8.13 Everybody Hates Hitler: Knowledge Is Power, Isn't It
Hunt down secret enemies;
Take charge of your life.
Commentary And Meta Analysis
This episode was pure delight from beginning to end: a signature Ben Edlund blending of humor and horror beautifully realized by the cast, director Phil Sgriccia, and every single creative production department. The headquarters bunker set of the Men of Letters was nothing short of amazing, and I can't wait to see more of it and learn about the resources it provides.
I don't have a lot of things to say about this episode in terms of meta, so this discussion is going to be very short by my standards. I'm going to look at the season's continuing theme of taking responsibility, speculate about secret societies, and enjoy the brothers' reactions to their inheritance.
He Left Me Something Important; Something Only I Can Do
I enjoyed the parallel of the Winchesters and Aaron Bass dealing with unexpected supernatural inheritances and concomitant duties from their paternal grandfathers. In keeping with the show's message of accepting responsibility and taking positive action, the brothers and Aaron accepted both their gifts and their missions. It wasn't much of a stretch for the Winchesters. They were already in the supernatural world and could appreciate the legacy of the Letters as something entirely good: a source of more knowledge, a safe physical base of operations, and a possible means of identifying more allies through tracing the descendants of the Letters' allies. For Aaron, however, learning the supernatural was real, becoming custodian of the golem, and taking on the mission of the Judah Initiative to oppose the Thule Society were huge steps.
I suspect that Aaron and his golem will eventually become part of the new network the Winchesters are beginning to build, resources to be available in the future. Over the last few seasons, the brothers were steadily deprived of friends and allies; now they have the opportunity to build new connections and reinforce old ones. People they met before have stepped up and taken on new roles and responsibilities: look at Garth, who's become much more than what he used to be because he felt the need to fill part of the void left by Bobby's death, and Charlie, who decided to stop running from supernaturally bad things and start fighting back instead. Kevin has grown into his role as prophet and translator, and his mother – while she proved too distracting to him to remain while he tried to translate the damaged tablet – demonstrated valuable toughness and flexibility. If he can stay clean, Benny could prove a strong asset. And sooner or later, I think it inevitable and greatly to be desired that Sheriff Jody Mills be drawn back into the fold; the brothers are going to need someone with law enforcement connections if they want to make the most of what the Letters' bunker has to offer.
Aaron needs to learn how to work effectively with the golem, to understand what the Judah Initiative knew about the Thule Society, and to develop the skills to survive being hunted by the remaining Thule members. Since one of Eckhart's strike team escaped, the Thule will know about Aaron and the golem, and will be looking for information on the Winchesters. It may take them a while to recoup and reorganize after the deaths of Eckhart, Torvald, and the others of their team, but the Thule will be on the hunt; by the time they are, Aaron will need to be ready. The red ledger carries the names of all the Thule members who were killed and reanimated, but as Sam indicated, Eckhart and Torvald weren't on the undead list, but also hadn't apparently aged. Finding the other Thule members will be a challenge.
And there's something else about the combined resources of the Men of Letters, the Judah Initiative, and the red ledger they obtained from the Thule Society: in the ledger is apparently the information they would need to reanimate the dead, bringing back someone who could then be killed only by a headshot followed by cremation. But just because you could do something doesn't mean you should; I wonder when they're going to be tempted by a loss they think they couldn't otherwise bear.
Yes: The Rabbis Knew The Men Of Letters
I laughed out loud at the discovery that all the secret societies we've suddenly uncovered knew about each other. It's funny to me that all of them, while touting their secrecy, actually formed a perverse network of connections with each other while hiding from the world at large. Trying to get a handle on the Men of Letters and their affiliated hunters in the hope of learning more about their inheritance, Sam found the Judah Initiative in the Letters' records. The J.I., in turn, were pursuing surviving core occult members of the Thule Society. The golem confirmed that the J.I. rabbis knew the Men of Letters, accepting the Winchesters because of their relationship. Eckhart and his cronies didn't know who or what the Winchesters were, and didn't care, but I suspect they'd have recognized the name of the Men of Letters if anyone had used it in their presence.
For the sake of reasonable credibility, I hope we don't keep stumbling over an ever-increasing number of secret societies!
I Think We Found The Bat Cave
I loved the bunker with all it suggested about the Men of Letters. The sheer size of it, including the number of chairs in just the library area, argued they formed a large, highly organized, very active group – which as I noted in my last review gave me problems both with its much-vaunted secrecy and with it having been entirely wiped out in a single night – but it also opened up many tantalizing possibilities. For example, the big World War II-style plotting board with its world map suggested the Letters had allies and possible operations around the globe, not just in the U.S., and that was bolstered by the Letters' file on the European-based Judah Initiative. And the shortwave radio and telephone switchboard pointed to real-time, potentially worldwide networking both between the Letters and their hunter teams and across to other groups. I really do hope we learn more about how all of that ground to a halt with no one left to keep the bunker manned and running.
While Dean observed all the files stopped in 1958, that only means the bunker's contemporary information on people and world events is dated. The vast majority of hunter-useful records, at least in our experience throughout the show, have tended to be old if not outright ancient texts, often dating back to times when the lines between myth and fact were not nearly so definitive as they are now, when embellished legends grew out of real tales told of disasters and monsters.
Who knows what information stored in the Letters' long-lost, inaccessible bunker might otherwise have helped the Winchesters learn more and earlier than they did about Purgatory, Eve, Alphas, Leviathan, demons, angels, and Death? Did the Letters know that all demons were once human? Did they know certain human bloodlines carried with them the ability to become vessels for angels? Did they know all monsters were crafted by Eve, and how she was stopped ten thousand years ago? Did they know Purgatory was the post-death destination of monster souls? Since Henry tapped the power of his soul to cast his time-travel spell, they knew souls were power sources; did they understand how angels and demons could use them? We've learned all these things just recently, right along with Sam and Dean, but it's very possible the Men of Letters had learned them long ago – but since access to the bunker had been lost, so was all that information.
And now it's back.
Who knows what else we and the Winchesters don't already know might be recorded in that card catalog? Did the Letters know what happens to ghosts when you burn their bones – whether they really are destroyed, or if their souls go somewhere else? They had a spell for time travel: what other powers could they invoke, that the brothers might now be able to learn?
And what are the powers of the weapons and other artifacts adorning the bunker walls and shelves, and what things are hidden out of sight under lock, key, curse box, and spell because they're simply too dangerous to left out in the open? Those tidy minds behind the card catalog Sam was updating doubtless organized everything in the place; what new resources will the brothers discover they now own? And when that information is combined with the other, much more haphazard libraries to which the brothers have access – books and journals collected and kept by Bobby and by the Campbells – who knows what other mysteries may be solved? The possibilities are endless. By opening this arena, the writers vastly expanded the Winchesters' potential universe in a plausible way, giving them access to resources and information they never had before. This could not only provide entirely new avenues of story and corresponding data on never-before-seen monsters, but open new perspectives on things we've already faced by showing us new angles and information the brothers simply didn't have before, because the Letters' archives had been hidden.
I also loved the brothers' differing reactions to the bunker. Dean, being the consummate hunter and sensory creature he is, was drawn immediately to its security, tactical design, creature comforts, convenience, and toys. Sam, being ever mind-hungry and intellectually precise, revelled and was immediately caught up in its treasure trove of organized, carefully catalogued information. I found it telling and also eminently appropriate that Dean labeled Sam a Man of Letters while not applying the same name to himself. Dean always found pride and satisfaction in simply being a hunter; Sam always wanted more. Given that he was interviewing for a law school scholarship when the series began, Sam had to be close to completing his bachelor's degree at the time – close to putting academic letters behind his name. Both of the brothers have research skills, but only Sam loves learning for itself. The “Man of Letters” designation is uniquely appropriate for Sam, but it's not a name Dean ever remotely wanted for himself.
Although Sam initially stayed at the bunker while Dean hit the road to check in with Kevin, I don't see the brothers changing roles to the extent that Sam would routinely stay in and send Dean out on assignments. While Sam has the research inclination to be a Man of Letters, he also has the physical strength and hunter skills Henry and his teachers lacked, and the awareness that he and Dean working together can accomplish more than either of them alone. The brothers are most effective and safest as a team, the way they operated here investigating the death of Rabbi Isaac Bass. Still, I think they're going to conclude the resources of the bunker are too important to lie fallow while they're out on assignment. I think they're eventually going to decide to bring someone else in to live there full-time and take on the network coordinator/on-call researcher role. Once upon a time, that logically would have been Bobby. I don't know who it may be now, but I don't think it would be Garth. Among other things, Garth apparently has a successful personal relationship outside hunting; explaining his approach to relating to kids, he said in Party On, Garth that his “special lady” had twins. So: who might become the resident librarian? Perhaps Kevin, if he survives his stint as prophet? Someone we haven't yet met?
There are options!
I loved this episode unreservedly. Ben Edlund's script was brilliant, full of hilarious dialogue in multiple languages. It provided a great introduction to the Letters' bunker with a freestanding story that explored its resources while also touching on the other main unresolved questions of the season, reporting on Kevin's continuing labors and acknowledging both Castiel's continuing unexplained absence and the brothers' worry and utter inability to do anything about it. I chuckled at Edlund pointing out the inevitable questions of how the bunker had power and water, and simply brushing them away with Dean saying he wasn't going to worry about things in the “ain't broke” column. Sam's access to broadband internet in the bunker falls into the same category, on which I'll simply say the bunker had a radio antenna and Sam could have used it to access more signals than just shortwave. My only niggling issue was the consistent failure of everyone in the cast – including Bernhardt Forcher as Eckhart – to pronounce “Thule” correctly (it has two syllables, not one!), which I think was done deliberately in the script just to be able to make the “tool” joke when Dean called Garth for information.
Phil Sgriccia's direction was great, particularly in his use of forced perspective, clever camera angles, and careful blocking to exaggerate the golem's size. Actor John DeSantis is only about half a foot taller than Jared Padalecki, but by shooting from low angles and keeping DeSantis close to camera, Sgriccia expanded that difference by at least an additional foot. When the Winchester brothers had to be in close proximity to the golem in a confined space, particularly Aaron's rented home, the brothers were most often sitting while the golem remained in motion around the room's perimeter, and they remained sitting when the golem loomed over them. I suspect some of the props DeSantis interacted with – for example, the side table he smashed – were deliberately crafted to be a little smaller than standard, just to play up the size differential. I also loved Sgriccia's choices on the reveal of Jerry Wanek's absolutely incredible Men of Letters bunker set, starting with having Jared and Jensen Ackles provide the only lighting with their flashlights until Dean found the power box and threw the levers, and playing with the looks on the brothers' faces before showing us what they were seeing. The characters' reactions defined what ours would be. Nicole Baer's editing did a lovely job of setting crucial things up, including cutting in detail shots to clarify the placement of characters and weapons in the final combat scene in Aaron's rented home.
Speaking of the set reveal, the two-story bunker is a major work of art by Jerry and his team. This is without a doubt the biggest set Supernatural has ever owned (non-exclusive locations, including the backlot, don't count in this one!), and the most complex. I can't wait to see more of it! The detailed design elements blew me away, from the metal seals inset in the wooden floors to the weapons, armor, photos, and other artifacts on display, the antiquated communications, lighting, and electrical controls, the operations plotting board, and the gorgeous library. I also loved Dean's practical, post-discovery additions, especially the mini-fridge for handy beer in the library, hooked up with a long orange extension cord to the nearest power outlet. From design through construction to decoration and dressing, Jerry's crew get full marks for brilliance! And all the care given to shoot Eckhart's ring design makes me suspect we'll see the Thule again before this season ends, and recognizing that logo will be important.
From the opening scene with the Nazi enclave in Belarus through the present-day exploration of the bunker, Jay Gruska's underscore blended beautifully into the period music employed in the bunker scenes, including Ella Fitzgerald's “Get Thee Behind Me Satan” and Frankie Laine's “Sunny Side of the Street.” Those two music choices were particularly inspired, especially given Sam leaving his past psychological issues with Lucifer behind as he turned to fully sane research in the Letters' library and the brothers' comfort with each other and their surroundings as the episode came to a close.
The makeup crew gets a shout-out particularly for their work on the golem. John DeSantis is a big guy, but they helped make him particularly massive especially by augmenting his arms, chest, and neck. Their work made DeSantis look other than human, playing up the idea that he'd been crudely sculpted from clay before being brought to life. The visual effects team gets major points for burning Rabbi Isaac, with additional mentions for all the ways they tweaked the bunker set to expand its apparent dimensions and for the smaller effect used to show the spread of the Thule's magic spell incapacitating Sam in the library. Both visual effects and special effects blended in the fire in the Belarus scene.
And that brings me to the performances. I got a real kick out of Adam Rose's Aaron, starting with his cleverness and humor in playing the gay card to disconcert Dean and throw off his suspicion at being followed, all the way through Aaron recounting his reaction to his grandfather's crazy stories of a secret war, reacting to the Winchesters burying and burning Torvald's body, exchanging urgent eye messages with Dean refusing to try for a gun but ultimately braining Eckhart with a broken table leg, and finally taking charge of the golem and his new mission to become the Judah Initiative. Aaron grew so much as a character in this one episode that I hope we will see him again somewhere down the road, after he's acquired more information and seasoning. Rose played him with delightful range and a constant undertone of humor that preserved his sense of being a feckless everyman flung into an impossible situation.
Hal Linden as Rabbi Isaac had a small role, but played it to the max. His justified paranoia and acidic humor made his scenes with Andy Thompson, the actor who played the stickler librarian, hilarious. Thompson was perfect, another example of the casting folks coming up with supporting gold; I particularly loved his deadpan “Does shorten the list a bit” final line to Sam.
We saw John DeSantis on Supernatural before: he played Daggett back in Ghostfacers! in season three. His size, imposing presence, and incredible voice really sold the power of the golem. He came off as being something other than human, yet far from a monster; the embodiment of a defender.
Jensen and Jared showed the Winchesters coming to a new balance with each other as both Dean and Sam geeked out over the Letters' bunker in different ways, and then went on to function in perfect harmony as an investigative team. These guys not only have their facial expressions and tics perfectly in sync; their full bodies are caught up in their characters. I laughed to see Dean posing with the scimitar and rapidly trying to feign nonchalance as soon as Sam turned to look at him, and I adored the comfort of the brothers' final scene in the bunker, toasting each other with the Letters' fine whiskey instead of mere beer and being at ease in the library, Sam with his card catalog and Dean just relaxing. We've needed that peace as much as the brothers have, and the episode resolving that way was amazingly healing.
I know this is just the calm before the storm, but I can't help being cheered by the resources the Letters' bunker provides the Winchesters. Eckhart was right: knowledge is power, and with the Letters' library combined with Kevin's work on the demon tablet, the Winchesters have access to an unprecedented quantity and quality of organized knowledge: a veritable arsenal of power.
What they do with it and what it will cost them remains to be seen.