"Torn and Frayed" is an aptly named episode. The song, from the Rolling Stones album Exile on Mainstreet, and its lyrics touch on two of its storylines: Dean and Benny and Sam and Amelia. The lyric reads, "Just as long as the guitar plays, let it steal your heart away." In this particular episode, the guitar stopped playing for both relationships.
Benny took Dean's advice and disappeared deep underground, trying to blend in with the crowd. He must not attract hunters after what happened with Martin, and he must learn to curb his urges to feed on living people---against his own vampiric nature. After spending so much time in Purgatory without that drive, however, he is finding it difficult to adhere to being clean topside. Benny is surrounded by temptation not unlike an alcoholic bartender serving drinks. Nearly everyone around him is a potential food source, a potential stepping stone into becoming the monster his nature demands.
Since their return from Purgatory, Benny has relied on Dean to stand by him, aid him, coach him into sticking with the plan. Dean has told him several times "one day at a time, just like we talked about," and here he repeats the mantra to a distraught Benny. Benny is struggling more everyday, possibly more so now that he has killed Martin---the first human he's killed since his resurrection. As if the cork in the bottle has been popped, Benny's tight control is starting to wan, and he is on shaky ground.
In the flashbacks of Purgatory, we see Dean form a tight bond with the vampire. They become brothers in arms, side by side, hacking, slashing, and slicing their way through all the ugly Purgatory has to offer. There is an easy relationship between the two---Dean has adopted Benny into his circle easily, despite his true nature. Dean has a goal---one that they share---and it gives him something he had been lacking: purpose. He had to get out, go back topside, and resume the family business. No matter how pure he finds Purgatory, Dean must go back and face reality there.
But in doing so, he has become close with Benny. The guitar plays for them in a way that allows for a brotherhood to form between the two. Benny refers to Dean often as "brother," and it is easy to see that the feeling is returned. Dean likes to lead a group, have a partner, and someone else striving for the same goal. Dean, at his heart, is a caretaker. Without someone to take care of, he drifts aimlessly. Taking care of others is hardwired into Dean. From the moment his dad thrust Sam into his arms and told him to run, Dean has known no other way to live. While apart from Sam, Benny filled that void---gave Dean someone to look after. He gave Dean the chance to have a relationship that was untainted by the past---it was pure as Purgatory was pure---but it too is an illusion. Benny is still a vampire---a fact that will not and cannot change. What was acceptable in Purgatory about Benny is not going to be acceptable topside---and if Benny should slip up it will be up to Dean to clean up the mess left in the vampire's wake.
It also doesn't help that Dean is tied up in a case---an important one at that---and is unable to rush to his vampire friend's rescue. He offers to come meet him after it is finished, but it is becoming obvious that Dean can only answer these distress calls only so many more times. Benny will have to decide---and soon---if he is indeed "in or out" of living clean topside---or living topside at all. Several times, the vampire has admitted that he's okay with being killed. After all he knows where he'll be going and has nothing to fear. He will have to take Dean's advice and apply it on his own---without the crutch Dean has become at some point.
The case itself is tense and time consuming. Castiel has come to Dean in distress himself. He has learned that Samandiriel has been captured by Crowley---and that the King of Hell is torturing the angel. It is crucial that they rescue him so the demons do not learn the secrets of the tablets. They have no time to run to aid Benny, nor does Dean have time to worry about him when they have to find Crowley's new hideout and fast.
The writing for Benny is on the wall, even if it isn't clear just yet. He will have to either sink or swim---and that will have to be now rather than later.
Dean is also tired. He fought to get out of Purgatory to get back topside. Judging from Benny's comment in "Blood Brother," "Heard a lot about you, Sam," we know that Dean was also trying to get back to Sam. He must have told Benny story after story about fighting with Sam together. While he was building a relationship with Benny he was clearly missing Sam.
His anger about leaving Castiel behind is also a clue that he feels guilt about leaving Sam alone. After all, Sam had been struggling with hallucinations of Lucifer---and their aftermath. Despite Castiel's fix, Sam was still fragile. Considering their shared losses in the pursuit of icing Dick Roman, Dean knew that his little brother would need him. Unable to express his anger at himself in any other fashion than lashing out at Sam, he often made digs about Sam's time away from hunting. Underneath those jabs, he was pointing the finger at himself for leaving Sam behind.
Dean did not, however, fight his way back to only end up fighting with Sam all the time. He says wearily, "I"™m just tired of all the fighting."
The only way for that to end is to either choose Sam or choose Benny. Dean chose Sam as Sam will later choose Dean.
This becomes clear, after Dean states to Sam, "You're either both feet in or both feet out." That rule also applies to Dean himself.
Conversely, the guitar has stopped playing for Sam and Amelia as well.
Sam has always coveted a normal life. He spent seasons 6 and 7 resigned to his fate as a hunter, but the old desire has flared anew in his belly---especially after settling down with Amelia in the year that Dean was in Purgatory. He has always seen normal as better, as doing something with his life, and most importantly as safe. Normal is everything his life is not. It is easier, happier, better in every imaginable way. For Sam, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, and he would love nothing more than to climb the fence and set foot on the grass---regardless of the "Stay off the Grass, Sam Winchester," sign that normal has always had staked in it for him. He is certain that if he can grasp that normal, he will be free of the burdens he has endured as a hunter, a vessel, a freak.
In doing so, Sam's folly here is that he has created an ideal. Normal is easier in his eyes because one is not always fighting to survive. There aren't any monsters to fight, no one is gunning for your head, and the burden of the world's continued existence is not solely upon your shoulders. It is quiet, peaceful, and happy. He sees normal as what everyone wants and needs, and he wants to be part of something he has never had. The truth is, despite his time at college, Sam has never ever had normal in his life. He has always been outside looking in at it---always.
On the surface, he's right. Normal is better. Families sit down for dinners and share tidbits about their days. They go to work and come home to the same place each day and night. There are no fears that demons or monsters will constantly bear down upon the home. Families share happy moments like births, graduations, weddings, and birthdays with celebrations and gifts. Holidays are observed. Children are allowed to remain innocent---as are their parents---of everything a hunter knows is out there lurking to shatter this calm.
But dig deeper and normal is messy. There are divorces. There's domestic abuse. There's violence. Children go missing---and not always due to supernatural causes. People die. People lie, cheat, steal, and abuse one another every day. It is hard work. Normal means going to work to earn a paycheck and scramble to pay bills. There are sacrifices made. Families don't always stay together; they often break apart and disintegrate into fragments. Normal takes work and has just as much pain in it as anything else.
With Amelia, Sam learned this. After their last night together, Sam utters, "That was a mistake," and it is in that moment that the guitar ceased playing entirely. It no longer stole his heart away. He realized that Amelia was willing to leave Don for him---that a married woman was going to break it off with her husband for another man, that the normal he had shared with Amelia when Don was declared dead was nothing more than illusion.
The fact that Sam never once told Amelia what he did or who he really was is also telling. He kept walls up between her and his true self. He realized---too late---that normal meant divulging all, that a normal relationship took as much work as the one he shared with Dean. It took trust---and that is something he simply did not have for her in the end. He never told her about hunting or demon blood or being Lucifer's vessel or being soulless or how even Dean disappeared.
Amelia and Sam became grief personified in their own ways. Amelia was angry, combative, and defensive when Sam first met her. She became torn and frayed by what had happened, and it is in her grief that Sam found someone to latch onto. He felt that grief, lived vicariously through her anger, and attempted to heal it in his own way by being there for her. Sam, conversely, was resigned, quiet, and building an illusion that he willingly let Amelia join in on.
Grief and the grieving process has always been a thread in the Supernatural fabric. It's been explored and expressed in various ways through various characters and storylines. From the very start, it is grief that sets the action into motion. Sam and Dean are only hunters because of what had happened to their mother---and because their father had used hunting as his method to grieve. Dean uses it in a similar fashion after their father sells his soul in order for Dean to live. Bobby got into hunting and continued to do so to cope with the loss of his wife.
The grieving process has basic steps to explain but difficult to execute: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Guilt, Reflection, Rebuilding, and finally Acceptance.
We've seen each step brought up time and time again throughout the series. Each step has a corresponding moment. Sam feels guilty for not telling Jess about his nightmares---feeling that it led to her death. Dean bargains with his reaper, Tessa, to stay. Their father takes out his anger on all of the supernatural for the loss of his wife. The brothers reflect on what they should do after their father's loss. Dean tries to rebuild---albeit unsuccessfully---after Sam jumps in the cage. And both brothers finally accept that no matter what they do or what big bads they face in the future, their mother and Jess are never coming back.
After Dean's disappearance at the end of season 7, Sam chose denial as his coping step and never quite moved passed it. He denied what had happened by not looking into it. He denied what had happened by walking away from hunting all together. He denied what had happened by drifting aimlessly. He denied what had happened by simply not telling Amelia what had happened and just who he was. In many ways, if he didn't talk about it, didn't acknowledge, or face it head on, Sam felt he could pretend that it never happened. His grief idled for so long that he never quite knew what to do or how to adjust to the hole Dean's absence provided.
And so, he had taken Amelia's grief and combined it with his own---and now that Dean had returned he didn't need to do so anymore. He had tasted normal and found it lacking. It showed best in his surprise that Dean would even suggest he go to her. She had been a back-burnered after thought after the rescue mission and hiding out from a comprised Castiel.
Sam had built a castle in the air, believing falsely that if he simply pretended none of his hunter's life happened that it would go away. He threw caution to wind and chose to forget that no matter where one hides the truth will find you. No matter where Sam ran, hunting and its dangers would find him. In his shattered state after Dean's disappearance, however, he needed that escape to regroup, even if it was only a temporary reprieve from the reality he was holding desperately at bay.
It took seeing her again that made him realize that the house of cards was false and he would have no choice but to never look back. Combine that with Dean's ruse to get him to back off Benny, and Sam also made a chilling realization. He snaps at Dean, "To be afraid that what happened to Jessica, what happened to... everybody that we care about might have happened to her? " The longer he stayed in Amelia's life, the more likely she would end up the same way: dead. The only way to stop that was to walk away and never look back.
Rather he realizes it or not, Sam's at his element when he is working a case---big or small---and his lack of need to run back to Amelia to meet her at the prescribed time says it all. After all, if you need to think about it that hard it's best to let it go.
Despite the conflict each relationship created between the brothers, Sam and Dean both needed to experience them in order to deal with their year apart. Without Benny, it is possible that Dean might not have found a way out of Purgatory---and without Amelia it is possible that Sam might have fallen completely and utterly apart, so much so that he might not have been there when Dean returned. Each also had to learn important lessons from these relationships. Now it is a matter of what they do with them.
The guitar may have stopped playing for Benny and Amelia, but it most certainly has started, albeit softly, for Sam and Dean again. The brotherly connection, strained throughout the first half of the season and a good portion of this episode started to show signs of thawing as the brothers worked together to rescue Samandiriel. It was telling in many different ways.
Reluctant and angry, Sam is dragged to Garth's boat by Castiel to aid Dean. He snaps, "Don't worry, Dean. Once we save Alfie, I'm out. " and Dean retorts, "I told you we didn't need him. " Both brothers agree that it'd be better if the other wasn't involved. They're both stubborn and obstinate, but in the heat of the battle that won't seem to matter anymore.
No more is this truer than in their mission to break the wards against angels. Sam and Dean communicate without words, dividing the four wards between them. With just hand gestures and simple nods each brother agrees and splits off to do their part. Sometimes, the Winchesters communicate best when words aren't said at all. They easily fall into pattern, their working relationship second nature for both, that they don't need to speak to convey what the plan of attack is. It goes by in the blink of an eye, but the moment sets the stage for what is to come by episode's end.
Sam is attacked by a demon, which he quickly dispatches---only to have a second one attack. Regardless of their differences, Dean comes to Sam's rescue and kills the other demon. Softly, Sam thanks him, and we see them start to move towards one another as they haven't since Dean's return. They might be angry and hurt, but they still work well together as a team. It is only when they act as a team that they succeed, too. Quickly, they move to use the bombs Kevin provided, and make their way to Samandiriel's holding cell, where his screams of torture can be clearly heard.
Each take their turns throwing themselves at the barricaded door, trying to get inside. With the wards destroyed, Castiel arrives to assist, only to be overcome. At the moment of crisis, neither Winchester can take the time to find out what is upsetting the distraught angel, but they both take note. They know something is wrong when they see it.
That becomes even clearer after their successful rescue of Samandiriel. Castiel has managed to get him out of Crowley's clutches and now the tortured angel has only to heal. Once again, Castiel is whisked away to "chat" with Naomi after Samandiriel desperately tries to warn Castiel about her. She is frantic, worked up, and anxious. She quickly loses her cool and demands---in the interests of protecting Heaven---that Castiel now kill the angel they risked themselves to save. They had been too late, anyways. Samandiriel had already given Crowley the goods. An Angel tablet is floating out there---and if the Demon tablet banishes all demons from Earth, it's not hard to imagine that the Angel tablet does the same to angels. Naomi does not want that, and she needs Castiel to destroy the angel that compromised that secret.
Naomi even has a cover story. She tells him to tell the Winchesters that this was in self defense. Considering Samandiriel's state and despite being an angel, it's unlikely to think that he could have attacked Castiel or anyone else. Both Winchesters are alarmed by this behavior. They might not know about Naomi herself just yet, but they can tell that something is off with Castiel. He's behaving erratically, and considering his panic attack in Crowley's lair, it's not hard to figure out that there's something significantly wrong with him. It raises both brother's hackles and they are left with little choice but to retreat---leaving their angel friend behind.
The guitar starts to play a stronger tune here as the brothers are now alone with no one to play the role of buffer. Garth isn't there to stop them from fighting. Castiel isn't there to push them on a rescue mission. Kevin isn't in danger or on the run. They must now give into the music now or never.
Dean admits that he is jealous of Sam's ability to walk away completely. His year away from hunting had him constantly checking salt lines and demon traps. He always had one eye looking behind him for anything that might be after him. He also could see, even if he didn't understand his brother's attraction, that Amelia meant something---could mean happiness for Sam if he could only let him go.
So, Dean gives him an ultimatum: "You're either both feet in or both feet out."
This gives Sam the final choice"”a moment of great growth for Dean. He isn't combative, he is honest here. Either Sam stays in the life with him and they continue working on their goals or he leaves and they never speak to one another again. Sam agrees and says, "I'm gonna... take a walk. Clear my head."
In Sam's absence, Dean faces his own decision. He calls Benny and tells him that this is it. He can't very well demand Sam end things with Amelia and choose him if he doesn't end things with Benny. It would only lead to more fighting later on, create tension waiting to boil over, and resolve nothing. It is a heartbreaking decision, but in his heart he knows it is the right one. He has to do this not just for his relationship with Sam---he has to do this for Benny, too.
Sam returns, and it is here we see the guitar play strongest for the Winchesters. No words need be exchanged here, no discussion of what they'll do next is necessary. They already know. They will face whatever comes next---be it sealing up Hell forever, finding the Angel tablet, or figuring out what is going on with Castiel---together as a unified team. It shows in the ease with which the brothers share a meal together and watch the fight on TV. Again, unspoken communication is their forte, conveying their bond and love without having to become overtly emotional or sentimental.
It's simple and beautiful. Sam hands Dean a couple of beers and his brother opens them in the familiar gesture Sam had missed so much. They relax next to one another on the couch, both holding their bowls of stew and eating in companionable silence. It isn't unlike the scene at the end of "A Very Supernatural Christmas" as each brother settled in to watch the game. They are settling into each other's space, finding that balance that has worked so well for them once again.
Let the guitar play and let it steal both their hearts away for a long time.
Tyler Johnston reprises Samandiriel here in his tragic end. While he may be an angel, we see in Johnston's performance Samandiriel's sheer desperation to get away. Once he is compromised and speaking only in Enochian, we see Johnston shut down. He is stoic and all his struggles cease. Excluding his screams of pain as more needles are used, Samandiriel becomes quiet. There is a creepy element to Johnston's performance here. Under this mind control, any humanity the angel may have possessed is gone and he becomes more robotic than anything else. His absolute terror after Castiel rescues him is a sharp contrast. Johnston made Samandiriel likeable and his death painful.
Amanda Tapping brings the mysterious Naomi back. She is as imperious and commanding as she's been since her first appearance. Tapping makes us wonder what Naomi's agenda is and what her next move will be. She is intriguing. This is the first time we see, however, Naomi become desperate. She is clearly afraid of Crowley knowing about the Angel Tablet---or for anyone else to learn of its existence as well. She becomes frantic and aggressive when Castiel confronts her about what she's done to him and what she's ordering him to do in the killing of Samandiriel. Tapping keeps an aura of mystery about here as she holds her cards close to her chest---no matter how flustered Naomi is. She might be rattled, but she is aware enough to hold vital information back. We're left to wonder just who and what Naomi is from Tapping's tight performances.
Osaric Chau gives us a busy Kevin. He is frustrated and working quickly on their portion of the demon tablet to no avail. Chau has given more and more edge to Kevin as the season has progressed. No more of the innocent and frightened rabbit he once was remains. Chau gives Kevin a new gravity, especially when he says that he cannot enjoy a world that he has yet to save. Kevin has put both feet into the business of being a Prophet. Chau also presents Kevin's frustration at being distracted by Dean and Castiel about getting more demon bombs. He puts exasperation in his voice when h lists the first three ingredients, knowing he has no time to find all those ingredients on his own. It'll be interesting to see what Kevin does as the season progresses.
Lianne Balaban puts everything into Amelia here. She is both desperate and hopeful. Her performance is subtle as she pleads the case to Sam about their possible future. Balaban puts it in her facial expressions, giving it a softness that belies Amelia's vulnerability. Despite her hopefulness we can't help but notice that she senses that she and Sam are over, too. Balaban's most powerful moment here is one where she has no lines. She simply arrives at the appointed time to a dark motel room, and we see Balaban's face crumble from hope to despondency in the matter of a few brief moments. It is the moment Amelia knows for absolute certain that it is indeed over and she quietly closes the door forever behind her.
Ty Olsson makes a brief but emotionally charged appearance here. He gives us Benny's desperation, showing it in the shakiness of his voice. Olsson shows that Benny is barely holding on and keeping his head above water as he stares at the temptation right in front of him. When Dean finally breaks it off with Benny completely, we see Olsson slump slightly and a resigned expression cross his face, conveying all of Benny's emotions in one glance. Benny seemed to know that this moment was coming, and Olsson shows us that well. It is a quiet goodbye, but sad nonetheless.
Mark Sheppard is as dastardly as ever as Crowley. He is calculating and careful. Crowley has always been a more hands on leader of the demons, choosing to do things for himself. He has set up a torturer to handle Samandiriel's interrogation, but when Samandiriel really falls apart under the torture Crowley instantly gets his hands dirty. Sheppard shows us how deliberate Crowley is here. He isn't torturing for fun as he has in the past. He is all business here, having no time for taunts and gratuitous pain. Sheppard shows us this in each action here as he only turns screws and sticks needles in as necessary to get the information Crowley requires. His shock at his suspicion about the Angel Tablet is genuine, and we see in that moment Crowley grasp at a possible triumph in his quest to conquer the world for Hell. It'll be interesting to see what the King of Hell does with this information next.
Misha Collins presents many facets of Castiel this week. He is the awkward angel we've all come to know that lacks understanding of social graces. In the scene with the man burned by the bush, we see that moment best when he can't help himself but say, "that was a metaphor," in response to the man's comment about the sun burning his face off. Collins makes subtle changes in Castiel's behavior that belies that something is going on with him, and that he has been compromised. He shows Castiel's fear well in the midst of the panic attack as they try to save Samandiriel. He subtly has Castiel cry out for help in his stiff execution of Naomi's orders. It is in Collins' expression as he tells the brothers what has happened, his eyes frightened and his body stiff. Collins is showing that Castiel is in trouble here, nad the message is clearly received by the Winchesters. Collins makes sure to make this different than Castiel's time with God-like power. He is not arrogant or haughty. Collins makes sure that we know that Castiel is very afraid and in pain here.
Jensen Ackles gives us a tired and exhausted Dean. He makes a ditch effort to reach out to Sam after sending him towards Amelia, but has no enthusiasm for continuing the fight. Distracted by Castiel's call to help Samandiriel, we see Ackles give Dean some spark. Dean always does best with something to do. After Castiel brings Sam in, we see Ackles make Dean stiff and on guard around Sam, afraid to let his brother back in for fear of getting hurt by yet another departure. Ackles also shows Dean's fun side well, especially when he tries to get a rise out of Kevin by whispering, "Your mom is hot." Ackles has a smirk on his face as he does it, belying how much fun the scene was for him to shoot. Later, when Dean must break it off with Benny for good, we see Ackles put his emotions all on his face. It is a hard and bittersweet goodbye and it is in the timbre of his voice and the carriage of his body language. Ackles then shows Dean's ease with falling back into a comfortable quiet with Sam as he accepts the food and exchanges quiet nods.
Jared Padalecki gives us a conflicted Sam. On one hand he is angry and hurt, and on the other he knows that hunting is where he belongs. We see it in Padalecki's subtle performance. He doesn't have to yell to signal to the audience that Sam is most certainly walking away from Amelia by episode's end. It is in his quiet and bitter statement, "That was a mistake." Padalecki also shows us how Sam slips easily into hunter mode, realizing just how much is left to do. There is relief in Sam's carriage after he accepts that he will stay with Dean. Upon his return to the cabin, we see it in all the gestures. Padalecki has Sam hand Dean food and beers. It is more than simply sharing a meal and we can see it clearly in the look he exchanges with Dean. Somehow, Padalecki manages to express that Sam feels he is now home, watching a fight in silence with his brother.
Best Lines of the Week:
Dean: Damn it, Cas! How many times I got to tell you "“ it's just creepy!
Mr. Hinckley: No clue. Sounded like Klingon to me.
Crowley: What on earth could you possibly need now, Viggor? I've given you every torture instrument known to man "“ short of a Neil Diamond album.
Sam: Seriously, Dean? That's the story you're going with? That the vampire was the real victim here?
This week's episode was titled after a song by my all time favorite band, the Rolling Stones. Next week's episode has Supernatural collide with my favorite place in the whole world: the Renaissance Festival. Oh, and it has the adorable and awesome Felicia Day.