Written by Adam Glass and directed by John F. Showalter, “Sharp Teeth” facilitates the accidental reunion of Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) and his younger brother Sam (Jared Padalecki) after each arrives in Wisconsin to investigate a case involving their friend, Garth Fitzgerald IV (DJ Qualls). Previews spoiled Garth’s big secret – he’s now a werewolf – so there’s no real surprise on that note. Instead, any suspense to be found largely concerns family dynamics: Is Garth’s newfound family as “copasetic” as he thinks? And what is the state of Dean and Sam’s relationship?
“Sharp Teeth” continues several season nine themes, including the question “Do the ends always justify the means?” For instance, when Sam arrives at the hospital to check on Garth, Dean’s already there and preparing an adrenaline injection to revive their friend. Sam protests, asking if Dean’s “trying to kill him.” Dean responds that they need to know why Garth went AWOL. Essentially, this scene serves as another demonstration that, for Dean, the ends oftentimes do still justify the means. Luckily for Garth, Sam disagrees, and he slaps Garth, who wakes up screaming, addled, and nauseous. Importantly, Dean concedes that perhaps it was better that he didn’t use the adrenaline; it’s the first concession of several that he’ll make in this episode.
While Garth is retching in the bathroom, Dean and Sam have a few awkward moments of conversation that seemingly intend to connect the episode to the mythology arc. The bridge is weak though, with barely a passing mention of Cas that perhaps wouldn’t have seemed so odd pre-season eight. But now? Last season, Dean macheted his way across Purgatory to find the angel, and the current season arc has explicitly and repeatedly established that Cas is family, and considering how often Cas encourages Sam to contact Dean in “First Born,” it’s a noticeable oversight. It would have been quite simple to work in a direct reference to what Cas is doing off-screen without detracting from the brothers-centric storyline.
However, we do learn that Dean’s been gone for two weeks, and Sam’s been working on his own. (He’s come to Wisconsin from New Mexico.) Sam tells Dean about Gadreel’s residual grace and that “Cas took care of it.” He then catches sight of the scar on Dean’s arm and asks about it. Amazingly, Dean tells his brother the truth, albeit abbreviated: Cain has given Dean his Mark in order to kill Abaddon. He also admits that he worked with Crowley, remarking, “the devil you know…” It’s a crucial moment, and while Garth escaping out the bathroom window cuts Sam’s reaction short, the younger Winchester’s expressions show his surprise and concern.
The Mark of Cain isn’t mentioned again, but there are moments in the episode that leave me wondering just how much it’s affecting Dean – Did anyone else notice that his BAMF-ness is at an all-time high? His reflexes are in top form; his tactical maneuvers are wicked smart; and his accuracy is deadly. Dean’s always been a BAMF, and he’s always been intelligent, but the knife throw that takes out the sheriff made me rewind and pay attention. It’s a gasp-worthy move, and while the scene is dark and Sam’s facial features are difficult to distinguish, he looks (to me) like he’s a little surprised by it too.
It’s unfortunately not surprising that Dean’s honesty about the Mark is all-too-brief. In his next scene, during a cell phone conversation with Sam, Dean blatantly lies, telling him that there’s no surveillance footage of Garth’s escape and saying goodbye with, “send me a postcard.” Sam, of course, knows his brother’s tricks and surprises Dean in the parking lot, pulling the photos from his hand and confronting him about the lie. Dean’s response here is interesting: “I told you we can’t hunt together. It’s for your own good.
Unless more has happened with the Mark than we’ve been privy to, Dean’s insistence on his and Sam’s separation still stems from the belief that he’s “poison.” In Dean’s eyes, the rift protects Sam. This approach isn’t new in-Show; most recently, we’ve seen him push Cas away to keep Sam (i.e. Gadreel-as-Ezekiel-as-Sam) safe. Dean’s response to Sam reminds me of when Dean tells Cas in “Holy Terror,” “Look, I got to do anything I can to get him back… I don’t feel good about it, but I don’t have a choice…we just can’t work together.”
The difference in “Sharp Teeth” is that Dean doesn’t baldly state, “I don’t have a choice.” Considering how the rest of the episode unfolds, it appears that Dean’s beginning to recognize that he does have a choice – now, he just has to figure out the right one. Sam’s response to Dean’s demand for separation is also different. Unlike Cas, Sam isn’t sad or wistful. Instead, he’s quite clear with his own plans: “I hear you. And after we find Garth and get to the bottom of this, I’m gone.”
The focus then shifts from Dean and Sam’s issues to the case at hand, and they slip into their usual work dynamics. It seems significant that throughout the episode, Dean gives directions and orders that Sam follows without question; even moments after their coincidental reunion in Garth’s hospital room, Dean orders Sam to “lock the door,” and his younger brother obeys without a second thought. These subtle details, which many viewers likely accept without question because they seem so “normal” for the Winchesters, actually highlight the almost parent/child dynamic Dean and Sam share, which negatively affects their relationship as adult siblings.
As the episode progresses, we learn that Garth is married to a werewolf and is part of a pack. We also learn new werewolf lore, specifically that werewolves are born or “bitten.” Not only does this create murkier ethics for Supernatural to play with regarding natural order and universal design, but it also highlights the necessity of personal choice.
Bess, Garth’s wife, comments that “Bittens,” like Garth, have more trouble controlling their urges. As in earlier season nine episodes (9×3, 9×8 specifically), the Winchesters are encountering a group of people who have chosen to live a certain way. Unlike the born-again bikers or the born-again virgins, the spiritual lycanthropes who successfully live their beliefs are those who believe in a balance; there are no extremes. The werewolves who worship the Maw of Fenris and seek revenge, however, are extremists and wind up dead. How does this connect to the Winchesters? Considering Supernatural’s love of parallels, I immediately tried connecting the Bitten vs. Born idea, so since Dean, unlike Sam, had a “normal” childhood until Mary was murdered, would he be seen as the one “bitten” while Sam is the one “born”? Their perspectives towards hunting seem to suggest the opposite… (if the parallel even works).
Regardless, the season nine narrative is continuously introducing situations that challenge our characters’ assumptions. Many of Dean’s views on life stem from his father’s influence, and I like that the narrative is further pushing him to confront and reconsider the definitions and ideas that have framed his life thus far. “Sharp Teeth” takes this further, and while Dean initially responds with his usual guns blazing approach, he heeds Sam’s caution that they “do this right” before they take drastic action against Garth and his new family.
Just as the pairings in “First Born” (Dean and Crowley; Sam and Cas) offer fresh insight into our characters’ states of mind, “Sharp Teeth” relies upon a similar effect, specifically using Garth as a “mirror for Dean,” which Qualls discusses in a recent interview. Since Garth is emotionally healthier than Dean, he’s able to model a healthier cycle for his friend than, say, taking on the Mark of Cain and hunting as if you have a death wish.
Garth expresses guilt over Kevin’s death, and as he did with Sam, Dean claims that the blame is his and no one else’s. Though Garth doesn’t erase Dean’s guilt, he doesn’t allow Dean to take his on too; instead, he diplomatically says, “Well, I guess there’s enough of that blame to go around then.” Dean accepts that, and it’s notable that throughout their conversation, the two speak to one another as equals. For Dean “I’m in charge” Winchester, this is important.
Garth tells Dean that he was embarrassed about being bitten, about failing on the job, and he voices his desire to make things right and offers a means to do so. Dean, who needs to hear/see this, seems to learn from it. After all, it’s Dean who gets out of the Impala and initiates the conversation that takes place in the episode’s final scene; he actually tries to express his emotions, how he was feeling the night he left – and while he doesn’t explain himself well, he tries. Again, for Dean, this is important.
Overall, however, there’s not much brotherliness between Dean and Sam, which is ironic in an episode that is ostensibly brothers-focused. But that’s why the mirroring – and especially the warm resolution – between Dean and Garth is so important. Dean works through his gut reactions (aggression, hostility, distrust, etc.) and comes to respect Garth’s choices. And, hopefully, Dean’s peer-like interactions with Garth foreshadow how he and Sam will be able to interact in the near future.
While Dean is in the narrative’s spotlight right now, Sam continues to play a role in the dysfunction they’re battling. Not only does he often respond to Dean as if his older brother is the authority figure in his life (and let’s face it, Dean has been that), but he emulates his brother too. When the Winchesters say goodbye to Garth, it’s Sam who tells him, “Be good. You hear me?” Not only is this rather ironic, considering what havoc the Winchesters have wrought along the way, but it’s a very “Dean” thing to do. In contrast, Dean, who was prepared to kill Sam at the beginning of “Road Trip” and Garth early on in “Sharp Teeth,” delivers no warnings when he says goodbye. Instead, he and Garth have a warm, sincere moment where Dean not only appears receptive to the idea of werewolf Garth hunting with them but also initiates a hug. Juxtaposing Sam and Dean’s reactions like this emphasizes that both Winchesters need to re-think how they do things.
The episode’s last scene is my favorite because it finally broaches, however inarticulately, what has fractured Dean and Sam’s relationship. Dean and Sam are grown men in their thirties (and are substantially older than that if we add in their hell years), and they’re at the point where “because we’re brothers” just isn’t enough. It’s in “Dog Dean Afternoon” (9×5) that Dean begins to realize the potentially awful magnitude of his choices regarding his brother, so it seems fitting that in “Sharp Teeth” – another episode about “packs” and family ties – the conversation that has to happen between them finally begins.
Of course, it’s not an easy conversation to watch or to hear. Dean wants to get back into case-solving mode and get past their issues that way, but Sam doesn’t. He tells Dean, “something is broken here,” and he brings up the abandoned Trials and Gadreel as examples, saying, “We don’t see things the same way anymore…I can’t trust you. Not the way I thought I could or the way I should be able to.” Dean has always been the character to say, “Trust me.” He’s also always been the character to hold others to a high standard of honesty. That Sam of all people can no longer trust him is huge. Now, we have to see what they do about this. Will Dean actively work to fix the mess he’s in? Or is this the “calm” before an even bigger storm?
Dean responds with his default, “We’re family.” Yet Sam isn’t swayed, and instead, echoes Dean’s sentiments in season five: “You say that like it’s some sort of cure-all, like it can change the fact that everything that has ever gone wrong between us has been because we’re family.” Unlike Dean in “The End,” though, Sam doesn’t suggest they “should just pick a hemisphere. Stay away from each other for good” (5×4). Sam’s willing to stay, but with conditions: “I’m saying, you want to work, let’s work. But if you want to be brothers…” Sam trails off, leaving the thought unfinished.
I think that Sam is working up to saying that being brothers is a choice and not something guaranteed by blood. Show has made it clear that Dean and Sam, individually and together, need to work on repairing their bond. And while I’m cautiously optimistic that the show brought them to this point, I’m anxious to see where things go from here. After all, we’ve seen several incarnations of this fight and its (temporary) resolutions over the years. If this is only the latest roller coaster ride in the Winchester’s World of Lies and Betrayal, then what has been the point of season nine’s overly generous helping of angst and pain? However, if Show deals with these issues once and for all, then this last round will be worth it.
At episode’s end, Dean and Sam agree to work together to “split the crappiness,” but they do not truly reconcile. Sam gets in the car, and after a moment of sad contemplation, Dean follows. Neither looks happy.
Next week’s “The Purge” is another Monster-of-the-Week installment. Dean and Sam go undercover at a spa, and previews show Dean in a hairnet and Sam in workout gear — Will this be comedy gold or cringedy? Watch the promo and the sneak peek and decide for yourself. Supernatural airs Tuesdays at 9 pm EST on the CW network.
- Dean’s scruff suits him well… really, really well.
- Dean tells Sam: “I’m gone for two weeks and you’re like an episode of Teen Mom.” Huh? I don’t get the Teen Mom reference – do you?
- If Garth was on a hunt that led him to farmer Brown’s property, why is he resistant to Sam and Dean investigating what’s going on in the area? And why would the Ragnorak supporters attack the animals in the first place? After all, the pack is settled and passing as human, which should mean that they have food sources secured and protocol to prevent exposure during wolfing out in place…right?
- Why was Bess’s car in the hospital parking lot? Was she waiting on Garth to escape?
- The repetition of names bothers me. In this episode, we have Rev. Jim, Charlie, and (yet another) Amelia. If it’s intentional, fine. If not…
- The parallel between Jim Myer and John Winchester is interesting too. Both men lost their wives to violence and then had to choose whether to seek revenge or to focus on their children. Both men believe “family” to be the most important thing, but each goes about preserving his ideal in very different ways. And in both cases, the success or rightness of his choices can be debated.
- The episode also uses Garth’s in-laws, Jim and Joy Myer, as mirrors to Dean. They each lost a family member (Jim lost his first wife; Joy her younger brother) and had to choose whether to seek revenge or not. Jim chose to focus on his daughter and to move forward; Joy chose Ragnorak and its extremist principles. What will Dean choose?
- Favorite Garth lines: “That’s Dean. Now, he could start a fight in an empty house, but deep down inside, he’s just a big ol’ teddy bear. And Sam here – Sam can be a bit insecure at times, but with good reason. Bless his heart.” Also, “Guns waving, the jawlines, and the hair — it’s very intimidating. What’d you expect?”
- “Sharp Teeth” achieved yet another ratings high, though running opposite the State of the Union address likely made an impact. I’m curious to see if “The Purge” achieves similar numbers.
- The Supernatural fandom wasn’t quite as active on Twitter as it was last week, though I did see #TeamCrowley trend at 12:49 am EST, as the attached screenshot shows. (Were there other trending terms? Share them in the comments if so.)
- Writers and cast members live-tweeted, including Jared Padalecki, DJ Qualls, Adam Glass, and Osric Chau (#KevinLives).