Folie à Deux – Sam and Dean in the Cuckoo’s Nest
 
 
Usually I don’t write reviews. This time, however, I couldn’t help myself. This was an episode worthy of the early Supernatural stories, the ones that made us love the show – a monster, a creepy location, a formidable team of charming hunters to bring the bad thing down. That’s what this episode would have been in season one or even two.
 
But we’ve come a long way since then – and now we are given a classic only on the surface. Underneath there are many layers. And landmines.
 
‘That’s good, Sam, you keep fatting up that fire in your belly.  All that penned up rage. I’m gonna need it.’
 (Lucifer in the flashback)
 
The scenario is well-known: the Winchesters check into Screw Loose Hotel to help Martin, an old friend and hunter-buddy of John’s who had saved their father in another lifetime. They did that before – in Folsom Prison Blues (season two) they arranged being arrested and imprisoned to help out another one of dad’s friends. Dean had insisted on helping Deacon, because they owed him, despite Sam’s objections.
 
This time the roles are reversed – Sam is the driving force behind this operation, and Dean keeps reminding him of how crazy this idea is. Hence the nuthouse.  What, haven’t you had enough already of paying your father’s debts, guys? But they keep doing it.
 
Okay, it’s quite easy to get into a psychiatric facility, and they don’t need to make up any complex stories. All it takes is the truth.
 
That scene in the shrink’s office alone is hilarious – Dean sitting there with a blank face, trying to play the narcissistic Mr.Cool, all arrogant wise guy…. and Sam being deadly serious about the angel who wears a trench coat… Dean informing the doc about Sam’s demon blood problem, and Sam sitting there all guilt laden and embarrassed. How the guys were able to deliver that scene with a straight face I do not know.
 
I’ve often wondered how I would react if someone came to me, telling me the exact same story… Oh, my. Given the complexity of their account, to a psychologist’s ears this is a structured system of paranoid concepts, shared by two people, what we call ‘folie à deux’. If they cannot look at their ideas from a distance, if they are not able to differentiate between reality and imagination, any psychologically trained person would think of a form of psychosis. Or a severe major depression involving psychotic symptoms, which is not exactly rare. And, oh well, there’s the odd personality disorder, of course.
 
Enter the nurse from hell (okay, what did she do to Sam in the ‘Silkwood shower’? He man can hardly walk…). We will learn later that she, in fact, is the wraith Martin has been looking for, but for the time being she’s just annoying.
 
Dean tries in vain to talk Sam out of this, but his brother needs to keep busy. Dean is again in shutting-emotions-off – mode and tries to deny it, but Sam knows his brother. The elder is back to his old modus operandi: he’s trying to cover the pain over the loss of Ellen and Jo (and his inability to save them) – that still must be excruciating – with coolness and denial.
 
Taking into account how broken the man is on the inside (feel free to remind yourselves of decades of torture,… breaking seal number one,… incapacity of stopping Sam, … Bobby in a wheelchair, …oh, yes, Michael prefers his meat suit, … taking a delorian to the future and witnessing Sam/Lucifer breaking his future-self’s neck, … the loss of Ellen and Jo – do I need to go on?), there is no other logical way for him to react. If he wants to get through this somehow, this is the way, at least for the time being.
 
If Dean let go of his armour (holding it barely together with spit), he probably would run howling to the nuthouse any time soon and join poor Martin… Building a wall is a conduct he can rely on. He needs that kind of security.
 
Born from the irony that lives in the neighbourhood of Dean’s behaviour, comes some hilarious dialogue: D: â€˜are they (the patients) reliable?’ , Martin: ‘Why wouldn’t they be?’ – Dean looks around at some dancing kook and goes ‘ah, I don’t know’. Straight face it is.
 
They are not allowed to share a group, as they are co-dependent (and no therapist in his right mind would put siblings into the same group therapy session unless it is explicitly family therapy). Sam meets Ted, a deeply disturbed, frightened and adorable patient (didn’t you just want to give him a hug and tell him that he’s not crazy?) while Dean, the ‘paranoid schizophrenic with narcissistic personality disorder and religious psychosis’, finds out that his shrink is actually quite attractive.
 
And my professional persona’s heart leapt – finally shrinks in a tv-show or movie that do not embarrass the trade. Thank you Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin for not making her and the doc in the beginning (didn’t catch his name) ridiculous I’m-a-shrink-and-I-know-what-I’m-doing – nutjobs!
 
Dr. Cartwright accepts Dean with that whole I-couldn’t-give-a-damn attitude and asks the right questions – does he sleep? Drink? Any long-term relationships? What about dad? (and we are not given Dean’s answer to that…).  This is what you need to do if you want to get through to a patient, no matter how crazy he actually is. Take whatever he has to say seriously, as for him – it is real. Furthermore he will feel if you treat him condescendingly.
 
I’m happy about her portrayal – that is, until we later learn that she is merely an illusion of Dean’s guilt ridden mind, brought to the surface by the wraith’s influence. She is a manifestation of his fear and his guilt, a projective canvas on which he is able to externalize his issues. When he realizes that he’s ‘seeing things’ that external crutch vanishes and Dean is confronted with the whole weight on his shoulders.
 
We have all wondered how in the world he got up
 
But before that moment of truth the brothers team up and search the hospital. They rush to the rescue of Ted, but they are too late. Dean urges Sam to hurry up – ‘Back off, Dean!’. Quite harsh, Sammy, out of the blue… Oh, dear, as if we hadn’t known it: Sam Winchester is a landmine. Step on it and it will rip your head off.
 
His passionate blow at Dean is useless, though: Ted is suspended from the ceiling, and something wanted it to look like suicide. To find out more, the brothers invade the morgue, Sam gets to do his autopsy thing again (probably not the worst idea with someone so angry – allow him to cut open some skulls, and he’ll be fine). All they find is sucked-dry brain tissue and another embarrassing moment of crazy: ‘Pudding!’, because ‘crazy works’ (another Supernatural classic is born, and fans will be quoting this till kingdom come, oh, yes, I’m referring to that sweet, slimy stuff over which Dean let his pants down). Bless you, Jensen, this was hilarious. You’re not afraid at all to make an adorable, yet complete fool of yourself.
 
Finally, they think they get a clue – the bad guy is the doc. Or, so it seems, because Dean is beginning to see things. The wraith’s influence is growing on him… They separate to check the hospital… which is insane enough. Be told from someone who often walks through hospital corridors… there is hardly anything creepier than psychiatry at night.
 
And they find him, or – rather Sam does, and soon he will wish he hadn’t, because so much of that penned up anger comes out like a punch, he attacks the doc so viciously and vigorously like ‘a man possessed’
Jared delivers these scenes with tremendous intensity – the rage-deformed face and the terror in it as he realizes his mistake. He almost killed an innocent. The consequence is a drugged Sam, booping his brother’s nose, telling him that he still loves him, because he is his brother. Ah, bliss, histrionics…
 
Enjoy the happy drugs, Sam, for as long as their effect lasts, because any moment now the doc will tell you ‘Monsters are the least of your problems. People can learn to live with delusions, but the anger I saw in you, the look in your eyes when you came after me, it was like you were barely even human.’
 
The wraith goes on playing mean tricks on the Winchesters – Sam is tied to a bed again (I liked Bobby’s panic room better). And Dean, after finding out that his shrink was just an illusion, lingers on the brink of some serious nervous breakdown. As Sam bursts out (within his own delusion after his illusion-Dean hits the ‘black spot on your soul’ button), Dean sits at the table in the corner, shivering, hands trembling like a horrified child’s, whispering inaudible words, a shadow of his usual self. Even as he rolls up his sleeves and comes to Sammy’s rescue like in the good old days, he is terrified and actually believing he’s going crazy.
 
It’s over fairly quickly then – the brothers escape from the nuthouse, after killing the Wraith which was not exactly the most complicated of monsters. That, however, was not needed, as this episode was not about any monster. The wraith served merely as a catalyst to bring the still lingering issues of the Winchesters to the surface – the guilt, the fear, the mistrust, the anger.
 
‘She was right. Most of the time I can hide it. But I am angry… I’m mad at everything. I used to be mad at you and dad, then Lilith, now it’s Lucifer, and I make excuses – I blame Ruby or the demon blood, but it’s not their fault. It’s not them. It’s me. It’s inside me. I am mad, all the time, and I don’t know why.’
 
Dean doesn’t want to hear this: ‘Stop it. So what if you are?! What are you gonna do? Take a leave of absence? You just say Yes to Lucifer?’
 
‘No, of course not.’
 
‘Yes, exactly. Ant that’s exactly what you’re gonna do. You’re gonna take al that crap and you’re gonna bury it and forget about it. Because that’s how we keep going, That’s how we don’t end up like Martin…. Are you with me? (then, more desperate) Come on, man, are you with me?’
 
‘I’m with you.’
 
This is far from over.
 
The look on Sam’s face as he says those words is a blend of various reactions. Again Jared gives us one of those expressions that hint at so many emotions, yet leaves enough room for the viewers’ interpretations. I think he believes what he says, of course he is at his brother’s side, but something tells me that he is terrified he might fall victim to all that rage. 

Of course Sam is with Dean. He wants to believe it. But experience is a harsh teacher. He has encountered the sensation of utterly losing control before. ‘I’m mad all the time, and I don’t know why’ – if he doesn’t know why this is happening to him, he probably has no idea yet how to fight it. How do you stand up against a part of yourself so deeply rooted in your nature? Oh, Sammy…
 
In this small scene both, Jensen and Jared, show us in a nutshell what their characters are dealing with. In between their lines they speak pages of dialogue with their eyes alone, and I guess I haven’t seen that done so movingly in a long time or on any other show… 
 
I think this episode, and the scenes hinting at the issues the Winchesters still carry, are to be understood like one of many omens. I don’t think the creators threw us that bone to chew on it to not bring it up again.
 
This might lead straight to Lucifer, in a way. If we consider that anger, aggression is – initially – nothing but mere energy, then it has to be channelled into a more constructive force. Perhaps that’s what Sam is going to learn. Hello powers? I’m hellishly curious to find out.
 

Comments  

Randal
# Randal 2010-01-23 13:44
Probably would be a good idea to stop paying pop's debts but what are heroes for? 8-)

After all Dean's been through, I don't see how anyone in fandom could expect him to drop any of his defense bells & whistles for even a moment. Are you kidding? He's made of something different. I'd be the prize patient in that nuthouse if all that had happened to me.

You're versed in such doctor behavior, but even us civilians were happy that the doctor seemed to be an actual doctor and not a little scamp of a madman. Oh hell, that's one big bone chock full of extra angsty marrow, a neon sign (though expertly acted, not that that needed to be said) saying "look at us, we have issues and we'll be coming back to them often!"

Sam, if you're angry, put on some tunes and have a toke or two. It'll go away for at least half of Dark Side. :D
elle2
# elle2 2010-01-23 17:15
Jas,

Great review.

I'm glad you liked the doc as well...and I'm very glad the writers gave us Dean giving us such a complex doc who takes as good as she gives. It's further insight into who Dean wishes to communicate with.

This was a good episode and you're right, the monster was simply the canvas on which to paint the bigger picture. And like you, I believe this is something upon which more will be built.

:-) Thanks for writing
Kalixa
# Kalixa 2010-01-23 18:54
Nice review. I hope you are right with that last paragraph! I felt so bad for Sam in this episode (Dean too of course, but as the title suggests, I think the important revelations in this episode were all about Sam).
Sablegreen
# Sablegreen 2010-01-23 19:33
Jas nice review. I felt very sorry for both boys, but acknowledging your problems is the first step toward correcting them.

Both Jensen and Jared were great in this epi...but they usually are. 8-)

And yes, until Sam realizes what he is really angry at, he can't adjust to it, so it was a good choice of Kripke & Co. not to have the boys deal with it just yet...

Besides we have 11 more episodes! Plenty of time. ;-)
Supernarttu
# Supernarttu 2010-01-24 01:49
Hi jas. Cool review, I liked it a lot.
I also liked this eppie, it was kinda different in a way but also felt familiar. I like the under layers that SPN has in its stories, sometimes they are more heavy handed and sometimes they are quite subtle, and sometimes there are several little notions to ponder. I love a show that makes me think long after the episode has aired, it leaves an impression that there is much to learn if you just think it over... and over and over and over and then one more time :-)
Even though the actual wraith didn't seem that creepy when she was revealed, I liked the idea behind her. Enhancing your own inner thoughts and fears. Boy, anybody would go crazy. But for the boys that was superfreaky. They would have cracked like eggs eventually, or better like nuke bombs *shudders*

I enjoyed J&J, I think they did an awesome job, as usual :-) And Ted! I really liked him, he was so adorable and I'm really sad he died. I truly wanted to hug him. Martin was great too, I hope we see him again but I doubt it. It was sad, but I hope he'll make it through one day.

And the issues that surfaced (or resurfaced).. Oh, I'm with you there Jas, I can't wait to see what will come of those. I hope they don't go as far as Sam saying yes but I can't deny that it wouldn't be thrilling to see him as Lucifer yet again (I'm torn too Dean). And Dean, how does one man come out from under that kinda "baggage"? How can he even begin to heal, I dunno, but I hope he can or we'll see the hollow shell he was in The End.
I truly hope they both can work it through and then stand united stronger and wiser.

Thanks Jas. And I can't believe we're halfway through the season!!!
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2010-01-24 06:17
Randal, Elle2, Kalixa, Sablegreen and Supernarttu, hey, wow, thanks for your comments!

Randal, I love a fine hero in movies, else I wouldn’t be watching shows like this, or Gladiator or Indy or Lord of the Rings or… or… But the battlefields of this world have been plastered with the bodies of dead ‘heroes’ for centuries, who am I fooling? - for millenia. If we want our dear Winchesters to survive, we should get them the occasional shot at hedonism… and breaks. Putting their minds out to graze… Anything that would re-charge their batteries…

Elle2, what can I say? I’m glad that doc didn’t embarrass the trade… There are some decent specialists among us…

Kalixa, I’m curious as hell (oops, pun intended) to find out how Sam will evolve from this point on. I agree – the title gave away what it was about: something important about Sam was touched on in this episode.

Sablegreen, I concur, it’s great that the writers didn’t get it all out in the open (instead they choose to keep us on toes, gosh I hate them ;-))

Supernarttu, it’s also one of my favourite aspects of this show – we are rarely given a one-dimensional story. There are so many layers and facets to be found. There is a reason why I think this is the best show on today’s television.
Oh, Ted… poor guy… I’ve recently had a patient Ted reminded me of, a lovely, lovely man (Scandinavian by half, by the way), not psychotic, though, he had been victim of a severe accident and couldn’t cope with it.

Yeah, halfway through… already! Can’t believe it either… Thanks, Voi hyvin!

Could I ask – does Supernarttu have a special meaning in Finnish? I’ve been curious to ask you that for a while, hope that’s okay.

Thanks, everyone, Jas
Supernarttu
# Supernarttu 2010-01-25 03:43
Jas, well, not sure about special meaning but... It's a play with the words that also happens to mean someting :lol:
So "Super" obviously means the same here as the english word, but "narttu" is "bitch" in finnish... 8-) Not to say that I'm a bitch in person (btw I take the word very lightly so usually don't mean it that harshly) but can't say that I couldn't be 'that' sometimes, so... :D
But there it is, the deep, reflecting meaning behind my screen-name :ugeek:
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2010-01-25 03:58
Thank you, Supernarttu, for disclosing that - see, that's how I'm beginning to learn Finnish... Ha! Adding another language...
And - sometimes - a woman probably needs to be bitchy. If she's a good person by nature, a little bitch-spice won't hurt....
Cheers, Jas
Ardeospina
# Ardeospina 2010-01-25 17:21
Great review, Jas!

As soon as I heard this episode was going to take place in a mental hospital, I was really curious to hear your take on it.

I'm glad they did you right with their doctor portrayals. I'll have to look for that again in my re-watch!
Jasminka
# Jasminka 2010-01-26 09:50
Ardeospina, thank you!!
I was just equally curious to see how they were going to make this episode in a mental facility work.

I've seen so many really, really bad portrayals in movies and tv-shows so far, but this was indeed alright.
;-), Jas