Supernatural’s episode “The Purge” is packed full of messages. There is subtext about the brothers, about family, about monsters and humanity, and even about weight loss and self-image. All of our original reviews detected many of these messages on the first watch. They are worth revisiting, however, because even though the parallels to the brothers’ situation were obvious, we didn’t at the time know how everything was going to end up. There was a lot of speculation and trepidation and maybe even some misinterpretation, but mostly I remember us as having been close to right. Here is the link to our episode guide where you can check up on the original predictions and interpretations from your favorite writers!
There is no denying that the highlight of “The Purge” is the eye candy of Sam in Yoga gear and a running suit. We really have to thank Eric and Nicole (maybe this was Nicole’s idea?) for getting Sam out of those hateful plaid, long-sleeve, hunting shirts. Second up on my list of greats in this episode is the laudable performance by Brianna Buckmaster as Sheriff Donna Hanscum (where do they come up with these surnames? I not going to make fun of it, though, in case it is one of the writer’s best friends or an in-law). Brianna was truly convincing and empathetic, telling us her story with the Minnesota colloquialisms that could have gone very badly very quickly if not done well.
Given all that, though, there is also no denying that the most memorable part of this episode was the conversation (or lack there-of) between Sam and Dean back at the bunker. In my opinion, its impact overshadows everything else. Sure, the first time we saw this story we took our time exploring all the possible implications of the sibling trying to control a brother gone wild, but we now know how that all ends. We wondered if there was something significant to the fact that Dean wasn’t sleeping well, and why Dean was so anxious to kill (we know that now too). I am no longer intellectually challenged by figuring out that puzzle. That leaves me with nothing but that gut-wrenching fight between the brothers. To me, this was the low point of the season. In fact, it ranks together with Sam not explaining himself clearly and sympathetically when he didn’t look for Dean (season 8) as the two lowest points of the series for me. I hate when the bond between the brothers is broken, but I fervidly detest when they don’t talk about it and when we don’t hear what they are truly feeling.
We have certainly done our best to analyze for ourselves how much Sam and Dean were hurting, why they were lashing out at each other in their insecurity, and a boundless number of other family counseling issues. This time around, though, I was personally struck by how much Sam sounded like a young adult finally pulling away from a loving, strong, protective parent. At this developmental stage, many young adults actually love their families, but in order to establish their own identities separate from their “parents”, they say hurtful, painful things to pull out of the symbiotic relationship. They don’t feel love at all, they feel resentment at the perceived interference with them being themselves. Of course in Sam’s case, the metaphor was very real.
These prior dependents are quite capable of living on their own (many have already) but they haven’t come to terms with how that independence relates to their life-long security and emotional reliance on the loving caregiver. They are not children by any means, but they have not yet established themselves as equals to the parent…and they think they should be considered as such. They also think they see things so clearly. The parents have obviously done everything wrong, are selfish and over-protective. The guardian doesn’t understand them, and never has. The emerging adult see things clearer than ever before, and the parent is accused of being stupidly clueless and emotionally damaging. There is often a kernel of truth in the accusations, but there is no forgiveness nor acknowledgement that the caregiver always did what they thought was best for their ward.
That final scene has all the markings of Sam emotionally separating himself from his idolization of his big brother and caregiver. Sam has been to Hell and back and is perfectly capable of taking care of himself, but this time he needs Dean to accept him as an equal, not a protégée. Sam, on the other hand, needs to gain the emotional maturity to express himself clearly and not lash out in confused pain. Both boys need to grow to that next level of parent with an adult child, whom they can neither protect anymore nor save. Dean got to this point in “Swan Song”, but regressed (thankfully) when he couldn’t, or wouldn’t, accept Sam’s banishment to Hell. The season 9 finale showed us the moment when the young adult, i.e. Sam, realized that, darn it all, he really does love the “parent” despite trying so hard to vilify, or using another word, demonize, his caregiver. When faced with actually losing the person he thought was selfish and he expressly told he didn’t want to be brothers with anymore, Sam saw Dean as an actual demon versus the imagined demon that Sam resented so much, and Sam forgave Dean, and accepted that we all just do the best we can do in any given moment…even Dean for better or for worse. Sam remembered his love for Dean.
The jury is still out as to whether Dean can ever change and see Sam as an equal. According to Jeremy Carver’s teasers over a year ago, that is where this is all going. I can’t say I care much for the journey, though, but in real life the journey isn’t any picnic either. So once again, Supernatural reflects our own lives back to us.
I tweeted that Dean didn’t yet know that he wouldn’t sleep again for a long, LONG time. That observation made a number of people rather emotional about Dean’s plight.
I missed the weight being used to knock out that poor bride-to-be, but what on earth was she doing alone, in the dark, in a deserted gym, with head phones on? I mean, Come ON!
I LOVE when the boys have the exact same body language.
Speaking of wardrobe, I really liked Sam’s yellow and blue shirt (worn in the job interview). Maybe script notes said, “Have Sam wear something appealing for a change, like nice shirts, or better yet, skimpy shirts).
As far as I am concerned, this will forever go done as the grossest monster ever. I simply cannot watch, and the mental image creeps me out so MUCH!
Well, this one still hurts. Even in light of the finale, it’s not an enjoyable episode to watch. The problem is not that it’s unbelievable either Sam or Dean could act or say what they do. It’s that there was no follow up to show Sam’s head space until the finale, and that was way too late. It’s a shame, because it would not have been difficult to show Sam’s emotions.
The emotions are pretty clearly on display in the opening brother scene. Sam pokes at Dean, asking him if he’s drinking because of Sam’s declaration they can be partners, but not brothers. Dean huffs back that Sam shouldn’t flatter himself. The scene is set for a good blow out, but instead of getting angry, Dean walks away.
He is angry, of course, and he passive aggressively swipes at Sam later in the episode, when he tells his brother he’s awkward with girls, and hey, Dean’s just telling the truth. But on rewatch, the moments of disconnection are balanced with brotherly moments Sam falls into naturally.
From Sam’s little gesture to let Dean know he’s covered in sugar to racing to Dean’s rescue when he’s succumbed to roofie pudding, Sam’s bond with Dean is threaded throughout the story. And that makes it even more heartbreaking when Dean finally opens to up Sam, only to say exactly the words guaranteed to make Sam hurt and angry all over again.
Dean’s opening statements about saving Sam have his brother’s attention. He’s not agreeing, but he’s listening. He’s been trying to provoke Dean into having this conversation since the beginning of the episode. But as soon as Dean utters the fateful words, “I’d do it again,” he’s lost Sam. Sam wants to talk – or shout—their feelings out, but “I’d do it again” is not what he wants to hear. He needs an acknowledgement of the invasiveness of possession, the lack of consent and agency.
A hurt Sam is an angry Sam , and he hurls some very hurtful accusations at his brother. Sam knows what buttons to push for Dean. He aims at Dean’s sense of self-worth, telling him he only sacrifices when someone else pays the price. There’s enough truth mixed in with some angry distortion that Dean accepts the words as spoken – and it doesn’t help that Sam is the one this time to walk away.
It’s not surprising neither guy finds this fight easy to analyze. Their respective positions are rooted in their childhood, as most of our deep seated emotions are. Dean’s brotherly relationship with Sam has strong parental overtones, because John slid his parenting responsibilities on to Dean’s young shoulders. And that means the idea of surviving Sam feels unnatural to Dean. He’ll never be OK with Sam telling him he’s ready to die.
That quasi-parental relationship means Sam in turn both looks up to Dean and has a measure of adolescent resentment toward a parental figure. He rebelled against John when he was a teenager and was able to finally connect with his dad before he died.
But rebelling against Dean has always been very difficult, because the two of them had to have each other’s backs to survive the forces against them. Sam’s decision to try in season four backfired on him big time. I think Sam still feels a need to establish his separate identity by pushing Dean away, while at the same time needing to know Dean is still there for him, because Dean is his first stone. He feels safe enough to fight with Dean because Dean has always made him his priority. Even though Sam and Dean’s relationship was seriously strained in season five, the upshot was Dean refusing to leave Sam.
I think in “The Purge” Sam can sense Dean is somehow slipping away and that’s why he reacts so emotionally when Dean is in danger. We’ll see him react this way several times in later episodes. However, the two cannot get past their respective triggers to really communicate.
If later episodes had peeled away those defensive layers so we got a look at the emotions underneath those hurtful words in “The Purge”, I’d have a better feel for this emotional arc. You don’t go to the places” The Purge” went and then just leave those words hanging. There needed to be development throughout the rest of the season, not just in the finale.
So, yeah. This one still doesn’t sit well, even in light of the season as a whole.
What I liked:
· Sam in yoga gear, earnestly trying to whip those people into shape.
· Dean in a hair net, scarfing down pudding.
· The actress playing the sheriff and her moment of connection with Dean.
· The parallel of the monstrous brother who can’t control himself with DemonDean to come.
This episode is controversial for a whole set of reasons, least among them the show’s continuous obsession with non-normative bodies. On one level Supernatural is a fantasy space and nothing reiterates the unreality of this space more than the beauty of its two leads, Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki. Interestingly, that physical beauty is often juxtaposed against emotional or psychological monstrosity – while the monsters they hunt are mostly “malformed” physical creatures, most of the Winchester monstrosity comes from within, including the rather twisted relationship they have not only to each other but to their world.
The theme of the episode aligns with a theme throughout the season, which is the increasing danger that one family member’s desires pose to the unit of the family. In this case, the monstrous brother indulges his physical hunger at the expense of others’ lives, which is a consistent theme throughout the series, in fact, stretching back to that far away season one episode, “Faith,” and Sam’s decision to save Dean and his lack of regret when he finds out what that salvation actually cost. In my reading, this season has tried very hard to confront that idea of unchecked appetite – the dialogue acknowledgment by Sam that a sibling, this time a sister, can be pushed far enough away to see the monstrosity of her brother or more importantly, the final scene where Sam confronts Dean, which he wanted to do in the very first scene of the episode. I think Sam wants to make the monstrosity real – to conjure it into the room and between them much like using a psychological quija board. However, just as Sam accuses Dean of being selfish in saving him, so Sam is selfish in wanting a confrontation that he knows his brother is not ready for. Sam uses his anger as a weapon and strikes out with cold and calculating precision in that final scene, and much like the monster of the episode, he sucks out the muscle from the bone of the brotherhood. We can all argue about their level of dependency but we can never not acknowledge that it is mutual and that mutual need to save can be turned monstrous and become a mutual need to destroy. So while Dean’s selfishness, and yes it was a crime of consent, is real and tangible, Sam’s need to punish emerges from a place of selfishness as well.
I respect the episode but I feel that it was irresponsible in the way that all episodes under Carver have been so – by only allowing us bare glimpses of Sam’s point of view. Viewers have to work at making these analyses and that is not only not fair to the character but in fact, bad writing and planning.
I do like that there’s a subtle lingering on the first suspect in the crowd at the start.
Ok, on first watch I thought it was impossible for the opening kill, but now I see that it was visible. My bad.
I’ll admit it, the Stillwater police officer I find to be adorable.
Oh c’mon Dean, you know you would have been a competitive eater in another life.
With the weiner winner dead at the opening, shouldn’t the 2nd place guy have gotten the trophy then? I mean when they found the body they should have found the smuggled hot dog. I’m offended by this eating scandal!
Man I can never find any pretty gypsies interested in “a little give”. =(
Death #2, let’s see if I’m wrong again…Yeah, we should have been able to see the perp in action as he killed in that scene. I did miss the weight clonk first time.
Yeah, given where the mark is on 2nd vic, I can’t figure out the logistics of how that happened.
Seriously the idea of a monster turning their “handicap” into a business is just an idea I’m dying to see explored more.
One does wonder how these fat suckers survived in the past when humans were… slimmer.
Oh Dean… eating straight off the spoon you’re using. That is NOT sanitary.
Awww, how can her husband leave that cutie? I’ll comfort you sheriff!
Seriously can’t you just imagine Americans hiring their own fat suckers? Eat what you want, feed the monster. You could have a whole mail-order spouse/fat sucker service set up… it would be gold mine!
You know, maybe you should have grabbed the hunters and taken them to the brother. Would have solved a lot of things. [You would have] had backup when the bro tried to kill you, let the hunters think they killed the monster & saved your wife. Stupid dude.
Shouldn’t immigration be making sure that the people who enter our country are… people?
A story about someone making sure monsters don’t enter the country could also be interesting. Oh wait, we called it #MiB.
What if monsters started teaming while eating? “U get the fat, I’ll get the blood, Fluffy gets the heart, etc.”
Man I love a close up action scene in the dark. #sarcasm
I wonder how they deal with the bro’s body? I mean that tongue of his is clearly NOT normal.
“I wouldn’t.” Uh… you HAVE done the same, Sam. Maybe acknowledge “I wouldn’t again” but… gah I miss canon.
Ok, I’m going to be different and NOT talk about the boys and their final talk in this episode. I’m still firm in my belief that the show doing the SAME plot and general story arc TWICE in a row was a huge mistake and they should have kept the Winchesters apart for these two. Let “Sharp Teeth” be Dean learning the lesson from his perspective, and this one being Sam + Castiel learning.
However, this one does remind me a lot of the spirit of some of the old episodes in that the things we see come off as glimpses into a larger world. Early episodes always left me wanting to explore the world of SPN more and this one reminded me of that sensation. Like what if a hunter worked for immigration services and was trying to keep new monsters from entering the nation? What if some of these refugee crises going on nowadays are people fleeing monster conquered lands?…or of nations trying to “clean out” monster infestations. What if some companies looked into marketing monsters? So much potential for so many possible stories. Sure the episode on the whole may be mediocre or not great, but it had a lot of good seeds in it.
…and so I can’t hate it too much for that.
I had to end with Nate this week. Some of his observations are just too funny! We needed to lighten the mood just a bit! So what do you think? Where does this episode rank in your season’s top hits? Check out our full “Purge” photo gallery, to relive the best (and the worst) moments of the story (So pretty, then, ewww, just too gross!).