The Official Supernatural: “#THINMAN” (9.15) Retro Recap and Review

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According to recent reports from Vancouver, the cast returned to work the first week of August (about two weeks late). Jensen Ackles also explained in a recent virtual “fan experience” through Creation Con that the writing for the last two episodes has been tweaked to reflect recent events (i.e., the Coronavirus pandemic). With these writers, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. He also said that 15.19 will be a season finale, while 15.20 is more like a series finale. In an already truncated final season, that likely means we’ll get stuck with some filler clips episode as the last one. Yay.

The show is returning October 8 and the series finale will be November 19. Yes, it’s back on Thursdays. If I manage to stay on track, I should be able to post the season nine finale retro review right after the show comes back on Sunday, then bring in the newest season five recap and review the following Thursday.

If you’re enjoying these articles and reviews, any contributions are welcome. Even in a pandemic, the kitties still gotta eat.

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

Recap: Then recap of the Hellhounds/Ghostfacers (from waaayyy back, when the Brothers were much, much younger), then of the Brothers’ current feud (it makes Sam look very bad).

Cut to Now in Springdale, WA. A young girl in an upstairs room (as seen through the window by StalkerVision) is doing selfies and dancing to music (The Wind and the Waves’ “This House Is a Hotel”). Hearing a thump downstairs, she goes to check the hallway, calling for her mother. No answer, she goes back inside her room. As she checks her selfies, she spots a faceless figure in a mask standing behind her. Shocked, she turns to see the figure, then the lights go out. Immediately, she retreats to her closet and calls 911. But as she’s trying to talk to the operator, someone inside the closet kills her from behind with a knife.

Cue title cards.

At the Bunker, Sam is on the computer when Dean comes out with a duffel bag. Dean says he’ll be back in a few days; he’s off on a hunt. When Sam asks why Dean is going alone, Dean (channeling a significant portion of the audience, I’m quite sure) says that he doesn’t know what Sam wants these days. He had assumed, since Sam clearly doesn’t want to be around him, that Sam wouldn’t want to go on the hunt with him. Sam indicates otherwise, so Dean, rather perfunctorily, infodump-fills him in (there will come a time when Dean will just go without him).

Dean shows him the photo of Doomed Teaser Girl and her stalker-killer (which Dean says was leaked from the crime scene). He figures it’s a ghost. Sam starts to get his stuff together and passive-aggressively makes Dean guess that he’s coming along. Good times, as Dean says later in this episode.

In Springdale, the Brothers are in FBI mufti, interviewing the girl’s mother, Betty Smiles. The girl’s name was Casey. Sam asks the usual questions, while Dean does some EMF, and Betty responds strangely to Sam’s questions. She anticipates his question about the cold spots. Dean asks her why she mentioned them. She says her daughter’s been dead three days, the police have been useless, and she can’t afford a PI, so when some “supernaturalists” came calling, she answered their questions. Hmm, another Hunter?

When Dean asks the name of the supernaturalists, guess what name he gets? That’s right – the Ghostfacers. And their van is right nearby (they have an in-person interview that day with Grieving Mom). Dean is pissed.

In a diner are Ed and Harry. But while Ed is talking about the likes and followers on their site, Harry is distracted by stalking an ex-girlfriend on Facebook. Her new profile pic shows a guy’s arm around her shoulders and he’s jealous.

He’s also less-than-pleased when the Winchesters show up and corner them in the booth. When a tall, weedy-looking bus boy goes to freshen their coffee and take new orders, Dean tells him they’re ready for the check. Right after, the bus boy gets quietly reamed out by his manager for using dirty plates.

Harry blusters and shows Dean a small pistol in his belt. Dean is unimpressed, snarking about Harry’s “treasure trail” (bleh), and calling him and Ed “fame whores” who are bothering a grieving mom. Sam backs him up (for once). It comes out that the other Ghostfacers got “dropped” (though they’re still alive) and also, that Ed and Harry don’t believe the MOTW is a ghost. Unimpressed by Harry’s bravado, the Brothers threaten him and Ed again, and leave.

Back at their motel, Sam brings up the Ghostfacers’ website and finds out they’ve written a book: The Skinny on Thinman. Based on the Slenderman phenomenon from Something Awful about 11 years ago, the Thinman allegedly “lurks in the background of people’s lives and then kills them.” Sam thinks there is something to this, since people have reported sightings from all of the world. This seems a tad gullible of Sam, considering the first time he and Dean encountered Ed and Harry, they were involved in the inadvertent creation of a literal urban legend that came to life. Dean says he still thinks it’s a ghost, and that the Veil could be throwing out all sorts of weird entities. He starts looking through the local news for possible candidates.

Back in the dead girl’s room, Ed and Harry are doing their show. This is somewhat complicated by Harry obsessing on his phone, stalking his ex-girlfriend Dana’s new love life via Facebook (everyone’s life looks perfect on Facebook). Ed keeps trying to talk down Harry, who manically claims to be obsessed with becoming famous from the case. When Harry talks about how they’re going to finally find Thinman (“I can smell his musk!” he exclaims while sniffing Doomed Teaser Girl’s closet clothes), Ed suddenly gets pensive and suggests that they “bail” on this particular ghost hunt. With Sam and Dean in town, clearly it’s “serious” and “I don’t want my knees blown off by Sam and Dean.” But there seems to be something else going on with him, too.

Harry gets mad. He wants to get one over on the Winchesters, calling them “jockstraps” and declaring that “they don’t even have a Twitter!” But when he mentions all the “haters,” Dana’s name is most prominent, even though he tries to cover by mentioning Maggie and Spruce, from “Ghostfacers!” and the webseries, who left the Ghostfacers for “normal” (and presumably much safer) lives. Now that he and Ed are about to be famous, will Maggie and Spruce get to share in that? In meeting Dr. Phil? Nooooo.

The two of them then get down to work. Behind the camera, Harry films Ed coming out of the girl’s closet (yes, really) to talk about how young girls’ lives should be full of “giggles and joy,” not “bloood.” Harry stops the camera to praise Ed’s OTT performance (“You are so money!”), crowing that he and Ed will need snorkles because they will be so surrounded by hot women and their – this potentially pornographic rant is (thankfully) interrupted by Grieving Mom coming in with lemonade for them. It is a deeply awkward and unpleasant moment, especially when Ed and Harry completely switch gears and turn back into pleasant and polite young man. You can almost see them putting the masks back on.

Cut to Sam and Dean, who are back at their motel, researching the case and any other cases that might be connected to it. Dean has turned up three “unnatural deaths” in Springhill in the past six months, but none seems to be related to this one, nor are they violent. Sam says he’s found a pattern of deaths attributed to Thinman. He shows up in photos of people who later die, but most of these photos are obviously doctored after the fact by having had a Thinman figure (a tall, faceless figure in a dark coat) inserted into the background. But Casey’s photo wasn’t doctored. The figure in hers was real.

Dean is confused about how the phenomenon can be “both real and fake at the same time.” But as Sam points out, the death is real, so they go with that. She took the photo and then what? Who uploaded it? Sam says some unknown person with a blocked IP posted it to a Thinman fan forum. After snarking about the very existence of Thinman fan forums, Dean points out that ghosts don’t upload photos, so there’s a lead.

Off to the police station they go in their FBI suits, where they get a deputy to give them the box of files on the case. They ask about the sheriff, but the deputy says the sheriff is out hunting in the woods.

Sam notes that the phone is cracked and the deputy says it came in that way, that the call “cut off” at 11:59 pm. Dean notes that the coroner claims Casey died at midnight (that’s pretty exact), but Sam says the photo was put up around 2am. So, again, who put it up on the forum and how did the phone get cracked?

The deputy suggests the supernatural as a cause. It seems Ed and Harry have already been around and continue to poison the witness pool with their Thinman theory. They even gave the deputy a copy of their book. Dean stalks out in disgust.

Cut to the Apple Diner (where the brothers ate in a previous scene) that night. It’s closed and the manager is counting up the receipts. A repeated tapping on the door distracts him, so he checks, but no one’s there. He then checks the security camera footage to see what’s up and gets a flash of a Thinman figure outside that then appears right behind him. As he turns around, it slashes his throat and then walks away.

The next morning, the Brothers enter the diner to find that the deputy has allowed Ed and Harry to come in and start filming the dead manager’s body (we get a quick shot of it, lying in a huge pool of blood), thus thoroughly contaminating the crime scene. He claims that “a few counties over,” the police brought in a psychic who helped find the body of a local boy. Dean just glares at him, then goes over to roust the Ghostfacers, while Sam gets the deputy to show him the security footage.

Dean’s attempt to get rid of Ed and Harry fails when they threaten to out him as a fake FBI agent and his attempt to appeal to their sense of decency reveals that … well … they don’t have any. His suggestion that they might create a Tulpa (the manufactured MOTW in “Hell House”) also falls on deaf ears as they insist that the lore changes so quickly that a Tulpa could never get started.

At this point, they fill a (very reluctant) Dean in on the basic lore. Thinman is “part man, part tree.” No, he’s “the nightmare of an autistic boy.” And so on. At this point, Dean interrupts them and says that they “have no idea what Thinman is,” then walks off across the diner when the deputy calls out that there is something on the security camera. Sam shows Dean the footage the manager saw just before he was killed and then of the manager’s killing, just as Ed and Harry come up behind Dean. Dean says, so maybe it’s not a ghost, but now they have to figure out how the figure got from the parking lot into the locked diner – and so quickly.

Ed and Harry, momentarily taken aback by the footage, make some noises about the legend and not having registered EMF, then leave quickly while Dean asks to see the footage again. In their Ghostfacers van later that night, Harry is jubilant that they have a hit (even though every time they’ve stumbled on a real hunt in the past, they’ve lost a member. Violently). As he goes to suit up (to hunt down Thinman “in the woods, obvi,” since “Thinman hangs out by trees and the woods are where trees hang out”), he mentions that someone has already posted the footage from the diner up on the Thinman fan page. Ed finds this disconcerting, but Harry is oblivious to his unease, caught up in the excitement of the hunt, and the lure of fame and fortune.

Ed tries to point out that people have died at this point and that it’s probably best to just let Sam and Dean take care of it (saying, correctly, Sam and Dean are the real pros here). Harry gets mad.

Harry: Quit raining on my rainbow!

Ed: Rainbows can’t happen without rain.

Back at the motel, over beers and takeout, Sam is speculating that the teleporting into the diner implies demons. Dean allows that this is definitely possible: “a demon that likes stabbing and watching YouTube.”

Sam has found the video Harry mentioned in the previous scene. He is appalled that it already has 2000 views. Dean says that’s because “people are sick” (well, he’s not wrong). Sam wonders how videos went from “that baby chimp falling out of a tree to Killer Candid Camera.”

Dean then reminiscences about Sam jumping off a roof, age five, dressed up as Batman. Sam notes that Dean did it first, but Dean says he was nine and he was dressed as Superman. “Everybody knows Batman can’t fly.” Sam complains that he broke his arm and Dean points out that he then “drove” Sam to the ER on the handlebars of his bike.

“Good times!” Dean says rather ruefully, swigging his beer (boy, have I been using that phrase a lot this year). Sam grudgingly allows, “Yeah, they were.” This brotherly moment, such as it is, is interrupted by a knock on the door. It’s Ed.

Ed: I gotta tell you guys something important. And then the case is yours.

In the park, which is well-lit and has people putting groceries in their cars and driving around, Harry is filming himself as a “solo Ghostfacer” and then going down a broad path, saying portentious things like “All alone, deep in the woods, a man could lose his marbles, being so close to the Blade of Doom. Lucky for us, I’m really good at Marbles.” This is a pretty obvious callback to the viral Slenderman webseries, Marble Hornets, but there also seems to be a subtle foreshadowing for the First Blade storyline that has been MIA for a few episodes.

At the motel, Ed is sitting on a bed, while the Brothers stand over him, explaining that “either you bleed Ghostfacers red or you don’t.” He talks about how Spruce wanted to do a startup and Maggie got into roller derby, and that was okay. But he couldn’t let Harry go, especially not to a Trust Fund Baby like his girlfriend. He complains that she called the Ghostfacers “stupid.”

Unimpressed, Dean calls this “Sad Times at Bitchmont High” (obviously a ref to 80s flick Fast Times at Ridgemont High) and tells him to move on. So, Ed admits that “I made up Thinman” to prevent Harry from leaving the Ghostfacers. He faked up one case and posted it online, but then other people latched onto it and it blew up.

Meanwhile, Harry is being stalked by a tall, thin, faceless figure.

Sam tells Ed that he has to tell Harry (“Trust me, secrets ruin relationships”) and Dean does a double-take at Sam’s vehemence. Sam is obviously making Ed’s admission about his own angst over Dean lying about Gadriel. But Sam has kept many a secret from Dean (remember Ruby?) and trust me, he will have completely forgotten this lesson by season ten.

Ed whines that if he tells Harry it’s not real, then the two of them will be reduced again to two ordinary guys, “loose puffs,” and Harry will leave the Ghostfacers. Sam is adamant. Ed has to tell his friend what’s up.

The Brothers then ask where Harry is. They’re disgusted to hear that Ed left him in the woods to go hunt Thinman alone, even after Ed insists that the “woods” is actually a well-frequented parking lot behind a grocery store. However manufactured the phenomenon, something about it is now real and killing people. They go off to look for Harry.

In the woods, Harry finds a pile of sticks in a star pattern that look as though they’ve been laid out for a campfire. This is a reference to The Blair Witch Project (1999), whose creators are damned lucky Karl Edward Wagner died five years before they ripped off his classic Mythos story, “Sticks,” and therefore couldn’t sue them.

Hearing some twigs breaking, an excited Harry goes to investigate, then turns back to find the pile rearranged. Rather than getting scared and running out of the woods (like a sensible person), he turns the camera on himself and intones, “We. Are Not. Alone.” At that moment, the tall figure appears over his shoulder and slashes him in the stomach when he turns around. He gets away and runs out of the woods, almost getting hit by the Impala. As he collapses, the Brothers get out and rush to his aid, while Ed looks on in horror.

The slash turns out to be superficial (there’ll be no mention of it again after this scene) and Sam is quickly able to bandage it up. Harry talks about “stapling” it back at the motel, which gets a double-take from Sam and Ed. Dean comes up, having found tire tracks in the woods and taken a photo of them.

This, of course, confuses Harry, who starts questioning the Brothers’ intelligence for not realizing that Thinman is a supernatural being who doesn’t drive. Dean shoots Ed a hard look.

Cut back to the motel, where Ed has just told Harry the truth and Harry is (predictably) freaking out. Harry says that Ed’s deception “crashed the Jenga tower of our lives!” He was going to marry Dana. Now he’s run off with Ed to “live a lie” and he’s put his life in danger for nothing (which is not an attitude he had before).

Ed says that Harry could always go back to Dana and apologize, but Harry insists it’s too late. Ed then tries to mitigate what he did by saying that there was never a guarantee that Thinman was real (though he does admit that he “had some inside knowledge” about it), but they could “keep it going for the fans.”

Harry refuses: “You made a chump out of me … I can’t trust you, anymore, Ed.” Ed tries to talk him out of it, but only digs himself deeper. So, he goes for coffee. Meeting Sam out in the hallway, where Sam asks him how it went, Ed has no words.

Sam goes in to talk to Harry. Harry is upset and isn’t sure how to proceed. Sam says that “there are things you can forgive and things you can’t.” When Harry asks which one is which, Sam says that’s up to Harry. Dean then comes in and says he’s got a lead on the tire tracks. Sam leaves with him.

Out in the hallway, Dean says the tires belong to a 1989 Geo Metro and there’s only one such car in town. The deputy told him it belongs to a night security guard at the local mill. Sam’s confused about how a Tulpa could have a car and a job. Dean says they might as well find out what’s going on, so off they go.

Ed has been hiding around the corner with coffee, eavesdropping. As soon as they leave, he goes back into the motel room to find Harry getting ready to leave. Harry, doing a complete 180 from his aggressive attitude earlier in the episode, is quite happy to let Sam and Dean take care of things now. When Ed says he wants to help them solve the case, Harry brutally says that Ed would just “screw things up.”

Ed points out that before they turned into fame whores, they wanted to “help people” and he just wants to “make things right.” This persuades Harry to come along: “We can make things right.”

The Brothers arrive at the mill, where they find the deputy. He insists that with the sheriff “AWOL,” he’s worried about his job and wants to help the FBI solve the case. Dean rather reluctantly agrees. He and Sam go ahead of the deputy into the mill, guns drawn. This gives the deputy the perfect opportunity to taser them with both hands: “Always wanted to use these things.”

Dean wakes up handcuffed to a chair, while the deputy is setting up a camera and lights, singing “Camptown Ladies” without the words except “doo-dah.” Sam is tied to a chair near Dean, away from the camera. Dean tries to get the deputy to talk by calling him out as “Thinman” while the deputy is pulling a shower-curtain-style woodsy background out behind Dean. The deputy just keeps on singing.

Dean: Sam, make him stop.

Sam asks if the guy is a demon and how he “teleported” into the diner. This gets two words out of him: “team effort.” A tall figure in a mask and wearing a dark coat walks in. It’s the busboy from the diner. Thinman is two humans, not one supernatural being.

Sam recognizes the busboy, Roger, while Dean references the trope they’re apeing – the movie Scream (which, personally, I’ve always thought was overrated).

Once the bus boy is unmasked, he’s pretty talkative. He killed his boss because he was a “dick” and Casey because she turned him down for a date. Dean notices a body wrapped in plastic nearby, with a sheriff’s cap on top of it. The busboy also killed the sheriff, though the deputy cheerfully admits was in on it: “He’s the psycho. I’m the visionary.” They met in a bar, got talking, found Thinman online, blogged a bit, and then decided to make it real.

The clueless deputy starts to brag about how everyone underestimates him (like the sheriff), how satisfying it is to get one over on two “feds” who looked down on him and used him as their gofer (too stupid to realize that it’s obvious at this point Sam and Dean aren’t feds).

He and his partner, as they whine about feeling “invisible” in a small town, are also oblivious to the glances the Brothers are signalling to each other. Sam slowly cuts himself free while calling them out on their “cosplay” and Dean distracts the two psychos by insulting them. Dean tells them that they’re not really Thinman, just copy cats. Roger begs to differ, saying that Dean will soon be too dead to tell anyone, anyway.

Sam starts to look alarmed as the deputy gets behind the camera and Roger positions himself behind Dean’s chair, putting on his mask to cut Dean’s throat live. But as Sam shouts, “Don’t!” a noise outside distracts the two psychos. Putting duct tape over Sam and Dean’s mouths, they go to investigate.

As we all know, that’s a huge mistake. You never want to leave Sam and Dean alone tied to chairs. They won’t be there when you get back.

The noise, of course, is Ed and Harry coming in with flashlights. Harry encounters Roger (in the mask) first. Roger kicks Harry in the nuts and then pins him against a large industrial fan, about to cut his throat when Ed shows up with a gun to his Roger’s head. But while Ed and Harry argue over how to pronounce the word “meme,” and Ed calls Roger a wannabe, the deputy comes up and knocks Ed down.

As they two psychos force Ed and Harry back to their filming location, the deputy is pontificating about how this is a “Frankenstein situation” where Ed and Harry have created the monster that will kill them. The original plan was to let one of them live, but, well, change of plan. Now the deputy and Roger are going to kill Ed and Harry, and then the secret that Ed created Thinman will die with him. This way, the deputy and Roger can claim the urban legend for themselves.

This speech is interrupted by the discovery that, yup, Sam and Dean have escaped. The Brothers may have had a senior moment and allowed the deputy to get the drop on them before, but that moment’s over.

Sam grabs the deputy, while Roger tries to grab Harry for leverage. As Sam knocks the deputy down, Dean comes up behind Roger and peels him right off Harry. Easily overpowering Roger, he slowly makes Roger stab himself to death as Roger begs and then lets him settle on the ground. The one thing I really don’t like about this shot is that we don’t get the look on Dean’s face as the knife goes in. I get that they wanted to give the guest star his moment, but a less-tight shot could have done that just as well. It’s a weird choice from veteran director Jeannot Szwarc.

Sam is so busy reacting in consternation to what Dean is doing that the deputy has time to grab Ed’s pistol, which he had previously taken from Ed. Sloppy, Sam. Ed jumps in front of Sam and tries to talk the deputy down, saying “it’s all my fault.” Unimpressed, the deputy is about to shoot him, anyway (“I have enough bullets for both of you”), but Harry shoots the deputy with his own gun, just as he’s about to pull the trigger. Ed is horrified. Dean carefully takes the deputy’s gun out of Harry’s hand and pats him on the shoulder, while sharing a look with Sam. Sam pats Ed on the shoulder.

In the coda, Dean is putting gear in the back of the Impala. Sam comes up to talk to him (but doesn’t help with the gear – come on, Sam). Dean has set up the scene in the mill to make it look as though Roger and the deputy killed each other. Since they were killed by their own weapons, it was relatively easy. It makes the careful way he was able to kill Roger without putting his own prints or DNA on the knife that much more chilling. Equally chilling is that this town was so small that it had a psychopath in charge of its police department for weeks and no one noticed. Maybe it’s just as well these two ended up dead.

Sam can’t get over the fact that the MOTW was “just people … friggin’ people.”

Dean: Well, like I said, people are sick.

Meanwhile, Ed and Harry are having their own talk. Ed asks if they’re now “cool.” But Harry wants to break up the band. He just killed a person and he’s freaked out over it. He also now claims that he only came out to solve Thinman to wrap up his entire involvement in the Ghostfacers. When Ed tries to claim that he “did this for us,” Harry, in an obvious echo of Sam a few weeks ago, says, “You did this for you.” Harry says he can’t forgive Ed, that their relationship is now “complicated” (echoing what his girlfriend said on Facebook).

As Sam (looking especially pensive) and Dean look on, an emotional Harry comes over and asks for a ride. Very low-key, Dean just says, “Yeah, sure.” They leave Ed behind at the Ghostfacers van, Harry in the Impala’s backseat. As he watches his lifelong friend leave him behind, Ed starts to cry.

In the Impala, Dean asks Harry if he’s okay. Harry starts to say yes and then admits no. He talks about an image of having someone beside you all your life, until you were old and sitting together in rocking chairs. Until the day you realize “that rocking chair is empty.”

“You know what I mean?” he asks, but the Brothers (especially Sam) just look uncomfortable.

Credits

The show dropped to a 0.9/3 in the A18-49 demo and in audience to 1.93 million.

Review: Boy, this episode sure is a mood, isn’t it? The show’s done some episodes that are more depressing than scary (“Criss Angel Is a Douchebag” from season four fairly leaps to mind here), but this one is both depressing and scary. As such, on top of being in the middle of the season, it’s been largely (unjustly?) forgotten.

So, this is the swan song for Ed and Harry, AKA the Hell Hounds, AKA the Ghostfacers, whom we first met in season one’s “Hell House.” It’s quite sad. Ed and Harry were always obnoxious in a very nerdy way, and in way, way over their heads. This got them into a lot of trouble over the years.

It got one of their junior members killed (in “Ghostfacers!”) and another disfigured and severely traumatized (in the 2010 webseries, which was basically a full episode broken up into segments of a few minutes each). But Ed and Harry were always a solid team, in sync, sympatico in their obsession with the dual goal of exposing the supernatural world to humanity at large and getting rich and famous doing it.

It was a petty goal in the grander scheme of the show, perhaps even quixotic in light of how adept humanity at large in the show is at ignoring even enormous events like the fall of the angels at the end of season eight. Ed and Harry actually met Castiel in the webseries, but showed no interest in the angel situation in “#THINMAN.” Nor did they make any attempt to pump the Brothers (who they know for a fact are connected deep into the supernatural world) for info. Ed and Harry, in the end, continued to make the mysteries of the supernatural world All About Ed and Harry.

It was therefore profoundly sad to see these two fall apart so spectacularly, messily and permanently, both individually and as a team. I mean, if even the Ghostfacers can’t make it, what about the rest of us?

Now, I’ll grant you that Ed and Harry are pretty unlikeable. They’re not just “ordinary.” They are dudebros and very much Incels. The misogyny that Harry, especially, demonstrates in this episode is pretty disturbing, to the point where there isn’t a huge amount of difference between him and the killers in attitude (which makes his killing one of them that much more disturbing). I mean, who talks about masses of women shoving their crotches in your face while filming a scene in a room where a young girl was violently murdered a few days before? Harry does.

Unfortunately, this is one major reason I was never a huge fan of Jenny Klein episodes (she wrote this one). There was a lot of internalized misogyny and messed-up gender roles in her writing. This one is practically a complete sausage fest, with only two minor female characters (Doomed Teaser Girl Casey and her mom) appearing early on. It’s almost as if Klein is trying way too hard to be one of the Writers Room boys.

In light of stuff like that (and Ed being more lowkey about it, but definitely hostile toward Harry’s ex because she’s breaking up the band), it puts Dean’s contempt for them in a different light. Rather than being condescending toward them because they are nerds, Dean dislikes them because they are misogynistic douchebros.

Dean likes women. I don’t just mean that he likes to have sex with them. I mean that he likes to hang out with them and spend time with them and learn from them and even mentor them. Even women he has no sexual interest in (much older or much younger women), he has positive interactions with. In the show, that is fairly unique for recurring male characters. Dean’s snark about geeky men, even from the earlier seasons, has actually aged pretty well.

I don’t know if a longer in-scene discussion about her got cut, but the offhand way both Ed and Harry talk about Maggie (and don’t talk about Corbett or Ambyr at all) is disconcerting. That Maggie and Ambyr are both women (and Maggie a woman of color), and that Corbett was gay and in love with Ed, does not help. That’s a whole lot of erasure.

Okay, Spruce was really just another geek drawn into the group, so I can see why they would dismiss his desertion. Corbett died for Ed, so I can see Ed and Harry never mentioning him again after that (though it does make them really unlikeable). Same with Ambyr who got her face slashed up in the webseries, especially since she never canonically appeared on the show. But Ed quit the Ghostfacers for a while over what happened to Ambyr at the end of the webseries. There’s no mention of that. You’d think she should have been a much bigger source of conflict between Ed and Harry than an ex-girlfriend who never appears onscreen.

Maggie was more important than that. Maggie is Ed’s sister and Harry actually created conflict between him and Ed by hooking up with her in “Ghostfacers!” to Ed’s extreme consternation. Yet, now, she’s just a footnote in their shared story, just somebody that they used to know.

There is no sense of understanding from Ed and Harry that maybe after one of them died and another was seriously disfigured, the remaining Ghostfacers members finally clued in how dangerous the larger supernatural world around them really is and fled back to the relative safety of the smaller, mundane human world before they, too, could suffer the hideous fate of the hapless Redshirt.

I think that’s what’s saddest about Ed and Harry in “#THINMAN.” They’re no longer evolving. Now they’re de-evolving.

I got the impression the show wanted me to feel sorriest for Harry, but I actually felt worse for Ed. Sure, Ed tricked Harry by creating the Thinman phenomenon hoax, but Harry went after it like a lion after starving meat. Harry ditched his long-suffering girlfriend to team back up with Ed, then obsessed over her and cyberstalked her. He was manic, aggressive and out of control, and he blamed Ed for everything that had happened between them. I never really bought that he intended to quit after the end of the Thinman hunt, all along.

In contrast, Ed was a lot calmer and gave the impression that he had grown up a bit – something I’ll readily admit I never thought I’d ever be saying about these two. Again, yes, there were some things he’d done that were creepy – notably, creating a hoax just to get his bud back and break up his bud’s relationship with a girl.

On the other hand, it wasn’t Ed’s fault that the hoax got co-opted by a couple of serial killers in a folie a deux. Ed’s duplicity and Harry’s refusal to own any responsibility for his own actions ended up killing the relationship off for good, even if Ed and Harry were themselves left alive to walk away. It’s a depressing denouement to see the concept of bromance on the show de-evolve from the competent and self-sacrificing Sam and Dean to the bumbling and fame-obsessed Ed and Harry to a couple of small-town serial killing Abbot-and-Costello douchebags who prey on young girls for kicks and clicks.

The show went with the age-old (since season one’s “The Benders”) idea that that the worst MOTW of all is ordinary human beings. But it also went down the Something Awful phenomenon rabbit hole known as Slenderman (created by Eric Knudsen in 2009). I first became aware of this (deliberately manufactured) new urban legend through the low-budget webseries, Marble Hornets (2009-present), which is probably the best (and creepiest) video representation of the phenomenon.

The idea of Slenderman is that he is a mysterious, tall, thin, faceless figure that appears in photographs and video all over the world. People who catch him on film are unaware of his presence at the time of filming, even though he can be quite close.

In one instance from Marble Hornets, someone is filming another person giving a speech in front of a window. When the video is played back, Slenderman is right outside the window, only a few feet away and separated only by glass and air. But even the cameraman didn’t notice at the time. There’s another scene where the exhausted protagonist falls asleep on a bed in a grotty, bare room somewhere. He leaves the camera on him for security, only to wake up and see on the footage that Slenderman visited him and sat on his bed half the night (sure puts Castiel doing that to Dean in season five’s “The End” into a different perspective, huh?). Slenderman stalks his/its victims until one day, after they’ve reached a peak of paranoia and become isolated from everyone around them, they just disappear. Most never come back and the few who do are never the same again.

These are the kinds of things one could run across at 2am on Facebook a decade ago.

One could argue that this episode may have been inspired by a real-life case in which two little 12-year-old bullies took their friend out to a park and then tried to stab her to death – except that “#THINMAN” actually came out nearly three months before the attack took place. The two attackers later claimed that they were told by “Slenderman” to do the deed and then that they were mentally ill (to try to deflect responsibility). Unimpressed, the authorities charged them in adult court and then sentenced them to decades in a psych hospital. One of them just lost an appeal of her sentence this month.

It is unfortunate that most reviewers of this episode take out the meta data from the title, since that loses a lot of the context. It’s not “Thinman” or even “#Thinman.” It’s “#THINMAN.” The hashtag, obviously, derives from Twitter usage (it’s not exclusive to them, but they’re the ones who use it the most and probably first).

Though this is now going by the wayside, Twitter has from the start used hashtags before a word (or a term with no spaces between words) to group them together in easily searchable categories. This also makes it easier to make a trend by adding on tweets with the same hashtag. Since the whole point of Ed creating Thinman was to make the urban legend go viral, the hashtag shows that he did it via social media. It even hints which social media he used the most.

If you’ve ever searched up urban legends or conspiracy theories on Twitter, particularly those that link to YouTube videos, the title immediately gives you an image of how the Thinman phenomenon spread, what it looked like, and what kind of paltry fame two losers from a small town in Washington state were seeking when they turned to murdering their neighbors.

Putting the title in all-caps is a common way going back to Usenet (when all we really had was ASCII) of showing emphasis that one would normally show with italics, bold or underlining. It highlights the importance of the word or term (or title, as of a book or show) and makes it stand out.

Because of this, using all-caps comes off as shouting and is widely considered rude (bad netiquette) going all the way back to the 1990s. Thus, putting the title “Thinman” in all-caps is intentionally ironic in that it simultaneously shows the desperation, the self-importance, and the sheer insignificance of this manufactured phenomenon (and the MOTWs who used it as an excuse to kill for paltry reasons) in the grand scheme of the SPNverse and the show itself.

It was REALLY OBVIOUS that Ed and Harry, and the implosion of their lifelong bromance, was intended to be a commentary on the current state of affairs between Sam and Dean. However, I found the actual parallels rather confusing and ultimately not so useful. Yes, I get that the writers wanted to change things up to make it less linear, but it also reduced the power of the metaphorical comparisons.

For example, Ed is the one who “betrayed” Harry by creating Thinman to lure him back onto the road, just as Dean “betrayed” Sam by tricking him into saying yes to an angel to heal him from the inside out. And yes, I know that a comparison between wrecking someone’s life for one’s own gain versus healing someone in an underhanded and creepy way is pretty inexact, but let’s just roll with it. I’m guessing the writers want us to take that nonsense Sam was spouting the other week, about Dean only healing him so he wouldn’t be alone, seriously.

Okay, but then, for the comparison to continue, Ed needs to stay the Dean analogue in the Ghostfacers duo and be the one who kills one of the MOTWs. But it’s actually Harry who shoots the deputy, while Dean stabs the waiter, making both Harry and Dean look unstable and frightening, not Ed. So, then what, Ed is now Sam? So, which one is Ed when Harry ditches him to take a final ride with the Winchesters? Are we to believe that Sam is the one who doesn’t want to be alone now? Honestly, I’m confused.

There is some support for this idea in the rest of the episode. A big hint comes in the beginning, when Sam decides to tag along on the hunt literally as Dean is heading out the door. Sam even acts surprised that Dean wouldn’t want him to come along, even after Dean points out that Sam hasn’t wanted to be around him, lately, and was giving him the cold shoulder as late as the previous scene (last week’s coda).

Every time Sam started making snide comments in this episode about not trusting people, and how secrets permanently ruin relationships, I kept thinking of Sam sneaking around behind Dean’s back with Ruby, of persuading him to ditch Lisa and Ben to join up with Grandpa Shady, of abandoning him in Purgatory while simultaneously bailing on Kevin. Hell, he was even keeping secrets from Dean early in season one – and feeling completely justified about it. And he has never properly apologized for those things, nor has he ever allowed Dean any privacy of his own.

Sure, one could say he made up for some of it by jumping into a gigantic plothole at the end of season five to prevent Lucifer from killing Dean and then the world. But Sam certainly didn’t say yes to Lucifer for Dean in the first place. Sam has broken Dean’s trust over and over and over again – and you know what? It has damaged their relationship. Permanently.

But whenever Sam makes such comments in this episode, even up to this point in the season, it is quite clear from the dialogue and Jared Padalecki’s delivery that Sam is only thinking about Dean’s lying to him about Gadriel. Makes me want to smack Sam hard.

So, in that sense, Sam is totally Ed. But he’s also totally Harry.

I get the impression that Sam is still acting like an adolescent here. He’s been punishing Dean for the whole Ezekiel/Gadriel thing, but now he’s starting to cool down and has decided he kinda wants to hunt with Dean again. You know, he pushes Dean away when Dean wants to be around him, but won’t let Dean go off on his own. He also seems to assume that Dean is fine with hanging fire while Sam decides what to do, with no respect for the fact that Dean has his own life to lead.

That was maybe understandable when Sam was actually still an adolescent and learning the more complex forms of healthy social interaction and relationships after a highly dysfunctional childhood. But he’s in his thirties by this point in the show. With all the supernatural Sam Done Come Back Wrong excuses stripped away, this behavior is now starting to look stalkery and controlling, and more than a little narcissistic. Grow up and stop gaslighting your brother, Sam.

Next week: Blade Runners: Crowley reappears with news about the First Blade. Show-changing shenanigans ensue.

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

Season 15


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The Official Supernatural: “Captives” (9.14) Retro Recap and Review

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Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, production of season 15 was interrupted and 15.13 will be the last episode aired “for a while.”

According to recent reports from Vancouver, the cast returned to work the first week of August (about two weeks late). Jensen Ackles also explained in a recent virtual “fan experience” through Creation Con that the writing for the last two episodes has been tweaked to reflect recent events (i.e., the Coronavirus pandemic). With these writers, I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. He also said that 15.19 will be a season finale, while 15.20 is more like a series finale. In an already truncated final season, that likely means we’ll get stuck with some filler clips episode as the last one. Yay.

No word on whether they’re still returning in early October.

If you’re enjoying these articles and reviews, any contributions are welcome. Even in a pandemic, the kitties still gotta eat.

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

Recap: Then recap of the angels storyline (with added Bartholomew, a character no one missed), plus a recap of Kevin Tran’s progress from new Prophet to grieving son to eye-burned corpse.

Cut to Now. It’s quiet in the Bunker. A faucet drips in the kitchen. Lights fritz in a suspicious way. A figure flickers at the end of a corridor. Then the camera stalks into Dean’s room, where he is sleeping, listening to Billy Squier’s “Lonely Is the Night” on headphones. His breath frosts. That wakes him right up and the corridors echo to his bellowing Sam’s name.

Sam comes rushing out of his own room. He turns on a light in the corridor and sees lights flickering. Dean’s room is empty and there is a chair rotating slowly in the library. Sam goes right for the sword rack and picks an iron medieval fighter’s sword. As he moves through the library, he hears faint whispers and a ghostly figure moves up behind him. Just as he turns to see it, Dean blasts it from the doorway with a saltgun.

“So,” Sam begins.

“Yep,” Dean replies matter-of-factly in his MoL jammies. “Bunker’s haunted.”

Cue title cards.

Dean walks into the kitchen, now fully dressed, and starts up the coffee maker. Sam is making up anti-ghost gear. Dean is grumpy because 1. he’s pre-coffee and 2. Sam assured him that the Bunker was “the safest place in the world,” so how can they have a ghost?

Sam insists that the Bunker is so warded that “nothing” supernatural can get inside it (ah, those early, innocent days). The ghost has to be someone who died inside the Bunker. Dean discounts Sam’s idea that it was a Man of Letters, since why would an MoL ghost wait so long after their arrival to bug them? It must be someone more recent. But he balks at Sam’s suggestion that it’s Kevin: “I burned his body myself!”

Sam points out that they burned Bobby Singer’s body and Bobby still came back. As they argue over it (personally, I think Dean is just in denial here), the coffee maker begins to shake behind them and a cup bursts.

“Kevin?” Dean says in consternation.

Cut to a funeral outdoors of a woman. A young man in a suit bows his head and then walks away. He’s grabbed and shoved up against a tree. It’s Castiel (oh, hey, Cas. Long time, no see). He wants to know if the young man (who is inhabited by an angel) is mourning the woman who died or the angel inside her. Turns out to be the latter. The angel was named Rebecca and she was the other angel’s friend.

“Rebecca had a lot of friends,” Castiel snarks back. “Friends like Metatron.”

The other angel insists that Rebecca hadn’t talked to Metatron in a long time, “not since the Fall.” He says that she led a group known as the Penitents (“Another faction,” grumps Castiel), who just want to live quietly among the humans. Unfortunately, they were killed off, one by one. The other angel blames Bartholomew.

In the kitchen, Sam is sitting in front of the coffee maker, dozing, waiting for Kevin to give them another sign, I guess. Dean walks in and asks if anything has happened. Sam says that aside from some EMF activity and “a few dings,” nope. They figure Kevin is “back in the Veil” and hasn’t been able to come back, yet. After all, Bobby needed months to manifest and Kevin hasn’t been dead that long. Sam’s shift is over. Now it’s Dean’s turn.

After Sam leaves, Dean sits down and turns the coffee maker his way. He calls Kevin’s name and doesn’t at first get any answer. So, he gets up and turns away, feeling stupid about staring at a machine for hours on end. Now that he’s alone, he pours his heart out, expressing his remorse over getting Kevin killed. He looks pretty rough. His hair’s a bit long. The scruffwatch is in full force. And he starts to cry. God, he’s hot.

Sorry. Where was I?

Oh, yeah, so as Dean is grieving, the lights really begin to fritz. Sam comes in, having noticed the lights, but not his brother’s state (or, at least, he pretends not to). At that moment, they hear Kevin’s voice complaining that “this is not happening.” They look over at one end of the kitchen and see Kevin’s ghostly form flickering in and out as he kvetches at length about being “stuck listening to Dean Winchester having a self-pity session. Had to listen to enough of those when I was alive.”

Yep, that’s our Kevin Tran.

“Kevin?” Dean says.

At that moment, Kevin comes into full form, though he keeps flickering in and out. “You can see me?” he asks. When Sam points out he may not be able to hold his form for long, Kevin says they need to “talk fast.”

Dean immediately asks why Kevin is not in Heaven. It turns out that since the angels fell, the conveyor belt of souls to Heaven has ground to a halt. Now all the souls of people who have died since then are stuck in the Veil (it’s not clear if this includes the souls of those hellbound). It’s getting very crowded and has turned into a horrible sort of Limbo.

Kevin begs them to find his mother. When Dean points out that Crowley only told Kevin she was still alive to screw with his head, Kevin claims to have his own sources among his fellow ghosts. One of them, a very recent ghost of a young woman who died a week ago, says she was with Mama Tran before she died. The ghost’s name is Candy and she’s “in a forest in Wichita,” KS. That’s all he’s got. He needs the Brothers to go there and summon her to ask her more questions. Looking at Dean specifically, he tells him that if he “wants to make it right, this is how.”

Castiel is walking between some very big amphorae when he’s accosted by two extremely pretty angels. They ask where his “friend” (the other angel) went and Castiel just says they won’t find him. That’s when they realize he’s Castiel. As lackeys of Bartholomew, they’re quite pleased. Bart’s been looking for him.

Cut to the ground beneath a very familiar-looking gigantic railway trestle (they film here a lot) in Wichita (just roll with it). The Brothers are coming up to it through a trail because this is supposedly where Candy died. Dean wonders what killed her – a bear? Sam just can’t believe they’re summoning someone named Candy.

Dean brings out an old-style (well … 1970s or 80s, transistor style) radio and hangs it on a tree. He also brought the coffee maker. He figures that since she is such a new ghost, she will “need all the help she can get.”

Cut to Castiel in a bland conference room (so over this storyline, already). He’s growing impatient, though his guard is unimpressed. Then Bartholomew walks in. After sternly demanding Castiel’s sword from the guard, Bartholomew suddenly smiles and hugs Castiel, saying “It has been too long.” He’s actually glad to see him.

Back under the bridge (so many possible jokes to crack about that one), it’s night. Sam is wondering if Dean just “felt a chill.” Dean snarks that this might be “’cause it’s cold.” He leaves a third (according to Sam) voicemail for Crowley. When Sam snarks that maybe “he’s just not that into you” (oh, Sam, how very wrong you are about that), Dean grumbles that Crowley’s their only remaining link to Mama Tran (whom he calls “Ms. Tran”), and at least they “know he’s real,” as opposed to the ghost lead they’re currently chasing, so he’s got to at least try.

At that moment, as Dean finishes his latest beer and tosses it away, the radio on the tree starts to fritz and glow. Cautiously, the Brothers approach the radio, first Dean and then Sam calling Candy’s name. After a moment, a voice from the radio says, “Hello?”

Back in the boring conference room, Bart (just gonna start shortening his name now) is trading war stories with Castiel. Bart followed Castiel in his war against Raphael in season six. But when Castiel left some angel captives with him, Bart tortured them and then killed them. Bart claims he was following orders, but it’s not clear whose orders he was following. Castiel notes that Bart doesn’t follow, anymore. Standing up and over Castiel, Bart declares that’s true. Now he’s giving orders.

Back under the bridge, the Brothers are talking to the ghost of Candy through the radio. She was held prisoner in a “box” with others in other boxes. We get flashbacks as she talks. She looks like a woman with brown hair in her thirties, chained to a cement floor in what looks like a storage unit.

Candy identifies Linda as one of the other captives (hence the title). They were able to talk to each other through the walls. They were being held captive by two men, one of them with a British accent (the Brothers correctly identify this as Crowley), who said she was “worth more alive than dead.” But at one point, Crowley stopped coming. She later escaped by smacking her captor in the head. When she got outside, it was dark and she was disoriented. When she stopped for breath under the bridge, someone stabbed her to death from behind. She admits that she has no idea what happened to Linda Tran afterward, but she hopes that Linda is dead. She’d be better off.

Cut to Mama Tran in a very grotty cell, trying to grind her way through her leg chain. The door to her cell opens up and she’s blinded by the light. She starts screaming as the figure approaches.

Cut to the Brothers in the Impala at night, dressed in their reporter suits. Sam is looking up storage units online (love their wifi; wish mine were that good). Sam says the nearest one is only a mile from where they talked to Candy. He also did some research on her. She was the “kept woman” (mistress) of a powerful congressman. Dean correctly guesses that Crowley was holding her for “leverage” against the politician and Mama Tran for leverage against Kevin.

Dean wonders why Candy was killed. Crowley had wanted the captives alive, so why did the guard he left behind kill her? Sam, with intentional obtuseness, suggests that Dean is trying to mitigate what Crowley did in kidnapping the women in the first place, when it’s clear that Dean is actually trying to figure out what’s going on and what changed. Pushing back against Sam’s rather homophobic jealousy of his relationship with Crowley, Dean spells out what he’s doing and sarcastically adds that he’s “just trying to keep things businesslike” in his relationship with his brother. Sam looks exasperated. Well, Sam, you did set the parameters. Don’t complain now.

Back at Boyle Ministries (ugh, the pacing in this episode, so bad), Bart and Castiel are walking down a stairwell while Bart’s guards remain at the top. While openly admitting to having slaughtered Rebecca and her followers, Bart casually says that his angel gang “purged the humans” in the ministry for being “too much trouble” and then took it over. By this, he means that they possessed all of those who could physically become vessels. The rest exploded. Lovely.

Castiel gets into a brief staring contest with a passing angel and notes that Bart’s followers want him dead. Bart allows that, but says that if he himself wanted Castiel dead, it already would have happened. It turns out that he knows about Metatron and figured that was why Castiel was looking up Rebecca and her followers. Though he claims that Castiel is free to go, he suggests that Castiel can do a lot more working with the angels at Boyle Ministries than out on his own. I rather doubt that.

At Castle Storage (the final storage place on their list, of course), the Brothers enter and Dean bullies the storage unit listing out of the two nerdy, bespectacled employees there. The two employees, who wear black-and-red uniforms, get even more nervous when Sam strolls over to a map of the facility, notices something about the corridor lettering, and calls Dean over.

They have a fairly quiet conversation about how three of the same storage units are rented by a D. Webster (as in The Devil and Daniel Webster). The employee who first greeted them, overhearing them, notes that D. Webster has another collection of storage units on the other side of the facility. So, Dean goes with “funky Homo sapiens” to check those out, while Sam checks out the first set of units he noticed.

Sam breaks his way into one unit and finds Linda Tran inside. She immediately recognizes him and calls him by name, then asks where Kevin is (awkward moment). But he’s quickly locked in with her by someone who has a CCTV camera on the inside of the unit. It’s the employee with Dean. Just at the moment that Dean realizes he’s not in a unit rented by Crowley, the employee punches him out.

Back to Boyle Ministries (oh, Lord). Bart is showing Castiel a map of Metatron sightings (three on Earth so far). But Bart is as obsessed with “uniting” the various angel groups, whether they want to be or not, as he is with finding Metatron and getting back into Heaven.

His two stooges bring in another angel, bound and hooded. It’s the Rebecca follower Castiel had previously met with. Bart pulls Castiel’s angel blade, determined to torture the other angel and then kill him. He declares that Castiel will help him.

Back in the storage unit, Sam is freeing Linda from her bonds. She tells him about the switch box near the door. When Sam pries it free, he’s a bit flummoxed by the wires at first, but it turns out Linda has worked with this kind of unit before. She helped Kevin with his exams in electronics.

Linda keeps talking about being reunited with her son, until Sam gets uncomfortable enough to tell her that Kevin is dead (though not when or how). She responds with steely anger and determination. Though you can see the huge grief welling up from underneath, she’s determined to get them out of there first and then “You will take me to my son.”

Cut to the other unit, where a dazed Dean wakes up to find the employee is possessed by a demon and has cut his manager’s throat for a communication spell to report to Crowley that he has captured the Winchesters. Dean pulls himself to a sitting position and tries to figure out how to get untied while he proceeds to interrogate the demon, Black Widow-style.

At first, the demon rants in an English accent like Crowley’s about the promises Crowley made. The demon, a typical psychopath, is especially irritated that he wasn’t allow to kill his charges. Dean manages to get the demon riled up by claiming that he’s now thick as thieves with Crowley (which … ironically, is not inaccurate). But this backfires a bit as the demon turns on the absent Crowley and declares that he quits.

Back to Bart (please, Show, come on), who is torturing Rebecca’s disciple for info about any remaining cohorts. The prisoner tells Bart the same story he told Castiel (that Bart already killed them all) and Castiel backs him up.

Bart believes him, but now wants Castiel to kill the prisoner. Castiel insists he’s not that kind of angel, anymore, but Bart doesn’t believe him (noting that Castiel has killed thousands of angels in his time) and hands him the blade. When Castiel hands it back to him, just saying no, Bart uses it to kill the prisoner, while one of the guards holds Castiel back. Furious, Castiel shoves the guard aside.

Meanwhile, Dean is getting his face sliced up by Redshirt Demon. After thanking Dean for “reminding” him of his true nature, the demon goes to stab him. But when he’s distracted by the storage unit door opening, Dean kicks his legs out from under him. Sam comes in and the demon attacks him with his knife, but Sam parries and punches him into a wall.

Back to Bart, who is ranting at Castiel again about how he always thought he was better than Bart (not that hard to do, Bart). He keeps goading Castiel into trying to attack him, telling his guards to stay out of it. Eventually, reflex takes over and Castiel takes him out. Then he leaves. When the guards try to block his path, he grimly makes it clear that they are just redshirts. They get out of his way.

Back at the storage unit, the demon is defiant at first, declaring they should kill him now and get it over with. Sam says, no, they’re “saving you for someone else.” Horrified, the demon whispers, “Crowley.” A little taken aback, Sam says it’s someone “much worse.”

In comes Linda Tran and the demon loses all his bravado. As Dean hands her the Spork to “do the honors” (to which she replies, “Gladly”), the demon tries to beg for his life, claiming he was just following orders. She stabs him in mid-word.

Back at the Bunker, the Brothers come back in and call for Kevin. Kevin, looking much more solid than before, appears. They tell him his mother’s here. Refusing any extra moment to get ready for her arrival, he asks if she knows, only to get his answer when she enters the Bunker behind him (looking a lot more cleaned-up than the previous scene). Their reunion is tearful.

Dean later shows Linda all of Kevin’s effects, which he had kept (sniffle). It turns out they are looking for whatever object Kevin is attached to, that keeps him out of the Veil. She picks out a class ring that belonged to his father (who died when Kevin was a baby), saying that’s probably it.

It seems that Linda will be taking Kevin with her. Dean warns her that he doesn’t know how long it will be (if ever) until the Brothers can find a solution to the souls trapped in the Veil. He does know (through bitter experience with Bobby, of course) that the longer Kevin stays in the Veil, or on the earthly plane, as a ghost, the more likely he is to go insane and possibly hurt his mother. Linda insists on taking him, anyway. As long as she can, it’s her job to “keep him safe.” Dean, who feels the same obligation to Sam, can totally relate.

At Rebecca’s grave site, Castiel apologizes for being a complete fuck-up who gets every angel around him killed (harsh, but come on, it’s true). Someone grabs his shoulder. Castiel, done with all the angel war fuckery, says he won’t fight unless he has to. It turns out to be one of Bart’s guards. He says that after he fell, he thought following Bart was the only thing to do. But Castiel has convinced him that there is “another way.” Castiel starts to demur, but two more angels also show up. They want to continue Rebecca’s legacy and follow Castiel.

Back at the Bunker, Kevin is feeling guilty about his mother. He says she was held prisoner by Crowley for a year because of him (well … he’s not wrong). But he wants to make up for lost time, while he still has time.

Sam starts to apologize for killing him, but Kevin summarily cuts through the bullshit by pointing out that the angel who possessed him did that. If Sam kills Gadriel, Kevin will consider it “square” between them. And since Dean brought back his mother as promised, I guess Kevin is already square with Dean.

Before he leaves, he points out that he had a front row seat for all the Bunker drama of the past few episodes. He tells the Brothers, “My mom’s taking home a ghost. You two, you’re still here.” They need to “get over it” and make up.

Touched by Kevin’s little speech, Dean waves goodbye to the Trans and turns back to Sam, ready to extend an olive branch. But Sam is already walking out the door back into the Bunker. Sam does hesitate for a moment at the door to his room, but then just goes inside. Oh, Sammy, I have seen the rest of this season and you are gonna regret that snub, big time.

Dean, crestfallen, goes back to his room and puts his headphones on.

Credits

The show got a 1.0/3 in the A18-49 demo and declined to 2.12 million in audience. Still a lot better than The Originals, though.

Review: How I wish “Captives” had stuck to the topic at hand and kept this a ghost MOTW, instead of shoving in that stupid angel plot and strangling any real depth to the Trans’ story. The early scenes, especially before the reveal of Kevin’s identity, but even in the clearing when they’re contacting Candy, are genuinely creepy and atmospheric. This was before the show managed to ruin even ghosts as an MOTW. I mean, imagine doing the first three episodes of season 15 … but this way. Yeah, I’m sad now, too.

It would have been nice to have explored a bit more of Crowley’s motivations and the morality involved in holding hostages like that (also, what happened to the other captives?). While I get that Mark Sheppard is very popular with the fandom (and with excellent reason), Crowley was a nasty piece of work and this was a callback to the season of carnage he’d engaged in during season eight against the Winchester brothers.

I noticed in the comments (yes, I read all the comments: I’ve just been too busy getting ahead with the reviews to respond individually so far) someone wondered why Dean didn’t make a deal with Crowley to save Sam at the beginning of the season. Well, first of all, there’s no evidence Crowley could have pulled off something that big, especially weakened by human blood. The whole first half of the season makes a big deal of how badly the Trials messed Sam up down to a molecular level.

But more importantly, Dean had already found himself under Crowley’s boot on Sam’s behalf early in season six and it had worked out quite badly (not least because it was a con). So, there was never any way Dean was going to make that mistake again. At this point in the season, Dean holds Crowley’s leash (however long and loose it may look right now) and he’s not letting go.

In reading reviews of “Captives” (which came out around the time this episode did and are therefore all hot takes), I noticed it looked to a lot of viewers at the time that the conflict between Sam and Dean was going nowhere, just spinning wheels, and fans were pretty over it. I distinctly recall being over it, too, and was not really looking forward to rewatching-and-retro-reviewing this part of the season as a result.

That’s why these retro reviews can be fun. You get a few years (and seasons) of perspective and when you go back to watch these older episodes (albeit, season nine isn’t that much older, only six years), you notice things. Like how the Sam -and-Dean conflict actually was moving forward and how it reached a tipping point right … about … the end of this episode.

See, at the time this episode first came out, not only was the Mark of Cain as a storyline brand-new (and we therefore didn’t know where it was going), but Dean’s storylines never lasted long (I guess I need to repost that article I wrote about Dean’s dropped plots, eh?). Remember, for example, Dean’s Michael Sword storyline? How that was dispensed with almost in the same episode that introduced it? The general assumption among many fans was that the same thing would happen to the Mark of Cain. Perhaps it would be dropped, either after or without Dean using it on Abaddon. Perhaps it wouldn’t work against Abaddon. Perhaps the Mark (as successful Dean storylines often were) would be transferred to Sam.

So, there was no reason to believe that the writers would be salting each of these early episodes with foreshadowing, let alone that the Mark of Cain would affect the already-fraught relationship between the Brothers, even as it remained Dean’s. Sam was dismissive (at best) of Dean’s new tat. His focus was on his anger over Dean’s deal with Gadriel and being “used” to kill Kevin.

That reason to blame Dean essentially ended with this episode, when Kevin forgave both of them. Yet, Sam still resented Dean enough that he refused the olive branch Dean extended in the coda, after Kevin’s speech. He almost relented, but in the end, went into his room and (presumably) sulked. This, as I note at the end of the recap, was a major mistake. Dean wouldn’t extend that olive branch again any time soon and the Mark would quickly have an effect on him that would alarm Sam indeed.

But that’s for another review.

As I said last week, this storyline for Sam was not inevitably a bad one. Dean was growing out of his old handmaid role and this subplot potentially had growth for Sam, as well. But the writers waffled because it made Sam look bad and some fans really hated that.

Much has been said about how the writing was better for Dean’s “Wing Beneath my Wings” plots in earlier seasons (debatable, since Kripke showed far less interest in them than in Sam’s mytharc) or that Jensen Ackles acted them better (possible, but also at least somewhat a matter of opinion and not something that lets the writing off the hook). But a lot boils down to the fact that Sam and Dean are not the same personality or character type (so their responses to similar stimuli won’t be the same), and that these character arcs occurred at different points in the show.

The thing is that Dean’s WBMW character arc(s) was a tolerance arc. Dean began the show as very intolerant of supernatural beings and not a little intolerant of humans not like him (making fun of nerds when he himself was one, for example). Kripke spelled this out near the end of season five when he said that Sam’s main arc was learning to accept himself as a supernaturally “tainted” being and Dean’s was to learn to accept Sam. Even by season nine, Dean had grown considerably in this respect, when he himself became (permanently) tainted.

But in season eight, Sam found himself with this plot, the “human” plot. He tried to shed it by reclaiming the supernatural “high ground” from Dean with the Trials arc, but lost it again permanently halfway through season nine. Then he was forced to face his own prejudices and boy, did he not like that.

Repeat plots don’t work well if you don’t do something different with them the second time, though, so this time, Sam was portrayed as resistant to the tolerance lesson. Dean changed and became more tolerant. Sam responded with anger, blame and pride. He responded with intolerance, first with Benny in season eight and later with his brother. And this intolerance is what is getting him into trouble at the end of this episode because his brother’s patience with Sam’s petulance is no longer infinite.

Kevin’s intentions in getting the Brothers to make up were good, but trying to bully people into reconciling before they’re ready doesn’t generally work. If the feelings aren’t there, they aren’t there.

I also found Kevin’s grumbling about Dean’s “self-pitying” grief to be a bit eye-rolling. Kevin had a good heart (only one of the reasons that what Chuck did to him later was so unfair) and he meant well, but he was still just a teenager and an exceedingly spoiled young man. Like Sam, Kevin was used to having his world turn around him, even before he “woke up” as a Prophet and became the obsessive focus of angels and demons. It’s therefore somewhat understandable that Kevin might have felt the Brothers ought to reconcile, if his mother was willing to take him even as a ghost.

But Linda Tran’s counterpart is Dean, not Sam. Dean was willing to reconcile, but Sam (Kevin’s counterpart) was not. And as much as Kevin felt cursed and put-upon, he and his mother would be hard-pressed to have had lives more cursed than those of the Brothers Winchester.

I was glad to see Linda Tran again, less glad that this was (at least so far) her swan song. It was really unfortunate that her story was shoehorned in with that bloody angels mytharc plot (oh, don’t worry. I’ll get to that). We found out a little bit more about Kevin’s dad, who died young. So, she was a single mom Kevin’s whole life. We never did find out who Kevin’s dad was, though, or why Crowley was mocking her about him the previous season.

It’s no real surprise that she was as tough as she was. Linda Tran fits a recurring trope in the show of tough Mom characters who were popular (not infrequently, like Ellen, more popular than their kids). The central conflict for these characters was unfortunately tied up in their roles as mothers. This meant that they couldn’t really act as separate characters from their children and once those children were written out, so were these maternal characters.

It is curious (and unfortunate) that the one Tough Mom character who was really mishandled was Mary with her return in season 12. The Tough Mom character works because her devotion is selfless and heroic, and reflects Dean’s devotion to Sam. So, we’re already primed to like such characters. Yet, the show, for who knows what reason, decided to make Mary a terrible and disloyal mother figure, then made her All About a completely new Cousin Oliver character. Sure, one could argue that it was logical for her to resent her grown-up sons and struggle to connect with them. But that doesn’t mean it was the only way to go with her or that it would end up popular.

Linda Tran had hints (unfortunately not realized) that she was a much wilder and crazier person than just a stereotype of a Tiger Mom. Some fans didn’t seem to like her because of that stereotype, but the writers could have done a lot more with her and she was already growing out of it by this episode.

I’ve noticed that PoC authors (like my IFP bud, Silvia Moreno-Garcia) have been more open in complaining of late that PoC authors, especially women, are held to a much higher standard than white male authors – an impossibly high standard. It’s no big deal if a white guy writes a mediocre book, but if a woman (in a genre like science fiction where female writers remain a minority) and/or PoC author write a mediocre or cliched book, the judgment is much harder. In order to justify their existence in these fields, women and PoC authors (and LGBT authors, too) are expected to write groundbreaking, genre-changing books, even when the reality is that if you want to make a living at writing, potboilers are generally far more popular and profitable.

The same goes for characters in those groups on TV, especially in genre. The truth is that pretty much all TV characters begin life as cliches of some sort. If those characters are straight white men (the majority of characters with speaking parts that you see on TV), it’s no big deal. In fact, it’s barely noticed. But if those characters are women and/or People of Color, suddenly it’s a big deal.

By no means am I saying that ethnic and gender stereotypes are not problematical. There are some really racist and misogynistic ones out there, and they are harmful.

But the way to get beyond that is to hire more people behind the scenes, and to write more characters in front of the camera, from those groups. If writers, especially ones who have lived that experience, get more experience writing more of those characters, and you have more of those characters in the first place, you end up eventually with a broader array of characters, especially of ones that are not walking stereotypes.

Artists in these groups get more creative and career opportunities. Viewers in those same groups begin to feel actually represented onscreen. The story feels more successful because it’s not the same bland white dudebros all the time (not all white guys on TV are as interesting as Sam and Dean – just look at Bartholomew in this episode).

The Trans both began as ethnic stereotypes, but grew beyond them due to their popularity and the chemistry between the actors, Osric Chau and Lauren Tom. And because they introduced new character types and situations to the show, while successfully mirroring the Brothers, they caused Sam and Dean to grow, too.

Linda had two important scenes in “Captives,” one each with each brother, and the different tones were instructive. When she and Sam are breaking out of her cell, and he tells her about Kevin’s death, she responds with grief not-so-cloaked in steely resolve.

But there’s also a lot of anger there and it is directed at Sam. It’s as though she always knew, deep down, that Sam would somehow be her son’s death, just as there were hints in her obsessive protectiveness that deep down, she knew Kevin would die young and tragically, that she would survive him. No good, loving parent wants to bury their child.

Her scene with Dean is very different. She opens up and talks about Kevin’s father to a man she already knew had been a father figure to her son. She listens to Dean’s warning about how difficult it will be to have Kevin with her as a ghost and how dangerous it can/will get. They share their grief.

There’s no sign that she blames Dean for Kevin’s death. At this point, as Kevin’s final conversation with the Brothers makes clear, she has heard about the circumstances surrounding his death. But as much as Dean blames himself, Linda does not blame him.

So, yeah, about that angels storyline. I was so disappointed by what the show did with the angels in seasons nine and ten. When the angels fell at the end of season eight, it was epic and horrific. But then the writers took it … in a really boring direction.

Especially disappointing was that this was intended to be an entire subplot devoted to Castiel interacting with his angelic brothers and sisters. But while that sounded great in theory, in practice it left a lot to be desired. And it left my opinion of Castiel as a character more than a little diminished. He seemed to be bumbling murderously through this storyline, making dumb and reckless decisions, feeling bad about it, but learning nothing of substance. And he didn’t really have anybody compelling to spark with because every time the writers gave us someone who did, they killed them off.

A huge problem was with the other angel characters. The show had a pattern, especially around this time. They would introduce sympathetic angel characters who were then summarily killed off, nearly in the next scene, for maximum angst. In this episode, we never even meet Rebecca and we barely meet her cute disciple before he gets shish-kabobbed. I started to wonder if the writers just didn’t want to introduce anyone who might overshadow Castiel in popularity. Well, bang-up job there, y’all.

Then they would introduce and keep around long past their sell-by dates unsympathetic angel characters whom nobody really wanted to watch. Plus, these storylines would crawl along for half a season before abruptly being resolved in a flurry of loose ends.

The way they kill off Bartholomew this episode is a signal example of that. I mean, by no stretch was I sad to see Bart and his subplot go, but a few more answers besides that cliched “I massacred my brethren and I liked it” motivation would have been nice. Instead, we’re now in Kumbaya Land. Well, okay, then.

Now, the show always kinda had this problem. Kripke was notorious for refusing to bring in angels and then only doing so if his team always wrote them as “dicks.” Castiel’s popularity was a surprise and they ended up cannibalizing the one sympathetic angel storyline (Anna’s, then they ditched her after she slept with Dean) to give him more plot. So, unfortunately, as cool as angels were in their introduction, as long-term as Castiel’s popularity has been, as game-changing as the whole concept was, the writers (prompted by a showrunner with some pretty stunted vision on this count) were always going to write them this way.

Now, the show managed to hide this for quite a while by getting lucky in their casting. Characters like Uriel, Raphael and Naomi were popular and seemed to inspire the writers. Unfortunately, those characters were all dead by season nine (yes, I know, but Naomi is still, to all intents and purposes, a goner during this period of the show), so they couldn’t use them.

They botched Reapers by lumping them in with angels, having them fall, introducing a potentially cool (if stupid) concept of the Veil, and then basically dropping it a season or two later (sorry, spoilers). And there was no sign Death was ever bothered by that, despite being a stickler for the Natural Order.

It made even less sense when we later found out that Heaven actually needs angels inside it to keep it powered up. Gee, that would have been a pretty good motivation to bring up during all of Bart’s ranting about wanting to go home, huh (I mean, he was Naomi’s protege. He should have known about that)? And a reason not to keep killing each other?

Then there was Metatron. I won’t waste a whole lot of bandwidth this week on him, since he’s only here in, uh, spirit and we’ll get plenty of him later this season. But who thought this guy would make a good Big Bad? He’s about as scary as a rabid Care Bear and that’s the problem.

Yes, I get it, Show. The idea is that he has a nebishy exterior that makes others underestimate him. Plus, he’s small-minded and petty, so when he gets a lot of power, he Napoleons it. So, basically, like the Trio from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

But folks, the Trio sucked. Yeah, they did a lot of damage because the writers made them do that, but they were not a successful Big Bad. This always seems to be one of those nerd fantasies that don’t really work when you actually put them onscreen (unless you subvert expectations the way Evil did with that Incel troll). Metatron did not work as a Big Bad.

I can see how a creature like the angel could have come so badly and collectively unglued after all that’s happened. I mean, even the younger ones (like Castiel) are close to half a billion years old, minimum. They are among the oldest beings in the Multiverse. With no solid purpose left, they’ve got to have been tired of existence at this point. Suicidal and fratricidal behavior would naturally follow.

The problem is that the show never really explored that. The writers even tended to ignore it by introducing monsters like the Leviathan that were even older than the angels, without getting into much detail about what that meant in cosmic terms (the Leviathan sure didn’t seem tired of existence, being practically mindless). The writers let the angels get small. That really showed in season nine.

Next week: #Thinman: The Brothers investigate an apparent haunting and run into some old nemeses.

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

Season 15


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The Official Supernatural: “The Purge” (9.13) Retro Recap and Review


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You can still find my reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my folklore research on Patreon. Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, production of season 15 was interrupted and 15.13 will be the last episode aired “for a while.”

The show was supposed to finish up this fall, as the only original programming on the CW before January, but so far, the Creation cons have been postponed into next year and the cast and crew remain at home. They did put out a poster for the final episodes and include the show in a new promo. So, there’s that.

Note that I heartily endorse the cast and crew staying home until it’s safe. I sure hope CW head Mark Pedowitz is taking that safety of his employees a lot more seriously than it seems in his most recent interview.

If you’re enjoying these articles and reviews, any contributions are welcome. Even in a pandemic, the kitties still gotta eat.

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

Recap: We start with a recap from last week of Sam’s coda speech to Dean about how they are no longer on the same page and that everything that has ever gone wrong between them is because they are family (translation: It’s all Dean’s fault).

I roll my eyes really hard because how often are these two ever on the same page? Sure, it happens occasionally, but their fundamental dynamic in the MOTWs (and even the mytharc) is that they are almost always at loggerheads and on the opposite sides of an issue. Oh, and that they put the “D” in “family dysfunction.” I’ve been binge-(re)watching Lucifer of late in anticipation of season five, part 1 streaming on Netflix, August 21, and these two could really use a dose of Dr. Linda in their lives.

Cut to Now and a hot-dog-eating contest in progress at the Hotdoggery in Stillwater, MN. The fat guy wins $1000 while the skinny guy cries foul and an adoring dark-haired woman watches them from the cheering crowd. Later, the winner goes out to his car at night (of course) with his trophy and the $1000. And, oh, yeah, it does turn out that he was cheating. He did stick a hot dog in his pocket, which he now proceeds to eat.

But then he hears a weird noise. When he wipes the fog off his driver’s side window, all he sees is the bar’s neon sign and he goes back to laughing over his win. But then a hooded figure pops up inside the car behind him and attacks him through the backseat. It … shrivels him to death, basically, then gets out and leaves. The camera zeroes in on a bumper sticker about bacon on the back bumper.

Cue season nine burning angel wings title card.

Cut to the Bunker, where Dean is staring at a laptop screen in the kitchen when Sam walks in. Dean admits that he was so hyper from the previous day (hunt?) that he pulled an all-nighter. Among the things he watched was the movie Unforgiven (1992). Well, that’s apt. He’s also drinking and still looking scruffy. We are definitely well into the Scruffwatch period of the show for him. I miss those days.

Dean says he has been trying to track down Metatron or more information on the Mark of Cain. Nothing on that mytharc-y stuff so far, but he did find them a case. He brings up Doomed Teaser Guy and notes that he went from 300 to 90 lbs. Even Sam has to admit that’s their kind of case.

Dean says he’ll be ready in five minutes after a “whore’s bath” (yikes). Since Dean hasn’t brought it up and Sam is apparently just dying to twist the knife, Sam brings up his little speech at the end of last episode. Dean snarks that he heard “loud and clear” the part where Sam doesn’t consider them brothers, anymore, but “I don’t break that easy.”

Sam snottily says he was “just being honest” (in case we were wondering if his speech was intentionally hurtful, this confirms it was). Sure, Sam.

Dean, pissed, just snarks and walks out, leaving Sam like, Well, that wasn’t nearly as satisfying as I expected it to be. Guess I’ll need to try again at the end of this episode. If, at first, you don’t succeed at being an abusive dickhead ….

Cut to a police station in Stillwater. The Brothers are in their FBI suits, meeting up with a perky, blonde sheriff who might look a bit familiar to all you Saltgunners out there. Yep, that’s right. This is Donna Hanscum’s very first appearance.

Donna is friendly and helpful, giving up info on DTG’s autopsy without demur. She also offers Dean a powdered donut and they engage in a bit of synchronized donut-eating that Donna doesn’t even notice, but that makes Sam very uncomfortable that Dean is embarrassing them.

Donna says that DTG was killed by “heart failure,” but they’re not really sure what it was. In addition to going down from 316 lbs to 90 lbs in mere moments, he had major damage to his internal organs. Donna agrees with Dean’s assessment that it’s almost as if he were “hoovered.”

As Sam asks her questions about the competitive eating circuit (which is extremely competitive in this neck of the woods), Donna goes all Fargo in her dialect and gives the skinny guy from the teaser a name, Slim Jim Morgan. He was the victim, Wayne McNut’s, main professional rival. Alas, he was still inside the Hotdoggery when Wayne was killed, so he has an alibi.

Cut to an ordinary house, where Slim Jim is practice-eating while being interviewed by the Brothers, still in their suits. He is eating lettuce to stretch his stomach (which doesn’t impress Dean). He claims that Wayne was a cheat, but the conversation quick turns to a shelf with a photo and knicknacks (almost a small shrine) of Jim with the dark-haired woman from the teaser. He says her name is Mala and that she is Rom (a short conversation ensues about how Mala thinks the word “Gypsy,” now considered a slur, is “reductive”). Specifically, she is a Romanichal Traveller (from English-speaking areas like the British Isles). Jim refers to her as his “old lady,” though he otherwise seems to regard her with, however offhand, affection.

Sam asks to use the bathroom and Jim tells him to go use the one upstairs because Mala is taking a shower in the downstairs one. As Dean distracts Jim with questions about how many hot dogs he lost by to Wayne, Sam actually investigates the bedroom just outside where Mala is taking her shower. There, he sees a strangely worked leather bag, but has to leave just as Mala comes out in a towel. He returns to the kitchen just as Jim is beginning to get suspicious and the Brothers quickly make their exit, leaving their contact info.

Back at the motel, Dean examines the bag, which Sam has purloined. It contains some of Wayne’s hair and a marble, among other things. Having looked it up, Sam identifies it as a “putsi bag,” a magical charm bag which can be used for hexes. Mala appears to be a witch.

There’s a knock at the door. Pistol in hand, Dean goes to open it, peers through the spyhole, and opens it with a bemused expression. It’s Mala and she’d like her bag back.

Inside the motel room, Mala willingly has an interview with the Brothers. It turns out that, far from being hostile toward Wayne, she’d been having an affair with him for years.

Dean asks her, fairly delicately, why she was with a hefty guy like Wayne when her husband was so skinny. She admits that she likes “a little give” in her men. Surprised, Dean admits that that makes sense, though Sam cuts him off at his clumsy attempt to commiserate.

Mala insists to Sam that she wasn’t trying to hurt Wayne – completely the opposite. She was using her putsi bag to bless him. The plan was to “get a quickie divorce” and go get married in Florida. She admits that “Wayne used to call me his Princess Jasmine.” This wins a quick and genuine smile from Dean, but he drops it quickly as Mala looks mournful.

Cut to a gym at night. A woman, the only person in the gym, is exercising on a stationary bike to Joe Cocker’s “Up Where We Belong” and looking frustrated. She gets off and goes over to a scale, where she looks even more frustrated when it says she basically hasn’t lost any pounds. In fact, she gained some.

She hears a noise (she’s being stalked and not just by the camera). She calls out to whoever is there, but no one answers. So, she turns back to the scale, where she has gone up another tenth of a pound to 180.4. Her stalker, who wears gloves, picks up a barbell and smacks her across the back of the head. Stunned, she lands flat on the scale. Something moves under her shirt as she screams in horror and then she begins to rapidly lose weight. As she dies, she settles at 74.6 lbs.

The next morning, the Brothers are at the scene, looking at the corpse. A deputy tells them the woman’s original weight was listed as 160 and Dean guesses (correctly) that it was more like 180 because “women always lie about their age and weight.” When Sam snarks that Dean recently told a waitress he was 29 (at this point in the show, Dean is about 35 and Sam about 31, depending on how you game those time jumps in between seasons), Dean’s like, Yeah, and? completely unabashed and in a tone as if to say that just proves his point. People lie about things they’re not proud of, especially the stuff they can’t change (or can’t change easily).

Dean finds a raised red mark on the victim’s side and Sam guesses a suction mark. But Sam disagrees with Dean’s guess of a Changeling, saying none of the victims had any children. And they don’t know if Wayne had a suction mark. Nor can they check because their friendly neighborhood Fargo girl, Donna, has gone on vacation.

As a hot young blonde woman shows up to talk to a policeman, looking shellshocked, Dean suggests he and Sam split up, with one of them interviewing witnesses at the gym and the other going to the morgue. Dean immediately volunteers to stay and Sam starts to demur. Dean than flatly tells him no, saying that Sam is “weird around girls.” And you know what? He’s not actually wrong.

Sam is a little shocked at this, but Dean snarks that he’s “just being honest” and walks off.

Dean interviews the blonde (of course). It turns out she was the last employee the night before, but she hadn’t actually closed down. She had a date. The victim was still there, working out (she wanted to be thin for her wedding). Dean’s witness didn’t want to disturb her, so she let the victim have her key. She now feels bad about this, for obvious reasons, since the victim died while alone at the gym. As they roll the body bag past, she turns away, overwhelmed, and Dean is startled to see a circular mark on her side, just like the one on the victim.

Back at the motel, Dean is on the laptop when Sam comes in. Sam says Wayne had a mark on the back of his neck. Dean says the employee did, too, and that she had recently lost a lot of weight. She was too embarrassed to tell him how, but he sussed out she had gone away the previous month “for some ‘Me’ Days,” did some research, and found out she went to a place called Canyon Valley Wellness Spa.

Dean cues up a video full of Andean pan flutes. A young Hispanic woman with a thick accent and an Anglo man are walking down a hallway as they sell the idea of losing weight to get in touch with that “thin” person deep inside, in a short time (a week), with no heavy workouts or restrictive diets. Dean looks smug at the connection he’s made to the case. Sam asks how far to drive and Dean replies. “Coupla hours.” Off they go.

At this pretentiously named and snow-covered retreat in the mountains, the Brothers have an interview with the people who run it, Maritza and her husband Larry. Larry met Maritza in Peru when he was an exchange student. He was overeating and got fat, and she helped him lose the extra weight. And … that and his giving her a green card seem to be the basis for their marriage. He does some karate chop moves that startle the Brothers and ends with a yoga “namaste” pose.

The Brothers (mostly) ace the interview. Sam does, anyway, but there’s only one instructor position open. So, Sam ends up teaching Ashtanga Yoga, while Dean is stuck in the kitchen, wearing a hairnet and surrounded by the “rabbit food” he hates so much. Needless to say, Dean’s not thrilled, especially since his boss, an even grumpier Hispanic dude, thinks Dean’s flirting with the Yoga instructor (an old, very old joke, Show) when he briefly compares notes with Sam before Sam’s class. When Dean wonders where Sam learned Yoga, Sam obliquely mentions Lisa (she was a Yoga instructor) and manages not to get punched in the face for it.

Meanwhile, Maritza is having a private “cupping” session with Donna. Donna gets very sleepy and zonks out while Maritza puts the cups on. Maritza says it’s the aromatherapy, “That lavender really packs a punch.” But as soon as she finishes putting the cups on, her eyes roll back in her head and she extrudes a long and gross sucker tongue onto Donna’s back, which she uses to suck up Donna’s fat. Say hello to the MOTW.

In the kitchen, Dean is on his phone, texting, which irritates his supervisor. Dean is grumpy and hungry. He gets even hungrier when his supervisor brings out a big bowl of pudding and tells him to spoon it into cups. The pudding is a special treat for the clients on “Spa Day” for right before they leave.

Well, Dean is tempted (I know you’re all shocked) and sneaks off down into a basement storage room, with a locked wine cellar, on his break with some pudding. But when he stands up to head back upstairs to work, he gets dizzy and passes out on some bags of sweet potatoes.

Meanwhile, Sam is discovering that there is more to teaching Yoga than knowing the moves and having dated his own version of Lisa. He wants everyone to hold a position known as “The Dog” for five minutes so that he can look at their backs, but when one guy grumbles (accurately) that they usually only hold a position for 30 seconds, he has to revise downward. He finds that everyone in the class has a suction mark on their backs. But, like the fitness employee Dean interviewed, they are all still alive. At the end, as he sees everyone out, you can tell that a lot of them aren’t thrilled with him.

Sam turns and sees Donna being rolled by Larry in a wheelchair down the hallway in her silk bathrobe. She looks stoned and accidentally “outs” him, blurting out his FBI fake agent name. Sam manages to slide out from under getting his cover blown by pretending she’s hallucinating, but it’s a close shave. He’s grateful to get a call that interrupts the awkward moment.

It’s Dean, who is semi-conscious in the storage room, but unable to get up. Dean begs Sam for help, but is able only to supply one clue: “sweet potatoes.” He passes out again.

Sam rushes into the kitchen and finds his way downstairs, where he eventually discovers the right room by process of elimination and calling until Dean answers. Sam slaps him awake and Dean readily admits he was drugged, that it must have been the pudding (salted caramel). Sam goes back upstairs to find the drugs. Dean starts to go after him, then realizes he’s too stoned and just lies back down.

Upstairs, Sam finds the chef and shoves him up against the wall, demanding to know what the extra ingredient is in the pudding. Confused, the chef tells him they’re just “supplements.” Sam brings them back down, along with an energy drink to help him wake up, and shows Dean the bottle. Dean immediately (and accurately) identifies them as roofies.

Sam: How do you know what roofies look like?

Dean: How do you not know? You think I wanna wake up in a hotel bathtub, with my kidney carved out? In Chechnya?

Dean is, of course, referring to a very famous urban legend that goes back at least to 1991. What surprises me is that Sam doesn’t know that. What show does he think he’s in? Urban legends are part of the show’s bread and butter. Did he forget about that time in season three when he almost got his eyes scooped out by Doc Benton?

Sam fills Dean in on the suction marks he saw in the class and Dean wonders what the hell is going on. Without much else to go on, they visit Donna.

Donna is thrilled that she has lost ten pounds – in one day – and doesn’t want to look too deeply into it when Dean asks how. He also off-handedly comments that “you look great” and when she admits that her husband Doug left her last year because she had gained weight, the Brothers commiserate with her. Sam says he’s “sorry to hear that.” Dean goes further, calling Doug “a dick” and that “you deserve better.” He seems quite sincere and he’s not wrong. We will meet Doug later in the show and he is no prize.

Donna, honey, go tap that. He’s very willing and will make you feel so much better.

Unfortunately, Donna has internalized Doug’s (and society’s) judgmental attitude about fat. It’s taken her six months to get into this spa. “I guess I just wanted to feel pretty again and Canyon Valley did that.”

Fortunately, Donna is still a smart investigator and has twigged that the Brothers are undercover. Dean admits that they are investigating a connection between the murders in her town and the spa. Sam mentions the “suction cup” marks and Donna readily shows them hers. She says she got it from her sleepy, pudding-induced spa treatment. With Maritza.

Cut to Larry pulling Maritza out of a brunch with a client. It turns out he didn’t buy Sam’s lie that Donna mistook him for someone else. Larry went through the Impala’s glove compartment and found the Brothers’ fake FBI badges. And some other fake IDs. Larry is well aware of what his wife is and of the existence of Hunters.

Maritza is confused. Why would Hunters come to Canyon Valley? Larry shows her a printout of an article about DTG’s death in Stillwater and she looks horrified. He tells her to clean up any evidence of her activities while he takes care of the Brothers. Think you got your work cut out for you, there, Larry.

Meanwhile, Sam is skulking around in the pink spa room and not finding a whole lot.

In a deserted part of the cafeteria, Maritza is opening up a fridge that is full of small vats of fat she extracted from clients. She dumps one, but can’t resist tasting another when she hears the click of a gun safety behind her. She turns around to see Dean, pistol leveled at her.

Dean ties her to a chair and tells her to start talking. She sings like a bird, but it’s not the story the Brothers expected. She says that she is a “Pishtaco” (which Dean at first thinks is “fish taco”), “a Peruvian fat sucker.” Dean says he’s never heard of them and compares them to vampires who like “cellulite.”

Maritza says that “vampires kill. We’re just parasites.” Unsurprisingly, Dean doesn’t think that’s better. But Maritza insists she would never hurt anyone. She and Larry started the spa so that their human clients could lose weight and she wouldn’t starve. When Dean points out that there are two dead people in Stillwater, she admits, after a reluctant pause, that the killer is her brother Alonso – Dean’s supervisor in the cafeteria.

Meanwhile, Larry is having a fight with Alonso back in the kitchen because he’s also twigged that Alonso is the killer. Larry threatens to expose Alonso (whom he calls a “freak”). This turns out to be a dumb idea because Alonso promptly kills him. Sam hears the fight and finds Larry’s dead body with a throat wound.

Back in her office, a tied-up Maritza is admitting to Dean (and now Sam, who clearly has told her about her husband’s death because she’s crying) that she brought Alonso back from Peru with her. She wanted to show Alonso a more “civilized” way to feed on humans, one that was mutually beneficial. But Alonso had recently lost control with a client and nearly killed them, so she had put him on kitchen duty. Alonso was forced to rely just on the fat in the jars she had, but claimed she was starving him. Sounds like Alonso was addicted to the kill, not just the fat.

They get her to tell them where Alonso is likely to be (the basement). Dean says that for now, she stays tied to the chair, even though she insists she’s on their side. Sam tells her to prove it – how can her kind be killed? Very reluctantly, she tells them.

The Brothers go down into the kitchen together, with what look like silver knives (the usual kill-all for unknown monsters). The basement lights aren’t working (guess Alonso fried them), so Dean finds some flashlights and down they go (there’s also some red emergency lighting). They then split up.

Dean enters a storeroom and finds jars of fat, about half of them empty. Sam finds Alonso’s bunk and the chef dead on the floor, with the same wound as Larry’s. Also, a bloody footprint into another storeroom. He finds a closet, though it only has clothes, but Alonso knocks the wardrobe next to it over on Sam. Sam manages to get free and they fight, but then Sam loses his knife.

In the process, Alonso boasts that Sam and “Stupido” (Dean, of course) can’t beat him, since fat makes Pishtacos stronger. Methinks Alonso is high on his own press.

Sam responds by taunting him that Maritza turned on him after he killed her husband. He’s become too monstrous even for her. Sam goes for the knife, but gets knocked through a wall and momentarily stunned. But as Alonso goes in for the feed-kill, Dean comes out of nowhere, grabs his sucker tongue, and cuts it from his head. The tongue twitches for a while longer after Alonso dies. So much for Dean being stupid, but then, Alonso was no MENSA candidate, himself.

Cut to an exterior shot of Canyon Valley, then an inside shot of a coroner’s stretcher being pushed past Sam and Dean, who are talking with Donna (now in uniform). Sam, who is sporting a bloody lip, sees Maritza sitting alone nearby and goes to talk to her. She asks him what he told Donna. He says that it was “the usual … psycho killer on the loose. They usually buy it.”

Maritza realizes that she is now completely alone. Sam’s attempt to commiserate with her is interrupted by Dean pulling him out of the room for a Brotherly chat about what to do with her. Do they kill her or what? Dean’s for Option #1 and comments that Sam did want to keep things businesslike (and this is their “business”). Sam wants to let her go because hey, what if a Hunter had encountered him while he was possessed by Gadriel? Would Sam have ended up dead, too (considering the formidableness of angels, I rather doubt that, Sam). So, they let her go back to Peru, with the caveat that she never return to the U.S. We get a final shot of her looking around the room at her shattered dream.

Back at the Bunker, Dean is drinking in the kitchen when Sam comes in. Sam apparently wasn’t done with the bitchy speeches as of last week, because he has one even worse brewed up to unleash on Dean this week.

Sam has come in to say goodnight and starts to leave, but Dean calls him back. He references the speech from last week and Sam rather nastily comments that he thought Dean said he wasn’t bothered by it (even though Dean’s been acting pissed about it all episode). Dean points out that he’s saved Sam repeatedly all season nine, including in this very episode. Dean admits that he doesn’t always “think things all the way through” to their consequences, but that when he does something, “I do it because it’s the right thing. I’d do it again.”

Well, that right there is what sets Sam off. Sam says that Dean is wrong for thinking he’s saving Sam, that he’s doing more good than bad. But he says that Dean doesn’t do more good than bad, that saving him (Sam) wasn’t a good thing, since it ended up with Kevin dead and Kevin’s killer on the loose.

When Dean protests that they are best hunting together, Sam sits down and tells Dean that he doesn’t think Dean saved Sam for Sam. He did it for himself. He says that Dean just didn’t want to be by himself and “can’t stand the thought of being alone.” Sam says he was ready to die and Dean was selfish to stop him. He says that Dean is happy to make a sacrifice “as long as you’re not the one being hurt.”

Dean points out that “if the situation were reversed, you’d do the same thing [save Dean].” Sam just retorts that he wouldn’t. He hedges it with “not under the same circumstances” (because he’s actually done far worse toward the goal of saving Dean). But considering this is in the context of his having abandoned Dean in Purgatory (and Kevin to the tender mercies of Crowley) for a year just a season and a half before, it comes out sounding absolute. As Sam leaves, the episode ends on Dean’s look of utter devastation at the realization that no, his brother does not love him the same way Dean loves him. That, in fact, Sam may not love him at all.

Credits

The show got a 1.0/3 in A18-49 demo and 2.46 million in audience. That was up from The Originals episode that preceded it (that show was never really a hit. The network just pretended it was) but down 300 thousand from the show’s previous episode.

You’re welcome.

Review: This poor episode. “The Purge” is actually an engaging story with an original MOTW, decent pacing, some unusual roles for the Brothers (even if Dean’s “job” at the fitness center is played a bit too much for mean-spirited laughs at Dean’s expense), and so on. I even liked Maritza and Mala, and wouldn’t mind seeing them again.

But at the end of the day, it will always be remembered (negatively) for that ending. To add insult to injury, Sam had already given Dean a version of this speech in the previous episode, but ramped up the nasty this time round.

There is a great deal of projected hostility in Sam’s speech, for which he never apologized (his “I lied” at the end of the season is far too little, too late). Sam calls Dean all the things that he himself thinks he is, but Dean of course feels them as if they’re real and is so devastated that he eventually commits a suicidal act at the end of the season.

The sad part is that Dean, with his dangerously low self-esteem, takes Sam’s insults to heart and Sam, knowing this, aims them for maximum effect. And why? Because he is momentarily angry with Dean over getting him possessed by Gadriel, which is a legit reason to be angry, if not mean. But Sam goes way too far.

Another reason is far less sympathetic and probably more honest. He resents that Dean has something new in his life that Sam doesn’t understand, something “special” that Sam doesn’t have. Sam is used to being the special one. Boy, does it ruffle his jammies that Dean is suddenly the special one, even though Dean is freaked out by it and really could use the support right now. Instead, Sam gaslights him and the show never calls him out on it. It makes Sam look extremely unsympathetic and the effect was long-lasting and divisive with the fandom, rather like that time Sam choked Dean half to death on behalf of a demon.

The title is, of course, a double pun. It’s related to the desire of people to lose their fat, to the point of letting a monster eat it (purging it). It’s also derived from the popular horror film series about a dystopian future in which (almost) all laws are canceled for a single night each year.

I haven’t had much use for that series, since the first film is basically about rich people playing vicious power games with each other (and I’ve always been meh about home invasion stories of this type). The rest of the series, however, gets much more into the racist and classist nitty-gritty of why a totalitarian government has created this night and how it’s used by the rich to keep down the poor. In a bit of career irony, the actor who played Alonso, Joseph Julian Soria, later appeared in the third film of the series, The Purge: Election Night (2016), as a main character named Marcos.

Let’s get back to the MOTW. The Pishtaco is a bit different from the show’s usual MOTW. It comes from the Andes in South America and appears to be, originally, an indigenous legend. It may not be Pre-Columbian, though, since it appears, at least in the first form we see it in the 16th century, to be a legend indigenous Peruvians told about the Spanish invaders.

The indigenous Puruvians so valued fat that they had a god of fat whom they worshiped (Viracocha, which some translate as “sea of fat”). They believed that the Spanish were killing Indians to render their fat in order to grease their metal weapons or even church bells. At least one historian claims that the Conquistadores actually did use the fat from dead bodies to put on wounds. Therefore, while the casting in the show implies that this MOTW is indigenous Peruvian, the Pishtaco is usually someone white or mestizo because this monster is basically a cannibal metaphor for European colonial voracity.

In its tendency to steal the fat around a person’s organs, the Pishtaco has some similarities to indigenous witch legends from North America, such as the Cherokee Spearfinger and Stone Man, who eat their victims’ livers. In both cases, these monsters steal their victims’ vitality, however that vitality is represented (either as fat or as livers). It is not entirely clear from these legends, however, if the Pishtaco is supposed to be a supernatural creature like Spearfinger (or the Algonquin Wendigo), or a human, like some early version of the “Woke up in a bathtub missing a kidney” urban legend that Dean references in the roofies scene. In fact, this led recently to an apparently invented urban legend of a serial killing, fat-stealing gang called the “Pishtacos,” by the Peruvian police in 2009.

Despite its very first MOTW being a Hispanic legend (La Llorona as a Phantom Hitchhiker in the Pilot), Supernatural doesn’t actually do that many legends of Hispanic/Latinx/Latin American origin, so this is a nice change. And it was a good callout to the very large following the show has in South America, particularly Brazil, where it is known as Sobrenatural.

The show also did some briefer cultural call-outs. First, you have “fish tacos,” a favored San Diego culinary delight. Fish tacos originated in Baha California, though it’s not clear whether they came from San Felipe or Ensenada sometime in the 1950s. I suspect one of the recipe’s ancestors is Paella Valenciana, a rice recipe with seafood from the southeastern Mediterranean coast of Spain.

Then there’s the subject of cultural appropriation. This especially pops up in Canyon Valley’s use of Yoga. There’s an ongoing debate about the cultural appropriation of Yoga in the West by white practitioners who both strip Yoga of its religious (and even philosophical) context and mostly shut out South Asian practitioners. South Asian practitioners also note that Yoga, which is a huge and lucrative business in the West, was originally a set of teachings offered completely for free.

While the episode doesn’t come out and explicitly discuss cultural appropriation, Canyon Valley is obviously a satire on how cultural appropriation intersects with racism and colonial attitudes in the West. It’s most obvious with the Yoga, but also pops up with the references to cupping (which has ancient and complex origins). There is also an attempt early on at respect toward Roma culture, though it’s somewhat undercut by being a direct (and explicitly referenced) steal from Stephen King’s Thinner.

The exploration of attitudes about fat is less clear. There are various references both to the shame people in the West feel about fat and to other cultures where being fat is more valued. When Dean refers to Maritza “hoovering” up people’s fat, he’s talking about the vacuum brand. But it’s also a term referring to the manipulations abusive partners (especially narcissists) use to drag their victim back into a relationship. You know, kind of like what Sam does to Dean early in season eight and from now through season eleven.

Perhaps the reason Donna immediately comes off as human and with some depth is because we see both her professional face and her more vulnerable personal face in her introduction. Maybe that’s why they brought her back.

Donna’s insecurities mean she also does not see that Dean almost immediately has a connection to her, that turns into a sort of Ducky Love. Dean isn’t just being nice (the way Sam is) when he tells her she deserves better than her shallow douche of an ex. Dean says Donna looks “great” because he honestly thinks she does look “pretty.” I liked Donna and still kinda hope those two crazy kids will hook up at some point. They’d both deserve it and Lord knows, I need that after having to suffer through watching Rowena and Gabriel shag.

In fact, Dean connects with all of the women in the story whom he meets (so, three out of four because this episode has an unusually high number of randomly female guest stars – not that I’m complaining), except for the female monster, all much to Sam’s embarrassment. Sam, on the other hand, mouths the right platitudes, but only emotionally comes alive when interacting with Maritza, following the revelation that she’s a monster.

When Dean tells Sam that he’s “weird around girls,” Dean’s not actually wrong. There’s a part of Sam (you see it in the Yoga class) that is very judgmental of people’s appearance – not just their social appearance, but their actual physical appearance. Dean’s not like that. Dean may be “sloppy,” but he’s also tolerant of people’s flaws, as long as they are non-harmful, human flaws.

It is especially curious that Sam, in the bright, shallow, surface world of Canyon Valley, looks like the perfect monster hunter. There’s an explicit visual contrast between him and Dean in their physical appearance in this episode. While Sam gets a tank top and shorts that show off his impressive physique, Dean’s musculature is obscured by long sleeves and long pants, and a goofy hairnet.

But once they get down into the basement, Sam proves unable to overcome the MOTW (though he puts up a good fight), a feat Dean accomplishes easily, almost casually. This was early in the MoC storyline, so it was kept ambiguous, like Dean’s werewolf kills the previous episode. Was that monster kill really as overwhelmingly one-sided as it looked or did Dean just happen to catch Alonso off-guard? Was Alonso really so strong that he could take down Sam like that, or was Sam just having a bad day and Dean a really good day in the context of the episode?

The Brothers are both superlative Hunters, though Dean has always had a physical edge whenever they were both “just” human, as well as generally better instincts. And the show can be inconsistent about how each one’s skills and abilities are portrayed in contrast to MOTWs (or even each other) within episodes, particularly MOTW episodes. But within this specific episode, Sam seems to lose Hunter mojo when he goes down in the dark, while Dean actually grows much stronger. As with the rest of the episode, looks are deceiving about who is in the best physical shape and who is the better Hunter.

This probably fuels the resentment behind Sam’s speech at the end. The implication is that while Dean still needs Sam emotionally, that connection (and Sam’s control over Dean) is thinning between them. Hence Sam’s gaslighting overkill of Dean at the end, in an attempt to regain that emotional control.

Up to this point in the season, Sam has been All About his mangst over not dying, over having been possessed by Gadriel, and over Gadriel having used his body to kill Kevin. So, he’s a little slow to realize that the show (and Dean) has already moved on to a new mytharc storyline, the Mark of Cain. Even so, he is slightly ahead of the audience in recognizing the permanence of the sea change and he doesn’t like it. Bet you’re regretting that whole “We’re not brothers” speech last week, already, huh, Sam?

There are some pretty obvious parallels in the show’s version between the brother-and-sister MOTWs and the Brothers Winchester. Though it’s not entirely clear which is which. The brother Pishtaco is voracious and out of control in his appetites. He doesn’t care whom he hurts, including his brother-in-law.

The sister just wants to live and let live, turning her need for fat into a mutually beneficial relationship with a society of humans who have far too much of it and want to get rid of it. She is harmed by her brother’s reckless actions and ultimately is forced to go back home, a widow and now illegal immigrant (the episode’s metaphor for immigration from Latin America is clumsy).

Or at any rate, that’s her story. When threatened, she wastes no time throwing her brother under the bus. We get at least one example (she didn’t warn the Brothers that consuming fat makes a Pishtaco much stronger) where she is not entirely on the level. It’s probably just as well Dean didn’t untie her and let her tag along for the fratricidal ride. Even if she was honest about now wanting her brother to hurt any more humans, she had been feeding regularly and was likely stronger than him. For all Sam and Dean knew, she could have lost control and turned on them, too.

For much of the episode, it seems clear that Dean parallels the brother and Sam the sister, but that ending speech flips this analogy right on its head.

What’s especially striking is that Sam doesn’t really identify with any of the characters in the story at all (his reactions are fake and shallow) – except for Maritza. And he only identifies with Maritza because he makes her situation All About his own manpain over being possessed by Gadriel and killing Kevin. With everyone else, he’s emotionally detached, but Maritza the Sympathetic Monster he feels sorry for, or at least as much as she serves as a mirror for his own issues. It’s colossaly narcissistic.

When poor Maritza asks at the end, What am I going to do now? Sam’s response is basically, Well, we’re going to let you go back to Peru and I’m sure you’ll do fine. Once he talks Dean out of killing her, Sam’s interest in her is done.

I’m simultaneously struck by how terribly lonely it must be to be Sam Winchester and what a self-absorbed asshole he is. I get that he’s damaged by their childhood with John and lifelong manipulations by demons, but damn, Sam. There are other people in the world. And I don’t just mean Dean.

It’s pretty disturbing that Sam just wants to let Maritza go, now that she has no family and no support system. Sure, Dean’s solution is harsh, but he has a point – her brother was a killer and now she’s very likely to become one, too. Let’s face it. Sam’s judgment of which monsters will or won’t re-offend is dodgy, at best. Remember Amy Pond, whom he was willing to let go even while she still had the blood of her human victims on her hands?

When I first watched this episode, I thought Sam’s speech felt tacked on, one of those codas to remind us of the mytharc that got ignored all episode. But on rewatch, I think there are a lot of subtle signs leading up to the speech that show just how hollow a person Sam really can be. In addition to his using the accusation to twist the knife, I think Sam honestly believes (consciously, anyway) that Dean really is being selfish in saving him, that Dean only does it to avoid being alone. And I think that’s because Sam saves other people for selfish reasons, himself. He is, as I said earlier in this review, projecting his own hang-ups onto Dean.

This will become much clearer later in this season and the next. But there’s no need to get spoilery about upcoming storylines to tease this out. Sam spent the first half of season eight insanely jealous of Dean’s close bond with the vampire Benny. Sam sabotaged that friendship – and Benny – every chance he got. Dean had just spent a year alone in Purgatory, when he could have just left, because he wanted to find and rescue Castiel, but now Dean’s the one who’s clingy? I don’t think so, Sammy.

It’s also downright bizarre to listen to Sam rant about how Dean stole his destiny out from under him and wouldn’t let him die. That’s because first of all, when Sam took on the Trials, he made it abundantly clear that he intended to survive them. He also chose, at the end of season eight, to live by forgoing the completion of the Third Trial. There was never any reason for Dean to believe that Sam wanted to die in the season nine premiere, aside from a rather questionable vision given to him on Sam’s deathbed by an angel who turned out to be treacherous. As far as Dean knew, he was fulfilling Sam’s wishes by finding a way to heal him.

Second, Sam stole those Trials from Dean in the first place. They were in no way Sam’s intended destiny. Dean had been pursuing that quest since Kevin had mentioned it near the beginning of season eight. He made it clear in “Trial and Error” that he intended to take them on, even if it killed him. So, every time Sam starts whining that Dean stopped him from completing those Trials (which turned out to be a fraud and a trap, anyway), I roll my eyes pretty hard at the way Sam so freely rewrites history.

I think that Sam is struggling in seasons eight and nine with a sudden and unwelcome (to him) new change. He’s now fully human. You might think, after the seven seasons of moaning about the curse of his demon blood and being Lucifer’s chew toy, that Sam might be glad – nay, thrilled – to be free of all that, but remember that the central horror metaphor for Sam’s demon blood storyline has always been addiction.

Sam is an addict and he has an addict’s mentality. He isn’t just addicted to the demon blood. He’s addicted to how his “destiny” made him feel special. It made him feel superior. Dean kept sabotaging all that until he finally accomplished the impossible – he got Sam stripped down to his human core. And boy, does Sam resent that. As dark and ugly as that destiny was, without it, Sam feels ordinary.

This is actually a fascinating storyline for Sam. Pretty? No. It makes Sam very unsympathetic for quite a while as he learns to sort things out. But it’s still pretty fascinating. This is a character who has always felt cursed, but adapted to it by kind of enjoying how the curse made him feel special. Can’t fault Sam for that. No, it’s Sam’s selfish and aggressive response to being cured of that curse that is unsympathetic.

Unfortunately, the writers waffled a lot on it. Partly, I think, it was because some of the writers (coughAndrewDabbcoughNepotismDuocoughcough) were still stuck in the Speshul Sauce Sammy rut. But partly, it was because this storyline got a lot of blowback from Sam fans. It was a rich storyline, acting-wise, for Jared Padalecki and I gotta say, he did not hold back on playing Sam as a hot narc mess and complete dick. But for all the complaining in some fan quarters that Sam never got the emotional “human” storylines Dean got during Sam’s mytharcs, boy, did those same fans really hate it when Dean got the mytharc and Sam got some of Dean’s old “Wind Beneath My Wings” motifs.

Finally, there’s how this fits into the slow-ish build-up of the Mark of Cain storyline in season nine. To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t at all clear on first run if there even was an MoC storyline (despite Dean’s brief mention of it at the beginning of the episode). Had it been teased and dropped, already? Who knew?

In retrospect, this is a pivotal episode. First, of course, is Sam’s obnoxious speech, which heavily fueled the self-loathing that led Dean to the end of the season. Second, though, we are beginning to see what powers the MoC gives to Dean. After Alonso’s bragging about taking out both Brothers, Dean dispatches him easily. Sure, Dean catches him off-guard, but still, there’s no sense it’s hard in any way for Dean to pull off. There’s more than a hint in there of superhuman strength and reflexes in Dean.

To be honest, Dean probably could have prosecuted this hunt quite successfully on his own. Yeah, he accidentally drugs himself at one point, but it doesn’t actually put his life at risk. And he finds most of the clues. Sam is the one who nearly gets himself killed. The sense later on in the show that Dean gets of not really needing Sam to hunt, while he’s got the MoC, is not quite as strong as it was in last week’s episode, but it’s definitely there. I think Sam’s biggest fear at this point in the show is not that Dean needs him too much, but that Dean might be getting to the point where he doesn’t need Sam at all.

Next week: Captives: The Brothers discover that the Bunker is haunted.

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

Season 15


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Jesus in “Supernatural”: Part 2


We need your help!

You can still find my reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my folklore research on Patreon. Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, production of season 15 was interrupted and 15.13 will be the last episode aired “for a while.” The show was supposed to finish up this fall, as the only original programming on the CW before January, but so far, the Creation cons have been postponed into next year and the cast and crew remain at home. They did put out a poster for the final episodes and include the show in a new promo. So, there’s that.

Note that I heartily endorse the cast and crew staying home until it’s safe. I sure hope CW head Mark Pedowitz is taking that safety of his employees a lot more seriously than it seems in his most recent interview.

If you’re enjoying these articles and reviews, any contributions are welcome. Even in a pandemic, the kitties still gotta eat.

My collected recaps and reviews of season one, which first appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are 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.

spoilers but no proselytizing ahoy

I’m happy to report that I’ve received enough “coffee” from Ko-Fi to achieve the goal of posting one new retro review per week of the show until I’m all caught up. With this article done, expect me to get back in the review saddle with season nine’s “The Purge” this coming week.

When I wrote the first part of this article, it was just one part and season 10 had not yet begun. Since then, I’ve been asked to discuss what has happened after season 9 in Christological terms. There has been a lot of Christological material, particularly in season 11, though it’s become increasingly scattered since that season. Still, between Dean being the Firewall Between Light and Dark (and saying yes to an alternate version of the Archangel Michael, before becoming his Cage through sheer willpower and the Power of Family), and Jack the Super Sparkly Archangel Naphil son of Lucifer, there’s a lot to unpack here (that’s not even getting into the Mark of Cain). And since the first article was so long, it seemed likely this coda would get lost in the wash at the end. So, I made it its own article. Which is good, because this one ran really long.

Ripping off the Bible

You want to know what I’d like to see in the final scene of Supernatural? Dean as the new God, flanked by Castiel and Billie, watching Sam, finally retired, with the rest of the surviving Team Free Will after the final battle. After assuring himself that his family is safe and reasonably happy, he turns to Castiel and Billie, and says, “We got work to do.” Because making the SPNverse the happy and fair place envisioned by the Family Business motto would take a whole other show.

Let’s roll back a few seasons. Dean had some labels attributed to him from season 4 onward that were Christological. For example, he was referred to as the “Righteous Man” in “On the Head of a Pin” (4.16) in season 4 by Hell’s Torturer, WED Alastair. According to Alastair, the breaking of a Righteous Man by getting him to choose to become a torturer was the First Seal. Note that many fans often incorrectly say that Dean broke the First Seal, while Sam broke the Final Seal, but this is not true. Just as Lilith became the Final Seal when Sam killed her, Dean became the First Seal when he broke. Dean was the First Seal.

Biblically, the Righteous Man was a series of allusions to a figure in the Old Testament that Christians later identified as Jesus Christ. The most striking example is the first verse of Psalm 22, which is evoked in the description of Jesus’ crucifixion and its immediate aftermath: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Thus, in Christian thought, the Righteous Man isn’t just an innocent or righteous person who could be anybody, but a singular title for Christ.

So, when some fans claim that John was a Righteous Man who didn’t break, first of all, it’s unlikely he didn’t break. When the Hell Gate opens at the end of “All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 2” (2.22), in the season 2 finale, his soul is both free and near enough to the gate to escape. That means he couldn’t have been on Alastair’s rack. Second, there is only one Righteous Man identified in the show and his identity is revealed by what he does and by what happens next. Third, there’s little onscreen evidence to indicate that John was righteous. Even before Mary died, he was innocent, not righteous. As a Hunter, he crossed that moral line many times and while he showed remorse over it, he never actually changed his ways.

Similarly, there is the Servant of the Lord in Isaiah, Chapter 42 (rendered as the Servant of Heaven on the show). Rabbinical scholars identified the Servant in Isaiah as a metaphor for the faithful remnant of Israel, following Babylon’s conquest of Judah in 587 BCE. Ecclesiastical scholars identified the Servant with a prototypical version (or a prophecy) of Christ. Other such biblical references are to Christ or to Ancient Israelite prophets, especially Moses.

In the show, the Servant of Heaven is only referenced in one episode, season 5’s “99 Problems” (5.17), which leads into “Point of No Return” (the episode where Dean tries to say yes to Michael and ends up stabbing Michael’s emissary, the seraph Zachariah, instead, when backed into a corner by the torture of his brothers).

In “99 Problems,” Team Free Will discovers that they are up against the Whore of Babylon. The Whore is lurking inside the dead body of an alleged prophet, Leah, the wholesome daughter of a non-denominational minister. In this guise, she is tempting his overzealous flock into a murderous witchhunt against a plague of demons (who are working with the Whore) that is beleaguering their town. It was actually a belief among many churchmen in early medieval Europe that the Devil tempted gullible peasants into damning themselves by persecuting others under the belief that they were witches. So, it didn’t just start in the skeptical Enlightenment wake of the Reformation era witchcrazes.

As Dean sarcastically puts it (foreshadowing his calling out the angel Metatron for doing the same thing in the season 9 finale, “Do You Believe in Miracles?” (9.23)), the Whore is leading this wayward flock “to slaughter and kill and sing peppy little hymns.”

There is much debate within the episode about who can destroy the Whore. Castiel insists she can only be killed by a “Servant of Heaven.” But even Castiel has no way of identifying one, though he’s pretty confident none of TFW is one. He is fallen, Dean lacks faith, and Sam is an “abomination.” Dean’s lack of faith is perceived as weakness by Castiel.

In the final battle, though, as the Leah!Whore is exhorting a grieving couple to burn alive a bunch of their friends and neighbors, she attacks Dean during the fight. When he tries to grab the special weapon needed for the Servant to kill her, she scoffs, mocking the idea of his being the Great Vessel (Michael’s), let alone that he might be a Servant of Heaven. She calls him “pathetic, self-hating and faithless.”


Right before he stabs her to death, to the astonishment of everyone in the room (including her), he says, “Don’t be so sure – Whore.” In typical Kripke-and-Gamble-era fashion, where nothing that Dean does is actually that big of a deal and is given the least exciting possible reason, Sam chooses to see this as an indication that Dean is about to say yes to Michael and nothing more momentous than that. Never mind that Dean being a vessel of Michael is significant in a Christological sense. Michael has been seen as the pre-mortal version of Christ in sects such as the Seventh Day Adventists. So, it goes by the wayside along with the rest of Dean’s season 5 Michael storyline in the next episode.

Ripping off comic books

Fast forward to season 10, after Dean is “cured” of being a demon, but continues to bear the Mark of Cain that he took on in the middle of season 9 as the only way to slay another evil demon, Abaddon. Now, there are many Christological allusions in this storyline, especially once it morphs into the Amara storyline in season 11, and it was very popular (so buckle up). But first, let’s talk about its origins. The most obvious is the antihero/villain Saint of Killers from 1990s Vertigo comic Preacher.

I’m going to be honest here. I never quite warmed to Preacher during its run and I’m not a huge fan of Garth Ennis. Ennis’ Preacher is a classic case of 90s edgelord comics, with a lot of intentional blasphemy, gross-out humor (especially in the art), and less-than-stellar writing about gender, race and GLBT tropes. Despite the success of the TV adaptation, I don’t think the comic has aged all that well. I mean, way to give Tulip a great intro and then turn her into a useless Girlfriend character for the rest of the story, dude.

Now I don’t mind edgy writing when it works and I don’t care about “blasphemy,” either (it’s largely in the eye of the beholder), but I do object to rendering large subjects petty and small when you’re not actually doing satire. Or, at least, not very successful satire. So, yeah, might be a bit harsh on Ennis from here on out.

There are two fairly obvious steals from Preacher by the Supernatural writers. One is the Saint of Killers. The Saint is your classic Western cliché of a bad man reformed by a good woman. Think Unforgiven (1992), or The Outlaw Jose Wales (1976), or early John Wayne vehicle Angel and the Badman (1947). In his mortal life, the Saint even fought on the side of the Confederacy, a common part of this trope.

After his new family is murdered, he goes on a bloody rampage of revenge, but is killed before he quite completes it. Upon his arrival in Hell, his hatred makes it literally freeze over. To get rid of him, the Angel of Death agrees to trade places with him and gives him two pistols made out of the Angel’s own sword. They can kill anything. The Saint’s first victim is the Devil himself. He then returns to Earth and completes his vengeance, with a high body count of innocents. The Saint doesn’t care about collateral damage. Heaven then puts him to sleep until he is awakened over a century later and sent after one Jesse Custer (JC – Jesus Christ, geddit? Hahahahaha).

This where the other Supernatural, uh, “borrowing” comes in. Jesse is a young preacher from a very screwed-up Louisiana family (cough-liketheStynes-coughcough) who is accidentally fused with a being known as Genesis in the middle of a sermon. God had Genesis created from the union between an angel and a demon because He got bored and wanted to create a worthy adversary that would love him entirely of its own free will (God’s a creep in this story, too). Possession by Genesis gives Jesse the power of the Voice of God, where he can compel almost anyone to do whatever he wants them to do.

Jesse eventually dies (he gets the Saint to kill him so the Saint is free to go kill his real enemy), loses Genesis, is resurrected, and wins Tulip back (she had become disgusted after acting as a point of conflict between Jesse and his vampire BFF for most of series, and bailed on him). But not before Jesse has told the Saint who really killed his family – God. The Saint enters Heaven, slaughters the angels, kills God as God tries to bargain with him, sits on God’s celestial throne … and goes back to sleep. Because peace and being done are all he ever wanted.

Now, it’s fairly obvious that Supernatural has put Dean Winchester in the Saint of Killers role and Jack Kline in the Jesse Custer/Genesis role (which does imply that Dean will eventually be the one who kills God). With some serial numbers filed off, of course. The Mark of Cain storyline works much better, though, than pretty much anything to do with Jack. The reasons can be found both in the source material and in the show’s own universe.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with Supernatural doing its own take on this hoary old tale. The creators of Preacher themselves admitted that they based the Saint on a combination of characters played by Clint Eastwood and Lee Marvin. A lot of what they did in the comic was hardly all that original. It was the way they used it to tell a story that made it popular.

Further, Supernatural has always been an intentionally metatextual commentary on the horror genre – a horror movie every week, as Kripke originally put it. Hence the MOTW and urban legend format. So, it shouldn’t be any shock that the writers do riffs on various horror storylines and tropes, past and present. That’s the whole point.

But the show has done this with varying success. In the case of the Saint of Killers vs. the Mark of Cain, I think the show improved on the comic. In the comic, the Saint is a one-dimensional antihero, notable mainly for his implacable hate.

The Mark of Cain storyline, on the other hand, was given to one of the two leads and damned if it didn’t fit like a glove. It became an amazingly apt metaphor for Dean’s series-long simmering rage and madness, his struggle to control himself, not to harm innocents. Dean is a Hero (albeit a very dirty one), but he has an enormous dark side (what Jung would call his “shadow”) that could turn him into a monster like those he hunts if he’s not careful. He and Sam keep each other (mostly) human.

Dean stands out from other Hunters, indeed every other character in the story, with his philosophy of the Family Business (“Saving People, Hunting Things”). The basic, and revolutionary, idea is that it is as (in fact, more) important to save people and make their lives better, as it is to kill the supernatural things that threaten them. Dean attributes its origins to John, but there is very little (okay, no) evidence that John cared enough about saving people to make it a primary philosophical tenet. He was all about the revenge and if innocents got killed as collateral damage, oh, well. The story of Jo Harvelle’s father pretty much sums that up.

Dean has modified and fine-tuned this philosophy over the years. Mostly, it involved changing the definition of “people.” He began the series hard-wired to believe that all humans were “people” and all monsters were “things.” But he has (thanks in large part to Sam’s influence and example in episodes like season 2’s “Bloodlust” (2.03)) changed that to believe that some humans are monsters and some monsters are people. It all depends on what they do, not what they are. That’s a novel concept in Supernatural, where, from the start, biology is destiny.

Dean, the founder of Team Free Will, introduces a dangerous and revolutionary idea in the show’s second episode, “Wendigo” (1.02). He proselytizes and spread this idea with increasing success over the years because it provides Hunters (and some monsters) a way out of their dark and bloody worldview, a light in the darkness. It is the Supernatural version of Jesus’ message of peace and reconciliation in the New Testament.

So, where Dean gets into most dangerous territory during the Mark of Cain storyline is when he kills humans/almost humans in two major incidents in season 10. One occurs when the daughter of Castiel’s vessel Jimmy Novak (and a former vessel of his, as well), Claire, pops back up in season 10 in “The Things We Left Behind” (10.09). She had last appeared in season 4’s “The Rapture” (4.20). Her mother having disappeared years before, Claire has fallen in with a Fagan-like low-level criminal who uses street kids to commit crimes for him. When he finds himself in major debt to a local drug dealer, he sells Claire to the dealer, but TFW saves her at the last minute. Playing the rear guard, Dean is ambushed by the dealer’s gang, while Claire’s “mentor” looks on apathetically.

At this point in season 10, for dealing with the Mark, Dean has already tried self-control, heroic suicide (in a sacrificial battle against an Angel Tableted-up Metatron at the end of season 9), and is now back to self-control by the skin of his teeth, along with a hefty self-medicating dose of his usual drinking and prescription drug abuse. He is acutely aware of the consequences if he dies in the fight and tries to warn off the gang. They, of course, have no idea and their own bloodlust is up, anyway, so they commence trying to beat him to death. This … doesn’t end well. For them.

Back in the car, TFW clues in that they have accidentally abandoned Dean when Sam hears Dean’s roar of fury as he loses control and cuts loose. They burst into the house to find the gang all dead (including Claire’s creepy “mentor”) and Dean covered in blood, per his recent and recurring nightmare. Claire freaks out and spends the next episode trying to kill him, but after this backfires spectacularly, and he is stuck babysitting her at one point, they end up bonding over miniature golf. From then on, Claire holds a big hero worship torch for Dean and tries to emulate him as a Hunter.

The other incident is later, darker and far more clear-cut in its moral risk for Dean (no self-defense involved here). In the process of secretly working to lift the curse from Dean’s arm, Sam recruits (forcibly, in some cases) a crew with different talents. One of them is Sam and Dean’s perky, Mary Sue-ish Kid Sister From Another Mother, Charlie.

After Charlie steals the Book of the Damned (a book that mysteriously calls to Dean, in an intriguing storyline that sadly goes nowhere) from a sinister family of body-parts-stealing necromancers known as the Stynes (yes, as in Frankenstein), they catch up to her and kill her. Furious with Sam for putting her at risk, Dean seeks bloody vengeance against the Stynes in the penultimate episode of the season, “The Prisoner” (10.22). And he kills every last one, including one reluctant boy who may (or may not) have been redeemable.

Dean’s rampage is brutally satisfying. When he returns to the Bunker to find the remaining Stynes ransacking it and about to set his home on fire, the scene is strongly evocative of the dragon Smaug returning to his cave in The Hobbit to find Bilbo and the dwarves raiding it. He comes very close to the line here when he kills the last Styne, the well-meaning but weak Cyrus, but he doesn’t quite cross over it.

The main problem here is not that these people do not deserve it or even that they are humans and not supernatural monsters (albeit the Stynes, like witches, are in a very gray area). Because they do deserve it. Even Cyrus never quite meets the threshold of redemption because he never has the courage to do anything actually redemptive. The most he does is stand by and wimper some protests that his relatives ignore. He even commits a murder (however reluctantly) because he’s too afraid to stand up to his family. He knows what he is supposed to do morally, but he never actually follows up on it. It takes more than knowing what you are supposed to do – you also have to do it.

Compare him, for example, to Christoph Nauhaus in “The One You’ve Been Waiting For (12.05). Christoph, after much waffling, stands up to his crazy Thule father and helps the Brothers kill the resurrected Hitler, saving an innocent in the process. Yeah, it’s not until his father orders him executed, but still, Christoph chooses to help the Brothers instead of just running away. Christoph is definitely a gray character, but he ends up choosing a side and the Brothers let him live (however reluctantly) afterward. That’s a redemption arc.

The problem with Dean’s killings of these humans in Christological terms is not that they don’t deserve it (they all do), but that the justice he metes out is Old Testament, not New Testament. Compare this with Canadian indie horror film Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001). In this amiably bloody homage to 70s exploitation horror flicks, Jesus has returned to earth in preparation for the Second Coming. But he takes a sidetrip from the Apocalypse to save the lesbians of Ottawa from a gang of mean-spirited and homophobic vampires (the film is very pro-LGBT and even includes a campy, but holy, trans Good Samaritan).

Jesus has no problems with kicking vampire ass, but he only really loses his temper and unleashes his divine wrath near the end. In a junkyard, in the middle of the fight, he turns almost all of the vampires to dust. But his two closest and most faithful disciples beg him to spare two of the female vampires, with whom they have fallen in love. This actually includes the vampire henchwoman of the head bad guy, who has racked up a considerable body count of her own. With a bemused shrug at the mysteries of human romantic love, Jesus grants their request, and even restores the vampires to full life and humanity. At the end of the day, what makes him unique is his infinite capacity for divine compassion and lack of jealousy.

Compassion is what Dean is (mostly) lacking as the Mark of Cain increasingly takes hold of him. He starts to lose his grasp on the “saving people” side of the Family Business equation, though he never quite lets it go. Even as a demon, he only beats Cole, but doesn’t kill him, in “Reichenbach” (10.02). he also chooses to spare the life of a woman whose unfaithful husband sold his soul to have her murdered when she engaged in adulterous payback and drives off his waitress girlfriend’s abusive ex with a brutal beating (“Black” (10.01)). Nor is he even remotely tempted by Crowley’s offer to be Hell’s second-in-command, let alone to unseat Crowley from his throne.

While he does lose his temper against Claire’s assailants, he does try to warn them beforehand not to kill him (knowing that then, his demonic side would simply take over). And even at his coldest with the Stynes, he still warns them about coming back “with black eyes.” Dean is acutely aware of the double-edged sword of his immortality. Unable to engineer his own death, as Cain did when Cain was no longer able to control himself, Dean eventually summons Death and strikes a deal with him to be exiled forever away from humans so that he can no longer harm anyone in the season 10 finale, “Brother’s Keeper” (10.23).

He is willing to do something similar years later when Billie shows him the only way to contain alt-Michael, then trapped inside his head, in a Ma’lak Box, at the end of “Nihilism” (14.10) (keep in mind that Dean only said yes to alt-Michael to save Sam, Jack and the world, in the first place). Dean is the only character either version of Death is willing to share their wisdom with about the Natural Order – presumably because Dean is the only one willing to listen.

The Mark of Cain storyline helped boost Dean permanently out of the kind of rut that characters get into after several seasons. He resolved some of that series-long anger, especially after the Mark was lifted and he met with Amara, Chuck’s equally angry sister. He became somewhat calmer and more stable. He resolved some of his mommy issues after Mary came back. Dean is by no means perfect, but the thing that sets him apart is his willingness to put saving others – whether individuals or the entire world – ahead of his own needs.

Despite the show’s resistance to exploring Dean’s state of (im)mortality post-Mark, the moment Dean takes on the Mark in “First Born” (9.11) is a major watershed point in the show’s mytharc story. Dean can no longer be considered just human and certainly not merely mortal. With the Mark, he could basically outlive the multiverse. With it, even Chuck can’t kill him, because it would release Chuck’s vengeful sister Amara. Without it, Dean still retains its taint enough that he can’t take it on again (or perhaps Chuck fears Dean’s affinity with Amara). So, he’s never reverted to human status since Sam forcibly had the Mark lifted from his brother’s arm at the end of season 10, not fully.

I’m reminded of a discussion Bart Ehrman puts forward in his book, How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee (2014), regarding how early Christians perceived the divinity of Jesus Christ. During Jesus’ lifetime, of course, his followers believed he was the Messiah, but that still meant he was mortal and human. Shortly after his death, they came to believe he had resurrected as a divine being, a sort of angel. This quickly upgraded to the superangel Son of Man, then God’s own begotten Son.

Early on, the orthodox position varied on when this upgrade occurred, either at his resurrection, his death, his birth, or even his baptism by John the Baptist (when God’s spirit comes down in the form of a dove, in the Gospel of John). Later, there was a controversy between the Arians and what later became the orthodox, Council of Nicea position. The only difference was that the Arians believed Christ had come into being after God but before the Creation of the World, as God’s Son, whereas the post-Nicea mainstream position is now that Christ, God and the Holy Spirit are co-eternal (that means they’ve always existed).

So, there’s a lot for a fictional show like Supernatural to play with inside the Christological canon. A Christ figure in such a fictional story could begin as a human, a mortal, and later become equal to God the Father/Creator, or even replace him. This becomes important in the God Is the Big Bad mytharc that began in the season 14 finale. Chuck could indeed be replaced by a Christological figure who was originally human. That figure does not need to be of supernatural or angelic origin. The most likely human candidate at this point is Dean.

When the Author Insert God Character Is a Little Too On Point

We were introduced to the idea of the SPNverse being a multiverse in season 12. We also learned a few things about the cosmology from seasons 11 to 14. At the beginning of season 11, we met Amara the Darkness, Chuck’s primordial sister. Later, in “The Big Empty” (13.04), we met the Empty Entity, the even-more-primordial god that rules the chaos in which Chuck and Amara had once existed (were born?) and out of which Chuck created the SPN multiverse.

Chuck also told Dean near the end of season 11 in “All in the Family” (11.21) that he was the Firewall Between Light (Chuck) and Dark (Amara). Indeed, Dean had felt a connection with Amara all season 11 and eventually used this to reunite her with Chuck, thus saving the entire SPNverse (the season 11 finale title, “Alpha and Omega” (11.23), is another biblical name for the Second Coming of Christ). The implication was that this connection had come out of the Mark of Cain, the curse that had been used to seal Amara away in her prison. This had then been given to Lucifer (it drove him mad), who then gave it to poor Cain, who then shared it with Dean.

But the show was always a bit vague about what the real connection was between Dean and Amara. We only learned pieces, such as that Amara found him fascinating, the only part of her brother’s creation that interested her prior to her reconciliation with Chuck. We also saw that she either couldn’t absorb Dean’s soul as she could those of other humans, or chose not to because of something she saw in him. We saw that the attraction was mutual and that Chuck was perhaps intensely jealous of it.

This last bit came up again at the end of season 14 in “Moriah” (14.20), when Chuck engineered an elaborate assassination plot … not against Jack who had gone off the rails and become an apparently unkillable Big Bad, but against Dean. It turned out that Chuck could smite Jack quite easily, but he had to get Dean to kill himself by shooting Jack with his weird gun. He could (or would) not kill Dean directly. Once Dean refused to shoot Jack, Chuck was so furious that he smote Jack and immediately set into motion the final apocalypse. But he still didn’t smite Dean.

Chuck then set up another trap when he captured Sam (who had shot him with the same gun and formed a connection between them) in the appropriately titled “The Trap” (15.09). He manipulated Sam, by showing him a dark “future” after Sam and Dean locked him away, into losing hope that Dean would come to the rescue and make things right. Sam then lost his God wound along with his hope/faith and Chuck was free of him.

But then Dean showed up and told Chuck to get lost, to “go back to Earth 2.” Dean told Chuck to go play with his other worlds in the rest of the multiverse, but to leave this one alone. And once again, Chuck backed down rather than confront Dean directly, let alone smite him as he had, say, poor Becky in “Atomic Monsters” (15.04).

We got shown immediately afterward that Chuck had not actually created a primordial timeline that diverged naturally and independently of him, with different choices and events. Instead, there was always a Prime timeline (the one we’ve been watching for 15 seasons), and then there were various storylines and “failed drafts.” After “The Trap,” Chuck then systematically destroyed all of these drafts so that he could focus his malice on his original, the one that still surprised him and gave him “joy.” It seems that Dean inadvertently saved Earth Prime by refusing to give Chuck what he wanted, the way Sam finally had.

I’m not wild about this idea of failed cosmic drafts, to be honest, and the idea of God being a hack writer is a little too accurate an in-show metaphor for the generally poor quality of showrunner storytelling since Jeremy Carver left at the end of season 11. It probably seemed clever in the Writers Room, especially with the current showrunners (who aren’t know for their theological or philosophical subtlety). But the implications are messy and not in a good way. It basically makes the SPNverse linear, with all choices for the characters pretty much laid out for them, aside from the occasional deviation (solely by Dean).

The apparent divergent reality created by Mary’s decision not to say yes to Azazel, for example, turns out to have been just another draft. This implies that far from being an ancient being like his Prime counterpart, alt-Michael wasn’t created until Chuck began that draft, which would only have been less than half a century ago. Is this why Dean was able to lock him away in a Cage inside his own head? Or could Dean do that to the Prime version of Michael? I don’t think the writers even gave it much thought.

Different strokes for different shows

Lately, I’ve been binge-(re)watching Lucifer, in anticipation of season 5 coming out in a few weeks. Though based on another comic from the early 2000s of the same name that was a spinoff of Neil Gaiman’s classic Sandman, Lucifer the show is quite different and its writers have clearly watched Supernatural.

However, this is not a criticism of Lucifer (I happen to quite like the show). It does a cool job of doing its own spin on these ideas. For example, in Supernatural, you have a primordial Trinity (quaternity?) of the Empty Entity, Chuck and Amara (and possibly the Firewall).

In Lucifer, you have a dualistic universe, albeit not one of strict good and evil, very Old Testament. Inspired by the early Ancient Israelite pantheon of Yahweh and his wife the Queen of Heaven (usually identified as Asteroth/Ishtar), the show gives us God, who created humans and tests his angelic children, and Goddess, who was imprisoned in Hell for sending down plagues and disasters on her husband’s creations. However, the universe itself is the creation of their union, so they share it together. And when their son Lucifer finally resolves the conflict between his parents at the end of season two by cutting a hole to a new reality, it is spelled out that Goddess could easily make her own creations there.

Lucifer also has its own version of Cain (a very bad boy, not nearly as tortured and noble as the Supernatural version) and Eve (both more sympathetic and more human than the SPN version, one who came back down to Earth because she got bored with the perfection of Heaven). There is also the demon Mazikeen’s journey to grow and learn about humanity, which is somewhat parallel to that of Lucifer’s brother Amenadiel’s Fall-and-Redemption storyline.

And it has its own version of Christ tropes, though no explicit Christ character has ever been mentioned. Amenadiel’s Naphil child Charlie is just a powerless baby, but he potentially is so dangerous that the demons from Hell try to seize him to be their new lord and there are angels who want to kill him to bring him to Heaven. The demons are only subdued when Lucifer agrees to sacrifice himself by going back to reign in Hell. This is one way for a Devil character to also be a Christ character, though such an act would be completely out of character for the Supernatural version.

Cousin Olivers, Kid Tricks and Mary Sue

Let’s talk about Jack, a character everyone in the show (and many fans) believes will replace Chuck as the new SPNverse God. Jack is a character who was first conceived by Lucifer and a human woman in season 12 in “LOTUS” (12.08). He was born at the end of the season, lost his powers to his father at the end of season 13, died and then regained some of them two-thirds of the way through season 14 (when the alt-Michael-Dean storyline was abruptly and literally immolated in order just to power Jack back up in “Ouroboros” (14.14)), turned EVOL, got killed by Chuck anyway at the end of season 14, was brought back by Death over halfway through season 15 (at the end of “The Gamblers” (15.11)) as some sort of secret weapon against Chuck, and now is … kinda there, kinda being morally problematical as he’s always been.

Jack is an amalgam of three character types – Cousin Oliver/Scrappy Doo, Gary Stu (Chosen One variety) and Superbaby (aged up via the Kid Trick). Cousin Oliver was a cute little kid introduced in the final season of The Brady Bunch (1969-74) in an attempt to revitalized the franchise. Since this was the last season, you can guess how successful that was. It wasn’t especially a problem that Cousin Oliver was an adorable moppet so much as that he was also a character who made everything in the show about him in what turned out to be a literary death spiral. Every situation and every character, including the Bradys whom the show’s audience had become invested in, now revolved around this brand-new character. It didn’t help that Oliver was annoying and bland in equal measure.

Then there was Scrappy-Doo. Scrappy-Doo was introduced into the Scooby-Doo franchise in 1979, again to revitalize the franchise and prevent its imminent cancellation. This was successful, at least initially, but the producers then restructured the series around Scrappy, Scooby and Shaggy, and got rid of Fred, Daphne and Velma entirely for a while. Well, this didn’t go over well with the fans and Scrappy was quietly ditched from the regular series by the end of the 80s. Though he did pop up in various incarnations from time to time after that, they were mostly parodic. In 1998, the website Jump the Shark got a huge natural promotional boost after creating a poll involving Scrappy. So, to a large extent, you can thank Scrappy for making the term “jump the shark” popular because a lot of fans came to believe his introduction was Scooby-Doo‘s jump-the-shark moment.

Why was Scrappy so unpopular? Well, aside from his having the entire series restructured around him, he was a really abrasive and unlikeable character. Cocky and reckless, he rushed into every situation and got everyone into a lot of trouble. Worse, he was convinced he was a mighty intellect and tended to look down on the rest of the Scooby Gang, while coming off dumb as a box of hair. He was an anti-Scooby-Doo and that really wasn’t what the audience wanted.

As you can see, both of these characters had major aspects of the Gary Stu (the male version of the Mary Sue). They were Author Inserts into the story, rather than existing organically in it. The story immediately became all about them, including iconic and beloved characters whom the audience had more history with and liked a lot more. These iconic characters, in some cases, were shoved completely out of the narrative. Cousin Oliver and Scrappy-Doo were also presented as adorkable and quirky, but as with the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, those two characteristics can come off as artificial if overdone. And boy, were they overdone with Cousin Oliver and Scrappy.

Then you’ve got the Superbaby and the Kid Trick. The Superbaby is a Mary Sue-ish type of character that is a superpowered child. These characters were really popular in science fiction (both print and on screen) in the 1970s and 1980s for some reason, along with bratty tomboys (Don’t get me started on that trope). One of the most famous more-recent examples is Isabelle Tyler from USA Network show The 4400 (2004-7). The premise of this show was that 4400 people had been mysteriously kidnapped from various times and places in the previous seven decades or so, and brought back in 2004 with various superpowers. Sort of like Lost, which came out in the same year.

Isabelle spends the first two seasons as a literal superbaby who is born to interracial couple (and main 4400 characters) Lily and Richard Tyler at the end of season one. Even in the womb, Isabelle is immensely and chaotically powerful, and manipulates her own parents (sound familiar?). She continues to be a force for chaotic good (?) through season two.

The actress who played Lily decided to leave after season two, so at the beginning of season three, Isabelle drains her mother of her life force (making Lily age and die in a matter of a few days). She then becomes, in appearance and ability to speak and walk, etc., a late adolescent, though still only about two in chronological and emotional age.

This is a common tactic in soap operas. Two characters will have a baby. The baby (through early childhood) will be involved in various child-in-peril stories. Then one day, the child will go upstairs as a kid and come down as an adolescent a few episodes later, ready for a bunch of teen-from-Hell storylines.

This is known as the Kid Trick (coined by Stephen King in Danse Macabre, his overview of the horror genre). And I really hate it. It’s lazy. And it’s a cheap way of (re)introducing a brand-new character as an annoying trope, while pretending an investment and emotional connection the audience doesn’t really have with the character because the audience didn’t actually spend all those years watching this character grow up.

Played by Megalyn Echikunwoke (who also played Dean’s first girlfriend in season 1’s “Route 666” (1.13) shortly before joining the show), Isabelle proceeds to seduce another main 4400 character, Shawn Farrell, in a matching green bra-and-panty set, and basically goes on a Mary Sue rampage. She has TK, superstrength, superintelligence, invulnerability, and zero conscience or impulse control. Eventually, after she is captured and loses her powers, her father manages to regress her to a baby and grow her back up with a conscience (again, sound familiar?). Isabelle then recovers her powers, but discovers the evil future people who had basically engineered her and kidnapped the 4400 have put a kill switch inside her. She later apparently dies from this in the process of a heroic rescue.

Isabelle is an unfortunate mixed bag (and the really sad part is that there weren’t a whole lot of major WOC characters at the time). On the one hand, Baby!Isabelle was actually pretty popular with the fandom during the first two seasons and she had a major point in the story. This was, after all, a show where one of the most popular, wisest and “oldest” of the characters, Maia Rutledge, was also a little girl. Conchita Campbell’s endearing performance helped, sure, but Maia was both powerful and helpless in equal measure, creating an interesting paradox and emotional accessibility with the character. So, the fandom was hardly averse to major child characters.

Also, Isabelle acted as a visible metaphor and motivation for Richard and Lily’s love and rebellion against the authorities trying to control them. Rather less impressively, she was a major deus ex machina for the writers to use, but as she was a baby, she was more of a macguffin than a character. Thus, despite things like trees literally bending toward her as her mother was driven to the hospital in labor, Baby!Isabelle didn’t become a Mary Sue that shoved all of the other characters off the stage.

Unfortunately, the executive producers found working with the babies playing Isabelle’s character logistically difficult and when Laura Allen (Lily) left, they got the “bright” idea of doing the Kid Trick with Isabelle. That’s when she turned into a story-wrecking monster. Adult!Isabelle was a blatant Mary Sue who sucked all the life out of everyone else’s storylines and irritated many fans, and I can’t say I ever found Echikunwoke’s performance terribly compelling.

The writers also waffled a lot, trying to sell this idea that Isabelle was still just an innocent baby in a hot young woman’s bod whom we were supposed to feel sorry for, while having her do increasingly terrible and irredeemable things. For example, having her hook up with Shawn (himself an adolescent) made him look skeevy. Then later, when he tried to end it and she got threatening, the relationship turned downright rapey. Good times. The attempted back-to-a-baby reboot didn’t help and just made her dad (a very decent guy up to that point) look sketchy, too.

All of these characters are generally unpopular with audiences for a reason. All of them get introduced by incompetent writers and producers because of their alleged appeal to “new audiences” (translation: older teens), often in the twilight years of an older, but very popular, show. So, it perhaps is not a surprise that the current showrunners of Supernatural thought bringing in Jack and having him take over the narrative would be a brilliant idea, even though it never has been before.

We Need To Talk About the Antichrist

Jack is, of course, an Antichrist figure (being Lucifer’s son). Though in his case, he’s Antichrist 2.0 after Jesse in season 5, or even Antichrist 3.0, since Sam sort of had that role in earlier seasons.

In the first two seasons, the mytharc involved Sam being part of a generation of kids whose psychic powers emerged at the age of 22. All of them had been visited in their nurseries at the age of six months by a powerful demon, Azazel, who bled into their mouths exactly ten years after making a deal with one of their parents (as we found out in season 4’s “In the Beginning” (4.03)). This connection unlocked various powers in them 21 1/2 years later. Over the next two years, they were winnowed down to two – Sam and a guy named Jake. Jake killed Sam at the end of “All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 1” (2.21), Dean made a deal with a CRD to bring Sam back from the dead in the very next episode, and then Sam killed Jake while Jake was opening a gate to Hell. That left only one.

In season 3, Sam acquired a demon mistress (Ruby, of course), who tempted him with the possibility of saving his brother from Hell (it didn’t work because she wasn’t on the level) and got him addicted to demon blood between seasons 3 and 4. At the end of season 4, in “Lucifer Rising” (4.23), Sam found Ruby had manipulated him into releasing Lucifer, which was pretty much the opposite of what he thought he was doing (though that took a great deal of self-delusion). In season 5, he discovered that he and his brother were the vessels of two archangel brothers, Lucifer and Michael respectively, and that they were destined to kill each other.

Sam’s Antichrist storyline effectively ended at the end of season 5, when he jumped into a giant plothole, and took Lucifer and Michael with him. But the writers kept going with Sam Done Come Back Wrong plots, which actually made Sam more human, not less, until the middle of season 9. And then they turned him really quite dark and unpleasant. I mean, he was already heading that way in season 8, but in the second half of season 9, he no longer had any supernaturally flavored excuse. He just seemed … jealous … that Dean now had something magically special about him, even though it was an ancient and truly vicious curse.

He spent season 10, of course, trying to exorcise Dean of the Mark and then trying to make up for his own cosmic stupidity in season 11. After that, the writers starting promoting Leader!Sam for some reason and now he’s All About Jack. He did have the bullet that connected him to Chuck for the first half of season 15, but that turned out to be a red herring, not a version of the Mark of Cain.

In a curious callback to the days when Sam was worried Dean would reject him for having demon blood, Sam nearly ended the world in season 15. He lost faith that Dean would be able to rescue him or stop Chuck without causing the fake future Chuck showed him.in which everything (without Chuck’s divine light) went dark and monstrous, including Sam and Dean themselves.

Sam does play a major role in the development of the Family Business philosophy. He is Dean’s first disciple, his first sounding board for it. He is the one who reminds Dean to be more compassionate, who grounds Dean in the human world. He is much more socially savvy than Dean. He is the one who shows that the line between Human and Monster can be blurry, that the world is gray, not black and white.

But Sam’s not very good at practicing what he preaches. His biggest motivation for Hunting on the show is revenge, not protecting others. Sam’s concerns about tolerance toward monsters are all tied up in his concerns about being one. If the moral dilemma doesn’t directly involve his own issues in some way, Sam pretty much doesn’t care. He lacks Dean’s visceral emotional attachment to their job, and both the victims and predators in it.

Probably due to his deprived upbringing and loss of his mother as an infant, Sam is emotionally distant and detached from others, with the sole exception of his brother Dean. His emotional connection to Dean is very immature. He is overly needy and jealous of Dean’s exclusive attention, while simultaneously pushing his brother away, often in extremely hurtful ways. He even goes so far as to psychological project his own dependency on Dean, who actually tends to flourish without Sam. But Sam does not flourish without Dean.

Sam is no longer an Antichrist figure. But he’s no Jesus, either.

Then there’s Antichrist 2.0. In season 5’s “I Believe the Children Are Our Future” (5.06), Jesse was a kid who had been adopted out after his mother had been possessed by a demon that used her body to engage in human sacrifice and many other horrible acts. These acts, rather vaguely described, resulted in a virgin birth of a super-demonic creature known as a cambion (usually the offspring of a demon and an angel, like Genesis in Preacher). Even with this backstory, Jesse was pretty overpowered. It was said that he could wish every angel in Heaven out of existence with a single thought, even though his sphere of actual influence seemed to be only a few miles wide.

In fact, this is also a problem both for Jack and for Genesis in Preacher. Now, I’m not just saying that they have too many powers for the story and that they weigh it down, though they do. I also mean that they make no sense from a folkloric or mythological point of view.

What Ennis and Dabb both seem to have missed is that in mythology and folklore, even (non-universal) gods have limits and these limits have logical reasons behind them. But inherent sexism appears to have made these writers blind to this logic.

For example, Achilles, one of the mightiest warriors in Greek mythology, is fated to be greater than his own father, Peleus. In fact, Zeus, rather than seduce Achilles’ mother Thetis, instead got her rather forcibly married off to a mortal because of a prophecy that her offspring would be greater than their fathers.

This makes a lot more sense if you know that rather than always being a lowly sea nymph as she is described in Homer, Thetis appears in at least one Archaic era fragment as an all-powerful demiurge (creator) goddess. Thus, it makes sense that her son would be more powerful than his father because of the power and divinity of his mother. It just is more obvious when the mother is mortal and the father divine, as in the case of Heracles. Semi-divine characters were more powerful than their human parent, relatives or neighbors, but they were not even as powerful as their divine parent and certainly couldn’t overthrow that parent. Even a fully divine child like Zeus needed help from his mother Rhea and siblings to overthrow their father, Kronos.

In polytheism, as gods are spawned by primordial gods and become more numerous, they are always individually less powerful than the primordial forces from which they spring. The older the god or goddess, the more powerful they are. The younger gods need tricks, spells, magical weapons, and allies to defeat their parents. You can see these systems as pantheistic in the sense that the primordial god represents the powerful, but relatively mindless and amoral, universe that the younger gods manipulate and learn to control.

So, it makes no sense for Jesse to be so much more powerful than both his human mother and his demon “father.” Even with the blood sacrifices the possessing demon engages in, those shouldn’t give him power greater than Heaven itself. Jesse is just a pawn – a powerful one, but still a pawn, not a player. And he is part of Lucifer’s plan. Lucifer isn’t going to make him so powerful as to be unruly.

Then there are Genesis and Jack. Genesis in Preacher is the offspring of an angel and a demon. Fine, but that shouldn’t make it more powerful than God. God created both the angel and the demon, and a whole lot more besides. So, where does Genesis’ power come from? It can’t come from nowhere. That makes no sense and violates the story’s rules.

Similarly, Jack is the offspring of an archangel and a mortal human. Fine, but by mythological standards, that shouldn’t make him even as powerful as an archangel, let alone more so. Yeah, the show fudged it a bit by depowering Lucifer and having Jack go up against an “alternate” version of Michael, but Jack shouldn’t even be that powerful. He certainly shouldn’t be as powerful as Chuck, no matter how many angel hearts he eats. Chuck is exponentially more powerful even than his archangels. That’s likely why Jack’s sparkly superpowers make no sense and look so fake.

Obviously inspired by the somewhat-more-interesting (but equally improbable) Kid Antichrist in the book Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (since turned into a successful miniseries), Jesse turned out not to be a very exciting character. Even within the episode, the writers (one of them current showrunner Andrew Dabb) very quickly wrote themselves into a corner. They therefore had Jesse wish himself into a poster of Australia, never to be seen or heard from again. Alas, it seems Dabb wanted to give this character type another go.

So, we got Jack.

The Problem with Jack

The biggest problem with Jack derives from the above character types (or, more accurately, writing flaws). One could say it’s an inherent problem in them – that is, there’s no actual room in the story for him. Sure, Alex Calvert has chemistry with Padalecki, Ackles and Collins, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. And yes, he’s garnered a fanbase for the character. But that doesn’t actually create room for Jack in the storyline, especially not as a protagonist and member of Team Free Will.

He sucks the energy out of storylines meant for Sam, Dean and certainly for Castiel (Castiel practically doesn’t have a personality, anymore, let alone a positive one, now that he’s All About Jack). That’s what makes him a Cousin Oliver or Scrappy Doo. TFW spends far more time fighting over what to do about Jack (with everybody ganging up on Dean for expressing doubts that turn out to be totally prophetic) than fighting Big Bads.

Rather than opening up the SPNverse for new storylines with Sam and Dean (as Castiel did in his dramatic entrance at the beginning of season four in “Lazarus Rising” (4.01), Jack shoves Sam and Dean right out of their own story. And of course the audience is going to resent that. They didn’t sign on for this 15-season ride (at whatever point they started and began catching up) for a character that shows up 83% into the story. That’s a ludicrous expectation and yet, that’s exactly what the current showrunners and writers expect from us.

To make matters worse, as the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements have increased awareness of the lack of diverse representation in Hollywood, the show finds itself in an awkward position where any space for women and/or People of Color or LGBT people in the story has been taken up by a bland, young white boy who pretty much embodies Entitlement.

He has, as Ijeoma Oluo puts it in her essay on Medium, “The Anger of the White Male Lie,” “promise,” simply due to what he is – a white guy. The current writers try to dress this “promise” up as stemming from his being the son of the Devil (an alleged heritage he supposedly has to struggle to keep down). They present him as being some kind of divine royalty as the grandson of God, even though every single being in the SPNverse aside from Chuck, Amara and the Empty (with the possible exception of Death) is a child of one of Chuck’s creations.

Chuck doesn’t have children. Lucifer is simply his creation and he’s not even the first one. So, really, what the “promise” ends up being, in its subtext, is Jack as a privileged young white man and the projected next generation of the show (whether or not a spinoff ever occurs) because the current writers have completely missed why Sam and Dean were attractive to the audience in the first place.

Sam and Dean, despite their cosmically exalted status later on (and being white men), grow up blue collar and poor, very low on the totem pole of human society. They respond to that in extremely different ways (because that generates more drama). Sam becomes a social-climbing snob who seeks status and an escape from his impoverished Hunter’s background via an Ivy League education and going into law, hobnobbing with equally snobby (and generally white) people. Dean responds by essentially dropping out of “respectable” society and becoming a protector of the innocent, of the down and out, which includes a lot of women, PoCs and LGBT folk. Not only is he contemptuous of human elites, but of monster elites as well (only one of many reasons why “Bloodlines” tanked so hard as a backdoor pilot).

The point here is that Jack would be a bleak and disastrous choice for the new God and he’s not even a little bit a Christ figure. He’s certainly perfect as an Antichrist figure – someone who appears to be Christological, a glittering golden boy, but is the opposite of Christ – but there is nothing in his journey that makes him look like Christ.

One could argue that of course he’s an Antichrist, since he is the son of Lucifer, but the writers could have moved away from that if they’d written his father as a more sympathetic and self-sacrificial character (like, say, on the show Lucifer). They could have also done it by having Jack make better choices, more Christ-like choices. Christ’s divinity is revealed by actions, not by parentage, after all.

But Jack’s identity is all about his parentage, his privilege and his inherited power, which fluctuates, Gary Stu-like, according to the needs of the plot and whatever corner the writers have written themselves into this week. As such, it doesn’t really have anything meaningful to say about what kind of person he is or chooses to be. Not the way, say, Sam responds to his demon blood heritage or Dean to the Mark of Cain, or either one to their shared status as archangel vessels on opposite sides of the biggest conflict in the SPNverse. His powers are pretty and shiny, but they don’t illuminate his character. They are all bombastic sound, no light, so they make him look empty.

He is a powerful baby, lacking wisdom and the ability to acquire it easily. Gullible. Easily bamboozled. Some have argued that this is because he’s still just a child, but that’s actually a disqualifier for a Christological figure. Sure, you have stories of the infant Christ in the mainstream Gospels, and you have stories of an arrogant child Jesus throwing his divine weight, Trickster-like, around in apocryphal Gnostic gospels like the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

But the main focus on Christ, where you get his message and his mission, is after he has grown into a mature man in his thirties, which was practically middle-aged two thousand years ago. The adult Jesus is wise and smart. His enemies are constantly trying to outwit him and he’s always one step ahead of them. This most emphatically is not Jack.

Whenever he has power, Jack grossly abuses it, in anger and pride. He has a very shallow moral learning curve and most of it involves trying (and failing) to be more like Dean. He is arrogant and treats others like puppets. He does terrible things, feels a little bad about it, then gets let off the hook. Everything (and I mean everything) is handed to him, completely in contrast to the Wayward Sisters or, for that matter, Sam and Dean, who grew up in poverty and misery, and have had to fight for every bit of peace, even to get a home.

The future beyond Supernatural

Now one could argue that would-be spinoffs like Ghostfacers and Wayward Sisters are similar in trying to shove Sam and Dean out of the picture. However, the characters and storylines in these have been around a lot longer than Jack. The Ghostfacers first showed up as the Hell Hounds in season 1’s “Hell House” (1.17) and reappeared in season 3’s “Ghostfacers!” (3.13). Claire first showed up in season 4 and Jody in season 5 in “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (5.15), which was only a third of the way through the show. Donna first showed up halfway through season 9 in “The Purge” (9.13), Alex in “Alex Annie Alexis Ann” (9.19). Yeah, Patience and Kaia were new, but the general group and premise definitely were not. And they had plenty of history with Sam and Dean. A story with them was, by its very nature, a continuation of Sam and Dean’s story, a sequel, even if neither ever appeared in it.

You all know I’m no fan of Kaia, either the “Prime” version or the Monster World version. But her redemption arc shows more Christological content than Jack’s. After being too afraid at first to help find Mary, Kaia volunteers to help the Brothers and Jack in “The Bad Place” (13.09). Later, after that goes disastrously wrong, she helps the Wayward Sisters find Sam and Dean in her nightmare place (Monster World) and sacrifices herself to save Claire, a girl she only just met (“Wayward Sisters” (13.10)). Motivated by her Prime version’s sacrifice, Dark!Kaia saves her life, then gets her rescued by Sam and Dean (coming full circle in that story). Dark!Kaia then decides to atone for her selfishness by staying with her own, imperfect world, as Chuck destroys it (“Galaxy Brain” (15.12)). This is why Kaia’s relief when Dean shows up at the last minute and hugs her feels earned. She had to work for it.

But Jack never has to work for anything. He is a crown prince character, a child of ultimate privilege. The industry, and even the nature of specfic storytelling, has changed a great deal in the 15 seasons Supernatural has been on. It doesn’t seem right for Sam and Dean, the ultimate underdogs, to hand off the baton to a privileged character like Jack and see him become their new God. I sure hope that’s not where the show is going with his storyline.


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

Season 15


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