This week’s Supernatural episode solidified writer Robert Berens as a stand out in the writing room. When Ben Edlund departed the series last season, he took with him a sense of whimsy and a sense of theme, a willingness to experiment grounded in a solid understanding of story. He left a space that needed to be filled. Robbie Thompson has added the whimsy and playfulness with meta narratives. Robert Berens here shows his understanding of theme and ability to write in layers.

He does so in an episode which is Winchester light in a season which has suffered from poor pacing, which shows his skill all the more. I love actress Kim Rhodes and her character, Jody Mills, but I was a little hesitant about an episode showcasing them both this late in the season.

I remember all too well season seven’s terrible pacing, with the narrative for two thirds of the season aimlessly wandering in circles and then suddenly racing in a panic-stricken dash for the finish line. Rushing to finish an arc didn’t benefit that earlier season and may not benefit this one, either, but “Alex Annie Alexis Ann” beautifully weaves in all the important themes of the season and indeed the series. It doesn’t move the Winchesters’ story forward plotwise a great deal, but the thematic exploration is worth the narrative time.

Jody closeup2
Choosing to focus on Jody Mills is the first great writing choice. Sheriff Mills has been a solid three dimensional character since she was introduced. Rhodes’ Jody is a sexy woman who doesn’t depend on wearing hot pants to make the point. She’s a strong woman who doesn’t depend on others to save her. She’s an emotional woman who reaches out to others despite her own pain. 

Director Stefan Pleszczynski returns to Rhodes’ expressive face again and again, allowing her to communicate Jody’s every emotion to viewers. And those emotions ran the gamut, from concern to anger to compassion, and underlying everything is grief.

Supernatural has been exploring the impact of grief since the pilot. Grief drove John Winchester to emotionally abandon his children. Grief drove Sam back to Dean. Last season, grief made him grasp for another kind of life.  And this season, grief drove Dean to override Sam’s consent over his body. The emotion can be expressed in many ways, and this episode examines the ramifications of some of those ways.

“Alex Annie Alexis Ann” also picks up the theme of choice and consequences. There have been a lot of those in the Winchesters’ lives. As young Alex grapples with hers, the parallels to the Winchesters’ choices are beautifully made, sometimes expected and sometimes illuminating the shadows of the brothers’ narrative.

AlexBar
Alex has to make a choice about family—no surprise in this series. Stolen from her own family, she’s been raised by vampires, who use her to lure victims to their lair. Her vampire brothers suspect Alex is as bloodthirsty as they are, but in fact Alex is struggling with her feelings for her family. She loves her mother, but Mama’s love is laced with a violence which increasingly horrifies the young girl. She can no longer play her role as bait.

Sheriff Rhodes provides a contrast to Mama’s love and to Mama’s grief for her lost daughter. The vampire tried to fill the hole within her by stealing a child and then trying to change her into a monster so she doesn’t feel human emotions like pain. Sheriff Rhodes uses Alex to fill a void of her own, but her love is laced with compassion and understanding, while acknowledging the loss and the pain. Jody shows through example the difference between human and monster—it’s not about the DNA, it’s the choices made.

AlexMama
The parallel to Sam and Dean is easy to see. Runaway Alex pushing away from a parent who is using her to fulfill her own needs brings Sam to mind immediately. Mama Celia hanging on too tightly and willing to change Alex to keep her is reminiscent of Dean’s deal with Gadreel to save his brother. Dean’s choice cracked the brothers’ bond in a way Zachariah could never accomplish. 

WorriedSam
But there are other parallels to be drawn. Alex can also be read as Dean, making a choice to be a monster because of shame. As Mama coaxes Alex to run from human feelings, Sam worries about the way Dean seems to have run from his. Sam made the choice to remove the brother card from the Winchester deck, and the consequence is he cannot have the kind of heart to heart with Dean that Jody has with first Alex and then Sam and Dean. The set-up is a reverse season four, with Sam slowly realizing he needs to fight for his brother’s soul, but he may have to kill him first. 

DarkDean
Dean spent a lot of time last episode staring into mirrors, trying to see the changes he feels. But he can’t see the real changes. He explains away his bloodlust to Sam by saying their job is to kill monsters, and there’s no reason he can’t enjoy it. Dean’s always had a harder nosed attitude to monsters than Sam, so in one way, his view is not unexpected. But Dean has also feared his own capacity for violence. He recognized Gordon was as much a monster as the vampires he hunted. He recognized FutureDean had lost a part of himself Dean values. Dark Dean is well on the way to losing his humanity, too, and that will play into both Crowley’s and Metatron’s scripts. 

I suspect eventually Sam will take on Jody’s role, offering Dean the same kind of reassurance he will be there through the pain and the grief, which also calls to mind Dean’s role in “Swan Song.” And that does beg the question of why Jeremy Carver is redoing previous arcs. I think we got an answer in the last line of this episode. 

Jody: What you’ve been through the last 48 alone, losing your entire family, everything you’ve ever known or loved. No one can understand that.

Alex: You can.

I think that understanding is the lesson the Winchesters need to learn. Their bond offers them strength because it’s formed from their shared experiences only they can understand. They’ve shared loved ones, and they grieved their loss. Now they are experiencing the particular pain the other felt when Sam battled for his soul and his destiny. To heal, they need to do what Jody does in this episode: recognize the ways they are avoiding dealing with their grief of losing each other.

I think the battle over Alex is meant to foreshadow the coming battle over Dean’s soul. Dean has to choose not to be a monster even though it takes away his pain. Sam has to choose to offer Dean the love Dean fears he doesn’t deserve. And if they can find their way to each other, they’ll also find the way to defeat Metatron’s and Crowley’s plans.

 In “Swan Song,” Kripke collapsed the family/duty dichotomy the series had set up. Instead, choosing family turned out to be the way to defeat evil. Family is the foundation on which everything else is built. I think that touchstone is still in play.  

Thanks to homeofthenutty.com for the photos.




Comments  

Amyh
# Amyh 2014-04-25 13:30
Lovely review. Though i think you got something wrong. You said Sam has to choose to offer Dean the love Dean doesn't think he deserves. Thing is Sam hasn't stopped...not ever... loving Dean. Sam stopped trusting Dean. So i would thknk Sam would have to offer to trust Dean by giving his foregivness. Although I think just based on Sam staying with Dean and willing to work with him in a job that requires trust....Sam already has foregiven Dean. he simply wants Dean to understand him. Course i understand Dean doesn't think he deserves foregivness.

I do love what you saidi about Dean having to choose not being a monster even though it takes away his pain. I really think Supernatural got this perfectly in some words Sarah Blake said to Sam in Provenece. "But when you shut out pain, you shut out everything else, too."
Gerry
# Gerry 2014-04-25 13:51
Hi Amyh, thanks for reading and commenting! I think we have a closer read of Sam than it may have seemed at first. I agree that he's never stopped loving Dean and that trust is a big issue. Where we may differ is our read of how Sam framed the issue to Dean and I think to himself. I think Sam's hurt and anger led him down a familiar path of rejection of family. Sam's different view of family has been a constant theme. I think his journey is more clearly defining to himself what he's angry about and what it will take for him to move forward. He used pretty broad strokes in "Sharp Teeth" and "The Purge." I think Dean had a similar journey with Sam in season 5 when he finally admitted to himself he did trust Sam, he just couldn't bear the idea of losing him--and that wasn't fair to Sam. He had the benefit of Bobby smacking him upside the head and asking him the tough questions. Sam has to work through this mostly on his own, though Cas and Kevin have weighed in.

I'm really intrigued what the season finale will bring. Will that be the moment of breakthrough? Or will terrible things happen that carry the division between the two into season 10? I'm hoping the healing comes this season, but there's a lot of set up for Dean as a Knight of Hell.
Gerry
# Gerry 2014-04-25 13:51
Sorry, double post.
LEAH
# LEAH 2014-04-26 12:01
Nice post amyh!
lacysos
# lacysos 2014-04-25 19:14
OMG Gerry, as I was reading that last line statement I got chill bumps and tears. Unlike Dean, Sam has had his agency ripped away so many times in so many different ways, he can relate, empathize. Sam is always so forgiving. The fact that he still hasn't uttered those three little words (You were right) speaks volumes about how strongly he feels.

Sam has always been the black sheep of the family. Sam is the boy with the demon blood, Lucifer's chosen vessel. Dean was chosen by God or at least the angels, the good son. He couldn't possibly relate to Sam's problem and wasn't always sympathetic. This MoC will force Dean to as the saying goes, "walk a mile in Sam's shoes." Once on the other side, Dean should understand better why Sam is so strongly against possession. With that understanding perhaps they can develop a more equal, healthy relationship.
Gerry
# Gerry 2014-04-25 22:28
Hi Lacysos! Yes, I agree that is going to be Dean's journey - to really understand possession and fate forcing you in a certain direction. I think Sam will have one, too. He'll really understand what it is to watch someone you love slip through your fingers. Sam hasn't always understood what it means to be the caretaker, because of his position in the family. In the end, I think they will both have a better understanding of each other's fears and wounds.
percysowner
# percysowner 2014-04-25 23:06
I understand what you're saying Gerry, but I think what gets lost is that Sam HAS seen Dean slipping through his fingers. He saw Dean melting down emotionally throughout season 2 due to the pressure of John's deal and death and the pressure of John's save or kill order. He saw Dean slipping away into Dean's deal in season 3. He tried to save Dean but couldn't, so Dean slipped away far more than Sam had at that point. Season four was about Sam's descent into darkness, but part of that was Sam's response to seeing Dean coming apart due to his PTSD from Hell and the angels asking Dean to save the world. Dean started a fairly sharp drop into alcoholism then and that continues to this day. No, Sam didn't have the weight of being told he was responsible for Dean and Dean wasn't being manipulated by a demon and giving into that darkness, but to imply that Sam has never seen Dean slip away and has never tried to take care of Dean is not accurate IMHO. Dean has been influenced by supernatural forces twice (the siren and the coin in Southern Comfort) and briefly possessed once by the Wicked Witch of the West, so he has some slight experience of not being in control of his body. But Dean has avoided the possessions and the loss of soul that Sam has gone through.

I'm not saying Sam doesn't have things to learn about Dean and that he doesn't need to do things to help rebuild the relationship. I just think that it gets forgotten that Dean has slipped into very human kinds of darkness and Sam has had to watch that, just as Dean has watched Sam fall to supernatural kinds of darkness.
Sharon
# Sharon 2014-04-26 03:51
Sam has that experience of seeing 'someone you love slip through your fingers' it just has got lost in all the Dean pov down through the series. I genuinely would like to believe that a better understanding would come out of this on both sides not just Sam getting a epiphany about his role and Dean but Dean learning as well. Because until we have that then the brothers relationship can never be a fair one, I do not think that will happen personally but I would like to see it.
cheryl42
# cheryl42 2014-04-25 23:11
Percyowner said it better
Manstrad
# Manstrad 2014-04-25 23:27
Gerry, nice post as always and always with good points. I like the idea of Sam in the role of caretaker, for a change, it is something to understand the other person and another to really, really walk in their shoes. I hope this is the case, it will be nice to see it, lots of opportunities for the writers. About rushing things to finish the season, I think we are going to see something different, something like, carrying some stories for season 10, like the angels maybe?
pb42164
# pb42164 2014-04-26 00:49
No one commenting on the return of Reilly Dolman as the vampire brother Dean decapitates with "look at me, bitch". He played the cheerleader who got his hand mutilated in a blender in After School Special.

Death can probably take out Metatron - he said he'd reap God, after all - but where's the fun? For drama we need it to come at a terrible cost, like maybe releasing Michael and Lucifer from The Pit. In other accounts, Metatron *is* an archangel, though not in Supernatural. It would make sense that Michael could defeat Metatron to restore Heaven, at the cost of releasing Lucy to restore Hell. Abbadon won't stand against Lucifer, and Crowley could move solidly onto Team Free Will as the demonic opposition to Lucy. Nothing unites like a common enemy.

Did it start off as Gadreel, or was it a mispronunciatio n of Gadriel that became canon?

Five things in all the universe The Colt can't kill - the 4 archangels + God? Would The Colt take out Abbadon, or immortal Cain, or Death Himself? Lucy had it last, but where is it now?

Sorry for the long post - I've been saving them up. ;)
mary9930
# mary9930 2014-04-27 07:30
pb42164, I love the idea of Death taking out Metatron by the end of this season. As a result Lucifer & Michael are free to wreck havoc next season. So many interesting possibilities there! I have a feeling that the blade is the only thing that can kill the Knights of Hell & probably works on archangels. I also think that God & Death are the only ones who can kill either of them.
debbab
# debbab 2014-04-26 13:49
Robert Berens is now SPN family. Proven through a multi-layered episode which was not heavy on exposition but deep in emotion and nuance.
Gerry
# Gerry 2014-04-26 13:51
Hi Percy, I think we have a lot in common in the way we see Sam. He's had to bear a lot of loss and he's had to watch Dean go through terrible things. Both brothers have scar tissue over loss.

But I think for Sam, Dean has still always remained the big brother, even when he is going through terrible things. In season 3, Dean used fixing the Impala to give Sam a framework to carry on without him. Later, he coaxes Sam into singing Dead or Alive to keep Sam's headspace in a good place, hiding how dark his own is. He's still taking care of his younger brother. I don't think Sam has ever been in a place where he felt he had to take care of Dean in that same way -- and that's not a criticism of Sam. He's the younger brother. His place in the family means he's been fighting for autonomy and recognition of his adult status his whole life. Dean's place means he's been trying to shoulder responsibilitie s he was too young to have and taking care of others. I think both guys are now getting a good look at what those differing roles feel like from the inside. Dean is getting a good look at being taken over by something and Sam is getting a good look at having to take responsibility for someone who does not recognize he needs it or want it, with terrible consequences personally and universally as the stakes. He's getting a good look at losing Dean not because he's been trapped by supernatural forces, but due to his own choices. It has some similarities to Dean's deal, except Dean wanted to escape that deal and live and he and Sam worked together to try to find a way. This time, they are not working together. They see things differently, just as they did during season 4.

The end game, though, I think, is for them to realize they've gained an understanding of each other at a deep level. Dean is going to have a visceral understanding of the horrors of possession. And Sam is going to know how it feels to have a loved one make choices that feel like a rejection of love. This Dark Dean is finding it harder and harder to hang on to the part of him that loves and cares for people. It's the part of him that made him hang on to Sam so hard.
LEAH
# LEAH 2014-04-27 11:28
Hi Gerry I really enjoyed reading your review and this particular post. I think your last paragraph in this post captures where this is headed very well. I just worry that it will carry over to deep next season. I really hope that is not the case but there is so little time left. Honestly I don't really care that much about Metatron and Abbadon, though I thought were interesting. I wouldn't grieve if they disappeared. I do grieve for Sam and Dean and what they are going through and have gone through for years. I think the one thing most of us (fans) can agree on is that we miss Sam and Dean. You all know what I mean.
Gerry
# Gerry 2014-04-27 14:04
Hi Leah, thanks so much for reading! I know exactly what you mean about missing Sam and Dean. My suspicion is the finale will not resolve the issues, but rather will bring them to a crux, with Dean making a choice. And not a good one, sigh. So next season is the season of rebuilding. My hope is it doesn't take all season and instead is a nice 200th episode or mid-season finale at the latest. I want to get the benefit of all this angst by seeing the boys working together again with a stronger relationship than ever, defeating the bad guys because family and love are stronger than pride and hate, just as they were in "Swan Song."

However, if next season is the last season, they have to build up to an amazing finale that ties up the story, so . . . who knows?
JuliaG
# JuliaG 2014-04-26 14:47
Gerry, Dean coaxing Sam into singing before going to Hell is the same as Sam putting on the little Xmas celebration for Dean around the same time. It's not all one-side IMO.

The new experience for Sam I think will be to witness Dean's descent and know that it's from supernatural origin and not being able to do anything about it. That's a first for Dean. I don't think that Sam can be blamed for the lack of communication between the brothers at this point. The mark is getting in the way and a deep conversation wouldn't do much, even if the trust was there.
Gerry
# Gerry 2014-04-26 16:56
Hi JuliaG, I love that ending scene in A Very Supernatural Christmas! Love it. I know what Sam did for Dean. However, to me, Dean was coaxing Sam into helping celebrate a last Christmas, which isn't quite the same as Sam getting the idea himself to take care of Dean. And that doesn't undercut one thing for me on how lovely that scene is or that Sam was able to give Dean that gift despite his own sorrow. I just don't read it as Sam stepping into big brother mode to proactively take care of Dean.
lkeke35
# lkeke35 2014-04-26 15:21
Excellent post, Gerry! it clarifed some issues for me that I was having with this episode. I could see a couple of parallels but not all the ones you did. Nice to have them cleared up.
Gerry
# Gerry 2014-04-26 16:59
Thank you, Ikeke35! This is a season of parallels, I think, given how many there are to previous seasons.
mary9930
# mary9930 2014-04-27 07:39
Gerry this is great! I love the way the Momma Vamp & Alex parallel each brother in different ways. I think Carver's will set it up to look like Sam has to kill Dean to save his soul. BUT, Team Free Will finds another way. I hope that means the brothers learn about understanding each other by the end of this season & we see them work together as an even stronger team next season.
Gerry
# Gerry 2014-04-27 12:41
Hi Mary9930! I think Robert Berens just did stellar work here, with subtle but well supported parallels to the season's themes and the brothers' character development. I also think Bookdal is on to something in her suggestion that the season is leading up to a choice by Dean, not Sam. Which makes me think the season is going to be about what happens if Dean really does what Sam asked and no longer put the brotherhood and Sam as number one--spurred by the MOC along with his own hurt. Which may leave next season for the rocky path to reconciliation as Sam has to balance what he needs and what he can give and what life feels like without the constant of Dean's love, which he's always had, even when Dean was not present. And while that may sound like Sam does all the giving in this current predicament, I think the aftermath, because I think Sam will choose, like Jody did for Alex, and Dean did for him in "Swan Song," to be there for Dean, offering his love and support and understanding, will show Dean really understanding Sam's point of view and appreciating that Sam is still there for him, despite his own hurt.

If this arc does spill over to season 10, and I think it will, I hope it get resolved part way through, so we do get to see what the Winchesters look like afterwards and finally get to enjoy them together again.

9 seasons in and Sam and Dean still fascinate me. Way to go, show.
Scullspeare
# Scullspeare 2014-04-27 12:40
Beautifully written commentary, Gerry. Thank you. It was a real pleasure to read.

Quote:
“Choosing to focus on Jody Mills is the first great writing choice. Sheriff Mills has been a solid three dimensional character since she was introduced. Rhodes’ Jody is a sexy woman who doesn’t depend on wearing hot pants to make the point. She’s a strong woman who doesn’t depend on others to save her. She’s an emotional woman who reaches out to others despite her own pain.”
I become a bigger fan of Bob Behrens with each script he writes. When was the last time we had story with three such nuanced guest stars? And female guest stars to boot! He's a great addition to the writing stable and I can't wait to see what he comes up with next season.

With Jody especially, he used canon (yay!) to not only maintain the three-dimension al quality of her character, but to expand upon it. I love the relationship between Jody and the Winchesters. There’s a wealth of emotional parallels between them still to be mined; I really hope they don’t kill her off with lazy writing before all that potential is fully explored.

In episode reviews and online commentary elsewhere, there’s been a lot of discussion about Dean’s snarky line, “Yeah, I know–you wouldn’t do the same for me,” when he goes to untie Sam, throwing back the line Sam used on him during the discussion at the end of The Purge. Some are saying Dean should just ‘get over it’ while others are looking for some big, deep meaning in the quip. What doesn’t seem to have come up is the issue of gender divide–that men and women emotionally approach things very differently.

I saw it as just another example of the snarky way Sam and Dean show affection for each other: at the end of the Born Under a Bad Sign, Dean punches Sam in a “Thank God you’re all right and here’s what you get for putting me through all that,” gesture. They never say “I love you”–that’s just not a guy thing to do–but call each other “Bitch” and “Jerk.” In AAAA, Sam’s about to say, “Thank you,” and Dean cuts off the potential chick-flick moment with “Yeah, I know–you wouldn’t do the same for me.” In this context, I don’t think it was anything more than guy-speak for, “You’re welcome.”

I’d love to know your take on that scene. Cheers
Gerry
# Gerry 2014-04-27 12:51
Thank you so much, Scullspeare, for reading! In my interpretation, I think Dean's words illustrate he's still dealing with Sam's words to him in The Purge, and those words will come into play in a big way. I think Dean will have a big choice to make this season and it will involve the Mark Of Cain. We're seeing the impact the Mark has on him, and what it's doing is amplifying Dean's ruthlessness and violence and taking away his loving traits. I think the matter of fact way he said the words was to show in his current state, he's accepted them rather than looking through them to what Sam may have really meant. He's lost his anchor to the self he wants to be, which leaves him vulnerable to the forces swirling around and through him. In Dean's eyes, the brothers have always kept each other human. Now that he feels he's lost that deep bond with Sam, what keeps him human? I think that's going to come into play this season.
Scullspeare
# Scullspeare 2014-04-27 13:18
Excellent analysis, and that really illustrates all the parallels in that scene. Under the influence of the MoC, Dean’s love for Sam can both bring out the monster in him (killing the vamp, and enjoying it, after Sam is threatened) and slay the beast (caring for his brother humanizes and grounds him). It really is a double-edged sword, and it’ll be fascinating to see how the battle plays out in the end run of the season.
Gerry
# Gerry 2014-04-27 13:53
Yes! The double edged sword cuts both brothers to the quick. Sam is absolutely right to feel Dean's love can override his ability to accept Sam's control over his body--his anger over the possession and subsequent lies was understandable. But at the same time, Sam has always been able to take that love for granted, although it was tested in seasons 4&5. But Bobby's words to Dean about being there for Sam when he needed him, no matter what, always hit home to Dean. A Dean without that love to balance out the fierce hunter is going to be a monstrous thing. And it's love that is the key to pulling him back, not duty, just as it was love that pulled Sam back in "Swan Song." So Sam will have to find a way through his hurt to express his love to Dean.

Love is the double edged sword in Supernatural and always has been. Love put John on the path to obsession that hurt his sons, but he also sacrificed his life for love of his sons. Love made both Sam and Dean vulnerable to the plots to set the Apocalypse in motion, but love was the key to stopping it. Love has made the boys make poor choices in regard to the world and each other, but love is the key to the both of them holding on to their best selves. Their relationship is the strongest weapon they have because it's not a weapon, it's the source of their power. They just need to both recognize that.