The second episode of Supernatural’s 12th season has several strong moments, though it doesn’t quite sustain the momentum of last week’s premiere. “Mamma Mia,” written by Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming and directed by Thomas J. Wright, juggles several storylines. Toni Bevell (Elizabeth Blackmore) is still torturing Sam (Jared Padalecki). Mary Samantha Smith) continues to adjust to life in the twenty-first century. Crowley (Mark Sheppard) enlists his mother, Rowena (Ruth Connell), to help search for Lucifer, who is in turn searching for a vessel. Dean (Jensen Ackles) copes with his mother’s return, and Castiel (Misha Collins) is on the road searching for Sam. And along with all of this, it becomes clear that something is up with the British Men of Letters. This is a lot of narrative for a single episode, and the pacing feels off as a result. However, rather than dissect the structure, I’m going to focus on a few scenes that are key for me:
My dislikes include Toni’s torture of Sam. “Mamma Mia” opens with what appears to be Sam and Toni in a romantic and sexual situation. The reality is that Toni, using spellwork, has crafted a hallucination and is using this setting to interrogate Sam. Extending Sam’s torture to this level is disturbing. When Sam breaks free of the spell, Toni then turns (again) to physical torture. Weirdly, while the premiere has moments that suggest a forthcoming redemption, this episode strips that away; here, Toni is consistently ruthless, cruel, prejudiced, and just plain awful. I don’t want her to have a redemption arc; I want her removed from the story.
In general, I find the Men of Letters involvement, specifically Toni’s motivations, confusing. She demands the names of all hunters, yet the Winchesters exist, at best these days, on the periphery of the hunters network. She also wants to know about Sam’s involvement with Ruby, which doesn’t make narrative sense to me. Perhaps more will connect to that question later on, or was it just a nice callout to Genevieve Padalecki?
My favorite moments continue to be those grounded in family. Prior to Sam’s rescue, Mary overhears Dean talking with Cas about his worry of overwhelming her. This leads to a touching scene where Dean opens up and assures her, “I am so damn happy I can’t even stand it.” This conversation also reveals that Mary is worried about facing Sam because she feels guilty for starting “all of this” by making the deal with the yellow-eyed demon (4×3).
The amount of guilt Mary carries isn’t all she has in common with her eldest son, and I laughed out loud when she brushes off Dean’s protestations about her coming along to Missouri with “Good talk.” The ensuing road trip allows for more conversation, and Dean tells Mary (who remembers John as a great father) that her death changed the man completely, that the hunting lifestyle took him over. Dean says that’s also happened to him and shares that Sam nearly got out. Mary doesn’t understand why Sam didn’t stay out, and Dean – without explaining all of the murky history – distills it down to this: Following their dad’s death, they realized “that the only thing [they] had in this world… aside from this car was each other.” Mary’s expression to that revelation is anything but approving. I want to know how her presence will shake up the brothers’ dynamic and – hopefully – set them on more productive paths.
My absolute favorite moment, though, occurs shortly after Dean and Mary arrive at the farmhouse. Cas still can’t get past the warding, so Dean volunteers to investigate – as does his mother. Dean tries to stop her, but Mary is having none of his protection. In a hilarious and already extensively-giffed exchange that firmly establishes just how well Dean and Castiel read each other, the two have an eye-conversation that leads to Cas asking Mary to keep him company while Dean makes his escape.
On the Lucifer front, I like Rick Springfield’s Vince Vincente as the new Luci, and I appreciate the continuity of the devil’s seduction of the rock star. Still, I haven’t felt invested in Crowley’s search for Lucifer at all, though Rowena remains a favorite of mine. I’m not happy that Crowley disappears (again) and leaves the fiery redhead behind; once more, Rowena is Lucifer’s captive. Let’s hope she renewed that rejuvenation spell that saved her the last time.
Even after watching “Mamma Mia” again, I have mixed feelings about its last bunker scene, which feels off for a number of reasons. Sam, Dean, and Mary have just eaten Sandy’s chicken for dinner. Dean, much as he did in his heaven memories (5×16), is clearly appreciative, though his mom deflects by saying that all she did was point at items on a take out menu. She quips, “I would’ve cooked, but I don’t.” Dean’s shocked to learn that the meatloaf he’s remembered for decades came from the Piggly Wiggly. He’s equally pleased to see that she remembered his love of pie, and he digs into the one she’s brought to the table.
As much as I love that Dean finally has a piece of pie, his enthusiastic and very messy eating gets looks from Sam and Mary that I don’t like – I don’t know if I’d call their expressions fully condescending, but there’s an inferred level of judgment that bothers me. This episode asserts Dean’s intelligence (he recognizes the Chinese mind control technique Toni’s using and stops her), and the show in general asserts regularly that he code-switches with ease. This happy pie-eater is a Dean not thinking about presentation or cues – he’s just enjoying the moment. In general, though, the dinner scene feels hollow to me – shouldn’t the first dinner between the three be heavy with emotion and poignancy?
For unexplained reasons, Castiel also isn’t part of this scene – even though the angel is the one who found Sam’s probably location, even if he couldn’t verify that because of the house’s warding. His lack of onscreen presence could easily be explained with a line of dialogue, but it’s not. He’s just… strangely absent. For many reasons, but especially considering Cas’s reaction to learning Dean was alive (12×1) and his active searching for Sam, this absence doesn’t make sense.
I’ve also been looking forward to Sam’s reunion with Mary. At dinner, Sam watches his mother – something she comments on – but there’s no touching or expressed emotion. Afterwards, he brings her a cup of tea and an offer to talk if she needs. Their conversation is poignant, as Mary talks about needing to learn the history that she’s missed. Sam’s facial expressions and body language are touching; he’s the son with no real memories of her. He’s also anticipated her need for information and has brought her John’s journal. When she asks why he still hunts, he answers simply, “This is my family. My family hunts…It’s what we do.” He adds, “Mom, for me…having you here? It fills in the biggest blank.” After this heart-wrenching admission, we finally see a Sam and Mary hug. And I like this scene, I do, but it feels like this should’ve happened earlier or that, at the least, there should’ve been an emotional flashpoint at the barn to bridge to this moment.
Despite my quibbles, there’s a lot that I’m enjoying in season 12, and I’m curious to see where episode three takes us. Entitled “The Foundry,” it features Dean, Sam, and Mary on a case. I can’t wait to see how their dynamics unfold. Supernatural airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on the CW Network.