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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.