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TV Review: Supernatural – “Hunteri Heroici”

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This week’s Supernatural is one of the “off the reservation” kind of episodes the show typically does very well. “Hunteri Heroici” is written by Andrew Dabb, who usually writes in partnership with Daniel Loflin. His solo effort gets a lot of things right, but also highlights where some of the issues of the season are. As we approach the fall Hellatus, those issues are beginning to cast a very large shadow.

The main story involves Sam, Dean, and Castiel having to deal with Fred Jones, an older and sick hunter who has retreated into his own mind. Problems arise because this hunter—guest star Mike Farrell—has psycho-kinetic powers of a magnitude that can change reality. And since Jones loves cartoons, he creates a bubble of cartoon physics around him. Hilarity ensues.

Jensen Ackles and Misha CollinsAnd for the most part, it does. The episode allows Jensen Ackles to show off his excellent physical comedy skills, as he dodges dropping anvils and runs into frying pans while chasing Dr. Mahoney, the nursing home thief who is tapping into Jones’ bubble of weird. Dabb weaves in many references to classic cartoons—he knows his Looney Tunes. It’s no small feat to make a talking cat (voiced by executive producer Robert Singer) work in a dramatic series.

Dabb also weaves in some emotionally potent scenes to balance the cartoon mayhem. Dean and Cas have a lovely scene where Dean not only tells Cas he is glad he’s back, he then looks past an angry outburst from his friend to ask what is really wrong. Instead of the kind of angry and often distorted communication we saw between Sam and Dean in “Southern Comfort,” Castiel shares the depth of his shame at his killing spree on Earth and in heaven. He’s cut himself off from heaven so he doesn’t feel driven to kill himself in remorse.

This is interesting stuff, because of course, Cas is not as cut off from his former home as he imagines. He’s an unknowing double agent controlled by mysterious angels in a part of heaven he knows nothing about. Cas ends the episode realizing he cannot escape his past, but not yet realizing he needs to escape Naomi’s clutches.

Escape is also a theme for Sam. Every mention in the show of escaping reality in a dream triggers a flashback for the younger Winchester, finally giving us another perspective on Sam’s relationship with Amelia.

There are a few nitpicks. I’m not sure why the first victim was sneaking around with his girlfriend at a flea bag motel when he had no need to sneak at all. Surely he would have trusted the sheets more at Olivia’s house?

Mike FarrellI also found it odd that Sam and Dean are so casually familiar with a hunter with the kind of psychic power that can shape reality. Dean seemed extremely freaked out in season one when Sam developed his own powers and that was before he knew anything about the demon blood. Dean had a very hard time accepting Sam shared something many of the monsters they hunt possess. He was worried whether that made Sam less than human and he was worried other hunters would think the same. I’m not sure why he was so freaked if he grew up knowing a hunter like Fred Jones.

Most of the references to previous seasons work better in the episode—I loved all the mentions of John, who had such a huge role in shaping his boys. We’ve gotten a lot about John’s impact on Dean over the years, but not a lot since season one on John’s impact on Sam. Here, we are reminded that Sam’s original stint at Stanford was as much an escape from his dad’s life and demands as they were a genuine desire to go to school. As Sam said to Dean in “Skin,” he didn’t fit in at Stanford any more than he did at home. His journey has always been about figuring out who he is.

Sam’s flashbacks finally lift the sparkly veil and show us that Sam is actually holding on to Amelia because he’s running from Dean’s loss, as she is holding on to him because she is still reeling from Don’s loss. Far from the mature move to what he really wants, Sam has found someone with the same dysfunctions he has. Amelia’s best defence of her move in with Sam is that they are both messes together. And they are.

Sam told Dean he wants to make his life count, but he’s using his formidable skill set to fix radiators. He’s chosen a partner whose relationship issues are less about grief and more about social skills passed down through the family—her dad uses the same kind of nasty jabs to manipulate Sam that Amelia used when we were first introduced to her. Alcohol appears to be problem with Amelia and may be another issue passed down by her father. Sam seems all too ready to follow Amelia down the alcoholic rabbit hole, which is no surprise from a man with an addictive nature.

Jared PadaleckiWhat is surprising is that when Amelia gets a call that reveals Don is not actually dead, Sam is not triggered to examine his own assumption on no evidence that Dean is dead. We know he’s going to leave Amelia by sneaking out in the middle of the night—but why? Because she’s torn between Sam and Don? That possibility strays into soapy territory yet again and is simply not interesting to me. I don’t have any investment in Sam and Amelia and would prefer to move past this part of the story into the interesting part: Sam’s feelings about losing Dean and his identity issues.

Almost halfway through the season and after four flashbacks in one episode, all we’ve arrived at in Sam’s arc is his relationship with Amelia is not healthy and he ran away from Dean’s disappearance rather than facing it. Since this is how I’ve viewed the relationship from the start, I think Carver needs to focus Sam’s arc and in a hurry, so we get the kind of interesting movement in his personal arc that we’ve gotten in Dean’s and Castiel’s and even Benny’s. I do not want to watch Amelia deal with two partners. I want to see Sam deal with the loss of his brother.

Sam’s arc has been frustrating because his perspective on not looking for Dean and seeing Amelia as a mature step away from a life he doesn’t want have never been convincing. It’s nice to finally see we are not supposed to accept Sam’s perspective—but unlike Dean’s flashbacks, what we learn from Sam’s doesn’t illuminate the present. Sam hears Amelia’s dad’s fears about his need to run, but in the present, he is still convinced he needs to leave hunting to pick up a life at college and he’s cyberstalking Amelia.

He tells Amelia’s dad he knows he ran from losing Dean, but upon finding Dean again, tells him he should think about hunting alone, because he loves his brother, but does not need him. The flashbacks are jarring because Sam is running just as hard in the present.

The flashbacks are just as jarring structurally in the episode. A story which has to flow between a cartoon world and reality, as well as heaven and earth, does not need to fit in four flashbacks as well. It doesn’t take four separate scenes to show us Sam has been running and he and Amelia are a mess. What we need is to see Sam actually grapple with what that means in the present. I’m much less invested in the return of Don than I am in Sam and Dean finally talking to each other honestly the way Dean is talking to Castiel.

Sam’s flashbacks have been the weakest part of the season so far. With any luck, they are over and next week’s episode can show Sam actually processing what his flashbacks this week revealed. Getting Sam’s story on track will help this season really fire on all cylinders, instead of hinting at an unravelling core. Getting back to the main story line won’t hurt, either. We need to get invested in this race with Crowley before Hellatus strikes.

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About Gerry Weaver

  • lil

    I’m in total agreement about the flashbacks. I find myself rolling my eyes every time one is coming along. I don’t care about the Sam/Amelia storyline at all. It adds nothing in my opinion. I hope we’ve seen the last of the flashbacks, but I suspect they’ll drag out for another few episodes.

    The communication between Dean/Cas is refreshing. Dean was never very good at the heart-to-heart talking thing, but they really seem to have found that now, and I like it. I hope Dean/Sam can also find that. We got a taster in the last episode when Dean was talking to Sam about seeing Castiel in the window. I like when they talk like that. I like when they communicate and support each other. It can’t always be left unsaid.

    To pick up on one of your earlier points. Maybe Olivia has a significant other who is not aware of the ‘arrangement’, and that would explain the sneaking around in motels part. Just a thought.

  • aurens66

    I agree with you on the flashbacks, while Dean’s Purgatory story and Sam’s backstory could be equally compelling, a lot of the momentum and tension in the narrative were lost with the flashback technique, though I am grateful to Carver and Edlund for showing us what happened in the time the brothers spent apart – rather than Dean’s time in Hell and Sam’s time in the Cage in previous seasons left out.

    I’m hoping that the story now picks up steam and impetus, bringing Cas, the Trans, Garth, Benny and Sherrif Jodi for the ride.

  • Gerry

    Hi, great to see you, both! Lil, good point about Olivia maybe having a hubbie, too. I”m not sure a flea bag motel is a better option than timesharing someone’s house (-: It’s just a little nitpick, anyway.

    I’m liking the communication between Dean and Cas, too. It really highlights how poor the communication is between Dean and Sam, though and it doesn’t make me like Southern Comfort any the better. I hope the writers don’t let that bitter and distorted fight stand over Hellatus.

    Aurens66, I agree that flashbacks are a difficult way to tell a story at the best of times, because they stop the forward momentum of the main story. I think the Purgatory story line used the flashbacks really well, because every flashback informed us of something we were wondering about in the present, so the main story was always enhanced and moved forward.

    For example, I wondered how Dean could have hooked up with a vampire to begin with. A flashback showed us. I wondered why he would trust a vampire to have his back. A flasback showed us. I wondered when Benny went from fellow foxhole inhabitant to friend. A flashback showed us. And the same with the Dean/Cas perception storyline. And all those story lines are being advanced in the present, so the flashbacks connect to the present in a way that is not linear, which is the best way for flashbacks to work.

    Sam’s flashbacks, on the other hand, don’t have that sense of moving anything forward. They’ve only confirmed what I already strongly suspected–no reversal of expectations here. And Sam’s personal arc is not being moved forward in the present, so there’s a sense of moving backward with the flashbacks, but not forward and definitely not in a layered fashion with multiple connections.

    So, they tend to bring the episode to an abrupt halt and not add much. That’s not only a problem for the flashbacks, it’s a problem for the episode as a whole and it’s a problem in the pacing of the main story line. We haven’t seen enough, in my opinion, of tablet hunt for that to seem like a driving force for the season.

    There’s a lot riding on next week’s episode to leave us breathless for more over Hellatus.

  • shamangrrl

    I actually wasn’t going to comment on this episode, because it couldn’t hold my interest (I read through most of the show, only looking up occasionally). To me, this episode felt like a complete waste of time. I loved the Dean/Castiel scenes, and I laughed outright at Castiel vs. Bob. And yes, JA is extremely gifted at physical comedy, among other things.

    But I learned nothing new. Castiel staying in Purgatory to atone clued me in to the depth of his self-loathing and despair over what he’d done. It was nice to see him start to move on from that, with Dean’s help. Castiel had an actual revelation. Sam is a whole ‘nuther story. I learned in the Pilot, that Sam runs. It’s been shown throughout the series. Sam only wants to hunt when there’s a personal motivation. That’s how the Pilot ended. Sam has an addictive personality – again, not new. Sam tends to find someone to cling to when he runs, and that person generally isn’t the best safe-harbor. Again, not news. But I could get behind all this, if I felt that Sam had finally reached critical mass, and an epiphany ensued. But I didn’t see that. And I’m sorry, but I don’t watch daytime soaps. I’m tired of their tired and belabored tropes being shoehorned into Supernatural. I mean, do the writers remember the meaning of the word used as the title? Frequently, I think not.

    And how can Sam go back to school, especially using his real name? Hasn’t he been on the FBI’s most wanted list for years now? Didn’t the Levi’s go on a very public killing spree, using Sam and Dean’s likenesses? To me, the whole “return to school” thing is just another of Sam’s delusions. And for as much as Show has Dean Tell Sam “I need you” and Sam Tell Dean “I don’t need you”, it continually Shows the exact opposite.

    And yes, the pacing has been off this season. Out of 8 episodes, we’ve only had what, two that focused on the guys and three that focused on mytharc? If the writers want to make me care about the compendium of tablets, they need to push it in the writing. They don’t seem invested, so why should I be invested? And if the Purgatory flashbacks are in fact over, they need to start writing the guys (instead of guest stars), and making them proactive. There’s been too much emphasis on backstory and guest stars, with the guys in support roles. Make me care, writers.

    Anyway, Dean and Castiel were written quite well in this one, and their relationship is showing that “maturity” Carver was touting pre-season. Benny is back next week, so I’m hopeful for that episode.

  • Gerry

    Hi Shamangrrl, I feel a lot of your pain, though for me, any episode that allows Jensen Ackles to show his physical comedy skills is worth the price of admission. And as you say, Castiel’s story did advance in this episode, because he had a well set up epiphany.

    I really liked seeing Dean move past Castiel’s angry shout and just ask him to talk to him. Going into the Purgatory arc, I thought we might be seeing a “Lord of the Flies” type story for Dean, reverting to every man for himself. In fact, we’ve seen the opposite. Dean is as focused on his relationships as he’s ever been and he’s willing to talk, of all things, to keep them close. He may be battling a level of PTSD, but I think the purity of battling to survive in Purgatory allowed him to let go much of the guilt that was crippling him.

    He still has guilt, of course, because I think he needs to talk to John to really let go his tendency to feel he’s responsible for everything, but he’s no longer crippled–and I think we saw more evidence of this moving forward in this episode.

    Unfortunately, that does highlight the lack of movement between Sam and Dean and Sam’s personal arc. As you say, we seem far from accruing critical mass there and little expectation of an epiphany next week. I really hope I’m wrong on that–a beautifully done epiphany on Sam’s part on how he feels about both Dean and hunting would be a great send off into Hellatus.

    Like you, I don’t believe Sam at college is a story about his maturity and how he was only pulled into hunting against his will, as though he’s a normal joe. He may well want that, but the driving force is that he is not and has never been a normal joe. He didn’t fit at Stanford last time he want and I don’t really see why he would this time, either. Pretending he’s not Sam Winchester is never going to be the way to emotional health, in my opinion, and that’s setting aside your very relevant questions about how he would enter mainstream society anyway.

    I think the immediate question of a Winchester manhunt has been answered, because Sam and Dean have been declared dead. However, they still run the risk of being recognized and surely their strategy of stealing credit cards and burning them when they’re maxed out wouldn’t work on a sustained basis by a guy with a permanent address. And Sam would have to manufacture an entire history to get back into university; he can’t use his previous application records due to the manhunt.

    And that is without the issue of monsters and demons hunting him down because they either hate him or want something from him. Crowley is a constant danger to the boys–why would Sam risk involving anyone else in that when he’s already lost Jess to demons and watched Dean have to walk away from Lisa and Ben because he couldn’t protect them?

    Really not seeing Sam’s arc as a maturity arc or a wonderful love story and whatever it is, I wish it would hurry up and be that.