I’ve been doing something this hiatus that I’ve long promised myself I would do – binge watching SPN via my DVR and TNT’s daily episodes. We’re mid-way through Season 7 (yeah, still haven’t forgiven Sera for killing off Bobby – even three years later…nope, not over that yet.) Because Seasons 6 and 7 (notably 6) had so many of these types of episodes (you know, the ones mentioned in the title of this article) I found my muse awakened to type out this piece. So, because hiatus is continuing for several more weeks, and it’s been a bit rainy and cool here in my neck of the woods, I’ve written another article for TWFB. Read on if you wish.
“What Is and What Should Never Be,” “Mystery Spot,” “In The Beginning,” “It’s a Terrible Life,” “The End,” “Changing Channels,” “The Song Remains the Same,” “Dark Side of the Moon,” “The French Mistake,” “Frontierland,” “My Heart Will Go On,” “Time After Time”…not to mention the flashback episodes: “Something Wicked,” “A Very Supernatural Christmas,” “After School Special,” all of these episodes offer us the viewers something different, a different take on the characters, their circumstances, greater insight into who they are, what drives them; at the same time, these (often) gems allow the characters themselves greater insights into who they are, what makes them up, what their drives are, and also their sorrows.
Episodes like this work on genre shows in ways they rarely work on the normal procedural. Sure, there can be a dream sequence such as Bones did a few seasons back when Booth had brain surgery and dreamt a case that was set in a bar with all the characters playing different takes on who and what they are normally. Or, if you wish to see Gibbs and Dinozzo ride horseback, you can have “NCIS” take them on a case into Arizona, but to see the characters fully embrace a different persona, or be the beloved characters we already know them to be but simply set in a different locale, well you need a show with a different edge: You need “Supernatural.”
Over nine seasons, we the viewers have gone back in time and forward in time, been to SPN’s version of heaven, seen the brothers as strangers working in a corporate world, watched them interact with their parents, they’ve been doctors and crime scene investigators as well as game show contestants and perhaps best of all, they played actors playing themselves playing…yeah, my head hurts on that one too. Sometimes, even better than the alternate timelines and realities are the flashbacks, for it is in the flashbacks that we often get little gems of character moments, such as Sam realizing why Dean is always the good soldier in “Something Wicked,” or how Dean got the amulet in “A Very Supernatural Christmas” and Sam let go his own pain of his brother’s impending death so as to give him a Christmas to remember, and let us not forget all the moments in After School Special where Sam remembered the one teacher who inspired him to try to lead his own life – and even go to Stanford to try to do it.
My favorite all time ‘alternate reality’ episode will remain “Mystery Spot.” No doubt it has a grip on me for no other reason that it was the very first Supernatural episode that I ever saw. I love everything about that episode, from Dean’s many deaths, some humorous, most tragic, to Sam’s unrelenting drive to hunt down the Trickster juxtaposed to his desperate pleading as he finally confronts his nemesis: “He’s my brother.” (Yep. And this is what life is going to be like without him – ouch!) For reasons unknown, The Trickster returns Sam to Wednesday a.m. and allows the brothers to leave…and we get that most awesome brotherly hug with which to celebrate.
My next favorite alternate reality episode is “What Is and What Should Never Be.” Again, I love that episode in its entirety. There isn’t a moment I fast forward through, even after dozens of viewings. I love Dean leaning into his mother’s touch, and his enjoyment of mowing the lawn as he seeks to embrace this ‘new’ life – that is before he realizes it’s all in his head and that he is trapped and in danger. Even before Dean realizes that all the good he and Sam have done doesn’t exist in this reality he is already troubled because his relationship with Sam isn’t good. It comes down to the brotherhood, and in this so-called perfect world – where his mom is alive, his dad died of natural causes, he has a job and a woman who loves him, and Sam is in school and engaged to Jessica, there is still one thing wrong: he and Sam do not get along. Everything quickly unravels from there and it is that pull that aids him to awaken from the Djinn’s spell.
For time travel episode we have quite a few to pick from. I enjoy “In the Beginning” because we learn all about the Campbells and realize that Mary was a hunter who sought to escape, while John was a nice guy who was clueless to all the evil around him. We see young John and Mary again in Season 5’s “The Song Remains the Same.” Both brothers get a chance with their parents to say things they wished they could say. Dean gets to tell Mary that she got out, only to die shortly after Sam was born. Sam finally gets the chance to say all the things to John he’s always wanted to say ever since “Everybody Loves a Clown”: he loved his dad, he respected him, and he understands why he did all the things he did. It’s heartbreaking – and absolutely beautiful.
On a lighter time travel note in Season 6 Sam and Dean go western. Dean gets to play sheriff, kill the Phoenix with Colt’s colt, while Sam rides a horse and convinces Samuel Colt to lend him the weapon. If you want a bit of darker time, travel check out “The End.” We spring forward, then, five years (now a month in our history’s past) and see the world when the Croatoan virus is rampant, Sam has said yes to Lucifer and Dean is leading a ragtag group of rebels, including an earnest Chuck and a hippy Cas. Dean in the future is dark and deadly and without any shred of morality, selling out his friends all for a shot at Lucifer. It’s a powerful turn for Jensen Ackles, and a shocking reveal to present-day Dean to see himself so absolutely dark. It’s here that he realizes the brothers need each other: We keep each other human.
If time travel isn’t to your fancy, try some alternate realities: I recommend “It’s a Terrible Life,” “Changing Channels,” and “My Heart Will Go On.” “It’s a Terrible Life”: Sam and Dean in corporate jobs, strangers, but with a ghost terrorizing their workplace. It’s an episode that allows Dean to heal from the pummeling he took emotionally in “On The Head of a Pin,” while allowing both brothers to find their way back to each other without the weight of their separate baggage. It’s humorous, it’s light-hearted, and best of all, it gives us the Ghostfacers in a totally believable cameo as ghost experts with videos on YouTube! There’s plenty of blood splatter to go around and inside jokes to keep me checking in on this one with frequency. “Changing Channels” is pure Supernatural brilliance. We get jabs at doctor dramas and crime scene procedurals (with a fabulous short improv by Jensen on why he hates procedurals), Jared completely nails his imitation of David Caruso and I love every bit of the “Knight Rider” takeoff. And if that’s not enough to enjoy, The Trickster, a/k/a Gabriel, appears again. (That’s two alternate reality episodes he’s had a hand in). “My Heart Will Go On” works for me because it brings back the excellent Samantha Ferris and pairs her with Jim Beaver allowing us to enjoy Bobby and Ellen together again. (Yeah, that’s a spin-off I would completely watch – have Rufus join in from time to time as well, and don’t forget Ash.) Much of the rest of that episode I skip, but all the Ellen and Bobby scenes are pure gold and Sam and Dean living the alternate reality ain’t bad either.
Season 7 had “Time After Time” which gave Dean the chance to go back and work with Eliot Ness and Sam got to work with Sheriff Mills. Yeah, Sam didn’t get to enjoy the ‘period’ aspect of the episode, but his scenes with Jody are absolute fantastic. I still don’t get why the brothers played rock, paper, scissors for the bedroom floor versus the tub – uh, both could toss sleeping bags on the floor, but it was fun to see Sam throw himself down onto his makeshift bed and then see his name scrawled into the floorboard, a message from Dean from many, many years in the past – only not, as it wasn’t there a second ago…yeah, time travel. Really messes with your brain! I love how the episode shows the brothers simultaneously working the case, decades apart. It’s similar to the scene in “The Usual Suspects” as the brothers separately figure out that DANASCHULPS is an anagram.
Seasons 8 and 9 don’t have any of these episodes overtly, although there is a bit of time travel with Henry Winchester coming forward in time (guess that’s more than “a bit”) and we do see flashbacks to when Dean was in a boys’ home. I agree with the one commentator I read on this site that said that flashbacks should be used to add to our information about a character, which “Bad Boys” failed to do. It also beat up on John in ways that go beyond stretching the imagination: it’s a violation of canon to say that John would leave Dean for a couple of months somewhere when we already know from Season 1 that John was afraid for a grown up Sam to go off to college because he couldn’t keep an eye on him, know he was safe. While I like the idea of Dean excelling in school and wrestling, I don’t believe John’s motivations are true to the character, and I really have to wonder how Sonny got ahold of him. After all, Dean’s died and gone to hell, gave up hunting to live with Lisa, been banished to purgatory, not to mention ditched his phone when Gordon was hunting him and Sam in Season 3’s “Fresh Blood,” so just how did Sonny manage to call Dean? Just saying… 😉
I do enjoy “As Time Goes By” because it opens up the Men of Letters storyline, and I really enjoy the promise of this storyline – even as it is being slowly unraveled. Still, a slow burn that continues to build is very enjoyable. I like the idea that John’s father was a MoL and that the boys are a product of two sides of a coin, MoL and Hunters giving us the Legacies: Sam and Dean. Sure Carver messed up his own canon a bit by having John’s father disappear and John growing up fatherless, because we learned in “In The Beginning” that John’s “old man” was still alive. Oh, well, those kinds of mistakes do happen in a series that goes on this many years, and of all the canon violations, that is pretty minor that I can ignore…Grand Canyon and farting donkeys still hurts, probably because of the emotional impact it has from the scene in “Croatoan”…ah, Season 2 memories!
So, with so many great episodes like this in our past, I can only hope for some more doozies in the future. And how lucky are we to be able to say we have a future with “Supernatural”…at least 23 more episodes to come. Sure, for me, a lot of the bloom is off this rose. “Supernatural” of these seasons pales compared to the first few, but I have been enjoying my daily download of three episodes off my DVR. I do fast forward through a lot, but those gems of brotherly moments, sometimes very few and always too short, are still absolutely satisfying in ways that no other show come close to offering, although Person of Interest comes the closest, and sometimes surpasses, and The Vampire Diaries has some moments as does Grimm. Still, the Winchesters have my heart.
As always, thanks for reading.