No real second chance;
Demons seek to break a Seal
By kidnapping death.
In Greybull, Wyoming, a man shot in the heart by a mugger didn’t die; he didn’t even bleed. A terminal cancer patient removed from life support went out to celebrate his 20th wedding anniversary. Alerted by a call from Bobby, Sam was eager to investigate, while Dean wondered whether Sam really wanted him to come along, bringing up what Sam had said in Sex and Violence about Dean holding him back. Sam protested that he’d already said a hundred times that the siren’s spell had been talking then, not him, and asked if they couldn’t get past that. Dean agreed, but without conviction.
In Greybull, the brothers interviewed the heart-shot survivor, who believed that he’d been given a second chance to make up for his less than perfect life and said that he felt that angels were watching over him. Unconvinced that any miracle was involved but with no evidence that any deals had been made or that faith healers with black magic connections had been operating, Sam suggested that something might have happened to the local grim Reaper to cause souls not to be collected. The brothers decided to summon the spirit of the last person who had actually died in the town, a twelve-year-old boy named Cole, to try to learn what was going on. As they organized their séance, however, they were interrupted by the cemetery caretaker. When the man called Sam by name and threatened them, Dean realized that the caretaker was possessed by Alastair, who unlike his human host, had not been destroyed in the explosion of light when Anna was restored to her angel grace in Heaven and Hell. Alastair flung Dean aside, knocking him unconscious, but to his surprise was unable to budge Sam. Sam used his mind to toss Alastair’s host up against a tree and reached to exorcise the demon, but Alastair fled the body in a riot of black smoke.
Claiming that Alastair had simply fled after failing to fling him aside and maintaining – over Dean’s resigned protest that he was still keeping secrets – that he didn’t know why Alastair had been unable to throw him around, Sam told Dean that Bobby had called and agreed with him that something was up with the Reapers. He quoted an obscure version of the Book of Revelation indicating that if a Reaper was killed under the solstice moon – the next day’s night – another of the seals binding Lucifer would be broken. Realizing that they couldn’t rescue the Reaper if they couldn’t see him and that only the dead and the dying could see Reapers, Dean advocated that he and Sam should become spirits themselves, and went to persuade psychic Pamela Barnes to help them. Despite her objections to getting involved again in the war between angels and demons that had already cost her sight, Pamela returned with Dean and performed the incantation to free the brothers’ souls from their bodies in astral projection, essentially making them ghosts, and then sat guard over them, waiting for the moment to summon their spirits back.
In spirit form, the brothers searched the town for clues, but discovered nothing until they found themselves being watched by the ghost of young Cole, who was haunting the home where he died, moving things to show his grieving mother that he was still with her. They learned that Cole had died of a sudden asthma attack, and that as he had disputed leaving with a Reaper, black smoke had filled the house, causing him to hide in the closet. When he came out, the black smoke was gone, and so was the Reaper. Although he said he knew where the black smoke was, he refused to tell them out of fear that if the black smoke was destroyed, the Reapers would take him away. When the lights flickered, Cole – fearing the arrival of another Reaper – disappeared, and Sam and Dean met the new Reaper: Tessa, the same pretty, dark-haired woman who had come for Dean during In My Time of Dying. Tessa kissed Dean, restoring his memory of his previous out-of-body experience, and said that the town had to be put back on track with people dying in due course. Needing to learn from Cole where the demons were, Dean persuaded Tessa to hold off on reaping souls until they set things right, but she warned that Cole would then be the first soul she took. Sam lied to Cole to get him to tell them where the black smoke was, persuading Cole that he had the power to make Reapers leave Cole alone and that he could stay with his family. Dean, meanwhile, admitted to Tessa that for the year after they met, he had felt a hole inside himself, because the pain of his father’s death and then his brother’s had made him wish that he had just gone with her and died. Returning with Sam, Cole said that he had seen the black smoke at the funeral home. On the heels of his admission, black smoke invaded the house, obscuring everything, and when it left, Tessa was also gone.
Realizing that they were essentially helpless in spirit form, the brothers took lessons from Cole in affecting the material world, learning how to use anger and strong mental concentration to interact with and move physical objects, and how to flicker from one place to another. After using the daylight hours to practice, they went to the funeral home and discovered the building’s entire façade covered in glowing arcane symbols that the living couldn’t see. They found Tessa and another Reaper unconscious on the floor inside some kind of binding symbol, guarded by a demon. They attacked the demon, learning that the setup was a trap only when a second demon captured them inside a circle of iron chain. Alastair bid them welcome, tormenting them by shooting them with rock salt shot and noting that Sam couldn’t use his power when he wasn’t in his body. Brandishing a scythe taken from one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Alastair told them that it took killing two Reapers to open the seal, and he proceeded to speak a Latin incantation and kill the male Reaper, releasing a wash of power. As he moved on to Tessa, Sam realized that the room chandelier was positioned over one corner of the symbol confining Tessa, and he began to concentrate on it, quickly joined by Dean. They succeeded in making the chandelier fall, breaking the symbol before Alastair could finish his spell, and Tessa blinked away from the scythe and reappeared to open the iron chain of the brothers’ prison, freeing them in turn. All of them vanished from the funeral home.
Alastair, however, had sent a demon to the motel room where Pamela guarded Sam’s and Dean’s bodies, and the demon attacked Pamela even as she, realizing he was there, began the incantation to wake Sam. She finished the incantation just before the demon stabbed her, and Sam woke to fling the demon against the wall and then exorcise him, all with his mind. He rushed to Pamela’s aid, but she laughed bitterly that although she was mortally wounded, this was the one town where she couldn’t die; like the heart-shot man, she didn’t even bleed. She refused Sam’s desire to call a doctor, and instead ordered him to give her a drink.
Meanwhile, Dean, still in ghost form, searched for Sam, only to find Alastair instead, who observed that Dean couldn’t run from him because he was in Dean’s head. Even as he threatened Dean, he was struck by lightning and disappeared – and Castiel appeared at Dean’s side to tell him that he and Sam had saved a seal and the angels had captured Alastair. He revealed that he had posed as Bobby on the phone to recruit Sam and Dean to the hunt because the symbols on the funeral home made it impossible for angels to enter, and said that he’d resorted to trickery rather than asking outright because it seemed that whatever he asked, Dean would do the opposite. When Dean, knowing that the return of the Reapers meant that people in the town would start to die again, asked if Castiel couldn’t make an exception for them the way he had for Dean, Castiel said that Dean was different, and then disappeared.
Tessa showed up and asked Dean to help her with Cole, and after Dean told Cole that staying would be worse than whatever waited for him on the other side of death because sooner or later, his family would be gone, Cole walked into Tessa’s embrace and vanished into light. Tessa observed that, having been around death from the beginning, most of what she saw were lies: all the reassuring, consoling, meaningless things that people told each other as their way to cope with their loss and their fear of death. She told Dean that he should stop lying to himself about the angels having something good in store for him when he knew in his bones that something nasty was coming, and said that there were no miracles and he should trust his instincts. Then she was gone, and Dean found himself summoned back to his body by Pamela. Her wound began to bleed and she again refused help, knowing that she was dying and bitter about it, cursing Bobby to go to Hell for having introduced her to the Winchesters. Before she died, however, she whispered in Sam’s ear that she knew what he had done to the demon, that she could feel what was inside him, and that if he thought he had good intentions, he should think again.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
I love the continuity in this show and this episode was a great example, carrying the story forward directly from the brothers’ confrontation in the previous episode, Sex and Violence, and harking back to Faith, In My Time of Dying, and Monster Movie, among other episodes, to track previous encounters with Reapers and to explore Dean’s feelings about his resurrection.
In this commentary, I’m going to discuss lies, death, second chances, Reapers, and John Winchester.
You Mean … The Accident With Dad?
In Supernatural’s cosmology, God, as described by his angels, sounds a lot like John Winchester: an absentee father demanding instantaneous and unquestioning obedience from his children, but whose love for those children is not disputed. The influence of John Winchester appeared several times in this episode, both directly and through his sons. The obvious direct connection came when Tessa restored Dean’s memories of their previous encounter, when Dean lay dying in the hospital in In My Time of Dying and John decided to sacrifice his own life and soul to save his son. The restoration of Dean’s memories brought John instantly to both of his sons’ minds, with Sam remembering almost losing Dean, seeing his father dead, and realizing that Tessa must have been the Reaper who processed John’s soul on his way to Hell, and Dean remembering all the things he’d seen and said while he was a spirit, including railing against John for seemingly not taking action when in fact he was resolving to give himself and his vengeance up for his son’s life. Dean admitted privately to Tessa what we had already realized as we watched his journey throughout season two: that for the year after his miraculous recovery, dealing first with the pain of his father’s death and then with all his fears for Sam and the ultimate grief of Sam’s death, he had wished with all his heart that he had died first.
The other echo of John was more subtle, but also more pervasive; it sounded every time we saw Sam lying and hiding things from Dean, all the while denying that he was hiding anything and expecting his word to be taken without question even when it was clear that Dean knew and had proof – through the phone record of calls with Ruby – that Sam wasn’t telling the truth. Sam has truly become his father’s mirror: secretive and obsessed, self-righteous in his actions, convinced that the course he’s pursuing is justified even if others might not think it was right, reactively angry at being called to account. Amusingly enough, in a sad way, Dean has now been put in Sam’s old role of being kept in the dark and lied to, and he’s reacting much as Sam did, constantly poking at the sore spots, playing back the disagreements, and trying to provoke a confrontation that will bring out the truth. But Dean is still Dean, older than Sam was during his rebellions, and sadder and wiser enough to surrender before pushing the fight so far as to cause a rift any greater than the one already separating the brothers. And while Dean had also been kept in the dark by John on some things and had accepted the duty of obeying immediately and without question, his response to John had been schooled by his experience while still very young of learning the unacceptable consequences of disobedience, when the shtriga nearly killed Sam. He sees no similar rationale here for accepting Sam’s evasions and a lot more risk in going along with them, given Castiel’s threat that the angels will take steps if Dean fails to stop Sam.
You Know What I See Most? Lies.
The thread of lies ran throughout this story. Sam lied to Dean about having no idea why Alastair couldn’t throw him around, and he lied by omission in not telling Dean that he has developed the power to throw demons around with his mind as well as to exorcise them that way. Sam lied to Cole purely for expediency in order to get Cole to reveal information, telling Cole that if he talked he could stay with his family and Sam would keep the Reapers from bothering him. Sam at least told the truth when he told Dean that he would tell Cole whatever he had to in order to get the information from him; he didn’t seem to see how much that bothered Dean. The compassionate Sam we used to know wouldn’t have lied to Cole so brazenly; he would have tried to reason with the truth, even if he’d had to shade it as he’d done with Molly in Roadkill or if it had gone awry as with Max in Nightmare. Sam has hardened himself and learned to lie with plausible conviction and without hesitation, and to crush down whatever qualms of conscience may arise.
And as Pamela warned, Sam has also been lying to himself. Her last whisper to Sam about knowing what he had done to the demon and feeling what was inside him, and that he should think again if he thought he had good intentions, was on the nose in diagnosing Sam. Sam said it straight out in Metamorphosis: that he was just trying to make something good come out of having been infected with demon blood as a baby. He couldn’t do anything about having been given the power, so instead, seduced by Ruby, he found a way to justify living with and using it. The positive results he’s seen from having taken that step – saving the lives of hosts who would have died if he’d used Ruby’s knife or who might have died if he hadn’t been quick enough in getting off a verbal exorcism, and saving his own life and his brother’s, not to mention an entire town, from Samhain in It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester, outweigh the nebulous doom in the angels’ warnings not to use his power and his brother’s fears and unease. And yet, and yet – there’s something within Sam that still isn’t as certain as he pretends that what he is doing is entirely justified and right. Something inside him isn’t convinced that what he’s doing is good, or he wouldn’t still be lying to Dean about what he’s doing with Ruby to build his strength and refine his abilities. He knows that, whatever it is, Dean would disapprove, and he’s not comfortable enough that he’s right to disregard Dean’s moral radar. So he hides what he’s doing and he lies, even when it’s blatantly obvious that Dean knows that he’s lying. And that evasion, in and of itself, says that his motives aren’t entirely pure, that he isn’t doing whatever it is just to bring good out of evil, and that on some level, he knows it.
As Tessa observed, Dean has also been lying to himself, and his lies are based on the same lack of certain knowledge as Sam’s. No one has ever come flat out and given Sam a straightforward reason why using his demon-given abilities is necessarily a bad thing, even when he tries to use them for good ends. The angels have simply told him not to use them, and threatened him with destruction if he persists. There have been intimations that using them puts him on a slippery slope – and I would submit that many of the harsh changes we’ve seen in him are evidence that his moral fiber has frayed and his pride has grown in unhealthy ways – but no one has ever come straight out and told him with proof that using them will eventually and without question turn him evil or make him what he used to fear to become. The absence of that clear a warning of the consequences of playing with fire may yet see him burn down the house of his soul. And in the absence of that clear a warning, he can tell himself that he’s going only as far as he has to in order to do right things, good things, and he has the proof of good effects right in front of his eyes to further that self-justification.
Similarly, no one has yet told Dean why he, alone of all humanity, was brought out of Hell and returned to Earth. Oh, Castiel told him that God commanded it and that he has work to do, and by telling him about Lilith breaking the seals and the consequences of that breaking, Cas implied that fighting to keep the seals unbroken is part of his task, but Dean still doesn’t know any of the rules and has no answer to the fundamental question, Why me? In trying to make sense of all he doesn’t know, he’s built a tissue of wishful thinking hung on the pillars of being given a second chance, possibly being able to somehow make up for what he did in Hell, and maybe, just maybe, being able to earn redemption and be free of Hell forever. He tried to enunciate it to Jamie in Monster Movie when he said that he felt he had a second chance, that he was on a mission from God, and that saving people was important.
In this episode, we saw an uncomfortable parallel to Dean in Jim, the heart-shot man. Trying to make sense of what had happened to him, Jim could only conclude that God was giving him a second chance, an opportunity to make right whatever he’d done wrong in his life and with his young child, and that angels were watching over him. Dean felt the same, but realized quickly in Jim’s case that the truth was far from what the man believed, far from the comforting lie he had told himself. Jim didn’t die only because demons had kidnapped the Reaper who would have taken his soul to whatever hereafter awaited him; the moment the boys had set things right again, Jim’s time would be up and his soul would be reaped. It’s no wonder that Dean pleaded with Castiel to make exceptions for the good people about to die; beyond his native empathy and compassion for them, he saw particularly in Jim but also in all the others a mirror of himself. Especially after his final conversation with Tessa, Dean had to wonder whether he was as self-deluded as Jim, thinking himself, however unworthy, to have been chosen for a second chance and hoping beyond hope for a happy ending even without believing it could be real. Tessa brought into the open the conflict he’s been struggling with inside himself all season: his belief on the one hand that a hunter’s life ends bloody or sad, and that he expects they’ll soon be dead – what he told Sam in Criss Angel Is A Douche Bag – and the tremulous, hesitant dream that his having been rescued from Hell meant that he had a chance to make things different, to have things end better.
Tessa hit on something very human. Especially about death, the greatest and most inevitable of mysteries, we all tell ourselves the comforting lies we need to keep going; things that are lies simply because we treat them as true even though we have no proof that they are real. No one knows what happens to us when we die. Every religion or belief system has an explanation – judgment followed by an eternity in torment or bliss, reincarnation, becoming one with the all, nothingness – but no one actually knows. Science has no answers, so only faith will serve, and faith, by definition, can’t be proven. So when we are afraid and in pain, we tell ourselves what we believe and draw strength and solace from it. In cosmic terms, it may be a lie, but by believing in it, we make it real enough that it affects our physiology as well as our psychology. Even after his final encounter with Tessa, Dean still offered comfort to Pamela, only to have her reject his tentative offer of faith as a lie.
The lies didn’t stop with the humans in the story. We learned at the end that Castiel had also lied: that he had pretended to be Bobby to draw the Winchesters into the fight and use them to enter a demon stronghold that the angels couldn’t penetrate. His rationale for lying instead of asking their help with the truth – that whenever he asked Dean to do something, Dean did the opposite, something shown in such episodes as It’s The Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester and Heaven And Hell – may have been practical, but it served as yet another warning that the angels will use whatever tactic they deem needful to accomplish their goals, whether that action seems good or not. From the moment they expressed the intent to smite an entire innocent town just to be sure of eliminating a single witch, the angels demonstrated that their agenda wasn’t one of sweetness and light, and that they were prepared to accept a level of collateral damage the Winchesters would call evil and unjust and wrong. Despite that, Dean still has clung to the dream that the angels intend something good for him; but it’s worth noting that Castiel has given no answers and promised him nothing, and even gone so far as to express sympathy for the hardship and decisions he will face. He’s already been warned by the angels themselves that he’s a tool and that he could be returned to Hell if he fails to perform or proves unwieldy – Castiel said it in Are You There, God? It’s Me, Dean Winchester, and it was broadcast on angel radio and made blatant by Uriel in Heaven And Hell – so Tessa’s warning that he should stop lying to himself and trust his instincts that something nasty was coming was a useful reminder that hoping for too much could lead to crashing disillusionment and the loss of dreams.
I Just Want To Do My Job
While I agree with her caution on the motives of angels, however, I would note that Tessa isn’t without an agenda and bias of her own. She was contemptuous of both sides in what she dismissively called the “angel/demon dance-off,” wanting only to attend to her job: reaping souls. She used the same line on Cole that she had used on Dean when he’d asked what would happen to him if he went with her – that she wouldn’t spoil the surprise – and he observed that a Reaper would never answer that question. Personally, I suspect that there’s more involved; that even the Reapers likely don’t know what happens to the souls that they send on their way. The Reapers, as psychopomps, evidently free the souls from their connection to their bodies and the world we know and enable them to transition to whatever comes next, but nothing suggests that they either know or care where the souls that move on go; it seems to matter to them only that the souls do not improperly remain here. Judging from the events of this episode, the presence of a Reaper is required for death to separate a soul from a body – they embody human death – but they evidently have no stake in what happens next. Given that they take no sides in the angel/demon war, they don’t seem to care whether a soul goes to Heaven, Hell, or somewhere else. They may perhaps derive power from a soul’s transition from human life to … whatever ... but it would appear from their neutral disinterest that where a soul wound up afterward wouldn’t affect them.
We know from sharing Dean’s experience that Hell exists in Supernatural’s cosmology, and that human souls are tormented there. The flip side is that Heaven also exists, which we know from the presence of angels, even though we don’t know yet whether human souls rest there in bliss.
In any case, it would appear from Tessa that the realm of Reapers is Earth. We don’t know what happened to the Reaper slain by Alastair, using the scythe of Death itself – and what does that make the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, allies of demons? – but given that Tessa implied that she had been around death from the beginning, it would seem that Reapers, unlike humans, are more like angels, not subject to death barring extraordinary circumstances. What little we know is that they can be possessed by very powerful demons (In My Time Of Dying) and enslaved by black magic spells to kill or save on command (Faith), and that in their absence, no one dies.
If the Reapers’ whole experience is shepherding souls to death, Tessa’s assertion that there are no miracles makes sense, from her viewpoint. Everyone dies. Some come back – witness Sam and Dean, and even John (In The Beginning) – but even they die again.
But what I suspect she can’t speak to is whether Dean’s tentative hope for a better final end – an eventual eternity not spent in Hell, and a life in which he doesn’t have to see all of his friends and his brother die – actually has a chance to become reality. Cautioning against expecting it in order to prevent heartbreak is one thing; discounting that it is even a possibility is something quite different, and not something I believe Tessa is equipped to do. Further, no matter what the objective truth may be, the truth we make out of what we believe is no less valid. Believing in his second chance, Jim was trying to make things better for his family, and became a better man because of it. I would submit that the same is true of Dean, and that in his nascent and still fragile faith, he has begun, slowly, to build himself anew. The danger is that faith can be overwhelmed and hope can be destroyed, and all it takes is giving up.
Without hope, we die. Hope is our human miracle, especially in defiance of all we think we know and believe we deserve.
We’re, Like, The Poster Boys Of The Unnatural Order.
The brothers have flipped orientation again, as they have done throughout the series. The most clear indication of it was also the single most frightening line in the episode: Sam in the cemetery, saying The normal rules don’t really apply to us, do they? He was talking about more than just death and dying; his mention of his demon blood infection and Dean having been in Hell were only the surface. Throughout the first and most of the second season and before the series began, Sam had always been the one desperate to be normal, to be ordinary; Dean was the one to dismiss normality as overrated, and an ordinary life as something that he couldn’t have tolerated. Now their roles have been completely reversed as Dean, trying to understand why he was brought out of Hell, seems determined to see himself as ordinary, while Sam, unconsciously reveling in his power, seems to feel little kinship with the human herd.
The seeds of this reversal were planted long ago and have already flowered before for both brothers. Already resenting the hunting life for what it had cost him in his father’s death and in being tasked with his father’s secret about Sam, Dean changed fundamentally with What Is And What Should Never Be, when he had to admit to himself that what he wanted more than anything was the normal family he had lost. Sam, as of a few episodes earlier, in the aftermath of being possessed in Born Under A Bad Sign, was deciding that he couldn’t run from destiny no matter how much it frightened him. In the end, however, he chose against playing Azazel’s game, and died in All Hell Breaks Loose, Part 1. Brought back to life in Part 2 and learning about Dean’s deal, Sam embraced the hunter’s mantle throughout season three in his attempt first to save Dean, and then to find a way to survive and fight in case he couldn’t, while Dean initially just wanted to do his job and enjoy what remained of his life. As the year wound to a close, Dean finally affirmed that he didn’t want to die and didn’t deserve to go to Hell, but when his time ran out, he accepted his death and tasked Sam not to use his powers.
In season four, we’ve seen Dean return to his dedication to the hunting life as his second chance to make things right by saving others, while Sam has walked the path of using the powers he turned to after Dean’s death when he found himself alone and suicidal in his loneliness and desire for revenge. The disturbing thing is that Sam has now embraced the very powers he used to fear, that he knows were demon-given and intended for use by Azazel, and that, despite some second thoughts along the way in Metamorphosis when he learned not only how appalled and scared Dean was, but that the angels wanted him to stop, he’s gone on to develop them further. Sam has behaved like an addict, rationalizing his addiction while trying to hide its extent, aware on some level that something is wrong but neither able nor wanting to stop. Speaking truth under the siren’s spell, he revealed that he believes himself to be a better and stronger hunter than Dean, less trammeled by the weakness of conscience. He really does seem to believe increasingly that the ordinary rules don’t apply to him, that his power gives him the right to do what he chooses, because what he chooses is right … and that certainty is frightening.
If Sam needed proof that his demon blood and not his human soul was the source of his power, Alastair’s note that he couldn’t get it up without his meat should have been a clue.
And if Dean needed proof that he isn’t the same as everyone else, he now has Castiel’s disquieting statement that he’s different.
Jeremy Carver did a great job on the brotherhood elements and conflicts in the script, and the leavening of humor – particularly as the brothers explored their ghosthood – was superb. The carryover of tension from Sex And Violence kept the focus on the disconnect between Sam and Dean, but played up their remaining ties at the same time; neither of them wants to be without the other, and when push comes to shove, they still take their cues and work together, as when Sam fixed on the chandelier and Dean joined in.
I enjoyed Steve Boyum’s workmanlike direction. The scene of the brothers going out of body flashed back nicely to In My Time Of Dying. In terms of cementing his vision in post, I pay tribute to the transition in that scene from normal color to blue-tinged desaturation as Dean sat up thinking the incantation had failed, only to realize that he and Sam were effectively ghosts. He stole a page there from his own style book for Dream A Little Dream Of Me, keeping their ghost-world in shades of blue and returning normal color only when the scene came from Pamela’s perspective or when one or both of the boys were back in body. (Now if only he’d put the spotlights back on the Impala … I still haven’t forgiven him for that!) I also chuckled at his decision to use a location last seen in Houses of the Holy, the house kitty-corner across the street from Benny’s Market; somehow, it felt appropriate to reuse for this show a location from another episode that also dealt with angels, death, ghosts, an interrupted séance, and faith.
All of the guest actor performances were good. I particularly enjoyed seeing Lindsay McKeon return as Tessa again, and I’m glad that they were able to use her not only for the actress and her chemistry with Jensen Ackles’ Dean, but also because her presence provided the opportunity to give Dean back his memories of all the events during In My Time Of Dying. That satisfies me in very profound ways, so bravo there both to Carver and to the casting directors, and thanks to McKeon. I also delighted in both Alexander Gould as Cole and Christopher Heyerdahl as Alastair, for different reasons. Gould was not only heartbreakingly convincing as a little boy hurt by his mother’s grief and lonely in his own loss, but perfect in his delight at showing the big boys a ghost trick or two. And it was hysterically funny to me that, in Weeds, he also played a son of Jeffrey Dean Morgan! Heyerdahl’s take on Alastair was chilling, and I now better appreciate what Mark Rolston did with the character in his first appearance in I Know What You Did Last Summer, giving him the Brando-esque vocal mannerisms that would make it a cinch to recognize him wearing other actors’ “meat suits.” Although the one in the graveyard didn’t play to that trait.
I will miss Tracy Dinwiddie’s Pamela. Her death is the one quibble I had with the script, because it seemed so preventable. While the boys couldn’t have salted the hotel room windows and doors without trapping their ghost selves, I don’t think we’ve ever had an indication that a devil’s trap or a protective sigil from the Key of Solomon would block ghosts as well as demons, so why not ward the room against demons as a precaution, given that they were leaving their bodies defenseless? And unless Pamela had grown tired of living blind and bitter, why did she refuse medical help, especially since quick treatment while the town Reapers were still not in operation might have been able to save her even from what should have been a mortal wound? If she knew beyond doubt that the wound was fatal, then I could buy her fatalism and the anger and guilt she laid on them for involving her again, especially after she took in the welcome mat when she learned that angels were involved in Heaven and Hell, but otherwise, she seemed to have too much of a zest for life to have simply given up.
This was an episode where I have to single out the background score. Jay Gruska’s musical themes, especially for Dean’s loss and grief, never fail to grab me by the throat and multiply the emotion already on screen from Jensen Ackles. The keyboard and strings behind the scene of Cole hiding in the closet and talking to Sam also evoked loneliness and loss, and set against the counterpoint of the ticking clock, played up Sam following through on saying whatever he had to in order to learn what he needed to know in time. The subtle play of emotions on Jared Padalecki’s face showed the decision and the lie, and all of the conviction.
Jensen and Jared both brought the emotion home. Jared has been doing very subtle things to display Sam’s growing darkness; as much as Sam’s been Soloflexing with Ruby, Jared has been putting in his time on delineating Sam’s emotional muscles. He showed that the brotherhood is still there despite the strain; the look on his face when he realized that Tessa was the Reaper who’d come after Dean in the hospital spoke volumes about his anger over that near loss, while his exasperation over Dean’s boyish glee at sticking his arm into his brother and his amusement at Dean being bettered by a twelve-year-old in the ghost games echoed the harmless fun of the prank wars. At the same time, his studied, fake blankness when he claimed not to know why Alastair couldn’t fling him and not to understand why Dean wouldn’t believe him was so obviously a cover. It’s lovely to see all the layers at once. Jensen had a lot of moments that stole my breath, including sad Dean reluctantly admitting that he couldn’t make Sam do anything and asking him not to treat him like an idiot, Dean remembering Tessa and all the grief of the year that followed, and finally wondering whether he, like heart-shot Jim, really hadn’t been given a second chance by God and, in fact, had nothing to hope for.
The end of this episode was a short and bittersweet tribute to Kim Manners, director and executive producer, who died in January. The tribute included two photos (the first of which, alas, was badly Photoshopped to substitute a serious expression on Jared’s face for the more natural, slightly goofy one from the original photo), a dedication of the entire season to Kim, and a gentle soundtrack from series composer Jay Gruska using his “Dean’s Family” theme, something extraordinarily appropriate given that the Supernatural cast and crew really do comprise a family. And we fans are part of that family, too, and also mourn Kim’s loss.
For Kim and all of us, we do still hope, like Dean, that there’ll be peace when we are done.