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TV Review: Supernatural – “The Mentalists”

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Supernatural serves up an old school episode this week as Sam and Dean load up on salt and iron to track down a ghost. The case has two catches: 1) The boys have to find the ghost in a town packed with psychics, and 2) they have to speak to each other to solve the case. Writers Ben Blacker and Ben Acker put the Leviathan arc on the back burner in order to focus on Sam and Dean’s evolving relationship while busting a ghost.

The writers this season are hitting a good balance of Big Bad arc, Winchester angst and straight up monster chasing. Other seasons have leaned heavily one way or the other and I think it’s a good move to mix it up. Fans watch the show for a variety of reasons. I loved last week’s “Slash Fiction” with a passion and thought “The Mentalists” was a solid episode. My husband had the opposite reaction. He has been really missing the scary but fun Monster of the Week stories.

Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki as Sam and Dean WinchesterThe drawback to weaving together different focuses in the storytelling is that all the stories take longer to tell. The audience has to be patient and patience is not exactly the hallmark of modern media consumers. The net has had a huge effect on our expectations of entertainment: hook me NOW or the next site is just a click away. While those expectations drive a lot of innovation in today’s world, I’m not sure they drive great story telling.

Why am I musing on pacing? I think it’s because I am really enjoying the slow reveal of the issues surrounding Dean’s decision to kill Amy. I like that we are looking at the problem from different angles and that this episode, the boys finally decided to quit drinking or running away and talk. I like that there is no bad guy in this scenario. I like that Sam and Dean’s different reactions are grounded in their personalities and their past. Patience pays off with this series.

We left Sam last week walking angrily away from Dean, telling him he couldn’t be around him right then. The build up we had of Sam trying so hard to be the good brother and get Dean to talk made it all the more poignant that when he found out the issue, he couldn’t process it. Sam’s default when he’s upset is to walk away and that’s just what he does.

We pick up this week with Dean looking very alone as he carjacks an old beater replacement (as if!) for his beloved Impala. He clearly misses Sam. Dean’s worst fear is losing the people he loves, so it comes as no surprise that when he bumps into Sam while investigating a suspicious murder, he hustles right over and insists they can at least work the case together.

Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki as Sam and Dean WinchesterSam is one to hang onto his anger and hang on he does, refusing to engage with Dean on any level other than business. As Dean admits, Sam’s anger is understandable. Amy was an important piece of his past and Dean did lie to him. But there is also an element of “little brother Sam” in Sam’s reaction. When he was a boy, he ran away from home, enjoying the respite from his complicated emotions about his family. It never occurred to him what he was putting Dean through, both in losing his brother and in shouldering the blame when their father found out.

Dean’s relationship with his father was permanently affected by Sam’s decision to run away. While a child would never be expected to see the impact on others, an adult is. And I think adult Sam does realize running away is the action that hurts Dean the most. He’s not really walking away from Dean, he’s punishing him. He knows Dean will never stop trying to find him, so he’s not really risking losing his brother.

Sam is still too angry to admit he doesn’t really want to work alone and Dean is not yet ready to spell out his emotions, but fortunately for both, they have a friendly spirit tch tching to herself and deciding it’s time to whack the both of them upside the head. Ellen refrains from actually smacking the boys, but she does deliver a message through a medium to Dean: Start talking to your brother, because you are not all right. She tells him to admit how bad it is and that he has to start trusting again, beginning with Sam.

Again, the build up to the Amy reveal made it believable that Dean takes this advice. We know how miserable he’s been. Dean runs after Sam and admits his lie was hurtful. But he also says he did what had to be done when Sam couldn’t—and that’s what family does. Sam looks like there’s a lot more to be said, but he does listen.

As fate would have it, Sam soon has even more reason to mull over Dean’s words. He tracks down the guilty psychic and after a tense face off, is forced to shoot the man. The psychic is not a sympathetic character like Amy, but neither is he without reasons for what he did. He falls into that ever present grey area. I think Sam makes the decision to talk to Dean as soon as he pulls the trigger. He more than anyone understands how hard it is to be responsible for killing monsters.

Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki as Sam and Dean WinchesterWhen he faces his brother, Sam cuts to the chase and asks Dean why he’s been so self-destructive if Amy’s death isn’t weighing on him. Dean tells him he followed his gut when he killed Amy and he still feels it was right. But lying to Sam doesn’t feel right. And Castiel’s betrayal and loss don’t feel right and all of it makes it very hard for Dean to open up to anyone. Dean’s trust issues are not new. However, it is new for Dean to be able to articulate them to Sam. The boys have come a long way from season one.

Sam and Dean are re-negotiating their relationship, as we all do with our nearest and dearest. Dean has to acknowledge Sam is all grown up and Sam has to acknowledge running away to punish Dean isn’t helpful. Although there has clearly been growth, there is still tension. Ellen seemed to feel Dean is in very bad emotional shape. Sam is still battling PTSD. There is more to work out this season, but Sam and Dean will do it together, which is where we want them to be.

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About Gerry Weaver

  • Gerry

    Trackerem, thanks! I feel protective of both brothers as this arc unfolds. I think both Sam and Dean have some major emotional work to get through this season and I love watching that play out.

    Kitty, I agree. Though we’ve seen the brothers argue before, they do arrive at a different place each time. And yeah, they are always in character. (-: I”m liking the way the way the writers are mixing it up, too. It was time to focus again on the boys’ relationship and what they do as Winchesters, rather than as vessels. Not that I didn’t enjoy the Angel arc, I did, very much. But we have to move on and getting the boys on the road again is fun and scary. Now, if they can just get the Impala back . . . I feel Dean’s pain!

  • Kitty

    Great article, very insightful! I am also loving this season with its mix of Big Bad and Monster of the Week, adn was happy with how they dealt with this conflict, very in character for both boys. They have come a long way from season one, but they are both still human and they both still have the flaws consistent with their personality.

  • trackerem

    very tender review of a volatile situation between 2 rough fellow!