The Morning After
I’m excited to explore the implications of Supernatural’s 15th mid-season premiere, “The Trap”! It answered many questions, but the pursuit of those answers raised many intriguing issues - philosophical, mythological and logical in nature. The episode was also an emotional ringer. Brilliantly acted by all involved (need I mention Jared, Jensen, Misha and Rob), we felt every moment of the psychological thriller being thrown at our boys by a Chuck who managed to alternate between being purely evil, truthful and sympathetic. Let’s get started!
The largest question, central to Sam’s decision and the new direction of this plotline, is:
“Do you believe that Chuck showed Sam the truth?”
I’m curious to hear your answers to that question, but, personally, I’m with Sam on this one. Yes, I believe that Chuck showed Sam the truth. Battling against that conclusion is Chuck’s boast that “writers lie.” It would be irresponsible to ignore his admission. The future that Chuck revealed is logical, though. Starting at the point of Team Free Will trapping Chuck, someone would have to bear the Mark of Cain to hold the key to Chuck’s cage. Castiel’s argument that it should be him instead of Dean, because Dean’s prior exposure would make him more vulnerable to the mark’s corruption, makes sense. The mark was able to subvert the morals of God's favorite archangel, so it’s easy to accept that “the Mark made Cas go crazy” leaving them no choice but “to bury him in a Ma'lak box.” With goodness and light restricted and out of reach, it also makes sense that darkness would expand.
Chuck: But there's still so much about the fabric of the universe that you don't know that you can't know. 'Cause you're only humans. But I'm God. Think about what I showed you. Look beyond the Mark, beyond you and Dean fanging out. Heartbreaking, but not the headline news.
Sam: The monsters.
Chuck: The monsters. Without me, it's a law of nature. Dark forces prevail, monsters rule, and you, your brother, and everyone you love will die. Can you really live with that?
Sam had to choose between believing what he saw, and thus saving the world from damnation, or allowing humanity to live life on a stage. Yes, his and Dean’s lives would be scripted (and everyone else’s, as Eileen feared, if God scripts anyone’s lives other than Sam and Dean’s), but there would still be life as they know it. Status Quo. The choice was not the matrix or freedom; it was the matrix or destruction. With those stakes, Sam could have been playing the odds (they were in a casino, after all) but he later told Dean and Cas that he whole-heartedly believed the future Chuck shared. Everything depended on Sam being right. I believe Sam made the right choice, but the consequence is that Chuck is now free, which leads me to the next burning question.
Why was hope the tether that bound Chuck to Sam, and thus to this reality?
Castiel: What happened?
Chuck: Um, short version Sammy lost hope, and now I'm free. Hey, take it easy on the kid. It took a lot to beat it out of him.
Since I buy into the closure that God shouldn’t be killed or trapped, and Sam saved them all by NOT executing their plan, I would like to understand why, exactly, is Chuck free?
Chuck: How are you still like this?
Sam: Like what?
Chuck: This defiant.
Sam: It's not my first time on the rack.
Chuck: No, no, no, no. No, this is more. This is hope. Ah. That's what's stopping me. You. You still think that Dean and Cas are gonna fly through those doors just in the nick of time. You still think that you're the hero of this story. You still think you can win.
Just as perplexed as Sam at first, Chuck finally determined that Sam’s hope was what was trapping Chuck in Sam and Dean’s world. That conclusion isn’t as obvious to me as it seems to have been to Chuck. Why would hope keep wounds from closing, keeping a part of Sam in Chuck, and visa-versa, linking them psychically and physically? I expressed my confusion during my live tweet, and received a few insightful theories. One of the best was from @hippiechick731:
I could go into the theology of how Pandora was the first woman v/s Eve & Zeus/God/Chuck, but my point kinda was that Chuck is now evil. When Pandora released all the evil from the box, hope remained. It alone had been holding all the evil in. And only hope could fight the evil. If hope had escaped the box, mankind would be lost. I feel like that same theory applies to Sam. Until Sam lost hope, Chuck wasn't at his full power. When Sam finally broke & lost hope, then evil won & Chuck got his full powers back. Hope escaped the box. All was lost.
It’s safe to assume most of us know that Pandora released evil into the world, but a few more details of the myth (from Wikipedia) reminded me of a connection I would have otherwise missed:
When Prometheus stole fire from heaven, Zeus, the king of the gods, took vengeance by presenting Pandora to Prometheus' brother Epimetheus. Pandora opened a jar left in his care containing sickness, death and many other unspecified evils which were then released into the world Though she hastened to close the container, only one thing was left behind – usually translated as Hope
The possibility that the writers had this myth in mind seems to be validated by Chuck’s reference to Prometheus:
You, Sam Winchester, have been playing fast and loose with the laws of nature and magic for a very long time. You and your brother. Always breaking the rules. And that's what I love about you, Sam. It's so heroic. It's so Promethean.
Looking further, another source strengthened the ties between this Greek myth and this chapter in Sam and Dean’s story.
The main purpose of the myth of Pandora though is to address the question of why evil exists in the world.” (Greek Myths and Greek Mythology)
Ever since Chuck’s evil side was exposed at the end of last season, I’ve been asking myself the question, "Why is Supernatural exploring the tenet that God is inherently evil and needs to be destroyed (first tactic that was rejected because His light is needed to balance darkness), trapped (now rejected because evil still wins if His goodness is caged), and now stopped… somehow?"
Sam: That was our, uh, chance to stop Chuck. But what Chuck showed me, what would happen if we trapped him, I believed him. I still do.
Dean: Well, that's good enough for me.
Sam: Okay, uh, so, what now?
Cas: Well, Chuck's gone, but He'll be back.
Sam: If we can't kill him or trap him.
Dean: Well, then we find another way.
If we follow this Pandora theory, Sam’s hope was binding evil. When Sam lost hope, evil was freed. It's a stretch and I'm not sure I would ever have been smart enough to connect the dots myself (and it certainly was not made obvious in the episode, at least not to me), but that's why we work together to figure out these eps!
Sam regained his hope via Dean. Dean’s faith in Sam led Dean to accept that evil cannot be eliminated or confined because it is part of the ultimate force for goodness. So they need to “find another way” to win, but what strategy is left? I have several ideas about that, one of which is connected to my next question about the episode.
Why couldn’t Chuck do his own “dirty work” (as Sam termed it)?
If Chuck is indeed evil, torture shouldn’t be a problem for him. Crowley never hesitated. In fact, he enjoyed torture. He got his hands plenty dirty. Does that mean that Chuck isn’t entirely evil? Logically, he can’t be. His whole dystopian future is based on his assertion that his is still the goodness that holds evil at bay. So he must be more good than evil. Then why is he acting this way?? Is he so far above humans that he doesn’t care what happens to them? Chuck drew attention to the stratospheric difference between himself and “only humans”, so maybe? But his own admission seems to debunk that theory:
Listen, I know our friendship has seen better days. But you have to know you and your brother matter to me. Deeply. You still do. I want better for you both.Do they matter to him as pets in his zoo, or as fictional characters in his play-brought-to-life? Does he love them in the same way that we love Sam, Dean and Cas – deeply and dearly but we understand they are something less than us; not really part of our reality? I believe understanding the reason Chuck couldn’t be completely evil holds the key to how to neutralize, placate or rehabilitate him. I’m personally rooting for the third option.
The Trap (Title Thread)
Aptly named, “The Trap” ensnared almost everyone at one time or another:
- In Sam’s future:
- Jody and Claire were baited into a trap set by vampires. That trap cost Claire her life.
- Dean and Sam recognized and avoided walking into a trap inside the den of a pack of werewolves. Their cautiousness saved their lives but cost the lives of the monsters’ victims.
- Hunters trapped Sam and Dean in an ugly hotel room as their last stand, Butch and Sundance style. That trap cost Vamp!Sam and used-to-be-best-friends Jody their lives. Probably cost Bobby his life too, since Vamp!Dean was coming for Bobby next.
- In the present reality:
- Sam and Eileen were captured in the trap set for them by Chuck.
- Castiel walked straight into “an angel trap!” set by three Leviathans in Purgatory. Castiel mysteriously “escaped” by “giving himself up.”
- Dean was trapped by his own relentless anger. Although he freed himself temporarily, his anger is still inside him, waiting to envelop him in its darkness once again.
- Dean and Castiel walked into Chuck’s trap, and were attacked by mind-controlled Eileen.
- Chuck was trapped in this reality by his tether to Sam, but Chuck was able to orchestrate his freedom by breaking Sam’s defiant spirit and robbing him of his hope.
Several issues were raised by these traps, although they are significantly less weighty than the ones posed above. Most involve Dean and Castiel’s 24 trip to Purgatory. I list them, not to tear down the episode, but to note that these were either shortcuts taken to problem resolution, or they mean something that we won't know for a while. For example,
Why was Purgatory not filmed in the same grayed, bleached out look that it had all throughout season 8? Maybe they needed the color to show the “tan husks and bloody red centers” of the Leviathan blossoms (continuing the “blood” thread from this season)? I never thought I’d say this, but the full color approach was distracting. I identified Purgatory with its signature black and white-ish look.
How did the Leviathans lay a trap for Castiel so quickly? I can accept that Eve immediately sensed Dean and Castiel’s entry into Purgatory, but how did those three random, “piranha-faced freaks” know that they were looking for the Leviathan blossom? That knowledge was crucial to having the flowers be the bait in the trap, yet those flowers were close by? Then how did they draw the angel trap so quickly, and cover it up so effectively, that neither Dean nor Cas saw the markings?
Why didn’t the Leviathans kill (and eat) Dean when they had the chance? Wasn’t Dean the one who killed Eve by poisoning her with Phoenix ashes he had cleverly ingested (“Mommy Dearest” 6.19)? Why was Castiel on her hit list but not Dean?
How did Castiel break free of his trap, get away from the Leviathans so easily, then miraculously find another Leviathan blossom?
Dean: What happened?
Castiel: They were after me, not you. I figured it would be safest to give myself up.
Dean: They take you to Eve?
Castiel: Yeah. We were en route. I waited until I saw this. It got a little smushed. Once I had the blossom, I fought, caught them off guard. They fought back. I managed to get away. You did it. You did it, Cass.
I was SO sure that the person Dean found leisurely sitting against a tree (when there were only moments left to escape Purgatory) was a Leviathan clone of Castiel. They can make themselves look like anyone! I was screaming at Dean to shoot Cas with a Leviathan-killing bullet, or at least to cut him to see if he bled red or oozed black. But Castiel’s blood was red when he cut himself for the spell in the bunker.
Is it significant that “blood” is a thread this season, so maybe we were supposed to notice the blood was red? Still, I don’t like this! Could Eve bleed red on demand? Since she appeared to the boys as Mary once before, she’s proven she can take the form of anyone she chooses. Do you really think Castiel’s escape was all that easy, and Dean was allowed to live because hungry monsters couldn’t be bothered? Lucifer has infiltrated the bunker looking like Castiel. Maybe Eve did as well? But surely Chuck would have known it was Eve, not Castiel, in the casino when they returned... so probably it's really Cas... maybe.
Do you believe that Benny is dead? I don’t. It was all too neat and tied up with a bow.
Leviathan: The guy who got out and then came back. Like an idiot.
Dean: Pretty much. Where is he?
Leviathan: Dead. Long time ago. His own kind they didn't trust him, and they ksch! ripped him apart. (“ripping out hearts” thread from earlier this season)
Cas: Sorry about Benny.
Dean: I owed him my life. And he sacrificed himself to get Sam out of this place.
Ty Olsson (the actor who played Benny) tweeted, asking what people thought of Benny’s death, then he teased this:
I don’t wanna argue with anyone’s supernatural mythology or anything but ..No one saw him die ? A “Leviathan”said Benny’s dead ? Benny spent what ? 50 years in purgatory before his vacation topside ? Mmmhmm . Lord . of . Purgatory ;)— Ty Olsson (@TyOlsson) January 17, 2020
Paralleling Rowena’s surprise rise to power as Hell’s Queen, Dean referred to Benny as royalty:
Well, maybe we'll run into Benny. He's probably king of this place by now.
Wouldn’t it be poetic justice if the boys end up with friends ruling all the universe’s supernatural kingdoms?
- Hell – Rowena
- Purgatory – Benny
- Heaven – Adam (with Michael), or remote possibility, Castiel
I like that ending! Their life’s work would include a monopoly on the universe’s most valuable properties! That would be quite the family dynasty!
The strongest counter-argument supporting Benny’s death would be that the writers are going down a list, clarifying the disposition of every major character that has meant something to the boys. His death would fit in with the long list of friends the brothers have said goodbye to this season. What do you think happened to Benny?
Balancing Dean’s goodbye to Benny (which I don’t believe), Sam said goodbye to Eileen. She may “get the life” as Dean said, but battling God? That’s a bit above her pay grade. Still, I don’t believe that this is a permanent goodbye. She’s not that fragile. She just needs a little time and space to get a grip on what just happened. She was the hand puppet of God himself, and made to torture a dear friend (do we know for sure that they’re lovers yet?). I’d need time too if someone was playing with my mind that way.
Mind Games (formerly “Living the Dream” and “Gods’ not even God”)
Sam: You cannot change my mind.
Chuck: Then it doesn't change your mind.
Chuck spent the past few weeks holed up in a gambling casino, a place that exists to play mind games with its patrons. Casinos are essentially alternate realities built to escape and entertain. Can the players in a casino beat the odds? Are they in control of their destinies or it is all up to fate? Can they trust what they’re seeing or are they being manipulated by the “eye in the sky”? Everything there is a game, where the odds are stacked in favor of the house. That’s God’s M.O.
The concept of gambling, i.e. gaming, and “winning” or “losing”, was used repeatedly in the dialog.
Chuck: Your hope is misplaced. Now, I'm not saying you can't win. I mean, if you stay firm and Dean and Cas don't screw up their part, with the exact right roll of the dice you could. But what I'm saying is you don't want to. You think you do, but you don't. Not if you knew. Not if you could see what I see. You want to know what happens when you win?
Dean: They’re winning Sam. The monsters are winning.
Dean: We lost, brother. We lost.
Sam: If we win, when we win, when we beat you, I will make it better!
Dean: We'll meet back at the Rift, alright? We'll cover more ground. We'll better our odds.
Cas: Yeah. We'll also improve our odds of getting lost or killed.
The clear implication is that outmaneuvering Sam and Dean is a game to Chuck – a game he intends to win. The boys are fighting to get their agency back and control their own realities, but Chuck is holding all the cards. To get the boys to back off of their attack, Chuck tried manipulating Eileen to physically torture Sam. Eileen was robbed of control over her body and was forced to watch herself inflict pain:
Why didn't I think of this first? It's so much more poetic.
Eileen? She's still in there, Sam. This is gonna hurt her as much as it hurts you.
She was told that she too was just a pawn on a chess board, moved around so Chuck could win the game:
Sam: It's not your fault, Eileen. Is it?
Eileen: What are you doing to me?
Chuck: Same thing I've been doing for weeks. Helping. Helping you to the bunker, to Sam, to romance. It was easy, really. Just a nudge here, a conveniently placed spell there.Sam: Wait. That was you? Chuck: Uh, it wasn't all me, Sam. I just gave you half the spell. You did the rest all on your own which I knew you would because you're such a good guy.
Chuck: I couldn't see you. I needed eyes and ears on the inside. Well, eyes, anyway. [continuing the “Eyes” thread from this season]
That was both physically and psychologically painful to Sam. Curiously, Sam made a point of saying to Eileen,
It's okay. It's okay. I know. I know it's not you.
That eerily echoed the words that Dean said a few episodes back about “God isn’t even God.” Dean’s friend, Lee also said he was “living the dream.” Why are we continually being told we can’t trust the reality we’re seeing? The casino was just another example of fantasy worlds come to life.
Eileen: After what happened, I don't know what's real anymore.
Sam: I know that was real.
Is something not as it seems? Chuck, maybe, or this entire timeline? Is there any chance that this is a future scenario playing out for the boys, begun when Chuck snapped his fingers in "Moriah" and said "Welcome to the end"? Chuck proved in this episode that he can share the future. Maybe this was a future within a vision?
Chuck switched to pure psychological warfare, when it was clear that physical torture wasn’t working on Sam, in order to prove to Sam that what he was planning to do was worse than what Chuck was doing to them. He reached the intellect in Sam. When all else fails, tell the truth? But is this a truth within a lie?
Relationships (formerly Connections, Historical Ties)
Amid all these intriguing intellectual games, most of the punch in the episode came from the emotional loss or reconciliation the brothers experienced. Dean’s confessional prayer to Castiel was a long time coming. Dean was finally honest with himself, at a moment when he thought he might have to leave Castiel alone in Purgatory, or worse yet, that he had already lost Castiel. Jensen’s soliloquy was, of course, superb. Dean was full out crying, going far beyond any single-man-tears at the thought of losing his best friend. Still, their reunion seemed a bit stiff. Was that just Castiel’s matter-of-fact demeanor, or was it an indication that something was wrong? Again, mystery inside the emotion.
Castiel continued to be confident and decisive. He assumed leadership of his and Dean’s Purgatory expedition, and uncharacteristically, Dean listened to him. Both before and during their trip, Cas didn’t mince words when laying out the harsh truth to Dean. He talked to him as a best friend should – honestly and as if there’s nothing to loose. It’s about time Castiel stood up for himself! I am thrilled with this version of Cas.
The torment that Sam went through seeing a hopeless future was also truly moving. Jared wrung every last drop out of those scenes. I know now what the boys mean when they keep promising that they’ll give everything they have to each episode. They have to be emotionally exhausted by this final end game. As with Dean’s scene, I was transfixed by Jared’s performance. There’s a lot to discuss about why Dean finally saw reason, or what finally broke Sam, but I want to just enjoy those scenes and their outcomes a bit more before analyzing words and actions. There are 3 or 4 more reviews this week that I’m confident will cover them in depth. For now, I want to revel in the aura of the 3 brothers of this family getting along.
Chuck: But you know what they say: All good things must come to an end.
We’re constantly being reminded that the end is coming! It was on everyone’s minds in the story, and woven throughout their dialogues.
Chuck: You being monsters? You being killed off by your friends? You really like that ending better? Think about what I showed you.
Chuck, we do that more than you know!
Dean: We’ll never give you the ending you want.
Chuck: We’ll see.
This long, long review has only scratched the surface of not only what happened in the episode, but its impact and implications. The boys turning into vampires… but still being brothers. Dean killing Jody, then Sam dying, on Dec 9, 2022. All their friends, including Jody, Donna and the rest of the girls, being dead. Who will be the hero of the story, in the end?
The thread of “power” was part of Chuck’s story, as “choice” was a part of Sam’s and Eileen’s. Their implications seemed rather straightforward so I chose not to focus on them. Time was also an obvious theme, with watches, time travel and both Dean and Billie declaring “It’s time.” The word “time” was uttered on 13 occasions in the script. That’s nearing the maximum number of times any word is used when it is the primary focus of the episode. Let’s monitor this to see if this was just for this week, or if it kicked-off a new thread for the back half of the season.
We also haven’t focused a great deal on the questions that were answered. “The Trap” closed out the thread on Sam’s God wound. That was a well-played, original mystery with an imaginative resolution (albeit rather sudden), so I’m happy with that plotline for the first half of the season. At least we know Sam isn’t going to get sick or die from some supernatural infection or something.
One last question occurred to me while watching the episode: Why did the writers think we’d be upset that Claire died? Does Bob Berens (the author of the Wayward pilot) understand that most fans don’t care about Claire? I’m kidding! I know that’s petty! Jody loves Claire and that was a very emotional scene that was done so well by Kim! I love her acting.
I enjoyed “The Trap.” It pulled you into its emotion and kept you guessing with its psychological mystery. I’m so happy Supernatural’s mid-season premiere led into the second half of the season with such a strong story. It wasn’t epic for me, but the acting elevated it to something I’ll want to see again. I felt like the purgatory side of the action was rushed because there were so many jarring jumps in the plot, but maybe those aren’t all as they appear to be (to give the writer the benefit of the doubt)? Sam’s side of the story was perfectly paced, though, giving us time to wonder, question and feel everything he was experiencing. In both stories, feelings were exposed and raw (which is the way I like it), so it felt like the boys are back.
To quote Dean and Billie, “It’s time.” Time to see where this goes. I’m anxious to have Jack back. I’m anxious to see where the 15 year myth arc is going. I don’t want funny episodes or monster-of-the-week filler anymore. I would like 11 straight action packed, emotional powerhouse episodes. Maybe we wouldn’t survive that (and it’s asking a lot of Jared, Jensen and Misha) but hey, the heart wants what the heart wants. I fell into Supernatural’s trap a long time ago so might as well go all in.
I'd love to hear your thoughts, below! Let the commenting and questioning begin!
Read more of Nightsky's "Threads" reviews! Links can be found on her writer's page.
Transcript quotes courtesy of Springfield! Springfield