A bout of ill health got in the way of last week’s “Slice Girls” review, but I’m still so intrigued by that episode, I decided to do a combination review this week. “Slice Girls” and “Plucky Pennywhistle’s Magic Menagerie” sit on opposite sides of the writing room spectrum. “Slice Girls” is a character-driven episode, giving us a lot of meaty exploration on Sam and Dean. “Plucky Pennywhistle” is a piece of writer’s room whimsy, with a lot of call outs to previous episodes and funny set ups, but little substance. Both episodes have a lot to recommend them.
My preference, though, is for “Slice Girls.” I loved so much about it: the direction, the brotherly talks as Sam and Dean actually discuss their feelings about Bobby’s death, the fact that Dean finally drags himself away from the computer, even if it is to a bar. But most of all, I liked the character exploration for the boys we got through the deliberate call back to Amy’s killing in “The Girl Next Door.”
Referencing anything Amy can only be called a ballsy move on the writers’ part, given the split and heated reaction to Dean killing her. But the writers knew then and know now what they are doing with this story line. It is part of a character study of both boys, layered on top of an examination of when it is acceptable to kill. Many episodes over the years have touched on this theme, but the one that springs to mind immediately is season six’s “Mommy Dearest.”
In “Mommy Dearest,” Castiel brings vampire Lenore to answer some questions for Sam and Dean. Lenore was part of an earlier shift in Dean’s attitude toward monsters. His usual thinking is monsters cannot change what they are and must be killed if they hunt humans. In an earlier episode, a combination of Sam’s fear of that attitude (due to his own demon blood) and Lenore’s pleas that she and her friends could successfully control their need to kill humans convinced Dean to agree with Sam in letting her go.
Catching up with Lenore in season six evolves the situation even more. Lenore agrees to cooperate with the boys, but she also updates them on her decision not to kill. Eve’s return to earth has sent a call out to all her children. And that call is to kill. She tells Sam and Dean, “You don’t know how hard it is not to give in . . . Everyone gives in.”
The brothers are horrified and try to convince Lenore she can continue to fight. Sam reminds her she doesn’t want to kill and Dean tells her they’ll find her some kind of protection from Eve. Sadly, Lenore says she’s already killed. “I’m dangerous. I’m exactly like them. I’ll do it again. I can’t stop.”
Neither Sam nor Dean wants to kill this sad woman, vampire or not, but Castiel has no doubt about what needs doing. He kills her swiftly, chiding his friends for getting hung up on this problem. The writers complicate the picture even more for Sam and especially Dean, as they introduce two small children, brothers, into the story. Castiel sees them as a distraction from their real mission, but Dean has a hot button about children in peril, especially siblings.
Dean was never allowed to be a child, having to care for Sam, both as a quasi-parent and as a hunter, since he was very young. He not only had too much responsibility given to him too young, he also felt he never quite measured up to John Winchester’s demands. Dean is a hardened hunter in many ways, but a child in distress triggers his need to make things better, to do it better this time. Despite the obvious need to concentrate on their mission to kill Eve, he tells Castiel, “What I’d like to do right now is save a couple of kids, if you don’t mind.”
Castiel does mind. He sees Dean’s hot button as a “crippling and dangerous empathetic response.” He thinks Dean is not thinking clearly. And he’s right. Eve set the boys as a trap for Sam and Dean and it works. The elder Winchester has to live with the painful knowledge that his experiment in saving Lenore’s life ended in failure and Castiel’s criticism of his empathetic response to the children had some merit.