Sam wakes as Dean’s bro
With no soulless memories.
Teamed, they hunt dragons.
A young couple in a small plane flying through a storm in Oregon encountered something that smashed the windshield and yanked out the pilot, leaving his date screaming in terror as the plane plunged out of the sky.
At Bobby’s, Castiel emerged from the panic room to report to a nervous Dean that Sam’s soul was in place. Sam remained asleep on the cot, hooked up to an IV drip. When Dean asked if Sam was ever going to wake up, Castiel guessed he wouldn’t, telling Dean he’d warned against forcing Sam’s damaged soul back into his body. Castiel angrily said Sam’s soul felt as if it had been skinned alive and observed that if Dean wanted to kill his brother, he should have done it outright. The angel vanished, and Dean went upstairs to Bobby’s study, accepting a scotch. Bobby assured him Sam would wake up, saying he’d been through so much and always bounced back, but Dean worried that he’d never been through this. Desperate for distraction, Dean asked if Bobby had found a job, and the older hunter handed him a news story about the plane crash, noting the pilot’s body had been found burned seventeen miles away from the wreckage, and the girl’s body hadn’t been found at all.
The discussion was forgotten, however, the moment Sam’s voice said Dean’s name. Turning to see Sam awake and apparently well, walking into the room with questions and wonder on his face, Dean slowly stood up, and Sam walked straight to him and grabbed him in a bear hug, clinging with relief and joy. Stepping back after a moment, Sam did the same with Bobby, then pulled back in surprise, saying he’d seen and felt Lucifer snap Bobby’s neck. Bobby started to say that Cass had brought him back, and Sam exclaimed in delight, asking if Cass was alive. Dean said Cass was fine and asked if Sam was okay, and Sam admitted he was starving. Over a sandwich and beer, Sam said the last thing he remembered was the field, and falling, and the next thing he knew was waking in the panic room. Bobby started to ask about him not remembering anything else, but Dean cut him off, saying warningly they should be grateful he didn’t remember Hell. Learning from Dean that he’d been gone for a year and a half and that Castiel hadn’t brought him back, Sam immediately asked Dean what he had done, and Dean told him he’d had leverage with Death and the whole deal was done and over, no further payment due.
Later in the day, Bobby was working on a car in the yard when Dean came by alone with two beers. When Bobby asked how Sam was, Dean responded he was good, better than he could have hoped. Bobby expressed his own reservations, noting Sam had tried to murder him only ten days before, and admitted he was having trouble even looking at Sam. Dean protested it hadn’t really been Sam, but Bobby observed it hadn’t been all of Sam, but was still Sam, and expressed the wish they could tell him everything, warning that he was going to find out anyway and it would be better if he learned it from them. Dean worried that if they started opening those doors, it could crack the wall Death had installed to protect Sam’s sanity, and when Bobby continued to press, saying it wouldn’t be pretty when Sam found out they’d been deceiving him, Dean asked if they could just leave it alone for a minute.
The next morning, as Dean and Bobby were loading the car to investigate the plane crash mystery, Dean said Sam was still asleep and they’d call him later, but Sam showed up and invited himself along for the trip to Oregon. Dean protested that he’d just gotten vertical and advocated more rest, but Sam pointed out Dean hadn’t taken a rest when he’d gotten back from Hell. Uncomfortable with Sam, Bobby bowed out of the trip, inventing a transparent excuse about a forgotten promise to stay home and work the phones for Rufus. He told them to enjoy catching up with each other, and they set off.
Driving in the night, approaching Portland, Sam used his phone to get additional information from the police, reporting to Dean that there’d been two other disappearances in the town that week, both young women, one vanishing from her apartment on the 17th floor and the other failing to make it home from school. He said there weren’t any connections between the missing women. Watching Dean drive, Sam asked why Dean hadn’t even tried to keep his promise to live a normal life, assuming from appearances – Dean with the Impala, hunting and working cases with Bobby – that Dean was exactly the same as he’d always been. Dean hesitated, but then said he’d been with Lisa and Ben for a year. Sam asked what happened then, and Dean said flatly that it hadn’t worked out, and turned up the music to end the conversation.
The next day, the brothers visited the sister of Penny Dessertine, the woman missing from the plane. Sam took the lead in questioning her, clearly empathizing with her, while Dean basked in contentment at seeing his brother behaving exactly the way he used to be. Penny’s sister showed them her pink, girly room, describing Penny as shy and saying she’d been terrified of the plane and had only gone flying because she was getting serious about Stan, the pilot.
Back at their motel, Dean brought in lunch and Sam, looking up from the laptop, said the other two missing girls had both been involved in church choirs, bake sales, and promise-ring clubs, but Penny hadn’t even been a Christian. Pulling out Penny’s diary, Dean announced his new theory: the link between them was purity, because all three were virgins. Incredulous, Sam asked if he’d stolen the diary, and Dean, relieved not to be dealing with his formerly amoral partner, responded he loved that Sam had even asked him that. When Sam, confused, asked why he wouldn’t, Dean hastily covered and shifted the talk back to why something would want virgins.
Meanwhile, a young woman leaving a Catholic studies center was attacked by something that swooped down on her from the night sky. The next day, the brothers questioned her in the hospital, with Sam again taking the sympathetic lead, and she said the thing looked like a giant bat and came right at her, leaving claw scars on her back. She said she passed out, and when she woke up, it was gone. Asked if there was anything else, she said either the thing had stolen her gold promise ring, or she had lost it. Unable to resist testing his theory, Dean asked to Sam’s embarrassment if she really should have been wearing that ring, and under his probing eyes, she finally admitted she wasn’t a virgin.
Back at the hotel, Sam’s internet searches for flying things with claws and a taste for virgins and gold kept bringing him to only one absurd answer: dragons. Not dismissing it out of hand, Dean noted it had been a strange year, and called Bobby, who dismissed dragons as unreal. Dean pressed him to ask around anyway and Bobby agreed, then asked if Sam had caught Dean in any lies yet. Dean maintained that everything was fine and hung up, but then just sat looking at his phone until Sam asked him if he was okay. Snapping out of his reverie, he said he was fine, and got up. Over the next hours, he and Sam swapped places while checking different sources, until Dean noticed Sam poring through John’s journal. Uneasy, Dean said their dad had never written anything about dragons, but Sam, looking at John’s notes on skinwalkers, asked whether they’d hunted a skinwalker lately, expressing a weird sense of déjà vu. Dean strongly dismissed the idea and reminded Sam that his brain was a little confused. Bobby called back with a name for them, saying he couldn’t believe she hadn’t come immediately to mind: Dr. Visyak, professor of medieval studies at San Francisco University. Dean headed to San Francisco, leaving Sam to continue researching dragons.
Elsewhere in the city, a vague winged shape transformed into a man who forced the young woman with him into a cage already containing Penny and the other two missing girls. The man’s hand glowed with heat, and he used it to seal the cage shut before walking away.
At Dr. Visyak’s house, Dean learned the professor had a romantic relationship with Bobby at some time in the past. She provided no details, but said he’d been the idiot. She also said dragons had disappeared 700 years earlier. When Dean told her one was in the States, she guessed he was looking for a way to kill it, and told him he needed a blade like Excalibur or the sword of St. George that was forged with dragon’s blood, and she had one in her basement: the famous Sword of Bruncvik. Stressing its value, she showed him a two-handed sword stuck in a rock, observing that binding sword to stone had been all the rage back in the day. Dean tried to pull the sword and failed miserably, but got his revenge on the humiliating rock by using plastic explosives to blow it apart, only to discover the blast also shattered the sword, breaking off the blade within two feet of the grip.
While Dean sought the sword, Sam called Bobby for inspiration, saying that stories said dragons laired in caves, but there weren’t any caves in the area. Bobby chided him not to think so literally, asking what else fit the bill of cold, dark, and damp, and Sam realized sewers would fit the bill. Before Bobby could hang up, however, Sam asked him what was wrong and if there was anything he ought to know, because Bobby had been acting and talking oddly. When Bobby answered that all he needed to know was where the monster was, Sam asked him what happened the past year. Torn between wanting to tell him and Dean’s plea not to, Bobby punted, saying it had its moments but they couldn’t have had anything to do with Sam, and then hung up. Knowing something was wrong, Sam prayed for Castiel to come, and was surprised when the angel simply appeared. Playing his hunch and declining a hug when the angel clumsily approached him, Sam said Bobby had told him everything, and Castiel, falling into the trap, asked how it felt to have his soul back. Realizing he’d been walking around soulless but still not knowing what had happened, he tricked Castiel into telling him more by saying he was still hazy on the details and asking Cass to walk him through.
When Dean returned with the shard of the sword, saying they’d just have to get closer to be able to use it, Sam hesitated, almost revealing his newfound knowledge, but then postponed talking to go hunting instead. Entering the sewers at a major junction within a mile of two of the kidnappings, the brothers searched for hours until Sam’s flashlight revealed a small pile of gold watches and jewelry. Dean scooped a handful into his pocket as Sam continued down the passage to find an altar bearing candles and an old leather-bound book. They heard a woman calling to ask if anyone was there, and following her voice, found several women locked in a cage in the floor. As Dean looked for a way to open the cage, the man-dragon yanked Sam backwards, and Dean pulled the broken sword out of his bag and cut the dragon’s arm. The dragon rushed him, knocking the sword out of his hand to fall through one of the grates, and advanced on him with his forge-hot hand. Sam attacked the dragon from behind with a crowbar, distracting him, and Dean tried to retrieve the sword, only to find it just out of reach. A second dragon grabbed Dean and flung him away. Sam managed to kick his opponent away long enough to reach for the sword himself, succeeding in picking it up because of his longer reach, and slashed at the dragon advancing on him, forcing it to back up. Seeing Dean in peril, Sam turned from his dragon to stab Dean’s opponent in the back, and the dragon died. Sam turned to face the other dragon again, but he fled.
Back at Bobby’s, Dean played delightedly with the bag full of treasure they’d taken from the lair, brushing off Sam’s teasing suggestion that he just roll in it by retorting that he didn’t often have wealth. Watching his joy, Sam sobered, and then apologized, saying he was so, so sorry, he couldn’t even begin to say. When Dean asked him what for, Sam held his eyes and told him he knew. Dean started to ask if Bobby had told, but Sam said it was Cass, revealing he now knew what he’d done to Bobby and Dean. Dean said he wasn’t supposed to know, warning that Death had put up a wall to protect him from the things he wasn’t supposed to know because they could kill him. Sam accepted that, but said he had to set things right, as much as he could. Dean argued it hadn’t been Sam, but Sam said he felt like he’d been drugged and woke up to find he’d burned the whole city down, and while Dean could say it wasn’t him, he was the one with the Zippo lighter in his pocket. He said he appreciated Dean trying to protect him, but he had to fix things. When Dean protested he didn’t know how dangerous that could be, Sam asked him rhetorically what he would do, forcing Dean to admit he’d do the same thing.
Before the conversation could finish, Bobby said there was something they should see. Back in his study, he showed them the leather-bound book they’d brought out of the dragons’ lair along with the gold, and told them the pages weren’t paper, but human skin. He said he hadn’t been able to translate all of it, but what he’d learned so far was that it described a place of blood and bone and darkness filled with the bodies and souls of all things hungry, sharp, and nasty – a place called Purgatory – and described how to open a door into Purgatory to bring something out: someone called the “Mother of All.” Flipping to the back of the book, he showed them where a page was missing, observing that the dragon evidently had the page with the actual instructions for opening the door.
As Bobby spoke, the escaped dragon met up with another, who had his own van of virgin captives. They took one girl into a cave, and unfolding the missing page of the book, read an incantation from it that opened a molten fissure in the earth far below them. Dripping a bit of dragon’s blood into the abyss, they threw the girl in, and she fell and burned. But as the incantation ended, the young woman’s body re-formed and rose from the depths with perfect skin replacing the char. Her eyes flashed fire before taking on a human aspect, and she haughtily chided the dragons for having kept her waiting. She told them they had much to do, and smiled.
Commentary and Meta Analysis
From the moment we saw, for the very first time this season, an opener proclaiming “The Road So Far,” I cheered the realization that things were back to the way they were supposed to be. What worked for me in this episode was everything concerning Sam and Dean. The show’s balance, tone, and rhythm were back – all those things both we and Dean missed so badly when Sam really wasn’t the Sam we’d always known. What didn’t work so well was the story of dragons, virgins, and the Mother of All; that part limped, but was readily eclipsed for me by the joy of the really important developments in the lives of the Winchesters.
In this discussion, I’m going to look at the issues surrounding the return of Sam’s soul, particularly how it affects him and the people around him, and explore why Dean’s, Bobby’s, and Sam’s own reactions are so different, and why I think Death blocked Sam’s access to soulless Sam’s memories.
I’m Having A Hard Time Even Looking At Him
Bobby’s discomfort at Sam’s return was far different from his reaction after Sam’s possession by Meg in Born Under A Bad Sign. I think there were two reasons. The lesser one simply would have been the sheer psychological impact of the cold, dispassionate brutality of Sam’s deliberate, murderous assault on him: it would have been unnatural for Bobby to have been able to shake that off with no unsettling memory echoes of discomfort at seeing Sam physically close to him again. The simple human association between terror, threat, and Sam’s face and body would have been there and would have needed to be overcome. This attack was qualitatively different from his earlier experience of being attacked by Meg/Sam; that assault was much less personal and direct, and was a brief flash of violence rather than the sustained and deliberate hunt he suffered here. Similarly, it was very different from the only other time Sam ever struck Bobby, when he was escaping from panic room detention in When The Levee Breaks; that time, Sam clearly had no intention of hurting him, only of escaping.
I believe the much more important aspect, however, was simply that Bobby was aware this time that it was Sam who attacked him, not a demon wearing Sam’s body, and Sam who struck with deliberate, conscious intent to kill.
Sam and Bobby share one true perception Dean willfully ignores: that soulless Sam was still Sam. All the things he did while soulless were the product of Sam’s own decisions based on his intellect, logic, primal drives, and memories; they were not the decisions of a demon or any other outside force imposed on Sam. They were a frightening glimpse of precisely what Sam could and would be without his conscience acting as a governor and limiter on his choices. Sam without his soul exemplified just how scary Sam could be, if he were to suspend or once again lose the compassion and control at his core. To put it in Freudian terms, Sam without his soul demonstrated Sam’s id and ego unconstrained by the moralizing limits of his super-ego: being soulless freed the self-centered, self-focused aspects of Sam’s mind from all of his connections to and considerations for other people. But everything that remained and directed action was still Sam, and no one else – it just wasn’t all of Sam.
What has to be running through Bobby’s mind is the question of whether that could happen again, if – or rather, when – the wall in Sam’s mind collapses, and I think he has good reason to be concerned. Castiel raised the specter of Sam dying outright or becoming either catatonic or hopelessly, hysterically, non-functionally insane as a result of recovering his memories of torment in the cage, but I think the greater fear might be that Sam, if subjected to intolerable agony, could instead mentally find and flip the switch that would turn the pain off by blocking the screams of his soul, taking refuge from pain by becoming essentially soulless again. I don’t doubt Bobby’s love for Sam, but I think Bobby’s hesitation in embracing him now very humanly reflects his fear that when the wall falls, Sam may become a monster again, and I think he has reason to fear because it’s happened before.
To understand what I mean, just look at the progression of Sam’s decisions throughout seasons three and four. Back then, Sam hardened his heart and deliberately chose a series of cold and even cruel actions that would once have appalled him precisely because his logic and intellect, encouraged and tempted by Ruby’s deceit, reasoned first that they were the only course that might let him save Dean from his deal, and after that failed, that they were what he needed to do to prevent the apocalypse. Rationalizing his good intentions, Sam ignored the voice of his conscience and ruthlessly overrode his compassion in order to be able to focus on and achieve the goal without distraction. In the process, he never fully suppressed his humanity entirely on his own – just look at his reluctance, even very late in the process, to abuse and kill the innocent nurse host in Lucifer Rising, for example – but whenever he was hopped up on demon blood, his inhibitions were crushed and the dissenting voice of his conscience became nothing more than a chirping cricket. Every time we saw him experiencing the power rush high of demon blood, he was obviously feeling no emotional or spiritual pain on account of what he was doing at the time he was doing it. That was, in a way, a foretaste of his experience being soulless, freed from pain, fear, and the confusion of conflicting emotions, able simply to pursue his goal of the moment with no thought for consequences.
I think it’s that memory and that fear, even if not consciously expressed, lying behind Bobby’s discomfort around Sam. He loves Sam, but he also knows Sam could be a bomb – and he’s seen that spectacular detonation before and never wants to see it again.
I’m going to add here that I think Bobby probably didn’t see a lot of Sam during the year he was hunting with Samuel and keeping Dean in ignorance. We learned in Exile On Main Street that Bobby had known of Sam’s return almost immediately and had conspired to keep Dean in the dark, but I got the sense that a lot of their contact had been at one remove, likely through the phone. I say that because, when Dean first started expressing his concerns to Bobby about Sam being different, and not being Sam, Bobby didn’t immediately concur. I suspect that Sam, being equipped with all his memories even though he didn’t have the emotions to accompany them, played the role Bobby would have expected to see on the occasions when they met, but didn’t hunt with Bobby, because it’s on the hunt that the differences – the absence of compassion, the sleeplessness, the arrogance, the casual violence, the lock-focus on mission – would have become apparent. I’m guessing Bobby didn’t see the same clues that troubled Dean because he didn’t have the same opportunities. But that’s just a guess.
It Wasn’t You
Dean’s denial is deeper and wider than that river in Egypt. I think his stubborn insistence that soulless Sam was an entity entirely separate of his brother Sam emerged from two things: first, his own earlier conviction that the creature physically with him was something monstrous imperfectly pretending to be his brother – a conviction he expressed directly to Bobby at the beginning of You Can’t Handle The Truth, which had fed his own plan to kill that too-familiar physical shell; and second, his awareness that Sam, once returned to himself, would castigate himself out of shame and guilt for doing the callous, horrible things Castiel had revealed. Dean’s insistence that the soulless shell hadn’t been Sam both excused Dean’s otherwise unforgivable desire to kill his own brother, and contributed to his eternal mission to protect that brother even from himself.
I believe Dean is both wrong and right in what he believes. In purely physical terms, he’s wrong: soulless Sam was still Sam, with his intellect and memories inhabiting and directing his familiar body. But in metaphysical terms, I think Dean is right, and is illustrating one of the themes of this season: the importance and value of souls. Dean’s argument boils down to the conclusion that the soul is the essence of a human being, the one true and essential thing that defines life, humanity, character, and identity. Absent a soul, then, Sam wasn’t Sam – and Dean is correct that the fault and blame for the things soulless Sam did thus shouldn’t attach to Sam’s soul, because Sam’s soul wasn’t and couldn’t have been involved. I’m going to be very interested to see more exploration of the power and significance of souls as we come to understand more about what it means for Sam to have his soul again.
Dean’s denial, however, extended to much more than simply Sam not being to blame for what his soulless self did. The biggest part, of course, was his attempt to keep Sam from finding out that his soulless self had been out and about for almost the full span of his soul’s imprisonment, and from learning what he had done, particularly to Dean – especially including how soulless Sam had fed Dean to a vampire and shattered any semblance of his chance for a continuing relationship with Lisa and Ben.
Keeping secrets has never been a good thing between these brothers, but I can understand Dean’s reasons for trying this one time. I saw two things at play in his attempt to delay the inevitable – and I also note from the outset that Dean knew disclosure had to come, both because too many people had seen soulless Sam in action, and because knowing of things that happened would be essential to both brothers’ future survival. The terrifying thing for Dean in this equation is not knowing which particular brick of information, once uncovered, might cause the protective wall in Sam’s mind to crumble. Fearing that consequence, he’s afraid to start the process at all, because any moment could spell doom and possibly destroy Sam.
In this instance, however, rather than trying to keep a secret well and long enough to make it seem truth as he had done in the past, I believe Dean was trying only to buy time – time just to be able simply to enjoy having his brother truly back for a day or two; time to not agonize over terror that each moment could bring disaster; time just to be together with his brother as he hadn’t been for well over a year. And I believe the second crucial thing was that he wanted that time not just for his own selfish joy, but also for Sam – to let Sam simply be Sam, freed from Hell, unburdened by guilt, untormented by memories or knowledge, happy in living, comfortable in being himself. He knew how Sam would feel and react once he learned about the actions of his soulless self; Dean wanted to stave that off as long as he could, even through he knew it wouldn’t be long at all.
With that in mind, this time, I can’t fault Dean for having tried so hard, for just a little while, to deny truth and let them both just live in the happy moment of Sam’s miraculous resurrection. Dean didn’t need Bobby warning him that Sam would learn the truth, that it wasn’t possible to keep the elephant in the room invisible; he just desperately wanted a day or three for both of them to be free from pain and grief and duty and guilt and fear. Dean knew it couldn’t and wouldn’t last, but he wanted it so badly even for just a little while that I ached for him.
But I Got To Fix … What I Got To Fix
Despite Dean’s perception of the metaphysical separation between Sam and soulless Sam rendering them entirely separate entities, our Sam feels responsible for what soulless Sam did precisely because he now has his soul – and his soul is the home of his conscience and compassion, the seat of his sense of duty and honor and of his ability to love. Another part of the reason he’s going to accept that responsibility, I think, is his keen awareness that he did similar things in the run-up to the apocalypse even without the excuse of lacking a soul.
This is where and why I think Bobby’s fear of history repeating itself will be defused. Spurred on by fear, his internal reservoir of anger, and his absolute need to exert control – review Sam, Interrupted or my discussion of the episode if you need a quick refresher – Sam made bad choices on his well-intentioned road to Hell during seasons three and four. Afterward, however, he worked hard to make up for those mistakes. Season five represented Sam’s ardent quest for redemption, his effort to understand and overcome the darkness within him, and his ultimate triumph was saving his brother and the world by defeating Lucifer and sacrificing himself.
In Supernatural, however, the story never simply ends; life goes on, and life isn’t fair. Sam’s only reward for success was his brief knowledge that he’d done it, that he’d beaten Lucifer and saved the world; his only peace was the moment of acceptance when he let go and started to fall. Now he knows that something came after, but was fragmented in two pieces: his soul in Hell, and his body and mind walking the world without it.
Still, I don’t believe the lessons and effort of season five were for naught. I think instead that, realizing that what soulless Sam did arose from Sam’s own mind in the very same way Sam had made his own earlier decisions to listen to Ruby and drink demon blood, Sam will be even more determined not to go down that road again no matter what. He’s already announced he’s taking responsibility for the things his soulless self did, even though he doesn’t know what all of them are.
Sam’s been down this road before. His karma-balancing, penance-seeking nature in this regard has been apparent since season one. Look back at Playthings and Houses Of The Holy, for example, which both saw Sam, fearing at the time that his psychic abilities marked him as destined to turn evil, trying to find ways to redeem himself in advance by saving as many other people as he could and by accepting without question a perceived mission from Heaven. Similarly, throughout season five, he struggled to find a way to make up for having brought about the apocalypse.
Much as he decided in The Devil You Know, Two Minutes To Midnight, and Swan Song that because he’d been the one to set Lucifer free, he needed to set things right by sacrificing himself to trap Lucifer back in the box, he announced here that he had to fix whatever his soulless self had broken. He has no idea just what mission he’s undertaking, but he feels the need to do it – and I think that determination, and whatever success he achieves at it, will play a significant role in rebuilding his damaged soul, buttressing the structure so it continues to stand even after Death’s wall inevitably falls. Souls, Death said in Appointment In Samarra, were vulnerable and impermanent, but also stronger than Dean knew – and I think that was a clue that, given time and the right circumstances, the damage Sam’s soul suffered in Hell could be endured and overcome. In a way, I think that Sam dealing with the pain of each individual ugly thing he learns about and seeks to mend along the way this season may help knit up the fabric of his soul and lessen the eventual impact when he remembers Hell.
And it’s that one specific memory that I think is the deadly key, the whole reason Death blocked all the memories of his soulless self. In answer to Dean’s question in Exile On Main Street, soulless Sam said he remembered everything that happened to him in Hell. I think he was speaking the absolute truth. I think the soulless part of Sam remembered everything, not just Sam’s life before the fall, but what happened on his arrival in Hell and up until the moment his soul was sundered from his body and left behind in the cage. I don’t think he knew what happened after the sundering, but I’m certain he had a taste of the punishment Lucifer and Michael meted out to his soul before body and soul were parted. Soulless Sam had no feelings, so the memory of his soul’s torment would have carried no pain with it. With his soul back, however, I think that memory would be enough to make the rest cascade, overwhelming Sam’s sanity if he had no buffer to deflect such unimaginable agony and horror.
My guess, then, is that everything Sam can do to deal with individual memories as they recur, and particularly everything he can to make things right with others so that he feels more at peace with himself, would help to strengthen him to withstand the Hell memories when they eventually resurface.
The challenge he’s taking on is a daunting one, though, and his biggest personal hurdle may be trying to fix what soulless Sam did to Dean, because those effects are so complex and the brothers’ relationship – and their views of each other – have never been simple.
With that in mind, I think it’s going to be fascinating to watch Sam when Dean inevitably comes into contact with Lisa and Ben again.
I was very happy with what this episode brought about in the relationship between the Winchester brothers through the restoration of Sam’s soul. Having Sam back as he truly is – sensitive and empathetic as well as intelligent and decisive – restored so much else we’ve been missing this season right along with Dean. The show’s balance of humor and drama was back on an even keel. And I was particularly delighted that Sam learned the truth about having been walking around soulless so quickly. I’m also glad Phil Sgriccia directed this one, since his touch with matching music to situation and action is unsurpassed and this episode finally brought back the classic rock with both Aerosmith and Jethro Tull. The recap to Aerosmith’s “Back In The Saddle” was particularly fine, and not just because I was jonesing for a rock recap! The use of Jethro Tull’s “A New Day Yesterday” in the car was so appropriate that it became my tag line for this episode: with the brothers back together in comfortably, happily familiar form, it really was a return to the old days, compared with how stumblingly new and different the first half of the season – not to mention the year of the brothers’ lives we haven’t seen – had been.
As usual, I’ll get my criticisms of the episode out of the way first. In both script and production terms, I was seriously underwhelmed by the dragons. Oh, it makes sense – given the way this season is playing with the origins of all human-type monsters – that dragons would turn out to have a human form, and we know the show doesn’t have the budget to give us truly magnificent, draconic dragons, but dragons turning out to be nothing more than not-very-intelligent, sewer-dwelling, musclebound brutes was disappointing. There were a lot of holes in the story that simply didn’t make it hang well. How and why did dragons disappear 700 years ago, and how did the aborted apocalypse make them simply reappear now? Were these very old dragons, or relatively recently spawned ones representing a build-up by the dragon’s Alpha similar to what we saw with vampires (Live Free Or Twi-Hard, Caged Heat) and skinwalkers (All Dogs Go To Heaven)? What was the link between dragons and that sorcerous book leading to Purgatory? Was the book perhaps written by a dragon, and is that why the dragons had possession of it while no one else seemed to know about it? It would have been nice to at least have gotten some in-story speculation on that. I’d have felt better if Dr. Visyak had said things about dragons taking human forms and being known for dabbling in sorcery and hoarding information as well as gold, for example, but if that had been the case, I’d have expected the dragon-men to have been very different in manner and abilities from the unimaginative thugs we saw here.
The kidnapping and imprisoning virgins thing doesn’t withstand scrutiny, either. Why did they go after multiple virgins in the first place, when the very first girl they threw into the pit brought about the desired result, and were dragons always coveting virgins just in the hope of bringing back the Mother of All? Why were there at least two separate teams of dragons doing exactly the same thing in two different places, as evidenced by the last dragon turning up with his own stash of virgins oh-so-conveniently to replace the ones the escaping dragon had lost to the Winchesters? And why did the escaping dragon take only the final instruction page of the book rather than the whole volume? Speaking of the book, I was disappointed to find so simple a solution to Crowley’s quest: a book with all the answers, including a handy-dandy, simple spell to unlock the door and let the Mother out. Boy, would Crowley be kicking himself for missing that easy answer!
One other minor thing about the script struck me as clumsy, and that was Sam needing to talk to Bobby before it occurred to him that, in the absence of nearby caves, a sewer system might provide a handy lair. The call served the greater purpose of giving Sam the chance to probe Bobby for information, and that aspect of it worked beautifully, but it just struck me as jarringly off that intelligent, logical Sam wouldn’t have made the simple jump of thinking outside the literal interpretation of “caves,” especially since dealing with virtually every monster has required adapting the literal language of lore to modern-day society. But that’s a small nit to pick. I’m going to withhold judgment on whether or not the Mother of All works both as a concept and as portrayed until we get to see more of her in action.
On everything regarding the brothers’ relationship, Sam’s re-acclimation to his soul, Bobby’s discomfort, and Dean’s reactions, however, the script and the episode positively sang. Adam Glass is proving to have a fine hand writing the brothers and Bobby, and while I didn’t appreciate most of his dragons and virgins story, I loved everything he did with the Winchesters, and I delighted in the way Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, and Jim Beaver in particular brought it all to life. It was a positive joy to see Jared’s Sam wondering, relieved, truly smiling, happy, expressing empathy, being emotionally invested in the moment, and employing his famous puppy-dog eyes – all things that had been missing from amoral, fight-trained, abused-pit-bull soulless Sam. It was equally wonderful to see Jensen’s Dean constantly, subtly watching Sam and quietly reveling in each and every evidence of normality, soaking up every instance of Sam’s joy, compassion, teasing, and fully functional moral code like a parched desert plant welcoming unexpected rain. This vision of brother Sam was what made all Dean’s pain not just worthwhile, but less immediate, less crippling – except for those few moments, like the one in the car when Sam mistakenly assumed he’d never left hunting, or the one in the motel where he stared at the phone in his hand and plainly ached to call Lisa, but didn’t. All those touches were superb on the part of both script and actors. Similarly, Jim Beaver really sold Bobby’s ambivalence, torn between gratitude and joy at seeing Sam being the sweet almost-son he remembered, and fear of his reversion to the ravening monster who’d tried hard to kill him.
I have to applaud Jensen as well for the brilliantly funny bit with the sword in the stone. That whole scene was inspired, from his first reaction upon seeing the sword through his pratfall attempts to pull it out and all the way through his little dust-induced cough after sheepishly asking if the good doctor had insurance. And that scene wouldn’t have been as falling-down-funny as it was without the hilarious contribution of composer Christopher Lennertz, whose ridiculously overblown underscore first swelled with pregnant expectation, then thudded to silence with Dean’s fall, and resumed with triumphant bombast only to reveal the broken sword. That was more than worth the week’s wait the CW imposed on us!
I loved the location and the interior sets used for Dr. Visyak’s house, and I also truly enjoyed both the character and the actress, Kim Ulrich. The delectable hints about the good professor’s past romantic adventures with Bobby just beg for fleshing out; I foresee fanfic, if the show doesn’t give us the chance to see the two of them in the same room or enjoy Bobby’s discomfiture when the brothers bring it up!
Although I generally disliked the dragon story itself, one part of it made me smile for the research that went into it: the Sword of Bruncvik comes straight out of Czech legend, about a knight who left his wife to adventure, promising to return within seven years. It took him longer than that, and he returned to find his wife, believing herself a widow, about to marry again. They had exchanged their wedding rings before he left, and he slipped her ring into her goblet of wine. When she drank the wine, she found and recognized the ring and knew he had returned, so she joyously cancelled the wedding and welcomed him home. During his many adventures, he befriended a lion and found a magic sword that could chop off people’s heads on command without being wielded by hand. There’s a statue of Bruncvik with his sword in Prague by the Charles Bridge, and the hiding place of his sword – which he reportedly used to kill a dragon beneath the bridge – is supposedly within the stone of the bridge. Google Bruncvik and take a look at his sword, and you’ll applaud the work of the art team that replicated it!
The visual effects of the small plane in the storm, the hint of dragon wings vanishing from the landing man, and the cages in the sewers (um, cages? In sewers?) just didn’t do it for me. I did appreciate the combination of makeup and visual effects on the dragons to give them scales and claws in their partially transformed state, and to show the effects of the dragon-killing sword.
One little inside joke also made me laugh. I think that Penny, the first name of the girl in the teaser, may have been an homage to the very old television classic Sky King – which would be a fine chuckle, since that Penny loved small planes! – while her last name, Dessertine, was a nod to Rebecca Dessertine, Eric Kripke’s assistant and now the author of a couple of Supernatural novels. You know you’ve made it as part of the Supernatural family when the writers or the art department tie you into the show, so – congratulations, Becca!
Sorry this is so late, again: it's that pesky real-life thing that pays the bills ...
The lovely animated icon on this is by hellybongo . Thank you!