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3.02 The Kids Are Alright: Here Comes Trouble!

 3.02 The Kids Are Alright: Here Comes Trouble!

Changeling kids drink moms.

Dean rues not being a dad.

Ruby’s a demon!

 

Episode Summary

 

The news report of a freak accidental death provided Dean with the excuse to advocate a return to Cicero, Indiana, the site of a memorable sexual weekend for him eight years earlier, and Sam humored him with the evident idea that he’d have more private time to continue his clandestine search for a way to save his brother from his demon deal. Once in Cicero, however, Dean found that Lisa, his former weekend flame, now had an eight-year-old son named Ben who looked, sounded, and acted like a carbon copy of him, and that a rash of other recent freak accidental deaths in the new gated community where they lived meant that there really was a case to investigate. The newest widow confessed to Lisa that she was afraid that there was something wrong with her daughter, Katie, who was behaving strangely, and that she thought that the little girl wasn’t her daughter any more.

 

Sam, meanwhile, was confronted in a diner by the still nameless (but I’ll call her Ruby) blonde who had saved him during the fight with the Sins. When he asked why she’d been following him, Ruby displayed an unnerving knowledge of his relationship with the Yellow-Eyed Demon, right down to recounting the terms and the outcome of the winner-takes-all elimination heat between the psychic kids, and maintained that he was still special, even though he said that his visions had stopped with the YED’s death. She intimated that there had to be more going on, especially after what happened with all of his mother’s friends – and when he looked genuinely puzzled, she left him her phone number and instructions to first look into his mother’s friends, and then give her a call. Her teasing parting comment, delivered just before Dean’s confirmatory phone call, was a rhetorical line that he knew that there really was a hunter’s job in the town.

 

Investigating the houses where the deaths had occurred, Sam confirmed that they were dealing with changelings who had replaced the real kids who lived in those homes. According to the lore, changelings kidnapped the children from their rooms and kept them alive somewhere underground, and then fed gradually off the kids’ mothers, killing anyone else – fathers, babysitters, what have you – who got in the way or threatened the mother/child bond. Sam spotted red smears marking the rooms of the now-missing children, where the changelings had gained entrance. Fire was the only recorded way to destroy changelings, so Dean improvised flamethrowers for them to use.

 

Fearing the risk to Ben, Dean ordered a stop at Lisa’s house first in the hope of getting her and Ben out of danger, only to realize that Ben, too, had been replaced. Seeing the telltale red smear below Ben’s window, Dean realized that the mark wasn’t blood, but red dirt like the ground of the still incomplete home construction sites. Checking out the still incomplete homes, Dean found the children, including Ben, caged in a basement, along with the real estate agent, all looking bruised, drained, and lethargic. Sam, meanwhile, encountered what looked like the real estate agent, only to realize that she was a mature changeling, feeding off the children while the juvenile changelings fed off their mothers. Sam drove her off with the threat of an improvised flamethrower, and then went to help Dean break the kids out. Ben helped to reassure the other kids and took charge of getting them to safety when the adult changeling showed up to engage the boys. Sam nailed her with the flamethrower, and when she exploded apart, so did all the juvenile changelings scattered throughout the community.

 

Returning Ben safely to his mom, Dean admitted to Lisa that he’d been thinking lately about his own mortality and what he’d leave behind from his rootless existence besides a car, and that he would have been proud to be Ben’s dad. She offered him the comfort of knowing that, even though he wasn’t the boy’s father, Ben wouldn’t be alive if it hadn’t been for him. She offered him the chance to stay for a while, but Dean declined, the regret evident on his face, knowing that it wasn’t his life and that he had a job to do.

 

Meanwhile, with Dean out of the way for a bit, Sam pursued the lead that Ruby had given him, only to learn that all of his mother’s friends and relatives had been systematically eliminated, some of them very recently. Meeting with Ruby, he challenged her to explain why and she claimed not to know, but guessed that the YED had been trying to cover up what it had done to Sam, and said she wanted to learn why. Sam insisted on knowing who she was, and she finally let him see – her eyes flashed demon-black. He dove for the holy water, but she urged him not to be hasty, saying that not all demons had the same goals, that she wanted to help him, and that there would be something in it for him if he would trust and cooperate with her – that she could help him save Dean.

 

Commentary

 

I loved this episode from beginning to end. Okay, Ben as a mini-Dean was just too perfect a caricature to be real, and it was very convenient that all the immature changelings went up in smoke when the mommy/monster got torched, but that didn’t detract at all from my delight in this episode. Writer Sera Gamble once again wrung out Dean’s heart along with ours, and director Phil Sgriccia brought the creep factor and sold the scares as brilliantly as ever. While I think that Kim Manners is the absolute top of the pile and I love Robert Singer for what he does with the characters, Phil Sgriccia may be my favorite of the regular director stable when it comes to the pure horror elements: in addition to The Kids Are Alright, he brought us the scary, über-creepy wonders of Nightmare, Provenance, Everybody Loves A Clown, and Nightshifter. I really appreciated the small touches, like the vague shape flashing past behind the mother and daughter in the teaser letting us know that the little girl was absolutely right to be afraid of monsters getting her, even while I hid from the bloody slasher gross-out of death by table saw.

 

All of the child actors did wonderful “stare at you like you’re lunch” work to make the changelings truly frightening even when you weren’t seeing their horrifying mirror-reflected true forms. (Hmm – were the special effects people watching the salt monster episode of the original Star Trek for visual inspiration? I’m just saying …) Special kudos to young Nicholas Elias, who brought Ben to life as mini-Dean by aping Jensen Ackles’ adult Dean mannerisms to perfection. The absolutely spot-on timing in the party scene where Dean and Ben simultaneously check out the passing mother and daughter and then eat cake had me on the floor. And the off-camera “Look out, ladies – here comes trouble!” while Ben headed into the moon bounce made me laugh out loud.

 

It’s not clear how much time passed between this episode and The Magnificent Seven. It obviously hasn’t been long, but Sam’s comment to Ruby that she’s been “following him since Lincoln” suggests that he’s maybe caught glimpses of her elsewhere along the way. It’s at least been long enough for the boys to regain a little more comfort with each other, enough so that Sam teases back when Dean plays the “dying” card instead of getting uncomfortable, sad, angry, or offended (Dean: “Come on, have a heart, huh? It’s my dying wish.”  Sam[amused]: “Yeah, well, how many dying wishes are you gonna get?”  Dean:  “As many as I can squeeze out. [pause] Come on. Smile, Sam. God knows I’m going to be smiling after 24 hours with Gumby girl.”). Dean can make Sam laugh again, and that’s a major milestone.

 

At the same time, however, Sam is hiding ever more secrets from Dean. First and foremost is his unshaken determination to find a way to break Dean free of the demon deal despite both the danger to himself and Dean’s express command not to try. There will be an epic blowout when Dean learns that Sam and Bobby have been working behind his back to save his life and his soul, not because he wouldn’t like to be saved, but because he’s totally unwilling to have Sam die again. Sam also still hasn’t told Dean about having been fed demon blood as a baby, or about their Mom having recognized the demon. I wonder whether he’ll tell Dean what he just learned about all their Mom’s friends and relatives having been systematically killed off, or whether he’ll hide that, too. And just when he thought that the death of the YED and the cessation of his visions finally meant that he might no longer be the linchpin around which the whole cycle of death, guilt, shame, and evil turns, Ruby told him that who and what he was still was at the heart of everything going on, and referred to it as “the whole anti-Christ thing.” And then there’s Ruby herself and the truth about what she is. That’s a lot of secrets.

 

Dean these days is only hiding two, and one – the YED’s insinuation that Sammy may not have come back as 100% pure Sam – could be considered not a true secret, since Dean knows well that demons like to mess with your head and may be clinging to the conviction that the YED was just turning the knife to torture him by making him doubt. The other secret is the one that Dean is mostly hiding even from himself, and that concerns his true feelings about his upcoming fate. On the surface, he’s accepted it, joking about it as he jokes about everything. In some ways, he even seems to welcome it, not for itself, but because he believes that his death – forgetting for just a second the “going to Hell” part – will bring an end to the unceasing round of fear, loss, and pain that has defined his life, especially in the past couple of years. But events such as meeting Ben and seeing a life he could have had and loved, having to wonder about what mark or value his life will leave behind when he dies and whether anyone will even remember or care about him once he’s gone – those things can make him regret what he’s giving up. And yet, he can’t regret having his brother back alive, so the complex round of guilt and loss and fear and resignation is all tangled up inside him. That’s something he has trouble admitting to himself, and it’s something he could never show to Sam, especially knowing that Sam would feel guilty and blame himself, which Dean would never want.

 

Ruby is another cipher. Although she says that she wants to help Sam, what she really wants is unknown. She said that she wants information; I’m guessing that she’s trying to answer her own questions about the YED and his plans, and the role that Sam may yet play despite the YED’s death. I suspect that she doesn’t have an inside track on Dean’s deal, and that she simply played the best card she had to keep herself within Sam’s orbit, knowing that the one thing Sam couldn’t resist would be a taste of hope for his brother’s life and salvation.

 

Me, I don’t expect salvation to come through a demon. I’m betting that Ruby has her own motives and desires driving her actions – I’m wondering if she may be making a play for the kind of power that the YED seemed to exert over other demons, and if she may be wondering whether she could make use of Sam in some way similar to what the YED intended. Demons seem to be mostly selfish and into things for their own purposes, apart from the unity imposed by the YED; I don’t think we’ve yet seen what’s really driving Ruby.

 

And what we – and Sam – can’t afford to forget is the real Ruby: the innocent human host that the demon is riding, as the DFKM (Demon Formerly Known as Meg) rode Meg and then Sam, as the YED rode John and the nameless hospital janitor whose innocence the boys never could perceive. We saw nothing corporeal escape through the devil’s gate – only translucent spirits and demonic smoke – so it’s a more than fair bet that the real Ruby has been possessed. Her reaction to sensory things like the savor of Sam’s French fries makes me suspect that she is a demon newly released from Hell, not someone we’ve met before.

 

And if that’s the case, then the DFKM is still out there, somewhere, still plotting. I wonder what will happen when the DFKM meets Ruby …?

 

Parting Comments 

 

I missed having significant rock music in the soundtrack this week, but the premiere probably blew the music budget for a little while, so I’m not disturbed. There were lines that positively made me howl, starting with Dean’s “It was the bendiest weekend of my life,” which was swiftly followed by “Gumby girl. [beat] Does that make me Pokey?” That one played on so many vaguely obscene levels that it made me laugh so hard, I cried. That decidedly wasn’t helped by picturing Dean as a very flexible red horse under the caption, “Save a Pokey pony, ride a Winchester.”  And the cougars at the birthday party undressing him with their eyes while discussing “best-night-of-my-life Dean” made me laugh at their spot-on depiction of rather many of us, notably including me.

 

Dean with children is always a great mix. Dean and grown-ups, not so much, but Dean and kids? Poetry. Every moment he spent with Ben was incredibly enjoyable, starting with his facial reactions on hearing Ben, at the party, sounding like his younger echo. The scene in the park where he taught Ben how to defeat a bully, with his initial reaction of looking around to see whether anyone had noticed, followed by his semi-concealed delight, followed by his “busted!” guilty look when Lisa appeared, was pure enjoyment. The physical comedy of his colliding with the trash container on his way to ask Lisa if Ben was his child was hysterically funny. His reaction to finding Ben in the cage, followed by seeing Ben take charge to help save the other children, was such a mix of relief and pride as made me ache for Dean to have children of his own, something further intensified by his tangible disappointment at learning that Ben was not his son. Coming on the heels of What Is And What Should Never Be, this real-world glimpse of something tender and sweet that might have been his was all the more tragic. Jensen Ackles executed Dean’s reactions with the all the subtlety I’ve come to expect from him, blending comedy, desire, and wistful regret into a tour-de-force performance that makes me love and believe in Dean unreservedly.

 

Jared Padalecki continues to delight as Sam, particularly with his newfound grim determination to save his brother in spite of himself. I hope that Ruby’s comments concerning everything still revolving around him won’t cause a relapse into Sam’s second season self-involvement and pervasive fear of his own destiny. The anger he unleashed to make her to reveal herself demonstrated a force of character that Sam has rarely exhibited with others, something different from and yet kindred to the season two suggestion of what an evil version of Sam could be like. Strength without evil is where we hope he will go, but – especially after the way he killed Jake – we have to wonder which traits will triumph in him. This confrontation set the stage for the future in very interesting ways.

 

Is it Thursday again yet?

Tags: episode commentaries, jared padalecki, jensen ackles, phil sgriccia, sera gamble, supernatural
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