Six Days Later
I’m a little late to the party this week. Usually "Threads" is The WFB’s first review of a new Supernatural episode but due to travel, I’m posting last this time. By now, you have all discussed, debated, questioned and clarified probably every frame of the show (good for you!). There is no value in “piling on” so I’m going to narrow the focus of my analysis to a new thread I detected.
I didn’t hate “There’s Something about Mary” in the same way that over 80% of the Supernatural fans in one poll did 1. I was certainly aggravated by the inane turn of events in several of the story lines, but while disappointed, those didn’t ruin the overall episode for me. I concur that this episode reduced the chances our optimistic theories will come to pass, but I’m still hoping for a twist that reveals Crowley wasn’t the complete imbecile who thought he could control Lucifer with a spell instead of securing him for all time in an impenetrable cage. I’m also grasping at the hope that Mary is deluding her captors, faking mind control so as to avoid complete and irreversible brainwashing.
Ketch told her the expectations of the BMoL; maybe she is now just showing them what they want to see, to position herself for a final coup. She always played the long game. She has faith in her boys’ ability to escape being buried alive and she knows she is the only one inside the BMoL who can position herself to foil the grand plan. Saving everyone was always her goal. I realize that alienates her from most fans who want her to always put her boys first above the amorphous “everyone”, but truly she is the only one who might be able to learn more and strike the killing blow from inside the organization.
Ketch also showed signs of weakness where Mary was concerned so maybe she can get through to him yet. So while I wasn’t happy with how things played out, I won’t give up hope until the season is actually over. I want to see where this all leads.
Since many of us watch Supernatural for our emotional connection to the brothers and the show, I don’t want to ignore how the episode made me feel, though. I can easily suspend judgement on myth arc conclusions, but I was keenly aware that I had a queasy feeling the entire time I was watching the show. It took me until the next morning to understand my reaction to “Mary”. It can best be described as a revulsion to purposeful and merciless cruelty.
When I first watched the show, I truly did not recognize that it was Eileen in the opening shot. Due to connectivity problems in our Los Angeles hotel, four of us (with varying degrees of age related eye sight challenges) were crowded around an iPad, trying to discern what was happening in the episode. I paid little attention to the random woman running through the woods in the opening sequence, presuming it was simply an unnamed victim about to be attacked by the monster of the week. The realization spread through the room slowly. “Was that Eileen??” “I think that was Eileen!”
During rewatch, I halted the recording 35 seconds into the show. Ketch had just blown his dog whistle, calling off the attack on the latest American hunter to succumb to his extermination crusade. I had to stop watching for a few minutes because I again experienced a tight stomach and rolling feeling that I don’t often associate with Supernatural, or any show that I choose to watch on a weekly basis.
I’ve determined that the disgust I felt wasn’t shock or horror that Eileen or Crowley were killed, or that Mary was brainwashed intro betraying her sons. Death and betrayal are a part of this show. “Something about Mary” wasn’t about climactic death or heroic setbacks. To my eyes, this show showcased then celebrated the debasement and mutilation of human beings. The more I thought about it, a season-long “thread” of mutilating people came into focus. We’ve recognized and named individual threads of parental abandonment, violence against children, soullessness and power. I’ve expressed my contempt for depicting brutal violence against innocence, but I hadn’t put them all together and aggregated them into a single theme before now.
I know most everyone is angry (alright, livid) about the writers killing Eileen. Believe me when I say that I share your righteous outrage for all of the reasons I’m sure you’ve articulated in the nearly 1000 comments this episode has already elicited on The WFB site. As I stated above, I wasn’t angry about this show, though, I was repulsed. That’s a different emotion and it comes not from the fact that Eileen was killed but rather how she was killed.
Sam: People who do what we do, you know there are going to be deaths, but this
Dean: these wounds… I mean we’ve only seen something this bad a few times
A female victim was literally ravaged, then a fellow human being thanked and rewarded the animal that was unleashed to desecrate the person’s body. Ketch stood over Eileen's body, admiring the artistic completion of his task. How can that evoke anything but disgust?
I believe we were all a bit protective of Eileen. She was a completely capable hunter with skills that made her a lethal force in her world. Still, her confidence and acceptance of her disability, her relationship with Sam, and her innate gentleness not only endeared her to us but made us instinctively feel that we would go out of our way to protect her. We wanted her to be sacrosanct; we didn’t want her to die. I saw a bright future of her being a friend and ally to Sam and Dean. So while those hopes are dashed, it can reasonably be argued that this is not a sunshine and lollipops show. Bad stuff is going to happen and as a fan we have to be prepared for that. Case in point, I’ve accepted Charlie’s death. I don’t like it and there were many ways that she could have been saved, but the show went there am I’m still watching. I'm sick that Charlie was killed just like I'm sick that Eileen was killed. Eileen wasn’t just killed though, she was torn apart.
Why do I now see mutilation as a season-long thread? It seems season 12 has given us many examples of reveling in humiliating people, destroying their spirit, their soul if you will, as well as their bodies. It started at the very beginning of the season, when Lady Bevell used a blow torch on Sam, then attacked him psychologically with spells and drugs. Her treatment went beyond torture to get answers. She took pleasure in seeing him suffer. Her taunting and emotionless façade established the season’s heartless infliction of pain.
Remember Vince Vincente’s fan, the one who mutilated herself with a knife to “prove” her love? That was after Lucifer/Vince pulled out her tooth, root and all. While Lucifer’s actions can be explained as the actions of the Prince of Darkness, it was still nauseating to think about a young woman cutting herself “deeply and repeatedly” while he watched with a smile on his face.
Magda, who was far from defenseless but was still an innocent child, was forced to mutilate herself. Someone who should have protected her, her mother, gave the child a whip, then watched with satisfaction as the girl flogged herself until her skin was ravaged. To further humiliate the young woman, she was killed on a public bathroom floor. This parallels Eileen being tossed around in the teeth of a dog, dying on a pile in the forest, then gloated over by the dog’s master, someone who should have been her protector, someone who took an oath to save humans from “animals”.
We tracked branding, burning and immolation as a thread during the early episodes, which are all forms of bodily mutilation. Often they were accompanied with references to insanity, which I noted had a single mention in “Mary”. Even last week’s “Twigs and Twine and Tasha Banes” depicted a human being cutting hearts out of live victims. The resulting animated “Groot” people contorted, broke and bent in ways unnatural to the human body.
“There’s Something About Mary” brought together the season’s underpinnings of cruelty into one story. Mary was psychologically and emotionally broken, mutilated. She wasn’t simply killed like the other hunters. Instead, she was forced to become everything she hated – a “monster” possessed by an evil that drives her to kill friends and family. She begged for death, stating that the loss of her free will and loyalty was the worst possible fate she could imagine. Toni Bevell taunted Mary just as she had taunted Sam. They didn’t kill Mary physically but they made sure she knew that they were destroying everything she stood for and believed in.
Mary: I’m losing my mind, Ketch. I killed somebody. He was a friend. I believed in what you people were doing. I fought with you so that maybe my boys could live in a world without monsters. How can you just… I need your help. Please. You do it. Kill me. All my life, all I ever had other than my family, was my will, and it’s going away. You have to please. For God’s sake, kill me. Just do it.
Sam, Dean and Lady Bevell were also not killed mercifully. Instead, they were left to suffocate slowly, betrayed by the MoL legacy of which they were so proud. The brothers’ beloved sanctuary, the bunker, was used as the instrument of their death, taking away the one safe haven where they had allowed themselves to let down their guard. To add humiliation to their defeat, their mother was made to be their executioner, stripping the entire family (and temporarily, the show) of the love and loyalty that was the saving principle of their lives. Physical death wasn’t enough. Ketch wanted to destroy them emotionally and psychologically as well.
Crowley was also humiliated, physically abused and disfigured before he was killed. He was made to dance around like a puppet, although that was just desserts since he had done the same thing to Lucifer when their positions were reversed (which seemed suspiciously out of character at the time). In a scene that reprised Eileen’s death, Crowley was thrown around by an invisible force. His nose was then maliciously cut before he was stabbed in the heart.
In several instances, the dialog reiterated this intentional cruelty:
Demon: You going to skin me alive sire?
Hess: You kill without mercy. You’ll be fine. Here you are watching this woman suffer when only days ago you were sleeping with her.
Toni: What, your boys didn’t tell you? The drunken rages, the weeks of abandonment. Child abuse really. It’s no wonder they’re… damaged. So we are returning you to a purer version of yourself. Mary Campbell, natural born killer.
Crowley: Kelly is now in the clutches of the Winchester’s love slave Castiel who is no doubt dragging her to a gruesome death
Lucifer: as opposed to the fun packed death you have planned?
Ketch: You slaughtered the competition, sometimes literally.
Toni: Yet I never slaughtered you, Ketch.
In the history of the show, there have been scenes that have been hard to watch. Crowley and his demon twisting screws into angels’ heads, or Meg and Ruby being sexually tortured are the first examples that come to mind. So I’m not saying violence hasn’t been used before in Supernatural, but it always seemed to have had a purpose, was usually (always?) done by supernatural antagonists and was isolated. It also wasn’t accompanied by psychological or emotional debasement. This season’s violence has often been perpetrated by humans and is intentionally sadistic. Mary killed Rick; Toni tortured Mary; Ketch killed Eileen.
When I objected earlier in the season to horrific scenes, you reminded me that Supernatural is after all a horror show. Until this year, I've never perceived it as such. The brothers' emotional story always, always, outweighed the bad things that were happening. That just doesn't seem to be the case in season 12 - the horror aspects have overtaken the brothers' story... and the humanity of the show, at least for me. (BTW, hug count still zero.)
I want you to tug and pull at this thread a bit. Am I wrong or do you agree with me? Are you seeing the same thing I’m seeing? Are there other examples from season 12? I didn’t suddenly become a more sensitive viewer than I’ve been the last 11 years so something is different this season, and it all seemed to come to a head in “Mary”.
There were numerous references to time passing. “Two days ago”, “in the past three weeks”, “last night”, Crowley’s “Tick tock”. Listen for them. Clearly time is still being emphasized to increase tension.
Toni to Mary: All those secrets you kept from John.
I really have to wonder if that wasn’t our clue that Mary is still keeping secrets, only this time from the BMoL.
Crowley: My plan may be to raise your son as my own. Give him a chance to use his power in my service.
Lucifer: Do not tell me it’s powering up.
Drexel: It’s powering up but in the opposite direction. As it’s powering down in you, the polarity is somehow reversing.
[later] Crowley: Pretty soon, I will have to get rid of you but I will miss our little chats.
Lucifer: you mean the ones where you prattle on about your imagined power and I pretend to care?
Even though the American hunters are clearly in a power struggle with the British Men of Letters, the thread only came up in relationship to Crowley and Lucifer’s battle for control of Hell. Maybe because they are both supernatural beings with supernatural powers?
Toni to Mary: Interesting choice. Soon you won’t be making any.
I’m left wondering if Toni’s threat and later Ketch’s comforting words to Mary were meant to imply that all the BMoL are more or less brainwashed at Kendricks. Certainly asking children to kill each other (as Ketch confirmed Lady Bevell had done in order to succeed) is manipulating the minds of the young and impressionable. Would you go so far as to call it brainwashing?
Animals vs Humanity
Hellhounds were again used as the “monster” that terrified people, but there were additional references to animals as well, such as “bearing down”.
“There’s Something about Mary” was meant to be a disturbing episode. Even the Winchester family theme, which usually brings comfort and makes fans melt in moments that warm the heart was played in a minor key with distressing notes when Mary drove away leaving her boys behind. The music when the brothers searched for a bug in the bunker was also weirdly light and fanciful, not at all matching the gravity of what was happening.
Part of my uneasiness with this episode was that Sam and Dean seemed oddly apart from the story. I know they were integral to the plots, but their deep emotions,
thrilling fight scene timing and coordination,
and unspoken connection to each other
seemed to have been overlaid onto scenes that were otherwise two-dimensional. Samantha Smith’s acting was again superb.
I can’t say enough about how well she has depicted Mary’s on-again, off-again emotional make-up.
With the exception of Lady Bevell and Dr. Hess, who are ridiculously simplistic in their evilness, everyone else did a fantastic job of acting.
I didn’t like what happened in this show, and more so because I became aware at the season’s emphasis on cruelty, but maybe that was the whole point. Maybe fans are being psychologically and emotionally manipulated as well. I know I am horribly anxious about the last two installments of season 12. I’m extremely worried about what will happen, and I’m dearly hoping they are well-done but I’m also worried that more lines will be crossed. Will something else that is unthinkable happen? What do you think?
Screencaps courtesy of http://www.homeofthenutty.com
1. Poll link referenced in Alice's Review.