A busy work schedule has made me late to the reviewing game for Supernatural’s “Mother’s Little Helper,” but I have to squeak a review in under the wire, because Adam Glass’s episode played with so many important themes. Misha Collins also made his debut as a Supernatural director, making great use of light and shadow as the boys try to bring into focus what they’re up against.
The episode opens with Sam beginning to realise he perhaps should have been more careful for what he wished. Dean is all business when he tells his brother he should go on a hunt alone. Sam is all brother when he tells Dean he’s just checking in. But he can’t appeal to that brotherhood when Dean rebuffs Sam’s concern, because Sam is the one who said it was no longer their framework.
Without that framework, the boys are no longer bigger than the sum of their parts. Singly, Sam and Dean are formidable, but it is the way they work as a team that makes them the wild card in the universe’s deck. The space between them allows shadows in, a motif of which director Misha Collins makes full use. The episode is full of rays of light streaking across shadows, as people peer through bars of all kinds to try and get clear views.
Dean is falling further into shadow as he becomes more and more consumed with desire for the Blade and fear of what that makes him. He doesn’t feel he has the right to reach out to Sam for help, which makes him vulnerable to Crowley’s schemes. Crowley takes full advantage of the space between the boys to play on Dean’s pride and growing addiction.
Dean voices his inner torment when he tells Crowley, “When I kill, I kill for a reason. I’m nothing like Cain!” The elder Winchester doesn’t need Crowley’s disbelieving rejoinder to doubt his own words. Dean’s always been worried that he’s a killer at heart. His capacity for darkness is what allowed him to take on the Mark of Cain.
The parallels to season four are now very evident. Crowley is Dean’s Ruby and Lilith combined, and Cain’s Blade is Dean’s demon blood. The reason for the boys’ distance is very understandable, as it was in season four, but the distance means both Sam and Dean are not operating at their best when outside forces are determined to control them.
Dean is so focused on his internal struggle his usual razor sharp instincts fail him when Crowley uses a disguised demon to test whether Dean sees him as a true partner. Dean’s growing sense of soullessness brings to mind Soulless Sam, who was a great hunter except for his lack of instinct.
Sam is on his own journey and “Mother’s Little Helper” explores that, too. Henry Winchester goes through a mini-arc that lays out the dilemma Winchesters face: duty or family? Henry is worried his choice to be a Man of Letters is not worth the danger of leaving John fatherless and his wife, Millie, a young widow.
But by the episode’s end, he makes his choice—saving lives, helping people is a noble cause. It’s the Winchester family business, running in the blood from both sides of the family. And it has a terrible price. Millie was widowed young. John did grow up fatherless. Sam and Dean were robbed of their childhoods.
But all decisions have consequences, including the decision not to act. Sam asks Julia why she didn’t warn Henry about Abbadon, a decision which left the Men of Letters completely vulnerable to attack from within. Julia tells Sam she became a nun because she wanted to help people, but she had no idea how to grapple with real evil. She was so frightened by Abbadon, she did nothing and has felt shame ever since. Evil grows when good people do nothing.
Sam has his own choice to make about where he belongs. Last season, he told Dean he could walk away from hunting because he didn’t really make a difference. People still died. Other hunters could take his place and that was good enough.
Kevin’s predicament complicated that outlook, as Sam felt he had to apologize to Kevin for abandoning him. But Sam has continued to have one foot in and one foot out of his life with Dean – and indeed of life period. We’ve seen little of the hope Sam said he felt in “Trial and Error.”
I suspect Sam is going to have to decide again whether he’s willing to continue to try and make a difference or whether he’s ready to walk away. The decision to walk away has ramifications, just as the decision to stay does. I think Sam’s interactions with Julia helped remind him doing what you can may not solve everything, but it does help. Will Sam choose the Winchester legacy, both hunter and MOL?
I think the Winchesters are facing their greatest fears, which gives them a much needed personal stake in the plot. Dean and Sam have always loved each other, but never understood each other. Their different positions in the family and their different inner demons clouded their view of each other.
I have faith this season’s journey in each other’s shoes will lead to a clearer understanding between the boys. And that understanding will close the space between them and allow them to be the brothers they have always been, despite the misunderstandings and hurt. Sam and Dean are stronger together than apart. Their brotherhood was stronger than Lucifer’s power. I think this season will make that point again.
The last scene shows the boys working together, but with enough space between them for secrets. I think Sam will find a way to close that space.
I’ll end the review by saying Misha did a nice job as director. The episode had a definite look to it, full of light and shadow. I loved the way he brought the camera in close to allow the actors’ faces to tell the story. It made Dean’s two flashbacks entirely unnecessary.
Misha played a lot with different types of shots, and most of them worked well. A couple I thought were arty for the sake of being arty, rather than telling the story, and there was entirely too much shakiness in the scene with Abbadon and Josie, but overall it was a solid directing job.
Thanks to homeofthenutty.com for the photos.