John’s secret, Dean’s fear:
Save Sam, or have to kill him.
Gordon makes Sam prey.
Supernatural follows only one truly predictable pattern: every time a question is answered, however satisfyingly, the answer itself raises more questions. In Hunted, after 106 agonizing days of impatient waiting and rampant speculating, we finally learned what John whispered to Dean before he died: that Dean had to save Sam, that nothing else mattered, and that if he couldn’t save Sam, he would have to kill him.
Was it any wonder that Croatoan pushed Dean over the edge? He saw John’s words come to life: he failed to save Sam from being infected, he fully expected that the virus would turn Sam into something he would have to kill, and anticipating what he would have to do when that happened broke him. And when it didn’t happen, when Sam inexplicably turned out to be immune … Dean realized that he’d just had the merest foretaste of the rest of his life, the dread he’ll face in his dreams and his every waking moment. Save Sam, but – save him from what, exactly? Sam immediately assumed that the warning meant that he might turn darkside, a reasonable conclusion given what he’s feared ever since realizing what Max had done in Nightmare and what he’d overheard from Ansom in Simon Said. This seemed borne out in this episode by what the doomed Scott said about his yellow-eyed demon dreams, and what Gordon recounted from his exorcism interrogation of a lesser demon. But – demons lie. And what did happen to Ava? Did she abruptly and without any warning turn darkside demonic rogue and brutally slaughter her fiancé? Was she taken somehow, with no one like Dean there to save her, when her fiancé was killed by a demon? (And is that kind of demon-snatch disappearance what Dean must really save Sam from?) Did she find her demonically deceased fiancé, freak out, drop her engagement ring, and flee? Did her fiancé turn on her, demonically possessed, to force her to kill him, followed by Ava stripping off the ring in negation and going on the run? Or was she never quite the sweet innocent that she seemed in the first place? And could I come up with any more abstruse options?
Gordon’s decision to assume that Sam’s fate was ordained and simply kill him to prevent it bodes ill for the boys’ future in the hunter community. By asserting that he had Roadhouse connections to assist in his research, Gordon implied that others may also know about the special children, and specifically about Sam, so even if Gordon remains incarcerated, other hunters of his like mind could come after Sam at any time. And Gordon gave every sign of being fully as slippery to hold as the
For all the questions this reveal brought us, it also did answer a lot, most especially about Dean’s behavior. Dean’s heart hasn’t been in the hunt since John died; he’s hunted only for distraction, and as an acceptable outlet for the violence of his repressed rage. It’s been almost painful to have every episode begin with Dean’s earnest, impassioned voiceover from Wendigo, delivered straight from the heart of his lifelong commitment to the hunt – “I think he wants us to pick up where he left off. Saving people, hunting things – the family business.” – and to contrast that with his current loss of mission focus and compassion. His shift, however, makes perfect sense in the wake of hearing John’s instruction: You have to save Sammy. Nothing else matters. Considering the price of failure in that mission (If you can’t save him, you’ll have to kill him.), routine hunting really doesn’t seem to matter any more, and the risk that a hunt would bring on whatever it is that he needs to save Sammy from just doesn’t seem worth the chance. Sam and John between them defined Dean’s life: now he’s lost John, and been left with the knowledge that if he fails Sam, he’ll have to kill the brother he loves more than life. Dean’s recent string of hard and fast decisions to kill without hesitation, even in the absence of an obvious and imminent threat – whimpering Mrs. Tanner, anyone? – takes on a different complexion now. When anything might be the thing, the imperative to save Sammy is all that matters, no matter the cost to anyone else or to Dean’s own equilibrium and conscience. No wonder Dean’s burned out.
Not knowing exactly what he has to save Sammy from complicates the issue. Sam has been afraid of himself ever since Max: the fear that he could turn into a monster despite his best intentions has been gnawing at his mind for over a year, and everything he’s learned since then has simply strengthened the likelihood that this will be his challenge. Knowing and loving the innate goodness in his brother (“He’s got more of a conscience than I do!”), Dean has staunchly resisted believing that Sam could become like Max or Ansom, although he was forced in Simon Said to acknowledge his growing fear that it might be true. He clings to the “might” in that statement, and to the truth that “might” equally encompasses “might not.” And he clings as well to John having told him first that he must save Sam, which holds within it the potential that he could succeed in the saving and avoid having to kill his brother.
In his own beliefs, Sam has equated becoming a killer with becoming a monster, and the words of the yellow-eyed demon in Ansom’s and Scott’s dreams, repeated by the lesser demon who “let it slip” to Gordon about these children being soldiers in the upcoming fight, would seem to support that. It suggests that the demon can claim them somehow if they once start down the escalating path of doing evil things – start by killing a cat, progress to killing a human, go on to being a soldier on the side of hell – and that it is using a variety of tools to push the children in that direction. Max had an abusive family, Ansom and Scott had influencing dreams, and even fecklessly innocent Andy wound up killing Ansom – whom the demon had warped and aimed in his direction – to save Tracey and Dean. Sam has wondered out loud whether Jessica’s death and the events of recent hunts may have been tailored to get him, like Andy, to kill, and whether his history of killing supernatural things may not make it even more likely that he would then be predisposed to go darkside. His fear of that consequence has magnified his natural moral aversion to the idea of taking a human life into a terrifying imperative that he resist killing no matter what. I do suspect that, sooner or later, Sam will confront the ultimate temptation to break that resolve by having only a split second and no soft options to deal with someone on the verge of killing Dean. Does he decide to accept a nearly certain risk of losing his brother, or choose to kill the threat and possibly lose himself? I’m certain that idea is tacked up on the wall in the Supernatural writers’ room just awaiting inclusion in a script, if it isn’t in one already. And if Sam in some situation chose deliberately not to kill in an attempt to avoid going darkside, and someone innocent whom he could have saved died, would that death, resulting from an essentially selfish choice, doom him more certainly than if he actually killed, as Dean and Andy have, to preserve an innocent life?
And now, for a little head-spinning devil’s advocacy …
This concept of temptation leading to a fall – with or without a subsequent redemption – fits a lot of what we’ve seen in Sam’s Supernatural story thus far, and also meshes with classic elements of the archetypal hero’s journey and the structure of tragedy and epic. Just look at Eric Kripke’s favorite reference, Star Wars. But the very fact that it fits so well and appears to be the most plausible course makes me wonder if we and Sam aren’t being led down the garden path to believe something that may turn out not to be true. We’ve had ample demonstration already that Eric has a twisty, sneaky mind and a gift for mental prestidigitation; could he be doing it again?
So let me do a bit of supposing, and throw a few other half-baked ideas out there to prime the pump of speculation. Mind you, I’m not saying that I believe any of them; I’m just exploring.
“If you can’t save him, you’ll have to kill him.” This fits chillingly well with the idea that failing to save Sam will result in him turning/being turned into a monster and having to be killed, but other plants could sprout from these same seeds. Consider, if you will, whether Sam could be taken as the sacrifice in a ritual, where killing him first could become the only way to stop it. Or consider whether the choice comes down to killing him, or letting him meet a fate that would destroy his very soul or consign him to hell. Or consider any other variation on the “fate worse than death” scenario where a mercy killing (for you Firefly and Serenity fans, call this one the anti-Reaver option) is infinitely preferable to the alternative of being taken by the enemy. If you want to throw in other wild card options, feel free.
“He says there’s a war coming, and people like me – we’re gonna be the soldiers. Everything is about to change.” Again, this perfectly fits the “special children are recruits for hell” option. But it could equally well say that the special children are potential recruits for either side in the war, depending upon who or what sways them in which direction. Sam, with his well-developed conscience, built in aversion to evil, and total absence of interest in power, seems a more likely soldier in the service of good. Not to say that the bad guys wouldn’t prefer to have him on their team, but if it ultimately looked as if they weren’t going to get him, they could be adamant about not letting the angels have him either. Could that be why some demons – even ones connected with the yellow-eyed mastermind, like his “son” – have occasionally taken actions that could well have killed Sam? That could even explain why a demon “let it slip” to Gordon about Sam being involved – not a true slip or weakness by a tortured demon, but just another ploy to attack Sam from an unexpected direction and weaken his potential support network among other hunters. (Or, if Sam’s fears turn out to be true, it could have been an equally deliberate demonic plot to set Gordon up to hunt and be killed by Sam, so Sam would turn darkside … yipes, I’m arguing both ends against the middle!) And if the children are indeed intended to be hell’s soldiers, and killing is the means by which they are pledged to the dark side, what did the bad guys gain by effectively setting up established soldier Ansom to be taken out by the less practiced, basically good Andy, who apparently had never been much tempted to evil before and didn’t seem all that likely to turn into a stone killer afterward, either? At best, the bad guys swapped one for one, if Andy does go darkside: at worst, they sacrificed Ansom for no gain, and put Sam more than ever on his guard.
And what did happen with Ava?
Have I spun your head sufficiently yet? Mine is fully rotated, and then some!
In case this hasn’t been clear, I loved Hunted. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki manage somehow to keep getting better: their performances were incredible. I especially loved Jensen’s Dean in the scene by the water, telling Sam what he didn’t want to say with all the pain visible, venting his anger at John for having laid the burden on him, and begging Sam for time; Dean in the house, with his whole-body anguish at thinking that Sam had been killed, and then the way he lifted Sam up, took inventory of the blood and the bruises, and turned on Gordon with intent to kill, only to yield his trust to Sam; and the scene in the Impala, with his quiet, determined, “I can try”. Sam’s competence, intelligence, composure, and marvelous ability to kick ass were all a delight, and so was seeing Sam in the Impala doing the heavy lifting of both forgiving Dean and restoring the balance of their relationship by teasing his brother with the “What? Kill me?” line. That spot was still too tender to touch without making Dean flinch (“That is so not funny.”), but it brought them back to the comfort of the “Bitch”–“Jerk” camaraderie we’ve been missing lately. Sharing the burden has helped them both.
I also loved that Gordon remained a worthy opponent. He didn’t devolve into the typical villain, undone by stupidly underestimating his adversaries: he expected Sam and Dean to be smart, and took steps to counter them. He lost not because he was dumb or careless, but simply because Sam was better, and had more at stake to fight for.
Hunted was a marvelous setup for the second half of the season and beyond. Jensen’s and Jared’s performances, Raelle Tucker’s script, newcomer Rachel Talalay’s direction, and the disorientingly appropriate use of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” all sent me clean through the looking glass with new fears and questions screaming in my head.