Normally when it’s time for me to write a Supernatural episode review, I like to take a day or two and digest what I’ve witnessed. After all, this show has many layers and there’s always something hidden that surfaces after a couple of re-watches and some analysis. For “Dark Side of The Moon” though, it’s been several days and I’m still scratching the surface when it comes to the gravity of this episode. I even had to write my full length recap before the review which is a rarity. I needed that good a grasp.
This concept of the main characters dying and going into the afterlife has been done repeatedly in television drama and never goes the same way. Welcome to Heaven Supernatural style. This episode is explosive from the word go, when Sam and Dean are brutally (and graphically) gunned down in their motel room beds by two vengeful hunters. That shock alone is jarring enough so by the time we get to the emotional rest of the episode, we’re pretty shaken. The writers, Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin, who became part of the writing team last season, really come to their own in this outstanding script. This episode is directed by first time to Supernatural director Jeff Woolnough, who brings something unique to the unfolding of this extraordinary story.
This episode is a character continuity fiesta. Old issues with Sam and Dean resurface and new information is learned, but it’s all in line with what we knew before. Each brother gets a revealing look into the other’s deeply private moments and it is a shock on both ends. Heaven is all about relieving life’s greatest hits and Dean starts with a very happy memory involving thirteen year old Sam (welcome back Colin Ford!) and the setting off of likely illegal fireworks on the fourth of July. This is a brilliant scene the way it is shot and edited, right down to Bob Dylan’s “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” the colorful lighting of the scenery and faces, and the overjoyed reactions of both young Sam and the older Dean, who rarely smiles anymore. Much happier times indeed.
The reality of being dead hits Dean once Castiel finds a way to communicate, via the car radio. He’s off to find Sam, who’s caught in his own happy memory of a Thanksgiving dinner when eleven with an enamored girlfriend and her family. From there the memories continue. Dean remembers a touching moment when Mary fixes him lunch (cutting the crusts off his sandwich) and he’s there to comfort her with hugs when she’s has a fight with John. Sam fondly remembers the time he ran away from home and lived on his own for two weeks in a trailer with a dog named Bones (I love Golden Retrievers) and when he ditched Dean and John for Stanford.
Dean instantly sees the problem. Sam’s best memories are some of his personal worst. Dean can’t understand why Sam doesn’t value family, and Sam explains he didn’t have moments like getting the crusts cut off his peanut butter and jelly so he doesn’t see family the same. This has been an ongoing rift between the brothers since season one, their differing perception of loyalty toward family, but given Dean’s fragile state of mind and wavering faith after the incidents in “My Bloody Valentine,” seeing this side of Sam again only adds fuel to that internal fire.
Castiel is the one that sends Sam and Dean on a quest through Heaven, communicating via a distorted TV image reminiscent of 1984 (Nice touch). The problem is if Zachariah finds them he’ll send them back, and they need to take advantage of a rare opportunity first. They must find an angel named Joshua who talks to God. Castiel is cut off from Heaven and desperately needs Sam and Dean to do this for him. Dean agrees for reasons that become clear later, God is his last hope.
The trip through Heaven comes with surprises, including reunions with Ash (Chad Lindberg) and Pamela (Traci Dinwiddie). Each give Sam and Dean their own perspectives of this life of paradise, for despite being caught in their own private worlds, they’re content and happy. Ash even reveals that this isn’t the first time Sam and Dean have been there and angels “windexed” their brains each time they returned back to Earth. I really appreciate that this show didn’t hide the fact that Sam and Dean do tend to die a lot (even in the opening credits) and something did happen as a result of those deaths. That’s been a topic of discussion for a while among the fandom and answers are finally delivered.
Eventually Zachariah catches up with Dean and Sam and puts them through intense psychological torture by turning Mary (or at least a version of her) against them. After that, the physical torture begins. Sure he’ll eventually send them back, but this time it’s personal. They are spared though by the soft spoken Joshua who insists to speak to Sam and Dean and pulls rank because he’s following orders from “the boss.” They go to the garden, and Joshua delivers the message from God. He knows. He knows what the angels are doing, about the apocalypse starting, everything. He won’t do anything about it though since it’s not his problem. Joshua also confirms what was implied earlier this season, God was the one that put them on the plane in the season premiere and brought Castiel back.
Joshua is kind and sympathetic, and is painfully aware how Dean is losing faith. He’s apologetic over the fact he can’t tell them what they hoped to hear. He sends them back to Earth this time with their memories and once Sam and Dean awake to the bloody mess they left behind, their perspectives couldn’t be more opposite. Dean calls Castiel and tells him of the conversation, and that’s enough for Castiel to lose all hope. He somberly returns the amulet to Dean, calling it worthless, and flies off. Sam is determined to find another way and tries to encourage Dean in their fight, but Dean follows Castiel’s lead and quietly gives up. He even drops his precious amulet in the trash on the way out, leaving Sam alone to ponder their
I usually read some fan reactions before writing a review and sad to say, I think a few missed what's happening here. The idea of God turning his back on man is nothing new. This is straight out of Paradise Lost (published in 1667), where God denounces responsibility for man because of man’s choice to use free will. He will not intervene or help. It’s up to man to solve his own problems. It’s meant to be a test of character, a test of faith, a test of the resolve of humanity.
Joshua even tells Sam and Dean “Why does he allow evil in the first place? You could drive yourself nuts asking questions like that.” He’s trying to get them to focus on the bigger picture, which is fighting the apocalypse. I don’t think Joshua is implying they should give up. He even tells them he’s rooting for them and feels bad he couldn’t deliver the answer they wanted. He points out that they were saved by being put on the plane and granted them salvation in Heaven, despite all that they’ve done. They are in God’s good graces.
The issue with Dean is he’s not in a good place right now and can’t find the way out. He’s at wits end due to the impossible burdens he’s put on himself to save everyone in the world alone. He needs help and isn’t getting the kind he wants and that’s putting him into the lowest of lows. Finding God to him is truly the last act of a desperate man. Once that didn’t turn out the way he hoped, his spirit is broken. They’ve been building up to this fall for a while now, at least since “Abandon All Hope.” When Dean throws the amulet away, I don’t think it is a slam on Sam so much as the action of a man who has lost faith in everything. Family, God, the real world, people; all that he held dear. It doesn’t mean anything to him anymore because nothing means anything to him anymore. He believes Castiel, it’s worthless.
This experience though has a different impact on Sam, it strengthens his resolve. If you recall “My Bloody Valentine,” Sam was too embroiled in his issues with falling off the demon blood wagon due to Famine’s spell and then going through another painful detox. He didn’t know about Dean’s meltdown and plea for help in the end. Seeing Dean get really upset over seeing his happy memories without family and watching Dean toss away that important symbol of their bond, it threw him for a loop. He had no idea Dean was that low. In the end he tries to pick his brother back up like they normally do with each other, encouraging them to fight as a team, but Dean’s situation is clearly worse than he thought. Sam’s recently seen Bobby and now Castiel and Dean lose their resolve and that puts him in a very tough and unfamiliar position. He’s the only one with some inner strength left to pull it all together. Who knows, maybe this all ends up ultimately being the test of Sam Winchester. We were promised redemption. Oh, and of course Sam fished the amulet out of the trash.
The Other Things
There are theories floating around that Zachariah planted the memories. I don’t think so. He may have allowed each brother to see the memories knowing what they would see, thus causing a rift but I don’t think he controlled them. Just like with demons, it doesn’t take much with these two to push the right buttons.
I find it endearing that Dean got worried when Sam wasn’t there with him in Heaven at first. I also adore that Sam could understand why Dean would go to Heaven, but that he didn’t think he belonged there after everything he has done. “Last I checked it wasn’t the road the Heaven that was paved with good intentions.” Good continuity there!
Quote of the episode actually comes from Castiel once Dean figures out he’s dead. “Condolences.” A close second belongs to the enthusiastic Ash. “Welcome to my Blue Heaven.”
The scene with Sam watching Dean with Mary really got to me. He is so stunned to see this time in his brother’s life, when he was so young. “I just never realized how long you’ve been cleaning up Dad’s messes.”
Ash’s reaction in finding out Ellen and Jo are dead is so genuine. He is truly distraught but works through it in a poignant way, using the comfort that they went down fighting. Dean sees it all as a waste though.
So, Sam and Dean are soul mates? That seems right, but it’s interesting to see how awkward they were about the news. Maybe knowing too much about your destiny isn’t a good thing.
Sam and Dean’s idea of “the garden” is the Cleveland Botanical Gardens. How funny!
My grade on this episode is an A+. I know people out there hate sad stories and don’t like to see the brothers apart, but this episode is great character continuity from “My Bloody Valentine” (which was supposed to be the episode before this) and advances the story in a big way. It’s all a setup for what’s to come, so wait for the end result before cursing TPTB for ruining the show. However, if you want to blame them for turning you an emotional wreck, have at it. They’ve been just brutal recently, and I’m sure that’s perceived by them to be doing their jobs right.