Zanna: A Whole New Perspective
When the concept of the “imaginary friend” was first presented, I was unsure to say the least. Shame on me, I suppose. The writers created a unique and clever history of the Zanna, explaining they are sort of guardians for lost children and only around while needed by the child and only seen by those they allow to see them.
The other creative piece about these creatures was their design – each was wholly individual and totally inspired. Sparkle the “manicorn” (RIP) was definitely my favourite. Yes, as a culture and an idea the Zanna was brilliant and very well conceived, but what about Sully and Sam, the primary purpose of the Zanna invention?
Sam & the Imaginary Friend
So, Sam was a lonely, lost little boy. This is not news really. He had Sully, his “imaginary” friend. All of this is completely believable. After all, everything we know about Sam as a child confirms his searching heart and want for friendships and a life beyond his brother and father, particularly as he was growing up. Sully, played by Nate Torrence comes across as warm-hearted, easy to talk to and quick with a smile; really it’s no question why children (including young Sam – portrayed this time by Dylan Kingwell) would take to his gentle face and happy tone with easy and eagerness.
Both as a child and as an adult, Sam has an easy chemistry with Sully and their relationship becomes the heart of the episode by and large. Sully was a delightful character to meet in past and present. His concern for Sam was clear in both times and his want for Sam to be not just happy and confident, but safe was akin to any father or older brother. It was interesting to learn that Sully may have even planted the earliest seeds about Sam “running away” to school, long before any supportive teachers made the encouragement.
Sam’s conversations with Sully were probably exactly what he needed: Sully asks reflective questions more than argue, debate or anything else. While Dean and Sam certainly love each other and have important conversations with each other, the overwhelming emotion and desire to protect each other can get in the way of everything else. This is why Sully was the right person to ask Sam just what he needed to consider and say the right things when discussing the course of action for the Cage and his path from nine year-old Sam to present day hero.
Whether marshmallow nachos or The Darkness, Sam and Sully were a great pair to watch and clearly had a special relationship that wasn’t tarnished despite the thirty plus years apart and a less than happy goodbye. This was a wonderful addition to the character biography of Sam Winchester and the right esteem booster at the right time.
VisualsThere were some truly artistic achievements in this storytelling and the Supernatural team took full advantage of the idea of an unseen Zanna world.
First, the shots in the bunker of the boys' early morning were among my favourite: it was a combination of the presentation and the angles. It isn’t often we’re privy to such domestication and here we have the early morning, stumble-for-the-coffee routine. Even if it’s interrupted with an imaginary visitor, it’s a fun scene to watch on many levels.
The scene holds on the confectionaries and the marshmallow nachos as Sam passes back and forth through the frame several times before it finally dawns that there is an interesting spread on the table and he isn’t in fact, quite alone in the kitchen. The colours of the candy against the greys in the bunker, Sam’s befuddled face and reactions, Dean’s robe and slippers and deadpan “I’m getting my gun” response; it all comes together to make a Winchester morning moment in the Bunker.
The Zanna themselves all had unique appearances and visuals. Each were individual without being ridiculous. As I said, I totally heart Sparkle.
The standout scene – at least for this viewer – is when Sam, Dean and the somewhat unseen Sully watch, horrified, as Mrs. Berman traipses through her daughter’s bedroom – unbeknownst to her, a ghastly crime scene – squelching over bloody carpet, picking up splattered teacups and of course, smearing sparkly-blood all over her face. Only on Supernatural.
What Didn’t Work: The “Villian”As a climax goes, this was so lackluster and throwaway it felt like at the last minute somebody remembered “oh yeah, guys, we need a bad guy to tie up the storyline!” The flow from murder to murder was a tad stuttering and functioned largely as a vehicle to keep Sam and Sully together and focus on flashbacks – but it still wasn’t the most terrible thing. The same cannot be said of the final confrontation scenes.
First, I don’t really know how to address Dean’s kidnapping, other to call it a toss away moment. Dean leaves Sam and Sully and the next time we see him, after the fake text, we see Dean is tied up and flash to him being knocked out and looking at the VW bug of our killer. There are so many problems with the kidnapping itself – beginning with how easily Dean was taken. Setting that aside – are we skipping a scene? How did Dean track down this car? Or it’s location, exactly?
Beyond feeling like I’ve missed some information, the next problem is that I have no investment in the girl, her story or her relationship to Sully whatsoever. Maybe it’s because there is no allusion to turmoil in Sully’s “career” after Sam until encountering Reese, or reference to this tragedy in any way until her face is suddenly revealed to Dean and means nothing.
Which brings me to another issue: keeping Reese’s face hidden – not just while she’s killing but kept blurry for a time, it seems as though something significant should happen when we finally find out who she is. Alas, nothing. Finally, Reese is dealt with far too quickly and without consequence for what a large concern she is built to be throughout the episode, killing two people and having plotted for years including seeking magical help to execute her desires. Overall, as evil doers go, she was insignificant and disappointing.
If the idea was similar to the last episode – that Reese was more lost soul than truly evil and intended as an analogy for the season, Amara and God then it still lacked the necessary flow and impact to hit quite the right note.
Mean DeanIf anyone was struggling this episode, it was Dean, and in fact, for the few moments we really spent with him he really didn’t feel a whole lot like Dean for a lot of the time. He was quippy and sarcastic, sure, but hell, he sure seemed unnecessarily angry about the situation too. Even mean.
It’s conceivable the tension between Sully and Dean was intended to exist because Sully was someone there for Sam when Dean couldn’t be and/or represented a failure for Dean in someway or another because Sam turned to him rather than his brother. However, the tension felt forced because Dean crosses the line of normal “jealous brother” behaviour to simply uncharacteristically mean too many times. The writers seem determined to imbue Dean with a callousness this season, freshly sharpened so that the “saving people” motto can be driven home and reinforced at every opportunity. Does Dean use humour in uncomfortable scenarios? Yes. Can he be blunt? Yes. Is he usually cruel and mean for the sake of it with disregard for feelings of those involved? No. Dean’s treatment of Sully and the murdered Zanna, particularly after witnessing first hand the carnage, seems rather cold. Even his delivery of the news to Weems about his girlfriend’s death- pretty insensitive.
Dean’s reaction to Sam suggesting they help Sully is to state that someone isn’t dead, rather “something.” This reads more season two Dean, differentiating between human and supernatural as his good and evil divider. It seems Dean would (a) be curious for the sake of a hunt at least and (b) when he realized exactly what the children were seeing of the slaughter, he wouldn’t joke so much about the corpses.
I suppose overall it was intended to create contrast for Dean’s later turnaround speech to Reese about Sully being there for Sam – but it’s too stark and frankly, that speech seems to come out of nowhere as well. What did Dean see between Sam and Sully in the time of meeting him at the bunker and leaving them with Weems that made him have such a dramatic change of heart?
Cages and Heroes
One of the major discussions between Sam and Sully is the issue of the Cage. Sully asks if Sam has thought of running away (not in a long time) and then explains to Sam, after the troubled boy denies the title, that a hero is the person who will step up and do the thing nobody else has the courage to do. Ultimately, this prompts Sam to tell Dean they need to seriously discuss the issue of Sam returning to the Cage and results in Dean’s adamant denial insisting another solution is impending. Sam says no and we end with an ominous, tense note between the boys.
So, once again I’m left feeling a little like I missed a piece of information or maybe a scene was skipped: you know, the one where the brothers discuss the visions and what they mean in depth, why physically going to the Cage is the only logical conclusion, where they talk/research surrounding the matter – anything. Right now, we have two stubborn sides – neither really invalid in their perspectives – without a truly clear exposition of what their arguing in favour of. Yes, Sam believes there is information in the Cage about the Darkness. Dean believes it’s dangerous for Sam to go back to the Cage. There still seems to be something vital missing in this equation: what is worth the risk, exactly? Probably I’m nitpicking – I just can’t help it. Undoubtedly we will see Sam in the Cage – with Lucifer? Maybe. But, as Sam said – let’s have a conversation about it, and the details surrounding it.
Yes, I had a few issues with the episode when looking at it too closely. But really, it was a good episode. Great mythology, interesting Sam development – just a rough plot and lacking in some key payoff in the story-of-the-week department. Visually the episode offered some delights, including some laugh out loud moments while the characterization was mostly well done and managed to tease us with the overarching plot enough to leave me wanting. So – what do you think? Are Zanna a clever spin? How did the story flow for you? Leave your thoughts below!