Supernatural Review: Getting to the Heart of the Matterby Clarissa / October 28, 2014
The Winchester brothers got back to the family business in this week’s Supernatural and back to family in general. This show has has tension between Sam and Dean since all the way back in season 1 (with particular bouts of tension in seasons 2 and 4 in particular), but something has felt particularly depressing about their relationship since season 8. From Sam not looking for Dean pre-episode 8.01 to the ramifications of Dean lying to Sam when he tricked him into an angel possession, the Winchester brothers haven’t felt like brothers in a very long time. Tonight’s episode, penned by Adam Glass, felt like a breath of fresh air after so much tension. Don’t get me wrong, I think the Winchester brothers have a ways to go to repair the many cracks in their relationship, but for the first time in a very, very long time, it feels like “Paper Moon” was a first step.
Supernatural has had a tendency in recent years to bring back old one-off or recurring characters (the ones still alive, that is) for a return appearance. Most of the people they bring back end up dead, but this time a character got to live. Despite promising to take some time off for a little R n’ R, Dean seemed eager to jump on a case when the opportunity presented itself. It turns out that Kate, the werewolf we met back in the season 8 episode “Bitten” was involved. “Bitten” was a very different type of episode for Supernatural, but I enjoyed it. And while it was nice to see Kate again, I’ll admit that the MOTW aspect of this episode was kind of weak. Between too much chunky exposition concerning what Kate’s been up to since we last saw her to far too much sentimentality over her situation and obvious parallels to the Winchesters (although, thank God, not as many anvils as we saw when the Ghostfacers returned last season), the story concerning Kate and the sister she had turned into a werewolf to save her life wasn’t that engaging overall. And, frankly, it lacked a lot of the tension that “Bitten” itself had.
That being said, the episode did have the added bonus of being a showcase for the brother relationship. In many respects, it was clear that Kate and her sister Tasha were meant to mirror the Winchester brothers. Like Dean did before her, Tasha succumbed to darkness. And Kate was presented with the choice of killing her or letting her run amok. Kate chose to kill her sister, which is far different than what Sam chose to do with Demon Dean. Kate’s choice was not a bad one. She had ultimately turned her sister in an effort to save her life, but Tasha wasn’t willing to essentially be a “vegetarian” werewolf, preferring to kill humans and wreak havoc instead of living clean like Kate wanted to do. Clearly Kate was rectifying the mistake she made when she decided to turn her sister and I genuinely felt for the terrible choice she had to make.
At the same time, one has to wonder what the lesson was here. Kate’s choice to kill Tasha was a reasonable and justifiable one, as tragic as it may have been. Sam didn’t choose to kill Dean — although, to be fair, he was never really *forced* into the position of choosing whether he should kill Dean because, for him, there was a cure for Dean’s plight (and Cas stopped by in the nick of time to subdue Dean so that Sam could cure him). But what’s the lesson here, Supernatural? Are we to believe that Sam made the right choice or the wrong one? Clearly Dean being a demon indefinitely wasn’t only an impossible route for the show, but also would have gone against everything we know about the character. Curing him was inevitable, even if you hope the situation itself lasted longer. Should we presume from this episode that Sam made the wrong choice? Should he have simply killed Dean? Mixed messages were presented tonight in that respect and, if you think about it, the lesson here could be applied to the many times in Supernatural’s history that Sam and Dean have made the choice not to kill each other and risk danger.
Compared to the last episode in particular, Kate did what Sam refused to do: kill their sibling. Sam wouldn’t kill Dean even when his brother was a demon and pulled his knife away from Dean’s throat. Dean would have killed Sam as Tasha might have eventually killed Kate, but Sam made the decision not to survive if it meant killing Dean. Kate made the decision to survive and kill her sister, who she had turned into a monster. Sam wasn’t responsible for turning Dean into a demon, not the way Kate was for her sister’s situation. Kate’s decision harkened back to previous decisions for both Sam and Dean, but both of them have been where Kate has been and killing each other isn’t a solution that is open to them or one that ultimately works. Instead, they chose to communicate with each other. Kate’s ultimate solution was the only one available to her, but Sam and Dean have other options now. And this time they chose to take them instead of choosing the tragic route.
Let’s assume that Supernatural isn’t trying to poll the rug out from under us (at least not yet) and that Sam did make a good choice in saving his brother. As I said, this episode was otherwise presented as a very good first step towards healing their relationship. Everyone from the show’s creator (Eric Kripke) to the present showrunner (Jeremy Carver) will likely tell you that conflict between the brothers is an interesting — if not good — thing. And they’re not wrong. When done well, their conflict can make for very interesting arcs. Seasons 2 and 4 are my favorite seasons of Supernatural and both of those seasons contain a great deal of Sam and Dean conflict. I’m not adverse to the idea of conflict, I’m adverse to it when the execution makes the show feel bleak as a result. The problem with so much of the manufactured-feeling drama between the brothers in recent years is that the show wants us to vilify one of them for doing what the show needs to survive. For example, if Dean hadn’t saved Sam’s life in the season 9 premiere then Sam would have died and something would have had to bring him back to life because Supernatural doesn’t go on without Sam. Was tricking Sam into accepting Gadreel’s possession bad? Of course it was. But it was also the only “out” presented by the writers. It was the only solution to ensure the continuation of the show. Did Dean have to lie about it? Technically, yes, because otherwise Sam would have rejected Gadreel and then died anyways.
The writers have a tendency to put the brothers into situations lately where they’re not lying about something bad they did (ie. when Dean killed Amy and then hid the truth from his brother), but they’re lying or doing something questionable to ensure their very survival. It’s the same with Dean being a demon — Sam had to save him. The show couldn’t continue indefinitely with Dean being a demon. It would have become an affront to the character of Dean and would have completely thrown off the formula of the show. Because the writers chose to portray Demon Dean as someone who basically had no interest in doing anything even remotely related to hunting or being reasonable (contrast him with Soulless Sam), the demon couldn’t last. So Sam did what was necessary to essentially get the show back on track.
This type of drama between the brothers in recent years hasn’t felt organic like so much drama in the past and it’s painted a target on the back of one of the brothers that almost seems like someone is saying “ok, we know they did what the show necessitates simply to exist, but be mad at them anyways”. Fortunately, this week’s episode seemed to turn the tide on that a bit. In fact, it was so unusual to have the brothers communicating and acting like themselves that it was almost jarring in the beginning. As opposed to season 9, Sam and Dean were mostly able to finish sentences and express themselves tonight. They each addressed how they felt after what happened to Dean and while all of their issues haven’t been hashed out, like I said, this was a good first step. I feel more confident now than I have in a long time that Supernatural is working to heal the brothers individually and together and this gives me hope. Suddenly, the show doesn’t seem as bleak.
However, I have to admit, Sam’s so-called “monstrous” transgressions to save his brother seem rather trite when you compare it to the deeds both boys have committed in the past. Maybe I’ve become desensitized after 10 seasons of Supernatural, but torturing demons is hardly monstrous. At least not according to the history of the show. I suppose that what happened with Lester was a bad thing, but intent matters as well. Sam was desperate and his plan with Lester was foolish and short-sighted. But he also didn’t mean for Lester to go through with it and sell his soul. It was a terrible mistake, but Lester wasn’t exactly being forced to go along with it (he jumped on the opportunity for revenge against his wife rather quickly). And if that’s the worst of what Sam did to save Dean, it doesn’t seem like very much. Fortunately, he admitted what he had done and both boys talked the situation out.
Dean seems desperate for redemption first and foremost, telling Sam that he wants to do right (ie. get back to hunting) after all of the wrong he’s done lately. It’s a noble endeavor and fits in very well with what we know of Dean as a character. It also fits in with Robert Singer’s claim that this season will show us Dean’s journey in becoming a hero once again. Sam also feels familiar, caring about his brother and eager to do the right thing when they had to debate the moral quandary of whether they should kill Kate.
On a side note, Dean seemed a bit off tonight and nearly got killed by the werewolves holding them captive at the end while Sam — he of the one functioning arm — had to save his brother. Is that a sign that Dean is just getting back into the groove or is it something more? Only time will tell.
The brothers still have to deal with the Mark of Cain, but this time around it seems like Sam will be proactive in helping Dean rather than being passive as he was in season 9 until it was far too late. There’s still work to be done here but, mixed messages about right vs. wrong choices aside, season 10 feels far more hopeful than the show has felt in a long time. Is there true reconciliation to be found here? Can the Winchesters work out their issues and emerge stronger for it? Chuck willing.
Supernatural is on hiatus for a week and will return on November 11 for the milestone 200th episode. Watch a preview here.