Category Archives: Supernatural reviews

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


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

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

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

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

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

Cue title cards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Credits

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

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

Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


We need your help!

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

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

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

So, let’s get started.

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

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

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

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

Cue title cards.

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

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

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

But those title cards are still nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oooh, cliffhanger.

Credits

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

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

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

Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.


Supernatural: Season 14


We need your help!

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

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

Here are all my live recaps and reviews in one, handy-dandy spot, for Season 14.


The Official Supernatural: “Stranger in a Strange Land” (14.01-Season Premiere) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Gods and Monsters” (14.02) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “The Scar” (14.03) Live Recap Thread

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Official Supernatural: “Nihilism” (14.10) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Damaged Goods” (14.11) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Prophet and Loss” (14.12) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Lebanon” (14.13 – the 300th Episode) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Ouroboros” (14.14) Live Recap Thread


The Kripke Years

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4

Season 5

The Gamble Years

Season 6 (with Kripke)

Season 7

The Carver Years

Season 8

Season 9

Season 10

Season 11

The Dabb Years

Season 12

Season 13

Season 14


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.


Supernatural: Season 13


We need your help!

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

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

Here are all my live recaps and reviews in one, handy-dandy spot, for Season 13.


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

The Official “The Rising Son” (13.02) Live Recap Thread

The Official “Patience” (13.03) Live Recap Thread

The Official “The Big Empty” (13.04) Live Recap Thread

The Official “Advanced Thanatology” (13.05) Live Recap Thread

The Official “Tombstone” (13.06) Live Recap Thread

The Official “War of the Worlds” (13.07) Live Recap Thread

The Official “The Scorpion and the Frog” (13.08) Live Recap Thread

The Official “The Bad Place” (13.09 – pre-Christmas finale) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Wayward Sisters” (13.10) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Breakdown” (13.11) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Various and Sundry Villains” (13.12) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Devil’s Bargain” (13.13) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Good Intentions” (13.14) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “A Most Holy Man” (13.15) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “ScoobyNatural” (13.16) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “The Thing” (13.17) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Bring ’em Back Alive” (13.18) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Funeralia” (13.19) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Unfinished Business” (13.20) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Beat the Devil” (13.21) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Exodus” (13.22) Live Recap Thread

The Official Supernatural: “Let the Good Times Roll” (13.23 – Season Finale) Live Recap Thread


The Kripke Years

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4

Season 5

The Gamble Years

Season 6 (with Kripke)

Season 7

The Carver Years

Season 8

Season 9

Season 10

Season 11

The Dabb Years

Season 12

Season 13

Season 14


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.


Supernatural: Season 12


We need your help!

Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. You can still find my reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my research all month long in October 2018 on Patreon.

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

Here are all my live recaps and reviews in one, handy-dandy spot, for the second half of Season 12 (after the IMdB boards went bye-bye). I will fill in the first part of the season, after I catch up with seasons 9-11.


Recap and Review: Supernatural 12.01 (Season Premiere): Keep Calm and Carry On

Recap and Review: Supernatural 12.02: Mamma Mia

Recap and Review: Supernatural 12.03: The Foundry

Recap and Review: Supernatural 12.04: American Nightmare

Recap and Review: Supernatural 12.05: The One You’ve Been Waiting For

Recap and Review: Supernatural 12.06: Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox

Recap and Review: Supernatural 12.07: Rock Never Dies

Recap and Review: Supernatural 12.08: LOTUS

Recap and Review: Supernatural 12.09: First Blood

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

Recap and Review: Supernatural 12.11: Regarding Dean

Recap and Review: Supernatural 12.12: Stuck in the Middle (With You)

The Official Family Feud (Ep. 12.13) Recap Discussion Thread

The Official The Raid (12.14) Recap Discussion Thread

The Official Ladies Drink Free (12.16) Recap Discussion Thread

The Official The British Invasion (12.17) Recap Discussion Thread

The Official “The Memory Remains” (12.18) Live Recap Thread

The Official “The Future” (12.19) Live Recap Thread

The Official “Twigs and Twine and Tasha Banes” (12.20) Live Recap Thread

The Official “There’s Something About Mary” (12.21) Live Recap Thread

The Official “Who We Are/All Along the Watchtower” (12.22-12.23 – Season Finale) Live Recap Thread

Articles

Supernatural: Why the British Men of Letters Just Don’t Work


The Kripke Years

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4

Season 5

The Gamble Years

Season 6 (with Kripke)

Season 7

The Carver Years

Season 8

Season 9

Season 10

Season 11

The Dabb Years

Season 12

Season 13

Season 14


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


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]


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)


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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]


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.


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.