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TV Review: ‘Supernatural’ – ‘Mother’s Little Helper’

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 Mother’s Little HelperSupernatural’s latest episode, “Mother’s Little Helper,” directed by Misha Collins and written by Adam Glass, is another gem for season nine.

“Mother’s Little Helper” deftly intertwines multiple storylines to progress the season’s plots and develop the Men of Letters mythology. Two of the storylines are present-day and focus on the separate adventures of Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) and younger brother Sam (Jared Padalecki). The third takes place in 1958 and details the last investigation of Henry Winchester (Gil McKinney) and Josie Sands (Alaina Huffman), prior to their Men of Letters initiation. Altogether, the episode is a subtle game-changer, revealing more of Abaddon’s plan and leading both Dean and Sam to make Very Important Decisions.

The episode begins with Sam discovering a potential case in Milton, Illinois, but while he wants to take a break from the search for Abaddon, Dean doesn’t. So, the younger Winchester strikes out alone. It’s interesting to see the nuances Padalecki brings to Sam in this episode; gone is the seething resentment and anger at his brother. Though there is lingering aggravation, there are also moments where Sam clearly reaches out to Dean, regularly calling him to check in and even asking for his help. Now, though, it’s the elder Winchester who’s withdrawing, as demonstrated through closed-off body language and curt conversation. Dean’s abrupt termination of their phone calls is one example.

At first, it seems that Sam’s case isn’t going to pan out, and Dean remarks that it “sounds like a case of the crazies.” But as more people are apprehended for violent acts, Sam sees something familiar in their behavior: It reminds him of being “soulless.”

9x17-samThis season six connection isn’t random, and neither are the flashbacks of that version of Sam. Brief clips show Sam watching speculatively as Dean is turned by a vampire (6×5), trying to kill Bobby (6×11), tearing open his own flesh for blood to draw a devil’s trap (6×10), and glaring at Cas as the angel determines that Sam’s soul is missing (6×7). Is it a coincidence that all of these memories involve Sam’s family? That he’s contemplating how his soullessness impacted those relationships?

For viewers familiar with the storyline, the clips undoubtedly prompt additional recollection of the after-effects of Sam’s soullessness, how he only regained his soul at Dean’s insistence, and then only the mental wall that Death put in place protected him from Hell-damage. Castiel broke the already-weakened wall to dissuade the Winchesters from preventing his acquisition of the Purgatory souls (6×22). Then, Sam struggled with hallucinations (to the point that Hallucifer became his constant companion) until a resurrected and penitent Castiel shifted Sam’s madness to himself (7×17). Considering how season nine is playing out, these past storylines seem particularly meaningful.

As Sam’s investigation continues, he meets Julia Wilkinson (Jenny O’Hara), a former nun at Saint Bonaventure. O’Hara infuses Julia with personality that many one-shot characters lack, and I’d love to see her return. Her story about Henry, Josie, and Abaddon leads Sam to the convent, where he finds that possessed nun Agnes is still harvesting souls for the Knight of Hell. And this is where things get really interesting.

Agnes tells Sam, “Stealing souls is winning…hell’s crown” because “if you can’t convince ‘em, make ‘em.” The revelation of Abaddon’s soul-mining plan immediately recalls Death’s conversation with Dean in “Appointment in Samarra” (6×11): “The human soul is … more valuable than you can imagine…It’s about the souls.” At that time, Death was warning Dean about Castiel and Crowley’s bid for the Purgatory souls, and we all know how that turned out. 9x17-juliaSo, where will Abaddon’s quest for soul power lead?  As Sam points out, at the rate Agnes is working it will “take a couple million years.” My first thought was of the souls trapped in the Veil (9×15). Can Abaddon gain access to them? And if she does, what then? Canonically, according to Death, “The soul can be bludgeoned, tortured, but never broken. Not even by me” (6×11). Agnes says, “souls are a precious and fragile thing,” though she also admits, “Break one of those [jars] and them little buggers fly right back home.” Can souls stolen (from people or from the Veil) and turned into demons ever be restored to their pure state?

As if the soul-mining isn’t monumental on its own, Agnes then threatens Sam with the removal of his soul. The more I think about this scene, the more it resonates: Once more, Sam is in peril of losing himself, and he also faces, again, the memory of an experience that left him so drained that he responded to Dean’s exhortation to “get pissed” with, “I’m too tired. This is what happens when you throw a soul into Lucifer’s dog bowl” (7×17). It seems quite natural to me that, after the terrifyingly close encounter with Agnes, Sam decides that he does need to focus on finding Abaddon.

Julia’s testimony also reveals that the Knight of Hell, who apparently was amassing her minions even before she time-traveled, expressed outright surprise at Josie being a Man of Letters. Abaddon’s impulse to possess the unconscious Henry isn’t surprising. (Seriously, though, is every dreamy Winchester demon bait?) However, Josie’s sacrifice is, especially since (so far as we know) she doesn’t realize that she’s offering herself to a Knight of Hell. It’s interesting to compare Abaddon’s reaction to Josie’s love for Henry with Cain’s love for Collette in “First Born” (9×11); it seems that the Knight of Hell takes particular interest in relationships that motivate acts of self-sacrifice. This makes me wonder, if the Dean and Cain parallel is extended, what may happen to Dean’s only real connections: Cas and Sam.

Mother’s Little HelperJulia tells Sam that she witnessed Abaddon possess Josie. The demon was aware of the young nun’s presence, and as Henry and Abaddon-as-Josie leave the convent, the latter subtly warns Julia to keep quiet. It’s a scene as chilling as its present-day counterpart is heartbreaking: Julia says, “I became a nun because I wanted to help people, to make a difference. But they never prepare you – they never tell you how to act in the face of true evil… I was ashamed. I had betrayed our flock, God, myself. It was and still is my greatest shame.” (However, as poignant as this scene is, I found it difficult to believe that Abaddon let Julia live, and I watched her last scenes with trepidation, waiting to see if her eyes would turn black!)

While Sam is working the case in Milton, Ill., Dean deals with the repercussions from the First Blade. As always, Ackles conveys Dean’s emotions clearly, from his reaction to the flashbacks to his worsening isolation. Dean even suffers from hand tremors as he remembers what it was like to hold and use the Blade. That effect, and the now-empty bottle of hunter’s helper, seems to lead Dean to a local bar, where Crowley (Mark Sheppard) finds him.

Last week’s “Blade Runners” (9×16) confirmed for me that Crowley’s plotting, though to what ends remains to be seen. In “Mother’s Little Helper,” at first, it almost seems that Crowley is acting as cheerleader, and he’s certainly the devil on Dean’s shoulder (and who else loved the image of Crowley literally looking over Dean’s shoulder?). He delivers various barbs that implicate Dean in their reluctant partnership: “You’re lying to Sam like he’s your wife, which kind of makes me your mistress.” He also points out Dean’s supposed fear: ““Don’t scam a scam artist, darling. You’re stalling ’cause you’re scared.” But the barbs and wit aren’t enough to prod Dean, who’s reluctant and resistant to Crowley’s claims that he’s like Cain. It is interesting that Dean identifies himself as a hunter again, instead of as a Man of Letters, as he did in “Blade Runners.” Once again, I’m wondering just how Dean will define himself by the end of his “Who am I?” arc.

When Dean continues to deny the similarities between himself and Cain, Crowley accuses Dean of being delusional and excuses himself to the bathroom. In the interim, Dean looks around the bar and notices a young man with a rosary in one hand and a knife in his jacket. Mother’s Little HelperDean follows him to the bathroom, where he stops him, saying, “I’m Dean Winchester, and I know a hunter when I see one.” He proceeds to employ all of his Deanisms trying to prevent “Jake” from following Crowley. Dean calls him “brother” and says, “You gotta trust me on this one… if you want to damn anyone and everyone you’ve ever loved…then by all means, pal, you go right ahead.” It’s a significant moment that reminds Dean, who’s not in the best headspace, that he’s been in this fight to protect those he loves, yet he feels like he’s already lost.

Dean apparently thinks he’s on to Crowley. He says, “Demons don’t take leaks. Next time you want to shoot up, why don’t you find a better excuse?” But is Crowley really “shooting up”? Or is he just letting Dean think that he is? After all, it gives Crowley an “in” with the older Winchester because it “takes a junkie to know a junkie.” Dean rolls his eyes, but let’s face it: Dean feels alone, and if nothing else, season eight confirms that Dean seeks out connections. If Crowley sets himself up as Dean’s “friend” (and I use that term very, very loosely), what will have to happen to bring Dean low enough to believe him? Or will Dean be able to maintain the perspective that Crowley is simply a means to an end?

Dean counters Crowley’s questions about his dedication with a heartbreaking declaration: “What I want – what I fear – none of that means squat because this is the one chance that we have to kill Abaddon, so I’m all in. No matter what the consequences.” With the decision made, Dean leaves, and this is when we learn that Jake is actually a demon working for Crowley.  As they watch Dean walk away, Jake comments that Dean saved Crowley, just as the latter had said he would. Crowley scoffs, “Of course he saved me. We’re besties.”

I think it’s fair to say that Dean actually saves Jake, the supposed young hunter with a kid sister to protect. In doing so, Dean decides to re-affirm his deal with Crowley because he wants an “end to all this” and the only way he can see that happening is to use the First Blade, come what may. Regardless, Crowley’s final comment regarding Dean – “Now, he’s ready” – worries me. What does Crowley know about the First Blade and the Mark of Cain that Dean doesn’t? And what exactly is Crowley setting Dean up for? There are so many potential avenues that this storyline can take, and I’m anxious to see how things develop from here.

Mother’s Little HelperThe last three minutes of the episode bring all of our characters’ realizations together: Sam reassures Julia that her present-day help has saved lives, and (hopefully) she’s able to release some of her past shame at staying quiet. Henry gushes to Abaddon-as-Josie that they’ve saved lives and he wonders how he ever questioned their mission. And Sam decides that he’s “all in” on finding Abaddon.

Sam doesn’t know about Dean’s own struggle with questions and doubts. When Sam enters the research room, his brother is hard at work, still wearing the same clothes he had on days earlier. As Sam walks around the table, at first I thought that he was carrying two beers, like “old times.” Instead, Sam’s only carrying one, and he grabs files and drops them – loudly – on the other table. He looks upset and tells Dean, “You were right.”

When he explains that Abaddon is “mining souls…To create an army,” Dean looks horrified. The episode ends with the brothers working. Dean’s table is messy with materials, while Sam’s is relatively bare; the younger Winchester also has a telephone on his table, and he turns on the light as he begins work – both very practical things that I very much want to read as symbolic. No matter what, the overall visual, along with the continuing moments of fractiousness, reminds the audience that while the Winchester brothers may be working together, they’re still not reconciled.

I thoroughly enjoyed Collins’s Supernatural directorial debut. While the episode itself is Cas-less, Collin’s presence can be felt. Beyond the behind-the-scenes footage and the online interaction, there’s a careful handling of the characters and stories that speaks to Collins’s intimate knowledge of Show. For example, when Dean very deliberately pulls out the bottle of 9x17-1-DMhunter’s helper, the scene isn’t rushed; viewers familiar with the show understand why that’s such a weighty moment. I hope that Collins will direct again – and if Ackles also directs in season ten, then the Supernatural fandom will have even more opportunity to break the internet. (Has Facebook recovered from Collins’s interview yet?)

Supernatural returns April 15th with “Metafiction“at 9 pm EST on the CW Network. Sam, Dean, Castiel, Gadreel, and Metatron are all seen in the extended preview. (FYI: Pausing at key moments will not only clarify some text in Metatron’s manuscript but will also clearly establish just who’s in the shower – all in the name of science, of course.)

Other notes:

  • Dean doesn’t know what butt-dialing is?
  • How did possessed nuns in a convent avoid encountering the word “Christo”? For that matter, doesn’t a convent count as holy ground? Abaddon and other higher-order demons might be immune to holy boundaries, but what about the grunt demons that Henry and Josie easily exorcised?
  • Can we talk about Sam’s awesome tie? And Julia’s fabulous accoutrements?
  • Henry debating whether or not its selfish to pursue the Men of Letters over his family bespeaks of the deep entrenchment of the long-running issues that Supernatural grapples with.
  • Henry drives an even more-classic Impala!
  • Dean tells Crowley, “Shut your piehole.” Who else remembered Dean telling Ruby, “And I wish you’d shut your pie hole, but we don’t always get what we want” (3×16)?
  • So Crowley sets Dean up to “save” the hunter named “Jake.” Did anyone else connect that name to Jake Talley, another of the special children Azazel manipulates in season two (2×21-22)? Or is it simply a random naming?
  • 9x17-miltonIt seems important that Crowley and Dean are talking outside of The Milton, and it can’t be coincidence (or can it?) that Sam is working in Milton, Ill. The obvious literary connection is John Milton, or perhaps the repetition is merely to emphasize how connected the brothers’ storylines are in this episode. That said, when Crowley asks Dean, very pointedly, “So the plan remains the same?” I can’t help thinking of Anna Milton, who is killed by a Michael-possessed John Winchester in “ The Song Remains the Same” (5×13). What did everyone else think? That’s one behind-the-scenes tidbit I haven’t seen cast or crew discussing yet.
  • I absolutely love the scene of the souls returning.
  • “Mother’s Little Helper” scored strong ratings; see details here.
  • To say there was a Twitter party Tuesday night is an understatement: Supernatural fans were out in full force, spreading fandom cheer. There were trends both spontaneous (OUSA, CROWLEY, etc.) and planned (#IMADIRECTORYOUASS and #DIRECTORMISHA and #SUPERNATURAL, etc.). Director Misha live-tweeted the East and West Coast airings sharing his trademark wit and behind-the-scenes tidbits. Other cast and crew also joined in, including Mark Sheppard, Alaina Huffman, and Gil McKinney.
  • Favorite quotations:

“Maybe she snapped. Anklebiters can do that to you.” – Dean to Sam

“You’re sulking like you lost your Knuffle Bunny” – Crowley to Dean

“I’m an ex-nun, sweetie. ‘complicated’ is my middle name.” – Julia to Sam

“I never see anyone under 65 – too much drama.” – Julia to Sam

There’s so much to discuss about this episode. What did you think? Favorite scenes? Speculations? Share in the comments below!

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About Lyda Scott

Lyda Scott is a freelance writer and editor, among other things. A good day is one spent over-analyzing film, television, and literature. Follow her on Twitter @Lyda_Scott.
  • Ginger

    A very thorough review. Good job. I kind of have a little different take on a few points, but I am usually wrong, so won’t bring them up. I liked the tone of this episode, because I have not been a fan of the tonal change under Carver, but this one reminded me of earlier SPN. The pacing throughout the episode was really good. It only slowed down for me when the little souls started floating back to their owners. That was a bit whimsical, and I actually thought the episode was over and started to do something else until I heard the brothers voices again.
    As you say, the story can go several ways as it is set up now, and I can’t even speculate what is to come. Now that they set up such a good episode that did move the story forward and clearly left Dean in a very bad place, with Sam not really being fully clued into what is going on with Dean, I hate that there is a three week break, a Cas episode, then a unrelated spin-off before we get to the rest of the story. It just feels like the season has been spinning it’s wheels all season, just to be wrapped up in some way in the last three episodes about six weeks from now…and there is a lot of having to bring all the stories together and wrap them up.
    I am glad you mentioned Jenny O’Hara. I thought she did a wonderful job with Julia. I really, really liked her. This show does so much better with their mature actresses than they do with the young CW types. JA continues his stellar work, and I actually thought that Dean’s role grounded the three stories and held the episode together. One thing I appreciated about Glass’ script was that Dean was right in character for a change, and that was a pleasure to see.
    All in all, I thought this was the best episode of the season, with First Born second. I hope that whatever they have planned as an ending is a good one.

    • Lyda Scott

      Thank you, Ginger! I really liked the tone of this ep, too, and the darker aesthetic. I’m so anxious to see how things build from here, and I wish the season had been paced differently. With the backdoor pilot being #20, I’m worried that the last three episodes will be jam-packed. Fingers crossed that we don’t wind up with another “Taxi Driver” – where the content of several eps is piled into one!

      I love O’Hara! She’s so great as Julia. Ackles is awesome too; I’ve loved seeing his interpretation of Dean going “dark”… now, I’m only wondering just how dark Dean will go! I am hoping we’ll get another great episode in 9×18 – in the meantime, though, these mini-hellatuses are torture!

  • Emily Draper

    Great review as always! You picked up on some things i missed, as usual :) Like the fact that the bar was called the Miltons? I immediately thought of Anna when I read that. I was blown away by Misha’s direction. I want a panel devoted completely to everything he did for this episode! I want to know EVERYTHING LOL. His pace was slow, but not sleepily so, but rather a nice slow-burn, the music choices were ON POINT and the lighting was terrific. I especially loved that over the shoulder shot of Abbadon-as-Josie hugging Henry, I believe Robert Berens said that was his favorite shot of the season, if not episode! The actress who played Julia was lovely and so well played! I loved her comment to Sam at the end about not dating anyone under 65 LOL. What is it with the Winchester boys and older ladies lately?? I’d absolutely love more episodes directed by him and Jen next season!

    • Lyda Scott

      Thank you, Emily! Yes, I’d love to have a detailed, BTS breakdown of episodes like this one… I would totally buy that book, watch that show, etc. I thought Misha did wonderfully! There’s so much to love about this episode. And the Milton reference – I thought of Paradise Lost when Sam went to Milton, but then for Dean and Crowley to talk outside of “The Milton”… there’s more there, and I’d love to know what it is… like, now. Episodes like this one make me excited for what’s to come!

  • Kate

    Wonderful review, Lyda! I loved this episode, it almost reminded me of OtHoaP in that a lot happened in it for just 50 minutes or so, but it never felt rushed and every scene was allowed to play out in a careful enough fashion to ensure that its emotional weight hit home. I’m so, so pleased with the callbacks to Sam’s soullessness, and his care in returning the soul he acquired to its owner: I thought Jared played Sam’s sense of awe and wonder really beuatifully in that scene. This was a great episode for him: action, proaction and smarts combined with the quiet, more subdued moments I think Jared is really good at. And Jensen: wow. The sense of something being pent-up inside Dean was really tantalizing, and the use of close-ups on his face and his hand worked so well to convey his turmoil.

    I just love how this episode started to pull together some of the threads we needed to show Abaddon’s motivation, and Crowley’s (like you I’m really worried about what he might know about the Mark’s effect on Dean’s humanity). I think my only issue is that since it also gives the brothers a much clearer motivation for going after Abaddon than Dean had prior to this revelation, I wish it had occurred earlier in the season…

    • Lyda Scott

      Thanks, Kate! OtHoaP is a good ep to compare to. I thought MLH was paced really well too, and I was thoroughly engrossed throughout – even Twitter didn’t distract me :)

      These guys all deserve awards for their work this season, and I’m so glad to finally seeing the pieces coming together. I feel less anxious about the proverbial ball being dropped now, though I still wouldn’t feel comfortable putting money on exactly where Carver’s taking us. The Mark of Cain storyline is SO exciting, and I’m hoping they utilize it (and Ackles’s considerable talent) fully!

  • Linda

    Love your review. I vaguely realized Milton was being referenced but didn’t give it much thought until you pointed it out here. Have you ever read Paradise Lost? Perfect parallel. This show can be so damned smart sometimes. Time to go back and read some of your other reviews!

    • Lyda Scott

      Thanks, Linda – Yes, I love Paradise Lost, and you’re right about it fitting perfectly. I can’t wait to see where Show’s going next with the story and how that parallel might play out! Hope you enjoy the other reviews, too!

  • dottweets

    The careful, thoughtful focus on Dean’s characterization and Sam’s characterization in this ep was wonderful to see. Dean’s quiet, intense struggle with his longing for/fear/loathing the power of the blade, and Sam working a case on his own, freeing the souls–it was poignant having him be threatened with losing his again, and Sam of all people freeing the captive souls–worrying about Dean, and being a smart badass hunter. It was interesting to see Sam use the Impala for a whole ep. It was also good to see Josie and Henry at work pre-Abaddon.

    This Dean arc is kind of terrifying but very satisfying to see unfold.

    I loved Misha Collins’ directing style and what he brought out in the characters, and Adam Glass’ script just clicked.

    • Lyda Scott

      You’re so right to point out the careful characterization in this episode – we learned so much about Dean and Sam (and the others, too) this time.

      I am loving seeing the MoC storyline play out, though it is causing me anxiety too. When he’s sitting there, staring at the empty bottle? Oh, my. Poor guy needs a hug or twenty.

      This was such a great episode – thanks for reading & commenting. I always enjoy reading what everyone thinks!