I have to teach on Thursday nights this semester, which means I can’t watch Supernatural live. This makes me very cranky, which should surprise no one. But this week, I think it might have been a blessing in disguise. I came home and jumped on Twitter to ask the SPNFamily whether I needed tissues at the ready to watch this episode. What came back was a barrage of suggestions, and not just for tissues:
Tissues and a security blanket….Tissues and a teddy bear… Tissues and a stiff drink….Tissues and a heart rate monitor…
Wait, a what? It was clear this episode was not going to be easy to watch. But because I’m a long time Supernatural fan, all that did was ramp up my excitement! Sure, I gathered my tissues and blankie and a glass of wine, hoping my heart would hold out without the monitor, but I was jumping with anticipation more than dread. It’s been 13 seasons of Supernatural scaring me and disturbing me and breaking my heart and I’m still watching, after all. (It makes those rare times we get affection and triumph and saving the day all the sweeter).
Breakdown did not disappoint. So instead of a recap, here’s what I loved about this episode.
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Number 1. It was exactly what Supernatural started out to be – a 42-minute horror film. The beginning was utterly terrifying, great music as the backdrop to a scene of slowly unfolding horror, with rubber gloves and hatchets and hooks and blood splatters everywhere, a bound sobbing man begging for his life and a hooded monster about to slice into him. Cut to a vulnerable young girl having to do what every woman who has ever driven somewhere alone late at night worries about – having to stop for gas at the creepiest place imaginable. I was clutching my blanket nearly over my eyes as the creepy clientele ogle her and harass her and nearly jumped out of my chair when the equally creepy guy came up behind her and then offered to wash her windshield. Of course, that’s not the real danger, because this is a horror movie – so the young girl, who we now know is a Hanscum – drives away. Yay! She’s safe. Except, of course not. Flat tire.
Me: Oh shit.
Sure enough, the flat tire isn’t accidental, and the scary hooded guy overpowers the girl and drags her away.
Less than ten minutes in and my heart was pounding so hard I was wishing for that heart monitor!
Shout out to Amyn Kaderali for his wonderful directing – the pacing was perfect, keeping my poor heart pounding throughout, and the suspense was amped up in classic horror movie fashion. The early scenes of Wendy being stalked in the parking lot were so well done, and as time goes on and we don’t know if Donna and the Winchesters will get there in time, the suspense just keeps amping up.
At the same time, the emotional moments got the appropriate treatment too, with the actors given enough time and coverage to really show us what they’re going through.
As always, VFX and music were also spot on – the upbeat music playing on an old radio was the perfectly creepy background to all that horror, and in the auction scene for Sam’s heart, we even hear a heartbeat sound, which made mine beat all the faster!
One other miscellaneous thing I got a kick out of – the shout out to fan favorite singer Jason Manns. It was originally Manny’s Diner where Wendy stops for gas, but since Jason was on set working on his latest CD at the time, Jensen Ackles did a little redesigning and the Y sort of disappeared. I love when Show does those little meta things.
Number 2. Sam Winchester. I always want more insight into the Winchesters – they are what hooked me on this show, and I would happily watch dozens of hours of them talking about whatever, just to figure out what makes them tick. We never get enough, and particularly we don’t get enough insight into Sam’s headspace. This episode, we got some!
But let’s be shallow first. After the horror film opening, we return to the show with a scene of Sam in bed, and the camera does a little loving pan up Sam Winchester’s long lean body and lush hair before we get to his handsome (albeit not very happy looking) face. It reminded me instantly of that similar shot of Dean from the early seasons, a slow pan up his body as he lay sleeping. Thank you, Show, for these moments!
Sam is clearly not happy. Or sleeping. He’s awake tossing and turning at 6. At 8:22 am Dean says he’s making pancakes and asks how many Sam wants – and Sam doesn’t even answer his brother. Something is definitely wrong. It’s not until his cell phone rings at 10 am that he gets out of bed – and that’s because it’s Donna.
I’ll get to Donna in a minute, because that’s another of my favorite things about this episode, but let me stick to the awesome Sam pov that we got. Because of the title? Breakdown doesn’t just refer to Wendy’s broken down car – it’s also Sam’s emotional breakdown, and it’s heartbreaking to see. Sam snaps at Dean for trying the CB radio to get information on Donna’s missing niece, without any of the good humor that the brothers’ sniping usually has.
Sam: This is stupid.
Dean: Dad used it all the time.
Sam is unconvinced, but Dean already knows that something’s wrong with his brother. And because this is Season 13 and the brothers actually TALK to each other, he brings it up. Sam tries to shrug it off, but Dean doesn’t back down, pointing out that Sam – the early riser – got up at 10 am. And turned down pancakes.
Sam: I wasn’t hungry.
Dean: They’re pancakes!
I can’t help but think Dean was probably a little hurt that Sam didn’t eat the pancakes he made, but that might be because I’m pretty sure I’ve read a lot of fanfic where Dean makes Sam pancakes. At any rate, he puts his own feelings aside and is only concerned about Sam. Which makes me a very happy viewer.
Dean tells Sam that he gets it, that he too is upset that they weren’t able to rescue their mother and that they lost Jack. He doesn’t criticize. Instead, he empathizes with Sam’s feelings, but he’s also protective.
Dean: You can’t let it eat you up. When I was broken, you were here for me, and I’m here for you now.
I adored that conversation so much – thank you, Davy Perez, for writing that scene. Jensen mentioned a while ago that the tables would turn for the brothers, and Dean would have to be there for Sam the way Sam was there for him, so I was excited to see that begin to play out. I watch the show for the rich relationships between the characters, so getting a chance to see the brothers being open with each other, a chance to see how reciprocal their relationship has become so that they can lean on each other, is tremendously satisfying. Did I say thank you??
I do wish we’d seen more of what the brothers went through in the AU because that explains Sam’s current emotional state. I can imagine how horrible it was for them to fail at rescuing Mary and to know she’s in that horrible place and barely alive, and now Jack is lost too. I don’t blame Sam at all for his despondency and for falling into hopelessness. But I wish we’d seen a bit more of their attempts to get to Mary and their emotion in response to being unable to do that. They both hate failing at rescues, especially when it’s family.
Jared broke my heart in that scene and in several others in this episode – it’s all there on his face. He looks so done, so profoundly sad. In the final scene in the car, he broke my heart again with another powerful portrayal of Sam’s sadness and resignation. More about that last scene later, because it’s another thing I loved. But while we’re on the topic of Sam Winchester, can I just say that in addition to Jared’s amazing acting, wardrobe needs a BIG shout out. Sam in that crisp white shirt that’s form fitted to his broad shoulders and slim waist? GUH.
Sam tied up on a table, straining against the leather restraints and tossing his hair as he fights to get away? GUH.
Jared’s acting is again worth mentioning, because he shows us Sam’s mix of emotions as he lies there – defiance, fear, disgust, bravado, eventually even resignation when he thinks he’s about to get a bullet in the brain. I loved his “Go to hell,” spit between almost clenched teeth, eyes narrowed dangerously. Did I already say GUH?
So yes, Jared. And Sam.
Number 3. Dean Winchester. While we got more insight into Sam’s headspace in this episode, we nevertheless got a glimpse into Dean’s as well. After going through his own hunter version of a crisis of faith, and leaning on his brother to come through it, Dean is back in the mode I fell in love with him for – protective big brother. His respect for Sam never wavers – he doesn’t demean him for his feelings or try to talk him out of them – but he also doesn’t ignore how Sam is feeling. And when push comes to shove? He’s right there in the nick of time to take out the bad guy and save Sammy’s life. And that makes me very happy.
There’s a moment when the vampire guy comes back to taunt Dean, saying that the bad guy got the jump on him, and Dean is almost humoring him until the vampire lets it drop: They’ve got your brother.
The change in Dean is instantaneous, and Ackles shows us it vividly. You threaten Dean Winchester’s brother, and he WILL end you.
Even the ‘Butterfly’ bad guy knows that when you have Sam Winchester tied up and are about to cut out his heart and sell it at auction, his big brother is gonna be on your ass in NO TIME.
Bad guy: Since Dean’s out there, we’ll do this quick and dirty.
Not quick enough, Mr. Bad Guy! Hah!
The scene where Dean does indeed save the day is brilliantly filmed. We see the bad guy, wearing a white shirt just like Sam, raise his gun and point it at Sam, then we cut away to the still-running camera. BOOM! We see a close up of a white shirt and a spreading spot of blood, which of course seems to be Sam’s – and then we go wide and see that it’s really the bad guy who’s been shot. He falls, and behind him? Stands Dean Winchester, smoking gun in hand.
Dean: Show’s over.
Holy shit. This is my show.
We also got the absolute treat that is trucker Dean, happily chatting on the CB radio with the handle “67 Midnight Rider” because OF COURSE, that’s his handle. And in typical Dean fashion, he can pull off being a cross country trucker as easily as he pulls off any of his other disguises. Dean is brilliant in his ability to be a chameleon, with a wealth of knowledge that allows him to do it successfully. Smart!Dean makes me very happy indeed. Oh, and the plaid shirt and vest combo? Yum.
I also really enjoyed Dean and Doug’s interaction – having just chatted with Brendan Taylor, who plays Doug, I think that’s in part because the two actors hit it off and that comes through onscreen. Dean respects Doug too – he tries to shield him from knowing that monsters are real, because that’s what Dean will always do if he can, but once that’s not possible, he offers Doug a vote of confidence in his ability by saying they’d welcome another member on their team to fight the good fight. Dean has come a long way from the young hunter who didn’t think civilians could do much of anything – and he’s come a long way from the man who was never emotionally expressive. Just saying to Doug, “you’re a good man,” was such a generous thing to do. Dean has always been capable of that sort of giving, but he’s much more likely to express it now, and I like that.
Number 4. Doug. New!Doug, that is. Brendan Taylor first played Doug in the episode ‘Plush,’ and even then I was taken with the character. I liked the bit of gender role reversal that came with his having the guts to tell Donna that she was treating him badly – it’s not what the stereotype leads us to expect, and I thought Brendan really pulled it off. So I was very happy to see him back!
In his first appearance, Doug was mostly a comedic character (though he definitely had a sweet side), but in this episode, we got to see more sides of Doug. There were still plenty of comedic moments – Doug’s reaction when Dean suddenly claims to be Donna’s cousin was priceless, as was his response to Dean slamming the vampire guy’s head on the counter and then calmly explaining “that’s how we do it in the FBI” – Doug’s “It is?” made me laugh out loud.
Doug also broke my heart, thanks to Davy Perez’ script and Brendan Taylor’s acting. His naivete at the beginning of the episode is slowly eroded as he finds out that monsters are in fact real, and that progression is hard to watch. Taylor shows us Doug’s genuine love for Donna as he confides to Dean that he’s never seen her like this – and that he’s afraid she’s hiding something from him. There are clues that Doug isn’t cut out for the hunting life throughout the episode, as he flinches away from the violent auction video, for example. And his bewildered response when the vampire turns him is heartbreaking.
Donna: Are you hurt?
Doug: I’m not hurt….but I don’t think I’m okay.
It must have killed him to then attack the person he loves most out of that intense and compelling hunger. What’s more traumatic than that?
I’ll talk more about that final scene with Doug and Donna, but both Briana and Brendan killed it. Doug’s whole world is turned upside down – in the space of a half hour he’s found out that monsters are real, become one himself, and learned that the woman he loves kills them. We know he’s a sensitive man, and this is clearly too much. Thanks again to the script and the acting, though, we also know how much it’s killing Doug to walk away from Donna. I absolutely believed him when he said he loved her, but “I can’t do this.”
Number 5. Donna Hanscum. Briana Buckmaster. Holy crap. I loved having Donna on my screen again in last week’s Wayward Sisters, but this week really let the character come into her own. We all know that Briana can make us laugh and we love her character for that sunny disposition and sense of humor, but we have also known from the beginning that Donna has had a lot of hurt in her life. It’s part of what made her a character that feels real, that fans related to from the start.
In this episode, Buckmaster’s dramatic talent is showcased. From the moment we see Donna, it’s terribly clear how frightened she is. Her voice shakes, sadness and fear evident in her tone. As she waits for Sam and Dean to get there, she stares into nothing, and you can almost imagine the terrible scenarios that are playing out in her mind that might have happened to her niece. Kudos to Perez also for the script, bringing in the inevitable guilt that everyone fears when something bad happens to someone we care about – of course, Donna would feel guilty and responsible, even if that makes no logical sense, just for mentioning that she enjoyed her “gap year.”
Breakdown. It’s an episode full of Donna fighting not to break down, to keep her wits about her and focus on finding her niece. And she does it too – it’s not until Doug walks out that she too breaks down.
I loved Briana’s chemistry with Brendan, and her skill in showing us how much Donna cares for him. It’s in the little things – the way she keeps glancing at him, clearly worried about how he’s taking all this. The way she keeps trying to reassure him (and herself) that it will all be okay, that things will go back to “normal” – when we, the experienced Supernatural viewer, and Sam and Dean, already know that’s not going to happen. I love her calling him by an affectionate nickname, Dougie Bear, and I love the tenderness with which she gives him the cure in the backseat of the Impala, so much hope in her voice that this is going to make everything all better. (And once again, we know, it won’t).
I also want to commend both the writing and the acting for making Donna both vulnerable and awesomely kickass, because guess what? Women can be both! Her coldness when she takes over and shoots the vampire clerk, ruthless and efficient, was shocking and entirely believable.
Donna: Oh I’m killing you either way, I can do it fast or I can do it slow…
Damn, Donna. Her niece and her boyfriend’s lives are both on the line, and she is taking NO prisoners. I love her ordering Dean to get the blood for the cure, because she has HAD it. And I love that Dean has zero quibbles.
The interrogation scene is a tour de force for Buckmaster (and for Donna) as she uses her smarts to outwit the skeevy preacher dude and get him to tell the truth about what he knows. She’s intimidating when she needs to be (that sudden outburst of “Don’t lie to God!” made me jump) and a master manipulator when she needs to be – and she’s also smart enough to know when someone is not lying.
Eventual bad guy: She’s good.
Sam: Yeah, she is.
Buckmaster sold every bit of this episode – from the way Donna held the flashlight and the gun and stalked the hallways with Dean, looking like she’d been doing it all her life, to her take down of the hooded monster, to Donna’s horror at seeing the video of her niece up for auction, to the ending scene with Doug. Both Briana and Brendan weren’t afraid to make themselves entirely vulnerable in that scene – you could feel the anguish from both of them – and it came through powerfully. I actually sobbed out loud when Doug let go of Donna’s hand; I could feel her pain so acutely. Little moments like the close up on Donna and Doug’s clasped hands, and the moment he pulls away from her, really tore my heart out.
Much like Padalecki and Ackles, one look at Buckmaster’s face and you could see how devastated Donna was. Her sob at the end broke me.
All the kudos, Briana. All of them.
Well, this was supposed to be five things I liked about this episode, but I need to add a number 6.
Number 6. This is how we do it. On Supernatural, I mean.
There were twists and turns that I didn’t see coming in this episode – that surprised me! I didn’t realize Clegg was the bad guy; I didn’t realize Marlon was a vampire, I certainly didn’t expect an auction for human body parts for monster food! And I freaking love it when Show is smart enough to bring me twists and turns I don’t see coming.
And that’s not all.
One of the things that Eric Kripke and Sera Gamble talked about early on was how they could use the other characters on the show to show us something about the Winchesters. The reason this episode got to me, on an emotional level, was partly the amazing acting – but it was also the story that Davy Perez was telling. It was a story of Donna and Doug, but it was also a story of Sam and Dean.
They too have tried to have relationships, of various kinds, and combine it with hunting. They too have lied to other people and had their hearts broken when that person inevitably found out the truth. They have had to choose hunting over those relationships, learning that terrible lesson just as Donna is now. This episode brought back all those moments of heartbreak – you could see that in Sam and Dean’s reaction, in the sadness in their eyes. I don’t think it was all for Donna – it was empathy, not sympathy. That loss, that sacrifice, is what makes their lives tragic, and part of what makes them the heroes they are. Doug echoes that when he tells Donna, “you’re a damn hero, but that’s not me.”
The ending scene, of Sam and Dean in the Impala (the way old school episodes almost always ended), brings all those points home. Sam once again tells it like it is, even as he rails against it. As Doug walks out and Donna cries, Sam speaks up.
Sam: When you choose this life, if people get too close to you, they get hurt. Or worse. Let him go.
Dean tries to call him on it when they’re in the car, saying he was tough on Donna, but Sam doesn’t see it that way. Again, I love that he TELLS Dean that he disagrees, and Dean listens.
Sam: When has knowing us ever worked out? For anyone.
Dean: We save people.
Sam: We also get people killed. Kaia…she helped us…and died for it.
Sam: I’m not in a dark place, just telling the truth. This is our lives, Dean. I tried to pretend it didn’t have to be. I tried to pretend we could have Mom back and Cas and help Jack. But we can’t. This ends one way for us, Dean. It ends bloody.
Sam turns and stares out the window, the pain and resignation on his face strikingly clear.
Sam: It ends bad…
I got CHILLS at that ending. I’m not used to seeing Sam so resigned, so down, so full of sadness. And as Season 13 passes its halfway point, I’m scared of what’s to come. Jared and Jensen have talked many times about how the series will eventually end, and sometimes that’s what they say : it ends bloody. Hearing Sam Winchester say those words gave me goosebumps.
This Show is just too damn good to end, and this episode is a case in point. I loved it – and I don’t want to give it up any time soon!