I loved this episode. It was unabashed filler of the best kind. Did we advance the main story arc in any way? Nope. Did we see our main antagonists for even a millisecond or discover what they've been up to in recent days? Not at all. Never the less, the episode was rich with humour, emotion, love, familiar faces and family - the best kind of Supernatural filler episode you could ask for in my opinion.
Unconventional Family Dynamics
To begin with, Jody Mills is never a bad addition to an episode. Kim Rhodes is amazing in this role and I’m always excited to watch her name flash across the screen - the deadpan attitude, bad-assery and mom-ness will never get old. Jody is a very real character which makes her relatable and fits her right into the Winchester world. The relationship between Jody, Claire and Alex had exactly the right course throughout the episode. They teens weren’t friends or sisterly for the duration of the episode. Claire was certain that Alex hated her, by and large and they certainly had the rivalry of two teenage girls living together. There was no happy family unit carved in the time since the girls came to stay with Jody, the good Sherriff was struggling with raising these kids and very astutely acknowledges the most challenging piece – that she isn’t their mother:
“…I feel like I should be teaching her about boyfriends and relationships. You know, stuff a mom would teach her…but I'm not Alex's mom. I'm not Claire's mom. I didn't raise them. I don't have that kind of history with them.”
It’s this very understanding that makes Jody not only the best person for these girls to be with, but also a great character. She is a caregiver – she will raise them, advise them, guide them through the troubles and be there when they need but she isn’t trying to take the place of anyone because she knows that isn’t her role. Nevertheless, the three have a family – after all, family doesn’t end with blood.
By the end, there is no happy hug or tearful reunion moment that brings these three closer than ever. They are still the damaged women who have come together through their individual trials, they are still struggling to heal in their own ways; but they do have a deeper understanding of and appreciation of each other as a whole unit. Certainly this wasn’t an issue for Jody – but for the two teens it was an important development and again, wisely portrayed through largely unspoken action by Alex and Claire working together for Jody and in their joint killing of our scoundrel.
The family dynamics of DYFAM were brilliantly portrayed. For starters: it was just plain funny to watch Sam and Dean bliss out on roasted chicken and mashed potatoes. Understandably this is real cooking and they eat road food most of the time, so a house, home and hearth is pretty damn enjoyable given the opportunity. The awkward family dinner moment was mined for everything it was worth too: after all, if you can't talk about it, you shouldn't do it. Sam and Dean were so uncomfortable during this exchange and it was laugh out loud funny to watch, particularly as Jody calls on them for backup and neither man has any idea what to say about birth control or condoms to two teenage girls.
Let’s talk about Claire and Alex. These girls could have been avatars for Dean and Sam very easily. You have the gung-ho hunter in Claire, eagerly pursuing this career path, if you will, and completely disregarding the appeal of a so-called normal life. Then we have Alex, desperate to have that normal life: fit in and achieve at school, boyfriend – a happy, suburban life and all that it includes. Yes, these girls could easily have become nothing more than shadow-representatives for our brothers. The writers, wisely, did not elect to walk this path.
Instead we are reminded that while both come from backgrounds that aren't exactly picture perfect lives and as a result they've ended up with Jody, so that doesn’t automatically inspire a sisterhood. Alex and Claire are each aware of the bumpy night creatures and both are struggling as a result - the difference is one is forward and upfront with their issues and one is hiding from them entirely. Although the two girls would suggest otherwise from surface appearances, Alex is the one suffering the most from her previous experiences while Claire is not unhappy due to her history – just struggling to find a place in this new world she’s landed in. And this is what makes the girls distinct in their own right: their history, the developments they’ve gone through previously and in the time we’ve known them and of course, their lives with Jody – as we’ll come to experience in this episode.
Alex’s story came down to the truth that you can’t really escape your history by ignoring the reality of it. It was a hard learned lesson for her – she wanted to completely remove herself from supernatural world (understandably so) and was resentful of Claire for keeping such a strong, fixed focus. Both Alex and Claire were very well developed in their on going trauma. Of course, Claire we’ve met a few times before and have a relationship with. Alex is relatively new and it was sad to watch her new life dissolve before her eyes as a result of the old life she worked so hard to leave behind. Alex was touching and sad – who hasn’t wanted to create a new self at point or another? Particularly as a teenager.
For Claire, she is still the angry teenager we remember, with a distinctly sharpened focus: hunting the beasties she knows are out there. The difference is her generalized anger makes her work sloppy and her careless, none of which are the markers of a qualified hunter. Claire felt distinctly out of place in Jody’s home – Alex and Jody were too suburban for the life Claire was looking to leave and she couldn’t find the relationship niche with either of them. Too late to the party, as Claire put it. Claire was smart enough to reach out for help though, which is something a wise hunter does, so maybe there is a future for Claire in the business someday.
As much as Claire bulldozed into to supernatural world head on once she discovered the happenings and confronted the issues with her father/Castiel, Alex hid from her issues just as fervently and suffered deeply as a result. Alex’s fear of where she’d come from, who she was and being dragged back into the world she’s escaped was palpable – and it made her willingness to sacrifice herself back to that world for Jody and Claire that much more significant.
Katherine Ramdeen played this role very powerfully – one of her best scene’s takes place in the woods, when she’s talking about the bad things she’s done and flashing back to her time as a lure for the vampire nest:
“There are awful things out there.... I wasn't always this girl. Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror, and I'm like, "that's me?" ... I've done some really bad things. Hurt people.”
Not only is this scene beautifully acted, with very tangible emotion – but the cinematography truly sets the scene as well.
Vengeance: Purely Human
Not far in, Alex’s boyfriend seemed an apparent suspect – though what exactly he was and what his endgame was; that was unclear. The actual outcome of this episodes “baddie of the week” was a delightful twist. Yes, we had a vampire, but it was all about revenge and how he became a vampire and lost his family as a result of Alex and her nest. Was this guy evil? Absolutely – but he didn’t start there. This was some of Supernatural storytelling at it’s finest. The villainy of the episode wasn’t about the creature in and of itself; it was about humans. Alex’s boyfriend and the plotting manipulations that when into “building her up” in order to watch her fall for the sake of vengeance was pure human conception.
Credit where credit is due, the actor portraying our head vampire was very strong in this role. He was truly crazed; alternating between sadistic anger and pleasure in the retribution he was achieving, though always in control of what he was doing.
Sam and Dean: HomecookedThere isn’t much to talk about for the brothers that I haven’t mentioned in nips and drabs throughout this review already. They were united in the episode and didn’t experience any major conflict which was a refreshing way to approach the story. The brothers were delightful in their enjoyment of Jody’s hospitality and her cooking (seriously, the mashed potato scene is golden) and Sam’s comments about the rib sauce was second to none on the way out. Everything was natural, familial and very classic Winchester throughout the episode. Both took their approaches to offering advice different but did a decent job, neither discouraging Claire with something hypocritical, rather pointing out the limited timing of her present opportunities. Overall, it was a great establishment of Jody and her home as a second, physical touchstone for Sam and Dean (after the bunker).
The engagements between Claire and both Sam and Dean individually were sweet and telling. Each brother had a different approach and spoke to Claire about a different value of what she had. For Sam, it was the opportunity to be in school and have a home – that she would only have these chances for so long. For Dean, he focused on the home aspect too, but also largely on the mother figure that was Jody and everything she gave Claire. While neither was regretful or expressed their own missed opportunities in talking to Claire, they identified the unique position she was in and value in what she had. It was a refreshing way for Sam and Dean to open up about their own lives, the unusual way they live and what they do or don’t have and what they might miss.
Final ThoughtsThis was a good, solid episode. The Winchesters in suburbia, not undercover but as guests was a welcome picture. The story itself was a surprisingly rich plot and didn’t reduce either of our teenage characters to a trope and even still has opportunities for future stories with Claire and/or Alex. The episode was just heartwarming and an emotional investment from start to finish: Dean and Sam made me smile, it was good to see them relaxed and comfortable in a home setting. The family theme was strong again – maybe reinforcing something greater that’s overriding this season. Is it worth a rewatch? Without a doubt.
One final thought: all the warmth of this episode, leaves a foreboding feeling hovering about what’s to come…..