I don’t quite know what to do with myself – this is two weeks in a row that I’ve been absolutely blown away by how GOOD the Supernatural episode was. I must have become accustomed to getting a good episode here and there and every now and then a great one, and having the ones in between be frustrating in some way or not quite satisfying. I didn’t even realize how accustomed to that I’d become, but apparently having two fabulous episodes back to back is almost too much for me – I haven’t felt this euphoric about the Show in a while, and it feels amazing to be back to fangirling my little heart out over Supernatural.
Thank you, Show! Thank you Steve Yockey for last week’s episode and Davy Perez for this week’s episode. The cast itself never disappoints — even when I’m disappointed in the episode itself, I’m never anything but impressed with all of them. But this week and last week, something special happened. That spark, that magic, that “lightning in a bottle” that first captivated me about this Show returned. This week and last week, Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles were onscreen together after being apart for much of this season, and I was blown away all over again by how much emotional impact they bring to Sam and Dean when the brothers are interacting. That’s what made me fall in love with this Show, and what I found so compelling – and I’ve missed it. Something happens when those two are onscreen together, when the emotions are so intense and so palpable and so REAL and I can feel everything Sam and Dean are feeling. It’s magic, pure magic.
Damaged Goods was also heartbreaking and horrifying, but that too is what Supernatural has always been about. From the moment we see Dean packing up his duffel, there’s a sense of foreboding. He leaves his room and glances down the hall, almost wistfully. Was he regretting not being able to say goodbye to Cas and Jack? Regretting leaving the place he’s come to call home? He finds Sam in the library, hard at work trying to figure out a way to vanquish Michael and save his brother. Dean overtly expresses his appreciation, and that’s…. odd? Then he says he wants to go see Mom, sounding downright sentimental, and he doesn’t want Sam to come along, and … uh oh. Every alarm bell in my head starts going off. Dean’s going to do something stupid and sacrificial, clearly.
When Dean starts to leave and then suddenly veers to pull Sam into a hug from behind, I already want to cry because clearly something very bad is about to happen. Ackles is brilliant in this small, quiet scene. The way it looks like he’s trying to leave without touching Sam, but he’s pulled almost like a magnetic force, and the way he clutches Sam to him, almost kissing him on the head – it’s almost more maternal than brotherly, so full of affection it makes my heart ache.
“Take care, Sammy,” he says, and forces himself to leave.
Sam stares after him, looking as worried as I’m feeling. Padalecki is equally brilliant as Sam, wanting to bask in his big brother’s rare display of affection but immediately suspicious and worried for him.
Such a small scene, but so much of what this Show is about. The love between these two brothers, the shared history of sacrifice and courage and saving each other and the world and trying to do the right thing – it all adds up to become this intense emotional experience when you’ve been following the Winchesters’ story for going on fourteen years. We know them; we know, as Dean rests his chin on Sam’s head and pulls Sam to him, that this is goodbye.
And that fucking hurts.
Dean heads up to Donna’s cabin, and on the way meets up with and shares burgers with Donna (Briana Buckmaster, kicking ass as always in this role) because that’s what they do. The two of them initially bonded over their unreserved love for donuts, and they enjoy their burgers with equal enthusiasm.
We get a mention of Doug (miss you, Doug!) and the confirmation that Jody and Donna are hunting (Wayward Sisters shout out, sorta). Dean very obviously tries to avoid talking about himself by asking her a million questions, but she’s onto him because a) she’s smart and b) Sam has been keeping everyone up to date about what’s happening with Dean.
Dean: What, does he have a freakin’ newsletter?
Dean hugs Donna and it’s just as obviously a goodbye hug.
Meanwhile, Sam isn’t taking this lying down – which makes me very happy indeed. Too often there’s some totally suspicious situation going on, but the other person just kinda shrugs and appears not to take it seriously, and that always rings so false to me. This is Sam Winchester, and it’s about his brother, so of COURSE he takes it seriously! He even manages to sleuth out the books that Dean took from the library, and whatever they are, Sam knows it is NOT GOOD. He calls Mary, letting her know something is up with Dean.
Sam: And he….hugged me.
Sam: We don’t hug! I mean, we do, but only if it’s literally the end of the world.
Only on Supernatural would that statement be literally true!
Dean is uncharacteristically touchy feely with Mary too when he arrives (finding her doing target practice on some pumpkins, which is a really nice shot)
She suggests inviting Sam to join them, and Dean snaps that he doesn’t want Sam there. Alarm bells go off all over fandom and in Mary’s head too, but Dean tries to backtrack, saying he’s just “hangry”. Oh Dean. You’re not a great liar, tbh.
He asks Mary to make him his favorite meal from childhood, the ominously named “Winchester Surprise”. Mary protests that it wasn’t even good, but Dean claims that he’s a horrible cook (which is also a lie) and that he loves it. We soon find out that he may have wanted a sentimental “last meal” but he also wanted Mary out of the way so he could construct something in Donna’s handy dandy shed. The look on his face when he turns toward the shed to do whatever it is he came here to do is….chilling.
It’s obvious immediately that whatever he’s constructing is probably something that’s bad news, but I shallowly appreciate Dean in his welder apron and in those safety glasses, I can’t help it. Also, Jensen learned to weld just for this scene, and the fact that he still takes this role so damn seriously after all this time gives me lots of feelings. And the way he handles those tools and that fire and….competence kink, let me show you it. (With bonus glasses kink….mmm mmm mmm)
The shed is a perfect setting, complete with Donna’s pin ups of burly shirtless dudes and an eight track player. Dean pops in the Guess Who, “No Time” which is again absolutely perfect, and I’m so glad they got the rights to use it.
The lyrics are haunting – No time left for you, distant shores are calling me, I got myself some wings…
Dean even sets the table and helps do the cooking, which means Mary becomes as suspicious as Sam and sneaks away to call him. She says that she’ll get to the bottom of it, that if Dean needs space they should respect that.
Sam agrees – then the shot pulls out and we see that Sam is already on his way. That’s the Sam Winchester I know!
Dean gets a chance to tell his mother how much it means to him (and to Sam) to know that she’s alive and in the world. I haven’t been the biggest fan of Mary, but this whole episode portrayed her as softer than she’s seemed since she’s been back, and I found myself believing that she really does have warm feelings for her sons. That’s progress!
Dean also shares some stories of his and Sam’s childhood with Mary, which is what I was hoping for long ago when Mary returned and we never got. It’s sad and uncomfortable, making it clear that the boys’ childhood was nothing like Mary had hoped for – not enough food or money, not enough parenting, Dean having to grow up too soon and John having a bad temper. Mary is sort of horrified, and Dean doesn’t know how to salvage the moment, and it’s all just heartbreaking. Once again, this is the Show I fell in love with – the one that makes me FEEL.
Mary says she sometimes forgets just how much she missed, being gone.
Mary: How much the two of you, just…
She trails off, and it’s so sad, but it’s also so realistic and so satisfying to finally see it talked about! Why did we not get more of this with Mary’s return? Insight into Sam and Dean that can only come from this kind of conversation with their mother. I don’t know why Show squandered these opportunities, but I so appreciate that Davy Perez did not in this episode.
Dean tries to snow her with a barely managed speech about how great it is to cook with her and spend time with her, finishing with “and there’s no….clouds on the horizon…”
He can hardly get the words out because he knows that’s exactly the opposite of the truth. Those little things, the way Ackles pauses and almost chokes trying to get out the lie, those things make this show and that character so rich.
Mary checks out the shed while Dean sleeps curled up awkwardly on the couch, snoring away. Kudos to Samantha Smith here, that fond look she casts at her grown son.
And then the slowly dawning horror as she looks around the shed and realizes what he’s planning.
Mary: No. Nonononono.
That rang very true, and it hurt.
Nick is in this episode too, still killing people and liking it, and now looking for Mary because she was somehow mixed up with capturing the demon Abraxas who killed Nick’s family. He finds Donna and they tussle, and Donna more than holds her own until Nick cheats with a taser. Ouch. (Though I really don’t think Donna would have turned her back on him while she checked his fingerprints, just saying.)
Nick also gets the jump on Mary, who tries to stall admirably before finally taking Nick to the storage locker where she’s got Abraxas in a puzzle box. And all sorts of other macabre things, thanks to Davy Perez’ flair for horror and Supernatural’s willingness to go there. Ewww. (Also, it probably is no coincidence considering what Dean is planning that those severed heads all appear to be drowning as well as locked in containers…)
Nick manages to evade the trip wire and break into the very poorly locked storage containers, and then he does a really dumb thing and lets Abraxas out of the box to find out why he killed Nick’s family. Mark Pellegrino once again does a wonderful job portraying Nick as a seriously damaged man, different than Lucifer but no less unpredictable and therefore still scary.
Meanwhile, Sam shows up and surprises Dean and they and Donna race to save Mary. On the way, Dean is a little harsh with Sam about going easy on Nick.
Dean: Nick’s not a project, or a puppy. You’re not that dumb!
Sam: It’s not about being dumb, Dean. It’s called compassion. Look, what happened to Nick could’ve happened to me. It almost happened to me. And since when do we give up on people and cut them loose?
I totally understand why Sam has compassion for Nick after being possessed himself more than once, but I did think it wasn’t the best idea to let him wander off (That was Cas who was babysitting everyone, not Sam, but nobody went after him either). This little scene was important though, because Sam’s empathy and compassion has been a major theme this season. My heart breaks for him, such a sensitive man who tries so hard to do the right thing. Life can be so unfair, in reality and on Supernatural.
Dean: When people are past the point of saving, maybe you need to learn to walk away.
We all wonder if he’s talking about Nick or himself.
The boys and Donna bust in to save the day, but Nick foolishly breaks the devil’s trap to let Abraxas out. Cue some impressive special effects or wire work or something, because the demon has all of them off the ground and tossed across the room.
Eventually Nick stabs Abraxas with a demon blade after he tells Nick that Lucifer planned the murder of his family just to have a convenient vessel, much to Nick’s dismay. Donna is pissed and shoots Nick in the leg, and Mary is pissed and punches him in the face, and that was very satisfying indeed.
Sam confronts Nick before Donna takes him away, not understanding why he did what he did. Nick claims it was revenge, and that Sam would have done the same thing. Sam says no, and says he’s sorry that he couldn’t help him, that he didn’t know how, but Nick isn’t having it. He lashes back, saying it’s not about YOU, Sam. He doesn’t want to be fixed, because he isn’t broken.
Sam looks so sad when he says, “Yes, you are.” He tells Nick that he feels sorry for the people Nick hurt, and that they’ll haunt him (not sure that’s true, since Nick is in fact pretty damn broken).
Sam finally gives up, and you can see it happen and see how much it goes against Sam’s nature.
“You can burn,” he says, and turns his back and walks away. It must have cost Sam a lot to say that; he’s so full of empathy, and it’s so hard for him to give up on someone. Jared slayed in that small scene, and my heart broke to see that kind of evolution and hardening in Sam, a character I love so much.
Nick out of the way, safely tucked into Donna’s squad car, the Winchesters head back to Donna’s cabin. Mary tells Dean that he’d better tell Sam about the thing she saw in the shed, or she will.
So Dean does. And all our worst fears are confirmed. He’s built a Ma’lak box, which can contain an archangel. Dean plans to climb in and have it sunk to the bottom of the Pacific, where he’ll be trapped for all eternity with Michael – but the world will be saved.
Dean expresses his appreciation for how hard Sam and Cas and Jack have all tried to save him, but he has clearly given up hope. It was Billie herself who told Dean how to build the box, assuring him it was the only way. Hmmm. What’s Billie’s agenda here, I wonder?
There follows one of those scenes that you’ll never forget, even a long long time in the future, when Supernatural was that show you watched thirty years ago. Jared and Jensen absolutely killed it, and I sat there open mouthed with tears overflowing, in awe of how much they can make me feel for Sam and Dean.
Sam (anguished): So you came out here to see Donna, to see Mom, on what? Some sick secret farewell tour? You were gonna leave and you weren’t even gonna tell me. ME! Do you realize how messed up that is? How unfair that is?
Dean (equally anguished): I didn’t have a choice. You are the last person I could tell, the last person I could be around, ’cause you’re the only one that could’ve talked me out of it.
The first notes of the Winchester family theme start to play, and I totally lost it. This – right here – is what this Show is all about, and what makes it so special. Its ability to make me feel SO MUCH.
Sam protests, insists there’s another way, but Dean assures Sam that his mind is made up and he’ll do it anyway, with or without Sam. Otherwise, Michael will get out, Dean is sure of that.
Dean insists that it’s fate.
Sam: Since when do we believe in fate?
Dean: Since now, Sam. I won’t be talked out of it. I won’t. I’m doing this. Now, you can either let me do it alone or you could help me. But I’m doing this.
What a horrible dilemma. Does Sam refuse to go along with it, and leave Dean to go through with it all alone? Or does he help his brother damn himself to eternal torment?
Of course it’s a familiar scenario to the Winchesters; Sam insisted on a similar plan at the end of Season 5, and plunged into the pit with Lucifer inside him – which nearly destroyed Dean. Now the tables are turned.
Sam’s soft, reluctant “All right” made the tears come all over again. Jared showed every ounce of Sam’s pain on his face, in his tear-filled eyes, in the twitch of his mouth as he tries to hold back tears and hopelessness.
These two kill me every damn time. The relationship between Sam and Dean, forged over all those years and all that they’ve been through, is so real and so rich that when they have to confront losing the other, it kills ME to see it. After almost fourteen years of experiencing the bond between these brothers, the intensity of their emotions comes through my screen so clearly that it’s like I’m right there, feeling it all along with them.
I know it seems to make no sense, but I’m so happy about this episode. It broke my heart and filled with me dread, but that has been a part of loving this Show since day one. This episode gave me a Sam and Dean who feel like the characters I know and love. It filled me with every emotion, from a deep warmth at seeing the familial love Dean always feels but doesn’t always show, to a horrible sense of dread, to the heartbreak of knowing what Dean was planning and how much courage it took, to the heartbreak of Sam having to face losing his brother. Again.
THAT is my Show. We’ve watched the Winchesters struggle against fate, defy the odds to save each other at any risk, and also have to watch each other sacrifice themselves. What choice will Sam make this time?
Phil Sgriccia directed an episode that flowed from start to finish without those annoying jumps back and forth for entirely separate story lines – it all came together and the tension never eased throughout the entire episode. I would of course have been happy not to detour from the main story at all, but it kept coming back and what we did get of that main story line was oh so satisfying. Sgriccia has also been with the Show since the beginning, and seems to know when to let Jared and Jensen do their thing and just let that magic happen.
I feel so damn lucky that it’s still this amazing after almost 300 episodes!