Thoughts on Supernatural 13.17: “The Thing”
“The Thing” is hard to put a label on as an episode. It was sort of a mixed bag, almost like the recipe that calls for the odds and ends in your kitchen to be stirred together and thrown into the oven. The results are perfectly adequate, but it’s easy to discern from the end product that the starting point was a bunch of loose pieces that needed handling.
Such is the case with “The Thing.” All together, a fine episode – not fantastic, not terrible – though clearly the framework for bringing together grand pieces of the big plot. Which means that the plot of the week was...err…well – let’s look at the elements one at a time shall we?
Tentacles, Annexes and Solomon
Okay, let’s call a spade a spade and say it: it wasn’t the best executed or the smoothest of all the plots ever designed to get the Winchesters from Point A to Point B. The tentacle monster certainly had some elements of humour in Dean’s (brief) quipping, but it was very minor. This is okay – honestly, that was probably a fine line between dirty humour and just dirty/disturbingly creepy.
On the other hand, this creature had no opportunity to be set up as much of a monster in terms of any fear factor. For the majority of this storyline the villain is set up as the mysterious branch of the MoL, so though we saw briefly the results of a feeding and the implications of what the monster and her mate intended as she chatted to Dean – it wasn’t as truly menacing as we’ve seen before. Even Amara had a quality about her that made the idea of “devouring” much darker, despite not physically eating the people; and where the leviathans DID physically eat people – again it was given a much more “monster” feel to the entire situation, something truly horrific. This monster, though implied was a God from another universe, was hardly demonstrative of anything warranting the fear Ophelia and Marco held. This includes the too-quick and easy end to the not-quite-but-almost sea monster, particularly given the comments from Marco and Ophelia about not being able to defeat her, just keeping her locked up and feeding her.
PS guys – good job guarding the facilities. No alarm, no security, no alerts. Way to keep that man-eating beast on lockdown!
Beyond our monster of the week, the addition of this sub-cult MoL was somewhat confusing, if a touch sloppy. I can believe that a member went a little crazy after witnessing too much bad in the world and tried to fix it with magic (because you know, when has that ever gone wrong, right?). What I have trouble with is the notion that the MoL NEVER mentioned this again in their records. Ever. They were, by definition and nature, recordkeepers, so this seems…out of alignment to say the least.
Finally, some of the general flow of this plot was a bit…stilted at times, for lack of a better word, which is very unusual for Supernatural. So I’m clear – this is just the Sam/Dean storyline that I’m talking about (sorry, boys!). The tempo and characters of the opening, for example, were consistent. Naturally, Dean references their ScoobyDoo experience and we witness pranking Sam with incredibly mature notes stuck on his back to the effect of “kick me” and other such gems. The research montage and shots of the archives were good as well (though, I have to ask – was I the only one surprised that the MoL archives weren’t bigger?).
Later is when things get a bit out of whack. The diner characters seemed like they’d be more significant, especially the waitress or perhaps our brave young patron. But beyond Dean’s kidnapping by Sandy, they aren’t seen again and at no point does anyone offer them an explanation. Of course Marco was an MoL plant and drugged the food – but again, this was unusually obvious and clunky in its execution. Marco was “odd” in his interaction with the waitress, suggesting something unique about him from his introduction. Speaking of obvious, Sandy was naturally our villain from the outset. Too sweet and waif-like to be anything but the bad guy, this is almost forgivable except for some of the sloppiness of it all. For example, for a girl allegedly from the 1920s, her vocabulary wasn’t particularly unique.
Some of these things are nitpicky, certainly. By themselves they aren’t a big deal – but they coalesce for a somewhat clunky storyline overall. Granted, there were some highlights. As I mentioned before – Sam and Dean in the early minutes gave us a “behind the scenes of the Winchesters” look at bunker life. Actually, the scenes of research in the archives gave me flashbacks to early episodes of Buffy.
Also, the exchanges between the brothers and then later Dean’s reaction to Sam’s kidnapping were quite intense. The few moments of the drugging, the fight scene, Sam being taken: all very dramatic and intense to watch. Disappointingly, there was little payoff as Sam’s exchange with Ophelia and Marco contained information, certainly, and also (at least in this writers opinion) an unfair amount of finger pointing at the Winchesters for letting her out. And of course, though Dean prepared to take on the group circling in robes (?!) around the diner and weaponized restaurant supplies for the task, Yokoth/Sandy and her black screen cut shot took him away first.
Ultimately, the humour and Sam and Dean are what save this plot from being empty. It’s not awful – it’s just…there. Not awful, but certainly not substantive either, but the brothers are doing their thing around it, which I’ll always watch.
Soul and Grace
So, the main plot was mostly “meh” – but the secondary plot? Well, that’s a totally different story. Pun intended.
Asmodeus showed us a new side this week and whether it is attributable to his grace-injections or just finally demonstrating that “Prince of Hell” thing we know is such a fierce side, it was dark and certainly a welcome change. Until this point we’ve known Asmodeus has power, after all the other characters treat him that way and he is, after all, a Prince of Hell. We’ve met a couple and they’re nasty. But before now this Prince has been more caricature than anything else. This twisted, power-tripping, ego-driven, maniacal leader is much more capable of serious villain stature.
The shift in the dynamic of the partnership with Asmodeus and Ketch was also significant and believable. Ketch is also an egomaniac, but he isn’t stupid and he’s all about self-preservation above anything else. So, like a cat, he will sense the dangers, re-evaluate and get to higher ground. And he’ll take what he needs to ensure his safety – which is why he snapped up Gabriel on the way out too. Much like I suspect will happen to Michael in AW, Asmodeus' ego-driven actions have cost him significantly.
Archangels and Allies
Though he didn’t speak a word, Gabriel’s presence pervaded each and every scene he was in throughout the episode - the trauma, the fear, the implication that he holds something significant to the entire journey. I really, really want to know the story of Gabriel since we last saw him. Hats off to Richard Speight Jr. for this wholly realistic performance, capturing the essence of a prisoner and an abuse victim with every shuddering breath and flinch. One note though, I did think the reveal of Gabriel was a touch underwhelming. Sam and Dean were surprised – but I expected something more than what we got, particularly considering Gabriel’s state. This is very minute though as everything else involving Gabriel was well done overall, even the brief but disturbing moment of Sam cutting loose Gabriel’s lips.
So my question is: is this our Gabriel or an alternate universe Gabriel? He was especially squirrely at the notion of opening that rift. Thoughts?
Speaking of the rift. Gabriel was presented by Ketch as a peace offering, of sorts, in exchange for sanctuary. There are many times to doubt when it comes to Ketch, but I’ll be honest, I thought he was genuine and, unusually so, humble, in his request.
These final moments with the brothers had a lot going on in a short time and one thing stood out starkly: Dean was decisive and protective. Sam was hesitant and hurt. Dean made the call about Ketch – counter to Sam’s initial call – and persuaded Sam with resolute statements. He did the same when it came to splitting up between worlds and Sam staying behind. Now, whether or not you agree with how the final decision ended up, I will say these moments played out well.
Dean was unwavering – and I can’t help but think this was driven, to some extent, by the recent experience in the restaurant of Sam’s kidnapping. He was so driven and aggressive in the restaurant about getting Sam back, though not out of character, the reaction was very strong then and absolute here.
Sam was surprised and hurt. Especially by the addition of Ketch. We know Ketch has some feelings for Mary and certainly values his self-interests. So it’s to his advantage to complete the mission. This conversation between the boys really says everything – and though it is hard to hear, I have to agree with Dean about the practicality of one of them staying behind:
“I’m heading in alone.”
“Look, we’ve got a busted up archangel here. And who the hell knows what else? ‘Kay? Somebody’s got to stay here, just in case…”
“…So you want Ketch to go and not me?”
“I don’t care if he dies. Hell, I’m kind of rooting for it.”
“Still, you can’t-”
“No. I have to. It takes something that’s been over there before to open up the right door. So that’s either you or me. So I’m gonna go. And if something happens to me, if time runs out, I need you to come and save me. And save mom. And save whoever else. Ok?”
“It’s safer if we go together.”
“There’s no such thing as safer over there. You know that. I know you don’t like this, ‘kay? I don’t expect you to. This is the way it’s gonna be.”
I admit, I expected Sam to shove Dean (or punch him) out of the way and dive through the portal at the last second. I’m not sure if it’s a testament to lessons learned about “brotherly sacrifice” over the years or his own agreement with the plan generally despite disliking not being with Dean that he didn’t.
So, how long until Sam ends up in apocalypse world – if at all – or it all goes to hell?
24:00:00 countdown commencing now.
The episode may not have been the strongest, but it certainly left us on a heck of a punch ending.
Certainly a mish-mash of highs and lows. The episode wasn’t lacking for entertainment or drama, but it won’t qualify for Supernatural Classics Awards in the near future either. The padding of the MoL annex and the tentacle beast in order to get the boys to the Key of Solomon was a tad rough, I’ll admit. The nitty gritty of Ketch, Gabriel and Asmodeus made for some juicier meat to this otherwise thin episode. But the real cherry was the end that left our brothers separated and sees (finally) some of the big players and key elements in this AU world plot coming together for the grand finale.
Any theories about how this all shakes down? Did you love the tentacle beast? Meh?
Share thoughts below!
[Images courtesy of HomeoftheNutty.com]