A busy work schedule has made me late to the reviewing game for Supernatural’s “Mother’s Little Helper,” but I have to squeak a review in under the wire, because Adam Glass’s episode played with so many important themes. Misha Collins also made his debut as a Supernatural director, making great use of light and shadow as the boys try to bring into focus what they’re up against.

The episode opens with Sam beginning to realise he perhaps should have been more careful for what he wished. Dean is all business when he tells his brother he should go on a hunt alone. Sam is all brother when he tells Dean he’s just checking in. But he can’t appeal to that brotherhood when Dean rebuffs Sam’s concern, because Sam is the one who said it was no longer their framework.  

Without that framework, the boys are no longer bigger than the sum of their parts. Singly, Sam and Dean are formidable, but it is the way they work as a team that makes them the wild card in the universe’s deck. The space between them allows shadows in, a motif of which director Misha Collins makes full use. The episode is full of rays of light streaking across shadows, as people peer through bars of all kinds to try and get clear views.

Dean Crowley

Dean is falling further into shadow as he becomes more and more consumed with desire for the Blade and fear of what that makes him. He doesn’t feel he has the right to reach out to Sam for help, which makes him vulnerable to Crowley’s schemes. Crowley takes full advantage of the space between the boys to play on Dean’s pride and growing addiction.

Dean voices his inner torment when he tells Crowley, “When I kill, I kill for a reason. I’m nothing like Cain!” The elder Winchester doesn’t need Crowley’s disbelieving rejoinder to doubt his own words. Dean’s always been worried that he’s a killer at heart. His capacity for darkness is what allowed him to take on the Mark of Cain.

The parallels to season four are now very evident. Crowley is Dean’s Ruby and Lilith combined, and Cain’s Blade is Dean’s demon blood. The reason for the boys’ distance is very understandable, as it was in season four, but the distance means both Sam and Dean are not operating at their best when outside forces are determined to control them.

Dean is so focused on his internal struggle his usual razor sharp instincts fail him when Crowley uses a disguised demon to test whether Dean sees him as a true partner. Dean’s growing sense of soullessness brings to mind Soulless Sam, who was a great hunter except for his lack of instinct.

Sam hurt

There are parallels everywhere, but why? I think it’s because the purpose of the arc is to have Sam and Dean take a long and difficult walk in each other’s shoes so they can finally really empathize with each other’s mistakes. Without that sense of real understanding, their past keeps hurting them over and over. We see it again in this episode, when Sam says to Dean, “Soulless me, remember that?” and Dean replies, “Yeah, how could I forget?” Sam’s hurt flashes across his face. His solution so far to the pain he feels has been to walk away, but perhaps the real healing will come when he feels Dean understands him.

Sam is on his own journey and “Mother’s Little Helper” explores that, too. Henry Winchester goes through a mini-arc that lays out the dilemma Winchesters face: duty or family? Henry is worried his choice to be a Man of Letters is not worth the danger of leaving John fatherless and his wife, Millie, a young widow.

But by the episode’s end, he makes his choice—saving lives, helping people is a noble cause. It’s the Winchester family business, running in the blood from both sides of the family. And it has a terrible price. Millie was widowed young. John did grow up fatherless. Sam and Dean were robbed of their childhoods.

JuliaBut all decisions have consequences, including the decision not to act. Sam asks Julia why she didn’t warn Henry about Abbadon, a decision which left the Men of Letters completely vulnerable to attack from within. Julia tells Sam she became a nun because she wanted to help people, but she had no idea how to grapple with real evil. She was so frightened by Abbadon, she did nothing and has felt shame ever since. Evil grows when good people do nothing. 

Sam has his own choice to make about where he belongs. Last season, he told Dean he could walk away from hunting because he didn’t really make a difference. People still died. Other hunters could take his place and that was good enough.

Kevin’s predicament complicated that outlook, as Sam felt he had to apologize to Kevin for abandoning him. But Sam has continued to have one foot in and one foot out of his life with Dean – and indeed of life period. We’ve seen little of the hope Sam said he felt in “Trial and Error.”

I suspect Sam is going to have to decide again whether he’s willing to continue to try and make a difference or whether he’s ready to walk away. The decision to walk away has ramifications, just as the decision to stay does. I think Sam’s interactions with Julia helped remind him doing what you can may not solve everything, but it does help. Will Sam choose the Winchester legacy, both hunter and MOL?

I think the Winchesters are facing their greatest fears, which gives them a much needed personal stake in the plot. Dean and Sam have always loved each other, but never understood each other. Their different positions in the family and their different inner demons clouded their view of each other.

I have faith this season’s journey in each other’s shoes will lead to a clearer understanding between the boys. And that understanding will close the space between them and allow them to be the brothers they have always been, despite the misunderstandings and hurt. Sam and Dean are stronger together than apart. Their brotherhood was stronger than Lucifer’s power. I think this season will make that point again.

Dean Sam desk

The last scene shows the boys working together, but with enough space between them for secrets. I think Sam will find a way to close that space.

I’ll end the review by saying Misha did a nice job as director. The episode had a definite look to it, full of light and shadow. I loved the way he brought the camera in close to allow the actors’ faces to tell the story. It made Dean’s two flashbacks entirely unnecessary.

Misha played a lot with different types of shots, and most of them worked well. A couple I thought were arty for the sake of being arty, rather than telling the story, and there was entirely too much shakiness in the scene with Abbadon and Josie, but overall it was a solid directing job.

Thanks to homeofthenutty.com for the photos.


Comments  

CastielsCAT
# CastielsCAT 2014-04-14 06:29
Great review. I think the Ruby parallels are a red herring and Dean's story is really paralleling Cas. I also don't think everything is going to be hunky dory at the end of the season between the brothers. They started setting up Dean's dark arc as soon as he went to Purgatory. I think it will definitely ho into season 10 since it just started picking up momentum. I also think the brothers' schism feeds Dean's arc and not the other way around; although the relationship will be matured by the end per Carver... no question. Mutual understanding is good but I do not think they can be or should go back to season 1-2 brothers ten years later. They are no longer boys no matter what fans believe. Men need their own individual lives because men have individual desires. Such is life.
Gerry
# Gerry 2014-04-14 09:15
Hi, thanks for reading! I agree with you it isn't clear whether Sam and Dean will have cleared up their difficulties by the end of the season. Dean may end up a knight of hell under Crowley's control, though I think Sam reaching Dean will be the emotional journey this season. We'll see, though. I do think that's the overall shape of the arc, whether this season or next. I see Castiel's arc as intersecting the Winchesters, but not the same. I think he is on his own redemption arc on his journey to being the leader heaven needs to really understand free will. He represents God's viewpoint in the story, which I believe is why the writers will never personify God. They don't have to.

My read of the Winchesters' journey is very different than yours, because I believe the season 4 and 5 parallels will hold. Sam and Dean are learning how to accept their differences by remembering why they are together. I don't think they will decide they need individual lives. I think they'll refind the power of brotherhood. But we'll see! There's definitely a grand design unfolding.
lkeke35
# lkeke35 2014-04-14 12:52
Great review Thanx!
I still feel pretty positive about the outcome on the brother's relationship this season, but only because I really don't want to see any more of this relatonship angst next season. (I'm going to watch it anyway because Hey! Supernatural.)
Do you think it's possible they will rstore their relationship and Dean still ends up being a Knight of Hell? After all, I find that the most satisfying plots resolve a problem, only to create a whole new problem with the solution, showing a clear chain of events.
anonymousN
# anonymousN 2014-04-14 14:35
I am very happy about the way how Sam is treating Dean.The concern is there but the trust is gone.I hope this series of events give dean an Idea of how Sam felt in seson 4 and after season3.I am also glad that Sam's mistrust in dean is with regard to their relationship and not about his competence on hunts. I am hopeful that Sam will stand his ground whenever time comes.
suebsg9
# suebsg9 2014-04-14 15:26
Great review and I think its intresting to see Sam worrying about Dean and putting Deans shoes on for a change and seeing changes in him. Because being on that end where you have never seen the stuff through your brothers eyes like when Dean has brought up the demon blood or ruby or not looking for him in purgatory. Not seeing what his brother has gone through and also I think its great to see Dean experiencing what Sam has gone through and I think they will finally understand each others roles. I just hope we do see Sam finally angst for not ever understanding Dean and why he had to make the choices he did. I think it was easy for Sam to say in the Purge about well I won't save you under the same circumstances. Easy to say but when you are faced with it and I think him being faced with what Dean has had to go through. I think learning experience for both and anxious to see out come I think the brotherly bond stronger then ever. And I liked Sam's expressions of concern when talking to dean on the phone I am thinking he is wishing now the business side is not good because Dean doesn't have to give him a straight answer to how he is feeling. Great review again.
Ginger
# Ginger 2014-04-14 18:01
I've been waiting for your review, Gerry. I always enjoy them and appreciate your insight.

I thought this was the best episode of the season. I liked how it moved the brothers story forward...final ly. While I do not dispute that this is a S4-S5 role reversal for the brothers, I am really hoping that the writers come up with something different than just a re-write. I thought all the various storylines would probably come to an end this season, and they may very well, but there is not much time left for that. I am kind of hoping that the MoC story carries over to S10 and is fully developed. I also hope that this is the last season for the angel stories, as I don't find this one engaging at all...but then all I know about it is that Metatron is probably writing his own story -- why? I have no idea. It's just too weak of a storyline that I don't find engaging; nor do I find any of the angels engaging now that Gadriel is a bad guy. I liked him at first and was hoping that he would have more of a role in the story. More Gadriel and much less Metatron would make me happy.

I really liked that Glass paid attention to Dean and Sam's characterizatio n, and I do agree with you that the major arc is for the brothers to reach a better understanding of each other. I just hope that better understanding isn't reached by a predictable story that is crammed in the last two episodes. I would like to see the MoC story played out fully.
nappi815
# nappi815 2014-04-15 07:26
I agree with you that walking in ea. other's shoes is most likely the only way the boys will ever truly understand what the other has gone through over the years. I disagree though on your wording of be careful what you wish for in regards to sam. I don't agree that Sam wished for anything but a resolution with dean. Sam's response to dean about being partners came as a direct result of his pain and frustration when dean told sam that they should just put a few wins in their column, going back to work as usual. this after sam had just told his brother that he couldn't trust him, that they were broken. after everything that sam had been through, all the hurt and anger and disbelief that his brother had done what he did and dean hadn't as much as given Sam an I'm sorry. He simply told sam essentially to just move on and forget about it, as if even if sam wanted to, he could. sam's expression on his face after dean told him to just go back to their normal routine was one of hurt and frustration and that's when he told dean if he wants to be partners fine, but if he wants to be brothers..... sam didn't wish for a mere partnership with dean, he wanted to fix things and make it ri ght. he wanted to deal with it and dean didn't. he wouldn't or couldn't but in the end, dean just wanted to bury it all as per his usual m. o. in the purge sam asked dean if he didn't sleep because of what he said, with that flicker of hope in his eyes that he had gotten to his brother. but pride got in dean's way and he responded to sam that he didn't break that easy. again, sam's expression was that of frustration and his response in turn was, well I was just being honest. but when dean left the room, there was sadness on sam's face. being just partners was never sam's wish....in fact the opposite is true...sam's wish was that dean open up and start talking to him so they can deal with what is wrong between them. In s5 after deans speech to Sam about not trusting him anymore and never knowing if he could, Sam asked dean what could he do? Maybe it's me transferring my own feelings onto Sam, but I think dean not even acknowledging SAMs hurt with an apology or the question what can I do exacerbated SAMs hurt and anger., which resulted in his partner comment, but never for a single second did Sam ever give me the impression that it's what he wished for....as I stated, the opposite is true...it's just that his hope that this would compel dean to deal with everything failed:(
I also disagree that dean isn't talking to sam because he feel he cannot. dean hasn't talked to sam since sam found out the truth and all sam has wanted from dean is to talk and deal with all this. As of now, dean aint talking to sam because he's an addict. I found it rather convenient that just after thinman, when both boys with the help of ed and harry, had finally seen things a bit differently, much more clearly, that they actually seemed ready to start talking, we get blade runners. if show had wanted the boys to resolve their issues sooner rather then at the end of the season, sam and dean could very well have started dealing with everything after thinman. but instead blade runners happened and it took only one touch. supernatural addiction is much faster and stronger than natural addictions. I concur that dean has been drinking prior to touching the blade, but dean's drinking is due to his own feelings of guilt. if he and sam had dealt with everything sooner, I don't believe dean would be sneaking the bottle every night when sam goes to sleep. dean's inner turmoil is what leads him to the bottle. it always has. but now dean is hitting the bottle for a different reason. the drinking now, since bladerunners, is due to his need to feed his addiction. he felt the power, he liked the power. the affects are quite similar to the demon blood. that feeling of control. now dean is going through what sam did. he is in fact in denial that he even has a problem he tells himself that all that's important is killing abbadon and he'll do whatever is necessary to do it. like sam did with Lilith, he actually is convincing himself that his true intentions are good, that he's doing it to kill an evil and he's the only one who can....but as with sam, even though he believes this to be so, or wants to believe it to be so, dean is really just jonesing for another hit of power. he does it to please and satisfy his own addiction and abaddon is just an excuse to do it, much like it was for sam...
the bright side of all this is that sam has experienced all this before. he understands what dean is going through, once of course he realizes it...and it's this experience that will help sam help dean. but that's not all. sam loves his brother above all else. no matter what, sam will always, always be by his brother's side....that was evident all the way back in season 2 wiawsb..when even in dean's warped version of what life would be like had his mother not died, even though he and sam didn't get along, in the end sam went with dean to that warehouse ....because we're brothers.....
I am in total agreement with you Gerry that the walk in ea. others shoes will be the most important thing ea. brother can do ...it's the only way to bring true understanding of what ea. has been through. sam has spent a lifetime fighting supernatural forces to stay human. dean has always fought his own inner demons, natural forces, to stay human, but ea have succeeded in this fight because the other has been there for them. it'll be good for dean to now understand what it's been like for sam fighting against the supernatural, as much as it will be good for sam to understand what it's like to watch your brother fight against the supernatural as dean has always had to do. they are indeed on the road to a stronger and deeper bond and i'm very excited to get there. I do believe the big three eps will take us there.:)
suebsg9
# suebsg9 2014-04-15 11:12
Ok I have to disagree with the fact that yes sam was mad but Dean did try to talk to Sam when Kevin said the fighting was stupid and I think then Dean thought they might have been able to talk things out. But Sam choose to go to his room and Dean ended up going back to his. The fight is on both of them like Dean said he does not know what Sam wants and they cannot heal if Dean has no clue from Sam what he has to do. Sam also has to come forward and help heal this its not always just on Dean yes the lies are and secrets that is fine. But Sam has said some harsh things to Dean. And I get the feeling that Sam will not be able to take back what he said before Dean makes the ultimate sacrifice in the end of the season. I mean right now Dean knows Sam won't save him so whatever happens when he grabs that blade if it changes him or what its on him and not on Sam. It takes two to make this brotherhood. And Sam is the one that said about what they have to fix but not specifically to Dean. They had one chat in the purge and that was it nothing else. Sam has to be ready sometime to talk to Dean or else he won't have to worry about a brother after he goes after abaddon because he has no clue what will happen to Dean after he picks the blade up.
cheryl42
# cheryl42 2014-04-19 01:42
Again Sam said same circumstances he would not put Dean through the same nightmare that Dean put Sam through. As we have seen several times since Sam found out about the possession he has saved Dean's life. Whenever Dean has been in trouble regardless of what Sam said to him Dean has called Sam for help. Now that Dean is under the influence of the Blade he is starting to pull away from everything not just Sam. I really don't think Dean's self imposed isolation has as much to do with any words as it does his overwhelming addiction.
I know I sound like a broken record but this has been the most amicable rift between the guys in the history of the show. They haven't separated from each other, they are still showing great concern for each other (Sam more for Dean since he held the Blade) and I know that Sam will be there for Dean and go to whatever lengths he needs to to save his brother.
anonymousN
# anonymousN 2014-04-15 14:20
Nappie perfectly stated.especial ly about Quote:
'I also disagree that dean isn't talking to sam because he feel he cannot. dean hasn't talked to sam since sam found out the truth and all sam has wanted from dean is to talk and deal with all this.'
Dean had many chances to talk to sam but for a guy who initially knew about what was wrong in getting Sam possessed it looks to me Dean is in denial about what was wrong in his actions.My thoughts are :It is telling that Dean cannot even muster up a simple 'I am sorry' for the violation of sam that he helped gadreel do that Dean is slowly losing his distinction between right and wrong.For me most saddening thing is Dean just refusing to acknowledge what he did wrong.I hope that this denial, the lie he is telling himself does not make him more susceptible to the blade.It would be sad to see Dean lose control in such way.I hope Dean's love for sam is strong enough that Sam's efforts to bring dean back when he tries make dean see light.
lkeke35
# lkeke35 2014-04-15 14:33
Aaaahhhh! Nappi: I am so totally in love with you right now, that I will happily have your 300 Love-Children!
Oh, hi Gerry! Sorry, I can only have about a hundred of yours, but great post though.