Category Archives: Women

The Official Supernatural: “Girls, Girls, Girls” (10.07) Retro Recap and Review


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

Recap: Straight-forward and relatively quick recap of Cole’s roaring rampage of revenge against Dean storyline, Witches, and that Castiel and Hannah angel storyline that was so forgettable I had to rewatch this recap twice to remember to write it down.

Cut to Now and a young woman in stereotypical hooker garb (which includes the obligatory kitten heels that fail her in a dark alleyway and cause her to fall). She’s running from her pimp, Raoul, who chews all available scenery before revealing himself as a demon (after she stabs him in the eye with her heel) and snapping her neck. After telling her that hookers like her are a dime a dozen. Gotta say, the acting in this scene is not good. She doesn’t even look that scared and did I mention all the scenery he masticates? Yeah.

Cue title cards.

Cut to the Brothers eating steak at a diner. Sam is trying to figure out what kind of case they’re in town for and Dean admits they’re there because this place has “the best steak between Connecticut and the Bunker.” Sam notes that Dean is also getting a lot of messages on his phone, about which Dean acts very cagey. So, Sam grabs Dean’s phone (despite Dean’s legit protests of privacy and … stuff) and brings up that Dean has made a profile on a dating app. He’s going on a date with a cute girl named Shaylene Johnson.

Sam, having inserted himself into this situation, looks through her texts to Dean and opines that she seems “too good to be true.” On the one hand, okay, watching out for your brother is good. On the other, it’s funny how the brother who has massive issues with respecting other people’s boundaries is the one who is constantly whining about needing his own space and going off to find himself or hook up with a demon mistress or whatever. At this point, Sam has hit 30 and this kind of adolescent jealousy of his brother’s sex life (in which, by the way, Dean is far more experienced than Sam when it comes to these short-term hookups) is no longer cute.

Sam’s rather homophobic attempt to get a rise out of Dean (by saying Shaylene could be “a Canadian trucker named Bruce”) is cut off when Shaylene shows up in the flesh. It’s only at this point that Sam realizes Dean lied to him twice and they “detoured eight hours so you could get laid.” Dean openly admits to this, pays for Sam’s lunch, and tells him not to wait up. Yeah, Sam, don’t, ’cause you just got owned in the manipulation department.

Cut to Hannah crossing off photos of angels in their vessels on a poster board on the wall, while Castiel is doing research on a reverend who is engaging in faith healing. They are still tracking down rogue angels and the photos are of those they’ve returned to Heaven. Some of them have even been willing. As Castiel talks about the reverend, who is their latest target, Hannah embarrasses him by taking off her vessel’s clothes and standing naked in front of him, before going to take a shower. Hannah wonders why Castiel is “bothered,” as an angel wouldn’t usually care. But then, as Castiel points out, angels don’t need to take showers. I’d forgotten how dull this storyline was.

Cut to Dean getting slammed against a motel wall with awful wallpaper by Shaylene. It’s getting hot and heavy. Unfortunately, it soon turns out that Shaylene is a prostitute and she expects payment. Disappointed, but not angry, Dean admits that he has “a code – no cash for ass.” Then she sultrily tells him he doesn’t need to pay her money, that he can, instead, sign over his soul. As she is nattering on about how who knows if souls even exist, it’s obvious to us the audience that she has pinged the wrong john because Dean definitely knows otherwise. And he also quickly figures out that Shaylene does not, in fact, love her job, not one little bit.

Well, girl, you are in luck because if anybody can get you out of this situation, it’s Dean Winchester.

Cut back to Castiel and Hannah checking out of their motel. As Hannah goes to pay, a man grabs her hand, calling her “Caroline.” It turns out he’s her vessel’s husband and he’s been worried about her. So, he “put out an alert on your credit card.” Awkward.

Back to the other motel. Shaylene’s john strolls in, expecting to make a deal. Shaylene is sitting on the bed, looking nervous, while Dean sits on the bed with his back to her, behind her. As the guy pulls out a paper contract, Dean gets up and turns around. The pimp barely has time to register Dean’s presence before Sam walks out of a side room, but he quickly recognizes them (Dean swinging an angel blade helps, I’m sure) and he’s terrified. Oh, and they’ve drawn a devil’s trap on the ceiling because this guy, too, is possessed.

Dean tells the demon that Shaylene “told us everything.” Sam lists it out: “Abduction, forced prostitution – it’s pretty gnarly, even for a demon.”

The demon tries to claim that Shaylene is exaggerating the evil of the situation, which is kind of amusing because hello, he’s a demon. He makes the error of taunting her (We find out that she was carrying a heavy student loan debt after graduating from Harvard) and claiming she’d have been dead on the street on drugs without him. In the middle of the Brothers trying to interrogate him (and her calling him out for lying), Shaylene gets up in a blind rage, grabs the angel blade out of Dean’s hand, and stabs her demon pimp with it.

Dean grabs the sword away from her in exasperation, while Sam grumps that they just lost their best lead.

Dean: Okay, well, that happened.

Since Shaylene is their only lead, they ask her some more questions, which she eagerly answers to the best of her abilities. She really wants to help them out. She says the demon mentioned a brothel in a phone conversation with someone else. While she doesn’t know the location, she did see him handing out business cards. Going to the demon host’s body, she pulls one out. It’s bright-red and says, “Raul’s Girls.” And it has an address on it. Well, that works.

At said brothel, which is done up with a lot of glitter and bullfighting motifs that look like Ancient Minoan contests, one of the “girls,” a young brunette, is defiantly refusing to put on a skimpy costume another pimp wants her to wear as Raul (you know, the guy in the teaser and on the business card) walks in, sporting an eye patch. When the first guy, Gerald, asks Raul what he should do, Raul tells him he knows what to do, in a rather exasperated tone. Gerald gleefully turns back to the poor woman with the intent of doing some real ultra violence.

It’s at that moment that a red-haired woman in her thirties makes her entrance. She may look familiar to the observant. Remember that red-haired woman in the coda to “Soul Survivor” (10.03)? That’s her.

She asks if she’s in Raul’s Girls and Raul suggests she is in the wrong place, unless she’s a customer. He’s not hiring at the moment and she’s too old for his criteria.

With a sugary smile, she tells him that while she means no insult to his “girls,” she “would rather die than do business with filth like you.” She then tosses a hand-sized ball of what looks like solid black catnip at him. Confused, he catches it, then gets a horrified look.

“You!” he says, as he begins to vomit out black, congealed smoke and tar, and Gerald shouts, “Boss!” As another, blonde girl in leopard print runs in, Rowena suggests they step back, since things are getting “messy” for Raul. Gerald, not too surprisingly, smokes out and leaves his meat suit dead on the floor. Raul’s host, of course, doesn’t make it, either, since he got a stiletto heel to the eye in the teaser.

The woman says, “Hardly the most appetizing process in the world, but killing demons always makes me hungry.” She turns away, while the two girls stand there, stunned. Over her shoulder, she suggests they come with her and they hurry after her.

Meanwhile, Hannah is fielding an encounter with her vessel’s husband and it’s not going terribly well. It doesn’t help that the dialogue is super-clunky infodump, with her husband at one point talking about whatever “got into you.” We find out that her vessel has been missing for a year. Hubby is determined to get an explanation out of her, but Hannah’s pretty sure he’s not gonna be able to handle the truth.

When Castiel walks in the room, Hannah subtly lets him know that this is her vessel’s husband. Then she decides to make Castiel the fall guy and says she’s been in a relationship with him. She even kisses him when the husband insists it couldn’t be true (In all fairness, neither Hannah nor Castiel is putting out particularly natural body language for a human). Okaaayyyy. But it does seem to convince him. Maybe. At any rate, he looks even more devastated than before. Hannah tells him she’s sorry and tells Castiel, “Let’s go.” They leave.

The Brothers enter the brothel (to a screechy, knife-like soundtrack) to find the demon hosts for Raul and Gerald, as well as what’s left of Raul. Grumping that someone else got to kill Raul before they did, Dean tells Sam to “check IDs” while going to pour a drink behind the bar. Sam realizes that the black tar underneath Raul’s host is Raul. As Dean speculates about what could kill a demon in that particular way, Sam finds Rowena’s ginormous hex bag. Witchcraft. Looking alarmed, Dean immediately puts down the booze.

In a swanky restaurant (according to the captions, it’s “mid-tempo French music playing” on the soundtrack), Rowena is enjoying a flute of rosé wine and offering the two prostitutes some hors d’oeuvres. They look uneasy and admit that they “don’t belong here.” They want to know why she brought them to the restaurant. She says she wanted to feed them, since she’s quite sure “that swine Raul” starved them (Nobody likes Raul).

As if to emphasize their being out of place, a snotty waiter arrives at their table and tells Rowena that the restaurant (Bistro de Moules) “has a very strict dress code” and her guests don’t meet it. The girls are willing to leave, but Rowena tells them to stay where they are (to the consternation of the waiter).

Rowena takes out another hex bag, a smaller one than the demon-killing one, drops it in the startled waiter’s hand, and says, “Famulatus” (slavery). This hex changes the waiter’s attitude completely. Seems he was either the head waiter or someone else high up the waiter food chain because suddenly, full plates of food start to appear and he brings Rowena a fine bottle of champagne, Krug ’95.

The blonde is greatly impressed, but the brunette is more wary. When she asks Rowena how she did it, though, Rowena is upfront and honest: “Magic.”

Cut to Crowley’s throne room, where he is brooding on his throne when Gerald (already in a new meat suit) either comes to him or is brought to him to report. Crowley is not happy to hear about Gerald and Raul’s plan to open a demonic “bordello.”

Gerald tries to play it off as Raul’s idea and that Crowley’s reputation wasn’t really connected to it because they called it “Raul’s Girls.” Crowley is not impressed. Gerald then whines that he and Raul felt under pressure to perform after Crowley had put out a decree the month before saying CRD deals were down after Abaddon’s death, and creativity was required.

Crowley: So, you and your half-wit pal threw me into the sex trade? I’m evil. That’s just tacky.

Gerald then whines that they tried to get Crowley’s approval, but he “wasn’t taking meetings” at the time. This is an obvious reference to Crowley’s vacation with Demon!Dean and is soft ground. But Crowley does have to admit (albeit with an eye roll) that Gerald’s point about smoking into the nearest possible host (a pudgy black guy in a crossing guard uniform) is valid when Gerald says a witch being able to kill demons so easily is a dangerous precedent that needs to be nipped in the bud.

Cut to a nighttime scene in the Impala. Sam is infodumping online research to Dean, who is driving. He’s found an 18th century spell called “Defigere et Depurgere,” which he translates as “To Bind and To Purge” (eh … more or less). It hasn’t been used in three centuries and only then by its creator, a witch named … (dun, dun, dun) Rowena.

Cut to Rowena telling the girls about a group of witches called the Grand Coven. She says there are three kinds of witches: Borrowers, Students and Naturals. (FYI: This was borderline retcon at the time, as previously, witches always got their powers from demons.) Most common are the Borrowers, who use a demon to get power (Rowena glosses over the part where they sell their souls to do it). Students learn spells and take on a Natural mentor approved by the Coven. The “rarest” are the Naturals, who are born with a gift. Rowena happily admits to being one when the blonde suggests it. The brunette is still wary, but the blonde is happy to ask that they become her Students.

Rowena admits that she’s actually a fugitive from the Grand Coven, who threw her out long ago and forbade her from practicing magic or forming her own coven due to her methods being “too extreme.” Ya think? She calls them “utter fannies” (In British dialect, “fanny” means “vagina”). But when the brunette suggests this means Rowena can’t teach them, Rowena ostentatiously says, “Screw the Grand Coven” and magnanimously says she’ll teach them (even though it’s pretty obvious she’s intentionally recruiting them).

The blonde eagerly asks when they can start. At that moment, the waiter Rowena hexed stops in the middle of his rounds, as his face turns lobster red, and drops his plates before dropping dead. Rowena hastily has the girls decamp to another place to begin training.

Cut to a grotty warehouse where a demon is tied to a chair in a devil’s trap. He calls the unseen person splashing holy water in his face a “noob” who is “studying” him and in “training.” Despite the demon’s defiance, the newbie Hunter, who turns out to be Cole, is determined to find out everything he can about “your buddy, Dean Winchester.” Pretty sure Mr. Demon will give up that information for free, Cole.

Cut to a cloudy outdoor scene at a gas station where Castiel is gassing up. Hannah is having second thoughts about abandoning her vessel’s husband. She didn’t want to hurt him or erase his memories, but he wouldn’t let her go and now she feels bad. Castiel opens up a bit for the first time in years about his vessel, Jimmy Novak, and mentions Jimmy’s daughter, Claire (Yes, this is foreshadowing for later in the season). He calls what he did to Jimmy difficult but “necessary.” However, when he turns back from gassing up the car, Hannah is gone.

At the restaurant, a young waiter is telling Dean (in a suit) about the hexed waiter, Marty, who “stroked out.” He also identifies Marty as their “head waiter.” It’s not until the kid mentions that “two hookers” were in there previously that Dean realizes he has a lead. Dean also finds out that they were there with “a lady,” whom he correctly identifies as a witch to Sam outside.

Sam is getting off the phone from talking to a Hunter named Darrell. Darrell has been tracking a series of ritzy hotel murders, with bodies pinned to the ceiling (Sound familiar?). It turns out that they, too, were hexed, just like the waiter. Sam suggests he and Dean check out some five-star hotels.

Cut to Hannah standing on a wooden bridge over a stream in a rather deep channel (Looks like North Vancouver). Castiel finds her there and she admits that she is “done” with the mission. Her encounter with her vessel’s abandoned husband has reminded her that “we always said that humans were our original mission.” Well, that’s belated.

She admits to having experienced human feelings, including an attraction to Castiel, but now she realizes that they are from her vessel, “screaming” to get out and have her life back. She kisses Castiel on the cheek, says goodbye, and then angels out, leaving Castiel to deal with a very confused Caroline. Though she does recognize Castiel.

I have to say that even though I ended up not at all impressed by this storyline or character, the actress (Erica Carroll) fields the transition between Hannah and Caroline really well. It’s a damned shame they wrote her out right at the point when the character was getting a little interesting.

At a five-star hotel, there’s a knock on the door to the room where Rowena and the two prostitutes are staying. She suggests they get some practice in on whoever is knocking and admits it’s probably a hotel manager complaining that she hasn’t paid her bill.

She gave the girls some spells, but the blonde is confused by the “Spanish” (Latin). Unfortunately, the bell boy at the door isn’t exactly alive, anymore. Instead, when Rowena throws it open, it turns out he is a corpse with a cut throat that falls in through the doorway. His killers are two demons, possessing a tall, blonde woman and a nondescript greasy guy.

Cut to Rowena, gagged, being dragged down the hallway, the girls along with her. When the brunette declares that she’s not going back to the brothel, the blonde demon informs her that “Operation Skank has been canceled” and the only thing happening to the two younger women is that their dead bodies will shortly be ditched in the dumpster out back.

And that’s about as far as the demons get in their plan. The Brothers pop up and the blonde immediately gets skewered by Dean with the Spork. The other one tosses Dean down the hallway, but when Sam grapples with him (and gets knocked down), this gives Dean the opportunity to stab the second demon from behind.

As the three women back into the dead end of the hallway at the Brothers’ approach, Dean tries to reassure them that he and Sam are only there for Rowena (“the witch”) and mean them no harm. When the brunette asks who the Brothers are, Rowena says, “Hunters.” The blonde then panics and demands Rowena do something. So, she does. She hexes the blonde with an “attack dog” spell (“Impetus Bestiarum”) that turns her red-eyed and rabid (to Dean’s horror).

With an animalistic scream, the girl attacks the Brothers while Rowena and the brunette flee. Sam distracts her, and sends Dean after Rowena and the brunette. He manages to lock her in a linen closet and begs her to fight the spell, but she cries that she can’t, even as she batters at the door. Sam pulls his gun to protect himself, but then the battering stops. When he opens the door, she is standing there, wide-eyed, and falls down dead.

Out in the alleyway, the brunette demands to know what Rowena did and quickly realizes her friend will die, “just like the waiter.” After admitting the most humans can’t handle hexes like that and live, Rowena tries to deflect the brunette’s attention from this by calling her friend, Elle, “weak,” while declaring that the brunette is “strong.” The brunette agrees – then punches Rowena in the face and strides away. Just as Rowena (albeit looking impressed) points after her with a killing spell (“Occidere ingrat -” basically, “Kill the ingrate”), Dean sticks a gun in her hair from behind and shouts, “Not another word!”

Rowena turns around, looking genuinely scared (she should be), as Dean tells her, “Lady, your luck just ran out.”

But Rowena’s face changes as she looks over his shoulder. She’s not the only one with enemies and one just found Dean. It’s Cole and, as Dean puts it, his timing really sucks. He whistles at Dean and calls him “Dean-o” (which, to be perfectly honest, may be a minor thing in the grand scheme of the show, but was easily the most irritating thing about the character).

So, Dean drops the gun and turns to deal with Cole, while Rowena runs away, free (for now). Cole is now officially in deep, but apparently, he’s too cocky and stupid to understand that. Dean apologizes for … well … being a demon the last time they met and for killing Cole’s dad, but says he’s “not that person, anymore.” Cole insists he’s “not a person at all” and splashes him with holy water, but is confused when all it does is annoy Dean. Cole then persists in asking if Dean was a demon when he “murdered” his father. Dean says no.

Cole then makes the huge mistake of pistol-whipping Dean, which gives Dean the chance to grab the gun and knock it from Cole’s grasp. A fist fight ensues that Cole initially is all up for, but even before Dean tosses him against a dumpster, and then through a car windshield, it’s pretty clear Cole is still wayyyyy outmatched. That Dean gets a bit more bashed up this time doesn’t really change that and can be attributed as much to Dean’s reluctance to kill Cole as to his powers being altered/reduced.

Dean then gets to his gun and knocks Cole’s out of reach. Handing over the gun, Dean asks for five minutes “to clean up this mess, once and for all.” If Cole wants to shoot him after that, fine.

Dean tells Cole that he hunts monsters. Cole’s father was a monster, not one Dean had ever seen before or since, that had eaten the livers of three people and was determined to kill Cole and his mother that night. Cole insists that his father sounded human and was begging to Dean stop, but Dean calls this “a monster’s trick.”

Dean suddenly says, “Put it down!” but he means Sam, who has come out and leveled his gun at Cole, who now turns around to confront him. Well, Cole did torture Sam, so you couldn’t say Cole didn’t have that coming. But Dean is at least able to stop Sam from putting a bullet in Cole as Cole digests what he’s hearing and decides whether or not to believe Dean.

Cole has a hard time letting it go. After all, he’s spent over a decade hunting Dean. As Dean puts it, Cole has his “story.” Dean had his “story,” too, that led him to “beat up a good man just for the fun of it” (meaning Cole in “Reichenbach”).

Dean says that stories are great, in that they can keep you going, but they can also “lead you to dark places.” Dean says that “the ones who love me, they pulled me back from that edge. But Cole, once you touch that darkness, it never goes away. I’m past saving. I know how my story ends. It’s at the edge of a blade or the barrel of a gun. So, the question is, is that gonna be today?”

Sam looks shocked at Dean saying he’s “past saving.” But Sam has the presence of mind to mention that he heard Cole talking to his family while torturing him. He says Cole’s family needs him “to come back whole.” Sam doesn’t mention that he probably wouldn’t be able to stop Cole if Cole actually shot Dean (and we know Dean would only come back as a demon, anyway).

Cut to the front of a house as Caroline, Hannah’s former vessel, walks hesitantly up to the door. She looks scared as she knocks. Upon opening the door, her husband looks glad to see her and immediately accepts her heart-felt, tearful hug. In a car outside on the street, in the rain, Castiel watches their successful reunion as the door closes behind them. He then pulls out a laptop and types the name of his vessel, the now-deceased Jimmy Novak. He gets a bunch of missing notices and looks sad.

Later that night, the Brothers watch Cole leave in his jeep. Sam asks where Cole is going. Dean says, “Home.” And Rowena? “In the wind.” Sam then asks about Dean telling Cole that he was “past saving.”

Dean: I was just telling the guy what he needed to hear.

Dean interjects this lie casually and easily, with a shrug. Sam doesn’t look as though he believes it, but what is he going to do? This isn’t about a nice steak and a hot date, anymore. Dean’s walls are up and he’s not talking. When Dean turns to walk away, we get a look at pensive Sam before he follows his brother. Sam used up a whole lot of moral poker chips getting his brother “back” the way he wanted him and now he’s finally beginning to count the cost. He’s also beginning to realize that Dean is never going to be back under his thumb again.

Cut to one of Crowley’s dungeons. Crowley is with Gerald, still in his DIY meat suit. Gerald tells him that the Brothers took out the Alpha demon team, but the Beta team was able to play clean-up (I sure hope that doesn’t involve Shaylene or the brunette, but we never do find out). They got Rowena (as I said, she was only momentarily free). Gerald says they’ve tortured her and is creepily eager to kill her. But Gerald’s smugness quickly evaporates when Crowley points out that Gerald was only cleaning up a mess he’d made in the first place. Crowley tells him to get out of his sight.

Crowley [opening the dungeon door]: Is everyone working for me touched?

When he comes into the dungeon, though, he is struck dumb. Rowena is there, strung up in manacles and looking pretty much the worse for wear. Knowing he’s the King of Hell, she taunts him to “get on with it” and kill her.

Stunned, Crowley mutters, “Mother?!”

Credits

Ratings for this episode dropped a bit in demo to a 0.9/3 in the A18-49 demo and 2.30 million in audience.

Review: This is a problematical one. It’s better in retrospect than when I first saw it, but still, it’s got some issues, due to Robert Berens’ lack of experience and Bob Singer’s rather lackluster direction. It re-introduces a character we first saw, very briefly, at the end of Jensen-Ackles-directed “Soul Survivor.” Rowena Macleod shows up in the episode’s coda, no dialogue, sipping whiskey in front of a fire with a book and smiling – while two dead demons inside their hosts are pinned to her ceiling (They’re in red suits that appear to be hotel uniforms and we find out in this episode that they were hexed). Rowena, of course, will go on to become a very important character on the show and that starts this season. The badass intro she gets in “Soul Survivor” is worthy of that subsequent career. This follow-up episode … not so much.

The problem is that Rowena in this episode is a straight-up bitch and not in the fun way she becomes later on. A lot of the character’s longevity derived from actress Ruth Connell’s charm and (deserved) good reputation with the fandom thanks to cons and social media. But initially, the writers did not give her a whole lot to work with. Sure, it was already fairly obvious to the observant that she had a connection to a certain recurring character (Hello, she’s Scottish), but at the time, she was just a really annoying Witch character in a long line of really annoying Witch characters who somehow got to walk away (or not) with murder because they were still human.

This is too bad because “Girls, Girls, Girls” does have some potentially good meat on its bones regarding misogyny, both external and internalized, and why women would turn to the dark arts to better their lot when trying to survive in a world of scummy, predatory men, even if it doesn’t gel into a satisfying whole. Despite the title, and the admitted presence of an actually reasonable number of female characters, most of them get very little depth or exploration.

The young prostitutes in the story are so desperate for a female mentor that they don’t pay attention to the big red flags (and I’m not talking about her hair) in Rowena’s character until it’s too late for at least one of them. Meanwhile, there are hints that Rowena is her own kind of desperate in searching for a coven in such low places, and fallen on hard times.

Part of the problem is that the episode is trying to show Sam and Dean (especially Dean) helping these girls, so that Rowena is portrayed as someone who presents herself as an elder female mentor and benefactor, but is really just another predator, sucking the power and energy off the younger women. That blunts the message of female empowerment quite a bit.

One curious thing about the subplot of Crowley stalking Rowena (whom he eventually realizes is his long-lost mother) is that he doesn’t seem to be even remotely interested in Cole or why Cole is stalking Dean. This subplot, aside from introducing a new storyline for Crowley, seems intended to show him outwitting the Brothers, but that’s not really what happens here. And having Crowley simply ignore Cole seems a bit strange, especially since this episode shows Cole torturing one of Crowley’s demons.

The episode also launches the thorny relationship (which will become a friendship that sadly never got real closure at the end of the series thanks to the writers’ obsession with everyone else getting closure with Rowena) between Rowena and Dean. But the episode itself is kinda forgettable.

What is interesting, though, is that even this early on, if you know how the rest of her story goes, you can see how Rowena will eventually become a member of the Winchester family, of TFW 2.0, and herself a dark and dirty Hero, without ever actually ceasing to be a very dangerous and unpredictable character with a whole lot of her own not-so-suppressed rage at the world, particularly men. She is an outcast, a grifter and drifter, who grew up poor (We’ll find out more about that later).

I think a major reason why she worked and not, say, the arrogant Bella from Season 3 or the CW-ish Witch and Familiar couple in “Man’s Best Friend with Benefits” (aside from the really gross racist subtext in that episode, of course) is that Rowena is a bit flea-bitten and down-and-out, while simultaneously and subversively very powerful – I mean, she’s got a lot more than the Brothers on her trail, even this early on. Albeit initially someone who doesn’t seem to fit into the show’s dark and desperately poor, blue-collar worldview, she later comes off as someone who is exactly that kind of girl beneath the threadbare posh exterior. Her appearance on the scene sends up a massive supernatural flare and one wonders where she’s been hiding all this time.

The Brothers have a tendency to attract extremely powerful misfits to their group because they become a last point of refuge. This is how Rowena fits with them. It also happens that they have Scottish ancestry and she (obviously) is Scottish. While the show has sucked in the past in some of its research, I always thought it did the Scottish stuff, overall, pretty well. The crew had a long-time member who was herself Scottish (as is, of course, Ruth Connell) and someone actually cared enough to do some research into Scottish witches and witchcraft. So, kudos for that.

Some of the other female characters in this episode don’t do so well. The prostitutes, with one exception, don’t rise above the level of cliches. The brunette has some promise, but we never see her again after she rejects Rowena. I did, however, quite like Shaylene and totally got where she was coming from. Elysia Rotaru gets across really well Shaylene’s fear, rage, shame and violation (She also played “fancy lady” ghost Victoria, one of the few good things about Season 7’s godawful “Of Grave Importance”). It makes total sense she would snap and stab her kidnapper. I hope she managed to get away to a better life afterward.

Dean often gets criticized by certain segments of the fandom for being sexist and misogynistic because he is promiscuous. However, unlike, say, Charlie with the kidnapped fairy in Season 8’s “LARP and the Real Girl” or Sambot with pretty much every woman he came across in Season 6, Dean is very good with sussing out whether a partner really wants to be with him, and backing way off when she doesn’t. Even at his sleaziest as a demon, when he’s hitting on the stripper in “Reichenbach,” his actual goal is to provoke the bouncer into a fight.

His tryst with Shaylene slows way down when she brings up money, but it comes to a permanent screeching halt when he realizes demons are involved and she is working under duress. No Charlie making out with a person who can’t realistically give consent, not here. Even when the demon walks into the motel room, his first clue ought to have been that Shaylene and Dean are sitting on opposite sides of the bed, not touching and not even facing each other. Dean understands and respects sexual boundaries, which is a helluva lot more than many other characters on this show do.

And then there’s Hannah. [sigh] That entire storyline was boring as hell and it didn’t need to be. It’s a shame, because they finally did something fairly interesting with her and then they ditched this version (Subsequent versions, before they killed the angel part of the character off for drama points, were even duller). This seemed to be a pattern with the show, that the writers would finally spice up a dull character and finally give an able actor something to do, right before they wrote them out. It’s a common trope on TV and it’s frustrating, to put it kindly.

The actress playing Hannah had gotten very little to do besides being annoying fanatical and obsessive with Castiel up to this point. Carroll fielded the transition to the human vessel for Hannah, Caroline, well, but then it was like, “Oh, this could be int – oh, whoops, guess not.” I guess this was the only way for a character to get a happy ending on this show, with this crop of writers. We won’t see Caroline again.

“Girls, Girls, Girls” also brings back Cole, the character who was on a roaring rampage of revenge after Dean at the beginning of the season. This episode wraps up that rampage with something of a whimper. It’s as if the writers wanted as badly as Dean did to tie up this loose end and move on. Even though I normally like it when Dean talks a character down, I didn’t buy it this time. It was way too easy and anticlimactic. Cole was simply never a credible antagonist to Dean.

We see Cole Trenton one more time after this and then he, too, is gone. The reasons why remain cloudy, but they do seem to have been related to how the character went over with the audience and the actor, Travis Aaron Wade, went over with fans at conventions (and online, where he said some very strange things, and may have stalked and doxxed some fans) and possibly his fellow cast members.

Wade had an odd vibe at cons and some fans accused him of doing inappropriate stuff. It also didn’t help that he was 39, three years older than Ackles, when his character was supposed to be 24. Or that he later voted for Trump.

I won’t take you all down that rabbit hole of decidedly unreliable narrators and fifth-hand accounts (especially since which version some fans chose to believe and propagate seemed to depend on which ship they supported rather than which version actually made sense), but let’s just say it got pretty weird. One account now lost to time that I recall was from a girl who claimed that Wade had made inappropriate gestures at her during an after hours party, except that she didn’t really remember him doing it because she was drunk (and underage) and got the story from her friend who was there, the next morning. Much of the action and alleged first-hand accusation occurred on the now-defunct Television without Pity and IMdB boards, but there are enough remnants on Reddit, LiveJournal and Tumblr to give you a clue.

To be honest, I’m skeptical of the cancel culture involved with the Supernatural cons. GoHs are held to a very high standard, and really have to watch their step (There were also some recent allegations regarding producer Jim Michaels and some equally infamous allegations against Ty Olsson back in the day), while the fans engage in widespread, and largely unacknowledged, sexual harassment and other bad behavior (like the aforementioned underage drinking at the after hours parties, and groping GoHs during Q&As and photo ops). It sets up double standards that seem ripe for crossing boundaries between GoHs and fans that really shouldn’t be tested, let alone hurdled at high speed. With all the inappropriate behavior on both sides, it becomes hard to tell who’s the victim and who’s the aggressor.

There is, for example, the incident of the “Flying Fangirl” who attacked Jensen Ackles at the first Asylum (the yearly Supernatural con in Britain) con in 2007. There are different accounts. In one written account by Ackles himself, during an interview that I can’t now find (It might be in one of the Supernatural Magazine issues), he said that he was getting into an elevator with a friend when she launched herself at him through the closing doors. He got a forearm up out of sheer reflex as she tried to wrap her arms and legs around him, and accidentally got her in the throat.

His account apologetically continues that he didn’t mean to hurt her. Afterward, in a meeting alone with him and con security, she was tearful and apologetic, and he asked that she not get kicked out of the con. According to various other reports, however, she still was (and she should have been). I’ll admit I am again going on memory with this one, but as it’s by far the most logical-sounding (and least brutal about her) of the accounts I’ve read, and the only one that was first-hand, I’m gonna put it out there.

What is straight-up bizarre is that some writers, some academic writers, like Katherine Larsen and Lynn Zubernis (authors of Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls) in their book, Fandom At The Crossroads: Celebration, Shame and Fan/Producer Relationships, wrote sympathetically about the Flying Fangirl and claimed she was just misunderstood. It doesn’t help that they weren’t actually at the con and got everything third-to-fifth-hand like the rest of us. Larsen and Zubernis’ general thesis in both books is that female fans are shamed about their sexuality by the mostly-male makers of the fictional media (and gatekeepers within fandom itself) that these women and girls consume.

Which is all very well, but when the authors act as though the only “real” Supernatural fans (or, at least, the only fans worth acknowledging) are Wincest fans, that interpretation gets a bit iffy. Wincest fans developed the reputation they did among Saltgunners early on because they were known for being damned inappropriate regarding the cast, writers and showrunners, as well as aggressive toward other fans, both online and sometimes at cons. And when Larsen and Zubernis’ takeaway from the incident was a frisson of horror at realizing that, yes, there are boundaries you shouldn’t cross in meeting real people who make your favorite media, and that other (more sensible) fans will certainly let you know when you cross them, even when you are oblivious to healthy boundaries, that whole thesis becomes downright problematical. Owning your sexuality as a woman doesn’t equate with becoming a sexual predator. That’s a bad message.

While some fans may have expressed the general fandom takeaway a bit overenthusiastically, they were not wrong in calling that flying leap sexual assault. The Flying Fangirl was lucky not to get arrested and charged, and both she and Ackles were lucky neither got hurt. I get that she was overexcited about meeting her favorite actor and probably just didn’t think, but there’s no version of the event out there where what she did was okay. Girls, this ain’t Ancient Greece or Rome and y’all aren’t Bacchantes. Learn to behave yourselves around total strangers you’re sexually attracted to. It’s not that hard.

But in truth, a lot of the problems with the character of Cole boiled down to very fundamental issues with the writing and casting decisions that probably would have doomed the character to a quick exit even if Wade had not gone hog-wild on the con circuit, and gotten himself iced out of the fandom and the show. Cole claims that Dean killed his father when Cole was a kid in 2003.

Dean would have been 24 at the time, as this was two years before the show started. Cole was 13. When we meet Cole, he should be 24, yet he’s already done multiple years in the military, on some pretty crazy tours. He has a wife who looks in her late 20s and a son who looks to be at least six or eight. When did this guy get married? At 16?!

There was a sort of “Just go with it” attitude in the season premiere regarding these plot holes, but they were becoming glaring by Cole’s third outing in this episode. There was also the odd thing where they had Dean beat Cole again, but it was harder than it probably should have been. Sure, Dean’s powers were altered compared to when he was still fully demonic (no TK and a bit less superstrength, but completely immune to holy water), but even this early on, we were all suspecting he hadn’t been fully cured. After all, he still had the Mark.

The whole idea of there being someone who was hunting Dean as if he were a monster was not a bad one (even if it was basically a retread of Sam’s “Hunters hate me” storyline from the first five seasons), but Cole’s obsession with Dean really had nothing to do with Dean having the Mark of Cain. This storyline could have happened in any season. It seemed like waaaayyy too much of a coincidence that it occurred in the period when Dean actually was no longer strictly human. It felt random and that may have contributed to why it also felt forgettable.

The thing was that once Cole stopped hunting Dean, there wasn’t really much reason for him to be around, anymore. We can talk until the cows come home about how the actor poisoned the well for his return, but the writers didn’t make the character likable enough to justify his return in the first place.

He wasn’t a supernatural being. He cold-bloodedly tortured Sam (which mostly existed to make Demon!Dean look like a complete bastard while very conveniently hand-waving questionable things Sam was doing like brutally torturing a CRD inside her own, innocent meatsuit). He trash-talked Dean and he wasn’t particularly witty about it, the way Crowley or Lucifer was. There just wasn’t a hook (unless they made him a Hunter and that never happened) to keep him around. After this episode (and definitely after his follow-up episode later this season), his arc was done.

Granted, that didn’t stop them from bringing Jack back a gadzillion times, but at least Jack was a supernatural being with a deeper connection to the Brothers, however forced. Cole reminded me a bit of Dan on Lucifer – a character who did really questionable things while convincing himself he was the good guy in his story, not the villain.

Dean’s speech to Cole didn’t surprise me (and it brings up the issue that the dumbest possible thing Cole could have done was shoot Dean). Nor did I buy for a second Dean’s offhand lie to Sam that he didn’t mean it when he said he was doomed. Of course he meant it. At this point, I think he just couldn’t be bothered to lie convincingly.

But Sam’s reaction was frustrating. Sam. Honey. What about waterboarding and injecting your brother with holy water made you think that would leave him with better self esteem? Plus, Dean is not incorrect that his base condition (the Mark of Cain) remains and that unless it is removed (considered an impossibility at this point), he is doomed.

However, one thing Dean remains in denial about is the kind of madness that plagues him. The Mark of Cain, we know at this point, has rendered Dean effectively immortal. He may slide back into the madness of being a demon, but he can’t die. He can’t go down bloody. And that is the biggest tragedy of this storyline.

Supernatural — “Girls, Girls, Girls” — Image SN1007a_0178 — Pictured (L-R): Erica Carroll as Hannah and Misha Collins as Castiel — Credit: Katie Yu/The CW — © 2014 The CW Network, LLC. All Rights Reserved

Next week: Hibbing 911: Jody meets Donna for the first time at a law enforcement conference. Then bodies start dropping and you just know Jody will end up having to give Donna The Talk.

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 #9: Haunted Theaters of the Carolinas



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.

Lambeth, Cheralyn. Haunted Theaters of the Carolinas. Schiffer, 2009.

I interviewed the author for Innsmouth Free Press right after this book came out in 2009. You can still find the interview here. I am, however, a bad and lazy reviewer with a metric ton of books to review all over my house. So, I only got to reading and reviewing this one now. Ten years later. Sorry.

Anyhoo, I thought this book was a fun romp with some creepy photos and layout (that cover – [shudder]) and an interesting premise. Though there are other books on haunted theaters out there – such as the imaginatively named Haunted Theaters (2002) by Barbara Smith and Haunted Theaters: Playhouse Phantoms, Opera House Horrors, and Backstage Banshees (2009) by Tom Ogden – Lambeth’s book offers two unique features. One is that it’s the only book about haunted theaters in North and South Carolina. The other is that Lambeth has worked in the field for decades. This means she hears rumors and accounts that someone outside the theater wouldn’t ever know about.

To be honest, I found the introduction about theater history, terms and customs a bit slow. That said, it was also necessary to get one’s bearings and it did introduce me to the rather creepy tradition of the ghost light (AKA the Equity Light). Unlike the ghost lights of the book I reviewed the other day, this is a single light (often a bare bulb) intentionally left onstage (usually downstage right) whenever the theater is closed. The safety angle is that it provides illumination for anyone working in the theater after hours to see their way around. Hence the alternate name.

But there is also a folkloric element. Some theater people believe that every theater is haunted by at least one ghost. Why the light would be left on for them is less clear. Obviously, with the safety element, you’re actively trying to avoid creating one more ghost for the stage. But whether the light is left there to placate them, comfort them, or keep them out depends on your source.

Of the 21 theaters discussed in the book (starting, fittingly, with the Waterside Theater for The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama on Roanoke Island in Manteo, NC), 16 are in North Carolina and 5 in South Carolina. One review on Amazon complains that there are a lot more theaters from North Carolina in the book than in South Carolina. While this is true, it’s usually the other way round in collections about both states (Charleston and Columbia tend to hog the spotlight), and I’m looking for NC folklore, anyway. So, it depends on your preferences.

It also makes sense if you consider that Lambeth is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill and was living in Charlotte when she wrote the book. Nor is she a live theater snob. Some of the theaters covered either started life as movie theaters or were later converted into them. Live theater hit hard times a while back, as vaudeville faded.

Stories in the book range from the unsettling to the hair-raising. The Dock Street Theatre in Charleston, SC, for example is haunted by the ghost of an escort named Nettie Dickerson. It seems Nettie was unhappy about being considered little better than a high-class prostitute and was also a bit reckless. She liked to lean against an external iron balcony of the hotel during thunderstorms. One night, a bolt of lightning struck the balcony, “killing her instantly.” She’s been there ever since.

Many of these theaters are in older buildings that were allowed to fall almost to ruin at some point. They have a lot of history and, doubtless, lingering structural issues. However, Imaginon: The Joe and Joan Martin Center for children’s theater in Charlotte was built in 2005 out of recycled materials – and there are many reports of it’s being haunted by at least one child or teenage ghost. So, age and relative decrepitude don’t always have anything to do with it.

Employees and visitors in these theaters report a variety of phenomena such as cold drafts, disembodied voices, paintings that fly across the room, lights, rattling keys, and pianos playing by themselves. One alderman who died in the 1918 Influenza Epidemic plays the pipe organ in the Old Court House Theatre in Concord, NC.

Patrons can also end up checking in and staying forever, such as an African-American woman who was raped and murdered in the upper balcony of the Powell Theater/Chester Little Theater in Chester, SC sometime during the 1950s (according to local legend). She reportedly causes nausea, cold spots and the sense of being choked in that part of the theater.

The author herself heard some strange banging noises when taking photos in the Dana Auditorium at Guilford College in Greensboro. She also includes a ghost orb photo from a backstage stairwell in The Paul Green Theater/Center for Dramatic Art at UNC-Chapel Hill, and another one in the house right section.

All in all, this is a fun collection for this time of year. But I wouldn’t suggest reading it after midnight or in the dark. That cover alone is super-creepy and the contents deliver on it!

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Revenge of Halloween in North Carolina, Day #5: North Carolina Ghosts & Legends

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.

Roberts, Nancy. North Carolina Ghosts & Legends. University of South Carolina Press, 1959, 1967, 1992 (second edition).

We’re back with another Nancy Roberts book (according to her introduction, she had done ten by 1992). This one, however, is a special one for her. It’s her first book (originally titled An Illustrated Guide to Ghosts & Mysterious Occurrences in the Old North State) from 1959, but with a new introduction and six new stories. Otherwise, everything appears to be the same as the original.

Case in point: Remember that book I reviewed last year that investigated the Haunted Hitchhiker legend of Lydia? That story is here in its most famous early form as “The Lovely Apparition.” In retrospect, it’s not terribly hard to dope out that “Burke Hardison” is a fake name for the supposed informant (the young man who drove her home).

Lydia is not the only familiar ghost between these covers. The Maco Light, the Devil’s Tramping Ground, the Music of Roan Mountain, the Hoofprints of Bath, the Dromgoole legend, and the Little Red Man of Salem, among others, are all here and likely in the form that many North Carolinians read for the first time. There is also the story of the old slave who killed his master and buried him under a bridge, that I mentioned the other day.

In Roberts’ defense, her book was one of the earliest popular ghost story collections for North Carolina, at least for the 20th century. Her ex-husband’s atmospheric photos no doubt helped seal the deal for a lot of readers looking for an October chill. I would be very surprised if she had not pillaged the (then very recent, and not quite complete) Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore for fresh material.

I rode pretty hard on Roberts last year, especially her newer collection, but there’s little doubt about the influence she had on the spread of popular North Carolina folklore in the past half-century. I also have to say that her storytelling was better early on, albeit it was always high on atmosphere and low on concrete facts.

One thing that bothers me a tad about this revised edition is that it’s not entirely clear which stories are new and which aren’t. It appears that all of the coastal tales are new (I guess this includes the Blackbeard one). Maybe I’ll get a hold of the first edition and see how it differs from this one.

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St Andrews Day: The Witches of Fife


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MacDonald, Stuart. The Witches of Fife: Witch-Hunting in a Scottish Shire, 1560-1710. John Donald, 2002; 2014.


This was one of those books I was excited to read before I actually read it. I had (as most of you probably know by now) lived in St Andrews for six years and St Andrews was the primary town in Fife, even during the town’s low point in the 16th and 17th centuries. Today is St Andrew’s Day, the day for the saint who gave his name to the town for reasons rather legendary and complicated (they involve a shipwreck with the saint’s bones and a saint who may never have existed named “Regulus”).

St Andrews was a major hotbed for witchcrazes in the 16th and 17th centuries. According to MacDonald, over a thousand people (most of them women and most of them by burning) were executed for witchcraft in Fife over the course of about a century and a half, and a total of over three thousand were accused, some of them by “dying witches” who were either delusional or vengeful. Those are the low-ball numbers. We don’t know the real count.

Religious authorities were heavily involved, though local nobility participated. The rocky relationship involving the slow and not-so-willing union with England under one king (still nominally Scottish) turned the screws. But MacDonald tends to agree with other historians of the period that the witchcrazes in Scotland were mostly about “hunting women.” Can’t argue with that.

When I was in the Mediaeval History program at St Andrews, the Scottish History department was totally separate from us. Despite being right across the hall and up the stairs, they did an excellent job of utterly ignoring us. Something-something about us not being Scottish and being a bunch of total nutters. The upshot is that while I picked up a lot of local popular history and had chats with some notables like Peter Maxwell-Stuart, I got most of my impressions about the history of the Fife witchcrazes from looking around town.

What I found was bloody and ugly and scary. The Covenanters under people like John Knox who launched the religious sect of Presbyterianism had a passionate and stirring dream of a new society completely reoriented to God. Too bad that dream was twisted and fundamentalist and truly misogynistic to the core. MacDonald actually compares them at one point to the Taliban and that is not an exaggeration.

The Covenanters covered the Reformation period in Scotland in blood and no more so than in Fife (probably because St Andrews had been the ecclesiastical capital under the previous religious regime). The presbyteries of Scotland enthusiastically used accusations of witchcraft and the process of witchfinding to suppress all religious dissent. There is literally one woman in the book who was accused because she cursed out the minister and his wife. In another case, a man was convicted in the presbytery court of violating the Sabbath because he was riding on a Sunday to seek a pardon for his wife who was a convicted witch.

And a lot of people who weren’t quite accused (or whose accusations didn’t rise to conviction and execution) were denied the sacrament of Communion for years at a time by petty and spiteful religious authorities. Other people were “watched and warded” (a sort of torture that wasn’t actually considered torture in which people were kept awake and isolated from their families for days or weeks at a time) until they confessed, then executed within days of their trial with no appeal. The sheer viciousness, pettiness and self-righteousness of the Covenanters would be breathtaking if it weren’t repeated in so many situations and cultures over the course of history. Nothing scarier than a sadist who thinks God is on their side.

The scars of both the Reformation (when mobs stripped churches of their vestments and icons and even damaged the buildings) and the witchcrazes are visible in St Andrews to this day. There is what used to be a walled off area that had been a tidal pool for recreational swimmers. It’s near the St Andrews Aquarium, next to West Sands. The legend was that back in the 16th and 17th centuries, it was called “Witch Lake.”

Women were taken down there and “dunked” (in this case, tossed into the water with a thumb tied to the opposite toe). If the woman drowned and sank, it was assumed she was innocent (oh, well!), since witches floated and could not be drowned. If the woman managed to survive and float, she was dragged out and up to a nearby hill known as Witch Hill (also, Martyrs’ Hill, as some Protestant martyrs had previously been burned at the stake there) to be burned alive. Charming.

Unfortunately, one of the limitations of MacDonald’s book, which is rather short, is that it restricts itself to taking cases in Fife from a massive, country-wide compilation of cases created in the late 1970 called A Sourcebook of Scottish Witchcraft (1977). MacDonald himself admits that it doesn’t always deal with the most local cases, let alone the extra-legal executions, so we only get to hear about one such lynching from near the very end of the period, in 1710. No confirmation one way or the other about Witch Lake/Hill. So, that was disappointing.

Another disappointment was that MacDonald seemed to do a lot more scene-setting than he did actual analysis. Sure, I get that it’s an academic book (that’s why I bought it), that it’s got a specific focus and that we’re missing a lot of information about the cases (including, for many of the accused, whether or not they were ever executed). Even so, I felt he got bogged down in the geographical studies early on and rushed the general analysis of motivations and patterns at the end. I felt it would have worked better if he’d flipped that around and and that he chickened out a bit on extending his analysis as far as the information could have borne.

I also felt he left out a lot of potentially important context. If you didn’t know about Scottish history, and especially if you’d never been to Fife, you might well get very lost with this book. Even knowing about the period and having lived there for six years, I felt there were points where MacDonald could have fit his localized analysis into a more in-depth framework. I kept wondering what effect James I/VI’s obsession with witches had on the Fife witchcrazes, but found MacDonald’s suppositions too vague and unsatisfying. He seemed uninterested in looking too much at the few cases with lots of detail, with the excuse that we don’t have enough information on enough cases in general to tell if these more-famous cases were typical or not. This struck me as a cop-out. Nobody’s asking to invent information, but get wacky and take a risk or two, son. Come on.

I also found his conclusion that the witchcrazes fell apart in Fife because the coalition of religious and secular authorities responsible for them collapsed was too Captain Obvious. Well, duh, but surely, the repression of the Covenanters in the 1680s following the Restoration of Charles II had something to do with the timing of that collapse. Their successors called it the “Killing Time” because, like all fanatics, they would have to cast themselves as the victims, wouldn’t they, not all those poor women they burned? But their repression was a natural result of a bigger bully coming in and smashing the previous bully. Both the Covenanters and the lairds who supported them were crushed or at least diminished by the increase of English power over the country, so there went the coalition that created recurring witchcrazes.

I’m no fan of the English takeover of Scotland following the reign of James I/VI, but in this case, it appears the English invaders may have done the poor women of Scotland a favor.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #26: Ghost Stories and Legends of Murphy, NC (2015)


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Ault, Marie. Ghost Stories and Legends of Murphy, NC. 2015.


Murphy is the county seat in Cherokee County, in the Mountain region of the far-western part of North Carolina. The county is so-named because it was heavily populated by the Cherokee, most (but not all) of whom were forced to leave on the Trail of Tears. It has a lot of Appalachian history to it.

I wasn’t too sure what to make of this one, at first, whether it was genuinely a collection of ghost stories, a novel, a family memoir, or what. It turned out to be a collection in two main sections with a distinct literary conceit, and a non-fiction epilogue.

In part one, several children taking refuge upstairs in a house during a storm in the 1920s (for fear of the many floods that used to plague the area before several dams were built) decide to tell each other ghost stories to pass the time. One of the saddest tales involves a haunting sparked by a mother and her son who were swept away by a waterspout in 1906.

Many decades later, in part two, a bunch of teenagers around a campfire decide to trade some updated versions of these stories, as well as some new ones. The creepiest one, by far, in the second section, Prohibition era “Moonshiners and Police Shootout,” the author later exposes as mostly an urban legend. The shootout occurred, but though the legend has the moonshiners dying in a swamp and haunting/guarding it in a most deadly manner, it turns out they were later captured and put on trial for killing two policemen. So, no lethal ghosts as the two who appear in the story.

I’m not a huge fan of heavily fictionalized folklore (as is probably clear at this point), but something about using a campfire tale frame works for this book. Ghost stories, after all, are told and retold over the years, changing as they go. It helps immensely that while the characters Ault has tell the tales are fictional (she makes this clear at the beginning), the details they mention come from the research the author includes and discusses at length at the end. If you are looking for a folkloric and historical background to Murphy and Cherokee County, so the stories make more sense, you could do worse than to read the last part first.

Some of the stories are well-known, particularly the Cherokee legends of the Moon-Eyed People, the Great Leech, and Spearfinger. But even so, Ault manages to dig up some new details. There’s a photo of a sculpture in a nearby museum allegedly by/of the Moon-Eyed People and I didn’t realize Spearfinger had a male counterpart known as Stone Man (Nun’yunu’wi). Nor had I heard of the Legend of Hanging Dog, where a hungry young Cherokee hunter chooses to give up a chance to track down a wounded deer to save his trapped dog. He is then rewarded for his kindness when the grateful dog promptly finds the deer for him.

But there is more to this collection than Cherokee legends. For one thing, Ault digs fairly deeply into the checkered Civil War history of the area (the residents were about evenly divided between Union and Confederate, and bushwacker gangs terrorized the area during and immediately after the war). She also relates its bloody history of lynchings and even which trees are famous for their occurrence. Unsurprisingly, these parts of Murphy and its environs are reputed to be extremely haunted, usually by hanging specters.

Probably the ugliest story (though “Carson Lane Ghost” gives it a run for its money) is about a local slaver, Joshua Harshaw. Slavery was apparently unusual in Murphy, so Harshaw’s reputation was perhaps not the best with his neighbors. A legend that grew up after his death didn’t do it any favors. Like a real-life Ramsay Bolton, he reputedly would set his dogs to hunt down and eat alive slaves who were too old and/or weak to work. This may have been confirmed as a real story by recent archeological digs in a local cemetery that discovered bones gnawed by dogs.

It’s kind of a shame the author self-published, not because self-publishing is bad (I do it where it works for the material), but because the book looks self-published. The cover’s a bit too 1970s conspiracy theorist paperback basic, some of the typesetting is a little wonky (especially where the photos come in, though I liked their inclusion), and it could have used a good copy edit. I can’t help imagining this getting the Cursed in the Carolinas or the Haunted Hills treatment.

Nonetheless, there’s a lot of good stuff in here, with sources, and Ault is an engaging writer (now I’m all curious about the one she did about Helen, Georgia). If you’re looking for a good overview of the history and folklore of the area, or just a good and creepy campfire tale, pick up this book.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #6: Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and the Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era (2014)


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Miles, Tiya. Tales from the Haunted South: Dark Tourism and the Memories of Slavery from the Civil War Era. The University of North Carolina Press, 2015.


I was looking forward to this academic analysis of how ghost tours create and distort African American Antebellum history as soon as I found it on Amazon. For the most part, it delivered. Tiya Miles (1970- ) is an African American historian and professor at the University of Michigan. In Tales from the Haunted South, she explores the industry of “dark tourism” (tourism centered on death, disaster and other such tragedies) as it relates to ghost tours in the South. As you may have already noticed, Southern ghost tours (and ghost collections) usually like to go Gothic and indulge in Lost Cause romanticism, especially when it comes to the Civil War. Dr. Miles’ acerbic academic study is a bracing antidote to all that.

Dr. Miles comes into this field, not only as an African American historian focusing on the stories of the slaves who have become mere props in the tales of Romantic and Stupid Dead White People of Times Gone By, but as a “Yankee” outsider who isn’t very sympathetic toward the gauzy view Southern historians and storytellers may still hold toward the Civil War and Antebellum South. She also uses a narrative frame for the more academic discussion, in which she develops and gradually explores an equal fascination and repulsion regarding the supernatural and the ghost tour industry.

Dr. Miles comes from a Baptist tradition that appears to regard all truck with the supernatural world as not only unsavory, but spiritually dangerous. This adds a heightened and personalizing sense of guilt as an undercurrent to her journey from Charleston, SC to Savannah, GA to New Orleans, LA to the infamous Myrtles Plantation upstream from NO. Sadly, she never steps foot in North Carolina. In her defense, it’s also outside her intended geographic scope. It’s a short book that requires a sharp focus. As we get to know the subject matter, we also get to know her as a person exploring a shadowy corner of her cultural heritage.

Sometimes, this personal subtext works very well. Sometimes, not so much.

This is an essential book in any bibliography of Southern folklore. Dr. Miles does an excellent job of showing how white people in the Southern ghost tourism industry are stuck in a Gone with the Wind narrative of mossy Greek Revival plantations, in which they use the real-life sufferings of African slaves as a spice and hors d’oeuvre. Shadowy slave ghosts are trotted out as an exotic feature on these tours for a largely white audience. This distorts popular teaching of African American history and re-victimizes historical slave victims, on whose bones America was built, all over again.

She also tells a rousing good ghost tale (has even authored a novel or two) and is quite able to insert some creep into all the standard academese. There’s the Savannah ghost tour of the Old Sorrel-Weed House she and her husband attend. Later, they do some research and find that the compelling tales of slave suffering they encountered on the tour have no known basis in fact. The stories and characters are fiction. Obviously, this disappoints them after the properly chilling tour.

But back home in Michigan, Dr. Miles finds that one of her photos (of an alleged slave cemetery buried under Calhoun Square) unexpectedly shows an orb. Orbs are soap-bubble-like distortions that appear on digital photos. They are usually tricks of light reflection or refraction, dust motes, water droplets, or insects, but sometimes, they have no discernible cause. As she and her husband, rather creeped out, are trying to explain this digital artefact away, Dr. Miles’ young son comes in and sees the photo. He then starts talking emphatically about a “thing” in the photo that is not the orb and that neither of his parents can see.

Doo-doo-doo-doo.

However, Dr. Miles has a tendency to acknowledge the corrupting influence of slavery as an institution (something even its proponents knew by the 1850s), while ignoring the fact that its corruption was so terrible in its effects because it was universal. For example, she talks about Native Americans in rather distant terms, as victims of European expansion and aggression (and even mentions the Vann Plantation, about which she has written elsewhere), without ever really digging into the aspect that Cherokee plantation slave owners like the Vanns and Stand Watie fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. Their descendants were anything but sanguine about sharing tribal identity with the descendants of their freedmen in the late 20th century. Like white plantation wives, Native Americans were both victims and abusers in the Antebellum South.

There are some other odd blind spots. After clearly establishing that the teenage slave “mistresses” Molly (Sorrel-Weed House) and Chloe (Myrtles Plantation) probably never existed (though women like them certainly did), Dr. Miles spends a lot of time on their apocryphal suffering while ignoring real-life women like Marie Laveau in New Orleans who held leadership roles in African religion and the local African American community. These women negotiated a very delicate balance with the dominant white culture to avoid extermination as an early American type of heretic. I was disappointed that Dr. Miles discusses Laveau mainly in passing when she spends a great deal more time (and, frankly, more sympathy than I ever would) on the monstrous New Orleans society dame Madame Delphine LaLaurie, her Creole heritage, her abusive final husband, and her Frankenstein complex. In the process of trying to unearth real African American history, Dr. Miles sometimes contributes to burying it further.

Her point – that LaLaurie’s brutality likely wasn’t really all that remarkable in the Antebellum South among the angry white plantation wives who had to negotiate their own precarious and unfree status not so far above enslaved black women their husbands owned and sexually exploited – is well taken. However, she doesn’t appear to have made a connection that LaLaurie’s myth does not come from whole cloth. It is very close to the story of Elizabeth Bathory, a liminal European female serial killer of high status, and contains elements (the abusive younger husband) from Chaucer’s notorious Wife of Bath. These possible literary allusions suggested that Madame LaLaurie’s story has been greatly heightened, beginning immediately after her flight from New Orleans.

Dr. Miles also implies that quadroon balls (in which biracial women sought white male protectors) were likely an invention of Spanish rule, but appears unaware of a similar tradition of “temporary” wives involving Christian men and Muslim women in late medieval Castile.

It’s interesting that Molly and Chloe are two apparently fictional characters introduced into real life tragic mysteries surrounding the sudden deaths of two white wives of plantation masters and used to excuse the possibly culpable actions of those real-life men. It’s also interesting that Chloe was apparently invented by a white woman in the late 20th century who was paranoid that her husband was cheating on her. I would have liked to have heard more about some of the real-life Mollies and Chloes, but most of that part of the book is about Madame LaLaurie and her abusive white counterparts, instead. LaLaurie’s victims never get a proper voice.

Also a problem is that there are times when Dr. Miles makes some rather visible goofs and omissions. For example, she mentions Supernatural and Ghost Hunters early on as reality ghost shows when Supernatural is most decidedly horror fiction. She does discuss Toni Morrison’s Beloved and mentions Tananarive Due in her end notes. But she never mentions that important and well-known African diaspora writers like Octavia Butler (Kindred) and Nalo Hopkinson (The Salt Roads), and movements like Afrofuturism, Steamfunk, and Sword and Soul, already deal with the issues of slavery and ghost tales the way she says African Americans should. It doesn’t feel so much that she ignores them as that she simply isn’t aware of all the people of color writing horror out there because (as she admits at the beginning), she herself has a horror of horror.

Toward the end, in her rather incoherent final chapter, she claims that she encountered no African American tour guides on any of her tours. Just the chapter before, she spends considerable time describing a young, openly gay African American tour guide at Myrtles Plantation.

She begins the book with a white tour guide on a standard historic house tour speaking rather sarcastically about the popularity of ghost tours. This makes her rather uneasy (since the potted history of the historic Southern house tour often has precious little African American content). Yet, she ends the book settling comfortably back into her previous contempt for dark tourism, with an African American historical tour guide who so assiduously avoids commercializing influences like ghost tours that he doesn’t even explain the history behind the use of haint blue in Savannah. This color was used on houses (particularly porch ceilings) by the African American Gullah people, probably to confuse spirits (who could not cross water). It likely became used in Antebellum Southern plantation houses because the people building them were African American slaves and freedmen. Far from a silly stereotype about the South invented by white ghost tour operators, haint blue illuminates a pretty major part of African American contribution to Southern architecture that the author appears to have missed.


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Review: Supernatural: “Wayward Sisters” (13.10)


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My collected recaps and reviews of season one, which first appeared on Innsmouth Free Press, are now up (with a few extras) on Kindle and are currently on sale through this Friday (May 18). 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. Just FYI.


[lots o’ spoilers ahead]


I’ve been dawdling over this review for months, largely because, on top of working full-time as an English tutor and museum science educator, I just finished a semester full of an internship for finishing up my Historic Preservation Technology degree and College Algebra (for my sins). Well, I passed those classes and graduated on Friday – and the CW has passed on picking up Wayward Sisters after months of strongly implying the series was practically a go for launch. And the season 13 finale is on Thursday.

So, now seems like a good time to revisit this episode.

I usually try to start with something positive in reviews and get to the critical stuff later on. There are some episodes where it’s more difficult to find the positive than others (translation: almost all of the Nepotism Duo entries). However, with this one, I’m going to spin the format around and go with the critical stuff first, then the viability of the characters, then the viability of the spin-off this backdoor pilot was intended to introduce. I think this spin-off’s actually pretty doable, with some tweaks, but it’s going to take a bit to explain that, and why the potential spin-off is fairly unique. I’ve seen some concerns by posters (legit concerns), though, and I want to discuss them first. Not everyone would want to sit through the viability discussion on the spin-off to get to the review of the episode itself.

Also, I’ve been trying to go in order with the episode reviews, but since there’s a whole lot of talk about the spin-off right now, I’m going to talk about this one and then go back to catching up with the other episodes I haven’t reviewed yet, this season. Also, it means I can put off reviewing yet another dull and cluttered episode by the Nepotism Duo (“War of the Worlds” (13.07)) a little while longer.

So, here’s the Bad, the Mixed and the Good.

waywardsistersnew

The Bad

Let’s talk about why some posters weren’t overly thrilled with the way the episode was set up. They were on to something. The basic premise is a hoary Western cliché that was old when Gunsmoke was on. It’s called “The men are incapacitated/out of town, and the wimminfolk have to step in and save the day.”

A signal example of why this isn’t exactly the most feminist trope ever popped up in 1978 in the original Battlestar Galactica‘s early episode, “Lost Planet of the Gods, Part I.” In it, most of the fleet’s (male) Viper pilots fall ill with a mystery virus, forcing a reluctant (and sexist) Apollo to rely on a bunch of new recruits. Most of them are young women and one of them is his new bride, Serena.

Lots of strident faux-feminist speechifying from the female characters and “down to earth,” condescending sarcasm from the male characters ensue. Naturally, as soon as the men are back on their feet, the women revert to being helpers and girlfriends, and fade into the background once more. In Serena’s case, she straight-up gets killed off in a Doomed Girlfriend in a Coma plot.

That’s the problem with the trope. It’s based on the idea that women are inherently weaker (and dumber) than men, and will only be called upon to engage in such heroic measures in an emergency when the men can’t protect them. As soon as the emergency is over, traditional gender roles snap right back into place and the women return to their kitchens. I’ll bet women who worked in the factories and trades during WWII, and lost their jobs to returning (male) GIs, cringed every time they saw this trope.

Now, obviously, the Wayward Sisters don’t quite revert to their previous roles at the end of the episode. In fact, part of what makes using this trope so awkward in this case is that it’s simply unnecessary for bringing these particular women into action. Jody, Donna, Alex and Claire are already actively Hunting. They’ve even specialized, Donna with Vampires and Claire (apparently) with Werewolves, aside from a smattering of other monsters (ghosts, not so much). Meanwhile, Alex has acquired a certain expertise in autopsying the supernatural.

This is all something of which the Brothers are well aware, having worked with Jody and Alex as recently as episode three of the season because they trust these women and their skills. Only the two new characters, Patience and Kaia (who have superpowers, but are otherwise total newbies to the Life) struggle to fit in. When Patience goes into battle with the other women, a gun is shoved into her hands and she gets offhand noises of approval when she finally manages to kill a monster.

So, why the condescending nonsense about the Little Women riding to the rescue and the dumbing down of the Brothers to accommodate the introduction of the women’s new team? Lousy, tone-deaf writing, that’s why.

Even the task the women have set themselves basically involves their staying at home in one place, waiting for the monsters to come to them, as opposed to the Brothers’ traveling around the country, putting out supernatural brushfires. Not so feminist and progressive, Show. Just sayin’.

This pops up repeatedly in the wheel-spinning the show has Sam and Dean do in the Bad Place. I saw a lot of spec that the mothershow would get canceled midway through season 14 to make way for the spin-off (pretty darned unlikely now). I think that would have been a very, very bad idea if the network wanted the mothershow’s core audience to accept the spin-off (and, at least a few months ago, it seemed apparent that they did).

Ever since the Dawn Ostroff era, saltgunners have been extremely sensitive to any hint that the CW is trying to kill off Supernatural (not least because Ostroff repeatedly did try to do that). Replacing it directly with a spin-off involving a different cast and premise would bring down that paranoia and wrath on the new show. It would kill the spin-off right at the start.

If they had taken this to series, unless Padalecki and Ackles had wanted out right away, I didn’t see the mothershow checking out before the end of season 15, in order to give the new show a good boost and remove any sense that the mothershow was being summarily replaced. Granted, that’s all moot now, unless the CW actually listens to the fan backlash over its failure to pick up the series. But this is a network where its ostensibly female-lead series are even more misogynistic than its male-lead series, while touting the mere fact it has any female-lead series in the first place as something great and progressive, so you probably shouldn’t hold your breath.

Do the showrunners and network understand this dynamic, especially after the ignominious crash-and-burn of previous would-be backdoor pilot, “Bloodlines” (which fans roundly hated for being terrible storytelling and barely even fitting into the SPNverse)? Well … some of the writing and direction this episode could have been a lot more reassuring on that level (and the network’s decision to pick up Yet Another Spin-off of The Vampire Diaries that is even less female-lead than the previous two shows kinda says it all for them).

If the Bad Place really was as deadly as Kaia kept saying it was (she claimed the Brothers wouldn’t last more than a few hours and they made it at least two days), there were better ways to show that than to write Sam and Dean as plot-stupid and suddenly unable to fight their way out of a wet paper bag with a hole in it and a pink neon sign in Kidprint font saying EXIT HERE. There simply was no way that EVOL!Kaia could have taken them both down, even though the plot was writing them as too stupid to pull out their angel swords (which EVOL!Kaia apparently never thought to take from them) until they reached the rift, let alone their guns. Guns trump a cute stick with a blade on it 99% of the time.

Sure, Meg managed it in season one. But she’s a demon and she enlisted help. Plus, that was season one.

Even the figure taking them by surprise was a dumb idea. That whole sequence failed to do what it was supposed to do – make EVOL!Kaia look badass – and just served to irritate the mothershow’s usual audience. I get that the Brothers couldn’t be the focus of the story in the sense of screentime, but their sojourn in the Bad Place could have been written a lot better. A few cute bits about Dean automatically going survivalist and Sam (unrealistically) being squeamish about eating a lizard didn’t cut it.

I mean, come on, writers. The Brothers spent most of season one looking for their father, but that was because he didn’t want to be found, not because he was too dumb to get out of his own mess.

Also not cutting it were a few random and vague references to the importance of the Brothers to the new team. Padalecki and Ackles could easily have had more time off, and the focus could still be on the women, without making the connection between them all so damned generic. This was a golden opportunity to show how much influence the Brothers have had on the next generation of Hunters, and deflect fan anger away from the new interlopers, by showing that the Sisters had an emotional connection with Sam and Dean.

Instead, the writers blew it with a few platitudes that made Claire’s motivation, especially, seem as shallow as a kiddie pool. They wouldn’t have even needed to invent a Woobie character for her to lose if they’d done a little more digging into why she would want to rush off to save Sam and Dean.

I wasn’t wowed, either, by the equally-lazy cliché of Jody and Donna (the adults) going off to investigate the boat and then having to be rescued by the teen girl pack. Well … more like Claire with a flamethrower while the others stood around looking awkward. The image definitely cut down on the danger vibe at the end of the scene.

Admittedly, part of that was another fail of the Bad Place set-up. Those creepy monsters that came through were not even remotely scary. They looked and were filmed like exactly what they were – athletic stunt guys doing parkour in creepy monster suits. The only time one looked cool and like an actual MOTW was when Alex was cutting up a dead one and removing its Mad-Max-style facemask.

Another problem with this was all the mucking about with Kaia and her character development (or sheer lack thereof). I’ll talk a bit in the section on characters about why making her and Claire a romantic couple was actually the most successful (or, at least, the least unsuccessful) aspect of their dynamic. For now, let’s focus on why that twist at the end was oh-so-not-good.

There was a common tactic in action and syndicated fantasy shows of the 80s and 90s to introduce a likeable character who appeared to be part of the main cast and then kill that character off right away, either in the pilot or the next episode or two. Basically, he or she was a disguised Red Shirt. The intent was to give the illusion that anyone could be killed off, even though everyone else usually proceeded to have adamantium plot armor until at least the end of the season.

With Kaia, they seem to have added on the cliché of replacing a likeable auxiliary character (especially one played by a PoC) with an EVOL version. Remember Sydney’s roommate in Alias? Like that. Sometimes, this works (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had a doozy of a reveal involving Doctor Bashir, and I don’t mean the part about his being Khan-adjacent), but more often, it doesn’t, especially if the switch is permanent.

Part of the problem is that we just barely met Kaia and already, they’re rebooting her. Even if this person wearing Kaia’s face is really her with a personality change, as opposed to an EVOL alt-version of her or a monster taking on her appearance, she’s been rebooted. And it’s not as though we were especially attached to the person they just killed off, so there’s even less emotional investment in the reboot.

You have to care about an original in order to care about a reboot. This isn’t a situation like Fred and Illyria in Angel. We’ve barely met Kaia, so there’s little reason to care about her fate.

It just feels like a cheap way to introduce a really powerful character (at least, in terms of superpowers) very briefly to scatter characters into new configurations and then kill her off because she’s too superpowerful for weekly MOTW use. Plus, Dean would totally have wanted to go after his mom right now at the end of 13.10 if the Kaia of 13.09 were still alive.

So, the whole episode was locking down the new team and the premise, and not only was one character left swinging in the wind, but the writers intentionally did that. Rest assured that as this backdoor pilot isn’t going to series, we’re not likely ever to see a resolution to what happened here, any more than we had any resolution to the twist at the end of “Bloodlines” (not that anybody cared about that, but still). Look at how Jody and Donna and the rest of the crew just up and disappeared after the Donna-centric episode following this one.

Kaia’s been the focus of two episodes now and she still doesn’t feel like a real person. She feels more like a checklist of attributes, most of them making her a victim rather than a character. I feel as though the writers keep shoving her in my face (LOOK, LOOK, SHE’S A POOR INDIGENOUS STREET WAIF, FEEL SORRY FOR HER, HOW DARE YOU NOT FEEL SORRY FOR HER?), which gives me a headache and irritates me with the writers’ constant attempts to handwave their own sketchy writing. Don’t give me retro characterization and then try to guilt me into accepting it as groundbreaking writing in diversity.

While her bonding with Claire was a nice idea, it felt extremely rushed (especially with all the slashy overtones). I could see Claire feeling bad that she’d failed to save an innocent she’d sworn to protect (like the little girl at the beginning), but flinging herself into Jody’s arms and weeping as though she’d lost the love of her life after Kaia’s death? That I don’t get.

I could see her grieving over Dean like that, or Castiel (who gets zero concern from Claire or anyone else this episode, despite also being in the wind at this point as far as they know). It’s certainly how she grieved over her mother. And in the episode where she gets turned into a werewolf, we see Dean leave the room when he believes she is dying because he can’t watch. So, there is a bond between those two. But Kaia? Claire knew her for all of five minutes. Where is all of this emotion coming from?

And why does Kaia suddenly decide to trust her after flatly refusing to help Jack or the Brothers? That seems vaguely misandrist. It’s the same lesbian-knight-saves-superpowered-damsel-in-distress conflict as the one involving Charlie and the fairy in “LARP and the Real Girl,” except that this time, the fairy dies and is a WoC (Woman of Color). The plot eventually resolves into a case where a WoC with sparkly powers gets fridged to motivate a white character who is being presented as the episode’s Hero. Hmmm, yeah, nope, not so progressive.

Also, Kaia wasn’t very sympathetic in either of her episodes. She was whiny and helpless and not even very good at escaping humans, let alone taking care of herself against supernatural creatures. She seemed to oscillate between fearful “Well, screw you all; I’m leaving you to clean up my multiverse mess” and “I shall face my fears by coming over to the other world and helping you, fair Claire.”

I never got any sense of responsibility for her own actions, let alone heroism, from Kaia. Granted, it was a stupid idea to let her actually go with Claire to the Bad Place, since she was the only one who could find it, but a little stepping-up-to-the-plate seemed in order for her being part of the team. She seemed very selfish and immature, except for the jarring shift to “By golly, I will help you” at the end of both this and the previous episodes.

It might have worked with an older and more experienced actress, but really, a lot of it was down to the poor writing and weird direction. I also sensed, from the terrible and choppy way the fight scene in the Bad Place was staged (a lot like the very frustrating cutting back and forth in the dark that you see in Arrow), that a natural at stage-fighting she’s not. It reminded me of all the dancing around Katie Cassidy’s lack of stage-fighting skills in season three.

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The Mixed

On the opposite end of the spectrum from Kaia, I think Jody and Donna were the best-realized of the characters. Sure, they’ve had multiple episodes to develop and the characters are also played by older and more experienced actresses. But also, I think a lot of it came down to the fact that Jody and Donna have their own supernatural-rooted conflicts, based on their being cops in a rural area, and Jody’s loss of her husband and son to monsters. Plus, their training and experience as law enforcement officers have given them a jump-start on the skills they need to survive as Hunters.

They don’t suffer from constant comparisons to Sam and Dean because their central character conflicts aren’t directly pilfered from Sam and Dean. I’d definitely watch a show with just Jody and Donna (I especially liked their incidental theme music while they were boarding the boat). They make a great team and come across as salty old Hunters in the Winchester tradition, already. I’m rather less certain I’d watch a show with just the younger women.

Some people had issues with Donna due to her accent and boisterously pro-gun attitude, but Jody was the one who struck me as a bit of a weathervane character in “Wayward Sisters.” I don’t mind Donna’s accent. She’s an obvious homage to Marge Gunderson in Fargo, whom I love as a character. I love the series, too (plenty of broad accents in that).

You may ask why I hated the RP English accents of last season, but had no problem with Donna’s. Let’s just say that the RP accents of characters like Bela and Toni were genuinely fake, and represented some weird and ugly national stereotypes. But there are some people in the U.S. who actually talk like Donna and certainly some who act like her. And that regional stereotype really is more broad than negative.

More to the point, she’s not an antagonist, and is a solid and capable Hunter. Donna may have issues with her weight and with men (especially her jerkoff ex), but she is fully confident and competent Hunting Vampires.

Jody is fine this episode when she’s off with Donna, but she flip-flops a lot whenever she’s with Claire. She wants Claire to be safe. No, she wants to let Claire go save the world. Make up your mind, Jody.

In the process, she also ends up ignoring Alex, a girl she previously had gone to bat for with the Brothers to save her when Alex was forcibly turned into a Vampire and they were considering killing her. I get that Jody’s desire to create another family to replace the one that died (no matter how much she may protest that’s not so) fuels this emotional conflict. But the writing for it could be a lot better and not portray Jody as an emotional jellyfish. Also, there was no way she should have let Kaia go through the multiverse rip with Claire.

I noticed a lot of questions on social media about why Claire gets so much prominence in the backdoor pilot (and honestly, I hope the series doesn’t go the route of an ensemble cast where one character gets far more coverage than anyone else). Her being white and blonde seems a rather obvious factor. But more so is that as a character, she’s been around longer than any of the other characters in the spin-off (since season four’s “The Rapture”), though Kathryn Newton has only been playing Claire since season ten, when the character popped up again after a six-season hiatus.

Another cogent reason is that Claire is a legacy member of Team Free Will. Castiel has been wearing her (now-dead) father’s body since before he met the Brothers and she has also harbored him as a vessel. So, she has a direct “familial” connection to the Brothers. It helps that Newton seems pretty comfortable with all the physical stuff of the role.

That said, Claire, despite having a lot of roots in the mothershow, is still a bit nebulous in terms of motivation and character. I noted before that I thought making her lesbian – or at least bisexual – was actually a good idea. It defuses a potentially problematical aspect of her character to this point – she has developed a monumental crush on Dean, which has caused a fair amount of unease for both Dean and Jody.

Dean actually loves Claire dearly, enough that, as I said before, he was forced to leave the room when she took the torturous werewolf cure last season and didn’t want her to go through with it due to the high mortality rate. But he loves her as a father and would never, ever sleep with her. He is acutely aware of the fact that he is twice her age and that she is effectively his best friend’s mortal daughter. Claire may talk about how much she owes both Sam and Dean (and she does have a bond with Sam, as well). But she is carrying a big, bright, sparkly Daddy-Figure torch for Dean and this has caused him to put some emotional distance between them.

If Claire is gay, then this soft ground firms up considerably for the writers. The highly inappropriate puppy-dog-love chemistry with this scarred Hunter old enough to be her daddy becomes much less squicky and turns into more appropriate father-daughter chemistry.

Dean has also distanced himself because he appears to blame himself for her self-destructive path into Hunting and sees himself as a terrible role model. Jody, on the other hand, appears to see that Dean’s very mental health issues make him a good role model for troubled young Hunters like Claire because he is a survivor who has used his own damage to become a Hero. A damaged person like Dean, much more than some unattainable paragon of virtue, gives hope to the damaged people who enter Hunting as a major avocation or even full-time profession. Him they can emulate.

One problem is that Claire strives to be like Dean without quite understanding who Dean is or what makes him a great Hunter and Hero. Claire goes in, half-cocked and guns blazing, without understanding that one of the most cunning, sneaky, and strategic people in the SPNverse is Dean Winchester. If Dean does go in big, dumb and beautiful, that’s a tactic, not a sign that he’s too dopey or prideful to do it any other way.

Claire, now being fully orphaned, also doesn’t quite get Dean’s loyalty and devotion to family. The person who gets this, weirdly enough, is Alex. So, while Claire thinks she’s being like Dean, Alex is being like Dean. Claire is more like season-one Sam in that she is seeking revenge and being a hot-head. Alex is staying home and backing Jody up. We even saw her save Jody from a brainwashed Mary last season.

Alex also has important support skills in that she is now a nurse or in nursing school, or something. Let’s hope the show actually starts researching emergency medicine a bit better from now on to suit her role (because she and the others will probably be back, at least on the mothershow). Alex (like Sam) is really only in Hunting out of loyalty to Jody and also (like Sam) feels tainted by her years with a vampire family. Like Sam, Alex is seeking a kind of normal that is so idealized it probably doesn’t exist, while not feeling especially worthy of it or able to identify and find it.

Unfortunately, while Alex got in some good Dean-style lines (“You look like Biker Barbie”), she had very little development aside from some bonding with Claire and Jody. She was effectively shunted aside by all the other characters.

So, let’s talk about Patience. Patience got a full-episode introduction earlier this season in the eponymous “Patience” (13.03). Admittedly, she comes off as bland and low-key in this one compared to all the over-the-topness of certain other characters, but I think her character arc worked the best of them.

Alex desires Normal. Patience just left Normal behind in Atlanta and went off on a Hero’s Journey. She wants to use her power of prophecy to help people. She even basically got disowned by her father in the previous episode for leaving to come to Jody’s. So, Patience may look boring at the moment, but a lot is going on with her.

In addition, Patience also had a few checks on her ego about the above big mission to save others. For one thing, everyone else (except for Kaia, who was kinda grandfathered in) knew a lot more about Hunting and handling guns than she did. For another, the vision that sent her to Jody’s in the first place to try to save Claire ended up saving no one. Not only did it come true, but Patience belatedly realized that it came true because she had misinterpreted it. What she had thought was Claire’s death was actually Claire grieving over Kaia’s death. Prophecy isn’t quite as straightforward as she thought or as the show made it look in her first episode. This is humbling for her.

It’s also really, really nice to see an African American woman who isn’t a condescending stereotype. Patience is boring, middle-class, and academically smart, and that’s the whole point. Technically, she doesn’t have to be there. She has a stable home she could return to. Despite losing her mother and grandmother at a young age, she’s not rocked by trauma and forced out onto the road. She’s a volunteer. She just wants to do something good with her gift.

What makes no sense, though (and I can’t believe I’m saying this because I hated the incessant, years-long focus on Sam’s psychic storyline), is that Sam never has a conversation with her about her visions. Her visions are almost exactly the same as his psychic abilities in the first two seasons, and her grandmother lampshaded Sam’s abilities like crazy back in season one. But nope, not a peep between Sam and Patience about it. Sam has no conversation with Kaia about it, either, for that matter, nor does Dean ever bring up with her the considerable amount of dreamwalking and travel beween worlds he’s done. That absence was glaring to me.

But unlike some fans, I actually don’t mind the women being on the show and I think the focus on the spin-off gave the writing a direction last season distinctly lacked (let’s be honest – Lucifer on the Loose was boring as hell. So was anything to do with the LoL). But considering Sam and Dean are the inspiration for the formation of the Wayward Sisters in-verse, the least the show could do was have some more expression about what that means. A little vague mumbling from Claire and Jody about how Sam and Dean are missing (really? Those guys go missing more often than a tomcat on the prowl) and the women owe them doesn’t cut it. I’d like to see how that thinking has evolved to this point. I mean, hell, every time Bobby and/or Rufus popped up in their later appearances, the show practically went into hagiography mode. I did not sense anything inspirational or special about the Brothers’ appearance in this episode (though there were hints with Dean in the Patience episode).

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The Good

As for SPN being sexist or misogynistic, simply put, it’s not. Women have always been portrayed as Hunters or potential Hunters in the show. They handle weapons. They kill things. They kick ass.

Patience was actually slapped on the back for killing a human-like monster this week. Women don’t get to kill anything on American TV without a huge negative deal made about it, let alone praised for it. Yet, after the Sisters killed all those things, it was Miller Time. The only dampener was the loss of a comrade, not any squeamishness or guilt over killing monsters.

The potential for a female-led storyline has always been there, which is a lot more than I can say for The Vampire Diaries (where the two male leads metaphorically smothered the female lead) or The Originals (where women are either victims or evil bitches – sorry, evil witches), two supposedly female-oriented CW dark fantasy shows that utterly fail to be feminist.

Legends of Tomorrow plays up Sara’s character a whole lot, but the sole other female character (who is always a WoC) seems to get switched in and out interchangeably, rendering women barely a third of the cast. Similarly, male characters also dominate Arrow and the female characters are either love interests, annoying little sister types or screeching harpies (oh, hello, Laurel).

I love Kara and her sister’s relationship on Supergirl (not to mention Alex’s coming out), but dear God, if I have to hear her apologize and grovel one more time for something a male lead never would have been dunned on, I’m gonna scream. Same deal with iZombie and the title character having to be “nice” to everyone (she’s a freakin’ zombie, people!).

Jane the Virgin is female-centric, but it’s also basically a soap opera – very traditional roles for women. And have you seen lowest-rated-show-in-network-history-for-two-whole-seasons Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? Sure, the songs are bouncy, but between the songs are long, arid, grim stretches of the title character actually being a crazy ex-girlfriend, doing things that a male character in film or TV rom-com or adventure would be considered heroic for doing (even though, in the real world, they would indeed be creepy and stalkerish). The only difference is that it’s a woman doing it and women are never portrayed positively doing this stuff. It’s a really negative portrayal.

This baffles me, since Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is hailed as feminist, yet it’s about as anti-feminist as it can be. It breaks no new cinematic ground whatsoever.

There’s The 100 (which I never got into much), but even they did a Bury Your Gay Girls storyline and the showrunners never figured out why that was a problem.

Black Lightning started out a bit iffy on that score (Lynn and her youngest daughter are both rather annoying cliches at the start), but Anissa at the drug store was about the most badass intro to a character’s new powers under fluorescent lighting since we saw Demon!Dean take out an Amara fan at the beginning of season ten. Any showrunners for the “Wayward Sisters” spin-off ought to have taken notes.

There’s a reason why some female viewers like SPN but really dislike other CW shows. And it’s not self-hate or internalized misogyny. The CW claims to have young women as its target audience, but most of its entries are every bit as sexist and misogynistic as the rest of TV.

Not a surprise, considering the network is no more welcoming to women and People of Color as producers than any other network. The pro-Girl Power thing is all just a big marketing dodge. On Supernatural, it’s downright refreshing to see women kill multiple human-like monsters, handle guns, and brag about their weapons collection, without an ounce of remorse or squeamishness (and several actresses from Samantha Ferris to Cyndy Sampson to Marisa Ramirez to Kim Rhodes and Briana Buckmaster have commented over the years on how refreshing it is to get to handle weapons and do real stunts). Go team.

This is usually the point where we get into how a woman can be strong and feminist without wielding a gun or other weapon. And that’s true. But don’t discount the number of contortions TV or film writers go through to avoid having women – ordinary women – get physical in fights and, especially, handle guns. If the only way a woman can be strong compared to men is never in a fight, that’s a problem. If the only way a woman can be strong compared to ordinary men is if she has superpowers (especially if she has to keep apologizing for having them), that’s a big problem. Supernatural doesn’t have that problem. It never did.

Dabb isn’t all that great a writer or showrunner, and he lacks the kind of support Kripke had in the early years. But the world of SPN was established years before he came on board. It is one that has always portrayed characters from many walks of life, both genders, different cultures, different ethnicities, and GLBT who were solid Hunters, years before that was actually fashionable. It’s easy to forget that shows like Highlander portrayed women as physically and even mentally inferior to men, to the point where it seemed a ludicrous idea that a woman Immortal could ever win the Game without cheating. Hence, the female-lead sequel, Raven, bombed horribly, despite having a likable female lead who had been a fan favorite on the previous show. Admittedly, the unlikable male lead and the misogynistic writing didn’t help, but neither did six seasons of the previous show telling us an Immortal woman was so useless in a fight that even a really ancient Immortal like Cassandra couldn’t team up with Methos and take out the rest of the Horsemen. Or any of the Horsemen, for that matter, despite her being almost as old as they were.

As for the much-vaunted Buffy and Angel, if you watch them again, you’ll see a lot of traditional gender roles for women who aren’t superpowered superheroes. For every Buffy, there are five Willows or even Freds. Shows where women are regularly shown as strong, capable and lethal in a physical fight (like Xena: Warrior Princess, or even the far-more-recent Lost Girl) are rare. And even then, the women in Xena wore some pretty revealing outfits clearly not intended to attract a straight female audience (though the Xena showrunners happily pandered to the enthusiastically lesbian portion of their fandom that grew up, at least for the most part).

So, it was no small thing when, a full season before an annoyed Dean informed Jo Harvelle that he had no problems with female Hunters, just idiots, an equally annoyed Dean handed young Kat in “Asylum” a saltgun because she was the one with the gun skills and the moxie, not her dippy boyfriend. And it was Kat who tagged along with Dean and got some grumpy instruction in Hunting from him.

The show has definitely had its issues with portraying gender and women’s issues over the years (and the godawful fight scene in which Sam and Dean are dumbed down enough to get taken down by a lame hooded figure with a blade on a stick is unfortunately not a first), but it’s also tried hard to portray a world where women are in no way inferior to men, as a group, when it comes to battling supernaturally dangerous creatures. Even if that means physically.

This is how “Wayward Sisters” can have an all-female cast of new and established Hunter characters who still feel as though they belong in the SPNverse (as opposed to the obnoxiously snobby One Percenter monsters of “Bloodlines,” which felt like Supernatural: The Originals, which is not a compliment). The casting is extremely critical for such a show (as we saw with the casting of Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles). So, even though the writing for “Wayward Sisters” was creaky, cliched and often tonedeaf, while the direction was uncharacteristically clumsy for show veteran Phil Sgriccia, the chemistry the women on this team have (which is mostly considerable) overcame that because it had the worldbuilding at its back (like Xena) rather than undercutting it (like Highlander: The Raven). The new show can always get new, and better, showrunners, certainly better writers, but none of that would do it any good if the cast chemistry weren’t there.

Fortunately, the cast chemistry is there, especially for Jody and Donna, and Claire and Alex. Patience is bland, but the actress seems capable of taking her somewhere (her reaction to her first monster kill was a hoot) with some decent writing.

So, while there are definitely improvements to be made, and some things could go horrendously wrong (especially with the current showrunning and writing team), I think there are some solid bones here on which to build a new show. Too bad it didn’t get picked up.

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Next: War of the Worlds: The Nepotism Duo return with another confusing tale about the alt-SPNverse, Lucifer, alt-Michael and Asmodeus.


I’ll be doing my live recap of “The Thing” here later tonight or tomorrow. I’ll try to catch up with the recaps of the rest of the season before Thursday night. Wish me luck.


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The Official “Patience” (13.03) Live Recap Thread


Little late again. Anyhoo, let’s get started.

This is, by the way, the first of the backdoor pilot episodes for the projected spin-off, intended to introduce the title character.

Standard recap of the season so far, as well of Wraiths. Pretty Jack-heavy and includes a brief bit about Sam’s demon-blood drinking. Nothing particularly exciting and no rock songs used.

Cut to Now in Omaha, NE. A young blonde woman is dusting a photo of her with Missouri and closing up shop for the night. She’s a professional psychic. The door opens and a man comes in. She starts to tell him she’s closed, but agrees to do one last job for the evening. I’m sure this will end well.

She does some Tarot cards and answers his questions about her being a “psychic counselor.” She says she reads “energies, auras.” He asks her to read his and realizes he’s a Wraith. He stabs her in the hand and then eats her brain while looking sexual aroused. Yup.

Cue title cards.

At the Bunker, cue the sneak peek as Dean is listening to the Rolling Stones’ “Rip This Joint” through headphones while drinking a lot of beer. In his room, Jack gets a knock on the door from Sam, who has a boring, insipid video message of emotional support from beyond the grave (since Jack killed her being born) from Saint Kelly on a thumb drive (product placement, much?). As this plays, Sam gets a call from Missouri Moseley from season one’s “Home.” She’s at the scene of Doomed Teaser Psychic’s shop and is asking for help while apologizing for “being a stranger.”

Sam gets off the phone and tells Dean who it was. He says Missouri told him she’d got out of the Life for a while, but had been pulled back in by a case and that he put Jody on it because they need to stay at the Bunker and help Jack hone his powers, so he can open the rift again to rescue Mary–sorry, be all that he can be. Dean calls Sam right out on his false compassion for Jack and says he “didn’t sign up for” babysitting the baby “Antichrist,” nor is he thrilled that Sam is putting Jody in potential danger like that. So, off he goes to help her with the Hunt.

Gotta say, I’m with Dean on this one.

So, in broad daylight the next day (it was night when Missouri called Sam), Jody is talking a policeman for Missouri when Dean drives up. Missouri explains to Jody that the DTP, named Dede, was her “protegee” and about the closest thing she currently has to family. When Dean arrives, he hugs Missouri first and Missouri gives condolences on his losses. There is zero reference to the fact that she was a complete bitch to him the last time they met.

Inside the house, Dean and Missouri both suspect the killer was a Wraith and Missouri gets from a series of images by feeling objects that it is indeed a Wraith, who feeds on psychics for some reason, and then an image of an African American man named James. Dean tells Jody that Missouri’s thing was sensing from objects, except that her thing was actually telepathy. Psychic blanket BS Powers Syndrome strike again.

Cut to Jack and Sam talking about…uh…stuff. Sam wants to train him to do stuff (Sam doesn’t mention his totally mercenary motive to rescue Mary). First, he has Jack move a pencil. Except Jack can’t seem to do stuff on cue.

Cut to Missouri having an awkward phone conversation with James, who doesn’t believe in her visions. He hangs up on her. She comes out and tells Dean and Jody to go save James (who is her son) and her granddaughter Patience. She’s going to stay behind because she’d just “complicated things.” When Dean protests that this is a bad idea, Missouri reverts to full-on bitch mode and he just says, “Yes, ma’am.” [grrrr] She thanks him, but the damage is done. I am so over this character, who is obviously about to get a cameo kill-off along the lines of Sarah from “Provenance.”

Jody, to her credit, notices the awkwardness.

Back to Jack, who is mentally wrestling with that pencil. Sam tries to coach him through it by asking him how it felt. Jack that stuff just happens, except with Asmodeus, who was “in my head.” Jack gets upset and says he can’t do it with Sam staring at him. Sam says they’ll take a break and he’s off to get some food.

At DTP’s place, Missouri is waiting for the Wraith, who has come back to the scene of the crime for no logical reason given in the story. She tells him she’s seen the future (again, Show, Missouri didn’t previously have precog powers. If she had, she’d have been of much more use in “Home”) and that she dies, no matter what. She’s not going to give him the satisfaction of screaming, but she is certain her “people” will kill him. Well, he’s been pretty stupid so far, so that shouldn’t be too hard.

At a school, Patience is getting lured into playing volleyball by a friend because she has amazing reflexes. Or something. Her friend leaves and the lights fritz. She finds bloody footprints and then her dead grandmother saying her name. She’s attacked from behind and then wakes up from a dream. As she comes out into the office, she talks to her father about her dream. He insists it was just that, but as she leaves, he looks thoughtful.

So, James is actually even more obnoxious than Missouri. Yay.

As he’s buying a freakin’ bar’s worth of beer at a convenience store, Dean sees a TV news story about Missouri’s death. Out at the pumps, he tells Jody and regrets not staying to protect Missouri. Jody asks if they should go back, but Dean says Missouri asked them to go protect her family and that’s what they’ll do.

At James’ home, they get a predictably cold reception from him until they get across to him that yep, his mother is really dead and yep, the cause was supernatural. Jody then rather forcibly insists James pull his head out his ass about the realization that he is indeed the putz who hung up on his mother right before he died. They don’t have time for that.

They really don’t have time for that since here’s Patience at school, experiencing deja vu from her dream. Confused, Patience goes back to her locker, but when she shuts the door, there’s the Wraith. I actually don’t mind Patience, and the actress seems pleasant so far, but boy, does she not look at all young enough to be in high school. That’s a bit distracting.

Anyhoo, the Wraith gets all MRA creepy with Patience, but she has a bit of spunk. She kicks him in the nuts (do Wraiths have nuts?) and the breaks off his stinger/sucker/needle. He tackles her and says it grows back, but gets shot from behind by Dean. He runs as Dean runs after him, blocks the door, and then tries to run Dean down in a Pedo Van after Dean chases him out into the parking lot.

Back inside, Dean and Jody have a talk with Patience. As with her father, they bruskly break through her denial about being a psychic and tell her her estranged grandmother, who allegedly abandoned her and her father after her mother died, is dead.

At the Bunker, Sam is watching Jack through a spy camera and reading up on baby books. Because that’s totally not creepy, or anything. Jack appears to disappear, but he’s just hiding in a corner. He says maybe his powers don’t work because they’re evil and he’s evil, because Dean said so. Jack says his mother said he could be good, but realizes she’s dead because of him and he’s already done evil. And he can’t do a simple “good” thing like push a pencil.

Sam gives him a pep talk that sounds pretty damned insincere, considering all he really wants is for Jack to help him break Mary out of the alt-verse. Though Sam does at least admit that he’s pushing Jack too hard and they should stop for a while. Jack thinks that’s a great plan. Jack asks Sam why Sam is being so “nice” to him and not only does Sam not mention his very mercenary motive, he also does the same damned thing he’s been doing for 13 years and makes it all about himself, his own conflicts, his own issues. He says he’s empathizing with Jack, but that’s never been true before, so….

Back on the Wraith Hunt, Patience is confronting her father. It turns out he lied–a bit–about Missouri cutting them out of her life. Turns out it was the other way round. He talks about always being on the road, Hunting, as a child, except that 13 years ago, Missouri lived in a house, Show. Can’t these writers do a little damned research on show canon before writing these episodes?

Anyhoo, Jody and Dean once again cut to the chase and inform him that Patience is also psychic, which she confirms. The Wraith is now after her. James tells her to go upstairs and pack (because her being alone right now is SUCH A GOOD IDEA). Upstairs, Patience holds a broach and has a memory/vision of Missouri giving it to her at her mother’s gravesite after Daddy gave his mom the boot. Then she starts to pack, opens the closet door, and gets kidnapped by the Wraith. Of course. [facepalm]

Jody makes calls while Dean checks traffic cams for the Pedo Van. Meanwhile, James is going through his mother’s photos and things. He has a bag of something he calls “lithomantic gems.” It turns out James was able to do magic, too, which makes him look like even more of a dick.

Patience wakes up tied to a chair in a room. The Wraith comes in and creeps all over her. He started off on mental patients and accidentally happened across a real psychic. They give him a rush, make him “clear” or whatever. He’s going to take his time eating Patience because her grandmother tasted so darned good. Ugh.

Suddenly, Dean, her father, and Jody come in and the Wraith flees. But then James gets killed, then Jody, and finally Dean. Unsurprisingly, it’s a vision. Also, it’s total bullshit in light of the skills and abilities of the other three. Things start to pan out as before, but Patience is able to warn them so the first two just get knocked out. Her warning to Dean, though, works. After a longish fight, Dean kills the Wraith.

Afterward, Patience finally admits she’s psychic.

Afterward, Jody compliments Dean on the Wraith kill, while Dean compliments Patience (for the second time) on her help. Patience also thanks Dean and Jody. Patience talks about going back to school. Her father wants her to deny her gift (because that’s worked out well so far). Dean backs up James, pointing out that becoming a Hunter is a “horrible” and lonely life, full of pain, with no “joy.” Well, he should know. Jody, on the other hand, suggests that Patience might want to pursue her gift. Jody tried to get Claire to avoid Hunting, too, and it didn’t work out so well. She gives Patience her card. Dean doesn’t look thrilled, but he doesn’t object, either.

Back at the Bunker, Sam says he heard about Missouri and they have it out about Jack. Sam does yet another blame-Dean speech, saying that Dean didn’t think Sam was not worth saving when he was drinking demon blood. Dean soft-pedals around the part where Sam, while high on said blood, beat him half to death–twice–but gets right in Sam’s face about Sam’s hypocrisy in encouraging Jack so Jack can “save” Mary and brings up Jack’s brainwashing Castiel while still in the womb.

Jack is listening to the whole thing. Dean’s words precipitate a vision of Castiel lying on the ground someplace dark and cold. When Jack whispers Castiel’s name, Castiel hears him and wakes up.

Credits.

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I’ll also be simul-recapping on Wayward Children.

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My Dad and Donald Trump


By Paula R. Stiles


My dad died three years ago this fall and I’m about 99% sure he would have voted for Donald Trump if he were still alive. Even after Trump’s epic fail at the first debate (the second one is tonight) and the recent infamous bus video, my dad would never have chosen a woman over a man, ever, certainly not a Democratic woman over a Republican man. He actually believed the crap Rush Limbaugh spouts and felt himself very hard-done-by in this PC society. I still remember the day he absolutely forbade my mom to take me to see Bela Abzug talk.

He and my mom were only a few years older than Trump and Hillary Clinton, and therefore in that same generation and attitude. My dad was well-educated, with a Masters degree in History, and he married a well-educated, assertive feminist in my mother, who had a Masters in Nurse Midwifery. He served seven years in the Navy and twenty-two years in the Coast Guard, before retiring and becoming an English teacher in Poland. By all accounts, his students loved him. He was also a Peace Corps Volunteer in China. You would think he’d have been smart enough not to vote for Trump, but there you go and here’s why.

My dad had no respect for women.

In addition to the above accomplishments, my dad also abused my mom and his children, and he cheated on my mom endlessly during their marriage. In fact, my mom was in the process of filing for divorce when my dad was thrown out of Peace Corps a year and a half in for punching a guy in a traffic altercation. The “provocation” involved the guy calling my dad’s then-30-year-old, grad student Chinese girlfriend a “slut.” She was my age. And I was also in grad school at the time.

So, needless to say, my dad did not respect women, and made various nasty and demeaning comments about our gender over the years. Oddly enough, I don’t think he was as bad as Trump. He was more between Bill Clinton and Trump in that I don’t believe he ever engaged in sexual assault. He prided himself on charming the pants off women and all of his girlfriends that I met (he liked to introduce them to me when I was a kid) thought he was a great guy – which he was, during the Honeymoon period. Just as Clinton had grown up poor, my dad grew up respectably working class. Unlike Trump, he didn’t have the assumption that he could do whatever he wanted because he was rich and anyway, I think he liked the chase. He liked them willing. Trump, obviously, doesn’t see women as even that human.

It would be easy to wonder why my mother didn’t just up and leave my dad. Where was her self-respect? I have wondered that and asked her about it many times over the years (when you’re one of the direct victims of that refusal, you get to ask). The most chilling response she ever gave me was that she worried he would show up at the door one day with a gun. She had a point. Attitudes and services for battered women are not too great these days, but they’re a cornucopia of support compared to what was available in the 1970s. Abused women, especially educated abused women, were expected to put up with it. And hope he didn’t kill them and their children.

The attitude was that if you were an educated, professional, working woman getting out there doing a “man’s” job, then you deserved what you got if he felt intimidated by your accomplishments and beat you or cheated on you. If you couldn’t be a “good” wife, you could expect another woman – a younger, hotter, more-accomodating model – to come along and steal him away. Smart women were supposed to compete over men, not the other way round.

People ask the same questions about Hillary Clinton and look down on her for things her husband did to her. They actually use it against her that there’s no evidence Bill has abused her or treated poorly aside from cheating on her incessantly for decades. They make victims out of the women with whom Bill cheated. They are willing to listen to the dumbest excuses and most egregious lies made up by some of these other women to justify that cheating because those women are only chasing after powerful men and not after power itself. It’s still more okay, in our society, for a woman to take another woman’s man than it is to take that man’s place. And we’re all for feeling lots more “sympathy” for hot, young college girls who fangirl Bernie than for “over-the-hill” women who favor Hillary Clinton.

Too many people are happy to believe that Hillary was a cold-blooded political pimp for her husband rather than a victim of a sexual Catch-22 where she couldn’t win whether she kept him or dumped him, just as there were people who were happy to believe my mom deserved my dad treating her like dirt because he resented her success. My dad liked strong women and he liked to break them down. There were a lot of guys in his generation like that and too many, still, who are young enough to know better.

So, the next time, boys, you start going on about “Billary” and “Hitlary” and how evil she is, and holding her to an insanely higher standard than the no-standard-at-all you hold Trump, please stop. Just stop. If you’re going to vote your sexism and your misogyny this election, own up to it, already. Stop blaming Hillary. Stop blaming my mom. Stop blaming us.

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Unusual History: Urraca, Badass Queen of Castile


By Paula R. Stiles


Even a cursory delve into the Middle Ages brings up queenly badassery along the lines of a Daenerys Stormborn and Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones, but some of these tough medieval queens are less well-known than others. Urraca (c.1079-1226), first ruling queen of Castile, León, Galicia, and Portugal in Spain, is one of them.

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                              Queen Urraca

Urraca’s reign of badassery didn’t start out in roaring form. Her father Alfonso, seeking more northern alliances than his ancestors, married her off to a French adventurer named Raymond de Bourgogne (c.1065-1107) when she was about eight. By age fourteen (when she had her first miscarriage), the marriage had been consummated. Her husband was either nine or fourteen years older than she. Urraca then found herself engaged in a grueling series of pregnancies that resulted in her standing at her husband’s bier in 1107, not yet 30, with a daughter Sancha and a son Alfonso.

Daddy Dearest betrothed her to his main rival Alfonso el Batallador (the Battler), King of Aragon, a year later. Yes, Spain had a lot of Alfonsos in power during the Middle Ages.

Her father’s decision was prompted by the death of his illegitimate son (by a Muslim noblewoman) and designated heir, Sancho, in 1108, and by the demands of at least some of his nobles. As with the first marriage of Urraca’s younger and more famous contemporary Eleanor of Aquitaine, Urraca’s father and his nobles apparently felt his daughter couldn’t handle the job as a reigning queen, despite her already edging into the medieval version of early middle age and having a legitimate and healthy heir in her own son, who was a toddler. And as with Eleanor’s marriage, Daddy Dearest’s attempt to bolster his daughter’s position via bringing a man in to do the job just created extra problems for the realm and the female ruler who was quite capable of running it on her own.

It’s a first sign of greatness in a woman who, to that point, had been little more than a broodmare that Urraca decided to go ahead with the marriage, even after her father died suddenly in 1109. She did this, despite voicing repeated misgivings to her father, because she apparently agreed that the marriage was a political necessity to keep her older and ambitiously scheming, illegitimate half-sister Teresa and Teresa’s husband Henry, left in charge of Portugal, from seeking independence. Unfortunately, her misgivings turned out to be right and Urraca’s life soon began to resemble a particularly juicy medieval telenovela.

Though he looked great on paper – and great on the battlefield – El Batallador (c.1073-1134) was severely lacking as a husband. He reportedly disliked women and greatly preferred the company of men. Though he was six years older than Urraca, it was his first (and only) marriage. He had no mistresses and later Muslim historian Ibn al-Athir (1166-1234) remarked that he didn’t even sleep with female war captives (a very common practice of the time). No mention is made of his dallying with any young boys either, so there’s that, but whether he was gay, asexual or sterile, he had no known children of any kind.

It’s often stated how important bearing children was to a queen’s security and power base, but having an heir was equally important to a king. Establishing your dynasty was a crucial part of cementing your reign. My friend Silvia Moreno-Garcia, who has a strong interest in the history of Tudor England, has often remarked that Henry VIII’s queens were no passive victims. They had their own power bases, hence why noble families vied to profer the next woman in line and so many of these candidates were strong and smart (with the young and unready Catherine Howard a disastrously instructive exception). How much more so a queen ruling suo jure, by blood not marriage, like Urraca, who also not only had a son but a daughter who could rule after her. Indeed, as Urraca’s son ruled over the State part of his mother’s realm, her daughter Sancha came to rule over the Church portion as a very powerful, unmarried infanta. Even her illegitimate children married well.

During a monarch’s lifetime, even minor (underage) heirs, like Urraca’s son, Alfonso Raimundez, had power bases formed around them, full of court intrigue, long before they came of age. For example, Eleanor’s restless sons all rebelled against their father, Henry II of England, at some point. Eleanor herself was imprisoned for years because she fomented the revolt against their father as part of her ongoing conflict over Henry’s tyrannical attempts to coopt her realm of Aquitaine into his own. She ended up choosing her own heir, Richard, who also eventually became Henry’s heir due to a process of attrition over the years. She also ended up outliving Henry.

In Alfonso Raimundez’s case, the main court intriguer was the oily Bishop Diego Gelmirez of Santiago de Compostela, who eventually grew so wealthy and ambitious that the Pope himself slapped him down in 1124. Whoever controlled the child heir controlled the current monarch, though Urraca would soon close this loophole quite firmly. Urraca’s heir and her second husband’s lack of one showed her strength versus his weakness.

Alfonso Batallador also seemed to lack any tact whatsoever. What he gained on the battlefield he quickly lost to his soon-to-be-ex-wife because she was every bit as skilled a diplomat as he was a warrior. In the short term, the marriage itself had the opposite effect intended, since Alfonso Batallador made his intentions to dominate Urraca’s realm of Castile, León and Galicia in favor of his home kingdom of Aragon very clear. That just gave Teresa and her husband the excuse to break away for real.

Theresa of Portugal
              Teresa of Portugal

Later historians have lamented the “chance” lost during Urraca’s reign to unite Spain under one realm, but those historians lived four or five centuries later, in a period after Spanish kings had brutally united the various kingdoms through force and considerable bloodshed. Urraca and Alfonso lived during a time when the united Muslim kingdom of Al-Andalus had just broken up into numerous — though still-powerful — taifa kingdoms, and the previously tiny Christian kingdoms were rapidly expanding by picking them off. Urraca’s own grandfather had followed the Carolingian custom of dividing his kingdom among his children. It was only the death of her uncle, the elder son, that had given her father the chance to put the recently conquered Christian realms of her grandfather under one heir. So, it seems likely that uniting into a new Christian version of Al-Andalus was actually the last thing Urraca’s subjects had in mind, especially if they weren’t the ones in charge of it.

Alfonso Batallador may have been the only one shocked when the marriage broke down in 1110. Even so, Urraca next did some very surprising things for a medieval queen. For one, when she sought a divorce (technically, an annulment based on consanguinity) from the Pope, she did so partly based on the accusation that her new husband was beating her. At this time, it was perfectly acceptable for husbands to beat their wives and even ruling queens were expected to obey their husbands as their lords. Urraca’s accusation was startling in the assumption that her husband had no right to beat her, to the point that this was grounds for divorce. What was even more startling was that she was able to persuade the Pope to give her the divorce that same year. Popes were pretty accommodating about royal annulments in the 11th and early 12th centuries, but even so, that may have been a speed record.

And then, on top of that, she took a lover, Gómez González. While still legally married to Alfonso. And had a son with him.

Alfonso remained in denial for four more years, deciding in the meantime to take back “his” kingdom by force. There were several things in his favor. He was arguably the greatest Christian warrior of his generation and easily beat Urraca’s forces on the battlefield, even once putting her under siege at Astorga, León in 1112. Meanwhile, her lover was killed in the Battle of Candespina against her husband and her brother-in-law in 1111 (she promptly took another, his cousin Pedro González de Lara, and had at least two children out of wedlock with him). The Leonese nobility also was split into four factions. One was with the Queen. One was with her son, but sought to usurp her as his regent. One was with the King of Aragon. And one was helping Teresa and her husband break off to become the first Countess and Count of Portugal.

Urraca was able to fend off her older half-sister (who began to style herself Queen after being widowed in 1112), then defeated and forced her to re-swear fealty in 1121, temporarily reuniting all of their patrimony until after her death. Also, when the opportunity presented itself after Bishop Gelmírez fled the Battle of Viadangos in 1111 with young Alfonso Raimundez, seeking refuge with the boy’s mother, Urraca got full custody over her son. She retained control over young Alfonso (who was 20 before he became King) until her death, even staving off any possible rebellions such as the one Teresa’s son later employed to depose his mother in 1128. Meanwhile, she gained back in diplomacy what her ex had won in battle. Eventually, in 1114, Alfonso Batallador was forced to concede defeat and withdraw. Urraca spent the rest of her reign consolidating her kingdom against all comers Christian and Muslim, in preparation for turning it over to her son, before she died suddenly, probably in childbirth, at the age of 45.

The contemporary chronicle Historia Compostelana acknowledges Urraca’s intelligence and prudence, while sourly criticizing her as a “Jezebel” for her lovers and taking potshots at her fitness to rule solely due to her gender. Early Modern writers like Jerónimo Zurita y Castro (1512-1580) and Enrique Flórez (1701-1773) were more vicious, referring to her as Urraca the Reckless (la Temeraria) and writing lurid scenes (which may never have occurred) in which she was attacked and half-stripped during a negotiation-gone-wrong and a peasant revolt. It’s more likely that the peasants, for the most part, quite liked her, since she brought them peace and independence from Aragon. In addition, she had a greater reputation for showing mercy than her ex-husband, stemming from an incident early in their marriage when Alfonso Batallador executed some rebels Urraca wished to pardon.

In light of her many pregnancies and political use of sexual liaisons, there seems little doubt Urraca liked sex quite a bit. It also seems that she saw no reason not to use sex and sexual alliances as a weapon, just like her father, seeing as how Daddy Dearest was married five times and had at least two mistresses. She appears to have simply taken the same prerogatives that any king of her time would have done.

What’s interesting (and an indication of how powerful and skillful a ruler she truly must have been) is that she was able to do this, just like a king, to strengthen her rule, rather than be forced to live in celibate widowhood to avoid harming her and her son’s power base. For example, her two known lovers were both unsuccessful suitors for her hand before her father betrothed her to Alfonso Batallador. In addition, they were rivals against him along the border with Aragon, so she was able to exploit their natural animosity toward her second husband in her favor. It’s not just that Urraca didn’t care what a few cranky old monks and priests said about her. It’s that she was able to turn that scarlet reputation into a political advantage and make strong allies out of it. Having children with these men only cemented those alliances further.

It’s also interesting that the attraction she held for men probably had nothing to do with her looks and everything to do with her being Queen. We have no surviving description of her appearance and when she was married off the first time, she was very young. The one near-contemporary (a century later) portrait of her from the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela very interestingly portrays her with medium-brown skin (or even slate gray in another photograph). Urraca’s father and son are also portrayed in the same illuminated document as dark-skinned. This supports the idea that her father’s marrying her to Raymond counteracted centuries of marrying locally (and his liaison with a Muslim princess that resulted in a male heir), which could well have also meant marrying into Andalusian nobility.

Church_of_Fontevraud_Abbey_Eleanor_of_Aquitaine_effigy
                                          Eleanor of Aquitaine

 

Still, it is a surprise in medieval iconography, where female nobility to the north in this period were portrayed as very pale (even Teresa gets this treatment in a surviving illumination). Younger contemporary Eleanor is also portrayed in effigy on her tomb as having medium-brown skin, as well as being tall and wide-hipped. Possibly, this was an artistic convention of the time applied to women from Southwestern Europe, even though noblewomen in general were not expected to go out in the sun and pale skin was prized in other parts of the region.

It’s one more way in which Urraca stands out as nothing like the traditional 19th century image of the dippy, passive Gibson-haired girl who just can’t rule without a strong knight by her side. Urraca didn’t need any man to dominate her and she spent most of the latter half of her life ensuring that no man ever would again.


Further Reading

Pallares Méndez, María del Carmen and Portela, Ermelindo. La Reina Urraca. Nerea, 2006.

Reilly, Bernard F. The Kingdom of León-Castilla under Queen Urraca, 1109-1126. Princeton University Press, 1982.


Interested in more Spanish medieval history? Check out my book, Templar Convivencia: Templars and Their Associates in 12th and 13th Century Iberia.