Meredith Glynn is one of my favorite writers – she wrote the incredible ‘Regarding Dean,’ one of my favorite episodes of the entire series – so I went into this episode with high hopes after being disappointed by the last one three weeks ago. There were definitely things I liked about this episode, but it didn’t leave me jumping up and down and screaming about my love of my Show, which is where I really like to be at the end of a new episode. Let’s say the episode definitely had “Good Intentions,” but it didn’t leave me squeeful.
Someone on Tumblr wrote a provocative little post after this week’s episode about how Supernatural was never meant to be an ensemble show. The premise that drew me in was the story of these two brothers – two characters who have fascinated me for going on thirteen years. I enjoy Sam and Dean’s relationships with the other important people in their lives, but Sam and Dean are my route in, and if I don’t have that route in, I feel too much on the outside instead of immersed like I want to be. The episodes that relegate Sam and Dean to more of a supporting role don’t have the emotional resonance for me that I’ve come to count on with this show. They may be good episodes in the sense of a self-contained 42 minutes of drama, but they don’t give me that unique thrill that watching Supernatural does. I’m the last person to suggest that anyone should keep up the sort of pace that Jared Padalecki and Jensen have for the past twelve years because I care about them as human beings, but some have suggested that a shorter season would be a win/win alternative and I think I’d be down with that.
Let me be clear – I really liked a lot of this episode. Just not fangirl-thrilled-jump-up-and-down-OMG-I-love-this-Show kind of like, but like nevertheless. I think the scenes I enjoyed the most were the ones in the AU. I realize that seems to contradict what I said before about the show being about Sam and Dean since they weren’t even in the AU, but it’s not just having them onscreen; it’s having an emotional and psychological focus on them, and that didn’t happen in the ‘real world’ portion anyway.
So, AU. I liked the opening scene with Jack dreaming of being back “home” with Sam and Dean, even if I recognized it as a manipulated image from the start. The glimpse of what Jack longs for — his fantasy of Dean saying “You, me and the kid, home safe where he belongs” was heartbreaking. It’s so much the theme of Supernatural, that longing for family, the ability to create those bonds both with blood and without, and I was reminded how young Jack is with that glimpse, and how much he does long for that sort of family love and acceptance. For whatever it’s worth, Jack has bonded with Sam and Dean. They are his attachment figures, the first people who protected him and nurtured him. That early bond is powerful, resistant to a lot of outside attacks (as Michael and Zachariah are finding out). Jack’s deepest desire is to do right by Sam and Dean, to save them as they have saved him – I wanted to cry when his cruelly manipulated dream took such a dark turn, and he was unable to save them.
Jack’s intelligence is clear despite his naivete – when Castiel appears to show him the dark side of humanity’s “Good Intentions” (climate change, nuclear war, oil spills….), Jack quickly figures out that it is not Cas. His loyalty to Sam and Dean is unwavering. Also, Misha Collins gets to smile the most evil smile at the end of that scene. I guess it’s Zachariah smiling? But it looks intriguing on Misha’s face anyway. And it looks an awful lot like Entity!Cas….but we’ll get to that later.
I also thought that Alex Calvert and Samantha Smith did an outstanding job with the scenes of Jack and Mary finally meeting face to face. Glynn wrote some beautiful dialogue for that scene, Serge Ladouceur lit it in gorgeous almost black and white, reflecting the austere and harsh nature of the AU, and Eduardo Sanchez directed it in close shots that allowed the actors’ emotions to really come through. I loved the halting way Jack and Mary began to understand each other, and the way Mary’s tactical smarts came through as she immediately figures out who Jack is and how Michael plans to use both of them. The bond between the two of them is created so quickly that it should seem implausible, but the writing and the acting make it believable. I think I saw in Mary the maternal nature that was missing in her interactions with her grown sons in her budding relationship with Jack – which I suppose makes sense. She bonded with Kelly, and in a sense that means she also bonded with Jack even before he was born. She recognizes the innocence in him, the naivete, and she responds to that as a mother would. Mary, who was only ever a mother to very young sons in her own natural life, responds to Jack in the same way. And Jack, the motherless child, bonds to her right back. Again, it was like all my lectures on attachment to my Human Development students playing out onscreen.
The third thing I really liked was AU!Bobby. He’s not exactly like the Bobby Singer we know and love, but he’s pretty damn close. Different life history, but same personality – and is it my imagination, or does he look at Mary “Campbell” with a lot of emotion? I have to wonder what was between the two of them in this other world, and honestly? I think I’d kinda enjoy that. Though if there’s a Jody Mills in this universe…okay, tangent, never mind. I’m lookin’ out for you, Jim Beaver! Anyway, I loved Bobby and Mary and everything about their scenes together. Mary in the AU is so much warmer than she was back in the ‘real world’ – or she’s finally allowing herself to show some of that warmth. It’s not inconceivable, I suppose, that it’s taken all this time for her to start to come to terms with the vicious circumstances of being yanked out of Heaven. (It took Buffy a while too, after all). Mary and Bobby have a spark, that’s for sure – part affection, part gratitude, part respect which makes it easy to argue and stand up to each other.
I loved it when Mary grinned over her mug of alcohol-infused coffee, but I also loved it when she stuck her chin out and said: “If Jack goes, I go too.” And Bobby, despite how much he clearly wanted her to stay, sticks to his guns too. Two tough hunters, very clearly. I haven’t been the biggest Mary fan at all, but I liked her better in this episode. She was willing to die so that Jack wouldn’t have to open the rift, to protect her sons and the rest of humanity. That’s the protective Mary we really didn’t see when she came back, and I’m still frankly confused and a bit dismayed that’s the direction they took her after she returned. But at least I like the progression that’s happening now.
The conversation between Bobby and Mary about her demon deal was a pivotal point in the episode (and the season probably). Mary in the AU is full of regret, but not for making the demon deal – for NOT making it.
Bobby: She lost the love of her life, never moved on.
Sam and Dean were never born, and so they weren’t there to be the heroes who stopped the apocalypse. This is a perspective Mary has never really had.
Bobby: Then I’d say you made the right choice. You done good by your boys.
That perspective may be a turning point for Mary. It may be in part her guilt over making that deal, and the consequences it had for her sons, that has kept her from fully loving them or accepting their forgiveness of her and their embracing of hunting.
I’ve said this before, but I love the addition of Alex Calvert and Jack to the show. Jack (and Alex) broke my heart a little more when he immediately bonded with the children at the AU camp, wanting so much to amuse them with his shadow puppets. I feel so much for Jack – every single time he tries to do something nice, with the best of his good intentions, it goes horribly wrong. His little use of powers to make better shadow puppets – to give the traumatized children of war a moment of their childhood back – is what gives their location away to the angels. I could have cried for Jack at that moment, that realization that once again he’s tried to do something good, and it has gone bad.
I loved Mary’s quiet “It’s not fair” because it SO is not. And Jack needs to know that other people believe that and see that too.
Finally, I loved Jack finding his courage. He starts to run away, but then he hears the screams of those children who he’d tried to give some comfort, and he can’t do it. He turns around, arrives just in time to save Mary and explode Zachariah and then some of the incoming angels. (Btw, angels are just flat out DICKS in the AU. When Bobby says that the angels all turned on them one by one, it gave me chills). I love that Jack’s role models, his attachment figures, are the ones who inspired Jack to stay and fight.
Jack: Sam and Dean, they wouldn’t run. They’d stay and fight.
Thank you, Meredith, for that scene. For making it all about what Supernatural is all about, even when Sam and Dean aren’t in those scenes. I did enjoy the AU story line, and it worked beautifully, looked gorgeous, carried the story forward in an organic way. That’s all good. It just doesn’t leave me with the over the top fangirl glee that Supernatural usually leaves me with, or the impulse to squee at the top of my lungs about how much I love this Show. I hope that makes sense, not as a criticism of the writing or the story, but just that it doesn’t give me that passionate response that has kept me watching and writing for thirteen seasons. I might like the Jack and Mary and Bobby AU show, but I wouldn’t fall in love with it like I did with Supernatural. It doesn’t give me “all the feels,” which is what we used to say in fandom back in the day – about this Show. And I miss that.
The storyline that happens in the ‘real world’ was not as compelling for me, which is exactly the opposite of how I usually feel. We do get a few small domestic Winchester moments, which I always like, but they were brief. Dean eating a whole plate of bacon and Sam chastising him for it was a nice moment, and gave us a very Dean line in “If bacon’s what kills me, I win.” Also, Dean has pretty eyes. But I digress.
My favorite episodes this season have focused on the Winchesters’ emotional states, with each of them struggling a lot at different times, and both of them trying to be there for each other. We get maybe a little glimpse of that story line the couple of times that Sam and Dean talk about their “plan” for getting their mom and Jack back – as Dean puts it, “for a family reunion.”
It was clearly very important to Sam to have a plan, and he’s understandably distraught when that plan later falls apart. I can infer that from the couple of lines we got, but I wanted so much more.
Sam: We were so close, we almost had it…Mom back… our plan…
That was the most we got from Sam all episode in terms of his emotional and psychological state, and it was not enough.
We got a little bit of insight into Castiel’s psychological state in this episode, but I honestly don’t know what to make of what we did get because I still have no idea if this really is Cas, or if it’s the Entity!Cas, or if it’s some sort of combination. Many fans believe it’s not Cas, and most people don’t think it’s purely “our” Cas, but not knowing makes it difficult to judge his words and actions and to figure out what they mean. He is definitely harsher than usual, and very driven – he says because he feels an obligation to protect Jack, which he feels he’s failed at so far, but I’m not sure I believe him. I’m not sure we’re supposed to believe him! Doors are a recurring theme in this episode, and Cas is framed interestingly as he comes to speak with Sam and Dean, and later when he brings Donatello breakfast – in a door. Is he from this universe or is he not?
Dean has repeatedly asked Cas this season “What’s wrong with you?”, and that seems to be the underlying confusion. What IS wrong with him? Is anything wrong with him? Is it even him? I don’t know! It would seem to be an odd choice to show us the Entity who looks just like Cas, and can get into Castiel’s head (a repeated theme of this episode and this season), then have Cas wake up on Earth, without that meaning something. Surely they’re not going to forget that and not have any consequences, right? But then again, I was certain for like half a season that Sam’s time with Amelia was meant to be a hallucination, complete with fuzzy blurry utopian birthday cake in the park scenes, but it turned out Show decided that it was real all along! So….I don’t know. But my doubt makes everything Cas does confusing to me right now. When Dean asks how he is, he emphasizes that he promised Kelly he’d protect Jack, but then he jumps right to “I was brought back because this is War, to prepare for War.”
I was surprised by that – this is at the very least a more warlike and take-no-prisoners Cas than we’ve seen before. I like Badass versions of Cas, but again, I’m not sure if this is Badass Cas or some other being who’s intent on starting a multi-universe apocalypse. All this War talk seemed to come out of nowhere, and he was way into it all of a sudden. It sounded less personal (about Jack) and more about bring on the war!
Dean: Well then, we do what we do. Whatever it takes.
That’s the theme of the episode, the question of how much is too much when you’ve decided to do “whatever it takes” and have the best of intentions. And Castiel’s decision making hasn’t always been the best, so I was just left with a feeling of apprehension after all that war talk.
My confusion about Cas also means the intended-to-be-humorous scene with Gog and Magog wasn’t as enjoyable as it might have been. I usually enjoy the little meta nods, because that’s something I like, such as their observations about how pretty Dean and Castiel are. I don’t always mind a little fan service. But honestly, I felt a little sorry for Gog and Magog when I thought they were human (and Sam and Dean and Cas thought they were human too, though Show took pains to make it clear they were BAD humans…). But everyone was awfully cavalier about killing two humans who were essentially minding their own business before being summoned – and hey, they have good taste in men. I enjoyed Dean’s eyeroll (though I wasn’t sure about the loincloth giggling).
And I enjoyed the amazing stunt coordination and Jensen Ackles’ and Collins’ fighting skills, but I didn’t really have any doubt that they’d prevail, so I wasn’t on the edge of my seat.
Still, just the fight choreography was impressive. Did you see Dean’s ultra quick reflexes rolling out of the way of that sword about to come down on him? Whoa.
A fan tweeted stunt coordinator Kirk Jacques and asked whether that was Jensen and if so how he was at doing that, and this was the response.
KirkJacques: – He’s pretty damn fast. And one of the most naturally talented fighters I’ve seen. He learns choreography super fast and is a joy to teach.
Exactly no one was surprised by that response.
Oh, I did kind of like that Gog and Magog were brothers, because they argued just like Sam and Dean sometimes do. I’m surprised Cas didn’t say that!
Then there’s the whole Donatello part of the story line, which I didn’t enjoy at all. I’m not at all sure why Dean and Cas went off to tackle the Gog and Magog thing while Sam had to stay back in the bunker, unless that was just an artifact of splitting up the shooting days or a way to put Dean and Cas in a field together, but I rolled my eyes when Sam stayed behind for the important job of pulling ingredients off the shelves instead of helping fight two super powerful beings TO THE DEATH. And to get attacked by Donatello apparently. I was glad that Sam’s “I’m Sam Fucking Winchester” badassery came through, and he was able to subdue “the muppet professor,” but the whole splitting up thing didn’t make sense to me, so I remained aggravated. Also, we didn’t get to SEE Sam’s badassery! We’ve done the “ingredient scavenger hunt” many times, but this one had very little gravity to it. And Sam getting left behind to shelf scour really didn’t sit well.
I liked the character of Donatello. Keith Szarabajka plays him brilliantly, and I really felt for him when (through no fault of his own) Amara ate his soul. Then the Winchesters bring him back to do them a favor, knowing he doesn’t have a soul but asking him to translate the demon tablet anyway, which (predictably?) scrambles his brain totally. Weirdly, instead of Dean getting protectively angry about Donatello attacking Sam, it’s Cas who goes off the deep end with protective anger once both Sam and Dean have been attacked. Sam, bless his heart, is his usual forgiving self, not wanting to hurt Donatello even after he’s been hit over the head with a bottle – and steadfastly stating “no one is killing anyone” when Cas suggests that.
I did like the brief moment of Dean being unable to breathe and reaching out to Sam for help, and Sam’s protective slinging an arm around him and helping him outside. That was a call back to so many scenes in Supernatural’s early days, and it warmed my heart.
I liked Castiel seeing that happening on the laptop and the look of rage on his face when he does. That seemed like it really was Cas, because he was definitely concerned about Dean being attacked.
But Cas going back on something he promised not to do and destroying Donatello’s brain? I didn’t really like that.
Cas: Some people just can’t be saved.
Ouch. Is that meant to be some ominous foreshadowing there?
I get it, Donatello is compromised, he can’t be trusted, he’s broken…but none of that was his fault. Also, it didn’t make any sense to leave him technically not dead but brain dead. Now we don’t get another prophet and he’s not really alive anyway, so why was this an outcome that was even remotely okay? I was even confused by Sam and Dean’s reaction to what Cas did – it almost seems like this is Castiel’s plan, and he’s dragging the Winchesters along. He’s impatient with them, criticizing them for too much “just talking” and not enough action. Does Cas even have a plan though? What are they going to put into action? And oddly, it’s Dean who expresses the most moral indignation about what Cas did to Donatello, when I expected it to be Sam.
I will never be a happy camper when Dean isn’t the very intelligent hunter we know him to be either.
Sam: Donatello doesn’t have a soul.
Dean: Is that bad?
IS THAT BAD?? Dean, seriously? Why did you say that? You know it’s bad.
I guess we needed explanation for how being soulless intersects with being a prophet interpreting a demon tablet, but I still raised my eyebrows at Dean for a second there.
So we got to the end of the episode, and I didn’t want to get up and run to twitter and gush about it, which is perhaps an unrealistic expectation to have for every single episode, but I was still sort of disappointed about that. I think this season overall has been less compelling for me because despite the fact that it should be all about Sam and Dean saving their mother, it doesn’t FEEL like it’s about that. Somehow that’s not the overwhelming urgency that comes through. My route into the story is through Sam and Dean, so when it doesn’t feel like the story is inextricably wound around them and their destinies, I feel less invested. When they feel like supporting players, I’m not as emotionally affected as I usually would be – and I miss that.
Hopefully next week we’ll find out what the Winchesters are thinking and feeling about all this, and they’ll be able to get back to a plan of some kind that will bring them back to front and center of the fight that’s looming – this war that Cas keeps talking about (and hopefully we’ll find out if indeed that is Cas talking at all!).