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TV Review: Supernatural: ‘Rock and a Hard Place’

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This week’s Supernatural is book ended with incredible scenes that push the myth arc forward to the breaking point, giving us a look at each Winchester’s building angst. Sam has finally admitted to himself something has to be going on with him, but instead of looking at Dean suspiciously, he turns a harsh light on himself. Dean’s guilt pushes him to tell the truth, only to have Zeke again point out the truth will kill Sam. Oh boys.

The rest of the episode had some highs and lows, which averaged out to a middle of the road story. Jenny Klein knows her way around a monologue and had some interesting things to say on the role of the church, but has some issues with scene construction. Jensen Ackles does his best to work with what he’s given, and for the most part, he’s successful.

The premise of the story is Sam and Dean going undercover in a chastity group in order to track down some missing people, mostly women belonging to this group. Dean doesn’t take the idea of virginity equaling purity very seriously, and his reason for joining the chastity group reads like a testimonial to the joy of sex, which is in keeping with his attitude throughout the series.

Dean, while a bundle of daddy issues, has always been comfortable with his body appetites, seeing food and sex as part of what is wonderful about being human. We’ve seen into Dean enough to know he is well aware of the joys of a committed relationship, but we’ve also seen he’s attracted to women who are comfortable in their own skin and own their sexuality.

Dean is the guy who both remembered all Lisa’s Gumby moves and felt she was the embodiment of what he was fighting so hard to save in the world. He loved her sexual freedom and her devotion to her son. He never saw any of this as contradictory or that he had to choose what to value in her. Dean is the last guy to slut shame, in a relationship or a one night stand.

Sam is annoyed Dean isn’t getting with the program, but Suzy the chastity group leader has a little different reaction to Dean’s paean to sex. Far from finding it offensive, she smiles at Dean, though she also offers to lend him some books on how to stay chaste.

Dean joins Suzy in prayer.

Dean joins Suzy in prayer.

Dean is less interested in the books and more interested in figuring out where he’s seen Suzy before, especially since he finds her very hot. He looks at the book exchange as an opportunity to see if he can flirt his way into Suzy’s bed. He’s unrolling his best cheesy moves when he notices she’s crying because she’s upset about the missing women. Instead of inviting him to bed, she invites him to pray with her, and being Dean, he does, though his experience with prayer is very different than hers.

I had to laugh at cheesy Dean, because notwithstanding how attractive he is, he’s always had those cheesy moves. In “Monster Movie,” Sam scoffs at Dean’s pick-up lines:

SAM: Pretty sure women today don’t react well to the whole “wench” thing, Dean.
DEAN: Hey, bar wench, where’s that beer?
JAMIE (sweetly): Coming up, good sir!
DEAN(gleeful): Dude, Oktoberfest.

Dean is just as cheesy in “Tall Tales” and “Hollywood Babylon,” and this episode continues the trend. After he supports Suzy in prayer and she leaves to freshen up, he figures out where he knows her from: she’s a former porn actress for Casa Erotica. When Suzy comes back, he grins knowingly and quotes a line from one of her movies.

Suzy’s reaction is to leap to the conclusion he is judging her for her past. Shamefaced, she tells him she won’t blame him if he wants another counselor. Clearly, she sees herself as damaged goods, calling her former self “horrible.”

And here is where Dean shows why he is so successful with women, despite his cheesy moves. Seeing Suzy’s shame, he drops his lines and sincerely tells her that he’s seen awful things and she is “the good dreams.”  He tells Suzy her new community does not appreciate her.

Suzy can hardly believe this guy can know about her past and think she is a lovely sexy woman who doesn’t need to apologize for enjoying sex or having decided to work in the sex industry. She may want to start a new life, but with Dean, she doesn’t need to be ashamed of her old one. And she finds his acceptance of her sexual self very sexy. After their hook up, she and Dean are very much in sync as she tells him she missed sex.

Klein’s examination of the chastity church group points out some of the problematic ways virginity may be constructed in a discussion of purity, including the Madonna/whore dichotomy. Suzy feels she has to be either chaste or a whore, and she doesn’t seem to find that empowering. I don’t think the episode leaves no room for a choice to be chaste to be empowering, as long as it’s not done out of fear of being labelled a whore. It’s the labels that are damaging.

To balance out the critique of the chastity group, Klein allows beloved returning character Jody Mills to have and defend faith. When Dean raises his eyebrows at her decision to join a church, she tells him her knowledge of the supernatural has not destroyed her faith, it made her realise her need for it, just as the woman in “I’m No Angel” told Castiel the bad things that happened to her made her turn to faith all the more. Faith is not based on facts, but rather a way of trying to make sense of a chaotic universe, and in Supernatural’s world, there is a place for it, going all the way back to the appropriately named “Faith.”

The least interesting part of the episode for me is the nuts and bolts of the mystery. The villain is another goddess, and she serves exactly the same function as the goddess of truth in season six. The goddess tries to kill Sam, only to reveal there is something very different and very wrong with him. It feels a bit recycled. I appreciate that Klein doesn’t disregard canon, but she can’t dip this deeply into the well of a former episode, either.

However, all is forgiven when the final scene unfolds. Sam is trying to make sense of the goddess’s reveal that he is deeply damaged, and he reverts to his past pattern of thinking he’s the problem, that he is flawed by nature.

Dean is horrified, as this recalls the Sam of the finale, who didn’t care if he died because he felt he just let everybody down. He decides he has to tell his younger brother the truth, regardless of the consequences and starts to do just that.

But he’s focused on the consequences to himself, not the consequences to Sam. Zeke reveals himself in a flash to tell Dean in no uncertain terms if Sam rejects the angel, he will die. At this point, I’m wondering just what Zeke has been up to, since Sam doesn’t seem to be getting much better. Is the angel only healing himself? What exactly is he going to demand from Dean as a favour? I’m very suspicious of Zeke’s intentions.

Dean isn’t much happier, but Zeke has him by the short hairs. The one thing that would keep Dean from being honest with Sam is the need to save him. Unhappily, Dean retreats from the conversation with Sam, telling his brother nothing is his fault, and they will figure out what’s wrong together. It recalls Jody’s words earlier in the episode when she tells Sam he and Dean have something special. Sadly, Dean’s words inspire only foreboding, as the lie gets ever closer to the surface. This is not going to end well.

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About Gerry Weaver

  • Ginger

    I’m so glad that you got the chastity and sex thing right. I have been surprised to read numerous comments about this episode and how awful virginity was portrayed, or how out of character Dean was to take advantage of poor Suzy, or back to that standard feminist fallback about how misogynistic the show is. I liked the chastity and sex jokes. Found them funny, actually, and found no offenseto myself or to Dean’s character.

    I would agree with you that this was a middle-of-the-road episode. I liked it okay, found it funny and enjoyable, and J. Ackles absolutely made it work. But, you know, we’re at the mid-season break now and I’m not liking the pacing of the mytharc at all. Five one-offs in a row are too many, and I’d like to get to the meat of the story. I know the writers are writing for syndication, but it’s time they put together a story and told it for us loyal, charter-member viewers.

    Nice work, again, Gerry. Always enjoy your insightful reviews.

    • Hellboy

      People don’t seem to notice that Suzy is the one to make the actual first move, Dean was merely being a pervy fanboy. Once he realized what was gonna happen he turned on that cheesy charm.

      I never got the misogyny critiques the show gets, sure the show could use more recurring female characters, but that doesn’t make the show misogynistic. Nor does female characters dying, because everybody dies on this show.

      The pacing of the mytharc is the standard it has always been. First two or three episodes are mythology and then four or five stand alones, and back and forth..

      • Gerry

        Hi Hellboy. I agree that I think the show often gets a bad rap for misogyny when it isn’t warranted. As you say, everyone dies on Supernatural, not just women. In fact, if women did not die, that would be singling them out as not being as relevant or real in this world. I’d much rather women were treated as real characters with the same risks as the male characters.

        I also don’t agree that every woman who gets involved with the boys, dies. Cassie is alive. Lisa is alive. Amelia is alive. It took 7 seasons before Sarah died.

        That said, it is a testosterone-heavy set, and I welcome characters like Jody and Ellen and Jo and Meg and Abbadon and Charlie. But just that list shows the show actually does well in crafting interesting strong female characters.

        I think it also does a great job of presenting Dean as an emotional relationship-driven man who is also a quest-driven hero–it’s a nuanced portrayal of masculinity.

        Where they could use a little work is in the way female characters are sexualized in situations male characters are not–I’m looking at you, torture table. And I’m puzzled why we get scenes of Sam and of Dean having sex without removing their clothes, but female characters show up in their panties in surprising situations.

        But none of this makes Spn stand out as particularly misogynist. And I loved that Jensen Ackles chose to make Dean sexualized in his last outing as a director when the female baddie ripped off his shirt when she tried to kill him. And of course, Abbadon had an incredibly hot scene dominating Dean while purring sexual threats. So the balance is not completely one-sided.

        • Hellboy

          There have totally been scenes where Dean and Sam have taken off their clothes during sex; Sam and Madison, Dean and Anna, Dean and the Amazon. Probably a few more I can’t think of.

          • Gerry

            Yes indeed. (-: But the last two haven’t. Sam had a T-shirt on in bed with Amelia, who, oddly, didn’t have a shirt on after sex. I’m not really complaining about Jensen and Jared relying on their acting skills and not their cut torsoes. I’m just noticing the women don’t have the same options. Which is not exclusive to Spn and I don’t think it means the show is misogynistic. It’s just an area it could improve.

    • Gerry

      Thanks, Ginger! I think whenever women’s sexuality is in the spotlight, it’s going to get a lot of different opinions. Mine is that Suzy had the right and the capacity to make her own decision about sex. And she doesn’t have to apologize or make a case for why she liked sex any more than Dean does.

      I agree that the show always has a bit of a problem pacing the mytharc. I know it’s hard when there’s 23 episodes to spread the story over. Cable shows with only 10-12 episodes have a much easier time keeping the pace cracking along. And I do think it would be worse to have the second half sag a bit. It’s better to put the standalones in the first half.

      But every season, I can also pick out some eps that just didn’t add enough to the story to justify the narrative space they took, especially in the cases where the myth in the second half seemed a bit rushed, like in season 7. Hopefully, that won’t be the case this season, and the second half roars along like season four did. I’m expecting the mid-season finale to leave us all gasping.