Category Archives: Supernatural reviews

Review: Supernatural: “Let the Good Times Roll” (13.23 – Season Finale)


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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 and are currently on sale through this Friday (May 18). The Kindle version is available through Amazon. 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. Just FYI.


[lots o’ spoilers ahead]


You can find the recap thread for the episode here.

So, it finally happened. Dean Winchester said yes to the Archangel Michael. Well, more accurately, he said yes to an alternate version of Michael from another timeline. Sort of. With conditions. Which alt-Michael totally ignored after agreeing to them. But more on that in a bit. As well as some (hopeful?) predictions for season 14.

There was a lot of crashing-and-burning in this episode, by several characters. The biggest, of course, was Lucifer, whose crash-and-burn couldn’t have been more literal after Dean stabbed him with an archangel blade in the middle of being mega-smote (we always knew Dean was tough, but jeez). Lucifer had been on an extended storyline the past two seasons (post his sorta-reconciliation with Big Daddy) of having his power reduced, being unable to kill either Sam or Dean, being downgraded almost to human, and fathering a Naphil child. The implication from various bits of dialogue between him and the Brothers was that Chuck wanted Lucifer to learn something about the humans he had always so despised.

Well, Lucifer didn’t learn a thing. Or if he did, he threw it all away at the end and chose power. Personally, I was okay with this because I didn’t care much for Lucifer’s redemption tour in the first place. The way he tried to discredit and gaslight Sam, a human being he had cold-bloodedly twisted and tried to destroy for his own purposes since before birth, was just nasty.

Sure, ideally, a character should be dynamic and change and grow, but some characters are defined by their inability to grow, their flat and static nature. If Lucifer, a 14-billion-year-old archangel, hadn’t learned to be selfless and loving by now, it realistically wasn’t going to happen in a few months or a few years, or even a few centuries. As an extremely powerful and protean creature who was older than this universe, Lucifer arguably could change if he wanted to, but he never wanted to. Whenever he claimed to be turning over a new leaf, he was so clearly lying that he could only have fooled someone as young and naïve as his own son, Jack.

It was time for him to go. Permanently.

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Jack, too, had a crash-and-burn, and he, too, fell due to hubris. But unlike his father, who was hubris embodied, Jack had good intentions and found his power a great burden. The road to Hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions. The more he tried to help people, the more he made mistakes that seemed to make things worse, at least to him.

In reality, it was more that the results were mixed. Jack was discovering that it’s much easier to break than to build and that raw power can only do so much, especially if one lacks wisdom. We saw Jack become more and more frustrated in the episode, culminating in his realization that everyone else was right about his bio daddy. Jack then made a critical error and lost all his raw Naphil power to Lucifer in one terrible, game-changing slash of an archangel blade.

But in the tossing back and forth of Jack’s power like a soccer ball, we got to see Lucifer and Jack’s responses to it, and they contrasted sharply. Whereas Lucifer became drunk with power, rose to a great height, and then crashed to his doom, Jack seemed relieved to be shorn of his power.

Jack then made the decision Lucifer should have made, which was to sacrifice himself out of love in hopes of saving Sam and the rest of the world. That he was saved at the last minute (since the writers clearly want to keep him as a regular now) doesn’t change the magnitude of his choice and sacrifice.

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I’m sure that the writers will waffle and drag out the question of whether or not Jack ever gets his power back, but the usual pattern for any recurring-character-not-named-Dean-Winchester (or Sam pre-season six) is that they are never as naturally powerful again as they were early on. They might get some temporary upgrades by stealing someone else’s power, but their own, personal power does not come back. And Dean’s gradual upgrades have been balanced with an expansion of the heavy burden of his Family Business.

I was relieved to see the writers didn’t go the cheap, Kripke-approved route of upgrading Sam for the umpteenth time. Jared Padalecki got some nice opportunities to act this season as Sam slowly (and finally) opened up about how much the mere existence of Lucifer topside again terrified him. Never mind that Sam and his own chronic battles with hubris were the reason for both of Lucifer’s escapes from the Cage. Sam still gets to be afraid of Lucifer and Padalecki ran with it.

Fortunately, the writers forced Sam to be fully human in his final confrontation with Lucifer. That somehow made Sam’s vindication when Lucifer turned out be – yup – evil, after all, that much sweeter.

Sam willingly chose to go with Jack (however impulsive the gesture) when Lucifer kidnapped his kid. Sam then faced off against his former torturer and lifelong nemesis without even the certainty that the immunity Chuck had given him and Dean against Lucifer was still in effect. That, my droogs, takes guts. Sam pretty literally had to face his (almost) worst fear, knowing full well that he didn’t have any power to oppose Lucifer, to save either himself or Jack.

Sam didn’t even think about finding a way to regain his old powers, perhaps knowing they were too corrupting to oppose Lucifer effectively. For once, Sam made it all about the person he was trying to save and not about himself, which actually made Dean’s penultimate insistence on Lucifer’s defeat being a group effort sound fair this time round. That was a huge step forward for Sam. After over a decade of self-absorption and self-pity, Sam became a truly self-sacrificial Hero.

Weirdly enough, not too many fans noticed.

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Dean also fell (both literally and figuratively) into darkness, but Dean’s fall was qualitatively different from that of Lucifer and Jack, which made it even more tragic, if not in the Classical Greek sense that was for Lucifer and Jack. Lucifer and Jack sinned through hubris, with different results. Lucifer flew to a great height and then crashed to earth. Jack was fooled, lost his temper, and lost his powers. Once humbled, he then chose to die for family – his adopted family, not his creepy bio-dad.

Dean’s fall was the saddest because it occurred without hubris. Dean, motivated by desperation and his chronic low self-esteem, finally embraced his destiny and his doom. Some fans fault Dean for this choice, as Dean’s choices always get picked apart and slammed by various quarters of fandom. This is likely fostered by the illusion that Dean had some better choice. Dean is a character who may rail against fate, but in the end, he always plays the hand he’s dealt, the best way he can. But the writers invariably give him the worst possible cards, which invariably forces him into some horrifically self-destructive choice he never in a billion years would have made on his own, if he had any better options.

Of course this is fun to watch, and makes for great drama, which is why the writers keep doing it, but come on, people. Give the guy a break because the writers never do. The only reason he said yes to alt-Michael was because there were no other options at that point except to wait to die along with the rest of the world, knowing Sam and Jack would die (mostly likely horribly) first.

Dean’s self-esteem is low, but it ain’t that low. If he could have found another way (as he did in the red-herring gas station scene early in the episode where he temporarily saved everyone from alt-Michael via a cunning plan and some holy fire), he’d have done so. Having Castiel stand by, wringing his hands over the decision (a one-angel Greek Chorus was basically all Misha Collins got to do this week), didn’t make that decision any less necessary. In the end, Dean made the best bargain he could. That Dean always puts others first, without thinking, is the true superpower he uses to save the world. But that doesn’t mean he loves making those choices. Or that they don’t hurt.

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Though there were a lot of directorial problems with that climactic fight with Lucifer (Bob Singer’s really losing his touch), Jensen Ackles’ acting wasn’t one of those problems. He acted the hell out of it all, from Dean’s bargaining with alt-Michael all the way up through his final scene as alt-Michael. There’s a reason why fans on social media have been screen-capping and giffing the hell out of Dean’s entrance as an archangel (sans the silly Ten Commandments-style music), alt-Michael’s takeover, and alt-Michael at the very end.

But in between the big moments, Ackles keeps it going. After Dean falls to the church floor, he immediately forces himself to get up, jaw set. If you look at Dean in the background as Sam and Jack are investigating to see if Lucifer is really dead, Dean’s shoulders are heaving and he is clearly in distress.

This leads directly into Dean’s valiant effort to make everything okay one last time for his family before he becomes locked in a deadly struggle for control with alt-Michael and has his body taken over. Even the lines of strain as he fights smooth out in that transitional moment when he straightens up, blank-faced, after losing this second, internal battle. This moment is one of the most heartbreaking in 13 seasons of a show that regularly deals in tragedy. Ackles’ portrayal of Dean being taken over by alt-Michael is chilling, a moment of true horror. Even without the gruesome, Leviathan-like sound effects.

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Some fans have asked why Dean didn’t have an exit plan for dealing with alt-Michael after dealing with Lucifer. There’s the point that Dean didn’t have any other “good” choices besides making a deal with alt-Michael at the moment he said yes. But also, if you watch, Dean is still clutching alt-Michael’s archangel blade the entire time after he kills Lucifer. The logical fallback plan would be to stab himself with the archangel blade once he knew Lucifer was truly dead. Since he had an archangel inside him, suicide ought to have done the trick. It takes an archangel to kill an archangel. Nobody said it couldn’t be the same archangel.

So, why didn’t Dean do this? Well, remember that Lucifer had just smote him. No, Lucifer didn’t get the chance to finish the job, but we saw Dean screaming in pain before he stabbed Lucifer, following Sam’s “Wind beneath My Wings” moment of tossing him the archangel blade. Lucifer scrambled his brains pretty good. Lucifer had also just been beating on him and Dean was dazed.

While it’s true that Dean had an archangel inside him, so he could take more damage than usual, he was up against a charged-up fellow archangel, and he was in the driver’s seat. Dean probably took more of a beating than alt-Michael did and was still dazed afterward. That, and reassuring Sam and Jack, distracted him from immediate suicide, and alt-Michael took advantage of that distraction.

But one might ask, why would alt-Michael need Dean to be distracted in the first place in order to take over? Isn’t the archangel, not his vessel, usually the one in charge? Well … not necessarily. And probably not in this case.

Here we are getting into projections and predictions for next season. It’s really important to remember that Dean’s “yes” was conditional, that the dire consequences of breaking deals has been reiterated time and again the past couple of seasons, and that alt-Michael himself used exactly the same words Dean did later in the same episode (“We had a deal!”) to protest Lucifer’s breaking of their pact. Shortly thereafter, Lucifer ended up karmic toast.

It’s not exactly rocket science to think that might be some foreshadowing for how things pan out for alt-Michael’s betrayal of Dean. These writers are not subtle. They also tend to leave big plotholes. We may never find out, for example, why alt-Michael was so enthusiastically determined to beat Dean to death when he already knew Dean was the Michael Sword. That seems counterintuitive, but never mind.

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So, what deal, exactly, did Dean make? It was pretty simple – he would let alt-Michael in and be his “sword” if, and only if, alt-Michael took an extreme backseat and let Dean be in charge. Alt-Michael might be able to advise, but Dean would make all of the decisions.

We know that Dean is under direct watch by a Reaper, Jessica. She can’t interfere, but she can report back to her boss that an interloper from another timeline is curb-stomping Billie’s (and Chuck’s) designated caretaker in this timeline and trying to take it over. We already know that Billie wants to “fix” that kind of bleed and is unlikely to take kindly to alt-Michael’s crossing over to conquer a world not his own.

We also know that Billie!Death firmly believes in honoring deals (on top of rigidly maintaining the Natural Order). She’d be the first to point out to alt-Michael that he had a deal with Dean and the deal means that as long as they share Dean’s body, Dean is the one in charge. It’s a way for the storyline to continue after Dean has regained control over his body, and possibly for Dean keeping alt-Michael as a prisoner inside. Dean could effectively continue being an archangel (the Michael Sword is sentient and runs the show), while being unable to manifest or use those powers most times because then he’d risk losing control to alt-Michael again.

What makes this storyline more possible is that there is the awkward wrinkle that Billie’s not liable to feel very kindly toward the refugees from alt-Michael’s timeline, either. Or Jack. So, that sets up a dilemma for Team Free Will and even Dean (as he fights back against alt-Michael’s possession), because they won’t be quite as eager to accept any help Billie offers – or even contact her – as they might, otherwise.

In addition, the presence of the refugees is likely to complicate any rescue efforts for Dean (and it’s really unlikely that Dean will not survive this storyline. Really). TFW 2.0 will be anxious to save Dean from alt-Michael and expel alt-Michael from Dean’s body without harming Dean (or, at least, I certainly hope they will, but more on that in a moment). The refugees who’ve already suffered under alt-Michael are going to be a lot more sanguine about Dean’s fate. As long as they can take out alt-Michael permanently, they’re liable to see Dean’s death as tragic, but necessary. He made a decision (however much under duress). He alone faces the consequences.

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This will set up direct conflicts between Sam and them, of course, but also Jack and them, and between Mary and alt-Bobby, between whom a romance of sorts has been brewing, especially in this episode. Even Rowena, seeking redemption, is going to want to help save Dean, but alt-Charlie? Not so much.

Let’s say the writers don’t take the obvious and stupid way out, that they really want to drag this storyline on a bit (which, Bob Singer’s past ohgodohgodohgoddeanhasamytharcstorykillitwithfire kneejerk reactions aside, they really should want to do rather than wrap it up quickly and scramble to fill up the rest of the season with … something). A Saving Dean storyline has plenty of inherent conflict. The people who can mostly likely deal with alt-Michael are going to be divided on at least three fronts (TFW 2.0, Billie and her Reapers, and the alt-SPNverse refugees), so there will be some natural infighting there.

Dean himself can be portrayed pretty easily (and inexpensively) in his interior struggle to regain control as trapped in a nightmare version of a concentration camp in the alt-SPNverse. Regardless of whatever happened to alt-Michael’s previous vessel, Christian Keyes could return and play alt-Michael inside Dean’s head, taunting and tormenting him (one possible reason Keyes has suddenly joined the Creation con circuit). That would leave Jensen Ackles off the hook for playing against himself all the time, while also giving him a chance to play alt-Michael in the external SPNverse scenes.

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Dean could, for example, initially “wake” in the season premiere in a grotty cell with his hands cuffed behind his back, dazed and trying to piece things together, while alt-Michael makes plots and comes into conflict with TFW. I’ve seen fans argue that alt-Michael would put Dean in a paradisiacal fantasy world, but that would probably be more expensive to film (when they’ve still got that alt-SPNverse set to use) and wouldn’t fit the horror theme of the show. It’s more likely alt-Michael will torture Dean, however much that might be stupid in light of its giving Dean a reason and a way to fight back. Alt-Michael is sufficiently arrogant that he’d go that route, anyway, so it’s at least in character.

Once Dean remembered what happened, he would have a dilemma – does he try to expel alt-Michael, only for alt-Michael to find another vessel (or return to his old one if the poor guy isn’t already dust) and continue with his plans for multiverse domination? Or does he try to regain control and hold alt-Michael prisoner inside his own body? Or is there a way to toss alt-Michael into the Cage (though that’s been damaged, so it might not work) or even kill him in a way that won’t kill Dean permanently?

Yes, killing himself to kill alt-Michael would certainly occur to Dean, but folks, the show is just not going to let Dean kill himself permanently. So, a Harvey (yep, that’s both a James Stewart/giant pooka/rabbit and a Farscape reference) storyline seems pretty likely after the first few episodes, or maybe even half a season, if we’re lucky.

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The thing I dearly hope will not occur, though, is the writers continuing with their gratuitous Dean abuse. I’m thinking of stuff like “Soul Survivor” in season ten, where we see Sam strap down a very psychotic, demonized Dean in a dungeon, drug him up with consecrated blood against his will, and force him into a semblance of what Sam feels is “appropriate” sanity – and this ugly assault is apparently rewarded and condoned by the writers (the Nepotism Duo in this case. Shocker) by the end of the episode. I’m also thinking of Dean’s lifelong struggle with suicidal ideation. Remember how he outright committed suicide early last season and no one, not even Death, was surprised?

Dean is a popular fantasy character who has struggled for 13 seasons with severe mental illness. Suicidal levels of depression and low self-esteem, occasional bouts of psychosis, alcoholism, self-medicating, self-harm, social and separation anxiety, a total inability to fit in with “normal” society, and (of course) rampant PTSD, he’s got ’em all. Many people in this world look at a fictional character like Dean, who feels their same pain and despair, and take hope from the way he keeps soldiering on and being a Hero, even when he stumbles, even when he just wants to lie down and die.

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But writing a character like that involves taking responsibility for the message one sends. Too often, the show has generated some pretty ugly subtext through the way characters treat Dean and take advantage of him. Just as the writers have not done a particularly stellar job of portraying Sam’s own issues (Sam’s mental illness and addiction storylines seem to exist, going all the way back to Kripke, solely to prop Sam up as the woobiest woobie Hero ever), the way they have portrayed the responses of people around Dean to his mental health issues has been … kinda gross.

This needs to change.

It’s not just that it’s problematical for your lead actors to have launched a mental health charity (Always Keep Fighting) while your show writers continue to treat mental illness as a character flaw when it comes to Dean (talk about undermining your cast).

It’s not even that some fans agree.

It’s bad enough to hear people refer to Dean’s sacrificial act in this episode as a mistake or a flaw, that Dean “gave in” and “let” alt-Michael trick him, that that’s just Dean. That he’s always looking for ways to be self-destructive and that this isn’t heroic at all. An act that would be seen in any other character as putting the needs of literally everyone else over their own selfish survival is perceived in Dean as just another Thursday. As weakness, as not fighting his own darkness hard enough. “Sloppy, needy Dean,” as a demon once put it.

What is worse is to do it now, in the middle of a national debate about suicide, especially in the wake of the recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Over and over, plaintively and sometimes angrily, friends and families of loved ones who have committed suicide, as well as survivors, point out that depression is not a mistake or a lack of moral character. It doesn’t make you weak if you feel despair and cannot see your way out of it.

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Supernatural desperately needs to change its tack on how the characters around Dean respond to his illness. It’s unrealistic for Dean to recover magically from something he’s suffered from all his life. That would be like expecting Tyrion on Game of Thrones to grow six feet tall.

But the writers can certainly change how they have characters respond to it and put Dean on a slow road to some kind of recovery. No more mean-spirited rants like Sam’s at the end of “Metamorphosis” or “The Purge.” No more of characters incessantly choosing anyone else over the needs of their own, clearly traumatized child standing right in front of them (Mary in season 12 and just a few episodes ago, lookin’ at you). No more “beating some sense” into Dean, or expressing how disappointed the character is in Dean for something that is really that character’s fault, the way Castiel has done over and over again.

Look, I get it. Trauma is drama and bad guys are gonna bad-guy. Angels and demons and monsters who resent Sam and Dean getting in the way of their smashing up the joint will always trash-talk the Brothers. No one expects either Lucifer or Michael (any version) to treat Dean (or Sam) well or do anything but tear away at his self-esteem. They’re the villains.

But it’s way past time for Sam and Mary and Castiel to stop disappearing up their own backsides whenever the black water threatens to pull Dean under. And while I appreciate that Jody wants to help and Claire thinks Dean is awesome, damage and all, it’s not helpful to keep ragging on Dean that he needs to treat himself better. He knows that. He just doesn’t have the first clue how to do it.

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Yes, it’s uncomfortable when someone you love seems locked in a death spiral, but the writers could be improving all of their recurring good-guy characters by having them stop projecting all their own crap onto Dean. Look at Jack – he doesn’t do that. He worships Dean. Yet, the show still managed to establish a relationship with interesting conflict between the two of them.

In fact, a Saving Dean storyline, where Dean is absent for a while (unlike Demon!Dean or MoC!Dean, who was basically just Dean with his anger and bloodlust externalized as a magical metaphor), could conceivably give the characters the story space needed to deal with that without trashing Dean even more. Ackles would still be in the story (he’s not going anywhere; he gets to play alt-Michael now), but Dean the character would be elsewhere, fighting a new battle. The other characters would get a chance to truly miss him and fight to get him back in a way that heals him rather than tears him down.

I think this is a really important thing for the writers to put at the top of their checklist this summer. This is a chance for them to change up a tangle of character arcs that has become toxic and unhealthy even to watch. It’s a way for them to truly represent and join the debate on mental illness (a debate in which their cast already has a voice) in a productive way. It’s time to grow up, Supernatural writers. Do it now.

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Fun lines:

Castiel [listening in on a pack of redneck werewolves]: They’re talking about whether Kylie Jenner would make a good mother. The consensus is “no.”
Dean: Yeah, well, that’s why I’m a  Khloé man.

Alt-Michael [being tortured by Jack]: Lucifer, we had a deal!

Lucifer [to everybody]: I’m not currently the bad guy here.

Lucifer [compelled by Jack to tell about Maggie’s murder]: She saw me when I was scouting out the Bunker. She saw me and she screamed. So, I crushed her skull with my bare hands. And it was warm and wet, and I liked it.

Alt-Michael: This is the end … of everything.
Dean: No. What if … what if you had your Sword?
Castiel: Dean, no!
Dean: I am your Sword, your perfect vessel. With me, you’d be stronger than you’ve ever been.
Alt-Michael: Oh, I know what you are.
Dean: If we work together, can we beat Lucifer?
Castiel: Dean!
Dean: Can we?
Alt-Michael: We have a chance.
Castiel: You can’t!
Dean [to Castiel]: Lucifer has Sam. He has Jack! Cas, I don’t have a choice! [to alt-Michael] If we do this, it’s a one-time deal. I’m in charge. You’re the engine, but I’m behind the wheel. Understand?

Jack [to Sam as he’s about to kill himself]: I love you. I love all of you.

Lucifer [to DeanMichael]: You let my brother in.
DeanMichael: Turns out we have something in common. We both want to gut your ass.

Dean [to alt-Michael inside him]: We had a deal!
Alt-Michael [to Dean after taking over]: Thanks for the suit.


Next: I’ll be finishing my live recap of “Funeralia” this week. I’ll try to catch up with the recaps of the rest of the season and do reviews over the rest of the summer.


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Review: Supernatural: “Wayward Sisters” (13.10)


We need your help!

Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee.

My collected recaps and reviews of season one, which first appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are now up (with a few extras) on Kindle and are currently on sale through this Friday (May 18). The Kindle version is available through Amazon. 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. Just FYI.


[lots o’ spoilers ahead]


I’ve been dawdling over this review for months, largely because, on top of working full-time as an English tutor and museum science educator, I just finished a semester full of an internship for finishing up my Historic Preservation Technology degree and College Algebra (for my sins). Well, I passed those classes and graduated on Friday – and the CW has passed on picking up Wayward Sisters after months of strongly implying the series was practically a go for launch. And the season 13 finale is on Thursday.

So, now seems like a good time to revisit this episode.

I usually try to start with something positive in reviews and get to the critical stuff later on. There are some episodes where it’s more difficult to find the positive than others (translation: almost all of the Nepotism Duo entries). However, with this one, I’m going to spin the format around and go with the critical stuff first, then the viability of the characters, then the viability of the spin-off this backdoor pilot was intended to introduce. I think this spin-off’s actually pretty doable, with some tweaks, but it’s going to take a bit to explain that, and why the potential spin-off is fairly unique. I’ve seen some concerns by posters (legit concerns), though, and I want to discuss them first. Not everyone would want to sit through the viability discussion on the spin-off to get to the review of the episode itself.

Also, I’ve been trying to go in order with the episode reviews, but since there’s a whole lot of talk about the spin-off right now, I’m going to talk about this one and then go back to catching up with the other episodes I haven’t reviewed yet, this season. Also, it means I can put off reviewing yet another dull and cluttered episode by the Nepotism Duo (“War of the Worlds” (13.07)) a little while longer.

So, here’s the Bad, the Mixed and the Good.

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The Bad

Let’s talk about why some posters weren’t overly thrilled with the way the episode was set up. They were on to something. The basic premise is a hoary Western cliché that was old when Gunsmoke was on. It’s called “The men are incapacitated/out of town, and the wimminfolk have to step in and save the day.”

A signal example of why this isn’t exactly the most feminist trope ever popped up in 1978 in the original Battlestar Galactica‘s early episode, “Lost Planet of the Gods, Part I.” In it, most of the fleet’s (male) Viper pilots fall ill with a mystery virus, forcing a reluctant (and sexist) Apollo to rely on a bunch of new recruits. Most of them are young women and one of them is his new bride, Serena.

Lots of strident faux-feminist speechifying from the female characters and “down to earth,” condescending sarcasm from the male characters ensue. Naturally, as soon as the men are back on their feet, the women revert to being helpers and girlfriends, and fade into the background once more. In Serena’s case, she straight-up gets killed off in a Doomed Girlfriend in a Coma plot.

That’s the problem with the trope. It’s based on the idea that women are inherently weaker (and dumber) than men, and will only be called upon to engage in such heroic measures in an emergency when the men can’t protect them. As soon as the emergency is over, traditional gender roles snap right back into place and the women return to their kitchens. I’ll bet women who worked in the factories and trades during WWII, and lost their jobs to returning (male) GIs, cringed every time they saw this trope.

Now, obviously, the Wayward Sisters don’t quite revert to their previous roles at the end of the episode. In fact, part of what makes using this trope so awkward in this case is that it’s simply unnecessary for bringing these particular women into action. Jody, Donna, Alex and Claire are already actively Hunting. They’ve even specialized, Donna with Vampires and Claire (apparently) with Werewolves, aside from a smattering of other monsters (ghosts, not so much). Meanwhile, Alex has acquired a certain expertise in autopsying the supernatural.

This is all something of which the Brothers are well aware, having worked with Jody and Alex as recently as episode three of the season because they trust these women and their skills. Only the two new characters, Patience and Kaia (who have superpowers, but are otherwise total newbies to the Life) struggle to fit in. When Patience goes into battle with the other women, a gun is shoved into her hands and she gets offhand noises of approval when she finally manages to kill a monster.

So, why the condescending nonsense about the Little Women riding to the rescue and the dumbing down of the Brothers to accommodate the introduction of the women’s new team? Lousy, tone-deaf writing, that’s why.

Even the task the women have set themselves basically involves their staying at home in one place, waiting for the monsters to come to them, as opposed to the Brothers’ traveling around the country, putting out supernatural brushfires. Not so feminist and progressive, Show. Just sayin’.

This pops up repeatedly in the wheel-spinning the show has Sam and Dean do in the Bad Place. I saw a lot of spec that the mothershow would get canceled midway through season 14 to make way for the spin-off (pretty darned unlikely now). I think that would have been a very, very bad idea if the network wanted the mothershow’s core audience to accept the spin-off (and, at least a few months ago, it seemed apparent that they did).

Ever since the Dawn Ostroff era, saltgunners have been extremely sensitive to any hint that the CW is trying to kill off Supernatural (not least because Ostroff repeatedly did try to do that). Replacing it directly with a spin-off involving a different cast and premise would bring down that paranoia and wrath on the new show. It would kill the spin-off right at the start.

If they had taken this to series, unless Padalecki and Ackles had wanted out right away, I didn’t see the mothershow checking out before the end of season 15, in order to give the new show a good boost and remove any sense that the mothershow was being summarily replaced. Granted, that’s all moot now, unless the CW actually listens to the fan backlash over its failure to pick up the series. But this is a network where its ostensibly female-lead series are even more misogynistic than its male-lead series, while touting the mere fact it has any female-lead series in the first place as something great and progressive, so you probably shouldn’t hold your breath.

Do the showrunners and network understand this dynamic, especially after the ignominious crash-and-burn of previous would-be backdoor pilot, “Bloodlines” (which fans roundly hated for being terrible storytelling and barely even fitting into the SPNverse)? Well … some of the writing and direction this episode could have been a lot more reassuring on that level (and the network’s decision to pick up Yet Another Spin-off of The Vampire Diaries that is even less female-lead than the previous two shows kinda says it all for them).

If the Bad Place really was as deadly as Kaia kept saying it was (she claimed the Brothers wouldn’t last more than a few hours and they made it at least two days), there were better ways to show that than to write Sam and Dean as plot-stupid and suddenly unable to fight their way out of a wet paper bag with a hole in it and a pink neon sign in Kidprint font saying EXIT HERE. There simply was no way that EVOL!Kaia could have taken them both down, even though the plot was writing them as too stupid to pull out their angel swords (which EVOL!Kaia apparently never thought to take from them) until they reached the rift, let alone their guns. Guns trump a cute stick with a blade on it 99% of the time.

Sure, Meg managed it in season one. But she’s a demon and she enlisted help. Plus, that was season one.

Even the figure taking them by surprise was a dumb idea. That whole sequence failed to do what it was supposed to do – make EVOL!Kaia look badass – and just served to irritate the mothershow’s usual audience. I get that the Brothers couldn’t be the focus of the story in the sense of screentime, but their sojourn in the Bad Place could have been written a lot better. A few cute bits about Dean automatically going survivalist and Sam (unrealistically) being squeamish about eating a lizard didn’t cut it.

I mean, come on, writers. The Brothers spent most of season one looking for their father, but that was because he didn’t want to be found, not because he was too dumb to get out of his own mess.

Also not cutting it were a few random and vague references to the importance of the Brothers to the new team. Padalecki and Ackles could easily have had more time off, and the focus could still be on the women, without making the connection between them all so damned generic. This was a golden opportunity to show how much influence the Brothers have had on the next generation of Hunters, and deflect fan anger away from the new interlopers, by showing that the Sisters had an emotional connection with Sam and Dean.

Instead, the writers blew it with a few platitudes that made Claire’s motivation, especially, seem as shallow as a kiddie pool. They wouldn’t have even needed to invent a Woobie character for her to lose if they’d done a little more digging into why she would want to rush off to save Sam and Dean.

I wasn’t wowed, either, by the equally-lazy cliché of Jody and Donna (the adults) going off to investigate the boat and then having to be rescued by the teen girl pack. Well … more like Claire with a flamethrower while the others stood around looking awkward. The image definitely cut down on the danger vibe at the end of the scene.

Admittedly, part of that was another fail of the Bad Place set-up. Those creepy monsters that came through were not even remotely scary. They looked and were filmed like exactly what they were – athletic stunt guys doing parkour in creepy monster suits. The only time one looked cool and like an actual MOTW was when Alex was cutting up a dead one and removing its Mad-Max-style facemask.

Another problem with this was all the mucking about with Kaia and her character development (or sheer lack thereof). I’ll talk a bit in the section on characters about why making her and Claire a romantic couple was actually the most successful (or, at least, the least unsuccessful) aspect of their dynamic. For now, let’s focus on why that twist at the end was oh-so-not-good.

There was a common tactic in action and syndicated fantasy shows of the 80s and 90s to introduce a likeable character who appeared to be part of the main cast and then kill that character off right away, either in the pilot or the next episode or two. Basically, he or she was a disguised Red Shirt. The intent was to give the illusion that anyone could be killed off, even though everyone else usually proceeded to have adamantium plot armor until at least the end of the season.

With Kaia, they seem to have added on the cliché of replacing a likeable auxiliary character (especially one played by a PoC) with an EVOL version. Remember Sydney’s roommate in Alias? Like that. Sometimes, this works (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had a doozy of a reveal involving Doctor Bashir, and I don’t mean the part about his being Khan-adjacent), but more often, it doesn’t, especially if the switch is permanent.

Part of the problem is that we just barely met Kaia and already, they’re rebooting her. Even if this person wearing Kaia’s face is really her with a personality change, as opposed to an EVOL alt-version of her or a monster taking on her appearance, she’s been rebooted. And it’s not as though we were especially attached to the person they just killed off, so there’s even less emotional investment in the reboot.

You have to care about an original in order to care about a reboot. This isn’t a situation like Fred and Illyria in Angel. We’ve barely met Kaia, so there’s little reason to care about her fate.

It just feels like a cheap way to introduce a really powerful character (at least, in terms of superpowers) very briefly to scatter characters into new configurations and then kill her off because she’s too superpowerful for weekly MOTW use. Plus, Dean would totally have wanted to go after his mom right now at the end of 13.10 if the Kaia of 13.09 were still alive.

So, the whole episode was locking down the new team and the premise, and not only was one character left swinging in the wind, but the writers intentionally did that. Rest assured that as this backdoor pilot isn’t going to series, we’re not likely ever to see a resolution to what happened here, any more than we had any resolution to the twist at the end of “Bloodlines” (not that anybody cared about that, but still). Look at how Jody and Donna and the rest of the crew just up and disappeared after the Donna-centric episode following this one.

Kaia’s been the focus of two episodes now and she still doesn’t feel like a real person. She feels more like a checklist of attributes, most of them making her a victim rather than a character. I feel as though the writers keep shoving her in my face (LOOK, LOOK, SHE’S A POOR INDIGENOUS STREET WAIF, FEEL SORRY FOR HER, HOW DARE YOU NOT FEEL SORRY FOR HER?), which gives me a headache and irritates me with the writers’ constant attempts to handwave their own sketchy writing. Don’t give me retro characterization and then try to guilt me into accepting it as groundbreaking writing in diversity.

While her bonding with Claire was a nice idea, it felt extremely rushed (especially with all the slashy overtones). I could see Claire feeling bad that she’d failed to save an innocent she’d sworn to protect (like the little girl at the beginning), but flinging herself into Jody’s arms and weeping as though she’d lost the love of her life after Kaia’s death? That I don’t get.

I could see her grieving over Dean like that, or Castiel (who gets zero concern from Claire or anyone else this episode, despite also being in the wind at this point as far as they know). It’s certainly how she grieved over her mother. And in the episode where she gets turned into a werewolf, we see Dean leave the room when he believes she is dying because he can’t watch. So, there is a bond between those two. But Kaia? Claire knew her for all of five minutes. Where is all of this emotion coming from?

And why does Kaia suddenly decide to trust her after flatly refusing to help Jack or the Brothers? That seems vaguely misandrist. It’s the same lesbian-knight-saves-superpowered-damsel-in-distress conflict as the one involving Charlie and the fairy in “LARP and the Real Girl,” except that this time, the fairy dies and is a WoC (Woman of Color). The plot eventually resolves into a case where a WoC with sparkly powers gets fridged to motivate a white character who is being presented as the episode’s Hero. Hmmm, yeah, nope, not so progressive.

Also, Kaia wasn’t very sympathetic in either of her episodes. She was whiny and helpless and not even very good at escaping humans, let alone taking care of herself against supernatural creatures. She seemed to oscillate between fearful “Well, screw you all; I’m leaving you to clean up my multiverse mess” and “I shall face my fears by coming over to the other world and helping you, fair Claire.”

I never got any sense of responsibility for her own actions, let alone heroism, from Kaia. Granted, it was a stupid idea to let her actually go with Claire to the Bad Place, since she was the only one who could find it, but a little stepping-up-to-the-plate seemed in order for her being part of the team. She seemed very selfish and immature, except for the jarring shift to “By golly, I will help you” at the end of both this and the previous episodes.

It might have worked with an older and more experienced actress, but really, a lot of it was down to the poor writing and weird direction. I also sensed, from the terrible and choppy way the fight scene in the Bad Place was staged (a lot like the very frustrating cutting back and forth in the dark that you see in Arrow), that a natural at stage-fighting she’s not. It reminded me of all the dancing around Katie Cassidy’s lack of stage-fighting skills in season three.

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The Mixed

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Kaia, I think Jody and Donna were the best-realized of the characters. Sure, they’ve had multiple episodes to develop and the characters are also played by older and more experienced actresses. But also, I think a lot of it came down to the fact that Jody and Donna have their own supernatural-rooted conflicts, based on their being cops in a rural area, and Jody’s loss of her husband and son to monsters. Plus, their training and experience as law enforcement officers have given them a jump-start on the skills they need to survive as Hunters.

They don’t suffer from constant comparisons to Sam and Dean because their central character conflicts aren’t directly pilfered from Sam and Dean. I’d definitely watch a show with just Jody and Donna (I especially liked their incidental theme music while they were boarding the boat). They make a great team and come across as salty old Hunters in the Winchester tradition, already. I’m rather less certain I’d watch a show with just the younger women.

Some people had issues with Donna due to her accent and boisterously pro-gun attitude, but Jody was the one who struck me as a bit of a weathervane character in “Wayward Sisters.” I don’t mind Donna’s accent. She’s an obvious homage to Marge Gunderson in Fargo, whom I love as a character. I love the series, too (plenty of broad accents in that).

You may ask why I hated the RP English accents of last season, but had no problem with Donna’s. Let’s just say that the RP accents of characters like Bela and Toni were genuinely fake, and represented some weird and ugly national stereotypes. But there are some people in the U.S. who actually talk like Donna and certainly some who act like her. And that regional stereotype really is more broad than negative.

More to the point, she’s not an antagonist, and is a solid and capable Hunter. Donna may have issues with her weight and with men (especially her jerkoff ex), but she is fully confident and competent Hunting Vampires.

Jody is fine this episode when she’s off with Donna, but she flip-flops a lot whenever she’s with Claire. She wants Claire to be safe. No, she wants to let Claire go save the world. Make up your mind, Jody.

In the process, she also ends up ignoring Alex, a girl she previously had gone to bat for with the Brothers to save her when Alex was forcibly turned into a Vampire and they were considering killing her. I get that Jody’s desire to create another family to replace the one that died (no matter how much she may protest that’s not so) fuels this emotional conflict. But the writing for it could be a lot better and not portray Jody as an emotional jellyfish. Also, there was no way she should have let Kaia go through the multiverse rip with Claire.

I noticed a lot of questions on social media about why Claire gets so much prominence in the backdoor pilot (and honestly, I hope the series doesn’t go the route of an ensemble cast where one character gets far more coverage than anyone else). Her being white and blonde seems a rather obvious factor. But more so is that as a character, she’s been around longer than any of the other characters in the spin-off (since season four’s “The Rapture”), though Kathryn Newton has only been playing Claire since season ten, when the character popped up again after a six-season hiatus.

Another cogent reason is that Claire is a legacy member of Team Free Will. Castiel has been wearing her (now-dead) father’s body since before he met the Brothers and she has also harbored him as a vessel. So, she has a direct “familial” connection to the Brothers. It helps that Newton seems pretty comfortable with all the physical stuff of the role.

That said, Claire, despite having a lot of roots in the mothershow, is still a bit nebulous in terms of motivation and character. I noted before that I thought making her lesbian – or at least bisexual – was actually a good idea. It defuses a potentially problematical aspect of her character to this point – she has developed a monumental crush on Dean, which has caused a fair amount of unease for both Dean and Jody.

Dean actually loves Claire dearly, enough that, as I said before, he was forced to leave the room when she took the torturous werewolf cure last season and didn’t want her to go through with it due to the high mortality rate. But he loves her as a father and would never, ever sleep with her. He is acutely aware of the fact that he is twice her age and that she is effectively his best friend’s mortal daughter. Claire may talk about how much she owes both Sam and Dean (and she does have a bond with Sam, as well). But she is carrying a big, bright, sparkly Daddy-Figure torch for Dean and this has caused him to put some emotional distance between them.

If Claire is gay, then this soft ground firms up considerably for the writers. The highly inappropriate puppy-dog-love chemistry with this scarred Hunter old enough to be her daddy becomes much less squicky and turns into more appropriate father-daughter chemistry.

Dean has also distanced himself because he appears to blame himself for her self-destructive path into Hunting and sees himself as a terrible role model. Jody, on the other hand, appears to see that Dean’s very mental health issues make him a good role model for troubled young Hunters like Claire because he is a survivor who has used his own damage to become a Hero. A damaged person like Dean, much more than some unattainable paragon of virtue, gives hope to the damaged people who enter Hunting as a major avocation or even full-time profession. Him they can emulate.

One problem is that Claire strives to be like Dean without quite understanding who Dean is or what makes him a great Hunter and Hero. Claire goes in, half-cocked and guns blazing, without understanding that one of the most cunning, sneaky, and strategic people in the SPNverse is Dean Winchester. If Dean does go in big, dumb and beautiful, that’s a tactic, not a sign that he’s too dopey or prideful to do it any other way.

Claire, now being fully orphaned, also doesn’t quite get Dean’s loyalty and devotion to family. The person who gets this, weirdly enough, is Alex. So, while Claire thinks she’s being like Dean, Alex is being like Dean. Claire is more like season-one Sam in that she is seeking revenge and being a hot-head. Alex is staying home and backing Jody up. We even saw her save Jody from a brainwashed Mary last season.

Alex also has important support skills in that she is now a nurse or in nursing school, or something. Let’s hope the show actually starts researching emergency medicine a bit better from now on to suit her role (because she and the others will probably be back, at least on the mothershow). Alex (like Sam) is really only in Hunting out of loyalty to Jody and also (like Sam) feels tainted by her years with a vampire family. Like Sam, Alex is seeking a kind of normal that is so idealized it probably doesn’t exist, while not feeling especially worthy of it or able to identify and find it.

Unfortunately, while Alex got in some good Dean-style lines (“You look like Biker Barbie”), she had very little development aside from some bonding with Claire and Jody. She was effectively shunted aside by all the other characters.

So, let’s talk about Patience. Patience got a full-episode introduction earlier this season in the eponymous “Patience” (13.03). Admittedly, she comes off as bland and low-key in this one compared to all the over-the-topness of certain other characters, but I think her character arc worked the best of them.

Alex desires Normal. Patience just left Normal behind in Atlanta and went off on a Hero’s Journey. She wants to use her power of prophecy to help people. She even basically got disowned by her father in the previous episode for leaving to come to Jody’s. So, Patience may look boring at the moment, but a lot is going on with her.

In addition, Patience also had a few checks on her ego about the above big mission to save others. For one thing, everyone else (except for Kaia, who was kinda grandfathered in) knew a lot more about Hunting and handling guns than she did. For another, the vision that sent her to Jody’s in the first place to try to save Claire ended up saving no one. Not only did it come true, but Patience belatedly realized that it came true because she had misinterpreted it. What she had thought was Claire’s death was actually Claire grieving over Kaia’s death. Prophecy isn’t quite as straightforward as she thought or as the show made it look in her first episode. This is humbling for her.

It’s also really, really nice to see an African American woman who isn’t a condescending stereotype. Patience is boring, middle-class, and academically smart, and that’s the whole point. Technically, she doesn’t have to be there. She has a stable home she could return to. Despite losing her mother and grandmother at a young age, she’s not rocked by trauma and forced out onto the road. She’s a volunteer. She just wants to do something good with her gift.

What makes no sense, though (and I can’t believe I’m saying this because I hated the incessant, years-long focus on Sam’s psychic storyline), is that Sam never has a conversation with her about her visions. Her visions are almost exactly the same as his psychic abilities in the first two seasons, and her grandmother lampshaded Sam’s abilities like crazy back in season one. But nope, not a peep between Sam and Patience about it. Sam has no conversation with Kaia about it, either, for that matter, nor does Dean ever bring up with her the considerable amount of dreamwalking and travel beween worlds he’s done. That absence was glaring to me.

But unlike some fans, I actually don’t mind the women being on the show and I think the focus on the spin-off gave the writing a direction last season distinctly lacked (let’s be honest – Lucifer on the Loose was boring as hell. So was anything to do with the LoL). But considering Sam and Dean are the inspiration for the formation of the Wayward Sisters in-verse, the least the show could do was have some more expression about what that means. A little vague mumbling from Claire and Jody about how Sam and Dean are missing (really? Those guys go missing more often than a tomcat on the prowl) and the women owe them doesn’t cut it. I’d like to see how that thinking has evolved to this point. I mean, hell, every time Bobby and/or Rufus popped up in their later appearances, the show practically went into hagiography mode. I did not sense anything inspirational or special about the Brothers’ appearance in this episode (though there were hints with Dean in the Patience episode).

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The Good

As for SPN being sexist or misogynistic, simply put, it’s not. Women have always been portrayed as Hunters or potential Hunters in the show. They handle weapons. They kill things. They kick ass.

Patience was actually slapped on the back for killing a human-like monster this week. Women don’t get to kill anything on American TV without a huge negative deal made about it, let alone praised for it. Yet, after the Sisters killed all those things, it was Miller Time. The only dampener was the loss of a comrade, not any squeamishness or guilt over killing monsters.

The potential for a female-led storyline has always been there, which is a lot more than I can say for The Vampire Diaries (where the two male leads metaphorically smothered the female lead) or The Originals (where women are either victims or evil bitches – sorry, evil witches), two supposedly female-oriented CW dark fantasy shows that utterly fail to be feminist.

Legends of Tomorrow plays up Sara’s character a whole lot, but the sole other female character (who is always a WoC) seems to get switched in and out interchangeably, rendering women barely a third of the cast. Similarly, male characters also dominate Arrow and the female characters are either love interests, annoying little sister types or screeching harpies (oh, hello, Laurel).

I love Kara and her sister’s relationship on Supergirl (not to mention Alex’s coming out), but dear God, if I have to hear her apologize and grovel one more time for something a male lead never would have been dunned on, I’m gonna scream. Same deal with iZombie and the title character having to be “nice” to everyone (she’s a freakin’ zombie, people!).

Jane the Virgin is female-centric, but it’s also basically a soap opera – very traditional roles for women. And have you seen lowest-rated-show-in-network-history-for-two-whole-seasons Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? Sure, the songs are bouncy, but between the songs are long, arid, grim stretches of the title character actually being a crazy ex-girlfriend, doing things that a male character in film or TV rom-com or adventure would be considered heroic for doing (even though, in the real world, they would indeed be creepy and stalkerish). The only difference is that it’s a woman doing it and women are never portrayed positively doing this stuff. It’s a really negative portrayal.

This baffles me, since Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is hailed as feminist, yet it’s about as anti-feminist as it can be. It breaks no new cinematic ground whatsoever.

There’s The 100 (which I never got into much), but even they did a Bury Your Gay Girls storyline and the showrunners never figured out why that was a problem.

Black Lightning started out a bit iffy on that score (Lynn and her youngest daughter are both rather annoying cliches at the start), but Anissa at the drug store was about the most badass intro to a character’s new powers under fluorescent lighting since we saw Demon!Dean take out an Amara fan at the beginning of season ten. Any showrunners for the “Wayward Sisters” spin-off ought to have taken notes.

There’s a reason why some female viewers like SPN but really dislike other CW shows. And it’s not self-hate or internalized misogyny. The CW claims to have young women as its target audience, but most of its entries are every bit as sexist and misogynistic as the rest of TV.

Not a surprise, considering the network is no more welcoming to women and People of Color as producers than any other network. The pro-Girl Power thing is all just a big marketing dodge. On Supernatural, it’s downright refreshing to see women kill multiple human-like monsters, handle guns, and brag about their weapons collection, without an ounce of remorse or squeamishness (and several actresses from Samantha Ferris to Cyndy Sampson to Marisa Ramirez to Kim Rhodes and Briana Buckmaster have commented over the years on how refreshing it is to get to handle weapons and do real stunts). Go team.

This is usually the point where we get into how a woman can be strong and feminist without wielding a gun or other weapon. And that’s true. But don’t discount the number of contortions TV or film writers go through to avoid having women – ordinary women – get physical in fights and, especially, handle guns. If the only way a woman can be strong compared to men is never in a fight, that’s a problem. If the only way a woman can be strong compared to ordinary men is if she has superpowers (especially if she has to keep apologizing for having them), that’s a big problem. Supernatural doesn’t have that problem. It never did.

Dabb isn’t all that great a writer or showrunner, and he lacks the kind of support Kripke had in the early years. But the world of SPN was established years before he came on board. It is one that has always portrayed characters from many walks of life, both genders, different cultures, different ethnicities, and GLBT who were solid Hunters, years before that was actually fashionable. It’s easy to forget that shows like Highlander portrayed women as physically and even mentally inferior to men, to the point where it seemed a ludicrous idea that a woman Immortal could ever win the Game without cheating. Hence, the female-lead sequel, Raven, bombed horribly, despite having a likable female lead who had been a fan favorite on the previous show. Admittedly, the unlikable male lead and the misogynistic writing didn’t help, but neither did six seasons of the previous show telling us an Immortal woman was so useless in a fight that even a really ancient Immortal like Cassandra couldn’t team up with Methos and take out the rest of the Horsemen. Or any of the Horsemen, for that matter, despite her being almost as old as they were.

As for the much-vaunted Buffy and Angel, if you watch them again, you’ll see a lot of traditional gender roles for women who aren’t superpowered superheroes. For every Buffy, there are five Willows or even Freds. Shows where women are regularly shown as strong, capable and lethal in a physical fight (like Xena: Warrior Princess, or even the far-more-recent Lost Girl) are rare. And even then, the women in Xena wore some pretty revealing outfits clearly not intended to attract a straight female audience (though the Xena showrunners happily pandered to the enthusiastically lesbian portion of their fandom that grew up, at least for the most part).

So, it was no small thing when, a full season before an annoyed Dean informed Jo Harvelle that he had no problems with female Hunters, just idiots, an equally annoyed Dean handed young Kat in “Asylum” a saltgun because she was the one with the gun skills and the moxie, not her dippy boyfriend. And it was Kat who tagged along with Dean and got some grumpy instruction in Hunting from him.

The show has definitely had its issues with portraying gender and women’s issues over the years (and the godawful fight scene in which Sam and Dean are dumbed down enough to get taken down by a lame hooded figure with a blade on a stick is unfortunately not a first), but it’s also tried hard to portray a world where women are in no way inferior to men, as a group, when it comes to battling supernaturally dangerous creatures. Even if that means physically.

This is how “Wayward Sisters” can have an all-female cast of new and established Hunter characters who still feel as though they belong in the SPNverse (as opposed to the obnoxiously snobby One Percenter monsters of “Bloodlines,” which felt like Supernatural: The Originals, which is not a compliment). The casting is extremely critical for such a show (as we saw with the casting of Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles). So, even though the writing for “Wayward Sisters” was creaky, cliched and often tonedeaf, while the direction was uncharacteristically clumsy for show veteran Phil Sgriccia, the chemistry the women on this team have (which is mostly considerable) overcame that because it had the worldbuilding at its back (like Xena) rather than undercutting it (like Highlander: The Raven). The new show can always get new, and better, showrunners, certainly better writers, but none of that would do it any good if the cast chemistry weren’t there.

Fortunately, the cast chemistry is there, especially for Jody and Donna, and Claire and Alex. Patience is bland, but the actress seems capable of taking her somewhere (her reaction to her first monster kill was a hoot) with some decent writing.

So, while there are definitely improvements to be made, and some things could go horrendously wrong (especially with the current showrunning and writing team), I think there are some solid bones here on which to build a new show. Too bad it didn’t get picked up.

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Next: War of the Worlds: The Nepotism Duo return with another confusing tale about the alt-SPNverse, Lucifer, alt-Michael and Asmodeus.


I’ll be doing my live recap of “The Thing” here later tonight or tomorrow. I’ll try to catch up with the recaps of the rest of the season before Thursday night. Wish me luck.


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Review: Supernatural: “Tombstone” (13.06)


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Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. Want more of my recaps and reviews? Check out The Supernatural Codex: Season 1, out on Kindle and in print. If you buy a print copy, you also get a Kindle copy free.


[lots o’ spoilers ahead]


I was not in the least impressed by Davy Perez last season. He wrote some pretty stinky codswallop, especially at Dean’s expense. “American Nightmare” was terrible. “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell” managed to ruin Hell Hounds in the way that notorious Nepotism Duo entry “Of Grave Importance” managed to ruin ghosts and Ghost!Bobby in season seven. I especially like to pretend that Tarantino tribute/ripoff (“Stuck in the Middle with You”) never happened – and that’s coming from a Mary fan.

“Tombstone,” however, is surprisingly good.

While “Frontierland” was hardly serious throughout, “Tombstone” is a more modern-day, more noirish take on the Western genre. It wouldn’t hurt for them to do more of these. Dean’s geeking out over gunfighters (and TFW 2.0’s reactions) was a hoot. There were some nice takes on Western tropes (like the shootout at the bank). And the set design people outdid themselves on that motel room. Goodness, it’s been a while since we had one that gloriously in-your-face.

One thing I really liked was the low-key way the episode did two Native American characters, simply by casting them and playing out an Old West revenge storyline with them (the bank security guard Jack accidentally killed (Jason Asuncion) and the bank teller (Hana Kinani) were also played by PoC actors). Both Eric Schweig (Sarge AKA Joe Philips) and Paul C. Grenier (Carl Philips, Sarge’s murdered nephew) are First Nations. In fact, they were both in a Canadian series about a First Nations reserve, called Blackstone, that ran for five seasons. I couldn’t find Grenier’s tribe, but Schweig is a renowned Inuit artist, in addition to his acting career, and also works with the homeless in Vancouver and stressed First Nations communities all over Canada. If he looks familiar, it’s because he played the hot, doomed Uncas in Last of the Mohicans (1992).

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I can’t prove it, unfortunately, but I have a sneaking suspicion Perez (or possibly director Nina Lopez-Corrado, who would have had more control over casting) was strongly inspired by a book called Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, which came out in April of last year. This noirish true crime book (a film is already in the works) retells the horrifying story of a conspiracy that ultimately took at least 24 lives in Osage County during the Jazz Age of the early 1920s. It reads a lot like a cross between Dashiell Hammett’s Red Harvest and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.

The victims, all members of the Osage tribe or white friends and relatives, were systematically murdered by other white friends and relatives in a plot to grab Osage “headrights.” The Osage tribe had bought the land in the county in the 1890s under the impression that it was too barren for any white people to try to steal it. Cannily, they became aware that oil was on the land around the same time they bought it and managed to secure all mineral rights, creating an “underground reservation.” Each full-blooded tribal member then had a full “headright” to this underground reservation, equally divided among the tribe of two thousand members.

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Needless to say, once oil was struck, the Osage became millionaires, which (mostly) improved their material lives to a stratospheric extent. Alas, the U.S. government of the time (apparently feeling it had not already screwed over the Osage enough) became worried about these “childlike” Native Americans having too much money and set up a system of custodianship for pretty much every full-blooded Osage. The guardians, of course, were mostly white (though some were part Native-American from other tribes) and they did a gruesome job of fleecing the Osage.

In addition, there was the aforementioned plot to murder an entire family of sisters and their mother to gain all their mineral headrights, which the author believes was only a smallish clutch among perhaps hundreds of similar, individual murders and conspiracies. Not even extreme wealth could protect the Osage from genocide.

Fortunately, the Osage survived this and are now a thriving tribe. But they remember that period as a very dark time in the tribe’s history. Since this period followed on the one where they all were driven off their ancestral lands, saw the bison herds destroyed, nearly starved to death, and had an entire generation of their children carted off to brutal reservation schools intended to turn them into obedient servants of white people, that’s really saying something.

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A lot of the conspirators were lowlifes from the dying frontier of the West – cattle rustlers-turned-respectably corrupt ranchers and politicians, gunslingers-turned-bank robbers – and they fell upon this late bonanza of the Underground Reservation with a truly ghoulish relish. I trust you’re beginning to see some of the parallels I’m talking about with this episode.

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If you look at the episode in this context, Sarge’s turn toward vigilantism to avenge his nephew (also a cop) while his (probably white) boss is out of town makes far more sense. Despite being walking targets, the Osage did everything they could think of to solve the murders and they did eventually get the custodianship system reversed. They petitioned politicians, hired lawyers and private investigators, and even considered taking the law into their own hands. They grew pretty desperate. It wasn’t until a former Texas Ranger named Tom White, now heading up an FBI investigation, came in with a crack, if eccentric, team of Old West characters (including the first Native American FBI agent), in 1925 that the conspiracy was cracked and even then, many peripheral or individual murders remained officially unsolved (though the investigators had their suspects and suspicions).

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That’s what makes Sarge’s alliance with Dean so much fun (Dean even dresses in the episode a lot like Tom White did in an old photograph from his Texas Ranger days and how Texas Rangers dress today). When Sarge bluntly tells Dean after the bank robbery that some Old West justice is about to commence, he’s pleased to find that Dean is entirely of the same bent (being a Hunter). Not only won’t they stand in each other’s way, they immediately team up. And when they finally get the drop on the Ghoul (this week’s MOTW) who murdered young Officer Philips and is impersonating a dead, white gunslinger from the Old West, it’s probably not a coincidence that Dean and Sarge are able to work it so that Sarge makes the kill.

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Personally, I think Sarge would make a good Hunter. I hope he returns in a future episode (and doesn’t immediately get killed off). I liked how Dean immediately clued in that the dead deputy was Sarge’s nephew (thanks to Sarge’s anger and the same last name) and that he assumed Sarge was the Sheriff until Sarge corrected him.

Dean’s going after Sarge down the Ghoul’s tunnels in the graveyard (adlibbed to the max by Jensen Ackles) is also hilariously off the chain. The script even gets in a callback to Die Hard by way of season two’s “Hollywood Babylon.” Dean does love his Die Hard refs.

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Fans, of course, were long awaiting the return of Castiel and his teaming up with Dean, though the show never allows this to go on for long in the MOTWs before coming up with a stupid reason in a subsequent episode for Castiel to disappear for a few episodes, or at least not be in any scenes with the Brothers. I mean, I sorta, kinda get that Misha Collins is really easy to make laugh, but since the instigator of that sort of thing is usually Jared Padalecki, I’m not too impressed by that as an excuse not to have Dean and Castiel scenes.

Anyhoo, Castiel and Dean’s (re)entrance as co-investigators is a hoot and Collins works Castiel’s fish-out-of-water shtick for all it’s worth. There were some nice musical cues. “Space Cowboy” by the Steve Miller Band is one of my all-time favorite rock songs and was on my bucket list for appearing on this show, so that one’s obvious.

But it was also cute to become acquainted with “They Call Me Zombie” by the Messer Chups (AKA the Bonecollectors). The show doesn’t always use “hip” newer music very well, but this song by a cute, 50s-B-horror-movie-inspired Russian band from St. Petersburg fits in nicely with the show’s tone and introduces Athena Lopez as a Goth girl well. She’s another one who could come back and I’d be fine with it. Though she really needs to start locking the doors if she’s going to wear headphones at work.

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Was less into “Hot Rod Rockin'” by Thaddeus Rose & the Thorns, which sounded a bit more generically rockabilly, but you can’t have everything. Admittedly, I’ve never been a big rockabilly fan.

I thought it was a bit amusing that after the incident with the bank guard, Dean packed the rest of TFW 2.0 back off to the Bunker and finished the job himself, teaming up with local talent (Sarge). When all is said and done, Dean does Hunting better than anyone else, but it’s interesting that as soon as things got serious, he went it alone – and the others didn’t argue with him as much as they could have.

It’s also interesting that Dean’s knowledge of Western gunslingers allowed him to immediately identify the Ghoul’s disguise and that his intuition (his “spidey sense,” as the scripts put it) allowed him to discount Athena almost immediately. As he pointed out, as an undertaker, she wouldn’t need to steal bodies from a graveyard. Of course Dean would know this – eating brains as an undertaker was Amy the Kitsune’s method of feeding before she turned serial killer to serve her cute moppet fresh brains in season seven’s “The Girl Next Door.”

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Some of the other elements in the story didn’t do as much for me. Speaking of which, now I remember one reason why Kelly Kline annoys me – the actress who plays her, Courtney Ford, played that evil bitch who shot Daniel on Revenge. She seems to have hooked up with the CW’s acting stable and is now over on Legends of Tomorrow, apparently playing another Elektra-complexed evil bitch (gotta say, she makes those memorable). Anyhoo, the sooner they get rid of the drippy character that is Kelly, the happier I’ll be. She is sticking around far too long in flashbacks.

Jack has been starting to grow on me a bit, and some of the earlier stuff in the ep was cute. Like his waking Dean, who rises up, primal-screaming, bleary-eyed and heavily armed. Man, that is a bad idea, as Castiel (who, as we know from “In the Beginning,” likes to watch Dean sleep) tries to warn Jack before Jack does it: “I told you he’s an angry sleeper – like a bear.”

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Alexander Calvert also milks it later, with Jack side-eyeing Dean nervously. Just because Jack can’t be killed by known weapons, doesn’t mean Dean doesn’t scare him. These things make Jack’s quickie bond with the Brothers seem more real and organic, so kudos to Calvert for that, and for making Jack’s affection for Castiel seem innocent and genuine (despite the rather-tainted origins of that in the execrable from-the-womb brainwashing storyline of last season). He has an easy chemistry with Misha Collins, as well. This is no mean feat. Such insta-grown-super-babies more usually end up like the whiny Connor on Angel, though granted, it’s still early days for Jack.

But Jack’s funk and his abruptly leaving at the end of the episode feel artificial and forced. It’s basically there because the writers decided it was time for Jack to strike out on his own. It doesn’t seem to grow from the story itself. While it’s nice (and, frankly, natural, particularly after Dean’s Team Free Will 2.0 speech: “Two salty Hunters, one half-angel kid, and a dude that just came back from the dead again. Team Free Will 2.0”) for the rest of TFW to reassure Jack that this is not a mistake he can never walk back from, their attempts to make Jack feel better just reinforce how out-of-nowhere Jack’s decision (and sudden and precise command of his powers after his central conflict of the episode being that he can’t do that) is. In such a circumstance, Dean’s calling Jack “family” also seems just a tad rushed.

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In addition, while I like Athena, I don’t like that she basically ended up little more than Dave’s unsuspecting girlfriend and a red herring when it turned out she had no clue what he’d been up to (and no sympathy once he turned to murder). Plus, I thought their relationship was creepy from the get-go, not because she was a goth undertaker who aspired to be a film FX tech and he was a Ghoul who ate dead bodies and took their forms, but because he was stalkery and condescending and didn’t respect her boundaries even before he turned on her. Another creepy white dude. Yay.

That seems to be the only reason she was written as an Abby Sciuto from NCIS knockoff. And while I like that the side characters were almost all Hispanic and other People of Color, the villain at the middle of it was still a generic white guy (or impersonating him, anyway). Both Jonathan Cherry (Dave Mather) and Sarah Troyer (Athena Lopez) are experienced with low-budget horror. They may have been cast for that reason, but overall I found Ghoul!Dave a tad bland. Spending so much time on his relationship with Athena because she was just his girlfriend in the episode felt like wheelspinning.

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I thought it was quite clever for the MOTW to be a ghoul gnawing on an Old West gunslinger rather than a Shapeshifter or a Ghost, or that the real Dave Mather was a monster back in the day (and the tunnels were a nice touch). The real Mather was quite a piece of work, dancing on both sides of the law in Dodge City (the setting of this week’s episode) and racking up quite a body count until he fell off one side somewhere around 1885. A colorful character like the Mysterious Dave wasn’t likely to stay breathing and off the map for long. In terms of who knew who, the Old West was smaller than you might think. But all confirmed sightings ended after 1885. He was declared dead (albeit with no body) in 1887.

No one knows if he really was dead at that point, but a lot of bad things could happen to you in the Old West, where the average life expectancy was only 47 years and you could disappear into the wilderness, never to be seen by other humans alive again. So, the likelihood of Mather (who was already in his thirties at that point) living to a ripe old age was always going to be low.

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All of these elements never quite gelled for me when it came to Ghoul!Dave, though. A lot of the problem was that it’s the third time this season the show has done this trope (woman menaced by MOTW played by a somewhat-older male actor in a creepy stalker way) and it’s by far the weakest example. I noted in my review for that episode that I didn’t care for it in “Patience,” where the Wraith’s creepiness seemed overly sexual in an OOC way that didn’t fit the previous Wraith modus operandi. It worked better in “The Big Empty,” where the woman was also a monster (physically) and had a bad past connected to the male MOTW that made sense for Shapeshifters and for which she chose to atone.

In “Tombstone,” it’s just filler and relegates a potentially interesting female character to Damsel in Distress status. Portraying a guest female character as irrelevant, in a reactionary gender role at the climax of the episode, just because she’s an ordinary human, isn’t the best message to send, particularly this season.

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Next: War of the Worlds: The Nepotism Duo return with another confusing tale about the alt-SPNverse, Lucifer, alt-Michael and Asmodeus.


You can find my live recap of “Tombstone” here.


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Review: Supernatural: “Advanced Thanatology” (13.05)


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Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. Want more of my recaps and reviews? Check out The Supernatural Codex: Season 1, out on Kindle and in print.


[lots o’ spoilers ahead]


Imagine that you live like a mayfly, growing up in a violent life where people die young and nasty, repeatedly told you are nothing but a blunt tool in the service of other, better folk. Expecting to go out bloody and savage at a young age, unmourned, forgotten almost as soon as you die. Expecting … hoping at some point … that at least it won’t last forever and someday, very soon, you will find peace, even if it’s the peace of oblivion. You are surrounded by people who do all sorts of horrific things to live another day, but you? You’re ready to go pretty much any time.

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Now imagine that you are suddenly faced with being dragged, kicking and screaming, out of obscurity, held up into the light, made the light, the barrier, the firewall between Light and Dark, Firewall with a capital ‘F.’ And you start to realize, as you cheat – no, are cheated of – death over and over that your life may eventually end bloody, but it’s going to be a long time. Maybe even geologically speaking. Even to the point where you could outlive the angels, and certainly the demons, you previously thought immortal. That you are too important to die, that you have been given what you’ve seen so many others commit murder, betrayal and far worse to gain just a taste of.

And you even begin to suspect, after so many years of neglect and abuse, that the universe didn’t do this to hurt you. It did it out of love, this making you immortal. And not just immortal – eternal.

Imagine this new truth is dropped on you like a neutron bomb a moment after you thought you’d finally discovered the perfect way to commit suicide.

You wouldn’t feel blessed. You’d feel cursed. You’d feel like Dean Winchester near the end of this episode.

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I’m not sure yet if this is a top favorite, but I think I can consider “Advanced Thanatology” a favorite of the episodes so far this season and a genuinely entertaining, thought-provoking, re-watchable one. The episode does a very good job of staying on topic in terms of its central concept. There is Dean, who is profoundly, fundamentally, clinically depressed, trying to party his depression away. There is a young boy Dean tries to save who is snatched from life young and terrified. As in season one’s “Faith,” Dean tries to switch places with the boy, but is simply told that’s not the way things are. Dean’s life is important. The boy’s is just done. There is the loss of his devoted, down-to-earth mother (movingly played by Alisen Down, who was also in season eight’s “Trial and Error”). There is the sinister creepiness of the insane doctor, evoking pretty heavily both Dean’s fears about shrinks last week and the mad scientist doc of season one’s “Asylum.”

I think that’s what makes this central conflict so complex. It’s not just a case of a person who is not allowed to die, or who has become immortal and bored with it. It’s a case of someone who lives in a universe where life is short and hard, a prize taken away before anyone has had enough of it. This person assumes, especially since he is not important enough for second chances or extensions, that his life will be especially short and hard. As Dean puts it this week, “It doesn’t matter. I don’t matter.”

And then, like some lost scion of royalty in a fairy tale, this person is raised from the gutter of human life, by beings who represent eternal concepts, and given a place on Mount Olympus, in the ninth sphere of Paradise, the Empyrean, and told that he can’t die because he is far, far too important to die. Without him, the universe would be toast. And to emphasize this (perhaps just to placate him and give him motivation to continue on), they include his beloved brother in the blessing, a brother for whom he would (and has) died. And then they even bring back his best friend.

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This is not a curse, to be singled out, spotlighted, in such a way. It just feels like one to Dean Winchester. Since the climactic scene with Billie is from Dean’s POV, it does indeed seem as though she is cruel in dangling the possibility of death – of many deaths – in front of him, before snatching it away. It’s subtle, but if you mind the signs in the story, especially when Dean glances up after Billie mentions the “shelf” of his deaths (a clever and evocative image of a very esoteric concept), that entire library of Ws is devoted just to him. In addition, two of the “deaths” Billie mentions have already happened to him or been avoided, and the third is in the very next episode. It begs the question of whether, depending on Dean’s choices, any of these deaths will ever prove truly final.

One macabrely amusing moment is when Jessica the panicked red-headed Reaper enters the W archive and blurts out, “Dean Winchester is in the Veil!” Clearly, this is a DEFCON-1 moment for Reapers at this point. Dean has become such an accomplished shaman and psychopomp (not to mention slayer of Reapers and other angels) that not only does he treat his spirit walk as an ordinary event, but his mere presence in their realm terrifies Reapers. Hence the phrase, “advanced thanatology.” It’s also notable that we will soon see that there are people who dreamwalk between worlds pretty often, yet the only time Death gets concerned is when Dean Winchester does it.

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Back when I was about twenty, I read a book called Once a Warrior King by David Donovan. It’s a memoir by a young first lieutenant who served as an advisor in a remote part of Vietnam during the War. Through an unfortunate and unforeseeable sequence of events, Donovan abruptly found himself the highest political authority in that area, with the power of life and death over everyone there. People bowed to him, fought him, admired him and reviled him as if he were the most important person in that region. He discovered that unlike many of his comrades, his job involved as much the impossible task of helping the people he served and improving their lives in a war zone as it did blowing up the enemy.

Around the time I read the book, I was elected to the captain’s position on a college rescue squad that was the second busiest ambulance squad in the state. I found myself going to EMS meetings where I represented the emergency care options of 14,000 people in five towns, as well as transport for a regional neonatal care unit. ER directors twice my age, sometimes grudgingly, treated me as an equal. It was a shock to the system. As one alumnus member bluntly told me, I had wanted a grownup’s job, so it was time to grow up and do it.

A few years later, when I was in Peace Corps in Cameroon, one of my farmers came to me one day and asked if I would intercede for him in a local dispute to our village’s de facto “mayor,” as I was his “patron.” I agreed, though I didn’t think my influence would do much good. To my surprise, the mayor greeted me warmly and readily agreed to my farmer’s request. I had lived in Boubara for a year and a half at that point, and had somehow remained blissfully aware until then that not only was I fairly high up in the village, but I was apparently among the top four officials out of six thousand people.

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Were these revelations ego boosts? To a certain extent, though I always felt they were undeserved ones. The position atop a pyramid feels pretty precarious. As far as I was concerned, the position, not the person, was important. Leadership is ultimately about service. If you’re all about the gold crown, you’re missing the point.

These roles also came with huge responsibilities and major real-world consequences, for many people, if/when I screwed up – and I worried a lot about screwing up. I made fully as many enemies as I did friends, simply as a matter of course. They, too, came with the job. I’m sure not everyone I knew during that time think I served well. I’d like to think that some people did, though.

C.S. Lewis puts it brilliantly in his fifth Narnia book, The Horse and His Boy:

For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.

Dean has always been acutely aware of the rough side of this equation. He’s taken many blows and won many enemies in his determination to hold by his unique motto: “Saving people, Hunting things: The Family Business.” What he has not understood up to this point is why the fact he came up with that idea makes him more than a rather filthy-minded footsoldier in the endless war between Light and Dark.

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I think that Billie is trying to make a point. And as reluctant as he still is to acknowledge that, I think Dean is finally beginning to understand what she means, what Chuck meant, what Amara meant. Jensen Ackles does a really nice job with this as he deadpans a polite “Hmm” every so often as Billie drops bomb after mindblowing bomb of cosmic revelation about his position in the SPNverse. Dean no longer bows to Death. These two are now equals, bargaining with almost amiable hostility over the fate of a hundred souls. It’s even possible that Death now bows to Dean, or soon will.

I’ll admit it. I like Billie. I just thought her previous motivation made her look stupid and petty. So, I was happy to see her promotion rectified that. She’s a worthy successor to the previous Death.

Problem is, Dean is still human and that kind of thing will break your mind. He’s not all right at the end (“I’m pretty far from okay”), by any means, but he does now have the tools to keep going once he sees Castiel at the phone booth, an embodiment of at least one of his prayers answered against all odds. What shape he’ll be in for the rest of the season is a whole other story.

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Sam’s had a fair amount of growth in the past few seasons, so it’s interesting to see how he fields what is basically part two (after this week) of trying to talk his brother off the ledge. His performance on that score last week was less than edifying. Not only did he try to bully Dean into group therapy, but he did so on a highly risky case when the two of them needed to be at their most alert and clear-headed. That case turned out to involve an MOTW that has done Dean considerable psychological and social damage in the past. And on top of that, Sam insisted on bringing Jack along. Not his finest hour. This week, he seems to be trying reverse psychology by indulging all of Dean’s favorite quirks, including his paranoia about crazy shrinks, though Dean sees him coming a mile away.

The episode doesn’t spell it out, but it’s gotta hurt Sam’s heart just a little when he hears Dean parrot back to him the cruel speech he served Dean at the end of “The Purge” years ago, about how Dean thought he was doing good, helping, making a difference, but really wasn’t. We see Sam grimace when Dean echoes this speech, clearly having taken it to heart and been wounded near to death with the slow-acting poison of it.

Sam can try to make up for all this with two-word apologies like “I’m sorry” (season four) and “I lied” (season nine), or more elaborate groveling like his speech about trusting the LoL in the penultimate (I don’t care what J2 say about that word; I love using it – penultimate, penultimate, penultimate) episode of last season. It won’t change the fact that more often over the years, he has spoken venom and anger, sometimes even hate, and that his brother is more emotionally primed to register abuse, anyway.

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While the sequence of Sam pampering/kissing up to Dean is amusing (and Dean passed out on the floor with his tie on his head and a big, pink bra around his neck is a hoot), I’m not sure Sam even knows what to do to make it up to his brother, let alone help Dean heal and become well. It’s a long, uphill battle, to be sure, and it is by no means all Sam’s fault that Dean is this way. John (and Mary’s death, it must be said) had a big hand in it, as well as all the self-inflicted wounds Dean has incurred along the way. It’s certainly going to take a lot more than “bullets, bacon and booze,” even “a lot of booze,” for Dean to pull out of this flat spin.

Admittedly, Sam does have a point about Dean’s “bossiness.” For all his poor self-esteem, Dean has frequently stepped into the role of King with effortless grace and arrogance, literally as if he were born to it. This is played for laughs for a bit in this episode with lines like “What happened to you being nice to me?” and “You are forgiven.” And when Dean is well, relatively speaking, it’s a constitutional monarchy with all of TFW getting a say.

But when things get ugly, shit goes down, and Dean’s mental health goes to a dark, dark place, it becomes, as he himself puts it in season nine, “not a democracy. This is a dictatorship.” And that’s when Dean makes unilateral decisions, such as killing himself to make a spirit walk from which he does not intend to return, simply to rescue Sam from a few angry ghosts that the two of them could probably banish a different way. At those times, Dean’s recklessness (“insouciance” as 2014!Apocalypse Castiel once put it) tips over into self-destructive and suicidal behavior that needs, at the very least, a gentle restraining hand on the arm, as Jody did to Dean in “Patience.”

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Finally, this was a properly satisfying MOTW this week. I’m glad the show is once again remembering that it’s supposed to be horror, not paranormal romance. Yeah, it went off into mytharc in the third act, but the first two acts did have a real Hunt that was actively resolved.

That doctor was extremely creepy (notice how he simply tosses Sam aside and goes after Dean, his preferred type of victim?). As unsympathetic as I found Evan (Doomed Teaser Kid), who was composed of unadulterated idiot, I found his death properly chilling. In fact, all of the scenes in the haunted house (a series of sets the show has used many times before, with all sorts of different lighting) were straight-up horror, no chaser, and the twist of the angry, confused ghosts coming after the Brothers after the doc was ganked was disturbing, regardless of our knowing the Brothers would (somehow) get out of it alive.

Shawn’s fate was also horrific and sad. He and Evan didn’t intend to trespass on such deadly territory, but then, innocence and ignorance are not always an effective defense against the dark. His poor mother is left with her lifelong grief, (undeserved) guilt, lots of questions and a dead body, with “closure” being a mocking concept, all underscored by a classic Steppenwolf song about second chances. Shawn and Evan’s slightly wiser friend Mike will live on, also plagued with guilt he doesn’t deserve.
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The drill evokes trepanning (on top of lobotomy), a brutally ancient way to deal with both head trauma and depression. The plague masks were also a nice twist. The episode does mention their origin, though some more elaboration seems in order. The bird-like plague mask in the episode dates in design at least to the 17th century (medical historians consider it an early kind of HAZMAT suit), but was intended to deal with a much-older problem – the Black Death, which has tormented Eurasia and North Africa periodically since the 14th century. The Black Death had such a high body count and was so traumatic for the cultures who suffered under it that it contributes elements to most of our horror tales today.

The Black Death tended to kill off medical personnel from physicians to nuns and monks at a much higher rate than the population they treated, which was equally demoralizing for the healers and the patients. The masks were intended to protect physicians from the plague (though their historical efficacy is a matter of great debate), but they also tended to scare the hell out of the patients. It’s probably not much of a surprise that the horrific bird-demons of Hieronymous Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights bear a striking resemblance to these later plague masks.

In this MOTW’s case, the crazy doctor also appears to use the mask to highlight his evil intentions and hide his identity, much like the killers in slasher flicks like Friday the 13th, Halloween and My Bloody Valentine. It’s pretty effective in making what was once a human (and is still a human soul) seem eerily inhuman and alien. All in all, an effective recycling of concepts (like the house full of captive ghosts from season seven’s “Of Grave Importance” or the sinister ghost shrink from “Asylum”) from both greater and lesser episodes.


Next: Tombstone: A puzzling case with ties to the Old West gives Dean a chance to indulge his Inner Texas Ranger.


You can find my live recap of “Advanced Thanatology” here.


Like this column? You can help keep it going by contributing monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), making a one-time donation through Paypal, or buying us a coffee.


Review: Supernatural: “The Big Empty” (13.04)


We need your help!

Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. Want more of my recaps and reviews? Check out The Supernatural Codex: Season 1, out on Kindle and in print.


[lots o’ spoilers ahead]


This isn’t one of my favorites of the season, though it did have a character (Mia the grief counselor) I rather liked and would like to see again. The counselor was played by the doomed fake psychic from “The Mentalists,” something the show’s writers obviously remembered. There was a fairly extended injoke near the beginning about how Mia Vallens could possibly be a medium who was accidentally (or intentionally) calling back vengeful, troubled spirits from beyond the grave. In “The Mentalists,” Rukiya Bernard played a fake medium named Camille who got killed by a ghost that had been summoned by a vengeful medium.

I quite liked Bernard in “The Mentalists” and found her very personable. So, I was bummed when the character got killed off and happy to see her again here. I was also glad that she didn’t get killed off this time, which means she could recur (although the actress does have a recurring role on Van Helsing, so there’s that wrinkle). We may not see her again on this show, but she might pop up in Wayward Sisters.

Now, I also thought Mia was an absolutely terrible family counselor, but more on that in a minute. In general, her heart was in the right place and when the chips were down, she preferred to die rather than hurt anyone in her new life (something Dean very much noticed). She took the job to help people and used her talent as a Shapeshifter in a benign way – not to mess with people, but to give them closure.

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This is a radical departure from the Shapeshifters we’ve seen in the past, but it makes sense we’d only meet the psychopaths. Shapeshifters with anything remotely close to normal in psychology would keep a very low profile to avoid Hunters. It would take an unusual circumstance to flush one out, as we see here.

Mia had a somewhat different background than other Shapeshifters we’ve met. The parent Shapeshifter was her mother, rather than a passing and malicious male Shapeshifter impersonating her mother’s husband or partner and blowing up her relationship (what seems to be the root cause of your average psychopathic Shapeshifter’s Daddy-tried-to-kill-me-with-a-shovel issues). This may have contributed to her more stable personality. She only briefly mentions her mother, but the tone is one of love and trust.

The male Shapeshifter who is her ex and stalker is the more common type we see. One interesting clue about their ugly relationship right after the reveal of her MOTW nature is that her alibi for the first murder is that she was volunteering at a battered women’s shelter.

If you think about it, Shapeshifters are among the most human of the monster species. They don’t eat people, or need to. They are essentially human, aside from their ability (and need) to shapeshift. They can blend into society. It therefore makes sense that they would have relationships very close to those of ordinary humans. It’s just that the way they breed and their inability to stop shifting as babies and children tend to create a fractured atmosphere of fear and hatred in the parental figures who are supposed to be nurturing them and bonding with them.

Mia’s method of using her ability to help her patients was a bit “Eh, okay, I guess.” It felt like a ripoff of season three’s “Long Distance Caller,” which already was an uneven episode. Didn’t help that once again, whoever edited the beginning recap gave away the MOTW right off the bat. That was a bit annoying.

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Also odd is that the juxtaposition of good PoC girl vs evil white boy was repeated from last week’s “Patience.” Then again, why complain? Season one had its fair share of cute, rich white girls being menaced by white male MOTWs – “Hookman,” “Skin,” even “Dead in the Water.” There are worse patterns than one that repeatedly presents non-cliched, heroic Women of Color with their own stories.

As for the evil Shapeshifter, he was marginally less annoying than the Wraith from last week, so there’s that. Of course, once we knew the MOTW was a shapeshifter, it was easy to pick him out as the one person around the good counselor who didn’t quite fit in. Though the red herring about the Asian assistant who had five cats and looked a bit like the second male victim impersonated in “Skin” was cute. And there was a really cool gross-out moment as Jensen Ackles (having some fun playing a monster character for the first time in a while) ripped his own face off.

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But damn, is Mia a terrible therapist. Granted, she doesn’t get a whole lot of info from the Brothers and Jack before they find out she’s a Shapeshifter, but what was up with coming down on Dean like a hammer, while totally letting Sam off the hook? I get that Jack comes across as sincere and not contributing (at least, not consciously) to the toxic dynamic between Sam and Dean, except as a point of conflict, but there was a lot more going wrong between those three than Dean’s anger.

Look, Dean is a powder keg. Granted, Dean is always volatile, but he’s clearly ill, clearly grieving, and other characters have not dealt with it nearly as much as they probably should, considering how much pain he’s in. And as even just his conversation this week makes clear, he has some major trust issues regarding psychiatry, which means stepping lightly would be much more professional and therapeutic than verbally rapping his knuckles with a ruler.

It’s not just that his view of shrinks comes from television and movies (hence his reference to Hannibal Lecter this week). In the past, he’s been tortured by the ghost of a mad scientist psychiatrist who experimented on his patients. And then there was the Brothers’ first Wraith (especially fresh in Dean’s mind after last week’s episode), who was a psychiatric nurse. For Dean, shrinks equal monsters and while Mia turns out to be a good person, she doesn’t exactly break that streak.

And yes, he’s angry, but he has ample reason to be. There’s no way he couldn’t be angry under the circumstances. There’s no way he would be feeling any other way about Jack, and his attempt to bring himself closure by saying Mary is dead and trying to move on makes sense. In light of the facts, it’s even rational, if cold and hard.

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And I get that Dean is intended to be the one who is speaking brutal, even unkind, truths about what is going on, while Sam “keeps the faith,” as Dean puts it at the end of the episode. But again, that doesn’t let Sam off the hook for how he’s coming across. There’s a lot more going on with Sam emotionally than just trying to cover up his own grief by trying to raise Jack. What he’s doing is every bit as toxic as Dean’s rage.

The thing is that Sam spends almost all of “The Big Empty” trying to manipulate events, and people, to follow the script he wants. Neither Dean nor Jack wants Jack to go on a Hunt at the beginning of the episode. Sam ignores what they want, cajoles and lies (or at least tarts up) about how Dean feels to Jack and vice versa, to get them out on the road together. And then, once he does, he tries to bully Dean into parenting Jack – not just helping Sam parent Jack, but doing it all himself. And all of this, even Sam has to admit, is to “help” Jack regain his ability to reopen the portal that leads to the alt-SPNverse and rescue their mother.

Why? Because Sam didn’t take his many chances last season to bond with her (aside from hanging out with her for a bit at the LoL Quonset Hut). Sure, I get that Sam didn’t have a good template growing up to create a mother-son bond (Dean and Mary’s bond was pretty unique), and that Mary was being distant. But last season, not only was Sam holding his mother at arm’s length, but he was trying to get Dean to do it, too, all under the excuse of giving her “some space.” Sam doesn’t seem to be comfortable with emotion or closeness unless he is the one in control, pulling the strings, arm’s length while making others take all the emotional risks. And boy, does he pull some strings in this episode.

Unsurprisingly, Dean digs in his heels and fights back, saying he never signed on for that and he’s not going to do it now. He says he won’t interfere with Sam if he wants to parent Jack, but Sam’s doing that one alone.

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Even Jack questions Sam on the same point. This is really saying something, since Jack is trying to be as agreeable as possible. Jack even tells Dean about wanting to help Sam in his plan to get Mary back. Even at this point, we can see the seed of that obsession germinating. In an early sign that he’s warming to Jack, Dean warns him, “Sam’s plans don’t always work out.” Boy, doesn’t Dean know it, too.

Yet, Sam just keeps on going with it and not once does Mia (the therapist) ever call him out on his manipulation, even though he’s causing both Dean and Jack pain, and even putting Jack at risk. In fact, so clueless and self-absorbed is Sam portrayed this week that he walks into a situation, when he knows a dangerous Shapeshifter is on the roam, with his weapon stowed simply because he heard Dean’s voice and assumes it’s Dean. Of course, it’s not Dean; it’s the Shapeshifter. And Jack is forced to use his power to save Sam.

Also, the things Sam complains about Dean being “mean” to Jack about are not necessarily things Jack doesn’t want to do. The dramatic irony here seems to be that Sam is projecting his own issues with John onto Jack, while Dean wants nothing to do with the kid, yet Jack identifies with Dean a lot more than he does with Sam.

Sam tells Jack near the beginning that Dean will appreciate Jack making the effort to help. Jack is eager to do so, but he has no clue what to do on a Hunt. It’s lampshaded that he can’t even read an EMF meter and it’s no surprise he can’t read people at all. He’s cute and friendly and good for a climactic deus ex machina save, but the rest of the time, he’s flat-out useless on a Hunt and needs to be babysat.

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So, it makes sense for Dean to have Jack dig the grave for their first MOTW suspect. Maybe not all by himself, but Jack is young and strong, and doesn’t seem to mind. That he can do and pretty well. Plus, the clearly stated orders Sam claims Jack doesn’t like, Jack actually appreciates. As I said previously, Jack gravitates toward Dean for a reason: Dean doesn’t lie to him. Jack says repeatedly that he is confused and bothered by lies. This is a big deal for him.

Jack is actually more bothered by how Sam keeps snowing him and talking around the issues that worry him rather than just being honest, than he is by Dean’s hostility. Remember that Jack is just a baby. He doesn’t get complexity, yet. Sam’s attempts to reassure him may actually scare him more than Dean’s gruffness. At least with Dean, Jack always knows where he stands. So, when Dean compliments him at the end of the episode, Jack is happy. He knows it’s real and he knows it’s hard-won. Dean wouldn’t just say that unless he felt it.

More ominous is Jack’s admission to his fake-mom that he is himself lying. He says he pretends to have feelings, to “feel bad,” about hurting people. This confirms Dean’s concerns (though Dean never finds out) that Jack is not quite the cheerful, kindly innocent he claims to be.

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On the other hand, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, character-wise, for Jack. Jack says he doesn’t feel bad, while feeling bad. His powers come out when he feels threatened, but also when people he cares about are threatened. Despite his sometimes-robotic-by-way-of-the-Boy-Scouts demeanor, Jack shows a lot of emotions and cheerful, apparently benign, interest in the world.

Thing is, he’s a baby. And yeah, he talked to his mom in the womb, but clearly, he doesn’t remember a whole lot about it if the only real memories he has of her come from that video she made for him. So, how is Jack learning about these human emotions he’s faking? Why isn’t he acting more like, say, Lucifer or Michael? Indifferent and cold?

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Speaking of gee, that sure didn’t make much sense, what the heck was going on with Castiel’s storyline this week? Was that canon crackfic or what? Misha Collins sure had fun, I’ll give him that (even if some of it felt like cheap soundstage filler).

But whoo, how many problems popped up here? On the one hand, okay, cool, we finally saw the Empty and found out where angels and demons go when they die. And we had another hint or two about where Chuck and Amara came from. And the show got its obligatory pop culture reference in (to a 2003 neo-noir indie comedy) with the title.

But what is up with this new being? Is it a god? If it’s awake and talking in a way that Castiel can understand, doesn’t that mean it’s been awake in the past? How did Chuck’s creations affect it, or Chuck’s disputes with his sister? Is the Empty where Amara was trapped for billions of years? Is the Empty entity really older and more powerful than Chuck and Amara? If so, why has Chuck been able to bring Castiel back over and over and over again? Why did he say he could bring back the dead archangels Gabriel and Raphael, but that it would take some extra time and work? What about Reapers? How does the Empty figure in with the multiverse concept we now have going on? And why does the Empty, a philosophically scary concept to be sure, sound just like every other superpowered blowhard the show has had over the past 13 seasons?

I mean, great, Castiel’s back now. Awesome. But a lot of questions were left unanswered (did the Empty entity come back with Castiel? Is it possible for other dead angels and demons to come back from the Empty now?) and there’s no sign as of yet that even half of them will get answered.

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Next: Advanced Thanatology: The Brothers encounter an extremely violent ghost, which leads them to a surprise reunion with an old frenemy.


You can find my live recap of “The Big Empty” here.


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Review: Supernatural: “Patience” (13.03)


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[lots o’ spoilers ahead]


While this episode was by no means perfect, I’m happy to report my relief when I first watched it that it was not half as boring as the previous one, albeit it ran a trifle long in some spots (it was only about two minutes over the usual time, but some of that dragged a bit). I was also pleased to find, despite some serious flaws in the character’s central conflict, that I rather liked Patience and the actress who played her. This was a very good thing. After “Rising Son,” I was beginning to wonder if it was time to hang it up with this show.

I was also happy to discover that even though this was the first of the lead-up episodes to the backdoor pilot for the new spin-off, Wayward Sisters, it had a fair bit of conflict and action involving Sam and Dean, who each had a storyline this week. Last season suffered greatly from Sam and Dean: Guest Stars in Their Own Show Syndrome. So far this season, that’s been greatly alleviated, at least for Jensen Ackles, who’s not fielding any newborns at home this year.

The funniest (and most reassuring in terms of how the new show will go over with fans) thing is that everyone has a different favorite. They like Claire, but they hate Patience. They like Kaia, but they hate Alex. They think Jody and Donna should be Hunting, but just together and not with any younger charges. Nobody can agree except that a lot of fans have already picked a favorite, if only in relation to at least one other character they feel shouldn’t be on the show. This indicates that fans in general have already got past the initial phase of accepting the overall concept of a group of women Hunting together and mentoring each other. They just can’t agree on which characters they think should be in that group. Considering most fans can’t really agree on liking Sam, Dean, Castiel, Crowley, and so on, even after 13 seasons, that’s a good sign for Wayward Sisters, not bad.

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Which is not to say the episode (or even the new show’s franchise concept so far) lacks flaws. Missouri Moseley returns in this one. Remember her? Season one? Kripke-penned “Home”? Let me refresh your memory – she was an African American psychic who fawned over Sam a lot and smacked Dean upside the head for … uh … reasons. Or something. That Missouri.

Now, obviously, there was some unfinished business between her and the Brothers, so you could say she had a reason to come back. Was this addressed? Nope. Sam doesn’t even see Missouri this time round. He’s too busy babysitting Jack for more than a quick phone call, and he and Dean have a fight over just sending Jody to deal with it before Dean goes off to help her. Dean gets no apology or even acknowledgement of any kind from her about her previous treatment of him (though she does commiserate with him on his “recent losses,” which she senses in his mind, so there’s that). In fact, when he makes the logical protest to her staying behind (while there’s a psychic-eating monster on the loose), Missouri’s Inner Bitch comes roaring out. Consider those loose ends still dangling.

Anyway, she’s only there to introduce a younger, prettier psychic, her granddaughter Patience. God forbid the CW have an older, gifted female (let alone an older female PoC) character as a main lead. I didn’t love the way Missouri was fridged to jumpstart the title character’s story.

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It bothered me that not only were the two PoC female leads for Wayward Sisters introduced very late in the day, but they were introduced in a fundamentally different way from that of Claire and Alex, who were introduced as victims of the supernatural (like Sam, Dean, Jody and Donna), rather than as essentially supernatural beings (like Patience and Kaia). Also, the CW has an extremely poor track record with PoC female characters with powers, wherein they end up powerful handmaidens to white girls. Bonnie from The Vampire Diaries fairly leaps to mind here.

Not helping is the way Patience’s father, James, is portrayed. It’s one thing to be introduced to the supernatural world in a traumatic way. A lot of people will go straight to denial, initially, as the show has demonstrated many times. But James was raised in the Life. He knows the supernatural exists. Hell, he can even work divination magic. He just wants to stick his head in the sand, even if it gets his mother and daughter killed.

The thing is that if you read between the lines (and remember how Missouri was introduced almost 12 seasons ago), there’s plenty of reason for James to resent his mother. Missouri dragged him along with her on down the road to Hunting supernatural things and it seems pretty clear that it traumatized him. The catalyst for their final estrangement may have been Missouri’s cocky miscalculation about the fate of his wife (Patience’s mother), but it’s clear a lot of bad things happened before that.

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But the writing wants us to believe that James is the bad guy here. Since the episode never addresses the stark contrast in how Missouri treated Sam (with powers) and Dean (no powers as far she could see) in season one, it neatly avoids addressing the pretty stark contrast between Missouri’s treatment of James her son (no apparent powers) and Patience her granddaughter (practically a Mary Sue). Missouri is a bigot when it comes to plain, old, ordinary humans. It’s therefore a tad difficult to believe the episode’s portrayal of James – a man old enough to have a teenage daughter and successful enough to be raising her in a safe, nurturing, upper-middle-class environment – as too immature to forgive his saintly mother.

It doesn’t help that the episode is wildly inconsistent in portraying Missouri and Patience’s talents. Dean tells Jody that Missouri can read objects, but what we actually see her do, for the most part, is read minds to a limited extent and foretell the future in blurry images. That’s not reading the past from objects, Show. Reading objects is a different ESP talent.

Also, we’re apparently supposed to get the idea from that that she is able to foretell her and the MOTW’s futures enough to determine that she can’t escape the MOTW, at least not without endangering her family (she specifically sees James, but then talks about Patience to him). How is this even possible when you have two new variables – Dean and Jody – in the equation? That smacks of overly convenient writing. You’d think Missouri would have learned from the mistake she made in predicting the fate of James’ wife/Patience’s mom that her powers are not infallible, but nope.

In addition, the family member who ends up in immediate danger is Patience, not James. Patience is threatened by the MOTW immediately after he kills her grandmother. It seems he was able to kill Missouri, and then zip past Dean and Jody to attack Patience before they could even contact James. I call shenanigans on that timing.

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In fact, I call shenanigans on that whole MOTW, but let’s finish talking about Patience’s powers, first. Patience initially has a dream that warns her of both her grandmother’s death and the MOTW’s attack on her later at the school. This dream seems to be a mix of literal precognition (the attack) and metaphor (her grandmother’s ghost warning her). Okay, this is a dream we’re talking about, so a little funky logic is acceptable.

But then, after she’s captured, Patience has a prolonged waking vision of her father, Jody and then Dean being killed, which allows her to warn each of them about the MOTW’s attack. But this is a different kind of precog from what she previously showed and all three types are different from what Missouri had.

This may seem like nitpicking, but if you look at how Sam’s precog was shown in the first two seasons, it’s very consistent and that’s pretty important to the story. He has quick flashes, usually of something fatal happening, accompanied by nasty headaches. If he acts on them, he is usually able to stop the event from happening, though something else bad may happen, instead. Sometimes, he has dreams. Less often, he has waking visions. But they are always the same kind of thing.

Precog and even telepathy are shown similarly for other characters such as Psykids like Ava (in “Hunted”) and Andy (sending Dean a vision in “All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 1”), and even Chuck in “The Monster at the End of This Book.” We also have a clear origin for these visions. The Psykids apparently get theirs from Azazel, while Chuck gets them from the angels. Yes, I know we later find out Chuck is God, but his conversation with Zachariah at the end of that episode makes it clear the angels are sending him visions. Maybe they’re even sending them to the Psykids. Who knows? But the point is that these visions of the future don’t just pop up out of nowhere.

Missouri and Patience’s visions do, which means they’re much more malleable and “magical” in the sense of being overly convenient writing divorced from the logic of the worldbuilding. The characters don’t have these visions because the visions make sense in the context of the story. They have them just to move the story along.

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Now let’s check out the MOTW. Unfortunately, whoever made up the recap spoiled the crap out of the MOTW “surprise” (admittedly, that cat came right out of the bag in the teaser, anyway), which is that the MOTW was a Wraith. I don’t think a Wraith was the right MOTW for what the episode wanted to do and the actor they got was definitely not right to convey what they wanted. Or maybe he was, which kinda makes it worse.

Now, the Wraith’s targeting psychics was fine, as far as it went. We know Wraiths like to feed on a specific kind of human, often a “soft” target that can’t fight back very well. And therein lies the problem. The Wraith we first met in “Sam, Interrupted” in season five was working at a psych hospital, targeting patients. If they weren’t psychotic when they came in, they sure were by the time the Wraith was ready to feed on them. The Wraith possessed a toxin, spread via touch, that made people psychotic. This particular Wraith actually enjoyed the taste of brains under extreme psychological distress and played an Angel of Mercy to get them. Subsequent mentions of them followed a similar pattern.

Aside from targeting those who generally can’t fight back very well (psychics, who are otherwise ordinary humans), the Wraith in “Patience” follows none of these rules. He doesn’t bother to poison or weaken his targets. He simply attacks them and overpowers them.

He doesn’t treat them as food, either. The actor who plays the Wraith plays feeding as a straight-up sexual serial-killing thing, which is not how the Wraith in “Sam, Interrupted” acted. The Wraith in “Patience” attacks women, specifically, and creeps all over them. The Wraith in “Sam, Interrupted” attacked different types of people, which actually made it scarier because it was hard to see a pattern at first, let alone who could be the Wraith. You couldn’t see it coming.

In “Patience,” we know right away. There’s no mystery about it whatsoever, especially since there is no attempt to give any backstory to the MOTW aside from where he got his predilection for psychic brains. It’s all very CW. In a bad way.

And it also means that the Wraith is way overpowered for this type of MOTW. I can see him taking out James, maybe even Jody, if he got lucky. But Dean? On top of the other two? Nope. Not the organized and well-armed way they came in.

Now, if the writers had used an MOTW that was known for being fast and strong, I might buy that. A Vampire or a Shapeshifter or a Djinn I could see. Or if they’d argued that this was the Alpha Wraith, maybe. But as it was, I didn’t buy this particular MOTW, or his ability to fight and evade and take down healthy human prey.

Hell, even Patience was able to break off the Wraith’s stinger (the way Dean did in “Sam, Interrupted,” albeit while barely able to stay upright due to being poisoned). Not exactly an intimidating monster. I just didn’t buy that he could take Dean at full strength, let alone Dean on top of Jody and James. And if the MOTW wasn’t that dangerous, that makes Patience’s precog flashes rather silly and unnecessary to the plot.

I got the impression that we were supposed to have the usual balance of opinions between Sam and Dean this week, where Sam was on one side and Dean on the other, and we were supposed to see both sides as having merit. Which was sort of true if you squinted, but only because the writing kept Telling us Dean’s judgement was off, while actually Showing something a bit different.

For a start, not only is Dean in character for telling Patience at the end to grab as much Normal as she can, but he’s right. Hunting never ends well for the Hunter. As Dean has put it many different ways in the past, “it ends bloody or sad … you’re covered in blood until you’re covered in your own blood.”

So, when Jody tells Patience that Dean’s wrong and that if Patience wants to get into the Life and use her “gift,” she can call her, I just want to suggest that Jody first tell Patience why she lived alone in a big, old, empty house before she took in Claire and Alex. Gee, whatever happened to her husband and son? Patience deserves to hear that story before she makes her decision.

Yes, the supernatural world is the real world on this show. Yes, once you become aware of it, you see it everywhere. Even worse, it becomes aware of you. But step into the shadows, engage too closely, and your projected lifespan drops like a stone.

Dean’s not wrong (neither is James, really). It’s just very hard to get away from the supernatural world once you get plunged into it.

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Then there’s Sam’s “training” of Jack. Points, at least, for the show having Sam remember that he used to be psychic, too … sort of. Sam talks about being different when he was younger and worrying about having a “darkness” inside him, that Dean and Castiel helped him fight it, so there’s that. But then Sam proceeds (as he always has) to make it All About Sam and try to push Jack into learning more about his powers, even though it’s really obvious that Jack is afraid to use them.

Now, Jack does mention Dean saying he’s evil, but he also brings up the reasons why Dean feels that way and agrees with them. He did kill his mother by being born. He has hurt people. He has lost control of his powers. He even mentions feeling Asmodeus in his mind, pushing him and coopting his powers, during his attempt to raise the Shedim the previous episode. But what Sam mostly latches onto (as he very belatedly decides to stop pushing Jack) is that Jack is afraid of Dean (despite being physically invulnerable), not that Sam is doing pretty much the same thing to Jack that Asmodeus did and for equally selfish reasons – and that this bothers Jack a whole lot.

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When Dean gets back, the hints throughout the episode that all is not well with him (such as Jody holding him back when he starts to ream James out for lying to Patience) come to a head. Sam calls Dean on being so harsh to Jack and threatening him (even though Dean’s been very upfront about that, so it should hardly be a surprise to Sam).

To the writers’ credit, they do have Dean finally calling Sam out right back on Sam’s less-than-altruistic motives for getting Jack to learn how to control his powers, saying that Sam doesn’t really care about Jack. He just wants to use Jack’s powers to get Mary back, using Jack as “an interdimensional can opener.” And there isn’t a whole in this episode that contradicts Dean on that point.

Dean would never come out and say this, but Sam’s example of himself as a person Dean saved in spite of Sam’s being a “freak” is also a poor one – Sam hurt a lot of people because Dean didn’t kill him. Not that the angels and demons would have allowed Sam to stay dead, but still.

In the end, Dean can’t hold back. His barely leashed pain and rage pour out as he yells that he “can’t even look at the kid” because he blames Jack directly for losing Mary and Castiel.

Unfortunately, he does that as Jack is listening nearby (which seems uncharacteristically dumb). This accidentally sparks Jack’s powers as Jack spontaneously tries to do something “good” and also reaches out to his foster daddy, Castiel. In the process, Castiel wakes up someplace dark and weird.

But that’s for next time.

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Next: The Big Empty: While trying to figure out who is killing a grief counselor’s patients, the Brothers and Jack end up in family therapy. Meanwhile, Castiel wakes up somewhere dark and strange.


You can find my live recap of “Patience” here.


Like this column? You can help keep it going by contributing monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), making a one-time donation through Paypal, or buying us a coffee.


Review: Supernatural: “The Rising Son” (13.02)


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Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. Want more of my recaps and reviews? Check out The Supernatural Codex: Season 1, out on Kindle and in print.


[lots o’ spoilers ahead]


I have a confession to make – yes, I was very busy this past fall, but the main reason I have been putting off reviewing this episode is that it was boring. Very, very boring. And on top of the previous episode (the season premiere, no less), I just couldn’t hack rewatching boring one more time, at least for a while.

Well, I’ve rewatched it now, so let’s buckle down and get to it. I’d like to review everything for this season up to this point before the show returns on January 18.

This was not a good episode. If anything, it was worse than the previous week, a bit like the Nepotism Duo’s take on the same themes Dabb had introduced. Yikes.

The pacing dragged and there was an endless amount of infodumpy dialogue that damned near put me to sleep. When one of the most intriguing parts is a scene you never got to see (Dean hallucinating sheep on the road), there’s a problem.

As usual with these two writers, the episode was overstuffed with characters and ideas, none of them developed beyond the thinnest of surface levels. Questionable racial overtones popped up in the one loyal demon having an African American host and acting in a servile manner (as if the writers watched Get Out and completely missed the point of the film) toward the new YED, but also in giving alt-Michael an African-American vessel. I’m all for diversity, but someone clearly didn’t think through the Unfortunate Implications involved in that casting (coughJefferson and Sally Hemingscoughcough) or just plain forgot all about the Very Important Bloodlines storyline from the first five seasons. And I don’t mean that terrible backdoor pilot.

Someone in the comments here (I think it was Eva) suggested that alt-Michael is using one of alt-Raphael’s vessels, which would be cool, if true. I doubt these writers are that subtle, but it would be fun if alt-Michael isn’t really alt-Michael but alt-Raphael or even an angel who got souped up the way Godstiel did. That would actually make him look pretty clever and devious. This storyline desperately needs some kind of twist. After all, if alt-Michael is looking for archangel grace (oops, that’s a bit later on), why not hunt down alt-Gabriel or bring in alt-Raphael? Where are they?

I also was suspicious of Lucifer not recognizing alt-Michael (or the angel squad not recognizing Lucifer). Angels and archangels are supposed to be able to recognize each other, just as angels and demons can see true demon faces. Being in an alternate timeline shouldn’t change that. But the writing was so messy that it was really hard to tell if this was a red herring or just a plothole.

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I wanted to be impressed by alt-Michael, but something was off with him. Granted, the clumsy fist-fight between archangels didn’t help with either his or Lucifer’s gravitas. Who even thought that was a good idea? But I dunno. He just felt one-dimensional.

Speaking of archangels, what was up with Lucifer wandering around barren dunes with Mary in tow, complaining that she couldn’t keep up? He’s an angel. He still has wings. He can pick her up and fly all over the world multiple times in an eyeblink. I get that he was trying to stay under the radar a bit, but come on. Even that didn’t work out for him, or Mary.

I can’t even with what they did to poor Mary. She encounters a single human, who happens to be a male Hunter, who claims wimminfolk can’t be Hunters and he hasn’t seen a woman in who knows when. So, what does he immediately try to do? Rape her at gunpoint. And is she able to defend herself, this woman who was actually doing just fine on her own against all sorts of humans and creatures all last year? Nope. She needs Lucifer to come in and save the day by … punching the guy through the torso from behind. Eugh. I can’t believe this script was half-written by a woman.

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But hey, this is also a script that demands Dean get yet another kickass fight in which he senses the demon behind him, thrashes it good and hard, but can’t land the final blow, so he needs to get saved by Sam who … stabs the demon from behind. I sense a theme.

Look, I get it. Jared Padalecki is in his thirties now and has suffered some pretty brutal injuries on set over the years. I don’t blame him for wanting to dial it back on the stunts. But the way the writers are choosing to write around this is not cutting it. Sam needs to be doing his own stuff, not stealing Dean’s wins at the last minute. Not even Dean getting the next demon with the thrown angel sword made that less annoying. It’s bad writing. Give Sam fights (or other important work) Padalecki can do without hurting himself. Leave Dean’s fights alone.

There’s this general trend of obviousness and over-explaining in the episode of things that need a little mystery, while enormous plotholes are left alone, reminiscent of other winners from this duo like the best-forgotten Ghost!Bobby-centric episode, “Of Grave Importance.” For example, why are we suddenly shown a demon like Asmodeus teleporting away, when before, a demon would just walk out of frame or smoke off whenever other characters turned their backs? Why are we now shown archangels, who can fly at the speed of light (or faster), as slow-arcing fireballs, when showing the look on the face of a human, and putting the sound of wings on the soundtrack as an angel flew off, was effective enough?

What’s with the stupid fistfight between two beings who can incinerate half the planet between them? We suddenly have the budget to show angels flying and demons teleporting, but we don’t have any money left over for some decent FX and fight choreography between two archangels?

I suppose we have to talk about the new YED, AKA the latest attempt to spit on both Azazel and Crowley’s memories with the fans simultaneously. Even Dean calls Asmodeus Colonel Sanders a few episodes later, but the fandom was way ahead of him.

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Asmodeus (and, for that matter, Lucifer) is an obvious attempt to replace the departed Crowley. Now mind you, lots of characters have come and gone on this show. It is on its 13th season, after all. And I get that some sort of bad blood behind the scenes precipitated Crowley’s abrupt departure and Mark Sheppard’s absence from this past season’s gag reel. The character had been around a long time, probably well past his sell-by date. As I’d been telling people for years, he was as expendable as the rest of the supporting cast (except for Castiel because they already tried writing him out and it didn’t go well).

But the way they wrote him out and then completely ignored the character came off as simultaneously clumsy and mean-spirited. He had a lot of fans, Show. Respect that.

Adding to this, Asmodeus plain sucks as a character, let alone a major villain. He’s one-note and that one note grates. His powers don’t make sense. His motivation doesn’t make sense (I get he’s pretending to be Lucifer’s lackey to gain power and rule Hell, but why raise the Shedim?). And he lacks charm. Plus, constantly having him played by other actors reduces the audience investment in the main actor (Jeffrey Vincent Parise) and his performance. It’s a thankless task, poor guy.

The worst part is that if they hadn’t killed Crowley off, he’d be doing what Asmodeus is currently doing. Hell, he already did that poisonous father figure storyline twice – once with Kevin and once with Amara. Mark Sheppard even claimed at a con that Dabb had wanted to get rid of Crowley for a while, presumably because the character was played out, yet here we have a brand-new character and he’s got the same old tired storyline. He’s so freakin’ one-dimensional that he twirls (well … strokes) his mustache. I mean, come on.

Not to mention, what’s the deal with trying to spy on the Brothers by impersonating (not even possessing) other people? Why then leave just two demons from Central Casting to deal with the Brothers when it’s later shown he could just choke them out? Why would he even think Jack already had some kind of emotional connection to Team Free Will? It all makes him look weak and stupid, to the point where Sam has to be written like an idiot to build up this new baddie. Dean, at least, doesn’t trust the overly friendly bartender, even if he never finds out about her human doppleganger’s murder.

No wonder this new YED/Princes of Hell storyline doesn’t work (in stark contrast to the Knights of Hell/Mark of Cain plot, which did). The original YED, Azazel, was largely an unknown. He was creepy, unique, mysterious, fanatical. Even after we learned his agenda, we never learned much about him. He never lost his mystery.

The new YEDs are painfully overexplained, with too much Tell and not much Show. Why are we shown Asmodeus with shapeshifting powers and scars on his host body? Why would a demon even need shapeshifting powers when it can possess someone at will (so why cut the bartender’s throat or impersonate a Prophet when you can possess them?). How the hell does a creature consisting of black smoke manifest scars on the human it’s possessing? Speaking of which, why are the allegedly demonic Shedim solid monsters? Folks, that stuff belongs on the Makes No Sense shelf, not in an episode. It adds nothing to the show and contradicts previous canon.

And what’s the deal with the Shedim, who are about as scary as Care Bears? Why not – oh, I dunno – rewatch “Shadow” from season one and bring back the Daevas? They were scary. Ah, but that would involve having to set that very stupid scene in the middle of some random field in anything but broad, freakin’ daylight. Because nothing says “scary,” especially on this show, like making it look as though Keith Szarabajka’s about to race through the fields shouting, “If you dig it, they will come!”

Speaking of Szarabajka, while I’m thrilled to have him back (love me some 80s Equalizer nostalgia), what the hell was going on with Donatello? I can sort of see Dean not really reacting to Donatello’s revelation that Amara sucked out his soul a year past. As Sam points out to Jack, Dean’s not firing on all cylinders mentally right now. Already emotionally overloaded, he may just be rolling with the idea that if Donatello’s okay with his current situation, and isn’t hurting anyone (the Mr. Rogers reference), then that situation’s dealt with for the moment. Triage and all that.

Also, Dean is feeling lost after Chuck apparently ignored his prayer and has never felt comfortable with using his relationship with Amara, who is every bit as volatile and unpredictable as he is. He’s not likely to call on her if Chuck didn’t answer, even if it’s entirely possible she’d be more likely to show up.

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But what’s going on with Sam? Sam’s had no soul in the past. He knows what it’s like. It’s always bothered him, seeing other people without souls. Yet here he is, shrugging off Donatello’s lack of soul as if it’s not a big deal. What do they mostly talk about when Sam is fooled by the fake “Donatello” (Asmodeus in disguise)? Jack, of course. Yet, Sam never twigs that maybe this obsession with Jack and his burgeoning superpowers is just a tad odd for a man who has no one else to talk with about the fact that he’s missing his soul, especially the only two people who might be able to help him get it back (not like Amara would miss it).

It’s funny that I’ve been seeing all these complaints about Dean being “mean” and “whiny” and cruel to puir Jack, but nothing about how Sam is way too calm about all this. In fact, I’m not terribly surprised that Jack is choosing to look up to Dean. Dean’s the only one being honest with him. It’s also possible that Jack imprinted on Dean a bit via his imprinting on Castiel (who is obsessed with Dean). Weirdly enough, Jack may only really feel safe with Dean. Look at how Dean was the only one who noticed he was repeatedly stabbing himself. Jack is desperately seeking boundaries, control, over his powers (not really to expand them) and only Dean offers those boundaries.

Dean’s promise at the end of the episode probably was intended to be reassuring on some level. It was exactly the promise Dean was begging to exact from Sam and Castiel when he had the MoC. Jack may be in a similar position (losing control to darkness and not wanting to hurt innocents, but also unable to die), so Dean offers him the only reassurance he thinks would be helpful. If Jack does go dark (as he fears), Dean will be the one who takes care of it. If Jack doesn’t go dark, well, Dean’s not going to let anyone else kill Jack but himself. So, if Jack turns out to be good, Dean’s got his back.

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This is, of course, leaving aside all the stuff about how this is a perfectly natural reaction from Dean, and completely in character. Why wouldn’t Dean feel this way? From his perspective, Jack had a direct hand in Kelly and Castiel basically marching to their deaths (Jack may not have meant to, but they were definitely brainwashed to some extent). Jack also created the rift that took away or helped destroy Mary, Castiel and Crowley. Everything Dean has heard that’s remotely reliable indicates Jack will be a willing tool of his father, Lucifer, in wrecking the world (again), since that’s what he was created to be. Why wouldn’t Dean want to destroy Jack?

Dean’s grief-fueled madness, and Sam’s reaction to it, is also problematic for Sam’s characterization. Sam “reassures” Jack in an avuncular tone that Dean just has his wires crossed and doesn’t really want to kill Jack. Um … first of all, it’s painfully obvious that killing Jack is precisely what Dean does want to do, considering that’s the first action he goes for after his prayer to Chuck apparently fails. If Jack weren’t covered with thick plot armor – sorry, invulnerable to angel blades – he’d be dead, already.

Second, the way Sam frames it, in an almost jovial voice, makes it clear that if it comes down to Dean or Jack, Jack’s screwed as far as Sam is concerned. He won’t protect Jack if it really comes to it.

Now, Jack’s just a baby. How else can he be anything but freaked out by that lack of reassurance? No wonder he clings to Dean’s brutal honesty. At least, if he can win Dean’s affection and loyalty, he’ll know it’s real.

In fact, Sam sounds indistinguishable in his “concern” for Jack from Asmodeus or the angels. He only seems to want Jack around for Jack’s powers (showing a lot of rather creepy interest in them) and what those powers can do for him and Dean.

The thing is that Alexander Calvert (Jack) actually has a reasonably high amount of chemistry with both Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles. Their characters’ adoption of Jack and attempts to raise Jack work because there’s actual affection there. That kind of chemistry doesn’t just happen, so I can see why the show would want to keep him around.

Alas, as a written character, Jack is a hot mess and he’s not fitting into the storyline at all well. He’s ridiculously overpowered and in his current state is an obvious deus ex machina. Adding to the suspension-of-disbelief carnage, convenient new powers pop up every week, aiding the writers a little too much in getting out of self-inflicted plot corners, to the point of making the situation a whole lot less scary than it could be. They need to power him down. They also need to play out this Lucifer baby-daddy-from-Hell storyline and move on.

The only actually interesting thing about the writing for this kid is that the Brothers are trying to raise him. Dean’s had parenting experience. Sam has almost none. So, it makes sense Sam is only able to relate to Jack as the young man he appears to be, whereas Dean understands better that Jack is just a baby. A super-powered baby, but still … just a child. Who needs a lot of guidance.

I can understand giving him a bit of power so he has enough plot armor to survive around the Brothers (unlike poor Kevin), but he’s got way too much right now and it kills the story tension. I mean, come on, that Impala ride to the rescue in Act Four was painfully slow. And I get that Jack is young, but the ruse to get him to let the Shedim out was so obvious it made him look stupid. Let’s stop doing that, Show.

One thing I will say is that the season began to improve considerably after this episode. “Rising Son” even looks a bit better in retrospect, mainly because some storylines that seemed to be going in a really annoying direction (and probably would have in earlier seasons) progressed or resolved better after this episode than I expected. But that doesn’t actually make it a good episode in its own right.

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Next: Patience: We probably didn’t need Missouri Moseley to return at this point. But she does, in an episode that introduces one of the last two main characters for the upcoming spin-off, Wayward Sisters.


You can find my live recap of “Rising Son” here.


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Review: Supernatural: “Lost and Found” (13.01 – Season Premiere)


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Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee.


[lots o’ spoilers ahead]


Well. That happened.

Where to start? I have to say that this episode, like the season 12 finale, was remarkably tedious. Okay, perhaps “remarkably” is the wrong adjective for a turgid mess of cold oatmeal. Still, I was very bored and if there’s one thing Supernatural generally isn’t, it’s boring. But Dabb as a showrunner and the Nepotism Duo in charge of the Writers Room seem capable of dousing even the sparkiest sparks.

There were a few big problems here. One was a complete lack of surprises in terms of pre-existing SPNverse elements, except where the show ignored canon for no damned good reason (as in ignoring the part where Kelly, at least, ought to be in Heaven, so why is Sam saying they hope she’s in a better place?), or simply forgot about it (as in the part where two angels were blown away by a banishing spell while another one in the next room wasn’t – um … what?).

I also didn’t like the lame attempt at generating suspense by jumping around in the episode’s timeline and saving a few bucks for the super-expensive Metallica song (“Nothing Else Matters”) in the season 12 recap by recycling a fair amount of footage from previous seasons. The use of super-expensive songs in an episode generally signals an attempt to perfume stinky writing as often as it accentuates a great scene. This was true even in season one (thinking of an episode like “Hook Man,” here, which has almost back-to-back rock songs and hasn’t held up so well over time).

The angels were tedious dicks, including the bitchy Millennial one who pretended to be a drunk girl so obviously that it became clear early on she was Up To No Good. Holy crap, was she annoying. Her death wasn’t nearly painful enough. She should have seen Jack not be hurt by her blade before she died.

Also, for all her sarcasm and ridiculous anger at Dean, she turned out to be all hot air and no threat, not to mention, frustratingly vague. I guess that’s why Sam was able to kill her when he’s never been able to kill an angel in the past. Yeah, that’s snarky, but really, Show? Enough with giving easy kills to Sam to “balance” out classic kills made by Dean. It risks diminishing both brothers and that’s the best I can say about that.

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Also, can the show please kill Lucifer, already? My God, am I over him and his perpetual adolescent whining. He’s how many billions of years old now? Grow up, dude.

But hey, at least we had confirmation Mary’s still alive. And kicking.

Second, let’s talk about the new characters, guest and recurring (since I guess we have to). About the only one who made any positive impression on me was the Sheriff. Okay, she’s no Jody Mills, and we’re not liable to see her ever again, but it was downright refreshing to see someone confronted with Dean blandly explaining about the Family Business at his most dissociated and disconnected, and just roll with it because they had already seen sufficient weird to perceive his spiel as reasonable.

This contrasted positively to Annoying Drunk Girl Angel (we’ll just call her ADGA for short) in that, for one thing, it was nice to see Dean lay it all out in such an IDGAF way that the world is bigger and creepier than most humans think, and the other person respond … well … appropriately for her own survival, but with ADGA, Dean didn’t even try to defend himself from her tired and lame accusations.

Now, the angel Ishim from “Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets” hated Dean, too, but his anger made sense, albeit from his own twisted perspective. It was personal, focused. It reflected his own conflict with the episode’s resident Mary Sue.

In contrast, ADGA came off as spoiled and pissy, whining about Dean being a “Becky” roommate (apparently not the Becky of seasons five-to-seven) who “broke things” and didn’t care about other people. But come on. How many fans actually care about this, especially when there’s an alternate universe next door where the angels got exactly what they wanted and it sucks out loud for everyone else? Plus, it’s a place where the angels broke everything. Foreshadowing of a possible alliance between this ‘verse and that ‘verse’s angels was a little too obvious, so please, Show, edit the angel monologues way, way down from now on. They’re boring and hypocritical.

Then there’s Jack. I was somewhat relieved to see that the actor isn’t as bad as he appeared in the promos (he came across as very, very bad in them), and he even generated a little sympathy, but there’s little for him to work with here. Jack isn’t a character. He’s a walking deus ex machina, written as inconsistently as you’d expect from a character who not only has a faulty, weak conflict, he basically has none at all.

What, precisely, does Jack want? Well, it seems he wants to find his “father” (who turns out to be Castiel, not baby daddy Lucifer, in a not-terribly-surprising twist) and he wants to survive. Or something. Oh, and he has powers that are remarkably malleable (translation: They exist to give the writers a cheap and easy out for times they’ve written themselves into a corner), except, of course, when they conveniently don’t work. They are remarkably inconsistent, even within the context of his being only a day old. I get that the angel sigil didn’t entirely work on him (because he’s half-human. Or something), but the rest? Not so much.

For example, he can understand and speak English thanks to “being” his mother in the womb (so not a reassuring or non-sexist way of phrasing it, Dabb), but though he can hear angel voices and had also bonded with Castiel, he can’t understand them. He’s impervious to an angel blade, but Tasers knock him out. He can’t control his powers because he’s a baby, yet he’s capable of expressing and understanding complex ideas.

Also, the FX for his powers were a bit pants and looked really goofy.

As a character, he just doesn’t make any sense and even more, he doesn’t really have a journey except toward going EVOL and/or dying (as opposed to Amara, who had an atypical bond with Dean from the start and a legit beef with her brother), and he’s never going to fit well into the MOTW format. Yep, no reason to get attached to this character. He won’t be around for long.

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Another big problem is that the show keeps trying to bring in CW tropes, principally from the DC superhero shows, and they don’t work so well. I keep trying to remind myself that the show has always been meta, always been a commentary on what was going on in the genre. That’s what keeps it fresh. And it is on the CW, after all. The problem with going so CW, however, is that the tropes the show currently uses are so plastic, shallow and insincere that it’s hard to care about them. The show works best when it’s a bit rough around the edges and this season premiere was too flaky to evoke that.

Which leads us to the biggest problem of all – once again, as too often happened last year, the show was about everything and everyone but Sam and Dean, yet none of these subplots was compelling enough to make me care, let alone make me forget that Sam and Dean were once again being made guest stars in their own story. In the damned season premiere, no less.

This was especially bad for Sam, since the only part I actually enjoyed was Dean’s grief and rage and sense of abandonment. Perhaps “enjoyed” is not the right word, but at least I was interested, even as I wondered whether this storyline had been interrupted for too long and should have been pursued in last season’s premiere, rather than that idiotic LoL storyline that came out of left field. The angels’ jealousy of Dean (even dismissively referring to Sam as “the other one”), Dean’s half-admission that Chuck left him in charge rather than him and Sam, Dean’s anger and despair over being left with half-truths and no tools for actually running the world, all of these things are intriguing and could potentially be a big arc for Dean. But considering Dabb and Singer took a year-long break from them to pursue other storylines that were a lot dumber and more boring, I’m not hugely confident they’ll remember Dean even has this storyline longer than five episodes down the road. Enjoy it while you can, I guess.

Also frustrating is that Sam’s big plot this season appears to be babysitting Jack because Sam is convinced Jack is Good. Or potentially Good. Or something. Just like his mother Kelly, the walking, saintly, single-mom womb whom nobody watching actually liked or misses.

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Never mind that just a couple of seasons ago, Sam was convinced Dean having the MoC had to be stopped at all costs (even though Dean mostly had it under control, all things considered), to the point that Sam went behind Dean’s back and got the Darkness released. Then he became convinced right off the bat that Amara had to be destroyed and did some pretty stupid things to bring that about, too. Add to that the fact that never in the history of this show has Sam ever thought anyone supernaturally gray could be Good and had that turn out well – and that the first few moments were probably the best time they had to neutralize Jack should he turn out to be a threat – and Sam’s idea that Jack is Good looks ludicrous. Even Sam had to Tase the kid at one point to keep him from attacking Dean.

In light of all this, it was rather eye-rolling that the show wanted us to believe that Dean was the irrational one and Sam was being sensible and compassionate, when everything Dean was saying was actually pretty smart – look for Jack, find out his weaknesses, protect innocents from him, call and warn Jody, pray to Chuck (something that didn’t even occur to Sam until the very end of the episode). The show tried to reinforce this take of Irrational Angry Dean by having Jack act all cherub-like – aside from the odd sinister look, that is. Again, not buying it. This is a character who is far too powerful to exist on the show as-is, who entered the world by killing his own mother, and who brainwashed both her and Castiel while still in the womb. Even if he weren’t Lucifer’s son, I’d think there would be plenty of red flags here that negate any dewy-eyed boy-band appeal in Jack.

This week totally ignored the Hell aspect of the storyline. It seems we’ll get that next week when the incompetent Nepotism Duo turn in their first script of the season (God help us all). Crowley and his death got almost completely ignored this week (though Castiel did at least get kind of a send-off and a Viking funeral). We’ll see how much coverage the ex-King of Hell gets next week. Probably not much.

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You can find my live recap of the episode here.


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The Official “Lost and Found” (13.01 – Season Premiere) Live Recap Thread


Sorry, guys! Starting a little late. I had to do some chores ’cause I’m getting up early tomorrow for work.

Anyhoo, recap of season 12 to Metallica’s “Nothing Else Matters” that shows how poor season 12 was. Not the first time they’ve tried to hide terrible writing with an expensive song.

Cut to Now. Sam confronts Jack, who has glowing eyes and calls Sam “Father?” Sam, like a moron, says he’s not Jack’s father.

Cut to Dean kneeling beside Castiel, then getting up to go in the house and kill Jack. The shot doesn’t hurt Jack, who then responds with some showy sound FX and throws them into the wall. Expect that not to get repeated much. It looks really expensive.

Cue title cards, which are a glowing, Sauron-like eye.

Flashback to Mary attacking Lucifer, which segues into Mary burning on the ceiling in the Pilot. Dean wakes up (it’s a dream). He and Sam were knocked out until dawn. Dean storms out of the house, asking if Jack has wings. Sam says he doesn’t know.

Cut to Jack walking around naked and then two losers at a fish fry restaurant seeing him outside, naked, asking for his “Father.” They call the one slacker dude’s mom, who is a cop.

In the car, the Brothers argue over what to do with Jack. Dean is all about the holy oil and “hitting him with everything we got.” Sam is all about understanding him and figuring out if he’s EVOL or not. ‘Cause Sam was all about being understanding when the Darkness got unleashed–oh, wait. Sam does ask about whether Castiel really is dead, too. “You know he is,” Dean retorts.

Meanwhile, the Sheriff of North Cove (AKA Slacker’s Mom) is meeting Jack. She introduces herself as Christine Barker and says she’s “just here to help.” Jack smiles a very-much-not-nice smile.

Castiel’s body has been retrieved in record time and put on a table under a sheet in the cabin by two angels, one PoC male who is angry and obnoxious and “racist” about Kelly’s body, and one blonde female who claims to feel sorry for Castiel. Stay classy, show.

Cut to the police station, where Jack is one step away from a psych eval. He’s got clothes, now. Very unimpressed by him, so far. He’s basically a walking plot point.

The Sheriff asks him some questions that go rather poorly, while Slacker watches, mocking. Jack says Kelly is “in Heaven” (rather doubt that, dude) and is looking for his father.

Jack starts talking about “the bad woman” (Dagon) burning and “the universe screamed.” I’m glancing at the clock because damn, this is dull so far. Let’s get back to the Brothers, please, Show.

When she goes to check his fingerprints, Slacker asks him “how high are you?” Jack doesn’t understand his question. And realizes he is hungry.

Meanwhile, I’m discovering the exciting world of drying paint.

Back to Sam and Dean, pulling up (so coincidentally) to the fish fry joint where Jack appeared. Sam wants to go eat something. Dean wants to call Jody and get her to put out an APB on Jack. It’s a topsy-turvy world when Sam wants to eat fried food and Dean wants to work.

Inside, the other Slacker is dealing with an annoying drunk customer. Sam asks the guy if he saw anyone naked wandering around the guy says that why, yes, he did. Sam makes a call to the Sheriff, impersonating an officer, and she is shocked by Jack’s blank slate of fingerprints.

Outside the Pirate fish fry, Dean is walking back to the car with bloody knuckles when he’s accosted by Annoying Drunk Girl who was inside when Sam went in (dear God, woman, GO AWAY). She notices his bloody knuckles, but not that he is retrieving a flask of booze for a drink and to dump on his knuckles. She tells an annoying story about a college roommate called “Becky” (apparently, not Becky Rosen), while Dean coldly eyes her up over the roof of the Impala. Sam comes out why she’s still going on. Sam brings Dean up to speed and they leave while she smirks. Maybe she’s a demon. I don’t and don’t care. Hope she’s Monster Chow soon.

In the station, the lights start fritzing badly and the Sheriff can’t find anyone. Pulling out her gun, she enters the Locker Room, from whence comes creepy laughter. Inside, though, it’s just her son and Jack, eating food from the food dispenser. Jack is discovering nougat. Or something. The light-fritzing turns out to be Jack making the food dispenser operate with his mind. Then he hears angel voices. When the Sheriff tries to stop him leaving, he accidentally shoves her into the machine and bails.

As lights explode, he gets to the squad room and sees Dean, but gets Tased by Sam. The Sheriff, who was unconscious just a moment before, comes into the room, gun drawn, looking fine. Nice lack of continuity, there, Dabb.

I miss when this show didn’t bore me.

So, we need a third act, I guess, so Sam is tossed into a cell, while the Sheriff interrogates Dean. Dean tells her what’s up, the Family Business. Rather than get pissy, the Sheriff asks Dean what Jack is. Dean says he’s a Nephilim.

In the jail cell, Sam talks to Jack, who tells him about hearing the angel voices. Jack asks Sam to tell “them” that he’s “sorry.” Whatever, show.

Sam asks Jack how he knows English. Jack says he talked to her, “I *was* her.” (very much not reassuring). Sam then asks Jack how he got his powers and if he remembers opening the door to the other world. Jack doesn’t know. He says he has to find his father, that his father will protect him.

Sam says that Lucifer doesn’t protect people. Jack says no, his mom said that Castiel would protect him. Sam tells Jack that Castiel is dead.

Outside, Slacker is lighting a cigarette. He’s confronted by Annoying Drunk Girl and the two angels. So, is she an angel, or is she in league with them?

Inside, Dean is releasing Sam, saying the Sheriff believes them. Then they hear Slacker outside scream. As they and the Sheriff come out into the squad room, they see Annoying Drunk Girl with an angel blade to Slacker’s throat.

The Sheriff starts to raise her gun, but Dean warns her not to. Annoying Drunk Girl Angel/Demon wants the Sheriff to shoot Dean to let her son go. Sam is still in the cell.

But it’s mostly a distraction so the other two angels and come in and attack Sam and Jack. ADGA stabs Slacker, pretty much just for kicks, as soon as she hears they’re in. Sam gets his ass kicked and the other two angels take Jack as Dean gets the drop on ADGA. He interrogates her and she smacks him in the head then enters the cell. Sam has blasted the other two angels away with a sigil that almost blasts Jack away, too. She stabs Jack, and gets stabbed by Sam, but only Jack survives. So, that happened.

Outside, the Sheriff goes off with her son in the ambulance, while the Brothers have a talk about Jack. Dean agrees with Sam’s plan to bring Jack back to the Bunker, to minimize the damage and find a way to kill Jack.

Dean chooses to burn Castiel’s body. Sam says maybe they can ask Chuck. Dean says he already tried. That’s why his knuckles are bloody. He prayed to Chuck to bring all of them back and then smacked a restroom wall (repeatedly), and cried, when Chuck failed to answer.

Not sure why the show has decided to forget all about Amara. She might answer Dean’s prayer.

Anyhoo, Dean is now going to burn Castiel and nobody is stopping him: “God’s not listening. He doesn’t give a damn.”

Oh, they also burn Kelly, by the way. Let’s not speak of that drippy, nothingburger character again, Show.

Dean has a moment alone with Castiel to cry over him. Later, Sam talks Jack through a Hunter’s funeral. Dean says goodbye to them all, including Mary. Sam says she may not be dead, but Dean refuses to entertain what he sees as false hope.

Boring music for this. Not very Supernatural.

Over in Alt-Verse, Mary is getting stalked and chased by Lucifer, who is playing with his food. Mary says what, is Lucifer going to kill her now? Lucifer says maybe or maybe not. Maybe he needs her. Whatever, Lucie.

Credits.

Okeydoke, that’s it for tonight. Not the greatest of episodes. Pretty much pointless aside from Dean’s cold, hard turn at grieving.

Expect my review by Sunday night.

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Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee.

I’ll also be simul-recapping on Wayward Children.

Like this column? You can help keep it going by contributing monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), making a one-time donation through Paypal, or buying us a coffee.


Recap and Review: Supernatural 12.10: Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets


By Paula R. Stiles


[spoilers ahoy for several seasons]


Tagline: Castiel’s past comes back to haunt him in the form of a vengeful woman and the sinister angel comrade who made her that way.


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Recap: Quick recap of Dean’s early relationship with Castiel and the boring Lucifer “baby mama drama” (as Dean puts it in the following episode episode). Can Kelly Kline please ride off with her hellspawn pregnancy to the Island of Forgotten Guest Characters and Dropped Plots?

Cut to Now and a striking African American woman playing a video game at a bar. The bartender notes that she does this every night and it’s closing time. She ignores him. He also notes that she beats the game every night and doesn’t have to. She ignores him.

A redhead in an eyepatch shows up and is a total bitch to the first woman. She refuses to get out of her way. When the first woman uses angel powers on her, the redhead calls her “Benjamin” and is unaffected. A brief fight ensues (excuse me if I don’t buy that any ordinary human, using the power of her soul or not, would have much of a chance a chance against even a de-winged angel). Benjamin gets beaten and calls for help, with the redhead encouraging her to do. We see three other angels, one of them Castiel in the Bunker, hearing it. The redhead says, “I’ve waited so long” and then stabs Benjamin to death. White light comes out and the redhead leaves.

Title cards.

Cut to Dean looking at a board in the Bunker, trying to figure out where Lucifer’s boring baby mama scampered off to. Sam comes in with coffee. It turns out Castiel set up the board. Dean is not thrilled that Castiel lost Baby Mama Kelly and wonders how she could have gone to ground the way she did (seeing as how she’s carrying a creature that every angel can sense for hundreds of miles). Sam then changes the subject to whether or not Dean has heard from Mary. Dean says yeah, she’s hunting a shapeshifter in Atlanta. When Dean offered to help, she said no, she could handle it alone.

Dean wonders aloud if Mary is getting back into hunting too quickly. Sam brushes off Dean’s concerns, even though Sam isn’t actually the one keeping in touch with Mom (bit passive-aggressive, there, Sam). Sam also calls Dean out on not speaking to Castiel. Dean points out that Castiel did something the previous episode (killing Billie the Reaper) that is supposed to have “cosmic consequences” and avers that doesn’t sound like a good thing.

As Sam is hemming and hawing over that, Castiel comes in, snarks at Dean, and tells them about Doomed Teaser Angel, who was once a comrade. Sam volunteers to come help and when Castiel, still in sarcasm mode, asks if that means both of them, Dean rather reluctantly says he’ll come along. To prevent Castiel from doing anything else that’s “stupid.”

Dean drives, of course. In the car, Sam tries to engineer a detente, which is ignored by both Dean and Castiel. Sam then tries the guilt trip to paper things over. Castiel finally tells them a bit about Benjamin, that he would never have put his vessel, a devout woman he’d found in Madrid, in harm’s way. She was his “friend” on top of being his vessel. Dean riles Castiel up a bit by being sarcastic about how Benjamin probably wouldn’t have run off half-cocked the way Castiel did the week before.

At the scene of the teaser crime, we see a charcoal outline of broken wings on a wall and meet the bartender again. He is shellshocked. Castiel is rude to the guy. Dean sees the bartender out, while Sam asks Castiel if he’s okay. Castiel is upset. Meanwhile, Dean finds an angel blade, which Castiel realizes isn’t Benjamin’s.

In a motel room, the annoying (sorry, mysterious) redhead is lying on a bed, whispering a spell. She opens her eyes and says Castiel’s name. As she grabs her suitcoat and leaves, she kisses her fingertips and touches a sepia photo of a little girl.

Outside a diner, Castiel tells Sam and Dean that before he led his own battalion (except, um, wasn’t Anna actually his commander?), he served under another angel named Ishim. Ishim is inside the diner, but Castiel doesn’t want the Brothers to come in with him. Ishim doesn’t like humans. “Ishim,” by the way, is an entire class of angels (and their leader may be Azazel or Metatron) who are closer to humans than any other angels, but here it’s used as a name for a single angel.

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Dean’s like, pfft, no, to that, especially when Castiel gets snarky again. So, no surprise that shortly after Castiel comes in and greets two angels (Ishim and Mirabel, who still have their vessels from the old days), Dean comes in. Neither angel is happy to see Castiel, blaming him for the fall from Heaven and the deaths of many angels (Balthazar and Uriel get name-dropped).

Right before Sam counts down to Dean “storming in,” and Dean enters the diner (insisting on sitting between Sam and Castiel across from Ishim), Ishim and Mirabel say that they’ve lost two other angels besides Benjamin since the Fall, in the same way. Despite this, Ishim sends Mirabel out alone to check whether anyone besides the Brothers has showed up (because splitting up isn’t dumb, or anything).

Predictably, Mirabel is caught off-guard in the alley by the redhead and quickly dispatched. And neither of the angels inside notices, despite all the hand-wringing over Benjamin’s broadcast-by-angel-radio death and previous episodes of angels noticing when another angel died nearby (I mean, it’s pretty darned bright and loud). Okeydoke.

Ishim and Dean don’t like each other. I mean, they really, really don’t like each other. There’s a staring contest as Ishim dumps a metric ton of sugar in his coffee/tea (what’s that about?), on which Dean comments with a nasty smile. Ishim calls Dean and Sam “monkeys,” while Dean tells him to “go to Hell.” Good times.

After Ishim leaves to find Mirabel, the Brothers dress Castiel down on putting up with Ishim’s crap. Castiel storms off after Ishim, who is getting attacked in the alley by the redhead after finding Mirabel’s body. Ishim recognizes her and tries to smite her, but she laughs and says she’s no longer “powerless.” Well, neither are demons and they can get smited, so I don’t really see how that works, but okay.

She grabs Ishim around the throat, but Castiel comes out and slashes her in the side, knocking her down (Castiel also recognizes her in a brief flashback to Olden Tymes). When the Brothers back him up with guns, she insists that she has no desire to hurt humans and blasts out light from her raised palm. Mind you, the Brothers have plenty of time to shoot her while she’s doing this, but nope. Dean ends up temporarily blinded and Sam dazzled. But Sam is still able to get the license plate number of the white convertible in which she roars off (because that car’s not inconspicuous, or anything).

Later, at an old church, Castiel tends to a wounded and weakened Ishim. Ishim can’t heal himself. Castiel clues Sam in that he recognized the woman and Dean (who has already noticed this) insists Castiel tell them what happened. We then get a saturated-color flashback to Orono, Maine, 1901.

Ishim is leading the way to a house through the woods. Mirabel and Benjamin are there, as is Castiel inside a young white woman. Ishim tells them that one of their angel brothers is living in sin with a human wife, and that the two have a daughter, a naphil (the show uses the plural term “nephilim” because hey, why do research?). Ishim says the girl has “a human soul mixed with angelic grace,” which is very dangerous. Is this more dangerous than Dean having hundreds of thousands of souls inside him last season? Who knows?

Despite the fact that the angels can actually track Lucifer’s unborn naphil child because they can sense nephilim (mentioned early in the episode), the angels in this scene just take Ishim at his word that the girl inside the house is a naphil. Um … show? Wouldn’t they be able to sense if the girl’s a naphil or not for themselves?

As they stride up to the house, the two other angels who later die offscreen (a man and a woman) join them. Not sure why these two weren’t in on the conversation that required a round robin of infodump, but I guess roles with lines are too expensive.

A man and a woman come out. The woman is the redhead. She calls the man “Achamel.” He tells her to go back inside and whispers in her ear. Looking frightened, she obeys. Achamel, who looks like Jesus, comes down the steps to have it out with Ishim, who goes off on his patented “filthy animals” rant about humans. Achamel hints that Ishim is the one who has something to hide with a retort about “shame.” Meanwhile, Castiel and the others look on coldly.

Achamel further hints that Ishim is being dishonest, then attacks him. The others grab him and Castiel pronounces judgment on him. When Achamel hears the charge of fathering a naphil, he looks shocked, but Ishim grabs him by the throat so he can’t speak. The other angels, being dumb as a box of hair, don’t notice any of this unsettling subtext. Mirabel stabs Achamel, killing him.

Ishim then tells the others to get rid of the vessel’s body, while he goes into the house to deal with the wife and the naphil alone. You know – the superpowerful, potentially world-killing naphil. Inside, out of sight, the woman shouts to Ishim to stay away from her daughter and then the child screams.

As I said, angels are dumb as a box of hair.

Case in point: In the present, Castiel insists it was a just mission, even though there are red flags all over the story and the Brothers are thoroughly disgusted with him and Ishim. Ishim identifies the redhead as Lily Sunder (of the episode’s title) and says he spared her. Dean guesses the obvious, that she now seeks vengeance. Hmm.

Ishim says she was a professor in apocalyptic literature (in the grand scheme of things, this is probably the least-idiotic dumb thing in this episode, but that’s still pretty anachronistic, especially for a woman) and that she is fluent in Enochian. He says she must have made a pact with a demon to remain young and gain powers. Except, you know, the part where she has angelic not demonic powers.

Dean says he and Sam will go talk to her, since she allegedly has no wish to hurt humans. Castiel begs to differ, saying it will take all of them to defeat her (well, I don’t see why, but Castiel can get off on these ridiculous tangents). He also says he still has to heal Ishim’s wound.

Castiel also gets pissy when Sam suggests that Lily’s got some justification for being angry, what with having her entire family murdered in front of her. Castiel swings it way the other way and asks if Sam thinks he and all the other angels deserved to die for that. Sam hedges because, well, yeah, that’s how blood vengeance is supposed to go. Castiel puts Sam on the spot by asking him if he’d let it go were he in Lily Sunder’s place. The answer to that, of course, is “no.”

Dean cuts off the rest of the conversation by saying that he and Sam are going alone to talk to her and that’s that. Meanwhile, Lily Sunder, in her motel room, is healing her own wound with white light and looking stern. Or something.

While he waits for the Brothers to come back, Castiel talks to Ishim and then heals him. Ishim is still on his anti-human rant, saying that angels are supposed to stay away from humans because humans are far more of a threat to them than the other way round (think Lily and the Brothers might feel differently). Ishim also doesn’t much like the way he perceives Sam and Dean “bossing” Castiel around. Castiel insists that his friendship with “Sam and Dean” (we know he mostly means Dean) has made him “stronger” not weaker. He discovers that Ishim’s wound is more serious than he’d thought, so it really drains him when he heals Ishim.

At the motel, the Brothers arrive at Lily Sunder’s room. Sam says Lily’s car was a rental. They find her in the hallway (right after Dean admits they may have to kill her if she won’t stop going after angels). She has two angel swords now (even though she left one behind at the scene of Benjamin’s murder) and seems to think the Brothers couldn’t stop her from killing Castiel. Stop laughing in the back, there.

Sam tries to talk her down with the reasonable approach while Dean looks skeptical. She is also skeptical, since (shocker) it seems Ishim fibbed a little. And left some things out. Well, that is why they decided to go get her side of the story. Once she realizes they’ve been lied to and don’t want to hurt her unless they have to, she unbends and tells them more of the flashback story.

A brief conversation over a doll between Lily and Achamel (shortly before the angel posse shows up) confirms that he is not the father. So … who is? Is it, say, Ishim, maybe? The daughter’s name was May and we find out that what Achamel whispered was for Lily to take her and run.

Does Lily do this? Well, not right away. Inside the house, she starts dithering over which papers to take while reassuring her daughter everything is okay. This, of course, gives Ishim time to blast the door open and come inside.

It also makes Lily look very stupid. This makes me not very sympathetic to her bitterness in the present when she admits she summoned him in the first place as soon as she found the spell to do so. She says she was always fascinated with angels and thought Ishim was “perfect” when she first met him. She also says that her daughter “was human,” that she had her before she ever did the summoning, or met an angel. But in doing so, she admits that she intentionally endangered her daughter by summoning a supernatural being with a child in the house.

In the flashback, Ishim bitterly calls her out on using him to get his secrets “for your precious studies.” When he tells her that he had confided in her because he loved her, she claims he never did and was just obsessed with her. Because yelling at your creepy ex when he has all the cards and you need to get out of the house with your daughter always works well in Lifetime movies – oh, wait.

Anyhoo, he gets angry about Lily having summoned Achamel to protect her from him (Ishim sees it as throwing him over for Achamel, which is … kinda true, actually). He pins Lily to a column and kills her daughter right in front of her, calling her “powerless” to stop him.

So, huge plothole here. If Lily is an expert in Enochian and knows more about angels than angels know about angels, why couldn’t she just make an angel-banishing sigil and blast everyone away as Ishim was coming in the door? Hell, as soon as she saw the angels coming? Then take her daughter and run like hell? Achabel wouldn’t have died. Neither would May. At least not then. And we know the episode writer knows this is an out because it’s a major plot point in the climax of the story.

I hate these sorts of plotholes because they’re so hand-wavy and lazy. Kind of like the ongoing thing since season five (thanks to Kripke) that Lucifer can’t be killed. Even though we’ve seen two archangels bite the dust, and even God and his sister nearly flatlined last season. But nooooo, we’re stuck with Lucifer until the end of time.

Back in the present, the Brothers are freaked out by Lily’s story and Dean tries to get hold of Castiel. Who doesn’t answer because a rejuvenated Ishim has stolen his phone. It seems Ishim hasn’t felt this good in a long time and Castiel is temporarily drained. Uh-oh.

So, Sam stays to watch Lily while Dean goes to warn Castiel. I’m sure this will end well.

In her motel room, Sam asks Lily the obvious question of why she waited so long to go on her roaring rampage of revenge. She says she couldn’t find the angels while they still had wings (which seems iffy when she could hear them talk, but okay). But she doesn’t explain why it’s taken her over two years to find all of them since they fell. I had a bit of trouble with that.

Sam asks her about Ishim’s claim that she made a pact. She says that no, she uses Enochian magic, fueled by her soul. But it’s not finite. She will eventually end up with no soul. Sam says that yeah, he gets that. She admits that she used to dream about her daughter, but now she doesn’t dream at all, because losing her soul makes her more and more emotionally detached. Sam gets that, too.

She warns Sam that Ishim will kill Dean. She claims that Ishim is “a big man in Heaven” and can’t afford to see his sins brought to light. This makes no sense. If Ishim really is that important in Heaven, 1. why have we never heard of him during all the many plots involving that place and 2. why didn’t he and his brethren just go hide back there? After all, the angels were forcibly called back to Heaven not long after they were thrown down. Some went willingly, of course, but some were killed because they refused. So, why are Ishim and his lieutenants out wandering around on earth now? They’re not Grigori.

Anyhoo, she loses a bit more of my sympathy when she says she’s fine with the current situation. Once Ishim kills Dean, Sam will be fine with killing Ishim, so she gets what she wants, eventually, anyway.

Cut to Dean entering the church and finding a weakened Castiel. Castiel explains that he healed Ishim. Dean tells him (without looking around for Ishim first) that Lily’s daughter was human and that he thinks Ishim “is playing you.”

Up pops Ishim behind Dean. Nope. Sure wasn’t expecting that. [/sarcasm]

So, Castiel belatedly compares notes with Ishim, who lies like a rug. Dean snarks that Ishim lies a lot worse than Lily. Mutual manly bitchiness ensues. Ishim tries to separate Castiel from Dean by insulting Dean and asking Castiel why he lets Dean boss him around. Castiel’s finally not buying it, though, and bears down on the question – was May human or a naphil? Ishim admits the truth by refusing to answer the question straight. In other words, May was human.

The fight breaks out when Dean pulls out his angel blade and gets slammed into a wall. Castiel tries to attack Ishim, but gets his ass handed to him. As Ishim beats him up, he pours out his anger and jealousy and envy. Castiel was the one who got to go to Hell and raise the Righteous Man. Now Ishim is going to cut out Castiel’s “human weakness” with his angel sword, just as he cut out his own. And he goes straight for Dean. Ohhh, dear.

Fortunately, while Castiel is getting beaten to a pulp (albeit getting in a punch or headbutt or two), Dean is thinking quickly. He cuts his hand and makes a banishing sigil. When Ishim approaches, Dean warns him to stay back. But Ishim has Dean’s number. As a helpless, beaten Castiel watches, Ishim points out to Dean that he would survive being blasted away, but Castiel might not. Unwilling to put Castiel in mortal harm’s way, Dean very reluctantly drops his hand. Then, with a grim and fatalistic look, he grasps his angel sword as Ishim smirks and comes after him.

But Sam and Lily arrive with good timing. Lily calls Ishim off by shouting his name. He turns to confront her, sarcastically calling her “my love.” As Sam rushes to Dean, apologizing for bring Lily along (Dean quickly forgives him), Ishim and Lily fight. It’s a pretty good fight, but he’s much stronger than before and soon bests her.

The Brothers come in and distract him by slicing him on the limbs. Enraged, he tosses them into a corner, but this gives Lily time to pull off her eyepatch and do a white-light jazz hand. Her blind eye glows as she declares she will “never be powerless again.” She Tks him into a wall. He’s not impressed, pushing away from it and approaching her the way Dean did Abaddon when he killed her. Before he can strike, though, Castiel stabs him from behind. Afterward, Castiel sinks to his knees, telling her “You held him for long enough.”

We get an overhead shot of Lily staring down at dead Ishim and his broken wings. Sam wonders if that’s it and Dean asks Lily, far more pointedly, “Are you done?” When Lily hedges that she’s been seeking revenge for over a century, Dean, even more pointedly, tells her it’s over (i.e., that he won’t let her kill Castiel, too.).

At that point, Castiel intervenes. He apologizes to Lily and tells her that if she can’t let it go, he will wait for her to come and finish him down the road. She thanks him and then just leaves. Oookay.

Back at the Bunker, Dean gives Castiel a beer, telling him “You earned it.”

The Brothers go into a stereo, extremely cleaned-up paean to how nice Castiel has been to them over the years, leaving out all the times he’s turned on them, betrayed them, run off with the butterflies, or just plain made dumb decisions. And Dean admits he’s not angry so much as “worried” that Castiel’s killing of Billie will turn ugly, what with all the “cosmic consequences” deal.

Then we get a boring retread of the whole nephilim plotline, how Lucifer’s child is dangerous and scary beyond measure, and they may have to kill a kid (assuming they can kill the kid). Which is just eye-rolling post-Amara. A group drinking session ensues.

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Review: I mostly enjoyed this one, but my goodness, were there enough plotholes to drive that truck through, or what? Also, Castiel acted childish for most of the episode. I wanted to slap him half the time. And Ishim was remarkably transparent in his motivations. Not that Lily Sunder was any great shakes as an anti-heroine.

Still, Ishim was a great villain and foil to Dean, specifically, in the sense of Ian Tracey and Jensen Ackles having a crackling good time playing off each other as brittle antagonists. There was never going to be any peace between those two. Their instant and mutual hatred had too much destructive resonance. Lily’s revenge story was bland in comparison.

It’s no secret that I’m as big a fan of Ian Tracey as of Jensen Ackles, so imagine my delight in seeing him return to the show and get some meaty conflict and fight scenes with Ackles this time round. Tracey is A-list in Canada (and, to my mind, Canadian A-list, consisting mostly of seasoned character actors rather than “stars,” is generally much stronger than Hollywood A-list), so it’s a rare treat to see him, Ackles, and Misha Collins get face time. Padalecki got that chance last time (season seven’s “Adventures in Babysitting”), but Ackles didn’t and Tracey’s character had a much smaller role in that one. However much I liked Lee Chambers, they killed him off between episodes and brought back Lee’s annoying daughter Krissy. That gives you an idea how disposable a redshirt he was.

I was rather put out that they killed Tracey’s character off again this time and made him a one-shot, though at least he had a lot of fun and scenery to chew in this one. I was further put out because Ishim was actually a much more interesting character than the title character.

Lily Sunder is a blah Vengeful Sue character and I have no desire to see her again. She’s got about three settings – frightened and helpless, angry, and smug – with little connection between them and equally little emotional connection to the audience.

Also, she’s far too overpowered in her initial scenes versus the two angels we see her kill, making her subtext too much of a predator and not enough of an avenger, even once we find out the truth (all Tell, no Show). This put the sympathy on the angels (especially Benjamin) and it never really came back to Lily. I felt sorry for Achamel and certainly for May, but I never felt very sorry for Lily.

After all, this is a woman who intentionally summoned an extremely powerful and deadly being, which resulted in the death of her daughter. Even if she had done it before her daughter was ever born, it was a dumb thing to do. If Lily had summoned a demon or used the Necronomicon to call up Cthulhu, the audience would hardly be sympathetic to her. The show indicates that humans in the SPNverse are really dumb about the true nature of angels and think they are good (which is the intended way of making her sympathetic, despite her reckless stupidity), but the audience knows better at this point.

Plus, any professor of apocalyptic lit would know that it is incredibly dangerous to summon angels. In traditional Christian lore, demons are just fallen angels. Even they serve God. Christ allowed some control over demons by humans in order to exorcize them. But unfallen angels still serve God directly and represent manifestations of His power and glory. Not only are they much more powerful than demons, but their position in Creation compared to humans is very different. Summoning them can be perceived as directly interfering with God’s will, so while angel grimoires may be considered white magic, they are still very iffy in moral terms.

This leads directly into Ishim’s bigoted rants about humans and angels remaining separate, and his resentment of Dean and Sam giving Castiel orders. This makes perfect sense if you consider that for an angel, like a demon, summoning is a compulsion. It’s unclear how compelled angels feel to answer (it probably depends on the power of the summoner versus the power of the summoned), but Castiel and other angels have made it clear they find a direct summons by a human to be a peremptory and insolent command, and they don’t like it.

Episode writer Steve Yockey makes Ishim look like a jealous, bitter, racist ex, but in the rules of the show itself, Ishim’s will may have been abrogated by Lily in the initial summoning. It appears she may have compelled him to love her and serve her, which makes her all kinds of unsympathetic, dead daughter or no. Regardless of how much Ishim was (or felt) compelled to do her bidding early on, she is the one who created the instrument that murdered her daughter by twisting an angel in the first place.

While Yockey probably didn’t intend any of that subtext, it therefore makes some sense that Castiel has no sympathy for Lily until Ishim threatens to murder Dean right in front of him. Castiel isn’t just being dumb about the daughter not being a naphil or inhuman in his indifference to the child’s death. Lily’s daughter is innocent, but her loss is just punishment for Lily’s defiance of the Natural Order and implied abrogation of Ishim’s free will.

But Ishim misreads what’s going on between Castiel and Dean. Dean did not initiate the relationship with Castiel and Dean. Yes, Dean commands Castiel loyalty and obedience, but both he and Castiel perceive this as just, both because of their friendship and because Castiel participated in the destruction of Dean’s family. Castiel serves Dean entirely of his own free will and Dean respects those terms.

Dean is not a parallel for Lily (as the dialogue states); he’s a parallel for her daughter. Therefore, he is an innocent. When Castiel kills Ishim to save Dean, he is belatedly making up for failing to save May. And the audience is all for this, not just because of the emotional investment in the “profound bond” between Castiel and Dean, and not just because, as the Firewall, Dean may not only have the ability to exercise true free will and even change Natural Order, but may even embody the Natural Order. It’s because Dean in this story is truly innocent.

Ishim drastically misinterprets the relationship between Castiel and Dean, perceiving it in the same toxic way as his own relationship with Lily. Lily does, too, at first, but changes enough to end her vendetta with the death of Ishim (the angel who actually murdered her daughter) at Castiel’s hands. However dimly, Lily senses that if she went after Castiel, Dean (and Sam) would end her. She may not want to hurt humans and they may be willing to let bygones be bygones if she stops there, but they’ve killed humans who practice black magic before. And they are very good at it.

I will give Alicia Witt credit for not making her as irritating as I expected Lily to be, and her fight scenes looked pretty good. I’m not a fan of Witt’s sarcastic delivery, and the character itself had some issues, but Witt did okay with the role, aside from the above problems of lack of range.

I suppose, if the writers do insist on bringing Lily back, she could mellow into a sort of Rowena-like frenemy, but I’m not nearly as into watching Witt as I am Ruth Connell. Also, I don’t like how Lily cold-bloodedly killed the vessels of the angels she also slaughtered (who were misled, not evil) and shrugged off all the collateral damage as an okay consequence of becoming sociopathic through using her soul to fuel her angel-like powers (something I have suggested was possible since season six).

Yes, Ishim murdered her daughter, but she’s the one who chose revenge. And being fine with standing by while Ishim murders Dean, or murdering innocent angel vessels while insisting she doesn’t want to harm any humans, doesn’t jibe with her claim that she’s a vengeful heroine in her story. I also wasn’t impressed by her never once showing an ounce of guilt over her inadvertent role in her daughter’s death in, y’know, summoning her daughter’s eventual murderer in the first place out of little more than religious fanaticism and academic curiosity. And there’s no sense she ever had any feelings for Ishim aside from accomplishment at having summoned an angel, so one can kind of see why he felt rejected.

It doesn’t help that she comes off as a bit of a user, summoning another angel to help her with her first angel when he becomes a problem and getting that angel killed without much remorse on her part. Or that the show has her kill off the other two angels in female vessels so that we’re left with fewer female characters at the end (really, show, it’s not necessary to have only one significant female character at a time in an episode. We’re 51% of the population, not something exotic like dancing bears).

Plus, there’s the plothole that she apparently knows Enochian and all this stuff about angels that Ishim taught her but not the banishing spell that Dean tried to use and she could have used to save her daughter. Not the sharpest tool in the shed is Lily Sunder. Then again, the characters in general have been written all season unnecessarily as thick as posts, similarly to how characters are written on other CW shows. It seems the new writers think this is the way to do things now.

Castiel rhapsodizing about Benjamin and his loving relationship with his vessel (and our seeing yet another PoC angelic character bite the dust in as many weeks) doesn’t make Lily look very sympathetic, either. I wish TV writers could figure out how to write female guest characters more sympathetically, or at least not so much like bitches all the time, because ugh. And no, the “surprise twist” didn’t improve things on that front. In fact, it made things much more confusing. In the Devil’s Baby Mama storyline, it’s clearly stated that angels can sense the conception of a naphil. Yet, the twist is that Lily’s little girl is just an ordinary human. How could the angels outside the house not sense that? It’s a big old plothole that’s never explained.

I still think that Ishim with his dark, angelic obsession was far more intriguing than Lily (hell, Benjamin was far more intriguing than Lily and I was sorry to see him/her go). He would have made a fabulous recurring antagonist for Castiel over the course of a season or so. He was so obsessed and they had so much history, and the hate chemistry with Dean was fantastic. Maybe we could get a flashback or two in a future episode (no-no, don’t burst my bubble of denial).

Part of the intrigue was the way the writers straight-up gave us a parallel to Castiel’s relationship with Dean in Ishim with Lily, one that went horribly wrong. As I’ve said in the past, I think Destiel (in the sense of a relationship that uses romance tropes) is canon on the show, just as Dowley is canon. In addition, these relationships aren’t just one-shots and don’t just exist to add tension. They actually change the plot and characters over time.

Crowley’s jealousy of Dean’s relationships with other men (including not only Castiel, but brother Sam) is the core of his personal conflict with Team Free Will, just as his loneliness stems from the persistent emotional rejection by his mother Rowena (hmm, something Crowley kinda has in common with Dean this season). Meanwhile, in Castiel’s obsession lies the core of his faith in God and the reason why Chuck keeps favoring him and resurrecting him. Castiel is the Firewall’s literal wingman and bodyguard.

Are we going to see teenage kissing and holding hands? Hell, no. These characters are a grown human man with emotional walls like Ancient Troy and a half-billion-year-old seraph. Note that the relationship between Ishim and Lily didn’t involve any cute teen romance tropes, either (unless we’re talking about this commercial and campaign about the difference between Young Love and abuse, which gets quoted in the episode). In fact, the idea that Lily’s daughter was a naphil turned out to be a red herring deliberately engineered by Ishim so that he could take revenge on Lily by killing the girl, and use his angel comrades to help him do it.

The story of Ishim and Lily (and even Benjamin and his ancient unnamed vessel) once again raised the specter I have talked about in the past that angels are designed to be obsessive. It’s in their DNA, as it were. They were created (possibly by the archangels rather than Chuck directly, as hinted late last season) to worship their father in every way possible and to obey their angelic superiors without question (as I said, dumb as a box of hair). When an angel transfers this obsessive love to a human, it can be overwhelming, even terrifying, for the human. With the power balance between them so far out of whack, it can become abusive in a human heartbeat.

Up to this point, we hadn’t known of any other such relationships between a human and an angel (unless you count Dean and Anna, which ended very badly), so we had nothing to compare. Anna seemed relatively fine, albeit suspicious of Castiel, until she was captured and reprogrammed. So, we had no way of knowing if the circular pattern of Castiel obsessing over Dean, becoming enraged with Dean over the least disagreement or mistake, possibly harming or betraying Dean, and then feeling remorseful, was how things went with angels and humans. Well … apparently, that’s about as good as it gets.

Naturally, the slashiest and most parallel it gets is when Ishim cannily calls Dean’s bluff about the angel-banishing sigil and Dean chooses not to use it, knowing full well that doing so will probably get him killed. This is right after Ishim tells Castiel he’s going to murder Dean right in front of him to get rid of Castiel’s “human” taint the way he did his own (by murdering Lily’s daughter and incurring her hatred). It’s also right before he sarcastically calls Lily, upon her arrival with Sam as part of the cavalry, “my love.” The subtext of curdled romantic obsession isn’t exactly subtle.

Castiel returns the favor by stabbing Ishim from behind to save Dean the way he did Billie the Reaper last week to save Mary (which was also, in a weird way, to “save” Dean – from watching his mother get killed again). Castiel’s reaction is the opposite to Ishim’s in that Ishim murders Lily’s family, whereas Castiel kills other angels in his own family (literally backstabs them) to save Dean’s family. And Dean chooses to give up a spell that could save his own life, even though he’s quite angry with Castiel, because it could kill Castiel. If that’s not true love on this show, I don’t know what is.

An historical aside: There was unlikely to be such a thing as a professorship in Apocalyptic Literature in the late 19th century. It would be a professorship in Divinity or in History of Religions, and women were not getting those back then. No American woman even got a Bachelor’s degree in Divinity until 1878 and it seems pretty unlikely such a woman would be residing in Maine in 1901. In addition, no respectable Victorian Era woman, widowed or single, would be living alone with her daughter in a swanky mansion without any servants or companions, angel guardian dude or no.

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Fun lines:

Sam: So, what’s the plan?
Dean: Well, we knock on [Lily’s] door, ask her nicely not to kill any more angels.
Sam: And if she says no?
Dean: Well, we’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.

Ishim: I loved you.
Lily: You didn’t love me. You were obsessed with me. That isn’t love.

Ishim: [Lily]’s a liar.
Dean: Well, if she’s a liar, she’s pretty good at it. You, on the other hand, kinda suck.

Ishim: I used to envy you, Castiel. Can you believe that? You survived Hell. You were chosen by God. But now, look at you. You’re just sad and pathetically weak. So, now, I’m gonna help you. I’m gonna cure you of your human weakness, same way I cured my own. [pulls out his sword and goes after Dean]

Dean: [Ishim]’s dead. Are you done?
Lily: Revenge is all I’ve had for over a hundred years. It’s what I am.
Dean: Wrong answer. You’re done.


Next: Who We Are/All Along the Watchtower (season finale): British Men of Letters and Lucifer clash with Sam and Dean and Mary and Castiel. Hopefully, we end the season with a few less annoying antagonists.


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