off the platform thing-y it has its victims on like the cast of Cats. This conveniently knocks her out. Sam comes in and finds her, only to be attacked by the Musca (which is a guy dressed like a mime, wearing a very dodgy bug mask that the director doesn’t let is see too closely amid all the jump camerawork). As it’s dripping goo on Sam for some reason, alt-Charlie wakes up and stabs it in the back, then Sam shoots it, and that is apparently all you need to kill it. So much for the brass nail and the sugar water.

So, back to the library, where Jack finds out the hard way that Harper and Vance are in cahoots (I know. Golly, and she seemed like such a nice girl, too). Harper killed him before he could leave town and it turns out she comes from “a long line of necromancers,” so she raised him from the dead and he was obsessed with her. Yeah, the infodump’s pretty heavy in this one.

Jack gets stalked around the stacks, but just when he’s thinking he needs to make a rush at Harper (which, as “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things” showed doesn’t actually work in getting rid of a revenant), he gets grabbed by Dean. Dean quietly brings Jack up to speed on how to kill Vance. So, Jack once again plays bait by shmoozing Harper and luring Vance out into the open. Dean gets in on it (Harper actually orders Vance to kill Dean at one point), but when Dean and Jack get demonic handcuffs on Vance, Harper pulls a runner.

Meanwhile, Sam and Charlie are in her truck, infodumping about how the last victim of the Musca will be okay, while we get a montage of the Musca’s people retrieving its body because apparently, once again, Sam and alt-Charlie didn’t salt and burn the damned body. Sam also persuades alt-Charlie to stay in Hunting, which probably means she’ll get sacrificed sometime this season. Whatever, Show.

Cut to a diner with Marty Robbins’ “I’ll Go on Alone” in the background. Harper is writing a letter to Jack in which she babbles on about finding him, killing him, and then bringing him back from the dead so they can be together forever. Seems she finally left McCook.

Back at the Bunker, Jack and Dean talk about stalking Vance to his gravebed with a silver stake (as in “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things”) over coffee (Jack) and whiskey (Dean). Dean tells Jack he did well. Jack tells Dean he should stop beating himself up over Michael and wants to go out on more hunts. Dean hedges and says he’ll discuss it with Sam when Sam gets back. At that point, Jack starts coughing again. He coughs up blood and starts bleeding from the nose. Then he collapses on the floor as Dean tries to revive him.

Credits

The ratings were up a little from last week, with the show tying for second on the network in demo with a 0.4/2 (0.397, unrounded) and coming in second for audience with 1.48 million.

Promo for next week.

Eh. I can’t say this one wowed me. There were some nice callbacks to seasons one and two in the first hunt, and Dean and Jack got some good bonding. Dean’s Salty Old Veteran shtick with Jack is a hoot. But it was a pretty thinly plotted hunt, with even flatter guest characters than usual. It certainly lacked the depth of “Children Shouldn’t Play with Dead Things,” one of my favorite episodes ever, and it wasn’t nearly as creepy as “Phantom Traveler,” another early favorite of mine.

Part of the problem was having another hunt stuffed in with it and what the hell happened there? It’s not as though the show has never had the Brothers go off on separate hunts or storylines, so it’s perfectly capable of doing A/B plotting.

But this one mostly consisted of Sam and alt-Charlie sitting around in a pickup, watching a bus stop and waiting for an MOTW to show up. They kept talking about how they felt sorry for the Musca, but why would they? And that drippy montage at the end with the Musca community showing up to take away their errant member was completely unearned.

Not to mention, it made Sam and alt-Charlie look stupid because they should have salted and burned the body – all of the bodies, really. And the creature design for the Musca was … well, not very good. I’m hoping that montage doesn’t mean they’ll be coming back because no, just no.

Harper is obviously coming back. I can’t say I’m hugely thrilled about that, either. Perky evil can be fun, but there’s something missing with her and I don’t just mean that the character herself is short a few hash browns from her Happy Meal. It could just be the general lack of development for the storyline and then piling it on top of Jack’s health woes.

It was fairly obvious from the start that something was off with her. The possibility that she’d offed Vance crossed my mind rather early, but I can’t say I got much suspense out of it. I also can’t say I’m feeling much suspense about her stalking Jack, either. The whole bunny boiler thing seems pretty dated to me.

The fight scene between Dean and Vance was fun – too bad it kept getting undercut by the stakeout in the pickup truck. Ackles did some really snarky tee-offs on line deliveries this week. I also liked that Dean and Jack ran a con on Harper, not once but twice. She knew they were Hunters, but was utterly clueless about everything else (not least that Jack is not entirely human).

There was some good partner chemistry there between Dean and Jack, and it was nice to see Jack acknowledge that he made some critical errors that led up to Dean being backed into saying yes to Michael. The “old man” crack had me rolling my eyes along with Dean, but that’s mostly because it always makes the writers look like ageist idiots. That sort of thing may fly on other CW shows, but not this one.

Overall, a few nice bits (and Dean looks super-hot in a noir detective suit), but this one felt too thin. You need to work on plotting some more, writers.


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The Official Supernatural: “Nightmare Logic” (14.05) Live Recap Thread


We need your help!

Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. I’m posting reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my research all month long on Patreon.

My collected recaps and reviews of season one, which first appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are now up (with a few extras) on Kindle. The Kindle version is available through Amazon and is on sale through this Friday. The print version is also up. If you buy the print version, you get a Kindle copy thrown in for free. I also get paid if you get it on Kindle Unlimited (for free), read the Kindle version, or lend it to a friend via the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Reviews also help with sales. Just FYI.

Apologies for not getting to this one until now. Also, next week, I’ll be busy Friday and Saturday, so I likely won’t get to that one until Sunday.

Okay, so let’s get started.

Recap starting with Maggie (the most useless DiD ever) then going through the Michael storyline and Dean’s speech to Sam about ending all monsters. FYI, there is a wee spoiler in there that, tied in with the title, will tell you right away what the MOTW is. Sorry.

Cut to night in Claremore, OK, where Maggie is walking through a forest all alone. She enters a graveyard and approaches a crypt with the family name “Rawling” across it. She sits down and pulls something out of her backpack. It turns out to be a bodycam that she reports into before clipping it on and entering the crypt.

Okay, why is Maggie Hunting, let alone by herself? The last time we saw her on a Hunt, she nearly got her team killed and that was with a group. Is she by herself or did some other moron think this was a good idea?

Also, we already found out that bodycams, or any cams, are a bad idea from “Ghostfacers!” They’re distracting to whoever is using them and the footage risks outing Hunters to the general human world, which is not a good idea.

Anyhoo, Maggie breaks into the crypt, believing she is Hunting a ghoul. By herself. With no backup. Okeydoke.

As she walks around the crypt, looking for opened coffins, a wavering machete in her hand, she is attacked by a snarling old man/ghoul.

Cue title cards.

Cut to the Bunker, where Sam is giving some newbie Hunters from the Other Side a lecture on Hunter safety before sending them off. As Dean walks in on them, Sam automatically glances to Dean for feedback. Dean chooses, instead, to take a backseat. As the meeting breaks up and Sam walks off with Dean, Dean’s main comment (aside from seeing Sam do coordinating with Hunters as “adorable”) is that Sam is not getting enough sleep. Yeah, one thing Sam really ought to be doing is having someone play dispatcher on shifts for Hunter check-ins, rather than trying to do it all himself. Yeah, I used to run a rescue squad. You gotta learn to delegate that stuff.

Sam discovers that one of the Hunters (he infodumps that he has 20 out there, including our four non-redshirts Castiel, Jack, Mary and alt-Bobby) “missed check-in.” It’s Maggie. So, now we know which moron sent Maggie out on a Hunt all by herself. Yay, Boss Sam.

So, Dean is trying to call Maggie, while Sam calls up her body cam and some random redshirt wanders past the Library. Sam infodumps that the body cams automatically upload to a server, which I’m sure could never get hacked by hostile parties, or anything. So, yeah, Sam’s responsible for that swift decision, too. Dean doesn’t call him on it, just infodumps about the reasoning behind it. They get the teaser for the episode.

Sam starts to tailspin in self-recrimination. Dean yanks Sam’s head out of his ass by agreeing it looks like a ghoul and it’s time to go find out for sure. Meanwhile, Rando Redshirt dude wanders around in the background, checking the wastebaskets, or something.

Off the Brothers go to Oklahoma. That is a rather odd background on the obligatory Impala-on-the-road shot. Did they bluescreen that?

In the graveyard, Sam infodumps that it’s all owned by the same family, which Dean notes is awfully convenient – for that family.

Sam says Maggie was investigating a report by some local kids that they were attacked by a “walker” while they were studying. Sam even outs it as an explicit The Walking Dead reference.

“I know what a Walker is, Sam,” Dean calmly replies. As they approach the crypt, Dean notices some beer cans in front of it and dismisses the “studying” excuse with that adorable half-laugh he always used to do back in the day. Ackles is having fun plumbing his old Dean tics toolkit these days.

Inside, they find disturbed dust and scuff marks, but no blood. Dean theorizes that the ghoul might have dragged Maggie off to feed on her later, and that she might still be alive. Either way, they have to find the MOTW and kill it.

They are hailed from the entrance by a guy in a gardening suit with a rake and accused of trespassing. Sam smoothly states they’re from an historical society and Dean follows up by asking where the local family mansion is. They guy leads them to it and introduces them to a rotund, smarmy grad student type who burbles over the idea of an historical society turning the family manse and graveyard into an official historical site. It’s obviously a lot more complicated than that, but this is just a Winchester cover story, anyway, so let’s roll with it.

The guy, named Neil, lets them in and comments that there seem to be an awful lot of people there from the “HBC.” Turns out Mary and Bobby showed up to investigate, too. Bobby is pretty sarcastic about Sam’s attempts to pull rank, so Mary takes Sam off to talk to him about Maggie, while Dean stays behind to interview Neil, with Bobby.

Neil says he’s not part of the family. He’s Mr. Rawling’s “nurse.” When Bobby asks to interview Old Man Rawling, there’s a snag. Old Man Rawling is in a coma.

Mary tells Sam she and Bobby came to check on Maggie because Maggie was “nervous about her first Hunt.” (Oh, hon, she shouldn’t have been out Hunting, period, not to mention alone.) They were texting with her when she suddenly went radio silence, but Mary admits she and Bobby should have let Sam know. Well, yes, there isn’t much point to all these high-tech improvements if y’all don’t use them to, y’know, stay in touch.

Something is awry with Old Man Rawling. He’s in a coma surrounded by blood transfusions and yet, he’s the ghoul from Maggie’s body cam footage. Meanwhile, Maggie is underground somewhere, trussed up and being drained of her own blood. Big hint about the MOTW, there.

A woman with groceries walks in, looking totally unimpressed by the new people in her dad’s room. Neil introduces her as Sasha, Old Man Rawling’s daughter. After a little banter, she throws them out.

At the Impala, the Hunters chew things over. Bobby says he tested OMR and he had no bites, so probably not a ghoul.

Mary speculates shapeshifter, but Dean points out that ‘shifters don’t generally do graveyards. Sam thinks maybe demon, but Bobby points out that demons aren’t generally so patient as to put their hosts’ bodies back in their beds after taking them for a “joyride.”

Dean notes Bobby’s irritability and calls him out on it. Bobby admits he has a problem with Sam sending Maggie out on a Hunt alone. He says she wasn’t ready and “a real leader” would have noticed this.

Mary breaks things up by going on reconnaissance with Sam and having Dean go with Bobby. I get she wants to give Sam a pep talk, but why stick poor Dean with Bobby? Sheesh.

Also, I don’t agree with Mary that it’s not Sam’s fault. It really is. Yeah, Sam’s moping over it isn’t helping, but Sam should have clearly seen how unready Maggie was back in the season premiere bar fight and kept her back for longer. I mean, come on, it’s been only a few weeks since then. No way Maggie turned into Hunter Sue in that time and Mary (the one who had to hand her an angel sword and tell her to get out there during the bar fight) knows that better than anyone.

Instead, Bobby is made to look like a big meanie for pointing out that Sam’s leadership skills need a little work. They do. Sure, he can get better, but he can’t get better if other characters’ keep holding his hand.

Bobby asks Dean if he was too hard on Sam. Dean’s response is rather noncommittal, saying that Sam is “doing his best.” But Dean also notes that Sam is overdoing it and not sleeping enough.

Sam, meanwhile, asks Mary about her relationship with Bobby. She says things were going fine until they got back home (for her). Then Bobby closed up and all he ever wants to do is hunt. Sam tells her a little about “our” Bobby, that his wife was possessed and he had to deal with it himself (um…was Sam not aware of Rufus’ involvement in that?). Mary asks if Bobby ever had kids. Sam says no.

Then they find an old campfire and Mary spots something.

As Dean and Bobby find the cabin from The Blair Witch Project, Mary and Sam find burned IDs in the fire. They’re a Hunter’s IDs. Bobby is distracted by someone in the woods and goes to follow him. Dean enters the cabin (which is full of animal furs and skulls) and discovers the body of the Hunter in the IDs. He’s then attacked by OMR, but when Dean stabs him, OMR (who is still in the hospital bed, while his daughter sits nearby) explodes into ashes, covering Dean. When Bobby comes back, he snarks at Dean’s appearance as Dean asks him where he went.

Back at the manse, while going through her father’s papers, Sasha hears a noise of breaking glass and footsteps upstairs. She goes to investigate, thinking it’s Neil, but she instead finds a half-open door to a dark room and a ravenous vampire. Screaming, she runs, but when she trips and falls, nothing comes after her.

As Neil acts all solicitous over her, Sasha is later interviewed by Mary and Sam, and immediately guesses she saw a vampire. This leads to her and Neil getting The Talk.

Dean walks in with news from “the shed.” Sam quickly fills him in about the attack. “Oh, good. You told ’em,” Dean says conversationally. The matter-of-fact way they confirm the identity of the Hunter Dean found is a hoot as it’s filmed almost from an outsider’s POV. They look utterly terrifying when they drop the “normal” mask like that.

Mary goes to check on Bobby (whom Dean says stayed back to get something from his truck), but can’t find him. Meanwhile, the Brothers formulate a theory, right in front of Sasha and Neil, that OMR is somehow psychically manifesting images of himself. They interview Sasha a bit more and it turns out the noises she thought she heard came from the attic. Sam goes up there, while Dean stays back to guard Sasha and her dad.

Sasha pops a benzodiazepine while Dean sharpens his machete. Neil has gone…somewhere. Sasha asks him to stop and then points out the insanity of Dean’s very presence there. Dean asks her if she’s okay and she brushes it off. At first.

Dean shrugs and sheaths his machete, but then Sasha opens up as she also downs some whiskey.  Her father was a workaholic who was never home, said he was doing it for the family. But her mother had a family history of depression and killed herself when Sasha was 12. Sasha found her. Sasha “worshiped” her father when she was a kid, but now is bitter because he never expressed any regret over not seeing his wife was suicidal or being around for his family.

This is a huge John Winchester anvil. There was an earlier one in the woods, when Mary said Bobby wasn’t “open” the way John was and then has to admit she means the way John was before she died as Sam snorts in disbelief.

Dean offers Sasha some advice – “let it go. You’ll feel a lot lighter.”

“That what you do?” Sasha asks.

“I try,” Dean admits. “Every single day.” It’s a heartbreaking moment of pure honesty.

Upstairs, Sam finds the darkened doorway Sasha discovered. It leads to a room with unfinished walls (no drywall) that leads to a stairway that goes up to the attic. Very strange layout, that.

In the attic, he find Maggie, trussed up. She tries to warn him as the same vampire that went after Sasha attacks him. Sam stabs it and it, too, explodes into ashes. Needless to say, despite his and Dean’s theory, Sam’s a bit confused.

As Sam gets Maggie down, Maggie apologizes for screwing up. Sam reassures her that she didn’t (well, she did, but now is not the time).

We cut to the woods, where Bobby finds a young man with his eyes burned out, angel-style. Dialogue identifies this young man as Bobby’s son Daniel. Daniel beats up Bobby and then impales him against a tree with an angel blade. He tells Bobby the angels crucified him “piece by piece” (uh…that’s not really how crucifixion works, but okay), but when he’s about to kill Bobby with another angel blade, Mary shows up.

Mary shoots Daniel, but unlike the other monsters, Daniel doesn’t disappear (plothole, y’all). Instead, he knocks Mary down and starts choking her out. This gives Bobby the strength of ten Grinches. He manages to yank out the angel blade impaling him, while dangling from the tree, knocks Daniel down, and stabs him with it, after apologizing. Daniel bursts into ashes. Yeah, it’s as stupid as it sounds. Also, I’m getting tired of Mary having to be rescued all the time. She’s a competent Hunter, Show, come on.

Inside the house, Sasha and Dean enter the room where Neil is tending OMR. Dean suddenly, really notices the blood bags and has an epiphany. He calmly asks why Neil is giving OMR a blood transfusion for a stroke and Neil blathers something about how “it keeps his iron up.”

Dean asks Sasha to make him a sandwich. She’s confused at first until he mouths, “Go,” and she realizes he needs her to get out of the line of fire because Neil is the MOTW. She skedaddles. I like Sasha. She’s sassy.

As she leaves, Dean pulls out his gun and aims it at Neil. Neil at first professes to be confused until Dean explains his reasoning. He says he only just recognized the set-up Neil has OMR in as one he was once trapped in, too.

We then get a brief flashback to Dean’s nightmare flash of being trussed up by a djinn in season two’s “What Is and What Should Never Be.”

“You’re a djinn,” Dean says. I love me some Smart, Deductive Dean.

Neil smiles and reveals his djinn face and glowing eyes, but then flips the script really strangely by saying “But you knew that, already…didn’t you?”

As Dean interrogates him about why he’s killing Hunters (and Neil the Djinn sure is chatty), Neil reveals that he thinks Dean is Michael (until Dean tells him otherwise). Michael has altered him and offered him a deal for more power: “Find somewhere quiet. Set up shop. Kill as many Hunters as I can.”

The upgrade Neil got was fairly impressive. With a single touch, he can now read minds, extract nightmares, and give them physical life – the projections Dean and the others have been dealing with. OMR is afraid of dying along and unloved, Maggie of the vampires that murdered her family, and we just saw what Bobby feared.

Neil keeps edging closer to Dean, saying Dean can’t harm him. Dean proves somewhat otherwise by shooting him in the leg. Angry and hurt, Neil charges Dean and uses his power on him. He claims he won’t “hurt Michael’s favorite monkey suit, but I am curious – what are your nightmares?”

But whatever he finds inside is a lot more than he bargained for. It tosses him back out as he stammers, “You…you’re….”

Dean wastes no time taking advantage of the djinn’s confusion. He attacks Neil and slams his head into the table. “You know,” he comments, looking just like Demon!Dean, “I don’t have a knife dipped in lamb’s blood – but I can improvise!” Spotting two bronze bookends, he grabs them and beats the djinn’s head in, but not before Neil defiantly claims that “there are dozens of” Hunter traps of Michael’s, lying in wait “for you and your family.”

“You don’t know my family,” Dean replies coldly, before dealing the fatal blow and then disintegrating Neil’s head with his gun, held in bloody hands.

Later, Dean removes the apparatus from OMR, while giving Sasha a crash course in helping a djinn victim recover. As Dean leaves, she reassures her waking father that she’s there for him.

The Brothers drive home and return Maggie to the Bunker, where a bunch of redshirt Hunters I’ve never seen before and care nothing about cheer her return.

Dean cheerleaders Sam about bringing Maggie back. Meanwhile, Mary bandages up Bobby and gets him to tell her about Daniel. After the angel war kicked off, Bobby was given a “platoon.” He and his son had taken care of the thing with his wife (which went the same way as in the SPNverse). Daniel was part of Bobby’s platoon, but on one mission, they got separated. Daniel and his group were captured by angels (Bobby assumes) and never seen again. Bobby is left to speculate what really happened and since they crossed over to here, is trying to get himself killed. Mary tells him she won’t let him do that. After talking with the Brothers, she gets an offer from Donna via them of Donna’s cabin (what happened to Rufus’ cabin?), so she and Bobby can try a little normalcy for a while. So, that’s Mary and Bobby off for a few episodes.

Before they leave, though, Bobby is yet another character who gives Sam a pep talk about being a leader. But hey, at least Dean gets an explanation from Mary this time and is allowed to give her “permission” to leave.

The Brothers then put out the word to other Hunters about the “new, supercharged monsters.” After, Dean tries not to blame himself (and has lots of trouble with pronouns), while Sam insists he’ll just sleep less than before so they can find and kill Michael, even though they don’t know how to do either one.

Credits

Okay, now I am truly curious about what happened with Michael. There were heavy hints this week, especially in the scene with the djinn, that Michael is still inside Dean, but, for whatever reason, is currently dormant. Dean seems unaware of this, but he also appears to be fully in control. At least for now.

The theory I like best is that Dean somehow reasserted control, but has no idea that he did, let alone how he did, and has Michael trapped inside his own body. Remember that while Michael may have intended for Dean to become just his vessel, Dean is a powerful agent of the Natural Order in his own timeline, in his own right, which means other beings like Chuck and Amara, but especially Death, are apt to get involved if alt-Michael tries to stay in control of Our!Dean for too long. There are, as Death always likes to say, consequences for that sort of thing, especially since Michael broke his deal with Dean.

Perhaps, as it appears Michael was able to assert himself at the end of last season partly due to Dean’s being smote by Lucifer, Dean was able to reassert himself after Michael was wounded by Kaia’s Magic Hockey Stick (or maybe Michael overused his own grace in his experiments, which contradicts how precious he was about it last year). It could also be that because Dean’s deal with Michael was conditional on Michael letting him be in control, that is a natural condition Michael must constantly fight in order to dominate Dean. And when the djinn looked for Dean’s nightmares, he found Michael.

This doesn’t really explain the djinn’s final words, but I suspect the writers were just going with the ridiculous cliche of the expositional Final Curse. Folks, most people are too busy dying for that nonsense and it lessens the horror and severity of death. Enough, already.

Also, if the djinn found Michael, he may also have realized that Michael was imprisoned inside Dean, which meant he was dealing with Dean when he spoke his final words. Or something.

So, this is a version of Dean Done Come Back Wrong/There’s Something About Dean. Honestly? I’m okay with it. Ackles is acting the shit out of it and it’s a true mystery. Let it go all season.

Also, I loved the callback to “What Is and What Should Never Be.” The show has never allowed Dean to feel his trauma before over being violated by the djinn like that, so it’s nice to see him use it to figure things out about the MOTW, and have the show lampshade it with a flashback to that episode and that particular scene.

I’m far less into the Sam the Leader storyline. I know that Sam needs something to do, and since Dean has the mytharc, that makes Sam the wind beneath Dean’s wings. But this storyline is unconvincing. It suffers from the same problem just about every Sam storyline going all the way back to the Pilot suffers from – the writers never trust that the audience will care enough about Sam to just give us the story. They always Tell us how to feel about Sam’s story rather than Show us.

So, we have characters throughout the story holding Sam’s hand, listening to Sam’s problems, Telling Sam (and us) that Sam is really a great leader (even when it’s clear he is not). Dean’s leader storylines are great because we see all the fight and struggle to convince others to follow him. For Sam, all the whining about lack of sleep aside, it’s a walk in the park. That’s boring to watch.

Another problem going back to Kripke (but especially evident in the Nepotism Duo scripts that suffer from plotting so bad that they LOL!canon their own canon five minutes after they established some within the same script) is a tendency to present us with a major Sam change (usually, though not always, a heroic one) rather than develop it. I have no issue with Sam starting out not-great and developing into a great leader, but to skip a few weeks and be Told he’s brilliant already is just plain lazy writing.

I don’t quite get why Dean is sitting back and letting Sam lead. Okay, actually, I do kind of get it. Just as Bobby was correct in calling out Sam’s awful decision in letting Maggie go hunt alone (even if the show then forced him to backtrack and apologize for stating the flaming obvious, and letting Sam feel and understand the consequences), Dean hanging back and letting Sam do this is very much of a Dean Leader thing to do.

Problem is, I’m not sure that the likes of the Nepotism Duo, Robert “Insert PC snark instead of story here” Berens, Davy “Linear Plotting 101” Perez, and Andrew “Let’s pillage every inappropriate comic book plot I can remember” Dabb are aware that this is basically Dean leading this group of redshirts who only know him as a supervillain through teaching his brother how to lead.

Speaking of the redshirts, their lack of character development is not good. The Bunker is infested by a bunch of one-dimensional characters I don’t have any emotional attachment to whatsoever (and from the sound of things on Twitter, neither do a lot of fans). Even the ones who get a little development, like Maggie, are boring and kinda of annoying.

It’s another case of a plot that would be fine it if weren’t being treated like 5-minute rice. Spreading out their involvement with other Hunters and using the Bunker as a base of operations for Hunters? Fine as a plot spread out over an entire season, or more. Doing a cheap time jump and presenting it as a fait accompli? So not okay. It reminds me of how the Roadhouse initially came across in season two – an abrupt change in tone that threatened to screw up the show’s basic franchise plot and everything fans liked about it.

I’m going to (possibly) go against the grain again and say that I don’t actually have any problems with a Mary and Bobby pair-up. The writers have floundered a bit with her since they brought her back. First, they had her in conflict with her sons, avoiding them because of her own guilt over how their lives turned out following her death. That made her look unsympathetic, especially toward Dean.

Then they had her off in the alt-SPNverse, mothering Jack. That, too, was not so successful in making her sympathetic, largely because she was using Jack as a substitute for her grown-ass sons.

This week, though, shows why Mary and alt-Bobby could work. We see her actually seeking advice and validation from her sons in figuring out what’s going on with Bobby and whether or not to proceed in a relationship with him. Rather than being in conflict with her, they are her allies.

Sure, there were flaws in it. I didn’t like that we had an extended conversation between Mary and Sam when, again, until the time jump, she was much closer to Dean, but hey, at least she got to talk to Dean at the end and seek “permission” to leave for a while, which he calmly gave. Still waiting on that conversation about his possession by Michael, though.

And I really wasn’t thrilled to see her used, yet again, as a DiD to motivate Bobby. That was annoying. But overall, I’m okay with it.

As for the “But she was with John first” stuff, we did have her defend John a bit to Sam, while acknowledging that he changed (not for the better) after she died. It’s not as though she’s forgotten about him. And JDM’s got another show, with little interest in coming back to this one, while Matt Cohen is both too busy and not the right period to come back as John. So, Bobby it is.

Promo next week is up. Alt-Charlie’s back – ugh.

Ratings for the show were down a bit, still 0.3/1 and 1.43 million in audience. Don’t think Legacies is doing Supernatural any favors. Still a tad salty about the CW picking that up over Wayward Sisters.


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The Official Supernatural: “Mint Condition” (14.04) Live Recap Thread


We need your help!

Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. I’m posting reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my research all month long on Patreon.

My collected recaps and reviews of season one, which first appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are now up (with a few extras) on Kindle. The Kindle version is available through Amazon and is on sale through this Friday. The print version is also up. If you buy the print version, you get a Kindle copy thrown in for free. I also get paid if you get it on Kindle Unlimited (for free), read the Kindle version, or lend it to a friend via the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Reviews also help with sales. Just FYI.

Right. Let’s get cracking.

Well, this is obviously the Halloween episode of the year (seeing as how it’s on All Saints’ Day). You gotta love how its Halloween episodes are so often some of the show’s lighter episodes. That’s … well, that’s actually pretty messed up.

We get a recap that brings us up to date on the mytharc (which, so far, appears to be Michael possessing Dean, then leaving for no good reason after he got stabbed by the Big Toothpick of Meh wielded by Kaia Sue from last week.

The recap also completely spoils the MOTW by having a recap of ghost eps and ghost rules in voiceover from Sam and Dean. Okeydoke.

Cut to Now and a comic book shop in Salem, OH. What? Everybody instantly knows the inside of a comic book shop just from the memorabilia section.

Anyhoo, as a gold commercial for Diamond Dave’s goes on voiceover, and we get fake ads on now-defunct cable network Chiller (Sorry, Shocker, but it’s about Chiller – it’s a ghost network, geddit?) for fake horror movies like Hell Hazers II (which was filmed during season two’s “Hollywood Babylon”) and one involving a creepy guy in a skin mask (whose tagline is “Time to slice and dice!), we see a guy at the counter unwrapping some action figures in their original packaging (remember “Hell House”?). When he gets to a rare Thundercats one, he sneaks it into his backpack, right before he gets a call from a young woman named Sam who is apparently either his boss or business partner.

Unaware that he is snaking merchandise, she gives him an earful for a bad rating he got the store on Yelp due to getting into a screaming match (involving some racist language) with a customer over a superhero match. She begs him to tone it down because they really need the customers. After a nerd-rage rant, he appears to calm down and sort of apologizes.

As he leaves, still with the stolen merch, we see that the life-sized mannequin across from the counter is of “Slice and Dice” guy.

At home, he is yelling on the phone at the pizza delivery guy, trying to get a free pizza (yep, he’s a dick), when the Thundercats doll he has out and on the table turns its head.

Uh-oh.

The guy hears a noise, turns around, and sees the toy on the floor. Upright. Looking angry. Now, it’s not really dumb that he goes over to investigate initially, because it’s just an oddity. But when the toy grimaces at him, whirls its mini-nunchucks, and smacks him upside the head, he takes way too long even to scream. So, dumb on top of being a jerk.

Title cards

Cut to – what the heck is the red lettering on Dean’s socks? Never mind. Dean is in his room, eating pizza and watching horror movies. He’s “made it all the way through the Halloweens” and is on a film called All Saints’ Day (because the episode aired on All Saints’ Day, yeah?), featuring the creepy mannequin dude from the teaser, a serial killer known as the Hatchet Man.

The plotline is blatantly 80s slasher. A long-haired blonde dude in jeans and a t-shirt, with a dancer’s body, is moping a floor in an institutional hallway (basically, it looks like the same set as for season one’s “Asylum”) when he spots a vending machine and decides to steal some candy. Hatchet Man walks up in the middle of this chicanery and puts an ax through the guy’s knee. When a young woman in a pink outfit (complete with shoulder pads) randomly comes out and screams, Hatchet Man immediately turns his attention to her: “Time to slice and dice!”

They even get some decently high 80s slasher-style gore. I wonder if the FCC has just plain given up with the show except for language at this point.

That’s when Sam walks in to do – I kid you not – a welfare check on his brother.

Sam infodumps that Dean has been in his room for a week. Dean infodumps back that Castiel is out training Jack, Dork!Kaia is still missing, so is Michael, and, well, “the house is full of strangers.” I note that Dean does not mention his mother. Hmm. He does mention that Sam shaves. He does a double-take when Sam comes in. Ackles has a lot of fun calling Sam’s face “smooth as a dolphin’s belly!”

Sam doesn’t appear to see that he’s filled up the Bunker with people Dean doesn’t know or trust (and who don’t know or respect him at all) and that this is Dean’s home. Of course Dean retreated to his bedroom. He’s an introvert.

Sam also thinks that Dean’s enjoyment of horror films is weird, considering their profession, and doesn’t like Halloween. Coming from a guy who is literally a serial killer fanboy, that’s a hoot.

But Sam is successful in luring his brother out to a Hunt with a video of Doomed Teaser Douchebag ranting about getting attacked by a Thundercats action figure. Dean’s all over that.

In Salem (Ohio), they immediately go to the comic book shop, where the girl from the teaser, Sam, is working the counter. Sam (our Sam, yes, this will be confusing) turns away from the Jason Todd costume that Jensen Ackles cosplayed in real life for Halloween. He and Dean are dressed in ties and short-sleeved shirts that make them look like extras from The Office.

Dean teases Sam that he and Girl!Sam are a lot alike. Sam retorts that Dean and a nerdy, slobby guy in the stacks are also very much alike. Dean denies this with a snort, but after he discovers the mannequin of Hatchet Man (“David friggin’ Yeager!”), he and the guy immediately and automatically start to bond over it.

The Brothers introduce themselves to Girl!Sam as insurance agents with rock star aliases checking up on DTD’s (real name Stewart) injuries. She says he’s at his apartment, resting. They say they went there and he got evicted. She admits he and his roommate had a fight (over nerd stuff), and that he’s also a troll, and says he’s back at his mother’s house.

Mom is pleasant, but smothering and enabling. She gives them apple cider (and Dean snags the Flash mug). When Sam snarks about it, Dean points out that she offered. Dean is wearing Birth Control Glasses that are totally not working for their intended purpose. Damn, Jensen Ackles. When are you ever not hot?

They hear Stuart yelling at a video game in the basement. Dean rolls his eyes at that, but Sam actually recognizes the name when Stuart comes up the stairs and finds them there. Sam introduces them (Campbell & Sons – LOL!) and Dean notices that Stuart is burning sage in the basement.

Stuart, who has cuts all over his face and is pretty twitchy, says he got the idea from a “Goth girl” he met online who was into Wicca (naturally, this catches the Brothers’ attention). He says he broke up with her before they could MIRL (Meet In Real Life). I kinda love Dean for not knowing. Neither did I, but Sam fills in the blanks for both of us.

When they ask about the video, Stuart turns full-on squirrely. He insists he faked it and then orders them out of the house. They decide to stakeout the house until Stuart and his mom leave, so they can check it out for hex bags. Sam points out that Wiccans aren’t always witches and Dean replies, “Except when they are.”

While they wait, Sam fields a call from one of his Bunker groupies. Dean snarks at this (but doesn’t mention Sam’s Bobby act). Then he quizzes Sam about his hate-on for Halloween (Sam really doesn’t like major holidays, does he? Remember Christmas?). Sam won’t talk about it.

At that moment, Stuart’s mom comes out in a … yep, I do believe that is a poodle skirt … and drives away. The bit where the Brothers awkwardly duck down as she goes by is funny.

As they debate on how to get Stuart out of the house, Sam reads through the comments on his video, calling them “brutal.”

“Gotta love the internet,” Dean says, “where everyone can be a dick.”

At that moment, Stuart comes stumbling out the front door, screaming for help and covered in blood. As Sam tends to him, Dean pulls out his pistol and goes in alone. He follows a trail of blood downstairs. As he’s distracted by a poster of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, he hears a chainsaw rev up behind him, in midair. It flips through the air and hits the poster, as Dean dodges out of the way.

The Brothers talk to Mom at the hospital and persuade her to stay with her son. As they exit the hospital room, Dean says he checked the house over for hex bags and found nothing, but the EMF meter went off the scale. So, they’re looking for a ghost, though Sam is puzzled by the motive. He goes back to the house to check on what’s going on, while Dean stays at the hospital to wait until Stuart wakes up. Sam is puzzled to find that the Thundercats toy reads nothing in EMF. So, it’s apparently not cursed. He also finds a photo on one of Stuart’s computers that shows Stuart, Girl!Sam, the geek dude who bonded with Dean, and an older guy.

At the hospital, Dean finds the geek dude has arrived. He says Stuart is his best friend. The guy is actually pretty level-headed, but his home life is bad (his father is abusive) and Stuart lets him stay over when things get bad.

On the TV is All Saints’ Day III. That’s geek dude’s favorite. Dean’s is IV. They recite in union the tagline for it. Dean says, “I like to watch movies where I know the bad guy’s gonna lose.” I hear that.

Sam visits the store, where Girl!Sam is closing up. Sam asks her if anyone “close to Stuart” has died recently. She says the previous owner was a guy named Jordan. He was their mentor, but he only left the store to Girl!Sam and geek dude (named Dirk). He left Stuart out of the will because Stuart was always stealing merchandise and Jordan fired him twice.

As she says Jordan was cremated, Sam sees the glass case behind her frost up. He tries quickly to bring her up to speed, but then the Hatchet Man mannequin comes alive and knocks him out. When he wakes up, Girl!Sam is alive, though scared, but they’re locked in.

At the hospital, in the middle of talking about the film series’ best kills, Dean gets a call from Sam about what happened. Dean totally geeks out over the approach of his horror movie idol.

We then cut to a gratuitously blatant homage to the Halloween films in Hatchet Man’s stroll down the sidewalk toward the hospital, through crowds of unsuspecting teenage trick’rtreaters.

Dean and Sam each give The Talk, Dean while doing a line of salt around Stuart’s bed. He then tells Dirk to stay by the bed, inside the line, while he goes looking for the ghost. Unfortunately, the ghost starts poltergeisting the hell out of the room while Dean is gone and Dirk flees in terror.

Stuart’s mom runs into Hatchet Man while bringing her son a tray of food and she’s terrified. Dirk bravely distracts Hatchet Man away from her, but then is chased relentlessly through the empty hallways while security is too busy watching a near-mirror image of the same chase from the scene we saw earlier (that began with the guy getting an ax to the knee). Dean had commented earlier that hospitals can be remarkably deserted at night.

Dean, meanwhile, has found an ax.

The scene cuts back and forth between the girl in the movie trying to escape in an elevator whose doors won’t close and Dirk in the same situation. They finally do, and both the girl and Dirk escape.

Dirk ends up in the morgue, where Dean finds him and asks him why he didn’t stay put. Dirk says Hatchet Man is in the hospital and sure enough, the MOTW sits up on one of the gurneys, pulling off a sheet.

Cut to a cheesy preview of All Saints’ Day III: The Reckoning. Then we get the confrontation between Dean and Hatchet Man. Dean says the ghost can go into the light on its own or he can “send it there.” He’s pleased when the ghost decides to fight. Not so pleased when the ghost turns out to be really strong. A kick-ass fight ensues and Dirk even helps at one point, but Sam and Girl!Sam burst in on Dean getting choked out.

Sam had gotten them out of the comic shop by making a makeshift bomb from a lunchbox. When Girl!Sam asked him how he learned that, he says, “I had a messed up childhood,” which echoes what he tells Sarah in “Provenance.”

On the way, they figured out how Jordan (the ghost) was getting around. He was using a Batman keychain. As they rush in, Sam yells at Dean to get the keychain, which is in Hatchet Man’s pocket. Dean gropes around and yanks it out, tossing it to them. Girl!Sam gets into the spirit by grabbing some alcohol to speed up the burning process. Jordan is forcibly exorcised and flames out, probably to Hell. But when Girl!Sam asks about him, Sam just says, “He’s in a better place.”

Stuart lives, but we don’t see him again.

Driving back, Dean finally gets Sam to tell him why he hates Halloween. It turns out to have been a teenage date-gone-horribly-wrong. Sam was nervous all night and when asked to bobbing for apples, threw up all over his date and a lot of other things.

Dean also thanks Sam for getting him out of his room and giving him a “win.” Sam tells Dean that saying yes was not the wrong thing. He did it for Sam, Jack and his “family,” for all the right reasons. What Michael used his body to do afterward is not his fault.

Dean flatly states, “I’m not gonna get over it.” But he admits that he’s not “doing anybody any good” staying in his room all day, so he tells Sam he’ll do whatever Sam and the team need him to do.

Dean says they should dress up in costume the next Halloween and starts naming possible costumes, from the ridiculous (“Turner and Hooch”) to the injoke-y (“Rocky and Bullwinkle”) to the really disturbing (“Thelma and Louise – we’ll just put it in Drive and go!”).

In the coda, one of the security guards from before enters the morgue. The lights fritz, so he gets out his flashlight and follows the trail of weapons and such used on Hatchet Man until he gets to the mannequin itself. The mannequin then appears to speak one of Hatchet Man’s taglines: “Trick’rtreat!” So, we get one of those 80s horror movie “twist” endings that never made a lick of sense.

Credits

So, that was one was more amusing than I thought it would be. Had some nice rewatch value. Davy Perez still overdoes it a bit on the homages, but moves things along and doesn’t insult our intelligence this time. But I really think the direction by Amyn Kaderali (and, of course, the enthusiasm from the cast and crew over doing a Halloween episode) is what makes it. Which is kind of funny, considering Kaderali’s previous three episodes weren’t terribly memorable, either. But hey, improvement’s always good.

Girl!Sam and Dirk could come back. I wouldn’t mind.

It seems as though the mytharc focus is firmly on Dean this season. We’re four episodes in and it’s All About his possession by Michael and ensuing PTAPD (Post Traumatic Angel Possession Disorder).

Promo for next week is here.

Ratings for this week were meh (usually are for a holiday week), with a 0.4/2 and 1.46 million. Still significantly better than its lead-out, though.


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Halloween in North Carolina, All Souls’ Day: Bonus Round #2: Scottish Ghosts (1999)


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Seafield, Lily. Scottish Ghosts. Lomond Books, 1999.


So, as promised, I’ve continued my reviews through All Souls’ Day (today), but with the twist that the last two days, since they’re in November, are reviews of ghost stories from other regions than North Carolina. But possibly, these are regions that may have influenced or have similar tropes to what you find in NC.

I picked this one up at the bus station in Glasgow almost two decades ago. It’s one of several books I have of Scottish folklore. The cover above is very nice, but the edition I picked up actually looks like this:

Kinda cheesy, I know. The apparent editorial excuse is that this edition is for kids. It might be a bit too creepy and historical for American kids, though.

Also, for such a short book, it has a whole lot of stories in it – over 150. Each one is maybe a page or two, though the entry on Second Sight in the “Signs, Prophecies and Curses” section is (appropriately) several pages long, as Second Sight is a major part of Scottish folklore. With most entries, the author gets in, gets out, and then moves on to the next, grouping them thematically into several sections, such as “Military Ghosts,” “Fairies, Green Ladies and Devilish Struggles,” and “Poltergeists.” The stories are sometimes sad, sometimes horrifying, sometimes educational. But they’re also mostly fun.

My favorites, of course, tend to be about St Andrews, where I lived for six years. Alas, there are really only two stories (for some reason, the very haunted St Andrews Castle didn’t make it into the “Ghostly Castles” section). St Andrews Cathedral, for example, has a Lady in White and a ghostly monk who haunts St Rule’s Tower. The late-11th century St Rule’s Tower is the tallest (and probably oldest) building in St Andrews. It’s pretty much the only remaining intact structure for St Andrews Cathedral. It’s a bit of a hike that I’ve done a few times, but sadly (or not?), I’ve never seen the monk.

Stories range from the humorous to the creepy to the quite-disturbing. One of the funniest is the large “Demon Crab” of Dundee that crawls out of a drowned ferryman’s coat after he washes up on the beach. The Devil doesn’t last long in that guise, as he is quickly snatched up by a fishwife who happily cooks him for her dinner. One of the creepier ones is a story of a pair of eyes (just eyes) haunting a room in Crail, down the coast from Dundee, in the section, “Ghosts in the House.” And then there’s the scary tale from the “Mind How You Go” section of the Big Grey Man who haunts the mists of Ben MacDuibh in the Cairngorms (Scotland’s mountain range) and attacks anyone who visits it.

The witchcrazes of the 16th and 17th centuries hit Scotland especially hard. It’s believed that thousands were accused and over a thousand executed (by burning at the stake) as a result. You can see the scars of that and the rest of the Covenanters’ repressions to this day on the Scottish landscape (never been fan of John Knox).

The author is sympathetic to the doomed accused witches. She discusses the witchcrazes in her introduction, but also writes about some witch tales more sympathetically than how they appear in North Carolina folklore. The interesting thing is that you can see some Scottish influence (North Carolina has had quite a few Scottish settlers in its early history) on NC folklore.

For example, the famous tale of “The Miller’s Wife” ends fatally in North Carolina lore, with the blame clearly laid on the witchy wife (despite the Miller character being kind of an idiot). In Scotland, you get “The Cursed Mill.” In this story, set near Newtonmore in the Highlands, an old woman curses a miller and his mill. It’s never stated what the insult was, but you start to get some clues as the story progresses.

The first miller dies in a fire. The one after him contracts a fatal illness and the mill burns down. After the mill is rebuilt (because mills were critical to a town or village’s life), the witch relents a little and changes the curse. People can now use the mill for all except one day of the year. The mill runs well once subsequent millers follow these instructions.

However, long after the witch dies, the mill comes into the hands of an ambitious, grasping man who believes the curse is just superstition. So, he uses the mill on that one forbidden day of the year. Predictably, the mill grinds to a standstill. The miller tries again the next year, but this time, rats eat up all his corn. He gives up and sells the mill, but has no fortune in his business ventures thereafter and dies of a wasting illness.

The mill then goes to another man who is kind and gets the mill working again with the help of a young Traveler boy he adopts. After the man dies, the Traveler has to be recalled to get the mill working again. Once he dies, it falls apart for good.

This tale bears a lot of resemblance to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden, but in this instance, the sin is a refusal to observe a single Sabbath day of rest in the year. We humans just can’t resist crossing boundaries we just shouldn’t cross and that we don’t need to cross. There is also a clear subtext that when the mill is run with kindness rather than covetousness, all goes well. It’s only when the mill is run meanly, with greed, that everything comes to a screeching halt. Here, you can see the mill as a metaphor for Scottish society.

This indicates that the witch’s original grievance was a sound one and the curse not due to an evil nature. It also shows the witch as a productive member of society who brings necessary justice to those who transgress by treating others badly (very different from how witches were perceived back in the Convenanters’ day!). Scottish folklore often shows a balance in the Scottish cultural psyche between great generosity of spirit and the kind of miserliness for which the Scots have too-often become famous (even when it wasn’t true) worldwide. This story is a classic example.

The plan from here on out is to continue reading NC folklore and reviewing the books, just at a slower pace and over on Patreon. If you found these enjoyable, and want to follow my research plans, you can do so there. I’ll still be posting stuff here (including my Supernatural recaps and possibly reviews), but it will involve another one of my projects this month (likely, my mom’s family cookbook). I got a lot done on the NC folklore stuff in October and now that I am thoroughly creeped out, I need to do some other stuff.


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Halloween in North Carolina, All Saints’ Day: Bonus Round #1: The Little Book of the Hidden People (2015)


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Sigsmundsdóttir, Alda. The Little Book of the Hidden People: Twenty Stories of Elves from Icelandic Folklore. Enska Textasmiðjan, 2015.


So, this is the first day of the bonus round for folklore reviews, commemorating All Saints’ Day. The days of the dead actually comprise All Hallows’ Eve (October 31) for the damned and other evil spirits, All Saints’ Day (November 1) for the holy dead, and All Souls’ Day (November 2) for the rest of us. Today, we’re off to Iceland and its thorny folklore.

This is a relatively short (111 pages) book about a group of relatively unknown mythological and legendary figures – the elves (álfar) or “hidden folk” ( huldufólk) of Iceland. People who write about the Icelandic hidden people tend to do so from two perspectives – either belief in their actual existence or belief in them as a metaphor for the extreme isolation and privation in which most Icelanders lived for their millennium-plus existence. The estimate of how many Icelanders still believe in the actual existence of hidden people varies on which side of the spectrum an author lies. This author spends the bulk of her introduction insisting that this is an outmoded belief amongst Icelanders today, thus obliquely proving the above point.

Whether in the literal or the metaphorical/psychological sense, Icelandic elves are deeply fascinating, underexposed as a mythology in the speculative genres, and pretty friggin’ scary. Imagine a large island the size of New York State, but with less than two percent of the population, one with white nights in summer and long, frozen, dark winters, with the not-so-occasional volcanic eruption. One not anywhere close to anywhere else.

Now imagine mentally populating it in your folklore with a far-more-numerous race of prosperous, beautiful, strong, lucky, deadly, invisible shadow people. Who will probably kill you if they realize you can see them and totally mess with you whenever you can’t.

That’s what the Icelanders did, first the Norse settlers (calling them álfar) and then their Irish slaves (who called them huldufólk). To the Norse, the hidden people were creepy and dirty and numerous and dangerous. To the Irish, they were an enviable, golden race. You can probably see some class issues creeping in along with the psychological issues involving populating an empty island with folkloric beings out of sheer collective loneliness.

These 20 stories are among the more famous (at least, for Icelanders) of the folk tales about Icelandic elves. Some of them are plays on biblical lore, such as “On the Origins of the Hidden People.” Here, the álfar are those of Eve’s children that she hid away from God when He came visiting (because she had so many that she couldn’t wash all their faces in time and was ashamed of them). God then says that what Eve hid from Him, He will hide from the world – hence, how these children became “hidden folk” ( huldufólk).

This is obviously a pejorative story, but it also reflects the Icelandic ideal of many (healthy and legitimate) children. For much of Icelandic history, the infant mortality rate was so high that people might have many children and be unable to raise any to adulthood (at one point, Iceland had the highest infant mortality rate in Europe). There was even a tradition of naming the first four sons after the father, with the hope that at least one of them would live to carry on his father’s name.

“The Elf Adornment” story is a whole other kettle of fish. In this extremely violent tale about the perils of dancing, a family goes off to evensong at church on New Year’s Eve, leaving behind a maid to tend the farm. Some hidden people show up and invite her to dance with them. After she happily accepts and goes off with them, they murder her and leave her on the threshhold.

Another New Year’s Eve, another maid. This time, the hidden people cut off her head and leave her in the doorway.

A third maid saves herself only by sitting resolutely at her sewing in the baðstofa (the main room of a traditional Icelandic turf house) until dawn. And dawn takes a mighty long time to come on New Year’s Eve in Iceland. Frightened off by her comment that the sun is rising, they leave, but they give her the treasure of the title for her bridal chest in admiration of her resolve.

There’s a lot to unpack here, not least the overt message not to go dancing because it led to illegitimate pregnancies the poor and stressed Icelandic communities couldn’t support. That’s much like the 1970s Mexican American trope of the Devil and the Dance Floor from Ghost Stories from the American South (which I reviewed early in October).

There’s another version involving a man where he’s much more active and has better luck, so it’s about gender roles, too. Men tend to have more luck in these stories with transgressive behavior, such as in “Snotra the Elf Woman,” where a guy stalks a selkie-like elf woman and inadvertently breaks a curse on her. He’s rewarded for his creepy behavior with good fortune after she thanks him and returns to her world under the sea.

Another wrinkle is that the hidden people are indistinguishable from regular humans and can even take the form of someone you know (and that there’s a whole genre of “outlaw” stories tied up with stories of elves). So, there’s no actual reason to believe the first two maids “The Elf Adornment” knew they were interacting with hidden people. Plus, there’s the whole serial killer vibe of murdering the servant stuck at home during church and leaving her on the threshold. You don’t mess with the álfar.

With so much mistaken identity in the folklore, it’s unsurprising that a story like “Father of Eighteen in the Elf World” involves the shifty old goat of the title changing places with a woman’s baby. The woman is smart and figures out what he did (in a way not unlike the Rumpelstiltskin tale), then proceeds to beat him. His wife then shows up and hands her back her baby.

Changeling stories always have some nasty subtext. You’re basically talking about a folkloric explanation for a colicky or sickly baby whose mother never bonds with it. In real life, such stories generally didn’t have happy endings.

Intimacy with a hidden person could be used as code for an illegitimate liaison, as in “The Girl in the Mountain Dairy.” The mountain dairy (sel) was where flocks were kept in summer and it always had a female keeper. The title character falls pregnant by a hidden man who woos her while she works the dairy. After she gives birth and the baby mysteriously disappears, she is forced to marry another (human) man, but there are tragic consequences when her elf husband and son return years later.

These stories reflect some harsh realities in Icelandic culture and history. Iceland was a hard place to live for a long time. It’s lovely to visit now, and the people there are wonderful, but I’m pretty glad I didn’t live there even a century ago.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #31: Pirates and Ghosts of the Carolinas’ Coast (2014)


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Brown, Cynthia Moore. Pirates and Ghosts of the Carolinas’ Coast. Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2014.


Arrr, me hearties, and a Happy Halloween t’ye all!

I decided to end my grand (albeit not comprehensive) tour of North Carolina ghost story books with one set on the coast because it has pirates, and a somewhat unusual structure (the last chapter has a section on Carolina seafood recipes, along with some space to include your own), and I hadn’t covered the author before, and – oh, yeah – pirates.

This is not Cynthia Brown’s first ghost story collection. She also co-wrote Folktales and Ghost Stories of North Carolina’s Piedmont and Folklore and Food: Folktales that Center on Family, Food, and Down-Home Cooking (hence the presence of a recipes chapter for this one) with Theresa Bane. Bane has also solo-published Haunted Historic Greensboro, among others. I interviewed her for Innsmouth Free Press, not just once but twice, a while back about that collection and one of her vampire folklore books.

Brown is a retired librarian and co-founder of the North Carolina Storytelling Guild. That tells you right off the bat her approach to the material. The book also includes an introduction written by another local folklorist (from Washington County), Terry A. Rollins.

You would think that after all the books I’ve reviewed this month, we’d have exhausted what the Coastal Carolinas had to offer, but nope. There are some original tales in here, too. Yes, there’s stuff about Blackbeard and Theodosia Burr, and the Maco Light, and a less-fatal version of the “I Could Slap the Life Out of Her” tale from Cursed in the Carolinas. “The Live Oak Tree” is the buried alive story from Wilmington with, again, a somewhat happier ending. In “Stella,” the fatal love triangle, where the wife murders the mistress from beyond the grave, from Barefoot’s Haunted Hundred trilogy gets a spooky and more detailed, but also lighter, twist.

But Brown puts her own spin on the stories by telling about her own experiences with the areas connected to these historical figures. I also like that she breaks the stories up into thematic groups, such as tales about pirates and ones about lost love. It’s nice that she uses a lot of photographs to give the reader an idea about the area and to break up the text.

But then, as I said, there are also some new stories. For example, the very first story, “Spirits of the Fog,” is about Highway 17 South (AKA the Ole Plank Road) near Wilmington. The legend Brown recounts is that the fog along the highway contains mystery lights and spirits – voracious shadow figures that attack and kill unsuspecting travelers. Shadow people creep me right out, so that one definitely worked for Yours Truly.

Another one from Wilmington, about a Boogeyman figure called “The Hairy Man,” is good for a scare. And in her chapter about Stede Bonnet, Brown talks about visiting the old jail in Charleston and experiencing a distinct and unusual chill.

All in all, despite being a fairly short book, Pirates and Ghosts of the Carolinas’ Coast has some enjoyable meat on its rattling bones, especially for this time of year. Recommended.

As I said, this is the last day for the NC folklore tour. But I’ll be doing a little bonus coda here of some ghost story books from other places for All Saints’ Day (November 1) and All Souls’ Day (November 2). After that, I’ll continue reading and reviewing ghost story books from NC (at a much gentler pace) over on Patreon. I also have stories from North Carolina history and what I find in my own investigations. You can join up and check them out over there, get some perks, and help support my spooky research!

Happy Halloween! Be safe!


Did you enjoy this review? You can help keep the project going by contributing monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), making a one-time donation through Paypal, or buying us a coffee. And don’t forget to check out my ghostly folklore notes all month on Patreon!


Blog for scifi writer and medieval historian Paula R. Stiles