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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.
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
The Gamble Years
The Carver Years
The Dabb Years