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Retro Recap and Review: Supernatural 10.05: Fan Fiction (The 200th Episode)


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[spoilers ahoy for several seasons]


Tagline: It’s the 200th episode and we’ve got the Brothers on a very light-weight case involving privileged schoolgirls doing a musical based on the Carver Edlund books based on the Winchesters’ lives. Hunting meets First World problems. Yay.


Recap: Recap that consists of someone typing out the title page to the show’s pilot on a computer.

Cut to Now, over a black curtain that opens up. It’s a living room scene with a very bad young actress reading a book. A “ghost” prop drops to the floor in front of her and lifts up. She screams.

The door busts open and two college-age women dressed as Sam and Dean aim pop guns at the ghost while “Dean” desultorily knocks off a quip. Somebody yells, “Cut!” and a young girl in a red prep school uniform, with an Asian sidekick in similar get-up (I kid you not) starts yelling at the girl playing Dean. “Dean” replies that she’s just doing it for college credit. A shoving contest ensues, whereupon the adult in the group, who is sitting in the seats, yells at them to break it up.

She tells them she’s fed up with all the girly “drama” and she’s going to the dean of the school tomorrow to shut down the production. After she leaves, the preppy girl, Marie, insists they continue until they’re “suspended.”

Outside, the teacher is bitching on her cell phone to some friend about how “Supernatural” is not theater “truth,” and tippling from a flask, when she gets kidnapped by vines in the bushes. A purple flower is left behind on the pavement.

Cue a title card of lit bulbs and Marie stating it’s not quite right – so we get ten years’ worth of title cards, instead.

Cut to Dean cleaning up the Impala, dressed in a dirty t-shirt and jeans. Damn, does Jensen Ackles have a nice ass (sorry!).

Sam exits their motel room, which is #200 (of course). He, too, is in jeans and a v-neck t-shirt. And it’s a nice, sunny day. And a downright slutty Gordon Lightfoot song, “Sundown,” is playing on the radio. Wardrobe just called and said, “You’re welcome.”

‘Scuse me, I gotta go rewatch that.

Anyhoo, Sam comments that Dean is “up early” (hinting that Dean still isn’t sleeping) and Dean cheerfully says he’s got a case. He tells Sam about Doomed Drunk Teaser Teacher. Sam is skeptical, but Dean says he’s going stir-crazy and needs a hunt. So, off they go.

They arrive at the school theater in broad daylight (there’s a nice flower bed next to the parking lot). They’re both in their FBI suits and Sam is on the phone (Dean driving) to a police officer. As Sam brings Dean up to speed on what happened to DDTT and brags about his brief career in high school theater, Dean sarcastically notes that consisted basically of running tech stuff backstage.

The Brothers walk into the auditorium and encounter instant life dissonance. One girl in makeup as Bobby Singer is practicing the word “idjits.” Another, dressed up as Castiel, is imitating Castiel’s suicidal holy oil molotov throw (“Hey, assbutt!”) at Michael in season five finale “Swan Song.” On stage, the girl playing Dean in the teaser is singing a song called “The Road So Far” about the Winchesters’ horrible life (with a heavy emphasis on how speshul Sam is) to a montage of season one, basically, acted in pantomime by other actors while another girl (the second-to-last Person of Color we’ll see in this episode) plays on the piano. Marie and her assistant are sitting in the front row until Marie calls a cut.

Sam looks bemused, Dean utterly horrified. But it does convince Sam that there’s a case here.

Marie comes rushing up to Sam and Dean, thinking they are “from the Publisher” (whoever that is). Sam introduces the two of them as FBI agents, but Dean almost spikes it (or perhaps successfully distracts the girls from the fakeness of their badges) by getting into an argument with Marie about the play being a musical, insisting that if there were going to be any singing in Supernatural, it would be Classic Rock. Marie’s assistant dryly calls the play “Marie’s interpretation” as Marie glares daggers at Dean, but then Marie semi-mollifies him by pointing out there’s a rendition of show signature “Carry On, Wayward Son” in the second act.

Sam then gets them both mad at him when he doesn’t know that song. He mightily drags things back on track by saying they’re there to investigate the drunken teacher (Miss Chandler)’s disappearance. The Brothers quickly get filled in that she’s been drinking a lot since her divorce the previous year.

Dean belts out, to Sam’s chagrin, “I don’t blame her. I’m gonna need fifty Jello shots and a hose-down to get this stink off me!”

Sam gets the name of the assistant (Maeve) and suggests she give him a backstage tour while Dean deals with Marie. As Marie and Maeve head back down to the stage, Sam comments about how charming the production looks, but trails off when he sees Dean’s look of utter disgust.

It’s a sign of the low stakes in this episode that it never once seems to occur to Sam that it might not be very safe for Dean to be wandering around alone with a kid who is irritating the hell out of him by way of mangling the most painful chapters of his life story. I mean, Dean was a demonic madman just two episodes ago and still has the Mark of Cain at this point. But nope, says Sam, let’s split up and do a tour. What could possibly go wrong?

So, Dean goes backstage with Marie and asks her about the props table (this being Dean played by Jensen Ackles, he naturally starts playing with them, to Marie’s horror). He then spies the two girls playing Sam and Dean, over by the prop Impala. Marie explains that they’re rehearsing the “BM Scene.” Confused, Dean asks if it’s the “Bowel Movement Scene.” Marie says no, it’s the “Boy Melodrama Scene.” You know, when they talk about their feelings.

That’s somehow lots worse, especially when I remember this episode was written by a guy. I’m also reminded that this was one of Thompson’s last episodes for the show and he may have already been on his way out, willingly or unwillingly. This episode has some in jokes that seem mean-spirited at the expense of the cast and crew he was leaving behind, in a way similar to “The French Mistake,” which Ben Edlund wrote when he was halfway out the door.

Dean comments that the two actresses are standing awfully close to each other. When he asks why, and says, You do know that they’re brothers, right?” Marie insinuates that it’s “subtext.” Dean then calls out to the two girls to back it up a step. Yeesh.

In the control booth, Sam is talking to Maeve, who is a little jerk. Sam tries to ask her about “weird noises” around the theater (per folklore, theaters are notoriously haunted) and she just brings up all the FX they can do. When he mentions he did theater tech in high school, she actually cuts him off so she can go answer a call. Woof, Maeve. Rude, much?

Dean, overseen by Marie, is looking around DDTT’s office. He finds a lot of half-empty booze bottles and a weird robot prop. It turns out to be part of the second act, in which Marie (dissatisfied with the way the story went in the books post-“Swan Song”) decided to write her own fan fiction – sorry, “transformative” fiction. Which involved robots. And ninjas. And Dean turning into a girl for a hot minute.

I guess we should be grateful MPREG (the trope of male pregnancy) isn’t involved. I actually wrote an MPREG novella once, but in my defense, it was original science fiction. There’s nothing wrong with MPREG. It’s the way the trope is used in media tie-in fan fiction, with the intent of making grown men act like teenage girls, that is cringey.

I know this is supposed to be a (not so) gentle poke at the show’s fan fiction, but this second act is starting to sound more and more like Act Two of the infamous cursed play The King in Yellow.

Dean then claims to have the inside track on the as-yet-unpublished later books. He basically does a rather heightened rendition of the story up through early season ten. Marie absolutely hates it and makes fun of it as bad fanfic. Dean is (not surprisingly, since it’s his life) pretty offended. Well, can you blame him? The entire school seems bratty and entitled.

Dean then notices that the two girls playing Dean and Castiel are hugging. Seems they are a couple. Of course they are. Marie goes off on a fond little rant about the s-e-x in subtext and how there’s Destiel in Act Two. Apparently, she thinks a thirty-something man who’s seen a ton of bad shit in multiple worlds needs to have gay subtext explained to him by a sheltered teenager in prep school. The straightsplaining in that speech is so nasty that I can’t help channeling Dean’s fourth-wall-breaking look of disgust at the camera.

Outside, Dean meets up with Sam (my, they look nice in those suits) and after some discussion about the weird shipping dialogue, they finally get back to the case. Sadly, there isn’t much of one. There’s no sign of supernatural activity at the theater or in DDTT’s office. Dean speculates she may be face down in a bar or a ditch somewhere. Note that we’re already almost 15 minutes in (sans commercials) and the Brothers aren’t even sure if they’ve got a case, yet. Even though inside, someone is doing a very bad play based on their lives. So, they get in the Impala and they leave.

Later that night, a girl named Maggie is bailing on Marie’s “little dictatorship” and threatens to go to the principal in the morning, but then she gets kidnapped by a monster that looks like a scarecrow, but has vine arms like those that kidnapped DDTT. Marie sees it.

The Brothers, having heard what happened, return to the theater the next day and interview Marie. Marie manages to make poor Maggie’s (how many friggin’ girls with names beginning with M are in this episode?) kidnapping about her own humiliation at not being believed. Charming.

Marie describes the monster as looking like the scarecrow prop in their play. The monster dragged Maggie behind a dumpster and then they both disappeared. Needless to say, neither the cops nor the school authorities believed her. She’s shocked to realize that ghosts might be real and Maeve even thinks she wants to believe.

Sam makes a tactical error by introducing himself and Dean. Sadly, Marie and Maeve are Very Very Stupid and respond with laughter and mockery. This makes no sense to me. If I thought someone were playing a joke like that on me after a traumatic paranormal event I witnessed, I might get angry. But I wouldn’t respond like these twits.

I so want to slap Marie and Maeve. Hard. And we’re not even quite halfway through.

Marie’s hung up on the idea that the Carver Edlund books are “works of fiction.” Maeve’s hung up on the idea that Sam and Dean are too old to be … well, Sam and Dean (the ageism in this episode is pretty darned bad). But Dean is finally able to get these two morons back on track by convincing them that he and Sam are Hunters and can help them. Maeve guesses they’re like The X-Files and Sam’s like, “Yeah, we’ll roll with that.”

So, the first theory (remember that we are halfway through and only now taking the MOTW seriously) is that the monster is a Tulpa, since Marie based her prop on a creepy scarecrow outside town when she was a “kid.” Um … she’s still a kid, so what the hell?

The big problem with Sam’s theory (which he himself admits) is that neither the books nor the play are popular, so where did sufficient belief to create the Tulpa come from? Sam is also hung up on the fact that another flower was dropped at the scene, but he can’t recall what it is.

Meanwhile, Dean has Marie take him to the boiler room, where the scarecrow effigy is. Marie is terrified of it; Dean, not so much. Marie helps Dean burn it.

But when they come back to the library, Sam says it’s not a Tulpa. It’s a goddess. A Greek Muse to be exact – Calliope, the Muse of Epic Poetry. Sam identified her via the flower left behind. It’s a starflower, also known as Borage.

Sam says that Calliope nurtures and protects an author she favors, using manifestations like the scarecrow that kidnapped DDTT and Maggie, until that author has “realized her vision.” Then Calliope eats the author.

Kinda wish Calliope had eaten Thompson before he turned in this script.

So, Marie doesn’t take this well. She freaks out and runs into another room, then hyperventilates into a paper bag. The Brothers and Maeve rush in after her and then Sam abandons Dean to go do research or something, leaving Dean to get Marie to buck up and get the show back on track. The plan is to lure Calliope out and gank her. Because if Marie tries to stop the whole show, more people will just get kidnapped. Or something.

Marie enthusiastically responds to this rousing speech by stating she’ll take her fictional hero – Sam Winchester – as inspiration and play him in the play. Yep. Marie’s a Sam stan, on top of everything else. Oh, and she’s got a version of Dean’s amulet that she calls the Samulet (always hated that name). Dean’s double-take reflects mine.

Marie gives herself a totally self-absorbed pep talk to the mirror that finishes with her saying she’s “gonna Barbara Streisand this bitch.” So much wrong with that. So, so much wrong. She later claims, with no intentional irony, she left Chuck out of the story because an author inserting himself into the story is douchey. Ugh.

The Brothers then change back into their regular flannel and Sam arrives to surreptitiously give Dean a stake of some kind that will kill Calliope.

Dean gives the cast a big backstage speech that actually works. Then they all do a group chant of “Ghostfacers!” that horrifies the Brothers before starting the play. [sigh]

Marie comes out on-stage to give a big, stalling speech of her own to the audience and the Brothers have Maeve bring up the music to shut her up. We get the “Road So Far” montage again as the Brothers roam the backstage, looking for signs of Calliope in the confusing mess of players coming on and offstage in makeup.

Sam then gets grabbed by the scarecrow, right in front of Dean, and disappeared into a wall. Dean runs frantically after him backstage, but isn’t in time to stop it.

Sam wakes up in a cellar with DDTT and Maggie. He still is holding his goddess-killing stick. It’s the school basement. Calliope shows up and TK’s Sam around a bit.

While the girl playing Castiel sings a lonely solo onstage (remember that “The voice tells me I’m almost out of minutes” scene from season 5?), Dean tells Marie to “stick to the plan” and keep going until the goddess shows up.

The goddess, meanwhile, is monologuing to Sam about how Marie’s play is terrible (especially that second act), but there’s something special about this opening night. Perhaps it’s because the real-life inspirations for the story are here (yes, she recognizes Sam as a Winchester). She guesses she’ll “just have to find out” by killing Sam and Dean.

Upstairs, during a montage recreation of Dean’s deal to resurrect Sam in “All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2” at the end of season two (yes, I know that’s out of sync with Castiel being in the play at all), Marie sings “A Single Man Tear.” That is truly an obnoxious song that sends up toxic masculinity without actually critiquing it. The only good thing about the song is the juxtaposition with Dean, who is so intently looking for the MOTW that he doesn’t notice or care about the song’s lyrics or message, and there ain’t nearly enough of that.

Near the end of the song, Dean spots the scarecrow again and runs across the back of the stage, in full view of the audience, to tackle the scarecrow while Maeve fires off instructions to the crew.

Downstairs and stalling, Sam is getting Calliope to monologue about why she chose this story, in some of the most annoying on-the-nose dialogue ever about the greatness of the show. I mean, I love this show, but that kind of infodump doesn’t belong in the dialogue. Subtext, my ass.

Anyhoo, Dean’s fighting the scarecrow and getting his ass kicked, while downstairs, Maggie and DDTT come up with a pretty decent plan to distract Calliope (by whacking her over the head with a heavy book) and kick the magic stick back to Sam. Sam stabs Calliope in the back, right at the moment Marie gets into the fight upstairs and stabs the scarecrow, shouting “No chickflick moments!” The scarecrow staggers back, arms outstretched, then bursts into blue goo right at the moment its mistress dies in the same manner downstairs. The startled (and goo-covered audience) gives her a standing ovation. Dean tells her and the “Dean” actress to take a bow. The curtain closes on this.

Afterward, Maeve comments to Sam that this is usually when the Brothers exit stage left in haste. Sam agrees. Maeve then says he’d make a pretty decent Dean if he cut his hair. Sam looks exasperated.

Dean, meanwhile, is talking to Marie during the intermission about how they just have different interpretations of the same story. Marie gives him the Samulet prop and calls him “Dean,” making it pretty clear she’s finally figured out who he really is. Dean’s not sure how to deal with that late-hour validation. So, he just comments that he never needed the Samulet as a symbol for his love for his brother (though she does get him to take it), and goes to stand next to Sam in the wings.

As the curtain rises, Sam is startled to find the words taken right out of his mouth by the dialogue on-stage about how staying “cooped up” in a motel room or the Bunker or wherever isn’t such a hot idea and they belong out on the road. Turns out it’s the BM Scene.

The play continues with the cast singing “Carry On, Wayward Son.” One of them, according to Maeve, is playing Adam. That one sure makes the Brothers uncomfortable.

Finally listening to the song and music, Dean and then Sam are emotionally affected by it.

At the very end, in the real Impala, Dean puts the Samulet prop on the rear-view mirror as they drive off into the sunset. Or the sunrise. Take your pick.

In the coda, Maeve comes running down from the balcony to Marie to say the ticket they left for the “Publisher” was picked up. After some momentary confusion over whether Calliope came for her or the Publisher, Marie runs up to meet him. It turns out to be Chuck, whom we haven’t seen since the end of season five.


Review: So. This is the episode for which the show spiked the Demon!Dean storyline.

I never thought I’d see the day when Supernatural had an episode in which only the MOTW died (It wouldn’t really be a Supernatural episode at all if nobody died). And I certainly didn’t expect that episode to be the show’s 200th, not after the high-ish body count for the 100th.

For those wondering why I’m about to body-slam “Fan Fiction” when it’s just supposed to be a flaky lark, there are two reasons. First is that screwball comedy and farce of this episode’s type are difficult precisely because they’re supposed to be light. But if a souffle falls flat, it falls flat, and that’s a fail. Gordon Ramsay isn’t going to take pity on you and call it a nice try. He’s going to call it a hot mess. That was “Fan Fiction.”

Second, the episode itself is intended to be a milestone meta commentary on the show itself and how it’s perceived by the fans. This makes it, by its very nature, analytical. Analysis is designed to be itself analyzed. The funny thing is that the show itself has always been intended as a meta commentary on the horror genre, anyway, like its spiritual predecessor, The X-Files. So, there’s double the reason to take this puppy down to the studs and see how it measures up.

This was a bantam weight entry at best. It wasn’t the worst they’ve ever had (perhaps because there’s heavy competition for that spot), but a classic it also was not. And that’s too bad, though yay for the show making it to 200 episodes in the first place (and this week, it’s the 300th). Very, very few shows have managed it. In fact, only 40 scripted primetime shows out of over 120 thousand shows in U.S. history had reached 10 seasons (2 of them, Supernatural and Bones, were in their 10th season) the year this episode came out. Supernatural is currently one of only 14 scripted primetime shows to make it to 15 seasons. If it makes it to 16 seasons, that number will drop under 10.

That said, this came off like a rather lazy and self-indulgent effort, as well as yet another reason for Robbie Thompson, like Adam Glass, to stay far away from writing young female characters, especially female LGBT characters. ‘Cause he sucks at it and the result seems more like soft-core porn than flying the Rainbow Flag.

Also, the young actresses they got weren’t the greatest, even allowing for the fact that they were playing teenage girls, some of whom were playing (very badly) two grown-ass men.

What was especially disconcerting, in light of its total reversal on the show’s basic premise, is how it wanted us to sympathize with a bunch of privileged young (mostly) white girls who were appropriating the life stories of two white guys – who also happened to be poor, marginalized, underprivileged and – until recently – homeless most of their lives. Two people who also happened to have been brought up in an atmosphere where they lived in violence the way fish live in water. And who had made out of that unfortunate circumstance a heroic profession.

And on top of that, not only did these spoiled little brats think they had a right to critique those lives, they also felt they could rewrite the story any way they chose, which also meant making it as girly as they chose (keeping in mind that this script was written by a grown-ass white man, so the female characters were themselves walking stereotypes of Clueless Female Writers who couldn’t get inside the head of a man enough to write him well. O the irony).

It came very perilously close to the kind of cultural appropriation that makes blackface or running around in an “Indian” headdress with a tomahawk at Halloween offensive. About the one thing that “saved” it (more or less) was that the culture was a fictionalized version of many different bits of world folklore and the two protags having their lives appropriated were white. And male.

Even so, fictional as they are, I found myself feeling sorry for Sam and Dean Winchester. Dean, especially, got set up for a lot of mean-spirited laughs. Ackles dealt with it by just going out full-throttle goofy, while Padalecki went Giles-levels of deadpan. I’m not at all surprised that both of the leads were more than a tad horrified when they first got the script.

I’d say that this wouldn’t have ever flown with two minority protags, but then I’m reminded of how many times this kind of story has used minority protags in exactly that way. Somewhat dopey white characters getting life lessons from Wise Old Ethnic People while appropriating the WOEP’s life stories? Tragic Gay Best Friends for the Rich Girl Who Has Everything? Very common event in Hollywood. Hiyo, Silver.

This wouldn’t be so much of an issue if this viewpoint were simply presented as is, or even satirically, but it’s really not. By the time Dean is head-bopping at the end to a song about his mother being torched on a ceiling, it’s pretty obvious these kids are supposed to be imparting some kind of wisdom to Dean, and to Sam, after appropriating the story of their lives and rewriting it in a really crappy and self-indulgent way. The viewpoint itself is intolerant. Either you’re with the writer’s pseudo-PC beliefs or you’re a bigot.

One of the reasons why Hollywood TV writers doing riffs on their shows’ fan fiction almost always goes horribly wrong is the unexamined misogyny of a bunch of (mostly) sheltered white men whose main experience with writing women is action shows and superhero comics. I remember writing fanfic on Usenet in the 90s for Star Trek, Queen of Swords and Highlander (you can find it all here if you’re curious), and woof, was the “official” attitude horrible toward fans back in the day.

On the surface, it’s improved to where they now actively woo certain fans (while still freezing out others, thus creating fandom gatekeepers for the extra lulz). But the subtext is still one of condescension and mansplaining because you’re still stuck with the writer’s male gaze. Even women who write for television almost always do so according to male producers’ and showrunners’ specifications, and for a male audience.

The thing is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with fan fiction. Hell, a huge amount of historical fiction was nothing more than religious fanfic for a very long time (Biblefic, baby!). Sure, most of it sucks, but that’s true of most published writing, too, and some fan fiction is actually very good.

Writing in a preexisting universe, like any other writing exercise, can help you become a better writer. It can give you some extra space to learn other skills besides original worldbuilding. Plot, for example. Writing a good fan fiction story means learning to research canon and write convincing characters who give readers the same thing they look for in those same characters onscreen. That’s harder than it sounds. It’s about so much more than just filling in the gaps between scenes or episodes, or retelling a story when it turned out a way you didn’t like, or writing shipping porn.

But then you get into the part where so many of the fans writing and reading media tie-in fan fiction have been women (probably because not being the intended audience means you’re less satisfied by what you get from the canonical story), and the nasty attitude of showrunners toward those fans. And this episode, while purporting to be a love letter to those fans, too often crosses the line into mean-spirited mockery. It even commits some of the sins it mocks them for, distorting the Brothers’ characters and story to fit Thompson’s little segue into Meta Land. Apparently, if you are a “real” (read: usually male) scriptwriter on the show, you can write as much shitty fan fiction as you like. But little girls writing it for free? How dare they?

Fanshaming’s not cool, writers, especially when you get the fans in on it and internalizing it and turning on each other. These people keep your story alive and your jobs in play. Show a little respect.

Now I get that the basic structure of the MOTW episode is that the protagonists of the story (Sam and Dean) roll into town and must learn a new lesson every week while killing monsters. So, they’ve got to learn something, as well, from someone re-telling their story, however horribly. But that doesn’t mean that they should be getting lectures from civilians who have no clue what their lives truly are like. It seems to trivialize the risks of hunting monsters, as well as the tragedies.

Many fans have complained about this over the years. Yet, the show continues to do it as if the writers haven’t heard anything to that effect. I suspect that has a lot to do with network pressures to introduce characters who bring in a younger audience. Why do I think this? Why, because the show has done this before and so has the network.

In season three, the CW insisted on the show introducing two young (and attractive, it almost goes without saying) female characters as recurring guest stars. The show already had one introduced in the form of Ruby, the demon who would eventually lead Sam to start the Apocalypse. Under the gun to bring in another female recurring lead, they took a one-shot, Bela, and turned her into a recurring.

Personally, I liked Bela’s potential, if not the execution, until “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” when she tried to kill the Brothers by stealing the Colt and giving it to Lilith. This was solely to save her own hide. Even that could have been written more sympathetically, but the writers, by their own admission in the companion book for season three, hated having the character imposed on them. So, they did their level best to sabotage the writing for her from the get-go.

Ironically, the character that they really did like, Ruby, who also happened to be a Creator’s Pet, was even worse than Bela because her creator was so obsessed with her. She was so roundly hated that they had to recast her because Eric Kripke refused to write her out until the end of season four.

I was therefore unsurprised to see the network doing this again in season ten, by introducing – or should I say, having the showrunners introduce – a slew of new, young, female characters. After all, it is not the first time they tried this (“Ghostfacers” and, ugh, “Bloodlines”). And it wasn’t the last time, either, though “Wayward Sisters” was a hell of a lot closer to the original show’s concept than this episode. At least “Fan Fiction” wasn’t the (bad) sign of things to come that it looked like when it first came out. So, there’s that.

There is somewhat of a mystery about why they introduced these characters in the 200th episode (we never did see them again). I say this because the episode went to great lengths to introduce all of them (even if Marie was the only one who got any real development). Yet, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of plot gas in terms of recurring characters for someone like Marie. Okay, so she’s doing a play about Supernatural. Great. But then what? It’s not as though she is going to become a Hunter. And there are only so many times a haunting can occur at her school before it gets sillier than season seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer with the Hellmouth and bad guys constantly coming to her town.

So, perhaps Marie and her little girl gang were not ever intended to be recurring characters, let alone the backdoor pilot material the network so desperately desires. It makes you wonder, though, why they were introduced in the first place. The very last people I’d think would be obsessed with the lives of Sam and Dean Winchester would be a bunch of sheltered prep school girls.

In addition, there are a few problems with the logic of the situation. Let’s all cast our minds back to the fact that the Brothers have been on the run from the law for most of their lives, almost as long as Bo and Luke Duke from The Dukes of Hazzard. In addition, Dean had been a wanted serial killer for nine seasons to that point. Not to mention when both he and Sam were framed as spree killers by Leviathans who looked just like them in season seven. These two have been on America’s Most Wanted list more times then Ted Bundy.

It is therefore a bit of a stretch to expect that a prep school for sheltered young girls would have no objections whatsoever to a bunch of their students doing a musical about these two serial killers. Even worse, they are two serial killers who are heavily into the Occult. It all defies suspension of disbelief just a tad in this post-9/11 world. I mean, would you really expect to see the same bunch of girls allowed to do a play like Springtime for Hitler or a sympathetic musical about the life of Charles Manson? Try so not.

The writing tries to both dodge and handwave this with a rant by the drunken schoolteacher, who is supposed to be the girls’ after-hours chaperone in the teaser, about how they are doing a musical based on a bunch of badly written books. Which is all very nice, except that the Brothers are real, and their reputations as wanted, vicious criminals are also quite real, within the context of the Supernatural universe. So, even if the teacher is mainly focused on the badly written books, she’d have to have been living in a cave not to have noticed that Sam and Dean, on whom the books are based, are very bad men, as far as she knows.

One could argue that because Chuck never uses Sam and Dean’s last names, it doesn’t matter and nobody is going to put two and two together to realize they are one and the same. However, in America’s litigious society, which is also very paranoid, the teachers would probably object amply because the Sam and Dean of the books could be confused with the “real life” Sam and Dean on the Most Wanted list.

Speaking of the teacher, we are apparently supposed to believe that she can just walk off and leave a bunch of teenage girls all alone in a theater in the evening with no chaperone. Never mind that she’s kidnapped while she’s leaving them alone; she should not have left them alone in the building in the first place. This, once again, shows that the writers of Supernatural, including Robbie Thompson, don’t always know what they’re talking about when it comes to some basic real-life situations. Certainly, it gives the impression that neither Thompson, nor anyone who vetted this script, has ever been a teacher.

I have to say that Marie is a truly irritating character. I could handwave a lot if she were more fun. Instead, she is an uptight little rich bitch who spends a great deal of time yelling at everyone else. To make matters worse, we are apparently supposed to believe that she is on a Hero’s Journey and that we are supposed to root for her. I so don’t want to root for her. I was rooting for the MOTW to eat her.

The episode also really, really tries to be PC, but fails miserably in a couple of places. For a start, what is with the token Asian character of the young woman who is Marie’s assistant? Also, to make matters worse, she just happens to be revealed at the end of the episode as the token Dean Girl.

Also, what is up with all the lesbian characters who are 1. lipstick lesbians, and 2. engaging in relationships with each other as part of a lifestyle? It makes you wonder just how hip Thompson really is to the LGBT community when he takes the number one accusation that is used against them – to whit, that they choose to be gay or lesbian or transsexual or bisexual, rather than that they are born that way and therefore can’t just stop doing it – and makes it sound as though choosing to do it is a great fashion statement and a growing phase.

Thompson honestly seems to think he is striking a great blow for LGBT representation on television by having two teenage girls who happen to be playing men – hot teenage girls, I might add – also be in a relationship with each other, on top of playing two men who are in a relationship with each other. I get that it’s all supposed to be very Victor/Victoria (which is a wonderful and very funny film on my short “I feel like crap; what shall I watch to feel better?” list), but even in Victor/Victoria, the characters who are gay are born that way and can’t help it. In fact, some fairly major plot points in the movie revolve around how incredibly dangerous it was to be gay in certain parts of the world in that time period.

Victor/Victoria makes no bones about showing how terrible and destructive homophobia was in the early 20th century. “Fan Fiction” does not make any effort whatsoever to show the equivalent for the 21st century. Apparently, the episode exists in a world all to its own where young women can choose to be lesbian with no societal consequences whatsoever. Can I live on that planet? Because it is not Planet Earth.

It doesn’t help that all of this is meant to be a goof on Destiel. On top of that, we have Dean being lectured by Marie on how to treat his brother. Never mind that Marie seems to be convinced that Dean and Sam are in an incestuous sexual relationship with each other (can’t leave out those Wincest jokes). So, I am pretty sure that Marie does not know nearly as much as she thinks she knows, not least because she has to be rescued from a pagan goddess who, up to that point, she had no idea even existed.

That said, I sort of liked the return of the Samulet. I didn’t like hearing it referred to incessantly as the Samulet. But I liked that it came back because I really hated the way they wrote it out in season five. I get that it was causing Jensen Ackles a lot of pain, but I wish it had been written out better, even if it did get a somewhat nice coda to its story near the end of season 11.

Before I wrap up this rant, I want to add a couple of things that are more positive. For one, the sets were really nice. I mean, they were really, really nice. This show’s saving grace has often been the crew who work tirelessly to make it look good on a low budget. It is rare that they screw things up. Granted, there are times when the writers write checks the crew’s talents (and budget) cannot cash. But in this case, they really came through.

For one thing, the sets look like the kind of thing you would see in a high school musical. Having played orchestra in the pit for a few high school musicals (bass clarinet, in case you’re interested), I can tell you that the sets often have to be the saving grace. Even cheap ones can look great if you have someone with a little artistic talent behind the scenes. In this case, the crew obviously did and they made it look as though Marie had a theater crew she did not deserve.

Second, while I did not care for most of the songs, I did think the voices, in general, were pretty good. And some of the young performers did quite well. I liked the girl who played Mary, for example, and the girl who played Castiel was also decent.

I didn’t care so much for the actresses who played Sam and Dean. I know they were supposed to be playing young college girls doing summer stock theater, but that doesn’t mean that I particularly liked their performances. And I also did not find them at all convincing playing men (contrast them, for example with the Hillywood sisters, who are much better at it).

It made me wonder, in fact, if the script itself had directed them to play Sam and Dean as stereotypically “girly” as they possibly could. In an episode where all of the guest characters were female, and we were supposed to have some pro-female Gay Pride theme going, it was disappointing to see all of the girls be frilly stereotypes. Once again, that is the kind of thing that can happen when a male writer thinks he knows women better than women know themselves and proceeds to mansplain feminism to them. Gee, that’s not condescending at all.

Finally, the stuff where the Brothers are getting ready for the hunt, and after they leave the hunt, is really quite good. I loved the use of Gordon Lightfoot’s “Sundown” (he’s one of my favorite singer songwriters, going back to my childhood). Baby has never looked better. I’m not sure Sam and Dean have looked better than in that scene, either. I also liked the final shot of their driving off into the sunset. Yes, it looks unreal, even stylized. But I’m pretty sure that’s the intent. I still liked it.

I wish they had done the Monster of the Week better. You would think that they could’ve written her as less underwhelming. I also wish that Dean had gotten the kill. I get, in retrospect, that they were drawing out the suspense of Dean’s first kill after being a demon. That doesn’t mean that tactic was satisfying in “Fan Fiction.” There were some good moments of Dean rushing around backstage during the climax where Jensen Ackles makes frantic work of it. But it doesn’t make the general proceedings any less silly.


Fun lines:

Dean [to Sam]: We got work to do. [slams the lid of the Impala]

Dean [to Marie]: There is no singing in Supernatural! If there were, it would be Classic Rock, not this Andrew Lloyd Webber crap!


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


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The Official Supernatural: “Damaged Goods” (14.11) 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.

Scroll down to find links to all of my recaps and reviews of all seasons up to this point.

Recap to this point of post-Lucifer Nick’s revenge storyline for his wife and son. Which has not gone quite in the direction he or anyone else in the story expected, even if some of it was quite predictable to the audience.

We also get a quick recap of Dean’s caging Michael last episode and Death’s revelation that there is now only one way Dean can stop Michael from using him to destroy the world.

Cut to Now and Nick torturing a CRD who used to run with Abraxas. He infodumps that he found out from another demon he killed (he has an angel blade) that Abraxas had been captured and imprisoned by a Hunter. He wants the Hunter’s name.

The CRD wants to make a deal, but Nick won’t deal. After some false bravado, she gives up a location. The Hunter is in Hibbing. You know … Donna’s neck of the woods.

For a moment, it looks as though Nick will spare her (even though we know he won’t). Then he stabs her in the eye. There’s screaming offscreen and black goo.

Cue title cards.

Cut to someone researching angels in the Bunker library. My personal favorite is Maria Prophetissima Historia Achengeli (The History of Archangels by the Highest Prophet Mary), right between Engineering Chemistry and something in Greek.

It’s Dean. He takes the book and also a power sander, some welder’s goggles and such, and wraps them all in a duffel bag. He’s not sneaking out the door (he goes to see Sam, next), but he is sneaking that stuff out the door, if that makes sense.

Sam is in the main part of the library, looking through The Book of Jubilees for stuff about angels. He asks offhandedly how Dean is feeling and Dean shrugs it off.

Sam reassures Dean that they will find something to deep-six Michael permanently. Dean doesn’t look reassured. Sam then suggests Dean dive in along with him, but then Dean drops a little grenade on him. Dean says he wants to go off on a road trip, by himself, to see Mary at Donna’s cabin. Sam, trying mightily not to give Dean all kinds of side-eye, especially after Dean firmly turns down his offer to come with, says sure. When Dean hugs Sam from behind and tells him “Take care,” you can see all the red flags popping up and all the red lights and klaxons going off inside Sam’s head. As well they should. This is Not A Good Sign.

So, of course, as soon as Dean leaves, Sam calls Mary. Mary says Dean cast it as a “supply run,” but she’s fine with any excuse. Seems Bobby has taken off for a bit, unable to deal with having his son’s death dredged up again by the djinn hunt a few episodes ago. Mary is cleaning guns while she talks, indicating she is downplaying this and giving  a signal example of where her eldest got it from.

Mary tries to reassure Sam that maybe Dean just needs his space. Sam appears to agree, even as he’s wandering into the room where Dean was and seeing that two books are missing – the aforementioned two about archangels and engineering.

Dean is in Hibbing, eating burgers with Donna and asking about Jody and the Wayward Sisters. Donna gives him a brief overview (Alex just killed two Vetala on a hunt), but she’s not fooled. She knows something’s up. She wades her way through a little flurry of questions from Dean about her life to try to figure out what Dean is doing there.

Dean is a little horrified when Donna explains that Sam has been oversharing (jeez, Sam, will you ever learn?) about Dean’s having been possessed by Michael – twice – and now doing a time-share/solitary thing with said archangel in his own head. He takes it pretty well, though – “What, does he got a freakin’ newsletter?!”

Dean shrugs off all the concern and then gives Donna a big hug. She looks concerned when he’s not looking. He looks unutterably sad, but pastes on a big smile as soon as he pulls back.

Off he goes to Donna’s cabin, where he hears shooting. It turns out to be Mary engaged in shooting practice.

Mary hugs him, all smiles, and Dean asks if he can stay a few days. Mary says sure, Bobby’s out on the road, maybe Sam can come by? Dean demurs, saying he’s “greedy” and just wants his mom to himself. He also claims to be “hangry” from being on the road (despite having just seen Donna and done synchronized burger-eating with her) and asks Mary to make him the one thing she’s actually good at cooking – Winchester Surprise.

Mary is a little surprised and horrified that Dean remembered she ever served it to him and John. Apparently, it’s so greasy that it’s a “heart attack on a plate.” Dean says sure, but it’s very tasty. So, she drives off into town to get the ingredients, calling out as she goes that yes, she will get pie (she almost takes a hedge out with that big pickup as she leaves the driveway).

But despite his loved ones’ concern, Dean is extra good at being sneaky. So, as soon as Mary leaves, Dean’s eyes fall on the barn nearby. And that is not a coincidence. He quickly goes to the trunk, gets out his duffle bag, and heads to the barn.

Inside, he sees two posters of half-naked cowboys and makes a comment about how consistent Donna’s taste in men is, with totally unconscious irony (really, those two should just bang like bunnies, already). As soon as he’s in the door, he gets a migraine attack from Michael beating on the Cage and screaming (I guess they must have done a bunch of takes with Ackles in costume to use over the next few episodes).

After he recovers, he notices an old 8-track tape and puts in a little The Guess Who (“No Time Left for You”). Frankly, I’m amazed that 8-tracks still play. Those things used to wear out like crazy.

We then get a montage of Dean welding, putting together … something shady. Rumor has it on Twitter that Ackles learned some welding just for this scene because of course he did.

A kid named Joe working at the store helps Mary put groceries in her car. He comments that she doesn’t normally buy food: “You usually only pick up whiskey, pumpkins and crossword puzzles.”

“Well,” Mary snarks, “Crosswords usually get better with whiskey.”

I legit laughed, though it would be nice if we saw some of Dean’s cooking skills again.

Later, poor Joe gets accosted by Nick, acting shady in a creepy, blue child molester’s van. Nick asks Joe where he can find Mary’s house, but Joe senses the danger vibes rolling of Nick and plays dumb. Then he makes a phone call.

Later that night, Nick gets stopped by a cop – Donna. She’s been looking for him.

Donna apparently doesn’t know who Nick is (though she does do a fingerprint check on him using a handy-dandy scanner), so I guess Sam’s newsletter could be more informative. She does know he was looking for Mary and that Nick’s van is stolen.

Unfortunately, the script calls for Donna to act stupid (and Nick to have a paper clip that gets him out of cuffs) and turn her back on him. There’s a fight after she gets the ID. She appears to get the upper hand, but then Nick uses her own taser on her. Ugh. At least she’s not dead.

Mary arrives at the house after dark, despite having left the store while it was daylight. Um … okay. Anyhoo, Dean comes out of the barn and acts casual when Mary questions why he was out there. He takes two bags from her and they go inside.

Dean says he has a surprise for her. He has set the table and suggests that maybe “two terrible cooks” can make something for dinner. This strikes me as downplaying his own skills considerably. So, guess who’s bringing out the Winchester Surprise casserole in the kitchen while Mary is out of sight on the stairs, talking to Sam, who fills her in on the missing books and other stuff from the Bunker?

Mary says she doesn’t know what’s going on, “but something is going on.” Sam wants to come right away, but she asks him to give her some time to talk to Dean. Sam says sure and as he hangs up, we see he’s in a car, speeding toward Hibbing. Ah, Winchester Secreth and Lieth. Where would this show’s plot be without ’em?

At dinner, Dean tells Mary (who isn’t hiding her concern very well) a story about how he and Sam tried to recreate Winchester Surprise on a hot plate in a motel room, with horrific results that freaked John out. Mary has an epiphany (which she expresses out loud) about how much of her sons’ lives she missed and how much their childhoods sucked after her death. Dean tries to fake sunny after that, but it’s hard and he chokes a little on the facade. He still manages to get across that he’s glad she’s back and alive, warts and all.

Mary tries to get Dean to open up, but Dean just says, “Everybody keeps asking me how I am. And how I am is I don’t want to talk about it. Please.” He doesn’t say it in a rude way, but it’s pretty final.

Later, Mary sneaks back down the stairs and past a snoring Dean on the pull-out couch. Out to the barn she goes, where she discovers an odd framework and the plans Dean is using. What she finds horrifies her. But when she leaves the barn, she immediately runs into Nick, who kidnaps her. Y’know, I like Mary, but I swear this show has her get kidnapped more times than Timmy on Lassie. It’s a bit embarrassing for an older female Hunter who’s supposedly one of the best there ever was.

Meanwhile, Dean is getting a call that wakes him up. Then he gets another call from another phone (this bit of continuity confused me). It’s from Donna, who just woke up in her cruiser from her tasing. Even though she doesn’t know who Nick is, she knows his name.

Dean rushes outside, gun first, and hears a sound. He spins around to find Sam. So much for Sam hanging back and letting their mother handle things. Sam has some explaining to do before Dean, methinks. But first, Dean explains that Mary is missing.

In his creepy candy van, Nick infodumps to Mary how he used demons to track her down. The demons are terrified of Mary and her sons, so they’ve taken to being anywhere the Winchesters are not. He also says he knows that Mary had an encounter with the demon that killed his family, Abraxas, after Abraxas and his partner (whom Nick killed in the teaser) killed most of a Girl Scout troup. Mary saved the lone survivor from Abraxas.

Mary says Nick could have just asked her, but he says she would have lied, anyway. She says she killed Abraxas and he says she just lied to him (though personally, I’d have lied to him, too, so I can’t fault here there). So, she admits what she actually did was trap him in an Enochian Puzzle Box when it appeared she was losing the battle. And yes, she knows where the box is.

So, Mary has Nick drive to her version of John’s Storage Locker, which is in Grand Rapids (Donna later claims it’s about half an hour away from Hibbing). The security guard is curious as they drive in.

Meanwhile, Donna shows up at the cabin to tell them she has an APB out on Nick that said he and Mary just arrived at Mary’s Storage Locker. She apologizes to Dean for letting Nick get the drop on her. Dean tells her it wasn’t her fault. Sam admits it was his (technically, didn’t Nick bail on the Bunker on Castiel’s watch? Albeit while Castiel was trying to juggle a bunch of stuff with Jack?). Anyhoo, Dean doesn’t look too thrilled with Sam, but they’re too busy going off to Grand Rapids to get into it.

Nick shoves Mary inside the locker and has her guide him around. She steps over a trip wire with a shotgun. Unfortunately, he notices it. She says the box is in the nearby lockers with sigils all over them. She won’t open them, so Nick starts doing it himself with a hammer. The very first one has a pickled head in a jar in it, the second a creepy doll in plastic. Mary looks unrepentant at Nick’s disgust.

The third one has the curse box. Nick wants Mary to open it, but she says it won’t do any good. A demon needs a host to talk with humans. Obviously, it can’t be Nick and it can’t be her because she has an anti-demon tat. Nick says ominously, “So, we’ll improvise.”

Meanwhile, Donna is racing, Code 2 (lights), with Brothers right behind her in a thunderstorm. Inside the Impala (Dean driving), Sam prods Dean into a rant about Nick (“He’s not a project; he’s not a freakin’ puppy!”) and how much Nick’s being possessed by Lucifer for so many years messed him up.

Sam tries the “That could have been me” defense (pretty sure Dean remembers just fine how you choked him half to death and ran off with Ruby, Sam). Dean is not impressed. Among the many anvils raining down about Dean’s own storyline with Michael, Dean yells that Sam has to learn when to let people go “when they’re past saving.”

In the storage locker, Nick has caught and tied up the poor security guard on top of a devil’s trap. Mary claims she doesn’t know how to open the curse box and Nick says, “I don’t like you.” She tries to jump him, but it doesn’t go well. She’s forced to watch as Nick can’t make out the puzzle, so he uses a drill on the box. Eventually, the box breaks, releasing the demon, which enters the poor security guard.

Abraxas immediately recognizes Mary, but doesn’t recognize Nick. At least at first. When he realizes who Nick is, he’s surprised Lucifer doesn’t have Nick “on lockdown” and isn’t especially upset to hear the Devil is dead.

However, Abraxas won’t say why he killed Nick’s family until Nick tortures Mary to death in front of him. Nick, being pretty far gone at this point, is about to do it when the Brothers and Donna come in.

Dean goes to untie Mary’s hands, but Sam isn’t quick enough to stop Nick from grabbing an angel blade, like a moron, and breaking the devil’s trap (after Nick has no good answer for why he kidnapped Mary and such).

The demon freed, he does what demons do. He breaks free of the chair, TKs everyone to the floor and monologues. His reason for killing Nick’s family? The really, really, really obvious one – Lucifer ordered it done to soften Nick up to say yes. Abraxas claims that Nick was a nobody, just a name in the phone book. We know for a fact from season 12 that there was more than that (since almost no human besides a Campbell can house Lucifer), but I guess that’s the best we’ll get now.

Why? Because after Dean starts saying the Rituale Romanum (and gets slammed into a shelf for his trouble), Nick just walks up behind the underwhelming Abraxas and stabs him to death. Inside his poor, innocent, terrified host.

Afterward, Nick gets a little wild-eyed as Mary and Sam close in on him, so Donna shoots him in the kneecap after Nick takes a swipe at Mary. Mary punches his lights out.

Donna drags a limping, handcuffed Nick out to her patrol car (better get his paper clip, this time, hon), while Sam follows. Dean takes Mary aside and asks her if she’s okay. She says yes, but, using her Mom Voice, tells Dean that he needs to talk to her and Sam about his science project in the barn, or she will tell Sam herself.

Sam asks Donna to let him talk to Nick. When he asks Nick why he did what he did, Nick says it was for revenge and insists Sam would have done the same thing. Sam doesn’t have a terribly good answer to that, except to tell Nick that he’s sorry he couldn’t help him. Nick is insulted, saying he never needed to be “fixed because I was never broken.” Sam begs to differ. He tells Nick that Nick hurt a lot of people and will see their faces every night for the rest of his life (from some bitter personal experience). “You can burn,” Sam concludes.

Back at Donna’s she shed, Dean shows Sam what he has wrought in the course of a stolen afternoon. He calls it a “Ma’lak Box” and it’s no coincidence that it looks like a coffin. He says it can contain anything, “even an archangel … especially an archangel.”

Sam is surprised, not because he’s never heard of one (he has), but because supposedly, no one could make it. Well, Dean figured it out.

Sam is horrified by Dean’s plan to be “buried alive.” Dean says that, no, he has to take it further than that. He’s going to take a boat way out into the Pacific and gets dumped off into the deep, inside the box.

Sam protests that there has to be another way. Dean tells him that if Michael gets out, the world is toast, and confesses that he can already feel the door inside his head giving way. After some bugging from Sam, he mentions Billie’s “visit” and says she gave him the “recipe” for the box.

Kinda making the same mistake Nick called him out on (making someone else’s tragedy about him), Sam is most upset about Dean saying goodbye to Mary and Donna, but not him. Oh, Sam. Some days, there just are not enough facepalms for you.

Evoking the time Sam motivated him to kill Death (and how well that didn’t work out), Dean says he was afraid Sam would talk him out of it and he refuses to be talked out of it this time. He says that Sam can either let him do this alone or help him. Sam, very quietly and very reluctantly, agrees to help.

Credits.


Ratings in the overnights (the finals aren’t out yet) for the episode were steady at 0.4/2 and 1.41 million, which tied the show for second in demo (with ArrowRiverdale and Roswell) and brought it in second for audience this week.

The promo for next week is up, as are the synopsis and photos.


Review

Usually, after a powerhouse episode like last week’s, Supernatural does a bit of a crash-and-burn, especially coming back from Christmas hellatus. But this one was reasonably good. Not on the level of last week’s (the direction was meh and Perez still struggles with basis stuff like continuity issues), but a reasonable coda that explained what Death told Dean, and how he responded.

It was also Deancentric and Dean-heavy, which was surprising after the workout Jensen Ackles got last week. I guess, now, learning how to weld is taking it easy in the acting department for him. Speaking of that montage to The Guess Who, that is never going to get old. Dayum, son.

And my biggest problem with his interactions with Mary were that they were too short. I mean, we finally see them hang out for the first time since he was inside her head in season 12, and then she gets kidnapped. Not that I’m overly thrilled with how they have Mighty Hunter Mary get her ass kicked all the time by gormless dudebros. That storyline can fade away as of now.

There was also some less-than-stellar worldbuilding with the demons. Abraxas was underwhelming (I did feel sorry for his very unwilling host; that was quite cruel of Nick), though his partner in the teaser was interesting. However, she wasn’t written or portrayed very canonically. She’s dressed in the teaser like a CRD, in the little black dress, and is eager to make a deal with Nick, but she’s a BED (her eyes are black). Also, CRDs didn’t used to hang out with BEDs. Is this a hint that Hell has gone to, uh, Hell in a handbasket and is completely chaotic and leaderless now? Or did Davy Perez just fumble CRD canon, big time?

I can’t say I was hugely impressed by how Nick’s Roaring Rampage of Revenge saga concluded. I will readily admit that I was (apparently one of the few fans) hoping to see Nick again since the season five premiere and was perky about the idea of finding out what happened to his wife and baby. Too bad the show went the easiest, cheapest, and most linear route possible with that.

It’s not just that it was freakin’ obvious to anyone Not Named Nick that if a demon had killed his family, Lucifer ordered it. I mean, duh. Nick spent years being ridden by Lucifer and was well aware of what Lucifer was capable of, how much control he had over Hell (think about it – Lucifer got Lilith to commit suicide-by-Sam while he was still in the Cage).

Why Nick even needed to ask Abraxas about the demon’s motivations, let alone put everyone in the room in danger and even be willing to kill Mary, just to get a text from Captain Obvious, I don’t know, but it made him look stupid. Nor did the offhand “Your name was in the phone book” comment explain how Nick was chosen if he wasn’t a Campbell. Which, apparently, he’s not. Like, really? Why does that even need to be a loose end at this point?

Part of the problem was that the Show of Nick’s motivations (that he was a gullible, damaged moron) was belied by the Show of Nick’s increasingly sociopathic plotting and killing spree, not to mention the epic amount of Plot Armor that got him from the Bunker all the way to Mary’s Storage Locker before being brought down by a shot to the knee from Donna. And don’t even get me started on how he was willing to kill everyone in his path, basically for jollies, but just stuck Donna back in her cruiser while she was out. I mean, I love Donna and I’m glad she didn’t die (especially at Nick’s hands), but that could have been plotted better.

Speaking of better plotting, what was up with the two cell phones and Dean waking up to find Mary gone and Donna calling him? That whole sequence was a hot mess.

The other part of the problem was that, instead of filling out Nick as a tragically damaged character who stumbled into a revenge spree after being frozen in time as a vessel for years, they gave him some weird dark side from Lucifer that turned him into a serial killer. A very enthusiastic, albeit slightly guilt-ridden, serial killer.

Regarding the question of whether Nick was a serial killer or a spree killer, serial killers have “cooling off” periods. While Nick was on his rampage, he did seem to take an awfully time at it and confessed he liked killing. So, it’s probable he’s currently a mix (having killed more than three people, already), but would evolve into a full-fledged serial killer if left unchecked.

Now, I get that the Anvils of Parallel Analogies have been falling thick and hard all season regarding Nick and Dean. And, at least in theory, I don’t have a problem with the probability that they are setting up a post-Michael storyline for Dean, already, after this one (which probably won’t resolve until the end of the season).

But there was no need to make Nick so one-dimensional and unsympathetic. Nick began as a sad sack. Having him kill his way through a bunch of Hell’s Not-So-Finest to find his wife and son’s killer – or better yet, through a bunch of scumbag humans and find out the killer was human – would have introduced some moral grayness to his quest that would have compelled at least Sam (Dean has been a little distracted all season) to examine how he has justified killing people like the possessed nurse he drained of her demonized blood near the end of season four, over the years. I mean, where’s that fine line?

I could even sorta, kinda handwave the neighbor due to Nick’s grief. But once he got to the cop and realized the cop had been possessed, and he killed him anyway, he was pretty much off the trail in terms of being sympathetic. Fine line? Try a canyon with Nick sailing over it without even looking down. And having him kill people who weren’t any threat to him at all, let alone possessed, was just gratuitous character assassination.

The writing seemed to want to make him a parallel of the Winchesters (Sam’s trying to explain himself to Dean in the car, for example). And he’d somehow picked up some things from them, even tracking demons, while remaining dangerously naive in other areas. But in order for it to work, he needed to be, well, less of a whiny, bloodthirsty git. And also, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense for Nick to be like that when Sam wasn’t, even though he, too, had been possessed by Lucifer and, technically, for a lot longer. Yeah, Sam failed Nick this season, but the writing made us so not care.

It didn’t help that Pellegrino’s version of Nick wasn’t terribly different from his version of depowered Lucifer last season (or even earlier). Nick wasn’t originally like Lucifer, but now he’s practically indistinguishable from him in mannerisms? How does that work? Look at Dean and Michael – they are radically different. All Ackles has to do is blink or smile, and you know which one he’s playing, even if the way he carries himself hasn’t already given it away.

Now, Pellegrino is a fine actor, and quite capable of doing distinctly different characters – just look at him on The Closer. And as I said above, Nick was originally a distinct character from Lucifer, even with just a few minutes of screentime. So, did someone tell him to play Nick that way and if so, why? And, please Chuck, don’t let it be because Lucifer never died or is returning or yaddayaddayadda, because please, no, to bringing that played-out character back.

Since Nick isn’t dead, I have a sneaking suspicion he might end up the one in that coffin, harboring Michael. And he might even like that. Because that’s the one part of the parallels between him and Dean that really worked.

Nick misses being an archangel’s vessel. Really, really misses it. He misses the power-by-association, the way Lucifer apparently tapped into his dark side (even though, previously, vessels were supposed to be just along for the ride and lending their bodies to the angel) and gave him the freedom to indulge it. He’s completely lost without his former master. Really makes you wonder what kind of fantasies Lucifer stuck him in over the years.

And the thing is, this isn’t all that unusual for a person, in a way. An angel’s vessel is effectively immortal as long as the angel inhabits him or her. They don’t age or suffer from physical harm. I’ve seen a lot of arguing against this point, but it’s true. It was true for Nick when he was possessed and for Sam. And now it’s true for Dean. You can’t kill a vessel unless you kill the inhabiting angel or force that angel to leave. And both are mighty hard to do.

Why does this work for Dean as a tragic storyline when it didn’t, particularly, for Sam, let alone Jack? Well, most of the time, when we think of immortality, we have a very limited view of it. It basically boils down to not ever having to face death. People then subconsciously pack in a lot of conditions they assume would go along with that, such as eternal youth and perfect health (and, of course, you’re totally hot). That’s the big appeal of the sexy type of vampire, after all.

While there certainly have been stories that explored what it felt to be immortal (usually just for centuries), it’s actually pretty hard to conceive of how it would feel to have everyone you know die, then their descendants, and your culture, then your species, and then even the entire natural world as you recognize it.

I mean, think about it – billions of years from now, if Dean’s plan goes through – the oceans will boil away and the Sun will gobble up the Earth, and that coffin will pop out like a grape. Dean and Michael will still be alive inside it. It sounds like a horrible fate when you put it that way.

But most people (at least on this show), faced with the immediate thought of living a few extra years without ageing or getting sick, are only thinking about not ever having to worry about dying. Not about how human (or sane) they’d be a few billion years from now. It’s just an inconceivable thought to them. Just look at someone like Rowena.

So, you look at someone who makes a demon deal, or says yes to an angel, or turns into a monster, or becomes a witch and steals other people’s souls to stay young, and someone like Nick is the norm on the show for human beings. That’s the kind of person who would say yes to being a vessel and wouldn’t put up a whole lot of resistance.

Even Sam, who quickly found reasons to have big issues with having said yes, was all for it before he did. Remember that when Sam put this same dilemma to Dean near the end of season five, and twisted Dean’s arm to go along with it, they still had other options, especially if neither said yes.

But Sam was sure he could control Lucifer (and look how that turned out). There was a part of Sam that wanted to be Lucifer’s vessel. Whether due to his demon blood programming or his daddy issues or just because Sam can be mighty pig-headed and prideful all on his own, sometimes, he actually saw that as something he’d be okay with. And we even saw Lucifer allow Sam to indulge some revenge fantasies on the demons who had manipulated Sam’s life, which Sam, to his shame got pleasure from. There was a part of Sam that craved the sensation of power, even if it was an illusion, at least for him.

Conceivably, Dean could still fly with Michael’s wings, and use an archangel blade and smite and use TK, just as we saw him do when he was in the driver’s seat in the season finale. It was made clear then that a vessel can use the powers of the angel or archangel inside him or her. It’s just that the angel is usually the one in control of the vessel’s body. But when the vessel is in control, they both can use the angel’s powers.

It’s that “both” that’s the problem. If Dean were to use any active powers (and even if he sustained a mortal injury that required a lot of healing), he’d be making a crack in the door that holds Michael. This is a clever way for the show to have Dean “be” an archangel, but still be active on hunts and not a total deus ex machina. For example, this week, Dean was using the Rituale Romanum (which hopefully would have saved the poor host) rather than smiting or TK. He’s accessed those powers before and could probably still use them, but the use would almost certainly let Michael out.

And that’s the difference with this storyline. This has never been a power trip for Dean; it’s been an ongoing nightmare. Dean is not okay with any of this. Dean said yes to Michael under extreme duress, not pride or craving power. He used Michael’s power to save his family. He locked Michael inside his mind to protect the world, not to exploit Michael’s power. He doesn’t want to lock himself into a coffin with Michael and get tossed into the ocean, even if all Michael ended up doing (admittedly, it’s unlikely) was stick him back behind that bar in a weird version of Heaven and not torture him for the next few billion years out of sheer rage (more likely).

And it’s not because he’s suicidal, as Sam accuses him of being, because it’s not suicide at all. It’s something far, far worse. It’s compulsory immortality. It’s living forever with his very worst enemy, inside a tiny box. Billions of years – and then the Sun pops you out of the disintegrating Earth like Dark Phoenix.

The one character who’s been hoping for an early, bloody exit all along is now staring down the barrel of possibly surviving the end of the universe, either by locking himself inside a tiny box and waiting it out for a few billion years, or stalling until the world-busting monster inside his head breaks out, takes over, and ends the world right now. It’s a horrible choice, but it’s Dean, so of course he’s going inside the box. It’s why Death trusted him enough to give him that book.

And because it’s Dean, because he’s not expendable (even in an in-verse, non-meta sense, and not that Jensen Ackles leaving the show would kill it at this point), because everything goes a bit haywire even when he’s gone in Purgatory for a year, the storyline will either break him out of that box or not put him in it, in the first place.

Remember the other parallel with Nick’s storyline – curse boxes are really strong, but they are intended to keep powerful things in. It’s not nearly as difficult to break those poisonous things inside them back out. That’s why Dean is having the coffin taken out and dumped in the ocean in the first place. He wants to take away any possible temptation, especially from Sam (who has an absolutely horrendous track record on this score).

Finally, there was Sam. Though not in this episode a whole lot, Sam got to deal with the consequences of his juggling too many balls this season and they were pretty major. Somewhat in Sam’s defense, Nick actually bailed when Castiel was there, but Sam had also left Castiel with a lot on his plate. Sam didn’t delegate as well as he could have in his first real leadership role and Nick was that one dropped ball that turned into a festering problem. That killed people.

Dean did not screw around in pointing this out to Sam. Nor did he hold back later on when Sam regressed a bit and whined that Dean was going to leave without saying goodbye (well … Dean did hug him). Sam came perilously close to reprising his mean-spirited speech from the end of “The Purge” in season nine. But a lot of water, and a dead Death or two, has gone under the bridge since then and Dean wasn’t cowed this time.

Dean didn’t bother to point out that Sam’s view of him as a selfish, suicide-obsessed madman who had to be watched like a hawk to keep him from harming himself was unfair (though it was and Sam was quickly forced to back down from that position. This time). He just cut to the chase – that he knew for a fact, thanks to Billie, that there was only one way he could keep Michael from escaping his control and using him to destroy the world. That he couldn’t afford to indulge Sam’s attempts to sabotage him with the world literally hanging in the balance. Yes, his sanity was involved, but it was about so, so much more than that.

So, Sam was, finally, forced to admit a part of his codependency he had always put on Dean and, eventually, agree to help. We’ll see how that all pans out this week, or for the rest of the season if the Nepotism Duo don’t manage to bring it all to a terribly messy and cliched conclusion on Thursday.


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 8


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My collected recaps and reviews of the first season, which originally appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are now up (with a few extras) on Kindle. 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. Reviews also help with sales. Just FYI.


Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.01 (Season Premiere): We Need to Talk About Kevin

Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.02: What’s Up, Tiger Mommy?

Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.03: Heartache

Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.04: Bitten

Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.05: Blood Brothers

Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.06: Southern Comfort

Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.07: A Little Slice of Kevin

Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.08: Hunteri Heroici

Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.09: Citizen Fang

Column: Gods and Monsters: Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.10: Torn and Frayed

Column: Gods and Monsters: Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.11: LARP and the Real Girl

Column: Gods and Monsters: Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.12: As Time Goes By

Column: Gods and Monsters: Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.13: Everybody Hates Hitler

Column: Gods and Monsters: Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.14: Trial and Error

Column: Gods and Monsters: Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.15: Man’s Best Friend with Benefits

Column: Gods and Monsters: Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.16: Remember the Titans

Column: Gods and Monsters: Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.17: Goodbye Stranger

Column: Gods and Monsters: Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.18: Freaks and Geeks

Column: Gods and Monsters: Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.19: Taxi Driver

Column: Gods and Monsters: Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.20: Pac-Man Fever

Column: Gods and Monsters: Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.21: The Great Escapist

Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.22: Clip Show

Recap and Review: Supernatural 8.23 (Season Finale): Sacrifice


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 7


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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 the first season, which originally appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are now up (with a few extras) on Kindle. 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. Reviews also help with sales. Just FYI.


Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.01 (Season Premiere): Meet the New Boss

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.02: Hello, Cruel World

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.03: The Girl Next Door

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.04: Defending Your Life

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.05: Shut Up, Dr. Phil

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.06: Slash Fiction

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.07: The Mentalists

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.08: Season 7, Time for a Wedding!

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.09: How to Win Friends and Influence Monsters

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.10: Death’s Door

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.11: Adventures in Babysitting

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.12: Time After Time

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.13: The Slice Girls

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.14: Plucky Pennyweather’s Magical Menagerie

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.15: Repo Man

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.16: Out with the Old

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.17: The Born-Again Identity

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.18: Party On, Garth

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.19: Of Grave Importance

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.20: The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.21: Reading Is Fundamental

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.22: There Will Be Blood

Recap and Review: Supernatural 7.23 (Season Finale): Survival of the Fittest


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 6


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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 the first season, which originally appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are now up (with a few extras) on Kindle. 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. Reviews also help with sales. Just FYI.


Supernatural Fridays: Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.01 (Season Premiere): Exile on Main Street

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.02: Two and a Half Men

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.03: The Third Man

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.04: Weekend at Bobby’s

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.05: Live Free or Twihard

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.06: You Can’t Handle the Truth

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.07: Family Matters

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.08: All Dogs Go to Heaven

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.09: Clap Your Hands If You Believe

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.10: Caged Heat

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.11: Appointment in Samarra

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.12: Like a Virgin

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.13: Unforgiven

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.14: Mannequin 3: The Reckoning

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.15: The French Mistake

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.16: And Then There Were None

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.17: My Heart Will Go On

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.18: Frontierland

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.19: Mommy Dearest

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.20: The Man Who Would Be King

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.21: Let It Bleed

Recap and Review: Supernatural 6.22 (Season Finale): The Man Who Knew Too Much


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 5


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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 the first season, which originally appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are now up (with a few extras) on Kindle. 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. Reviews also help with sales. Just FYI.


Review (and Recap): Supernatural 5.01 (Season Premiere): Sympathy for the Devil (my first-ever recap and review of the show)

Review (and Recap): Supernatural 5.02: Good God, Y’all!

Review (and Recap): Supernatural 5.03: Free to Be You and Me

Review (and Recap): Supernatural 5.04: The End

Review (and Recap): Supernatural 5.05: Fallen Idols

Review (and Recap): Supernatural 5.06: I Believe the Children Are Our Future

Review (and Recap): Supernatural 5.07: The Curious Case of Dean Winchester

Review (and Recap): Supernatural 5.08: Changing Channels

Review (and Recap): Supernatural 5.09: The Real Ghostbusters

Review (and Recap): Supernatural 5.10: Abandon All Hope

Recap and Review: Supernatural 5.11: Sam, Interrupted

Recap and Review: Supernatural 5.12: Swap Meat

Recap and Review: Supernatural 5.13: The Song Remains the Same

Recap and Review: Supernatural 5.14: My Bloody Valentine

Recap and Review: Supernatural 5.15: Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid

Recap and Review: Supernatural 5.16: Dark Side of the Moon

Recap and Review: Supernatural 5.17: 99 Problems

Recap and Review: Supernatural 5.18: Point of No Return (100th Episode)

Recap and Review: Supernatural 5.19: Hammer of the Gods

Recap and Review: Supernatural 5.20: The Devil You Know

Recap and Review: Supernatural 5.21: Two Minutes to Midnight

Recap and Review: Supernatural 5.22 (Season Finale): Swan Song


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.


St Andrews Day: The Witches of Fife


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #13: Witchcraft in North Carolina (1919)


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Cross, Tom Peete. “Witchcraft in North Carolina.” Studies in Philology, 16:3 (Jul. 1919): 217-287. Reprinted Forgotten Books, 2018.


This is the second-oldest of the books that I’m reviewing this month and it, too, is technically an article. But it is a very important article that is nearly as long as a book in pages, and easily packs enough for any three regular ghost story collections. It is dense. It is arcane. It is well-researched. Though obviously dated (having come out in 1919), it has footnote sections that are two-thirds the length of the page. But in those footnotes, you will find some stories that may well make you want to read with all the lights on.

“Witchcraft in North Carolina” is a very comprehensive study of its subject. Also, unlike many academic articles, it firmly places its regional topic within the larger subject of witchcraft with a brief history and overview of that subject up to that point in time (99 years ago). This is quite useful, for Virginian folklorist and Celtic scholar Tom Peete Cross (1879-1951) holds to the theory that all witchcraft is based on the concept of maleficium – that some people have the power to do magic that can both help and harm others. The ones who do harm are called “witches,” though the line can be very blurred between helpers and harmers.

Stuart McDonald, Canadian author of The Witches of Fife: Witch-Hunting in a Scottish Shire, 1560-1710 (2002), would argue there is also an element in which political and religious elites use witchcraft charges to root out and eliminate “heretical” dissent. Hence why I reviewed this article today. Today is the 711th anniversary of the arrest (for heresy) of the Knights Templar in France. Their subsequent multi-year trial became an exemplar for later trials during the witchcrazes, even though the Templars had been tried as heretics (and the results were ultimately and officially inconclusive). The witch accusation evolved out of the heresy accusation.

There was certainly this “heresy” element in the Salem Trials (and previous Puritan witch trials) of 1692. However, North Carolina was a very different area. North Carolinians were notoriously irreligious early on and had a different mix of Europeans, Africans and Native Americans than New England. From what I’ve seen in my research, the more humble maleficium was pretty much what you got in NC.

That doesn’t mean that witches were treated better than in Puritan New England, but “conjurers,” were perhaps tolerated more. One really intriguing element is how Cross notes that the distinction between “witch” and “ghost” is fairly meaningless in North Carolina. In NC folklore, witches are not human, but are spirits or demons, already.

So, a story like “The Witch Cat” can have versions where a house is haunted variously by witches (in the form of a black cat) or ghosts, and the ghosts are usually a headless man. The Headless Man in Celtic folklore is actually a fairy (themselves often conflated with the unbaptized dead) called a Dullahan, a very dark member of the Unseelie Court whose appearance invariably signals death – except when the story is mixed up with a dead man’s ghost who is seeking to give away his hidden treasure to a worthy person. Yeah, folklore mutates like that.

Witches in NC folklore are also adept shapeshifters, usually appearing as a black cat or a sow or a black dog. Black dogs (also known as “black shucks“) have their whole own sinister folklore from the British Isles that connects them to fairies, as well, but they can be found all over the world. The measures traditionally used against a witch indicate a cringe-worthy and grim history of extreme animal abuse, especially against black cats. But curiously, there are also traditions where cats shouldn’t be harmed, especially if they are black.

Overall, while this is definitely an academic article and it’s definitely aged, “Witchcraft in North Carolina” is worth a read if you are looking for material for your own stories or want to find out more about NC folklore and its origins. I’ve included a link to it, but there are other, free versions available around the internet, since it’s now well out of copyright.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #12: Tales from Guilford County (1917)


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Parsons, Elsie Clews. “Tales from Guilford County.” The Journal of American Folklore, 30:116 (Apr.-Jun. 1917): 168-200.


This is the oldest of the books that I’m reviewing this month and as you can see, it’s technically an article. That said, it’s a densely packed, 32-page article that has almost as much information as some of the books I’ve reviewed. Some of those books are also heavily indebted to this article, so in it goes.

The article itself collects various tales (62 in all, not including variations within a tale) from a specific county in North Carolina in the early 20th century. Parsons (1875-1941) was a pretty major folklorist of the day, collecting Caribbean tales, as well as an anthropologist concentrating on Native American cultures, so you’ll see her pop up elsewhere, such as with her article on animal tales. She was not a Southerner, let alone a North Carolinian.

What Parsons gathers here is a grab-bag of different types of tales. There are animal tales that may go back to Africa (notably of the Brer Rabbit type). Others are based on well-known European tales like Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare.” There are also some ghost stories.

There are several stories about the Devil, several about witches, and one about Bluebeard. That last one is especially interesting, since Parsons’ theory is that these stories originally derive from the Bahamas prior to the Revolutionary War, even though most of the storytellers were native North Carolinians. Canadian horror writer Nalo Hopkinson, whose story, “The Glass Bottle Trick,” is based on the Bluebeard legend, is originally from Jamaica, so Parsons may have been on to something. The Bluebeard legend is also popular in NC and appears in several of the North Carolina collections I’ve read.

I’m not a huge fan of Parsons’ style. The way she transcribes African American dialect (the title aside, all of the storytellers recorded in this article are African American Southerners, whereas Parsons is white and a Yankee) has not dated well. It reads a lot more like Amos and Andy than it does like how real people speak and it’s pretty distracting.

I’m also not wowed by her relative lack of notes. She has an introduction in which she explains her Bahamas origin theory. She also gives (very brief) bios of her unnamed storytellers. These mostly include their ages, where they were born, and where they lived, and that’s about it. The most detailed bio is for the eldest, a woman who was born before the Civil War. That woman also tends to recount the most coherent and detailed stories.

Parsons also doesn’t do a very good job of gleaning info out of the storytellers beyond the surface level. While some of these are classics that have been told and retold many times since the article came out, like “Dividing the Souls,” “The Black Cat,” and “The Woman-Cat,” others are confusing and lack critical parts to them (like “Woman on Housetop” and “The Talking Bones”). Some would be quite chilling with a little more story flesh to them (notably, the vicious, disemboweling ghost in “The Spitting Haint”). But Parsons never seems to ask any questions or give more than the most basic footnotes to put any of them into context.

Overall, though there’s some material here still left to mine if you’re a horror writer, this one is mainly for the folklorist or the completist.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #11: Tar Heel Terrors (2011)


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Renegar, Michael. Tar Heel Terrors: More North Carolina Ghosts and Legends. Bright Mountain Books, Inc., 2011.


For reasons I honestly don’t get, this book has suddenly become very expensive since I bought it. I can assure you I didn’t pay $145 for it and I got a brand-new copy at, as I recall, Books-a-Million. So, I guess we can officially call it out of print.

The author, Michael Renegar, is a professional ghost hunter from Yadkin County. He has written other books about ghosts in North Carolina. His latest, out this year and co-written with Amy Greer, is about Lydia’s Bridge, a famous Phantom Hitchhiker haunting in western NC. In his introduction to this one, Renegar indicates that Tar Heel Terrors is really a sequel to a previous collection, Roadside Revenants, with overflow of stories he couldn’t fit into that previous collection. Unsurprisingly, several of the stories here are about roadside ghosts, such as the one about the ghost who cries “Slow down!” on the dangerous curve the killed her, or the Phantom Hitchhiker of Christine’s Bridge.

Renegar tells a decent yarn and the cover is super-creepy. While some of his stories (like the tales about the Battleship North Carolina) are well-worn by other folklorists, others are more original. He tells a collection of ones that were making the rounds when he was going to Appalachian State (“The Legend of the Unseen Hands”), as well as many historical ones from Yadkin County (notably, “The Deserters and the Cemetery”). He also tells some personal stories from his ghost hunting days, such as “Cold Spots in the Cemetery.” And there’s one recounting a friend’s experience with the legend of Payne Road. He even includes several family legends, such as the entertaining one involving Great-Grandpa Shober, the moonshiner, and his apprenticeship to a witch, which was foiled by his refusal to harm a cat.

One thing I quite like is that Renegar starts off each tale with subtitles under the chapter heading that list both the site and the county in which you can find it. That immediately gives a place to start in locating these tales. Granted, many of them are pretty obviously based on local legends (such as the tale, “You’ll Be Sorry,” with the old British Isles motif of the shapeshifting, mischief-causing witch), but where these legends pop up and who tells them are still very useful information. This is quite intentional on Renegar’s part, as he makes clear in the introduction, where he talks about how ghost stories (Payne Road being a prominent example) change over time.

It would have been nice to see a larger bibliography at the end. Then again, as I noted above, many of these stories come from family lore or personal experiences while ghost hunting. So, they’re not taken from books. And at least Renegar shows an indepth knowledge of how folklore works when discussing the stories in the text itself.


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