I’ll admit up front, I went into “Southern Comfort” with super low expectations. For one, the past two Garth episodes haven’t been very good. Two, the writer of the episode is Adam Glass. I’ve been his greatest critic and have been appalled by his inability to understand Sam and Dean. So when I saw in the previews this was going to be a big “brotherly blowup” episode, I was all prepared to see something wrong on many levels.
I’m very pleased to say that Adam Glass got it right. He nailed the characterization this time, and all in all I really liked “Southern Comfort” by the time it was done. I even re-watched it in the same night (after re-watching the completely amazing Arrow), a ritual I haven’t done in a while.
I’m not calling the episode perfect or brilliant. It had some issues. The ghost story was pretty bad and there was little originality to it. BTW, did anyone notice that the lady who played Mrs. Lew was also the same woman who was Mrs. Tanner in “Croatoan?” Anyway, I also get very irritated when the by the book formula is used in these FBI investigations. Interrogating the witnesses chews up a lot of screen time that could be otherwise used elsewhere. I found Sam interviewing Mrs. Alcott to be a complete waste. I honestly felt at times I was watching a cop procedural.
However, I did love Garth this go around. I howled over him in his Texas ranger guise giving Sam and Dean a small jab for being boring in their suits. Amen! I’ve been saying that for a while now. But most important, he’s taken his affection for Bobby and carrying on what he learned. Garth in this role didn’t come off as goofy. He is the anti-Bobby, aka Bobby the new generation. He’s fun and cool about things and not cranky at all, but his knowledge has vastly improved. He’s been doing his homework! He also had Sam and Dean pegged, and I loved how he got through to both of them in some ways. I was very impressed the way he talked Dean down from trying to kill Sam and finally won his favor at the end. I also think Sam’s talk with Dean at the end came partially after the words he got from Garth.
We also got to know a bit more about Garth. He’s quite an intellect. Don’t let the Southern drawl fool you! I didn’t laugh at the tooth fairy thing or at his attempts to pick up Bobby’s phrases, but I did enjoy how he’s keep multiple cell phones in his pocket and that he’s a Civil War nut. He also has one of Bobby’s trucker hats (awww). Garth though showed a big maturity this time and Adam Glass was far more comfortable writing the character in his second try.
Before I get to the real heart of the episode, the brotherly scenes, let me say how much I LOVED the montage scene of the penny passing from the unknown soldier’s grave to Dean, all to “Fell On Black Days.” Not only was that a cool reveal for the offending object, the way that whole montage was shot by director Tim Andrew was nothing short of awesome. The close ups on each person, showing their states of mind when they got the penny is why I geek out about storytelling on this show all the time. The bloody sheriff going down didn’t hurt either. Way to use available footage! Just perfect. Well done Mr. Andrew and Mr. Glass. Please, keep taking more chances like this.
The brotherly scenes were long overdue and count me in the very happy camp of how it all played out. I’m on the mindset though that there’s more to come and this was just one harrowing chapter of a long saga. This type of confrontation falls in the premise of an “Asylum” or “Sex and Violence.” These brothers don’t know how to talk to each other or how to listen to one another. I know that often times that doesn’t sit well with the fans and many hope by now they wouldn’t have gotten over these hang-ups, but these brothers have rarely been on the same page with one another since season three. We know they aren’t there now. So yes, sadly, it takes a supernatural possession intervention to get things to surface.
This time, it happened to Dean, which is very appropriate since he hasn’t openly talked about things since he got out of Purgatory. He’s been avoiding a lot of questions. I loved the scene in the bar, when Garth asked Dean how he got out of Purgatory. Sam in the background lit up, all ears for that answer. It’s sad, but typical, that Dean wouldn’t have shared it by now. Of course it didn’t help that Sam dropped the issue as soon as Dean avoided it in the season premiere and hasn’t brought it up. In the past, he’s always waited until Dean decided to openly share. So instead of prodding, these issues linger and the two let such things fester. It was no wonder that Sam shook his head with a “typical Dean” type reaction when Dean avoided the question. That is not healthy. And they’ve been this way for years. I'm not saying that Dean hasn’t experienced any character growth since “Sam, Interrupted” (he's had lots) when he shared his coping mechanism of “burying it,” but he certainly hasn’t been able to progress with that one character trait.
Knowing this pattern in Dean, supernatural intervention is really the only way he can open up. While the tactic is heavy handed, I sense the writer went with what he was given. The only approach I wish they would have done differently is that Dean could remember what he said. What I found most shocking about the whole confrontation is Sam responded to Dean’s rant as though he was talking to a Dean sharing his true feelings, not a possessed out of his mind with rage Dean. Garth tried to remind Sam that it wasn’t Dean, but Sam didn’t buy it. What Dean said though shows that he’s still clinging onto issues he’s had through the years. He brought up Sam’s past betrayals, the demon blood, running off with Ruby, being soulless and running around with Samuel for a year while Dean believed he was dead. Sam called them mistakes. Dean called them choices.
There’s the word. Choices. The series long issue coming back again. Dean is still harboring resentment (and probably always will) that every of Sam’s “choices” are to leave him alone. This time, choosing not to look for him while he was in Purgatory was essentially Sam leaving him to die. Ouch, ouch, ouch. That’s going to be extremely hard to let go of when you have that long history of abandonment issues. That ties into Garth’s advice at the end. He’s got to let this resentment go. Sam’s all he’s got left.
On a side note, this all but invalidates then end of “And Then There Were None.” Dean couldn’t follow his declaration of a clean slate after all (that’s a criticism on a creative choice BTW, not Dean’s character). Or we couldn’t chalk it up to Dean’s comment in the beginning, “People change.”
Dean was certainly calmer with Sam in the end, giving his brother the opportunity to vent. So, does this mean he’s learned a lesson or is he back to burying stuff? That’s TBD. It’s interesting he mentioned Castiel too in his rant. There’s still a lot of resentment there too. So guess who’s back next week? I see more issues surfacing on the horizon.
I came out of this episode more worried about Sam than Dean. Sam’s frustration level at the beginning of the episode hit a boiling point, and the one thing we know about Sam is that when he hits that boiling point, he’s really raw. I couldn’t help but think about his mindset in “Metamorphosis” after watching him in this one. He called out Dean for his double standards of allowing his monster friend Benny to live while he had no problem ganking his monster friend Amy. He finally started to push back to Dean over his sideways comments of taking the year off.
I thought that Sam’s flashbacks with Amelia were oddly placed in the episode, but I really enjoyed seeing them and I think they revealed a lot about Sam learning to connect with someone that wasn’t his brother. She got weird over sharing her story about her dead husband (after having sex), thinking Sam would dismiss her as pathetic. When Sam reached out to her, telling her about Dean, this was a huge jump for Sam. He’s not the kind to reach out to people. Something inside him has clicked, and he doesn’t want to bury it anymore, or be alone anymore. I do admit to getting a little teary over seeing him mature like this.
The trouble is, he still can’t be that open with Dean. Maybe because Amelia may have been listening, but Dean isn’t. Dean has learned to connect with Benny, Sam has learned to connect with Amelia, but the two still can’t connect with each other. It’s sad, but perhaps that is the struggle for this season. Hey, it worked for season one, didn’t it? I was still torn apart over a bloodied nose Sam on the floor listening to Dean's grievances and not flinching. I don't think he was all that surprised over what he was hearing. But he wasn't all that hurt either. Maybe because he's learned that he can live without Dean? Either that or Sam is done beating himself up over the past and wants his brother to do the same.
I loved the ending scene. Sam didn’t bury his frustrations and anger this time, deciding not to hide anything from Dean. I’ve gotten too frustrated in the past with watching Sam give a big bitchface and get in the car in silence. He even threw Dean’s rage rant in his face. “Or what, you didn’t mean it? Oh please. You and I both know you didn’t need that penny to say those things.” He told him Amelia’s name and where they lived. And of course he brought up Benny. “Enough of your crap Dean. I told you from the jump where I was coming from, why I didn’t look for you, but you, you had secrets. You had Benny. And you got on your high and mighty and have been kicking me since you got back. But that’s over. So move on or I will.”
Dean claims he hears him, but Sam’s not done. “Good. Hear this too. I just might be that hunter that runs into Benny one day and ices him.” Dean counters with, “I guess we’ll just cross that bridge when we come to it, won’t we?” That doesn’t sit well with Sam. “Yeah, you keep saying that.”
So what can we take away from Sam’s speech, besides the fact that he’s really pissed off? It goes back to that foreshadowing thing. Sam is drawing his line in the sand. Everything does look like it’s becoming a major setup for Dean to choose between Sam and Benny. Dean doesn’t remember saying that Benny was a better brother to him than Sam ever was. We think anyway. Maybe Garth told him later, or perhaps that’s one of the things that will filter back to him. Sam remembers it though, and is going with the impression that Dean really meant that (based on the penny comment). I think Sam threatened Benny out of anger, not jealousy. He felt he needed to remind Dean what Benny really is and that he doesn’t feel the same loyalty. I think this mindset is putting Sam in a very dark place.
My, my, my, this brotherly relationship is in quite a pickle isn’t it? I don’t object to this tension, because it’s brought far more fire and emotion in these brothers than all of last season. I’m also dying to see how it will all work out. With Castiel arriving next week, things can only get more interesting.
My overall grade for “Southern Comfort” – a B+.
Dean - “Because Sam, Kevin’s in the wind, you’re sulking around like a eunuch in a whorehouse, and I can’t help but ask myself, ‘When is decapitation not my thing?’”
“The spectre likes you.” Dean - “Yeah, well why doesn’t he come out then and we’ll make promise bracelets.”
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