This seemingly silly episode about children’s imaginary friends was an emotional treasure. Can you imagine how the concept of Zanna sounded when it was first pitched in the writers’ room? “I have an idea for an episode where Sam and Dean hunt something that is stalking and killing a man/unicorn hybrid at a tea party, a mermaid in a back yard pool, and cuddly, chubby best friends, one of which plays a mean air guitar?” Yet it worked brilliantly. Outstanding character acting by Nate Torrence made Sully into the most trusted, sweetest, wisest friend anyone could ever ask for. Jared’s vulnerable portrayal of the battle scarred hero who needs reassurance before facing an unthinkable horror from his past pulled the audience even deeper into the enormity of Sam’s fear, and ultimate courage.
Jensen’s hilarious reactions to Dean’s incredulous skepticism grounded the whole scenario in just enough reality to make it believable. Everyone’s acting was superb, and an episode about children and zaniness and sincerity was fated as an absolutely perfect match for Richard Speight Jr’s directorial debut. It all started with the dialog, though. Great work by Jenny Klein. The innocence of the Zanna allowed poignantly powerful messages to be delivered with subtlety. Every week the "Threads" series focuses on key words within the story to discover characters’ intentions and plots’ secrets, so it is a thrill to examine the beauty of the dialog that filled “Just My Imagination”.
Traumatized Children and Their Families
Yet again, the 'monster' in "Just My Imagination" was a young girl bent on revenge for the harm done to her by her family. Lizzie, Sydney and now Reese all rehearsed the 'settling an old score' drama for Amara/Darkness. A central theme of several season 11 episodes has been the trauma experienced by children because of bad family situations. Rather than physical abuse, this week’s children suffered emotional abandonment from alcoholic mothers, best friends, or dispassionate or obsessed fathers. Sam summoned an imaginary friend to fill the void of being largely ignored or left alone by his father. Reese also resorted to solving her childhood trauma herself. When the real world couldn’t accept or help Reese cope with a tragedy cause by the supernatural world, she became obsessed with understanding what had happened to her. As with John, Reese’s glimpse at the supernatural ended in the death of a beloved family member. It isn’t a surprise then that her story echoed John Winchester’s story of obsession, pain, rage and revenge:
Reese: I always wondered if Sully was real, so I got obsessed with folklore. I studied abroad in Romania, and then I found out he's a Zanna.As with John, Reese became a self-taught hunter, devoting her entire life to tracking down and killing what hurt her. There was one significant difference, though: her “monster” didn’t deserve to die:
Sam: Zanna are good.
Reese: That's what the witch tried to tell me, too.
Sam: The witch?
Reese: She sold me a spell so that I'd be able to see these freaks. She gave me this [knife], too.
Finally, I can save other kids from these monsters.
Sully: I panicked when Audrey died, and I left you to deal with the pain.Several notable themes in this dialog:
Reese: So maybe I'll take something you love, Sully -- a real person….I'm still mad. I can't stop it. I'm just still so mad!
· Witchcraft - Who was the witch in Romania? Was it possibly Rowena? Even if not, it’s significant that the witch, or maybe witches in general, understand folklore. This particular one defended Zanna, so she sounds good and fair. She also had a spell that made the invisible visible, and a knife, which is now in the hands of the Winchesters, that can kill supernatural creatures. Sounds like witches may be powerful allies against the elusive Darkness.
· Good – Sam reintroduced the good versus evil theme that dominated season 10’s finale. Dean reinforced this distinction when he tried to get Reese to understand that Sully was not a “bad” monster.
· Freaks – I’m beginning to key in on this word. It was used a lot in “Thin Lizzie” and possibly “Plush” as well. Why are the stories making a point of ridiculing unusual people or habits?
· Unintentional Harm – Sully had a good heart and was doing his best to help the innocent, but weakened by his own pain (over Sam’s rejection and Sully’s perceived failure), he made a mistake that led to an unforeseen tragedy. When Reese confronted (both figuratively and literally) this “demon” who ruined her life, she found and gave forgiveness.
In “Plush”, Chester’s death was also unintentional, which led to dire consequences for his assailants and his sister. This week, Audrey (a name that is strikingly similar to Amara) was killed accidentally leading to years of unintended pain for her sister. Are we being told that some horrible misfortune happened between God and his sister which led to unintended pain for Amara? How will this play out for the ages-old obsession the Darkness has developed for He who injured her? Will she also forgive the one she has hated for so long?
Visions/The CageCan you imagine… being raised in the hunting life?
Can you imagine…having visions of needing to go back to the site of a hundred years of torture?
Can you imagine…your brother believing God is telling him the answer lies with Lucifer?
“Just my Imagination” was about all of the things Sam has imagined in his life, and all of the things he’s allowed himself to think.
Sully to Sam: Ever think of …running away, from here, from all of this, the hunting life? Ever think…that maybe you wanna go to school? Make some friends? Sam, I want you to listen to me. You can be whatever you want to be. You’re not Dean, you’re not your Dad. You’re Sam, and Sam is so awesome.We all imagine our lives will turn out a certain way. Sam imagined a lot of things, and he even pursued and realized some of his dreams. He did run away (for a few days to Flagstaff). He did go to college (until Jessica was killed). He got a best friend (Sully, for a short time). Circumstances often dictate our lives more than our dreams do, though. Sam was trained to not run away from danger, an ingrained response that is surely affecting his consideration of going back to Hell, just as it did when he turned his back on other choices and joined the hunt for the very first time:
Sam: Can you imagine? Running away? My dad would kill me.
Sully: It’s your choice. It’s your life. I mean, it’s all up to you.
Young Sam: My dad just called. He changed his mind. He wants me to come with him. Finally! He thinks I'm ready. I have to catch the next bus to Milwaukee.
Sully: Are you sure this is what you want?
Young Sam: I’m a Winchester. I hunt monsters. Why would I want anything else?
Sully: Well, I-I'm not sure it's you…Listen, buddy, I'm just afraid you're going down a path you might be better off not going down.
Young Sam: Yeah, but I'm not afraid.
Sully: I know you're not. You're one of the bravest kids I know. It's just... This whole hunting thing, you know, it's not the only way. There are so many other ways. And you can find one, Sam. You can leave right now.
Young Sam: I don't want another way. I wanna be with my dad and -- and Dean.
Sully’s prophetic caution applies to both young and present day Sam. Everyone is afraid of Sam going down the path that he is imagining is being laid out for him in his visions. Sully told Sam that it’s not the only way, that there are always alternatives. Dean repeated almost those exact words to his brother at the end of the episode:
Sam: Dean, we need to seriously discuss me going to the cage.
Dean: Okay. Not happening. Good talk.
Sam, even if these visions are real –
Sam: yeah. It's Lucifer? And me? In the cage? I know. But this -- this lump in my throat... It's not an excuse, not anymore.
Dean: We'll find another way. Okay? There's always another way.
Sam: Okay. Then tell me. What is the other way?
As a child he wanted to hunt like his dad and his brother because they were his heroes and it was the only life he knew. Is he now being pulled down the wrong path because of a misguided sense that’s it’s his only option and it’s the right and brave thing to do? Is he so determined to not let the “lump in his throat be an excuse any more” that he is catching the next bus to Hell because someone (we don’t yet know who) called him and told him it was his destiny? The parallel would seem to indicate that, but just because it’s dangerous and reckless doesn’t mean it’s wrong:
Sully: When you went off to hunt, I considered that one of my biggest failures. It just seemed so clear to me that you wanted something else. But...I was wrong. And it all worked out, didn't it?
Sam: I don't know about that.
Sully: Come on. You're a hero. Sam, you saved the world. I keep track of my kids. And you did really good, Sam.
Sam desperately needed this reassurance but he isn’t a kid anymore and he now understands the horror of what awaits him. Once again feeling the unconditional acceptance, support and secrecy of his “best” friend, Sam allowed himself to open up about his failures and fears:
Sam: Well...Not all good. There was some bad. ..And some really bad. Sully... I screwed up. I let something out into the world that was...
Sully: You mean the Darkness? That's what the others are calling it. I've just heard rumors.
Sam: Well, I'm gonna fix it. I am. Dean and I, we're -- we're -- we're gonna fix it. It's just... I think God wants to help us fix it. But... I don't think I can do what he's asking.
Sully: How bad is it?
Sam: There's this cage in Hell, and it's where they keep Lucifer. And I've been in it, and it's... And I think God wants me to go back.
Ever think…it’s all up to you?
Ever think…that God would ask something of you that you don’t think you’re capable of doing?
When faced with something that might be worse than the apocalypse, Sam’s imagination now is filled with only horror… and fear.
The intimacy of Sam and Sully’s conversation was gripping, and the depth of Sam’s fear was piercing. How many times are we so afraid of something that we don’t even say it to ourselves, let alone say it aloud to someone? Yet Sam had someone who he knew would always say the right thing and would always understand, so Sam was able to risk talking about the unimaginable.
Sully also confessed to making a grave mistake and being afraid:
Reese: He's the one who killed my sister.
Sully: It was an accident. Reese and her twin sister, they were my first kids after I thought I screwed things up with you.
Reese: So this is his fault?
Sully: No! No, Reese, I'm the one that bungled it. It was me. I should never have let her chase me into the street. We were just playing tag. I don't know why I didn't see the car coming. That's why I never went back in the field. That's why I never found another kid. I was too scared I'd hurt 'em.
In "Plush", the misguided sister said “Fear cripples you. Makes you do nothing, or worse. Makes you do something you regret.” Sully’s fear crippled him. He stopped helping children, which was a terrible waste of his wonderful, nurturing gift.
Sam is determined not to let fear cripple him into inaction:
Sully: Ever think... About running away anymore?Then Sam and Sully exchanged a look that said, ‘there’s your answer’. That was the moment that the hero in Sam decided what he had to do. The lump in Sam’s throat – fear – isn’t going to paralyze him anymore. He feels the right thing to do is to act on his vision, from God or whomever, and visit the cage for answers. Sam is going back to Hell.
Sam: I did. Um, I mean, I have. But not in a while. Not anymore.
The concept of being a hero was brought up several times in “Just Your Imagination”. Sully was Sam’s hero:
Sam to Sully: You know, it's... pretty awesome, how you help everyone around you.Yet the guy who “helps everyone around him” made a huge mistake that cost a life. So both Sam and Sully, who both have hearts of gold and who have both been willing to sacrifice their lives to save someone, ‘screwed up’ and ‘bungled it’. They each had to confess their deepest fear, but then overcame it to be able to act again.
Sully: Doesn't always work out, but... I try.
Sam: Sully... One thing I've learned -- heroes aren't perfect.That’s my favorite line of the episode. Some things are scary, but that’s just because they’re important.
Sully: Mm. Sometimes, they're scared. But that just means the thing that they're facing, it's super important. And nobody else is gonna go for it because nobody else has got the balls.
I needed to hear that.
Thanks Sully. You’re a pretty good imaginary friend.
Who else recognized the wallpaper in the flashback was from 1.18 “Something Wicked”? I tweeted Jerry Wanek about it. He confirmed it and asked if we found the one thing that was different. I answered him and am awaiting his reply (what do you think was different?). The continuity in this episode contributed to its believability. It was a marvelous surprise to have Dylan Everett reprise his role of Young Dean.
Sam's broken arm because he thought he could fly, the references to going to school and running away - it was hard to do but the detail added to the overall quality and charm of the episode.
Dean: "A chick in a car? That’s terra firma. I’m home." – Great line!
I objected to the fat jokes in "Plush" so it’s only fair that I give credit to the casting department for using several actors who are heavier in weight than your standard perfect model body shapes we usually see on TV. Meems and Sully both had self-proclaimed “love handles”. I applaud being offered something other than diet obsessed actors and both were exceptional in their roles, so thank you for the diversity.
There were two or three things that I just can’t understand passed the editor’s desk:
· I don’t understand this string of awkward jokes that don’t quite work! A manicorn? Yes, we have a funny name for it now but the joke died. There was also the 'take a family shower' bit. Would Dean really say something that dumb? Even Sully said "pull up".
· I was really bothered by a few details that were ignored. Matty is never going to be able to go back into her bedroom and the pool water is still bloody red. The boys needed to clean up both crime scenes. If we are going to buy into serious hunters seeing imaginary, cuddly friends, then ALL the rules of reality apply, like crimes scenes needing to be addressed so the children can sleep and swim ever, ever again!
If these small nit-picks would have been addressed, for me this episode would have been absolutely perfect. What did you think?
Jared's hair was particularly amazing in this episode. Were those new blond highlights?
Who was the hero of the episode for you? What do you think all the talk of accidents and imperfect heroes meant? Is Sam being brave or has he been brainwashed to act?
Quotes courtesy of: http://transcripts.foreverdreaming.org
Screencaps courtesy of http://supernaturalfansonline.com