Category Archives: Reviews

Retro Recap and Review: Supernatural 9.10: Road Trip


We need your help!

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

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


[spoilers ahoy for several seasons]


Tagline: Dean recruits TFW to get Sam out of his angel-possession in the wake of Kevin’s murder.

Recap: Medium-sized recap of Dean’s deal with Ezekiel/Gadriel (leaving out entirely the part where Dean promised Gadriel a favor, so don’t expect to see that brought up again. Ever) to save Sam from Trialberculosis, the whole Fallen Angels plot, Castiel regaining temporary angelhood via some stolen grace, and Gadriel killing Kevin last episode. We end on Dean’s plaintive “Kevin?” to Kevin’s dead body.

Cut to Now, where a stone-faced Dean is burning Kevin’s body … alone. Returning to the Bunker … alone, to find Kevin’s stuff and cell phone (with a wallpaper photo of himself and his mom on it) on the table where he left them. And having a massive nervous breakdown to Bob Seger’s “The Famous Final Scene” in which he tosses the cell phone and papers all over the place. And the lamp. And the chair. At the end, he looks completely lost and confused, as if he just came out of a fugue state – and devastated.

Cue season nine title cards with burning angel wings. Have a feeling those will be more-than-apt this week.

Cut to a rock star named Corey in a full-black shiny-leather suit walking down a hallway before a sold-out concert with his handler (this is where Amazon Prime’s thumbnail for this ep comes from and as you’ll see in a minute, it’s wildly misleading). She’s telling him his song lineup as he enters his dressing room. He’s supposed to keep it clean.

Gadriel is in there, still wearing Sam. When the rock star sees Gadriel, he sends the handler packing with a slurred “Bitch, did I stutter?” Charming.

Inside, Gadriel calls the angel wearing the rock star “Thaddeus” and Thaddeus recognizes Gadriel. No love lost there. Seems Thaddeus was one of Gadriel’s guards up in Heaven and enjoyed his job a wee bit too much. It even seems he tortured a close friend/lover of Gadriel named Abner.

Thaddeus is cocky and trash-talks a lot as he goes for his sword. Too bad Gadriel’s a lot smarter than Thaddeus gave him credit for and already found it in his guitar case. Thaddeus tries a last-minute heel-face turn and apology, but Gadriel kills him in the middle of begging for his life. Enjoys it, too.

Back at the Bunker, Dean is packing everything for all-out war when Castiel shows up. Being, as ever, a little slow on the subtext count, Castiel mistakes Dean’s smile (which has as many teeth as a Megalodon shark), and comment on Castiel’s reclamation of the trenchcoat, as warm and welcoming. Then he sees the smashed lamp and papers on the floor – and the absence of Kevin – and clues in that something is very wrong. Note that Dean didn’t clean any of that up.

Over a drink (when not?), Dean spills completely about his deal with Gadriel to heal Sam, and how it resulted in Kevin’s death. Unsurprisingly (in other news, the ocean is really wet), Dean blames himself completely, while wanting “Ezekiel” dead, deader, deadest. Castiel is sympathetic, but honestly? His response is a little too tepidly “I could have to you so” (since he never actually did) and therefore less-than-helpful.

Castiel does point out that if Dean kills “Ezekiel” (they don’t yet know Gadriel’s real name or backstory), he kills Sam. Dean allows that he knows that, but killing Sam is better than letting a possessing angel burn him out.

What little control Dean has over all that internal screaming starts to falter as he faces this hard reality. He starts to verbally flagellate himself, calling himself “stupid.” Castiel gets him to stop spiraling for the moment by pointing out that he was “stupid for the right reasons” (i.e., that he went with what limited options he had). This is actually pretty kind and it gives Castiel an idea – what if they could get inside Sam’s head and get to Sam directly? Then Sam could kick “Ezekiel” out.

Dean wonders how they could possibly do that with “Zeke” in charge. Castiel brings up Alfie (without mentioning that he’s the one who killed him) and what Alfie told him about “the demons” (i.e., Crowley) who were able to access his angelic programming. Oh, and guess who they currently have downstairs, chilling in the dungeon?

Dean and Castiel visit Crowley. They get straight to the point about what they want from him, in exchange for human blood (from Dean, to feed Crowley’s addiction), but that doesn’t mean they’re terribly forthcoming on anything else. Crowley has to guess from their ominous silences and the odd blurted-out statement from Castiel that Kevin is dead, Sam is in the wind, and a whole lot has been going on while he’s been stuck in the Hole (and he doesn’t even know yet that none of it has anything to do with Abaddon). As usual, he fields it all with a cocky smile as if he’s the smartest man in the room. But even though the script has Dean and Castiel act a bit plot-stupid just to get Crowley up to speed quickly, Crowley’s Smartest Demon shtick is already wearing a bit thin at this point in the show.

Case in point: When Crowley snarks that the reason Kevin is dead is because no mere human ever survives very long around Dean Winchester (and that he tried to warn Kevin to run), the pretty obvious subtext is that of late, the reason for that has been that Crowley’s the one who murders ’em. The pained scoff Dean makes indicates that even though the dart hits home emotionally because he’s so raw, intellectually he knows Crowley’s full of shit.

Even so, Dean’s patience is thin and he cuts the banter short, agreeing to a deal – Crowley can go on the road trip with them to find Sam, albeit in cuffs. But of course, “Zeke” has the Impala, so Dean has no car (um … what about the cars in the Bunker basement?). Fortunately, Castiel still has his wheels (a 1978 Lincoln Continental – a pimpmobile), which ran out of gas a few miles down the road. They head there with a gas can and as a suspicious looking woman and her dog watch from the sidewalk, they get in. Since the show is not subtle with its classic car/rock call-outs, they ride off to “The Royal Scene” by Dude Royal (thanks, Tunefind!), Dean driving, Castiel and Crowley bickering in the back. By the way, Crowley still has no idea that the angels have fallen or lost their wings, so he doesn’t understand why Castiel has a car. And neither Castiel nor Dean chooses to enlighten him.

Metatron is having a martini in a place where Gadriel’s former vessel is tending bar. The nameless vessel does a double-take when Gadriel walks in, wearing Sam, and Gadriel stares back at him uneasily. Metatron comments on how odd it is for an angel to encounter a “former vessel, like looking in a funhouse mirror.”

Gadriel gives him a bag containing the Angel and Demon tablets, and Metatron looks pleased. He claims that he gave Gadriel the assignment to kill Thaddeus because he knew Gadriel would enjoy it, so Gadriel doesn’t question it. Gadriel is more hesitant about having followed the order to kill Kevin. Metatron is all mellow as he says he turned off the mechanism in Heaven that creates Prophets, so no new ones with Kevin gone.

His mellowness evaporates when he finds out that Dean is still alive. Andrew Dabb wrote this script and his clumsy writing shows in this exchange. Upset, Gadriel rightly points out that Metatron never said anything about killing Dean. Metatron whines that “sometimes, you have to kill your darlings” and that Gadriel should have “shown some initiative” to prove he deserves to be Metatron’s second in command, but this makes Metatron look careless. The fact that Dean Winchester is still alive is clearly such a problem that it makes the other (quite large) things Gadriel has done already for Metatron pale in comparison. But if Metatron had wanted Dean dead that badly (and we’ll see later that he really did), he should have said so. There simply is never a good reason given in the story for why he was so coy and left it to chance like that, so it becomes a big plothole.

Needless to say after this display of ungrateful petulance from Metatron, Gadriel is not at all thrilled to hear he has to go kill someone else. But he’s already in too deep and he’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, either, so Metatron’s guilt trip works on him. He can’t course-correct now.

Back at the house where Castiel’s car broke down, the woman who saw TFW leave has predictably been possessed by a demon. We see her lift a bowl of dog blood (ugh, Show, what is it with you and killing off cute little dogs?) to make a call to Abaddon. Alas, she isn’t terribly observant, only saying that “Crowley is on the move” and not noting the demonic handcuffs that were under his coat or anything like that. Or that Dean and Castiel were with him.

In the foyer of a business called Waldroff Financial, Crowley is sitting on a bench between Dean and Castiel, and bickering with them. He tells them that he has a plant there named “Cecily” who is a demon. Also, the firm is a front for the NSA. Cecily uses their listening devices to find marks for the CRDs.

Cecily is willing to see only Crowley, who walks into her office (hiding his cuffs), while Dean and Castiel are forced to wait outside. In the office, Cecily demonstrates immediately that she recognizes both Dean and Castiel (which makes you wonder how safe it was for them to enter an NSA front). She considers Castiel “hot,” but only now he’s an angel again. Crowley is taken aback. Once again, he’s brought up short by how behind the eight-ball he is. She tells him about how Castiel stole new grace and angeled up again, aside from not having wings. She also claims that she’s not a fan of Abaddon, who doesn’t care about anything but fire and brimstone. Crowley seems to buy it, which is rather odd.

Outside, Castiel is trying to listen in, but the room is warded. Cecily is telling Crowley that she learned what she did from finding a satellite to “tune into angel radio.” Don’t worry – we won’t hear about any more of that after this.

After trying to talk her into breaking his cuffs off (she says only a key will make it happen), Crowley finally gets down to business and asks about the Impala’s location. He also finally figures out that she’s playing both sides. Chagrined, she admits it, but gives him the info, anyway.

Crowley comes back out to tell Dean and Castiel that the Impala ran a red light in Somerset, PA. Off they go as Gadriel arrives in that town to kill his next target. That man turns out to be the vessel for Gadriel’s old friend Abner. Abner is playing the father to Alexander’s family. The vessel wasn’t a good dad, so Abner is making up for that. When his vessel’s little daughter comes out, he introduces her to Gadriel as his old friend (apparently, Thaddeus’ insinuation was just a homophobic insult). Then he asks Gadriel to come back later after the daughter and her mother go out.

Later, they sit in the living room. Abner has changed. He used to be angry and “petulant,” but since falling to earth, he’s gotten over it. He clarifies that the amount of time he spent in Heavenly prison was seven centuries, which doesn’t jibe terribly well with the whole “Garden desertion” storyline, but I guess he was imprisoned a lot later than Gadriel. Or something. Dabb’s not good with timelines.

Abner tries to tell Gadriel that he can use being on earth for a new start and Gadriel appears to think about it. But when TFW arrive at the house later that night (Dean looking relieved and upset to see Baby again), they find Abner dead on the floor with his throat cut. So, Gadriel made his choice. Again.

Gadriel is in the kitchen, washing Abner’s blood off his hands, when he senses Dean behind him. Dean has an angel blade. Gadriel is arrogant enough to tell Dean that he shouldn’t have come after Gadriel spared him. Dean coldly tells him that he shouldn’t have expected to kill Dean’s friend and walk off inside Dean’s brother, and not expect Dean to come after him.

Gadriel TK’s Dean into a bookshelf, knocking him out, but of course it’s a trap. Castiel is standing on Gadriel’s other side. When Gadriel turns around, Castiel cold-cocks him.

Back at Cecily’s office, she is telling Abaddon about her talk with Crowley and spilling everything. Cecily unwisely admits that she is playing both sides, so Abaddon kills her with an angel blade. Dead dog, dead cheeky female ally. Sounds like a Dabb script.

Somewhere in an abandoned building, Gadriel wakes up, chained to a chair. He is defiant, at first, and claims he can rip Sam apart from the inside. He even claims he has Sam locked in a happy dream of being on a hunt with Dean. He suggests Dean can just end this by putting an angel blade through Sam’s heart. Instead, Dean calls Gadriel out on betraying him and Kevin (Gadriel looks ashamed), and has Crowley stick big needles in Sam’s head.

Dean watches for a while, but then has to leave. Castiel follows him out. Dean admits that he’s struggling with watching Crowley lobotomize his brother and begs Castiel to talk about anything else. Castiel gives him the short version of how he powered up again. Dean apologizes to Castiel for kicking him out of the Bunker. Castiel apologizes to Dean for believing Metatron. Dean asks if that means they’re “dumbasses.”

Castiel: I prefer the term “trusting.”

At that moment, Crowley calls them back in. He twirls a needle and a catatonic Gadriel starts speaking Enochian. He says his name. Castiel recognizes it and realizes that he didn’t recognize Gadriel before because Gadriel has been imprisoned “since the dawn of time” for “letting Lucifer into the Garden.” Dean guesses he means Adam and Eve (even though Eve in this story is the mother of monsters), but it’s more likely “Garden” means “Creation.” But who knows? It’s a mystery. And a Dabb script.

Castiel gets mad at Gadriel and shakes him, but Dean pulls him off. Twirling another needle, Crowley wakes up Gadriel, who is still defiant. He claims he can hide Sam from them for years, if necessary. Dean’s next idea is to have Castiel possess Sam, too, but Castiel can’t do it without permission. Crowley points out that demons don’t need permission. Crowley renegotiates for his freedom, so Dean has Castiel burn off Sam’s anti-possession tattoo. Dean threatens him and then Gadriel threatens him, but Crowley is cocky about his chances. He blows red smoke into Sam’s mouth after Dean gives him his and Sam’s secret “go word – Poughkeepsie.” Castiel asks Dean what will happen if the plan doesn’t work. “It’ll work,” Dean says, with more determination that he seems to feel.

Inside Sam’s head, Sam is in the Bunker, researching a case. “Dean” is in the kitchen, getting beer. Sam is shocked when Crowley shows up, even more so that Crowley knows the Winchester safe word. Crowley tells him he’s been possessed by an angel and that in possession, even though the angel has Sam locked away in his mind, he can remember everything. Sam then has a quick set of flashbacks that ends with killing Kevin.

Crowley tells Sam that he has to cast the angel out. Unfortunately, Gadriel (in the form of his first vessel, the bartender) shows up at that moment and proceeds to kick Crowley’s ass. But not until after a big rant about how he’s going to be the Hero who leads the angels back to Heaven and demons like Crowley will always be cowards. Crowley stands his ground and punches Gadriel to gives Sam time to get up to speed.

Sam interrupts Crowley’s ass-whupping by attacking Gadriel. There’s a fight that Gadriel at first appears to be winning (pointing out that Sam might die if he leaves), even as Crowley exhorts Sam to cast him out. Abruptly, Sam gets the upper hand by clobbering Gadriel with a statuette and gives him his marching orders. Gadriel is forced to leave in white, glowing smoke and returns to the bar where Metatron is waiting and his vessel works. His vessel gives verbal consent again and is repossessed as all the glass breaks in the bar. Metatron recovers from his surprise to ask, “Let me guess – Winchester trouble?”

Back at the monastery/warehouse/whatever-it-is, Crowley blasts out of Sam, as well, and back into his usual host body (which looks dead without him). Castiel and Dean fuss over Sam, prompting Crowley to snark that he’s “fine; thanks for asking.”

There are headlights outside as Abaddon and several demons show up in a fleet of black cars (why didn’t they just teleport?). Crowley tells the rest of TFW to run while he holds her off. Dean makes it clear he still doesn’t forgive Crowley and will kill him on sight should they meet again.

Crowley: Yes. I know. I love you, too.

Yes, he really did say that. Yes, we know now he really did mean it, even if Dean didn’t know (then) or care (pretty much ever).

When Abaddon shows up, Crowley plays on the hesitation of her minions to attack him on her orders. The results are mixed, with Abaddon coldly telling him that Hell doesn’t care what he thinks. They can duke it out for the throne, if he likes.

Crowley disagrees. He says it’s more like a campaign for “hearts and minds.” He figures that many demons followed Abaddon because their King was missing and she’s strong (“and immortal, for the moment”). But he also thinks she’s stupid and he has a feeling Hell won’t all go her way with him back on the board. He then snaps his fingers and disappears, leaving Abaddon highly annoyed.

On a misty dock, Castiel heals Sam’s surface wounds and tells him it will take some time, and stages of healings, to fix the rest of his internal “burns.” Dean, who has been standing nearby, then approaches Sam and lets him cut loose.

And, unfortunately, Sam does. He’s a big ball of pissy manpain about being “tricked” and having had his body used to kill Kevin, and how he was ready to die half a season ago. He shows no sense whatsoever of how Dean might be feeling (at the very least, he should notice that Dean had to burn Kevin’s body all alone).

So, he’s a little discomfited when Dean cuts his rant off at the knees and repeats Crowley’s words about how he (Dean) is responsible for Kevin’s death, that he’s toxic to those around him, that anyone who gets close to him dies and horribly. He’s going to hunt down Gadriel and kill him, but it’s better if he does it alone. All of Dean’s self-loathing pours out and it upsets Castiel, even if Sam is pretty stony about it all.

Sam tells him to go, but cryptically says that’s not why … why what? Why Dean is leaving? Why Sam is mad at him? Don’t expect an answer because once again, it’s a Dabb script and it’s just there so Sam can be an asshole as Dean walks away and drives off in the Impala in the rain.

Credits

Review: “Road Trip” was originally the spring premiere after the Christmas hellatus for season 9, following on the cliffhanger of the Christmas “midseason” finale. The writing is somewhat better for this episode than “Holy Terror,” but that’s admittedly a pretty low bar. It suffers from all the usual problems that are now front and center with Andrew Dabb (who wrote the episode) as showrunner and even at this point in the series, it was clear that Robert Singer was phoning it in as director. The kindest word you can give for either the script or the direction is “workmanlike.”

Character arcs within the episode are often poorly set up. Gadriel and Sam’s actions and dialogue in particular frequently make no sense. Metatron doesn’t seem to know what he wants, even as he’s laying out his big manifesto lines (he’s an awful Big Bad). And Dean and Castiel are handed the Idiot Ball a few times in a lazy attempt to get Crowley up to speed. Abaddon is also … not quite as scary-impressive as she usually is. “Perfunctory” is the word that comes to mind for her practically-a-cameo two scenes. The show almost forgot her the last several episodes in its obsessive focus on the fallen angels storyline, which rapidly went nowhere.

What saved this episode was the acting (particularly Jensen Ackles and Mark Sheppard) and what makes it still important is that it’s the prequel to the really major mytharc plot that is launched the following episode. But yeah, “First Born,” it’s not. The hand-off from one mytharc (Sam’s angel possession arc) to the next (Dean’s grief and revenge quest) is clumsy and incomplete. It is there, though, especially on second watch.

Speaking of second watching, it’s fairly easy to miss on first watch (while you’re trying to get the plot points, and chuckling at Crowley and Castiel’s mutual sniping) how close to the bleeding, screaming edge Dean is in “Road Trip.” Sure, there’s the obligatory breakdown to a mournful tune by Bob Seger, but that is actually the high point of Dean’s stability in this episode. At the end of his burst of rage, he looks lost and devastated. It’s a brief of moment of clarity before he disappears down a rabbit hole of corrosive self-recrimination that ends in his going off on his own to take (continuing) brutal revenge on Gadriel after Gadriel has been forced out of Sam.

Internalizing Crowley’s nasty jibe earlier in the episode about being responsible for Kevin’s death (because Hell forbid Crowley ever take any responsibility for his own horrible actions), Dean says he’s going off alone because he is “poison” to everyone (everyone human, anyway) around him. But there’s got to be the factor in there that at that moment, he really can’t bear to look at the face of the person who killed Kevin, even if that face is his brother’s and Sam wasn’t in the driver’s seat. He’d never admit. It’s doubtful he can even think it, consciously, but that’s how his PTSD-driven reliving of Kevin’s death would work.

I said before that I wasn’t thrilled by how the show fridged Kevin to motivate Dean – and I’m still not. But it’s mitigated somewhat by how, even though Kevin was translating the Tablets for the Winchester Brothers, he also had his own special destiny, and his own storyline, as a Prophet. And Dean’s role in that storyline, up to when Kevin died, was the same as his role in Sam’s mytharc plots – to be the wind beneath Kevin’s wings. He essentially stepped into Mama Tran’s shoes and took care of Kevin – cooking for him, cleaning up after him, tending to him when he was sick, protecting him. So, it makes sense that Kevin would grump and chafe at Dean’s “smothering” the way he did with his own mother, yet ultimately trust Dean so completely that he never saw Gadriel coming. The Bunker was safe because Dean was there – until the moment it wasn’t.

And it therefore also makes perfect sense that Dean would blame himself for Kevin’s death, even though it came out of left field and Dean already knew how long the odds were for Kevin’s long-term survival. In that sense, Dean as a character was about supporting Kevin’s story and not the other way round. It wasn’t until Kevin died that Dean was left floundering, grasped onto rescuing (or being forced to kill) Sam from Gadriel, and finally went after Gadriel for revenge. So, aside from the legit complaint that PoCs usually get stuck with supporting and guest roles, rather than lead roles even in their own stories, the story is pretty solid in not following the usual fridging cliches for those two.

Dean didn’t grieve for Kevin because Kevin’s death bruised his ego (as usually happens with fridging, where fridged characters are something that the Villain takes away from the Hero, rather than people in their own right). He grieved for Kevin because they had a friendship in which Dean was protecting Kevin. Because you grieve for someone close to you when they die, especially through violence and especially right in front of you while you can’t do anything about it.

The same cannot be said for Kevin and Sam. Sam expresses a lot of upset about having his body used by Gadriel to commit murder, but that’s about the extent of his giving any size of a rat’s ass about Kevin. In making it all about his own manpain over being “forced” to kill Kevin (even though no one – literally no one, not even Crowley – in Sam’s vicinity is blaming Sam for it), Sam shoves Kevin right out of the story of his own death. It becomes all about Sam, not all about Kevin, and it’s quite irritating.

It’s not really that big a surprise. Sam has never been especially close to Kevin. He did abandon him for a year between seasons seven and eight, after all. I think Sam’s ditching Kevin and his own brother to unknown fates so he could “retire” for a year made it pretty clear to Kevin that whenever push shoved, Sam would always rank his own needs over Kevin’s safety.

Part of the problem is how half-assed Dabb is about the question of how much Sam was aware all season. Up through last week, the assumption was that Sam was aware most of the time and that the only time we saw Gadriel fake being Sam was right before he knocked Dean out to go kill Kevin. But the way Dabb writes (and Singer directs) the montage of Sam remembering being possessed by Gadriel, it indicates he’s been off in Gadriel’s dream world this whole time, since the hospital in the season premiere.

That sounds overly complicated. We’re supposed to believe that Gadriel, an angel so out of the loop for so long that he should have almost no clue how to deal with humans aside from the memories he’s gotten from his two vessels, was able to mimic Sam so well as to fool Dean from the jump? I don’t buy that. And I don’t think it’s great storytelling to have had Sam so completely absent for nearly half a season, either.

Regardless, neither Sam being usually aware or Sam being off with the fairies for ten episodes justifies his pissiness at the end of this one. I get that he’s shell-shocked and trying to get up to speed (a bit like Crowley earlier on in the episode), but acting as though Dean set him up to be magically violated (in future episodes, there are even hints it was like rape) is right out of bounds. There isn’t any evidence that Sam suffered from Gadriel’s possession until he kicked him out. And I think Dean having to juggle everyone else’s needs for ten episodes, being forced to watch Kevin murdered by his own brother’s hand (if not by his own brother), and then having to chase Gadriel down and neutralize him/rescue Sam by forcing him out are way beyond sufficient punishment for having “tricked” Sam into saying yes to an angel to save his life.

Then there’s Crowley. I was a bit surprised to find that Crowley’s obsession with Dean caught fire this early. I mean, yeah, there’s next episode and yeah, he was always more focused on Dean than Sam (he’s in rare form this week ragging on Sam the “Big Baby”). But it was less clear earlier on, more like his usual banter, which was quite harsh in, say, season six. We even get a bit of this early in the episode, when Crowley claims that people die around Dean.

But that line is also an indication of the transitional nature of Crowley’s relationship with Dean in this episode (as is Crowley’s snark at Abaddon that she’s immortal but only for now). Crowley wants Dean to himself. Trying to call shotgun on their road trip (so he can sit beside Dean), bickering with Castiel, the jibe about Kevin (whom Crowley himself tried to kill, because Crowley wants Dean for himself), and covering TFW’s retreat (ostensibly just to bait Abaddon and sow dissension in her ranks, but there’s far more to it than that) all bring attention to his desire to be around Dean, to be respected (if not loved) by Dean, even when it’s not the smartest decision at that moment. But this is really the first time Crowley gets out on a limb for Dean. Yeah, he’s desperate to get out of that dungeon, but still.

And it’s not really unwise for Dean to let him go, either. Crowley being out there, giving Abaddon trouble, is a good thing for TFW right now. Hell being distracted by a demonic civil war means a Hell that’s not at full capacity to wreak destruction on earth – and we already have a taste of how destructive Abaddon is. If Crowley’s willing to do that, then it’s not necessary for now to neutralize him again. Cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war.

Now, I know that Mark Sheppard wasn’t thrilled by this new human blood storyline, as he felt it made Crowley weak. And it did. Dean became Crowley’s weakness. But I disagree that it was a bad storyline. Stuff that can be fun to act isn’t always good for the story. Crowley being a one-note villain who snarked at everyone and pretended to be the smartest person in the room (because he never actually could be within the context of the show) wasn’t good for the story. He was a weak villain on his own in season six and the story had to resort to his killing off (usually female) friends of the Brothers to stay a relevant threat.

That got old. If they wanted to keep him around, the writers had to do something different with him. This was it. And it worked because it gave him more dimensions and made him less predictable. It gave him growth (or decay, depending on your point of view). A Crowley who wasn’t always for Crowley, but who also had no idea about a healthy relationship or healthy boundaries, was a more interesting Crowley than the original version.

The irony here is that Crowley seems to believe that by helping Dean, he will win Dean’s trust and favor, if not yet his love and devotion. But Crowley has framed his help as a quid pro quo deal. The problem with quid pro quo deals is that they leave the relationship in the same position as before the deal – in this case, with Crowley still an enemy who murdered the Brothers’ friends, tortured Kevin, and once blackmailed Dean into working for him.

Crowley already negotiated the benefit he would get from the deal (his freedom) and it did not involve Dean liking or respecting him in any way. So, of course, Dean didn’t. He didn’t renege on any part of the deal (he did let Crowley go). Crowley had unrealistic expectations, whether because his mind was clouded by his human blood addiction from the Trials or because, as a demon, he’s just that narcissistic.

Technically, it’s canon (or it was while the archangels were in charge, Heaven had angels, and the Apocalypse hadn’t happened yet) that demons can only unleash their full powers with a deal. Azazel made this claim to Dean about Dean’s deal to save Sam in “All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2” and Crowley posited it to Bobby in season five. But it doesn’t change the fact that Dean’s agreement with Crowley was still a deal, so from Dean’s point of view, no gratitude was expected or likely to be given. Dean can certainly be treacherous and cunning, especially if you back him into a corner, but he played it straight with Crowley this week, just as he played it straight with Gadriel for nine episodes. That’s why he’s pissed.

Finally, there was Castiel. I wish he’d had more to do before Dean went on walkabout, but I guess there was infodump to drop and mytharc to move forward. The demon crush thing was cute, but went nowhere due to her being killed off immediately after. I was hoping to see some exploring of Castiel’s human adventures with Dean, but even though Dean did explicitly ask Castiel to bring him up to speed, the writing itself didn’t dwell on it for very long. After that, Castiel mainly served as sidekick and Greek Chorus. I felt Dabb could have written him better, but hey, at least he was sympathetic in this episode.


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.


Retro Recap and Review: Supernatural 9.09: Holy Terror


We need your help!

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

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


[spoilers ahoy for several seasons]


Tagline: Castiel is captured by one of the angel factions and tortured, while Kevin hits a major milestone in his translation of the Angel Tablet.


Recap: Quick recap of Metatron’s spell to cast all the angels out of Heaven, which includes taking Castiel’s grace and turning him human. We also get a quickie of Dean’s deal with “Ezekiel,” Kevin working on the Angel Tablet, and the boring plotting of the fallen angels to take over the earth and get back to Heaven. Or something.

This is a Nepotism Duo episode, so buckle up, because it’s gonna be a rough (and frequently tedious) ride.

Cut to Now. A bus load of Gospel singin’ girls from the Melody Ministry Glee Club roll up to a roadhouse full of bikers in Caribou, WY. When they enter, the bald leader of the bikers is upset, saying “You shouldn’t be here.”

“We have as much right to be here as you do … Brother,” the obnoxiously pert blonde leader of the glee club sneers back. Both sides are angels. Angel blades come out and there’s a big fight. The glee club wins, massacring everyone in the biker bar, then leaving, covered with blood and all perky. They sing, “I’m Gonna Let It Shine,” as their bus rolls out.

Cue title cards.

In the Impala at night, Dean is driving and asking Ezekiel about Sam’s condition. Ezekiel claims that Sam is better, despite the reveal last week by Vesta that he was barely alive without Ezekiel’s angelic support. Dean is losing confidence in Ezekiel’s weekly progress reports. Ezekiel is unhappy that they are investigating “angel business” (the Doomed Teaser Bikers), but Dean points out this is the Family Business. If they don’t investigate it, Sam will get suspicious.

Grumpy, Ezekiel goes back into dormancy with a flash of eye light. When Sam comes back out, he’s confused that they’re so much closer to their destination. He says he’s getting a lot of missing time lately. Dean, of course, tap-dances that Sam is still recovering from nearly dying at the beginning of the season. Sam doesn’t quite buy this, which, to be honest, kind of puzzles me. We know Dean is lying, but the Trialberculosis was supposed to be inevitably fatal. Why doesn’t Sam buy the idea that it’s going to take him a while (less than half a season so far) to recover?

Anyhoo, the Brothers arrive at the biker bar, dressed as FBI agents. They are surprised to find Castiel there, also dressed in a suit, among the real law enforcement officers. Castiel had heard the news and feels obligated to help. The Brothers think that’s a bad idea (for various reasons, not all of them questionable), but Castiel is just too happy to see Dean (sorry, Sam and Dean) again to notice their reservations. And Ezekiel waits until Castiel has walked off to give Dean an angelic version of Sam’s bitchface.

There is speculation that the angel hit was by Bartholomew (one of the leader)’s gang, but someone else could be involved.

Cut to a scruffy guy named Malachi meeting with Bartholomew’s obnoxious top aid in an empty parking lot. Malachi is not pleased to hear that Bart didn’t bother to show up. The glee club girl is with Malachi and the hit on the biker bar was a hit on Bartholomew’s gang.

Malachi says that Bartholomew will live to regret demonstrating disrespect by not showing up for the meet. He punctuates this by killing Bartholomew’s team with an angel sword.

At a local bar, the Brothers are hanging out with Castiel. Sam is happy to see Castiel, Dean apprehensive. Castiel tells the Brothers that April (the Reaper who tortured and stabbed him to death during the last Nepotism Duo entry) told him Bart’s plan was to gather together as many angels as he could, reverse Metatron’s spell, and go back to Heaven. This triggers a creepy mutual reverie between him and Dean about how “hot” April was. Because of course it does. These writers are so inappropriate.

As Castiel goes off to get more beers, Ezekiel pops up and chews Dean out for letting Castiel hang out with them. This time, Dean really pushes back and challenges the angel on why he has such a problem about Castiel being there. Ezekiel calls Castiel a “beacon” to other angels (despite now being human) and that when Ezekiel agreed to help Dean with Sam, he “chose sides.” This now makes him unpopular with “certain angels.”

Dean shrugs this off, saying that Castiel’s now hated by every angel, but he’s still in there, helping TFW. “So, what makes you so special?”

Castiel interrupts this by coming back with the beers. Ezekiel stiffly says he’s going to “get something from the car,” but he’s really fleeing outside for some air and to think. Too bad that as soon as he does, he encounters Metatron, who says Ezekiel is an angel, all right, but he’s not Ezekiel. Ezekiel looks pretty horrified.

In the bar, Castiel says he noticed that Sam looked uncomfortable and asks if Dean has told Sam why he made Castiel leave the Bunker. At this point, Dean (who clearly has been having reservations about trusting “Ezekiel”) comes clean to Castiel about the angel deal he made and the real reason he’s keeping Castiel at arm’s length.

Out in the alley, Metatron calls “Ezekiel” by his real name, Gadriel (no, I’m not using the show’s spelling, “Gadreel,” because that’s the only time it uses the Arabic spelling convention instead of the Hebrew and that’s dumb). Gadriel gets all tense when Metatron asks him why he’s pretending to be Ezekiel. Gadriel says it’s because Ezekiel was a “good and honorable” angel and Metatron immediately points out that’s the opposite of how Gadriel is perceived.

It turns out that Gadriel was deep inside a heavenly dungeon (and had been for a long time) when he was cast out onto earth with the other angels. Metatron twists the knife when he details Gadriel’s crime – he was supposed to guard the “Garden” (the earth) and not let “evil” (probably Lucifer) enter it, but he failed.

Gadriel looks really distressed, so it’s probably not good that Metatron tells him about his big plan to let a few angels back into Heaven (because Metatron is lonely alone up there) and he wants Gadriel to help him. Yeah. ‘Cause that worked out so well for Castiel.

Back at the Bunker, Sam (now back in the saddle) tells Dean that the biker gang were born again Christians and hooked up with Bartholomew’s group. There’s a new angel gang in town and they’re worse than Bart’s.

At a campfire at night, Malachi’s smug glee club lieutenant is recruiting new idiots for vessels. But as the bodiless angels mass above, she’s stabbed from behind, and the vessels all smote, by a sneak attack from Bartholomew’s forces.

Underneath a bridge in daytime, Metatron is bemoaning about having lived (i.e., hid) among humans for so long. Gadriel practically talks himself into following Metatron by calling Metatron the new God. Metatron only somewhat demurs.

Somewhere in a cabin, Castiel is kneeling down (and assuming other positions) to pray to someone unspecific for help. He gets no answers. Hours later, he has to give up.

When he goes to turn on the TV, he hears a voice from outside telling him to plug it in. When he opens the door, he finds a short, blonde woman in a Park Ranger outfit. She is an angel named Muriel. She heard his prayer. At first, when she recognizes him, she wants to turn away, but he manages to talk her back inside, pleading with her for information.

At the Bunker, Kevin has hit a dead end. He thinks there may not be any information about the spell Metatron used to clear out Heaven. Kevin runs across a section that Metatron appears to have hidden in an indecipherable code, even from Prophets.

When Sam comes back (from having been used as Gadriel’s vehicle to go talk to Metatron), Dean tells him about the campfire attack, which was in Utah. Dean also found a witness who saw the glee club angel and her bus leaving the biker bar.

At the motel, Muriel is skeptical about Castiel’s claim that Metatron set everything up for the angels’ fall and Castiel was an unwitting participant. Despite her caution, she’s surprisingly forthcoming with Malachi’s name, since both Malachi and Bartholomew are rounding up unaligned angels and torturing them into submission or killing them if they won’t. Too bad that in the middle of their chat, Malachi’s henchangels show up. They beat up both Castiel and Muriel, and bring them to Malachi’s dungeon, where Malachi tortures Castiel himself.

Malachi doesn’t believe Castiel when he says he has no useful intel, so he has him tortured some more, then has Muriel killed. Damn. Muriel’s about the only new character I liked in this mess. Figures these loser writers would kill her off.

Afterward, Malachi claims he’s just following Castiel’s “example” of killing other angels. One of the names of the angels he claims died in the Fall is Ezekiel. But Malachi, being an “anarchist,” is too stupid to see the wheels suddenly turning in Castiel’s head. He leaves him with the henchangel who killed Muriel.

However, when Castiel asks for “a quick death,” the henchangel instead wants him to contact Metatron in order to be raised back to Heaven.

Castiel appears to play along, totally channeling Dean Winchester at his wiliest. He gets himself unchained. It doesn’t really matter if this is just another form of torture because Castiel is playing the other angel and gets the drop on him. He then cuts the henchangel’s throat and steals his grace, before smiting him as his first re-angeled act.

Whistling “I’m Gonna Let It Shine,” Malachi comes downstairs to find all of his henchangels in the dungeon dead (and poor Muriel still a doornail).

Dean talks to Kevin in the Bunker, while looking for Sam. Kevin says Sam went out. Kevin comments that Sam has been “doing that a lot” and we see the wheels turning in Dean’s head as he wonders who is doing that, Sam or “Ezekiel”?

Dean then gets a call from Castiel, who tells him he’s escaped Malachi and angeled back up (however temporarily). He also outs “Ezekiel,” saying that he’s dead.

Dean comes up with a plan quickly, hitting a sleepy Kevin up for a spell that can suppress an angel long enough to talk to the vessel (and let the human expel the angel), but not telling Kevin what it’s for.

Meanwhile, Gadriel, unaware he’s been outed, is meeting again, in broad daylight, with Metatron. He agrees to be Metatron’s second in command. Metatron blows some sunshine up Gadriel’s ass and Gadriel tries to believe it. But he’s not too thrilled when Metatron gives him the name of an enemy who must die first as a test, a name on a piece of paper. Gadriel balks, but he does take the Post-It note and looks conflicted.

Back at the Bunker, Kevin has cobbled together a spell from the Angel Tablet and some research he dug up in the Men of Letters archives. Now they’ve been drawing angel suppression sigils all over the walls. When he asks Dean what’s going on, Dean says he can’t really tell him and to trust him. Kevin grumps that that always bites him in the ass (but, in all fairness, Kevin’s been very volatile and unhelpfully unpredictable in his reaction to negative news in the past).

Sam comes back and Dean asks him where he’s been. Sam says he was on a beer run.

Dean quickly uses one of the sigils (which does work because we see it smoke and burn) to suppress “Ezekiel,” then tries to fill Sam in on the deal he made and that Ezekiel lied to him. Sam gets mega-pissy about it and clocks Dean one, knocking him out. Then he goes out into the Library where he … smites Kevin in the middle of Kevin worrying that Dean is “off” somehow. Dean rushes in in the middle of it, but can’t stop Kevin dying. Gadriel slams him up against a post.

Gadriel then proceeds to monologue about how he overheard Dean and Kevin talking, then “altered the spell” (to do what, exactly, since it did do something?). He faked being Sam and says that Sam is gone. Rubbing salt in the wounds, he says Kevin would have died sooner than later, anyway, and drops the Post-It note Metatron gave him on Kevin’s chest. It has Kevin’s name on it. He also takes the Angel and Demon tablets. After a little hesitation, he leaves Dean behind, alive, to call Kevin’s name, mournfully. But Kevin, his eyes burned out, is quite dead.

Credits

Review: Some mytharc episodes remain relevant on rewatch years later because they have canon that’s still in active effect, or they introduced important recurring characters, or they had some great lines/storylines/characters that are memorable and beloved by fans.

Then there are episodes like “Holy Terror.” The only reason at this point to watch “Holy Terror,” really, is because it’s the episode that kills off Kevin Tran. Every angel character in it besides Castiel is dead and gone for seasons now. The whole storyline has been wrapped up and rendered pretty pointless, since the surviving angels returned to Heaven. The war between them over who got to go back to turned out to be mainly just a cruel and manipulative con by Metatron. Yeah, that’s a bit spoilery. Oh, well.

The Nepotism Duo (Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming) are in their usual smug, California liberal mode here, thinking they’re being so woke when they’re instead condescending, misogynistic and pretty borderline racist. Three female angel characters get fridged in this episode, three, and two of them we only met this one time. Granted, I only liked one of them (Muriel), but that’s part of the problem. Not only do these female characters exist solely to motivate male characters (Bartholomew, Malachi and Castiel, respectively), but two of them are so thoroughly obnoxious that I pretty much guarantee you won’t mind they die only a few minutes after they show up. And I’m sure y’all won’t be too surprised to hear that the only sympathetic (or even interesting) one was the one fridged to motivate Castiel – Muriel.

And then a fourth character gets fridged this week. It’s Kevin, of course, and he is killed off to motivate Dean. As if Dean needed any more motivation, but the idea is to send Dean off on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge:

Now I quite like Dean’s RRoRs, which are always full of “bloody satisfaction,” but I quite dislike when the show fridges women and people of color to put him in that mindset. This one is especially egregious because the intent is also to make Dean look bad.

The idea here (spelled out by Kevin’s claim that trusting Dean “always” backfires on him) is that Dean doesn’t protect Kevin sufficiently from “Ezekiel” and that’s why Kevin dies. The general idea in the first half of season nine is that the deal Dean makes with Ezekiel (i.e., Gadriel) is a bad one and poisonous to everyone around him. But that would only be true if Gadriel were an evil character.

Gadriel is a lot of things that aren’t so great (notably, gullible and selfish). But when he acts ashamed over his backstory and hesitates over killing Kevin, we realize that overall, his intentions are, if not strictly honorable (would he have ever left Sam willingly? One wonders), at least relatively benign toward Dean and Kevin up to that point. He really doesn’t want to kill Kevin and he ends up not killing Dean, even though that really would be the smart thing to do. It’s not as though Dean is just going to let this go.

Up to this episode, the worst thing Gadriel has been doing has been forcing Dean to force Castiel to stay away when Castiel really needs the protection of Dean and the Bunker the most. And Dean really has no choice in this matter. Granted, it sucks for Castiel, but then, if Castiel hadn’t been so gullible with Metatron, Gadriel would still be in prison and the other angels would also still be in Heaven. So, Castiel is not exactly innocent in this whole situation, just because he’s now human. Dean’s dealing with the situation Castiel dropped on him as best he can. But also, Dean’s decision isn’t bad in and of itself. When it turns bad is when Gadriel is corrupted by Metatron, which is not something Dean had any information to predict. That comes right out of left field for him.

Another thing that seems unfair about Kevin’s accusation is that, aside from the fact that he’s really not that good at protecting himself and being out on his own, Kevin himself is toxic to his loved ones. It’s not him, personally, but his role as a Prophet that kills his girlfriend and her roommate and his mother (at least, apparently she’s dead) and even the angels that were supposed to protect him on earth. Kevin is not safe to be around. He could only be protected by someone as high-level as the Brothers Winchester and even then, all three of them knew his lifespan wasn’t liable to be long. Yeah, they have him working for them, but they’d have taken him in, anyway, or found him a safe place to stay. They’ve done it for others.

Sam is practically nonexistent in this episode, even though Jared Padalecki is in more of it than Jensen Ackles. In fact, Sam is practically nonexistent for a lot of the story in the first half of the season. We’re supposed to be sympathetic toward his plight, but he comes off as so clueless about his condition, and not especially interested in exploring what’s going on, that it’s hard to sympathize with his over-the-top outrage when he finally finds out. Which, despite the initial tone of Gadriel’s fakeout near the end, does not actually occur this week.

The show wants to blame Dean because it Tells us that Sam would never, ever, ever want to be possessed by an angel, and that it’s a violation akin to rape (a topic on which these two writers are exceptionally tone-deaf, as the example of April the Reaper makes clear). Except that Sam never has any such traumatic experience to that effect. He remains oblivious for so long because it’s not an awful experience at all and Ezekiel does heal him up a fair bit. What Sam will end up feeling guilty about is his body being used as a tool in Kevin’s death and that’s not the same thing as rape. Especially when that “guilt” becomes just another way for Sam to blame Dean for not letting him go (ie., die) at the beginning of season nine.

Yes, from a philosophical point of view, Sam would hate the idea of being possessed by an angel again after the whole Samifer deal. Yes, Dean’s is a reckless act, with consequences. No, it’s not the smartest thing he’s ever done. But for much of the season, when Dean is scrambling to keep Gadriel happy and everyone else safe, he is out on a limb. But he’s also, when under duress, forced to do things he wouldn’t otherwise do because his loved ones are being held hostage.  It’s hard not to feel empathy for that. It’s harder to feel empathy for Sam acting as though he had a lobotomy half the time and being in LaLa Land.

I have to admit that Gadriel isn’t my favorite role for Jared Padalecki. While I’ve never been a huge fan of Tahmoh Penikett, I thought he did well in the role. Penikett played him with a sort of desperate earnestness. Padalecki somehow didn’t take that up. His version of Gadriel seemed stiff and prissy, instead, and I found that distracting.

Weirdly enough, I found him more convincing in Gadriel’s scenes with Metatron (who is a whole other kind of dumpster fire this season) than in his scenes with Dean. Go figure.

Finally, there’s Metatron. Oh, dear. When we first encountered him in “The Great Escapist” in season eight (Ben Edlund’s final episode for the show, at least so far), after a couple of mentions in previous episodes since season seven, he seemed like a puckish and spunky, if rather frail, old man. A bit like later Prophet Donatello, except that in Metatron’s case, it’s a mask, a con job, and not just because he’s an angel.

This does not make the desperate gullibility with which angels like Castiel and Gadriel choose to believe him look sympathetic. Their blindness is too willful, their excuses too ludicrous, the damage they cause in his name too great. True, Bartholomew and Malachi are no better, but the fact that the angels are willing to slaughter each other (and hapless humans) in their name, as much as in Metatron’s, simply because that would-be leader is an angel, doesn’t make any of the three choices look smart. And it’s not as though joining a faction increases your angelic lifespan.

Metatron is actually quite ambitious and vindictive. In fact, despite his professed love for their stories, he doesn’t really like humans and looks down on them. Nor does he give a hoot what his grand Bond villain schemes do to any part of the SPNverse, let alone Heaven and Earth, and certainly not what they do to individual angels and humans. When he orders the assassination of Kevin Tran, there’s nothing personal in it. He’s just tying up a loose end.

But once his plan exceeds his wildest dreams, he becomes even more ambitious. Initially, it appears he wanted revenge on the angels when he cast them out of Heaven. Now he wants their worship and adoration (having found revenge to be more empty than he’d anticipated). In this episode, he hesitates to aspire to wanting to be like God, but give him time. His ego can encompass that, too.

Fun Lines:

Kevin [to Dean] I always trust you. And I always end up screwed.

Dean: Oh, come on – always? Not always.


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.


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


We need your help!

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

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

A friend and fellow saltgunner, Mandi Gordon, is still trying to do a GoFundMe to get out of a tough situation following her grandmother’s death. Even if you can’t contribute, please consider sharing the link where appropriate. Thanks.

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

Recap of Dean and Michael, and Jack’s boring lost-powers storyline.

Cut to Now. As a French pop song plays on the soundtrack, a man in Raton, NM is cutting up vegetables. He has a dead man, chest staked open, on his kitchen counter. He takes out the man’s liver, breads it, and fries it. There’s a snake (poisonous?) next to the dead man’s head. The cook picks up the snake, commenting that perhaps they can have a nice meal “undisturbed,” this night.

The dead man’s eyes are wide open. This makes things convenient for the man who killed him, as the cook plucks out of dead man’s eyes and pops it into his mouth. As his eyes turn to snake-like slits, he has a vision, in green, of Sam and Dean coming into the house, guns drawn.

He comments, “They’re coming again.” I presume he means Hunters, since there’s no evidence yet that he has crossed paths with the Brothers (let alone any explanation why he survived the encounter). Plucking out the dead man’s other eyeball (“a snack for later”), he slings the snake, called “Felix,” around his neck, puts on his coat, and goes out. We get a final shot of the dead man’s face, now with empty eye sockets.

Cue title cards.

Back to the nice house in New Mexico, where dinner is starting to burn. We see Sam and Dean enter the house in exactly the same way as the cook saw them. What he didn’t see was Castiel and Jack come in behind them. So, he’s not quite as smart as he thought he was. If they catch up to him.

Dean goes upstairs. Castiel and Jack go into the kitchen. Castiel groans at seeing the body and puts his fingers to its forehead for some reason. Jack looks at the dishes on the stove. He says, “He’s cooking body parts … again.”

Subsequent conversation as everyone gathers in the kitchen indicates that, indeed, the cook was referring to them previously. Seems they’ve been hunting him for a while and can’t figure out why he’s always one step ahead of them. Or why his victims never fight back, even though the latest one seems to have been still alive when the cook started slicing and dicing. The dead man’s name is Dennis Barron and it’s his house.

Dean guesses they’re dealing with witchcraft. In comes none other than Rowena, grumping that Dean is “always blaming witches.”

Dean: ‘Cause a lot of times, it’s witches!

He’s got a point, Rowena.

It turns out that Rowena was in the general locality when the rest of TFW 2.0 (oh, come on, people, she’s totally a card-carrying member now) called her up and asked her for help with a tracking spell. They’ve been hunting the cook “for weeks” and Rowena points out that her spell has gotten them closer than before, even if they just missed the guy.

Even so, they have no new clues until Jack picks up a snake cast the cook had previously stepped over and apparently forgotten. Dean comments that the cook may have a snake as a pet.

When Jack starts coughing, everyone stops and looks at him in concern. Jack insists he’s not dying. No one looks particularly convinced. Frankly, I’m more concerned about Dean being out on a hunt, looking for a killer who’s already claimed at least six victims in northern New Mexico. Dean’s on a psychological knife’s edge keeping Michael locked inside his head. Why, oh, why, is he out hunting?

Rowena, notes the blackened lips of the dead man (she hadn’t yet been at one of the crime scenes). Sam says there are also gray patches on the face. Dean snarks that they were concentrating on cannibalism and missing eyes.

Rowena does seem to love fight-flirting with Dean. I wonder if he realizes it? Oh, who am I kidding? It’s Dean. Of course he does.

Back at the motel, Rowena probes Sam on how Jack is not dying (since that was how he was last time she saw him) and how Dean is managing to keep Michael locked up. Sam hedges (saying, for example, that “Dean is Dean” and everything is hunky-dory until they find another way to trap or kill Michael) and tells her they need to get back down to the business of researching their hunt.

At a nearby diner, Dean is admitting to Castiel (which whom she’d been flirting at the crime scene) he’s glad Rowena’s also on the case. Cue the sneak peek in which Castiel asks Dean how he’s really doing. Let’s just say Dean is having a lot of migraines and it’s very distracting. Dean admits that he’s hanging on by his fingernails and barely sleeping. Castiel calls that not “sustainable.” Dean agrees and forces a promise out of Castiel to put Dean in the Malak Box and drop it in the ocean, if it comes to it.

Oh, and Jack is in the bathroom, coughing up blood again. He uses his soul energy to heal himself, which I’m sure will not end well. Oh, I so did not miss this dumb storyline.

When Jack comes back, Dean puts his mask back on and they get back to the case. Castiel calls the murders they’re tracking “ritualistic” and “liturgical.” When Dean and Jack exchange a glance, and Jack gets his usual deer-in-headlights look, an exasperated Castiel says, “It means ‘religious.'”

“Ah,” Dean says. “Yeah. See, that one I knew.”

Castiel speculates that it may not be a monster. It may be a human serial killer. Jack points out that anyone who would do the crimes they’re tracking is a monster, regardless of their species. Dean agrees.

They get a call that Sam and Rowena are on to something and head back to the motel. There, Dean gets a turn at confusing Jack, calling Sam’s infodump “an AV Club presentation.”

I gotta say that Ackles is nailing Dean’s world-weary, insomniac, I’ve-got-a-headache-the-size-of-an-archangel attitude very well this week. He’s a hoot and you just know something’s very wrong underneath.

So, Sam and Rowena have identified the monster as a Gorgon. Dean recognizes the name and cites Medusa. Rowena looks a bit shocked at this flash of erudition and Dean says he got it from the film, Clash of the Titans, which deflates her a bit. Whether that’s Dean practicing his usual self-deprecating sleight-of-hand about his education, who knows? Anyhoo, he easily infodumps the myth about the Gorgon’s look turning humans to stone. Rowena says this is an exaggeration. What Gorgons actually do is use snake venom to paralyze their victims and then eat them. And they like to go on killing-and-eating sprees every few months. This one has been cutting a swath of 17 people across the southern U.S., roughly along the old Route 66.

This brings up the issue of how the Gorgon keeps eluding them. Rowena mentions an obscure bit of lore that the Gorgon, by eating pieces of its victim, “can glimpse the future.” How are they going to catch a creature that can literally see them coming? No one has an idea.

Meanwhile, the Gorgon is stalking his next victim, a trucker, by pretending to be a desperate and hungry hitchhiker (well, he’s hungry, anyway) who’s willing to do anything to get a ride. Yes, that includes giving the trucker a BJ. But once they get in the truck, he instead starts with a kiss on the lips. When the trucker starts to get impatient about how that wasn’t what he had in mind, he becomes paralyzed in mid-word. There was venom on the Gorgon’s lips.

Pleasantly telling him it’s going to hurt, since it takes a while for the venom to make people numb, the Gorgon plucks one of the trucker’s eyes out and eats it.

This is one of those watch-through-your-fingers scenes at which Supernatural has long excelled. You know the trucker’s doomed, but he doesn’t – until it’s too late. And now we know the Gorgon’s modus operandi.

The next day, Dean and Castiel are at the truck, pretending to be FBI, talking to a young police officer, about the case. The trucker is inside, missing both eyes and, of course, dead.

After a nervous case of the giggles dies down, the policeman shares with them an important bit of information. There was a note on the body. It’s addressed to Dean. Dean manages to get it from the officer, who leaves, and read it out loud to Castiel.

The Gorgon says he sees Dean reading the note, alone, beside the truck, and talks about other fragments involving Dean, Sam and Rowena. But he never mentions Castiel or Jack. Sam realizes that they have an in. The Gorgon can’t see angels. They can use Rowena’s spell to track him and then Castiel and Jack can trap him.

Okay … but … Dean has an archangel inside him. How can the Gorgon see him? It’s a plothole, but there you go.

Meanwhile, Rowena says she should whip up an antidote to the Gorgon’s poison, just in case. And she has an idea about how to get the antivenin. She says, with an evil smile. Hmm.

Cut to a vet’s office. Rowena and Sam rush in, Sam holding a fluffy little dog. They claim that the dog is sick and ask for immediate help. They get the vet to take the dog right away by playing a bickering couple. They call him “Jack.”

The vet (well, vet tech) takes the pup into the back, takes his temperature by sticking a thermometer up his butt, and then leaves him on the table to go talk to the “loving” couple. Vets don’t just leave animals like that, but hey, this is a show that sits people up who are bleeding to death so they can do dying monologues. And has male Gorgons. Moving along.

When she goes back out to the waiting room, Sam and Rowena are gone (what, they wouldn’t even stick around to provide a distraction?). In the exam room, the dog turns into Jack, who fishes through the nearby medical shelf until he finds antivenin. When the vet tech comes back to the exam room, the dog is also gone.

Outside, Jack comments that he wishes he’d got the stuff before she’d taken his temperature and gets in the car. After a mutual double-take, Rowena quizzes Sam about Jack’s current condition. Mentioning in passing the transformation spell she did to turn Jack into a dog, she says she noticed some kind of energy “pushing back” against her, something parasitic. Now adjudging herself beyond curious and into “worried,” she demands Sam tell her what’s up.

When Sam hedges some more, she points out that using “mysterious” magic with unknown consequences is “a very on-brand me thing to do” and then further points out that “until very recently, I was the villain.” Ah, Rowena, how I love your willingness to call Sam a hypocrite.

Meanwhile, the Gorgon is monologuing to his snake and his latest victim, who’s tied up and crying in his condo. The Gorgon says he picks on men because women have become much more “cautious” of late. He also suggests that the man is hallucinating, which makes me kinda wonder if this is all in Dean’s head, or something. The man starts screaming for help, so the Gorgon paralyzes him and goes looking for the oven.

Meanwhile, Sam is checking in with Maggie (ugh). She infodumps about how the Gorgon can only be killed by beheading with a silver sword. Also, Mary is on her way back from a case in Oregon.

I just realized why the Gorgon guy looks “familiar.” They’re doing the Andrew Cunanan murder spree, hence all the gay predator vibes and the reference earlier in the episode to human monsters. I’m kinda eh about this idea. I’m not sure TV needs any more gay killer stereotypes.

Anyhoo, Sam thanks Maggie for all her help (oops, Redshirt Clean-up on Aisle 3 alert) and hangs up. He relays the info about the silver sword to the rest of TFW as Rowena wraps up her location spell and tells them the Gorgon is nearby, not moving. Dean wonders if they need to worry about “things” coming out of the Gorgon’s neck once they cut off his head. Sam scoffs that this is movie exaggeration, but legend actually has Pegasus and Chrysaor, among other things, springing out (you remember Chrysaor, right? The golden sword from last episode?). Also, as Dean wisely points out, “We can’t be sure.”

Anyhoo, when the Gorgon hears the doorbell, he tells the man he was previously torturing (who is either unconscious or dead), “I’m expecting anyone – are you?” Castiel kicks down one door and when the Gorgon tries to run, Jack appears in the other one.

The Gorgon chuckles and claims it’s not fair: “You’re not human.”

“And you’re a monster,” Jack says.

“Demigod, actually,” the Gorgon corrects him, while putting his snake in his satchel, which, strictly speaking, is true. I was wondering if the show would even remember that. The Gorgon further states that while he didn’t see him coming, he can “see” Jack now.

Anyhoo, while Castiel checks the Gorgon’s victim and gives him the antidote, the Gorgon tells Jack a story. Castiel helps the man out of harm’s way (so, yeah, he was unconscious, not dead). Meanwhile, the Gorgon says there was once a chicken whose eggs were constantly being eaten by a snake. Finally, there was only one egg left, but the snake got that, too. Unfortunately, for the snake, though the chicken had guarded the egg well, it was really a trap. The chicken had hard-boiled it and the snake choked to death.

When Castiel growls at him to get to the point, the Gorgon says, “I can’t tell if he’s the chicken or the snake.”

Castiel attacks the Gorgon and, after a brief fight, gets “kissed” and collapses. Furious, Jack blindly attacks the Gorgon and gets slammed into a cabinet. When the Brothers come in, the Gorgon only acknowledges Dean: “Hello, Dean. Wish I could say it’s a pleasure to meet you.”

Because TV fights are usually stupid, Sam attacks first (everybody really should just pile on the monster) and gets knocked down. Dean attacks and does best of all, nearly beating the Gorgon. But the Gorgon gets the drop on him and slams him into a cabinet – twice. Really hard. Dean goes down, unconscious.

Sam cries out in horror and attacks the Gorgon, but gets knocked flying. The Gorgon then grabs his bag and heads out into the hallway … where Jack slices off his head out of nowhere. Bye-bye Gorgon.

Jack rushes to Castiel, while Sam rushes to Dean. Jack tries the antidote out on Castiel (Castiel had it in his coat pocket), but it doesn’t appear to work. So, Jack uses his soul power to heal Castiel. This is quite stupid. If the poison actually worked on Castiel (why would it work on an angel?), the antidote should, too.

Meanwhile, Sam is discovering that Dean is in a deep coma and not coming out of it. TFW 2.0 rushes back to the Bunker, where Maggie asks if Dean is okay. Sam says no, that Dean has a head injury. For once, I can kinda understand Maggie’s confusion – the Brothers get knocked out all the time, often for hours.

Castiel can’t heal Dean because he supposedly can’t even get inside Dean’s head (yes, well, having an archangel inside does that). Jack offers to heal Dean the way he healed Castiel, but Castiel forbids it. Castiel says Jack has already burned off too much of his soul, already. I’m wondering why this didn’t come up on the hours-long car ride back. Crestfallen, Jack leaves the room.

Rowena sees Jack leave, but has nothing to offer save advice about washing Dean’s wounds (and a warning to Sam about how Jack is currently sustaining himself, now she realizes what it is). Really? Most powerful witch in the world and no healing spells? How about at least taking Dean to the hospital? They could treat him there.

Of course, Dean is unlikely to die any time soon with an archangel inside him, but more importantly, with Dean unconscious, what is that archangel doing? Maybe TFW should slap some angel cuffs on Dean just in case? But nope. Doesn’t occur to anyone. Not even when Dean convulses – and we get a flash of Michael beating on the inside of his cage – does Sam buy a clue.

While Rowena does research (they kept the Gorgon’s snake, by the way, and yes, it’s cute), Jack sits in his room and mopes. Castiel comes in to cheer him up. Jack is really shocked that Dean is so badly hurt: “It’s Dean. It was just a fight.” Castiel points out there’s always a “risk” when they go on hunts. Which brings us back to why the hell was Dean out hunting with Michael in his head, when there was a houseful of Hunters who could have been out there in his place? But nobody asks this pertinent question.

Castiel says that Sam and Dean are human, mortal, and that even the “brightest beings,” while they “burn bright,” they are gone before their time. Castiel says that Dean will wake up (ignoring Jack’s concern about Michael if Dean doesn’t) and then it’s best to appreciate the time everyone has together.

Jack wonders what the point is of being a “cosmic being” if everyone you love dies. Don’t worry, Jack – you’re not likely to outlive Sam and Dean. They’re the heroes of the show.

Jack mopes that he has powers, but can’t use them to help those he loves. He feels selfish. He also worries about the story the Gorgon told him (turns out he kept the snake). Castiel explains that the story is mostly about greed, but it’s also about “killing the thing you love to kill the thing you hate.”

This mopefest is interrupted by Dean screaming in the distance. Castiel and Jack rush to the infirmary to find Sam trying to calm Dean, who is pretty literally ripping the place apart, screaming “WHERE IS HE?!!” He doesn’t have his balance back, but he sure is pissed.

Sam tries to reassure Dean that he’s back in the Bunker (i.e., safe). Unsettlingly, Dean roars back, “I KNOW WHERE I AM!” He does not mean the Gorgon. Then he turns to them, looking devastated, and says five scary words: “He’s gone! Michael … he’s gone!”

We get a flash of the cage inside Dean’s head, with the door busted wide open.

Dean is horrified and at first, blames himself. But when Castiel tries to reassure him, Dean turns on a dime to pure rage at Sam: “I told you! I told you to let me take that coffin ride to the bottom of the ocean!” And yeah, he’s not wrong.

Alas, there’s no time for anyone to absorb that, as a scream of terror from another part of the Bunker alerts them just how wrong Dean is not. It’s Maggie. They rush to the library, where everyone is dead except for Maggie. She comes running to them, but is remote-smote (Michael’s signature power) right in front of Sam.

Out strolls Rowena, with blood on her neck. She says, “Hello, boys” and her eyes glow white. Michael.

Dean calls out Michael in his new vessel and Castiel tries to order Michael to let Rowena go. Michael snarks that Rowena is just fine, “sturdier than she looks,” and speculates that all the centuries of magic have made her a pretty strong vessel. Michael then monologues about why Rowena said yes (after an odd bit to Dean about how he must “appreciate” Michael’s choice of a new vessel in Rowena). It turned out Michael (played by Ackles inside Rowena’s head) threatened to kill everyone she loved in the Bunker if she didn’t say yes – well, after threatening to kill her, to which she laughed and said Sam was fated to do that. Yeah, we already kinda knew Rowena had a soft spot for the rest of TFW 2.0, but in the rest of this hot mess of an episode, the writers choose to drive this particular point home. I will admit, though, that I enjoyed Ruth Connell’s take on Michael.

Michael then says, “I had no intention of keeping my word, but I think she knew that.”

When Michael snarks that Dean should have done the Malak Box “while he had the chance,” Dean tells Sam to get the angel cuffs. Obviously, Michael doesn’t let them do that. He/she immobilizes and tortures Dean, Sam and Castiel (but ignores Jack for some reason). Jack then grabs an angel sword and calls out Michael.

Michael zaps Jack. Jack’s eyes glow and he zaps her back, releasing the rest of TFW 2.0. Michael shrugs that Jack is burning off his soul and it will be gone soon enough. There’s some lame zapping back and forth, bragging from Michael, and speechifying from Jack (in comparison, that dodgy wirework from last season’s finale is Emmy-award-winning), before Jack grabs Rowena and expels Michael from her. Then he apparently reduces the glowing light of Michael and his grace to a tiny stream that he inhales.

Then he turns around and declares he’s “me again” as his eyes glow.

Credits

Ratings for this week went down a bit to a 0.4/2 and 1.28 million (which may be a series low for audience). Even so, it came in second in audience and tied for second (with Supergirl) for demo this week. Go figure.

The promo for next week is up.

Review

So, that happened.

This show, bless its heart, has had a talent over the years for reinventing itself. Part of that, of course, stems from the show, at its core, being a meta commentary on the horror genre. As horror has changed, so has Supernatural. The other part has been its being a hybrid procedural, in which it had MOTW episodes and serialized episodes and ones in between.

Unfortunately, the thing with experiments is that they don’t all work. I don’t even know if this episode was intended to be an experiment, but damn, did it not work.

Were there enjoyable parts of the episode? Absolutely. Dean and Castiel’s cheerfully dysfunctional parenting of Jack while on the hunt was hysterical and it looks as though the show’s finally decided to make its MOTWs scary again. It wasn’t a total cringefest along the lines of “Bitten” or “Bloodlines.” The episode was still recognizably Supernatural. It was just an episode with some really serious plotting and canon issues.

Let’s start with the ending. I’d have called it a cliffhanger ending if next week didn’t look like a “normal” MOTW. Then again, this week was advertised as one, too, so there you go.

Jack … oh, dear. I actually quite like Jack, but I like very specific things about Jack. I like him when he is a member of the family (similarly, I like Rowena best when she’s a part of TFW and not so much when she’s a villain). That’s where Alexander Calvert’s bro chemistry with the rest of the main/recurring cast shines through. Jack as a budding Hunter, as someone who is learning how to love and how to strategize and how to navigate the world – in other words, Jack with character growth and a learning curve? I like that Jack.

Jack with superpowers I don’t like at all. And I really hate the incessant banging away at his cosmic beingness at the exact same time we get the “Jack is dying” plot. He’s not Schrodinger’s Naphil, show. Make up your damned minds. Either he’s dying or he’s immortal. He can’t be both.

The other problem is that Jack is sweet, but he’s dumb. I mean, I get why. He’s a baby. But the kid is less than two years old. Kumquats can still outwit him at this point. Look how easily Lucifer took him down and yet, here he is again, thinking he can just use powers to solve every problem. Because that’s worked out so well so far.

It is therefore quite insulting (on top of having Jack steal Dean’s storyline and all the canon carnage it entails, but one disaster at a time) and unsatisfying to have Jack kill Michael just like that. In fact, I don’t actually buy that Jack has killed Michael.

Yes, Jack with his powers is impressive, but on top of having cosmic powers, Michael is also old and wise and cunning. I’ve seen fans speculate that Michael got cocky and arrogant and eh, I don’t see it. Not with Jack, anyway. Michael’s been plenty arrogant with Dean, and it’s gotten him into plenty of trouble with his Chosen Sword, but he was still nigh-impossible to beat. He was one step ahead of everyone, nearly at all times.

If this character had been named “Lucifer” or “Crowley,” would we have believed he was truly dead? Oh, hell, no. So, it’s ridiculous to think that Michael is. And yet, the way the show has been with this character, I wouldn’t be very surprised if this really were the end for Michael. They’ve wasted this character so, so much.

The other thing that has me rolling my eyes (while simultaneously making me very suspicious) is that the last time Jack tried to restart his powers with archangel grace, it nearly killed him. Now, it just worked? Hmm. Hence that cliffhanger feel.

Speaking of dumb, damn, Sam, that Idiot Ball looked heavy this week (poor Castiel, despite getting pwned by the MOTW, still looked like a genius in comparison). The episode toyed a bit with the fact that none of this would have happened if Sam had backed Dean with the Malak Box. Or at least brought angel cuffs with them on hunts in case Dean lost consciousness or otherwise lost control (or even used them in the infirmary, jeez, Sam). The box option was tragic, but it was a sure thing, a sure way to save the world. But Sam had to have his world-saving cake and his brother, too, and just as Dean warned him, Michael got out.

Well, unless Jack resurrects them next week, I guess we don’t have to deal with the Sam-as-Hunter-Central storyline, anymore. Seeing as how they’re all dead (including Maggie – yay) and it’s Sam’s fault.

Or are they? There were various references inside the story itself to hallucinations and things not being as they seemed. For a start, this is the same writer who gave us this scene a mere four episodes ago:

Let’s all keep in mind that not once does Billie actually say Michael will kill Dean (and by the way, Rowena’s able to call Michael’s first bluff because of similar info Billie gave her). She says that Michael will escape his mind and use him as a vessel to burn the world, unless he goes into the box. Dean, as I pointed out at the time, will be immortal. He just will experience what Michael threatened Rowena with. And by the way, Michael can’t kill Sam if Sam is invariably fated to kill Rowena, so … yeah.

Well, Michael did escape Dean’s mind, but what about the rest? Michael indicated to Rowena that he had lost interest in Dean as his vessel. This … doesn’t pass the sniff test. It’s basically Michael admitting defeat with a mere human and Michael never does that. If the door’s closed, he finds a window, but he doesn’t just give up.

Also, if Michael was able to escape the cage inside Dean’s mind, that should have meant he could retake control of Dean’s body at that point. Why didn’t he? Dean wasn’t restrained in any way that Michael couldn’t deal with (no angel cuffs). Hell, even if we go along with the idea that he possessed Rowena, no way would he kill Dean that quickly. He’d kill everyone else slowly and make Dean watch. And it makes no sense whatsoever that Michael wouldn’t include Jack in that pain. He did at the beginning of “Nihilism.” You know, the episode written by the same writer.

I therefore have to wonder if some kind of mind-fuck is going on and if so, where we (and Dean) parted ways with the show’s reality. It makes no sense that the show, that the very same writer, would ditch carefully laid-out canon just four episodes later. In context with what we were explicitly told and shown four episodes ago, Jack killing Michael (or even successfully exorcising him) makes no sense whatsoever. Admittedly, this is a show that has ditched canon like a prom dress at an after hours party, but generally, it occurs at least half a season later and under different writer management.

But all this being some elaborate Michael plan to get Dean back under his thumb? That makes sense to me. Granted, it doesn’t make the plotting (especially the inconsistent and sometimes nonexistent foreshadowing and subtext) in this episode any better. But at least it tracks for the general storyline. I don’t get using the term “Ouroboros” (a symbol of a serpent eating its own tail, which represents eternity) for Jack getting his powers back. I do get it for Michael trying once again to “tame” his chosen vessel.

Finally, let’s talk about the MOTW. The actor, Philippe Bowgen (as the Gorgon, Noah Ophis), did a good job getting the creep across.  And the general idea of the Brothers chasing a killer over several weeks and several states, never quite sure if they’re even chasing something supernatural, was intriguing. Even though I had issues with the writing for him (all that endless monologuing, ugh, and then he gets killed off just like that, after delivering a weird story), and was skeptical of the gay predator angle, Bowgen sold it well, I thought.

At first, I wasn’t impressed by the idea that this MOTW could be so dangerous a fighter once cornered. The Gorgon is clearly a lowlife. There’s really no reason to run if he’s not afraid of the Hunters chasing him. Also, his focus on Dean was really strange.

Then I remembered the Djinn we had this season (“Nightmare Logic”). You remember him – Michael’s creature? Michael’s enhanced creature? What if Michael wasn’t just experimenting on monsters, but on demigods, as well? I suppose it’s possible the pagan gods will make a reappearance, more powerful than before, thanks to Michael’s tinkering. But that may just be wishful thinking.

Anyhoo, this is one of those episodes where the foreshadowing/subtext/whatever needed to be a whole lot clearer. I mean, if you’re going to have a Gorgon this week and mention Medusa, you really should also mention that you had a sword connected  to Medusa last week, because absolutely will the audience remember that.

I felt as though there was a lot of handwaving about the snake-and-chicken storyline, while things like the Gorgon’s strangely formidable defense and obsession with Dean (not to mention his just throwing everyone else about while intentionally knocking Dean out). I feel as though this storyline is like the Ghost!Bobby one in season seven, where it will get muddied and dragged out so long that by the time we find out what the hell is going on (or even that something is going on), we’ll be so irritated that it won’t feel satisfying.

But hey, maybe this will all make sense by the end of the season. I just hope it makes sense because it doesn’t suck.


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.


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


We need your help!

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

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

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


[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


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.


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


We need your help!

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

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

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


We need your help!

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

My collected recaps and reviews of 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


We need your help!

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

My collected recaps and reviews of 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


We need your help!

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

My collected recaps and reviews of 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


We need your help!

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

My collected recaps and reviews of 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


We need your help!

Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. I’ll be posting notes about my research all month long on Patreon.


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.


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