Supernatural has always peppered its seasons with stand alone episodes---but what makes them work is how they manage to loop back in some way to the overall story. These episodes allow them to look at other creatures and mythologies. This gives the show a chance to expand the world of the Winchesters beyond just the season long story arc. “Sharp Teeth” is another example of this---and yet we see it do what so many of the stand alone episodes do best: it reflects something in the overarching theme or story of the season.
Let's look at the stand alone case first.
We begin by watching a farmer come racing out of his house, carrying a shotgun and shouting at someone. As that figure flees the barn, we see them violently struck by a car and as they land on the asphalt we realize that we know this person. It's Garth---someone we hadn't seen for quite some time now.
His description hits the police wires, and both Sam and Dean come to check it out, knowing it has to be their missing friend. Once Garth is woken up---by a very sharp slap from Sam---he tells them that he was there hunting something and then flees the room in a panic as he gets sick.
Unfortunately it's all theatrics, and Garth splits without telling the brothers anything. It turns out, as they track him down, that he's with a werewolf pack. The Winchesters are ready to fight for him, kicking the doors down and brandishing weapons---but Garth stops them from killing the obvious female werewolf. He has as secret to share. Garth, himself, has been turned into a werewolf.
He tells them that's why he hasn't called in months. It's why he went AWOL. He tells them, “And tell you what? That I messed up? No, I-I knew the deal. There's no cure, so I accepted my fate.”
This leads the Winchesters to vet the pack Garth's not only moved in with but married into. Turns out the female werewolf, Bess, is his wife. To prove that they're not terrible man-eating monsters, Garth invites them to meet his new family and to go to church with them.
It's a nice scene as Dean enters to see the congregation practicing their hymns for Sunday. If Dean didn't know any better, it'd look like any other religious group preparing for weekend services. Garth plays the piano while everyone holds their hymnals and sings along. It's ordinary and safe.
The only problem is instead of soothing Dean, it only makes his hackles raise. This seems too good to be true. Something has to be going on here. There's no way that this whole werewolf pack can be this peaceful. The Reverend, also a werewolf and the pack leader, tries to soothe Dean's ruffled feathers. He seems gentle, patient, and respectable.
He even goes as far as to invite Dean to dinner. Let them share a meal and get to know one another and perhaps put some of the divisions between hunters and werewolves---or lycanthropes as they prefer---aside. Dean accepts grudgingly, needing to further his investigation. After all, his friend Garth is now a werewolf and he needs to know that things really are kosher.
Meanwhile, Sam keeps working on putting pieces together about the community and the cattle mutilations that snagged Garth in the first place. Turns out that all the organs are ripped out. So far, however, it seems that there are no humans on the menu. Perhaps Garth's story is checking out.
As Dean breaks bread with the werewolf family, they share their story. The Reverend's first wife was killed by a hunter---and he goes onto to tell the elder Winchester, “I realized the road to revenge is a dark and lonely one, which you never get off. And that hole in the pit of your stomach, you never fill it -- ever.”
Dean also notices something unique around each of their necks. They are all wearing silver bullets to signify their fragility. Again, everything seems overly friendly---despite the raw hearts on everyone's plates, save Dean's. Joy, the Reverend's wife, matches her husband's gentle approach and is almost serene in this scene. It seems that Garth was telling the truth. This pack is really on the up and up.
The sheriff that Sam talks to, however, calls the brothers just before they're planning on splitting. There's been another mutilation and he'd like them to take a look. They arrive only to discover that he's also a werewolf and that it was a trap. The image of the friendly pack co-existing alongside humanity has been shattered. It means that they'll have to dig deeper into this.
Dean decides to go to the werewolf church---especially after discovering the word Ragnarok on the sheriff’s silver bullet. It would seem they're all about the end of days, bringing about the domination of the wolf over man. Dean investigates the church records, finding the scripture that backs up the claim that Fenris will rise and wolves will dominate. It means that the Reverend's pack has been hiding in plain sight as a sleeper cell waiting to launch an attack on their human neighbors.
Sam, checking in on Garth, finds that they've become victims. Their place is ransacked, destroyed, and worst of all, they're missing. He tells Dean this and before he can go to find them, he too is taken. When he awakens he finds himself tied to a tractor---alongside Bess and Garth.
Instead of the Reverend, however, it is Joy. She is trying to bring about Ragnarok. Sam and Dean came just at the right time to help her start it. She can frame them for killing Bess, the Reverend's daughter, and her new husband, Garth. It'll be the perfect set up. She tells Sam, “My husband turned his cheek once. I don't think he can do it again."
Dean and the Reverend speak about Ragnarok, and he assures the Winchester that he has nothing to do with it. Now, however, they must find where Bess, Garth---and Sam---are all being held.
It can only end one way. Joy tries to make her move on Sam, only to get kicked off her feet. As Dean bursts in, he ends up shooting her, ending the Maw of Fenris then and there.
So, how does this stand alone connect to the overarching season nine threads?
Unlike most stand alones, this case centered on a friend of the Winchesters. Garth has been an ally since his introduction in season seven, but after his disappearance in the latter half of season eight he's been only mentioned sparingly. Garth left Kevin largely unprotected, as he was away from the boat when Crowley finally found the prophet.
It's guilt over Kevin that Garth and Dean share. Garth tells Dean, “Friends don't do that.” He ended up turned and too afraid to say anything---and yet Garth is never one to pass the blame. Rather, he accepts his part and instantly tries to find any way he can to make it right. While he can't do that for Kevin now, he most certainly can try to make it up to Sam and Dean for his lengthy absence. He even offers to rejoin the hunt when necessary as his penance.
We've seen guilt become a big issue through this season---particularly since “Holy Terror.” Dean feels guilty for Kevin's death. Sam feels guilty for stopping the Trials. Castiel feels guilty for falling for Metatron's lies. It's a theme we've touched on through various characters---and each has reacted differently. Garth's guilt reflects all of this in many ways, allowing us to process this trope in a different way.
Garth didn't ask to be turned into a werewolf---just as Sam didn't ask to be possessed. He didn't reach out and tell someone about his problem---just as Dean kept that possession secret. And Garth is trying to find a way to make it up to the Winchesters---just as Castiel is trying to make it up to them for causing the Fall of the angels. It's a subtle layer tucked in amongst the stand alone story.
This isn't the only way, however, that “Sharp Teeth,” plays with the themes of season nine.
The angels have been amassing their armies by preying on religious faith. It's key for them to get the permission of their vessels. They've enlisted their own Reverend---Buddy Boyle---to capture the hearts and minds of thousands so they can start to fight against Metatron---and one another. Here we have this reflected not in Reverend Jim, but in his wife, Joy.
The religious faith trope is played with in this episode. Instead of angels or fixing Heaven, we're shown a group of werewolves forming into a fringe group---the Maw of Fenris---that believe they can bring about the world wide domination of werewolves by bringing on Ragnarok.
It preys on the dissatisfied, the angry, the resentful. It gives them something to fight for and strive towards. Those that end up in this group are militant, giving into their werewolf instincts to attack not only humans but their own---as we see those in the pack attack Bess and Garth. After all, Ragnarok is “bigger than all of us.”
This is no different than the lies the angels have told the humans duped into being vessels. They're told they’re going to bring God's work to the world. These werewolves are told they'll bring about their own paradise. Both are false prophecies and both will create mayhem and death in their wake.
We've also seen the Garden of Eden and serpents play a large role throughout the story on nearly every level. We see that here, too. Joy is sweet, forgiving, kind, and generous when we're first introduced to her. She seems gentle and friendly---willing to accept Dean into her home and at her table with grace. All she wants in return is for him to respect her in kind.
She seems very happy with the Reverend and her “step” daughter---who she sees as her own. Joy has wormed her way into the Reverend's pack on every level. She's at his side for sermons and meals. She's steadfast in supporting him after the loss of his first wife---and she had a hand in raising Bess. Joy has become the alpha female of this pack.
But when we see her in that barn, threatening Bess, Garth, and Sam, we realize she's been the serpent in the pack all along. She's been whispering to other select members---the sheriff for one---and convincing them that they should bring on Ragnarok with her. It will restore the pack to the one she remembers growing up in under her own father. Werewolves should be the dominant force here as far as she is concerned.
She tells Sam, “As long as there is a man, there can be no peace. Because man destroys. And I, for one, am sick of it. ”
For Joy, this is an absolute truth. Hunters will never stop and so she wants to start Ragnarok now. Just as expected, it ends with her death and with a lot of pain and misery. Her serpent bite has left her husband bereaved for another wife---one that betrayed him under his very nose---and a family shattered.
Their Garden had been the peaceful pack, living alongside humanity. In the wake of this invasion they will now have to find a way to live with the consequences.
“Sharp Teeth,” doesn't merely reflect the season storylines, however. Alongside the stand alone story, we see Sam and Dean struggle with finding a way to work together after the hurt and anger at the end of “Road Trip.”
The episode begins with both of them being cautious---as if sizing one another up. They tread carefully as they discuss Garth---and only Garth at first.
The longer, however, Sam and Dean are left in Garth's hospital room to wait, the more bold each gets. Dean asks Sam where he was coming from---New Mexico. Dean asks about Gadreel---and Sam tells him about the grace left behind. It's a tense conversation with clipped answers and curt remarks.
And then Sam spots a bit of the Mark of Cain on Dean's arm. It's evidence of the two steps forward, two steps back that the Winchesters have entered. Here, it's two steps forward. After Sam asks about it, Dean is forthcoming. He tells his brother what it is, where he got it, who gave it to him, and who he was with when he got it. Most importantly, Dean tells Sam why he got it: to kill Abaddon.
Instead of hiding this information or blowing his brother off, we see Dean tell Sam exactly what is going on. The Mark certainly has more to it than that, but Dean hasn't discovered what that “burden” is yet himself so there's nothing for him to share. This won't become yet another secret that'll fester---which is a good thing.
Unfortunately we're two steps back in the next scene as Dean lies about seeing Garth on the security camera footage---something Sam busts him for immediately. It makes the younger Winchester lay down rules for working this case together---mostly not to play games anymore.
For the remainder of the case, we see Dean stay to that.
At the end, we see the brothers prepare to separate once again. Sam told his brother that he'd be “gone” once this was over---and Dean is still banishing himself. But before Sam can leave, Dean tells him honestly that he's feeling lost. He tells Sam, “---what's right is wrong and what's wrong is more wrong, and... I just know that when... When we rode together---”
Sam tells him, “We split the crappiness.”
This isn't open ended forgiveness. This isn't even agreement that they are “all good.”
Sam has been in Dean's position before. He knows what it feels like to feel like he's dangerous and incapable of doing the job right. Sam has had to walk away like this once before---in “Free to Be You and Me,” Sam made the same choice Dean did in “Road Trip.” He had screwed up by trusting Ruby and letting out Lucifer and he figured that it'd be best if they didn't work together anymore. So he walked away and Dean let him.
Now Dean is the one that walked away because he screwed up. He lied about Gadreel. He tricked Sam in the hospital. He did things without thinking of their consequences---especially in regard to Sam. And for that he has to earn his brother's trust back.
Dean tries to tell Sam that they just need a couple “Ws” and Sam tells him no. He says, “But something's broken here.” It's true. There is much to fix between them. If they're to work together---and be brothers---then Dean must acknowledge the problem. He must work on it with Sam if they are to ever get past what caused it in the first place.
Or they won't work together at all.
Dean accepts the terms---and the brothers get back into the Impala once more.
It's another two steps forward for them here. Sam chose to go back with Dean---mostly because he knows what it's like to need a second chance. It doesn’t fix everything nor does it resolve the rift between them by any means, but it was clear in the scenes where they were separated in “First Born” that both were hurting. Being away from one another doesn't necessarily fix things any more than not talking about them---and they can't talk about these problems if they're not together.
It will take a lot for Dean to earn Sam's forgiveness---and most importantly trust.
“Sharp Teeth,” allowed us to look at some of the season themes in a different lens---and it allowed the Winchesters to thaw some of the ice between them. They certainly have much more to do, but this is a start.
Eve Gordon played two versions of Joy well in this episode. When we're first introduced to her, we find her to be welcoming, kind, and friendly. She fits the preacher's wife image to a T. There's a gracefulness to Joy in Gordon's performance, especially at the dinner. She makes Joy caring and loving especially when she speaks of Bess. Yet, Gordon seems to flip a switch when Joy is exposed as the monster. She is cruel and capricious. Joy's pride shows in how Gordon delivers her lines---especially “You're just dying for me to get my claws dirty, aren't you?” or “Oh, that is so sweet. But I am going to hurt her. And him. But especially you, for bringing these hunters here. I'm gonna hurt all of you.” We can tell that, despite being that preacher's wife, that she's dangerous and deadly. There's almost a delicious way in how she portrays Joy in this scene---even if we know what the final outcome will be.
DJ Qualls brings the sweet-natured Garth to life. It's been awhile since we've seen the oddball hunter. It seems he has a good reason for going AWOL after all. We first see him handcuffed to his hospital bed and as Sam and Dean huddle around him, he rushes to the bathroom with an “illness.” Instead, Garth flees because he has a terrible secret: he's been turned into a werewolf. Once Sam and Dean track him down, we see Qualls make Garth the sweet and loveable guy we've come to know. He tells Garth's story about being turned with a gentle acceptance. Garth has always had a strange insight underneath some of his quirks, and that's no different in “Sharp Teeth.” We see that in how he introduces Sam and Dean to Bess---knowing that one brother's “just a big ol' Teddy bear,” and that the other is “insecure at times with good reason.” We see that insight again when he tells Dean that he's found a family and “who cares where that comes from?” Qualls also shows Garth's frustration with the intolerance or mistrust well. We see him show Garth's fear and anger best when we see him and Bess captured by Joy. Qualls also shows us Garth's guilt well when he tells Dean about how he feels about Kevin and what has happened. It's a subtle performance that makes us feel these lines all the more deeply. Now we'll have to wait to see if Garth will make another appearance at some point.
Jensen Ackles portrays Dean as if he's walking on egg shells around Sam---there's a caginess in those opening scenes especially in the phone call about Garth's escape. As the case unfolds, we see Ackles put all of Dean's walls up. He's watching the world with mistrust and caution as he talks to Garth and his pack---shown best in the scenes where they talk to Bess and Garth and again at the dinner. Ackles also shows Dean's disgust well at what's served on everyone else's plates with just simple glances. In the scenes with the Reverend, Ackles shows Dean is careful and yet he starts to soften towards the pack leader---especially after he realizes that the Reverend is a victim himself. Ackles shined, too, in scenes with Qualls as Garth and Dean discuss Garth's new life. With just one look, Ackles conveys all of Dean's grief at losing Kevin. We also see him start to thaw about his rigid views---something that will hopefully help him with repairing what he's done wrong in his relationship with Sam. In the closing scene, we see Ackles put all of Dean's emotions on display. His heart is clearly on his sleeve as he expresses his confusion, his hurt, and his grief. We can tell that Dean wants to put this all behind them and go back to normal---but it won't be that simple. Ackles shows us that Dean's trying, even if he's not sure what he's supposed to do to fix things. This is a start, and it'll be interesting to see how Ackles shows Dean working on it as we go forward.
Jared Padalecki plays Sam a bit distant and cautious opposite Dean. We can tell that he is feeling the situation out, yet trying to be careful considering. Padalecki shows this best in the opening and closing scenes when we see Sam keep his cards close to the vest. He wants to open up, though, and we see glimpses of that in both scenes, too. He admits to Gadreel's grace and he tells Dean that they split the “crappiness.” Padalecki showed that Sam was all business on this case, though, as he kept digging into answers and asking questions about what they're investigating. It was Sam's method of keeping Dean at arm's length and it worked. But Padalecki also showed Sam's concern well---first for Dean when he asks about the Mark and for Garth as they try to piece together what's going on with his pack. In the barn, we see him calm and focused as he tries to keep Joy talking rather than acting. He doesn't agitate her and as she rants he keeps his responses quiet. Padalecki shows that Sam's walls are high in that final scene, and yet we can tell underneath it that he is willing to try if Dean can stick to his terms. It's done with Padalecki's signature subtly, and yet we can feel the emotional pain that Sam's enduring in those final moments, too.
Best Lines of the Week:
Sam: He’s a skinny, Ichabod Crane-looking kind of guy.
Garth: Bess, this is Dean, who could start a fight in an empty house, but deep down inside he's just a big old teddy bear. And Sam here? Sam can be a bit insecure at times, but with good reason. Bless his heart.
Bess: Many of our kind see themselves as indestructible. This is a constant reminder of how precious our lives truly are.
Dean: Don't you two have a chew toy or something to go play with?
Garth: Look, amigo... I know this is all looks nuts, but I found it. Love and a family? Who cares where that comes from?
Dean: Look, we're all a little weird, we're all a little wacky -- some more than others -- but...if it works, it works.
Next week it looks like Sam's turn at being an yoga instructor.