Adam Glass’s “Paper Moon” was a mixed bag for me. There were scenes I loved and scenes that dragged on interminably. One guest actor delivered and one had a bland presence. Fortunately, the good outweighed the bad, because the good was Sam and Dean actually starting to talk. To each other. In complete sentences. Thank you Adam Glass, and, according to Glass, thank you Jeremy Carver.
Let’s get the negative out of the way. First off, Adam Glass needs to realize there is no exposition fairy who magically makes exposition scenes interesting. Even Game of Thrones’ sexposition begins to pall quickly. If there’s a way to show something through action or dialogue, please, please choose that way. Do not give a guest star with weak acting chops masses of exposition that simply lays out the plot with no narrative twists or layers. I almost slid off the couch listening to Kate talk about the set up for the episode. And although I did not find this actress compelling in “Bitten” and still didn’t in “Paper Moon,” she really had thankless material to work with in this episode.
Besides the heavy exposition, I also did not appreciate the flashback scenes. Kate’s flashbacks added nothing to her monologue as they simply showed what she was saying rather than adding something. And there was no reason whatsoever to show the Lester scenes all over again. I can remember last week. I think most of us can. Flashbacks interrupt the flow of action and have to be used extremely well to justify how clunky they are. These flashbacks were simply unnecessary.
The result of these issues is the A story never really caught hold. The pacing was uneven and Kate’s character failed to move me. I’m not sure why anyone thought it would be a good idea to revisit “Bitten.” That episode is probably my least favourite of the series, with forgettable guest actors. At least the actor playing Kate’s sister had some spark. I believed her scenes as she showed her werewolf heart.
Fortunately, there was lots of good meaty stuff in “Paper Moon” as well. The state of Winchesterland was really the A story, as Sam and Dean tried hard to lower their barriers and really talk. I loved that they both needed to hide behind shades as they pretended to relax by the lake. Both boys fronted that they were enjoying the down time, as they sipped beer out of their stalwart green cooler. But Dean finally whipped off his shades to allow himself to be seen as he told his brother he knows he needs to heal but he HAS to work. He needed the case he sniffed out of the news. And Sam lowered his own shades, understanding. He’d sniffed out the same case. Winchesters can’t put down the mantle they were raised to wear. They are who they are.
That theme was then explored again through the werewolf sisters. In many ways, Kate and her sister mirrored Sam and Dean. Through no fault of her own, Kate was turned into a monster. Lonely, she gave in to the temptation to save her sister’s life so she would have a companion. I think we can all recognize Dean’s dilemma from last season. The reflection is not a simple one, however.
Kate’s story also mirrored Sam’s, as her sister could not fight the lure of monstrousness and gave in to her werewolf nature. Kate hoped to save a sister who did not want to be saved, just as Sam wanted to save a brother who was not fighting his demon soul. Given that Kate eventually realized she had lost the fight and killed her sister, what does that tell us about our brothers?
My read is Kate’s story mirrored Sam and Dean’s in many ways, but it was not a direct reflection, just as the Ghostfacers last season were not meant to be read simply as Sam and Dean. Kate and her sister were warped reflections of Sam and Dean. They were meant to bring up the season’s narrative issues and then to expand them.
Kate had the same drive to save her sister as Sam had, but she did not have the same faith her sister was still there to be saved. And Kate was right to fear. Her sister wanted to recreate a sense of family, but for the purpose of wielding power. She wanted a companion to help her destroy anything in her way. Her vision was to rule a territory in a way that would make Crowley proud. And that is not a reflection of Sam and Dean. Ever. Even Demon Dean resisted Crowley’s efforts to recruit him to co-rule Hell.
Demon Dean’s plan was to walk off the playing board instead, hanging out in honky tonk bars and picking up waitresses. In the long run, the plan would not have worked. Killing Lester was the first step onto a slippery slope. But if Dean had not been fighting to retain some semblance of himself, Sam would have been too late to save him.
At their cores, Sam and Dean are driven to protect. They may not sacrifice each other but they are willing to sacrifice themselves. Their bond gives them strength, but they’ve never used that strength to set themselves up as some kind of ruler. Instead, they throw themselves at impossible odds to try and make a difference in the fight between good and evil. And that’s a crucial difference between their story and Kate’s bond with her sister. Sam and Dean are right to believe in each other.
Dean knows he has made some bad decisions—really bad decisions. And that drives him to try and figure out what path leads to the right decisions. Unlike Kate’s sister and unlike Crowley, he is not attracted to power for its own sake. He wants to make a difference on the side of good. And Sam understands, because he had the same reaction to finding out he was Lucifer’s vessel and full of demon blood. Kate was right to kill her sister who had lost herself. Sam was right to believe he could bring Dean back.
But that narrative has its own complications. If Sam and Dean are right to protect and believe in their bond because it gives them the strength to fight against evil, the definition of evil is of crucial importance. That line is not as clear as it should be for either brother at the moment, and the Mark of Cain will continue to cast shadows on Dean’s identity. But at an even deeper level, I think the brothers’ arc this year will be jointly deciding where they will draw the line on far they will go to save each other, now that they know what it feels like to cross over. At the same time, they have acknowledged all over again how important they are to each other.
I think what I loved the most about the brothers’ car talks, besides the fact that they happened at all, is the way both guys zeroed in on the note as the most hurtful part of Dean’s demon days. Sam can forgive being chased around the bunker with a hammer easier than he can forgive Dean leaving him. The Dean who wanted to kill him had a demon in control. The note was written by his brother Dean peeking through his twisted demonic soul. His brother abandoned him, not the demon. Carver’s vision is clearly for Sam and Dean to each walk in other shoes for every issue they’ve had that divided them.
I like that abandonment is the key issue between Sam and Dean. I think they both know they need one thing they can hold on to, one thing they can count on, and it’s each other.