5.12 Swap Meat: All You Gotta Do Is Say Yes
Nerdy teen witches
With a body-swap weapon
Use Sam to hunt Dean.
At a bar, an uncharacteristically immature Sam, introducing himself as
Thirty-six hours earlier, the brothers arrived in
Stopping at a diner for lunch, Dean commented on Donna still looking good and the family hanging tough despite the Amityville strangeness. He asked Sam if he ever wanted a wife and kids, but Sam shook his head and said it wasn’t his thing any more. Turning to his research, Sam said the Pickett farm house was hundreds of years old, and that according to local legend, the man who owned the house back in 1720 hung a woman named Maggie Briggs in his backyard for witchcraft. Thinking they were dealing with an angry ghost witch but not understanding the murdered child aspect or knowing where the witch was buried, Sam decided to try looking in local records. Neither of the brothers noticed Gary, the teenaged boy who had filled Dean’s lunch order, watching them closely.
That night as he walked back through the town, Sam told Dean on the phone that he’d had no luck even confirming a woman named Maggie Briggs ever existed. Hanging up after they agreed to pick up the hunt again in the morning, Sam heard a twig snap as he crossed a vacant lot. He saw nothing, but was hit in the neck by a tranquilizer dart, and fell unconscious. Waking up hours later disoriented and confused, he was picked up by a cop car as he walked down the street. The cop called him Gary Frankel and said his family was worried sick about him, and he drove Sam to a suburban house where a middle-aged couple greeted him as their son. Catching a glimpse of his reflection in the cop car window, Sam finally realized he was in the body of teenaged
Meanwhile, Sam/Gary called every one of their cellphones in succession, leaving messages for Dean to call him, trying to explain that he was in the wrong body. He called the motel, only to be told that the guys had checked out in the middle of the night and left. Searching through his room for clues to who Gary was, he found advanced scholastic papers marking him a bright kid, a collection of Star Wars t-shirts marking him a virgin, and in a box under the bed, porn magazines and the jackpot: a bag marked with witchcraft symbols containing a knife. Summoned to breakfast with
Gary/Sam, meanwhile, was trying to fit into Sam’s life and understand what kind of work Dean and Sam did. Dean said they’d have to search graveyards for headstones since Sam hadn’t been able to learn where Maggie Briggs was buried, but Gary/Sam, recognizing the name, proved a font of information, which he pretended to have learned the night before. He said she was buried in the basement of the house, and that, contrary to the legend of Pickett having hung her for witchcraft, he’d killed and buried her because she was carrying his illegitimate child. With that explaining the “murdered chylde” mystery, they got in the car to drive back to the house to dig up and burn the bones. Gary/Sam encouraged Dean to turn up the rock music. Wondering at his odd attitude but not looking a gift horse in the mouth, Dean obliged.
At the house, Gary/Sam behaved like a kid acting a part in a role-playing game, raising Dean’s eyebrows with his oddball enthusiasm and statements of the obvious. Dean started to dig up the grave in the basement, and didn’t see Gary/Sam pointing the shotgun at him. The kid apologized as he started to squeeze the trigger, but before he could get a shot off or Dean could look up, the ghost flung Gary/Sam aside. Dean raced to the rescue, finding
Back outside the high school, Trevor and Nora challenged Sam/Gary as he left with the grimoire, uncharacteristically cutting classes, and Trevor shot him with the tranquilizer gun.
At the bar from the opening scene after the hunt, Dean ordered drinks and dinner, deliberately laying on the cholesterol in his order, and was nonplussed when Gary/Sam ordered the same. Surprised to hear Gary/Sam call a random, d-list ghost hunt a “really awesome day,” he noted that it really wasn’t Sam’s style. Gary/Sam, proclaiming himself a “new me” happy with having a gun and getting drunk, asked Dean if he ever felt like his whole future was being decided for him, that no matter how much you fought it, you couldn’t stop the plan, and said it just felt nice to do a little ass-kicking for a change. Dean expressed surprise that they were actually drinking together. Gary/Sam called Dean a good guy, and Dean confirmed that he was drunk. Seeming more sober and a bit chastened, Gary/Sam insisted that Dean really was a good guy. Digging into his dinner, he rhapsodized about the bread being worth it. Some time later, with dinner finished, Dean saw Gary/Sam leaving with the cougar from the bar, fairly dancing with excitement about going to have sex.
Sam/Gary woke up tied to a chair in the basement of Trevor’s house as Trevor called Gary/Sam. During the conversation, it became clear that
Gary/Sam, returning to the motel, snuck into the room. Seeing Dean apparently asleep, a vague shape under blankets, he picked up a gun and took aim – but Dean had laid a trap and subdued him, saying he wasn’t Sam and demanding to know who he was.
Sam/Gary begged Trevor to stop, but he completed the summoning, only to have a demon manifest inside Nora. The demon got Dean’s location from Trevor, and realizing Sam was trapped in
Using the motel phone to check his cellphone messages, Dean heard enough of Sam’s 38 urgent phone calls to understand what the teens had done. As he questioned
I enjoyed the way this episode unexpectedly turned an apparent standalone monster-of-the-week story into a relevant piece of the apocalypse arc. I was less impressed with its commentary on the current state of the brothers’ relationship. In this discussion, I explore the relationship of body and soul, and then address why it took so long for Dean to challenge not-Sam.
An Empty Vessel Waiting To Be Filled
I will confess, until this episode it hadn’t occurred to me that someone else could say “yes” to Lucifer on Sam’s behalf. In retrospect, it makes sense: Lucifer needs Sam’s body, not his soul, to be his vessel. Being an angel, not a demon, Lucifer needs the permission of the resident soul to enter into a body, as we learned in Sympathy For The Devil and Free To Be You And Me. Now we know the resident soul doesn’t need to be the body’s original one. A demon, however, evidently couldn’t serve in place of a truly human soul, or Sam would have been killed and his body reanimated by a demon long since. Nor would possession work, since the human soul, however subjugated by the demon, would still be in residence. The body is what Lucifer needs, but it’s not the body than can say yes or no; it’s the soul within, speaking through the body.
We’ve gotten information before on the importance of bodies. Back in Death Takes A Holiday, Alastair taunted disembodied Sam with his inability to use his demon-expelling powers: Well, go on: why don’t you try some of your mojo on me now, hotshot? It’s hard to get it up when you’re not wearing your meat, huh? That wasn’t a comment on the relative inability of ghosts to affect their environment; the brothers had already demonstrated in their fight with the demons that they’d mastered Cole’s lessons on using ghost powers when outside of their bodies. Alastair’s comment was specifically directed to Sam’s special demon-related abilities, and indicated they were tied to his body, not to his soul.
Similarly, in The Rapture, we learned implicitly from the experience of Jimmy and his daughter Claire that only certain people can be vessels for angels, and the ability has a physical, most likely genetic component. Of Claire, Castiel said, She’s chosen. It’s in her blood, as it was in yours. We know from Castiel’s transference between Jimmy and Claire that – for most angels, at least – there isn’t just a single possible suitable vessel, but a number of options. However, Zachariah in Sympathy For The Devil and The End identified Dean as being the vessel for Michael, the only one chosen and evidently the only one possible. Castiel, talking in Free To Be You And Me about the difference between Michael and Raphael, indicated Michael was much more powerful than his brother archangel and his presence would have a correspondingly much more deleterious effect on his human host. This implies the inherent power of an angel limits the physical vessels suitable to hold it. We don’t know what would make Dean the one and only human vessel able to contain Michael, designated by prophecy, but one possibility might be his resurrection by angel. Dean is the only human we know of whose soul was lifted from Hell by an angel, and whose shredded and decomposing body was restored to physical perfection – barring the angel handprint burned into his shoulder – by an angel. Dean is unique in both body and soul, but does his suitability for Michael require both, or only one? Or is it something else entirely?
By all accounts, Lucifer may be the closest match to Michael in power in angelic terms, and that suggests his suitable vessels are similarly limited. We learned in Lucifer Rising that Lucifer had sent Azazel to find a special child for him. Combining that mission with what we learned in All Hell Breaks Loose and In The Beginning, we discovered Azazel had carefully selected strong, pure people with whom to make deals, intending to return ten years later to drip demon blood into the mouths of their six-month-old babies to make them big and strong, gifted with psychic abilities. He pitted those grown-up children against each other to find the strongest among them, and we know now it wasn’t really to lead the demon army, but to identify the perfect vessel for Lucifer. I’m betting neither Lucifer nor Azazel could foresee and specifically identify the one perfect vessel, and Azazel simply followed orders to seed potential angel vessels with demon powers and use a process of elimination to find the right one of prophecy.
Lucifer told Sam in Free To Be You And Me that Nick was an improvisation, a vessel barely able to contain him without spontaneously combusting, and we saw Nick’s physical deterioration bearing that out in Abandon All Hope. Nick clearly wasn’t one of Azazel’s carefully prepared targets: he appears to be older than Sam, and wasn’t part of Azazel’s psychic kids death match games. My guess is Nick has the genetic predisposition to be a suitable host for an angel, but either he lacks the innate physical strength to contain archangelic or higher power, or Lucifer’s unique combination of angelic power and evil mandates a strong, angelically suitable vessel specifically prepared for him – like Sam – with the addition of a demon taint, perhaps one administered early enough in life to inoculate the body against breakdown when exposed to the full force of Lucifer, or to ensure the body’s development of powers and a tolerance for using them that Lucifer could exploit once in residence.
We’ve known since Meg said it in Sympathy For The Devil that Dean is Hell’s most wanted, and that was reinforced by the demon in I Believe The Children Are Our Future saying hurting Dean was encouraged. It was no surprise to hear that Hell has a bounty on Dean’s head. Hell reaching out to Satanists to spread the word is equivalent to Zachariah’s faction in The End having reached out to fringe evangelicals to put a network of human spies on the alert for the
It’s unclear what purpose the bounty on Dean actually serves, however. If the demons don’t know about Dean’s supposed role as Michael’s vessel, removing him from the equation would make sense as part of the attempt to wear Sam down to the point where he would say yes to Lucifer. If the demons are aware of the fate the angels plan for him, there may be a desire to deprive Michael of his singular vessel, but since the angels resurrected him once already, they would most likely do so again. Lucifer told Sam flat-out that he would simply bring Sam back if he killed himself trying to escape; the demons must realize the angels would do the same. Like ships, vessel bodies evidently can be rebuilt – but apparently their souls have to be a part of that process. We learned in this episode that with the right spell, souls can be swapped between human bodies, but that magic appears to take humans – not demons or angels – to accomplish: a soul changing places with another soul.
For me, the importance of this plot point was twofold. First, it identified a danger of which we weren’t consciously aware: that someone could replace Sam in his body and surrender it to Lucifer. Hopefully the brothers have now taken steps to make that harder, whether by a device against body-swapping similar to their tattoos against prevention, or by the institution of a verbal code (jerk/bitch comes to mind) to use as a no-penalty test anytime doubt surfaced.
Second and more important, however, is that this separation of body and soul emphasized to me that Sam’s soul remains his own. What Azazel did in feeding him demon blood as a baby may have altered his body, but it didn’t touch his soul. If his demon-related powers had been part of his soul or spirit rather than linked to his body, he should have been able to access them during Death Takes A Holiday. What Ruby did in addicting him to demon blood and influencing his decisions was more insidious because she played on his emotions to encourage him to choose the wrong path, and that choice affected the core of who he is. But as it was his misguided choice that led him there, his informed choice can now lead him back. Free will, free choice. Free Sam.
You’re Not Sam
The hardest thing for me to accept about this story was the length of time it took for Dean to realize that Sam wasn’t Sam and do something about it. The story suggested that, unlike the situation in Skin, when Sam realized in seconds that the shapeshifter was not Dean, it took Dean nearly a full day to realize that “Sam” wasn’t his brother. That in turn suggested either that Dean was incredibly obtuse, or that the brothers’ relationship had deteriorated so far from the developing relative closeness of the first season that Dean really couldn’t recognize when his brother wasn’t his brother any more even when it should have been obvious.
I thought the script stretched Dean’s acceptance of “Sam’s” oddities beyond belief. I cut it slack, however, for four reasons. The first is, Dean clearly noticed “Sam’s” strange behavior right from the start. He knew there was something wrong even if he didn’t know exactly what it was. Dean isn’t obtuse, not about that. He was bothered and questioning, but didn’t show it openly to Sam.
Second, I felt Dean had legitimate reason to wonder if some of the changes might not have been Sam attempting – clumsily but earnestly, and without being chick-flicky – to reach out to mend emotional fences with him, especially after Sam’s realization in the last episode of his anger issues and how they had colored his life. For example, Sam offering a food apology for being late and having lost track of time, or inviting Dean to turn up the music, felt like some other conciliatory and deliberately cultivated, non-judgmental gestures on his part in the past, particularly in very early season three (for example, The Magnificent Seven) when Sam was trying awkwardly to be nice to him as Dean played the “dying soon” card.
Third was the difference in circumstances between this episode and Skin. In Skin, Sam knew at the time they were hunting a creature able to change its shape to match anyone; he was sensitized to the nature of the monster they were hunting and intimately aware of the danger that the creature might be anyone, including the “brother” he’d been separated from while on the hunt. In this episode, Dean had no reason to conclude immediately that a substitution was likely. Sam was protected against possession by his tattoo and nothing in the case or the area suggested shapeshifters or body-swapping spells.
The fourth point, however, is the one on which I place the most weight. I believe Dean hesitated to confront “Sam” precisely because he’d spent the entire previous year, almost two, questioning and doubting Sam, with painfully bad results. Since the end of Fallen Idols, we’ve seen the brothers trying to ignore the broken trust between them in the silent hope the elephant in the room would go away if they didn’t look at or talk about it, and if they pretended everything was back to normal. I think the largest part of Dean’s postponement of challenging Sam was born of his desire not to start up that fight between them again by expressing doubt of his brother. If Sam really had still been Sam, he would have noticed immediately had Dean attempted to test him with silver or holy water or the name of Christ. Had that happened, there would have been an explosion with Sam angrily resenting Dean’s continued doubt, and their relationship would have lost whatever trust ground it’s recently regained. I think Dean didn’t want to hazard that, and found excuses to try explaining the strangeness away.
I think it was only exacerbated by some of Gary/Sam’s oddities being designed – accidentally on his part – to appeal to Dean. Sam joining in instead of ragging on his unhealthy diet, Sam inviting the music to be turned up, Sam sitting with him and paying attention and talking rather than always having the barrier of his laptop open between them, Sam being invested in the hunt and evidently enjoying it – all those things reflected experiences Dean would like to share with his brother, free from recriminations. That echoed his acceptance of Nick the siren in Sex and Violence, and I think many of the same factors were in play. But I think the most important one was Dean not wanting to drive a bigger wedge between them by seeming to doubt and accuse Sam yet again. Only when he was absolutely certain “Sam” wasn’t Sam did he go on the attack.
All that said, however, I did think the story pushed the situation too far for belief, especially with Gary/Sam’s inability to drive the Impala, his gleefully immature behavior entering the house on the hunt, and his freak-out when the ghost appeared. None of those could possibly have been construed as Sam trying to be conciliatory. All of them spoke to Gary/Sam being someone other than Sam, with none of Sam’s experience and zero knowledge of hunting. The only thing that really worked in
This is not an episode I’ll be coming back to often because there frankly wasn’t much to it, and the nature of much of its humor made me uncomfortable. I don’t find people embarrassing themselves to be particularly funny. Instead of laughing, I tend to get embarrassed on their behalf, so a lot of the awkward Sam/Gary humor in this episode wasn’t to my taste. I was far too aware of how mortified and outraged Sam would have been to see what
I’d love to hear Robert Singer’s thoughts on directing this episode. I’m particularly interested to learn whether Singer decided to have which actors portraying which characters in particular scenes, or whether that was something contained in Julie Siege’s script. The conceit of having Jared Padalecki usually portraying Sam wearing Gary’s body and Colton James usually portraying Gary wearing Sam’s body helped us to keep track of who was in which body when, but it produced some oddities as well. For example, it felt strange to have
Speaking of mirrors, I really loved how they were used here. If that was specifically in the script, it’s my favorite touch from the writing of this episode, along with the twist of the plot two-thirds of the way through the story. Props to director Bob Singer on how he framed mirrors in his shots and took us in and out of them. Mirrors have always been important symbols in Supernatural. They have most often revealed the truth of things (e.g., monsters’ true shapes in The Kids Are Alright and Sam, Interrupted), so having the mirrors always show the reality of the physical body reinforced the importance of that body. We only ever saw Jared as Sam when Sam was in his own body, or when we were seeing Gary/Sam in a mirror. In effect, when we looked directly at the characters, we saw the animating soul; when we looked in the mirror, in what usually showed the truth of things, we saw the body. For a story in which the whole point was that possession of the body was nine-tenths of the law, having the body, not the soul, be the truth that showed in the mirror really reinforced that point.
The script by Julie Siege, based on a story by Siege, Rebecca Dessertine (who co-wrote the second Supernatural comic book series, Rising Son), and Harvey Fedor (who is listed as a key grip doing camera and lighting setups on films and shows, including episodes of Supernatural), did suffer from a lot of weaknesses, particularly including not showing us why Dean took a relatively long time to challenge Gary/Sam. I found some of the character and thematic work hamfisted and obvious, especially the discussions between Sam and Dean on their current relative attitudes toward normal lives. It’s already been made apparent more than once that the brothers have flipped on that issue; their two discussions in this episode felt like clunky retreads. Gary looking in the Impala’s glove box and finding all the additional cell phones was a necessary plot element to prevent Sam from alerting Dean to the situation, but it felt forced since Gary had no reason to think the brothers had a cell phone stash. Dean not noticing the absence of his cell also didn’t ring true. I’ve already mentioned my personal problem with the nature of the humor, but even getting there was forced; for example, Sam snagging a piece of toast off Gary’s mother’s plate was done purely for the gluten allergy bathroom joke, and didn’t fit Sam’s normal behavior.
The script also assumed an indifference to consequences endemic to horror films but very out of place on Supernatural. Admittedly, Trevor the moron earned his comeuppance, but I wondered how all the characters blithely ignored that his mutilated body was left in his parents’ basement, and I was bothered by Gary being apparently totally unaffected by and seemingly oblivious to his death. At least Nora looked shaken from her exorcism through the end of the episode.
On the performance side, I particularly enjoyed Sarah Drew as Nora for her spectacular job both as Nora and as the demon in Nora’s body. What a dramatic switch, and beautifully done! Colton James as
I really enjoyed the mirroring performances by
The pairing of
The locations were instantly familiar – we’ve seen Steveston many times before in such memorable episodes as Bloody Mary, Route 666, and Mystery Spot, among others – but director Singer used different locales in the town and shot from different angles to make it a new place. For sheer beauty, it would be hard to top the scene of the Impala driving past the cannery toward the water after Gary/Sam supplied the real information on the ghost: it had the perfect combination of color and motion, with spectacular lighting accented by a lens flare. I don’t know whether the visual effects people touched that up to make the colors more dramatic or not, but the end result was gorgeous either way.
On the effects and editing side, I had only one quibble: Dean listening to Sam’s urgent voicemail messages should have been hearing
My last production note is a celebratory one: bravo for having rock music in the score again! This time, it was Bob Seger’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll Never Forgets.”
While I won’t return to this episode often, I do appreciate the way its separation of body and soul reinforced one of the core messages of Supernatural. Just in case we’d missed noticing it before, we were told again that whatever is done to us, whatever is planned for us, we make the choices that decide who and what we will be in our innermost selves. We may not have been infected with demon blood as babies, raised on the fringes as hunters, or selected as the tools of prophecy, but we all confront events and circumstances beyond our control and face expectations imposed on us by others. Whatever happens to us, however, whether good or bad, we decide how to deal with it. That is the one thing we can control. That is our responsibility. We can whinge, complain, and blame others for those things, or we can take positive steps – even small ones – to change what we can for the better and find the happiness within the limits of the things we can’t affect. We can give in to peer, parental, or other pressure, or stand up for our own beliefs. We can be selfish and self-absorbed or generous and empathic. We can boast or be humble. We can ignore or we can help. All of those decisions are ours to make, and all have consequences. And all together determine who we are and how we live.
No matter how good or bad they are, it’s not the things that happen to us that matter. What matters is how we deal with them.
Sam’s choice. Dean’s choice.
The icon on this one is mine, from a cap by raloria . Thanks, sweet!