The Morning After
Delightful. Supernatural’s 14th episode this season provided a much needed break from the deeply emotional, intense trauma that the cast and the fandom have endured for the past several episodes, if not indeed most of season 14. Let’s review why we all needed a few fleeting moments of peace of mind:
Sam, Mary and Castiel frantically searched for Dean, not knowing if there would be anything left to save, if they ever found him. When Dean returned, the only way he could save the world was to be condemned to a fate so horrible, Sam broke down into sobs just talking about it. Jack died. Castiel bargained away his life to save Jack. The family got their dad back, only to have to let him go again. All of the people Sam worked so hard to save, train, nurture and protect were slaughtered in his home. Jack freed Dean from Michael and saved the world from a reign of terror, but it cost Jack some or all of his eternal soul.
We all love these characters as our own family, so that’s a lot of trauma to experience with them week after week. “Peace of Mind” let us all (cast and fans) catch our breath, and allowed both Jared and Jensen to share their comedic talents with us - with hilarious results!
Sam/Jared will never live down the pony tail, cardigan sweater, over-sized glasses, 3 olives and “Rawr!” Since Sam’s identity was forcibly repressed, he didn’t truly get any reprieve from his grief, but I’m sure Jared appreciated living in a happy place for 24 hours of screen time (probably 3 to 4 days of filming). Jensen’s fear of snakes and his awkwardness around Jack’s identity crisis maintained the lighthearted tone of this story. Seeing him slide down Baby’s side to put some distance between him and a harmless, caged reptile showed us the impish side of Dean that we haven’t seen in a very long time.
Cas: Thought you, uh, were gonna sleep until the cows dragged you home.
Dean: That's not the -- Never mind.
Castiel’s reactions to Dean’s colloquialisms, Sam’s sudden transformation into Mr. Rogers, and his (Cas’) own inability to appropriately apply tact to “apt” explanations also returned to us the socially awkward angel that has been MIA for far too long. With Sam and Dean sidelined, Castiel also assumed the lead in not only solving the case, but in being a wise friend and formidable hunter. As a member of their family, he experienced the same pain as Sam and Dean, but as an angel he was different enough to offer perspective and stability to their traumatized spirits and minds.
It was such a welcome change to see Castiel take charge. He called Dean out on his reluctance to step up as a father figure to Jack, Sam on his retreat into "Pleasant Valley Sunday", and the perpetrators of the town’s psychedelic dream world. So let’s look at the details of this story, and its golly gee delivery of the season’s threads.
Title Thread and Dream Worlds
Writer Meghan Fitzmartin’s debut episode seamlessly wove together two stories about people searching for “Peace of Mind” - each in their own way. Broken by the grief of losing his family, the collapse of his town’s economy, and the pace of a changing world, the mayor of Charming Acres created a physical dream world into which he could retreat. In seeking his own peace of mind, though, he robbed people of their free will – in essence stealing from them a piece of their minds. If they awoke from his dream, he literally exploded their minds into pieces. It was unclear how he became such a powerful psychic, but the implication was that a least some part of it was genetic since his daughter also had powers. This would have been a tidy piece of knowledge to have had to tighten up that plotline, but he’s at peace now in a personal dream world of his own making so it really doesn’t matter.
Plagued by waking nightmares of his hunting team’s deaths, Sam sought peace of mind from his guilt and grief. He tried to deny reality by living on the road and obsessing about his work. In a way this worked for him, because his search for an escape intersected with the mayor’s dream world so, at least for a time, Sam found some peace of mind. Sam’s memories and identity were repressed, much in the same way they would have been had he been possessed by an angel or demon, so his peace wasn’t true or lasting. Sometimes tear ducts and stomach knots need to take a few beats to recover, though, even if the reprieve is from a falsehood. Castiel’s challenge to Sam to “snap the hell out of it” was the jolt Sam needed to face reality:
Castiel: Fight this!
Sam: Why? I'm happy in Charming Acres. We're all happy.
Castiel: Sam, I know you want to be happy. And I know what it's like to lose your army. I know what it's like to fail as a leader, Sam. But you can't lose yourself. You have to keep fighting. You can't lose yourself, because if you do, you fail us. You fail all of those that we've lost. You fail Jack. Sam, you fail Dean.
Did Sam really fail his followers? He wasn’t immediately responsible for their deaths. They didn’t die because he ordered them into an ambush, didn’t train them well enough, or failed to back them up when they needed it. But they did die because he wouldn’t let Dean bury Michael when they had the chance to do so. Sam’s compassion for Dean cost the hunters their lives. That guilt will eat away at his peace of mind for the rest of his life.
Dean seemed less troubled by the hunters’ deaths than Sam, Cas or Jack. Dean was never as close to the AU visitors as the others, mostly because he was gone for part of the time when they lived and worked in the bunker. Dean might also be experiencing less sorrow because he is so tremendously relieved that Michael isn’t driving him insane anymore. He has found some peace of mind, because a piece of his mind has been returned to him.
A small part of me would have liked to have heard Dean reflect on the end of his trauma, thus noting the end of a major storyline from this year. It just seems to have been "poofed" away, like it was all just a bad dream. In another way, though, it was nice that he didn’t talk about it just yet. That allowed the spotlight to be more on Sam’s reaction to what happened aside from Dean, and the major development in Jack’s powerful evolution.
Both Dean and Jack’s searches for peace of mind revolved around the state of Jack’s soul. No one, not even Jack, knows how much of his soul survived his attack on Michael. Jack told Castiel that his strategy for finding peace of mind was to basically ignore the problem:
You want to know how much of my soul I had to burn off to kill Michael. I don't know. I try not to think about it.
Dean’s approach was different. His search for peace of mind put him and Jack in Baby, on a field trip to Donatello, a living expert on living with soullessness.
This tactic seemed to work better for Jack than for Dean. Jack confided in Donatello,
I need time and space to figure things out on my own, but everywhere I go, there's someone looking over my shoulder.
Then, in retrospect, he reported to Dean,
Dean: And what about you, huh? Good time?
Jack: It was illuminating.
Did Jack actually find true peace of mind, or is his soullessness, to whatever degree, giving him a reprieve from having to feel what he should be feeling? Jack’s state of mind is of great concern to everyone, me included. His mercy killing of his pet at the end of the story was the only moment of seriousness that shattered the otherwise peaceful bliss of this episode.
Castiel : He's been through a lot of change in a short period of time.
Sam: Okay, well, maybe next time try to be a little less apt.
Castiel: She spends, uh, quite a bit of time talking about the shape and the heft of his –
Sam: Okay! Got it, yep, passionate. Understood. Well, I say we should definitely check that out tomorrow.
Sam: Yeah. It's getting late, Cass. And you're right. I probably need some rest.
Past episodes this season have stressed that the team was running out of time, presenting time as the enemy. In contrast, “Peace of Mind” portrayed time as an ally, or a sorely needed respite to reflect and heal. In keeping with its approach to give everyone a break, “Peace of Mind” slowed things down. Much in the same way that Charming Acres turned its back on the hectic pace of the outside world, “Peace of Mind” rebelled against the frantic panic that has ruled Dean, Sam, Cas and Jack’s lives for the past several months. For once, the boys weren’t racing against time to save someone’s life or to avert an apocalypse.
Dean even voiced this thought to Sam:
Dean: We've just done three back-to-back hunts. I need some rest. At least a night. We both do.
Sam: Yeah, well I'm leaving in ten.
Dean: Like I said, not good.
Dean was begging Sam for time to heal, time to rest, time to think, but Sam was racing, not to outrun time, but rather to outrun the staggering grief that he didn’t want to catch up to him.
Sam: I'm good. I'm good, honestly [truth thread].
Castiel: Yeah, I know. Everybody's good. But after this, maybe Dean's right. You need to rest.
Sam: Can't. Just because I'm tired doesn't mean the monsters are gonna stop, you know?
Sam doesn’t want to stop hunting. He tells himself it’s to stop monsters, but in reality it’s to stop himself from feeling the inevitable pain that awaits him. Ironically, it was another person who was able to stop the monster this time.
Mayor Harrington: You didn't even try and stop me.
Sunny: I promised Mom that I wouldn't leave you, but you're a monster.
Mayor: Sorry, sport.
Sunny: Stop! I said stop!
As with most fairy tales, Sam learned the moral at the end of the story. When the spell was broken and he awoke from his dream world, he acknowledged that he needed to stop running:
Sam: I mean, I guess I was happy, but it wasn't real, you know? Just, well, not a lot of happy goin' on around here. I hate this place right now. I hate it. Everywhere I look, I see them. I see Maggie. I guess that's why I was so desperate to get out of here, why I kept running us ragged. But I got to stop that. I can't keep running. This is my home. This is our home. Dean, I think I just need some time.
Leaving, or more specifically, running away, was the most common strategy for people in this episode to find their peace of mind. In a few instances, running away was metaphorical, as in not thinking about issues (“running away” from them), “losing yourself” to not have to face pain, or leaving reality, but in other cases, running away was quite literal. A tearful, dramatic goodbye…
Girl: You have to go!
Conrad: I don't want to leave without you.
Clerk: This guy -- -
Cas: You mean Conrad Martin.
Clerk: Right. He comes in looking like he's been running all night, asks for my phone, then he just [ Imitates explosion ] went all "Scanners.
Cas: Was it more "Scanners" 1, 2, or 3?
Sam: Never mind that.
Castiel then suspected that the lover who was left behind was the monster responsible for all the deaths:
Cas: You wrote them to Conrad. And between various steamy, erotic musings, you begged him to leave. Why is that? Because you were afraid you'd hurt him?
Sunny: You don't know what you're talking about.
Cas: Okay, then tell me. Tell me, or I'll rip it from your mind.
Instead, she turned out to be the hero of the story.
Mayor Harrington: You know, I would lose my mind if it wasn't for that girl. You must be the flatfoots I keep hearing about.
Cas: "Keep"? We've barely been here five minutes.
Mayor: It's a small town.
Is there a message in her having to turn on a powerful member of her family in order to save innocent people?
Sunny’s father was the most powerful being in town, able to do things that others couldn’t even imagine doing.
Cas: So you're some kind of mind-control psychic?
Mayor: I re-made this town. I gave everybody new names, new lives. I made everybody happy.
Cas: Well, most everybody, and, uh, the ones who fought it, well -- You'd murder them.
Mayor: I was just protecting my home!
Jack is also an extremely powerful being again.
Donatello: Jack's probably the most powerful being in the universe. I mean, really, who knows what's going on inside his head?
Jack is Back
Donatello tried to describe to Jack what he’d feel like if he was missing his soul:
Jack: So you feel bad?
Donatello: I feel nothing. Losing your soul doesn't make you bad. It doesn't make you anything. It's, um an absence of of pity, of empathy, of humanity. How do you feel, Jack?
Jack: I don't know. I know I don't feel nothing, but I don't feel the same, either. And maybe I just don't know what nothing feels like.
Donatello then told Dean that if Jack seems okay, he probably is. The corollary of that is, if he doesn’t seem ok, i.e. he kills his pet out of pity, he probably isn’t okay.
Considering the last scene was of Jack dispassionately snuffing out his snake in order to “make it happy”, is he that different from the Mayor? Jack’s intentions were good but his execution of his pet lacked judgement – maybe from a lack of a soul. Were Sunny’s actions foreshadowing that someone in Jack’s family will have to turn on him in order to keep him from future mercy killings in the name of overall happiness?
I prefer an alternate interpretation of the parallel between Jack and Sunny. What if the Mayor = Michael and Sunny = Jack? After all, Jack and Sunny both have that "kid next store, toe in the sand", infectious smiles about them, don't they? Then Sunny’s fight with a member of her family was not foreshadowing, but instead a reprise of Jack’s fight with a member of his family, Michael – fights that both Jack and Sunny won. Michael kept telling Jack that he was just like him, the same as the Mayor kept proudly boasting about Sunny. Her response was the same as Jack’s: “I’m nothing like you!” Jack may have sent Michael to “a beautiful world, a place where he can never hurt anyone again” just as Sunny did with her family member. That would be a happier interpretation of the hidden message from this episode because it would mean that Jack is still good, instead of hinting that Jack is a danger to be “watched.” As far as Jack killing the snake, if the snake represented the part of Jack that belonged to Lucifer, then killing the “snake” within himself was a good omen.
I considered whether the Mayor’s actions, and by parallel Jack’s actions, were shadows of Michael at work inside Jack’s head. At this point, I don’t think so. Michael said he was motivated by rage and revenge. He wanted to destroy the Earth just to get his Dad’s attention. Jack genuinely thought he had the snake’s best interests at heart. His action was one of compassion – or so he thought. I stated in my Threads review of “Ouroboros” that Jack probably has just a sliver of his soul left, and that I don’t think Michael will be a factor in the story going forward. Nothing happened in “Peace of Mind” to change my mind on that. How about you? To which interpretation do you subscribe?
Good, bad, right and mind were key words throughout this script. Themes related to sleeping (Dreamworlds), talking and thinking (‘mind’) were also common. Specific numbers were prevalent, although I still don’t know for sure why. The words to the song that was playing in the malt shop are also worth researching. I heard something like, “you made your world out of dolls that were broken.” I bet there’s a relevant message in that song, but I’ll leave that to you to find. Listen for all these threads, as well as any other I may have missed.
Castiel: It's like we're stepping into a Saturday Evening Post. I look at them sometimes after you fall asleep at night. They're very soothing.
I thoroughly enjoyed “Peace of Mind”. It was a cohesive story, successfully blending two different plots in two different locations into one message – something that was not necessarily achieved as well with a few of the most recent episodes. I, for one, needed the Saturday Evening Post version of Supernatural this week. Like Castiel, I found it “soothing.”
Now, who's up for a strawberry shake?
Please add your thoughts below, then catch up on my prior season 14 Threads reviews, and all my other reviews and articles since season 8, by going to my Writer Page!
Additional Screencaps courtesy of https://www.homeofthenutty.com/supernatural/screencaps
Transcript Quotes courtesy of https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/