This was an hour of television that unabashedly hit all the feels. From top to bottom, “Atomic Monsters” was dark, emotional and even twisted at times. It was an episode I thoroughly enjoyed…or whatever – it was a hard episode in all the best ways.
“What If” Dreamland
The opening sequence was an abrupt entry into this episode. In many ways, this dream sequence reminded me of “The End”: we have soldier Dean, we have a dramatically cool Sam (and until the very end I was not sure he wasn’t Lucifer), we have chaos and slaughter. The red cast only enhanced the pandemonium. It wasn’t clear this was a dream sequence, versus a flash-forward or alternate universe, until Sam woke up.
(Small shout out to Ty Olson. It was great to see Benny again, however brief it was!)
This dream sequence, though brief tells us a lot about Sam’s state of mind. Clearly he views himself in a bad light after Rowena, committing the ultimate sin in the dream – killing Dean. He also saw himself with black eyes and having given in to the demon blood addiction, in a world where Dean and Benny have the fraternal bond that Sam (to his viewpoint) had forsaken in his slaughter of his loved ones, including Jody and Bobby.
That’s some deep depression and self-loathing.
I wasn’t completely convinced this wasn’t a dream manifested through Sam’s connection with Chuck, until later, when Chuck mentioned he could no longer see Sam and Dean in his mind.
What I enjoyed about this opener, dark and tragic though it was and aside from the shock value, was it was a perfect use of the show-don’t-tell tactic. Naturally, Sam and Dean have conversations through the episode about his mental well-being, but this opener lays such effective groundwork for the audience. We have a deep insight after this, that perhaps even Dean can’t lay claim to at this point, that Sam is really, desperately struggling.
Chuck and Becky: Part 1
Initially when I saw Becky I was taken aback. Well, I mean – again the “THEN” sequence sort of spoiled that she’d be involved – but I was hesitate about what role she’d play in the episode.
I am not one whose ever had major issues with the Becky character, I just didn’t see how she could fit at this point. It was also not immediately clear whether she was in Beaverdale (coincidentally!) or not. As it happened, she wasn’t of course, but I was still confused about what Chuck (you know, GOD) expected her to do for him.
So, a few thoughts on this.
First, I am very pleased with how Becky has been developed. She has a life, a family and a career. Yes, her career is based on her passion for Supernatural but she also appreciated that she was…umm, overzealous…and that she went too far in the past. Becky has been allowed to grow, just like a real person, instead of a caricature of a fangirl.
Second, I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the multitude of Supernatural memorabilia in and around Becky’s home. Obviously, the POP Sam and Dean dolls seen at the end, but there was a “Very Supernatural Christmas” poster, a variety of POP dolls, and other icon visuals. It was a great nod to the fandom in general, I thought, and certainly made me smile.
Finally, this appeared to be a moment of truth for Chuck. At first.
For the first time since he snapped the world into chaos at the end of last season, Chuck seemed to reflect and demonstrate remorse, like the child who destroys their bedroom in a tantrum and then, once they’ve calmed down, realizes they’ve done a lot of damage and cost themselves in the process. This comment in particular stood out:
“I know. You don't need me. No one does. I'm happy for you Becky, that you like yourself. Because I kind of hate me right now.”
Chuck appeared more human than anything in this moment. Petulant and selfish, but human.
Recognizing that they need to get back to the grassroots, Dean prompts Sam to a case of missing cheerleaders and cattle mutilations in a Small Town, USA.
There is nothing spectacular about this Monster-of-The-Week investigation until the ending. However, the investigation process and town atmosphere dovetails nicely with Sam’s melancholic feels and disenchantment overall.
Normally there is an enjoyment, on some level, when the Winchesters are working a case. Here though – Dean certainly displayed that (see hotdogs and mascots) – while Sam was just done with it all. One of the best moments is when the parents of our to-be-discovered killer suggest a “prayer thing” be moved so as not to affect a scout they’ve invited to watch the lacrosse game, which they say would be the end of the world. Sam aptly and annoyedly states:
“The end of the world is the end of the world.”
There was a time when he may have been half-amused by the hyperbole of the naïve, but he has no patience for it now, further underscoring how depressed he really is.
This is reinforced in his conversation with Dean who points out Sam wanted to live in a place like Beaverdale when they were young, a “normal” life. Sam dejectedly says there is no normal for them and that they clean up the mess so everyone else can carry on obliviously while they bear the burden of the truth. This is a profoundly sad moment and atypical of our optimistic younger Winchester.
Throughout the case there are a series of these moments that all continue to illustrate Sam’s sadness and adrift mental state, which make the conversation at the end all the more potent. Kudos to the episode for demonstrating so realistically and steadily how despondent Sam is in the wake of all the losses.
The title “Atomic Monsters” may be a reference to the term “nuclear family” in the way our so-called “villains” are a traditional family unit and determined to protect that at all costs.
Regardless, they are tragic rather than villainous by the end.
Janet and Henry go to desperate lengths to protect Billy and ultimately, he is the one who stands up, recognizing what he has to do and tells his parents enough is enough.
There is a lot to say about this short but intense conclusion.
There are parallels between Billy and the demon-blood Sam, in that they are made this way against their will and decide not to be monsters. There is also a parallel of sorts in Billy deciding to sacrifice himself for the “greater good” of his family, his community and the way that Rowena sacrificed herself. Did she make a bigger impact and have a larger belief system driving her choices? Yes. But the symbolism isn’t lost. Especially because somebody else (Dean, in this instance) has to do the killing.
This was a heartbreaking scene, of Billy explaining what would happen to his parents, step by step. And then flowing to him on his knees against the backdrop of the Impala and the his parents giving his photo to the police. The best possible outcome is not necessarily a happy one for everyone – nobody here was a “bad guy” – just people in bad circumstances.
Is this foreshadowing?
I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that the moment of Billy’s death and the police taking his parent’s statements are overlaid with Jensen’s song, “Sounds of Someday” which served as a perfect accent to the scene.
Chuck and Becky: Part 2
If Chuck was starting to get a glimmer of a redemption arc in the horizon at the top of the episode, he nuked it before the final credits rolled.
This episode went from sad to maniacally dark with Chuck by the end – and I kind of like it.
Becky definitely helped Chuck get his mojo, in some respects, enough that he stopped mopping and feeling bad for himself. And, Thanos-snapped her and her family.
So where does that leave us with Chuck? We know he can’t leave Earth, but he does have a plan for Sam and Dean that, if the tombstone is any indication, involves their deaths – and in a horrifying way, if Becky’s reaction is anything to judge from:
“It's awful! Horrible. It's hopeless. You can't do this to the fans. What you did to Dean?
What you did to Sam?”
We also know Chuck can – not kill, he said – but “send away” people with the snap of his fingers. So he clearly has some power left.
Is anyone else excited to see Chuck go dark? He’s been kind of….pouty and even in the battle with Amara we didn’t see much fight from him. The first glimpse of true power was in the finale. The look in his eyes when he explained the end ending to Becky, well colour me intrigued.
Afterall, the bigger the baddie, the harder they fall.
All the Feels
I appreciate the slow burn that this season has taken so far, in terms of establishing the major plot for our characters to rally against, unveiling what the final journey will be and so on. It is allowing some conversations and character moments that we wouldn’t have the opportunity for in an apocalyptic war zone.
Sam and Dean’s conversation in the Impala was one of those moments that was overdue and unsettling in many respects.
Lately the boys have been trading roles, one is the optimist and the other the pessimist; today it is Dean offering the inspiration to keep fighting:
“We still do the job. But we don't do it for us. We do it for Jack, or Mom. For Rowena. We owe it to anybody that has ever given a damn about us to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what.”
Unfortunately, Dean doesn’t have the viewers information for just how deeply Sam is struggling (or that Chuck is not, in fact, gone).
Sam cannot let go of the losses. Reaching back over fifteen years to Jessica, drowning in the grief of everyone who is gone. Sam trying to express this to Dean but unable to fully articulate it is really upsetting to watch. Jared gives a beautiful performance and very realistically delivers what it’s like to try and verbalize feelings you don’t even have language for, that you yourself can’t make sense of – beyond the swirl and pressure they create that makes it hard to move through the day to day.
The cap on this exchange is Sam, in an effort to reassure his brother and maybe himself, saying “maybe I’ll feel better in the morning” even as he turns away and has tears in his eyes, frustration and sorrow at the entirety of everything.
Astutely Dean asks what if he doesn’t and Sam doesn’t know.
This is so real, it’s crushing.
Bits and Pieces
So, in addition to the symphony of emotions that this episode delivered; it was also a lovely episode visually. I’m not typically one to note the technical aspects (unless they are especially heinous or outstanding) and here there were some wonderful shots of the Impala, the moments of Billy’s death was a pretty shot to contrast such a dark moment and as I’ve already said – Becky’s merchandise littered through the home created a great set for the characters to play out their scenes and ultimately plan to destroy Sam and Dean.
If it isn’t obvious: I really loved this episode. It was subtle, powerful and poignant. The messages were simple but honest. Our plot was advanced with Chuck while handling Sam’s arc of depression and struggle remarkably tastefully and realistically in a post-Rowena monster of the week story.
The stories were woven through one another well and everything was left on a dark, questioning tone that made it clear: trouble is coming in more ways than one.
What were your thoughts? Do you and Becky own anything the same? What did you think of Sam’s character this week? Share below!