Fear your family dog:
Sleeper skinwalker army
Pretend to be pets.
In Buffalo, NY, a businessman leaving a seedy bar was attacked and killed by something that jumped up onto the hood of his car and burst in through the windshield.
At a roadside lunch stop, Dean’s phone call with Bobby was interrupted by the abrupt arrival of Crowley, who announced he had a job for the brothers. Dean insisted he wasn’t their boss, but Crowley pointed out they’d been working for him for some time already, and added Sam had been working for him even longer. Sam protested they hadn’t known, but Crowley scoffed that it wouldn’t have made a difference to him anyway, saying Sam would sell Dean for a dollar if he needed a soda. When Dean insisted he wouldn’t do Crowley’s bidding, Crowley bet otherwise and reached over to touch the back of Sam’s hand with one finger. Sam’s skin instantly burned and blistered, and Crowley told Dean this wasn’t a deal, but a hostage situation. He said he owned Sam, and when he asked Dean if he understood, Dean cut eyes toward Sam in silent acknowledgment. Crowley snapped his fingers and Sam’s pain cut off as his hand was fully healed. Crowley offered as incentive for obedience that if the brothers brought him a live alpha, he would restore Sam’s soul. Sam asked if the alpha vampire hadn’t been good enough for him, and Crowley advised him to be careful where he poked his nose if he wanted to keep it. Crowley pulled out a newspaper story about the dead businessman, slain in his car by an apparent animal attack and with his heart missing. Sam jumped to the obvious conclusion – werewolf – and when Dean protested that the lunar cycle was wrong, Sam supported Crowley’s assertion that expected behaviors were passé by noting he and Samuel had killed a werewolf on the half-moon six months earlier. Crowley told them to bag the howler and bring it home to him, and disappeared.
As they drove into the night toward Buffalo, with Sam calmly reporting the victim had been an unsavory character owning a bunch of slum apartments and a few houses, Dean tried to come to terms with Sam simply methodically working the case for Crowley while he himself was still upset about the very idea of working for a demon and about not knowing who Sam really was. Sam maintained he was still himself, with the same memories, musical taste, and even sexual fantasies; he admitted he couldn’t change what he’d done in letting Dean get turned by a vampire, but insisted he intended to prove he was still Dean’s brother.
In Buffalo the next day, the brothers posed as Federal agents to investigate another death by apparent animal attack, this time a dock worker also missing a heart. Dean was taken aback by Sam’s over-the-top arrogant-Fed attitude in questioning the local cop, but went along and even joined in with incredulity when the cop insisted it was an animal attack despite how unlikely it would be that a wild animal would have been on the docks.
The next morning, Dean, lying still fully clothed where he’d fallen asleep on top of the bed, woke up in their motel room to discover Sam, who obviously hadn’t slept, ready to continue the next step of the investigation. Sam reported having spent the night playing “connect the victims,” since the M.O. of werewolves was that they killed whomever they hated when they turned wolf. In their Federal agent disguises, they visited the home of Sam’s prime suspect, Cal Garrigan, the brother of the slain dockworker who was living with his girlfriend Mandy and her young son Aidan in a house they’d rented from the dead businessman, who’d filed eviction papers on them because they were behind in the rent. At the house, they were met by Mandy, who sent her son to play in his room after escorting them into the kitchen, which was also occupied by the family dog, a German Shepherd named Lucky. When Cal appeared, obviously nursing a bad hangover, Lucky growled threateningly at him. Cal maintained he’d just been out the night before having a few beers with friends, but Sam asked why he was sweating vodka. Observing he’d obviously slept in his clothes, Sam and Dean posited he’d blacked out and passed out drunk, and guessed he had no way to know what he’d been up to at night. Cal admitted he and his brother hadn’t been on good terms, saying his brother was volatile and the last time he’d been at their house, he’d shoved Mandy and been yelling, so Cal had called the cops on him. Challenged about his landlord also being dead, he objected that both had been animal attacks. Having sown their seeds of doubt, the brothers left. Sam, ready to assume Cal was the werewolf, was prepared to bag him then and there, but Dean insisted they make sure before handing him over to Crowley.
Following Cal that night, they tracked him through a whole series of bars with a final stop at a repair shop where he had yet more drinks with friends. Once daylight arrived, however, an exhausted Dean packed in the stakeout, observing Cal was still on two legs, not four, and the brothers drove off. After they left, Cal, the last of the friends to leave the drinking party, saw Lucky the dog beside his truck. The dog attacked him, dragging him under the pickup – and then a naked, blood-spattered man stood up in place of the dog, panting for breath.
Back at Cal and Mandy’s house, the naked man watched Mandy sleeping, then transformed back into the dog and leaped up onto the bed to settle down beside her. When Mandy later woke up to find Cal still not home, she hugged the dog and told him he was the only decent boyfriend she’d ever had. The dog watched avidly as she undressed and got into the shower.
At the scene of Cal’s death, Dean was bemused by the very idea of a werewolf transforming and attacking in daylight. Sam pointed out that Cal’s death, in addition to removing him as a suspect, pointed to his girlfriend Mandy as being the only other logical suspect, and asked whether Dean would be able to hand her over to Crowley. Dean said he could, but then looked after Sam with disturbed eyes.
Mandy, meanwhile, was at home with her son, checking him for fever and offering him juice to feel better. Lucky showed up with a squeaky stuffed animal toy, and Mandy laughed that the dog knew Aidan wasn’t feeling well and wanted him to feel better. A bit later, Mandy collected Lucky from his position in front of the television set, teasing the dog about watching the morning news – which was reporting on the recent animal attacks – and attaching a collar and leash to take the dog out for a walk. Noticing a little blood smeared on the dog’s fur, Mandy scolded him for having been a bad dog, assuming he had killed a bird. At the end of their walk, Mandy was met by Sam and Dean, come to talk to her about Cal. They were surprised no one had called her yet, and broke the news of Cal’s death. They tried to persuade her to come with them – ostensibly to take her in to answer questions, but really to deal with her as the suspect werewolf – but when she mentioned having been up all night with her son because he had the flu, Dean realized she couldn’t have been the werewolf, while Sam simply assumed she was lying.
Dean prevailed and the two of them left the house with Sam still protesting that Mandy’d had time to wolf out. Dean insisted on making sure before handing anyone over to Crowley. Sam suggested Dean check out Cal’s crime scene in case they were missing anything while he would come back and stake out Amanda’s place to keep watch. Not trusting Sam, Dean proposed they exchange assignments, but Sam insisted he still knew how to do his job and promised he would only watch. He told Dean to trust him, and Dean reluctantly conceded.
That night, watching Amanda’s house from the park across the street, Sam saw Lucky the dog trot into the living room – and then a naked man stood up where the dog had been. Grabbing his binoculars to get a closer view and confirm what he saw, Sam pulled and cocked his gun. Seeing the human Lucky leaving the house, evidently dressed in some of Cal’s clothes, Sam hid; the man sniffed suspiciously as he approached the place where Sam had stood waiting, but then continued on his way. Concealed by the wall of a building, Sam watched, gun drawn and aimed, as Lucky met another man in the park. While they were too far away for Sam to hear their conversation, it was obvious the other man was upset with Lucky, evidently reading him the riot act and then leaving. Dejected, Lucky started back toward the house, but he stopped while still a hundred yards away, sniffing; evidently detecting the scent of Sam and gun oil, he took off running in the opposite direction, and Sam chased him. Lucky transformed from man into dog on the run, skinning out of his clothes and leaving them behind. Running out into the street, Lucky was hit by a passing minivan, and the people in the van, shocked by having hit a dog, bundled him into the van and drove off as Sam pelted onto the scene, calling out that the dog was his.
Meanwhile, Dean sat disconsolately in their motel room looking at his phone and contemplating calling Lisa, only to reject the idea. Sam called Dean to tell him they weren’t dealing with a werewolf, but a skinwalker taking the form of the family dog. As Dean reached for John’s journal to refresh his memory on skinwalkers, Sam said he’d gotten the lowdown from Bobby that they were cousins to werewolves with similar weaknesses for hearts and silver, but with the ability to change at any time and to infect others with a single bite. Sam admitted not having caught him, but said he had an idea where he might be. The next morning, the brothers visited the local animal shelter, finding Lucky in a cage. Dean showed him the silver bullets in the clip of his gun. Holding up both clothing and a pronged silver choke chain, he told Lucky they could do this either the easy or the hard way; Lucky evidently opted for the human easy way and wound up in human form tied to a chair in the brothers’ motel room with rope wrapped in silver.
During their interrogation, Sam played “bad cop” with poorly timed dog jokes, but Dean realized Lucky truly cared for Amanda and Aidan, understanding he’d killed people he considered threats to them. Dean pressed to know about the guy Lucky had met in the park, asking if he was a skinwalker too. Lucky resisted until Dean pointed out that if he didn’t share information, he’d be putting Amanda and Aidan in danger. Dean maintained they didn’t care about him, but only wanted to protect the innocents. Lucky reluctantly admitted the guy he’d met was the same kind of thing he was, and said they weren’t alone; he said there were thirty of them in town. He said he’d been living on the streets, and was promised that after one small bite he’d be faster and stronger; he confessed it had been a real step up for him. He told the brothers all the recruits were pretending to be pets, waiting for the signal to simultaneously turn all the members of their adoptive families into skinwalkers, upping their numbers to make 30 into 150 in one night. Appalled, Dean referred to them as sleeper cells, and Lucky agreed. He said there was a pack leader, but when Sam jumped to the conclusion his pack leader was their Alpha, the first and strongest of their kind, Lucky said their leader was strong but he was pretty sure there were guys like him in other towns, that there were other packs out there. Dean said Lucky could help them stop him, and when Lucky demurred, saying the guys who turned him were ruthless, Dean challenged him to think about what he would really do to his family, asking if he could put his jaws around the little boy’s throat and clamp down while the boy cried for his mother. Dean guessed these were the only people in Lucky’s life who had ever shown him any kindness, and he pitched the only choices facing Lucky as either turning on those who cared for him or helping the brothers stop it.
Later, with Lucky in play helping them, Sam asked how they were supposed to get close to a creature who could smell them a hundred yards away. Opening a case in the Impala’s trunk to display a sniper rifle, Dean responded that they wouldn’t. Surprised and a bit dismayed, Sam questioned whether Dean meant to take out the pack leader. When Dean agreed, Sam observed Crowley wouldn’t be pleased, arguing the pack leader could get them to an Alpha and secure the restoration of Sam’s soul. Dean flatly refused to take a chance on the pack leader broadcasting the signal to turn 150 more innocent people into monsters, and was disturbed to realize Sam not only couldn’t fathom the right and wrong of the situation, but even asked about the balance of the equation with no sense of one versus many. Dean challenged him, saying straight-out that whatever he was, he wasn’t Sam; Den agreed it was Sam’s body and maybe his brain, but it wasn’t truly Sam. He told Sam flatly to stop pretending, and stalked away with the gun.
Lucky paced nervously in front of a factory building while Dean watched him through the rifle scope from a nearby rooftop. Sitting on the roof beside Dean, loading silver bullets into the clip of his gun, Sam observed the logical thing for Lucky to do would be to double-cross them. When Dean said Lucky would go through with it because he loved the family, Sam said if it were him, he would double-cross them. A black SUV pulled up and several men got out, including the driver Sam recognized as the man who had met Lucky in the park. Dean couldn’t get a clean shot at the obvious leader, however, because he was always surrounded by his larger bodyguards, and knowing they’d only have one shot, he refused to take a chance on missing. As the brothers watched, guards brought Mandy and her son out of the back of the SUV to use as leverage against Lucky. Sam advocated taking the shot even though Mandy was in the way, but Dean refused – and then the pack entered the building and the opportunity was lost.
Inside the building, Mandy pleaded to be released. The driver, acting as the pack’s lieutenant, told Lucky there was nothing he could do because the boss was really pissed; Lucky hadn’t gotten permission for the murders he’d committed, and the attention he’d drawn threatened the overall plan. The lieutenant said he’d tried to warn Lucky, but now it was too late: he had to turn both Amanda and Aidan in front of all the rest, or the lieutenant would kill all three of them. The man abruptly stopped speaking, sniffing and wondering what he was smelling – and Sam walked into the room, shooting the pack leader in the face and taking out another of the pack with a heart shot even as Dean, from a high vantage all the way across the building, killed two others with heart shots from the sniper rifle. The rest scattered, and Sam went in pursuit. Lucky persuaded Mandy – who of course didn’t recognize him as anyone she knew – to flee with him, and he guided her to an office, telling her to bolt the door shut while he took up a position on guard outside it. Tracking them with the rifle, Dean had clear shots at Lucky, but didn’t take them.
The man Sam had followed transformed to a Doberman and hunted Sam in turn, but Sam shot the dog even as it leaped at him, and a naked human body hit the floor. Another of the pack turned canine and charged Dean; with the barrel of the rifle caught in wire mesh, Dean pulled his hand gun and killed the dog, who fell as a dead human. The lieutenant faced off with Lucky, who stood his ground to defend Mandy and her son despite being much smaller and weaker than the lieutenant. When the man hit Lucky, smashing him back into the door, Lucky – much to Mandy’s horrified surprise – transformed into his German Shepherd form to try to fight, but the lieutenant stayed human, pulled a gun, and shot him. His first shot didn’t kill, however, leaving Lucky lying on the floor in dog form; when he moved forward to get a clean killing shot, Dean killed him with a sniper shot. Sam, arriving to see all the pack dead except for Lucky, checked his clip and then went to finish Lucky, but when he came around the corner, the dog was gone.
The next day, in his human form, Lucky knocked on Amanda’s door. He told her she and Aidan were the only family he’d ever had, and no one had ever been so nice to him before. Saying apologetically that he knew how that sounded and what he was, he thanked her. Calling him a psycho, she told him to get away from her house, and threatened him if he ever came near Aidan or her. She slammed and locked the door. Disconsolate, Lucky transformed back into a dog and trotted slowly away down the street, alone.
Stopping at a park bench for lunch, looking at people out walking and playing with their dogs, Dean observed he’d never look at a dog the same way again and speculated how many packs might be out there, waiting for the hidden Alpha’s signal to turn on their families. Sam told Dean he was right: Sam wasn’t his brother, wasn’t Sam, and all the things he’d said about still being the same guy were crap. He said he’d been acting like he cared about Lisa and Ben when he couldn’t care less, and admitted he didn’t really even care about Dean, except that he needed Dean’s help and had realized Dean wouldn’t stick around much longer unless he gave it to him straight. Sam proceeded to admit that he’d done worse things than Dean knew, including killing innocent people while on the hunt; things he was pretty sure the old Sam couldn’t have done. He wondered if he should feel guilty about that, but admitted he didn’t. Saying he didn’t know if his current state was better or worse, only that he knew it was different, he said he got the job done and nothing really hurt, and observed that wasn’t the worst thing. But he said he’d lately been thinking he’d been that other Sam for a long time, and it was kind of harder; but there were also things he remembered about it that … he couldn’t put into words. He concluded that he should probably go back to being that other Sam. Considering his words, Dean conceded that was a step, and concluded they’d do what they had to do and get his brother back.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
This was a sad episode both for the pointed if imperfect parallels between Dean and Lucky and particularly for the impact on Dean of Sam’s admission of the truth about knowing he wasn’t whom he’d pretended to be, but I also found it ultimately a hopeful one. I think this was the bottom we and the brothers had to reach before we could start finding the way back up to hope. Now that we’ve hit nadir, we can push off the bottom and start to rise. In this discussion, I’m going to discuss the significance of Sam telling truths and the truths that he told, and how I see the imperfect parallels between Dean and Lucky as pointing out the differences rather than the similarities between them. I’m also going to make an observation about the brothers and sleep.
Just – Stop Pretending, And Do Us Both A Favor
I think the scene under the bridge where Dean told Sam to stop pretending because no matter what he said, he wasn’t Sam, represented a crucial break. Dean’s insistence that Sam wasn’t his brother Sam was exactly the same thing he’d been saying for this entire season, but this time it carried a ring of disgusted finality that spurred Sam into changing his tactics precisely because he could see Dean walking away from him this time for real, and not just to go to his sniper vantage. Up on the roof, thinking it over, Sam began to stop pretending and explored telling more of the truth by sharing the candid admission that in Lucky’s position, he would double-cross them because it was the best bet for survival. I believe Sam was doing more than just making conversation at that moment; I think he was testing the waters of Dean’s reaction to hearing uncomfortable, unpalatable truth, and I think Dean’s dry, ironic response (Thanks, Dexter; that’s reassuring) was reassuring in its own way, a hint that Dean could tolerate and even accept ugly truth, and would prefer it to falsely comforting lies he couldn’t believe.
Watching the scene in the park at the end was painful in the extreme as Sam openly admitted he didn’t even care at all about Dean, except that he needed Dean and was afraid Dean would leave him if he didn’t hear the truth. While I believe telling that truth was another very deliberately calculated move on Sam’s part, done precisely to achieve the goal of preventing Dean from leaving and with the added benefit of simplifying Sam’s situation by removing the need for him to keep pretending to be something he’s not, I also do think everything Sam said in that scene was the truth. I’ll agree Sam was trying to manipulate Dean as he’s done all season, but this time, I think his tool of manipulation was the absolute and unvarnished truth. And therein lies my hope, which came right here: But, I’ve been thinking. I was that other Sam for a long time, and it was – it was kinda harder. But there are also things about it I remember that … Let’s just say I think I should probably go back to being him.
All this season thus far, the real question has been this: if Sam couldn’t feel, why did he want Dean to be with him? Why did getting Dean to hunt with him, to stay with him, matter to Sam, if he couldn’t feel the love for and the bond with Dean he’d known all his life before? He clearly didn’t need Dean to hunt: he’d been doing that very successfully on his own for a whole year, and had the Campbells for backup when he needed the support of numbers. Being apart from Dean was actually a lot easier for Sam than being with him and trying to conform to his expectations again. I think that uncluttered simplicity – not any real belief or sense that Dean wanted or deserved a happy, non-hunting life – was the real driver behind Sam’s year-long decision to leave Dean alone and in the dark about his return. According to Samuel, the Campbell patriarch had wanted to bring Dean in right at the beginning but Sam had disagreed – so why the change? Knowing the djinn were hunting Dean prompted Sam to reveal himself to save Dean’s life, but doing so and then pressing Dean to go with him afterward was a departure from the entire year of Sam’s previous deliberate concealment, which he’d maintained despite Samuel’s desires. So what changed, and why? Dean himself confessed in Exile On Main Street that he was rusty and prone to dangerous choices, and even he asked why Sam would want him.
I think the reason was simply that the threat to Dean and then being with Dean again sparked an awareness in Sam that something important in himself was missing, something he used to have but no longer understood, and that became an itch he needed Dean’s presence to scratch. Sam couldn’t feel the difference in himself any more, but I think he became intellectually aware of it as he tried to analyze Dean’s reactions to him and his own responses – or lack of them – to Dean. And I think he may have perceived the difference as precisely that – as a lack – which meant that something about him was incomplete and therefore not up to par. He’d become scarily efficient and focused purely on whatever task was to hand, but here was a niggling indication that he’d overlooked something intangible in his mission-driven myopia, and he needed Dean with him to explore it. I remarked in my review of Exile that the quizzical look on Sam’s face when he contradicted Dean, saying he wouldn’t even think to try to help people, seemed to capture his own puzzled self-assessment, as if he looked within for the characteristics Dean clearly expected him to have – characteristics he himself remembered exhibiting, even though he couldn’t feel them – and was mildly surprised not to find them. All Sam could say was that it was better when Dean was around, as if something about Dean’s presence filled the gap in the circuit that he hadn’t truly even noticed was there until being with Dean made it obvious.
I believed Sam in that moment in Exile and I also believed him here, as I haven’t believed him any other time this season. Both times, confronting memories that spoke not just of pain but also of love and happiness, he couldn’t find any words to encompass or express the good emotions, because he can’t feel them. He’s aware that nothing about his current condition hurts, which must be a positive thing, and he’s aware that life and decisions were somehow harder before, when he was the Sam Dean remembers, but he can’t experience or understand pleasure or warmth or love to comprehend why being with Dean is something he’s driven to do. Both times, he had no words to express the essential rightness of what he used to be and used to know with Dean; all he could say in Exile was, it’s just better with you around, and he couldn’t even capture that much here. The best he could do was venture that he should probably go back to being who he was, I think because he realizes now that unless he does reclaim himself, he’ll never truly grasp why he senses that something is missing.
Right now, Sam can remember all the things he did, but he can’t feel why he hugged Dean so fiercely in Mystery Spot or Lazarus Rising, or strove so hard to save him in Faith and throughout season three. He can’t feel why he cried over Dean’s shredded corpse in No Rest For The Wicked or why he smiled every time they had a Bitch/Jerk exchange in all the years since those words became coded endearments back when they were kids. He can’t experience the contentment he clearly felt sitting on the hood of the Impala drinking beer and looking at the stars with his brother at his side; he can’t sense what prompted him deliberately to take the long fall into Hell. He can’t understand any more why he did things that were clearly important to him at the time but that now make no sense in his current purpose-driven life. All those things are blanks because the emotional receptors to interpret them no longer exist – and I think remembering all those events without being able to understand anything about their emotional context, about the reasons behind them, would be even more frustrating than simply not remembering the events themselves. He can’t reclaim the pleasure without also reclaiming the pain, but I think he’s starting to reach the point where the absence of the experience and understanding of joy and love is starting to rub and become a unique discomfort and irritation all its own.
It’s possible that Sam was under orders as part of his release from Hell to partner up with Dean and keep him engaged, but I don’t believe that. For one thing, if reuniting with Dean was always part of the plan, I would have expected it to happen a lot sooner than a full year after Sam got out of Hell. In addition, at least to my eyes, Sam truly did seem surprised to see Crowley in Family Matters as the puppet master pulling Samuel’s strings and orchestrating the capture of the Alphas. He wasn’t surprised by other dealings with Crowley, and curiously enough saved Crowley in Weekend At Bobby’s when Dean would have torched the demon’s bones just for the satisfaction of the experience, suggesting there’s something more going on between the two of them than he’s yet admitted to Dean – but I really don’t think a partnership with Dean entered into the equation until Sam’s perception of the djinns’ threat to him brought up memories that conjured an awareness of something being missing that he couldn’t dismiss simply as another unpleasant sensation like pain or guilt that he could just as well do without.
I think Sam’s perception of a need to be with Dean arises simply from the confusion engendered by the emotional void within himself, not from orders from Crowley or Samuel’s desires, and because that need is truly Sam’s, I think it holds out genuine hope for the future. I suspect there’s a long way yet to go before Sam gets his soul back and truly becomes himself again, and I believe he’ll hesitate to commit to that precisely because of his awareness that recovering his soul will likely have a devastating impact on him as the accumulation of guilt and pain for all he did while soulless catches up to him. With that said, however, I do believe we’ll see the brothers as truly brothers again, and see them so well before this season comes to an end. Now that Sam is no longer pretending to be something he’s not – now that he’s no longer lying to Dean – I think the two of them can experiment honestly with finding a new balance that will allow them to work together toward the goal of getting Sam’s soul back, even though their commitment to and motivations for doing so are still radically different.
Sooner Or Later, All This Crap Is Gonna Come For Them
Dean clearly saw blatant parallels between Lucky’s situation and his own that never even occurred to soulless Sam. Dean’s empathic response enabled him to see what Sam could not; that Lucky had come to care about his human family and had killed everything he perceived as a threat to them. Both men had been taken in after hardship by single mothers with young sons; both of them saw their previous lives as having been lacking in the emotional satisfaction that being the protector of a woman and child brought them. Both of them eventually perceived that their association with mother and child brought unacceptable danger to the ones they loved, outweighing to their own minds the benefit of their love and protection. Both of them also felt unworthy of love, Lucky because he’d always been a loser and Dean because he’d come to see himself purely as a killer. Both of them were ultimately rejected by the woman and banished from the company of the woman and the child, and both of them felt that banishment was deserved. All those things made this episode very sad.
I think, however, there were clear differences between their situations that set Dean and Lucky apart, and I hope Dean realizes that in time before he convinces himself that what he had with Lisa and Ben is gone forever and gives up on both himself and them. I fear Dean sees only the similarities between himself and Lucky, and none of the differences.
Unlike Lucky, Dean did have other fulfilling relationships with people; all his eggs weren’t in the Lisa/Ben basket. His connections with Sam, Bobby, John, Ellen, and Jo, as well as with all the other people he genuinely helped and who cared for or about him dating back to season one and pre-series days, set him apart from Lucky, who seemed never to have had anyone until he was brought into the pack. Also unlike Lucky, he’d been honest with Lisa pretty much from their second beginning in The Kids Are Alright, and maintained that honesty through 99 Problems and beyond; she knew about the supernatural and understood intimately how very damaged he was, and she had accepted both those things. It wasn’t until Sam returned impossibly from the dead that Lisa believed her relationship with Dean would fail. Despite what she said in You Can’t Handle The Truth about not being able to be in this with him, I think there is still hope that their relationship could be salvaged in the future if Dean and Sam could sort out and untangle their brother issues, precisely because there had been love and truth between them.
Amanda’s rejection of Lucky was grounded in the discovery that everything about him had been a lie, and a creepy, unnatural lie at that: he’d hidden in dog form while watching her with lustful and avaricious human eyes, and he’d killed not out of necessity and self-defense, but because of jealousy, possessiveness, and fear. She didn’t know Lucky the man; only the perversion of Lucky the dog. Lisa’s rejection of Dean arose mostly from the unfathomable threat his new strangeness posed to her son and from the strain his warped dedication to Sam imposed on the trust she had in him; it wasn’t a judgment on Dean himself.
The one thing I see that remains as a true stumbling block to Dean ever attempting to resume a relationship with Lisa and Ben is his fear – not unjustified – that his being with them would draw to them danger they wouldn’t otherwise face. It’s not just that Dean pursues a dangerous profession – so do soldiers, cops, and firemen – but that some of the evil he hunts would be inclined to hunt those close to him precisely in order to hurt him, and the guilt of them coming to harm because of their relationship to him would be something he couldn’t face.
You Didn’t Sleep. ’Cause You Don’t. Sleep.
During the first three seasons of the show, on most of the occasions when we saw the brothers asleep, whether singly or both at the same time, we saw them in relative undress, sleeping in beds under blankets and sheets, making the customary use of the latest motel room they’d booked. Remember such episodes as Phantom Traveler, Home, Asylum, Scarecrow, Nightmare, Heart, Bedtime Stories, Mystery Spot, and Long Distance Call. Non-standard sleeping arrangements happened as well – recall Sam dozing off on long drives in the car in Wendigo and Hell House, nightmaring on the bed in Bloody Mary, and passing out drunk in Playthings; or Dean sleeping in a chair to leave the bed to Jo in No Exit, setting himself to doze in the car in Route 666 or simply falling into exhausted sleep over a book in No Rest For The Wicked; and the brothers being knocked out by potions and then deliberately going to sleep in the car to draw out the killer in Dream A Little Dream Of Me – but those were clearly set up as exceptions to the normal rule, which had the brothers simply sleeping nights in motel rooms.
Season four, in addition to testing the breaking strain of the brother bond, saw that sleep pattern break, and the new paradigm has prevailed in both seasons five and six so far. We still occasionally saw the brothers asleep in seasons four and five – well, to be more precise, we usually saw Dean asleep – but we rarely saw either of them asleep in the normal fashion, undressed for bed and lying between sheets or at least under blankets. We saw both of them securely asleep at Bobby’s at the end of Are You There, God? It’s Me, Dean Winchester; Sam sleeping alone and dreaming of Jessica and Lucifer in Free To Be You And Me; and Dean asleep at the start of Sex And Violence and dreaming at the beginning of The Rapture; but that’s pretty much it. Instead, we usually caught Dean asleep, fully clothed, on top of a bed where exhaustion and stress had finally clubbed him down: think of the hotel room in Lazarus Rising, the beginning of In The Beginning, the mid-point of Wishful Thinking, and the early part of The End. He seemed to be trying to avoid sleep and the horrific dreams it brought, while we saw Sam deliberately sneaking out once Dean was asleep to do things of which he knew Dean would disapprove. In Family Remains and Jump The Shark, they were sleeping in the car between jobs. By the latter part of season five, both of the brothers seemed to be trying to avoid sleep until their bodies forced them to it; remember both of them apparently passed out atop their beds amidst beer cans in Dark Side Of The Moon, allowing Roy and Walt to get the drop on them.
In season six, we’ve only seen Dean asleep, and as of Family Matters, we learned why: Sam hasn’t slept at all since he returned from Hell, a peculiar side effect of lacking a soul. I would have thought his body would tire and even his mind alone would require a break, but I guess I was wrong in that; deprived of a soul, he seems also to lack both a subconscious mind and the need to dream.
I think I miss the brothers sleeping under covers and in beds in the same room almost as much as I miss them being Bitch and Jerk to each other. I don’t think they’ll be back to normal until both of those things are restored – and I really, truly hope we won’t have to wait until the end of the season for that to happen.
I suspect I liked this episode more than most people did precisely because what I saw in it at the very end, despite all the despair on the surface, was the first true glimmer of hope in the depths. That hope was very subtle and quiet, but I felt it. I also loved the concept of this monster of the week both because of the insidious nature of the threat – that potentially thousands of beloved family pets could turn lethal in a heartbeat at some imperceptible signal from the skinwalker Alpha, who remains at large – and because of the complexity introduced by wondering how many Luckys might be sprinkled into the mix: monsters who would choose unpredictable individual loyalties over their seemingly destined loyalty to the pack.
This was the second Supernatural script by Adam Glass, who also wrote this season’s Two And A Half Men, and I appreciated both what he did with it and how Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, and guest star Andrew Rothenberg – who played Lucky as a human – interpreted the words he’d put on the page. I think he also threw in a subtle hint that Crowley may not be as powerful or secure in his position as he’s pretended to be; Crowley’s reaction to Sam asking if the Alpha vampire hadn’t been good enough for him immediately made me wonder whether Crowley might have lost the Alpha vamp to another demon faction in the power struggle in Hell, to a rogue angel, or even to a simple escape. I continue to believe Crowley is scamming the brothers and everyone else and is far from secure in his claimed role as the King of Hell; I think he’s Hell’s duck, paddling as fast and furiously as he can below the surface to keep his head above water while projecting the serene surface image of assured power in the hope of deterring others from challenging him. I’ll also say that I love watching Mark Sheppard portraying him.
For all that my heart is impatient to see Sam’s soul restored because I desperately miss the younger Winchester as he used to be and grieve for the pain of Dean’s continuing loss of his brother, I’ve actually been enjoying and appreciating that the writers haven’t rushed and thus cheapened the process. The gradual unveiling of just how changed Sam is and why has been satisfying to me from a storytelling perspective, and it’s really upped the ante both on how important it will be to get Sam’s soul back and on how difficult it will be, and not just because extracting it from Lucifer’s cage in Hell poses a challenge. The real challenge will be getting the not-quite-brothers to work together when they aren’t on the same page, with Dean dead-set on getting his brother back and Sam not entirely certain that the pain of becoming himself again is a price worth paying for being able to feel. After he came back from Hell, overwhelmed with pain and guilt, Dean desperately wished he couldn’t feel; Sam’s situation is quite different because, as he pointed out, not hurting doesn’t seem like a bad thing. Not being able to feel means he’s missing a lot of context for everything he did in the past and can’t really connect to Dean or anyone else in the present, but if the choice is between being extremely effective at the job while not feeling or else suffering the kind of crippling agony he remembers having seen in Dean, especially in his tortured confessions in Heaven And Hell and Family Remains, choosing to continue not to feel may seem increasingly attractive to Sam as the threat of feeling far too much comes closer.
I also bow to Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles for what they’ve been bringing to the table from an acting perspective week to week as they deal with such a fundamental restructuring of once-familiar relationships. Jared’s delivery of sociopathic Sam trying to pretend to be himself while lacking all the basic emotional circuitry that made Sam Sam has really upped his game as an actor, and Jensen has broken my heart with his portrayal of Dean desperately wanting his brother with him despite knowing the man beside him isn’t remotely whom he pretends to be, and despite knowing his quest to get Sam back is closing the door on the relationship he’d begun to build with Lisa and Ben.
Phil Sgriccia is still my favorite Supernatural director since the death of Kim Manners, and this episode showcased his skill. Between his camera positioning and Serge Ladouceur’s incredible lighting, he gave us beautiful iconic images I treasure, particularly including Dean with the sniper rifle inside the factory, the brothers talking in the car at night, and the two of them at the picnic table at the end. That last one particularly hit me for the way it echoed what he did with them at another picnic table at the end of Good God, Y’All, when Sam again shared uncomfortable truth; in that episode, the brothers split up, while in this one, they began to come back together. Editor Tom McQuade’s assembly of images was poetry. I liked that we didn’t see the skinwalker transformation process, but instead had the change established simply through masterful quick cuts and marvelously evocative sound effects; the prime reason for that was likely cost, but it was also appropriate from the storytelling perspective because the man/dog transition wasn’t the point; the character was, and focusing on a golly-gosh-wow special morphing effect would have taken away from what really mattered. Sometimes, having a limited budget works to the advantage of the story.
Speaking about sound, I have to say that I cheered to hear Molly Hatchet’s “Flirtin’ With Disaster” as the music in the background of the scene of Cal drinking with his friends in the repair shop. Judging by the lyrics that appeared in the closed captioning, this wasn’t the song identified in the original script, but I’ve been waiting for this particular tune to show up ever since the end of season two. I’m happy!
Whoever trained that incredible German Shepherd gets a special salute from me. Lucky the dog was both versatile and convincing, and at least in the takes we saw blended into the aired episode, he hit his marks spectacularly well. He had one of the most expressive faces I think I’ve ever seen on a dog – and if every shot we saw was actually the same dog, he could do everything from head-cocks and sad-walks to furious barking and running and jumping on cue. I hope we get to learn something about the real Lucky in behind-the-scenes stories at some point.
I know many people have been terminally frustrated this season because Sam hasn’t been Sam, and wish the writers would just give him back his soul and return us viewers to the comfortable sense of the brothers being themselves and being together. It hurts us to see Sam so cold and unfeeling and Dean so angry and lost, because we care about the brothers after all we’ve shared with them and we miss Sam as much as Dean does. It’s particularly frustrating because we’ve already been missing for a couple of years the closeness between them that brought most of us to the show in the first place; we want the love and the trust back because we miss what they brought to us as well as to the Winchesters.
I too want Sammy back as himself, and I want that to happen well before this season ends – but at the same time, I don’t want this story and this struggle to be shortchanged, and I want to see what Jared and Jensen bring to it. Speaking from an actor’s viewpoint, this has to be one of the most exciting and transformative storylines they’ve ever had the chance to play, and it shouldn’t be fast and it shouldn’t be easy. I’m willing and even eager to watch it play out despite my impatience to have my Sam back, because this? This is something rich and complex, and for series television, something extraordinary. It’s daring and it’s scary, tampering with the heart and the essence of a show and its characters this way, but even just based on what I’ve seen it bring out of the actors, I think the potential rewards of going along with it to its climax will more than make the total experience of the journey worth the pains and frustrations and inconveniences of the trip.
And I think, in the end, the restoration of Sam’s soul will be worth the pain not only to him and to Dean, but to us. We will all feel what Sam feels, when he becomes himself again; we will all share what Dean feels. And it’s not going to be simple or triumphant or pure: it’s going to be complex and layered and confused, happiness and grief and pain and joy all wrapped up in each other, and you know what?
It’s going to be real.
The beautiful icon on this is by ilaria84 – thank you!
My apologies for this being so late: I’ve got to stop having a real life!