The Morning After
Supernatural’s “A Most Holy Man” was a sneaky episode. I didn’t really enjoy it at first. By the half way point, I was rather confused. By the end, though, I loved it. It snuck up on me! Most of my comments during the live watch related to the classic movies it seemed to be copying.
During your rewatch, you can use the time stamps to follow along with my reactions to understand which scenes I was referencing.
7:18 “Anyone else thinking of The Maltese Falcon right now… then a James Bond scene comes on [bad guy stroking the cat on his lap]. I’m confused.”
7:26 “There’s a little bit of “Time after Time” in this, and James Bond’s Spectre, and The Godfather. Half way through and I’m still trying to figure this out”
7:36 “Now I’m thinking The French Connection and Casablanca. Ooops, now The DaVinci Code!”
7:41 … and The Sting… My head is spinning! No wonder it took 2 showrunners to write this!
7:48 Now The Untouchables!
Gail Martin (author friend and SPNFamily member) obviously knows more about movies than me because she noted, “Sidney Greenstreet was in both Casablanca and The Matltese Falcon. Nice Nod.” (referring to Richard Greenstreet, who was the doughnut eating bidder), and that “the gunfight was right out of The Godfather, the baptism/massacre scene”.
After seeing the entire episode, I concluded that its atmosphere and references were an homage to these movie classics rather than the jumbled collage I was first perceiving. Similar to season 7’s “Time after Time”, the mood and style of “A Most Holy Man” was established by Amanda Tapping's wonderfully creative directing, the brilliant lighting of Serge Ladouceur, and the period music chosen by either Christopher Lennertz or Jay Gruska (nothing yet gives either one credit). The entire storyline worked because of the combination of these talented people (and art, sets and locations of course!), and the intricate writing of the two showrunners, Bob Singer and Andrew Dabb. Dabb has tended to write one mid-season episode each year in addition to the season premiere’s and finales. This just happened to be his project for season 13. “A Most Holy Man” was a fun detective type caper, but it had more serious messages about faith, doing what’s right, never giving up and believing that one person’s actions can have a meaningful impact on all the bad in the world.
Title Thread – A Most Holy Man
Sam: By the way, I was reading about you. Um, what is, uh Apostolic Protonotary Supernumery?
Father Lucca: It doesn't mean anything. It's just a title the Pope gives for good works.
Dean: The Pope gave that to you? What? You met the Pope?
Father: Yeah. He called me “un uomo santissimo.”
Sam: What does that mean?
Father: A most holy man.
As part of the spell that would allow Sam and Dean to rescue their mom and Jack from exile, the brothers were on a rather desperate mission to retrieve the blood of “a most holy man”. Sam’s guess that a saint would be “a most holy man” was certainly reasonable. A saint is this world’s recognition of a holy person who performed miracles for the betterment of others, i.e. a person who was a conduit of supernatural powers, and was thus a link between God and His people. However, like most of us, Sam and Dean constantly fail to recognize the awed respect God had/has for humankind. Thus, once again, God made human beings the key to universal manipulation by giving them both the free will and the power to change his creation (i.e. pull great levers1). His representative on earth, the Pope, has the authority to name a mere mortal as being “most holy”, simply by virtue of that person having a pure heart and performing noble actions. That purity of intention was one of God’s requirements for creating doors between His universes.
Overlooking the simple solution, the boys learned that a good person was what was needed for God’s cosmos-altering spell. Father Lucca’s unshakeable faith that good people and good deeds can and do change the world, and that good will eventually triumph, made him one of the best examples of humankind.
Dean: Yeah, well, the world's a screwed up place, padre. What are you gonna do about it?
Father: Change it.
Dean: Yeah, good luck with that.
Father: It's not about luck, son. It's about effort. All the time, I hear people saying the world's not perfect. And they're right. It's not. But do you use that as an excuse? Do you use it to excuse your own sins? Your failings and your laziness? Do you use it to give a bad man power, because the world's not perfect? Or do you work? Do you try and improve things in whatever way you can? Guys, the world will never be perfect, but if good men do good things, it can be better. Every day can get better.
Looking at season 13’s major plotline, Father Lucca’s optimistic message is one that AU Bobby seems to understand, and Mary and Jack seem to have adopted. Lucifer, Anael and Asmodeus subscribe to the exact opposite theory, but that’s what makes them the bad guys! The writers may also have been sending the Father’s message of hope to viewers across the fourth wall. One of the world’s beacons of hope is shrouded at present, but that just means that good people need to work harder to bring back the light.
Within this story, though, Fr. Lucca’s moral lesson and genuine faith was sorely needed by downtrodden Sam and “everyone’s doing it” Dean. His sharp delineation between right and wrong was foreshadowed by Greenstreet’s sarcastic profession of “faith” and Dean’s flippant excuse for duplicity:
Greenstreet: Rumor has it, the skull is supposed to be turned over tomorrow night. Unfortunately, I don't know the name of the thief or where the meet is supposed to take place.
Dean: That's not a lot to go on.
Greenstreet: I have faith.
Sam: So this is what we've come to? Thieves?
Dean: Hey, you want the blood, right? Well Besides, the thing's already stolen.
Sam: Really? That's your rationale?
Dean: Well, hey, I'm not perfect. And by the way, neither are you, okay? Oh, so, what? Now you're above a little, uh, chicanery? Look, this isn't a perfect world we're trying to save, okay. And if I'm not perfect trying to save it, then so be it. Come on. You with me or not?
This is a Dean that’s familiar to us all. In contrast to last week’s moral high ground, Dean’s “whatever it takes” motto seems to be in full gear this week, justifying the heist. Sam went along with his brother, but was deeply uncomfortable with the decision.
Sam’s Lost Faith
For the past several weeks, it’s been apparent that Sam has lost his faith in his, Dean and Castiel’s ability to rescue Mary and Jack. This episode continued that emotional thread when Sam expressed doubt that what they are doing as hunters is having any impact at all, but it took a more positive turn. It was about the power of faith.
Father Lucca: The skull of St. Peter. It was stolen from a nunnery, my parish, eight days ago. They asked me to get it back. Our local police can't handle something like this, and the sisters, they have faith in me.
Dean: You know it's just a hunk of bone, right?
Father Lucca: I do, but everyone - we all have faith in something, even if it's just a hunk of bone….
Fr. Lucca’s faith was the perfect juxtaposition to Sam hopelessness and Dean’s cynicism. Sam didn’t hear Fr. Lucca’s final encouragement:
Fr. Lucca: God will see us through.
Dean: Yeah, he really won't.
Fr. Lucca: You're not a believer.
Dean: Oh, I believe. Hell, I know. God? He doesn't give a damn about you or me or anyone else. So if you're expecting some sort of a miracle to happen, well, good luck.
Fr. Lucca: I'm sorry. I didn't mean that God would reach down and protect us. Of course that's not going to happen. But I believe that all good things are God's things. And what your brother's doing, it's a good thing.
Dean: Yeah, or a stupid thing.
Fr. Lucca: Or both. Many times, they can be the same.
Dean is trying to help by attentively listening to Sam. When Dean sees Sam’s restlessness and despondency, Dean stops what he’s doing, listens patiently and tries to offer hope. It doesn’t seem to be helping, though. Sam is really feeling the weight of carrying the world’s fate in his hands while running in never-ending circles.
Sam: I mean… you know… You ever feel like we're doing nothing but playing defense? You know, bouncing from one apocalypse to the next?
Dean: Well, it's not exactly our call.
Sam: I know that, and I'm not saying we don't do good. But no matter how many people we save, there will be more people that need saving. No matter how many monsters we kill –
Dean: There's always gonna be another one around the corner.
Sam: Exactly. You think we could ever change things? I mean, really change things? You know, stop all the monsters, all the bad?
Dean: That would be nice.
Sam: Yeah. So what are you thinkin'? Think that'll work?
Dean: I have faith.
Sam’s “dark place” surfaced once Jack and Mary were lost to the alternate universe. Until then, Sam had purpose in his personal life that made the larger battle of fighting monsters and impending doom bearable. Mary’s resurrection gave him the hope of getting to know his mom, even when she distanced herself from her sons. When she reconciled with them, Sam had a newfound relationship to nurture. Sam was also deeply committed to helping Jack. Sam saw so much of himself in the young supernatural/human hybrid, that their relationship of mentor/student soon developed more into that of a younger brother, or father/son. With both those family members now in peril, Sam’s feeling defeated.
Sam (and Dean’s) heartache echoed in Fr. Lucca’s story, when he asked them to imagine what they would do if something that was deeply important to them, something that was central to their view of themselves, suddenly disappeared. Sam understood the priest’s pain. Sam’s quiet response was you’d “Try to get it back”. That shared understanding made Sam sympathetic to the Father’s objective, and suddenly Sam was on board with double crossing the mob and Greenstreet.
Sam got Dean on board by translating the story of missing religious objects or family members into the Impala getting stolen. That was a great broment!
The importance of “personal” relationships to Sam’s frame of mind may have been hinted at in his conversations with the dealers:
Sam: Okay, we, um, we're interested in obtaining a very rare religious artifact, and we were told that maybe you'd be the person to help us out.
Margaret: Who told you that?
Dean: The Internet.
Margaret: So this is not a personal recommendation?
Sam: No. Um, is that a problem?
Margaret: Personal relationships are very important to me.
Sam: Right. Well, um I would personally appreciate any help you could give us.
Later to Greenstreet:
Sam: The Manchin twins? We don’t know them personally but obviously we know of them.
Not sure that flirtation had a purpose in the plot, but it was nice to see Sam be the object of desire rather than Dean. Perhaps this conversation was foreshadowing that Sam’s viewpoint would be important throughout the story. It also could have set up a generally ill at ease demeanor that seemed to permeate Sam throughout the entire episode.
He didn’t have a witty come back for Dean’s “always prepared Boy Scout” remark, he was far less confident around the mob goons and boss than was Dean, and his overall interactions seemed “off”. He just didn’t seem to be seamlessly working with his brother as usual. He also seemed distracted or off his game. You think they are hinting that he really does have a concussion??
Dean: Sam? Sammy! Sure you're not drowsy? How many fingers am I holding up?
Sam: I'm fine.
Dean: Okay, I'm just saying, you're taking a lot of shots to the head lately. I mean, I know that Disney Princess hair gives you some padding, but, uh
Count me among the many who are thrilled to hear Sam’s point of view, so I’m not complaining about this storyline at all. It’s deeply moving to see all the horror in their life affecting them in real ways. I can’t quite identify what seemed wrong about him but I sensed it throughout the entire case. Did you sense anything similar?
Perhaps the villain’s revelation to Sam in “Breakdown” that there are many more monsters out there than they’ve ever imagined started Sam’s spiral. His mood became part of each week’s story after that. His declaration that “this ends bloody” was short and desperate, but not necessarily a new prediction from the brothers. However, this latest search for reassurance indicates that his depression has extended for weeks, or maybe months, so its emphasis warrants it now being a thread that we formally track.
Some fans are concerned that Sam will do something rash because of his feelings of worthlessness. I didn’t get that impression. That’s where the story went in season 8 so I just don’t believe we’re headed toward some kind of self-sacrifice. It IS building toward something though. Maybe it will help Sam let go of Jack and Mary when they say they want to stay in the apocalypse world and make a difference there. Alternately, maybe their return will be the boost he needs, although I can’t imagine (but would truly LOVE) a season with the extended Winchester family reunited. Wouldn't that be a wonderful final season?
The Final Solution, The Last Hunt, The End Game
Sam asked if Dean thought they "could ever change things, really change things?" His question was seen by many as a dire prophecy for the end of the show. Of course, I saw it differently. My answer to his question is, “YES, Sam, I DO think you two will change things! Yes, really change things! I have faith!” Dean has been the voice of faith and hope for a while, and Fr. Lucca bolstered that optimistic view of the world’s future. I share that optimism (both for the show and in real life).
I’ve stated before that my vision for the end of the series is that they boys are able to pull both great levers and somehow close off both angels’ and demons’ interference in human affairs. Right before his death, Crowley offered to close the Gates of Hell so that storyline is still very relevant to the show. With Castiel now knowing everything there is to know on the Demon Tablet, new possibilities just opened up in that regard. Topside, Lucifer and Jack aren’t done with Heaven, so a slammed door is still possible there when the Winchester clan is done dispatching Lucifer’s threat.
I can’t guarantee that they’ll eradicate all monsters. I don’t yet know of any weapon or spell that could make that happen, but maybe Jack? Maybe a supernatural being like the Empty Entity? Billie as Death said the boys still had work to do so her universe level insight sees some grand plan of which they are still a part. I see a happy ending for both of them, somehow. Transported to the paradise that Jack, Castiel and Kelly saw? Living with their extended family on a remote island with a sunny beach, sitting in lounge chairs drinking beers? More realistically, opening a school in the bunker that combines MoL (Sam) and hunter (Dean) knowledge is closer to my vision. Nurturing the next generation of fighters would give them purpose. I dread the end of their story, but only because I love watching it, not because I think it will end badly. I just cannot go there. Never, ever.
A Devil’s Bargain
Scarpatti: Now why would you get involved with a man like Greenstreet?
Sam: He has something we need. And the skull was our price we had to pay for it.
Scarpatti: It's a devil's bargain.
Scarpatti: I already made a deal… You know the deal's crap when we start drawing flies.
Greenstreet: If that's what you think, there is the door.
A few episodes ago, we were shown several people who made bargains with the devil, literally and figuratively. Donatello, Anael, the angels, Kevin and many others either volunteered or were coerced into demon deals. Last week, Mary was given some forgiveness for the demon deal she made ages ago. Now again, devil’s bargains and bad deals are being referenced. There was betrayal when Margaret's henchman switched sides, and deals within deals that frankly were very hard to track without a scorecard!
Greenstreet: I'm sorry. I thought you were working for me.
Scarpatti: And I thought you were working for me.
Sam: Right, yeah. Turns out I'm working for me.
Greenstreet: I don't trust him.
This is highly unsettling. Who is working for themselves behind everyone's back (yeah, Anael, but who else)? Who's going to make a demon deal next? Surely not Sam, who is getting desperate! Dean’s done it once before, so I don’t think he’d go there again. Maybe Mary, who just learned that her first deal saved the world? My money’s on Castiel, though. He’s all in on the “whatever it takes” approach now. His renewed fierceness is scary! Please don’t let him do something stupid!
By the way, I’m not sure why Scarpatti, who had everyone else outgunned, didn’t just shoot Margaret and her thug and take the skull. That was a bit farfetched, but when Sam arrived, he reiterated his deal making attitude:
I'm not here to fight. I'm here to buy. So let’s make a deal.
Please, no. What do you think?
The word ‘good’ was uttered 19 times in the dialog for “A Most Holy Man”! That’s more than enough to be a subliminal suggestion that Fr. Lucca, his optimism, the boys’ actions and their ultimate question were all good! Even the music emphasized the optimism:
Johnny Mercer: You've got to accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative And latch on to the affirmative
How do you reconcile the episode’s overt optimism and emphasis on faith with the undertone of deals going bad? Maybe someone makes a bad deal but faith wins out, like it did in this case? Here’s hoping!
- I’m fairly certain the hands on the table that were touched by Margaret are not Sam’s hands. Jared’s fingers are long and slender. I think that's a close-up from his body double. When they're available, post the close-up of Sam’s hands on the briefcase of money and let’s compare!
- Andrew Dabb teased the episode with this quote. Anyone had time to look up its origin and figure out its relationship to the episode?
Tonight on #Supernatural— Andrew Dabb (@andrewdabb) March 8, 2018
"This isn't the spot for the school girl act. The pair of us are sitting under the gallows."
In the end, I thoroughly enjoyed “A Most Holy Man”. It presented a positive view of faith and the future, and the boys got a win. It was also uniquely creative in a way that makes Supernatural so very special. I hope we see more of these lighter episodes. Heaven knows the next show is going to be super, super fun! Let’s ride the high during the hiatus… before the bottom drops out from under us.
But hey, I have faith.
- Do any of you remember the reference to “Levers”? Was it Crowley who said it? Maybe it was season 8? It was an important description of tablets’ power.