I watched this episode of Supernatural from an unusual perspective (for me, at least). I wasn’t able to watch Peace of Mind live, nor was I able to watch it for almost an entire week thanks to being on family vacation. (Despite what most people would probably assume, I actually do prioritize the kids over my favorite show. Okay, maybe I did sneak off and try to watch a bit of the episode on the CW app on Sunday, but that lasted about five minutes, so I gave up after only a single attempt. Pretty respectable, I think.) This meant that I was partially spoiled for the episode, but more importantly, that I already knew what most of my social media timelines thought of it.
I intentionally have a wide range of friends and acquaintances on various platforms, and they have a wide range of reasons why they love Supernatural, so it’s not surprising that some people loved the episode and some people hated it. If you really needed a break from the angst and a good laugh, you probably loved it. If you watch for quality Misha Collins content, you were pretty pleased. If you ship Sastiel or are amused by Misha Collins and Jared Padalecki’s real life (adorable) teasing friendship, you got way more than you ever dreamt you would and were probably over the moon. If you watch for Sam and Dean and expect them to be interacting alot, maybe you weren’t. In other words, as in most things fandom, your mileage may vary.
When I tweeted that I hadn’t been able to watch and had no clue whether I’d like it or not, I had a lot of predictions from people in all those contingents about how I’d feel when I finally sat down to watch, which was also really interesting to hear. That watching thing finally happened last night, and guess what? Even I didn’t predict my reaction very accurately!
I didn’t have a strong emotional reaction in either direction, perhaps because I was already prepared for what the episode would contain. That allowed me to look at it with two different lenses, which is not the way I would usually do a review, but I think it’s helpful here. As a 42 minute piece of episodic television, I think Peace Of Mind was well done – and very enjoyable. Collins and Padalecki together in Charming Acres were comedy gold, both of them hitting just the right notes, and Meghan Fitzmartin’s teleplay giving them all the right dialogue to play with. They looked like they were having the time of their lives and that enthusiasm carried right over onto the screen. That story line – let’s call it the A story line – was particularly well done.
Misha shared at the Nashville Supernatural convention last weekend that there had been a scene where Sam lands on top of Castiel, and that Jared had way too much fun with that, including making “an impact”. That little tease primed me for the scene, and when it actually happened I laughed out loud, imagining all the fun Padalecki must have had with a trapped Collins who’s trying to stay in character. I’m crossing all my fingers and toes for lots of gag reel content from that one, because Phil Sgriccia was directing and he definitely knows when to let the cameras keep rolling!
I loved the set dec and locations that transformed a part of Vancouver into the idyllic and picturesque (according to Cas) Charming Acres, and the campy music and back-in-time costumes. Supernatural never cuts corners and it shows.
The B story line, as Dean tries to figure out if Jack is in the angel or devil camp (at times with a Twinkie choice test), worked less well for me, but perhaps that’s inevitably colored by having expectations for how these characters would be feeling after recent canon events. There was humor there too, but it didn’t work as well for me in the B story line. That may be because there just wasn’t as good a reason for the departure from the Show’s usual angst and darkness, like there was in the A story line. Alex Calvert and Keith Szarabajka (Donatello) had some lovely scenes together, but I think the back and forth between what was happening in Charming Acres to Cas and Sam and then to what was happening with Jack and Dean kept jarring me. I was more invested in the Sam and Cas story and didn’t want to keep being yanked away, which is a recurring problem with me and Supernatural when they have two separate story lines running.
From purely the perspective of an episode of television, the bookended brief Winchester brothers moments at the start and end were a separate thing too. They worked for me, and I was glad they were there, but perhaps that’s largely because I was waiting for them as a Supernatural fan.
So that’s the first perspective. Congrats to Meghan for her first episode as a writer and to Steve Yockey for his co-writing, especially for the entire Charming Acres story line. I literally laughed out loud – more than once!
The second perspective is of someone who has watched Supernatural since the beginning and is emotionally invested in this season’s story line as well as in the individual characters. From that perspective, I wasn’t quite as happy with the episode. Did we need a break from the angst? I know some people did, but I was in my happy place after the emotion-drenched episodes we had in the middle of the season and craving nothing more than a continuation of that angsty Winchestery goodness. I do enjoy the “funny” episodes, and I did enjoy this one, but I was also a little frustrated that it popped into the middle of a pretty serious overarching story arc.
The departure from that angst-ridden story arc into some humorous moments worked pretty well with the Sam and Cas story line for me as a Supernatural fan too – it made sense because there was a reason for the departure. Sam wasn’t really Sam, so of course he wasn’t brooding and angsty and consumed with guilt. That’s the whole point. That Dean also wasn’t brooding and angsty and consumed with guilt in the B story line didn’t have as ready an explanation, so the humor in that story line didn’t work as well.
The A and B story lines also differed in terms of my understanding of what was going on with Sam and Dean. I understood Sam and recognized him as the character I know and love throughout the episode. Although we didn’t get to see as much as I wish we did, we did see that Sam is understandably traumatized by the slaughter of the AU hunters essentially in his living room. Everywhere he looks, he sees their bodies. Repeatedly, he sees and hears Maggie call out his name, which has got to be the most upsetting thing ever. I can’t even imagine! (As much as I didn’t like the character, I think Sam took her under his wing, so for her to die screaming for him to save her must have been unbearable – and he had to witness it!) It makes perfect sense that Sam would want to get out of there, to get away from the sights and sounds that are constantly triggering him. So Sam’s mental state and his actions made sense to me.
It makes less sense to me that Dean didn’t go with him, and I wish we had gotten to spend more time hearing the two of them talk about it so I could understand why (other than practical constraints of availability for filming). I can weave my own explanation – Dean is giving Sam space, understanding that he needs time to get past what happened and that he’s also feeling guilty as hell – but we don’t really see that and it’s not necessarily how I would have predicted Dean would react. I guess I’ll go with there’s tension between Sam and Dean also because Dean snapped at Sam when Michael got out, and Dean feels bad about that and so gives Sam his space, but again, I’m making this up as I go along and I don’t like having to do that.
I’m much less clear about what’s going on with Dean. He was devastated by Michael’s escape from his mind and the carnage that resulted, and has to be consumed by guilt. I agree that Dean has made progress in not blaming himself 1000% for every bad thing that happens, but I don’t think he’s made that much progress. Actually, I can’t imagine anyone not feeling guilty if that happened to them, even if you’re not Dean I’m 100% Guilt Winchester. In this episode, we get a Dean who seems anxious and a little jumpy, but who also seems to be trying to be almost upbeat in his interactions with Jack. Maybe he’s trying to act like everything is okay so he can get a read on what’s going on with Jack? Maybe he’s in denial about the horror that just played out in his living room and making jokes and eating giant sandwiches as a result? I honestly don’t know, and I don’t like not knowing.
I was also confused about Castiel and Jack’s interaction. I’ve really enjoyed the relationship between Cas and Jack and thought that Cas was doing a pretty damn great job of being a comforting father figure to Jack from his unique perspective as an angel. In this episode, Cas gave up oddly quickly on their conversation and left Jack to his snake ponderings. He also seemed unable to tell whether or not Jack had any soul left, when he’s been able to sense that in others multiple times. Why?? Head scratch.
As an episode of Supernatural, I also will never jump up and down when an episode has two minutes at most of Sam and Dean having actual conversation. I can separate myself enough to realize that complaint doesn’t have any bearing on the quality of an episode of television from my first perspective, but from this second perspective, it doesn’t feel like Supernatural with Sam and Dean hardly interacting at all.
With those diverse perspectives in mind, let’s take a quick trip through the episode itself. After a preview that includes Dean and the snake from Yellow Fever, we start with a guy running at breakneck speed down the road – another Yellow Fever call back so I half expected him to be chased by a Yorkie! Instead he makes it to a gas station and then his head explodes, with all the gore you’d expect from a Supernatural episode. Shout out to the guy playing shopkeeper Griffin, because his reaction was the first to make me laugh out loud.
Griffin: Dude, you need help?
[Brains fall from the ceiling]
Griffin: [pukes all over]
I feel you, Griffin.
Meanwhile, Jack is concerned about the snake, who won’t eat, but insists that “I’m good, Castiel” when Cas checks on him. Castiel has some helpful on-the-nose things to say about how it impacts all creatures when there’s a lot of change in a short period of time. Concerned, he asks Jack if he still has some soul left, to which Jack replies that he doesn’t know. It seems to me like his concern for the snake suggests he does, but I guess we’ll see. I personally think the snake would enjoy a bigger cage, but that’s just me.
Next we see Sam’s flashbacks, which is fairly heartbreaking and well done. Jared does a great job showing the depth of Sam’s pain in just his facial expressions and some involuntary winces.
Then we get 30 seconds of Sam and Dean as Sam announces he’s found a case and Dean insists that he needs rest.
Dean: We both do.
Sam gruffly insists he’s going anyway, and Cas offers to go instead. Dean acquiesces though he does ask why, and Cas is unusually in charge as he tells Dean that he should stay behind and try to figure out what’s going on with Jack.
Cas: He looks up to you. And his soul, you’ve seen this before…
Me: How about Sam has EXPERIENCED this before, why isn’t anyone encouraging SAM to talk to Jack??? Remember all those awesome Sam and Jack scenes we got early on??? Their close relationship?? Anyone??
No one hears me, so Sam and Cas head out to investigate exploding head dude’s death. Sam yawns, but continues the mantra of mid-to-late Season 14, insisting to Castiel that “I’m good.”
Cas: Yeah, I know, everyone is good.
Misha delivered that line flawlessly, and I loved it. It might have been the first time I knew that the Sam and Cas content in this episode was going to be a fun ride indeed.
Castiel: You need rest.
Sam says he can’t, and I believe him. He’s just not at a place where he can slow down, because if he does, he’s going to have to process all this trauma and loss.
Sam and Cas ask Griffin about “the incident” and Griffin is incredulous.
Griffin: The incident? That’s what we’re calling it now?
Griffin is every normal person who encounters the weirdness that is everyday Supernatural. Nicely done, Meghan.
Sam and Cas roll into Charming Acres to continue their investigation, which looks like a Rockwell painting come to life. Cas comments that it reminds him of the Saturday Evening Post, which he apparently reads after Sam and Dean fall asleep.
Cas: It’s very soothing.
When they realize Charming Acres is a little bit off, they do think to call Dean, but conveniently there is no cell phone access. They encounter Justin Smith and his wife, who think that the dead guy had an aneurysm. Castiel corrects them.
Cas: Oh no, his head exploded. Like a ripe melon on the sun.
I laughed out loud again, because Misha nailed that line – and Jared nailed Sam’s reaction. The Smiths are perplexed, but what’s more interesting is that they’ve clearly never seen a cell phone before. And that’s definitely weird.
Cas: Maybe they’re Mormon?
Sam and Cas have a milkshake (or at least Sam does), and Cas manages to once again shock the townsfolk with the truth about what happened to Justin, much to Sam’s chagrin.
They then visit the hotel where Justin was staying and split up to search it. Sam enjoys the landlady’s coffee and wants to stay for her pot roast, already acting a little off, and Cas finds some cards and letters hidden under Justin’s mattress. He tells Sam they were “passionate”.
Sam: Passionate how?
Cas: She talks about the shape and heft of his…
Sam: Okay okay, got it!
Sam insists on staying the night and finally getting some of that much-needed rest (and if Cas didn’t know Sam was off before, he should have known then), but when Cas knocks on his room’s door the next day, Sam is already gone. The landlady (oddly wearing what look like very modern ear buds) tells him where to look after an amusing conversation that keeps referring to Sam as “the very tall man” and Cas goes to the Smith house to interview Mrs. Smith about her husband’s death and to find Sam. Random moment that made me laugh out loud – Mrs. Smith screaming NOOOO when Cas almost sits in her husband’s chair and Misha’s expression when he leaps up. Priceless!
Cas describes Sam to her, now adding that “he has beautiful hair” and I can hear my Sastiel shipper friends dying in the background. Sam himself appears, but he’s now the new Justin Smith, all that beautiful hair pulled into a man bun and some lovely dorky glasses on his handsome face. I gotta say, the look totally worked for me. I have a thing for any of these guys in glasses, what can I say? And I like the man bun, don’t yell at me.
What follows is a hilarious scene between Misha and Jared, as Cas tries to get Sam to snap out of it and Sam flirts with his fake wife.
Justin: I’m feeling adventurous.
Mrs. Smith: Rawrrrr.
Justin: (hilariously): Rawr!
When Castiel tells him to “snap the hell out of it”, Justin responds with pearl-clutching offense and ushers Cas right out of the house. By this time, I was laughing so much I might have teared up. ALL the kudos to Jared and Misha for playing this exactly right (and providing the fandom with gifs until infinity)
Cas now knows something is very wrong here (ya think?) and confronts the milkshake waitress Sunny to find out why. We get some pretty badass Cas here, which I always appreciate.
Cas: Tell me or I’ll rip it from your mind!
Turns out it’s not Sunny but her deranged father, a mind control psychic who’s controlling everyone in the town to create his own vision of “happiness” after the death of his wife, who shows up to confront Cas – along with Justin aka Sam and a few other mind-controlled guys.
Here I have to say that I couldn’t help but view this part of the story as similar to one of my other favorite shows, Wayward Pines. I know it’s a trope that’s been done numerous times, but this episode really did play out just like that series began and had the same vibe to it. I was on set for much of the filming of that pilot thanks to director Night Shyamalan, so that episode is deeply ingrained in my memory. That episode was also filmed in Vancouver, in fact, and I kept being distracted by the parallels.
Anyway, we get a well choreographed fight scene from Rob Hayter and company, and Castiel actually gets to be somewhat effective this time. He says he won’t hurt Sam, and seems to be trying not to hurt any of the other mind-controlled people either, which I appreciate. Eventually we get the scene I’ve been waiting for, as Sam tackles Cas and pins him to the ground. In a scene reminiscent of the time Dean had Cas pinned and an angel blade held over him while Cas tried to talk him out of it, Sam grabs Castiel’s angel blade and raises it to kill the angel.
Castiel: I know what it’s like to fail as a leader, but you have to keep fighting! If you don’t you fail everyone we lost.
Sam: (continues to struggle)
Cas: You fail Jack…
Sam: (raises blade)
Cas: Sam, you fail Dean!
Sam struggles to take that in, then crashes the knife down to the floor, and rips off his glasses, the spell broken.
I’m sure it was a hilarious scene to film, but the final cut works so well as a dramatic scene, as Cas uses the one thing he correctly predicts will get through to Sam. He won’t let his brother down.
I also loved the “always keep fighting” reference, intentional or not, to Jared Padalecki’s real life mantra that means so much to fans.
The bad guy psychic insists to his horrified daughter that he’s God in this town, and Sam and Castiel disagree.
Sam: No you’re not. We’ve met God.
Castiel: (indignant) God has a beard!
More kudos all around.
It’s Sunny, the bad guy’s daughter, who finally takes him out just before Sam’s head explodes like a ripe melon on the sun.
She zaps him with her own mind control skills and locking him inside his own mind in a place that he’s happy but can’t hurt anyone.
Sunny: You want to be happy? Be happy.
It’s kind of a theme of the episode, the question of what is happiness and what gets you there – and what’s the price of staying there.
Meanwhile, in story line number two, Dean talks to Jack, who is still attempting to get his grieving snake to eat. (Do snakes really eat that often?) This story line also attempts to be funny, perhaps to mesh better with story line number one, but the humor just didn’t hit for me throughout the Dean and Jack section. And that’s saying something, because everyone knows that I find Jensen Ackles’ comedy talents very impressive!
Dean tries to pretend he’s totally cool with snakes and in fact has always liked them, suggesting that Jack feed his snake some bacon and then inexplicably deciding to fry some up himself (after inexplicably consuming an oversized sandwich, which would usually amuse me but….why? Is Dean eating to avoid his own guilt feelings? If so, why is he enjoying it so much? At any rate, I didn’t laugh out loud). It did make me smile a little when Dean opens what he thinks might be a tasty treat for the snake and it’s a box with two live white mice in it. Poor little things.
Eventually Jack and Dean and the snake climb in the Impala for a little road grip, still talking about the snake and how much Dean likes them. When Jack is confused and notes that they’re dangerous, Dean comes up with the odd answer of “it’s not the snake, it’s the bite” which somehow made me think of the gun control debate and threw me out of the story for a second. Dean then gives Jack the choice of Angel Food or Devil’s Food twinkies and is relieved when he chooses the Angel Food one. That intended-to-be-humorous moment also really didn’t work for me. Dean, of all people, knows how serious this is, and he has to be genuinely worried about Jack, but that’s not really what we see.
Dean takes Jack to see Donatello, who I always enjoy. He’s an interesting character, a man who’s struggling to be “good” despite having lost his soul through no fault of his own. That’s fascinating both from a character standpoint and an ethical one and I love that Supernatural is allowing Donatello to be a recurring character. Donatello tries to tell Jack what it’s like not to have a soul, describing it as being bright and shiny on the outside, but in the center there’s just emptiness.
Donatello: I don’t feel anything.
His strategy? Ask himself what the best man he knows would do in a given situation – Mr. Rogers. Oh Donny, I do love you.
Jack: Sam and Dean are the best men I know.
So for Jack, it’s “WWWD” – what would the Winchesters do? And right now, Jack’s goal is to make sure they’re not too worried.
Me: Oh this won’t go wrong…
Dean hangs out at the car while Jack and Donatello talk, and while I was amused by Dean being nervous around the snake and scootching his way to the front of the car instead of by the window, I still don’t quite get where Dean is coming from.
He asks Donatello how things went, and clarifies: So Jack is not like you.
Donatello. Oh no. I’m a prophet of the lord, but Jack is the most powerful being in the universe…
Me: That’s not ominous at all…
Dean and Jack head back to the bunker, and shortly after they return, Sam and Cas arrive too. Cas has clearly already called Dean and filled him in, presumably as soon as they got service.
And Sam and Dean actually have a little bit of conversation!
Dean (gently teasing): I hear you wore a cardigan.
Sam: (glares at Cas)
Dean (with a little more genuine emotion in his voice this time): He said you were really happy… Really happy, huh?
This is a tiny scene, just a small fragment of the episode, but somehow when you give Jared and Jensen a chance to be Sam and Dean in the same scene, they invest every line with so many nuanced emotions, it riveted me anyway. Dean goes from teasing his brother to a trace of that long-standing worry that so characterizes their relationship. Was Sam happier without him, without the life they’ve both chosen? That’s a subtly threatening thing to think about, and their brief conversation reminds me of the one when Dean came back from the Djinn’s fabricated “happiness” world.
Sam answers similarly.
Sam: I guess…. It wasn’t real.
And it wasn’t. It’s worth noting that the first Justin Smith, when he was shocked out of his trance by the existence of Sam’s cell phone, immediately remembered the people he really did love and desperately wanted to get back to them, especially his daughter. The happiness that the Mayor created was fabricated, and so were the other emotions.
Sam reminds them both that it wasn’t real. And then he gets real.
Sam: I hate this place right now. I see them, everywhere I look. I was desperate to get out of here, but I can’t keep running. This is my home.
Dean is listening closely, his expression full of empathy.
Sam: This is our home.
That was enough to make me tear up, not with laughter this time, but with genuine emotion. And that is why I love Supernatural. That’s what I want more of. In this small quiet ending scene, I recognized the characters I know and love, and the bond that connects them to each other and me to the Show.
Sam: (anguished) Dean, I just think I need some time.
Dean: (softly) Okay.
He clasps Sam on the shoulder in silent support, and leaves Sam to start the difficult work of processing his losses. The small nonverbal gesture says more than words probably could have: I understand, I don’t judge, and I’m here if you need me, always.
We end with Jack, trying to make things right for the snake he thinks is grieving his previous owner – trying to make him happy.
Jack: You miss your friend. I’ll help you see your friend again. In Heaven.
Me: Uh oh.
Jack turns the snake to ash, and we all start to have some doubts about his judgment and the state of his soul.
Through a crack in the open door, Castiel watches, looking equally worried.
Despite some mixed feelings, I did enjoy the episode, especially the A story line. I have nothing but congrats to everyone involved for the Charming Acres story and for Misha and Jared’s incredible comedic performances, and I loved the little bit that we did get of Sam and Dean, with Sam haltingly opening up and Dean being supportive. I even liked the ominous ending, although I’ve really loved the character of Jack and am not looking forward to him perhaps going darkside. But I am on pins and needles for the next episode to find out where we’re going, and maybe that’s what loving a show is all about!
Just five more episodes until Season 14 wraps!