Category Archives: Halloween

The Official Christmas Retro Recap and Review: Supernatural 3.08: A Very Supernatural Christmas [AUGMENTED]

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Tagline: The Brothers investigate a series of mysterious Christmastime disappearances where the victims appear to have been kidnapped from their beds and dragged up the chimney. Could it be…Santa?

Recap: No Then recap. None whatsoever. Nada. Instead, we get that spinning, multicoloured “Special” Presentation CBS intro from waaaaayyy back. Then we cut to an instrumental version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and a grandfather arriving at a house in Seattle, Washington a year ago. His beloved grandson asks Grandpa if he brought any presents and Grandpa says maybe Santa will bring some.

Later, Grandpa dresses up as Santa and mimes pulling presents out of a sack for his wide-eyed grandson, who is hiding on the stairs. But things go a bit awry when he hears something on the roof that starts to come down the chimney. The kid innocently thinks it’s Santa’s reindeer. When Grandpa goes to investigate, he is brutally yanked up the chimney and killed, right in front of his horrified grandson. As the boy says hesitantly, “Santa?” a bloody boot drops down the chimney.

Cue an exploding red-orange Christmas ornament and demon hands into some cool title cards that say, “A Very SUPERNATURAL Christmas” with the first two and last words in red, the “Supernatural” in blue, and a little red Santa hat on the first “A”, all with a frosty frame and a black background with falling snow. Not to mention the jingling bells in the background as the “Very” blinks and goes out.

Cut to Ypsilante, Michigan, present day. Dean, dressed in a suit and posing as an FBI agent, is interviewing a woman whose husband, Mike, is missing. Her pre-teen daughter stands, looking shocky, perfectly framed behind glass in the doorway. On the porch hangs a Nutcracker figure and a wreath with pinecones, a white bow and pretty white flowers. The mom says she and her daughter were asleep upstairs, while her husband was downstairs, getting presents ready. She heard a thump and scream from her husband, but then he just disappeared.

Sam comes out of the house, also in a suit, and thanks her for letting him use the facilities. Giving us a start to the episode’s timeline (that it’s now two days before Christmas), the woman asks Dean what he thinks is going on and whether her husband is still alive. Dean has no answers for her. Even grimmer, Sam just tells her, “We’re very sorry.”

As the Boys leave, Sam shows Dean what he found: a bloody tooth in the chimney. Dean points out that full-grown men can’t go up chimneys and Sam replies, “Not in one piece.” In other words, Mike is probably dead.

My God, those two look young. And poor. I first did this recap and review in 2009, but “A Very Supernatural Christmas” is even more relevant now in “Hard Candy Christmas” 2020.

Back at the motel, Sam is looking at illustrations of medieval demons with black faces and red, lolling tongues on his computer. Dean comes in from a food run and asks him how they’re doing. Dean mentions his theory about a “serial-killing chimney sweep” and Sam references Dick Van Dyke. Dean pretends to have no idea who Dick Van Dyke is. Clearly, he’s teasing Sam about Sam’s alleged Disney fetish. Dick Van Dyke about single-handedly introduced generations of children to the concept of Victorian and Edwardian era chimney sweeps in Mary Poppins (1964). There’s no way Dean wouldn’t know about him.

My mom took me to see Mary Poppins when I was very little (maybe three or four) during a revival when Disney put it back out in theaters. I liked it. My mom, not so much. Still not sure why, but the negative portrayal of the suffragette mom in the film might have had a hand in it (My mom was hugely into feminism from before I was born). Then, when I was seven, my dad took me to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarves in the theater, with his mistress-of-the-hour, not long before Christmas. Yeah, my childhood relationship to Disney is a little, uh, different.

Anyhoo, Dean (backed by a lovely sepia-toned mural of a winter landscape while taking off John’s jacket) has done some interviewing around town. It turns out that the missing person they were just investigating (last name “Walsh”) was the second to disappear out of his house that month. No one saw him go up the chimney, but they did “hear a thump on the roof.”

Sam says he has a theory, but Dean may think it’s crazy – he thinks it’s “Evil Santa.” Dean allows that this sounds crazy. Sam says that there’s “some version of “Anti-Claus in every culture” and that this might be “Santa’s shady brother.” (No, there is no legend I’ve found about Santa’s evil brother, but there are definitely legends about Bad Santas, albeit only in cultures with a strong Christian base.) He references Belsnickel, Krampus and Black Peter as figures who “went rogue” (They’re actually working for St. Nick, not against him) and showed up to “punish the wicked” instead of leaving presents. Dean points out that this theory can’t be true because there is no Santa Claus and Sam retorts that he knows – Dean was the one who told him.

This is said with a bit of a whine (Sam blaming Dean for John’s terrible parenting for the millionth time), but then Sam admits he could be wrong (spoiler alert: He is). Dean says, “Maybe not.” He did some research of his own on the victims. It turns out that they went to the same place right before they disappeared.

Cut to a dispirited guy dressed in a furry reindeer costume as he heads out (presumably on break) under a battered Santa sign past a mom and some enthusiastic kids running in, the Brothers Winchester, and some wooden stand-ups of three Wise Men and a sheep. He says hi to the other teen dressed as an equally shabby elf, who’s manning the entrance. “All Because of Mr. Santa Claus” by Hal David and John Cacavas, from the rockin’ album In the Christmas Swing, blares on the loudspeaker throughout the scene. There is no snow anywhere, which makes the place look much worse.

The Brothers are going to one of those ugly and depressing Christmas Villages, arguing on the way whether they should celebrate Christmas or not. They don’t notice (and I don’t think they care, either) that Elf Kid is staring after them and having a discussion (presumably about two grown men walking around a place for kids) about them. Dean wants to do it up right this year (with Boston Market, no less) because it’s his last Christmas before his deal comes due and he goes to Hell. Sam doesn’t want to do it because he’s depressed for the same reason – next year, Dean won’t be there.

Also, Sam remembers that they had horrible Christmases during their childhood and doesn’t want to repeat the experience. Annoyed and perhaps a bit hurt, Dean calls him a Grinch and walks away. Sam stares at a cross-eyed plastic reindeer and we’re cued into a flashback of the Boys as kids in a truly nasty motel, alone, in Broken Bow, NB in 1991 on Christmas Eve. They’re watching the end of The Year without a Santa Claus, and “Jingle Bells” is on the soundtrack (though on the original soundtrack, it was “Here Comes Santa Claus”).

Young Sam is wrapping a present. When Dean asks him who it’s for and where he got the money (“Did you steal it?”), Sam says it’s something “special” that he got from Bobby for their father, John. Dean shrugs and throws himself down on the couch next to Sam, pulling out a Hot Rod magazine that he briefly reads before tossing it aside. He’s clearly restless.

Every wonder what kind of hunt would have John neglecting his kids on Christmas?

After Dean reassures him that John will be home from “business” (Dean claims he’s a traveling salesman) in time for Christmas, Sam keeps asking Dean questions about why they have to move around all the time, what their father John does for a living, whether John will be home for Christmas, how their mom died. Dean loses his temper and yells at Sam never to mention their mother again. Then he goes out for a while to cool down.

When Dean comes back, he’s brought Sam dinner (junk food and soda). Sam prods him some more about John, noting that Dean sleeps with a gun under his pillow (Keep in mind that Dean is all of 12 in this flashback). Dean gets mad about Sam snooping through his things, but he really gets upset when Sam (all pissy and self-righteous) pulls out John’s journal, which he managed to steal from his father. Dean (rightly) points out that John is not going to be pleased when he finds out.

Sam demands to get The Talk, so, after some reluctance and a clumsy, failed attempt at gaslighting, Dean gives it to him straight (while threatening to “end you” if Sam ever tells John Dean told him). He tries to explain to Sam about monsters and that John is a “superhero” and so on. Santa isn’t real, but most everything else is.

This only depresses Sam even more because he disappears up his own backside “that they could get us. They could get me!” He becomes convinced that the monsters will get John the way he read they got their mother Mary. Despite Dean’s reassurances, Sam goes to bed in tears (Well, kid, you did insist). Dean mournfully assures him that everything will be better when he wakes up.

Back in the present, Dean yanks Sam out of his reverie by complaining that it cost them $10 to get into the place. He then asks Sam again what they’re looking for (Obvious infodump dialogue is obvious, Show). Sam says that “the lore says” their target “will walk with a limp and smell like sweets.” Calling this “Pimp Santa,” Dean asks why and Sam says it’s to attract the kids. That really grosses Dean out (and probably half the audience).

The Boys spot a guy who seems to fit the criteria. He’s the Santa at the Christmas Village, he’s clearly an old lecher, he “smells like sweets” (though Sam thinks it’s Ripple wine), and he limps. We see a young boy on his lap who looks pretty weirded out until his mom rescues him.

A young woman dressed as an elf welcomes the Brothers “to Santa’s Court” and asks them about escorting their “child to Santa.” After Dean says that it’s been Sam’s “lifelong dream” to sit on Santa’s lap, she, very disconcerted, says that the age limit is 12 and under. Sam makes the mistake of saying “We’re just here to watch” and when the elf girl backs away, looking extremely creeped out, an amused Dean throws him under the bus by playing along with her image of Sam as a pedophile, to Sam’s discomfort.

The Brothers snap right to business, though, when Santa goes on break. As he limps past them, they argue over whether he smells like “sweets” or cheap booze, but Dean points out, “Are you willing to take that chance?” (There’s a really funny bit on the Season 3 blooper reel from this exchange.)

Later that night, they stake out his trailer, which has MERRY CHRISTMAS in huge letters on top, a sad string of lights along the edge of the roof, and three wooden stand-ups of singing polar bears out front. Dean asks Sam why he’s “the Boy Who Hates Christmas.” After citing their lousy childhood again (Dean allows they “had a few bumpy holidays”), Sam grumps that he doesn’t care if Dean has Christmas by himself. Dean grumps that it’s hardly Christmas if he’s “making cranberry molds” alone.

Long after the Brothers’ coffee runs out, Santa (dubbed “St. Nicotine” by Dean) furtively peers out and pulls the curtains. Then they hear a woman scream enthusiastically, “OH, MY GOOOOD!” That’s the Boys’ cue to sneak up to the door. Sam makes a crack that Dean may have to waste Santa, which Dean doesn’t appreciate, then they bust in.

It’s not what they think. The guy has a fifth of booze and an enormous bong, as well as a Christmas-themed porno on the TV; he’s not up to anything remotely supernatural. Caught flat-footed, the Boys don’t know what to do until Dean starts awkwardly to sing “Silent Night” and get Sam to join in. Dean’s a pretty terrible singer; Sam’s even worse (According to Jensen Ackles, Kripke actually wrote him a note reminding him that Dean was a bad singer). And neither of them knows the words past the first couple of lines. Fortunately, the guy is stoned enough to think it’s funny and they make a hasty exit.

Cut to a house later that night, where a kid is waiting for Santa while an angelic boy’s choir sings “Silent Night” on the sountrack (Man, that tree is huge). When the blonde, curly-haired tot hears thumping on the roof, he naturally thinks it’s reindeer, but what comes growling down the chimney is huge, dressed in bloody, red leather (human skin?), and terrifying.

It goes upstairs, knocks out the kid’s mother when she screams, and drags his father down in a sack. When the father struggles too much, “Santa” kills him with one crunching blow. It then pressed the terrified child back … but all it wants is a cookie from the plate set out for Santa.

The next day, Sam and Dean are doing the FBI rounds again at the victim’s house and get the kid’s story from the shellshocked mom. Sam notices a strange wreath that looks like one that was at the other victim’s house, with pine cones, a white bow, and white flowers. Both Dean (who has been expressing sympathy toward her) and the mom are nonplussed, and a tad offended when he asks where she got it. Sam explains it afterward as if Dean is stupid (that both houses has the same wreath). Dean claims to have just been “testing” him.

Some more research (and a call to Bobby) establishes that A. Bobby thinks they’re morons and B. they aren’t dealing with the Anti-Claus. Instead, they’re dealing with pagan gods – hence, why the weather has been so mild and lacking in snow, in Michigan, in December. Sam believes the god involved is “Hold Nickar,” a Teutonic sea god (which naturally would explain why he’s looking at Celtic images of the Green Man in this scene [rolls eyes]), which Sam identifies as the “God of the Winter Solstice.”

The wreath that Sam noted in one of the victims’ houses was made of meadowsweet, which is supposedly ultrapagan (no more so than holly, ivy, and mistletoe, the latter given to some of the bog people before they were killed, but whatever) and rare (also nope). Sam says it has a pleasant odor that is “like chum for their gods” in Germanic pagan lore. Anywhere you set it up, it will attract these carnivorous gods, who will then eat any human in the vicinity.

Dean logically wonders why anyone would make a wreath from such a thing. Sam pedantically goes off on a tangent that most (almost all, really) Christmas lore is originally pagan. Dean comments that “Christmas is Jesus’ birthday.” Sam “corrects” him, saying that Jesus was more likely born in fall and Christmas is the Winter Solstice festival.

Neither is true. We don’t really know what month (or even year) Jesus was born. Some biblical scholars speculate that Jesus was born in the spring (because that was when shepherds would be out with their flocks at night, guarding the newborn lambs). The Roman Winter Solstice festival is different from Christmas (and celebrated on December 21 as Brumalia (“bruma” meaning “short day”), when the Solstice actually occurs). Part of the confusion derives from Julius Caesar’s calendar “moving” the Solstice date to December 25 when it reorganized the Roman year.

Christmas was coopted from the Roman festival of Sol Invictus (the Unconquered Sun), which was on December 25 and marked the birth date of at least two Eastern-influenced Roman solar gods, Sol Invictus and the Persian soldier god Mithras, as well as the Greek Dionysius, Demeter, and Cronus (who probably influenced the idea of the old year being portrayed on New Year’s Eve as an old man). The Greeks and Romans were wont to create different versions of their major deities to reflect their different place origins or functions, by giving them a follow-up adjective for a second name. So, for example, Sol Invictus came out of the original Roman agrarian deity Sol Indiges when the former began to incorporate foreign and more bellicose influences as the Roman Empire moved its focus eastward in the third century CE.

There is no big mystery why the Christians adopted this festival for Jesus. Jesus is associated with light and the Sun. In ancient mythologies going back to Egypt, the Sun is believed to “die” (either every night or every year) and be reborn in the morning. There are rituals, particularly in the north, to help the Sun return. The parallels with Jesus (even without lines like the one in “Silent Night” that goes “Son of God loves pure light”), and his death and resurrection, are pretty obvious. Because this was a festival that has been set on the Solstice rather than actually being the celebration of the Solstice, further reorganization of the calendar moved the date of the Solstice apart from the date of Sol Invictus/Christmas without much apparent concern.

So, basically, Sam’s wrong.

Incidentally, we had this year a major conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn known in the media as the Christmas Star. This very rare conjunction only happens about every four centuries (but hasn’t been visible since 1226 CE) and even more rarely on the Winter Solstice. One theory about the Star of Bethlehem that, according to the Bible, led the Magi to the Christ child in the manger, is that it was either a conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn (a fall birth) or a similar conjunction between Jupiter and Venus (a summer birth).

So, the Winchester theory here is that when people hang the meadowsweet wreaths on their doors, it’s an invitation for the pagan god to come in and eat them. The question now is whether this is accidental (modern humans ignorant of what it means) or deliberate.

Bobby also speculates that pine stakes can kill these pagan gods (If they’re really gods, how can they be killed, eh?), but he doesn’t tell the Brothers until later. The Brothers go to the local Christmas shop (The Cosy Crafts? Something like that) where the wreaths were bought and talk to the owner, with a slow-tempo and rather extemporaneous version of “Deck the Halls” playing in the shop. He thinks they’re a gay couple, which Dean plays into (much to Sam’s annoyance), but still gives them the name of the woman (Madge Carrigan) who made the wreaths. She gave them to him for free (the Brothers suspect this is not quite accurate). He, of course, didn’t sell them for free. There is no evidence he is otherwise involved in what’s going on.

Back at the motel that night (so, Christmas Eve, maybe?), the Brothers speculate how much a meadowsweet wreath would cost, with Sam guessing maybe “a couple hundred dollars.” As they sit on separate twin beds, Dean then reminiscences about a wreath of beer cans John once brought home for Christmas, that he had stolen from a liquor store. Sam doesn’t remember it quite so fondly and is confused why Dean is so obsessed with Christmas now, when he hasn’t “spoken about it in years.”

Dean points out the obvious – that this is his last year. Sam says he knows that and that’s why he can’t celebrate with Dean, knowing Dean will be dead the following Christmas. On the one hand, Sam is so focused on losing Dean in less than a year that he’s not appreciating his brother right now, nor the stories Dean is telling. On the other hand, boy, John sure was a piece of work, wasn’t he?

Off they go to Madge’s house and, what do you know? It’s a Christmas extravaganza. Every possible light, do-dad and plastic deer (but no creches), with Christmas carols blasted to the outside air (It’s an instrumental with lots of flute that I suspect comes from an animated TV special, but I can’t for the life of me remember which one. Help me out, Dear Readers). Dean bets they even have a plastic-covered couch (after scoping out the interior while Sam engages the Carrigans in conversation). Madge and her pipe-smoking husband, Edward, seem friendly (entirely too friendly, really) and offer the boys some peanut brittle (which Dean starts to go for before Sam slaps his hand down).

The Brothers establish that Madge only made two meadowsweet wreaths and thinks they smell divine. That’s enough for them to decide to come back later that night, much later, not least when Sam finds out the Carrigans moved from Seattle (remember the grandfather from the teaser?) the previous January, after two abductions around Christmas (including Doomed Teaser Santa). From their visual check of the inside of the house, Sam establishes that the Carrigans had vervain and mint in the house, rather than the traditional holly (It’s all pagan, anyway, Sam). Neither brother can figure out how the Carrigans are involved, with their current theory being that they’re worshipers of the god, but they need to find out. But first, they carve the pine stakes Bobby told them would kill this particular god.

As the Brothers arrive at the house that night, “O Come All Ye Faithful” is blasting out on a loudspeaker over the neighborhood. At first, I was puzzled because that’s a very Christian song, but then I appreciated the delicious irony of a couple of pagan devotees (or are they?) using a traditional Christian hymn to welcome other pagans.

After picking the lock and arriving in the living room (where the carol turns into a quieter instrumental), Dean quietly comments to Sam on the Carrigans having a plastic-covered couch, as he’d predicted. Inside is just as Christmasfied as outside, with Dean checking out some very Germanic Santas on the mantle and Sam walking past a Santa with an accordion, what looks like a Christmas penguin, and various other holiday bric-a-brac. Dean also finds snow globes and a large gingerbread house, while Sam finds an entire table of gingerbread cookies in the kitchen.

(Probably related – there’s a theory that gingerbread men started as a baked-bread substitution for actual human sacrifices. Hence why I once wrote a story called “The Gingerbread Man” about a minor pagan god from the Mesolithic who is sacrificed by Neolithic invaders as a bog body over and over again for thousands of years – until the day he escapes. FYI, if you’re wondering if my story “Zombieville” (which includes a zombie giraffe) predates the Resident Evil inspiration for the zombie baboons Andrew Dabb was so in a hurry to botch this show’s ending in order to, uh, bring to life – you’re right.)

The Brothers sneak around and eventually find a cellar door. Downstairs they go and – holy crap – it’s a completely different story. Dark, dungeon-y, blood and body parts all over the place. Lots of bones still stuck in various shop tools. Sam looks ready to throw up, while Dean is more clinical (and less fascinated than Sam).

Sam goes up to one of the red-leather sacks we saw before and touches it. Suddenly, the person inside starts thrashing around. This is a rather large plothole. The story has already established that everyone in the sacks is dead by the time they leave their houses and…well…there are too many body parts lying around for either of the two victims we know got taken to have survived. Plus, we never see or hear about this victim again, so maybe it was just a lure?

As Sam jumps back, Madge grabs him and pins him to a wall. Dean shouts Sam’s name and comes rushing to the rescue, but Edward appears out of nowhere, grabs Dean, and slams him head-first into a wall. Dean goes down like a sack of grain (Jensen Ackles does the same sexy stuntfall he does in “Scarecrow.” Not that I’m complaining).

As Madge and Edward stare up at Sam, his flashlight moves across their faces as he struggles in Madge’s grip, showing monster faces underneath. Madge is all sweetness and light as she smacks the back of Sam’s head into the wall and knocks him out cold. She then looks perkily at her husband, who sticks his pipe in his mouth.

As a clarinet-heavy instrumental version of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” plays on the house loudspeaker, both boys wake up tied to chairs upstairs (Looks like the dining room, though it’s next to the table where Sam found the gingerbread cookies, so maybe the kitchen), back to back. After asking Dean if he’s okay (Dean took a really hard blow to the head in this one), and Dean says he thinks so, Sam guesses the obvious – that Madge and Edward, far from being mad worshipers, are really “Mr. and Mrs. God. Nice to know.”

Madge and Edward come in, all cheerful, and get started with the “ritual.” Edward calls them out. “You’re Hunters,” he says, indicating they’ve taken down a few Hunters in their past, as well. Dean calls them out right back as pagan gods and suggests they let him and Sam go, and “call it a day.” Edward, unsurprisingly to anyone, demurs, saying they’d “just come back with more Hunters and kill us.” Sam suggests they “should have thought of that before you went snacking on Humans,” while Dean mocks their attempts to minimize their killings by calling them “the Cunninghams” (from 1970s show Happy Days).

This precipitates a rant from Edward about how disrespectful humans are these days.

Edward: You, mister, better show us a little respect!

Sam: Or what? You’ll eat us?

Edward: Not so fast. There’s rituals to be followed, first.

Madge: Oh, we’re just sticklers for rituals.

The sickly smile, all shiny teeth, that she gives Sam is downright creepy.

As they get cracking (so to speak), Madge complains that they used to get a hundred sacrifices a year and now they only take two or three. Edward says that Sam and Dean (“Hardy Boys”) bring this year’s count up to five (which indicates a victim we and the Brothers never heard about). The gods complain that “this Jesus character” ruined their fun long ago.

Edward and Madge’s arrogance seems well-earned at this juncture (even if they’re being total hypocrites about the reason). By their own admission, they’ve killed and eaten over 4,000 humans in the past 2,000 years alone and probably hundreds of thousands before that. Granted, the timeline’s a little fuzzy. If Jesus (and not, say, pagan Roman emperors getting rid of a rival local pagan Germanic cult) is responsible for their downfall, then they’ve been out in the cold a good bit less than the two millennia Madge whines about. Northern Europe wasn’t fully Christianized until around the 11th century or so (Think Vikings. In Iceland. This will come up in the review). But even so, that would only raise their body count. So, there’s no reason for them to perceive the Brothers as threats, now that they’re tied up. Ha.

Dean tries to joke that the gods can’t get started on their rituals without meadowsweet and Madge promptly comes in with two dried wreaths of it to hang around their necks (Dean actually cringes). Edward comments that they now look “good enough to eat.” And he smacks his lips.

They slice the Brothers’ arms for blood and Edward yanks a fingernail off Sam’s right hand, commenting that young men used to “come from miles around to be sitting where you are now” (These gods seem to go only for adult men, not women or kids). When Dean yells at Edward to leave Sam alone and calls him a “son of a bitch,” this precipitates another rant from Edward (Madge chiming in) about how no one respects the gods, anymore. Once enthusiasm for “this Jesus character” came into their culture, their “altars were burned down” and they were “hunted like common monsters.” They cheerfully chatter on about how they “assimilated.” They “got jobs, a mortgage,” and “play bridge on Saturdays.” Dean tells Madge, “You’re not blending in as smooth as you think, lady!”

With unctuous glee, Madge slices Dean’s arm, causing him to call her a “bitch.” Madge schools him on using the “swear jar” and the term “fudge,” instead. Dean says, panting in agony, “I’ll try to keep that in mind!” then uses it the very next time she cuts him. Madge purrs, “Very good, dear!”

Just as Edward’s about to extract one of Dean’s molars as the final part of this first (yes, first) ritual, the doorbell rings (and Dean, still defiant, suggests that they “really should get that”). It’s an overly-nogged neighbour with a fruitcake, wanting the couple to go caroling.

In the kitchen, a hurting Dean tells a hurting Sam, “Merry Christmas, Sammy!”

Madge and Edward beg off (Edward complaining about his back) and eagerly return to their holiday meal with a roll of their eyes at the neighbor, stepping on the fruitcake on their way back to the kitchen. Unfortunately for them, said double-meat feast has got free of the chairs, fled to the living room, and locked them in the kitchen. At this point, Madge and Edward dispense with the assimilation and turn full monster.

I like the soundtrack music in this scene, which manages both to be festive and evoke rising action. Violent action. Nice job.

Dean is able to pull out a drawer from a cabinet and block his door. He goes over to help Sam, who suggests they pull out a cabinet to block that one. Dean wonders where they’re going to get more pine stakes to kill the monsters and Sam suggests the tree (another pagan lore loan). Just as they’re knocking the tree down and pulling it apart, the monsters come roaring out and grab them, Madge Sam and her husband Dean. Edward actually attacks Dean first (He sees him as the bigger threat? I dunno).

“Merry Christmas,” Sam echoes Dean immediately afterward (to Dean’s exasperation).

Madge is especially salty about what the Brothers did to her tree. After she knocks him across the room, Sam kills Madge first, twisting the stake in good, which helps Dean get the drop on a shocked and furious Edward with a branch to the face. Dean brutally stabs Mr. Grendel a couple of times and that’s it for our pagan gods. They lie side by side next to their fallen tree, equally formidable and now equally dead.

I’ve always wondered what the neighbors and the police made of Madge and Edward’s crime scene afterward. Granted, the Brothers’ blood was all over the kitchen, so they might have been tied to the killings of the Carrigans. But the carnage down cellar would have been much harder to pin on Sam and Dean, and you’ve got things like Sam’s fingernail, too. Imagine realizing that nice middle-aged couple next door were brutal, serial-killing cultists. They might have even been traced to Seattle, or further back from there.

In the flashback, it’s snowing hard outside. Young Dean wakes Young Sam up and tells him John came, but Sam slept through it. Dean has presents for Sam, but Sam quickly finds out they’re for a girl (a Barbie and a baton), prompting Dean to make a joke about John thinking Sam is girly, that has not aged well. Turns out Dean pilfered them from a house up the street that looked wealthy. On the one hand, it sucks when someone steals your Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve and I sure hope Dean brought those back. On the other, I kinda have to admire Young Dean’s willingness to trudge through the snow to the house up the street in the first place.

Sam decides that John is not worthy of his gift and his devotion. He gives John’s present to Dean, instead. This gift turns out to be Dean’s famous amulet (which we now know is a Grail object). Dean is humbled and awed at the gift and puts it on, promising never to part with it. We get a brief instrumental refrain of “Jingle Bells” on the soundtrack.

Fade to Adult Dean and his amulet coming in the door to the Brothers’ motel to find that Sam has made him Christmas after all, to a modern version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” that actually has the original lyrics from the film. Thank God.

(A brief aside about that song: As you may have noticed from my IFP article on Solstice carols back in the day, I’m a big fan of Christmas carols and have strict standards for what I like. I’m a firm believer in the original “Until then, we’ll have to muddle through somehow” line over that insipid “Hang a shining star upon the highest bough” line, especially in this “Hard Candy Christmas” year, and the original is far more appropriate for this episode and show, anyway. I also think the “woke” version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” (by John Legend and Kelly Clarkson) and that revolutionary elves song (the Barenaked Ladies’ “Elf’s Lament”) are hilarious. Yes, I’ve been listening to Christmas music since before Thanksgiving. It’s 2020. Don’t judge.)

Dean asks Sam what changed his mind. At a loss for words, Sam hands him some eggnog, instead. When Dean tries it, he coughs in surprise, realizing Sam spiked it heavily with rum. Dean then surprises Sam by giving him two presents. Sam surprises Dean by giving him two back. It turns out they shopped at the same place: “the gas mart down the road.”

As in the flashback, Dean is impressed and touched. Yeah, the tree is tiny and kinda pathetic-looking. Yes, the booze-laced ‘nog is nasty (Jensen Ackles insists his reaction was genuine when Dean makes a face because Jared Padalecki pranked him by spiking the eggnog with real rum – lots of real rum). Yes, the beef jerky and motor oil from the gas station down the road are a little basic (Dean got Sam “skin mags and shaving cream”). But Dean has still gotten Sam some gifts in return and is touched by Sam’s effort (He doesn’t even make fun of it, as he might have in Season 1). Dean wishes Sam a Merry Christmas and Sam returns it. He tries to add something, but can’t. After almost saying deep things to each other, the Brothers awkwardly decide to watch a game, instead. Outside, it starts to snow on the Impala (their motel door number being 12, of course), the pagan-god spell broken at last.

Credits

Review: Watching the Closer Look interview of Eric Kripke on the Season 3 DVD for this one, I probably should have not liked this episode. Kripke merrily states that he set out to smash up every single Christmas tradition he could find. As my articles on Christmas fantasy, paranormal romance, and horror show, he’s a bit late to that game, but I suppose he still had to go there. Ironically, Kripke also seems to love Christmas. I think the clincher is his story about what he went through to get that spinning “Special” intro at the beginning of the episode. A scrooge would have hated that, not remembered it fondly as a part of childhood and gone to great lengths to track it down.

That said, holy batshorts, is this one bloody, gory episode. I’m not sure if it’s the goriest, considering there are so many candidates from the show, but my God, was that R-level gore. It’s gotta be in the top five. And it’s prosecuted with such taboo-shattering enthusiasm. Kindly, Santa-clad granddads are dragged up chimneys to their deaths. Women proposition Santas in porn flicks. A pervy old Santa gets stoned and drunk after his work day is done. Sam and Dean kill two pagan gods with a Christmas tree. And then there’s that dark, grotty, chaotic cellar of horrors literally underneath the safe, sanitized, suburban festival of hearth and home.

Wow.

I hadn’t noticed this before, but the different MOTW-vs.-Doomed Redshirts (literally, here) scenes have what appear to be intentionally different tones. Originally, I thought the acting by the kid in the teaser was a bit broad, but now I think he was directed to do that. The teaser is brutally jocular satire of the kind of Very Special Christmas episode programming that usually came after that “Special” intro and that you can see in all its glory here on YouTube. The scene immediately after is much sadder and gives a more “Face on the Milk Box” feel.

The next scene where the MOTW strikes and kills the father right in front of the terrified little tyke goes right for terror along the lines of “…And All Through the House” from Tales from the Crypt (the 1972 movie and the 1989 TV episode, both of which came from the original comic, which some credit with inspiring Santa-themed slasher horror). The final battle between the Brothers and the pagan gods comes off very much like the Anglo-Saxon poem, Beowulf. So, the tonal switches are broad-ranging and striking.

Dang it. I just remembered that Dr. Seuss’ Grinch is basically Grendel made cute for the kids, right down to his motivation for trashing Whoville.

It might seem strange for there to be an actual entire genre of Christmas horror (Christmas slashers, especially), but it’s a well-established tradition. There’s Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, of course, and other 19th century antiquarian ghost stories (such as those by M.R. James) were often set or told around Christmastime. But Christmas horror goes back even further than that.

Icelandic folklore is often cited regarding a giant Christmas cat, the Yule Cat Jólakötturinn, who first appears in Icelandic records in the 19th century. He eats anyone who isn’t wearing a new piece of clothing come Christmastime. But even more terrifying is his much-older owner, the troll mother Grýla, who eats “naughty children” (because of course she does) and is part of a group of “Bad Santa” types known as the Yule Lads that goes back to the 13th century. Icelandic lore can get seriously weird, with its emphasis on the island being populated by “hidden people” (elves, basically, but not the Santa kind) who looked just like ordinary humans (and could even take a specific human’s shape to make mischief), but who had magic powers and a generally capricious nature.

There is, for example, an entire group of stories of house maids being visited by elves on Christmas or New Year’s Eve, while they’re guarding the house (sod houses that were basically like living underground) and the rest of the family is off to church mass. The elves play tricks on these young girls, trying to get them to come dancing with them. Medieval and Early Modern Icelandic authorities were highly suspicious of dancing, since it led to, uh, other things, especially for women.

If the girl remains virtuous and resolute in tending to her sewing or other household duties, she is often rewarded. If she gives in to temptation and runs off the howl at the moon with the elves, the family may find her the next morning (“morning” being a relative term in the month-long nights of Icelandic winters), lying across the threshold with her head cut off.

There is also, in Norway, a Yule Goat. These troll characters reflected a time not so long ago when life in Iceland was nasty, brutish and short, and very, very dark in winter.

Let’s talk a bit about the Krampus type of Bad Santa, with includes (but is not limited to) the group known as the Companions of St. Nicholas. These don’t include the Icelandic Yule Lads, who appear to work independently, within their own lore, or the Swedish St. Lucia. The latter is based on both the fourth century martyr and possibly a demon/minor Diana-like Nordic deity named Lussi, or even Adam’s naughty first wife Lilith.

The Rhineland and Pennsylvania Dutch Belsnickel, the Alpine Krampus, and the Dutch Zwarte Piet (yes, that means “Black Pete”), among similar beings in Western (especially Germanic) Europe, are, according to legend, demons who were enslaved by St. Nicholas to do good on his behalf. These are the figures Sam is looking at near the beginning of the episode (right after the title credits) and mentions in passing, with Krampus, by far, being currently the best-known.

As the example “Black Pete” makes clear, these characters have some pretty messy backstory. Black Pete is a caricature of a Moor (a Spanish or North African Muslim), from whence we get the not-so-nice term “blackamore.” The people who dress up as Black Pete during Christmas celebrations in the Netherlands do so, at absolute best, in blackface.

In medieval times, people in the Mediterranean region of Europe had a lot of contact with non-Christians, both Muslims and Jews. Jews also lived in northern Europe and Muslims lived as far north as the Pyrenees in southern France, but these communities were much rarer and more isolated. While living and working next to Abrahamic non-Christians was pretty common in someplace like Spain or southern Italy, a lot fewer people in Northern Europe were likely to encounter them. In fact, for much of the Middle Ages, those regions had much larger populations of Celtic and Germanic pagans. Hence, Yule Cat.

As such, the study of monsters in the Middle Ages (a thriving field, believe me) is full of representations from that part of Europe of Muslims and Jews as inhuman, pagan, even demonic. So, you have antisemitic figures like Krampus (who looks like a Jewish caricature) and the above-mentioned Black Pete (with some color racism for added squirm). It doesn’t help that the current versions we have date to nostalgic medieval revivals from the 19th century. Yes, they represent a dark side to the St. Nicholas legend (the punishment part), but they also represent something so, so much worse. You can see why the show took a hard left outta there after a few cracks about “Evil Santa” and went straight for the “evil pagan god vibe” deal, instead.

I want to take issue with the whole “When do we tell the kids Santa doesn’t exist” thing that gets played with. According to his legend, the original St. Nicholas left presents for the poor in his community, while hiding his identity. This was a way of fulfilling the biblical injunction to take care of the widow, orphan and stranger during times of the year that were especially tough (St. Nicholas was himself an orphan, albeit a rich one).

Part of the legend is that others began to imitate him, in his name, including a bunch of medieval charitable guilds. The idea that there are different representatives of Santa around the world and that at some point, you recruit the next generation into participating, is really part of the original legend. It’s not some feel-good modernization. Becoming a better community by collectively becoming a bunch of Santas for each other is the whole point.

So, when Dean tells Sam that Santa isn’t real, but that the supernatural world is, he’s basically doing a Supernatural version of the above. That’s what The Talk is about. It’s bringing people into a world and a group that protects humans from darker forces. Hunters are basically year-round versions of Santa. With saltguns.

I know that the weeChester stuff is important and it does have some useful information for future reference, but Lord, are those flashbacks incredibly depressing, or what? How could anybody think of John as anything but a card-carrying douchebag of a father after that? I also am not sure that they do Sam any favors. Sure, Colin Ford as Young Sam is as cute as a button, but I don’t think it helps Sam to show him as a whiny, self-absorbed kid and a whiny, self-absorbed adult relearning a lesson he supposedly learned nearly two decades before, all in the same episode.

Yeah, Sam, we get it. You’re going to be alone next Christmas, so get your act together and make this Christmas happy for the person who will be in Hell next year. Life is not worse than Hell. Yes, Sam does figure it out in time (on both occasions) to make Dean’s Christmas, but having the lesson shown us twice does make him look like kind of a selfish idiot for most of the episode.

Ironically, much of the rest of “A Very Supernatural Christmas” presents us with old-style Long-Suffering Genius Sam having to put up with Dumb Hick Dean, as if the writers didn’t notice how Sam was coming across. But then, these are the folks that gave us Ruby and it can be hard to see that kind of thing ahead of time.

Fortunately, it doesn’t matter in the end because both times, Sam goes against his own self-pity and puts himself out for Dean. Sam may need to make the journey twice, but he gets to the same destination each time. That’s rather hopeful, considering the events of Season 4 and early Season 5: No matter how far off the reservation Sam wanders, he always seems to find his way back to his one great compass in life – Dean. (Ah, how young and optimistic I was when I wrote this in 2009.)

I’ve heard fans complain about Ridge Canipe and how his version of Young Dean isn’t very “sympathetic.” Well, I’d say the reason why Canipe comes across as edgy and brittle is because he’s supposed to. We’re seeing Dean under the incredible pressure of a burden that should never have been dumped on his shoulders in the first place (Daddy couldn’t be home for Christmas, my ass), trying to explain the unforgivable to his younger brother a good decade before he mastered how to internalize it. The one thing Canipe didn’t use from Ackles’ older version was Dean’s sense of humor, but one could easily argue that this pre-teen Dean version was before he fully developed that defense mechanism. He does use humor, but it’s bitter and sarcastic, not as light as he later makes it seem.

What I find rather unfortunate, in retrospect, is how this entire storyline is really Dean’s, yet Kripke seemed so determined to make Dean’s story, his personal character conflict (that he’s going to Hell in less than a year), All About Sam’s grief over it (and even though Jeremy Carver wrote this episode, Kripke was clearly in charge of the finished product). The main inspiration for it, I suspect, is Ebenezer Scrooge and his sister in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. You can find two excellent versions of this that came out this year, one for free (by some local friends of mine who do it every year) and one for a nominal fee (by a cast of ghost tour guides from York in England).

In the book, Scrooge has his beloved younger sister, Fan. She acts as an emotional mediator between him and his father, who dislikes him for unknown reasons. But then his father sends him off to boarding school. His sister dies in childbirth and he comes to resent his nephew for taking her away from him (and for resembling her too much). This is when Scrooge begins to turn into the bitter misanthrope we see in the present in the book.

Obviously, Dean is supposed to be an analogue for Fan and Sam for Scrooge. And since Scrooge is the protagonist of the book, so is Sam for the episode. But that doesn’t fit particularly comfortably with the season mytharc. Scrooge’s sister must have gone to Heaven. Dean is very much not heading that way.

I’m not sure how I feel about the amulet at this point. I know I don’t like calling it the “Samulet.” There turned out to be a lot more to it than a visible representation of Dean’s devotion to Sam. On the other hand, what it did turn out to be (which was really cool up to the end of Season 14 – thanks so much for that, Andrew Dabb, jackass) was a Grail object.

Considering how things turned out with God, I can’t help wondering if the way it “just happened” to end up with Dean instead of John was intentional. And not in a good way. More like belling the cat. The amulet was supposed to be a way of locating God. But what if it was being used at this point in the story as a way of keeping tabs on Dean? That’s kind of creepy, that God may have been stalking Dean even this early on. In fact, probably was stalking Dean this early on.

This is also one of the earliest (is the earliest, maybe?) mentions of Jesus in the show. The two gods speak of him as a real person, though it doesn’t appear they ever met him. They really resent him, too. Jesus comes across as a sort of Super Hunter. So powerful was his influence that he marked a transition from a period of literal darkness, when humans were at the mercy of pagan gods and monsters, and even enslaved by them, to a period of light, when humans were able to fight back and kill the monsters as equals and even superiors.

Jesus may not be the first Hunter in the SPNverse, but he certainly appears to have been the most successful. It’s therefore notable (in light of how Dean’s story goes later on) that the Brothers kill two pagan gods responsible for at least 4,000 human deaths over the past two millennia (and who knows how many before that), and that this is a fairly ordinary hunt for them.

Back to the mythology (I discussed this as part of an article on the pagan origins of Christmas in 2009, as well as an article that discusses Sam-as-Scrooge, for Fantasy Magazine the previous year). The pagan gods in this one don’t make a lot of sense. Okay, so they kill people (who have no clue what those wreaths mean) and then they give warm weather in return. It seems to me that the only difference between Mr. and Mrs. God and your garden-variety MOTW is that they eat people and assuage any guilt or responsibility for the murders by giving their community unseasonably warm weather.

Again, the point of human sacrifice is made utterly meaningless, as in “Scarecrow.” However, unlike “Scarecrow,” those making it meaningless are the gods themselves, which doesn’t make much sense. Gods, of whatever system, represent divine principles and I’m not seeing what divine principle these two represent. Yes, their ritual is (sort of) modeled on the Swedish ritual of Midvinterblot, but Madge and Edward bear more resemblance to Saxon(ish) monsters Grendel and his mother than to Odin or Freyja, gods propitiated at the Midvinterblot. Possibly, the writers intended to echo the myth of Norse god Baldur’s death, but Baldur is killed by mistletoe, not pine, and is a gentle precursor to Jesus. And we’ll find out later these gods definitely weren’t Baldur, anyway.

The alleged connection to Hold Nickar (mentioned once and then never again) also makes little sense. Hold Nickar was a sea god who appears to have given some of his traditions to our current Santa Claus, namely: his tendency to ride through the sky at the Winter Solstice and toss down favors to his worshipers in a version of the Ancient European Wild Hunt. How this translates into a male and female god, both equally dangerous but only one of whom rides to a house to grab a victim, I don’t know. And how a Teutonic sea god is vulnerable to pine stakes is also never explained.

I suspect what really happened was that the writers watched William Friedkin’s The Guardian a few times too often and that’s why we get all of this Celtic herbal mythology of the Green Man mixed up with Scandinavian and German traditions (Those nasty druids, they really got around, ya know – she said sarcastically). Then Kripke got it into his head that the Brothers should whack an MOTW with a Christmas tree (He actually has said this), and Mr. and Mrs. God were born. Though I’m especially confused by that after reading visual effects supervisor Ivan Hayden’s interview in Supernatural Magazine. How do you use a tree to kill a tree god? Some kind of like-kills-like sympathetic magic?

Concerning the Anti-Claus, he’s not Santa’s evil brother. He’s a collection of demons in Dutch folklore enslaved by St. Nicholas to do his bidding. Maybe the writers tried too strenuously not to show that they were ripping off Santa’s Slay. Maybe they quickly realised how intrinsically racist and antisemitic those traditions are (which is why they’re being phased out). But there’s shaping the lore to your story and there’s making it mean things it’s not meant to mean, and I think they crossed a line with this one. Roared right over a few, in fact.

So, why don’t I give a crap? Because, you know what? I don’t. Sam-worship, pagan-bashing and mythology-mastication that irritated the hell out of me in the Halloween ep, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester,” just make me giggle, shrug and turn the gain up so I can hear the mayhem better on “A Very Supernatural Christmas.” I think it’s because, underneath it all, this is a wickedly-funny shaggy-dog story intended to show us the True Meaning of Christmas, which is that Christmas magic is real and you can feel it even under the worst circumstances.

There’s a terrible moment in that dining room when the Brothers are hurting bad and Dean turns to Sam and says, “Merry Christmas, Sam!” And means it. This may have originally come out in 2007, but “A Very Supernatural Christmas” is the Christmas Special sendoff 2020 thoroughly deserves.

Also, the Christmas jokes, when it comes right down to it, are in-jokes and not mean, and episode writer Jeremy Carver has fun with the lore, while director J. Miller Tobin has a lot of fun with the Christmas décor. You can tell Jensen Ackles, a self-professed lover of the holiday, is having a blast as Christmas-crazy Dean. Poor Padalecki gets stuck playing the Boy Who Hates Christmas, which is a much-harder job, though he does get some great lines as a consolation.

I was also surprised to find the Christmas music for the episode, both original and soundtrack, much richer and more enjoyable than I’d remembered. I’d never paid much attention to it on watches (many, many watches) before. I hadn’t expected to find much that was new on this rewatch, so that in particular was a pleasant surprise.

Madge and Edward, with their obsessively “secular” Christmasfied home, are hysterical. Of course pagan gods would hide out under the trappings of plastic decorations and blinking lights. We all knew that in our hearts, in the same weird, secret place that still knows damned-well there’s a monster under the bed, no matter what anybody says.

And the actors they got in were perfect for the roles, especially Merrilyn Gann and Spencer Garrett as Madge and Edward Carrigan. Great job, both of them, alone together and with Padalecki and Ackles (I love the cat-and-mouse back-and-forth, where you’re not sure who’s hunting whom). Also of note are Douglas Newell as the cynical shop owner and Brandy Kopp as the horrified elf girl. See, the CW? See what you’re missing by insisting that actors on your show all be under 30 and anorexic?

Merry Christmas, Everyone!


Fun lines:

Dean [to Sam]: So, what did you find [in the victim’s house]?
Sam: Stockings, mistletoe…this.
Dean: A tooth?! Where was this?
Sam: In the chimney.
Dean: The chimney?! No way a man fits up the chimney. It’s too narrow.
Sam: No way he fits up in one piece.
Dean: All right, so if Dad went up the chimney…
Sam: …we need to find what dragged him up there.

Dean [after hearing that Christmas isn’t really Jesus’ birthday]: Next, you’ll be telling me the Easter Bunny’s Jewish!

Sam [about watching the Santa talk to kids]: We just came here to watch.

Dean: Hey, Sam, why are you the boy who hates Christmas?

Sam [to Dean before they bust into “Santa’s” trailer]: Mr. Gung-Ho Christmas might have to blow away Santa.

Guy in Santa suit on porno [to girl coming onto him in a bar]: Look, I’m just not in the mood, okay?
Girl: Mistle my toe. Roast my chestnut? You know…jingle my bell?

Store Owner: Can I help you boys?
Dean: Yeah, we were playing Jenga over at the Walshes and…well, he hasn’t shut up about this wreath. [to Sam] I don’t know. You tell him.
Sam [stiffly]: Sure. [to Store Owner] It was yummy.
Store Owner[to Sam]: I sell a lot of wreaths, guys.
Sam: Right, right, but you see, this one would have been really special. It had green leaves, white buds on it. Might have been made out of meadowsweet?
Store Owner: Well, aren’t you the fussy one?

Dean: Did you sell [the wreaths] for free?
Store Owner: Hell, no. It’s Christmas. People pay a buttload for this crap.
Dean: That’s the spirit!

Dean [looking at Madge and Edward’s christmasfied house]: So, this is where Mrs. Wreath lives, huh? Boy, can’t you just feel the Evil Pagan Vibe?

Dean [to Madge after she cuts him]: If you fudging touch me again, I’ll fudging kill ya!

Edward: Fingernail…blood. Sweet Peter on a Popsicle Stick – I forgot the tooth!

Madge [to Sam]: You little thing. [head spins disturbingly] I loved that tree.

(Original) Next Week: Houses of the Holy: Sam and Dean investigate when unlikely vigilantes kill secretly-bad people and claim an angel incited them to do it.

(Original) In the New Year (January 21): Sam, Interrupted: The Brothers check themselves into a psych hospital to investigate mysterious doings there, then can’t check back out when the MOTW starts to drive them crazy.

(Actual) Next week: Ask Jeeves: We’re back to Season 10 with an episode where Sam and Dean are called to a moldy old pile for the reading of a will and the solving of a murder.

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: “Last Holiday” (15.14) 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.

This recap was a bit late (sorry), as I’m working on a Halloween Zoom talk about local ghost stories and legends in eastern North Carolina. It’s free and it will be October 25 at 7pm (EST), until 8:30pm. You can register beforehand (no obligation) here. I’m hoping to get the next recap and review up on time, but if not, we should get back on track after the talk.

You can find a promo, photos and a synopsis here for 15.15.

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 snarfly foster kittens with seasonal eye gunk right now. My kitty Goose is doing much better, thank you (she’s acting as if nothing happened now), but I’ve still got that bill, so every little bit helps.

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

Recap: Fairly quick (less than a minute) recap, considering the show just came off a major and final hellatus, of Cuthbert Sinclair and Abaddon in Season 9 (and to think I just reviewed those episodes), and Jack’s boring “got his soul back” storyline from the previous ep.

Cut to Now in the Bunker, where Sam is doing research, Dean is cooking burgers (in an apron), and Jack is still sulking in his room. Sam snarks about the apron, though hey, at least, we get a reprise of Dean the Great Cook. Dean has come out of the kitchen to note that the Bunker seems to be on the fritz. The pilot light in the kitchen keeps going out, and he and Sam both notice that things keep switching on and off. Dean complains that the Bunker is supposed to be “state of the art,” though Sam snarks that yes, it was, “for the Fifties.”

While that’s true, the Bunker was shut down for over half a century and possesses lower transistor tech than we have today. Low tech tends to be more durable than high tech. Also, the Bunker is magical.

Anyhoo, at that moment (after Dean asks where Jack is and Sam says he’s in his room), the air goes down. This is right after the Brothers talk about how Castiel is looking for Amara for them and they’re probably going to kill her (this still seems like a stupid plan to me. Why not talk to her, first?). Dean decides they need to do something about the air. Well, yes, since otherwise, they’re going to suffocate. Sam wonders what they can do.

Dean: We fought the Devil, okay? I killed Hitler. I think we can handle some old pipes.

Cut to the Brothers coming down into a control room we’ve never seen before and apparently, they haven’t, either. Sam found it after some research. There is a large old-time, very-active-looking control panel. This is a pretty big retcon, I gotta say, that the Brothers never even looked at this room (which was so easy to find) when they were reconnoitering the Bunker. I mean, come on, Show.

Anyhoo, Sam says all the basic stuff like water and pipes should be controlled from that panel and maybe they should call in a plumber. Dean laughs this off and makes a Mario Brothers joke. Among other controls we don’t get a good look at, the control panel has two big buttons in the lower right-hand corner of the panel. One says “Standby” and the other “Reset.” The Standby button is glowing. The Reset button is not.

Out loud, Dean notes that whenever the porn on his laptop gets too many pop-ups, he just reboots. So, he hits the Reset button right as Sam is arguing that’s not a good idea. Now, obviously, since this is the episode’s teaser, it’s a bad idea, but the writing to this point doesn’t quite justify that. I mean, you’ve got a Reset button and the system is glitchy. Wouldn’t hitting it at least be an option?

Anyhoo, everything goes dark for a moment, but then it comes right back up and the glitches go away. Crowing “Victory!” in a bad Italian accent, Dean goes back upstairs to continue cooking burgers.

Later, we see Dean enter his room with a finished “Dean Deluxe” burger (which looks very tasty). Suddenly, he looks up offscreen and backs up. Cut to his bed, where a middle-aged, red-haired woman is folding his underwear, including a pair of Scooby-Doo-themed shorts. She says, “Oh! Hello, dear.” Dean bellows for Sam.

Cue title cards.

Cut to the Library, where the woman is commenting on all the dust and “filth,” and Dean is saying “Who the hell are you, lady?!” (she comments on his “language”). It takes this long for Sam to arrive from wherever he was and he’s quite startled to meet the woman, as well. He asks her name. She says her “true name is indecipherable in your tongue,” but says that “Mr. Ganem called me Mrs. Butters.”

Sam susses out that she’s not human based on the “our tongue” comment, though that’s pretty obvious at this point. She says that she’s a “wood nymph.” Dean’s reaction face is epic. When Dean asks, “Well, shouldn’t you be in the woods, nymphing?” she calls that “a young one’s game.” Also, she “lives here.”

When Sam suggests she’s a Lady of Letters, she calls herself a “helper.” She basically acted as a live-in maid and nanny for the Men of Letters, who needed, you know, a woman around the house. Even if she wasn’t human.

Dean sarcastically calls this “very progressive” (since it obviously isn’t), then tells her she can “just leave.” This prompts confusion and bewilderment from Mrs. Butters. As she said before, the Bunker is her home and Dean is basically kicking her out. After all, she’s served the Men of Letters “since before the War.”

Confused, Sam asks her what year she thinks it is and she replies in a small voice, “1958?”

Dean rather bruskly breaks the news to her that it’s actually 2020. When she asks where all the Men of Letters are (Mr. Akers and Mr. Markham, specifically), while gesturing at a photo of them on the wall, Dean says she is looking at the only two left. The others are dead. He explains that Abaddon killed them and that she was a demon. Though fluffy, Mrs. Butters is a quick study and realizes this is why the Men of Letters never came back.

In a warm-tones flashback, she explains that when they went to their ceremony (the swearing-in ceremony for Josie and Henry, where Abaddon used Josie to ambush and murder almost all of the chapter), they left Mrs. Butters behind to guard the Bunker. When they didn’t return, she put the Bunker (and herself) into Standby mode. When she hit the button, the lights went down and she turned into green smoke that was sucked up into the glowing symbols on the walls.

The Brothers try to explain that they didn’t realize she was there and that they have been dealing “with one apocalypse after another.” Mrs. Butters is very understanding. Her “boys” dealt with the same kind of schedule. She says that it must have been “an age” since the Brothers had “a home-cooked meal or a holiday.” She takes a step forward, wrinkles her nose, and comments that they haven’t washed their clothes in a while, either. Sam admits they’re not that kind of people.

Dean realizes that the Bunker has been “at half-power” the entire time they’ve been there. Mrs. Butters confirms this and, snapping her fingers, brings the place up to full power. Seems her magic is used to power the place to a higher level. The lights brighten (and turn on in the telescope alcove) and a red spot on the map starts to beep. Mrs. Butters explains that’s the “monster radar.” Pressing the red dot, she gives them the exact location of a nest of vampires 50 miles away from the Bunker. And by that, I mean she gives them the street address. She tells them if they hurry, they can clean out the entire nest and be back for dinner.

Dean is thrilled that they’ve finally caught a break, but as Mrs. Butters goes off to dust up the other room, Sam wonders if they can trust her. Dean points out that the Men of Letters would have needed a creature like her to take care of them and one way to find out is to check out the nest. If she’s telling them the truth, they can go from there.

Sam asks what happens if she isn’t and Dean prosaically says, “Then we deal with her.” Sam then asks, “What about Jack?” Oh, sigh, and things were going so well up to this point.

Cut to Jack, moping in his room. Dean knocks on the door. He tells him they’re going out for a while and gives him a heads-up about Mrs. Butters. He says she’s “probably harmless,” but in case she isn’t, to give them a call. He also says she’s baking “snickerdoodles.” Oooer. Jack just mopes, because that’s Jack for you these days.

In the car, Sam is still worrying away at whether or not Mrs. Butters can be trusted. Sam doesn’t seem to realize that Dean is trusting, but verifying, not just taking Mrs. Butters at face value. The discussion quickly turns to Whether Jack Is Okay because of course it does [sigh] after Dean points out that Mrs. Butters isn’t that big of a deal when they have “the Son of Satan living down the hall.”

Sam wonders if Jack is okay, what with Chuck “deleting worlds” and Amara in the wind. After admitting that Jack, is “a mess,” Dean says, “He’ll be fine. I mean, I’ve been through worse. Look at me – I’m the picture of health.”

Sam: Ignoring your trauma doesn’t make you healthy.

Dean [insincerely]: Sure, it does.

Boy, it’s been a while since Dean’s mental health issues have come up.

Anyhoo, they table the discussion for now.

Back at the Bunker, Jack is still moping, so Mrs. Butters knocks on his door with a sandwich. When he won’t answer, she says she’s leaving it by the door (now that Jack has his soul back, does he have regular human cycles or are we ignoring all that?).

Meanwhile, the vampire nest mentioned before turns out to be two bearded hicks watching an old vampire movie (not sure which one) on a TV in a shack, while sucking down blood from a local blood bank in their Big Swig mugs. Just as one vampire is musing why they don’t get to live in a mansion like the vampire in the film, Sam and Dean kick down the door. The two lowlife vamps helpfully whip around and thrust their heads forward, fangs bared. So, the Brothers simultaneously whack off their heads at one blow.

“Monster radar rules!” crows Dean.

The Brothers return to the Bunker to find it decorated for Christmas. There’s a giant tree in the library, with a train running around it. A big band version of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!” is on the soundtrack (is that irony deliberate?). Mrs. Butters comes out, giggling, with a plate of cookies. Both Brothers are nonplussed at first, but Dean starts to get into it, while Sam looks constipated.

Dean: We are so keeping her!

Cut to Mrs. Butters giving Sam some pancakes and a pep talk the next morning about his rather dour look on the world. In comes Jack and suddenly, her mood changes. She immediately recognizes him as not-quite-human, saying “What. Are. You?” in a tense voice.

Dean comes in, wearing a purple nightshirt and hat. He’s very excited about it (it was a gift from Mrs. Butters) and thanks her. A horrified Sam gets an eyeful (seems Dean is not wearing underwear beneath the nightshirt when he lifts it up) and Dean somewhat defuses the situation by off-handedly vouching for Jack.

Mrs. Butters just-as-off-handedly acknowledges Dean’s thanks, while bristling at Jack. Eventually, she stands down and appears to accept him. Whipping up a smoothie out of nowhere, she gives it to him, even as he’s protesting that he’s not hungry. When Dean shows an interest in the smoothie, she gives him a tomato juice, instead, saying she’s “worried about your cholesterol.” Jack looks amused at Dean’s crestfallen reaction.

A buggy horn goes off overhead, and both Sam and Dean run to their rooms to get dressed. As they’re coming back out past the kitchen, Mrs. Butters hands them each a bag lunch (“no crusts”), tells Sam the monster is a Lamia and that’s she’s put “blessed knives in the trunk,” and tells him to tell Dean to use the Impala gently, since she just waxed it.

Jack wants to go along, but Sam tells him to stay behind and take it easy. They’ll be right back. After saying goodbye to Sam, Mrs. Butters turns back with an edged smile and says to Jack, “Well. What shall we do with you?” Jack smiles at her, not noticing the undertones. Later, she gets him to tell her about being Lucifer’s son, how TFW 2.0 are his only real family, and how he killed Mary in a fit of pique.

Mrs. Butters says, “We all do things, things we’re not proud of.” But she adds that life is full of “second chances,” then offers him another smoothie.

Cue an adorable montage to The Bus Boys’ “Cleanin’ Up the Town” (from Ghostbusters, of course) of the Brothers running off to a hunt (excitedly grabbing bag lunches from Mrs. Butters at the kitchen on the way out), busting down doors, and having holidays (Thanksgiving, Halloween, Fourth of July, and Sam’s birthday). In the last hunt, they blow the door to a shack open and Dean comes in with a rocket launcher, while Sam is hefting Mjolnir.

We come back out of the montage to Sam’s birthday. When Dean wonders if he can have some of the same Rice Krispies treats when he has a birthday, Mrs. Butters comments that she’s surprised that he would still want to celebrate his birthday (i.e., that he’s over 40), but then says she was just teasing and there is more for him in the kitchen.

I’m not sure why the writers continue with these stupid age jokes when they are literally old enough to know better. I get that they work for a network that caters to a young female demographic in an often problematical way that involves literally fetishizing young women, but come on.

Anyhoo, life goes on and Jack gets hooked on his smoothies. One night, he’s coming out with an empty glass when he finds Mrs. Butters in the library, furtively looking at a file in one of the cabinets while dusting. Looking pensive, she puts it back, then jumps and squeals when Jack calls her name. As she comes over, he asks her for another smoothie. Instead of just whipping one up, as she has before, she takes the empty glass and goes off to the kitchen to get him a refill.

This gives him a chance to look through the drawer she was looking in. He finds an old Manila envelope with a CLASSIFIED file inside. It includes her photo and an old film reel. He sneaks off down to the projection room and revs up the film (how he knows how to do this is glossed over).

The faded black-and-white film has an opening narration by Cuthbert Sinclair (whom we briefly met in “Blade Runners” when he tried to enslave Dean, the Mark of Cain, and the First Blade). He calls it File 5150. He then reveals that “Subject B, casually referred to as ‘Mrs. Butters,’” was “retrieved” by Man of Letters Henshaw from a Thule lab. So, it seems the Thule had originally enslaved her (she killed a battallion of 200 men before they could “restrain” her) and if she has been working with the Men of Letters since “before the War,” then the Men of the Letters and the Thule must have been fighting a shadow war with each other even before WWII.

Sinclair then goes on to theorize that even though wood nymphs are normally “docile, they react- violently when home or family are threatened.”

He then turns and we see he is in the dungeon. There is a hooded prisoner in a chair and standing behind the chair is Mrs. Butters, smiling inanely. He says he’s been doing “a series of experiments” (translation: magical torture) to convince Mrs. Butters to join the Men of Letters, “for safety and security.” Pulling off the prisoner’s hood, he reveals that the man in the chair is a Thule operative. Having already extracted all info possible out of the prisoner, Sinclair instructs Mrs. Butters to pull off his head. She does, with the same cheerful smile, then asks, “Would anyone like tea or cookies?”

Horrified, Jack exclaims, “Son of a bitch!”

Jack comes running out into the library shouting for Sam (why not Dean?). Mrs. Butters is there and says Sam will be out in a moment. He’s getting ready for a date with Eileen. Sam comes out in a rather old-style waistcoat and tie ensemble. He says he feels silly. Mrs. Butters assures him he looks great (well, yeah. For the 1950s). Though she would like to cut his hair (Sam demurs).

Dean comes out in his usual flannel, saying “Wow! Somebody’s shopping at Abercrombie and Bitch,” to which Mrs. Butters scolds him: “Language!”

Sam tells them that he’s going on a date with Eileen, who is in town. They are trying to rekindle things since their disastrous kidnapping by Chuck a few episodes ago. Dean figures Sam is going to get laid. Mrs. Butters whips up a bouquet of red roses for Sam and sends him off, though afterward, she scolds Dean for being so mean to Sam. Dean is not especially repentant. But he is happy when she tells him she fixed the TV in his room and runs off to check it out.

Instead of following Dean to talk to him, Jack decides to stalk Mrs. Butters, instead. Because that’s smart.

He follows her down into the storage room and dungeon, where he confronts her. Mrs. Butters, smiling, asks him how the film made him “feel.” Jack is thrown by this question, especially when she supplies an answer – that he “enjoyed” watching her kill the Thule.

Jack realizes that she set him up, that it was a test, and that she thinks he failed (her going off to the kitchen to make him a smoothie should have been his first clue). She says that if the Brothers knew how powerful he’s become, they’d be terrified of him and they should be, that maybe they keep Jack sequestered in the Bunker to keep him from murdering anyone else the way he did Mary.

Jack protests that he would never hurt Sam and Dean, but Mrs. Butters points out that he already has in the past – a whole lot. Then she TK’s him into a wall. Jack gets up and gets angry. He starts to power up, but his eye glow fritzes and fades. As Mrs. Butters slaps a pair of magical cuffs on him (not sure if they’re demon or angel or archangel, or what), she tells him that she used the smoothies to reduce his power. Now, he can’t do anything. Seems she learned a few things while dusting in the library. She pokes him in the chest and TK’s him again into the wall.

When Jack asks her why she’s doing this, she says, “To make the Bunker safe again. To kill all the monsters!”

I know the show wants us to side with Jack and see Mrs. Butters as dangerously out of control. But Mrs. Butters actually isn’t wrong. This scene is a classic case of When the Villain Has a Point.

The show seems to want us to believe that Jack has changed permanently for the good because he has his soul back. But Jack did plenty of horrible things when he had his soul (nor was he at all forgiving about, say, rescuing Dean after Dean said yes to alt-Michael to rectify Jack’s mistake, and save Sam and Jack from Jack’s father). and he intentionally lost his soul out of a desire to get his powers back. Thing is, every time Jack has had to choose between Sam and Dean, and getting his power back, he’s chosen power every time. So, I don’t think the writers did a convincing job of setting up the conflict here.

Dean comes out into the kitchen to see that Mrs. Butters has fixed him a grilled cheese sandwich. Just as Dean is happily digging into it, she tells him the food is to give him strength to go down to the dungeon and kill Jack. Then she hands him a brass dagger.

With a sad, longing look at the sandwich, Dean sets it aside, takes the dagger, and after a comment about how unfortunate it is that she turned “Nurse Ratched” on them, says they’ll go down to the dungeon, let Jack out, and “forget this ever happened.”

That gets him locked in the dungeon with Jack. Mrs. Butters insists that Dean has been “infected” by Jack, who is “just like his father … the Serpent in the Garden” (kind of ironic considering Jack was in the Garden just last episode). Sam returns from his date to find Mrs. Butters waiting for him. When he asks where the others are, she tells him that Jack has got inside Dean’s head, where the two of them are, and that he and she now have to go kill them. She calls him “the smart one” for figuring it out.

Sam says, sure, he’s just going to go to his room for his gun and meet her down there. Instead, he calls Dean from inside his room (apparently, there is cell phone reception in the dungeon, now). When Sam asks why Dean didn’t call him sooner, Dean says he didn’t want to bother him on his date: “It’s been a while for you, man” (truer words). Dean is oddly casual about the whole thing, as if it’s a minor inconvenience.

When Sam asks him for suggestions, Dean points out that Sam was going to research ways to stop Mrs. Butters if she turned evil and suggests shooting her. Sam protests that he’s been distracted by all the celebrations (they reminisce briefly over the fabulous omelette from Boxing Day). Dean suggests hitting the Standby button in the control room (which is actually quite a good idea) to shut her back down. Sam decides to try it.

Back in the dungeon, Jack suggests that he could use his powers to get them out of there, but Dean says the amount of power Jack would need to break out of the cuffs would alert Chuck to his presence (also, Jack’s powers have been reduced by all the smoothies, but it’s not clear if Dean knows about that, yet).

Jack starts panicking a little, saying he has a “mission.” When Dean tells him to calm down and turns away (trying to think), Jack quietly asks if Dean still thinks he’s a monster. Dean turns back to face Jack and lays it all out. He’s trying to forgive Jack, but it’s hard. On the other hand, he’s not “going to let some evil Mary Poppins take you out.”

Upstairs, Sam is edging through the library, gun in hand, calling for Mrs. Butters. When she appears, he does try to shoot her, but she stops him with TK and then TK’s him into a chair. She merrily tells how Sinclair “explained” the importance of the Bunker to her and since Sam is her “favorite,” she’s not going to give up on him … yet. She then proceeds to show him how Sinclair “explained” things to him – by ripping out his fingernails, one by one. Has that happened to Sam since Season 3’s “A Very Supernatural Christmas”? I think so, but can’t recall the other episode.

No matter what Sam tries to tell Mrs. Butters about Jack being “just a kid,” she insists that Jack is a monster who will kill them and she’s already lost her previous team to a monster. She’s not doing it again.

In the dungeon, Dean has an idea, but it involves some rather brutal methods (a very old piece of soundtrack plays over this – I think it’s “Lilith Unfair.” No, sorry, it’s “Old ‘Monster Movie’”). He’s going to use the brass knife to try to break the chain between the cuffs. Jack isn’t too sure it’s going to work and Dean is cheerily unreassuring about the whole thing. When he hits the cuffs with the knife, the magical blowback tosses Jack against a cabinet, smashing it. Dean says the cuffs aren’t coming off without a key, but he’s got another idea (especially since it seems Sam is delayed in showing up).

Dean lines Jack up in front of the door. “Now remember,” he says. “Pain is just weakness leaving the body. On three.” He hits the cuffs on the two count, of course. The resulting explosion blasts Jack right through the door. They’re free, at least for the moment.

Down to the control room they go, where Dean takes a hammer and hits the Reset button (wasn’t he going to hit the Standby button?). The red emergency lighting and klaxon come on. When Dean and Jack enter the library, they find Sam alone. The problem appears to be solved.

But it’s not. In the control room, the panel rattles and the sigils above the doors begin to glow an angry red. A steam pipe bursts. Through the steam Mrs. Butters materializes with glowing green eyes and walks back upstairs. There, she TK’s all three of TFW 2.0 (present) across the room and starts to scream at them that she’s not going to fail again. She especially directs her anger at Jack. She says about him that the reason she can’t go back to her forest is “because of things like that!”

Sam tries to talk her down, saying that Sinclair (“Mr. Cuthbert”) used and tortured her. But it’s Dean who gets through to her. He says that Jack “can save the world.” He points out that that’s always been “the mission.” Confused, Mrs. Butters stands down. The emergency lighting cuts out and everything in the Bunker goes back to normal.

Afterward, she heals Sam’s hand and apologizes to all three of them. Jack says it’s okay. When Sam and Dean note that Sinclair made her leave her forest, she gets all nostalgic about it. Jack then says, “It’s settled.” The next moment, we see her in travel clothes with a purse, as she’s going back home.

She warns them that without her magic, “the Bunker will revert to Standby mode.” Dean tries to make the best of it, talking about the big telescope in the alcove. She tells him it’s not a telescope. It’s an interdimensional geoscope (in other words, a scope that can look into other worlds in the Multiverse).

When Dean comments that he’s looked in it and not seen anything, Mrs. Butters says, “Ohh. Oh, that’s not good.” (Obviously, this is a reference to all the other worlds Chuck was destroying and indicates there was nothing to see in the scope because there are no more worlds left in the Multiverse.)

Jack gives her the photo of the Men of Letters that was on the wall. Before she leaves, she tells Dean to eat his vegetables, Sam to cut his hair, and Jack to go save the world. The she snaps her fingers and vanishes. Half the Bunker shuts down, including half the lights.

Later, while they are reading or doing research or something in the library, Sam tries to get Jack to open up. Jack admits that here he is, supposed to kill God, and he got taken down by a wood nymph. He’s not at all sure he is up to the job. Sam says that he has to because he’s “the only one who can.” (ugh)

Dean breaks up the mood by coming in with a cake, wearing his apron (which Sam continues to be salty about, for some unknown reason). It’s a birthday cake for Jack. Dean has decided that Mrs. Butters was right – even though they’re busy, they should still celebrate occasions. Dean admits that the cake doesn’t look perfect the way Mrs. Butters would have made it, but Jack is happy to see it, nonetheless. Dean lights a candle and puts it on the cake. Sam tells Jack to make a wish. Jack sits for a moment, thinking, then blows the candle out.

Credits

Ratings for this new episode rose from those for the previous episode to 0.4/3 in the A18-49 demo and 1.1 million.

Review: When I first saw the commentary about this episode on Twitter, I was sure I was going to hate it. It sounded quite bad and like an entire forty-some minutes of Jacknatural. After I saw it, though, my feelings became more … mixed. I still actively disliked the Jacknatural aspect, and there were some seriously problematical things, like the entire treatment of what was effectively the Brothers’ condoning their predecessors’ enslavement and torture of a sentient supernatural being.

And yet, the entire montage of Sam and Dean hunting and being ministered to by Mrs. Butters, to the tune of “Cleanin’ Up the Town” from Ghostbusters (a decent non-soundtrack song, for once), was magic. Dean’s enthusiasm over the whole idea of having endless birthdays and Christmas and Halloween was magic. I will probably end up rewatching this montage a good bit come Christmastime.

I actually liked Mrs. Butters and felt sorry for her, far more than Jack (in fact, I think she had some excellent points about Jack). And I know I wasn’t supposed to laugh at Dean beating the hell out of Jack to get them out of the dungeon, but I totally did and I’m not sorry. If that’s all Jack has to suffer from Mary’s loved ones for killing her, it’ll be the very, very least he deserves.

I am thoroughly over and stick-a-fork-in-me done with Jacknatural. Any bit of taking him down a peg introduces some welcome balance to the show that it really needs at this point.

The show has made it seem as though Jack getting his soul back should somehow alleviate what he did to Mary, but I don’t see how something that he was basically tricked into doing should be redemptive in any real way. Mary is no less dead and Jack, for all his guilt, hasn’t done much at all to make amends. There are only so many times you can apologize before you realize that “sorry” is just a word without actions to back it up. This is not Jack’s first “Ooh, I made a really cosmic boo-boo” rodeo and his learning curve is distressing flat throughout.

I also thought his unsympathetic reaction to the old film was un-reassuring. The monsters Mrs. Butters was helping Sam and Dean hunt may or may not have been worthy of killing, but we’ve seen that the Thule invariably are. Jack also didn’t pick up at all on the many hints Sinclair gave that he had tortured Mrs. Butters into serving the Men of Letters. In that moment, he had no compassion for her and hypocritically saw her as nothing more than a monster.

The weird thing is that for all the gaslighting of Dean in-story for not forgiving Jack ridiculously soon, Dean’s the only one of TFW who is acting in character. I don’t even know what the hell Castiel is supposed to be responding to, anymore (he lost most of his remaining personality when Jack brainwashed him from the womb in Season 12). But what about Sam? There’s sort-of, kind-of some supporting canon for Sam acting so academically about Mary’s death and Jack’s role in it. He did admit in the Pilot that he didn’t remember Mary, so he lacked the primal emotional connection to her that Dean had.

Later, we saw Sam react in a similarly muted way to John’s death. Those two had a lot of mixed feelings toward each other, so I guess that makes sense. Anyhoo, it’s canon that Dean reacted a lot more violently to John’s death than Sam did.

But then there’s the flip side of this coin. In the very same Pilot episode, Sam swore vengeance for his girlfriend Jessica’s death and went on a roaring rampage of revenge, as The Bride might have put it. Even five seasons later, when he find out a demon possessed his close friend and then murdered Jessica just to put him on that road, Sam thoroughly enjoyed gutting Brady like a fish. He went completely off the rails after Lilith and then Metatron killed Dean. He had an incandescent hatred for Crowley after Crowley murdered Sarah, one that combined with Sam’s irrational jealousy every time Dean forms strong relationships with other men, that ended up in a situation where Sam threatened the entire Multiverse.

Sam’s been a lot of things, but he ain’t Spock. Either he never did develop strong feelings for his mother, despite extensive attempts by the writers in the past few seasons to show them bonding, or he’s been brainwashed like Castiel, or he’s lying to Jack’s face about forgiving him and just using him to take out Chuck.

The episode dealt clumsily with the central idea of Mrs. Butters as an enslaved supernatural being who powered the Bunker to an extra level. It doesn’t help that the name pretty obviously (though anachronistically) evokes the brand name Mrs. Butterworth, a famous American syrup brand. Rumor has it that Mrs. Butterworth was originally inspired by Hattie McDaniel’s enslaved house servant and nanny in Gone with the Wind (1939), though the brand wasn’t introduced until 1961. Its packaging has recently been revamped after criticism that the original model evoked “mammy” stereotypes. I talked a bit about that stereotype (most famously illustrated by McDaniel’s role, albeit much older) in my review of season one’s “Home,” since Missouri definitely evoked it.

While Mrs. Butters has a British accent, and it’s implied that she was originally German (Hyacinth Bucket meets the hausfrau stereotype), her name seems a pretty obvious evocation of the above minstrel show trope, as well. Whatever “Last Holiday” was trying to say about slavery seems to get tangled up in a lot of white-washed, tone-deaf Lost Cause subtext as the Brothers and Jack proceed to enjoy Mrs. Butters’ ministrations without thinking too hard about what she gets out of it. It made me wonder what other dark secrets and beings might be involved in the Bunker’s foundations. Cuthbert Sinclair really was quite the bastard, wasn’t he?

The frequently perky tone didn’t necessarily help. For example, the only time Dean appeared to take Mrs. Butters seriously as a threat was near the end, when he finally got through to her by explaining Jack’s actual function with them. While the way Mrs. Butters then stood down may seem heartwarming on the surface, I was struck by the bleak (unintended?) subtext that only when Dean pointed out that Jack was a Men of Letters weapon (like her) did she back off.

Was it because she just didn’t buy that the Brothers considered Jack family, especially after what he’d done to their mother? Or was it because Dean was finally being honest when he made it clear that Jack was a weapon and that he and Sam knew exactly what they were doing in keeping him in the Bunker (as she implied when she locked Jack in the dungeon)? Had she previously been reacting to the underlying dishonesty?

By the way, if the name Henshaw sounds familiar, he’s the Man of Letters who wrote the report about the Hand of God in Season 11’s “The Vessel.” So, think of Jack as a sentient Hand of God. Then he doesn’t seem quite so special as he thinks.

It actually makes a lot of sense that Mrs. Butters would take special umbrage to Jack. It’s necessary to remind everyone here that Jack didn’t just kill Mary. He also killed his own mother by being born. Jack is a natural born matricide, twice over. That the show had Kelly gloss over this, even in Heaven (ugh, gag), and make it seem okay didn’t improve matters.

But Mrs. Butters is a maternal figure herself, nurturing full-grown men engaged in a very dangerous profession. She would relate to other maternal figures, the real mothers of these men, more than some other characters. And she would find matricide especially unforgivable. After all, it’s a direct threat to her, as well.

I didn’t notice until the rewatch that Dean did actually free her right away. It was off-hand and he was basically evicting her from her home of three-quarters of a century, but his very first thought was not to take advantage of her, as was the impression I got on first watch. After all, he had been tortured by Cuthbert Sinclair and nearly made his slave, too.

It wasn’t until she clearly showed her intent and desire to remain in the Bunker that Dean started to get into keeping her around. Keep in mind that Sam’s very first thought was to kill her, though he eventually warmed to her, as well, and we got to see a happier Sam for a while (sad we didn’t get to see Eileen this time, though).

Perhaps the biggest problem with the suspension of disbelief here is that the episode chose to introduce and write out a key element in the Bunker’s history inside a single episode. Mrs. Butters was a lot like that Hunter character the Brothers have supposedly known for decades (but never mentioned before) who pops up for a single episode, only to get killed off (usually after having turned evil, first). I think we might have felt the sense of betrayal a bit more when she turned on them if she had been introduced at least a few episodes earlier.

Alas, with introducing such a powerful figure, so intimately connected to the Bunker, this late in the game, retcons and other questions arose. For example, when Amara invaded the Bunker near the end of season 11 and burned out the sigils in the walls, why wasn’t Mrs. Butters awakened or even killed? What about when Dorothy brought the Witch into the Bunker? Was Mrs. Butters not there, yet? Why didn’t the Brothers ever notice the control room in their thorough search of the place? Did none of the Men of Letters notice that early on that Cuthbert Sinclair never seemed to age? Were the London Men of Letters ever aware of her existence? How long a timespan did this episode even cover?

Why introduce such a powerful character (she took down Jack) so late in the game and then write her out? Is not Earth Prime her home, her woods, writ large? Couldn’t the Brothers use her as an ally against Chuck, instead of the show writers’ usual simplistic obsession with a single solution (finding and neutralizing/recruiting Amara) that we already know won’t work in the breach? I know the Nazis were obsessed with nature, but is her grove even still standing? What happens if/when she finds out it’s not? Will she turn monstrous?

Why are we even still doing MOTWs at this late date? Are all of these elements in the last seven episodes going to figure in the finale? I hope so, but they need to hurry up with starting to tie them together.

Next week: Gimme Shelter: Castiel’s back and the Brothers going looking for Amara. I’m sure that will end well.

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: “King of the Damned” (9.21) 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 tonight and the series finale will be November 19. This will be my last retro recap and review of season 9 until after season 15 (and the show) ends on November 19. As I’ll be posting reviews of season 15 the following Thursday, that means I’ll post my recap and review of the series finale on Thanksgiving and get back to retro recaps/reviews (assuming y’all still care after the show ends) in early December.

There are some new trailers out for the last episodes. Finally. Also, there are a sneak peek and photos up for tonight and you can join a Zoom watch party with some of the cast at 7:30 PST (that’s 10:30 pm EST).

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 snarfly foster kittens with seasonal eye gunk right now. My kitty Goose is doing much better, thank you (she’s acting as if nothing happened now), but I’ve still got that bill, so every little bit helps.

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

Recap: Pretty long (about two minutes) recap of the story so far, with mini-recaps of Metatron and Gadriel, Abaddon, the Mark of Cain, Castiel becoming a Judas Goat for the angels, and so on.

Cut to Scotland in 1723. A young man is getting ready for a voyage when there’s a huge flash of light and sound outside his hut. The door bursts open and in walks Abaddon. Predictably, the young man wants nothing to do with her, but she won’t be deterred. In fact, when his randy friend walks in and somehow thinks an orgy is about to begin, she TK’s him into a wall onto a hook, killing him. As the first young man crosses himself, she turns back to him, grabs his head, and starts chanting a spell (sounds like Urdu or something like it). There’s another flash of bright, white light.

Cue title cards.

Cut to a bar where a bunch of nerdy angels are sitting around, chatting over beers (yes, it’s come to this). One angel (played by Gordon Michael Woolvett, whose brother showed up in “Frontierland” in season six, of Andromeda fame) clumsily tries to ingratiate himself into a conversation at a table by claiming he’s been personally chosen for a mission by Metatron. When one of the angels (who had previously been leading the conversation) calls him out for being such a blabbermouth, he refuses to back down. But eventually, he gets no traction out of the conversation and wanders out into the alleyway, where he is accosted by two angels (after a suspicious-looking guy in a long jacket wanders by).

He ends up in a bare room, chained to a chair. The same angel from the bar comes in and starts interrogating him and he gives up the same story, rather defiantly. But he’s shocked and impressed when Castiel walks in.

Cut to a daytime scene. Sam and Dean are pulling up to a warehouse (Dean is wearing new jeans and a brand-new jacket, as if he’s dressing in his finest for a battle he doesn’t expect to win). They’re rather skeptical about the drab surroundings, but “he” told them to meet him there. When they knock on a side door, the same angel who was doing the interrogation in the previous scene opens it and says that “he” is expecting them. So, they come inside.

They’re impressed (though they try not to show it) by the way the angels have set up their war room. It’s almost like a police station, with one angel bringing another angel under guard past them as they come in. Benjamin escorts them up to an office overlooking the ready room, where Castiel is overlooking plans about finding Metatron (all this looks great, but we already know it’s just a cover for Castiel to sell out his brethren to Metatron). Castiel greets both brothers with warm hugs and gently dismisses their angel guard, whom he calls Benjamin.

As Benjamin stiffly leaves, Castiel tells them he’s just a bit formal (or he just plain doesn’t like Sam and Dean, more likely). Castiel fills them in on Bartholomew’s death and Malachi’s (offscreen) murder by Gadriel. Remember when Malachi was going to be a major antagonist? Yeah, not so much.

Castiel insists that he doesn’t want to be the angels’ “commander,” but their other leaders have died and they insisted on following him. He does not mention that Metatron is setting him up to lead his new flock to their destruction, though he does say he hopes to avoid another angel war by finding a “diplomatic” way of getting rid of Metatron. I’m sure he does hope for that, but he’s still currently acting as Metatron’s Judas Goat.

He tells them about the geek angel from before. He says the guy is from Metatron’s inner circle, but won’t talk. Castiel wonders if the Brothers (and by that, he means Dean) might … uh … persuade the prisoner to talk. He is, of course, referring to season four’s “On the Head of a Pin,” where Castiel basically bullied Dean into torturing his former torturer in Hell, Alastair, to devastating physical and psychological effect for Dean.

This time, though, after a hooded look, Dean says he has no problem whatsoever with a little bit of angel torturing. Sam is disconcerted.

Cut to the Humboldt Hotel in Cleveland, OH. Crowley is holding a conference of black-suited demons at night. He admits that yes, he left Hell in chaos for some time while he was away on vacation, but he’s back now and they’re going to help him whip things back into shape (i.e., beat Abaddon). But when he asks for a round of ayes of loyalty, there’s a deathly silence. In that silence, Abaddon walks into the room.

Crowley is, of course, terrified and covers it up by being furious. He snarls at his former minions, while they just cringe. Abaddon, meanwhile, mocks him.

Crowley [in a stage whisper to his minions]: You betrayed me! No one in the history of torture’s been tortured like the torture you’ll be tortured with!

Abaddon, in a black leather jacket and blue jeans, and carrying a nice 1950s cocktail with an olive, has a seat on a couch while she informs him that she’s been hearing rumors. For example, that he’s been working with the Winchesters, that he helped them get hold of the First Blade, and that one of them even has the Mark of Cain. At this point, Crowley notes that a bearer of the Mark can kill her with the First Blade.

Abaddon’s demeanor turns cold. While she admits this is true, she also notes that it’s also true of Crowley and that the Brothers will surely be targeting him next after her. Why not join up to destroy the Winchesters and the First Blade, then they can deal with each other?

Crowley, wisely, isn’t interested (since his only real play to get rid of Abaddon once and for all is the First Blade). He tells her the only event he’s going to be joining is singing at her death. And since she has “no hold” on him, he turns to leave.

At this moment, Abaddon snaps her fingers and shows her joker card. She the surviving young man from the teaser into the room. He is Crowley’s son, Gavin (whom we first met as a ghost in season six’s “Weekend at Bobby’s”). At first, Crowley insists that he and Gavin “loathe” each other and that he cares nothing for his son. But Abaddon calls Crowley’s bluff by making Gavin bleed from the eyes. When Gavin starts screaming and begging, Crowley blusters, but eventually, he caves.

Cut to Metatron’s spy, named Ezra, claiming he won’t crack, while Dean paces around him with an angel blade, just dying to slice him open and see the light pour out. Just as Dean is going in to get rough, Sam, shocked by his aggression, pulls him back and says that Ezra can’t tell them anything if he’s dead.

Sam then gets an idea and starts talking about how Ezra was probably too low in the organization, and too stupid, to get any responsibility. Watching Sam closely, Dean quickly realizes Sam is running a con on Ezra and plays along. They both insult Ezra until he gets mad and insists that he is very important to Metatron. The Brothers cleverly say that he probably hasn’t even been back to Heaven. Ezra then drops a huge truth bomb – not only has he been to Heaven, but, with all the gates closed, it’s through a portal. The angels here can’t sense it because Metatron makes it move around as he wills it.

After mocking Ezra for being a “fan” who knows all about Metatron, but has never met him, the Brothers get out of him that he auditioned for a “key post,” was rejected and sent back down to earth to serve in the “ground forces,” and that “hardly anyone” was chosen to be in The Squad. But Ezra doesn’t actually know what the job entailed since he never made it past the interview. Back out in the hallway, the Brothers go over their info and roll their eyes a bit at how dumb Ezra is.

Unfortunately, Ezra doesn’t have much longer to live, since an angel guard discovers him dead in his cell, having been stabbed to death by an angel blade.

Cut back to the hotel, where Gavin (looking a lot better and wiping residual blood off with a towel) insists in front of Abaddon that Crowley can’t be his father. His father was Fergus Macleod (“a simple tailor, a drunk, a monster”). And, of course, since Crowley is inside a host from this century, he doesn’t look the way he did in life. Crowley just says that much can change in 291 years.

Gavin is blown away by this casual admission that he’s in the future (though you’d think he’d have figured out something was up at some point). Crowley shows him a light bulb and Gavin’s first thought is whether or not you can “cook a pigeon on it.” Commenting on Gavin’s slowness to understand what’s going on, Abaddon TK’s open the balcony doors. Even more shocked, Gavin thinks they are “among the stars.” He asks if they’re in Heaven, and if Crowley and Abaddon are angels.

Crowley and Abaddon

[simultaneously]

: Wow.

Gavin then has to digest that his father sold his soul to a Crossroad Demon and went to Hell. He doesn’t take it well, saying he “can’t be consorting with demons.” Not even Crowley pointing out that he’s the King of Hell seems to get through.

Back at Castiel’s compound, the Brothers are insisting that Ezra was fine when they left him. Sam says he highly doubts Ezra could have killed himself without a weapon. Castiel agrees, saying that it was an angel kill.” Dean points out that Castiel may have (another) spy in his camp.

When Castiel ruefully admits he’d hoped this one cause would finally unite the surviving angels, Dean says, “See, that’s the problem. You want to believe everyone’s telling the truth. I believe everyone’s lying.” Off Castiel’s skeptical look, Dean adds, “It’s a gift.”

Dean gets up to go investigate the angel compound a bit more, to see who else is lying. As he heads out the door of the office, Castiel stops Sam to ask him a question – and it’s not about Dean having the Mark of Cain, which you’d think would be an obvious one. Castiel asks Sam what it was like to be possessed by Gadriel (which is insensitive, but, well, Castiel is an angel and he’s also always been socially obtuse, even for an angel, especially for one who was human at the beginning of this season). Sam is uneasy with the question, of course, since Gadriel used his body to murder Kevin about ten episodes earlier, something he lampshades to Castiel.

Castiel is more interested in what sense Sam got of Gadriel. Sam says that Gadriel didn’t so much possess him as that they were sharing the same body (um, okay). After some prodding, he admits that Gadriel didn’t come off as evil or malicious, but that he felt misunderstood. He says that obviously, this impression must have been wrong, since Gadriel then killed Kevin. As Sam leaves, Castiel looks sketchy. I see he’s about to do something stupid. Must be Thursday.

In the hotel, Gavin is pointing out that Crowley was a monstrous father: always drunk, beating his son, not allowing him to learn how to read, and that it’s ridiculous Crowley sold his own soul for three extra inches of dick. Crowley allows all of these things, but points out that he’s been dead and in Hell a long time, so he’s changed (the dialogue indicates Gavin took off on his doomed voyage immediately after burying his father, so “Fergus” died in 1723). He then uses his powers to give Gavin the ability to read.

At first, Gavin doesn’t clue in what’s going on, just picks up a newspaper and explains over the “Pirates” and the “Buccaneers” (two sports teams, obviously) having a fight. Then he gets it. He can now read. Crowley reiterates that this is one of the perks of having a father who is the King of Hell and we begin to see Gavin soften toward the idea.

He asks, if Crowley is the King of Hell, does that make him a prince (oh, honey, no, that’s a later and quite terrible storyline)? But a fly lands in the ointment when he starts talking about how much he’s finally going to get done when he goes back to his time and gets on board that ship. Crowley starts to tell him why that’s a problem, but instead decides it’s time to go back to dealing with Abaddon.

In a garden, Castiel is waiting for someone. Golly, I wonder who that could be? Could it be Gadriel? Got it in one. Gadriel shows up with the same angel who found Ezra dead (she’s actually with Castiel). Castiel thanks him for coming alone. Gadriel says that he’s seen Castiel “through Sam Winchester’s eyes” and that “he trusts you.” He says Castiel has “a reputation for honor.” Castiel is smart enough not to laugh at that one and just says that his reputation varies, depending on whom you ask.

He says that he says he understands that Gadriel feels “misunderstood.” Gadriel hotly retorts that he’s not the one responsible for what happened in The Garden. There is some back-and-forth, as Castiel tries to get Gadriel to see that he is backing the wrong horse and not finding his redemption with Metatron. Gadriel is stubborn about changing his allegiances again, even though Castiel admits that his own trust in Metatron is what led to the angels falling in the first place (Gadriel saw that as his chance for freedom and redemption, you see).

Suddenly, Gadriel calls out a warning as two angels run into the clearing to attack Castiel and his guard. Castiel kills his attacker. His guard gets killed and then he kills her killer (girlfriend didn’t even get any lines, jeez). When he looks around, Gadriel has disappeared. Was it a trap?

Back at the compound, Dean is sitting, staring blankly into space. He’s having more flashbacks to the first time Sinclair shoved the First Blade into his hands, then of killing Sinclair when he attacked Sam. As he stares at the Mark, he remembers Sam calling his name, telling him to drop the Blade. Then a phone rings and it turns into Sam clapping his hands, bringing him out of his trance and telling him to answer his cell phone. When he picks up, it’s Crowley. Dean tells him, “It’s about time!” as if he hadn’t just been in a fugue state.

Crowley tells him he’s found Abaddon (she, of course, is sitting right beside him, since it’s a trap). But before he leads the Brothers to her, he’s going to tell Dean where he can find the First Blade.

Cut to the Impala driving at night to a cemetery, where the Brothers dig up a coffin, only to find it contains a fresh(ish) corpse. Sam complains loudly about the smell, though Dean allows it’s a pretty good place to hide the Blade. But just as Dean is kneeling down to deep-dive in the guy’s guts for it, Sam hears a growl. It’s a Hell Hound. I love how Dean (who got dragged off to Hell at the end of season 3 by a Hell Hound and is still deathly afraid of them) is just like, “Run!” and bails first. Sam, a little slower on the count, runs after him as Dean makes a beeline for a nearby crypt with an iron gate. Dean busts through it and when Sam comes in after him, they quickly bar the gate. As the Hell Hound starts smacking against the iron, Dean calls Crowley.

Crowley is sitting in front of a fireplace across from Gavin (who is reading the newspaper, now that he can), while Mozart’s “Rondo Alla Turca” (Turkish March) is playing in the background. Crowley is bemused that the Hell Hound is still on duty, since she was supposed to be out “collecting” (boy, I’ll bet that one word sent a chill through Dean’s blood). Dean just says he’s putting Crowley “on speakerphone.” Crowley then calls to the Hell Hound (whose name is “Juliette”) in dulcet tones and tells her to “stand down.” She does with a whine. After hanging up the phone, Crowley and Gavin go back to reading the newspaper.

The Brothers return to the coffin. Pulling out a big knife, Dean cuts the sutures from the autopsy or embalming or whatever. But Sam, who is already having trouble not throwing up, insists on reaching in to grab it (it’s covered with grue when it comes back out) because he’s concerned Dean will Hulk out if he touches it. Or something. It’s pretty condescending and even Dean points that out.

Back at the hotel, Crowley is trying to persuade Gavin not to go back and board the ship. Gavin is indignant, but Crowley can’t tell him the truth, so Gavin slams a door in his face.

Crowley is distracted from his unexpected drama by a call from Dean, who’s driving the Impala, Sam riding shotgun. Calling Dean “Squirrel,” he says, “Hope you were nice to your father.” Dean is confused and quickly changes the subject (yeah, that one’s … fraught for Dean). Dean tells him he has the Blade. Crowley tells him he’s in Cleveland in the Humboldt Hotel (“Penthouse Suite, of course”). He says that when Dean arrives, “I’ll take you to Abaddon.”

Crowley: I’ll draw her out and then you can skewer the ignorant hag. [in a stage whisper to Abaddon off her look of discomfort] Selling it.

Crowley then tells him he’s going to “need to leave Poughkeepsie right away.” He uses the word twice, knowing full well (from when Dean sent him inside Sam’s head to roust Gadriel) that it’s Sam and Dean’s current word for “trouble.” Confused at first, Dean rolls with it and ends the call, but when Sam asks him if everything’s good, Dean just says, “Yeah.”

Though Abaddon doesn’t know about the safe word, she does shoot Crowley with a devil’s trap bullet (noting she learned it from Henry Winchester) to render him powerless. She claims that she likes “stiff odds” just fine, but Crowley with powers, the Brothers, and the First Blade all in the same place with her are a bit much. So, she’s leveling the playing field a bit (please, as if Abaddon ever played fair). Crowley falls back on a fainting couch with a bullet in his shoulder, realizing he now can’t do anything to stop her.

In an open alleyway, still on an overcast day, Gadriel is insisting to Castiel he had nothing to do with the ambush in the woods. He believes in prosecuting even war on honorable terms (this seems weird in light of some of the treacherous things Metatron had him do, like killing Kevin in the Bunker, but okay).

Castiel points out that Metatron is anything but honorable, hence why he used Gadriel’s negotiation to set up a double-cross. Gadriel protests that Castiel is asking him to turn on Metatron. Castiel disagrees. He knows he has a Metatron spy inside his own camp. He just wants Gadriel to act as one inside Metatron’s camp for him. As he leaves, he says, “Consider my offer.” Gadriel looks conflicted.

The Impala arrives outside the Humboldt Hotel in broad (though overcast) daylight. The Brothers get out, Sam holding the First Blade, wrapped in a leather wrap. Sam wants to just go inside and is confused when Dean suggests they do a reconnaissance first. Dean says Crowley told him “he saw some demons going down into the basement.” That might mean Abaddon knew Crowley was there.

We know this is a lie and Sam questions when Crowley said all that, but still, a little reconnaissance is actually a standard good idea. Dean tells him that Crowley told him about the demons on the phone. He “suggests” Sam look around the basement, while he reconnoiters the main floor. Sam looks uncomfortable as Dean grabs the First Blade from him, but doesn’t quite object as Dean stalks away.

Warily, Dean enters the Penthouse Suite, First Blade out and in hand. He sees Crowley sprawled on the couch, clutching his host’s wounded shoulder.

Crowley: Hallo, Dean. Love the crazed bloodlust in your eyes.

I’m not sure if this is sarcasm or misdirection aimed at Abaddon, or what. Dean doesn’t look especially crazy in this moment. In fact, he silently taps his shoulder where Crowley’s wound would be with the First Blade, mutely questioning what’s going on with that. Instead of answering directly, Crowley says, “Let’s not waste time. I’ll take you to Abaddon. It’s not far.” Then he cuts his eyes to Dean’s right. Dean turns into a demon’s attack and immediately stabs him with the Blade. The demon dies in a storm of red light.

Dean is clearly affected by the high of the kill, but he has no more than a second to enjoy it. He’s suddenly TK’d into a nearby painting on a wall. Abaddon comes in, gloating.

Abaddon: A boy and his Blade. And still, no match for the new Queen.

Meanwhile, Sam is down in the basement, finding it empty and quiet, and realizing he got played.

Upstairs, Abaddon chuckles malevolently as she tortures Dean.

Abaddon: So, first, you’ll die. Painfully. And then Crowley will watch his son die. Ditto. And then the King himself. And Blade destroyed. Well, it’s quite a To Do list!

But meanwhile, the Blade is calling its siren song to Dean. He starts to peel himself away from the wall, the Mark visibly glowing even through a layer of flannel and his leather jacket. We also see the same snarl as when he beheaded Sinclair. Then he actually slides back down from the wall.

Abaddon is not standing idle while he does. She lashes him again and again with TK, but he takes one stubborn step toward her and then another. And another. Abaddon’s TK is so powerful that it kicks up a big wind that actually rolls a lamp across Crowley, who’s a wide-eyed, but helpless, spectator to these events.

Dean keeps coming, but Abaddon is able to knock him off his feet with a particularly strong burst, and he ends up pinned back to the wall, with the Blade out of his hand, lying on the floor. Abaddon then starts Force-choking Dean, but Dean, through the pain, focuses on the First Blade. As he concentrates on it, it stirs and then suddenly flies into his hand (the fan wank in some quarters when this episode first came out, trying to discount how this was Dean showing an actual superpower – TK – was hilarious).

Suddenly, it’s as if Abaddon’s powers no longer have any effect on Dean. Remember in the coda to season three when Lilith tried to TK Sam after unsuccessfully white-lighting him and it no longer worked? It’s like that. Abaddon seems unable to believe it, or maybe it’s sheer desperation that keeps her going with the TK, but it gives Dean a clear shot to just walk up to her and stab her, even as she’s still trying to jazz-hand him.

Sam enters the room (blasted by wind) right as Dean starts that walk.

When Dean stabs Abaddon, she rises above him, howling in agony, as white light (not red) bursts out of her, through her eyes and mouth, even her skin, and the sound of lightning and thunder rolls continuously. Sam and Crowley have to look away, it’s so bright, but Dean stares straight up into it, silently echoing her howls, looking completely mad. There’s a reason “King of the Damned” is a fan favorite and this scene is one of the most screencapped and giffed of the entire show.

Then the light fades and she collapses to the ground. Dean then kneels down on top of her and begins beating on her dead body (Josie’s dead body) with the Blade in a frenzy of rage and hate. Shocked, Sam has to call several times to get Dean to stop. Breathing heavily, Dean looks up at him in a daze and then tosses the Blade away. Nearby, Crowley is looking pretty thrilled to have survived all this.

Afterward, while his son looks on from another room, Crowley gets a knife to dig the devil’s trap out of his shoulder himself and whining about it. Sam is nearby, wrapping the Blade back up. Sam tells Crowley he’s damned lucky they didn’t kill him, so shut up.

As Dean is walking back into the room from the washroom, having cleaned up with a blood towel in an echo of Gavin doing it earlier, Crowley “reminds” Sam that he tried to warn them it was a trap by using their safe word. This is, of course, the first time Sam’s heard of it. Crowley notices Sam’s confusion and Dean’s sketchy look, and chuckles: “I sense drama!”

Dean changes the subject to Gavin. He’s surprised Crowley even had a son. He asks how Gavin is doing, just as the bullet comes out. Crowley hedges.

Dean points out that Gavin needs to go back and Sam says they can bring him to the Bunker and try to reverse engineer the spell. Crowley protests that if he does go back, Gavin will die on that ship. The Brothers are not sympathetic and say the potential ripple effect is too great (apparently, they’re unaware that Bobby summoned Gavin’s ghost in season six). Crowley grumps that Gavin’s disappearance from history doesn’t affect anyone, since he went down with the ship, as it were, shortly afterward. We will, of course, find out otherwise a few seasons later and then there’s the whole plothole involving how Bobby was able to get out of his deal using Gavin, if Gavin is now in the future. Time travel. Such a headache.

Crowley asks to say goodbye to his son, even as he declares that he’ll be thrilled with the day he no longer has to feel human emotions. But when he goes into the bedroom with Gavin, he TK’s the doors closed and whisks Gavin away. Dean’s pissed.

In a field somewhere else, Gavin is finding out what happens to him in the past. He bitterly figures it’s par for the course with the way the rest of his life has gone. He’s not too sure if he can even make it in the 21st century, but Crowley tells him he’ll do fine as long as he avoids “cheap whiskey and cheap hookers.” He also warns him not to smoke. He tells his son that they won’t be seeing each other again and turns down a hug, but he does act “all fatherly” before he vanishes, leaving Gavin out standing in a field by himself.

Cut to an Impala chat at night (as Crowley said, “drama”). Dean tells Sam he didn’t tell him about Crowley’s warning because he knew that Sam would want to go in beside him and that wouldn’t have worked out too well (for Sam’s survival, though Dean doesn’t say that outright). Dean says that when he first touched the First Blade, he felt a “calm” and knew that he would take down Abaddon and anyone else who got in his way, that he would not be stopped.

Now Sam could respond a whole bunch of different constructive ways. Instead, he falls back on his usual default – jealous pissiness. Sam complains that Dean was trying to “protect” him (yes, it’s an actual complaint). Dean points out that they “couldn’t afford to screw this up.” If Abaddon had been able to get hold of Sam, she might have been able to negotiate an escape. Dean is pretty clearly referencing Sam getting himself caught by the vampire brothers two episodes ago and Sam doesn’t like it one bit.

Sam says that it’s great that Dean is deriving “calm” or whatever from the Blade, but he feels that it’s also doing something to Dean, changing him. Sam “suggests” that they take the Blade out somewhere and keep it safe, far away from Dean, until they need it again.

Dean just stares at the road and quietly (but firmly) says, “No.”

Credits

Ratings dropped again to 0.8/2 in the A18-49 demo and 1.59 million. This was probably thanks to the hangover from backdoor pilot “Bloodlines” and being dragged down a bit by The Originals’ pitiful lead-in.

Review: “King of the Damned” is an evocative title. It could apply to Crowley, Abaddon, or even Castiel. There’s certainly enough hubris to go round for everyone, including Sam and Dean and Gadriel. The road to Hell, as they say, is paved with lost teddy bea – sorry, I mean good intentions.

I’ve seen complaints, especially when this episode first came out, that Abaddon never got enough storyline, that she was introduced and then simply ditched (and that this is linked in some way to the show’s allegedly egregious misogyny that some Tumblrites love to harp on whenever they’re mad that their favorite fictional gay male ship hasn’t kissed, yet). I disagree. Sure, she could have stayed around a bit longer, but we’ve seen a lot of what happens when a villain overstays their welcome (Lucifer, anyone?). In order to keep her around much more, they’d have had to introduce some more dimensions than the straight-up queenly, dominatrix evil that made Abaddon so pure. It would have weakened her as a character and I can’t say I’d have wanted to see that. Abaddon stayed just long enough to make a huge impression and then flamed out in epic style.

The thing is that Abaddon was on the show for nearly a season and a half, had more episodes than Azazel, and was a major Big Bad since the end of last season. She had a complete arc where she was introduced as a fearsome enemy, scored some major points on the Brothers (killing their paternal grandfather), had some setbacks and wins, embarked on a campaign to oust Crowley and become Queen of Hell, and very nearly accomplished it in an audacious plan this week (involving time travel, no less) before being brought down by Dean, the Mark and the First Blade.

We also got two episodes that explained why she was the only surviving Knight of Hell (besides her leader and “creator” Cain), what she was doing for Lucifer in the 1950s, and how she came to possess her current host, Josie Sands (which explained a bit more about how she destroyed the American chapter of the Men of Letters). We even saw her interact with and possess female characters.

Could they have stretched out her arc a bit more with more personal backstory? Here and there. The big question remaining after this episode (never answered, unfortunately) was whether or not she was actually an ordinary demon (ex-human) pre-Knighthood or if she was some kind of converted fallen angel (an ex-Grigori, perhaps). If she’d never been human at all, that would explain why she died like an angel, blasting out white light, and not a demon (red lightning).

It would also explain her contempt for human emotion in this episode. Yes, demons often express contempt for living humans and the more positive human emotions (anger, hate, fear, jealousy, envy, malice? Those are okay), but there is always an undertone of shame and self-loathing. We see this from Crowley when Abaddon comments on Crowley’s emotional connection to his son (which she regards as a weakness), but not from Abaddon herself. There is no residue of humanity in her. The closest we get to it in this episode is her little moue of discomfort when Crowley refers to her as a “hag” in his phone call to Dean.

The closest we get to it ever is in “First Born” when she’s possessing the woman Cain loves and where she demonstrates what could be seen as jealousy about that relationship. But that could all be an act and her submissiveness (completely the opposite of the dominant way she acts in every other episode) is not at all explained (let alone poorly). That’s a flaw in an otherwise-classic episode (“First Born” not “King of the Damned”).

Now, Abaddon’s death is obviously sexual. From the way Dean stabs her in the belly, to the orgasmic tandem screaming, to the way she rubs her hands down his arms, even to the frenzied way he beats on her dead body afterward, this is clearly a sadomasochistic scene. But for those who complain about the rape-y aspects of it, HEL-lo, this was foreshadowed in the second episode of the season. Remember when Abaddon had Dean on his knees and was talking about demon-raping him? Well, she still has the apparent upper hand in “King of the Damned,” right up until the moment she doesn’t and can’t adjust or make a new plan in time. This was never going to end any other way.

The funny thing is that from what we know now, the very worst mistake Abaddon could have made was actually to kill Dean (as she intended) because he simply would have come back as a demon and far stronger than before. It indicates that while she knew a lot about the Mark and the Blade (which, it seems, she couldn’t wield despite being a Knight, since she wanted to destroy it), Cain hadn’t shared everything about the Mark with her.

But it’s still pretty badass to watch Dean fight back, find his inner strength (as he did a couple of episodes ago with that redneck vampire), and overcome her shiny superpowers. Not gonna lie, either, that one of the sweetest schadenfreude meta moments from when the episode first came out was when some fans of a certain persuasion were in deep, deep denial that Dean actually TK’d the Blade and was now, finally, indisputably “magical.”

Sam, it must be said, doesn’t respond at all well to this. He affects deep concern, but the raging envy and jealousy underneath poison and flatten it into an insincere mask. I do believe that Sam loves and is worried about Dean, but his own selfishness, his fear of becoming a fifth wheel (as he thought Dean was becoming in season 4), his negative emotions, and his inability (unwillingness?) to control them long enough to help his brother, obscure that love and concern, and make them ineffective in persuading Dean.

I’m not arguing that Dean is in his right mind, here. I think one of the biggest red flags is how Dean says that the First Blade makes him “calm,” when what we see on the outside is the complete opposite. Dean may feel calm, but all objective signs point to the First Blade infusing him with a sort of divine madness, a holy rage, that is terrifying to behold. It’s bit like the legendary Celtic hero Cú Chulainn. Or the Incredible Hulk. But whenever Dean starts to Hulk out, Sam (and Castiel) seems scared and determined to control Dean, even though Dean has never threatened Sam or done him harm during these rages.

In fact, Dean has Hulked out in response to Sam being threatened and when Dean says this week that he sent Sam down into the basement to get him out of harm’s way, he’s actually got a good point. It’s not just that Sam got himself captured (and the both of them nearly killed) two episodes ago by vampires. It’s also that they found out later Crowley was being blackmailed by Abaddon holding his son hostage, so of course this is a tactic she would use.

Dean may have been able to hold his own (mostly) in the seasons when Sam was gaining superpowers, but Sam is not in the same league now the shoe’s on the other foot. And Dean had a hard-enough time fighting Abaddon without Sam (and Sam’s safety) there as a distraction. So, yeah, the Crazy-on-Supernatural-Steroids brother actually has the better point here.

It also doesn’t help that every time Sam grabs the First Blade from Dean, he comes off far more like Gollum than Samwise. Sam wants that damned Mark for himself. It’s not that he thinks it’s bad. He just thinks it’s bad on Dean. When Dean shut Sam down at the end of the episode, frankly, I was like, “You go, Dean!”

As I’ve said before, this storyline may be leading Dean down a dark path, but it’s fun to watch. One of the best parts is seeing Dean stand up for himself and push back on all those head games his loved ones have played on him over the years. If I have one objection, it’s that this is tied (at least at this point in the story) to the idea that Dean is being corrupted. While the Mark is certainly driving him mad(der), he needs to keep going to get out the other side, not power down and go back to being everyone else’s doormat. This is probably why Season 9 is one of the grayest seasons in terms of morality. Everyone’s got some kind of corruption or penitence angle going on.

That, of course, is in play with Crowley. Crowley asserts up front that he hates having (positive) feelings toward his son. And yet, he leans into them pretty hard, to the point where he’s even able to sell to Gavin the idea of playing a demonic better version of the father he couldn’t be in life. One could argue that the show pushes the idea of Gavin being an ignorant hayseed too hard early in the episode (when Abaddon and Crowley are actually in agreement over something – that his son is an idiot – that’s pretty hard).

That said, Gavin really is an ignorant hayseed, not that this is his fault. Even if Crowley/Fergus hadn’t been a terrible father, as Crowley points out, most people in the world at that time were illiterate. This unquestionably was true of early 18th century Scotland, which was already experiencing a decline in economic and political fortunes after a century of their king also being England’s king (formalized by the Acts of Union in 1706 and 1707). Grab someone like that and throw him or her into the 21st century (I guess he made it to America, after all) and it makes sense he’d be all at sixes and sevens, and blithering like an idiot.

If anything, I think it was reckless of Abaddon to bring him to the 21st century. I assume she knew about the shipwreck and figured he (like the friend she killed) wouldn’t be missed by history. But we already know that’s not true and that it could have affected Abaddon’s chances in the present. It doesn’t pay to mess with time travel.

Then there’s Castiel. Castiel makes similar mistakes with Gadriel as Sam does with Dean, thus nearly shipwrecking his plan before it’s properly launched. Castiel wants to be conciliatory, but he just can’t stop poking at those sore spots about Gadriel’s failures in the Garden and his murder of their fellow angels. You’d think Castiel would at least be more understanding, considering the thousands of angels he’s slaughtered, not always with the best of intentions.

Instead, he keeps coming at Gadriel sideways and riling him up. If it weren’t for Metatron’s misstep in sending the other angel assassins, Gadriel might never have come back for the second meeting. Castiel got lucky with that. I don’t even like Gadriel and I get why he was pissed off at Castiel.

And what about Castiel’s attitude toward Dean? He’s so wrapped up in his new army (while failing to tell even the Brothers it’s all a sham) and his responsibilities that not only does he show no concern at all about Dean having the Mark, but he actively recruits Dean to torture his fellow angels. Is it bad? Is it good? Is it conditionally good for Dean to Hulk out and become a torturer? Does Castiel even remember what it was like for Dean the last time he asked this? Make up your mind, Cas.

Next week: Last Holiday: The show returns for its final 7 episodes of season 15 with … an MOTW involving a wood nymph inhabiting the Bunker. Okay.

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: “Atomic Monsters” (15.04) Live Recap Thread


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

It’s been a tough summer, so I’m way behind on my recaps and reviews. As of this review, I now have 49 episodes left to finish for previous seasons, plus the 16 after this one for the final (15th) season that started on October 10. That’s 65 total by next April. I currently have 151 coffees at $3 each on Ko-Fi (many thanks to those who have contributed so far!). If I get 300 coffees total, I will commit to doing one recap/review per week (retro or Season 15). If I get 400 coffees, I will commit to two. If I get 500 coffees, three reviews. If I get 600 coffees, four reviews. If I get 700 coffees, five reviews per week.

Other that that, any and all contributions are welcome! You can still find my reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my folklore research on Patreon.

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

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

Recap: It’s a full moon over the Bunker, from which echoes gunfire. Inside, it’s down to emergency lighting and a man in a black suit is thrown into a wall at the T-junction of a corridor. His attacker, in stuttering stop-go slo-mo, comes into view. It’s Dean, bearded and looking even more like a survivalist than ever. Dean shoots the man, who then lights up from inside with dying demon light. Seems Dean and his Hunters have figured out how to make demon-killing bullets.

Dean kills some more demons (including multiples) in major badass fashion, steps over a bunch of dead comrades and demons, encounters a living comrade, and ends up in a room with another dying comrade. This one is Benny, but Benny appears to be … human? And beardless. Despite Dean’s reassurances that he will be fine, Benny knows the score. He says, “See you on the other side, brother,” and dies. Upset, Dean grabs a still-alive demon in the room and demands to know where “he” is. The demon tries it on with the snark, instead. Bad call. Dean shoots him in the head, lighting him up like a pinball machine.

Dean comes out into the library/map room to find Sam, all hopped up on demon blood and now superduperduper powerful (and even more irritating than last we saw this permutation of him in season four). Dean tries to talk Sam down as another Hunter tries to sneak up on Sam. But Sam senses the Hunter (even though this was not a talent any psykid ever had) and snaps his neck. Then, he snaps Dean’s and looks smug about it.

The scene jumbles and Sam wakes up in the Bunker. It turns out this was a nightmare (a longer version of the flash he had a couple of episodes ago when Castiel tried to heal his Chuck wound). He’s pretty upset about it.

Cue title cards.

Cut to Dean in the kitchen, quietly eating bacon (by this, I mean that his body language is very still and not just that he isn’t saying anything). Sam comes in, still at loose ends about his dream, but when Dean asks him if he’s okay, Sam brushes it off as just still being at loose ends about Rowena. Yep. He lies to Dean. I’m shocked, too.

Dean suggests Sam eat something, but Sam turns his nose up at Dean’s bacon, even when Dean tells him it’s the “veggie bacon you been asking for.” Okay, first of all, since when is Sam a vegetarian (some LOL!canon from episode writer Davy Perez there)? Second of all, Sam is a grown-ass man in his thirties. If he wants some “veggie bacon” to put in the fridge in Dean’s “Meat Man” kitchen, he can go do his own damned grocery shopping. Jesus, this show fails miserably at propping Sam up, sometimes, and just makes him look like a spoiled child.

On top of this, Dean has to try to buck Sam up, even as he confirms in the dialogue that Sam has been holing up in his room for days, letting Dean haul all the weight. Thanks, Sam.

Dean pulls up a hunt he’s researched and talks a reluctant Sam into going along, instead of Dean handling it himself or going with another Hunter. It’s a story in the Des Moines Herald, about a rash of cattle mutilations and one pretty blonde cheerleader who was “ripped to pieces,” in Beaverdale, Iowa. He also pranks Sam by getting him to eat the “veggie bacon” (yes, it’s really the real thing). The obvious intent is to cheer, or at least irritate, Sam out of his depressive navel-gazing. I mean, hey, it worked in season two.

In front of Beaverdale High School (in that annoying broad daylight that has become the hallmark of this final season), Sam is interviewing the principal, posing as an FBI agent in a suit. She tells him the victim, Susie, was pleasant and popular, involved with everything, with lots of friends and no enemies. When Sam asks about close friends, the principal directs him to a group led by a girl named “Veronica.” Yes, she really does. And really, Perez? It should have been “Heather.”

A middle-aged couple shows up, parents of a male student. The mother (a blonde – I swear they’re all blonde in this episode except for Veronica) is hot for the prayer service to be done and over with so they can get to the important stuff – the lacrosse game where her son is due to impress a visiting talent scout. Both the principal and Sam call Helicopter Mom out on her insensitivity, but that somehow doesn’t quite persuade her to stop being a complete twat. After the parents leave, the principal cynically comments that many of the parents at the high school are like HM.

Sam returns to the Impala, where Dean (also suited up) is eating a bag of chips. Dean’s time has been most productively spent at the morgue. He found a vampire fang and there were no defensive wounds on the victim, indicating she knew whoever killed her. When Sam points out that vampires don’t normally rip apart their victims, Dean says, “Apparently, this one does.”

We’re ten minutes in and all that’s really left to do is figure out who’s the vamp. We get a clue as a mascot in a Beaver suit rides by on a scooter. Dean smiles and comments that this is “awesome.”

Later that night, another blonde cheerleader is heading out to her car after practice, complaining about how “fake” Veronica is in her grief. She is then attacked, mid-scream, by something unseen.

The next day, the Brothers drive out to the woods, to the site where Susie’s body was found. The first thing they notice is that there is hardly any blood – the body was dumped. This is not the original kill site.

After Dean comments that the police are “freaked” by the case, Sam starts whinging about how people in the town are oblivious civilians, that Hunters like the Winchesters have to “carry the weight” of the truth about the world. Right away, Dean pulls out his flask of whiskey and starts drinking. Yeah, I’m hittin’ the hard nog just to get through Sam’s little rant, myself.

Sam gets a call from the principal about the kidnapped girl.

Cut to a guy putting his kids in the car to go camping. Out comes his wife with some motion sickness pills for one of the kids when they ride in a boat. It’s Becky Rosen, y’all, whom we have not seen since season seven. She seems happy in her life, but looking forward to having the house to herself for a few days while her family is off camping.

As the car drives away, Chuck appears on the other side of the street, waving creepily like Pennywise the Clown. Horrified, Becky starts to scamper back into the house, but Chuck runs after her and begs her to let him come in and talk. Rather reluctantly, she lets him in.

In the principal’s office, the principal is filling the Brothers in on the kidnapping of the second cheerleader, whose name is “Tori Taylor” (of course it is). Upon hearing that Tori is also a cheerleader, Dean comments that “someone has a fetish.” This gets the principal’s dander up because criminal profiling isn’t a thing in the SPNverse, anymore, I guess.

Back at Becky’s, Chuck notices a bunch of figures and such that seem related to the Winchester’s story (there are a lot of nice little visual Easter Eggs in this storyline thanks to Ackles’ direction, including a fabulous poster for “A Very Supernatural Christmas” and Funko Pop figurines of Sam, Dean and Castiel). Becky calls them her maquettes. She says that she is the “most successful” creator of “unofficial Supernatural merchandise” in the U.S. and possibly even the world.

She says she’s even continued writing her own fanfic (which Chuck disparages at every opportunity throughout the episode) of the Brothers doing ordinary things like laundry and talking. Chuck doesn’t think that’s very exciting, even after Becky tries to defend it as what fans “really” want to see instead of action, horror and drama.

Becky expresses regret for kidnapping and drugging Sam in “Season Seven, Time for a Wedding!” and says that she got a lot of therapy after that. She said she finally realized that she wasn’t in love with the real Sam, but his character. Somehow … that doesn’t sound better. It seems to diminish Sam, somehow, and make him not seem as good as the fantasy.

Anyhoo, Becky has a pretty good sideline business in her fan figurines and she wants to get back to it because she’s behind in her orders. So, she tells Chuck to get to the point or she’ll kick him out. Chuck admits that he “had a falling out” with Sam and Dean, leaving him now “low on resources,” and that when he went to his sister for help, she blew him off. Becky easily sees through this using of her as his last best resort tactic from him and that he wants her to “fluff” him. But she’s not interested. She has a good life and “I don’t need you.”

Chuck whines that that’s the problem. “No one” needs him and “I kinda hate me right now … I don’t know what I’m doing. I feel so lost.” When Becky, now feeling a bit sorry for him, asks him what makes him feel better, he says that “writing” and “creating” do (uh-oh), so she encourages him to do that.

On a stone picnic bench in front of the school, Dean is talking to the mascot, whose name is Toby. Dean is also still eating.

Sam walks up, acting skeptical about Dean befriending the mascot (yeah, Sam’s early-seasons social snobbery is on full display this week). Dean points out that Toby has a full scholarship to Iowa University and is very observant: “He knows a lot about cheerleaders. In a mostly non-creepy sort of way.”

Dean shares a valuable bit of information about the school hierarchy that Toby shared with him – Susie was the Alpha female among the cheerleaders, Tory her second-in-command. Who takes charge now they’re gone? Veronica, of course.

At that moment, Veronica is running the Susie shrine in the gym and talking to a young jock. His name is Billy and it turns out he was Susie’s boyfriend. Veronica puts the heavy moves on him, but Billy’s mom interrupts them. And guess who she is? That’s right. It’s HM.

After Billy leaves with HM, Veronica goes to the podium and starts practicing her eulogy for Susie in a totally fake way. The Brothers enter and Dean alerts her to their presence by sarcastically clapping at her delivery. But as they gear up to take her down with some dead man’s blood (Sam is hiding the ginormous syringe behind his back), Sam notices that she is wearing braces. She can’t “fang out” with those, so they quickly and quietly leave. Outside, Sam thinks up a new lead when he spots a CCTV camera outside the school. Um … wouldn’t they have thought of that right off?

Back at Billy’s house, HM is bitching at him that she had to come into the school to retrieve him. Boy, is she tightly wound. When Dad comes in, she insists he talk to Billy. Dad just says, “Listen to your mother.”

Billy turns and leaves, instead. Mom is irritated and stalks off, declaring that she needs wine (since it seems she’s an alcoholic on top of being a pretentious twat).

Dad starts washing his hands, which are bloody. The camera strolls out through the pristine hallways of the house to the attached garage. In it, kidnapped teen Tori is tied up, with bloody arms, gagged and blindfolded. She wakes up and starts screaming into her gag.

Back at Becky’s, Chuck discovers to his chagrin that Becky doesn’t have anything stronger than cranapple juice. He says that he used to be able “to see Sam and Dean inside my head … just ripe for the picking.” But he can’t do that, anymore (as he talks, he rubs his wound from the magic bullet). Becky guesses that this is because Chuck has lost his Prophet powers and he hedges a yes. What he’s really admitting to is that he’s no longer omniscient.

She suggests he write a different story with different characters. He says he doesn’t want to. He really likes writing about Sam and Dean. She says that he’s basically just stalling (awww, and all for NaNoWriMo, too). After she lectures him sternly about procrastination, Chuck gets a brainwave. To her dismay, he decides to indulge it then and there by sitting down at her laptop and starting a new story.

Back in Beaverdale, the principal is showing the Brothers the CCTV footage. Tori’s kidnapping is clearly shown, but her assailant is wearing a mask and drags her offscreen. However, immediately afterward, another car roars off past hers in the parking lot and Sam gets the license plate number.

Back at Billy’s, he’s having a fight with his parents, especially his mom. She lays this huge guilt trip on him about all the “sacrifices” they made for him, but her intensity remains unexplained. She just comes off as unhinged, hyper-controlling and annoying as hell. She even gets all weepy and leaves the room. Dad asks him what he wants. Billy angrily says that he doesn’t want “any of this” and never did.

The doorbell rings and it’s the Brothers. As they come in, the girl in the garage starts struggling again. Dad sends Billy upstairs. Sam and Dean accuse Dad of being the vampire, though they initially just accuse him of kidnapping the girls. Tori knocks something down in the garage and Sam goes to investigate, as Dean continues to interrogate Dad, pulling out a machete.

Sam unties the dazed girl, who is attached to a blood bag, and starts to pick her up. But Evil Bitch Mom shows up with a gun and forces them to come back inside the house. Boy, is Dean disappointed when it turns out Sam couldn’t even watch his own back, let alone Dean’s. Though he does ask how the girl is doing. Sam says, “Not good,” as he lays her on the couch.

Dad tries to talk Crazy Mom into letting him take the fall. After all, gunfire would bring down real law enforcement and then things would get ugly.

Back at Becky’s, Becky is reading what Chuck just wrote and is not impressed. She tries to pretend that she likes it, but Chuck sees through her act. She finally admit that the villains are boring and the story is “low stakes … no Classic Rock. Nobody even mentions Cas.” Not his best.

Chuck gets an ugly look on his face: “You want jeopardy? You want danger?” He evicts her from her chair and then starts writing again: “I’ll give you danger.”

The impasse at the ‘rents’ house is fairly brief, since Billy comes back downstairs. Staring at Dad, Dean floats the Brothers’ theory that Dad is the vampire. But Sam then guesses it’s actually Billy.

Billy admits that after he was turned into a vampire (it’s not made clear how or exactly when), he tried to make do with cows (hence the cattle mutilations). But as he was making out with Susie in his truck one night, he lost control. He ended up killing her. Dean then guesses that the parents chopped Susie up and dumped her body in the woods.

Dad starts burbling on about how Dean doesn’t understand their motives because he’s never had a child (oh, so much clueless irony) and Mom is all for murdering the Brothers and burying them out back, “under the peonies.” These two have totally lost the plot.

Fortunately, Billy gets them to stand down and points out that it’s not going to work. He loved Susie and he killed her, and he knows he will kill again: “I’m a monster.”

He tells his parents to take the girl to the hospital, to blame the attack and kidnapping on him. He then tells them he is going to “take a ride” with Sam and Dean. Turning to them, he says, “Isn’t that how this works?”

Cue a montage (to Radio Company’s “Sounds of Someday”) of Tori being carried off to the hospital, while the teary-eyed parents (who really should have been horribly offed) give the police Billy’s photo, and of Dean beheading Billy out in the woods, while a pensive Sam watches.

Back at Becky’s, Chuck has finished and he looks all post-coital about it. Oh, this can’t be good. Becky’s just read the new stuff and she hates it. She thinks it’s “dark … horrible … hopeless.” Chuck is fine with that. His perfect image for his story is of a tombstone with just one name – Winchester – on it.

Becky’s family arrives home in the middle of this. Right before her husband walks in, Becky tells Chuck to leave (because explaining what your creepy ex is doing alone in the house with you, while your husband and kids were off on vacation, would be very awkward). But Chuck, all smiling and satisfied, says he’s fine where he is. As Becky begs “please” in a whisper, in walks her husband. He has just enough time to look confused at Chuck’s presence and cheery, sarcastic wave, before Chuck snaps his fingers and makes him dissolve in dust. The kids are noisily coming in and Chuck snaps them out of existence, too. Becky reacts in visceral horror to the erasures of her family.

Chuck smugly tells her that her family is not “dead, just away.” Then he tells her he’s God. Becky doesn’t believe this at first, but then quickly devolves into anger and then begging for Chuck to “bring them back,” saying “You can’t do this!”

“Oh, Becky,” Chuck says, as he snaps her out of existence, too, “I can do anything. I’m a writer.”

In the final car scene, Sam’s takeaway from the hunt, and Billy’s mom and dad’s shitty parenting, is that he and Dean would have done the same thing for Jack ([facepalm] Oh, Sam, come on). Rather noncommittally, Dean agrees, but says that he wanted to get them out on a hunt so that they could show they still make a difference. Dean insists they’re “free” now Chuck is gone. He mentions Rowena and Mary among their losses, in addition to Jack, but not Castiel. Some fans got chapped about this, but remember that Castiel isn’t dead. And that Sam apparently does not know that Castiel has bailed on them. Therefore, Castiel doesn’t belong on that list of dead (mostly female) allies.

Whiny Sam still manages to make it All About himself, saying he’s not able to let any of his old trauma go. Hell, he still thinks about Jessica. I should have been like “awww,” but to be honest, this whole speech sounded a tad pathetic in a “Don’t use Billy’s ‘rents as moral examples, Sam” kind of way.

Meanwhile, now alone at Becky’s, Chuck is writing more story and sneering evilly, while Sam and Dean dolls bobblehead on the desk next to him, beside a model tree and on top of a devil’s trap.

Credits

The episode got a 0.3/2 and dropped to 1.10 million in audience. Kind of a shame for Jensen Ackles’ last episode, though the DVR ratings will probably go up considerably (they’re not out, yet).

The preview and synopsis for the next episode are up.

Review: I … don ‘t know how I feel about this episode. I disliked the script – as in, a whole lot. And it did nothing whatsoever to restore my confidence that the show’s current writers have a clue what they’re doing. But the direction? Well, the direction deserved a better script and in the places where director Jensen Ackles got to do his thing, it worked very well. Also, there was some really good acting.

But boy, that script. Yuck. Also, I have no idea why it’s called “Atomic Monsters.” No one else seems to know, either.

There’s a small scene in the middle that sums up my ambivalence. The Brothers are outside the car in that annoying s15 broad daylight, in suits, talking about the case. This quickly devolves into Sam complaining about how oblivious the civilians on the case are to all the supernatural horror around them. When Dean points out that Sam used to want to be just like them (Dean doesn’t say “social climbing” and “elitist,” but it’s true), Sam’s grousing turns bitter and he mopes about all that they’ve lost.

Meanwhile, Dean is mmm-hmming and pulling out his ubiquitous flask of booze for a few hefty swigs. And not once does Sam notice that his brother is hitting the bottle (and though he does notice Dean eating a lot, he doesn’t put two and two together and realize that Dean is eating a lot). It’s a nicely understated scene about how each brother is (not) coping, but I find myself wondering if all of the stuff about Dean’s nonverbal non-coping was in the direction because the rest of the script is all Tralalalala Puir Sammy and Sam’s own obliviousness to Dean’s drinking makes Sam look like a tool.

It doesn’t help that what Dean is eating in that first scene after the credits is Mary’s favorite food – bacon. There he is, quietly mourning his mother (all over again) by eating breakfast as if she were still there. Not only doesn’t Sam notice that, but he downmouths the very idea of eating bacon that isn’t the veggie burger kind (he even gags when he realizes it’s the real thing). Nor does he mention Mary, since he’s too wrapped up in bemoaning having to put Rowena down like Old Yeller last week and is still hung up on the death of Mary’s murderer, whom he still insists on seeing as a foster son. And what does Dean do? Try to cheer Sam up by turning it into a prank. And does Sam respond? Nope. His head is too far up his own ass even to notice what Dean is trying to do.

It’s not that Sam isn’t sad or depressed, but when the story puts him next to someone who is just as sad and depressed, yet not only is Dean getting out there and taking care of business, but he’s also getting out there and taking care of Sam’s business for him, while Sam stays in his room and mopes, it makes it hard for me to care about Sam’s epic manpain.

Probably the best scene is the opening teaser, which turns out to be Sam’s dream (and possible vision of another reality that Chuck created). But again, this points up the deficits of the script. Jensen Ackles has said he asked to expand what was originally on the page into an extended fight scene. I’m not gonna lie – that scene is a thing of violent, tragic beauty. It’s basically Dean in a last stand with his Hunter team, who are loyal to him and who include a dying Benny, against Sam and a bunch of smarmy demons. Ackles directs action very well and the show’s still got a good crew to back him up.

But it suffers from the same flaw that “The End” did back in season five. It pits a fascinatingly flawed and scarred EndTimes!Dean against a bland Superpowerful Sam. And that version of Sam makes drying paint look action-packed. Nickifer had a character arc, so he could stick around for a while (too long, imho, but he did have a point and was scary for a while). But Samifer is simply the end result of Sam saying yes and the closer Sam got to being Lucifer’s vessel, the less of a personality he had (and what he retained was really unpleasant). At the point Lucifer possesses him in these AUs, Sam “dies” permanently and ceases to exist. Samifer, being Dean’s bane, then kills Dean. Except as an endgame character, Samifer has no point. So, once he shows up, the clock starts running on the fun because the moment he snaps Dean’s neck, the moment’s over. Mixing it up by having him “still” be Sam, but hopped up on demon blood, doesn’t improve matters.

And yet, as Ackles’ account heavily implies, the entire simplistic point of this scene was to get to that moment.

Another nice Easter egg of the episode was the montage near the end where the Brothers dispatch the MOTW. I was not the least bit impressed by the shallow, rich parents (that pains me, because I like Duncan Fraser). They came off as shrill and obnoxious, having no rational backstory for their delusional obsession with killing to protect their son (was this a metaphor for young athletes who are rapists or murderers or what?). It felt like a lazy stab at the recent college admissions scandal, but instead, we got stuck with a paint-by-numbers hunt involving an upper-class school, with cheerleaders and jocks, and a lot of shallow misogyny. Poor Susie barely exists except as a victim for her sympathetic-monster boyfriend to accidentally rip apart and Tori is basically a Damsel in Distress/blood bag.

There was a possibility here to tell an elegiac story in memorial for Rowena that highlighted her growth from an uncaring to an obsessive to a grieving mother, who eventually grew into a heroic figure. The script could have made into a metaphor of comparison the parents and their misogynistic focus on literally using dead girls’ bodies to save their son and fuel his sports career. But I sense that kind of depth never once occurred to Perez and the others in the writers room. They were too busy with their obvious and self-congratulatory meta involving Chuck the Writer Stand-In being an Angry God.

It’s not even that the ‘rents’ sociopathic self-absorption is left to subtext or metaphor – the script doesn’t address it at all. When Daddy and Mommy Dearest were whining that only a parent could understand why they cut up an innocent girl to cover for their son, and kidnapped another innocent girl to feed him with her blood, I kept wondering why no one else suggested they try that line on with Susie or Tori’s parents. See how forgiving they’d be.

The son was sympathetic, if only because he met the minimum requirements of decent human behavior that his parents didn’t, by not running from or fighting his fate in the form of the Brothers Winchester. He went to his death, knowing it was the right thing. But with how clearly the script wants us to perceive Billy, it’s that much more frustrating how vague and unsatisfying the writing is for his parents. Are we supposed to see them as evil? If so, why aren’t they messily dead by the end of the episode? If the script wants us to see them as desperate and confused, why are they so damned unsympathetic?

Bleah.

But the montage of Dean beheading Billy to Radio Company‘s mournful and bluesy “Sounds of Someday” was surprisingly effective. For those who have been hiding under a rock, Radio Company is the pairing between Ackles and his friend Steve Carlson, and Ackles sings lead vocals on this song. All that said, this isn’t just product placement or substituting soundtrack music for a rock standard. The song actually works with the montage. There’s a bleak, 70s roadhouse sound to it, with vaguely apocalyptic lyrics that set a mood rather than narrate a story.

I have mixed feelings about the scenes between Becky and Chuck. As much as I love the acting between them (Emily Perkins really nails Becky’s hard-won Soccer Mom maturity, and then her fear and despair as Chuck rips the veil off the true state of her universe in an almost Lovecraftian way), I still hate, hate hate the idea of Chuck as God. The more we dig into this storyline, the more I dig my heels in to resist it.

In order for the Winchesters to have any chance to beat him, then God has to become … well … not really God, anymore. He can’t be omniscient because then he’d anticipate every single thing they ever did or thought, or ever could do or think. He can’t be omnipotent, because then there’d be no way to beat him. He can’t be omnipresent or omnitemporal because then he’d be everywhere and everywhen, and not allow this situation to occur in the first place because he would have seen it coming billions of years away.

So, if he’s none of those things, how can he be God? Okay, he created the SPNverse, but that just makes him a demiurge, not God with a capital G. And Amara can’t be God, either, because she’s not omniscient. I’m still hoping there will be some twist in all this – such as that the Chuck we’ve seen since last season’s finale is actually the Empty Entity (since his current nihilistic attitude reflects the persona of the Empty Entity much more than what we’ve seen of Chuck over the years), but it still begs the question of why the “real” Chuck didn’t foresee this.

I get the impression, thanks to their constant obsession with the Thanos storyline in the Marvel films (and Andrew Dabb’s background in comics), that the writers are under the delusion that movie Thanos is a good villain. Lordie, no. Enough about that damned finger snap.

Thanos is a one-note antagonist, about on the level with a natural disaster but somehow less compelling. That’s why he gets killed off so early in the latest film. Thanos is simply not that interesting, even including his creepy relationship with his forcibly adopted daughters. What is interesting is how various characters react to the destruction that one snap (and how Thanos got the stones to make it happen) causes. So, modeling Chuck (a character who, to this point, has actually been fairly mysterious if not the least bit ineffable) after Thanos is a major mistake.

The question arises, “Why all the puppet strings?” Why does Chuck need to write a story in order to manipulate the Winchesters into doing what he wants? I mean, I get why that would work with Sam. Sam’s entire story has been about how he rebelled against one script (the Family Business and John’s blue collar revenge quest), only to find his very rebellion was another, deeper script being written by demons at Lucifer’s behest.

And I also get why it would work with Castiel. Castiel, as an angel, basically didn’t have any Free Will during his first appearances and we discover later that every time in the past he’d gotten some, it was erased by more angelic programming. Chuck was usually the one who kept bringing him back, so the subsequent chaos he sowed had to be been part of Chuck’s plan.

As for Jack, Chuck admitted outright in last season’s finale that Jack’s conception and birth and supposedly chaotic rampage of childish power were nothing more than an assassination attempt on Dean. As soon as Dean threw down the Equalizer gun and refused to shoot Jack, Jack became surplus to requirements. With a snap of his fingers, Chuck smote him. Even after Sam shot Chuck in revenge and made him angry, Chuck still had more than enough power to open all the gates of Hell. Jack, far from how he’d been built up over two seasons, was never a threat to his grandfather.

But that’s the thing – Chuck can smite anyone. He should be able to pop up in the Bunker at any time and kill everyone there. I mean, look what he did to Becky and her family.

What was so chilling about the acting and direction of the rather simplistic scriptwriting for their scenes was how we saw that Becky had grown up and was now happy, only to have her creepy ex pop in after he’d ghosted her nearly a decade before. Then slowly, in an increasingly dark sequence that felt like a predator stalking an unsuspecting and totally helpless prey, we saw Becky’s dawning horror as she realized that not only was Chuck God, but he really was The Monster At The End Of This Book. And then he smote her (yeah, I know he claimed that he didn’t actually kill her and her family, but they sure aren’t in the story, anymore).

So, why, when it comes to the Winchesters, is he writing a story, instead? We had this self-indulgent bullshit in season nine with Metatron and it was pretty tedious. And yeah, having Chuck the Author Insert smiting Becky the Fandom Insert was pretty mean-spirited (also inaccurate, since Dabb & Co. don’t have jobs without an audience). Authors, just because you’re building the world and creating the characters, that does not make you God in the story. Resist the urge to self-insert like that.

But we’re stuck with that concept here and therefore, we must wrestle with it [downs more rum and eggnog]. Why is Chuck pulling a Bond Villain and writing a story about the Winchesters instead of just visiting the Bunker, a-smitin’ as he goes, like not-quite-Samifer in the episode’s teaser? If he’s that mad at them, why give them a chance to wriggle out of his trap and get him back? Didn’t he already learn from Sam shooting him last season?

See, that’s the thing – Sam and Castiel may have proven unable to break free from Chuck’s predestination all their existence, but this is categorically not true for Dean. Dean has broken free of Chuck’s story at least three times and the third time was the end of last season. There’s been a lot of fan focus on Sam shooting Chuck (which took Chuck by surprise), but this was something that occurred in the wake of Dean taking Chuck by surprise by refusing to shoot Jack, and Chuck flipping the table over it.

It wasn’t until Dean flatly rejected Chuck’s order to pick up the gun and shoot Jack that Chuck smote Jack himself. Yeah, Chuck threw a tantrum after Sam shot him, but Sam didn’t shoot Chuck until after Dean defied him and after Chuck smote Jack. The decision that kicked things off was Dean refusing to bow to Chuck’s story, to Chuck’s will, even after Chuck switched to bargaining and offered Mary back (and why did he even need to bargain with Dean when he could smite Jack himself at any time?).

So, even if Chuck writes another story, Dean is bound to disobey and change it at some point. Because that’s just how Dean rolls. And once Dean rolls that way, it allows other characters (like Sam) also to break free. Why is Chuck choosing, again, to go this route? Why not just smite Dean? Dean even asked him why he didn’t do that and Chuck only tossed him into a tombstone after Dean physically went after him. That’s what gave Sam the opening to pick up the gun and shoot Chuck.

The thing with Becky (and what’s so bleak about it) is that to her, of course, she was the Hero of the story. Chuck brutally disabused her of that notion and casually swept her off the board. After all, she knows his current plan and might warn Sam and Dean about it. But also, he did it just because he could. And that begs the biggest question – why can’t he just do that to Sam and Dean?


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 Rupture” (15.03) Live Recap Thread


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

It’s been a tough summer, so I’m way behind on my recaps and reviews. As of this review, I now have 50 episodes left to finish for previous seasons, plus the 17 after this one for the final (15th) season that started on October 10. That’s 69 total by next April. I currently have 151 coffees at $3 each on Ko-Fi (many thanks to those who have contributed so far!). If I get 300 coffees total, I will commit to doing one recap/review per week (retro or Season 15). If I get 400 coffees, I will commit to two. If I get 500 coffees, three reviews. If I get 600 coffees, four reviews. If I get 700 coffees, five reviews per week.

Other that that, any and all contributions are welcome! You can still find my reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my folklore research on Patreon.

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

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

Recap: Boring recap with boring soundtrack music of the boring ghost apocalypse so far.

Cut to Now and two Hunters watching anxiously from a suburban street as the angry ghosts try Belphegor’s failing barrier. Meanwhile, TFW (consisting of Dean, Sam, Castiel, Belphegor and – most importantly – Rowena) is heading back out to the crypt where everyone got trapped at the beginning of the season. Which would be a nice bit of continuity, if Berens doesn’t promptly demonstrate he didn’t read the previous two episode scripts closely (if at all) when he has Sam say he sent some Hunters here and there and such to man the fort while they help Rowena strengthen the barrier.

Yeah. See, here’s the thing. You know what-all Dean’s been doing so far this season? Organizing the Hunters. Getting them to the town, setting up patrols, going out on patrols, checking up on missing Hunters who didn’t check in, getting attacked by errant ghosts. Know what Sam’s been doing? Well, pretty much everything but interact with the Hunters. That’s what Dean has been doing and since the Hunters have been mostly offscreen, that’s what Dean has been, too.

But nope. Not only does Berens just casually yank even that subplot away from Dean and hand it to Sam, giftwrapped, but we will see it used as a club against Dean in this very episode. It’s just … well, it’s substandard writing.

So, anyhoo, Rowena is all brimming with confidence about the spell, until she sets it up and it starts to work … until that moment when it totally doesn’t. Rowena falls down as the barrier continues to weaken and declares that they’re all screwed.

Cue title cards.

So, Sam is all solicitous to Rowena (and since when, Show? Even as late as last season, she was trying to kill him. Then there was that time a few seasons ago when he kidnapped her and held her prisoner as his pet witch). When Rowena insists she needs “a real drink,” Sam glares at Dean until Dean gives up his flask of booze. Because of course Berens wants to remind us that Dean is a drunk. I mean, yes, he is, but what’s the point in this exchange except to make him look bad?

Rowena says that the ghosts are too angry and too strong to be controlled. She might have been able to do something if she’d arrived earlier, but now it’s too late and they’re all gonna die when the barrier falls, in a matter of hours. When Dean suggests more crystals like the one she used last episode, Rowena says it would be “like tossing mousetraps at the Great Plague.”

Belphegor leaves, against Dean’s objections, and Castiel follows him out. Dean is angry, insisting there is still something they can do. Sam ostentatiously puts a hand out to forestall Dean’s anger. I roll my eyes.

Outside, Belphegor turns out to have a plan. He goes out to the rift where the CGI souls are exiting Hell (remember how all the doors of Hell opened? All of them? Not just this rift? Well, now it’s just this rift). He and Castiel look at it.

Dean is weaponing up and Sam tries to calm him down. Or something. Dean is angry with Chuck, but he’s determined not to let God win this time.

Back inside, Belphegor lays out his plan. It turns out that one way Lilith the demon (remember her? Seasons three and four?) had to control her demons was something called “Lilith’s Crook” (it will also be interchangeably called a “horn” because that’s what it really is, but hey, consistency’s for losers, amirite?). It was a weapon she could use to recall any and all of her demons (or any denizens of Hell). She never actually used it, and Crowley had other means to control his subjects (whom he hardly ever saw because he didn’t hang out in Hell much), but it’s still down there. They can use it to suck all the souls back inside.

Rowena, meanwhile, has invented a spell on the fly to heal the rift. The ingredients are simple, including lavender and an owl’s skull, among other things (“RIP Hedwig,” says Dean). She also needs an assistant and asks Sam to fill in. She claims he is basically a witch anyway (which is an extremely long callback to Ruby’s teachings to Sam, which he promptly forgot for seasons and seasons, but which Berens makes sound as though he’s awesome and special. Gag).

And, of course, there’s the job of being the “fulcrum” outside, unprotected, getting ready to toss the physical part of the spell into the rift to close it. Guess who gets volunteered? Yup. Dean.

Belphegor asks who is going to come with him as “protection.” Dean volunteers Castiel and points out that Castiel has been down there before (when he pulled Dean out of Hell beginning of season four, but we also know he was down there with Crowley in season six and then there was that time when the whole gang visited the Cage-Adjacent). Castiel isn’t thrilled by Dean’s offhand manner, and there’s a distinct chill between the two of them, but he can’t argue with Dean’s logic and goes along with it.

In a hospital fairly far away, Ketch wakes up in a bed. A nurse is talking to him as he tries to check himself out. Unfortunately for the nurse, when the doctor walks in, she’s possessed by a demon – Ardat. She TK-snaps the nurse’s neck.

She is not happy with Ketch, having hired him to find and kill Belphegor. Knowing this, he attacks her first. But she’s a demon and he’s weakened by his wounds. Also, he doesn’t have his usual toolkit ready at hand (it’s in the closet). Even though he does manage to kick her out into the hallway long enough to grab an angel blade, she overpowers him. She demands that he give up TFW and Belphegor, but he refuses. So, she rips out his heart and smiles. Death by Underwhelming Guest Demon. Bye, Ketch.

Back in the graveyard, as they head toward the rift, Belphegor points out to Castiel that if the rift closes, the angel will likely be stuck in Hell. Castiel says he’ll figure it out. But he looks doubtful as Belphegor points out further that no one in the rest of TFW looked very upset about his job.

A lot of fans zeroed in on Dean in this respect, but Sam and Rowena didn’t exactly step up and object, either. It’s all hands on deck and the odds of any of them making it out are pretty low at this point. I mean, Dean’s basically got the job of hanging out at the top of the rift, lobbing in a live grenade that could go off at any time.

But Castiel listens to this moldy old divisive demon dreck because the writing demands he hold the Idiot Ball this week, all episode, and Belphegor is basically telling him what he wants to hear.

When Castiel asks how to get down to Hell through the rift, Bephegor says he doesn’t know. So, Castiel shoves him in and jumps in after him.

The female Hunter from the teaser comes into the crypt with Rowena’s ingredients. I get that sneaking in past the ghosts would make one edgy and crabby, but it’s not a particularly good introduction for her to snipe at Rowena for being “rude” and downmouth TFW’s world-saving plan.

Especially stupid is the way she takes orders from Sam as her boss, when that hasn’t been Sam’s role this season. It’s been Dean’s.

At that moment, Dean gets a text from Ketch’s phone. It is, of course, Ardat, fishing for info and smiling evilly over a dead Ketch as she does so.

Castiel and Belphegor have found some stairs in Hell and descend them to a hallway full of monkish decor on their way to a large set of doors. Belphegor says he thinks Sam and Dean are starting to like him. Castiel begs to differ, but when Belphegor goads him a bit, he confesses that his big beef is that Belphegor is wearing Jack and that to Castiel, Belphegor is “an abomination” because “Jack was like a son to me.” Um … Castiel, honey, Jack was the abomination. Bephegor’s just a demon, doing what demons do.

So, they enter the room, which is being ransacked by another demon, who knows and is friendly with Belphegor. Castiel shoves him up against a wall and confirms with Belphegor that the new guy doesn’t have the Horn/Crook/whatever. So, he stabs the new demon.

Yeah. That’s a major problem with the past three episodes. Lots of one-shot characters with maybe two lines who suck up all the air time and get no development.

Anyhoo, Castiel and Belphegor locate the box, but it’s locked. The spell to open it is on the box, but it’s in Enochian. However, when Castiel reads it out loud, nothing happens. Belphegor tells him he has to sing it. Turns out Belphegor had a reason for bringing Castiel, after all.

Topside, Dean is getting into position behind a tombstone next to the rift. While wondering where Ketch is, and why everyone else is delaying, he pulls out a gigantic hex bag.

Things are going a bit pear-shaped elsewhere. Down in Hell, Ardat shows up just as Castiel gets the box open and knocks him out. Despite her monologuing about how she knew Belphegor would make a play for the crook/horn, or whatever the script is calling it at any given moment, and that he wants to rule Hell, she is strong enough to kick Belphegor and Castiel’s asses. At least, until Belphegor stabs her from behind. As Belphegor puts it, “Blah, blah, blah, she always was a talker.”

So, in an entirely predictable face-heel turn, Belphegor admits that he pulled a double-cross. The horn (it’s a ram’s horn) is a “siphon” (yet another freakin’ word for this thing). Belphegor intends to eat all the souls and become a sort of god. Well, we know how that all went with Godstiel in season seven, but if there’s one thing consistent about this show, it’s that Demons Are Definitely Stupid.

Belphegor starts blowing the horn and Castiel finds himself blasted back by a great wind. Upstairs, Sam is fretting about not being out where the action is, but gets his butt in gear when he hears the horn. He and Rowena start saying a spell in Latin to close the rift. Outside, by the rift, Dean sees ghosts being sucked back in. When the hex bag glows pink in his hand, he edges out from behind the tombstone and carefully tosses it into the rift.

Things then go exceedingly sideways and unfortunately, Castiel is the direct reason for it. In the worst possible bit of timing, he manages to tackle Belphegor, break the horn, and then smite the demon. There’s a moment when Belphegor tries to pretend that he’s Jack to get Castiel to stop, but remember, folks – Jack is in the Empty. He was never in Hell.

Castiel then proceeds to smite Belphegor into a charred corpse. The last time we saw this kind of overkill was when Jack killed Nick – you know, right before he also killed Mary. Not a good sign. Castiel looks devastated afterward, but it’s not clear whether he’s still just wallowing in grief over Jack or realizes how badly he’s screwed up now.

But Rowena, up top, knows. As Dean and Sam talk on the phone about the rift closing, but something being wrong, Rowena carves out her last “resurrection sachet.” When Sam notices what she’s doing, she explains that “magic can do anything” (but girl, you just said half an episode ago that it couldn’t – oh, never mind). She spouts some daft nonsense about how, if she dies, she can use her body to absorb the souls and take them back down to Hell. Or something. But she has to die for the spell to work and it seems, she has to do it permanently. And Sam has to kill her. She says it’s her prophecy.

As Rowena talks him into stabbing her (and she twists the knife), Castiel crawls out of the rift behind Dean and fills him in on why the plan down south went FUBAR. Dean isn’t thrilled, to say the least.

So, after she’s stabbed, Rowena starts walking slowly out of the crypt to the rift, sucking in souls through her wound as she goes. Once she’s done, she says, “Goodbye, boys!” and does an elegant swan song into the rift to a cheesy Irish flute. The rift closes behind her.

Afterward at the Bunker, Sam feels bad and Dean tries to cheer him up. Dean has been busy, making sure that the town stuff was wrapped up and confirms Ketch’s death. So, I guess that means Sam has been spending the commercial break wallowing. Super. Dean says it’s over and they’ve averted this last apocalypse. He tells Sam he “didn’t have a choice” about killing Rowena.

Out in the Library, Dean is drinking when Castiel shows up. Castiel says he’s sorry about Rowena. Dean gets mad at him and points out that Castiel’s response to Belphegor’s sudden and inevitable betrayal nearly got everyone killed. Rather than admit that he might have made the wrong decision, Castiel doubles down.

Castiel: The plan changed. Something went wrong. Something always goes wrong.

Dean: Yeah, why does that something always seem to be you?

I know I’m supposed to be all shocked and outraged at what Dean says (the scene’s writing and direction are certainly manipulative in that direction), but … well … he’s not wrong. When Castiel whines that his angelic powers are failing, that Dean no longer trusts him, won’t listen to him, and “no longer cares” about him, how is Dean supposed to respond?

It’s not as though Dean is anything but straightforward about why he’s angry – Castiel didn’t “stick to the plan” and now Rowena’s dead. What is incorrect in that statement? Dean’s not angry at Castiel for lacking sparkly powers. He’s angry with him for making lots of stupid decisions in a short amount of time that are getting people killed. Dean may have had, at best, an uneasy respect for Rowena, but Mary just died under similar circumstances. Of course he made that connection.

So, this being episode three of the season, rather than employing any self-examination, Castiel pisses off to wherever to do his own navel-gazing thing, whether or not Dean wants/needs him around or not. Only, this time, he tries to guilt-trip Dean into it being Dean driving him away, even though what Dean is actually doing is calling Castiel out on his poor decisions (Dean even asks Castiel where he’s going when Castiel leaves). Oh, Cas, bless your entitled, angelic little heart.

Credits

The show got a 0.3/2 and 1.24 million in audience, which was up from last week.

The preview and sneak peek for the next episode (an MOTW that is Jensen Ackles’ last directorial turn at bat for the show) are up.

Review: I have three major beefs with this episode. First, did Berens even read the first two scripts? I mean, it’s the conclusion of a three-parter, not an MOTW. So, why do we suddenly have Hunters kissing Sam’s ass and why have basically all the redshirts we would have missed if we blinked in the past two episodes been replaced by a woman we’ve never even seen before? Why is she all hero worshipping Sam when the only people who did that were the ones from the alt-SPNverse who got killed by alt-Michael last season?

Even more importantly, why was she ignoring Dean in favor of Sam when Dean was the one organizing all the Hunters earlier this season (you know, in the past two episodes of which this is the conclusion in the arc)? Does she not recognize her own boss? Why end this three-episode arc with the implication that Sam will lead Hunters? He mostly hangs out with Rowena for the episode inside a crypt and spent the previous two episodes moping over his new mytharc and trying to herd civilians away from the ghost danger zone (to which they were attracted like iron fillings-loaded lemmings).

This leads me to my second beef. Where the hell is Dean’s storyline this season? Show, it is the final season. Don’t think you can just ghost Dean and expect fans not to notice. They already have and boy, are some of them pissed.

The really sad thing is that Dean was actually doing quite a bit this episode, while Sam did hardly anything (even when he stabbed Rowena, she practically yanked the knife into herself with his hand on the blade). Yet, who got the play-by-play and inane in-show fan-cheering? Sam.

Who got a few perfunctory scenes that failed to acknowledge the bald truth of the situation that if Dean had died or otherwise been unable to throw the Big Honking Hex Bag into the Big Honking CGI Rocky Vulva, it wouldn’t have mattered what Sam or Rowena or Castiel or Belphegor did (well … aside from Belphegor wanting to be a ghost god). He was the link the ghosts should have been attacking. But there was no recognition in the story of that at all.

I need to see some actual Dean content this season or I’m just gonna start mentally checking out, right along with the asshole writers.

Then there is Sam. And there is Rowena. And since when are these two besties? Literally the last time we saw these two together last season, she was trying to murder him. Now, suddenly, he’s her apprentice? Say, what the hell?

And how gross is it, not only to fridge a female character to motivate a male character, but to have her get him to fridge her, with her friggin’ permission? Ew. Poor woman got fridged to service the manpain of both Sam and Castiel, neither of whom deserved that sacrifice.

Don’t get me started on the long, random stumble out to the rift, as she’s bleeding to death, to some really cheesy soundtrack music. Writers, this is a horror show on the CW, not an opera.

I’m pretty sure Bobo Berens has forgotten all about this, but when she got Sam to stab her by asking if he would let Dean die to save her (and he then got all stabbity), I immediately thought of Sam (in season 10) kidnapping Rowena, chaining her in a cellar, and forcing her to help him in his plan to take the Mark of Cain off Dean’s arm. Not only did we get Sam forcing Rowena’s cooperation and trying to kill Crowley (a plan that backfired disastrously on him when he only succeeded in burning off Crowley’s partial human cure instead), but he did it all behind Dean’s back and without Dean’s consent. And he ignored major red flags that it would cause a huge apocalypse (which it did), not because he wanted to save Dean, but because he wanted to keep Dean stuck to his side.

But now this season seems determined to skip over those pesky Jeremy Carver seasons where Sam was a dickhead (but at least made sense as a character and had actual growth) to return a fantasy version of season four (a version where Sam wasn’t turning into a major dickhead – sorry, going darkside). Except that now, all that effusive Tell from other characters about how awesome and important Sam is, is not just undercut by his ugly actions. It’s now backed up only by empty hot air as Sam sits around on his ass most of the time, fretting about joining Dean, who is largely offscreen and actually taking care of business. It doesn’t do either character any favors to have Sam’s storyline be all rapturous Tell and Dean’s all understated, perfunctory Show.

There were also ginormous plotholes. Most notably, if the ghosts were being sucked back inside, wasn’t Kevin sucked in, too? Why didn’t anybody worry about that? All those ghost and townspeople characters introduced and dropped the past two episodes? Yeah, don’t expect any closure on any redshirts. We’re too busy fridging Rowena and Ketch here. And don’t get me started on how cheap and unscary everything looks in bright sunlight rather than at night, as it should have been. We already did that rant last week.

Speaking of Ketch, I felt a bit bad about his death – until I remembered that he was the one who murdered Eileen using a dog whistle and an invisible Hell Hound. The Show wanted us to feel sorry for Ketch, but it also spent so much time keeping his motivations under wraps (to keep us guessing) that his 11th hour heroic heel-face turn came literally out of nowhere in terms of writing and foreshadowing.

It was therefore difficult not to notice the clumsy plotting where it was necessary to remove allies from the Brothers so that they wouldn’t proceed immediately in going after Chuck. So, the writers killed off Ketch, Rowena and Belphegor, had Castiel (once again, it’s like clockwork, I swear) go off in a multi-episode solo snit, and had the apocalypse apparently averted (however clumsily) so that the Brothers could go off on a few more last MOTW episodes.

Castiel really got on my last nerve this week. Look, the events leading up to (let alone immediately following) Mary’s death last season happened maybe a week ago in in-show time. Dean and Sam just barely burned their mother’s body, just barely watched Chuck kill her murderer, and have been fighting for their lives ever since.

Castiel wants to wallow incessantly in his grief over Jack, even to the point of buggering up TFW’s strategy to the point that Rowena had to sacrifice herself. Castiel. Got. Rowena. Killed. That’s what’s really fueling Dean’s anger this week. Yet, at the same time, he wants Dean to just “get over” Mary’s death in record time so that he can still hang out in the Bunker with the Winchesters and pretend he’s not a complete fuck-up.

I mean, yeah, all of TFW are powerful outcasts of some sort, but only one of them has been getting the others killed through sheer stupidity of late. It’s amazing how many female characters “misogynistic” Dean interacts with and who go on to have long, extended arcs on the show. And it’s funny how quickly similar female characters get killed off when they interact with “woke” Castiel and Sam.

The thing is that yes, Dean was cold when he “volunteered” Castiel to go down to Hell with Belphegor. But Dean was right (albeit succinct in the explanation) – as an angel who had been to the Pit before, Castiel was the best candidate to go, succeed and survive. And it’s not as though Dean was sitting pretty while Castiel did that. He had arguably the most important and dangerous job of them all.

Further, as Dean made painfully clear in the episode’s coda, everyone on TFW knew perfectly well that Belphegor was going to turn on them at some point (if anything, Dean telegraphed that a little too clearly to Belphegor). That’s why he sent Castiel as Belphegor’s minder. Not because he didn’t care or trust Castiel, but because he did trust Castiel.

And instead, Castiel let Belphegor into his head. Instead, he overkilled Belphegor in a way disturbingly reminiscent of how Jack killed Nick last season – right before he murdered Mary. Why? Because he wanted to believe what Belphegor said about Sam and Dean – especially Dean.

If Castiel can project his own anger and self-loathing onto Dean, then he won’t have to carry it, anymore. If he can blame Dean for not trusting him, he doesn’t have to blame himself for being untrustworthy. He doesn’t have to face that fact that he let a second-rate demon get into his head and get the drop on him, and that because of that, someone else died.

Now if the writing in the show were willing to acknowledge that this one is on Castiel and that he has to own up to it before he can move past it (“The Man Who Would Be King” in season six fairly leaps to mind as an excellent example), I’d be okay with this storyline. I mean, I wish the show weren’t wasting so much time in its final shortened season with stereotypically bitchy high school melodrama, but I’d appreciate the honesty of Castiel’s mistakes and see how they could lead to growth for the character.

But instead, Berens writes it like a teen girl BFF breakup and blames it on Dean. This blatant tongue bath for Destiel fans made that small part of the audience happy-sad, but it ruined Castiel as a character for large sections of the rest of the audience. You can’t prop up a character like that and not do some permanent damage to how the audience views them. “Ruined” is what Berens did to Castiel.


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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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #26: Spooky North Carolina

Many apologies for the lateness of this. As some of you may have noticed, my site was down (for the second time in the month) for a day or two over the weekend. I’ll spare you the technical details, but it took a few calls and some shouting at my website provider to get things fixed. Unfortunately, that took up the time and energy I was going to use to do these reviews, my latest Supernatural review, and class work. So, I’m currently about five days behind. All this means is that we will be going into November with the ghost story reviews until we get the full 31 (possibly not every single day), though I will continue to post them as timed in October, so that all you need do is click on that month to get to them. Sorry about the delay.

Check out the rest of the month’s reviews here, and last year’s reviews here. If you enjoyed this review and want to help out with my folklore research, head on over to my Patreon page and join up, make a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or send me a coffee.

Schlosser, S.E. Spooky North Carolina: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore. Paul G. Hoffman, illustrator. Morris Book Publishing, 2009.

Having previously read another entry in this series (Spooky New Jersey) and found it underwhelming, I had an idea about the format for this one. The author takes stories from around a state and basically fictionalizes them. Even though she has a long bibliography at the end (from which she clearly took lots of “inspiration”), she doesn’t give a whole lot on which to confirm or deny her details. Even with a map supplied near the beginning, the stories often feel set in some vague Never Never Land. So, you certainly can’t rely on any of these as being the “true” account of a myth or legend.

Most of these stories were quite well-known, to the point where I often could tell where she embellished. I think only the ghost dog in the mirror (from Boone) and the healing ghost of the suicidal father (from Raleigh) were ones I had never heard of before as either a specific tale or a collection of tales.

I think my favorite was the Jesus tale from Bat Cave about an itinerant carpenter who is hired by a farmer to build a fence blocking out his neighbor, with whom the farmer has a long-time feud. Instead, the carpenter builds a bridge, reconciles the two neighbors, and heals the farmer’s crippled son, to boot.

Blackbeard’s ghost from Ocracoke, the Little Red Man of Old Salem, Tsali’s protective Cherokee spirit of Smoky Mountains National Park, the fictional White Doe of Roanoke Island, the Dare County woman haunted by her sister after stealing the ring off her dead finger, the Maco Light, the fratricidal man from Murphy “plucked” to death by his brother’s ghost, they’re all here. There are even some lesser-known stories like the (mysterious, but quite real phenomenon) Seneca Guns of the Outer Banks.

This narrative storytelling approach isn’t necessarily a problem for most people. But the other issue is that while some of these stories are well-written and entertaining, they’re not very chilling. I know for a fact these tales have been told in more harrowing ways elsewhere, but there wasn’t a lot of Boo Factor in this one. The illustrations don’t help in that they are folksy and interesting, but not eerie like the ones in Haunted Uwharries from last year. As I recall, Spooky New Jersey wasn’t very scary, either. There was only one exception (involving a Satanic hitchhiker) that I even remember, let alone remember it being unnerving (though, in fairness, that one was a doozy).

Just to check whether I’d finally become too jaded to get scared easily, anymore, by ghost story books, I read an article of ten scary, true stories told by law enforcement officers. It was pretty creepy. So, the fault, Dear Brutus, lies in this book. ‘Cause I ain’t that hard to creep out.

Because of all the embellishment, I found the extra detail in some of these stories less than compelling. It was most obvious in the Witch in the Mill story (from Edenton) that comes directly from Daniel Barefoot’s Haunted Hundred series. The Barefoot version does not have a daughter character (let alone one as a narrator) in it.

So, when I read a whole lot more detail in the Boo Hag story from Elizabeth City (mostly to do with the Haint Blue around the doors and windows keeping her out, and her preying on her husband to sell to her Boo Daddy) than I had encountered before in that legend, I was suspicious of the extra detail. Was it really part of the original Gullah legend or had the author added it in?

Other embellished stories suffered from the heavy emphasis on narrative and lack of analytical distance. The one about the Raven Mockers (from Cherokee), far from sounding like a straight-up heroic tale of a Cherokee shaman who protects his tribe from the titular witches (as you normally get in tales about Spearfinger, say), has the disturbing subtext of a vicious witchcraze straight out of Salem, Massachusetts. The author showed a similar disinterest in exploring the Unfortunate Implications in her tales about witches and cats. A lot of misery was caused by these superstitions (still is, one could argue), so I’m leery of signing off on being oblivious to their ugly real-life history.

The stories I liked best (besides the Jesus tale) were a collection of Mountain tales in the middle of the book about various kinds of premonitions and death omens. In one (from Pineola), a woman has an elaborate waking dream in which she correctly predicts a complicated series of events where her sister-in-law runs away with a man, who is then shot dead by the SIL’s own brother. In another (Watauga County), a old country doctor whose father dropped dead at the age of 62 after seeing his doppelgänger, has a similar encounter at the same age, in the woods returning from a night call early one morning. It doesn’t end well for him.

In his book on Scottish folklore, The Supernatural Highlands, Francis Thompson refers to people who have these kinds of precog waking dreams as “seers.” There’s quite a tradition surrounding them in Scottish Celtic lore. “The Coffin” (Fayetteville) fits easily into this tradition.

Are these stories badly told? No, not really. They pass the time easily enough. Just don’t expect them to be … well … scary.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #25: Folk Arts and Folklife in and around Pitt County

Many apologies for the lateness of this. As some of you may have noticed, my site was down (for the second time in the month) for a day or two over the weekend. I’ll spare you the technical details, but it took a few calls and some shouting at my website provider to get things fixed. Unfortunately, that took up the time and energy I was going to use to do these reviews, my latest Supernatural review, and class work. So, I’m currently about five days behind. All this means is that we will be going into November with the ghost story reviews until we get the full 31, though I will continue to post them as timed in October, so that all you need to do is click on that month to get to them. Sorry about the delay.

Check out the rest of the month’s reviews here, and last year’s reviews here. If you enjoyed this review and want to help out with my folklore research, head on over to my Patreon page and join up, make a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or send me a coffee.

Baldwin, Karen, et al., eds. Folk Arts and Folklife in and around Pitt County: A Handbook and Resource Guide. Illustrated by David Norris. East Carolina University Folklore Archive, Department of English, Greenville, NC, 1990.

Folk Arts and Folklife in and around Pitt County (Pitt County, whose largest city is Greenville, is to the immediate southeast of me) is one of the more important folklore collections in North Carolina. Its introduction states that it’s intended as a resource for teachers (grade school and high school) in teaching about “folklife.” Only the last section involves itself with ghost tales and legends, though Henry Cowan, a cement sculptor and storyteller in the Material Arts section, also tells a supernatural tale or two about witches.

As you can guess, this book (which, alas, is not available online and was published in a very limited edition in 1990) comes out of the same tradition as that of Weird Tales of Martin County (which it mentions) and Whispers from the Past (which it doesn’t, though both came out the same year). There are sections on practitioners of the material arts and musical arts, occupational folklife, regional cookery, home medicine & midwifery, and (last and treated as least) narrative arts. Narrative Arts is where you find the rest of the witch tales, some ghost and UFO stories, and a short section about a tornado that hit a trailer park in 1984 because … it’s about the spread of urban legends, I guess. Honestly, I think they just didn’t know where else to put it.

“Folklife,” according to Lexico (the online version of the Oxford English Dictionary), is defined as “The way of life of a rural or traditional community. ” The book doesn’t give much of a definition of what it means by this word, but the impression I got was “Stuff old people do out in the country and isn’t that quaint.” Unfortunately, 1990 was back in the day when academics still tended to look down their noses at “folk” art and this book, unfortunately, follows in that tradition. It’s especially annoying to see now-famous whirligig makers Lester Gay and Vollis Simpson treated in a rather head-patting manner as quirky local eccentric inventors.

One could argue that the book is intended, basically, as a sort of textbook for grade school and high school, but that’s hardly an excuse. Tom Peete Cross managed to tell a rousing good tale in his copious footnotes for “Witchcraft in North Carolina” in 1919, while there was a lot more charging the horror engine for W.K. McNeil’s Ghost Stories from the American South (1985) than this book. This one comes across as condescending at times toward its subjects, a little pompous, and (too often) deadly dull.

The reason can be gleaned from a comparison to what the above two sources (as well as the Frank C. Brown Collection) did right. The introduction to Folk Arts and Folklife in and around Pitt County: A Handbook and Resource Guide claims that it was kept short (90 pages) because of limitations of space. It never explains why such limitations existed. Maybe someone thought a longer book wouldn’t fit the grade school format or maybe they ran out of budget.

But this leads to a rather odd mix of raw interview quotes of the subjects (who are often fascinating, especially Gospel/Jazz musicians like the Vines Sisters, just not presented that way) with some droning on about sociological theories of folklore and the barest minimum of context. And I think the lack of context is the real problem. You get a little biographical information about the subjects, but it’s bare bones. You get even less about the history of the towns in question.

Folklore motifs get the shortest shrift. The intros to the tales about the witch cat or the boyfriend’s head, for example, mention that these are old tropes, but don’t go any further and barely mention Stith Thompson. There are several family stories of dead relatives returning to haunt the living, with far more emphasis on the idea that this is how the family kept their history and far less exploration of them as actual ghost stories.

A quite-fascinating (if short) story about a car going dead near a sighting of mysterious red lights on NC 43 north of Rocky Mount (so, probably still in Nash County) is buried in the middle of a group of UFO stories (most of which sound like cases of mistaking an airplane or star/planet for an extraterrestrial craft). Thing is, this story could easily be a case of ghost lights and/or a roadside revenant, but the possibility is simply ignored. There’s a lot of that kind of thing in this book and that makes it a bit of a disappointment.

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #24: Haunted Plantations

Check out the rest of the month’s reviews here, and last year’s reviews here. If you enjoyed this review and want to help out with my folklore research, head on over to my Patreon page and join up, make a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or send me a coffee.

Buxton, Geordi. Haunted Plantations: Ghosts of Slavery and Legends of the Cotton Kingdoms. Arcadia Publishing, 2007.

This one is not, strictly speaking, set in North Carolina. It’s stories about ghosts (mostly) of slaves from the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia. But as we’ve learned from other such collections, state borders don’t limit folklore that neatly. Enslaved African Americans in North Carolina labored and suffered under similar conditions.

The author’s premise is to explore the experience of African American slaves and of slavery through Antebellum ghost stories. Some of these go all the way back to the 17th century (and earlier for the Native American tales). This mostly works, though there are some silly flubs, like the dated theory that slave labor built the Pyramids.

After a slow start and some objectifying in the manner of what Tiya Miles complains about in Tales from the Haunted South, Buxton gets into the lives (and afterlives) of slaves in South Carolina and Georgia. This includes some asides about coastal Gullah culture (and some extended detail about the origins and meaning of haint blue paint on houses) and West African religion like the Mami Wata.

There are some odd detours. For example, early on, we get the tale of Monsieur Dutarque. A (white) French teacher, M. Dutarque has to leave town in a hurry after tying a young white plantation owner’s daughter to a tombstone all night and causing permanent paralysis in her face. He then ingratiates himself into another community, only to disappear at the end of the school year. The boys he was teaching discover only their papers on his desk, corrected and marked with failing grades in his blood.

Until some months later, anyway, when one of them decides to pull the bucket up from the old schoolhouse well.

We then get into some of the better known ghost stories about the Lowcountry, such as the mass suicide by drowning of a group of Igbo slaves, newly arrived in South Carolina from Africa, in 1803. Buxton explains how their beliefs would motivate them to do so as a way to return to the old country in spirit, if not in body, and the subsequent hauntings of the water there. These include singing and the sound of clanking chains from beneath the river water.

Another story from Savannah Harbor tells of a place where something unseen tries to capsize passing ships. Could it be the mass ghost of a French pirate slave ship from the Civil War that was capsized by escaping slaves?

He also devotes two chapters (from both sides of the conflict) to slave revolts, such as the Stono River Slave Rebellion (1739), which resulted in the passing of laws forbidding the education of slaves that restricted the rights of both slaves and slaveowners. Another slave revolt may (or may not) have been headed off in 1822 by the hanging of freedmen Denmark Vesey and Gullah Jack in Charleston. Who may, or may not, have been completely innocent of the crime of insurrection.

Another Charleston hanging (the last public one) leads to the unsettling tale of the arrest and summary hanging without trial for murder of teenager Daniel Duncan in 1911. The reason why it was the last public hanging is because three days later, while his body still hanged on display, a major hurricane slammed into Charleston. Residents took it as divine punishment for hanging what was probably an innocent child. It later became known as “Duncan’s Storm.”

More mysterious are the spectral riders who appeared at dusk to some firefighters near the beginning of the 21st century on James Island in South Carolina. These Lightwood Cowboys, originally slaves who herded cattle on the island’s plantations during Antebellum times, were apparently America’s first cowboys.

Equally mysterious, but more uncanny, is the specter of a woman who also appears at dusk. Also probably the ghost of a slave, she is seen beside Boone Hall Brickyard near Wampancheone Creek, still apparently making bricks. The saddest ghosts are the ones who cannot seem to break free from the sufferings of their lives in the afterlife.

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The Official Supernatural: “Raising Hell” (15.02) Live Recap Thread


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It’s been a tough summer, so I’m way behind on my recaps and reviews. As of this review, I now have 51 episodes left to finish for previous seasons, plus the 18 after this one for the final (15th) season that started on October 10. That’s 70 total by next April. I currently have 151 coffees at $3 each on Ko-Fi (many thanks to those who have contributed so far!). If I get 300 coffees total, I will commit to doing one recap/review per week (retro or Season 15). If I get 400 coffees, I will commit to two. If I get 500 coffees, three reviews. If I get 600 coffees, four reviews. If I get 700 coffees, five reviews per week.

Other that that, any and all contributions are welcome! You can still find my reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my folklore research on Patreon.

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

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

Recap: Recap of events up to this point. No rock music this time to distract from the stupidity.

Cut to Now in Harlan, KS, where a soccer mom is sneaking back into town to get her daughter’s asthma meds (why didn’t she grab them when she evacuated?) after dark. This woman is so dumb that when her very tall neighbor pops up in his bathrobe, she starts babbling small talk about her daughter’s spelling bee instead of being alarmed. It’s only when he walks toward her, never speaking, that she gets confused. By then, it’s too late. He stabs her to death.

Then he collapses as a ghost dusts out of him. The one looks like an Old West sheriff. In a Southern accent, he spells out the word “disembowel,” which is what he just did to the woman.

Cue title cards.

Back at the makeshift shelter in the local high school, Castiel is telling Sam that Doomed Teaser Soccer Mom (named “Nan”) is missing. Sam asks a nearby Hunter who has come in to help them with this latest apocalypse to go find out what’s happening with that. Then Sam gets up to make the least inspired speech ever to the restless townspeople, who all have questions he can’t answer. And why is Sam suddenly so socially awkward?

Meanwhile, Dean is being far more effective, patrolling the border of the town with Belphegor. Dean questions again why Belphegor is helping TFW and Belphegor says he just wants to put Hell back the way it was.

Their conversation is interrupted by a ghost trying the barrier. Dean comments that means it’s holding and Belphegor points out that won’t last. Dean shoots the ghost and it’s the one from the teaser. Belphegor identifies him as Frances Tumblety, AKA Jack the Ripper. Aside from the fact that Tumblety is one of the less credible candidates for Jack, he also was the son of Irish immigrants and grew up in Upstate New York. Bottom line? He would not sound Southern. But sure, Show, let’s just handwave that and make the quintessential British serial killer an American gentleman from the South. Why not?

Cut to daytime at the school auditorium, with three more moronic civilians deciding to sneak in and find DTSM. And sneak in they do, this time in broad daylight. [facepalm]

Meanwhile, Jack (the Ripper) is having a meeting with some seriously solid-looking and unscary ghosts. There’s a brief opportunity (when a ghost looks out an upstairs window when viewed from the street) to show her fading out from it. But aside from a brief shot of someone flickering down the staircase (in about the least scary way possible), these ghosts look like the living, but in stage makeup. Yay.

JacktR’s master plan? To break out of the barrier and engage in more murderous shenanigans. Just … you know … worldwide. In other words, he doesn’t really have a plan aside from breaking out. Strike Two and a whiff at making a situation, that should have been terrifying, even remotely chill-inducing.

As they sneak in, the village idiots hear the Hunters they evaded shooting at some ghosts. Then they encounter some more ghosts. They are shocked and scared, but it’s a little late. Especially since they don’t then do anything intelligent. Like run.

Back at the school, Sam and Castiel are arguing about what to tell the townspeople. Sam insists they can’t tell them anything about what’s really happening because the civilians are “barely holding it together.” Hmm, not so much, Sam. I see no evidence of that. If anything, they’re in a quite-cheerful-and-ridiculously-dangerous denial bubble that needed popping last week.

Rowena arrives in the middle of this: “Am I interrupting something juicy?”

So, the plan they want help from her about is to get her to create another crystal like the soul bomb they were going to use on Amara back in season 11. Rowena isn’t so sure she can pull that off a second time (also, was it really necessary to give Rowena a Dumb on Cue moment where Sam tells her that ghosts are souls, when she knew that in season 11?).

The conversation is interrupted by my favorite remaining Redshirt Hunter left alive popping up and saying they’ve got a problem. She then, alas, promptly disappears from the episode, but hey, at least the actress gets paid more for having a line than not. And we now have confirmation the character survived Rowena!Michael’s rampage last season.

Sam comes rushing out to the barrier, where Dean and Belphegor are looking at DTSM’s husband and their neighbor, who got ambushed by ghosts in the previous scene. Despite their obviously being possessed, Sam tries to reason with them and Dean gets smacked with a plot anvil to say, “They’re possessed!” when they start bleeding black goo tears.

JacktR appears out of nowhere. He demands that TFW let him and the other ghosts out, or he’ll kill the civilians. The possessing ghosts start ripping into the guts of the possessed people. Rather than having Sam and Dean solve this one the way they usually one (a saltgun charge to the chest), this is a moment for Ketch to make a grand entrance with a fancy new gun that shoots iron flakes that de-possess people. ‘Cause why use something that’s worked for 14 seasons when you can just make up something complicated and new?

Anyhoo, the gun works and all three ghosts flee while the civilians collapse. We never find out if they survived or not. In fact, they are not mentioned again.

FYI, if you’re not a fan of Ketch popping in like this, don’t worry. This is almost the last time he’ll get to be smart in the episode.

While explaining all this backstory (and that he “liberated” the gun from the LoL), Ketch flirts with Rowena (who, if you’ll recall, he once tortured and got a life-preserving spell from in exchange for her freedom). Despite their ugly history, she’s into it. Oh, boy. I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.

Hurrying on, Belphegor comes in and introduces himself, and the Brothers explain that Chuck killed Jack (not the Ripper). Everyone besides Belphegor looks far more downcast than pretty much anyone in the room besides Sam likely would truly feel. Then Ketch admits with some chagrin that he’s there to assassinate Belphegor on behalf of a demon named Ardat (in real-world mythology, an Ancient Sumerian demon who may be another name for Lilith, so she probably knew Belphegor when they were human). Because the show just barely remembered that demons got kicked out of Hell, too, but not that most of these ghosts would also be demons by now.

Somewhere in Nevada, Amara is having a massage when she’s startled by her brother Chuck (who smites her masseuse and replaces her). She’s not thrilled to see Chuck. After Chuck starts babbling about how great the Game of Thrones ending was (please tell that was sarcasm, Show), she cuts him short and demands to know why he’s bothering her when they agreed “to give each other space.”

At the school, yet another idiot civilian is whinging to Castiel about the missing people and saying that TFW promised to keep them safe. Well, yeah, but not from your own stupidity, dude. The angelic eyeroll Castiel makes as he walks away is pretty epic, old school Castiel.

Meanwhile, Dean is grumbling in surprise to Rowena over the list of ingredients for the soul catcher (that’s what he ends up calling it). This confuses me. Wouldn’t Dean already have a good idea what the ingredients were from the last time Rowena made one?

Rowena asks him about Ketch (yep, they’re going down that rabbit hole). Dean tells her to keep her eyes on the apocalypse and find someone less creepy than Ketch to bed. He doesn’t mention the whole “Ketch banged my mom” thing, but you could say that’s in character.

As Dean goes off to do something alone in a room, Castiel comes in and they have A Talk. Castiel apologizes about not warning Dean and Sam about Jack Sue going off the rails before he murdered Mary. Dean tells him to stop.

Dean, as it turns out, is having a much worse existential crisis than “just” losing his mother or being mad at Castiel about it. He argues that it’s now clear that Chuck engineered everything about their lives, that Free Will is an illusion, and that they never had any choice. They were always just “rats in a maze.”

Castiel disagrees. Even though he’s angry at Chuck for killing Jack Sue. He insists that there is something still real: “We are.”

A lot of Destielers think this means the show finally made Destiel “real.” Except, not really. At no point in the conversation are Castiel and Dean talking about their friendship, relationship, bond, whatever you call it. You need some kind of anchor for the subtext and it’s just not there.

It’s clear that Castiel means that the “rats” are real, even if Chuck manipulated them six ways to Sunday, not that he and Dean have a true gay love that can pierce the bonds of death or the Fourth Wall. I’m not saying the show has never “gone there” (boy, did it ever go there in “Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets”), just that this is not one of those times.

Cut to night outside. Dean is patrolling with Ketch (why is Sam not doing any patrolling? Or, for that matter, Castiel?). Dean gives Ketch an ugly iron necklace to prevent possession. They talk some more about Chuck (whom Ketch always thought was “theoretical, more rumor than fact”) and then Ketch asks about Rowena. Oh, God, really, Show?

Fortunately, Dean gets a text alert that two Hunters have disappeared on patrol. So, they investigate a creepy warehouse (and don’t find the Hunters). Dean’s breath mists up. First Ketch and then Dean get knocked about by Lizzie Borden. But she’s called off by another ghost. Who turns out to be Ghost!Kevin.

Kevin is friendly and reasonably sane. He tells Dean he was going to contact them sooner, but he “just got here.” He breaks the bad news to Dean that Chuck sent him to Hell after promising to take him to Heaven – for reasons that remain entirely murky for the rest of the episode. The general theory in-show seems to be that Chuck did it for kicks. Kevin also warns them that he can feel the ghost warding fading. We never do find out what happened to those Hunters.

It turns out that because Chuck himself cast Kevin down, he has some scary rep with the ghosts that allows him some control. Dean suggests Kevin go undercover for them and Kevin smiles.

Back at Amara’s … hotel room? … Chuck has ordered a burger and is watching TV, but gets restless when it doesn’t arrive right away. Surely, he could just make his own waitstaff and his own burger.

Amara is trying to ignore him by doing yoga as he babbles on about being “on an extended break from my omniscient benevolence.” He wants the two of them to leave the world behind, even go to another dimension. Amara says no, that she has no interest in spending any time with him.

After some confusion, she realizes that he needs her for the first time ever (and he calls her his “big sis”). She touches his shoulder and sees the wound Sam shot him with. She realizes he’s “not at full strength” and is “afraid.” Chuck doesn’t look thrilled at her epiphany.

So, the next day, Sam and Dean are out patrolling again. Oh, hey, Sam does do that. As Sam dithers about the drawbacks of having Kevin go undercover, Dean points out their options are limited.

Sam snaps at Belphegor when the demon appears behind them, and complains that the warding is fading. When Dean tells the demon to charge it back up, Belphegor says that’s not possible with this kind of spell. Also, when Dean tells him they’re going to send Kevin up to Heaven afterward, Belphegor says that’s not possible. Once you go to Hell, you go to Hell. John and Bobby (Dean doesn’t mention himself) were exceptions that Chuck made himself. No one but Chuck can make exceptions.

Meanwhile, Chuck is exposing his wound, which is a twin to Sam’s, and touches it. He winces and in Harlan, so does Sam. Dean notices and doesn’t believe Sam’s protests that it’s “getting better.”

Back at the suburban house, JacktR is getting the other ghosts to try to break through the barrier as it weakens. Kevin ghosts in at that point. Kevin challenges JacktR, but it doesn’t go well. It turns out JacktR isn’t very impressed by Kevin and he knows Kevin was a Prophet who worked with the Winchesters. Kevin ends up their prisoner.

Back at the school, Rowena is cooking things up for her spell, and talking about right-brain vs. left-brain with Ketch. They flirt heavily (with some pretty bad double entendre dialogue nobody needed to hear and some terrible Bow Chicka Wow Wow soundtrack music). Ketch even finds a shortcut in her research that really turns Rowena on (and will be the last time in the episode that he’s smart).

Fortunately for the audience, Dean calls at that moment, pretty literally cock-blocking this interaction.

Cut to Rowena trotting down the street with a bag. For some reason (plot stupidity, it seems), she crosses through the barrier as a shortcut. JacktR shows up, and tells her to go tell Sam and Dean that he has Kevin and is willing to trade. Or something. It turns out he has a history with Rowena and that she barely survived their “relationship” a century and a half ago. Ketch shows up and tells Rowena to run, then shoots JacktR. But JacktR appears behind him and knocks him out as Rowena runs away.

So, Rowena gets to the Brothers and tells them the news. They show up at the house where the ghosts are holed up. JacktR starts “eating” Kevin in front of Sam and Dean to force them to comply with his demands, but it’s a trap. Rowena comes in with Castiel, and the soul catcher and gets most of the ghosts (but not Jack and three others). Rowena admits afterward that this crystal is less powerful than the last one and can only catch some ghosts at a time (why not use the original one?).

Back behind the barrier, Dean and Belphegor are talking about how its fading. Ketch shows up from inside the barrier, apparently okay. Dean shoots through the barrier at the ghosts, hitting some of them. Rowena and Castiel show up, and Rowena enters the barrier to suck up more ghosts. Ketch is standing beside her. It works … until Ketch backhands Rowena and grabs the crystal. He’s possessed by JacktR. The three other ghosts who escaped the house with him also show up, but they just stand there, grinning.

Unfortunately for Ketch!JacktR, he indulges in a bit of monologuing about how the crystal gives him the power to blow out the barrier. And gloating when Dean’s saltgun runs out. But Dean then just pulls out his pistol and shoots Ketch in the shoulder, twice. The crystal flies out of Ketch’s hand and Dean catches it. As JacktR morphs out of a collapsing Ketch, Dean hands the crystal to Rowena, who uses the crystal on the angry ghosts, with special venom reserved for JacktR.

We get little chance for suspense about whether Ketch is really dead. After the commercial break, he’s on a stretcher, going away in an ambulance as Dean sort-of (but not really) apologizes for shooting him with iron bullets. Ketch says, well, Dean killed him once, already, and he must have been “itching to do it again.” Except that Dean didn’t kill Ketch last time. That was Mary.

Castiel tries to heal Ketch’s wound, but worriedly admits to Sam afterward that he can’t. Sam shrugs it off as everyone being tired.

Ketch and Rowena share a lingering look as he’s put in the ambulance. Then she and Dean share a look. Yeah, we really didn’t need that subplot.

In the coda, Sam tells Dean that Kevin wants to leave the barrier. Kevin says he’d rather take his chances going crazy in the world than go back to Hell. It turns out that Belphegor can make a small hole in the barrier (but he can’t power it back up? Okay). Kevin says goodbye to the Brothers and says, “Love you guys.” Then he goes out through the hole and disappears. Belphegor, by the way, is inside the barrier with the Brothers when Kevin leaves. Wouldn’t he, too, be stuck inside it?

Cut to Amara, who has power-suited up and is heading out. She says she’s willing to co-exist with Chuck, just not in the same part of the multiverse. She’s guessed that he is way powered down (only able to “do a few parlor tricks”) and can’t leave the Earth without her help. She says she’s changed, but he hasn’t. She’s ditching him and gloats a bit that she’s now sealing him away as he once did her. She tells him he’s “got what you always wanted – you’re on your own.” And she leaves.

Back at the barrier, ghost fireballs are bombarding it. It’s weakening. Everyone, including Sam, looks at Dean and says they have to stop the ghosts from getting out. Dean’s like, “How?!”

Credits

The show got a 0.3/2 and 1.16 million in audience. Yes, that is another series low in audience, but the show still tied with Arrow for second place in demo and came in third in audience behind The Flash and Batwoman. I think it was one of only three CW shows last week to top a million. ‘Cause that’s how the CW rolls these days.

The preview for next week is up.

Review: Lord, was that one sure daft. I mean, it passed the time well enough, I guess, but it was frequently stupid. And busy. This writing duo has surely written worse, but then, we are talking about the same duo that thought a story involving a black woman in a dog collar, who was literally a dog and whose master was white, would somehow not be problematical at all. And then we had last week’s episode. So, that bar was already Limbo-low.

The episode had plotholes and changed-up canon galore, and an awful lot of characters on both sides of the story acting stupid just to move things along. Others were simply dropped with no resolution to their subplot, such as DTSM’s husband (who may or may not now be dead) and daughter (who may or may not now be an orphan, but is certainly now motherless since TFW found her mother’s body offscreen), or the two Hunters who disappeared through a plothole in a warehouse, never to be heard from again.

Then there was that moment when Ketch accused Dean of killing him once, already. While Dean has certainly tried, multiple times, to kill Ketch, it was Dean’s mother Mary who actually succeeded. And while I don’t mind Rowena getting her freak on however she wants, having her hook up with the male GOTW every time, just because, is kinda gross and demeaning for her character. What, it’s okay to trash Dean for hooking up with random women (which he hardly does anymore, anyway), but when Rowena does it, she gets a fandom High Five? Really?

Not to mention that Rowena’s being into Ketch after his torturing her in their last encounter isn’t kinky. It’s just nasty. We already know what Ketch torturing a woman he’s attracted to looks like and we saw Mary trying to shoot herself to get out of the situation. Oh, hell, no. Rowena deserves better. And, as Dean pointed out, higher standards.

I’m not entirely sure where the show is going with all these guest stars. There’s a distinct possibility that Rowena will check out of Hotel Winchester permanently next episode. But whether we’ve seen the last of Ketch (who is still alive, though with a wound Castiel can’t heal) and Kevin (who is a ghost, but still “alive” as a character in the story) is unclear. And I don’t think it’s unclear for the sake of suspense. I think it’s unclear for the same reason we never found out what happened to most of the redshirt characters this week – lazy and sloppy writing. The calling card of the Nepotism Duo who wrote this episode, but also business as usual for the writers room under their questionable leadership.

There are two fan misconceptions that have come out of this episode. I mentioned the first one, already – that when Castiel said that “we” were “real” to Dean’s “rats in a maze” speech, there’s no actual indication that he was talking about his relationship with Dean. He just meant that Free Will was a real thing for Chuck’s creatures, even if Chuck has manipulated them a lot and frequently acted as a puppet master.

I can’t say that I’ve been impressed by what we’ve got of either Dean or Castiel so far this season, let alone of them together. Mostly, they grump at each other about Jack. Dean saves the day (after all the guest star grandstanding this week and obsession with Sam’s new Speshul Storyline, ruthlessly save the day is precisely what Dean did). Castiel tries to heal people and can’t (or hovers over Rowena’s shoulder for some reason). I sure hope things pick up for both of them or this is gonna be a very long season.

The other misconception is about Sam’s wound. I see a lot of spec that Sam will get special, even godlike, superpowers from his connection to Chuck. While I wouldn’t put anything past these writers, that’s not how the connection has been set up so far. Chuck said last season about his weapon that whatever was visited on the person shot by the gun would also be visited on the shooter. Dean suggested the example that if the person shot died, so would the shooter, and Chuck confirmed this.

The thing is that in order for Sam to gain powers from Chuck, there would need to be a transfer of power. But in Chuck’s explanation, that’s not the case. Instead, it’s a transfer and sharing of damage from the gun. It’s more like sympathetic magic (sticking a pin in an object to cause harm to a person the object represents) than the vampiric power transfer of power this fan theory assumes.

While Chuck is definitely getting weaker, that doesn’t mean Sam is getting stronger. There’s no evidence that Sam is becoming, let alone replacing, Chuck, just that he is sharing Chuck’s growing pain and weakness.

This brings up a rather disturbing idea – is Chuck dying? If so, will the balance between Light and Dark be disrupted, destroying the SPNverse? Did Sam’s impulsive stupidity just doom the world (wouldn’t be the first time).

Is this what may bring Amara back to help TFW? She still doesn’t appear to care much about humans if her verbal shrug after Chuck smote her masseuse for kicks is any indication. So, I guess worrying about humanity still isn’t her thing. Then again, this version of Amara doesn’t seem to care about anything except hedonism and has totally forgotten about her bond with Dean Winchester. So, it’s hard to tell whether we’ve seen the last of her or she’s just going through an ennui phase.

Speaking of Chuck and Amara, their pettiness makes them too human and not godlike enough in this episode. I’m not talking about a conscious choice to make them petty (Greek gods were petty, too), but that they are portrayed thinking and caring about things that they shouldn’t and wouldn’t care about.

For example, why is Chuck complaining about not getting food when he doesn’t need to eat and could conjure up anything he wants, including the waitstaff? I can sort of see Amara liking massages, but what is the attraction for her in meditation? And why is she so slow to notice her brother’s condition when they are permanently and psychically linked (“Yin and Yang,” as Amara puts it)? Why is she unaware that Chuck opened Hell?

And what does Chuck know? When he touches his wound, there is no indication in the story that he is aware that Sam can feel it, too, or where Sam is, or how the whole ghost army situation is going. Is he just not following his own story, anymore, even as he’s in the middle of it?

This seems like the usual thing the show does at this time of the season. At the end of the previous season, they introduce a Big Bad that turns out to be a little bit too Big and Bad. So, they have to rein in said BB for that character to last (and the Brothers to survive) until the end of the season. So, the show has elected to limit God. That doesn’t mean the way they’re writing this storyline makes much sense.

This is also a reason why the ghosts are such a dud as a mytharc storyline. As I noted last week, they are pretty much the opposite of ethereal and that makes them not-scary. SPN ghosts are noted for being crazy violent (literally), but that also means they are effectively mindless.

Having ghosts plotting and coming up with nefarious plans is a bit like writing zombie as actual characters who can think and pick locks. The whole point of Romeroesque zombies as something different from other revenants like vampires is that they can’t think. Similarly, the Supernatural version of ghosts can’t, either. And yet, here we are, with ghosts plotting to take over the world, and it’s as boring as salt-less oatmeal.

And that doesn’t mean the show can escape those limitations for this type of MOTW so easily, or without unfortunate implications for the story. The writing for Jack the Ripper, for example, is bog-standard awful. Not only did they pick an historical suspect who was American, but they then cast an actor who didn’t look or sound anything like how that candidate did in real life.

Nor does he act like Jack the Ripper in his kill pattern (except that he’s about as thunderously stupid in his Evil Overlord planning as you would expect for the ghost of a maniac killer who escaped capture largely due to police incompetence). In the teaser, he disembowels a woman. But that is the very least of what the real Jack the Ripper did.

He was a sexual sadist who butchered his female victims in highly sexual ways. His last known victim, Mary Jane Kelly, was the youngest and reputedly the prettiest of the women. The killer left her sprawled in a sexualized position, carved to pieces, with no face. None of that vicious vibe appears in the teaser for this episode, let alone later on.

Apparently, portraying a young black woman in a master-slave position with a white man, complete with dog collar, is A-okay for these writers. But portraying an attack by Jack the Ripper with anything approaching historical accuracy is a CW bridge too far. Well, don’t pick Jack the Ripper as your EVOL spokesghost, then.


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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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #23: Smoky Mountain Tales, True and Tall, Volume II

Check out the rest of the month’s reviews here, and last year’s reviews here. If you enjoyed this review and want to help out with my folklore research, head on over to my Patreon page and join up, make a one-time donation on this site or directly through Paypal, or send me a coffee.

Baldwin, Juanitta. Smoky Mountain Tales, True and Tall, Volume II. Suntop Press, October 1, 2008.

It wasn’t until I got to the end of this one that I realized had probably read the wrong book. Yes, they’re called “true” tales as well as “tall,” but just as often in this genre, such tales are more tall than true.

The author’s book of Appalachian ghost stories is called Smoky Mountain Ghostlore (and the number on this one indicates there’s a first volume I likely should have begun with). Though the book does have some legends, the only “ghost” story is about a woman who spots a light over a grave in a cemetery at night – only to discover it was a solar lantern left on a child’s grave. According to the mother, her son had been afraid of the dark and she didn’t want him to be uneasy in his grave.

Most of the stories are historical and even from the author’s own family, but there are some legends. Admittedly, the author spends as much time in Tennessee as North Carolina, but the folklore doesn’t exactly recognize that boundary, anyway. Yeah, I probably should have dropped this one early on, but it was short and I found the stories charmingly told. So, sue me.

There’s an amusing tale (unsourced) about the Devil and kudzu. The legend goes that the Devil stirred up his rebellion while God was away planting the Garden of Eden (the Devil was jealous because God wouldn’t allow the angels to visit His new creation – Earth).

When God returned, he kicked the Devil out and the Devil promptly went to the South because it was one of the nicest places in God’s new creation. God reassured the rest of his angels that He had everything taken care of. He’d altered the kudzu just a little bit so that the Devil would exasperate himself trying to manage it. You could say kudzu can bedevil the Devil himself.

The author also includes several stories about gold/silver mines and lost treasures. One John Smith became wealthy from mining silver in the Appalachians during the Colonial period. But he ran afoul of Royal sentiments when visiting Britain during the Revolution. By the time he returned 15 years later, he was old and nearly blind, and his friends and colleagues had all died or scattered to points unknown. So, he was no longer able to find his mines. A whole mess of people have been looking for them since he died in 1800, leaving behind his maps.

From the same time period is Sequoyah. He created a different kind of treasure by inventing the Cherokee alphabet, and teaching his people how to read and write in it.

Another lost mine is the Perry Shults Mine. It’s said you can find it by following a big black bird.

My favorite stories by far, though, are of the tough and pioneering women of the Appalachians. Most notable is Malinda Blalock, a Civil War combat veteran from Watauga County. Her husband Keith was pro-Union and anti-slavery when the Civil War started, in a region where that sentiment was brutally suppressed. When Keith was drafted anyway by the Confederate Army, Malinda disguised herself as his younger brother and marched off with him to war.

After she was shot in battle, her secret was eventually discovered and she was kicked out. Keith rolled in poison ivy to get a temporary discharge and join her. Then the two of them lit out for Grandfather Mountain (in Avery County). They were eventually able to join up with the Union Army and become guerrilla fighters for the rest of the War. And by “fighters,” I mean that Malinda was right there in the thick of it with her husband.

One baby and several war wounds later between them, they settled down after the War and started a country store. Despite vicious opposition from some of their family and neighbors, they prospered, had more kids, and outlived most of their enemies.

Then there is Evelyn Brian Johnson (1909-2012), a famous aviator from Morristown, TN. Still alive at the age of 98 when the book came out in 2008, she gave the author an interview in which she talked about how she got into flying. At the time of her death, she had more flight hours than any woman and more than any living person (57,635.4), and held the record in number of people trained (about 9000). Starting in 1944, she flew planes until a car accident and glaucoma grounded her in 2006, after 62 years. She also outlived two husbands.

These two women are the epitome of “Slid into home, beat to hell, yelling, ‘Wow! What a ride that was!'” I hope I’m able to do the same when I go.

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