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You can still find my reviews here of North Carolina ghost story books, and notes about my folklore research on Patreon. Contribute monthly via Patreon (which includes perks), make a one-time donation through Paypal, or buy us a coffee. Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, production of season 15 was interrupted and 15.13 will be the last episode aired “for a while.”
The show was supposed to finish up this fall, as the only original programming on the CW before January, but so far, the Creation cons have been postponed into next year and the cast and crew remain at home. They did put out a poster for the final episodes and include the show in a new promo. So, there’s that.
Note that I heartily endorse the cast and crew staying home until it’s safe. I sure hope CW head Mark Pedowitz is taking that safety of his employees a lot more seriously than it seems in his most recent interview.
If you’re enjoying these articles and reviews, any contributions are welcome. Even in a pandemic, the kitties still gotta eat.
Scroll down to find links to all of my recaps and reviews of all seasons up to this point.
Recap: We start with a recap from last week of Sam’s coda speech to Dean about how they are no longer on the same page and that everything that has ever gone wrong between them is because they are family (translation: It’s all Dean’s fault).
I roll my eyes really hard because how often are these two ever on the same page? Sure, it happens occasionally, but their fundamental dynamic in the MOTWs (and even the mytharc) is that they are almost always at loggerheads and on the opposite sides of an issue. Oh, and that they put the “D” in “family dysfunction.” I’ve been binge-(re)watching Lucifer of late in anticipation of season five, part 1 streaming on Netflix, August 21, and these two could really use a dose of Dr. Linda in their lives.
Cut to Now and a hot-dog-eating contest in progress at the Hotdoggery in Stillwater, MN. The fat guy wins $1000 while the skinny guy cries foul and an adoring dark-haired woman watches them from the cheering crowd. Later, the winner goes out to his car at night (of course) with his trophy and the $1000. And, oh, yeah, it does turn out that he was cheating. He did stick a hot dog in his pocket, which he now proceeds to eat.
But then he hears a weird noise. When he wipes the fog off his driver’s side window, all he sees is the bar’s neon sign and he goes back to laughing over his win. But then a hooded figure pops up inside the car behind him and attacks him through the backseat. It … shrivels him to death, basically, then gets out and leaves. The camera zeroes in on a bumper sticker about bacon on the back bumper.
Cue season nine burning angel wings title card.
Cut to the Bunker, where Dean is staring at a laptop screen in the kitchen when Sam walks in. Dean admits that he was so hyper from the previous day (hunt?) that he pulled an all-nighter. Among the things he watched was the movie Unforgiven (1992). Well, that’s apt. He’s also drinking and still looking scruffy. We are definitely well into the Scruffwatch period of the show for him. I miss those days.
Dean says he has been trying to track down Metatron or more information on the Mark of Cain. Nothing on that mytharc-y stuff so far, but he did find them a case. He brings up Doomed Teaser Guy and notes that he went from 300 to 90 lbs. Even Sam has to admit that’s their kind of case.
Dean says he’ll be ready in five minutes after a “whore’s bath” (yikes). Since Dean hasn’t brought it up and Sam is apparently just dying to twist the knife, Sam brings up his little speech at the end of last episode. Dean snarks that he heard “loud and clear” the part where Sam doesn’t consider them brothers, anymore, but “I don’t break that easy.”
Sam snottily says he was “just being honest” (in case we were wondering if his speech was intentionally hurtful, this confirms it was). Sure, Sam.
Dean, pissed, just snarks and walks out, leaving Sam like, Well, that wasn’t nearly as satisfying as I expected it to be. Guess I’ll need to try again at the end of this episode. If, at first, you don’t succeed at being an abusive dickhead ….
Cut to a police station in Stillwater. The Brothers are in their FBI suits, meeting up with a perky, blonde sheriff who might look a bit familiar to all you Saltgunners out there. Yep, that’s right. This is Donna Hanscum’s very first appearance.
Donna is friendly and helpful, giving up info on DTG’s autopsy without demur. She also offers Dean a powdered donut and they engage in a bit of synchronized donut-eating that Donna doesn’t even notice, but that makes Sam very uncomfortable that Dean is embarrassing them.
Donna says that DTG was killed by “heart failure,” but they’re not really sure what it was. In addition to going down from 316 lbs to 90 lbs in mere moments, he had major damage to his internal organs. Donna agrees with Dean’s assessment that it’s almost as if he were “hoovered.”
As Sam asks her questions about the competitive eating circuit (which is extremely competitive in this neck of the woods), Donna goes all Fargo in her dialect and gives the skinny guy from the teaser a name, Slim Jim Morgan. He was the victim, Wayne McNut’s, main professional rival. Alas, he was still inside the Hotdoggery when Wayne was killed, so he has an alibi.
Cut to an ordinary house, where Slim Jim is practice-eating while being interviewed by the Brothers, still in their suits. He is eating lettuce to stretch his stomach (which doesn’t impress Dean). He claims that Wayne was a cheat, but the conversation quick turns to a shelf with a photo and knicknacks (almost a small shrine) of Jim with the dark-haired woman from the teaser. He says her name is Mala and that she is Rom (a short conversation ensues about how Mala thinks the word “Gypsy,” now considered a slur, is “reductive”). Specifically, she is a Romanichal Traveller (from English-speaking areas like the British Isles). Jim refers to her as his “old lady,” though he otherwise seems to regard her with, however offhand, affection.
Sam asks to use the bathroom and Jim tells him to go use the one upstairs because Mala is taking a shower in the downstairs one. As Dean distracts Jim with questions about how many hot dogs he lost by to Wayne, Sam actually investigates the bedroom just outside where Mala is taking her shower. There, he sees a strangely worked leather bag, but has to leave just as Mala comes out in a towel. He returns to the kitchen just as Jim is beginning to get suspicious and the Brothers quickly make their exit, leaving their contact info.
Back at the motel, Dean examines the bag, which Sam has purloined. It contains some of Wayne’s hair and a marble, among other things. Having looked it up, Sam identifies it as a “putsi bag,” a magical charm bag which can be used for hexes. Mala appears to be a witch.
There’s a knock at the door. Pistol in hand, Dean goes to open it, peers through the spyhole, and opens it with a bemused expression. It’s Mala and she’d like her bag back.
Inside the motel room, Mala willingly has an interview with the Brothers. It turns out that, far from being hostile toward Wayne, she’d been having an affair with him for years.
Dean asks her, fairly delicately, why she was with a hefty guy like Wayne when her husband was so skinny. She admits that she likes “a little give” in her men. Surprised, Dean admits that that makes sense, though Sam cuts him off at his clumsy attempt to commiserate.
Mala insists to Sam that she wasn’t trying to hurt Wayne – completely the opposite. She was using her putsi bag to bless him. The plan was to “get a quickie divorce” and go get married in Florida. She admits that “Wayne used to call me his Princess Jasmine.” This wins a quick and genuine smile from Dean, but he drops it quickly as Mala looks mournful.
Cut to a gym at night. A woman, the only person in the gym, is exercising on a stationary bike to Joe Cocker’s “Up Where We Belong” and looking frustrated. She gets off and goes over to a scale, where she looks even more frustrated when it says she basically hasn’t lost any pounds. In fact, she gained some.
She hears a noise (she’s being stalked and not just by the camera). She calls out to whoever is there, but no one answers. So, she turns back to the scale, where she has gone up another tenth of a pound to 180.4. Her stalker, who wears gloves, picks up a barbell and smacks her across the back of the head. Stunned, she lands flat on the scale. Something moves under her shirt as she screams in horror and then she begins to rapidly lose weight. As she dies, she settles at 74.6 lbs.
The next morning, the Brothers are at the scene, looking at the corpse. A deputy tells them the woman’s original weight was listed as 160 and Dean guesses (correctly) that it was more like 180 because “women always lie about their age and weight.” When Sam snarks that Dean recently told a waitress he was 29 (at this point in the show, Dean is about 35 and Sam about 31, depending on how you game those time jumps in between seasons), Dean’s like, Yeah, and? completely unabashed and in a tone as if to say that just proves his point. People lie about things they’re not proud of, especially the stuff they can’t change (or can’t change easily).
Dean finds a raised red mark on the victim’s side and Sam guesses a suction mark. But Sam disagrees with Dean’s guess of a Changeling, saying none of the victims had any children. And they don’t know if Wayne had a suction mark. Nor can they check because their friendly neighborhood Fargo girl, Donna, has gone on vacation.
As a hot young blonde woman shows up to talk to a policeman, looking shellshocked, Dean suggests he and Sam split up, with one of them interviewing witnesses at the gym and the other going to the morgue. Dean immediately volunteers to stay and Sam starts to demur. Dean than flatly tells him no, saying that Sam is “weird around girls.” And you know what? He’s not actually wrong.
Sam is a little shocked at this, but Dean snarks that he’s “just being honest” and walks off.
Dean interviews the blonde (of course). It turns out she was the last employee the night before, but she hadn’t actually closed down. She had a date. The victim was still there, working out (she wanted to be thin for her wedding). Dean’s witness didn’t want to disturb her, so she let the victim have her key. She now feels bad about this, for obvious reasons, since the victim died while alone at the gym. As they roll the body bag past, she turns away, overwhelmed, and Dean is startled to see a circular mark on her side, just like the one on the victim.
Back at the motel, Dean is on the laptop when Sam comes in. Sam says Wayne had a mark on the back of his neck. Dean says the employee did, too, and that she had recently lost a lot of weight. She was too embarrassed to tell him how, but he sussed out she had gone away the previous month “for some ‘Me’ Days,” did some research, and found out she went to a place called Canyon Valley Wellness Spa.
Dean cues up a video full of Andean pan flutes. A young Hispanic woman with a thick accent and an Anglo man are walking down a hallway as they sell the idea of losing weight to get in touch with that “thin” person deep inside, in a short time (a week), with no heavy workouts or restrictive diets. Dean looks smug at the connection he’s made to the case. Sam asks how far to drive and Dean replies. “Coupla hours.” Off they go.
At this pretentiously named and snow-covered retreat in the mountains, the Brothers have an interview with the people who run it, Maritza and her husband Larry. Larry met Maritza in Peru when he was an exchange student. He was overeating and got fat, and she helped him lose the extra weight. And … that and his giving her a green card seem to be the basis for their marriage. He does some karate chop moves that startle the Brothers and ends with a yoga “namaste” pose.
The Brothers (mostly) ace the interview. Sam does, anyway, but there’s only one instructor position open. So, Sam ends up teaching Ashtanga Yoga, while Dean is stuck in the kitchen, wearing a hairnet and surrounded by the “rabbit food” he hates so much. Needless to say, Dean’s not thrilled, especially since his boss, an even grumpier Hispanic dude, thinks Dean’s flirting with the Yoga instructor (an old, very old joke, Show) when he briefly compares notes with Sam before Sam’s class. When Dean wonders where Sam learned Yoga, Sam obliquely mentions Lisa (she was a Yoga instructor) and manages not to get punched in the face for it.
Meanwhile, Maritza is having a private “cupping” session with Donna. Donna gets very sleepy and zonks out while Maritza puts the cups on. Maritza says it’s the aromatherapy, “That lavender really packs a punch.” But as soon as she finishes putting the cups on, her eyes roll back in her head and she extrudes a long and gross sucker tongue onto Donna’s back, which she uses to suck up Donna’s fat. Say hello to the MOTW.
In the kitchen, Dean is on his phone, texting, which irritates his supervisor. Dean is grumpy and hungry. He gets even hungrier when his supervisor brings out a big bowl of pudding and tells him to spoon it into cups. The pudding is a special treat for the clients on “Spa Day” for right before they leave.
Well, Dean is tempted (I know you’re all shocked) and sneaks off down into a basement storage room, with a locked wine cellar, on his break with some pudding. But when he stands up to head back upstairs to work, he gets dizzy and passes out on some bags of sweet potatoes.
Meanwhile, Sam is discovering that there is more to teaching Yoga than knowing the moves and having dated his own version of Lisa. He wants everyone to hold a position known as “The Dog” for five minutes so that he can look at their backs, but when one guy grumbles (accurately) that they usually only hold a position for 30 seconds, he has to revise downward. He finds that everyone in the class has a suction mark on their backs. But, like the fitness employee Dean interviewed, they are all still alive. At the end, as he sees everyone out, you can tell that a lot of them aren’t thrilled with him.
Sam turns and sees Donna being rolled by Larry in a wheelchair down the hallway in her silk bathrobe. She looks stoned and accidentally “outs” him, blurting out his FBI fake agent name. Sam manages to slide out from under getting his cover blown by pretending she’s hallucinating, but it’s a close shave. He’s grateful to get a call that interrupts the awkward moment.
It’s Dean, who is semi-conscious in the storage room, but unable to get up. Dean begs Sam for help, but is able only to supply one clue: “sweet potatoes.” He passes out again.
Sam rushes into the kitchen and finds his way downstairs, where he eventually discovers the right room by process of elimination and calling until Dean answers. Sam slaps him awake and Dean readily admits he was drugged, that it must have been the pudding (salted caramel). Sam goes back upstairs to find the drugs. Dean starts to go after him, then realizes he’s too stoned and just lies back down.
Upstairs, Sam finds the chef and shoves him up against the wall, demanding to know what the extra ingredient is in the pudding. Confused, the chef tells him they’re just “supplements.” Sam brings them back down, along with an energy drink to help him wake up, and shows Dean the bottle. Dean immediately (and accurately) identifies them as roofies.
Sam: How do you know what roofies look like?
Dean: How do you not know? You think I wanna wake up in a hotel bathtub, with my kidney carved out? In Chechnya?
Dean is, of course, referring to a very famous urban legend that goes back at least to 1991. What surprises me is that Sam doesn’t know that. What show does he think he’s in? Urban legends are part of the show’s bread and butter. Did he forget about that time in season three when he almost got his eyes scooped out by Doc Benton?
Sam fills Dean in on the suction marks he saw in the class and Dean wonders what the hell is going on. Without much else to go on, they visit Donna.
Donna is thrilled that she has lost ten pounds – in one day – and doesn’t want to look too deeply into it when Dean asks how. He also off-handedly comments that “you look great” and when she admits that her husband Doug left her last year because she had gained weight, the Brothers commiserate with her. Sam says he’s “sorry to hear that.” Dean goes further, calling Doug “a dick” and that “you deserve better.” He seems quite sincere and he’s not wrong. We will meet Doug later in the show and he is no prize.
Donna, honey, go tap that. He’s very willing and will make you feel so much better.
Unfortunately, Donna has internalized Doug’s (and society’s) judgmental attitude about fat. It’s taken her six months to get into this spa. “I guess I just wanted to feel pretty again and Canyon Valley did that.”
Fortunately, Donna is still a smart investigator and has twigged that the Brothers are undercover. Dean admits that they are investigating a connection between the murders in her town and the spa. Sam mentions the “suction cup” marks and Donna readily shows them hers. She says she got it from her sleepy, pudding-induced spa treatment. With Maritza.
Cut to Larry pulling Maritza out of a brunch with a client. It turns out he didn’t buy Sam’s lie that Donna mistook him for someone else. Larry went through the Impala’s glove compartment and found the Brothers’ fake FBI badges. And some other fake IDs. Larry is well aware of what his wife is and of the existence of Hunters.
Maritza is confused. Why would Hunters come to Canyon Valley? Larry shows her a printout of an article about DTG’s death in Stillwater and she looks horrified. He tells her to clean up any evidence of her activities while he takes care of the Brothers. Think you got your work cut out for you, there, Larry.
Meanwhile, Sam is skulking around in the pink spa room and not finding a whole lot.
In a deserted part of the cafeteria, Maritza is opening up a fridge that is full of small vats of fat she extracted from clients. She dumps one, but can’t resist tasting another when she hears the click of a gun safety behind her. She turns around to see Dean, pistol leveled at her.
Dean ties her to a chair and tells her to start talking. She sings like a bird, but it’s not the story the Brothers expected. She says that she is a “Pishtaco” (which Dean at first thinks is “fish taco”), “a Peruvian fat sucker.” Dean says he’s never heard of them and compares them to vampires who like “cellulite.”
Maritza says that “vampires kill. We’re just parasites.” Unsurprisingly, Dean doesn’t think that’s better. But Maritza insists she would never hurt anyone. She and Larry started the spa so that their human clients could lose weight and she wouldn’t starve. When Dean points out that there are two dead people in Stillwater, she admits, after a reluctant pause, that the killer is her brother Alonso – Dean’s supervisor in the cafeteria.
Meanwhile, Larry is having a fight with Alonso back in the kitchen because he’s also twigged that Alonso is the killer. Larry threatens to expose Alonso (whom he calls a “freak”). This turns out to be a dumb idea because Alonso promptly kills him. Sam hears the fight and finds Larry’s dead body with a throat wound.
Back in her office, a tied-up Maritza is admitting to Dean (and now Sam, who clearly has told her about her husband’s death because she’s crying) that she brought Alonso back from Peru with her. She wanted to show Alonso a more “civilized” way to feed on humans, one that was mutually beneficial. But Alonso had recently lost control with a client and nearly killed them, so she had put him on kitchen duty. Alonso was forced to rely just on the fat in the jars she had, but claimed she was starving him. Sounds like Alonso was addicted to the kill, not just the fat.
They get her to tell them where Alonso is likely to be (the basement). Dean says that for now, she stays tied to the chair, even though she insists she’s on their side. Sam tells her to prove it – how can her kind be killed? Very reluctantly, she tells them.
The Brothers go down into the kitchen together, with what look like silver knives (the usual kill-all for unknown monsters). The basement lights aren’t working (guess Alonso fried them), so Dean finds some flashlights and down they go (there’s also some red emergency lighting). They then split up.
Dean enters a storeroom and finds jars of fat, about half of them empty. Sam finds Alonso’s bunk and the chef dead on the floor, with the same wound as Larry’s. Also, a bloody footprint into another storeroom. He finds a closet, though it only has clothes, but Alonso knocks the wardrobe next to it over on Sam. Sam manages to get free and they fight, but then Sam loses his knife.
In the process, Alonso boasts that Sam and “Stupido” (Dean, of course) can’t beat him, since fat makes Pishtacos stronger. Methinks Alonso is high on his own press.
Sam responds by taunting him that Maritza turned on him after he killed her husband. He’s become too monstrous even for her. Sam goes for the knife, but gets knocked through a wall and momentarily stunned. But as Alonso goes in for the feed-kill, Dean comes out of nowhere, grabs his sucker tongue, and cuts it from his head. The tongue twitches for a while longer after Alonso dies. So much for Dean being stupid, but then, Alonso was no MENSA candidate, himself.
Cut to an exterior shot of Canyon Valley, then an inside shot of a coroner’s stretcher being pushed past Sam and Dean, who are talking with Donna (now in uniform). Sam, who is sporting a bloody lip, sees Maritza sitting alone nearby and goes to talk to her. She asks him what he told Donna. He says that it was “the usual … psycho killer on the loose. They usually buy it.”
Maritza realizes that she is now completely alone. Sam’s attempt to commiserate with her is interrupted by Dean pulling him out of the room for a Brotherly chat about what to do with her. Do they kill her or what? Dean’s for Option #1 and comments that Sam did want to keep things businesslike (and this is their “business”). Sam wants to let her go because hey, what if a Hunter had encountered him while he was possessed by Gadriel? Would Sam have ended up dead, too (considering the formidableness of angels, I rather doubt that, Sam). So, they let her go back to Peru, with the caveat that she never return to the U.S. We get a final shot of her looking around the room at her shattered dream.
Back at the Bunker, Dean is drinking in the kitchen when Sam comes in. Sam apparently wasn’t done with the bitchy speeches as of last week, because he has one even worse brewed up to unleash on Dean this week.
Sam has come in to say goodnight and starts to leave, but Dean calls him back. He references the speech from last week and Sam rather nastily comments that he thought Dean said he wasn’t bothered by it (even though Dean’s been acting pissed about it all episode). Dean points out that he’s saved Sam repeatedly all season nine, including in this very episode. Dean admits that he doesn’t always “think things all the way through” to their consequences, but that when he does something, “I do it because it’s the right thing. I’d do it again.”
Well, that right there is what sets Sam off. Sam says that Dean is wrong for thinking he’s saving Sam, that he’s doing more good than bad. But he says that Dean doesn’t do more good than bad, that saving him (Sam) wasn’t a good thing, since it ended up with Kevin dead and Kevin’s killer on the loose.
When Dean protests that they are best hunting together, Sam sits down and tells Dean that he doesn’t think Dean saved Sam for Sam. He did it for himself. He says that Dean just didn’t want to be by himself and “can’t stand the thought of being alone.” Sam says he was ready to die and Dean was selfish to stop him. He says that Dean is happy to make a sacrifice “as long as you’re not the one being hurt.”
Dean points out that “if the situation were reversed, you’d do the same thing [save Dean].” Sam just retorts that he wouldn’t. He hedges it with “not under the same circumstances” (because he’s actually done far worse toward the goal of saving Dean). But considering this is in the context of his having abandoned Dean in Purgatory (and Kevin to the tender mercies of Crowley) for a year just a season and a half before, it comes out sounding absolute. As Sam leaves, the episode ends on Dean’s look of utter devastation at the realization that no, his brother does not love him the same way Dean loves him. That, in fact, Sam may not love him at all.
The show got a 1.0/3 in A18-49 demo and 2.46 million in audience. That was up from The Originals episode that preceded it (that show was never really a hit. The network just pretended it was) but down 300 thousand from the show’s previous episode.
Review: This poor episode. “The Purge” is actually an engaging story with an original MOTW, decent pacing, some unusual roles for the Brothers (even if Dean’s “job” at the fitness center is played a bit too much for mean-spirited laughs at Dean’s expense), and so on. I even liked Maritza and Mala, and wouldn’t mind seeing them again.
But at the end of the day, it will always be remembered (negatively) for that ending. To add insult to injury, Sam had already given Dean a version of this speech in the previous episode, but ramped up the nasty this time round.
There is a great deal of projected hostility in Sam’s speech, for which he never apologized (his “I lied” at the end of the season is far too little, too late). Sam calls Dean all the things that he himself thinks he is, but Dean of course feels them as if they’re real and is so devastated that he eventually commits a suicidal act at the end of the season.
The sad part is that Dean, with his dangerously low self-esteem, takes Sam’s insults to heart and Sam, knowing this, aims them for maximum effect. And why? Because he is momentarily angry with Dean over getting him possessed by Gadriel, which is a legit reason to be angry, if not mean. But Sam goes way too far.
Another reason is far less sympathetic and probably more honest. He resents that Dean has something new in his life that Sam doesn’t understand, something “special” that Sam doesn’t have. Sam is used to being the special one. Boy, does it ruffle his jammies that Dean is suddenly the special one, even though Dean is freaked out by it and really could use the support right now. Instead, Sam gaslights him and the show never calls him out on it. It makes Sam look extremely unsympathetic and the effect was long-lasting and divisive with the fandom, rather like that time Sam choked Dean half to death on behalf of a demon.
The title is, of course, a double pun. It’s related to the desire of people to lose their fat, to the point of letting a monster eat it (purging it). It’s also derived from the popular horror film series about a dystopian future in which (almost) all laws are canceled for a single night each year.
I haven’t had much use for that series, since the first film is basically about rich people playing vicious power games with each other (and I’ve always been meh about home invasion stories of this type). The rest of the series, however, gets much more into the racist and classist nitty-gritty of why a totalitarian government has created this night and how it’s used by the rich to keep down the poor. In a bit of career irony, the actor who played Alonso, Joseph Julian Soria, later appeared in the third film of the series, The Purge: Election Night (2016), as a main character named Marcos.
Let’s get back to the MOTW. The Pishtaco is a bit different from the show’s usual MOTW. It comes from the Andes in South America and appears to be, originally, an indigenous legend. It may not be Pre-Columbian, though, since it appears, at least in the first form we see it in the 16th century, to be a legend indigenous Peruvians told about the Spanish invaders.
The indigenous Puruvians so valued fat that they had a god of fat whom they worshiped (Viracocha, which some translate as “sea of fat”). They believed that the Spanish were killing Indians to render their fat in order to grease their metal weapons or even church bells. At least one historian claims that the Conquistadores actually did use the fat from dead bodies to put on wounds. Therefore, while the casting in the show implies that this MOTW is indigenous Peruvian, the Pishtaco is usually someone white or mestizo because this monster is basically a cannibal metaphor for European colonial voracity.
In its tendency to steal the fat around a person’s organs, the Pishtaco has some similarities to indigenous witch legends from North America, such as the Cherokee Spearfinger and Stone Man, who eat their victims’ livers. In both cases, these monsters steal their victims’ vitality, however that vitality is represented (either as fat or as livers). It is not entirely clear from these legends, however, if the Pishtaco is supposed to be a supernatural creature like Spearfinger (or the Algonquin Wendigo), or a human, like some early version of the “Woke up in a bathtub missing a kidney” urban legend that Dean references in the roofies scene. In fact, this led recently to an apparently invented urban legend of a serial killing, fat-stealing gang called the “Pishtacos,” by the Peruvian police in 2009.
Despite its very first MOTW being a Hispanic legend (La Llorona as a Phantom Hitchhiker in the Pilot), Supernatural doesn’t actually do that many legends of Hispanic/Latinx/Latin American origin, so this is a nice change. And it was a good callout to the very large following the show has in South America, particularly Brazil, where it is known as Sobrenatural.
The show also did some briefer cultural call-outs. First, you have “fish tacos,” a favored San Diego culinary delight. Fish tacos originated in Baha California, though it’s not clear whether they came from San Felipe or Ensenada sometime in the 1950s. I suspect one of the recipe’s ancestors is Paella Valenciana, a rice recipe with seafood from the southeastern Mediterranean coast of Spain.
Then there’s the subject of cultural appropriation. This especially pops up in Canyon Valley’s use of Yoga. There’s an ongoing debate about the cultural appropriation of Yoga in the West by white practitioners who both strip Yoga of its religious (and even philosophical) context and mostly shut out South Asian practitioners. South Asian practitioners also note that Yoga, which is a huge and lucrative business in the West, was originally a set of teachings offered completely for free.
While the episode doesn’t come out and explicitly discuss cultural appropriation, Canyon Valley is obviously a satire on how cultural appropriation intersects with racism and colonial attitudes in the West. It’s most obvious with the Yoga, but also pops up with the references to cupping (which has ancient and complex origins). There is also an attempt early on at respect toward Roma culture, though it’s somewhat undercut by being a direct (and explicitly referenced) steal from Stephen King’s Thinner.
The exploration of attitudes about fat is less clear. There are various references both to the shame people in the West feel about fat and to other cultures where being fat is more valued. When Dean refers to Maritza “hoovering” up people’s fat, he’s talking about the vacuum brand. But it’s also a term referring to the manipulations abusive partners (especially narcissists) use to drag their victim back into a relationship. You know, kind of like what Sam does to Dean early in season eight and from now through season eleven.
Perhaps the reason Donna immediately comes off as human and with some depth is because we see both her professional face and her more vulnerable personal face in her introduction. Maybe that’s why they brought her back.
Donna’s insecurities mean she also does not see that Dean almost immediately has a connection to her, that turns into a sort of Ducky Love. Dean isn’t just being nice (the way Sam is) when he tells her she deserves better than her shallow douche of an ex. Dean says Donna looks “great” because he honestly thinks she does look “pretty.” I liked Donna and still kinda hope those two crazy kids will hook up at some point. They’d both deserve it and Lord knows, I need that after having to suffer through watching Rowena and Gabriel shag.
In fact, Dean connects with all of the women in the story whom he meets (so, three out of four because this episode has an unusually high number of randomly female guest stars – not that I’m complaining), except for the female monster, all much to Sam’s embarrassment. Sam, on the other hand, mouths the right platitudes, but only emotionally comes alive when interacting with Maritza, following the revelation that she’s a monster.
When Dean tells Sam that he’s “weird around girls,” Dean’s not actually wrong. There’s a part of Sam (you see it in the Yoga class) that is very judgmental of people’s appearance – not just their social appearance, but their actual physical appearance. Dean’s not like that. Dean may be “sloppy,” but he’s also tolerant of people’s flaws, as long as they are non-harmful, human flaws.
It is especially curious that Sam, in the bright, shallow, surface world of Canyon Valley, looks like the perfect monster hunter. There’s an explicit visual contrast between him and Dean in their physical appearance in this episode. While Sam gets a tank top and shorts that show off his impressive physique, Dean’s musculature is obscured by long sleeves and long pants, and a goofy hairnet.
But once they get down into the basement, Sam proves unable to overcome the MOTW (though he puts up a good fight), a feat Dean accomplishes easily, almost casually. This was early in the MoC storyline, so it was kept ambiguous, like Dean’s werewolf kills the previous episode. Was that monster kill really as overwhelmingly one-sided as it looked or did Dean just happen to catch Alonso off-guard? Was Alonso really so strong that he could take down Sam like that, or was Sam just having a bad day and Dean a really good day in the context of the episode?
The Brothers are both superlative Hunters, though Dean has always had a physical edge whenever they were both “just” human, as well as generally better instincts. And the show can be inconsistent about how each one’s skills and abilities are portrayed in contrast to MOTWs (or even each other) within episodes, particularly MOTW episodes. But within this specific episode, Sam seems to lose Hunter mojo when he goes down in the dark, while Dean actually grows much stronger. As with the rest of the episode, looks are deceiving about who is in the best physical shape and who is the better Hunter.
This probably fuels the resentment behind Sam’s speech at the end. The implication is that while Dean still needs Sam emotionally, that connection (and Sam’s control over Dean) is thinning between them. Hence Sam’s gaslighting overkill of Dean at the end, in an attempt to regain that emotional control.
Up to this point in the season, Sam has been All About his mangst over not dying, over having been possessed by Gadriel, and over Gadriel having used his body to kill Kevin. So, he’s a little slow to realize that the show (and Dean) has already moved on to a new mytharc storyline, the Mark of Cain. Even so, he is slightly ahead of the audience in recognizing the permanence of the sea change and he doesn’t like it. Bet you’re regretting that whole “We’re not brothers” speech last week, already, huh, Sam?
There are some pretty obvious parallels in the show’s version between the brother-and-sister MOTWs and the Brothers Winchester. Though it’s not entirely clear which is which. The brother Pishtaco is voracious and out of control in his appetites. He doesn’t care whom he hurts, including his brother-in-law.
The sister just wants to live and let live, turning her need for fat into a mutually beneficial relationship with a society of humans who have far too much of it and want to get rid of it. She is harmed by her brother’s reckless actions and ultimately is forced to go back home, a widow and now illegal immigrant (the episode’s metaphor for immigration from Latin America is clumsy).
Or at any rate, that’s her story. When threatened, she wastes no time throwing her brother under the bus. We get at least one example (she didn’t warn the Brothers that consuming fat makes a Pishtaco much stronger) where she is not entirely on the level. It’s probably just as well Dean didn’t untie her and let her tag along for the fratricidal ride. Even if she was honest about now wanting her brother to hurt any more humans, she had been feeding regularly and was likely stronger than him. For all Sam and Dean knew, she could have lost control and turned on them, too.
For much of the episode, it seems clear that Dean parallels the brother and Sam the sister, but that ending speech flips this analogy right on its head.
What’s especially striking is that Sam doesn’t really identify with any of the characters in the story at all (his reactions are fake and shallow) – except for Maritza. And he only identifies with Maritza because he makes her situation All About his own manpain over being possessed by Gadriel and killing Kevin. With everyone else, he’s emotionally detached, but Maritza the Sympathetic Monster he feels sorry for, or at least as much as she serves as a mirror for his own issues. It’s colossaly narcissistic.
When poor Maritza asks at the end, What am I going to do now? Sam’s response is basically, Well, we’re going to let you go back to Peru and I’m sure you’ll do fine. Once he talks Dean out of killing her, Sam’s interest in her is done.
I’m simultaneously struck by how terribly lonely it must be to be Sam Winchester and what a self-absorbed asshole he is. I get that he’s damaged by their childhood with John and lifelong manipulations by demons, but damn, Sam. There are other people in the world. And I don’t just mean Dean.
It’s pretty disturbing that Sam just wants to let Maritza go, now that she has no family and no support system. Sure, Dean’s solution is harsh, but he has a point – her brother was a killer and now she’s very likely to become one, too. Let’s face it. Sam’s judgment of which monsters will or won’t re-offend is dodgy, at best. Remember Amy Pond, whom he was willing to let go even while she still had the blood of her human victims on her hands?
When I first watched this episode, I thought Sam’s speech felt tacked on, one of those codas to remind us of the mytharc that got ignored all episode. But on rewatch, I think there are a lot of subtle signs leading up to the speech that show just how hollow a person Sam really can be. In addition to his using the accusation to twist the knife, I think Sam honestly believes (consciously, anyway) that Dean really is being selfish in saving him, that Dean only does it to avoid being alone. And I think that’s because Sam saves other people for selfish reasons, himself. He is, as I said earlier in this review, projecting his own hang-ups onto Dean.
This will become much clearer later in this season and the next. But there’s no need to get spoilery about upcoming storylines to tease this out. Sam spent the first half of season eight insanely jealous of Dean’s close bond with the vampire Benny. Sam sabotaged that friendship – and Benny – every chance he got. Dean had just spent a year alone in Purgatory, when he could have just left, because he wanted to find and rescue Castiel, but now Dean’s the one who’s clingy? I don’t think so, Sammy.
It’s also downright bizarre to listen to Sam rant about how Dean stole his destiny out from under him and wouldn’t let him die. That’s because first of all, when Sam took on the Trials, he made it abundantly clear that he intended to survive them. He also chose, at the end of season eight, to live by forgoing the completion of the Third Trial. There was never any reason for Dean to believe that Sam wanted to die in the season nine premiere, aside from a rather questionable vision given to him on Sam’s deathbed by an angel who turned out to be treacherous. As far as Dean knew, he was fulfilling Sam’s wishes by finding a way to heal him.
Second, Sam stole those Trials from Dean in the first place. They were in no way Sam’s intended destiny. Dean had been pursuing that quest since Kevin had mentioned it near the beginning of season eight. He made it clear in “Trial and Error” that he intended to take them on, even if it killed him. So, every time Sam starts whining that Dean stopped him from completing those Trials (which turned out to be a fraud and a trap, anyway), I roll my eyes pretty hard at the way Sam so freely rewrites history.
I think that Sam is struggling in seasons eight and nine with a sudden and unwelcome (to him) new change. He’s now fully human. You might think, after the seven seasons of moaning about the curse of his demon blood and being Lucifer’s chew toy, that Sam might be glad – nay, thrilled – to be free of all that, but remember that the central horror metaphor for Sam’s demon blood storyline has always been addiction.
Sam is an addict and he has an addict’s mentality. He isn’t just addicted to the demon blood. He’s addicted to how his “destiny” made him feel special. It made him feel superior. Dean kept sabotaging all that until he finally accomplished the impossible – he got Sam stripped down to his human core. And boy, does Sam resent that. As dark and ugly as that destiny was, without it, Sam feels ordinary.
This is actually a fascinating storyline for Sam. Pretty? No. It makes Sam very unsympathetic for quite a while as he learns to sort things out. But it’s still pretty fascinating. This is a character who has always felt cursed, but adapted to it by kind of enjoying how the curse made him feel special. Can’t fault Sam for that. No, it’s Sam’s selfish and aggressive response to being cured of that curse that is unsympathetic.
Unfortunately, the writers waffled a lot on it. Partly, I think, it was because some of the writers (coughAndrewDabbcoughNepotismDuocoughcough) were still stuck in the Speshul Sauce Sammy rut. But partly, it was because this storyline got a lot of blowback from Sam fans. It was a rich storyline, acting-wise, for Jared Padalecki and I gotta say, he did not hold back on playing Sam as a hot narc mess and complete dick. But for all the complaining in some fan quarters that Sam never got the emotional “human” storylines Dean got during Sam’s mytharcs, boy, did those same fans really hate it when Dean got the mytharc and Sam got some of Dean’s old “Wind Beneath My Wings” motifs.
Finally, there’s how this fits into the slow-ish build-up of the Mark of Cain storyline in season nine. To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t at all clear on first run if there even was an MoC storyline (despite Dean’s brief mention of it at the beginning of the episode). Had it been teased and dropped, already? Who knew?
In retrospect, this is a pivotal episode. First, of course, is Sam’s obnoxious speech, which heavily fueled the self-loathing that led Dean to the end of the season. Second, though, we are beginning to see what powers the MoC gives to Dean. After Alonso’s bragging about taking out both Brothers, Dean dispatches him easily. Sure, Dean catches him off-guard, but still, there’s no sense it’s hard in any way for Dean to pull off. There’s more than a hint in there of superhuman strength and reflexes in Dean.
To be honest, Dean probably could have prosecuted this hunt quite successfully on his own. Yeah, he accidentally drugs himself at one point, but it doesn’t actually put his life at risk. And he finds most of the clues. Sam is the one who nearly gets himself killed. The sense later on in the show that Dean gets of not really needing Sam to hunt, while he’s got the MoC, is not quite as strong as it was in last week’s episode, but it’s definitely there. I think Sam’s biggest fear at this point in the show is not that Dean needs him too much, but that Dean might be getting to the point where he doesn’t need Sam at all.
Next week: Captives: The Brothers discover that the Bunker is haunted.
The Kripke Years
The Gamble Years
The Carver Years
The Dabb Years