Whew, the fan pleaser. It’s about time!
If season six has done anything to me so far, it’s widened a gap that’s been steadily growing between my inner fan girl and inner TV critic. During the winter break I was having lunch with a fellow Supernatural blogger and she asked what I thought of season six so far. I told her that as a TV critic, I gave the season a B+. The complexity of the production, the direction, the storytelling, this show has continued to step up it’s game in a daring way. A comparison with season three proves that. As a fan though, my grade was a C. Let’s face it, fans come for the brotherly bond. That indescribable connection between these two brothers that take ordinary stories and make them extraordinary. Take that away and something is missing.
I like many other TV critics had a chance to mull over this one for a couple of weeks after getting a special preview. I knew the instant I saw “Like A Virgin” that this one would be a tough one to review. Part of me was thrilled with it, part of me had reservations. It wasn’t until I saw it again on Friday (in full HD glory) that I was able to figure out why the discrepancy. The inner TV critic in me thought it was an average MOTW episode. The inner fan girl was telling my inner critic to shut the hell up. The brothers are back and it’s awesome.
Yes, for the fan girl, “Like A Virgin” is a breath of fresh air. Instant relief from a long dry spell of brotherly hugs and both lighted hearted and earnest banter between the two. Dean is happy again! Sam is puppy dogging it again! I didn’t realize how much I missed all that until I saw it again. If anything, it reinforces by previous criticism that while the soulless Sam story was compelling, it went on about six episodes too long. I laughed, I cried, I swooned, and I felt excited enough at the end where I’m dying to see what’s next.
Then the inner TV critic steps in. This type of episode has happened before. A weak MOTW story coupled with a very strong brotherly story. Season four’s “Metamorphosis” comes to mind. The story layout is very typical, and the unique slant of dragons proves to be nothing more than a device for some great pop culture references and humorous scenes. (“What’s wrong with that?” Yells inner fan girl. “Dean was hilarious!”). If anything, it’s the unique and stunning scene shots by director Phil Sgriccia that step up this episode compared to many others.
So, with the two opposing voices in my head, how do I approach this review? By letting both sides have it out.
Inner Fan Girl: Oh yeah baby! Classic Aerosmith! “I’m baaaaaaack! I’m back in the saddle again!…”
Inner TV Critic: A song by an “American Idol” judge? Really?
Oh yes really. If you’re going to energize a fan base, do it to a rocking and well known classic rock tune. I personally love old Aerosmith (anything before “Pump”), and once again they can’t pick a better song than this. Why wasn’t “Back In The Saddle” on my classic rock “must have list” for this show? The season six so far summary (say that five times fast) is great and take note, for the alpha vampire’s comments from “Family Matters” have made the highlight reel for a reason.
So, they pick up where they left off, Sam screaming his fool head off in agony, right? No and there’s no better momentum killer than doing a weak MOTW opening first. The thing about these openings is we’re chomping at the bit for brotherly drama, we have been for eight weeks now (still grrring over last week) and we really couldn’t give a damn about another nondescript brunette in peril. This scene is relevant to the story, but couldn’t it have come after Castiel chews out Dean? Even the above mentioned “Metamorphosis” went for the brotherly drama first and the case came after. That really worked.
Speaking of Castiel’s first scene, this is drama done right. Sadly “Like A Virgin” is a loaded episode and while that’s always a good thing, it didn’t leave much room for Castiel. The two scenes he’s in are great, and he’s none too happy with Dean right now. This is a far cry from the season four Castiel and it’s so wonderful to see how much he cares about what happens to both Sam and Dean. I find his angelic perception of the human soul fascinating. A shredded soul is worse than death. He seems to have a bigger grasp on its power yet what else was Dean supposed to do? Castiel makes his point clear, death would have been the better option. Lucky for us though, that didn’t happen.
Inner TV Critic: Cute, a hug.
Inner Fan Girl: CUTE?? What show are you watching? OMG, poor Sammy!!!! He’s so confused yet relieved, yet still traumatizedâ€¦he needs a hug! Just look at the way he clings onto Dean, squeezing him like he never wants to let go. It’s “Mystery Spot” all over again! He’s been through a terrible, terrible ordeal, stuff that can only be in someone’s worst nightmare, but none of that matters for he has his brother back. All is well again. And Dean…OH DEAN! He’s stunned and knows something isn’t normal, but he’ll let it go. His Sammy is back!
Inner TV Critic: You got all that from a hug?
You have to admit, the hug is significant. Sam doesn’t remember anything other than falling into the hole in “Swan Song.” As far as he’s concerned, that happened yesterday. He wasn’t able to give his brother that hug before going down, only a look of assurance that everything will be okay. He never thought he’d see Dean again. Now he has that chance and there’s no freaking way he’s passing up the opportunity. It is the same as “Mystery Spot.” When put into that perspective, fan girl gets weepy.
Bobby’s attitude is understandable. His discomfort is a bit more than Sam trying to kill him. It’s that Sam is still a loose cannon. He could explode at any minute now, although he doesn’t know what to do about it any more than Dean. It’s almost like he’s with Castiel on this one, that death might have been the better option. He can see much better what unhinged Sam is capable of. His attitude is meant to reflect the unease and doubt with Sam and Jim Beaver pulled it off perfectly.
Dean on the other hand, you can’t blame the guy for hoping this is a clean slate. He’s desperately wanted his brother back ever since he found out Sam was soulless and even before that, probably when Sam said yes to Lucifer. He even went through terrible heartache and took extreme measures to just get things back to the way they were. He must believe that everything is set right. Sure deep down he knows better, but considering how hard the last year and a half has been, he needs to believe in the fantasy. Dean’s always been a “in the moment” kind of guy. The moment right now is good and he’s going to enjoy it. It’s exactly how you’d expect Dean to react.
Come on, you have to admit, going on the road, going back to the old ways, it made you happy. The heart to heart in the Impala, when Dean confesses he was with Lisa for a year, but won’t tell Sam he’s the one that broke them apart. The clippings on the tacky motel room wall (another mural?), the fast food, the research including the return of John’s journal, it’s all bliss for a fan, as much as it was for the Winchester brothers.
Inner Fan Girl: The whole “damsels in distress” thing is uncomfortable. Is that how young virgins act? Crying, passive victims? I just pegged young women to be tougher than that. After all, how many of these girls grew up on Buffy? Maybe they were singled out just for that reason, because they haven’t practiced “What Would Buffy Do?”
Inner TV Critic: Stop over-speculating! It’s a TV show.
Inner Fan Girl: (sheepishly) Sorry.
The MOTW story is pretty weak. When dragons were mentioned in the episode summary, part of me had to think, how is a low budget show going to pull that off? They didn’t really. I’m not sure what fell apart. Maybe the story the way it’s plotted is too textbook. Or maybe ruthless (and almost faceless) monsters terrorizing innocent young women is depicted a bit too realistically. It’s clearly unsettling. Maybe it’s also that we didn’t learn enough about these creatures. Why they exist, why they might want “mother” back, and how they’ve managed to take on human form, etc.
As far as I can tell, the dragons existed for the great setup of jokes and clever one-liners. There’s a wealth of pop culture to pull from. Middle Earth, Dungeons and Dragons (the 12 sided dice line), World of Warcraft, The Never-Ending Story, and of course my absolute favorite, Hogwarts. When Harry Potter references can be worked into this show, by Bobby nonetheless, it can’t be all bad.
What is the rock cooking?
Inner Fan Girl: OMG! Dean’s showdown with the sword and the stone is pure hilarity! Can’t stop laughing! ROFL!
Inner TV Critic: Bwah!!! (wipes tears from eyes).
Well at least we’re on the same page about something. When a 14th century sword bound into stone meets 21st century Dean Winchester, the results are sure to be unexpected.
I absolutely love Dean in this episode. He’s had a really rough year and it’s so wonderful, so refreshing, so joyous to see him finally smile, relax, and be pleased with how things are going. We got to see some of that confident swagger and fighting spirit that’s been missing for a long time. He even got the pot of gold at the end! Has that ever happened? He got so many great lines, my favorite being his answer to where he got the sword. “Comic Con.” Ha! I remember the aisles of sword vendors there (seriously). I can’t remember the last time Sam and Dean enjoyed an entire episode of light hearted banter. “Clap Your Hands If You Believe” tried, but that wasn’t really Sam and it was very cynical humor (still funny, but different).
You aren’t going to get more classic than Dean taking on the Excalibur challenge. Every single bit of that setup was perfect. The acting, the direction, the lighting, the dramatic score in perfectly placed parts, it all amounted to something out of this world. And funny. Side splittingly, fall on the floor funny. Fans REALLY needed a laugh like that. When Dean takes on said stone with the 21st century answer of plastic explosives, beaming over his victory only to find it went very wrong with the broken sword, his reaction couldn’t have been more perfect. ” You’ve got insurance for this, right?” Not the right time to ask by a long shot. I’ll definitely be pouring tons of detail and praise into these scenes in my full length recap.
Well that didn’t take long
Inner Fan Girl: (cries) Poor Sam. He can’t enjoy the moment like Dean. When he learns the truth from Cass, I could see his heart just drop into his stomach. It’s so gut wrenching. He’s crushed, remorseful, feeling guilty, and it wasn’t his fault! It just isn’t fair he has to carry all these burdens.
Inner TV Critic: Yeah, I got to admit, Jared Padalecki played that beautifully.
I applaud the producers for not dragging out Sam remembering things. We know the history. All lies, whether told by Sam or Dean, come back to bite them in the end. I’m thrilled in this case it’s sooner than later. The fact that Sam figured out something wasn’t right almost immediately and didn’t press Dean for answers, giving his brother the benefit of the doubt, is a plot twist I greatly appreciate. He does trust Dean. We are back to that growth from the end of season five.
Furthermore, when Sam learned the hard truth that he was really walking around soulless for a year and there’s a wall in his head separating the bad memories that could kill him, he doesn’t want to run from that. He’s willing to face up to his atrocities and the fact it wasn’t really him isn’t an excuse. This is the same Sam indeed that accepted responsibility for releasing Lucifer and went down that hole into Hell to fix it. However, this admission to Dean, along with the fact that he did go poking around behind Dean’s back, is foreshadowing of what we suspected about Sam all along, he most certainly will scratch at that wall.
Oh, one more thing, why didn’t Sam hug Castiel? That’s a clear indication Sam’s soul is back. Sam wasn’t being honest with Castiel and a hug would have given away his guilt over it. RoboSam would have given him the hug without thinking twice.
Mother of All
Inner Fan Girl: Meh.
Inner TV Critic: It definitely creates possibilities and opens up a new realm of mythology to ponder, but in this episode, meh.
So why open up a new world of mythology to explore? I’ve always loved the notion that the origin of monsters was never explored and that in this new chapter of “Supernatural” they are going there. From what’s revealed here though, how is Purgatory different from Hell? Is this just a new version of Hell with monsters instead of demons? I suppose that’s what the rest of the season is going to dig into and I’ll watch with interest, but not enough time was given to the rising of “Mother” in this episode to generate that much excitement. “Like A Virgin” in some ways tried to do too much, but that could be due to the first half of the season not giving this story enough time to build.
So what’s the overall grade? A for the brotherly moments, B- for everything else. Not sure where that averages out, but if you’re willing to overlook all the technicalities and go for pure entertainment value, that grade comes out on the higher end. Next week looks like a continuation of where Sam and Dean left off, with Sam’s past coming back to bite him. Can’t wait to see how that plays out.