The Morning After
On the surface, Supernatural’s “The Heroes’ Journey” was a hilarious break in the intensity of the brothers' lives, watching Sam and Dean fumble and bumble around like two extremely uncoordinated buffoons in a bunker! It was also a delightful goodbye to Garth, who got to save the day and live happily ever after with his wife, three children and beautiful home, complete with a successful dental practice in the basement. The underlying message of the episode was depressingly different, however. In fact, it was so defeating that I’m going to pack it away in the trunk of Baby until the end of this review. So let’s talk about the happy first!
The babies' names were Sam and Castiel! That is TOO funny! Sam was so honored! Now he can tease Dean about it for all eternity! Think of how happy Cas will be when he hears the news!
The cold remedy was “mostly cayenne pepper!” Poor Sam! Rolling on the floor in agony while Bess smirks and Gertie laughs at him.
Mommy, the giant’s crying!
Better yet, the twins start crying because Baby-Whisperer-Jared is crying! All Sam can squeak out is, “Everything’s burning” and “Big Sam is okay” because, bless his giant heart, he’s worried about the babies! I’m laughing just writing the words!
(Just look at that baby stare up at Jared! He is magic with kids!)
Brad: I mean, wow. With the furrowed brow and the puppy eyes. Did you see that? That never actually works for you, does it? [the “eyes” and seeing thread]Yes, that works for Sam! Don’t mess with Sammy’s secret weapon! Speaking of secret weapons:
Dean: It's weird. It, like, hurts in my stomach. It's not even… It's, like, up here. It's, like, where my ribs are. I don't know why. Has my voice gone higher?Dean may have been doubled over in pain, but I was doubled over laughing (while all the men watching were doubled over in empathy!)!
Okay, I have to say it. The crossover references to Twilight also delighted this Twilighter, e.g. the “Claire de Lune” music was Edward and Bella’s favorite, and of course the Fitzgerald’s mischievous love of Fifty Shades.
Without taking away a moment of the uproarious laughter that the slapstick comedy and brilliant one-liners delivered, I think it’s safe to assume that this episode will forever be remembered as Jensen’s tap dancing, "Singing in the Rain” Broadway debut! I've given you a screencap still of Jensen in a top hat… but you know you really want to watch him tap his way through the library, up the stairs and onto the map table, so here it is, courtesy of a Twitter video:
stream the dean and garth tap dance fan cam pic.twitter.com/JlP5b8PQG8— dean’s hotdog pants (@freckledsunn) January 24, 2020
Truly, is there no end to Jensen’s talent??? Now he can tap dance! Somewhere tucked away in my memory, I knew that D. J. Qualls could tap dance. I believe he said it at a convention a long time ago (maybe someone can find that clip?) so his dancing seemed perfectly in character to me. Tap dancing is not something “normal” people pick up in a day, though, even studying with a personal dance choreographer dedicated to making you look good on camera, so how Jensen was able to complete that entire vaudeville number astounds me. It definitely stunned the entire SPNFamily! The producers, show publicists and writers were extremely excited about his number, as judged from their tweets before and during the show. They couldn’t wait to show it to us! It’s an instant classic that will surely be ranked among the top scenes of the series! It was truly a “dream come true” for fandom!
… But None of it is Real
In addition to its pure delight, Dean's dance sequence was significant from a story standpoint as well. Dean dreamed the entire gift to fandom while under the influence of nitrous oxide – making none of it real. Visions and dreams have played a prominent role in Sam and Dean’s story since the fourth episode this season. Each time, the dialog has contained multiple references to not being able to tell what’s real or not, what could be believed or not, or what was truth versus a lie. Dean’s dream was all in his mind, similar to the mind games Chuck subjected Sam to last episode, or the visions Sam had of his and Dean’s deaths. In this episode, Dean repeatedly pushed to define reality:
Brad: They fight for money.
Dean: Money? Like, real money? Hey, I can talk.
Brad: Good for you. Yeah, real money.
Dean to Vampire Giant: What's your real name, huh? Marvin? Marion?
Sam then helped things stay real for Dean, in a humorous retort:
Dean: This Cas keeps looking at me weird.
Sam: So kind of like the real Cas.
Some of this could be attributed to the brothers naturally questioning what they can trust as real in their lives since everything, their coordination and skills now included, seems to have been an illusion. That could be the extent of all that should be implied by this thread, but Garth’s closing comments punctuated the importance of not believing what we’re seeing:
Garth: The guy who told me said it was in Alaska, on the road between Barrow and Kotzebue. He said, "You'll know it when you see it", whatever that means. Look, it might not even be real, and you know this stuff works. There's always a catch.
Garth’s parting words to the brothers take on even more meaning when you remember that Eileen’s parting words to Sam last week (15.9) were
“I don’t know what’s real anymore.”
So I became curious: Have the brothers been questioning reality all season, and have their friends been cautioning them about things not being real? It turns out, that YES, the dream thread has been reinforced all along with warnings about reality! This is important so please bear with me as I look back throughout the season so far.
“Our Father Who Aren’t in Heaven” (15.08): Dean continued to categorize things as real or not, saying about Michael, “Oh, yeah, a real daddy’s boy."
“Last Call” (15.07): Once Dean recognized the harsh truth of his friend’s life, Dean exclaimed “God’s not even God anymore.” Dean also questioned reality earlier in that story, asking, “That real bacon?” then echoed his dad’s opinion of country songs, “This is real music.”
“Golden Times” (15.06): One of the brothers (I think Sam?) distinguished distractions from the things that had real value, saying, “This is just junk. Tarot cards, self-help books. Where's her real stash?” and later confirming “Monsters are real.”
“Proverbs 17:3” (15.05): “Werewolves, monsters, they're all real. And me and my brother we hunt them, and we kill them. That's what we do.”
“Atomic Monsters” (15.04): Sam’s was surprised to find out, “That’s real bacon, Dean” but it was Becky who really highlighted the topic when talking to Chuck,
Look, what you were writing, it was real like, really real. You sort of channeled Sam and Dean's lives because you're a prophet. And, sure, I got a little obsessed, and it took me to a dark place. What I did to Sam! So, after some pretty intensive counseling, I realized I wasn't in love with the real Sam Winchester.“The Rupture” (15.03): One of the opening lines of the episode is Rowena asking for “a real drink.” Later, I think is was Cas who followed the same pattern of distinguishing reality from fabrications,
“Because every version of your death, your real, permanent death, Sam's the one who kills you.”Most significantly, Rowena’s parting plea to Sam includes another reference pointing to the real Sam Winchester and reality,
“It has to be you. My real, permanent demise is at your hands.”Rowena brings the total to at least three good friends who mention reality as one of the last things they say to the brothers!
“Raising Hell” (15.02):
Dean: Nothing about our lives is real. Everything that we've lost, everything that we are is because of Chuck. So maybe you can stick your head back in the sand, maybe you can pretend that we actually had a choice. I can't.
Sam: Dean, You asked, "What about all of this is real?" We are.
Note that it is Sam here who tells Dean what's real. in 15.09, Sam told Eileen what was real as well.
“Back and to the Future” (15.01): Twice a Winchester said, “I can't believe that you're for real” then later clarifies that they’re talking about “the real FBI.”
In every single episode this season, not only have the brothers questioned what is real, and rightly so, but we have been told that we should as well. As early as the first and second episodes, we were warned “I can’t believe that you’re for real” and “Nothing about our lives is real.” So why, then, was it such an unmitigated shock when Dean said in this episode,
Sam: So could we ever actually pick locks, or was it Chuck this whole time?
Dean: Well, dude, if we can't do this, then how the hell are we supposed to take care of Supervamp out there?
Sam: I don't think we can.
The thud wasn’t that the brothers are no longer heroes. It’s that they never really were. It was all Chuck, giving them super powers to do the impossible. They were only heroes because he needed heroes in his story. None of it was real.
The Heroes’ Journey (Title Thread)
Garth: So, he's a writer, and you're basically been the heroes of his story?
Sam: I guess, yeah.
Garth: Huh. Well, what's that make me? A supporting character? Special guest star?
Sam: No, Garth, it's not like that.
Garth: Oh, no, no, no. I want to be the guest star. Being the hero sucks. I mean, sure, you'll probably win eventually, but until you do, your life blows. Your parents get gunned down in an alleyway. Your home planet gets blown up. You, uh, interview this good-looking rich guy, and it doesn't go well, so he shows up at the hardware store where you work, and, man, it starts to get, you know.
Bess: It's from, uh… We love Fifty Shades.
Garth: Yeah, we do.
Sam: Who's the hero in that?
Garth: No, no, no. The point is, the hero thing - it's not fun. Well, I mean, there are some good things about it. Like, uh, when was the last time that Batman got a flat tire? Or Superman couldn't pay his water bill? Or the power goes out in the Red Room? See, the hero never sweats the small stuff. It slows down the story.
Sam: So, then, what happened? Chuck downgraded us?
Garth: Maybe, yeah. And now you're…
Garth: No. Normal.
This was brilliant insight from Garth, but he always did have a way of cutting through the clutter and seeing things for what they were with the brothers. Intellectually, his analysis of the heroes’ journey is a fascinating twist in the brothers’ story. Emotionally, as a fan of the brothers’ story, it’s devastating.
[Skip down to my “all clear” if you don’t want to hear anything other than the fun and light accolades of this episode (but I end on a high note, don’t worry). ].
If the brothers can be “downgraded” to “normal” with a snap of Chuck’s fingers, that means all their courage in the face of overwhelming odds, all their unimaginable sacrifices to save humanity, all their skills that they spent their lives honing – all of it was a lie. None of it was theirs to own. It was all borrowed from Chuck to make his story better. The brothers weren’t ever really heroes. In fact, in this hunt, they were the damsels in distress and Garth was the smart, brave hunter who saved them. Sam and Dean were hapless and helpless.
Dean pushes back on that reality:
We gotta win, man. That's not gonna be easy, okay? But you and me? Not everything we did was because of Chuck. It was us - the blood, the sweat, the tears, man. That's us. We've been doing this our whole lives. We're the best in the world. So I say we go out there. I say we go out there, and we kick some ass.
Well, that’s hopeful! Confidence! That’s what gets normal people through life! But even that wasn’t real:
Dean: Hey, did you believe me when I said I thought we could win this thing?
Dean: Yeah, me neither.
That has to be one of the lowest points in the series. Everything we believed in for the past 15 years was a lie.
When I think about it from Dabb’s point of view, it’s brilliant writing. All season we’ve watched the brothers try to reconcile the realization that their lives were being controlled. We could sympathize with them and hope if wasn’t true for their sake, but it wasn’t really happening to us. Now, we’ve got skin in the game. If they don’t prove Chuck wrong, prove that they were heroes all along, in their own right, no matter what he wrote in his books, then we’ve also been manipulated for 15 years. We’ve put our faith in a lie. All our tears, worry, true emotional commitment; all our faith in blood family and family that don’t end with blood; all the lessons we’ve learned about courage and how to fight even when there’s no visible way to win; all that devotion we gave to the hopeful tenets of Supernatural was ultimately a lie. We were manipulated by the writer of the story, just like the brothers. Now, it’s personal. We’re not watching their pain anymore, we’re sharing it. Brilliant.
[It’s safe to start reading again here]
The ringleader of the fight club, Cutty, perhaps narrated the writers’ game plan:
Yeah, sure, I could've killed you, but no. I want to see your best. I want to see what the Winchesters are capable of. Stripped down, closed in, just you against the world.
Is that what Chuck is doing? Seeing how much is his power and how much is raw Winchester? From a meta standpoint, and probably more important to the fans’ interests, is that what Supernatural’s writers are doing? One by one, the Winchesters are saying goodbye to the friends who have been with them on their 15 year journey. They are being “stripped down” to the bare essentials of it being just the two of them against the world like it was when they started, only now they are completely and utterly human. Will they prove to themselves, and us, that it was them all along? They were never supernatural. All they ever was was human - and that was enough - for them and for us.
Both Garth and Bess were the wise, responsible parents in this episode. Garth forced dentistry on Dean:
Garth: Dean, I’m doing this for your own good, buddy.
Bess practiced similar tough love on Sam. Is Chuck, or the writers, teaching the boys a lesson as well? Sam even guessed that maybe Chuck was messing with them to “teach us a lesson.” Maybe they need to learn something the hard way? Is that what this whole season is about?
Dean: Being normal is fine. For normal people with normal problems. But you and me? There's zero about our lives that's normal. And the way things are going, if we don't fix this, we might kill each other by accident. And if, when, Chuck comes back, we can't go up against him like this.
Sam: So, uh, Alaska?
So the boys go on a quest for their mojo, the “magic” that makes them special. Except I am inspired by these men because family is what gives them power, not a supernatural power. Courage, never, ever giving up, and love – those are human's superpowers. Maybe their quest is to learn that is the truth, and that all of it is real after all.
Garth, in his wisdom, said one thing that gives me hope.
Sure, you'll probably win eventually, but until you do, your life blows.The brothers’ and our last image of Garth was of him dancing happily with his wife to “Werewolves of London.” We’ll miss you, Garth. This episode may have been about tearing down the macho heroes and letting the nerd goofball have his day, but you always had heart, and for that, you deserved that good ending you got.
Dean: Hey, listen, Garth, I just want to say, what you did…
Garth: Ah. It was nothing.
Sam: Nothing? You saved us and blew up a bunch of monsters. That's not nothing. That's…
Dean: That's being a hero.
Garth: I guess I learned from the best.
We’ve learned from the best too, Garth. We’ll hold onto your prediction that the brothers will win in the end, if for no other reason than you said so. Garth gave Sam and Dean a thread of hope to latch onto and build on. As of last week, that seemed to be the one weapon that thwarted God, so that’s something at least.
The Last Word
Besides the obvious themes of the episode, there were other threads sprinkled throughout the dialog. Garth brought up hearts several times, and we’ve been tracking breaking heart and bleeding hearts as a theme this year. Dean also told him that he “deserved” the happiness he had found, which was a theme in “Our Father Who Aren’t In Heaven”. Garth’s two boys reiterated the father and son thread, and reminding us of two other brothers we know so well. Speaking of Garth, did anyone notice a full moon in the sky? Garth’s not a pure blood so he shouldn’t have been able to grow claws and get strong on demand. “Seeing” was brought up 11 times, which surely has something to do with seeing things for what they really are. The fight club also highlighted an inescapable cage, much like the imprisonment Sam and Dean were considering for Chuck. Lastly, did you hear Cutty reprise Billie’s words, “It’s time!”?
As with so many other episodes this season, I really won’t know if I’ll love this story or hate it to my dying day until we all see where the brothers end up. If this was the pivotal episode that tore down the heroes and the story we’ve believed in for 15 years, no amount of Jensen’s debonair dancing will make up for that travesty. If it all turns out to be a dream, vision or mind game of some kind, I just might have to give up on giving my heart to fictional heroes because I sure have been sucked into this lie.
If, however, our heroes prevail, as heroes always do, in 4 months when we know the outcome of their long journey, I’ll put this episode on automatic replay over and over again, because there just isn’t enough laughter in this world, and this episode kept me laughing and smiling from beginning to end. If you don't think about it too hard, it was just, plain fun.
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
Credit to the fan who screencapped Jensen in a top hat. I didn't grab their name when I grabbed the picture (sorry!).