Supernatural always knows how to weave the quirky and bizarre with the tragic and moving, and "Hunteri Heroici" does this beautifully. The case is looney tunes, literally. Anvils fall from the sky, hearts leap out of chests, and people hover in mid air only to fall once looking down. It is zany and unexplainable. In true Supernatural form, the deaths are also gruesome and gory. The culprit is an old friend of John Winchester, Fred Jones. He is a psychic in a nursing home, locked inside his own mind. While he warps reality around him into the hilarity of Looney Tunes, we can't help but feel sympathetic for his tragic situation.
Fred Jones isn't killing people or stealing. He is being used by another to do so. It is a bizarre method of elder abuse, taking advantage of his gift to steal from other elderly patients within the hospital. The Winchesters---along with angel turned hunter Castiel---have to put these pieces together before it is too late.
They arrive on the scene, after the first death, and start investigating. Again, playing into the goofy of "Looney Tunes," we see the angel employ a poor interrogation skill. He adopts a mock Brooklyn accent and accuses the victim's wife of killing her husband with little tact. It is ridiculous and over the top. It fits in with the quirky nature of the case, adding another layer to its hilarity. It becomes funnier when Dean confronts Castiel, remarking, "You were being bad everything."
The case gets weirder as they arrive on the scene of a suicide. A man jumped from the roof of a building, but witnesses attest that he hovered in mid air ten seconds before falling to his messy death. It is also the second clue to what these deaths resemble. The detective remarks, "Not sure I buy that, but the way they're talking, it sounds like something straight out of a---" and Dean finishes, "cartoon."
So far it sounds like witchcraft, but there's nothing on the scene to corroborate either case being connected to a witch and neither victim is related. They seem random---just like the Looney Tunes they resemble. It isn't until a bank robbery occurs that the map reveals an epicenter for the hunters. In the middle of the incidents is an old folks home---the Sunset Fields retirement home.
There, they question some of the residents about the recent thefts only to learn that more cartoon events have happened inside the retirement home itself. One old lady tells them about the cat and how it talks sometimes and how it "really hates that mouse"---referencing the unending rivalry between Tom and Jerry. Again, there are no hex bags, and it isn't until they look at a resident board that they realize they know someone here: Fred Jones.
He had been a contact of John Winchester, and a known "psychokinetic." Now, however, he is trapped inside his aged body, reduced to being in a wheelchair and oblivious to the world around him. It is a tragic scene after all of the hilarity of the various deaths seen or the ridiculous antics of Castiel. He may be a supernatural being due to his gift, but he is irrevocably human here, facing a terrible and lonely fate. Fred Jones may not speak here, but we can clearly see that he is calling out for help through the use of his powers, all without realizing he's doing so.
Once they establish that he is indeed the source of the weird going on, Castiel asks unsure of what to do about him, "Do we... kill him?"
This draws the concern from the doctor, and he promptly chases them out. The Winchesters can't stay and figure out what to do about Fred Jones, but Castiel can. He becomes invisible, watching over Fred as he sits idly watching yet another cartoon. He has to call back in Sam and Dean after a candle explodes on a birthday cake like the roman candle in the cartoon Fred was watching.
It's then they spot that one of the nurses is wearing a bracelet that belongs to a resident. After they question her about where she got it, they head to the orderly's home, finding him shot. He tells them that the doctor is the one responsible for the thefts---and the deaths---because he is using Fred. It explains his anger at the hunters and why he chased them out. He realized they had found Fred and were going to take his ace in the hole away. The orderly tells them that the doctor is going to make one more heist, using Fred's powers, and leave---but only after killing Fred.
As they arrive at the bank, Sam and Castiel head to find Fred while Dean makes his way inside the bank to stop the doctor. It is here that the looney reaches its height and melts away into the tragedy of Fred Jones. Sam and Castiel indeed do find Fred, abandoned in a van while the doctor steals, left to watch his beloved cartoons on a small player. Sam tries to pull Fred from his stupor, only to have Castiel insert them both directly into his mind.
It is bright and cartoony in Fred's mind, as we see a classic cartoon moment transpire. A man runs with a firecracker towards the hills, and a large explosion occurs once he gets there. It is the apex of the cartoon element in the episode, and when it shatters, as Fred confronts Sam and Castiel for being there, the heartbreaking truly begins.
He doesn't believe Sam when he tells him that he is affecting the real world. He remarks incredulously, "As what "“ some kind of a damn psychic CopperTop? You plug me in, and the whole world goes wacky? It doesn't work that way."
Sam replies, "How would you know? No offense, but it seems to me like you've been spending more time in here than you have... out there."
Fred brokenly admits that he has been holding onto the cartoons and Sam prods him to take back control. He pleads, "It's too hard!"
Sam tells him in a moving speech, speaking almost as much to Fred as he is to himself, "Look, it can be nice living in a dream world. It can be great. I know that. And you can hide, and you can pretend......all the crap out there doesn't exist, but you can't do it forever because... eventually, whatever it is you're running from "“ it'll find you. It'll come along, and it'll punch you in the gut. And then... then you got to wake up, because if you don't, then trying to keep that dream alive will destroy you! It'll destroy everything!"
It is the very thing Fred needed to hear and he wakes up lucid to confront the doctor using his power. It is a tragic moment. It is a reversal in the show. A supernatural being is being used by a human, and yet he is just as human as his abuser. He shouts at the doctor, "You are never going to hurt anyone again!"
We can only watch in horror as he forces the doctor to shoot himself in the head, and what breaks our hearts here is the utter anguish on Fred's face as it happens. He did not want to use his power to do it. He did not enjoy it, but he felt obligated to do it in order to stop the doctor from continuing his evil deeds. The doctor's argument that family members dump their elderly without care is weak, as what he was doing was far worse in the end.
Fred begs them to stop him now, and after Castiel offers up a solution, he barks with a false bravado, "Well, what are you waiting for?"
We're left with a touching and moving moment as we watch Fred sit blissfully as he listens endlessly to the beauty that is the "Ode to Joy." He seems, as he hasn't all episode, to be at peace. It is tragic that it had to come to this, but it seems that the burden of his age and his powers has been lifted from him---and we know that his circumstances and his case affected all---especially that of Sam.
It is this warping of reality in this episode that also touches upon Sam's story. His flashbacks to his time with Amelia always come with a bright haze, making them seem a bit surreal. Juxtaposed with the story of Fred Jones, we can't help but wonder how much Sam warped his own reality during that time. It is a moving expansion on what occurred in Sam's year off as he encounters her overprotective and judgmental father. He is suspicious of this new addition to his daughter's life, and he is not afraid to confront Sam about it. It is this that allows for fissures to form in Sam's dream world.
The fissures are great and we can see the fantasy he's been in with Amelia start to crumble. Again, season 8 continues to question perception, and as we watch, we can see Sam's perception of this time start to subtly shift. It is not as apple pie as he would like to think. Her father is the battering ram that slams into the dream world, shattering it before Sam's eyes. He tells Sam blatantly, "Cause I got to say, Sam, you look like a real fixer-upper to me."
Amelia's father, Stan, goes on the attack further, asking Sam about his past. Sam tells him about his father, that John was a Marine. This does not impress Stan, and he remarks, "I always thought they were a little puffed up, myself. But, hey. What do I know? I'm just an old grunt."
He asks Sam about his own service, and Sam admits that he has never done so. Sam may have never served in the military, but Stan can see right through him. He sees that Sam is no civilian and states bluntly, "See, I find that hard to believe, 'cause I got to say, Sam, you got the look."
He understands why his daughter is running away, why she might look to Sam as an anchor after Don's death. He knows why she is holding on tight here, but Sam is a stranger to him. He doesn't know his story or why he's so shattered inside. Almost like the silent inner consciousness in Sam's own mind come to life in front of him, Stan blatantly asks, "The question is "“ what are you running from, Sam?"
Sam's bubble is collapsing and reality is quickly catching up with him here. It is obvious that Sam hasn't told Amelia about his experiences, that he has kept them to himself, bottled up. He may have told her that he had lost his brother, but not how, nor much about Dean. The scenes here are juxtaposed between Sam's collapsing dream world and the simplicity of a shared meal and conversation. It seems so mundane, so ordinary. A man meeting his girlfriend's father---and desperately seeking his approval.
But it is much more than that, and as we see Sam further interact with Stan and Amelia, we see little by little the dream world chip away until it shatters. Sam, washing the dishes, overhears Stan pleading with his daughter to come home, that he sees that Sam is a mess, that he's not right for Amelia, and we see in Sam's expression that he knows Stan is right. A resigned look settles over his face, a broken expression makes us pause, and we see the beginning of the end written in Sam's sorrowful eyes. As Stan offers to dry, we see a subtle movement by Sam as he rubs the scar that once banished Lucifer, as if the gesture will keep him here in this reality and keep the harsh one at bay.
A beautiful and happy moment occurs, almost as if Stan is starting warm up to Sam as he tells him about an embarrassing childhood moment of Amelia's. He tells gleefully, "Anyway, she waddles up onto the stage, and she is dragging two feet of toilet paper behind her."
The story evokes an expression of pure joy on Sam's face, as if he can crawl into this moment and keep it forever. It is heartbreaking because it too cannot last. He knows he does not belong here. He knows that it is only a matter of time. But he will hang onto this as he has held on to everything else here---because if he does not he will break. He may be able to deflect the inevitable just for a bit longer as he indulges in this moment, but it will crash around him just as the rest of this fantasy will. It is but a house of cards.
We see a quiet moment, an ordinary moment between Stan and Sam, where perhaps Sam might be able to recapture his dream world, but it too is tainted and it forces Sam to admit something aloud that will truly be the sledgehammer in the fantasy. Stan offers Sam a beer, and he twists the caps off handing one to Sam. The gesture triggers a memory for Sam, and he remarks, "My, uh "“ my brother used to do that."
Stan asks, "He a good guy?"
Sam responds softly, "Yeah. Yeah, uh, he "“ he was... the best. Uh, I, uh... I lost him, and, uh, I ran."
It is in this simple admission that Sam has sealed his own fate and that of this fantasy he has receded into. He has admitted it fully here, and there is no taking that back. It is, perhaps, the first moment where Sam stops running and has to face what has happened.
The nail in the coffin arrives in a phone call for Amelia. She is stunned when she hangs up, facing Sam and her father. Sam is instantly worried, and expresses, "Amelia? Baby? You okay?"
Amelia replies in disbelief, "It's Don. He's alive."
Their shared loss is what drew them together, and now she is learning that the husband she believes dead is indeed alive. Could it be the moment that Sam learned too about Dean's return? The reasons for his fantasy have crumbled away, broken and ruined, around him in that singular moment. And it leaves Sam stunned, unable to respond now that reality has crashed the party. It leaves us to wonder what will future memories from his time with Amelia be like? Will they retain the dreamy colors, the haze, the brightness, or will they become darker and harsher? Just what else did Sam experience here, and how has his perception of it shaped him in this season?
Amanda Tapping reprises the mysterious angel Naomi. Her appearance may be brief, but she raises more questions. Castiel has decided to face his wrongs and right them by visiting Heaven, but Naomi snatches him mid sentence to tell him no. Tapping holds herself rigid with false smiles that leave us uneasy. Naomi is extremely secretive, and we have yet to learn what it is she wants with Castiel and the Winchesters. Tapping may have had short scenes thus far, but her presence is strong. She gives the character a sinister edge, masked under politeness. It wouldn't surprise us, if provoked, to see Naomi retaliate viciously. Tapping also comes off as smug in her portrayal of Naomi. She holds all the cards here, and she has no problem reminding Castiel of that fact. Even in Tapping's voice we hear Naomi rub it in when she tells Castiel, "And you are... by doing what you're told. Bottom line "“ unless I ring my bell, you stay out of Heaven, Castiel." Once she dismisses Castiel, we are left to wonder just what it is she and the other angels are up to and what their end game is.
Greg Webb plays an unassuming Dr. Dwight Mahoney. He is the caretaker of the nursing home, seemingly unaware at first glance about what's going on. Webb convinces us that he isn't involved by the doctor's fierce defense of Fred Jones and his nursing home when he incredulously asks, "Did he just threaten to kill my patient?" Once he is unmasked, Webb shows us how jaded Mahoney really is. He feels no shame in stealing from his elderly patients because he has justified it to himself that he's really stealing from their ungrateful heirs. Webb shows his creepy side in the chase scene, the doctor's delight at Dean's gun only firing a bang sign expressed best in the line, "Welcome to the funhouse." We see his utter shock when he is confronted by the very man he's been using, the powers he's taken for granted turned against him as he's forced to take his own life.
Brian Markinson, a familiar face as Jerry from "Phantom Traveler" returns here as Amelia's father, Stan Thompson. He is no nonsense, and distrustful of Sam instantly. Markinson makes Thompson into a bull dog, attacking any and all weaknesses he sees in the man his daughter has chosen since her widowhood. It is almost fitting that he gets to ask several questions about John Winchester, Sam's father, considering that Jerry had known him. Markinson plays well off of Padalecki here, especially in the scene where he pops the top off the beer bottles. Thompson is a frank character, not afraid to ask anything and everything to understand Sam. He sees through all of Sam's masks, and cuts right to the heart of the matter. Yet, in that scene, we see Markinson give Thompson a layer of sympathy for Sam. He has seen the loss of Dean weigh heavily on the hunter, even without knowing him. His disbelief at Sam's admittance to having never served in the direct line, "See, I find that hard to believe, 'cause I got to say, Sam, you got the look," gets the ball rolling. Even though Thompson seems to be accepting of Sam by episode's end, Markinson makes certain we see that it is a mask through body language and loud comments to Amelia about coming home. He plays the concerned but stern father well.
Mike Farrell presented the tragic elderly psychic Fred Jones. I remember Farrell best as BJ Hunnicutt from "M*A*S*H." I used to watch the show before school in syndication in the mornings, and I remember often liking his character an awful lot. It was a real treat to see him as a guest star, making it special. Farrell easily fits into the fabric of Supernatural as he shows us the tragedy of growing old as age ravages both body and mind. Farrell makes us sympathize with Jones, merely being used as a tool to commit crimes and murder---either unintentionally or premeditated. He shines best when Castiel and Sam invade the cartoon dreamscape. Farrell shows an indignant Jones and his anger that anyone would dare enter his sanctuary from the burden of losing his mental faculties. Once convinced to assist them in stopping Thompson, we see Farrell bring Jones into the real world with heartbreaking results. He is devastated by what his uncontrolled powers have wrought around him, and that another person would abuse them to hurt others. Farrell delivers the statement, "Now I'm good. In a month, year...Nobody gets sharper with age. I'm gonna lose control again, and somebody's gonna get hurt... again. You got to make it stop," with such quiet finality that we can't help but feel our hearts break at his choice. He shows Jones' backbone when he asks Castiel impatiently, "Well, what are you waiting for?" His pure bliss in the final scene oddly gives us some hope. He may be damaged and rendered trapped in his own mind, and yet he is happy and surrounded by beauty. There is a strange peace on Farrell's face, and he sells us in that final moment that it just might be alright for Jones.
Lianne Balaban returns as Ameila. She is equally a daddy's girl yet independent woman here. She wants to please him and win his approval, and yet she shows her backbone in standing up to him. Balaban shows this well in the scenes where she serves dinner and tells the story behind it, and her utter embarrassment at the childhood story. Balaban also has a sense of sadness about her, expressed when Amelia snaps at her father, "So please, just... let us be messes together. Give us a chance. " We can hear the anguish in her voice and see it settle over her features. Amelia is hurting, and she has found Sam to be her raft in the storm. Balaban misleads us in the end with the phone call. Her exclamation of "Oh God," sounds broken and sad, but when she reveals that Don is alive, we see Balaban give Amelia an almost elated relief.
Misha Collins plays the role of funny man to Ackle's straight man. He is overeager to be a hunter, and finds them a bizarre case involving cartoons. Each step of the case shows Castiel's enthusiasm and lack of understanding of social norms. Collins plays up the goofball with scenes such as sniffing the first corpse or the ridiculous interrogation of the wife. Behind the funny, we sense in Collins' portrayal that the angel is looking for both approval and acceptance. He has much to atone for, and we see that side emerge when he quietly reads John's journal, commenting, "Your father... Beautiful handwriting." His violent outburst to Dean's question about going back to Heaven is only a small one compared to what's been building up inside, and Collins makes us wonder through his shamed body language and expressions, outside of the many angels littering Heaven's fields just what else Castiel may have done while in charge. Regret at harming a human, even for good reason, has returned to Castiel, and it is etched all over Collins' face. We see Castiel find beauty as he listens in on the music playing in Jones' head at the end, expressed in a quiet smile as he turns to stare at nothing with the elderly man. Castiel has evolved over the past two seasons, and here we see Collins strike a balance between the Castiel we met in season 4 and the one struggling to understand what to do about his previous actions. Angel he may be, but Castiel is blindly walking the path of redemption in small baby steps.
Jensen Ackles shows an equally patient and exasperated Dean. He and Sam guide Castiel through the workings of a case, having to explain things such as "Looney Tunes" and things that can't be assessed by looking only at the body. Dean is the leader here, determining how they will travel, who will investigate what, and what not to do on the case. Ackles shines best in the scene where he asks Castiel if he will ever go back to Heaven. Instead of being angry about the angel's outburst, we see Ackles make Dean speak softly and patiently. He puts in his performance here an understanding, that this is hard for his angel friend, and that pressuring him won't make it better. After Castiel admits he might kill himself if he returns to Heaven, we see Ackles' expression turn to one of extreme sadness. Ackles also shows us the childlike inside Dean. It comes out in his wonder upon the black hole working and his soft utterance of "Awesome." As hard edged as Dean can be, he is still the little boy inside and it often comes out in these little moments. Ackles blends both Dean's dramatic and comedic elements well here, shown best in the chase sequence with the doctor. Physical comedy works well here, and while Ackles can be subtle, here he can play and be expressively silly. It works well with the theme of the episode, making his performance a delight to watch.
Jared Padalecki shines throughout "Hunter Heroici." He carries all of Sam's sorrow in body language, face, and tone of voice. In the flashback scenes with Amelia and her father, Sam yearns to fit into the "apple pie life" scene, but comes off as a fish out of water. In the present, Sam is focused on the case, empathetic to those he encounters, and sympathetic to Fred Jones. Padalecki meshes well with Markinson's Thompson, both bringing out elements of their respective characters. He subtly shows us the fissures emerging in Sam's "normal life," particularly as he overhears Thompson beg Amelia to leave. Padalecki lets his shoulders droop and a resigned look etches across his face, showing us that Sam knows this may all be over soon. The sorrow in Padalecki's voice as Sam admits that he lost his brother is heartbreaking. It is juxtaposed by the absolute delight expressed in Sam's laughter and wide smile after hearing about one of Amelia's embarrassing childhood moments. We can almost see Sam recede into his fantasy here---and that is almost emotionally worse. Here, he is not a hunter, he doesn't carry the fate of the world on his shoulders, nor has he lost his brother. He is simply a man, sharing a meal with a woman he cares about and hosting her father in their new home. Padalecki shows that Sam must learn the same lesson he speaks of when convincing Jones to help them in his firm speech. The way he delivers it leaves us with the sense that Sam is trying to convince himself more than anything else. Perhaps it is the very thing Sam needed to help heal.
Best Lines of the Week:
Sam: There goes my opener.
Dean: Oh, OK. We'll have a sleepover. Braid Sam's hair.
Dean: Guy was living a lie, and it came back to bite him in the ticker.
Castiel: So we're looking for some sort of insect-rabbit hybrid? How do we kill it?
Castiel: I understand. The bird represents God. And coyote is man, endlessly chasing the divine, yet never able to catch him. It's... It's hilarious.
Detective Glass: Agents. I was just about to give you a ring. Got to ask "“ do you boys chase the crazy, or does the crazy chase you?
Dean: Don't get me wrong. I'm "“ I"™m happy you're back. I'm "“ I"™m freaking thrilled. It's just this whole mysterious-resurrection thing "“ it always has one mother of a downside.
Stan: Needing to run away and hide "“ I know why she did it. The question is "“ what are you running from, Sam?
Sam: Fred's radioactive, Cas. You zap him "“ no telling what will happen.
It's hard to believe that we're already to the mid-season mark! That's All, Folks!