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24 December 2011 @ 09:10 pm
7.03 The Girl Next Door: Nothing In Our Lives Is Simple  

The LJ Rich Text Editor is finally playing nice with OpenOffice, so I'm finally posting my one season seven review here on LJ. Yay! At last!!

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7.03 The Girl Next Door: Nothing In Our Lives Is Simple

What makes a monster?
Sam hunts, then frees, an old friend;
Dean kills her instead.


Episode Summary

I'm going to start this off with an apology and an explanation. I'm sorry, but I simply can't do detailed episode summaries anymore, so you won't see them featuring in my reviews this season. I'm in the process of launching a new part-time business doing voiceover work while I'm still working full-time for the U.S. government, and my official day job load is nuttier than ever, so I'm seriously over-committed. I don't want to give up the reviews, but I'm already running way behind – sorry about that, and I'll try to catch up – but to reduce the time expenditure, I'm going to cut the episode summaries. If the show goes to an eighth season, they may be able to come back; I'm hoping to retire from the Fed at the end of November 2012. Keep your fingers crossed that the voiceover business takes off to let me do it! I beg your indulgence to bear with me as I seek to embark on the next chapter of my life while still being a Supernatural addict. Thank you!

Commentary and Meta Analysis

I'm suspecting I liked this episode more than a lot of people did. I wasn't happy to see the brothers still so out of synch, with Sam bringing Dean cake instead of pie and deliberately sneaking out on him and Dean unable to trust Sam, lying to him, and killing a sympathetic monster Sam had let go free, but I could see where they both were coming from and I appreciated both the insight the episode gave and the consistency it reflected. I also think it helped establish the course of the rest of the season, particularly taken – as I think it was intended to be – just as a continuing part of the other initial two episodes.

In this commentary – my first completed one of the season, given how far behind I am on finishing the commentaries on Meet The New Boss and Hello, Cruel World – I discuss Sam coming to terms with being a freak; the underpinnings of Dean's decision to kill Amy; theories on the Leviathans; and issues concerning hiding out successfully when you're on the run.

I've Been Around Enough Bad To Know Good When I See It

I debated two lines to use as the tag for my discussion of Sam, but while his candid acceptance of being a freak was way up there, I thought the young-Sam quote above was even more important. When combined with Sam's observations on himself, admitting his freakishness to Dean while maintaining that he was managing it, it speaks to Sam being equipped to come to terms with himself, to recognize that despite the missteps he made and the bad things he did along the way, he's still a good person at heart – even as Amy was a good person, while her mother wasn't. And that's something crucial, something Dean hasn't been able to do for himself and needs to learn from Sam.

From the very beginning of the series, Sam was always afraid Dean would look at him as if he were a freak if he knew about his visions, then about the demon's plans for him, then about drinking demon blood and developing his blood-fueled powers. Sam always perceived and feared Dean judging him and finding him not human, finding him wanting, finding him not worthy of love. He did it again here: Look, I see the way you look at me, Dean – like I'm a grenade and you're waiting for me to go off. I'm not going off. I may be a freak, but that's not the same as dangerous. … That's okay: say it. I've spent a lot of my life trying to be normal. But, c'mon – I'm not normal. Look at all the crap I've done. Look at me now. I'm a grade A freak. But I'm managing it.

Most of the time in the past, I think Sam misread what he saw in Dean's eyes, projecting onto Dean the distaste and rejection Sam was afraid Dean would feel because Sam himself felt it, hating being different and fearing what he might become. In doing so, I think Sam missed the truth: Dean was always afraid for him, not of him, and never believed him a monster, at least not until Sam in When The Levee Breaks maintained he knew exactly what he was doing and intended it all. Sam knew Dean had been raised to hate and hunt the supernatural and thought that would color his view of Sam. He assumed Dean's reaction to him would be negative, and to prevent that, he hid things from his brother. But it was the hiding and the lying that triggered the fights and the anger that widened the chasm between the brothers throughout season four and into season five, not Sam unwittingly breaking the last seal unleashing the apocalypse. Sam came to loathe himself in season five for having triggered the apocalypse, thinking – because he blamed himself – that Dean also blamed him. It wasn't until Sam hatched the plot to trap Lucifer and Dean agreed to help that Sam finally saw the staunch truth of Dean's enduring love and used it to anchor himself and win.

Sam has changed since then, and for the better. Yes, he tried to hide his hallucinations from Dean in Meet The New Boss and Hello, Cruel World, but I submit his reason this time was different. When he woke from the strangling dream in Meet The New Boss and went in search of Dean and Bobby, I believe he meant to tell them what was going on with him until he overheard Dean's candid admission to Bobby that Dean was drowning in loss and clinging to the one and only unadulterated good he had left: the appearance that Sam really was okay. Sam resolved not to tell Dean the truth simply to leave intact the last life preserver still keeping Dean afloat. Once Death let the cat out of the bag, Sam came clean and admitted it all, however reluctantly. He backslid a little here, deliberately shutting out Dean and sneaking off to handle Amy on his own, intending to clean up in secret one more hidden mess that he perceived as his responsibility, but apart from that, Bobby had it right: It ain't like he's keepin' secrets. What you see is what you get. When Dean caught up and confronted him, he told the truth, including all the details of the past he'd never shared before.

Now that he has a handle on being able to tell his hellucinations from reality, Sam really does seem to be dealing with and accepting who and what he is. He can admit just how drastically he went wrong in the past and acknowledge that the horror he went through in Hell is playing out now in waking nightmares. For the very first time, however, he's facing all of that – his difference from normal, his errors, and his fears – without being angry and defensive about it. As he finally realized in Sam, Interrupted, anger and fear were always at his core. Now the anger seems to have abated, and while the fear still exists, he's facing and naming it instead of running from it, and that is huge. And while he hasn't let himself off the hook for having unleashed the apocalypse, he seems ready to accept that he did the right thing in paying the price to stop it – a price he's still paying, and willing to pay, because he's essentially a good man and can recognize that in himself.

While he's seeing himself pretty clearly, though, I think Sam is still misreading the worst of Dean's fear. I think Sam believes Dean is watching him so closely because he thinks Dean expects him to fall, to be overcome by Lucifer as he was in the past with catastrophic consequences for the world, and that's as mistaken as Sam thinking Dean would be as happy with cake as with pie. Yes, Dean’s afraid he’ll lose Sam to the broken wall, but I think his greatest fear about that isn't simply that Sam will fail, but that he will: that when some crisis comes, Dean will be helpless to prevent Sam from getting lost inside the Hell in his own mind, leaving just a physical shell behind. Dean's greatest fear is now, as I think it always has been, somehow failing Sam when his brother needs him the most, and everything in Dean's life has led him to expect that he will fail, because in his own mind, he always has.

And I don't think Sam has quite recognized or figured out yet how to assuage that particular fear. I think that's going to be Sam's real mission this season: making his brother see that both of them – Dean as well as Sam – are good people who can and will have some good things happen in their lives.

That's not going to be easy.

No Matter How Hard You Try, You Are What You Are

The hardest thing to watch in this episode was Dean utterly adrift, worried about Sam and unable to deal with it, then outright lying to Sam and going after Amy, killing her in front of her son. I'm sure a lot of fans hated everything about Dean's actions, considering them as belittling Sam and also being out of character for the man Dean had become after his realization in Bloodlust that not all monsters were, well, monsters in the evil sense of something meriting death.

I saw something different. I saw the Dean we've been watching gradually unraveling over the past six years finally reach the end of his rope and drop, condemning and executing himself as a monster in the person of Amy, accepting that he deserves nothing better and believing he's going to lose everything that matters anyway, if he hasn't already. I saw Dean surrendering the last vestige of hope he had left, effectively signing his own death warrant. I think Dean is now in the darkest space he's ever been in, and that's saying a lot.

And that broke my heart.

Ever since the end of season one, when he admitted to Sam in Devil's Trap that what he would do or kill for Sam or John scared him sometimes, Dean has considered himself something tainted, something twisted. He admitted as much to Jo in No Exit, and over the years, that has just gotten worse. It became exponentially bad after he died and went to Hell in No Rest For The Wicked. I still do believe that when he came back in Lazarus Rising, he told the truth about not remembering Hell, at least apart from the disturbingly vague flashes of terror and torment he and we caught in the very beginning and in the mirror in the hotel bathroom, and he didn't truly remember everything until the hallucination of Lilith assured him he did in Yellow Fever. From the moment the memories started to come back, however, they were unbearable, as evidenced first by his drinking and inability to sleep without nightmares, and finally by his admissions in Heaven And Hell and Family Remains that he had broken under torture and become a torturer in his own turn; even worse, that he had enjoyed torturing other souls. Since then, he's never stopped drinking, even though we've only ever seen him truly drunk once, in Yellow Fever. As we saw and heard him admit to Sam in Mannequin 3: The Reckoning, he also used drugs and cathartic violence to deal with the darkness.

The knowledge of what he had become and done in Hell remained with him and festered. Time and again, Dean rebuffed love and any chance at happiness as something he doesn't deserve because he believes at his core he's something evil, something wrong. On The Head Of A Pin brought it sharply into focus when Dean learned he had broken the first Seal by breaking in Hell when his father – at least according to Alistair – never had. He laid it out for Lisa in Exile On Main Street and Two And A Half Men, and then shared it with both Lisa and Ben in Mannequin 3: The Reckoning, after exposing it even more baldly to Veritas and to Sam – who unfortunately wasn't equipped with a soul and thus able to appreciate it at the time – in You Can't Handle The Truth. In all those episodes, as he showed earlier in Sam, Interrupted and 99 Problems among many others, he held himself responsible for the fate of others and didn't believe he deserved anything other than condemnation for having failed in his charge and for having become something monstrous even before he was briefly turned to a vampire in Live Free Or Twi-Hard. In Dean's mind, he perceived Hell as simply having uncovered an unpalatable evil he'd always contained but hidden from himself before: that in his innermost self, he enjoyed hurting others. Before Hell, it had come out sometimes only in the satisfaction he took in killing monsters, and had seemed acceptable in that context – remember his savagely brutal sawmill kill of the vampire in Bloodlust? – but in the aftermath of Hell, it marked him as bad in his own mind.

And this defines the biggest difference between Sam and Dean, I think, and also the essence of their very different experiences in Hell. Based on what we've seen of Sam's memories through his hallucinations and what we've heard about Dean's, I think their experiences in Hell were very different, and perhaps boil down simply to this: Sam's memories of Hell are of being a victim, while Dean's memories are of having become a monster to escape being a victim.

Think about it for a minute. The brothers' presence in Hell came about through very different mechanisms and served very different goals. Dean was deliberately enticed into Hell to be broken according to prophecy to become the Righteous Man who would break the first Seal by shedding blood in Hell. Alistair was committed from the outset to obtain one outcome: making Dean betray and disavow himself by agreeing to become a torturer of others and even learning to enjoy it. Sam, on the other hand, wound up in Hell incidentally because he used himself to trap Lucifer there; he sacrificed himself to save the world, and his reward was to be tormented for his interference by Lucifer and Michael, who were stuck in a cage in Hell because of him. From Sam's hallucinations, it appears Lucifer set out to punish him in every way he could for no other purpose than averting boredom and making him pay for having derailed the apocalypse and denied Lucifer his expected place as ruler of the new world order.

Now both brothers are back on Earth, both still with memories of their time in the Pit – but I think those times and memories were very different, and those differences resonate. And I think they mean Dean despises himself for a failure and a monster and has no hope at all, while Sam understands redemption and realizes that while he made mistakes and did colossally bad things, he also sacrificed and continues to work to correct them. He still holds himself responsible for the effects of what he did, but he doesn't believe at his core that he merits damnation. Instead, Sam has hope and believes in the transformative power of doing the right thing.

I think that defined the difference in their approaches to Amy. Sam perceived Amy as a mother preserving her son, an essentially good person who, despite being born a predator, resorted to killing only when pushed to the limit, and chose arguably evil targets when she had to kill. He rationalized her actions as the product of her love for and drive to protect her son, and saw in her a reflection of the same family love that's driven the Winchesters to kill things to protect each other. Dean also saw a reflection, but perceived Amy as a monster no different from him, someone who even with the best intent would rationalize her kills and kill again whenever a suitable justification presented itself.

In that perception, I emphatically do not believe Dean was regressing to his former, pre-Bloodlust black-and-white view of seeing all supernatural creatures as evil and meriting death. Instead, I think Dean was seeing himself in Amy and judging her as he judged himself. He didn't challenge her as a monster. Instead, I submit he saw her as a person, and more than that: he saw her as someone exactly like himself, someone who, given an incentive, had succumbed to the darkness lurking within and would do so again. But, people: they are who they are. No matter how hard you try, you are what you are. You will kill again. Trust me: I'm an expert. Maybe in a year, maybe ten; but eventually, the other shoe will drop. It always does. He took no joy or satisfaction from killing her, but did what he thought duty required based on the darkness of his own experience. He even displayed warped compassion by killing her quickly and unexpectedly, and laying her gently down on the bed as she died. That was a far cry from Dean's usual callous treatment of monsters in the past, and demonstrated to me that she was a person to him.

Dean had ample reason to believe what he said. He knew what he would do, if presented with a danger to Sam. He had seen what Amy would do, when presented with the need to save her son. Given the same choice again, there was no question what she would do. And similarly, no question what he had become or what he would be willing to do. Conversely, he saw her son as someone still innocent, someone who still might choose not to kill – although if the boy chose to come after him, Dean couldn't say he'd be unjustified.

So, was I disturbed when Dean killed Amy? No question: I was. But what disturbed me the most was what Dean's action said about how he viewed himself and his world, and how he hid all of that from Sam by faking acceptance of Sam's choice to let Amy go.

I said at the beginning of this section that I thought Dean was now at his darkest point ever in the history of this show. I mean that. When John died and left him the enigmatic warning that he had to save Sam or kill him, Dean floundered at first, but then found himself in his commitment to save Sam no matter what. When Dean went to Hell, he knew why he'd done it and counted Sam's life worth the price. When he came back, he was broken, but he had Sam, Bobby, Castiel, and a mission to help sustain and ground him, and while it was hard and he made mistakes, he eventually found his own free will up to the task of doing what he thought was right. When Sam went to Hell, Dean knew – however painful the thought – that Sam had done the right thing, redeemed his prior failings through his sacrifice, and knowingly accepted the consequences, and all he could do to honor Sam's choice was live as Sam had wished him to live. In addition, while they couldn't make up for Sam's loss, he had Lisa and Ben to love and protect, and I have to believe that helped anchor him to living, even though he still drank too much and always carried grief and guilt. When Sam came back different, Dean set himself to put his brother back together again, and succeeded – but only under the cloud of the warning that Sam's Hell memories could leave him worse than dead if they came to the fore, and if that happened, there would be no way to put him together again.

On top of all that, everything Dean has seen in the past few years has predisposed him to believe hope is an illusion and he – and everyone – will always fail. His father died and went to Hell for him, when he never believed himself worthy of that sacrifice. He broke in Hell and became his own worst nightmare. He didn't understand and couldn't reach Sam in time to prevent him from breaking the last Seal in Lucifer Rising. He couldn't save Ellen and Jo, and their deaths became apparently meaningless when he couldn't kill Lucifer with the Colt in Abandon All Hope. He couldn't stop Lucifer and Michael, and could only be present while it was left to Sam to act and sacrifice himself in Swan Song. He couldn't both protect and live with Lisa and Ben in season six, and knowing him nearly got them killed. During his brief stint as Death in Appointment In Samarra, he couldn't predict or deal with the expanding consequences of having interfered in the natural order to save the little girl, forfeiting the bet he thought was his only means of getting Sam's soul back and still having to reap the innocent little girl to begin to set things right. In Mommy Dearest, he saw Lenore – his own personal conversion poster child for monsters not always being evil and killing them not always being right – overcome by her vampire nature despite her best resolve, begging to be killed before she lost control again. Finally, he couldn't stop Castiel in The Man Who Knew Too Much either from opening Purgatory or from breaking the wall in Sam's mind, and he lost his best and most peculiar non-human friend to monster possession and seeming dissolution in Meet The New Boss and Hello, Cruel World even as he saw his brother drowning in the rising tide of his Hell memories and hallucinations.

Is it any wonder that Dean now sees only darkness and despair and believes that the monster within anyone – himself particularly included – will always get out? I would submit he's clinically depressed and has been so for a long time. I've written a lot about that before, especially in 99 Problems. (You can skip the rest of the links in this article if you like, but this is one you really might like to follow, if you haven't read it before …) The long and short of it is, all of Dean's history for the past six years has been, to his mind anyway, a tale of mounting failure and loss, and he's finally at the point where his previous coping mechanisms – drinking, drugs, sex, violence, and soldiering on despite futility simply because that's what a Winchester does – are failing to do the job of keeping him in the fight any longer.

Despite Dean's dark journey, however, I'm going to go on record and say I emphatically don't believe the message of Supernatural is that Dean's right in believing there is no hope and he's doomed to failure and losing Sam. Quite the contrary. This show has always been about family, love, free will, making choices, making mistakes, accepting consequences, trying to do the right thing, and seeking – and gaining – redemption for failure. The brothers have always taken turns falling down and lifting each other back up; they've been each others' counterweights from the beginning of the show, and they're the stronger for it. Now I think it's Sam's turn, despite his own problems, to be the light in Dean's darkness. However damaged Sam is, he’s coping, and much better than Dean; Sam has hope. Sam believes in good. It may not be in God any more, but Sam again has faith – in Dean, in Bobby, in his own chance to persevere. His faith in Castiel was proven when the angel answered his prayer in Hello, Cruel World and admitted he needed help, expressing honest remorse for his mistakes. Sam's willingness to believe in and act on friendship, love, and the hope of the victory of good began the salvation of Castiel, and I, for one, don't believe that journey is over. And to borrow a different Christian allegory, while Dean is currently in the Slough of Despond, sinking in the mire of his perceived sins and their guilt, The Pilgrim's Progress didn't end there, and I don't think Dean's story will, either. I'm hoping Sam may be his Help to give him a hand up and set him back on the road, encouraging him to let go of his self-loathing and self-blame and leave them behind in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and to rediscover the essential goodness at his core.

And as for all the darkness these characters have been through, well – there would be no need for salvation if there hadn't been a fall, would there?

Consensus Is They're A Lot Like Shapeshifters

The Leviathans are proving to be interesting monsters. We still don't know how many there are, but a whole group of them streaked through the water when they escaped from Castiel's body in Hello, Cruel World, looking much like the clouds of myriad demons we saw bursting free from the Hell gate in All Hell Breaks Loose Part II, invading cities in The Magnificent Seven, attacking the police station in Jus In Bello, and flipping the Impala in The Man Who Knew Too Much. Like demons, once they invade a body through skin contact with or ingestion of black water, they can tap the knowledge and memories of their human host while running the show; the Leviathan occupying the little girl bemoaned her limited resources and took away from TV a very mistaken impression of the freedom and authority of surgeons, while the Leviathan who took the mechanic also gained his knowledge of demolitions. The fate of the human soul in the host body is something we don't know yet.

But the Leviathans go further than demons. Like shapeshifters, they can change the form of their original host to match some other human they come in contact with, and they acquire the knowledge of the person whose form they assume; the Leviathan in the girl shapechanged into the form of Dr. Gaines and acquired his understanding of anesthesia and surgery. Unlike shifters, they eat the people whose forms they've taken. Also unlike shifters, they bleed black goo when injured, something we saw not only from Castiel in Hello, Cruel World, but also from Eve – who also demonstrated shapeshifting at an even higher level, taking on the appearance of Mary without any contact at all with her human template – at the end of Mommy Dearest.

The black goo, the shapeshifting, and the residence in Purgatory all make me wonder if Eve herself was – and possibly still is – one of the Leviathans, and one of the most powerful among them. According to Death in Hello, Cruel World, God made the Leviathans before angels and humans, and Eve claimed in Mommy Dearest to be far older than Castiel, saying she knew what made angels tick. I wonder if some of the Leviathans may share Eve's ability to make and adapt other monsters, and I wonder if they too might be brought low by something they used their own essence to craft, as Eve could be burned by the ashes of a phoenix.

Like demons and angels, the Leviathans clearly have a hierarchy, with one at the top whom we haven't yet met giving orders to the rest through lieutenants. The girl/Gaines Leviathan and the Edgar one both mentioned reporting to another. I'm curious to know who he will turn out to be. The Leviathans predating both angels and humans makes me think they might be akin in mythological terms to the Titans, the Elder Gods in Greek mythology who preceded and were ultimately defeated by the more commonly known Olympian gods, or the Jotuns and Vanir who opposed and were defeated or subsumed by the Aesir in Norse mythology, or the gods and monsters who sided with Tiamat in Babylonian myth and were subdued by Marduk. Another possibility could be the seven princes of Hell, but since Supernatural already referenced Binsfeld's 1589 classification of demons to link the seven princes of Hell to the demons embodying the seven deadly sins in The Magnificent Seven, I'm guessing they won't revisit that particular mythical well to explain the Leviathans. Then again, I could easily be wrong. The show could conflate multiple mythologies into one, or spin off a partial retelling of a myth as incomplete; it's happened before, and I'm certain (and content!) that it will happen again.

The Leviathans' commitment to destroying the Winchesters and Bobby Singer based on what they learned of the hunters through Castiel's eyes and memories tells me unequivocally that there are things on Earth that could injure or kill them, or at least drive them back to Purgatory as an exorcism drives a demon back to Hell. They would have no reason to expend time and resources hunting the hunters unless they feared the ability of particularly competent and lucky humans to deduce (or fortunately stumble upon) the weapons and strategy they would need to defeat the Leviathans. They clearly gleaned from Castiel's memories that the Winchesters and Bobby have been the most consistently deadly and successful hunters in recent memory, and thus pose the biggest threat to them.

Given the general absence of lore on the Leviathans and the vague and conflicting accounts of how various Elder God types were defeated in non-Christian mythologies, I suspect this season may see the brothers, Bobby, and other hunters employing a lot of trial-and-error approaches, similar to Crowley's attempts to discover the weaknesses of the Alpha monsters. Witness, for example, Crowley's announced discovery in Caged Heat that iridium could injure or kill the Alpha shapeshifter, even though it was resistant to the silver weapons that could kill its weaker offspring. Crowley went through a lot of shifters before he learned that; I think the situation with hunters and the Leviathans may be the same. I also think Crowley might be a useful source of information precisely because of his experiments on the Alphas, but I wonder and worry about how he will behave as Heaven once again enters a leadership power vacuum after Castiel's disappearance.

The bottom line, however, is that the Leviathans obviously CAN be killed or banished by things we have right here on Earth; if they truly were impervious to everything, they wouldn't be trying so hard to find and kill the Winchesters and Bobby. Clearly, however, lead, silver, salt, holy water, and the like are not going to be efficacious. Hunters will have to start thinking way outside the usual box in order to find weapons that will work, and I suspect that – as with demons – the higher up the chain the Leviathan is, the fewer are the weapons that will be effective against him, her, or it.

Keeping The Same Tags Makes You Easy To Track

Dean's observation to Amy indicating how he'd found her – because she hadn't changed the license plates on her car – clearly forecast yet another avenue the Leviathans will doubtless exploit in their search for the Winchesters. I think the Leviathans will take a page from Lilith's book and sic the law on the Winchesters to help hunt them down, and I think the cops might be even more dangerous to the Winchesters than the Leviathans themselves. After all: cops are human, and the brothers even now draw the line at killing garden-variety, unpossessed people who aren't evil witches actively doing spells to doom others.

I have a whole additional Supernatural University blog that's been in the works but incomplete for months discussing the situation of the brothers and the law, but the essence of it is this: that because most law enforcement (like most crimes) is local in nature, the brothers never truly got on the national radar until – as we learned in season three's Jus In Bello – a demon evidently possessed an FBI deputy director and assigned Victor Henriksen to Dean's case to hunt the Winchesters down. The brothers first encountered Henriksen in Nightshifter during season two, and after they crossed paths with him again in Folsom Prison Blues, they finally took their danger seriously. We saw at the beginning of What Is And What Should Never Be that Dean had changed the license plates on the Impala after the prison episode in order to make her more anonymous. I predicted then – wrongly, as it turned out – that we would probably see the Impala's plates change at least every few weeks as the brothers journeyed across the country, because local plates always attract less attention than out-of-state ones. That potential danger evaporated for the brothers after Jus In Bello because Henriksen reported them dead, so the license plates never changed again. Now, I'm thinking they won't have any choice but to do at least that, and will probably have to do more to stay hidden, because the hunt is on again.

To understand why this wasn't a huge issue before, you need to realize that few crimes ever garner nationwide police attention; the country is simply too big and too populous to brief every local cop about every suspect from every place, so only the worst crimes make national headlines and blotter sheets. Because of that, the brothers' life on the road was and remains their greatest advantage. Because they travel the highways and byways by car and avoid airports, trains, and buses, they can stay more anonymous than most. They tend to frequent small towns and back roads much more than big cities, places often out of the loop when it comes to bulletins and alerts for wanted fugitives. There are far too many cars on the road for police to be watching out for many specific ones, so a single car is still the least likely thing to be spotted, especially since the boys range literally all over the country; vehicle alerts are much easier to manage within a defined area. The absurdly distinctive Impala is still their greatest weakness, but in the poorer areas where the boys tend to rent or squat, an old car stands out less than a new one, so on balance, the comfort of it was worth the risk most of the time. I still think they should have been stealing local plates on a regular basis simply because a beautifully restored classic car with local plates is just cool, while an obvious classic with plates from somewhere far away is noteworthy. Vanishingly few cars that old and well maintained are driven on long road trips in the States. Most are carried on trailers to car shows and that's about it, so seeing one as a road cruiser would make it stick out.

Given the Leviathans' infiltration of human activities, doubtless including law enforcement as well as the credit card company we saw in this episode, the Impala may no longer be safe. I would bet that the next time the brothers are discovered – well, maybe the second time from now, after they figure out that their credit card aliases are blown – it would be because of the car. I hope they figure out a countermeasure in a hurry, because Dean without the Impala would be something unnatural, and even more fodder for depression.

Production Notes

I have a few critical things to say about the script by Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin – when don't I? – but I have nothing but praise for every other aspect of this episode's production, from the direction by second-time helmer Jensen Ackles, the stellar editing by veteran Nicole Baer, the special effects and visual effects work, and all the performances by both regulars and guests. I can't wait to see where this episode leads.

As usual, I'll get my criticisms out of the way first. The team of Dabb and Loflin has always been problematic for me. Some of their episodes have been absolutely stellar – Dark Side Of The Moon comes to mind – but others have been the absolute worst of the worst: Hammer Of The Gods, anyone? My usual issues with them involve lazy writing, poor research, slapdash sophomoric humor, and going for film homage at the expense of story (Kill Bill, in this case), and because of that, this episode was a bit of a mixed bag script-wise. Some of the plot logic trouble wasn't their fault, being an outgrowth of choices made by the overall writing team setting up the season: the biggie there was that a whole series of unexpected deaths at a hospital wouldn't go unnoticed and couldn't be glossed over as easily as intimated by the girl/Gaines Leviathan in this episode and in Ben Edlund's Hello, Cruel World. The pieces that really bothered me in this episode were Bobby's miraculous, glossed-over survival, particularly combined with his total lack of explanation for not responding to (or even seemingly being aware of) Dean's heart-baring phone call from the last episode; the utter improbability that Dean's badly broken leg, which the ambulance EMT described as an open compound fracture of the tibia, could have healed enough to walk on in only three weeks and a couple of days (six to eight weeks is far more realistic even for a fast healer); the preposterous idea that an ambulance crew responding to Dean's 911 call wouldn’t have noticed a hand sticking out from under a fallen car mere feet from the fallen brothers; and the Leviathans' awareness of all of the Winchesters' aliases, especially given that Castiel, the only ready source for the information, had never paid attention to or understood the pop-culture references supplying them. And unless Dean's entire reason for deciding to overnight in Spokane, Washington was based on Bobby having located Amy there after she fled from Bozeman, Montana, it wouldn't have made any sense that he could have dropped Sam off at a motel, driven to Amy's hiding place, waited her out, killed her, and returned to Sam within an amount of time reasonable for having made a pharmacy run to refill his prescription – the excuse he'd given Sam.

I can devise rationales or excuses for all the pieces except the miraculous, record-time healing of Dean's broken leg and the ambulance crew’s failure to notice Edgar’s hand under the car. My personal, preferred rationale for Bobby's survival is simply that he wasn't home when Edgar torched the place, probably because he was checking up on Sheriff Jody Foster’s well-being – which could also have explained his phone being set to go straight to voicemail *cough*. That wouldn't account for his dismissal of Dean's amazement and relief at his survival, though, because why else would he have gone looking for the brothers at the hospital unless he'd heard Dean's message and found them gone, with both the Impala and evidence of a fight left behind? On the other hand, Bobby not verbally acknowledging the suicidal, confessional desperation in Dean’s phone call made perfect sense just because it’s the guy thing to do. On the aliases, I could buy that one of the Leviathans, having taken a more music-savvy host, might have recognized the assorted ID names in Castiel’s memory as rock stars and set up a search for any rock star names turning up on credit card purchases, but if they track any non-rock aliases, I’d call foul. And as for explaining away to Sam the time it took to find and kill Amy, well – I expect Dean would blame a stop at the nearest bar.

Enough of the nit-picking, though. On to the good stuff! I do give Dabb and Loflin credit for quietly solid character work with both Sam and Dean being their respective selves, always heartbreakingly missing each other by inches in passing. I loved the shout-out to the past in the team crashing for safety in one of Rufus's virtually forgotten safe houses, which Bobby would have known about from the years when they hunted together. And I saw a lot of truth and practical wisdom for everyone in Bobby's approach to dealing with the day-to-day problems of Dean and Sam: take each day as it comes, don't go looking for trouble, celebrate every small victory and minor blessing, have patience, don't waste time and effort stressing over things you can't change, don't dwell on expecting the worst, cherish being with those you love. And be paranoid enough to have made and stashed away copies of anything you thought important. I'm sure some folk saw that last bit as a lazy cop-out to negate the impact of the burning of Bobby's house, but we'd already seen examples before of his paranoid forethought: just remember Bobby announcing in the beginning of Let It Bleed that Castiel's theft of a crucial Campbell journal wasn't the disaster it could have been because Bobby had already copied it. I had no problem accepting that he'd commonly taken out insurance against loss in the most practical fashion possible by distributing multiple backups in safe places.

I can only imagine the challenge Jensen faced in constantly changing hats from actor to director and back again, but he did a superb job in both roles. On the directing front, he had fun playing with some unusual and interesting camera moves and angles that visually complemented and reinforced what was happening in scenes, including the shaky, anxiety-fueled shot from the gurney of Bobby escaping the hospital with Sam and the really low shot at the gas station looking up at Bobby – the man Dean looked up to for advice – talking on the phone calmly advising Dean to give Sam a couple of days. I also loved the way he shot Dean in the mirror in Amy’s motel room at the end, given that Dean saw Amy as reflecting the monster in himself. I give him props for how clearly he planned, shot, and used visuals to convey things from the script that otherwise might not have made sense – for example, intercutting young Sam using the map and figuring out the pattern of the kitsune hunts with adult Sam doing the same thing to pick the park where he parked and waited for Amy, and establishing Sam’s hand reaching into Amy’s pocket before she knocked him out to establish how he got the receipt that let him track her. I loved his attention to detail in such things as capturing the fallen crutches on the ground as the ambulance sped away. And all the blur transitions between present Sam and young Sam were just gorgeous. Changing the color process on the scenes taking place in memory was a nice way to distinguish the timelines. I have to include veteran editor Nicole Baer in my applause for the way all the shots and scenes were cut to enhance the flow of the story and keep everything clear.

On the acting front, Jensen brought the funny (falling out of bed in the hospital while stoned on morphine, and becoming addicted to daytime telenovelas during enforced rest? Priceless!), the fear (Sam), and the anguish (almost everything else). Jared did a great job as Sam confronting his past, initially resolved to correct his perceived mistake in have let Amy go the first time, and then becoming convinced that letting her go was still the right thing to do. Seeing Sam's happiness when Dean pretended to accept his decision was heartbreaking. When will these brothers finally learn that keeping secrets from each other is always a bad thing? I also loved the subtle touch of Jared always stroking the scar on Sam's palm every single time he became aware of, talked, or thought about dealing with his hallucinations and staying in touch with reality.

All of the guest stars were spot on, especially Jim Beaver as Bobby, trying to be Sam's advocate and the calm voice of temperance and patience to Dean; the absolutely riveting Colin Ford as young Sam, who I swear somehow gets better and more like Jared's Sam every single time he appears in the role; Jewel Staite and Emma Grabinsky, who made Amy humanly sympathetic and likeable both as a mother and as a child; and Leslie Hopps Deschutter, who provided a sharp counterpoint to humanistic Amy in the role of Amy's wholeheartedly monster mother, who tried – and failed – to get her daughter to see humans as nothing more than food. The casting directors on this show deserve every dollar they are paid, because they keep bringing in such perfect gold. I hit the rewind button when I thought I recognized a face and chuckled when I realized they'd brought back Nico McEown, who played silent, traumatized Lucas in season one's Dead In The Water, to play one of the bullies who threatened young Amy and got beaten by young Sam. Young actors grow up!

In terms of background details, I laughed out loud at hearing the very same documentary video clip about wildebeest stalked by a predator used back in Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid playing as Dean woke up alone in the cabin. They edited the narration differently, but it was still evident, and very funny. The credit card company Leviathan on the phone with a customer suggesting that a call on the man's bill to “Mistress Magda” might have been fraudulent was another hilarious callback, this time to the prophet Chuck in Swan Song.

The technical team also gets high marks from me. Serge Ladouceur always does amazing things with light and this episode was no different. The look he gives to every episode of Supernatural is distinctive. I loved Ivan Hayden's subtle visual effects – which might or might not have been augmented by practical special effects in the form of cats-eye contact lenses on Jewel Staite – making the kitsune's eyes distinctly not human whenever she exerted herself to attack and as she died, and growing the kitsune's claws just prior to attack. On the special effects front, I have to wonder if we're all going to be playing a new game during the rest of this season called “Spot Sam's Missing Scar.” Somehow, I can't see Jared getting a cosmetic prosthetic scar applied to his left palm every single day he shoots, so I'm betting we're going to have occasions when a camera incidentally catches Sam's left palm and finds it scarless. I was frankly surprised when they established the injury and its resulting scar in such a prominent place during the first two episodes this season. Cosmetic scars and tattoos on major characters are a continuity nightmare, because the crew have to ensure they're present any time they might be visible. Just think back to the brothers' anti-possession tattoos; ever wonder why they were placed where they were? Yeah, near the heart is nicely symbolic, but the more practical reason is they're hidden most of the time because of the brothers' propensity for wearing layers of clothing. Any time either of the brothers is scheduled to be shirtless, however, someone has to remember to add the tattoo to the day's instructions or risk the wrath of the continuity gods. Given that Jared's hand is never gloved, that scarred palm may make for a very fun detailed viewing game as the rest of the series progresses!

My last comment is on the episode's music. Anyone who's been reading my reviews knows I'm a sucker for Jay Gruska underscores, and also that I can't help loving the incidental music added to the soundtrack. In this episode, I chuckled for young Sam finally being exposed to music his Dad and Dean would never have listened to – in this case, the Goo Goo Dolls' “Two Days In February.” Sam's line about his Dad never listening to anything recorded after 1979 was a teasing reference to show creator Eric Kripke's often-mentioned musical bias and made me grin. This particular song was first released in 1990 on the Goo Goo Dolls album “Hold Me Up.” It was a fitting song for Sam in 1998, and for both the brothers now:

You say you got no faith in things that you can't see
Well I'm sorry I ain't there with you, but you ain't here with me
And I'm down in all my fears
But I ain't cryin' no tears over you
'Cause everything's wrong
Well it's all right
Everything's wrong
Well it's all right.

And I still believe it will eventually be all right, despite being all wrong.




Winchesters endure. They survive. And somehow ... they make it right in the end.

 
 
Current Mood: calmcalm
Current Music: The Winchester Radio podcast on "Death's Door" with Jim Beaver - finally!
 
 
 
borgmama1of5borgmama1of5 on December 25th, 2011 06:41 pm (UTC)
Very thorough analysis! I had to chuckle at some of your points which have come to pass--you were right on about ditching the Impala--and wincing about your thoughts on Dean being at his lowest, knowing his state of mind has gotten even worse...

"Sam's memories of Hell are of being a victim, while Dean's memories are of having become a monster to escape being a victim"

I have always maintained that this is a crucial difference in how the boys have handled their Hell experiences, and I desparately want someone to make Dean see that he is not a monster because he failed to not break under torture specifically intended to destroy his will! Your analysis of Dean's state of mind rings very true to me...and I hope you are also right that show will use Sam to 'rescue' Dean this time around! I don't know if I can take much more of watching Dean in such hopelessness!

Don't apologize for not being able to devote as much time to fandom as in the past--kudos to you for tackling a new field, and good luck with it! Any time you have a bit to post will be cause for cheer!

And Happy Holidays!
amonitrateamonitrate on December 25th, 2011 10:10 pm (UTC)
I saw the Dean we've been watching gradually unraveling over the past six years finally reach the end of his rope and drop, condemning and executing himself as a monster in the person of Amy, accepting that he deserves nothing better and believing he's going to lose everything that matters anyway, if he hasn't already. I saw Dean surrendering the last vestige of hope he had left, effectively signing his own death warrant. I think Dean is now in the darkest space he's ever been in, and that's saying a lot.

Yeah, that's what I saw too.

Sam's memories of Hell are of being a victim, while Dean's memories are of having become a monster to escape being a victim... And I think they mean Dean despises himself for a failure and a monster and has no hope at all, while Sam understands redemption and realizes that while he made mistakes and did colossally bad things, he also sacrificed and continues to work to correct them. He still holds himself responsible for the effects of what he did, but he doesn't believe at his core that he merits damnation. Instead, Sam has hope and believes in the transformative power of doing the right thing.

Yeah, I think this is a really important point.

Instead, I submit he saw her as a person, and more than that: he saw her as someone exactly like himself, someone who, given an incentive, had succumbed to the darkness lurking within and would do so again.

Yeah, I think it's vitally important that he emphasized "people" in his dialog, rather than her being a monster.