I went into “Paper Moon” with some pretty low expectations. After last week’s disappointment, I wasn’t sure if any writer was able to tackle where Sam and Dean were supposed to go from here. They’re in a pretty bad place, and the hits have been coming bad since the trials began. How do they regroup? How do they possibly find their way back to their normal lives?
Well, I think Adam Glass did pretty well. No, “Paper Moon” wasn’t a huge thriller. It was simplistic in it’s construction and was often predictable, but it should have been. The tone was ideal for Sam and Dean’s headspace. The brothers found even something light like a werewolf gone wrong saga a bit much for them both. Through no less that FIVE (count it, five!) brotherly conversations, we found that they’re both hurting and neither are okay. Both also don’t know what to do about it.
It made me really smile to hear Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” on this show. Don’t you think it would have been used by now on “Supernatural”? Just because I adore you all, I’m going to share a fun, yet totally unrelated to the episode moment in rock history. Back in 2004, BBC2 declared that “Werewolves in London” had the most memorable opening lyric in rock history. "Saw a werewolf with a Chinese menu in his hand, walking through the streets of Soho in the rain, he was looking for a place called Lee Ho Fook's, going to get a big dish of beef chow mein.” Unfortunately Warren Zevon had passed away from cancer by this time, so his son Jordan accepted the posthumous award, explaining simply that the lyric “…was probably fueled by a little too much vodka.” And that’s the fun facts portion of the review. You’re welcome.
Right, I was so absorbed by the song in the teaser, I totally forgot we got a textbook werewolf attack. It was enough to get Sam and Dean’s attention and we get our own big moment in “Supernatural” history. Have we EVER seen Dean and Sam sitting by the lake in lawn chairs with sunglasses on drinking beer? We saw Dean once doing that while fishing in “The Rapture,” but that was dream. This alone makes the episode worth the price of admission, even though the vacation never lasts with these two. Also, is that the same lake that “Dead in the Water” was filmed? (Turns to our resident location expert Bardicvoice for the answer).
TALK #1. The brothers are supposed to be relaxing, but they don’t look very relaxed. Going back to our useless moment in rock trivia, Warren Zevon while dying of cancer was asked for words of wisdom from David Letterman. The answer, “Enjoy every sandwich.” It does not look like Sam and Dean are enjoying that sandwich. Dean at least lightens the mood by ribbing Sam about his shoulder injury (Dean’s right, Sam was had way too many incidents of physical harm to be hampered so long by something so trivial). Then he springs the request. People are dying from strange animal attacks and he needs to work. That’s the trouble with these brothers. There’s always that itch to hunt, that desire to work away all the anxiety that’s stewing. No time for sandwiches. Occupational hazard.
Dean tries the “milk run” angle, but Sam knows better. “When does that ever happen? Never.” Dean begs, Sam agrees with conditions, Dean jumps on that quickly before Sam has a chance to change his mind. But Sam’s worried, that’s for sure. He’s got a bad feeling about what they’re getting into. So that raises one of the big questions explored in this episode. It’s not if Dean is ready to hunt, it’s is Sam ready to hunt with Dean?
We go into the back and forth for most of the episode, monster, monster, brothers talk, monster, monster, talk, and so on. In a nutshell, people are getting their hearts ripped out, werewolves are responsible, I guess these are the werewolves that don’t follow a lunar cycle, Kate is found and assumed to be responsible, and she’s willing to die for the murders. Except…there’s an attack while she was with Sam and Dean. Good thing too, because Dean was ready to make the kill and Sam wasn’t ready for Dean to take on that burden yet. That leads up to…
TALK #2. I have one MASSIVE complaint I must get off my chest before we get to talk #2. Why does this show think it’s necessary to play back old scenes about a character as a reminder to the audience who they are? We in this fandom have pretty damn good memories. I get kind of going backward with Kate since she was a couple of seasons ago, but was the whole Lester saga freaking necessary? Not only is the mere mention contrived, but it just happened in the last couple of episodes. I know our short term memories aren’t that bad! It’s time killing guys, and it’s blatant. There, I feel better.
Dean for some unforsaken reason brings up Lester. Sam doesn’t get the issue, AND NEITHER DOES THE ENTIRE FANDOM. Sam points out that Dean is the one who killed Lester. “But I was a demon.” “You were a demon, oh I didn’t realize that,” Sam replies sarcastically. Yeah, the brothers do that a lot this episode. Finally, Dean gets to the point. Between Lester and the others (Sam denying there are others), maybe they both needed that time off. Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner! Both are pretty unhinged right now, which is why this whole hunt together shows both of them struggling to find familiarity. Each are asking the other if they’re okay. Um duh, NEITHER are okay. Sam only responds with an eye roll, and suddenly I’m wondering who we are supposed to be worried about.
This is where I also get impressed that the focus of these conversations ended up being about both brothers. Usually they lean to one over another, and that tends to annoy. Good job Mr. Glass for maintaining that balance.
Eventually the brothers find Kate and they get the whole, long drawn out story (this is the one point of the episode where pacing suffers a bit). Kate turned her sister because she was dying, and also Kate liked the idea of not being alone. They could do this whole werewolf thing together and be better and had matching heart bracelets to prove it. Yep, I was swatting at those flying anvils during this bit. Except Kate’s sister Tasha is way more shallow than her and easily starts giving into the instinct to feed. She likes it. She likes the power and the feeling of not being weak. Uh oh, who does that sound like? (If you said Deanmon you can claim your prize).
Kate’s story touches Dean so much, he turns into a lying douche by telling Kate there’s a cure and they need to find Tasha. Except there is no cure. That leads to…
Talk #3, by the Impala. Dean shows his knife to Sam as being the cure. Sam is not cool with this, taking the stance that Kate is fighting for her sister. Let’s look at this crucial piece of dialogue, because it totally exposes the mindset of each brother:
Dean: Kate and Tasha are monsters. Last I checked we kill monsters.
Sam: How can you possibly blame Kate for fighting for her sister? We do it all the time.
Dean: Oh yeah, and that’s worked wonders for us.
Sam: Well, we’re still here, aren’t we?
Dean: Yeah, but is it right? All that you’ve done for me, I’ve still got this mark.
Sam: And we’ll figure that out. We always do. But you can’t take whatever’s happened to us or to you and dump it at these girls’ feet.
Dean: Okay, so you want to nuance this thing? Hit me, what’s your plan?
Is this Dean making hard choices, is Dean proving to Sam he has the stomach to resume hunting, or is Dean trying to tell Sam he did the wrong thing by trying to find him and cure him? Maybe all three? Are Sam’s apprehensions about Kate proof that he isn’t ready to hunt? Even though these are valid issues, I couldn’t help but think we’ve been down this road before quite a few times, sometimes with roles reversed. It’s just the way the pendulum likes to swing with this show, and now it’s on the side of Dean being gung ho hunter while Sam struggles with conscience. Rinse, lather, repeat. However, this all goes into different territory with the very next scene...
TALK #4, in the Impala, Sam in the back seat this time. Sam admits there were others with Lester. Not humans, although he “punched” a few hunters the wrong way, but he saved all his stuff for the bad guys. “You’ve got to understand something Dean. I watched you die. I carried you…I carried your corpse into your room and I put your dead body on your bed and then you just…” Dean knows and has no explanation. He’s embarrassed by it all, everything he did as a demon. “I never even said thank you.”
Sam then says something that I swear I’m going to post it as a banner at the top of the page on this site so this debate is NEVER brought up again, because the word “apology” is certainly mentioned a lot here. “You don’t ever have to say that. Not to me.” Thank you Mr. Glass for addressing that for us in one simple sentence. These brothers don’t need to apologize to each other. They have too much of a history. They know it and don’t have to say it. It’s canon now, we must accept. Or at least I’ll accept.
Dean takes from that conversation that they’re good, they’ve had their R&R and they’re back at it. Sam is not convinced. That doesn’t stop Dean from handcuffing Kate in the Impala and choosing to kill Tasha. Kate makes the plea that the whole thing was her fault, but that doesn’t stop Dean from being the hard ass that has to do this. Sam sits in the back quiet, ready to follow his brother’s lead, but all those twisted facial expressions show he doesn’t like this. He’s not sure he’d be making the same call. After all, family should be allowed to save one another.
After another token Sam Winchester strangulation, Kate does the right thing and kills her sister (and Sam and Dean kill two token extras), then runs before Sam and Dean can get her. She’s choosing life. That leads to…
TALK #5! Whoa, is this like old times or what? Again, in the Impala. I feel like this is a Kripke episode or something. Sam isn’t sure if they should go after Kate. Dean likes how she did good, and Sam needles Dean with a “Good thing you didn’t shoot her.” “Really, you’re going to Monday morning quarterback this thing?” While that’s a GREAT line, you have to wonder, is this Dean angry at Sam for not doing having the guts to kill him in that bunker? Does Dean still think he’s capable of being a monster and Sam’s actions didn’t solve anything?
That issue isn’t addressed though. Instead, Sam admits they both jumped into this hunt too quickly. “Dean, you were a demon. You still have the Mark. Didn’t you ever want to talk about it?” Dean knows what happened, he was there. He doesn’t need to talk about it. He needs to get out there and hunt again. “Doing something good, not stewing in my own crap.” “What if you’re not ready?” Sam asks.
Hold that thought, because a well timed phone call from Kate provides some good old fashioned foreshadowing. She knew that whatever Tasha was, she wasn’t her sister anymore. Ding, ding, ding, we have our parallel! Demon Dean wasn’t Sam’s brother. Did Sam really make the right choice here by putting Dean through the cure? Is he instead unleashing a monster much like Kate did with Tasha? It does make you think. Dean does answer the question though about being ready.
Dean: Lets say you’re right.
Sam: About what?
Dean: Everything. Maybe I’m not ready to hunt. But I’m just trying to do the right thing man, because I’m sick and tired of doing the wrong one.
Sam takes one long glimpse to chew on that. Is Sam perhaps asking himself did he do the right thing? What is he doing by letting Dean hunt with that Mark? Is he wondering if he’ll have to make the choice that Kate did? Is he regretting his choice in that bunker in the last episode when he had the knife to Dean’s throat? Yes, I got all that from one Sam Winchester tortured glance.
I love it when the brothers talk. This episode reminds me so much of “Metamorphosis.” In that one, even though punching was involved, it had some intense yet very constructive brotherly conversations. It didn’t resolve a whole lot, but it got things out into the open. The conversations in this episode were sorely needed. Getting on the same page is going to take a while and they’re so not there yet. The question is, are both these brothers even on the same track?
I’m a little concerned that Dean was back to his “shoot first ask questions later” mode. It is his classic defense mechanism, but it can’t be that healthy with the Mark of Cain on his arm. Was it the Mark affecting him? Is that perhaps what had Sam so worried? Did you like the way Dean handled the whole Kate situation? In the end, he did decide to let her go, but he was still pretty firm about her staying straight. That seems like normal Dean to me, but there was enough doubt raised in the episode where maybe something isn’t right.
Sam needs to look at himself before worrying about Dean. He doesn’t regret what he did to get Dean back, but no doubt the guilt is killing him along with the concern that the original problem is still there. He probably looked less relaxed by that lake than Dean did! So what is it going to take for Sam to find his way back? What does he need to do to find that “light at the end of the tunnel” like he found in season eight? What will it take for these brothers to enjoy their sandwiches? (Yes, I’m still on that!)
Overall grade for “Paper Moon,” a B. I give the brotherly scenes an A- though. In two weeks, the 200th episode. I’m dying to see where than one is going.