“I freaking hate time travel man.” Well Dean, I find these stories quite amazing. But every time this happens, it does sort of put you guys in a pickle, huh? Like trying to explain laptops to a time traveler.
Once again, the Winchesters are privy to an amazing twist of fate. John Winchester grew up without a father and Sam and Dean find out, strangely enough, that’s because dear grandpa time travelled to the future, ended up saving them from a demon, and got killed in the process. Also a twist of fate, because Henry didn’t come back, John never found out about his secret society, Men of Letters, and never carried on the family tradition of being what is essentially the librarians of the supernatural.
Sure, growing up without a dad is a fact that wasn’t known before, but I guess if you look at it sideways it could work. It’s not like John ever talked about his Dad (yes, I know about “In The Beginning”). The twist about the Men of Letters though makes a ton of sense to me, and it makes me smile. It connects a good number of things that we’ve learned through the years.
The mandated union of John and Mary Winchester up in Heaven makes so much more sense now, as appropriately eluded by Sam in the ending scene. Connecting a blood line of hunting prowess of the Campbells (brawn) with the deep supernatural knowledge of the Winchesters (brains)? That ties in with Dean’s natural ability for hunting and Sam’s natural ability for research. This especially makes me happy for Sam, who we know has struggled his entire life with identity. We always knew that hunting was in the family blood, but now we know that blood holds an innate skill for research. The thought of future Sam now carrying on the family line of keepers of the knowledge, while Dean carries on the hunting ways (while working together), makes me all sorts of happy.
But I’m getting ahead, because there’s so much more to this story than a secret society. When your grandfather from the past, one that was absent in your family history, suddenly pops out of your closet, that’s bound to surface some emotional baggage. For Dean, it’s his lifelong abandonment issues. For Sam, it’s…well…um, it’s placating Dean’s lifelong abandonment issues. Eventually both brothers form a connection with their grandfather in their own way, just in time to watch Henry get killed. Story of their lives.
The brotherly bond was at least strong in this episode, and as a fan I’ll never tire of Dean going all out and doing what it takes to save Sam. The fact that he and Henry came up with a plan together, it does remind me of the Dean of old and I’ll always smile over a family plan. The best part though is Sam and Dean are talking about things, sharing their ambivalent feelings about this sudden family reunion rather than withdrawing from each other. The emotional markers were all there, and they had a big impact.
Let’s talk about Henry. I loved Henry and what Gil McKinney put into this role. He wasn’t some badass that didn’t care about his family. He loved John and was truly devastated when he found out John had died. I do admit to tearing up over his response when Dean asked what it meant to him. “Everything.” He was truly broken up over the fact that John grew up believing his father had left him. He also cared about his grandsons, felt proud of what they’d become and how they’re carrying on the family name. It maybe cliché that he said this in his dying breath, but I still love these words anyway. “I didn’t know my son as a man, but having met you two, I know I would have been proud of him.” That’s a stark contrast to the gruff Samuel Campbell, who for some reason (*cough* poor writing *cough*) never really cared for his grandsons and their legacy. It’s a truly refreshing perspective.
Henry is an intellect too, so that explains where Sam gets that from. He showed some really quick thinking and calmness under pressure when escaping Abaddon, and always kept his manners. Granted manners is probably due to the time period he came from, but it’s nice to know he wasn’t some uncorked lunatic. But what intrigued me the most is Henry’s respect for legacy and tradition. Being in the Men of Letters meant a lot to him just because it was important to his dad and his dad before him. That mirrors what Dean has always thought in terms of hunting. He always wanted to be as good as his dad. Even though Dean and Henry butted heads, in that aspect it was the case again of the apple not falling far from the tree.
I’m especially amused with how little Henry thought of hunting, for it was too primitive. Plus the dude knows his legends. The one laugh out loud moment for me was when Henry saw the 2013 tag on the Impala. “Guess the Mayans were wrong.” It was sad to see him go, but he couldn’t have survived either, and he definitely couldn’t have gone back. He becomes yet another tragic victim in the Winchester family tree, which was properly echoed with Dean’s comment that all he saw in it was a whole lot of dead.
Then there’s a new kind of demon in town, part of the Knights of Hell. Hand chosen by Lucifer himself. I have a quibble with the demon story that I’ll get to in a minute, but I will say I did love Alaina Huffman in this role. Her character, Abaddon, brought something that we haven’t seen in a long time with demons outside of Crowley. Charisma and smarts. She’s pure evil, pure fun, and she’s a threat to be reckoned with. Demons in the past few years have been overly characterized as stupid and incompetent, and Abaddon was anything but. She even had that cool using-black-smoke-to-see-the-recent-events trick. Too bad it resulted in those unwilling sharers ending up dead.
However, despite all the good, there was the bad. In writing, I’m someone who believes everything should come full circle. I love a tightly written script, and this was something “Supernatural” did oh so well in the first five seasons. This script succeeded in some ways, and miserably failed in others. I do accept that there’s only 42 minutes to tell such a complex story, but it was that inability to control various elements that prevented this episode from being a true classic.
First, why in the world was Dean so hostile with Henry? Because he chose duty over family? That made little sense, especially considering the hard choices both Sam and Dean made recently with Benny and Amelia. All Sam and Dean have ever done is put the job and duty above their own happiness and Dean has the nerve to hold Henry to a different standard? He claimed it was about John, but John did the exact same thing by raising them hunters. Was Dean trying to say through that outburst that if Henry stayed with John, then none of this misery would have ever happened? That’s really stretching things a bit, don’t you think?
Dean was also the one that stopped Henry from going back and essentially changing time. This is despite the fact that Dean twice tried to do the exact same thing in “In the Beginning” and “The Song Remains The Same.” He even argued that he and Sam wouldn’t exist, which was actually something they were okay with in “The Song Remains The Same.” All he had to do was tell Henry something like, “Trust me, I’ve been there, nothing good can come of it,” and I would have been happy. Maybe even a reference to “What is and What Should Never Be” with him realizing that all those people they saved would of died. Instead, Dean looked like a hypocrite. It all comes across as false drama being created for the sake of scenery chewing. I theorize that Adam Glass watched “Jump the Shark” and went from there, forgetting all the history that happened after that.
Also, how in the world could this story ignore Sam’s prominent role in the demon mythology? How can a powerful demon chosen by Lucifer himself not even acknowledge that Sam was Lucifer’s vessel? I know she was from the past, but the knowledge about Sam was foretold by both angels and demons for a long time. Past time travelers have usually been able to sense something different about someone. She had to have found out in the future what Sam and Dean did to derail the apocalypse, and how Sam spent a huge amount of time with Lucifer in the cage. When none of that crucial back story works its way into this demon drama, it almost seems like Carver and company are trying to sweep that history under the rug like it never happened. The symmetry is ruined. One comment by Dean about stopping the apocalypse during a heated discussion doesn’t cut it.
I also didn’t like how passive Sam was when in the custody of Abaddon. He looked like a kicked puppy. He’s usually sneering and very hostile toward demons. He also has been around the block with them a few times and has a few tricks up his sleeve. Heck, no one should know demons better! It’s hard to believe this guy once wiped out demons with his mind. I miss those days. However, upon retrospect, there just wasn’t enough time in this episode to show a defiant Sam talking up history with Abaddon, so I guess I’ll let that nitpick slide, even if it gives the impression that Sam was acting out of character. Which he was.
Also, I’ve read complaints that there was a lack of chemistry between Dean, Sam and Henry, and I honestly believe that was due to the writing. Dean’s hostility made things awkward, not intriguing. Sam passively doing nothing about it either, or not even trying to talk to Henry in an open manner didn’t help. Because the interaction was poorly written, the scenes together just didn’t blend the way they should, and could have. Adam Glass is usually pretty good at mythology, but characterization is his glaring weakness. This script showed it. I thought he actually got it right in “Southern Comfort,” but here it was a fail.
I’ve believed this ever since season six, but this newer crop of writers seem to be more interested a lot of time in writing in shout-outs more than tying in the current story with continuity of the past. John’s journal in this episode was a prime example. Hey, let’s give it a backstory! It was really Henry’s. Did the journal really need a backstory, especially when John’s upbringing was such a surprise to us? Considering John never showed any Daddy issues at all and they were never mentioned before? Considering Sam and Dean never noticed the “HW” before? It’s a weakness in the writing that has driven me crazy for three seasons now and it remains despite Jeremy Carver’s vast improvements in the storylines this year.
I also question a couple of other creative choices. Why did John believe that Henry walked out on him? Didn’t anyone suspect foul play? It just seemed like they were stretching to create daddy issues. For once I’d like to see a prominent character on this show that didn’t have daddy issues. I will however theorize that Dean keeps extra car windows handy in the trunk since they’re getting smashed so much, and can install them in a flash. Either that or Henry time travelled backward and stopped himself from breaking that window. Speaking of which, how does a guy from 1958 know how to hot wire a car from 1967?
Serge Ladoucer in his directing debut did a great job, but that was to be expected. This guy has been amazing us for eight seasons now with his gift of setting the perfect mood for scenes, so directing should have come second nature. It sure seemed liked it did anyway. I like how long time camera operator Brad Creasser got to be DP again, for the second episode in a row. He’s learned from the master, and done remarkably well.
The decision to go with semi shaky camera work, using quick edits back and forth in the scenes is a very interesting creative choice, thus adding to the disjointed nature of the story. The camera never really stayed focused on one shot too long, accenting the instability of this whole situation. Notice how when Henry was in the past, everything was calm and right. Kudos Mr. Ladoucer for trying something different and adding to the effectiveness of this unique episode.
I am going to bring up one thinky-thought for discussion. Henry said in his parting words, “You’re also Winchesters. As long as we’re alive there’s always hope.” Now, there’s been some discussion on this site that because of Sam and Amelia’s last fling, that Amelia would end up pregnant. Do you think that opened the door for something like that in the future, or was it just some writer grasping for a good line? Do you think a season or two down the road Sam and/or Dean find out about a kid of theirs (hey it could be Lisa too) and the Winchester legacy will continue? In a way, I kind of hope so. I hate for all this rich family history to die off with the boys. Both bloodlines deserve to continue. On the other hand, the surprise pregnancy is the most overdone thing in TV.
Overall, I give “As Time Goes By” a B. Coming up next, it’s Edlund. You know it’s going to be memorable.
(Screencaps from Home of The Nutty).