The Winchesters are brought to town in pursuit of a grisly case. Men are being thrown so hard against walls they break them. Their hands and feet are cut off brutally. A bizarre symbol is etched into each of their chests, like a calling card for a serial killer. It's unusual enough to get Sam's attention, and since he's the one driving, that is where they will go next.
They arrive in Seattle and easily settle into routine, posing as FBI agents pursuing a serial killer. Upon talking to the forensics officer, they learn that the flesh found in one of the victim's mouths is an anomaly itself. Dean, who would rather pursue Dick Roman, tries to blow this case off, but Sam quips, "Yeah, uh, "didn"™t match anything human" usually seals the deal for me."
Sam has buried himself in work for awhile now. This episode's monster may not be connected to him as so many have been in the past, but his story shines in this as well. He has thrown himself into the hunt, always moving, always ready for the next case. He cannot stop, or he will find himself facing his own demons.
Much like his brother, he will not talk about or acknowledge the issues that plague him. He may have owned up to them when necessary, but he has taken to avoiding them at all costs. He runs, he works, he hunts, he researches---and lately he drives. Anything to chase off and out run the hallucinations that lay beyond the fringes of his consciousness. It's fascinating how, as an undercurrent, Sam's storyline runs through it like a dark thread.
He expresses frustration, hides his need to work from Dean in quips, such as, "Dude, you're obsessed," or "she gave you her number?" Sam may have fessed to his hallucinations, but he feels that he must not burden his brother. So, he works. He chases down the evidence at the forensics lab, talks to the professor, and handles the leg work for much of the basics of the case---all while Dean is caught up in the middle of it.
Essentially, Sam has learned that if he stops moving, he dies. The search for Dick Roman, or any weakness he may have has gone cold, and therefore a determent to Sam's outpacing of his nightmares. It's not much different than Dean's handling of Hell in season 4, a marathon of hunts that string them both out and test tempers.
While Sam is left to research, Dean heads off to the bar. Unlike his difficulties in "Defending Your Life," he lies smoothly and picks up Lydia. They head back to her place and spattered amongst their sex scene are cuts to another victim meeting his untimely end.
Dean, unknowingly, has slept with one of the Amazon women---the very thing they are hunting.
Dean possesses Bobby's flask and holds it dear. He, however, forgets it at Lydia's, and has to go back and retrieve it. A ho hum case for Dean suddenly becomes extremely personal as he enters her home and finds that the woman he spent the night with has a young child. What's even more disturbing is that it seems that this child can speak like an adult. Instantly, Dean's hunter radar goes off, and he focuses on trying to figure out more about Emma.
Emma's short life---a mere three days---reflects Dean's life through a strange prism.
She has no childhood, becomes motherless, endures painful training, and is forced to kill her own father in order to live and become a full member of her tribe. Her death, is also an echo of Dean's.
Emma, due to her monster nature, has no childhood. She will be an adult in a short three day period. While Dean himself is not a monster, nor did he endure such a rapid growth, he too had to become an adult rapidly. He lost his childhood the moment his mother was killed by Azazel and John thrust a baby Sam into his arms. At the tender age of four, he shouldered responsibility for his little brother and the life in a single instant.
As Dean watches over Lydia's house, he watches in shock as a little girl, no longer a baby, is handed from Lydia to two women. The little girl's name is Emma, the same as the baby he saw in the play pen a few hours earlier. He follows them to a building, where Emma is let out and disappears inside. Upon return to Sam, he explains what he saw.
In Emma's scenes, we see her and other girls in a room with two women. One of them is the same woman Dean saw take a then five year old Emma away from Lydia. She states, "On this special night, you join an exceptional family. You are ready to take your places alongside us and learn our traditions."
They are forced to eat a tribute piece of flesh, drink some milk, and most of all, endure a branding that marks them as members of the Amazon tribe. It is their training prior to completing their blood sacrifice and entrance into full adulthood.
It may be brief, but it is a stark reminder of Dean's own upbringing under John. We know that he was aware of hunting and what their father did at a much younger age than Sam. He had to in order to protect his little brother while John went on hunts.
Emma, as she flinches from the brand, is told, "Fight it, Emma. As with all you do, courage is everything.
Dean has often buried his own pain---physical or mental---so that he may finish the current hunt or protect Sam and others.
It isn't until Emma arrives to kill Dean that we learn just how much she reflects him. In her pleadings, she speaks falsehoods about herself, but truths about Dean. The dialogue has taken all of the things he's hiding from"”-childhood, hunting, training, even Hell, and thrusting them into his face in a simple statement: "They stick you in there, and you trust them. It's all you know. And you don't question what they want you to do "“ terrible things. That's why I had to leave. They tortured me."
And yet, they are also falsehoods about Dean---they are the lies he tells himself.
Emma's death also reflects Dean's deal in a startling way.
Sam discovers that it is the child, not the mother, that kills the men with help from the rambling professor. He rushes back to their motel, knowing that if he does not hurry, his brother will become the next victim. Upon entrance, seeing the two in a standoff---all until Dean's hand wavers and lowers his gun---Sam takes action. He shoots her, killing her in an instant.
It is poignant that is Sam that kills her---as it was Sam's death that caused Dean to make the deal.
Later, as the brothers are back on the road, Sam lets his anger and anxiety show. He explodes, bringing back the issue of Amy, shouting, "What did you say to me... when I was the one who choked? What did you say about Amy? "You kill the monster!"
It's not the real reason Sam is upset, however. He has been watching his brother slip further and further into a rut, ignoring his problems, and becoming increasingly suicidal. He isn't angry that Dean may have decided to let Emma go. He's upset that Dean seemed willing, at least subconsciously, to allow Emma to complete her blood sacrifice and kill him.
Sam's anger quickly dissipates and turns into a vast sadness. He looks ahead, and pleads, "Look... Dean, the thing is, tonight... It almost got you killed. Now, I don't care how you deal. I really, really don't. But just don't "“ don't get killed."
Frank gave Dean advice on how to put one foot in front of the other and continue in "Adventures in Babysitting." "Do it with a smile, or do don't do it at all." It would seem that Dean must choose one or the other. Sam wants him to survive, and while Sam once upon a time might have been enough for Dean to push past his difficulties, this might not be the case any longer.
Dean must learn the one thing he has avoided his entire life: to live for himself. He has to want it, not because another needs or wants him to, but because he needs and wants to do so. Emma's storyline may have ended with her being killed, but that does not have to be Dean's fate. Emma states that "I don't have a choice," and while that reflects Dean's current mood, he has choices---if he attempts to look for them.
The notion of choice itself is another issue for Dean to overcome. He has always been about making his own choices---stopping the Apocalypse for instance, and as of late, he seems trapped with none available to him. He feels, due to his experiences, that hunting is his only option, and he does so, but without his previous gusto. Dean must make a choice on how to deal, what he wants to do, and why---or die.
Sara Canning, most known for her role as Aunt Jenna in The Vampire Diaries, brings a seductive and sinister Lydia to life. She seems innocent enough at the bar, just another woman to fall under Dean's swagger and charm. Upon return to her place, we see that she is very much in control over the situation. It is Lydia that dictates the sex, and it is Lydia that then pulls away afterward to protect her growing child. Canning manages to add a strange and grotesque sweet flavor to Lydia that makes what happens all the more horrifying. When she is forced to hand over Emma, Lydia doesn't seem to be saddened or burdened. Canning shows that she's almost relieved that she has fulfilled her duty to the tribe and can now return to her own life.
Harry Groener gave us Professor Morrison and he was delightful. He was scatterbrained, knowledgeable, and yet ignorant of the truth around him. His ramblings were hilarious, all the while exasperating to both brothers, but in particular Sam. He reminded me very much of some of the professors I've had in college, holding onto a tangent and not letting go only to be distracted by another to do it again. I couldn't help but think of my own anthropology professor, who wasn't much different than Professor Morrison. Judging by Sam's irritation with him, I can't imagine they'll be using him for further research down the road---even if it'd be entertaining to watch.
Craig Anderson brought the likeable Eddie to us. He may have a creepy job, but he was approachable and helped the boys whenever they asked. He even goes as far as to cover their butts with the detective questioning Sam and Dean's credentials by providing a story about cold cases. Unfortunately, he doesn't realize he's given the detective, actually an Amazon herself, the tools to search the boys true identities. It's a shame that he can't become a go to for the boys, as it'd be nice to see him help them on other cases.
Jill Teed and Kendall Cross give us Madeline and Charlene, the creepy leaders of the Amazon tribe. They've managed to assimilate into society, with Charlene posing as a detective. Madeline comes off as creepy through Teed, equal parts sinister and mysterious. She runs the tribe much like a cult, indoctrinating each new member in rites and rituals that will make them loyal members. She is there for each birth, trains each new child, and sends them on their blood missions. Charlene, meanwhile, keeps tabs on humans and society by infiltrating law enforcement so she can report back. She's cocky, and Cross shows that she has no fear, as dictated by Madeline, when she attacks Sam. Cross plays her, until it is revealed that she is an Amazon, not unlike a typical cop in a police procedural. She adheres to the rules, and is a stickler for them.
Alexia Fast, last seen on Supernatural as the creepy girl in "The Benders," brings Emma to the screen. She gives Emma a sinister feel. We know her arrival, hidden in sweetness and pleading for help, are red herrings. Fast knows how to show us that aspect of her character all the while not going overboard. When the facade falls, we see a monster come to life through Fast's portrayal. Her shout to play on Dean's sympathies as Sam enters stands out. I found her captivating when speaking with Dean, stating in a cold tone the truth of her life.
Jensen Ackles shows Dean's growing fatigue well. He isn't as disinterested once the case becomes personal as he was in "Shut Up, Dr. Phil." And while Dean has increasingly become despondent and lost, we see hope in his character---hope that Sam is reluctant to share. When the papers rustle and the very one they need is on the top, it is Dean that alleges with hope that it could be Bobby. Jensen shines in this scene, showing that while Dean feels that he has little reason to continue in the life, that there is a sliver for him to grasp onto. Jensen's facial expressions convey Dean's hope well, and his tone of voice has that questioning in it. Later, in his conversation with Emma, Jensen shows Dean's hesitation and difficulty in killing what is essentially not only a child but his child---albeit a monster. He listens patiently. Dean is no fool, evidenced by the way Jensen has Dean's gun ready upon Emma's near attack. It's almost as if he is trying to understand. He doesn't need to understand Emma or her type of monster, but he does need to understand himself, and it in this conversation that we see Jensen have Dean absorb this.
Jared played a hardworking, focused, and irritated Sam. He is the one in control on this case, dictating that they will take it, the one leading it with both the cops and the professor, and he is the one that finishes it by killing both Charlene and Emma. Sam has sunk himself fully into the hunt, giving him a chance to push away the issues that threaten him in his own mind. Much like Dean, Sam is hiding from his issues. Jared shows us this by giving us Sam's irritation, his frustration when Dean does not come back to help with research, and his adamant refusal to even think Bobby may have helped from beyond. Jared has shown that Sam is much like a shark---swim and live, stop moving and die. The more Sam works, the less likely he will have time to focus on the walls closing in on him at any time. His lone vulnerable moment emerges in the soft, pleading line of "don't get killed," and it lingers long after the episode ends. That simple soft spoken line captured every fear Sam has had this season beautifully and painfully. Jared may have shown that Sam is driven to work, but he also provides us with insight in subtle words and movement that Sam's not holding on as well as he puts forth.
Now, come Friday, another question will be answered. We already know that clowns kill---but do unicorns really shoot rainbows out of their asses?