Ghost ship’s dead sailor
Drowns those who’ve killed close kindred:
Why would Bela die?
A jogger along the dock in an unnamed East Coast town saw the spectre of a ghostly sailing ship, and later died by drowning in her shower. The Winchesters guessed that her death might fit a pattern of bizarre drownings in the town every 37 years.
On the drive in, when Sam didn’t bring up the topic, Dean challenged him with the knowledge that a bullet was missing from the Colt, and Sam admitted that he’d confronted the Crossroads Demon against Dean’s express order and killed her. When Dean asked whether that had let him out of the contract, Sam had to admit that someone else held the contract, and that the Demon had refused to tell him who it was before she died. Dean was furious at the chance Sam had taken and pointed out that it would be useful to know who held his contract; Sam refused to apologize for doing everything he could to save his brother’s life.
Investigating the girl’s death, the boys interviewed Gert Casey, the girl’s aunt, who confirmed that her niece had reported seeing a ghostly ship before she died. Gert developed a crush on Sam, and assumed that the boys were working with someone named Alex, who was also looking into the unusual aspects of the death. After checking out the dock where the girl had seen the ship and the local records on wrecks, which made clear that identifying the ship was not going to be easy, Dean discovered the Impala missing from its parking spot, and found Bela responsible. Sam realized that Bela was “Alex,” selling worthless charms and false séances to elderly women like Gert, and Bela confirmed that her stunt with towing the Impala was payback and warning against future interference because she had told Gert that her niece’s death had already been solved, and Gert had stopped payment when the Winchesters gave the lie to her claim.
That night, one of the
Driving away in grim defeat, Dean broke the silence with the cold comfort that they both knew that they couldn’t save everyone. Sam’s deeper grief – cutting off Dean starting to tell him something – was that it lately seemed he couldn’t save anybody. Their glum research the next day was interrupted by Bela arriving with news that she had identified the ghost ship, and that a sailor hanged aboard the ship had been cremated, but not before his right hand had been cut off to make a Hand of Glory. The hand, a potent talisman, was securely held at a local museum, but burning it would likely lay the ghost to rest. Bela’s plan to obtain the hand involved the boys in formal dress escorting Gert and Bela to a posh party at the museum. While Sam kept Gert occupied, to his comical dismay, Dean and Bela used subterfuge to gain access to the upper floors where the hand was displayed; Bela distracted the guards with fainting and feigned sex, while Dean disabled the alarms and stole the hand. Bela managed to steal the hand from Dean, however, and sold it to an overseas-bound artifact buyer … only to be dismayed when she then saw the ghost ship and realized she was doomed.
Sam’s purgatory of being pawed by Gert wasn’t without profit; he learned from Gert that there was a link between her niece and the
As the boys packed to leave, Bela arrived to pay off her perceived debt by giving them ten thousand of the payoff she’d received for the Hand of Glory. Dean determined to head for
The boys in tux were delicious! Dean’s reluctant entry down the stairs was worthy of Bond, and Dean being uncomfortably insecure rather than playing up to the image made it all the more fun. The private smirk when he finally got to the point of appreciating the effect his appearance had on Bela (not to mention fangirls everywhere!) was priceless. Through his alter ego, Jensen Ackles finally got the opportunity to comment humorously on being objectified himself – and we all know we’re guilty of it! Sam’s reactions to being ogled and groped by Gert were hilarious. Jared Padalecki is being given wonderful chances this season to show off his talent for comedy, and it certainly looked as if he and Ellen Greer were having a lot of fun playing the situation. The beats between the brothers when Dean discovered the Impala gone were also priceless; Dean hyperventilating and Sam’s sudden, belatedly genuine concern when Dean’s whooping breathing registered were hilarious.
I was surprised but pleased – and then saddened – to have Sam’s confrontation with the Crossroads Demon addressed head-on so soon. Dean spotted the missing bullet and waited for Sam to talk to him, but when he didn’t, Dean took the bull by the horns. It obviously hasn’t been long since Maple Springs, but clearly at least some days went by with Dean biting his tongue, waiting for Sam to open the discussion. Maybe I was seeing things, but I thought I saw a tiny little flash of disappointment on Dean’s face after Sam noted that he’d have told Dean if killing the demon had freed Dean from his deal. I think that Sam was too irritated by the perceived teasing to sense that, for just an instant, Dean had perhaps dared almost to hope that Sam’s dangerous plan might have worked. That flashing instant of vulnerability made the conversation at the end all the more painful since Dean’s walls were fully up then to hide his fear from Sam, just contributing to Sam’s frustration.
I think the end conversation might have happened earlier, and perhaps with a different outcome, but for Sam’s reaction that made Dean choke off what he was going to say. After Peter’s death, when Dean had offered the cold comfort the boys have exchanged with each other before, acknowledging that they couldn’t save everyone, Dean started to say something else before Sam cut him off with the bitter observation that he couldn’t seem to save anybody any more. I think Dean had meant to make his apology then, and might have been more open, but couldn’t go through with it in the face of Sam’s grieving despair. Telling Sam that he would get over Dean’s loss would have triggered even more anger in that moment.
The end fight was brutal. Sam wants Dean to care about living, to care about staying with him, to care about being there; Dean can’t admit that he cares, not without showing more fear of his fate than he’s even ready to admit to himself, not without putting even more guilt for that fear and that fate on the younger brother on whom he thinks he’s already laid too much through what he perceives as his own weakness. Dean really is tired, worn out by the endless run of duty, loss, fear, and grief, unsure how much longer he could continue without stumbling and letting others down. I think that Dean’s also afraid to hope for a reprieve himself or to fuel hope in Sam because losing it would hurt so much more. And I think that Dean’s afraid that showing his fear, admitting to a desire to live, might be taken as a sign that he regrets what he did in making the sacrifice to have Sam back. Dean couldn’t regret having Sam alive no matter what price he paid to achieve it, and he couldn’t bear to have Sam think that fully realizing the price changed the way he thought about it, changed the value he placed on his brother’s life. But trying to apologize, trying to get Sam to accept fate and to reassure Sam that he would get over it, was precisely the wrong tack to take, because Sam won’t give up on Dean any more than Dean would ever give up on Sam.
The pressure on Dean from both his own fear and Sam’s is just going to become worse, not better, as the end of his year approaches. I fear the day he beings to look forward to it in the belief that getting it over with would be a relief, because he’s only deceiving himself if he thinks that death would end it; death is just the beginning of his sentence in Hell, not the end of it. I’m hoping that Sam can get his own rage, hurt, and shame under control long enough to find a way to convey to Dean that his emotional distance, this deliberate sundering and fading away even before his death, is causing his brother more pain than anything else he could possibly do to Sam.
As the older brother, Dean has always protected Sam, always put on a brave and confident front to give Sam courage and faith even when he himself had none, and by the very act of doing that, Dean gave himself the strength to continue. Being the older brother has defined Dean and become his own coping mechanism. Sam has to realize that this lifetime of habit and emotional discipline won’t be overset overnight. Dean has always used his responsibility for Sam to shore up his own defenses and strength. His knowledge that Sam trusted him and depended on him meant that he could never give up, that he could never show fear because it would make Sam afraid and might change the way Sam looked at him. Failing that big brother trust by falling apart in front of Sam may be the one thing Dean fears most, even more than death and Hell, because the lifelong habit and responsibility of holding it together for Sam may be the only thing strong enough to keep Dean putting one foot in front of the other despite his own growing terror. The brothers need to find a middle ground, a place where Dean can admit to feeling fear and wanting to live without thinking that any admission would lead to him breaking down totally, and without believing that his brother would think less of him for his fear and weakness or lose his own heart because of it.
These boys break my heart in so many ways.
Apart from the immediate situation between the boys, the role of family in the overall story wasn’t lost on me. The people who died all failed their family members in one way or another, whether through accident, murder, expedient “justice,” or other circumstances yet to be revealed. Ultimately, the angry spirit doing the killing refused his brother’s apology and evidently expiated both his own rage and his brother’s guilt by attacking his brother’s spirit, causing them both to dissolve.
One wonders if this might not be a foretaste of the
And then there’s Bela. The disclosure of a tragic secret in Bela’s past was clearly meant to make us curious about her, to make us speculate on what made her what she is and whether that unexplained tragedy perhaps had supernatural roots, helping to explain both why she knows the truth and why she doesn’t care. Did she perhaps kill a possessed sister or cousin to save them from themselves and have to lie about it being an accident, knowing she wouldn’t have been believed? Did she lose her family and comfortable life because of something cursed, and decide that she would in future turn such things to her profit rather than her loss? Did she decide that the world was damned anyway, and furthering it along wouldn’t matter if it also provided a comfortable living?
I have to admit, I really don’t care. On further acquaintance, I’ve realized that I really don’t like Bela. Oh, as a character she can be rollicking fun, at least in carefully measured, very small doses; she’s snarky, she’s clever, she’s cultured, she’s gutsy, she’s witty. She’s a challenge, someone who’s bound to keep the boys from becoming complacent. She’s an adversary, someone who can be counted on to throw obstacles in the path of achieving a goal. She’s a foil particularly for Dean, a sharp contrast to his blue-collar sensibilities. And she’s a tease, a seductively pretty package concealing traps. Lauren Cohen plays her well.
As a human being, however, Bela is as morally bankrupt and as much a waste of time and space as Gordon, and I don’t like her for all the same reasons. And she doesn’t even have the excuse of being nuts.
Let me explain. In both Bad Day at Black Rock and Red Sky at Morning (hmm, note to self: beware “something at something” titles as possible clues to Bela’s presence!), we’ve had ample demonstration that Bela is entirely self-absorbed and self-interested, with absolutely no vestige of compassion or conscience. She would doubtless protest any comparison with Gordon by asserting that she doesn’t actually kill (although she certainly tried to kill Dean when he stole the rabbit’s foot), but she knew beyond any doubt that stealing the foot from Sam meant that he would die within a week, and that selling the Hand of Glory rather than destroying it meant that the predations of the sailor’s ghost would continue unchecked every thirty-seven years. She didn’t care in either case until the hazard came home to roost at her own door. How many other times has her choice of action resulted knowingly in someone else dying who could have been saved, but for her selfishness? I hold her responsible for those deaths, and her careless arrogance in being untouched by them and believing herself divorced from them makes her totally unlikeable and unsympathetic. Her unwillingness and outright inability to empathize with anyone else makes it unlikely in the extreme that she would ever change. She’s looking out for number one and Hell take the hindmost, and that’s an attitude I despise. And I really don’t care what excuse she thinks she has for having turned out that way. Nothing could justify it for me. I guess my own intolerance is showing.
Bela hasn’t displayed any growth in the episodes where we’ve seen her. She hasn’t learned anything from Sam’s and Dean’s selflessness except to realize that she can play them by appealing to their sympathy, which she sees as foolishly exploitable weakness. There might be a story arc planned for her in which she at least comes to appreciate the brothers’ genuine compassion and altruism, and perhaps does something outside of her comfort zone and without thought for her own gain in response to them, but based on her behavior so far, I wouldn’t buy it or believe her if it happened. It seems too obvious and hackneyed a course for Supernatural to plot, and given her already proven blindness to basic humanity, it really would take something equivalent to a lightning bolt on the road to Damascus to wake her up and make her change. And then she wouldn’t be Bela any more; she’d need a new name.
I would hope, on the basis of past encounters, that the next time the Winchesters meet Bela they enforce a minimum three-foot physical separation from themselves and all their possessions to prevent further shenanigans. Given that she’s an attractive, nubile young female and Dean has a tendency to think with his downstairs brain when given that kind of distraction, however, I wouldn’t be surprised to see her get her hands on him again. I would be very disappointed to see her actually able to put one over on him to pick his pocket or otherwise steal from him again – that’s gotten old really fast. Downstairs brain and potentially mindblowing angry sex notwithstanding, Dean is neither stupid nor foolish, and I can’t see him lowering his guard again around a woman who’s not only taken advantage of him twice, but who shot Sam once and took another deliberate action that would have resulted in Sam’s death. No matter how pretty she is, I can’t see Dean cutting her slack after she endangered and outright damaged Sam, because hurting Sam is the one unforgivable sin in Dean’s book. And having been shamed and made to look a fool also burned Dean’s pride. I noticed that Dean was ready to leave her to her own devices this time; it was Sam who took pity on her and found an alternate way to save her life. And on an unrelated note, I would argue that Sam’s choice here was simply more proof that Sam is still 100% pure Sam.
Director Cliff Bole is new to Supernatural, but not to genre – he’s another from the X-Files stable, with credits in three of the Star Trek series as well. Writer (and occasional consulting producer) Lawrence Andries (Six Feet Under, Alias, Boomtown) is also new to Supernatural this season.
I’ve been missing the classic rock terribly in most episodes this season, but Jay Gruska’s underscore for this episode made me laugh several times in appreciation, especially for the lavish Bond-style music for Dean’s slow walk down the stairs in that tux (thud!) and the height-of-classy-Hollywood-chic theme played on the approach to the elegant museum party.
The shooting brightness we’ve been seeing generally this season stood out in this episode as well. Supernatural does seem to have been blessed with an amazing run of unusually sunny Vancouver weather during the location shooting on these first six episodes, but the place where I’ve been really noticing the brightness – and being bothered by it – has been night scenes, especially in the car. Bedtime Stories had the excuse of taking place during the full moon, so I could put up with the vivid lighting in the crossroads scene and even tolerate how bright that motel room was, but without that rationale the amount of light on the boys’ faces in the car and on people generally outdoors at night in these episodes has been distractingly unreal for night time. Hey, I really don’t mind being able to see their expressions, but it’s hard to buy being able to see so well in the dark.
All in all, I enjoyed this episode, even though my appreciation for Bela is distinctly limited by my distaste for her callous inhumanity. The best of the episode, as ever, concerned the relationship between the Winchester brothers and the growing strains of dealing with Dean’s approaching fate. I love the way that the season is continuing to weave that thread through every story, even the ones of ordinary supernatural hunts, like this one, unrelated to the arc of the demon war. For the Winchester brothers, as for real people, ordinary life still goes on, even in the shadow of looming larger evils, and just living from day to day is as much of a challenge as taking on the hordes of Hell.
Best wishes to everyone enjoying the weekend in Chicago – I wish I were there!