Whew, the fan pleaser. Itâ€™s about time!
If season six has done anything to me so far, itâ€™s widened a gap thatâ€™s been steadily growing between my inner fan girl and inner TV critic. During the winter break I was having lunch with a fellow Supernatural blogger and she asked what I thought of season six so far. I told her that as a TV critic, I gave the season a B+. The complexity of the production, the direction, the storytelling, this show has continued to step up itâ€™s game in a daring way. A comparison with season three proves that. As a fan though, my grade was a C. Letâ€™s face it, fans come for the brotherly bond. That indescribable connection between these two brothers that take ordinary stories and make them extraordinary. Take that away and something is missing.
I like many other TV critics had a chance to mull over this one for a couple of weeks after getting a special preview. I knew the instant I saw â€œLike A Virginâ€ that this one would be a tough one to review. Part of me was thrilled with it, part of me had reservations. It wasnâ€™t until I saw it again on Friday (in full HD glory) that I was able to figure out why the discrepancy. The inner TV critic in me thought it was an average MOTW episode. The inner fan girl was telling my inner critic to shut the hell up. The brothers are back and itâ€™s awesome.
Yes, for the fan girl, â€œLike A Virginâ€ is a breath of fresh air. Instant relief from a long dry spell of brotherly hugs and both lighted hearted and earnest banter between the two. Dean is happy again! Sam is puppy dogging it again! I didnâ€™t realize how much I missed all that until I saw it again. If anything, it reinforces by previous criticism that while the soulless Sam story was compelling, it went on about six episodes too long. I laughed, I cried, I swooned, and I felt excited enough at the end where Iâ€™m dying to see whatâ€™s next.
Then the inner TV critic steps in. This type of episode has happened before. A weak MOTW story coupled with a very strong brotherly story. Season fourâ€™s â€œMetamorphosisâ€ comes to mind. The story layout is very typical, and the unique slant of dragons proves to be nothing more than a device for some great pop culture references and humorous scenes. (â€œWhatâ€™s wrong with that?â€ Yells inner fan girl. â€œDean was hilarious!â€). If anything, itâ€™s the unique and stunning scene shots by director Phil Sgriccia that step up this episode compared to many others.
So, with the two opposing voices in my head, how do I approach this review? By letting both sides have it out.
Inner Fan Girl: Oh yeah baby! Classic Aerosmith! â€œIâ€™m baaaaaaack! Iâ€™m back in the saddle again!...â€
Inner TV Critic: A song by an â€œAmerican Idolâ€ judge? Really?
Oh yes really. If youâ€™re going to energize a fan base, do it to a rocking and well known classic rock tune. I personally love old Aerosmith (anything before â€œPumpâ€), and once again they canâ€™t pick a better song than this. Why wasnâ€™t â€œBack In The Saddleâ€ on my classic rock â€œmust have listâ€ for this show? The season six so far summary (say that five times fast) is great and take note, for the alpha vampireâ€™s comments from â€œFamily Mattersâ€ have made the highlight reel for a reason.
So, they pick up where they left off, Sam screaming his fool head off in agony, right? No and thereâ€™s no better momentum killer than doing a weak MOTW opening first. The thing about these openings is weâ€™re chomping at the bit for brotherly drama, we have been for eight weeks now (still grrring over last week) and we really couldnâ€™t give a damn about another nondescript brunette in peril. This scene is relevant to the story, but couldnâ€™t it have come after Castiel chews out Dean? Even the above mentioned â€œMetamorphosisâ€ went for the brotherly drama first and the case came after. That really worked.
Speaking of Castielâ€™s first scene, this is drama done right. Sadly â€œLike A Virginâ€ is a loaded episode and while thatâ€™s always a good thing, it didnâ€™t leave much room for Castiel. The two scenes heâ€™s in are great, and heâ€™s none too happy with Dean right now. This is a far cry from the season four Castiel and itâ€™s so wonderful to see how much he cares about what happens to both Sam and Dean. I find his angelic perception of the human soul fascinating. A shredded soul is worse than death. He seems to have a bigger grasp on its power yet what else was Dean supposed to do? Castiel makes his point clear, death would have been the better option. Lucky for us though, that didnâ€™t happen.
Inner TV Critic: Cute, a hug.
Inner Fan Girl: CUTE?? What show are you watching? OMG, poor Sammy!!!! Heâ€™s so confused yet relieved, yet still traumatizedâ€¦he needs a hug! Just look at the way he clings onto Dean, squeezing him like he never wants to let go. Itâ€™s â€œMystery Spotâ€ all over again! Heâ€™s been through a terrible, terrible ordeal, stuff that can only be in someoneâ€™s worst nightmare, but none of that matters for he has his brother back. All is well again. And Dean...OH DEAN! Heâ€™s stunned and knows something isnâ€™t normal, but heâ€™ll let it go. His Sammy is back!
Inner TV Critic: You got all that from a hug?
You have to admit, the hug is significant. Sam doesnâ€™t remember anything other than falling into the hole in â€œSwan Song.â€ As far as heâ€™s concerned, that happened yesterday. He wasnâ€™t able to give his brother that hug before going down, only a look of assurance that everything will be okay. He never thought heâ€™d see Dean again. Now he has that chance and thereâ€™s no freaking way heâ€™s passing up the opportunity. It is the same as â€œMystery Spot.â€ When put into that perspective, fan girl gets weepy.
Bobbyâ€™s attitude is understandable. His discomfort is a bit more than Sam trying to kill him. Itâ€™s that Sam is still a loose cannon. He could explode at any minute now, although he doesnâ€™t know what to do about it any more than Dean. Itâ€™s almost like heâ€™s with Castiel on this one, that death might have been the better option. He can see much better what unhinged Sam is capable of. His attitude is meant to reflect the unease and doubt with Sam and Jim Beaver pulled it off perfectly.
Dean on the other hand, you canâ€™t blame the guy for hoping this is a clean slate. Heâ€™s desperately wanted his brother back ever since he found out Sam was soulless and even before that, probably when Sam said yes to Lucifer. He even went through terrible heartache and took extreme measures to just get things back to the way they were. He must believe that everything is set right. Sure deep down he knows better, but considering how hard the last year and a half has been, he needs to believe in the fantasy. Deanâ€™s always been a â€œin the momentâ€ kind of guy. The moment right now is good and heâ€™s going to enjoy it. Itâ€™s exactly how youâ€™d expect Dean to react.
Come on, you have to admit, going on the road, going back to the old ways, it made you happy. The heart to heart in the Impala, when Dean confesses he was with Lisa for a year, but wonâ€™t tell Sam heâ€™s the one that broke them apart. The clippings on the tacky motel room wall (another mural?), the fast food, the research including the return of Johnâ€™s journal, itâ€™s all bliss for a fan, as much as it was for the Winchester brothers.
Inner Fan Girl: The whole â€œdamsels in distressâ€ thing is uncomfortable. Is that how young virgins act? Crying, passive victims? I just pegged young women to be tougher than that. After all, how many of these girls grew up on Buffy? Maybe they were singled out just for that reason, because they havenâ€™t practiced â€œWhat Would Buffy Do?â€
Inner TV Critic: Stop over-speculating! Itâ€™s a TV show.
Inner Fan Girl: (sheepishly) Sorry.
The MOTW story is pretty weak. When dragons were mentioned in the episode summary, part of me had to think, how is a low budget show going to pull that off? They didnâ€™t really. Iâ€™m not sure what fell apart. Maybe the story the way itâ€™s plotted is too textbook. Or maybe ruthless (and almost faceless) monsters terrorizing innocent young women is depicted a bit too realistically. Itâ€™s clearly unsettling. Maybe itâ€™s also that we didnâ€™t learn enough about these creatures. Why they exist, why they might want â€œmotherâ€ back, and how theyâ€™ve managed to take on human form, etc.
As far as I can tell, the dragons existed for the great setup of jokes and clever one-liners. Thereâ€™s a wealth of pop culture to pull from. Middle Earth, Dungeons and Dragons (the 12 sided dice line), World of Warcraft, The Never-Ending Story, and of course my absolute favorite, Hogwarts. When Harry Potter references can be worked into this show, by Bobby nonetheless, it canâ€™t be all bad.
What is the rock cooking?
Inner Fan Girl: OMG! Deanâ€™s showdown with the sword and the stone is pure hilarity! Canâ€™t stop laughing! ROFL!
Inner TV Critic: Bwah!!! (wipes tears from eyes).
Well at least weâ€™re on the same page about something. When a 14th century sword bound into stone meets 21st century Dean Winchester, the results are sure to be unexpected.
I absolutely love Dean in this episode. Heâ€™s had a really rough year and itâ€™s so wonderful, so refreshing, so joyous to see him finally smile, relax, and be pleased with how things are going. We got to see some of that confident swagger and fighting spirit thatâ€™s been missing for a long time. He even got the pot of gold at the end! Has that ever happened? He got so many great lines, my favorite being his answer to where he got the sword. â€œComic Con.â€ Ha! I remember the aisles of sword vendors there (seriously). I canâ€™t remember the last time Sam and Dean enjoyed an entire episode of light hearted banter. â€œClap Your Hands If You Believeâ€ tried, but that wasnâ€™t really Sam and it was very cynical humor (still funny, but different).
You arenâ€™t going to get more classic than Dean taking on the Excalibur challenge. Every single bit of that setup was perfect. The acting, the direction, the lighting, the dramatic score in perfectly placed parts, it all amounted to something out of this world. And funny. Side splittingly, fall on the floor funny. Fans REALLY needed a laugh like that. When Dean takes on said stone with the 21st century answer of plastic explosives, beaming over his victory only to find it went very wrong with the broken sword, his reaction couldnâ€™t have been more perfect. â€œ Youâ€™ve got insurance for this, right?â€ Not the right time to ask by a long shot. Iâ€™ll definitely be pouring tons of detail and praise into these scenes in my full length recap.
Well that didnâ€™t take long
Inner Fan Girl: (cries) Poor Sam. He canâ€™t enjoy the moment like Dean. When he learns the truth from Cass, I could see his heart just drop into his stomach. Itâ€™s so gut wrenching. Heâ€™s crushed, remorseful, feeling guilty, and it wasnâ€™t his fault! It just isnâ€™t fair he has to carry all these burdens.
Inner TV Critic: Yeah, I got to admit, Jared Padalecki played that beautifully.
I applaud the producers for not dragging out Sam remembering things. We know the history. All lies, whether told by Sam or Dean, come back to bite them in the end. Iâ€™m thrilled in this case itâ€™s sooner than later. The fact that Sam figured out something wasnâ€™t right almost immediately and didnâ€™t press Dean for answers, giving his brother the benefit of the doubt, is a plot twist I greatly appreciate. He does trust Dean. We are back to that growth from the end of season five.
Furthermore, when Sam learned the hard truth that he was really walking around soulless for a year and thereâ€™s a wall in his head separating the bad memories that could kill him, he doesnâ€™t want to run from that. Heâ€™s willing to face up to his atrocities and the fact it wasnâ€™t really him isnâ€™t an excuse. This is the same Sam indeed that accepted responsibility for releasing Lucifer and went down that hole into Hell to fix it. However, this admission to Dean, along with the fact that he did go poking around behind Deanâ€™s back, is foreshadowing of what we suspected about Sam all along, he most certainly will scratch at that wall.
Oh, one more thing, why didnâ€™t Sam hug Castiel? Thatâ€™s a clear indication Samâ€™s soul is back. Sam wasnâ€™t being honest with Castiel and a hug would have given away his guilt over it. RoboSam would have given him the hug without thinking twice.
Mother of All
Inner Fan Girl: Meh.
Inner TV Critic: It definitely creates possibilities and opens up a new realm of mythology to ponder, but in this episode, meh.
So why open up a new world of mythology to explore? Iâ€™ve always loved the notion that the origin of monsters was never explored and that in this new chapter of â€œSupernaturalâ€ they are going there. From whatâ€™s revealed here though, how is Purgatory different from Hell? Is this just a new version of Hell with monsters instead of demons? I suppose thatâ€™s what the rest of the season is going to dig into and Iâ€™ll watch with interest, but not enough time was given to the rising of â€œMotherâ€ in this episode to generate that much excitement. â€œLike A Virginâ€ in some ways tried to do too much, but that could be due to the first half of the season not giving this story enough time to build.
So whatâ€™s the overall grade? A for the brotherly moments, B- for everything else. Not sure where that averages out, but if youâ€™re willing to overlook all the technicalities and go for pure entertainment value, that grade comes out on the higher end. Next week looks like a continuation of where Sam and Dean left off, with Samâ€™s past coming back to bite him. Canâ€™t wait to see how that plays out.