This was an episode of "Supernatural" where all the elements came together and delivered. Interesting, if classic, plot-of-the-week, brothers on the road, emotion and angst and a major plot advancement/reveal for the grand scheme of the "Supernatural" world. Yes, this is the type of episode where the simple all clicks together and works.
Haunted Houses and Friendly Dares
An old-fashioned ghost hunt. Or, so it seemed in the beginning. But seriously kids, the lesson – just in case you’ve missed it every other time it’s been said – never, ever go into an abandoned asylum (or any other variation therein) in the cover of night to find something creepy, unsettling or otherwise otherworldly. Odds are, it will find you first. Yes these boys had to learn the lesson the hard way. This time around though the narrative plays out a bit differently for Sam and Dean, who don’t in fact save Shawn – or anyone really.
It was interesting to see the trauma of our teen victim, reminiscent to degrees of season one’s “Dead in the Water” in some respects, with the drawing of the monster in lieu of communicating the experience. The episode was very somber in most respects by and large because of Shawn and his mother: though they played very little into the episode, they were weighty in emotion when seen – and unheard for the most part. We didn’t see much of Shawn and his mother together, but the brief interaction of her comforting her son in the night lent to the impact of seeing Shawn’s body later in the episode.
“Thanatology” was built on a number of powerful themes: mother and son imagery of course and the concept of PTSD and communication without connecting. Dean tells Shawn that he and Sam fight the monsters and stop them, but this speech lacked his typical conviction and perhaps this was why it just didn’t break through Shawn’s silence. It was also an unusually passionless attempt to connect with the victim: one sales pitch on why Shawn should trust him and practically a shrug and walking away when Shawn didn’t start talking. Later, Billie will address Dean’s acceptance of the “as is” and question what this new attitude is all about- because it certainly isn’t Dean Winchester. This scene illustrated that well.
Dean continues to spiral and on the back of his confession to Sam last week – lacking faith in anything – Sam is an amazing brother. Despite the circumstance of which it was born, Sam’s attempts to boost Dean back to his usual self were undeniably sweet, if naïve. Of course beer for breakfast and strippers aren’t going to address the issues consuming Dean – which Sam knows, though he is at a loss. What works though is the continued theme this season of the brothers being brothers and together, irrespective of the badness of circumstance that dogs everything else. This is refreshing in light of so many other times we’ve seen divergence and secrets.
In the end, Dean takes a poison-pill injection to get what they need – again, the depression and self-harm implications run deep – with the intention that Sam will bring him back. He does this over Sam’s protests and almost doesn’t make it back (more on this later). No matter the support and willingness of Sam to indulge his brother, it is also a good moment when he puts his foot down and insists Dean tell him what happened while he was dead. Again, refreshingly honest information exchange between the brothers. For a moment, this viewer thought –“here we go, secret-keeping time!” – though I didn’t know why, really. I’m glad this wasn’t the case. This is a small element, but a significant one when the crux of the show is the relationship between these boys: together fully this time around is a welcome sight. Thoughts?
Dean’s final words to Sam are more prophetic – I hope – than anything else. Dean says he used to believe the price was worth the mission: that the losses of their loved ones was what it cost to save the world. But he couldn’t believe that anymore. Dean is lost and “needs a win” – this is all said to Sam as they watch Shawn’s mother getting the news and processing in the background that Shawn is dead. Despite the sunshine, it is a sad moment and underplayed by both Jared and Jensen perfectly: Dean is just empty and Sam is devastated for him.
Death: Version 2.0
Like any well orchestrated plot, the entirety of this episode swelled toward a great reveal: Billie has been upgraded to Death. Wow. There is so much to say about this turn of events, it’s hard to know where to begin. Let’s start by complimenting Lisa Berry in another spectacular performance – as always she is just the right mix of icy and commanding, this time with a regal air. And didn’t she look good in the leather duster with the scythe? Death looks good on Lisa Berry!
So this upgrade fills a few holes – like who takes the place of Death – and creates a slew of new complications for Sam and Dean, though not in such black and white ways as Billie the Reaper presented in the past. As Death, Billie has a grander perspective, and her understanding is a little different:
“This whole multiversal quantum construct we live in, it’s like a house of cards. And the last thing I need is some big, dumb Winchester knocking it all down.
The interaction between Billie and Dean was the best scene in this episode in my opinion. It was somber and intense with the captivating cinematography that set the perfect mood for just such a meeting. Unlike the previous Death, meeting in his favourite pizzeria, with a classic atmospheric style of a mob boss, where pizza and pickle chips are threating; Billie suits the cool environment of the files and the leather upgrades. Both are deadly and powerful.
Billie wants information from Dean about the tear Jack created when born and Dean agrees if she releases the ghosts in the house – she says yes. Then they have an interesting chat about life, death and the grand scheme – including the various ways he might end up dead. Throughout, Dean is stoic and non-reactive, even prepared to accept his death is final here and now with a fight. This says everything, which even Billie notices and can’t let go.
“That doesn’t sound like the Dean Winchester I know and love, the man who’s been dead so many times but it never seemed to stick. Maybe you’re not that guy anymore, the guy who saves the world, the guy who always thinks he’ll win no matter what.”
Finally, Billie tells Dean those magic, always promising – and chaotic - words we’ve heard before from a few other deities: