Thoughts on Defending Your Life
What to say about this episode? So far, I've enjoyed season seven but this episode felt a little lacklustre. I didn't think the monster of the week was incredibly strong, but it wasn't awful either. Admittedly, there were higher expectations for this episode as the notion of a trial of Dean's guilt had immense potential, especially coming off last week's debate about the merits of Dean actions with regard to Amy.
Let's get to what worked and what didn't work (a whole lot).
Sam the Defender
From a characterization perspective, this episode was an excellent one for Sam. When we see Sam at the front of this episode, he is still using the hand/wound trick to keep Lucifer at bay and he's moving through life despite the hallucinations he may or may not still be having from time to time. Sam really takes control in this episode and becomes a fantastic lead investigator on this case, especially where Dean's heart really isn't in it at all.
The thank-you from Sam to Dean didn't sit well with me. For one thing, this comment seemed out of place and a poor set up for later having Amy as a witness in Dean's trial. For another, Dean looked a bit sick at the entire exchange and against this was quite a blatant set up to suggest that this lie of omission was going to come back and bite him sooner rather than later. Supernatural is generally a little subtler than this, but I felt here that the viewers were being hit over the head redundantly, especially given that this particular incident was just last week's episode and that we had a recap in the Then segment.
I like to see Sam taking the lead on this investigation right from the start - he seems to be doing well, all things considered. From the get-go Sam seems back to the Sammy we know and love. He's clearly concerned about his brother but also focused on the case at hand, demonstrating strength, control and leadership. It was good of him to call Dean out on the drinking, though he didn't have time to pursue it fully. I wonder if this will be an issue in future between them. Of the two brothers, Dean is often more susceptible to the human ailments such as guilt and grief because he doesn't deal with either in a healthy, constructive manner.
The entire trial is really where this episode falls down for me - maybe that's because I'm predisposed to law and court procedures through my current education, but I felt this was not well executed. For one thing, while I did not expect Osiris' questioning of the witnesses to be fair but just meant to laden Dean with another layer of guilt, I did expect his questions to be a bit more hard-hitting with holes in his logic a little smaller than one could drive a truck through, as they were.
Sam as Dean's lawyer wasn't unexpected, given Sam's aspirations back at the beginning of season one. His line to Dean about The Good Wife was clever (it's a good show) but that was about it for decent writing in the trial portion of the episode.
In this viewer's opinion the cross examination of Dean by Sam was not done well, to say the least. I did not find Sam's arguments compelling because although they had legitimate basis they were not fleshed out nearly to the extent they would need to be to convince Dean he is not guilty for something like Sam returning to the hunter lifestyle or Jo's death. Dean's immediate acquiescence to Sam's questions and all around agreement did not feel true to the character. I suppose the argument could be made that Dean was merely trying to convince Osiris that Dean himself believed his own innocence of these accusations, but as Osiris can see â€œinto the heartâ€ of the â€œdefendantâ€ that argument does not fly for me.
Another disappointing piece about this trial was that despite the set up for it, Amy's death was never revealed to Sam. Dean knows Amy is the third witness and won't have her called - he doesn't want Sam to know about it and he knows there is no way to â€œjustifyâ€ that one because he did directly kill Amy and then proceeded to lie by omission to Sam (not that I'm condemning Dean, just stating the facts - personally I believe it was necessary to kill Amy). I feel like there could have been some interesting character development and more emotional punch from a reveal, but it was skimmed over and never addressed properly - this was far from a neatly tied bow sealing the Amy issue.
It was great to see Alona Tal reprising the role of Jo Harvelle. She played it well here, the reluctant witness who tried to absolve Dean of some guilt, both in â€œcourtâ€ and before she killed him. The discussion with Dean, like many things in this episode, had potential that was never fully reached. The conversation danced around vague ideas of guilt and the hunter lifestyle and about how Dead didn't want to be alone but it felt superficial and surface-level to me. The one moment from this exchange that I enjoyed, aside from the teasing about Jo's crush on Dean, was when Jo took the lighter and Dean flashed back to putting the trigger in her hand at the hardware store back in Abandon All Hope. Jo putting her hand against Dean's cheek as he closed his eyes felt like a very real moment between the two. Beyond that there was not a whole lot about the motel confessional that worked.
The Band-Aid Solution
Finally, Osiris was terrible. Nothing about the actor who played him here, I didn't mind the actor, however I did find that the Osiris character was not as powerful or intimidating as he should have been. The material he had was not particularly compelling. His court room was uninspiring. The fact that he had to literally sneak up and physically take his victims from the parking lot felt mundane - any old ghoul could be at work here. Nor was his death particularly special, but rather felt like a rehash of the pagan gods killed in A Very Supernatural Christmas although that episode as a whole was a great one. Osiris could have been so much more than he was.
As many emotional episodes end - the boys by a body of water, the Impala and a beer. Sam admits that he doesn't feel guilty anymore - feels that he paid his dues in Hell - Sam is in a healthy frame of mind, he's accepting that his past is his past and the only thing to do is to move forward. It's good to see Sam so happy and healthy for a change (barring a hallucination or two).
This episode was mediocre to me. It had the hallmarks of a classic Supernatural episode: emotional punches, revisits from beloved past characters, a (potentially) interesting bad-guy-of-the-week. Unfortunately though I think the ingredients of a great episode were all there, they weren't mixed nearly as well as they should have been. A couple things worked for me, such as Sam's character arc throughout the episode; though overall Defending Your Life was a sub-standard so-so.
What did you think?