John had one more son,
Hidden, normal, loved and safe;
Murdered for revenge.
A woman in surgical scrubs, nursing shoes and a coat ran through her house in terror, pursued by something unseen. Reaching her bedroom, she slammed the door shut, and felt and heard something hit the door and rattle the knob, then fall silent. Blocking the door by pushing a cabinet in front of it, she retreated and sat on the edge of the bed, fearful and panting – and something under the bed grabbed her ankles and dragged her down. Screaming and struggling futilely for an anchor as it pulled her under the bed, she overturned the bedside table, dropping a framed photograph of John Winchester to the floor.
John’s cell phone, which Dean had kept charged in the Impala’s glove box, unexpectedly rang. The young man on the other end, Adam Milligan, asked for John and wouldn’t speak to anyone else. When Dean said that John had died over two years ago, Adam, shocked, said that he was John’s son. The brothers drove to Windom, Minnesota to meet Adam at a diner. Along the way, Sam researched Adam, learning that he seemed to be a real person. Records showed he’d been born September 29, 1990, to Kate Milligan, with no father listed on the birth certificate, and that he was an Eagle Scout, graduated high school with honors, and was currently enrolled in the University of Wisconsin as a biology major in pre-med. Looking through John’s journal, Sam spotted a note about John heading to a hunt in Minnesota in January 1990, nine months before Adam’s birth, and saw that the next couple of entries had been torn out of the journal. Sam argued that it was possible John could have had another son and hidden it from them. Dean, furious, maintained that it was all a trap, and that even if Adam was a real person, he’d been possessed by a demon or replaced by a shapeshifter, and was using his claimed connection to John to trap the brothers. To turn a trap of his own, Dean refilled the restaurant’s glass with holy water, and replaced the stainless cutlery with silver.
Adam drank the holy water with no ill effect and successfully handled the silver. He told Sam that he’d called John for help because his mother had gone missing, and John – whom he knew only as a mechanic – was his only other family. When Dean, pretending to have been a work associate of John’s, asked why they’d never heard of him, Adam explained that he’d only met John for the first time a few years earlier. He said that his mother, a nurse, had told him his father’s name but never talked about him except to say they’d met when he came into the emergency room pretty badly hurt after some kind of hunting accident. It wasn’t until Adam was twelve years old and begged her for the chance to meet his father that she called the old number she had for John and told him he had a son. He said that John had dropped everything and driven all night to meet him, and that he’d come by once a year since and called when he could. John had taught him poker and pool, bought him his first beer when he was fifteen, and had showed him how to drive – using the Impala. That last straw was too much for Dean, who called Adam a liar and when Adam challenged him, revealed that he and Sam were John’s sons.
Adam claimed to have proof, and back at the house, showed them a photo of himself with John at a baseball game on his fourteenth birthday. John’s journal for that day had a one-word entry: Minnesota. Dean saw other photos of John with Adam and with his arms around Kate, and however little he liked the idea, began to accept it. Asking about Kate, they learned that the last person to see her three days earlier was the next door neighbor, who had seen her come home from work. Dean began searching the house, looking for things the cops wouldn’t have spotted, and Adam said that the cops had found the nightstand knocked over, but no sign of forced entry. Adam asked Dean to tell him more about John, but Dean refused.
Sam, meanwhile, searched other sources, and found newspaper records of grave robberies in Windom in 1990, including one photo with a fuzzy image of a younger John half-hidden by a tree in a story about the missing bodies having been found. In the month before Kate disappeared, the corpse-snatching had started again, with three bodies missing from the local cemetery. When Dean speculated that John might not have killed the thing he’d been hunting, Sam questioned whether it had upped its game from corpses to fresh meat, because in addition to Kate, a local bartender named Joe Barton was also missing. Dean asked Adam whether his mother had known Barton, but even as the boy said that he didn’t think so, Dean noticed scratches on the bedroom’s hardwood floor leading under the bed. Shifting the mattress, they found a grate under the bed. Losing yet another game of rock/paper/scissors to Sam, Dean crawled into the ductwork, following streaks of blood, and eventually found a fatal quantity of it mingled with scraps of bone, flesh, and hair.
Some hours later, Adam came to the brothers’ motel room demanding to know who they were and why it had been so important to them to leave before the cops arrived. Adam observed that the cops hadn’t known where to look for his mom, but Dean had, and he said that he’d heard them talking about grave robberies. He saw the imperfectly hidden barrel of the gun Dean had been cleaning when he arrived, and observed that they weren’t mechanics. Over Dean’s objection, Sam told Adam that they were hunters, and described the reality of their life; that the supernatural things in stories were real and malevolent. Adam accepted the tale without question, saying he believed them because they were his brothers. He asked to help in the hunt for whatever had taken his mother. Sam was sympathetic to his desire for revenge, but Dean objected that John had been protecting him, that he didn’t want Adam to have their lives, and that he would respect John’s wishes. When Sam continued to disagree, Dean told him to babysit the kid and went out. Alone, Sam ignored Dean’s instructions and began to teach Adam about weapons and hunting.
Posing as an FBI agent, Dean started investigating the grave robberies, checking the Milsap family tomb from which the latest bodies had disappeared. The mortuary attendant reported that the bodies hadn’t just been taken; they’d been opened up, spilling embalming fluid onto the floor. Dean went on to Barton’s bar and spoke to the bartender, Lisa, the missing man’s wife. Looking at photographs on the wall of the bar, he realized that Joe Barton had been a cop before running a bar, and learned from Lisa that Barton had been the one who had found the bodies back in 1990, with the help of an unnamed specialist. Lisa said that no one had ever found who’d stolen the bodies, but that when she’d asked, Joe had told her not to worry; that they’d taken care of what had done it.
Back at the motel, Adam, learning to clean guns, asked Sam how John had really died, and when Sam told him a demon, asked if they’d hunted it down. Sam said flatly that Dean had killed it. Adam wistfully said that it was over for them, then, but Sam replied that it was never over. The power abruptly went out and they heard scratching and banging in the ducts. Sam fired at the vent and hustled Adam out of the room, running for Adam’s pickup. As Sam scrambled to unlock the door, something grabbed his ankles and started dragging him under the truck. Dean arrived just in time to help Adam pull Sam free, and then fired a shotgun blast under the truck. They moved the truck to find it had been parked over a manhole cover. A blood trail leading down showed that Dean’s shot had hit it. Adam asked if they should follow it, but Dean maintained that it would be long gone in the maze of the sewers. The brothers still didn’t know what the thing was, but the pattern of its attacks was clear: it was going after the people in town who were connected with John, getting revenge.
Returning to Kate’s house to have Adam pick up his things, Sam and Dean argued over what to do. Dean planned to take Adam to Bobby’s for safety and then return to hunt the monster, while Sam argued that they had no leads or witnesses to use, but that they had what the monster wanted, and they should stay and use Adam as bait to draw the monster to them. He said that they could train Adam to be a hunter. Against Dean’s protest that Adam could die, Sam maintained that any of them could die, and that things wanting revenge on them could go after Adam instead and kill him if he was unprepared. Coming in on the argument, Adam said that he wanted to do whatever it took to get his own revenge.
Sam took Adam target shooting, showed him books, and told him stories of the hunt, all with Dean silently disapproving in the background. But when Sam gave Adam the same talk that John had once given him – that hunting is life, that hunters can’t ever have connections with other people because that would just get those people killed, and that the only thing he could count on was family – Dean called him aside and challenged him on it, noting that Sam had hated John for giving that very same talk, and had rebelled and gone to Stanford. Sam retorted that he realized now that John was right, and always had been. He said that when he looked at Adam, he saw meat, because that’s all he would be to the demons and monsters. He maintained that John had done right by them in training them to protect themselves, and that Adam deserved the same. Dean countered that he accepted that it was too late for them, but that Adam could have a normal life. Each of the brothers asked if the other was jealous of Adam, and neither answered. Sam argued that monsters and the end of the world were real, while everything else was just the lies people told themselves to feel good. Dean rejected that, noting that John didn’t have a choice with them, but that with Adam, he did; that Adam didn’t have to be cursed. Sam said that he was already cursed because he was a Winchester, but Dean refused to concede, saying that he would hunt down whatever it was.
Alone, Dean went back to the desecrated tomb. He heard a breeze whistle inside one of the broken crypts, leading him to find a loosened stone opening into a narrow passage underground. Crawling through, he found a place where a brick wall had been broken down, connecting into another nearby tomb. On the floor of that tomb were the mostly eaten remains of Joe Barton, recognizable only by his glasses. Dean heard scraping back along the passageway, and shone his flashlight back the way he had come to see the stone being pushed back into place. He fired his gun, but succeeded only in bringing down a fall of dirt to block the way out. Unable to get cell phone reception underground, Dean began searching the tomb he was in, but the massive doors leading out proved too heavy to break. Seeing skeletons dumped on the floor and realizing that the dust on the coffins in the tomb had been disturbed, he opened the coffins to find the partially eaten bodies of Kate – and Adam. Desperate to find a way out, he saw a stained glass window in the ceiling; he used the carrying hardware from a casket first to smash the glass and then to serve as a pull-up bar to swing himself up and out.
Meanwhile, back at the house, Sam and Adam salted the doors and closed off all but one of the grates, but instead of a monster coming through the grate, they heard Kate’s panicked voice downstairs from the kitchen. Ignoring Sam’s urgent warning that it wasn’t Kate, Adam ran to his mother, who was holding her injured side and said she had gotten away. Sam tried to argue him away from her, saying there had been too much blood for her to be alive and that it wasn’t his mother, but Adam wrestled the gun from him. Sam shouted for him to shoot it because it wasn’t human, and Adam said he knew – and knocked Sam unconscious with the gun.
Sam woke to discover himself tied down to the dining room table, with the thing that looked like Kate amusing herself with a silver knife. Sam realized that Kate and Adam were actually ghouls, eaters of the dead who took on the shape and gained the memories of the last corpse they ate. He hadn’t made the connection before because ghouls didn’t usually go after the living. The ghouls revealed that they were brother and sister, the children of the ghoul that John had killed back in 1990, and that they were getting their revenge. They maintained that John was more of a monster than their father had been because the ghoul had never hurt anyone and had only eaten the dead. They cut Sam’s arms and dug into his side, drinking his blood and collecting it in bowls, taunting him.
Dean burst in, shot Adam in the chest, and was aiming at Kate when Sam called that they were ghouls. Dean corrected his aim to blow off Kate’s head – that being the way to kill a ghoul – and then moved to free Sam, only to be tackled by Adam. He lost the gun in the struggle, and ultimately grabbed a heavy candlestick from the sideboard and used it to beat the ghoul’s head in. Hearing Sam’s weak call, he freed Sam, helped him up, and bound his bleeding arms.
In the aftermath, Dean gave Adam a hunter’s funeral, accepting that he had been their brother and burning his corpse as they had burned John’s. Sam suggested trying to bring him back by calling in a favor from Castiel, but Dean refused, saying that Adam was in a better place. Dean observed that he finally understood why John and Sam had butted heads so much; they were practically the same person. Dean said that he had worshipped John, dressed like him, acted like him, listened to his music, but that Sam was more like John than Dean would ever be. Sam said he would take that as a compliment, and Dean – not complimentary – responded that he could take it any way he wanted.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
This was a story about family, revenge, choice, brotherhood, and the difference between monsters and humans; all of the main themes at the core of Supernatural, the things that keep us riveted and coming back. In this analysis, I’m going to look at all of those elements and what they have to say about Sam, Dean, and John Winchester.
We Are What We Eat
As usual with Supernatural, the show put its own spin on the monster of the week, this time making ghouls not just eaters of the dead, but creatures that took on the appearance and gained access to the thoughts and memories of the people they consumed. As the Kate ghoul flippantly observed, they were exactly what they ate, and yet – not entirely. The ghouls assumed the guise of their food and accessed their memories, but kept their own thoughts and feelings as well.
The ghouls provided a scary parallel for Sam. Kate’s observation that Sam’s blood tasted different was a direct pointer to real physical changes being wrought by his addiction to demon blood, and a very unsubtle hint that Sam, too, is becoming what he eats. We weren’t imagining things when we saw Sam’s irises turn briefly demon-black as he drove to rescue Dean in On The Head Of A Pin. Like the ghouls becoming the people they eat, he’s increasingly taking on aspects we associate with demons as he drinks more and more of Ruby’s blood. One wonders what might have happened had the ghouls who dined on Sam survived; would they also have taken on demonic attributes, albeit diluted ones?
Like the ghouls, however, Sam is also still himself. The motives underlying his choices are largely his own. He was raised to save others; part of his current drive is definitely to be strong enough to face the apocalypse, to save the world and his brother. He always had pride and arrogance of his own, initially built on the knowledge that he actually was capable and smart; demon blood and demon coaching have made them stronger and more blatant, but they are an integral part of him, and because of that, he doesn’t see how much they’ve changed. The most frightening thing is that he can still justify to himself every decision he’s been making as something that he needs to do for the good of others. The only hint that part of him is aware that not all of his motives are so innocent is his shame and reluctance to tell Dean what he’s really been doing with Ruby.
You Use That Word A Lot, Sam, But I Don’t Think You Know What It Means
What makes a monster a monster has been a recurring theme in Supernatural. As early as season one, we saw human monsters in Faith, Nightmare, and The Benders. Season two upped the ante with Bloodlust, in which Gordon the hunter proved much more a monster than Lenore’s vampire family, and saw Dean begin to question what John had taught him about the rightness of killing anything supernatural. That season, through the several stories centered around Sam and the other psychic kids and culminating in the two-part season finale, also explored how humans can be driven to become monsters through power and pressure. Season three continued that exploration through the themes of humans seeking power through witchcraft and being corrupted (Malleus Maleficarum), pursuing the profitable pleasures of vice (Sin City), exercising power over others in dreams (Dream A Little Dream Of Me), seeking immortality (Time Is On My Side), and shaping a life out of a demon deal taken for revenge (Bela, revealed in Time Is On My Side). Season four brought it into sharp focus in nearly every episode with stories that asked why monsters did what they did (Monster Movie, Family Remains, After School Special), whether monsters necessarily had to become monstrous (Metamorphosis), and what price would be paid for choosing not to become a monster (Wishful Thinking, Criss Angel Is A Douche Bag).
The brother and sister ghouls in this episode posited that their father had not been a monster because he ate only the dead and never hurt anyone living (well, apart from the shock and horror of survivors learning that the bodies of their friends and family had been desecrated and eaten). After living without him for twenty years, however, and becoming dissatisfied with living the way he had lived before John killed him, the Kate and Adam ghouls made a conscious decision to change their diet and eat the living, starting with the people responsible for their father’s death and the people closest to them. They became monsters by their own definition in pursuit of revenge, and of a tastier life. Part and parcel of their decision to become monsters was their concurrent decision not to be bothered by it, but simply to enjoy the flavor.
One wonders what their ghoul father would have thought of their decision.
We’ve seen both Sam and Dean question what they do at different times, asking where the line is drawn between hunting and murder. A chilling aspect of the change we’ve seen in Sam over the past two seasons has been the blurring of that line as his approach has become more pragmatic and mission-focused – more like John’s revenge-driven obsession – as the stakes have become higher and more desperate. He’s asked the question recently, but only when he saw himself in the answer, as with the rugaru in Metamorphosis, or when he’s been defending his choice to pursue his powers because they let him save lives. Still, Sam won’t be lost until he stops asking the question entirely and simply assumes that he knows the answer. If he takes that step, he will become the monster he used to fear he’d be.
Revenge – It’s Never Over
Revenge is another theme that’s played throughout the series. The show began with John Winchester wanting revenge for the death of his wife and safety for his sons, and seeing both goals embodied in the same thing: the death of the monster that killed his wife and targeted his baby boy. In the contrast between the brief, pre-tragedy glimpse of loving, gentle John in the pilot and the older, harder man we saw first through Sam’s eyes and later in person, we plainly saw the toll taken by the pursuit of that revenge.
Similarly, the difference between our first glimpse of Sam in the pilot and the 180-degree different Sam we’re seeing now is largely due to Sam’s pursuit of vengeance. He resisted returning to the hunting life until Jessica, like Mary before her, burned on the ceiling. From that moment, his desire to kill the thing that had killed not just his girlfriend but his safe future spurred his return to the hunt. He wanted no distraction from the main event and protested Dean’s insistence on pursuing other unrelated hunts even when leads to John’s whereabouts or to the demon weren’t forthcoming. Wendigo and Dead In The Water both demonstrated that.
Sam’s initial fear of his powers, of the things that made him different from everyone else, also played into the changes in him, even as John’s growing fear for his sons’ safety fueled part of his own change, but I would submit that the revenge motive drove the two of them the most. I would also submit that Dean served as the anchor for them both, the guard that kept them from slipping too far – at least while he was alive. At the end of John’s story, with Dean at death’s door in In My Time Of Dying, John gave up his revenge against Azazel to trade his life and the instrument of his vengeance, the Colt, for his son’s life. John’s love for Dean finally overrode his vengeance quest. When John escaped from Hell in All Hell Breaks Loose, he saved Dean’s life again by tackling the demon out of his host’s body just long enough for Dean to pick up the Colt. Saving Dean got John his revenge, but the revenge itself wasn’t the goal; it was the saving that mattered.
Similarly, Dean prevented Sam from throwing himself away on revenge in Salvation, when he prevented Sam from going back into the burning house after the demon, and his pleas contributed to Sam putting John’s life ahead of killing the demon in Devil’s Trap. During the second season, Sam’s desire for revenge took a back seat to his growing fear of losing his brother, as Dean took his own dark turn after John’s death, and then to his growing fear of losing himself as he started to learn more about his powers and the other children like him. Season three saw revenge subsumed to the quest to save Dean from his deal. Dean’s death, however, left Sam with nothing but his desire for revenge on Lilith, especially after his attempts to find some way to get Dean out of Hell failed. Sam’s despair, guilt, and grief fed his craving for vengeance, and Ruby’s promises that she could help him get what he wanted drove his willingness not just to learn to use his powers, but to be willing to drink more demon blood to make them stronger.
I would submit that every character we’ve seen in Supernatural who let revenge take the wheel went dark, and that one underlying theme of the show is that anyone who pursues revenge loses some or all of his or her humanity in the process. For examples, look at Max in Nightmare, Gordon in Bloodlust, Walter in Hollywood Babylon, Bela in Time Is On My Side, the cannibal children in Family Remains, and Dirk the bully in After School Special. For that matter, look at most of the vengeful ghosts throughout the run of the show. All of them had reasons for what they did, all of them suffered loss or abuse, but the decision to give themselves over to the satisfaction of revenge doomed them all. Each act of revenge led to another by someone else, a self-perpetuating series of doom.
John’s dedication to revenge largely destroyed the thing he most wanted to preserve: his family, as a family. He admitted to Sam in Dead Man’s Blood that he’d become the boys’ drill sergeant, not their father, and it was that insistence on dedicating everything in their lives to the fight that led to Sam’s estrangement. John couldn’t see anything but the need to keep them safe, and hunting down the thing that killed their mother as the only way to guarantee that safety. Sam’s commitment to revenge has led him to borrow demon strength and demonic powers, with a corresponding erosion of his humanity. And he chose that road even after having been shown the crippling, dehumanizing power of revenge through the Trickster’s lesson in Mystery Spot.
But I think that the other message of the show is that the decision to seek revenge isn’t irreversible; that there are opportunities to turn back or turn aside and be redeemed. The essential thing is to make that choice. Sam offered Max help and understanding; if Max had been able to reach past his despair, he might have found a different path, a way not to be a monster. If Bela had asked the boys for help and explained her circumstances, they might have found a way to break her deal; given who and what they are, they would at least have tried to save her, and she wouldn’t have been alone. Sam’s fear of losing Dean and his need for Dean to save him pulled Dean out of the revenge pit in season two. John found his love for his son greater than his need for revenge, and he ultimately managed to make his way out of Hell.
Sam’s love for Dean could be his own salvation yet, but not as long as revenge and pride come first. In the Bible, it says, Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord – it would seem that Supernatural agrees, and that humans who choose vengeance over justice and mercy take unto themselves what the Lord has reserved, and lose themselves in the process.
Like You And Your Brother: Inseparable
Sam and Dean are stronger as a team; we’ve seen that time and time again. The single most terribly ironic line in this entire episode was the Adam ghoul saying that he and his sister were like Dean and Sam, inseparable, and his sister observing that it had been really hard to get Sam alone. All this season, we’ve seen the brothers’ painful estrangement from each other, with Sam having had to make his own rough way after Dean’s death and Dean being brought back with an ill-defined mission from Heaven. To outsiders, however, despite their fighting, they still appear to be together, and their moments of perfect synchronicity – the rock/paper/scissors game comes to mind – just reinforce the impression from the earlier seasons that they are still inextricably linked.
This episode put yet another strain on the brother relationship. The introduction of Adam, and what Adam’s existence said about John, further defined the growing gulf between Sam and Dean. Sam was much more willing than Dean initially to accept the idea that John might have had a son and kept him secret. Sam’s view of John had always been dramatically different from Dean’s, and I would submit that a large part of that was due to Sam never having known the man John had been before tragedy had turned him into a hardened hunter. Dean had some memories of a gentle and loving dad, and despite having watched John change, clung to the belief – proven true in the end – that the love was still at his core. Having cherished memories of his mom, Dean also saw her as a constant in both his life and John’s, something Sam had never experienced. I think that contributed to Sam being much more open to thinking about John having meaningful relationships with other women. Sam was the one to wonder in Everybody Loves A Clown whether John and Ellen might once have had a fling.
Their reactions to Adam once his paternity was established were also telling. Sam took on the big brother role, reveling in passing on knowledge and skills, having a little brother looking up to him as he had once looked up to Dean. Dean, on the other hand, took on the role he’d realized John had played, wanting to keep Adam innocent and ignorant. In doing that, he also stayed true to himself, hearkening back to a time when he had aided and abetted John in keeping Sam innocent and ignorant. We saw that in Dean in Something Wicked, All Hell Breaks Loose, and A Very Supernatural Christmas; that wistful desire to let innocence and childhood continue.
That both of them were jealous of Adam was also unmistakable. Dean’s bitter anger and pain at realizing that Adam had experienced John as the father Dean hadn’t seen since he was four was brilliantly expressed. At the same time, though, Sam’s near glee in inducting Adam into the hunting life and severing him from the normal existence that Sam himself had once craved seemed as much motivated by the jealous urge to destroy Adam’s normality and happiness in the same way that Sam’s had been destroyed as by any desire to help Adam survive. There were dark tones of envy in both of their reactions to Adam.
As part of this, the reversal of their positions from the situation in Something Wicked was brilliant. In that episode, Dean – desperate to redeem his earlier failure against the shtriga – had advocated telling the boy Michael the truth and using him as bait, while Sam wanted to preserve the boy’s innocence. The biggest difference here was that Dean had grieved the apparent necessity then, even while making the argument, while Sam seemed to relish it now.
Dean’s final observations about Sam and John being the same, and about Sam being much more like John than Dean could ever be, were not intended to be a compliment to Sam. From the beginning of the series, we’ve seen Dean gradually reevaluating his father and his relationship with him, and slowly emerging with much sorrow and pain as his own man. He’s steadily lost his illusions, and while he hasn’t yet come to appreciate his own value independent of his perceptions of John’s scales of judgment, he’s developed the ability finally to see John’s flaws clearly, let himself be angry about them, and still love him unreservedly despite them.
At the same time, however, he’s also finally come to see Sam as a man, not as the image he’s always held in his mind of his beloved kid brother, and Sam the man is as hardened and scarred and damaged as John was. The little brother who loved him and looked up to him seems very far removed from the tall, hulking stranger who, taking a page from John’s book, hides himself in lies even to those closest to him and treats information on a need to know basis that no one but himself needs to know. And Dean, being Dean, likely feels sad and guilty for that because he’ll persuade himself it wouldn’t have happened if he hadn’t failed Sam by dying and leaving him alone. And at the same time, he likely feels angry that Sam failed him by giving up and turning into John instead of remaining who he had been. His brother is turning into his father at the very same time that he can finally admit how fatally flawed his father was; how fatally flawed his brother is. And at the very same time that he has to admit he’s as helpless to be able to save his brother from himself as he was to save his father.
The truth is, though, that Dean did save his father just by being there, being who he was, needing him, and letting John revise his own priorities. And he may yet serve that same role for Sam.
I thoroughly enjoyed this episode. It didn’t directly advance the main arc of the current story – the ghouls weren’t part of the run-up to the apocalypse – but it was a showcase for the themes of family, revenge, and choice that have run throughout this series, and it provided a beautiful look inside both Sam and Dean, highlighting through their relationship with John and each other just how much both of them have changed since we first met them. It particularly displayed Sam’s current mindset and the evolution of Dean’s understanding, which do have a direct bearing on the main mytharc.
Writers Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin, who joined the stable this season with Yellow Fever and After School Special, captured the brothers perfectly in this episode. I particularly loved the way this called back to others throughout the series, echoing everything from Shadow, Something Wicked, and Devil’s Trap to Everybody Loves A Clown, Heart, What Is And What Should Never Be, and Dream A Little Dream Of Me. Sam and Dean were vividly at odds with each other throughout the story and on every single decision, and yet elements of their brotherhood synchronicity remained intact; just watch as they simultaneously begin rock/paper/scissors without a comment or even a look, and give a unison “No!” to Adam when he asks if he has a say in the decision. No matter how far apart the brothers have pulled this season, they still remain linked at the core.
I do have a few script logic quibbles. One was John having obviously torn pages out of his journal, when the journal was kept in a ring binder from which the pages could (and would!) have been cleanly removed. I’ll admit that the jagged stubs of missing pages made a better visual than Sam just saying that some pages must have been missing because dates were skipped, or something similar. Another quibble involved the initial police investigation of Kate’s house; they noted that the nightstand was toppled, but didn’t spot that the bedroom door had been barricaded with a cabinet? If the ghoul had the brains to return and move the cabinet, why didn’t it straighten up the rest of the room? The third one concerned Adam saying that John had showed him how to drive in the Impala, when the timeline for John’s interaction with Adam postdated John having given the Impala to Dean, according to Alex Irvine’s John Winchester’s Journal. Perhaps he borrowed it back once when the truck was out of commission, but that just struck me as wrong.
I loved the way this episode was shot, lit, and cut. Phil Sgriccia’s direction and blocking reinforced the disparity between Dean’s and Sam’s reactions to Adam, keeping Dean always apart from the other two to add physical distance to the emotional arms-length. The shot of Sam and Adam through the bullet hole in the sign was a great stylistic touch. The simple opening was a great mood shot, too; the initial shot of the hallway table in Kate’s house was warmly lit, looking normal, but as she ran by, the light quality changed to the leached color and darkness that are Supernatural’s trademarks, courtesy of the brilliant Serge Ladouceur. The scenes of Dean crawling through the ductwork and being in the tomb featured minimal lighting, much of it provided by Jensen Ackles’ flashlight. Having an actor do his own lighting is a challenge, because the actor has to hit his marks, deliver his lines, execute his actions, and never forget that he’s also responsible for making the light work. That takes a degree of technical awareness, and pulling it off without making the thought behind it obvious takes skill. I’m very grateful that I get to see the show in HD, however; I think the tomb scenes in particular might have been impenetrably dark in standard analog transmission. The editing, particularly between the scenes of Sam and Dean operating independently, with Dean alone on the hunt and Sam together with Adam, timed every reveal to a nicety and built the tension with choppy cuts as the brothers separately realized the truth. Jay Gruska’s underscore did a nice job of matching all the story points.
The art department outdid themselves with sly digs based on the episode’s title. I understand why Eric Kripke used the Jump The Shark title – to head off the inevitable accusation that introducing a third Winchester brother was a jumping the shark moment for the series – but I wish he’d resisted temptation and given the show a title more in keeping with its themes, because the title was just thumbing its nose at critics, not saying anything relevant to the episode itself. Given that they ran with the title, however, the art folks did themselves proud finding ways to work in the references to shark jumping, including the obvious Brady Bunch “Cousin Oliver” salute with the diner’s name; the slap at Sonny Bono’s less than stellar solo career post-Cher in the motel card’s invitation to the “Sonny Buono Lounge;” and my favorite, the poster inside the diner advertising the “Annual Fonzarelli Water Skiing Championship!” I couldn’t make out which annual championship it was, but I would bet that the number corresponded with exactly how many years have passed since Fonzie went water skiing and jumped a shark on Happy Days.
Their little tribute to the late Kim Manners was also sweet. Having the boys stay at Kim Manor and seeing a younger Kim’s smiling, mustachioed face as the headliner for the Sonny Buono Lounge made me laugh out loud, and then miss him all the more. I love that the crew have kept inserting his memory in episodes, and I hope that they keep on doing it in tribute to him and how vital he was to the show.
Musically speaking, in a show so much about John, I missed John’s rock music, but I was amused to hear Burl Ives’ “Little Bitty Tear” in the bar scene with Lisa, Joe Barton’s widow. Never thought I’d hear Burl Ives on Supernatural, and now we’ve heard him twice, since he was the narrator of the Rudolph cartoon playing during A Very Supernatural Christmas. Hearing him this time took me straight back to that Christmas episode and the boys wondering where their father was, even though that episode flashback was nearly two years after the absence that led to the birth of Adam.
I really liked what guest Jake Abel did with Adam. I was sad only that Sam and Dean never met the real Adam; Abel did a great job on portraying the innocent youngest Winchester, even though we met only the ghoul imposter. I thought Abel was very well cast; he looked the part, a plausible son of John Winchester. It didn’t hurt that the costume department put him in a wardrobe twin to what Sam wore in the pilot. And Abel’s performance sold the part.
The other guest I truly applauded was Heather Feeney, who played Lisa Barton. She had a vibe similar to Samantha Ferris’s Ellen, and I enjoyed her interaction with Jensen Ackles’ Dean in the bar scene. Dedee Pfeiffer, Michelle Pfeiffer’s wilder sister, played Kate, but we didn’t get to see enough of real-Kate to understand what John Winchester found irresistible about her.
I tend to go on at length about both Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki this season, but the truth is, they both deserve it. Jared’s Sam has been walking a fine line this season, edging ever closer to a fatal demonic fall while still truly believing in his mission, loving his brother, and wanting to reconnect with him even while not knowing how to do it through all the lies. Jensen’s Dean sold every moment of this episode; watching Dean first vehemently resisting any revision of his father’s memory and then coming to accept the truth about Adam, even while deploring Sam’s insistence on inducting Adam into the hunting life, was heartbreaking. And watching him finally admitting what he’d realized about Sam’s mirror to John was pure grief.
My final comment is about John. I wasn’t sure how I felt about John’s response to learning he had another son. It didn’t bother me to think that John, in a time of weakness, had found comfort with a caring woman, and I don’t doubt that Adam was accidentally conceived. John’s decision to try being something of a father to the son who had sought him out, and to try giving the boy the best possible chance at a normal existence even though he’d failed to do that with his first two sons also felt right to me, given what I know and understand about John.
But the thing I can’t quite forgive him is having lied to Dean, of all people, about where he was going and what he was doing when he went off to spend time with Adam, especially after Sam rebelled and left for Stanford. I dare say he was ashamed, comparing the gentleness and fun he shared with Adam to the training and discipline he’d imposed on Sam and Dean, and I’m certain he was afraid to tarnish the luster of Dean’s worship of his mother and the shrine of John’s love for her, and I don’t doubt that leaving the little bits and happiness of normal life to return always to the hunt was excruciatingly hard. But lying to Dean when the loss of his brother had left him truly alone: to my mind, that remains the blackest mark in John’s book, and the one that may hurt Dean the most.
Like father, like Sam?
My apologies for how late this is: I was sick for part of the weekend, and it's kinda hard to type when you're curled up on the floor feeling rotten! All better now, though!