Summary : "Alex Annie Alexis Ann" isn't your average Monster-of-the-Week episode.
Supernatural’s “Alex Annie Alexis Ann,” written by Robert Berens and directed by Stefan Pleszczynski, brings back one of my all-time favorite recurring characters, Sheriff Jody Mills (Kim Rhodes). After discovering – and beheading – a vampire she catches attacking Alex, a teen in custody (Katherine Ramdeen), Jody calls the Winchesters. As Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam (Jared Padalecki) search for the nest, Jody “babysits” Alex. After Celia, “Mama,” (Ashley Crow) and Alex’s brothers kidnap the girl, the Winchesters and Jody return to the nest to clean out the vampires.
This late in the season, many viewers might resist a Monster-of-the-Week installment in favor of the myth arc’s beginning crescendo to the finale. But “Alex Annie Alexis Ann” isn’t just another MOTW episode. At its heart, it contemplates many of season nine’s broader, character-driven themes, from “Who am I?” to “Do the ends justify the means?” to “What – and who – is family?”
One of the things I love about “Alex Annie Alexis Ann” is its structure: The episode begins and ends with Jody and Alex, a framing that breaks the “brothers bookend” often seen with MOTW episodes. In this story, while the Winchesters are, of course, an important element, Jody, Alex, and even Celia are equally so. It’s a juxtaposition that reveals quite a bit about all of our characters.
Berens writes Jody well, and Rhodes, once again, breathes life into her. Since her introduction in “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid” (5×15), Jody has been a vibrant character, one who can hold her own with the Winchesters (and Bobby Singer, too). She accidentally demonstrates that Borax wounds leviathan in “Slash Fiction” (7×6). Since then, she’s been an unofficial hunter-in-training, helping Sam in “Time after Time” (7×12) and killing Vesta in “Rock and a Hard Place” (9×8). In case we didn’t already know, the opening scene of “Alex Annie Alexis Ann” establishes that Jody is a BAMF in her own right. While Dean and Sam tease about “how they grow up so fast” after seeing evidence of her prowess, she doesn’t claim the status of “hunter.” Instead, she defers to the Winchesters’ judgment, calling them the “experts” and taking their advice. Even at episode’s end, after she’s added yet another vampire kill to her tally, Jody doesn’t call herself a hunter.
Alex is an interesting new character. The vampires kidnapped her almost nine years ago, but while Alex calls them family and protects the nest’s location from the Winchesters, the opening scene makes it clear that the “family” dynamics aren’t exactly copasetic. Cody (Jarrett Knowles) clearly frightens his sister, and their conversation has disturbing, threatening undertones, particularly when he taunts, “You can run and you can hide, but we will always find you.” Ironically, Cody is right: The vampires can find Alex because they know her so well and can track her. But Cody doesn’t count on Jody, who delivers a surprise decapitation from behind.
Celia also catches viewers’ attention, from her introduction to her demise. The fact that Alex always calls her “Mama,” even after her death, tells us something about their relationship’s dynamics. That Celia has turned the boys, creating the family is also important – this is a found family, but was it found by choice? The friction between Alex and her brothers suggests there are degrees of envy and annoyance there, that they resent the “special treatment” she’s received that none of them have. Celia is a matriarch who holds her family together through a type of love and loyalty that reminds its members of what she’s done for them. When she and Jody speak of motherhood, it’s Celia who mentions the care-taking aspects in the same sentence as love. There’s a lot that can be explored in that exchange.
The ideas about family illustrated in the Jody/Celia/Alex dynamics speak to the other family relationship that’s been under scrutiny this season: the Winchester brothers. Dean and Sam’s very first scene in the episode nods to the continued tension between them: Jody asks how they’re doing, and they answer almost simultaneously. Dean says, “Peachy,” while Sam says, “Touch and go.” Jody doesn’t seem to pickup on the dissonance of their responses as anything alarming or unexpected. The context of the rest of the season reminds us, though, that this is indicative of larger issues. Jody, who I imagine doesn’t expect them to answer as one, replies (seemingly to Sam, considering his answer), “I know the feeling.” Despite their division, the Winchesters work well together in this episode, and Jody never seems to notice anything amiss in that regard.
“Alex Annie Alexis Ann” uses its characters’ interactions to subtly highlight season nine’s larger issues. Family, loyalty, and identity are fairly blatant themes, but the importance of choice and free will, among other things, are also there. When Dean surmises that Alex is likely a “blood slave” and Sam explains to Jody that slaves may be “loyal to their captors,” the sheriff succinctly identifies it as “Vampiric Stockholm syndrome.” Even in the Winchesters’ interrogation of Alex, they pinpoint the very issues they’ve been at odds over. After Alex insists that her name isn’t “Annie” and that the vampires are, in fact, her family, Sam tells her, “We get it. Loyalty is a very powerful thing.”
Neither Dean nor Sam sees real value in this vampiric family, though, and they work to convince her that she’s wrong to do so, too. Dean tells her, “They’re monsters, Annie. And they didn’t love you.” Alex counters their points, but she can’t when they finally acknowledge, “You care about them, but – Alex, there’s a reason you decided to run away.” The girl’s conflict is fairly obvious, and she even cries during the interrogation; when we later find out that the vampires use her as a lure, though, I wondered about the authenticity of that scene. In hindsight, it seems legitimate. When Alex blames Jody for killing her brother, Cody, Dean matter-of-factly lays it out for her: He died “Because of a choice you made. These are the consequences.” Sam is equally blunt, finally saying, “You’ve got two options: Them or you.” Do the Winchesters’ responses sound like echoes to anyone else? There are multiple conversations happening in this scene and several parallels that can be teased out, depending on the reader’s point of view.
When Alex won’t give up the location of the nest, Dean and Sam head for O’Neill, NE, where they find the house where the vampires have been squatting and capture one of Alex’s brothers, Dale (Greyston Holt). Under interrogation, Dale repeats a common season nine refrain: “We all have our roles to play.” Other themes are reiterated in this scene, from the formation of family to how to distinguish a monster. Dean tells Dale that Alex “is better” for not drinking blood. Dale scoffs at the Winchesters, telling them that Alex isn’t. “When the chips are down, she’ll always choose us over humans. I mean, how do you think we stayed off your radar all these years? …And you better believe you don’t get that good unless you enjoy it. In her own sweet way, the girl’s as bloodthirsty as any vampire.”
Dale casts enough doubt on Alex’s nature to worry the Winchesters, but by the time they contact Jody, it’s too late. Celia and the rest of the family have tracked Alex to the cabin. Dean kills a restrained Dale without any warning or hesitancy, and the brothers head to Jody’s, but by the time they arrive, the vampires and Alex are long gone.
Even though she’s hurt, Jody insists on coming with, and this conversation reveals a spectrum of response. Jody is concerned about Alex and upset that she was taken while under her “protection.” Sam, who connects with and reassures Jody several times in the episode, agrees with Dean but acknowledges that Alex may not be all bad. He says, though, “At best, her loyalties are screwed.” Jody doesn’t care, even after learning that Alex has acted as a lure and likely has “more blood on her hands than most monsters [the Winchesters] kill.”
Dean, however, is anything but forgiving. He asserts, “With hunting monsters come harsh truths. This is a clean-up mission, not a rescue.” We’re not often shown the darker side of hunting, not really. After all, the old phrase is “Saving people, hunting things, the family business,” with emphasis on the “saving” – or, at least, that’s how Supernatural began. How is it now? One line in particular stands out to me: Dean says to Jody, “And how do you even know she wants to be saved?” I immediately thought of Castiel’s line to Dean in “Lazarus Rising,” “You don’t think you deserve to be saved” (4×1). Maybe it’s accidental, but considering the noticeable mirrors and parallels throughout season nine, I think it’s phrasing worth considering. With everything in Dean’s life as it is at the moment, how does he feel about Cas saving him all those years ago?
Though Sam doesn’t verbalize the deeper meaning(s) of what Dean’s saying, he does try to pinpoint Jody, asking her what’s going on. It doesn’t exactly work. I really like how Jody interacts with Dean and Sam here. Dean essentially delivers commands, which while she listens, she doesn’t necessarily obey; Sam’s very different style leads him to try and connect and ask questions, and while Jody responds, she doesn’t let him “guide” her. Jody makes up her own mind, and she tells them in no uncertain terms that she’s going and that if either of them tries to hurt Alex, they’ll have to go through her. As Jody gets into the Impala, the expressions on the Winchesters’ faces are priceless.
When the Winchesters and Jody raid the nest, they’re quickly separated. Connor (Reilly Dolman) and his brother knock Dean unconscious and duct-tape Sam to a chair. (Lesson learned: Never underestimate the power of duct-tape.) This sets off a scene that brings the brothers’ issues to the foreground.
While Dean’s unconscious, Connor taunts Sam, demanding to know who took off Dale’s head. Sam’s expressive in this scene, but I haven’t yet decided what I think he’s emoting – Aggravation? Protection? Fear? Regardless, Connor’s threat, “Pretty fitting – a brother for a brother,” is another repetitious dynamic for season nine. To what end, we don’t yet know.
It’s symbolic that Sam’s drained of his blood (seriously, how did he function after that much blood loss?) considering that it’s been his blood that distinguished him as different since the pilot episode. Now, though, it’s Dean who doesn’t seem quite human. Dean snaps back to alertness so quickly that it’s startling, and the ensuing fight reminds me of feral, Purgatory!Dean (season eight) and young, angry Dean (2×3 particularly). When Dean kills Connor, it’s chilling. He forces the vampire to look him in the eyes before he decapitates him.
Once the vampires are dead, Dean goes straight to Sam, and when his brother tries to speak, Dean says bitterly, “Yeah, I know. You wouldn’t of done the same for me.” But Sam isn’t sniping; he’s trying to remind Dean about Jody (which marks the second time in the episode that Sam has done so). By the time the Winchesters find Jody, in a wonderful change of pace, she and Alex have already saved themselves.
Later, when Sam calls Dean on how he killed Connor, the conversation harkens back to Dale assuring them that Alex enjoyed what she did for the family. Sam says, “…it looked to me like you were enjoying it, maybe too much.” Dean’s response is simply “And?” Sam looks taken aback, and Dean responds bluntly, “Killing things that need killing is kind of our job. Last I checked, taking pleasure in that’s not a crime.” This is an old argument with the brothers, but Dean of season eight had learned to see things in shades of gray – it’s how he developed a close friendship with vampire Benny Lafitte. I’m guessing that the missing Benny mention in this episode is not an oversight and that it’s intended to emphasize Dean’s changing perspective.
But this episode is about more than just brotherhood and brothers-in-arms; it’s about family. Celia seems willing to overlook Alex’s rebellion, saying, “We will all find our way. Things got screwy, but you’re back now.” Alex shows fear, and “Mama” assures, “I would never hurt you… how could you even think that?” But Mama will turn Alex, and she doesn’t see that transformation as hurt; she sees removing Alex’s humanity as simply helping her fit in with the family, not as stripping away or denying part of her core identity.
I love the dialogue between Jody and Celia, when the latter critiques our favorite sheriff’s understanding of motherhood. Jody’s circumstances are heartbreaking, particularly when we remember the circumstances under which she lost her family. Celia’s – different, let’s call it – approach to family aside, she does understand that motherhood’s about more than just blood.
Jody recognizes that Celia is doing exactly what she’s critiquing the sheriff for doing: using Alex to fill a hole caused by grief. Jody says, “And it still hurts. You still feel it, loss, pain – like a stone in your gut that hurts just a little bit less whenever she’s near.” (I can’t help thinking about the Winchesters and their grief, potential and realized, here.) Celia isn’t moved by Jody’s insight, and she goes to attack the hunter, but Alex injects her with the dead man’s blood.
“Mama” is shocked and says, “How could you? You were my girl.” I think that Celia’s use of “my” exposes the very reason why Alex defends Jody. Alex’s sense of belonging in the nest is contingent upon her fulfilling their expectations; she may love them, but as Sam told her, she had a choice, and she chose herself. Alex apologizes to Mama, and Jody, machete poised at the vampire’s neck, sympathetically tells her, “Don’t watch this, sweetheart.” Alex listens, and Celia loses her head as the Winchesters come down the stairs.
I can see several potential readings of this scene in terms of how these dynamics relate to the Winchesters. Dean conforming to John’s expectations; Sam conforming to Dean’s and/or John’s; the unspoken promise to always break the promise to look for each other (which Sam broke when Dean was sent to Purgatory); Dean going to extreme and unacceptable measures (again) to keep Sam alive; and so on. Considering where the brothers are now, and with only four episodes left in the season, I’m wondering just where their dynamic will be by the finale’s end.
Jody and the Winchesters share a touching final scene where Dean and Sam apologize and acknowledge that they were wrong about Alex, but Jody corrects them: “No, you were right about me. My judgment was clouded…it’s still there – underneath. The grief. I don’t know what that means for me, just that I’ve been fooling myself to think I could ignore it.” While Jody recognizes the weight that she’s carrying, how will she deal with it? The answer seems to lie in the episode’s very last scene.
Jody checks on Alex, who is in Owen’s bed, recovering from Samuel Campbell’s “vampire cure” (6×5). Alex, who remembers her manners now, thanks Jody for the offer of food and also explains why she agreed to be turned: “When mama offered, I just – I couldn’t disappoint her again. I have enough to be ashamed of as it is. Jody, I’ve done things.”
Jody says that she knows and tells her, “Whatever you want from me, I’ll give it. If you want, I’m here…What you’ve been through, the last 48 alone, losing your entire family – everything you’ve ever known or loved – no one can understand that.” Alex corrects her with a simple “You can.”
In that moment, Jody and Alex recognize something in each other that they can relate to and connect with. Their acknowledgement of that recognition suggests that they’ll be able to forge a relationship that will help both of them heal. What this means long term is unclear, especially since I can’t help but remain skeptical of Alex’s quick adaptation to a non-vampire way of thinking. Will it last? Even more importantly, when will we see the lovely Sheriff Mills again? And when will Dean and Sam figure out their issues?
In next week’s episode, “Bloodlines,” the Winchesters go to Chicago. The preview for the back-door pilot suggests it’s quite a departure from the original. Supernatural airs on Tuesdays at 9 pm EST on the CW network.
- This week, though I still wonder what’s happening on the angel front, my questioning has been significantly diminished because I know that Dean is, in fact, keeping tabs on Cas (9×18).
- I love The Walking Dead shout-out.
- One of my favorite lines is Jody’s, “I’ll give you a pass on account of the whole raised by monsters thing.”
- How do Dean and Sam not hear the wood-chipper from the get-go? Those machines are loud.
- The darker Dean gets, the hotter he gets. How is this possible?
- The language in this episode is interesting – Sam, Jody, and Mama all use “ain’t” (Dean doesn’t, for a change). “Bitch” is used at least four times.
- According to Berens, the five movies that inspired this episode are Carrie, Fargo, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Aliens, and Pete’s Dragon.
- The tweeting party included Robert Berens, Kim Rhodes, Katherine Ramdeen, and Orlando Jones.
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