I was underwhelmed with season ten for most of its run, so it was wonderful to watch an episode as thrilling as this one. It has many of my favorite Supernatural elements: a scary house, great backstory, suspense, blood draining, brotherly love, surprise callbacks of yore, and a tense plot that keeps things moving at a brisk pace.
When I was trying to quantify this one, narratively speaking, I couldn’t decide between haunted house, murder/suicide, or thriller. Then, I got it. This episode is a psychological thriller. Some of the drama is driven by magic, that’s true, but the real danger exists in the minds of the victims. No one is killing or haunting anyone here; people are being driven to kill themselves. This is the definition of this genre: A thriller which emphasizes the unstable states of its characters. Older Suzie is pretty unstable and Sam and Dean have lots of issues themselves, at this point. I love psychological thrillers - whether in novels or on the screen. I watched The Twilight Zone as a kid and I’ve liked most of the episodes of Black Mirror - so, let’s revisit this great example of the genre from season ten.
The Road So Far
Charlie (who has suddenly become Indiana Jones, Katniss Everdeen, and Xena all rolled into one), has found The Book of the Damned. Castiel has recovered his grace from Metatron and Sam has pretended to burn the book that Dean has reacted so strongly against.
It’s 1973 and the episode is opening with Suzie and her family in St. Louis. Ah, memories - I had clothes like that in the seventies. Anyway, Suzie is having family issues and grumpily goes downstairs to fulfill her mother’s request that she do some laundry. Bad things happen to poor Suzie and the scene shifts to our boys in the present.
Sam is meeting with Rowena to discuss her decoding The Book of the Damned for him and Dean is taking out a vampire den because that’s what he (and The Mark) like to do in their free time. There is a great flashback scene with an intriguing Man of Letters, Cuthbert Sinclair, and the action picks up as Sam sneaks off to find a special box - only to have crafty Dean follow him to join in the hunt, anyway. The events that take place in that gothic house are a joy to behold and this is a thrilling episode.
Ah, season ten. Sam/Jared is sporting a girly-bob hairdo that doesn’t really go with the sideburns and stubble and Dean/Jensen gets to have The Mark of Cain on his arm. I’m okay with the storylines of this season. I didn’t love the MoC, or Demon Dean, but there was enough drama and interesting arcs to make the season watchable, mostly. We did get the character of Cuthbert Sinclair, who is an interesting fellow played by Kavan Smith. That actor played a lot of characters in my favorite science fiction shows, but my favorite role of his would probably be as Deputy Andy the robot on Eureka. He never stopped smiling. Never.
Anyhow, the episode starts off brilliantly with a scene from the Seventies. I loved the set decoration, the clothes, the hairstyles, and the scary way that the family met their doom. Poor Suzie, who was hanging onto her mother while that poor woman cut her own throat. I can imagine the gory scene as the blood was flowing downward (ala Carrie), so I guess it’s good they didn’t show that part. I did wonder why Suzie would suddenly start sledge-hammering a random wall, though. I don’t think that was on her chore list.
Next up is Sam and Rowena as they make a deal to decode The Book of the Damned. I must tell you, this is my favorite performance of Ruth Connell as Rowena. She is very good as HalliRo, who tries to get Sam to drain all his blood later. Maybe it’s because Ruth gave a quieter and subtler persona to her alter-ego. Seeing Ruth at a convention being so sweet and funny, really does make Rowena a better character for me, I can tell you that. Toning down the witchy act is a very good thing that I hope we see even more of in the future.
Dean is killing monsters and drinking vamp beer when Sam finds him. This is where we get a great image in our heads - Dean says that Sam is looking at him like Dean’s a diseased killer puppy. There’s a gif of that somewhere, right? The relationship of the brothers is pretty screwy this episode as Dean apologizes for going off on his own monster hunt and later asks Sam’s permission to join in the hunt at Suzie’s house. Here, Dean is the more tentative brother and the one who has a mystical problem and Sam is the worried brother who is trying to solve that problem. Sam is so protective, determined, and fierce in his quest. I really enjoy his actions and have a hard time faulting him for them. Yes, there are secrets and hurtful words to come, but in the moment - I’m enjoying both this episode and the season. A sweet example of Sam’s concern is when Dean is asleep on his bed, and Sam is the one who is looking in on him. Okay, Sam is going behind Dean’s back to use that cursed book, but it’s still sweet.
The scene of a Men of Letter’s meeting is very intriguing. Sam is listening to tapes of said meeting as the viewer gets to actually see it. Ole Cuthbert is in trouble for once again needing to be disciplined for his actions and the MoL’s have had enough. They plan to expel him from their group for secretly making a magic box to hold the codex that the witches’ coven wants very badly. That box is very secure and very deadly. Two men have died already as they tried to open it. Cuthbert is defiant and storms out without giving the MoL’s much of a clue on how to disarm his box. Cuthbert doesn’t want to be a librarian. He wants to do great things. He wants to take risks and destroy monsters. I guess it wasn’t really a good idea to have someone be a Man of Letters when he has an ego bigger than his own head. He’s a great character, though.
Rowena is woken up by Sam in the early hours and we are given the possibility that she might show up later, which was pretty crafty of the writers. I thought that Rowena was really there in that house. When “the tall white fellow with the pretty hair” and Dean meet up (surprise for Sam - Dean’s right there), the action begins in earnest. I feel bad for Suzie in her messy house, all by herself as she tries to keep people away from the basement. She lost her whole family, including Aunt Pauline, but she still stayed on. That takes guts, Suzie. Oh course, nothing can stop Sam as he hurries to use a spell on the box, but he sadly gets it wrong and then deadly thoughts are wafting through the house, once again.
Dean gets hit by the green mist of deadly thoughts and finds himself in Purgatory. I never understood Dean’s love of that place. Fighting for eternity is fun? Oh well, at least he gets to see Benny again. I never liked Benny that much, but I’m sure my reaction to him was tainted by the first time that he called Dean “brother.” I never forgave him for that. Anyway, it’s nice when we see continuity onscreen and are reminded of days of yore. Dean’s body is still in the house, of course, so Sam must tie him up so he won’t hurt himself. Pick a wooden chair with easy to pull off arms, why don’t you Sam? Jeez.
It’s freaky the way that Suzie’s dead family comes back to chastise her for “letting it out.” It’s not good in a horror movie when a character opens something they shouldn’t and “it” gets out. Remember The Ring? “You weren’t supposed to let her out, Rachel.” Shudders. Okay, Suzie is not happy with Sam as she berates him for his reckless behavior. Sam must save his doomed brother, even if it means that he opens Pandora’s box and the whole world suffers. Sam’s sorry, but Suzie is not buying it. He has to be stopped. Wait a minute, is it the green mist that is saying those things? They must be coming from Sam’s own subconscious, I would think. Our poor boys are so messed up. They are great big bloody heroes, yet the weight of all their wrong choices hang so heavy on them. It makes me very sad.
Oh good, HalliRo is here. Sam and I, we think that she is the real witch, but this entity is just another mirage from the box. HalliRo is going to help Sam give up his life to open the box because that’s what the box really wants. It’s a great scene when Sam cuts his wrist and starts bleeding into the bowl. The bleeding slows, HalliRo looks sadly at Sam, and then Sam cuts his other arm to get more blood into the bowl. I’m jealous of HalliRo as she gets to massage Sam/Jared’s arm to make his blood flow faster. Lucky hallucination.
Poor Sammy isn’t doing very well as he’s slumped against the side of the box as HalliRo is helping him bleed. No fear - big brother Dean comes down the stairs after getting rid of his Purgatory hallucination because The Mark doesn’t want him to die. I love this next scene with a passion. On first viewing, I probably rewatched this part at least five times, maybe more. Dean yells, “Sam!” HalliRo backs up against the wall and Dean pats Sam’s face and tells him that whatever he is seeing is not real. Sam’s passing out even as he insists that he must give all his blood, so Dean slaps him upside the head. Sam swings at Dean and misses, Dean wrests the knife out of Sam’s hand, and then wraps Sam’s wrists loosely (just like in the "Jump the Shark" episode when Dean puts handkerchiefs on Sam’s gaping and ugly gashes on both arms and says casually “put some pressure on that”). He pushes Sam off his cinderblock stool and cuts his own wrist to help in the ritual. Aww, so great. Two brothers, both Legacies; joining forces for good. What a perfect scene: that scene should go into the Hall of Fame of Supernatural Scenes. HalliRo looks a trifle disappointed and poofs away in a cloud of green. That was a really cool exit, I thought. Bye, HalliRo. The box finally opens, the codex is obtained, Sam leans against the wall in exhaustion, and all is well.
The final scene in the car is good for a closer. Sadly, this show doesn’t always have the best closing scenes. Too often they are rushed and missing crucial emotion and information. Anyway, Sam is lounging in the car with the door open and looking fairly wiped out. Dean does ask him if he’s okay and road-ready, so the scene gets extra brownie points for that. I just wish there was more time to see how the guys’ wounds were bandaged and how Sam received enough fluids to stay alive. Those small details bring realism that is often badly needed on our show. Dean is apologetic again for going on the vampire hunt alone (see, Dean does say he’s sorry). Sam thinks that they are now even - since he came to St. Louis by himself. Dean says that he thinks the universe is trying to tell them that they’re stronger together than apart. Nice one, Dean - ya big softy.
This is such a fantastic episode with so many wonderful scenes. I’ve never gotten tired of watching it and it’s a real gift to season ten before the trauma and tragedy to follow.
Random Thrilling Psychological Material
Sharp Objects and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn – I used to be an avid reader of Entertainment Weekly (the issues are now being stacked un-read in my closet) and one of the best journalists of that magazine was Flynn. I was intrigued when it was announced that she was writing her first book and I was spellbound when I read it and the ones that followed. Ms. Flynn is a master of the psychological thriller genre and I recommend all her books. The twist and turns of the devious and disturbed characters will keep you guessing till the astounding conclusions.
Mind of Winter by Laura Kisischke – I’ve been haunted by this novel and it’s hard to get the events that unfold out of one’s head. What happened thirteen years ago when an average American woman adopted a baby in Russia? Why is Holly afraid to interact with her daughter today, as a blizzard rages outside and the two of them are alone? Read and find out what happened in that Siberian orphanage in the past and why Holly is afraid to even think about what happened then and what might be happening now.
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier – I was so enthralled by this classic novel that I had always wanted to use Rebecca as my first daughter's name. Unfortunately, an older sister beat me to it (thanks, sis) but that doesn’t diminish my love for this story. Rebecca is beautiful, beloved, and everything that our unnamed new wife isn’t. That might not be entirely true, though. Manderley will always haunt me, also.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins – I loved trying to figure out what happened in that little house by the train tracks and what was going on in the head of our clearly disturbed narrator in this addicting read.
The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – This novel is a story wrapped up in another story, wrapped up in an enigma. Who is sane, and who is not, in this twisty tale of sisters?
The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry – The narrator of this dark tale will herself say that she lies and therefore should not be trusted. The novel is set in Salem, Mass and involves more family secrets than you could shake a broomstick at. Believe the story that Towner Whitney is spinning at your own risk.
Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas – Violet and her siblings have the perfect mother - at least that’s how it seems from outside their home’s four walls. The truth of the matter is quite different and Violet must find a way to save herself and her brother. Her sister might be able to help, if Violet can find her in time. This novel makes me appreciate my own mother more - we all have our personal demons, but yikes!
Misery by Stephen King – “Annie was good let us thank her for our food including that we don’t have to eat girls just wanna have fun but something wicked this way comes please don’t make me eat my thumb, Annie…” “I was really coming back from my Laughing Place. It has a sign over the door that says that. ANNIE’S LAUGHING PLACE, it says. Sometimes I do laugh when I go there…but mostly I just scream.” “That was it. In Annie’s view all the people in the world were divided into three groups: brats, poor poor things... and Annie.” Need I say more?
Fatal Attraction (1987) - A scary film that helps guys remember to not cheat on their wives…plus a handy idea for serving rabbit.
Seven (1979) – “What’s in the box???” No, that’s okay. I don’t want to know. Like Sam, I’m fascinated by serial killers. I don’t think that makes me a bad person.
Memento (2000) – Guy Pierce is mesmerizing as a dude whose life seems to be unfolding in short bursts. “What was I doing?”
The Silence of the Lambs (1991) – Who can forget the terrifying scenes between Agent Starling, Hannibal Lecter, and Buffalo Bill? Not me.
Psycho (1960) and Bates Motel – I’ve never much liked the sequels and prequels of this iconic story, but the 2013 television adaptation is excellent. I love stories about psychos and sociopaths. Dexter was really good, too. I loved the way they started the series (2006) with voiceovers of Dexter telling us how it felt to be him. Fascinating.
The Fisher King (1991) – This movie, starring Robin Williams and Jeff Bridges, is not exactly a psychological thriller. It’s a moving story of two men coming to terms with their overwhelming grief and guilt while being chased by an imaginary but very scary figure on horseback. There is a quest for the Holy Grail that will fix everyone’s problems and beautiful heartbreaking scenes. I love this movie and have seen it multiple times, crying all the while. I see myself in the eccentric girl who just doesn’t know how to fit in and in the lady who loves Jack, but is casually shunted aside when she is no longer needed. There are emotionally broken characters by the score in this lovely film and it has an ending that just kills me, every time.
I think that’s enough for now, please chime in and let me know what are your favorite psychological thrillers. Does this episode and a few others make season ten watchable for you?
Bye for now-----Mallena