Tag Archives: witches

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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The Official Supernatural: “Golden Time” (15.06) Live Recap Thread

MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR, EVERYONE!


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It’s been a tough year, so I’m way behind on my recaps and reviews. I actually intended to be a few reviews more down the road, but the early part of December was busier than I expected and once I did hit a break, I kinda … faceplanted. Sorry. Hoping to be at least caught up with season 15 by the time it comes back from Hellatus in two weeks.

As of this review, I now have 58 episodes left to finish for previous seasons, plus the 14 after this one for the final (15th) season that started on October 10. That’s 72 total by next April. I currently have 151 coffees at $3 each on Ko-Fi (many thanks to those who have contributed so far!). If I get 300 coffees total, I will commit to doing one recap/review per week (retro or Season 15). If I get 400 coffees, I will commit to two. If I get 500 coffees, three reviews. If I get 600 coffees, four reviews. If I get 700 coffees, five reviews per week.

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

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

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

Recap: After a rather standard recap of the season so far for Castiel and Rowena’s storylines, we cut to a hallway in a very nice apartment building (all marble walls and such). A young blonde woman in hipster plaid clothing and a long jacket strolls toward a door. She knocks and calls out to “Ms. Mcleod,” claiming to be a concerned neighbor. Yeah, right.

Hearing nothing, she leans down and whispers, “Aperiator” into the keyhole. The door opens.

To Cobra Ramone’s “So Quiet” on the soundtrack (shocker! Some actual rock!), the young woman (rather obviously a rival witch seeking to loot a dead witch’s stuff) starts trashing the place. The fact that she not only is ransacking it, but deliberately smashes things she doesn’t need to, says a lot about what kind of person she is. So, when she gives up for a moment in frustration and yells, “Come on! Where is the good stuff?” it’s hard to feel sorry for her when her nose and eyes start to bleed. Even when she doesn’t quite make it back to the door and the deadly hex Rowena left behind takes her out.

Cue title cards.

At the Bunker, Sam is on his laptop when something transparent, but not quite invisible, comes through the door. Sam senses it, but is more puzzled than alarmed. Dean enters the kitchen at that moment. He’s in a bathrobe and pajamas, eating cereal out of the box and reading the simple jokes on the back, while “marathoning Scooby-Doo.” Even though he is laughing and seems outwardly cheerful, it is clear that Dean is very, very, very depressed and taking a much-needed Mental Health Day. Or maybe a week. Or a month.

Sam decides this is problematical, even though he did exactly the same thing a few episodes ago, for at least a couple of weeks. But nope, he’s over that and busy looking for Chuck and why isn’t Dean taking this seriously? Screw you, Sam.

Dean does ask if Sam has found anything (that’s a big negative) and if he’s had any more dreams (also a big negative). Sam asks if Dean noticed anything when he first came in (nope) and suggests that maybe the dreams have stopped.

Dean is skeptical about that. He figures Chuck still has a plan for them – “The Winchester Bowl: Cain and Abel 2.0” – and won’t let up until it’s finished. “We don’t need to worry about finding him. He’ll find us.”

Meanwhile, Castiel is somewhere woodsy and folksy, getting himself let into Simmzy’s Bait and Tackle Shop. It turns out he’s been fishing to pass the time. He mentions Dean in passing (though not by name).

As he’s getting a new fishing map, Castiel notices that the friendly shop owner, Andy, is drinking the booze early in the morning. Andy admits that he’s a volunteer firefighter and they had a bad call last night. They pulled the dead body of a local teen, Shane Coogan, out of the lake. Andy says the weirdest thing was that the kid’s body was drained of its blood.

Back in Lebanon, Sam is jogging (it’s finally back into Vancouver’s long rainy season/fall, so we’re free of that damned incessant sunshine from the season’s earlier episodes). He quickly realizes something is up when his breath fogs. As he glances over toward the waterside, he sees the same transparency we saw in the Bunker. This time, it resolves into a ghost – that of Eileen Leahy, the badass, Irish (and deaf, thanks to the banshee that killed her parents) Hunter who was murdered-by-Hell Hound in season 12 by Arthur Ketch.

Back at the Bunker, she’s talking to the Brothers and Dean is asking her questions. It turns out that because she was dragged off by the Hell Hound, she ended up in Hell. When Chuck blew open all the doors, she got out of there as fast as she could and cleared the area before Belphegor’s barrier went up (note that this means there could still be some very naughty ghosts out there). It turns out she circled back and has been trying to get the Brothers to see her ever since.

She now has a huge dilemma. She has no desire to go back to Hell, but if she stays a ghost, she’ll “go crazy.” Dean explains to her that they already found out (via Kevin) that souls that have been in Hell can’t go to Heaven afterward (I really hate that stupid bit of LOL!canon the writers pulled out of their asses this season). Obviously, she’s disappointed, though she struggles to be philosophical about it.

As the Brothers go off to consult in the corridor, Sam whines that Dean didn’t “sugar coat it” about what Eileen faces. Dean’s like, whatever. He actually has a different idea. He suggests using a soul catcher (like the crystal Rowena used to capture the Hell ghosts in the first couple of episodes), one which would house only Eileen. It’s at least better than Hell or going insane on earth.

Sam says the magic is complicated, but Dean tells him that he’s now like “Rowena’s protege, Ginger Jr.” and can make it happen. Is Dean … aware of what Sam did to Rowena to force her to help him lift the MoC from Dean’s arm at the end of season 10? Because the writers sure have forgotten and it was actually a pretty ugly incident in Sam’s arc.

Sam admits that if “it’s what Eileen wants,” maybe he can find a crystal at Rowena’s apartment. Seems, after all this bitching at Dean about taking a day off, Sam still hasn’t gone over there to clear out her place. Yeah, seriously, screw you, Sam.

Sam is upset when Dean tells him to go ahead and take care of it. Seems Sam wants Dean to come over with him and hold his hand through the process. Dean points out that it’s “a milk run,” so “kick it in the ass.” And he walks off, leaving Sam looking pissy.

Castiel is at the sheriff’s office, trying to find out more about the dead kid. But it seems the sheriff is out getting his hair cut, as he does every Tuesday (pretty sure this is a Victor/Victoria reference).

A woman also sitting in the waiting room asks Castiel for help, since she’s heard he’s FBI (he says he’s on vacation) and the sheriff’s novel-reading receptionist is useless. Seems the woman is a mother who heard about the dead boy. Now her son is missing after having gone camping the night before. Castiel agrees to help her.

At a SureGas station, Sam is gassing up the Impala, while apologizing to Eileen for her situation and not being able to fix it. Well, turns out Dean was right and Eileen is fine with the solution they’ve got. It sure beats the other alternatives.

Sam then tells her he was once in Hell, too, but she says she doesn’t want to talk about it just yet. He uses sign language and she’s flattered (as a ghost, she wouldn’t be deaf, but the show has been making ghosts way too solid this season, anyway).

I have mixed feelings about this team-up. On the one hand, I liked Eileen and I like Shoshannah Stern. And I like that the show is doing representation for the deaf community with an actress who is actually deaf (not exactly common on television). And she did have chemistry with Sam in her first appearance.

On the other hand, the writing is already de-evolving her from Eileen Badass Scarred Hunter (the deafness being the MOTW-induced scar she grew up with) into Sam’s New Girlfriend We Sure Hope The Show Won’t Kill Off This Time. Sam treats her with a kind of syrupy condescension that doesn’t sit right with me. Even Dean, who is all for the relationship, calls Sam out on decisions Sam keeps making for Eileen instead of helping her with decisions she’s made herself.

Also, I can’t say I’m thrilled they fridged her in the first place, in a way very similar to how they fridged her character in Jericho. So, that leaves a bad taste, too.

Sam and Eileen arrive at the apartment, only to find the place trashed and the Doomed Teaser Witch on the floor. As Sam comes in, a nearby mirror ripples and there’s a quick cut out to a white service van, with the words “Keep ‘er Movin’: “you Go we Pack” on the side, in the parking lot outside. It turns out that two other witches inside it are scrying/spying on Sam as he discovers a convenient tattoo on the dead body that identifies her as a member of the Ordo Maleficarum (Order of Witches). In the van, the older witch has a red hood, violet eyes, and an Oirish accent.

Sam figures the young dead witch sprang a trap, but doesn’t stop to wonder if he will also be affected as he closes the doors and goes off to find the Macguffin somewhere in the apartment.

Back on Castiel’s summer vacation, he’s talking to the sheriff, who is even lazier than his receptionist. The sheriff identifies the woman Castiel just met as one Ellen Krakowski, a woman who just moved into the area and is a frequent complainer at the station. Needless to say, the sheriff is dismissive of her concerns about her son. He also dismisses the recent drowning victim as an OD, saying only tourists go missing in town, not locals.

Castiel makes his hostility about the sheriff’s sloppy detective work obvious, especially when the sheriff insists the body has already been “shipped off to Cheyenne,” so Castiel can’t examine it. The sheriff then starts questioning Castiel’s credentials, so Castiel gives him a number. This number goes to a cell phone in the Bunker that is part of a network similar to the set of landlines Bobby used to have to help Hunters with their fake law enforcement credentials. Dean happens to be walking by in his bathrobe when the phone rings and answers it (after some quick sorting to figure out which one it is and which name to use).

After identifying himself as Castiel’s boss, Dean has the sheriff put Castiel on the line. Very reluctantly, Castiel takes it. After pointing out that Sam has been trying to call him, Dean quickly tells him that Chuck is back and to start checking his messages, already. Then he hangs up. After looking uncomfortable and rubbing his face with the phone, Castiel fakes a response and hands the phone back to the sheriff. This wins a concession from the sheriff to hand over the records for the drowned boy, Shane.

In Rowena’s apartment, Sam realizes that there is nothing of value there. Where is Rowena’s real “stuff”? Eileen gets an idea and walks through a bookshelf wall, then calls out from the other side. It turns out to be small storeroom. Once Sam gets it open, he finds Rowena’s important stuff, including journals that she kept up until her death about all her spellwork. Eileen asks if Sam “missed her” and Sam admits that he killed her as part of a spell to stop the Hell ghosts and save the world.

Sam: You ever feel like you’re the punch line to some cosmic joke?

Eileen [passing her ghost hand through his]: Are you kidding?!

Yeah, Sam, get your head out and get with the program.

Sam says that “Rowena got it. I mean, she didn’t know all the details, but she knew the game was rigged, so this … magic … this was how she kept control.” Well, that’s an awfully benign way to put it, Sam.

As he waves the journal around, Sam accidentally knocks a paper out of it and is surprised to find out it’s a spell. It seems Rowena was trying to bring back Mary (even without a body) until she found out Mary was Heaven and decided not to finish it. However, he thinks he can finish the spell and use it to resurrect Eileen. Well, that’s convenient.

However, as soon as he gets the stuff into the trunk, he’s hexed. He finds the hex bag, just as the other two witches get out of their van and approach him because sure, that’s smart, and the older one calls him by name. Sam signs to Eileen to get Dean, right before the older witch conveniently banishes her, presumably back to the Bunker. Yeah, not the brightest logs on the Yule fire, these two.

Sam wakes up inside the van, tied to a chair (natch). The older witch starts Evil Overlord monologuing about how Rowena’s dead and they came for her stuff, but they didn’t think they could get at it until Sam came bumbling along because Rowena hexed the apartment and only Sam is immune.

The dead witch is Jacinda, her oldest daughter. The other girl is apparently her other daughter. That one has just made a doll from Sam’s hair and hands it to the older witch with a nasty smile. Her mother uses it to torture Sam.

Sam tries to make a deal to get them ingredients (not mentioning that he just put them in the Impala’s trunk, which the witches should have seen already), in exchange for the spell, but the mother refuses. She figures she needs it to bring Jacinda back and Death will only allow the spell to be used once. She’s just going to torture Sam into cooperating, instead.

How have these women lived as long as they have, again?

Meanwhile, Castiel is looking over the records of the dead and missing people around the lake (most of them look young) and making a pattern of x’s on a map. When he goes out to survey it, Ellen follows him (Ellen … Eileen … awfully similar names to use in the same episode for guest characters, Show). Seeing Castiel’s map and getting an explanation out of him, she insists her son wouldn’t come out to the lake because it’s not safe. There’s a silver mine in the area. Castiel has to agree to let her lead him there. She won’t just give him directions. Scenery’s nice, though cold – a foggy BC lake.

Sam is walking up to the apartment with other sister, Sam carrying a cardboard box, she the doll. He works out that her name is Emily and tries to sweet-talk her. It only partially works. She tortures him to make him shut up, but he gets a break when he enters the apartment and she sees her sister’s body.

Her reaction is strange. When Sam offers to cover up the body, she asks if he thinks Jacinda is pretty, since everyone else thought so. Sam points out that Jacinda is dead (i.e., dead bodies aren’t sexually attractive except to necrophiliacs). It turns out Jacinda bullied Emily pretty severely. When Sam shares a story about Dean putting Super Glue in his toothpaste, Emily shares that Jacinda made her invisible for a week, tried to sell her soul to a demon, and murdered her first crush with magic – “then she got mean.” She tells Sam to get packing. Nice family.

Castiel and Ellen are chatting as they walk to the silver mine. He tries to give her The Talk about monsters (he thinks the MOTW is a djinn, which makes a silver mine a rather strange lair for a creature averse to silver), but it’s interrupted by her son Caleb popping up unexpectedly on the trail.

Back at the apartment, Emily is still talking about how rotten Jacinda was – killing her pet rabbit for the bones, turning her tongue into a snake, which bit and disfigured her. Seeing how much she doesn’t want Jacinda revived, Sam tries to do a deal with her. If she lets him have the spell, he’ll give her Rowena’s books and she can use them to run away and hide from her mother. It doesn’t work. Calling him a liar, Emily takes pleasure in stabbing the doll to make Sam suffer.

Cut back to Castiel’s vacation, where he and Ellen are talking to her son. Caleb is reluctant to tell them what happened, at first, because he thinks they won’t believe him. Castiel reassures him that they will. Caleb then says he saw someone dragging a dead body to the lake. He was going to record it with his phone, but the murderer saw him. When he ran, he broke his ankle. He says the murderer was “a monster.” A literal one.

When Castiel asks if he “got a good look” at the murderer, a voice sounds behind him. It’s the sheriff. He’s the murderer. And he’s also a djinn.

When Castiel pulls out his angel blade, blocking him from shooting Caleb, the sheriff’s eyes glow blue and his djinn tattoos show up. He shoots Castiel. Castiel heals with an angry angel whine (greatly shocking Caleb and Ellen).

Going into a rant about “little men in positions of power,” he takes another a bullet without much harm, then grabs the djinn’s gun from him and throws him to the ground, where he stabs him to death with his angel blade. A whole lot.

Back at the apartment, Sam has the box filled and Emily wants him to hurry up and get out of the apartment with it. But Dean unexpectedly (for Emily) shows up, with Mom Witch at gunpoint. Emily threatens to voodoo-doll Sam to death and Dean says he could just shoot her mother, so they’ve got a “standoff.”

The mother then decides to call up her dead daughter for help. This goes well for the witches, at first, with Jacinda knocking Dean to the end of the hallway. But Ghost!Jacinda takes a little too long to gloat and Emily is distracted. This allows Sam to knock the doll out of her hand, drawing Mom’s attention. Mom starts torturing Sam, yelling at Emily to finish him. Emily picks up the doll and starts twisting it and Sam appears to be losing consciousness.

Meanwhile, Jacinda is still gloating when Eileen appears in front of her (the perils of calling up spirits is that you don’t know who-all will answer). Eileen says, “Not today … bitch!” and knocks her rather bodily back into the apartment. Eileen TKs after her and they have a pretty concrete fight for two ghosts.

This gives Dean the needed breather to recover his gun and shoot Emily, killing her and enraging Mom. Not really good with multi-tasking, Mom then starts killing Dean, but this gives Sam enough time to recover and tackle her. He then shoves a hex bag he stole from the apartment into her mouth and says a killing spell.

Dean rushes into the apartment (whaddaya know? He’s immune to Rowena’s hex, too), where Eileen is getting the worst of the ghost fight. Eileen points at Jacinda’s body and tells him to burn it. Admittedly, this is very much of an As You Know, Bob moment, but in Dean’s defense, this is the first time he’s seen or even known about Jacinda’s body there, so he may not have noticed it in the heat of the moment.

Dean grabs a decanter of (probably very expensive) booze and pours it on the body. Distracted with throttling Eileen, Jacinda takes a little too long to stand up and go after Dean, even as he fumbles the lighter. He torches her body and she goes up in flames, as her mother dies hexed in the hallway.

Back at the lake, Ellen is finally taking The Talk from earlier to heart. Castiel comes up, saying he threw the sheriff’s body into the lake. He then heals Caleb’s leg, but it take a lot more effort than healing himself did. Caleb and Ellen are appropriately amazed and grateful. Ellen asks if Castiel came from God. Castiel says he can’t tell them anything, except that he’s “grateful” he met her and “it’s time to get back in the game.”

In the Bunker, Sam is drawing up a bath and sprinkling it with herbs. He then pulls out Rowena’s spell. Eileen steps into the bath (now, they make her look ethereal?) and lies down, fully submerged. As Sam turns away (unable to look, I guess) and says the spell in Latin (it’s more of a prayer than a spell), Eileen changes from a ghost in full Hunter gear into a live naked girl. She comes up gasping out of the bath and stares at her wet fingers.

Sam doesn’t turn around until Eileen puts on a towel and steps over the edge of the tub. They touch hands, she signs “Thank you,” and they hug.

Dean is out in the map room/library, drinking his evening sixpack. Dean praises Sam’s baby-witch skills in saving Eileen (who is taking a much-needed nap) and says he didn’t do anything. Sam points out that Dean “killed a witch, saved my ass.”

As Dean looks uncomfortable (and admits that knowing all of their lives has been out of their control “messes with my head”), Sam tells him that they can “find a way to beat [Chuck] … ’cause we’re the guys that break the rules.” But Sam can’t do it alone. He needs Dean. He needs his “big brother.”

Credits

The show dropped in the demo to a 0.2/1 (the first time ever), but rose slightly to 1.14 million in audience.

The preview and synopsis for the next episode is up.

Review: I … didn’t actually hate this one. Mind you, it had issues, but there were some clever bits and it moved faster than previous entries this season (the pacing has been really dreary this year). And it took me awhile to get through the recap because the beginning, especially, post-teaser is rather dull. Still, it was a bit of an improvement on the earlier part of the season.

There was the way they introduced Eileen as a ghost, which was a bit creepy, and the idea of a witch who was also a ghost. Those were clever. Rather less clever (and definitely not ethereal) was the knock-down drag-out between them at the climax, but okay.

I also liked the opening song (which is apparently about a young couple committing suicide by drowning to escape an apocalypse) and the general premise made sense to me. It mirrors what we saw in season one’s “Dead Man’s Blood.” Just as Hunters descend on a dead Hunter’s house and strip it bare, so, too, would witches with one of their own. It’s bleak and Darwinian, but that’s the way the SPNverse is. Or, at least, the way it was before Dabb & Co. got hold of it.

Dean was an unmitigated hoot in his dead man’s robe and hot dog jammies, taking a much-much-much-needed-and-overdue Mental Health Day. He also got to save everyone, though I was irritated at the Dumb on Cue moment where Eileen, of all people, had to remind him to salt-and-burn a corpse to get rid of a ghost.

But even though it had better pacing than previous entries of the season, this one still dragged a tad and felt sluggish, except for the moments when Dean was onscreen. He wasn’t in this one a lot and that killed much of my interest in the goings-on for the other characters. Dean brings considerable energy to the show that is lacking in episodes he’s barely in. Which is why Dean is usually in a lot of episode space, even when he’s acting like expositional wallpaper. I’m sure the showrunners are aware that whenever he leaves, so does most of the dramatic air.

The idea behind the bitter dynamics for the witch family in question wasn’t half-bad, but the execution was lacking. And here is one of my biggest beefs with the story. I’ll grant you that aside from Rowena, the witch characters were never what you’d call fleshed out. Even with the Banes family, which had a clear sense of a loving witch mother and her two witch kids, the two female members were summarily fridged in one episode to motivate the one remaining male member to go dark.

But even the barely-introduced witches in “Regarding Dean” gave off more of a sense of family than the ones here and more of a sense of urgency. Sure, the witches in that one also intended to bring their sibling back, but they intended to do so using human sacrifice, which is no small task and does provide a spiritual engine for the spell (a life for a life). And the sister (who was otherwise a huge and thunderously stupid nutjob) showed real grief over her brother’s death. Death wasn’t just a quickie learning experience for her brother to her. Plus, there was their ugly connection to Rowena’s past.

In this episode, I had a hard time buying that Keegan Connor Tracy’s character (Tracy back for a third and final role on the show) was the other two witch characters’ mother, rather than just their senior. I mean, sure, witches don’t tend to look their age. And I get that she was a cold and indifferent mom, who actively fomented the rivalry between the dead golden girl and the mousy younger sister. But the way she airily talked about how they were just going to walk in there and take Rowena’s magic, while resurrecting the golden girl along the way, pretty much sucked all of the dramatic air out of that situation. If she didn’t care, I sure didn’t, either.

Also, it was flat-out ridiculous how little these witches seemed to know or understand about the Winchester Brothers. Sam and Dean are not obscure players in the SPNverse, and everyone and their witch mom knew Rowena worked with them. Why weren’t these witches prepared for Dean to show up to save Sam, or even for Sam pulling a fast one on them? It’s basically the same plot as for the season 13 episode “Various and Sundry Villains” and it’s not any better this time round.

Speaking of taking Rowena’s magic, I was so over how entitled Sam acted about it, especially when he got on Dean’s case about taking a sick day. Sam spent days, even weeks, sitting in his room moping after Rowena died, instead of sacking up and getting over to her apartment to make sure everything was locked down. What if an innocent civilian had gotten in there and been killed by the hex?

I mean, it was eye-rolling enough for the script to bang home how suddenly, Sam was a son of a witch (ignoring how Rowena only became the most powerful witch in the world by slaughtering her rivals and stealing their magic) and wasn’t that wonderful? Rowena’s fridging is the gift that keeps on giving for Sam.

But he had a responsibility to her legacy, seeing as how he’d been the one who killed her, and he fell down on the job. If the episode had been written to have him realize that, I’d have been more okay with it, but they glossed over that and also allowed Sam’s berating of Dean (who was still holding down the fort and propping up everyone else emotionally until this week) to go unchallenged.

And apparently, the fact that Sam can now do some basic spells is supposed to make up for that fact that he’s useless as a Hunter these days. It’s yet another case of the show’s writing strenuously snowflaking Sam’s every achievement instead of just letting the audience come to its own conclusions. I already know Sam is an experienced and deadly Hunter. I don’t need to be banged over the head with it.

Speaking of glossing things over, how about the show never even once acknowledging that Ketch was the one who sicced that Hell Hound on poor Eileen? You know, Ketch, the dead character we were supposed to feel sorry for just a few episodes ago? I guess we’re pretending that never happened, now?

Let’s check out the B-story. Well, Castiel is back in this one and it’s not looking good. A lot of his fans on Twitter (those who aren’t fantasizing about how Dean needs to apologize to Castiel for refusing to be his punching bag) focused on his wildly off power and that it’s waning, but less on how it’s waning.

We now seem to have a pretty clear pattern where, when he’s pissed, Castiel powers up just fine and then goes into overkill mode. We saw this with Belphegor and we saw it this week with the sheriff djinn. But when he wants to do something more benign, like heal someone else (rather than himself while in battle mode), it really drains him. The way Chuck is currently writing Castiel amplifies his more negative emotions and affect.

A big problem with this is that this is the final season and that when Castiel gets angry in this way (you know, petulant and feeling sorry for himself), he gets self-righteous. And when he gets self-righteous, that quickly leads to poor decision-making along the lines of Godstiel and Casifer. And I guess I need to remind those same fans that Godstiel was originally intended to be Castiel’s endgame story. He was not supposed to come back from that one, let alone by the end of season seven. So, this isn’t a good look for him or a good sign for his eventual fate this season.

I hope to be wrong. I’m not gonna lie – my idea of a great ending for the series is God!Dean watching Sam – retired or teaching Hunters – while flanked by Billy the Reaper and Castiel all repowered up with wings. Dean then turns to them and says, “We got work to do,” as he sets out to make the SPNverse a kinder and fairer place. But I’m not the writers and there’s no guarantee this lot will even let Castiel get out of the series alive, let alone regaining his wings.


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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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, All Souls’ Day: Bonus Round #2: Scottish Ghosts (1999)


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Seafield, Lily. Scottish Ghosts. Lomond Books, 1999.


So, as promised, I’ve continued my reviews through All Souls’ Day (today), but with the twist that the last two days, since they’re in November, are reviews of ghost stories from other regions than North Carolina. But possibly, these are regions that may have influenced or have similar tropes to what you find in NC.

I picked this one up at the bus station in Glasgow almost two decades ago. It’s one of several books I have of Scottish folklore. The cover above is very nice, but the edition I picked up actually looks like this:

Kinda cheesy, I know. The apparent editorial excuse is that this edition is for kids. It might be a bit too creepy and historical for American kids, though.

Also, for such a short book, it has a whole lot of stories in it – over 150. Each one is maybe a page or two, though the entry on Second Sight in the “Signs, Prophecies and Curses” section is (appropriately) several pages long, as Second Sight is a major part of Scottish folklore. With most entries, the author gets in, gets out, and then moves on to the next, grouping them thematically into several sections, such as “Military Ghosts,” “Fairies, Green Ladies and Devilish Struggles,” and “Poltergeists.” The stories are sometimes sad, sometimes horrifying, sometimes educational. But they’re also mostly fun.

My favorites, of course, tend to be about St Andrews, where I lived for six years. Alas, there are really only two stories (for some reason, the very haunted St Andrews Castle didn’t make it into the “Ghostly Castles” section). St Andrews Cathedral, for example, has a Lady in White and a ghostly monk who haunts St Rule’s Tower. The late-11th century St Rule’s Tower is the tallest (and probably oldest) building in St Andrews. It’s pretty much the only remaining intact structure for St Andrews Cathedral. It’s a bit of a hike that I’ve done a few times, but sadly (or not?), I’ve never seen the monk.

Stories range from the humorous to the creepy to the quite-disturbing. One of the funniest is the large “Demon Crab” of Dundee that crawls out of a drowned ferryman’s coat after he washes up on the beach. The Devil doesn’t last long in that guise, as he is quickly snatched up by a fishwife who happily cooks him for her dinner. One of the creepier ones is a story of a pair of eyes (just eyes) haunting a room in Crail, down the coast from Dundee, in the section, “Ghosts in the House.” And then there’s the scary tale from the “Mind How You Go” section of the Big Grey Man who haunts the mists of Ben MacDuibh in the Cairngorms (Scotland’s mountain range) and attacks anyone who visits it.

The witchcrazes of the 16th and 17th centuries hit Scotland especially hard. It’s believed that thousands were accused and over a thousand executed (by burning at the stake) as a result. You can see the scars of that and the rest of the Covenanters’ repressions to this day on the Scottish landscape (never been fan of John Knox).

The author is sympathetic to the doomed accused witches. She discusses the witchcrazes in her introduction, but also writes about some witch tales more sympathetically than how they appear in North Carolina folklore. The interesting thing is that you can see some Scottish influence (North Carolina has had quite a few Scottish settlers in its early history) on NC folklore.

For example, the famous tale of “The Miller’s Wife” ends fatally in North Carolina lore, with the blame clearly laid on the witchy wife (despite the Miller character being kind of an idiot). In Scotland, you get “The Cursed Mill.” In this story, set near Newtonmore in the Highlands, an old woman curses a miller and his mill. It’s never stated what the insult was, but you start to get some clues as the story progresses.

The first miller dies in a fire. The one after him contracts a fatal illness and the mill burns down. After the mill is rebuilt (because mills were critical to a town or village’s life), the witch relents a little and changes the curse. People can now use the mill for all except one day of the year. The mill runs well once subsequent millers follow these instructions.

However, long after the witch dies, the mill comes into the hands of an ambitious, grasping man who believes the curse is just superstition. So, he uses the mill on that one forbidden day of the year. Predictably, the mill grinds to a standstill. The miller tries again the next year, but this time, rats eat up all his corn. He gives up and sells the mill, but has no fortune in his business ventures thereafter and dies of a wasting illness.

The mill then goes to another man who is kind and gets the mill working again with the help of a young Traveler boy he adopts. After the man dies, the Traveler has to be recalled to get the mill working again. Once he dies, it falls apart for good.

This tale bears a lot of resemblance to the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden, but in this instance, the sin is a refusal to observe a single Sabbath day of rest in the year. We humans just can’t resist crossing boundaries we just shouldn’t cross and that we don’t need to cross. There is also a clear subtext that when the mill is run with kindness rather than covetousness, all goes well. It’s only when the mill is run meanly, with greed, that everything comes to a screeching halt. Here, you can see the mill as a metaphor for Scottish society.

This indicates that the witch’s original grievance was a sound one and the curse not due to an evil nature. It also shows the witch as a productive member of society who brings necessary justice to those who transgress by treating others badly (very different from how witches were perceived back in the Convenanters’ day!). Scottish folklore often shows a balance in the Scottish cultural psyche between great generosity of spirit and the kind of miserliness for which the Scots have too-often become famous (even when it wasn’t true) worldwide. This story is a classic example.

The plan from here on out is to continue reading NC folklore and reviewing the books, just at a slower pace and over on Patreon. If you found these enjoyable, and want to follow my research plans, you can do so there. I’ll still be posting stuff here (including my Supernatural recaps and possibly reviews), but it will involve another one of my projects this month (likely, my mom’s family cookbook). I got a lot done on the NC folklore stuff in October and now that I am thoroughly creeped out, I need to do some other stuff.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #29: North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Volume 3: Haints of the Hills (2002)


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Barefoot, Daniel W. Haints of the Hills. North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Vol. 3. John F. Blair, Publisher, 2002.


So, this is the third volume in Daniel Barefoot’s hundred-county experiment and we finish up in Appalachia. The alliterative title may seem redundant, but it’s actually not. “Haint” is believed to be a folkloric entity originally from the African American Gullah people on the Carolina coast. In South Carolina, it’s a specifically evil entity that haunts children, but this isn’t true everywhere. I talked earlier about this bit of folklore when discussing the use of paint in “haint blue.” The title, therefore, is specifically stating that these haints (or “hanks” as they may be called in Virginia) are from the mountains and not the coast.

Since the Mountain region is very popular with folklorists and ghost storytellers, it should be no surprise that several of these stories would be familiar. You’ve got Tom Dula and his love quadrangle representing Caldwell County, the giant leech of Cherokee County, and the unfortunate hanging ghost of Dan Keith for Rutherford County. But even in these familiar tales, there may be some new angles. For example, the tale of the newlyweds lost in a storm from Cursed in the Carolinas gets a location (Mount Pisgah in Buncombe County) and a rough period (late 19th or early 20th century).

In the Dan Keith chapter, there’s an eerie coda to the original haunting. Historic preservationists failed to save the old jail where he was hanged from demolition in 1971 (still not an uncommon occurrence, as the case of a developer with more money than brains, who demolished the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Montana earlier this year, basically just because he could, can attest). Every business established in the new building built on the site (at least, up to 2002) has failed miserably. And some employees began to report seeing a shadow of a hanged on the wall – again.

Some omissions are rather puzzling, not just because of choices Barefoot made, but because they reflect equally puzzling omissions made by other popular ghost storytellers. Barefoot gives us a rather abrupt and uninteresting story, of a gold prospector who hit it rich and disappeared on his way to Connecticut, for Burke County. This ignores what is probably the most notorious story for that county – the night in 1831 Frankie Silver killed her husband with an ax and burned him in the fireplace. The only woman ever hanged in Burke County, Silver was railroaded through a two-day trial by her angry in-laws, despite possible evidence that her husband had been abusive and her crime self-defense. Ghost story collections don’t tend to carry the Frankie Silver story (which I first encountered on Investigation Discovery’s Deadly Women), even though a famous ballad and at least one recent ghost story are attributed to her.

True to form, Barefoot gives us more stories of witches (Alleghany, Haywood and Macon counties), Native Americans (Jackson and Swain counties), a haunted college theater (Catawba County), Bigfoot (Yancey County) and the Devil. In fact, possibly the creepiest chapter in the entire series hails from Ashe County. This chapter focuses on a natural feature called the Devil’s Stairs. It’s pretty common in the western part of the state to call particularly rugged terrain (especially if it has a lot of Cherokee lore about it) after the Devil. Barefoot even mentions some of these features. But he claims that the Devil’s Stairs (a manmade formation created by dynamite blasting in 1914 during the building of the railroad) is the most haunted of them all. It’s got fatal railway accidents, infanticide, ghostly coffins, Phantom Hitchhikers, and at least one guy who died of a quick wasting illness after supposedly encountering Old Scratch himself. Tough to top that.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #28: North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Volume 2: Piedmont Phantoms (2002)


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Barefoot, Daniel W. Piedmont Phantoms. North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Vol. 2. John F. Blair, Publisher, 2002.


This second volume is the longest of the three in Daniel Barefoot’s North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred trilogy. It’s 187 pages to the other two’s 130 each. There is actually a good reason for this. As I’ve said before, North Carolina is divided up into different distinct regions. But there are four, not three: The Coast, the Coastal Plain, the Piedmont, and the Mountains, and they are separated along geological lines. Basically, the Coast is the current coast. The Coastal Plain is what was under water up almost to Raleigh not so long ago and may end up under water again if the oceans continue to rise. The Piedmont is an area of metamorphic, disrupted rock from when continents were jamming together and pulling apart, creating the Appalachian Mountains, which comprise the Mountain region. The Uwharries lie in the Piedmont. This has relevance to Barefoot’s material, since the regions affect the folklore due to natural features and resources. The Coast has lots of stories about haunted marshes and ghost ships. The Coastal Plain and the Piedmont have stories about gold rushes, plantations, and the Revolutionary War. The Mountains have a lot of Appalachian lore. And so on.

I guess Barefoot (or his publisher, John F. Blair, which also published Whedbee’s collections) decided he preferred a trilogy over a tetralogy. Since Barefoot was doing that, he had to fit one of those regions into at least one of the other books. That “lost” region turned out to be the Coastal Plain, where I live. It is also sadly neglected by North Carolina ghost story books in general, even though we actually have some pretty distinctive stories of our own.

The Coastal Plain is a curiously diverse place, further divided into the Outer and Inner Coastal Plains, or into the Upper and Lower Coastal Plains (though apparently not both at once, since one division is more environmental and the other is more political). I live on the Inner and Upper Coastal Plain.

For Volume 1, Seaside Spectres, Barefoot included the Outer Coastal Plain as part of the coast, but he also included parts of the Inner Coastal Plain (such as Edgecombe and Halifax Counties). For Volume 2, he includes the eastern parts of the Inner Coastal Plain (such as Nash, Wilson, Johnston and Franklin counties) in the Piedmont section. The methodology is confusing, but I guess it kept the books more or less within shouting distance of equal length.

As with Volume 1, there are a lot of witch stories (and also one about the Devil’s footprint in Largo, Warren County). In part, that’s because NC has a lot of witch stories. In part, I suspect Barefoot just likes them. He gets to decide which stories to include, after all.

I was glad to see some African American ones in this volume. As I mentioned in my reviews on the two folklore articles about witchcraft and Guilford County, African Americans have contributed quite a lot of NC lore, frequently without much recognition of that fact. Despite this contribution, their presence in popular ghost story collections has been scant. Curiously, Barefoot shows no knowledge of the Guilfort County article, choosing instead to discuss a haunted theater for that chapter.

Barefoot manages to stuff in two witch stories from Person County, involving encounters with children. The general impression I got from this chapter was that children can be terribly cruel (not a shocking revelation to me, considering I got bullied mercilessly as a child) and you have to school that out of them with some lessons about appearances and compassion. In the first section, two young boys balk at helping an old woman who seems, to them, to be a teleporting witch. The folkloric motif that Carolina witches and ghosts are not necessarily a separate category appears here.

In the second section (which shows the shamanistic aspect of NC witches in the powers of shapeshifting and flight), a bunch of children brutally bully an elderly African American field hand (it’s implied the children are white). Finally, she snaps. She beats them and curses them by predicting “sudden and horrible deaths” for them. The brats tattle on her and get her fired. This causes her to curse the whole lot of them, kids and parents.

Soon after, two of the kids die of mysterious illnesses. Historically speaking, this was the kind of thing that led to a lynching, but the witch in this story gains herself a happy ending of sorts. When a mob of men confront her at her cabin, the old woman coolly faces them with a large owl perched on her shoulder. When they attack her, she escapes them by turning into a bird and flying away. Unnerved, some of the families move out of the area. Moral of the story: Don’t be a bully. You might end up cursed by a witch.

The story for Nash County is rather blah (another Theodosia-in-Distress story? Really?), but the Wilson County one is quite intriguing. North Carolina used to be a lot larger than it is now, even after splitting from South Carolina, because its original borders extended to the West Coast, encompassing what is now Tennessee. This means that certain famous figures (like the Harpe Brothers) and legends (like the Bell Witch) from points further west had their origins in NC. The story of the Bell Witch, in fact, begins in Wilson County. That’s where the Bell family came from.

It’s probably not a huge surprise that Barefoot chooses the Bentonville Battlefield for Johnston County. Not only is it a famous site that’s appeared in other collections I reviewed this month, but it’s also quite haunted. The Franklin County section eschews the numerous college hauntings in Louisburg for a story about a traveler (known only as the Lady in Blue) who died at a plantation house in Belford in 1835. She continued to appear as a ghost for another century until she managed to save the owners of the house from a devastating fire. Her final purpose fulfilled, she appeared no more.

Tomorrow, I’ll review the third volume about the Mountain region, Haints of the Hills.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #27: North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Volume 1: Seaside Spectres (2002)


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Barefoot, Daniel W. Seaside Spectres. North Carolina’s Haunted Hundred, Vol. 1. John F. Blair, Publisher, 2002.


Remember how I said (when I reviewed the book that claimed to contain every known ghost story in North Carolina) that there was no way there could be less than a hundred ghost stories in NC? This book (which is part of a trilogy) is how I know. The neat conceit of the trilogy is that the author picks a folkloric story from each of the hundred counties in North Carolina and retells it. Collectively, these three books have 100 stories in them. Therefore, there have to be at least a hundred ghost stories and legends in NC because that’s how many there are in this book. And since I know for a fact that Barefoot left many out (because he could only choose one for each county), I happen to know that there are, in fact, many more than a hundred.

And that’s the really cool thing about this trilogy.
The trilogy breaks things up into three regions: the Coast, the Piedmont area, and the Mountains. This first one is for the Coast.

Some of these stories, I already knew. The Edgecombe one was fairly disappointing, for example, as not only was I well aware of the Banshee legend, but I already knew all those details. And there are some others from that county that might have been more fun.

There are some quite-creepy stories in here (Barefoot knows how to give you a chill). There are, for example, several stories of ghost lights (some including pretty close encounters with what sounds almost like a fireball) such as the Cove City Light and the Pactolus Light. One story from Bladen County also involves a brief case of multiple spontaneous combustion (though no one died).

Several about the Devil show up (a few new to me, though not all of them). The book starts off with the curse of Bath in Beaufort County by the Reverend Whitefield early in the 18th century (and a quick segue to include the Devil’s Hoofprints, also of Bath). The creepiest is probably the rather-less-lucky Reverend Glendinning’s being plagued by a short demon while he was staying with a family in Halifax County a few decades later. The demon would knock at the door and yell at him through the window. North Carolina used to be a real tough crowd for itinerant preachers.

Witches show up in several tales, though they often are as sinned against (as in “The Evil That Will Not Die” from Dare County) as sinning (“The Bewitched Miller” from Chowan County and “Bewitched in Currituck” in Currituck County). In Tyrrell County, you get an alleged Native American legend (though it sounds more like an especially misogynistic Victorian romance) about a young Native American girl who was burned as a witch simply because she was beautiful and spoiled, and wouldn’t marry anyone. Naturally, since this is the coast, you’ve got a fair bit of cursed coastline, with a haunted island in Carteret County and a haunted coastal woods in Martin County called Devil’s Gut Creek. One of the nastiest stories is a cursed house in Pasquotank County.

Many of these are just legends with few facts to support them (especially since history on the coast goes all the way back to the 1580s). But some are based on actual, recorded tragedies. One of the most notable is the murder of inventor Henry Gatling in Hertford County. Gatling was working on an early version of an airplane some three decades before the Wright Brothers when he was murdered in 1879 by a man who claimed he was angry at Gatling for refusing him a ride the day before. Gatling’s ghost reportedly still haunts the area, though the house has long been torn down.

Obviously, a book like this is worth a read. There are no other projects of this type that systematically include at least one legend from every county in NC. And Barefoot is a good storyteller who also often includes a fair number of facts, certainly enough to go do your own research. While some of these may be rather overexposed and oft-told, there are also some more obscure gems. Check it out.


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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 #25: Legends of the Outer Banks and Tar Heel Tidewater (1966)


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Whedbee, Charles Harry. Legends of the Outer Banks and Tar Heel Tidewater. John F. Blair, 1966 (20th printing 2005).


Charles Harry Whedbee (1911-1990) was a judge from Greenville, NC who developed a life-long fascination with North Carolina’s Outer Banks at a young age. He visited and wrote about them every chance he got, even telling beach stories on an early morning TV talk show he hosted in the early 1960s. Published in 1966, this was the first of his five collections of stories about the area.

I had my reservations about reading Legends of the Outer Banks and Tar Heel Tidewater, since Whedbee was both contemporaneous with Nancy Roberts and equally famous for popularizing NC folklore. Those reservations were initially borne out by the second story, which is basically an unattributed synopsis of Sallie Southall Cotten’s The White Doe: The Fate of Virginia Dare, an Indian Legend from 1901. That book is a cheesy, late-Victorian romance I discussed yesterday as the origin of the White Doe legend. He was fortunate Cotten died in 1929, or she might have sued him for copyright infringement.

Whedbee has a tendency to embroider his stories – a lot – but I didn’t encounter any tales that seemed like pure invention on his part. His storytelling hook was that his stories came in three categories – ones he’d experienced himself (like a personal experience with the Devil’s Hoofprints of Bath), ones told him by trusted and reliable informants, and ones he’d only heard about – but he wouldn’t tell his readers which were which.

Beechland, for example, is a real place, with an established academic historiography discussing its possible connections to the Lost Colony. I know some of the more outrageous tales, like the floating church of Swan Quarter, are real history, because really strange stuff can happen on the coast at high tide in the middle of a hurricane. And then there’s the odd tale (illustrated on the cover) of the harbor porpoise that used to guide ships to safety in the 18th century.

But there were some stories (like the aforementioned Virginia Dare fantasy) I was familiar enough with to know he added a whole lot of detail to someone else’s already-tall tale, or a story where we really just have the bare bones of the facts.

Fortunately, things improved later in the book, and Whedbee’s affection for the Outer Banks and its people is infectious. At his worst (which is mostly near the beginning), Whedbee has a florid, overwritten style as a storyteller that greatly dates his material. At his best, he can be both dramatic and laugh-out-loud funny.

“The Boozhyot” and “The Boozhyot Apocrypha” is a hysterically funny pair of Prohibition era tales (where all of the names have been judiciously changed or left out to protect the totally guilty) about what happened when a rum runner accidentally dumped its load off the shore of a small Outer Banks village. Personally, I’m a tad skeptical of Whedbee’s arch insistence in the latter story that the Outer Banks residents were too honest to swindle a bunch of big city gangsters. I’ve read about Buffalo City, the nearby Inner Banks town that was a bootlegging capital at this time. But Whedbee’s retelling is still a hoot.

It’s also hard to fault a man who has a soft spot for cats. My personal favorite of the stories is “The Witch of Nag’s Head Woods.” It’s the story of an elderly female hermit from the early 20th century who told neighborhood children’s fortunes, and kept herself and her clowder of black cats in fish with a coyly not-quite-professed talent for controlling winds. Whedbee recounts the tale with a wry sympathy toward the title character and her cats not usually found in North Carolina storytellers when it comes to witches (or cats), real or otherwise.

Whedbee also goes into some detail about the only known survivor of the Carroll A. Deering wreck of 1921 – a ship’s cat found by Coast Guardsmen when they boarded the boat, after it ran aground on a sand bank one winter morning, and found it deserted by the crew (who were never seen again). The rescuers took the cat with them. I’m not sure if Whedbee found these details or made them up, but he describes the cat as gray, well-fed and friendly when they found it in the dining saloon, and that it was subsequently named “Carroll.” An odd detail with this story is that Whedbee repeats the same error as John Harden in The Devil’s Tramping Ground from 1949, in that he calls the ship the Carroll M. Deering. Makes me wonder where that error originally came from.

Even though Whedbee calls these tales “legends,” most of them are not at all scary and some are not even supernatural in nature. Strangely enough, the eeriest one is the Carroll A. Deering chapter. For some reason, abandoned ghost ship mysteries are extremely creepy. But the book is still a good way to pass the time and get acquainted with some of the Outer Banks’ stranger stories.


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Halloween in North Carolina, Day #23: Cursed in the Carolinas (2017)


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Wilson, Patty A. Cursed in the Carolinas: Stories of the Damned. Globe Pequot, 2017.


This one looked promising. It’s certainly appropriate for the Carolinas after two major hurricanes this fall. It was the third-most-recently published book I’ve got hold of. The cover is creepy as hell and the presentation is really nice. It’s well-edited. No illustrations, but the typesetting is large and clear. It’s very easy to read this book in the physical sense. I’d enjoyed a similar book in the past, Joe Citro’s Cursed in New England, and Wilson does tell a coherent tale, so I had hopes. The book covers both North and South Carolina, much like Nancy Roberts’ Ghosts from the Coast.

Sadly, the scariest thing by far about Cursed in the Carolinas is that cover. For a start, Wilson uses an extremely broad definition of “curse.” Pretty much any haunting can gain the designation because it was the result of a tragic death. Which is nice and all, but that’s not really the same as an actual curse. There are a few in here that are genuine curses, such as the Reverend Whitefield’s legendary curse of Bath, but most of these are a big stretch. It doesn’t help that Wilson pushes it with a final paragraph in each section, driving home a moral that serves doubly as an excuse for why a ghost story is in a book about curses.

I also was bothered by her using this definition for fairly recent events. I don’t think the surviving band members and relatives of Lynyrd Skynyrd would be too thrilled to hear that all their troubles boiled down to some vague curse of “fame” and the following story about a 1980s Episcopal priest who left the priesthood under the cloud of some undefined “sin” was just plain abrupt and unsatisfying.

Part of the problem is that despite the fact she has a list of some 13 books (one of them her own) in the back, most of her sources are websites. That wouldn’t be a big deal if she evaluated these sources at any great depth (lots of new folklore is generated online these days), but such exploration of the background to these tales ranges from cursory to nonexistent.

Another part of the problem is that it’s pretty clear from the more famous tales that she embellishes quite a bit and makes out that it’s part of the legend. “The Cursed Dwarf of Amos Road” in the South Carolina section has a lot more of The Hunchback of Notre Dame to it than the Carolinas. And “When Mary Lydia Died” twists the Lydia’s Bridge story almost out of recognition.

I’ve come to expect the usual nonsense for Blackbeard and the like, but when she turned around and made out in the intro to the South Carolina section that South Carolina split from North Carolina (which was almost completely wilderness at the time) to seek its own freedom in 1729, I rolled my eyes pretty hard. In “The Huguenot Curse” section, she also acts as though the French were the first to settle in North America, just because they stuck a fort in North Carolina a few years before the Spanish did. This blatantly ignores the fact that the Spanish had already established permanent settlements in the Caribbean by the end of the 1490s, over half a century before the French landed (briefly) in NC.

There are the kinds of problems with gender and race I’d expect from a book written in 1967 rather than 2017. The “Tecumseh” section is embarrassingly loaded with Noble Savage stereotypes – also, some wonky dates. Tecumseh was apparently only five years old when he fought in his first battle in 1791 (I think she accidentally interposed 1786 for 1768).

The only African American characters of any significance turn up in two stories. There are the two hapless slaves who are murdered to protect a treasure in “The Money Pit,” also from the South Carolina section. And earlier on, in the North Carolina section, you’ve got the Mammy and Jezebel stereotypes of Jo and Cissy in “‘I Could Slap the Life Out of Her!'” paired with the dated idea that slavery wasn’t so bad because some masters were “nicer” to their slaves than others. Yuck.

Then there is how she writes women. It’s especially bad in the South Carolina section. I’m not quite sure who started the trend of writing South Carolina ghost stories in a style reminiscent of Margaret Mitchell, but Gee Willikers, I wish they’d stop. It’s especially bad in “Poor Alice Flagg” and “The Tragic Ghost of Fenwick Hall Plantation.” Some whispy young aristocratic thing falls in love with The Wrong Boy and her male relatives decide to put a stop to it. Naturally, that does not end well because we are talking about ghost stories and curses, here. And if they’re not rich and dying of a broken heart, they’re poor and getting burned or hanged to death as a witch (as in “The Curse of Twenty-One”). Women don’t get a lot of agency (or luck) in the stories Wilson chooses. She even manages to reduce the formidable Theodosia Burr to a tragic suicide.

Of course, very few books of this type are entirely worthless. I hadn’t heard about “The Cursed Slave Cabin” at the Brown-Cowles House in Wilkes County before. And the one about the couple who ended up freezing to death in the hills was a new one to me, as well. Plus, she mentions a book I hadn’t run across, yet. But this is definitely one of those cases where you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, even if it’s a great cover.


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