The Official Supernatural: “Mother’s Little Helper” (9.17) 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 (and expressed sadness on Instagram when he got the final script, which said “The End” instead of the usual “To Be Continued”)). 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.

There are some new trailers out for the last episodes. Finally.

If you’re enjoying these articles and reviews, any contributions are welcome. Even in a pandemic, the kitties still gotta eat and I’ve got a house full of fosters right now. Plus, this review was delayed a bit by one of my kitties spending a very expensive day and a half at the kitty ER.

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

Recap: Recap of the intro of Henry Winchester, Josie Sands, the Men of Letters massacre, Abaddon’s rise, and Dean’s growing partnership with Crowley in all its thorny glory, culminating in last week’s discovery of the First Blade.

Cut to Now in Milton, IL. A schoolteacher pulls into a garage of a suburban home after a long day at work. While her husband watches golf on the TV and eats popcorn, she enters with a bouquet of flowers. When her husband asks her what’s for dinner, he’s disappointed to hear it’s meatloaf again. She’s disappointed to hear about his disappointment. Enough to knock his eye out and then beat him to death with a candlestick while clinically rattling off the various ingredients, ending with the words, “and lots of good things.” The camera pans away to the refrigerator, where her students’ drawings are carefully pinned up.

Cue title cards.

Dean is hitting the books (pretty literally) when Sam comes into the Library, carrying his travel rucksack. This is a mirror image of Dean going off on a hunt previously in the season, except that Dean has no interest in coming along on this hunt. Sam asks if Dean slept last night. Dean laconically says no, but when Sam tells him about Doomed Teaser Couple, Dean has no interest in why a first-grade teacher would “pound her husband into ground chuck,” either.

Dean: Well, maybe she snapped. Ankle-biters can do that to you.

Sam’s thinking possession and Dean thinks Sam should go do the hunt alone. Sam decides now is a good time to infodump-poke the bear by asking why Dean has become so “obsessed” about Abaddon since he killed Sinclair last episode. They’ve been researching for days with no luck. Maybe a hunt is a good anodyne for that.

Dean bluntly (and accurately) states that they “don’t have time” and he wants to end both Abaddon and Crowley with the First Blade as quickly as possible. He calls Sam’s idea of “being ‘obsessed’ doing my job.”

Sam: I get it. I’m just checking in.

Dean: I’m fine.

So, Sam leaves, rather reluctantly, while Dean rolls his eyes in an exasperated “please go away” look. Honestly, I don’t know what the hell Sam thinks he’s doing here, but the chickens sure are starting to come home to roost from his bitchiness earlier in the season. As soon as Sam leaves, Dean pulls out a nearly full bottle of whiskey and starts sucking it down.

Sam travels to Milton and quickly gets an in with the friendly and cooperative local sheriff. The man is puzzled about why Doomed Teaser Guy got his face smashed in by his wife. The marriage seemed fine, non-abusive, and the two of them were about as ordinary as can be. But when Sam and the sheriff go down to the cells to question her, they find she’s cut herself and covered the walls of her cell with bloody designs (and words like “shell” and “death”) – then hanged herself with a bedsheet. So, this schoolteacher won’t be telling anybody anything unless Sam can rig up a seance.

Sam asks the sheriff if she went anywhere unusual the day she killed her husband, but all the sheriff can think of is the grocery store. Sam calls Dean, who looks strung out and asks if the demon had perhaps “smoked out” before the schoolteacher hanged herself. Sam doesn’t think so. He had previously asked the sheriff about black eyes and sulfur, and looked for other demon signs like EMF, and there was nothing. Dean, distracted, suggests that Sam will figure it out. Sam says that if nothing comes up by morning, he’s coming back to the Bunker.

After he hangs up, Dean starts having flashbacks to Cain giving him the Mark, warning him about the hidden costs, and later of holding the First Blade. Dean comes out of his PTSD trance to find himself gripping the table with his left hand. He lets go and stares at his shaking hand as it if doesn’t belong to him. He starts to make a call, hangs up, and goes out.

Meanwhile, a young man named Billy is walking down the road, talking on his cell to his girlfriend and hitchhiking. It’s cold and it seems he just had a fight with his mother. After he hangs up, a van pulls up nearby. I guess this kid has never seen any horror movies about serial killers, because he runs up to it and catches a ride.

The man inside is a friendly, white-bearded elder the boy knows (a Mr. Richie), so he gets inside, even though the van is new to him. But once in, there’s a commotion (we only see the back of the van, which has the words “St. Bonaventure” on it) as the boy cries out and there’s a big flash of light with a rising whine.

Later, Billy comes into a diner where Sam is eating and talking to the waitress. Far from the obedient, mom-loving kid he was before, he now acts cold and lashes out at her attempts to scold him after he grabs food off a used plate and starts wolfing it down, as well as Sam’s attempts to back her up. When she suggests calling his mom, Billy stabs her in the hand with a knife. As he goes to stab her in the throat with a fork, Sam gets up and cold-cocks him.

The kid ends up in a cell, still glowering, along with three other perfectly ordinary town residents who are now acting in bizarre ways. One woman sits in her cell and hums. Another man has cut himself and smeared his cell with words like “ark,” “missing,” “attempt” and “suffer.” Another man just bangs his head bloody against the cell bars. They are all locals, with no other connections, and have been like this for days.

Now the sheriff is really freaked out and Sam has no answers. The sheriff does tell him about the kid being picked up as a hitchhiker (he heard it from the girlfriend). After the sheriff leaves the cell block, Sam surreptitiously uses some holy water on the kid, but all it does is piss him off.

Sam asks him, “What are you?” but Billy just replies, “Clear.” There’s no reason why he did the things he does. He does them “because I can.”

Later, Sam calls Dean while getting grocery store surveillance photos from the sheriff. Dean is in a bar, but lies about it. He also keeps taking his sweet time answering the phone. If Sam called me as many times as he calls Dean in this episode, I’d start ghosting him, too.

Sam is confused by how aggressive and “basic instinct” these people are. Dean compares it to being at at “Gold’s Gym” (ain’t that the truth), but Sam says they’re not on steroids. After following that train of thought down a rabbit hole of season six Sambot flashbacks, Sam wonders if they are lacking souls. They do act a bit like him when he was soulless … except for the part where they actually don’t.

As Dean (who ruefully admits that he has not forgotten about that year and a half or so Sam had no soul and turned into an even bigger douchebag than usual) points out, Sam was not out of control when he had no soul. Sam then suggests the everyone reacts differently to not having a soul. First of all, the fact that Sambot acted differently practically every episode was a major reason that storyline was such a raging dumpster fire of inconsistent canon in the first place. Second, if everyone who lacks a soul acts differently about it, how can you tell that they’ve lost theirs in the first place?

Dean suggests that a CRD may have made a deal with these people and yanked their souls. Sam, rather than stating the painfully obvious that Dean himself suffered through – that people who make deals have their bodies shredded and killed by Hell Hounds as their souls are removed – says that he doesn’t think so because they’re not getting any obvious advantage or benefit that seems unusual, like winning the lottery. He then says he really could use Dean’s help on this one.

Dean demurs, claiming that he’s “close” to finding Abaddon (at the bottom of that latest bottle of beer he’s drinking, no doubt) and leaves Sam hanging. A voice comes from behind Dean. It’s Crowley and Dean doesn’t even start.

Crowley: You’re lying to Sam like he’s your wife, which kinda makes me your mistress.

At the station in Milton, Sam is looking at photos of the schoolteacher getting out of a black van like the one that picked up Billy. He overhears an older woman with red hair trying to tell the deputy at the front desk that “the demons” are back and that “it’s starting all over again.” Sam comes up just as she’s getting irate with the condescending young man and asks her over to his desk. He gives her a cup of tea and asks her story.

The woman, Julia, immediately notices that Sam doesn’t think she’s “nuts on toast” like everyone else in town whenever she mentions “demons.” Sam calls himself “open-minded,” but it’s his shocked reaction to her mentioning the Men of Letters that convinces her he’s not mocking her.

Julia: You’re one of them aren’t you? The Men of Letters?

Julia tells him that two Men of Letters arrived in Milton in 1958, when the town (and she) was a very different place. She calls the two MoL “a lovely couple.” Cue a flashback.

Young Julia is a novitiate nun, polishing a collection plate. There’s a knock at the door and the Mother Superior tells her to answer it. When she does, she finds Henry Winchester (dressed as a priest) and Josie Sands (as a nun). Henry hands her a letter with a wax seal, saying they are from the Office of the Inquisition.

In the present, Dean is lining up some balls on a pool table and asking what Crowley wants. Crowley points out that Dean called him, not the other way round (so now we know which number Dean was calling in the previous scene). He also points out that the agreement was that Dean find Abaddon and unless she’s into “ten-cent wings, stale beer and the clap,” he’s not likely to find her here.

Dean tells him that he’s “on it,” then when Crowley pushes, tells him to “go to Hell.” Crowley ruefully admits that he can’t do that again quite yet. He continues to needle Dean, wondering, “just between us girls,” how it felt to hold the First Blade. Maybe it made Dean feel “powerful, virile … and afraid.” Dean looks surprised that Crowley guessed this, but doesn’t exactly deny it, either.

I rewatched this scene a few times because there was something about it I couldn’t quite put my finger on. There is, of course, the sexual banter on Crowley’s side and the way Dean is filmed is quite sexy in an old-style cowboy sort of way (like the moment when he goes over to get a pool cue). But then it occurred to me – Dean is playing pool. And whenever we see the Brothers onscreen playing pool, they are hustling someone. Their MO is to pretend to be an easy mark and then pool-shark their opponent. Note also that Dean didn’t start playing pool until Crowley showed up. So, just who is zooming who here?

In Milton, Julia is telling Sam about Henry and Josie’s visit. They, of course, didn’t use their real names. They were undercover. But she did hear their real names later, albeit just their first names. Sam admits to having known (of) them, but claims, “It’s complicated.” Julia just laughs. As an ex-nun, “complicated is my middle name.”

She explains that the reason for their arrival was that another nun, a Sister Mary Catherine, had committed two murders, then jumped from the bell tower. Julia says that when Henry and Josie arrived, she took them to the Mother Superior.

Cut to the Mother Superior looking through Henry and Josie’s paperwork with a cold eye. Another nun, Sister Agnes, stands by, smiling cheerfully. Henry tries to move the Mother Superior along in her decision by saying they have to report to the Vatican in the morning. Eventually, the Mother Superior hands their papers back to her cheerful assistant, who hands them back to Henry with the comment that the convent is now open to them. She assigns Julia to guide them.

Out in the hallway, Julia asks them how they want to get started. When Josie tells her she wants to start with the dead nun’s sleeping quarters, Julia looks to Henry for confirmation and he has to give it before Julia will budge. Josie is irritated at being treated as Henry’s subordinate. As Julia goes ahead of them, Josie hisses at Henry, “I hate nuns.” Seems she went to Catholic school and “I have a lot of pent-up anger.”

Henry, for his part, worries about going out on this “investigation” so close to their initiation. What if something happens and he leaves his wife Millie a widow and his son John and orphan? Josie says that they’d “be proud that you answered the call.” Henry starts to say that Josie doesn’t understand because she doesn’t have a family – oops. He does apologize and Josie brushes it off, but it’s hit home.

Inside the room, there is a bloody message on the wall that Julia says they couldn’t remove. Henry figures that confirms they’re dealing with demonic possession. Josie identifies the main symbol as “Pre-Enochian” and says it means “Knights of Hell.” That gets a reaction out of Henry, who calls it “trouble.”

In the present, Sam is shocked to hear this name in what, to this point, has been a fairly run-of-the-mill hunt.

Julia’s memories are rather limited because she was just a bystander. The nuns weren’t supposed to leave their rooms after ten o’clock, but when she heard footsteps out in the corridor, she went to investigate in her bedclothes. She saw Mother Superior, with black eyes, dragging a struggling woman up the stairs. When she ducked back into the hallway and turned around, she got cold-cocked by Mother Superior’s smiling assistant, Sister Agnes.

She woke up in a room, gagged and tied to a chair. Others were there, too, in the same state. A nun entered and grabbed a young woman. One by one, the others were dragged into another room, where Julia heard screaming and what sounded like an angel whine. She prayed to God, but the two people who actually showed up were Henry and Josie. Shouting dual exorcisms, they exorcised the two nuns there. The demons smoked out and the nuns fell down, apparently dead.

Unfortunately, when the Mother Superior entered, Henry’s exorcism didn’t work on her. She laughed and TK’d him into a wall, knocking him out, as Sister Agnes came in behind her. As Julia hid behind a screen, the Mother Superior interrogated Josie, under pain of torturing Henry. At first, the Mother Superior thought they were Hunters (Josie scoffed at that), but Josie then admitted that they were Men of Letters.

Some snark about misogyny and underestimating women followed, as Mother Superior’s possessing demon first decided to possess Henry. Josie persuaded her not to, offering herself, instead. Mother Superior guessed, correctly, that Josie was in love with Henry, though Henry “only” loved her as a sister.

Josie, apparently not understanding how demons worked, said she gave the demon “permission” to enter her. The demon laughed, identifying herself as Abaddon (yes, that Abaddon) and said that “Abaddon takes what she wants.” She then possessed Josie, the Mother Superior falling down dead like a puppet with her strings cut.

Sister Agnes wondered why Abaddon was going to “study the Men of Letters.” Abaddon said she was only going to do so “for a moment” before destroying them. She told her demon assistant to keep the home fires burning on their experiment and then told her to play dead. Abaddon went back to pretending to be Josie and tended to Henry, who woke up dazed. “Josie” told him they had defeated the demons.

When Sam asks Julia what Abaddon’s experiment was, she says she doesn’t know, but that it seems to be what is happening again now. She says that the convent was called St. Bonaventure and Sam recognizes it as the same name on the van the schoolteacher got out of in the CCTV footage. Julia says the convent has “been closed for years” and is on the edge of town.

Cut back to the bar, where Dean is back to drinking, an annoying Crowley tagging along. I can’t determine what the song is on the jukebox. Crowley complains that Dean is stalling and in denial about the “gift” he’s been given.

Dean: I’m a Hunter.

Crowley: Who’s a chip off the old Mark of Cain.

Dean [with intensity]: No. When I kill, I kill for a reason. I’m nothing like Cain.

Crowley begs to differ. He had a front row seat to Dean meeting Cain. He knows they are, in fact, very much alike. Sympatico, even.

Crowley: Nothing like Cain? What’s in that bottle? Delusion? I’m really starting to worry about you, Dean.

Dean: Yeah, well, why don’t you worry about yourself?

Crowley says he already does. They are “in this together,” so they have no choice but to work alongside each other. He then says he’s going off to take a leak, asking Dean if he wants to “cross streams” (not only is that a reference to Ghostbusters, but that’s a pretty R-rated gay proposition for the CW!).

After Crowley leaves, Dean has another flashback, this time to Sinclair putting the First Blade into his hand and telling him “Next time, it’ll be easier.”

As he comes out of the flashback, Dean glances over and sees a young man handling a rosary. Then the young man pulls out a hunting knife and heads toward the washroom. A Hunter. Dean gets an Oh, crap look on his face and goes after him. Oh, and the song on the jukebox is Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good.”

Dean stops the kid at the washroom door and tries to talk him down. Dean identifies himself and asks if the kid has ever taken on a demon before (considering he’s “bringing a knife to a demon fight,” the obvious answer is no). He says that normally, he’d help him, but this is a different day (he doesn’t explain why). He also says that once the demon finished with the kid, he’d go after everyone he ever loved, even his “prom date.” Uncertain, the kid backs down and sheathes his knife: “I got a kid sister. She don’t deserve that.”

Dean asks his name and the kid says it’s Jake. Dean shakes his hand and sees him off. He looks conflicted as the kid leaves. Then he bangs on the door and tells Crowley it’s time to go.

Cut back to Milton, where Sam is pulling up to the convent in the dark, in the Impala. There’s a chain-link fence and a faded sign. Let’s just say that the nunnery has seen better days. But the van is there. Hmm.

Cut back to the bar, where Dean is waiting for Crowley outside. Dean points out that demons don’t pee and that the next time Crowley wants to shoot up, he should find a better lie. He asks why Crowley fell off the wagon so quickly. Crowley admits that “after very little soul-searching, I decided to embrace my addiction. What about you? It takes a junkie to know a junkie. You just want to touch that Precious again, don’t you?” (Yes, that’s a reference to Gollum and the One Ring from Lord of the Rings.)

Dean says that all he still wants is to “kill Abaddon.” Whatever the consequences, whatever happens with the First Blade, that’s his goal and he’s sticking to it. What he wants or fears is immaterial. So, Crowley says fine, “it’s a date.” Rolling his eyes, Dean leaves.

As Dean crosses the street, the young man comes up beside Crowley with black eyes. He admits he was sure for a moment that Dean had “made” him as possessed. Crowley admits that Dean is currently a bit distracted. When his demon lackey comments that Dean “saved” Crowley, Crowley rather proudly says that of course he did, “We’re besties,” and pronounces Dean “ready.” Okay, but ready for what?

Sam is entering the convent, which is covered in mold and random trash all over the place. He goes downstairs with a flashlight and the Spork at the ready. In the basement, he finds a line of five sealed jars, each containing a glowing soul. He’s attacked by the guy who was driving the van. It turns out he’s possessed when Sam whips around and stabs him with the Spork. The demon dies in an internal red glow.

Sam then gets punched into a wall of trash by the assistant nun from the flashbacks, Sister Agnes. Picking up the Spork, which got knocked out of Sam’s hand, she comments that “souls are a very precious and fragile thing. Break one of those [the jars] and them little buggers fly right back home.” As she casually kicks over the dead man’s corpse, she complains about how the “dirty work” for Abaddon Sam calls her out for doing has gotten “dirtier” over the years as people lost faith over “pervert” scandals in the Church. It used to be that the faithful would just come right in and it was like “fish in a barrel.” But hey, at least she can take Sam’s soul, so he’s helping the cause that way.

Sister Agnes sure likes to talk. She Evil Overlord Monologues about how Abaddon’s current plan is to create an entire army of loyal demons, rather than work hard to gain the loyalty of those wavering in Hell. She has “factories” all over the country of demons stealing souls and converting them into demons … somehow (the details aren’t clear). Sam stalls her long enough to recover to the point of slipping in a Rituale Romanum. Furious, she grabs him by the throat, but he also has it recorded on his phone. As he hits the button, he tosses the phone away. Crippled, the demon crawls after it and manages to smash it before it finishes. But in the process, she drops the Spork. Sam stabs her from behind with it, killing her. I guess she won’t be reporting back to Abaddon about this, then.

Sam goes over to the jars and opens them one by one. They then return to the surviving people in the cells, Billy first. He watches in astonishment as they go into the others in the cell block. Everyone looks dazed.

The next day, Sam asks Julia if he can ask her a question. She jokes that she doesn’t “date anyone under 65. Too much drama.” But she agrees to a question. He asks her why she didn’t “warn Henry about Abaddon.”

Julia looks pensive and guilty. With tears in her eyes and in a shaking voice, she admits that as a young novitiate, she just wanted to “help people,” but she had never been taught what it was like to confront “true evil,” or how to face it. In short, she was afraid.

In a flashback, we see Henry and “Josie” the following day, telling the staff not to tell anyone about what happened. Abaddon, inside Josie, specifically tells Julia to keep “quiet,” right in front of Henry. Frightened, Julia replies, “Of course.”

In the present, Julia says that she soon left the Order because she was so deeply “ashamed” of her cowardice. Sam gives her a kind of absolution by pointing out that this time, at least, she helped “save lives” and put a stop to at least this evil operation of Abaddon’s.

But as Sam gets in the Impala and drives away, a shaken Julia is caught up in a final flashback. Abaddon stares at her from the car passenger seat as Henry drives them away. Inside the car, an oblivious Henry is jubilant over the successful “investigation” and says he now realizes he was foolish to doubt the good in it. He asks “Josie” how she feels and she replies, “Me? Well, I feel like a whole new person.” Oof. Bit on-the-nose there, Show.

Sam arrives back at the Bunker to find Dean neck-deep again in research. Dean asks how the hunt went. Grabbing some files and sitting down at a nearby table with a beer, Sam admits that Dean was right – they need to find Abaddon and they need to do it “ASAP.” He tells Dean about the “mining souls” operation and what it’s for. The camera pulls back on them as Sam opens a file and a beer, and Dean looks taken aback for a moment, then gets back to work.

Credits

The show rose again to a 1.0/3 in the A18-49 demo and in audience to 2.25 million. Part of the rise was certainly due to the popularity of the previous episode, but some of it may also have been due to the publicity surrounding the identity of the director this week.

Review: Like “Blade Runners,” this episode is a case of good direction (Misha Collins, in his first stint behin the camera) improving a weak script. Collins has a lot of unsettlingly framed camera shots, shadows, and atmosphere that make the episode creepy even when it has no right to be.

Unfortunately, “Mother’s Little Helper” (from, of course, the classic Rolling Stones song about 1960s drug-addicted housewives) is much less memorable than “Blade Runners,” suffers mightily from prequelitis, has more than a whiff of sexism (despite several strong female characters in the story), and has been rendered a rather pointless cul de sac of mytharc in the grand scheme of things. Also, not to put too fine a point on it, but it’s on the cynical side and quite depressing. In short, it’s a fairly typical Adam Glass script.

I’m going to spoil things a bit for people and note that Abaddon’s grand plan for creating demon factories, a ridiculous retcon never fully explained, goes absolutely nowhere. It also makes no sense.

Even if it were better explained how and why demons could create demons so arbitrarily by stealing souls (why make crossroad deals in the first place if you can just steal the person’s soul and demonize it?), it wouldn’t explain why Abaddon would still need them. Sure, soul factories are a good idea in the pre-Apocalypse period (assuming Hell could get away with such a plan without Heaven or the Reapers noticing – an awfully big If), but by season nine, Abaddon was operating on an entirely different field where she was wooing pre-existing demons away from Crowley in a bid to become Queen of Hell – and doing so quite successfully, Sister Agnes’ jibes about “panty-waist demons” notwithstanding.

I suppose you could argue that she was still building a demon army in order to take over the earth in the wake of the angel fall and wars, but that seems like overkill. Why overachieve like that when she could gain what she wanted with the way Hell already was? Maybe that’s why this storyline was basically dropped after this episode. It all feels a bit too Pinky and the Brain.

The MOTW also founders on what was obvious already in season six – the idea that you can steal someone’s soul and they can still walk around as a living, breathing, thinking person is ridiculous in light of previous canon. Before that season, souls were always de facto presented as the ghost in the machine that animated a body. A body might falter on for a while with the soul moving around nearby as a fetch (as in the season two premiere, “In My Time of Dying”), but it could not function without a soul to power it. A body without a soul was an impossibility, a perpetual motion machine.

Then came season six. Even leaving aside the idea that soulessness was basically just a way for then-showrunner Sera Gamble to bring Sam back while simultaneously manufacturing more drama with Yet Another Sam Done Come Back Wrong plot (a graphic representation of Sam’s impenetrable plot armor, you could say), the writers could never quite settle on what soulessness turned Sam into. Practically every episode, he was doing something different. He was indifferent but passive. No, he was violent and aggressive. No, he was a super-horny sex machine. No, he was a callous psychopath. No, he was just inconsiderate and goofy.

When this episode tried to make out that different people had different personalities and reactions when they were soulless (how, when the soul is your personality?), I just laughed. Three seasons later and the show still didn’t know what the hell it was doing with this concept. I didn’t actually care about any of these random people who had lost their souls and then turned into assholes, but I did find it pretty bleak that even after they got their souls back, their lives were still destroyed. And what about the woman who killed herself? Where did her soul end up?

While I love, in theory, the idea of Henry Winchester and Josie Sands going off on a hunt together (sorry, investigation), this episode shows why prequels and flashback episodes don’t tend to be very good. Sure, this show has dealt a lot in flashbacks, sometimes very well (“A Very Supernatural Christmas,” for example), but the flashbacks practically take over the narrative in this one. Neither the flashback story, nor the two present day stories, do much to move the overall mytharc forward. Since this is a mytharc story masquerading initially as an MOTW (that conveniently and randomly turns out to be Very Connected to the Sam and Dean Story), that’s a problem.

Okay, so we find out how and why Josie got possessed by Abaddon. But it’s as though Glass tries to answer questions that didn’t really need to be answered, while leaving out answers that could have added to the tale. We do not, for example, ever learn what ultimately happened to Josie’s soul after Abaddon possessed her. That seems like a rather large omission in an episode that is obsessed with souls (to the point that much of the plot logic gets downright creaky).

Is Josie still trapped inside her own body at this point or was she killed off, say, when Abaddon had to smoke out at the end of season eight? Is she now in Heaven, due to her self-sacrifice, or Hell (because the morality of the SPNverse can be pitiless and arbitrary)? At least close her story out.

Similarly, while I found Dean’s story more interesting than Sam’s (because frankly, I wanted to know what was going on with Dean in the aftermath of his killing Sinclair), that story moved forward only a little bit. The one thing that seemed glaring, aside from Dean’s fears about being overcome by the Mark’s influence and becoming a monster, was the revelation that Crowley was indeed obsessed with Dean and Dean alone, to the point of “testing” Dean’s devotion in a totally pointless manner.

At the end, as he crows in triumph to an underling that Dean really does care about him (when the test shows no such thing), the fullness of Crowley’s self-delusion becomes apparent. Crowley has found a new addiction and its name is Dean Winchester. But that didn’t require a B-story to confirm after what was going on last week and there’s not much of an arc to Dean realizing he’s slowly losing control over himself (though the subtle way he and Crowley manipulate each other is still kinda fun to watch).

Even so, that subplot at least had smart people in it, even if they were lying to themselves. The human characters in the flashback story come off as stupid, including ones previously established as very sharp, indeed. Henry, for example, was introduced in “As Time Goes By” as able to think quickly enough on his feet to escape from Abaddon through a time tunnel over half a century long and trap her in it, too. In effect, despite having no way to kill her, he is able to take her out of action for that entire period of time.

Too bad, then, that he seems to have been clobbered by the Stupid Stick in “Mother’s Little Helper.” I get that the idea is to show us how Henry and Josie got to the point that they did in the “As Time Goes By” flashback, so that Henry has to be fooled by Abaddon up to that point. But this explanation as written and filmed feels unsatisfying. Prequelitis in action.

Then there’s Josie Sands. Up to this point, she has been portrayed as a valiant lone Woman of Letters who fought hard to become a member of this exclusively male club (still not sure why), only to be used as the possessed instrument of its destruction. The best motivation Glass can give her to stand still long enough to get possessed by Abaddon is that she is in luurrrve (as the Scots say) with Very Happily Married Henry and sacrifices herself on his behalf.

It’s as big a cliché as the stereotypically wiffy, Pre-Vatican II old school nuns who get possessed en masse by minions of Satan. Even Abaddon lampshades how stupid the whole idea is by explicitly pointing out to Josie that a demon doesn’t have to get permission from a host, so Josie’s “deal” is ultimately pointless. And don’t get me started on the whole “orphan” thing. Glass goes right down the rabbit hole of “Single career women in the 1950s were lonely and miserable and unfulfilled.” Barf.

The idea that Josie couldn’t be a complete woman without the (unrequited) love of a good man is dated and very messed up. In general, while the episode has several significant female characters in it, they are almost all pretty negative. The possessed nuns are EVOL. Julia is a coward. DTG schoolteacher and the diner waitress are non-entities. And Josie starts out sparky, but ends up a sacrificial victim who is completely erased from the story in the end. Maybe if Glass had actually bothered to spend a bit more time on the convent setting and dynamic, it might have worked. But instead, he tosses a lot of disparate elements into the pot and they don’t really gel.

Part of what makes the episode so depressing is how clearly outmatched Henry, Josie and Julia are in this story by Abaddon. I found Julia’s claim that no one taught her about “true evil” puzzling, since Pre-Vatican nuns got a real earful on how to deal with supernatural and especially demonic evil. Sure, she was young and vulnerable, and still would have been overwhelmed, but the concept shouldn’t have come completely out of the blue.

I guess Julia is supposed to be some sort of analogue for Sam and his waffling over hunting, but the analogy mostly made me wish he’d get off the pot already and make a decision. Further, what he learned about Abaddon didn’t really add to the hunt for her. This was all really old information and the Brothers already knew where she’d been all that time. She did pop out of their motel closet, after all.

But the way Abaddon is portrayed in this episode doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. She is portrayed as so overwhelmingly powerful that Julia’s entire life is blighted by their encounter, Josie is completely destroyed, and Henry is made a fool of. Yet, we already know that even though she is able to massacre the American Men of Letters, Henry will shortly after trap her and the Brothers will trap her yet again once she reaches the present time. And, of course, her power is nothing compared to Cain’s.

The thing is that what Abaddon really possesses is a clever and strategic mind, and an invulnerability that can only be outmatched by an archangel or a bearer of the Mark and the First Blade. But she can certainly be defeated by other means short of killing her outright. So, the tragic inevitability Glass was going for falls flat. Again, not a fan of prequels. If you already know how the story ends, it’s a bit hard to create a new one with surprises, but that has the same ending.

While I liked Julia (what’s with all the J names for women in this episode?), and Jenny O’Hara had good chemistry with Jared Padalecki, I couldn’t help thinking of Sam’s huge aversion to hanging out with Gertie in season three’s “Red Sky at Morning.” Sure, Gertie was hitting on him pretty heavily, but Sam in general seemed to have problems with the combination of her age and gender, as much as the sexual harassment. That Glass didn’t even seem to be aware of this made things a tad weird for me between Sam and Julia.

I also didn’t really think it was necessary for Sam to learn the lesson via Julia, especially at this point in the show, that he needed to pull on his Big Boy Pants, step up, and be counted or more people were going to die. Henry was his grandfather, too, who got killed by Abaddon right of him and Dean. At the very least, even if Sam hadn’t fully comprehended the threat Abaddon represented up until this point, he would have wanted revenge. Sam’s pretty copacetic with revenge as a motive.

While, as I said, it moved at a snail’s pace, I found what was going on between Dean and Crowley much more interesting. When Crowley was flirting with Dean, I kept thinking of the relationship between Jim Williams and Danny Hansford in the book (and film) Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Hansford was a young hustler who hooked up with historic preservationist Williams for a couple of years in Savannah, GA back in the late 1970s.

One day in May 1981, they had a fight and Williams shot Hansford (who was apparently prone to rages and may have been brandishing a gun). Since Williams (obviously) was gay, his claim of self-defense wasn’t taken very seriously. He eventually managed to get an acquittal after two guilty verdicts and a hung jury, then dropped dead a few months later in January 1990. The book’s author John Berendt speculated that part of the anger toward Williams in Savannah high society was due to the general view that Hansford was a very good time, but when he died age 21 at Williams’ hands, he was “a good time not yet had by all.”

It is quite obvious in “Mother’s Little Helper” that Crowley is into Dean and that Dean is aware of this. It is less obvious, but still pretty clear, that Dean is using this to manipulate Crowley and that Crowley is in massive denial about it. There’s this vibe between them of an older man enamoured with a much-younger man who is using him, even though the older man knows it (a bit like Toddy and Richard at the beginning of the comedy Victor/Victoria (1982)).

The bland and generic background music in this clip is much more intrusive than in the episode and sounds like incidental soundtrack music. However, Linda Ronstadt singing “You’re No Good” in the next Dean/Crowley scene after this? Thaaat’s on point.

When Dean is playing pool, I think he is also hustling Crowley and he’s very good at it. For all of Crowley’s denials, he needs Dean a lot more right now than Dean needs him. Abaddon would certainly be even more deadly to humanity if she were to successfully become the Queen of Hell. But if she did, while the Brothers would likely survive, Crowley would be toast.

Dean may (or may not) be aware that the young “Hunter” was possessed and in cahoots with Crowley, or that Crowley was running a game on him. If he’s not aware, it makes him look a bit dumb (or at least preoccupied, as Crowley puts it). But if he is aware, that’s pretty dark.

And the truth is, the way Jensen Ackles plays it, it’s not clear if Dean knows or not. The way he looks as that kid walks away … is he feeling guilty because he’s “protecting” a monster like Crowley from another Hunter (even though he’s not lying when he says the kid is totally overmatched)? Or is he feeling guilty because he knows it’s all a set-up and he’s letting an innocent host be used, and just walking away from it? He does, after all, admit to Crowley that he knew full well he was in the bathroom shooting up, so how deep does Dean see the layers in this one? When he says he’s “all in” and willing to do anything to kill Abaddon, he’s not kidding.

Next week: Meta Fiction: Metatron’s back and he’s busily stoking the fires of what’s left of the angel civil war. The question is “Why?”

The Kripke Years

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The Gamble Years

Season 6 (with Kripke)

Season 7

The Carver Years

Season 8

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Season 11

The Dabb Years

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8 thoughts on “The Official Supernatural: “Mother’s Little Helper” (9.17) Retro Recap and Review”

  1. I thought it was someone else not Misha who showed Jensen how to arm rack.

    Speaking of which. Sooo hot.

    Liked the episode when it focused on Dean and Crowley. I wish we had had a lot (a lot!) more of that storyline. For me tho the souless and Sams hunt (yes, even Josie and Henry) were a snoozefest.

    I’m more in the camp of Dean being distracted with everything hes dealing with so he didn’t catch onto Crowleys little test.

  2. The thing that struck me most when I first watched this, and which you mentioned in your review, was the brutally tragic ending of those who lost their souls, only to regain them with their lives ruined. What a dark universe the SPN verse is. You see it on plenty of other episodes, but usually in the beginning after the supernatural event has already happened in the teaser. Somehow, having it near the end made it strike home a bit more.

    They never really dealt with the consequences of Sam’s year of being soulless, except the Arachne episode, which was stupid. I would have liked to see more actual development of that. Sam was only ever given his own hellpain, which kept his focus only on himself. Had there been more focus on outside consequences, we might have had a more sympathetic character. Instead, it was just more supernatural protection for Sam, with the end result of more entitlement for Sam, and more work and unnecessary misery for Dean.

    In the context of the SPN verse, it feels like Chuck continually gives Sam a pass with the intention if increasing the heat on Dean, just to see what Dean will do.

    By the way, how is your cat?

    1. Goose is doing much better, thanks (at least, she was when I left the house). If it weren’t for the ginormous bill from the kitty ER, you wouldn’t know she was at death’s door a week ago today. Hoping that will continue.

      Yeah, this episode was a golden opportunity for Sam apologizing for being such a douchebag while soulless, but nope. Sure, in a way, Sam couldn’t “help” it due to not having a soul. But it was even less Dean’s fault and he took the brunt of Sam’s behavior.

  3. The pool sequence was so well done probably two of the strongest actors on the show really bouncing off each other and it was the best part of the episode unquestionably.

    Dean was trying to come to terms with his new powers not very successfully and was spinning. Uncertain of himself and his identity now he had questions, questions he was afraid that he may not like the answers to. Hence the prevarication , was he in was he out? He seemed genuinely to not know, even though he said he was all in Dean was simply putting up a front to the world and lying to himself. The temptation was so overwhelming to embrace it, Dean heard the siren call loud and clear, Crowley was acting the part of the Demon on Dean’s shoulder with no Angel to balance it out. Dean felt the pull to completely give over to those new feelings, just a Crowley pointed out, but the moment the other demon showed up I got the impression Dean only saw what he wanted to see, believing he was saving the Hunter . When Dean saw the apparently young naiive Hunter maybe he identified with him, as someone who could be saved ? If he could save the Hunter maybe he could save himself at the end of all this? Whatever it was he used that Hunter’s arrival to keep up the lie that he could embrace this thing but still be good. I believe Dean wanted to believe so badly he could remain in control, to remain good that he missed the tells it was a set up, not because he didn’t care, but because he still wanted to care.

    It was actually quite sad the whole episode Dean was just letting go, no longer really caring he let Sam go hunt alone, he didn’t really care much about taking his calls or in any way engage with the case or Sam. Dean was beginning to disengage from life, he just wasn’t ready to acknowledge that yet so he hid inside a bottle, behind his great big burlesque act choosing denial, one if his oldest friends to prop him up.

    It was a real shame that after the strong portrayal of Henry on his introduction, it fell a bit flat this time by going too clichéd, he was a great character but it didn’t make him or the MoL look that smart to be honest. Also why didn’t they take advantage of Henry’s presence in the story to backfill a little more on John’s childhood? Talk about John and Millie a little more rather than make Josie a hopeless romantic/ potential adulteress why not have her act like a true friend? show concern rather than distain for Henry’s family when things got rocky? It would have made her a more sympathetic character and the actions she took much more understandable. A wasted opportunity in my opinion. We never even heard about poor non existent Grandma Millie again. Ever. Just saying.

    1. The way they spiked Henry’s friendship with Josie really irritated me and yeah, poor invisible Millie. At least Deanna Campbell got a few badass moments before being summarily fridged.

      The impression I got with Dean was that the Mark was starting to give him the power to say no to other people, specifically Sam and Crowley. To set boundaries, for once.

      1. Agreed, Dean did start to say no, which was so healthy, totally necessary, he’d been badly treated for so long and kept on taking it Wasn’t everyone shocked when he did, wasn’t it so very satisfying? It’s a shame he seemed to loose that ability to say no again by season 15.

  4. Thank you for giving voice to why I was confused about the show’s ‘canon’ on souls. It was this, it was that; when Amara sucked souls some people died some people lived, like HUH?

    And thank you for reminding me it was Mischa who came up with the glorious idea of Dean using his arms to set up the break on that pool table.

    Yowsa!

    I also did not understand what Crowley’s ‘plaann’ was all about. I do agree that IF Dean knew about demon-in-the-kid- hunter that it was heartless for him to let him leave in his meatsuit. Never occurred to me that he did know. What DID occur to me was that Crowley was in some delusion that Dean actually ‘cared’ for him when all Dean was doing was saving the kid’s life. Totally in character. So ‘what’ did any of it signify?

    Again, Jensen Ackles arms. Yowsa!

    I did like Sam ‘finally’ putting the Rituale Romanum on speed dial on his phone. Something they should have thought of YEARS ago.

    1. The stuff about souls since season six has always got on my nerves. It’s incoherent and didn’t do much for the plot. Kinda like the canon about the Veil that got yanked out of storage every so often, only to be forgotten once again.

      I think that Dean was very distracted by his own inner weather. Whether he simply didn’t realize the kid was/might be possessed, or he intentionally let him walk away possessed, it was a concerning red flag.

      The impression I got with that sequence was that the point was to show why Crowley would be so enamored of Dean – by showing Dean literally hustling Crowley like the title character in Midnight Cowboy.

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