The past week has been a whirlwind, much of it Supernatural-related, and now I’m writing this from family vacation, so my review of last week’s episode is influenced by the context in which I watched the show and the fact that right now my feet are up and it’s a sunny spring day in San Francisco. And that’s probably a good thing, because – like the majority of Supernatural fans – I had a lot of issues with last week’s episode.
I did, however, have a good time the night I watched it anyway. That’s because the book release party for my new book, Family Don’t End With Blood: Cast and Fans on How Supernatural Has Changed Lives, (which you can order here) happened the night before at The Study Hollywood in LA. It was an amazing, inspiring, emotional night, where actors and writers and producers and fans all came together to celebrate this amazing show that we all love. The next night, a group of us gathered in our hotel room to watch the episode together. It was the first time most of us had watched together an episode of the show that made us friends, so it felt very special. We ordered Grub Hub, shared some delicious nachos, and waited with a mix of anticipation and trepidation for the show to begin. Literally sitting on the edge of our seats (on the hotel beds…)
The cold open began, and someone said, in a rather strangled voice, “Wait, is that…is that Eileen??” Someone else yelled NOOOOO as we all held our breath and just gaped. I think I had a hand over my mouth in shock. Onscreen, we get one glimpse of Eileen’s terrified face as she flees from something invisible, the sound muted as we watch in horror as she’s torn apart by hellhounds, her body tossed around like a rag doll. It was upsetting and disappointing that the first deaf character in Supernatural had been killed. But it was so much more than that. Eileen was killed by something she couldn’t SEE, so she couldn’t compensate, in a sequence with no sound, as though taunting her for her deafness, which was hard to stomach. I suppose you could also look at it as Eileen was such a kickass hunter that the only thing that could possibly take her out was something she couldn’t see, precisely because she WAS so good at compensating. Most of us had the first knee jerk reaction though, hence the putting aside the nachos temporarily.
Maybe the most upsetting thing was the fact that Eileen, a beloved character played by a beloved actress (the incredibly talented and downright awesome Shoshannah Stern) had been killed off in the opening sequence where we usually see a nameless character meet their demise, as though she didn’t matter to us at all. She had not a single line, and we got no lead up to her death at all – just WHAM, that character you love? Gone. The only words Eileen gets to “say” are read later in the episode by Sam, in a letter.
Or maybe it’s that problematic letter that left the worst taste in our mouths. A letter that for some inexplicable reason has Eileen, one of the most badass fearless hunters we’ve ever had on the show, apologize for being targeted by the BMoL with “I hate to sound all girly” as though that were a synonym for weak and frightened. What?? Equating “girly” with weak and frightened was awful enough – but honestly the letter didn’t sound like it was written by Eileen at all. I can’t imagine her saying that, let alone apologizing for it. Eileen had no voice in so many ways in this episode, and even her words in the letter didn’t sound like her at all.
She didn’t even get a Hunter’s funeral, which she richly richly deserved.
All these things were running through our minds as we sat watching the opening scene. Someone in the room (probably my friend Krista) found her voice eventually and just exclaimed “Oh hell no.”
That is not the way to start an episode, Supernatural.
I understand that people will die on Supernatural – lots and lots of people. I am not someone who does not expect the Show to kill people. It always has, it always will. Sam and Dean could not be the tragic heroes they are without horror and loss and tragedy surrounding them week after week, year after year. Those are the horrific circumstances that have made the Winchesters who they are; it’s why we relate to them so strongly, and why their “always keep fighting” message is so powerful. They need to be surrounded by tragedy and isolated, Team Free Will against the world.
I want to have female characters on the show, and that means female characters will die. I want to have characters who are people of color and who are queer and who are deaf and who are everything else that we humans are, and that means those characters will sometimes die too. I get that. But not like this. Give me an episode, or even part of an episode, where we get the lead up to what’s happening with Eileen, don’t just recap it in a letter. Have enough understanding of your fan base that you know when a character will be more useful to the story line alive, instead of used for a temporary increase in urgency that won’t last past an episode. That was the problem with Charlie’s death too, another multi-faceted, fascinating, relatable character created by Robbie Thompson. What a waste, to not keep these amazing characters played by these amazing actresses, around. Few people can create the kind of character that Thompson did, and we were so lucky to have them on Supernatural. Even with Thompson gone (sobbing forever), at least we could have the strong female characters he created, that were representative for so many fans! But no.
The other thing that made Eileen’s death harder to swallow was that it came on the heels of very difficult losses last week, when two characters who were women of color, fan favorites and kickass hunters (Tasha and Alicia Banes) were killed off (well, mostly). The one-two combination was tough for the fandom to take. Unfortunately, there were some other problems with the episode as well – not the least of those that it crammed in everything but the kitchen sink into a single episode, which means nothing gets thoroughly explained and many things seem to happen in fast motion. We had Sam and Dean’s story line, but we also had Mary and the BMoL, and we also had Crowley and Lucifer. That’s too much shifting back and forth for 42 minutes!
I’ll get to what I actually did like, especially about the Winchester’s segment,s in a moment, but I had issues with both of the other story lines. (This is a single viewing review, so if I get some details wrong, apologies in advance – I have no way to rewatch right now).
The episode was title ‘There’s Something About Mary’, so hers was a major story line. I know that at this point we’re supposed to be following along on a redemption arc for Mary, sympathizing with her as that disgusting Lady Toni and company try to brainwash her into losing her sense of self and becoming a heartless killing machine like Mr. Ketch (and I suppose Lady Toni herself – why did they show us her being a “loving mum” in the first few episodes??) There are all these strange mixed messages about motherhood this season, as though having a child and loving the child/children makes being a cold and horrible person okay, or at least forgivable. I’ve been concerned for months that when the inevitable redemption arc for Mary came, I would be so far down the opposite end of the caring-about-Mary continuum that I wouldn’t be able to get back. I didn’t feel nearly as horrified on her behalf as I should have when Mary broke down and tried to kill herself to save her sons. Even that line didn’t hit me with the impact it should have – we just haven’t SEEN enough of Mary caring about her sons, so it was hard to buy it. It’s not Sam Smith’s acting, either – she’s doing a great job. But the Show hasn’t made me care enough about Mary. She’s been so cold all along that seeing her be cold and heartless in the last scene didn’t seem like the shock it should have been.
(Though it’s entirely possible Mary is just playing along and biding her time – she knows she’s got a few days before her sons die. I have to say, however, just the thought of rolling that kind of dice with MY CHILDREN makes me sick to my stomach. I’d be a horrible double agent. Just sayin). I’ve had a few days to think about it, and I’m leaning toward Mary is, in fact, faking it. The whole progression from captured to doubt about what’s real and what isn’t to suddenly 100% brainwashed was dizzyingly fast – perhaps too fast. Why would Ketch have been so certain of Mary’s loyalty to the BMoL so quickly, to put a gun in her hand and take her straight to her sons? Maybe we’re not supposed to swallow that after all. I’m hoping.
Samantha Smith wasn’t the only one who brought some great acting to the episode. David Haydn-Jones once again did a good job of showing us Ketch’s lingering feelings for Mary, which again make him vulnerable. When I’m having a moment of feeling for Ketch, who just murdered Eileen with a hellhound, you KNOW things have gone off the rails in a big way! He’s so skilled with those small things, tone and nonverbals, like leaning in to Mary when she comes to him for comfort (seemingly anyway), or the genuine regret in his voice when he tries to reassure her that it will be over soon. Those little touches make the character interesting, even if we also hate him.
The theme of free will versus being controlled like a puppet also played out with Crowley and Lucifer. I love the character of Crowley, I love Mark Sheppard, and I have very much enjoyed Mark Pellegrino’s portrayal of Lucifer. But I’ve been frustrated by Crowley’s seeming cluelessness and carelessness when it comes to Lucifer. Why didn’t he put him back in the Cage? Why isn’t he more worried about his not-so-loyal minions working to free Lucifer instead? In this episode, what should have been an epic confrontation scene between the two of them just didn’t have the gravitas it should have. In fact, more than one online comment referred to this sequence as akin to a Scooby Doo episode. The comedic aspect didn’t work in the midst of what should have been a fingernail biting scene, with even the music being off. Someone in the room kept asking “What the hell is this?” as the scene played out, with the rest of us scratching our heads and saying “I guess this is where Crowley dies. But probably not forever.”
Clearly not. In our hotel room, there were some jokes in bad taste about Crowley now being a rat and hey, who was that hamster witch and what would their ship name be (Crolivette?)
While we’re talking about Lucifer, what was that last scene?? I for real thought it was some kind of music video outtake, thinking for some reason that was Jensen climbing that hill. Someone else in the room exclaimed, “What is this, The Lion King?” And someone online immediately (and hysterically) commented that it looked like Lucifer was trying to sell us Cialis. Pretty sure that’s not what Show was going for.
I had a few other issues too. Ketch and the BMoL deciding to entomb the Winchesters in the bunker instead of just, oh you know, shooting them?? WHAT THE HELL?? That made absolutely no sense. It was like the sort of thing that happens with cartoon villains, but not usually on Supernatural. And while we’re at it, why oh why would the Winchesters bring Toni back there?? They know the BMoL have keys and they know it was compromised – it makes no sense. And I really do not like it when my Show makes no sense. This fandom knows when you’re throwing in plot points to get from A to B even when they don’t add up, Show.
There were some things I liked. As someone in the room pointed out, the episode did not lose my attention the entire time. I was not bored, though sometimes that lack of boredom was more incredulity than anything. But the acting and the directing, and yes, some of the writing too, certainly kept me watching. I thought all the actors did a great job with what they were given – Jared especially brought a lot of emotion with his portrayal of Sam’s reaction to Eileen’s death. In almost no time and with almost no lines, Jared was able to show us the depth of Sam’s grief over losing Eileen, which I so appreciated.
I also loved the fight scene, which was masterfully choreographed and executed. Dean sliding to his knees to take out Ketch’s gun? OMG someone give me a cold drink. Dean shooting one of the BMoL from behind his back??? Um, can I have another cold drink? No, colder. And larger. Ahem.
And I will always love Sam and Dean doing that wordless communication thing that I love so much (and so did Charlie, and goddammit, now I’m crying again…). They worked together like a well-oiled machine and I enjoyed every minute of it. Jared and Jensen also sold Sam and Dean’s shock and devastation at being betrayed by their own mother, though I was wishing we actually had a bit more of that. I suppose we’ll get more next episode.
Here’s the thing, though. The reason why the night wasn’t a total disaster. The episode ended, and four long time huge fans of Supernatural sat there open mouthed for a few long seconds. Then someone threw something across the room (possibly a nacho). Then someone else said something colorful. Then someone read some reactions on Twitter that made everyone crack up. The next hour was spent dissecting the episode, sharing our mutual upset, and laughing over the internet’s bad jokes. We had more nachos, we lamented the very bad decision not to have wine. And we got through it. By the end of the evening, the whole night didn’t feel so dark. Being there with the friends I’ve made through this show was a reminder that it’s not just the Show we love – it’s the fandom.
So I’m here to stay. I have it on good authority that the next episode will be one that requires lots of tissues, but in the way I appreciate from Supernatural. Here’s to 12.22 (and may we all survive 12.23)!