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TV Review: Supernatural – “When The Levee Breaks”

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"If it keeps on raining, levee’s going to break."

Aside from being a cool lyric in the Led Zeppelin tune “When The Levee Breaks,” it also serves as a perfect metaphor for this week's episode (as well as it’s title). Sam and Dean's now busted relationship is a long time coming. Just like rising flood waters the sour feelings between these two have been slowly building to the point where the weakening bond that binds them together couldn’t hold anymore.

This episode cannot be taken at face value. It’s an intricate and complex script with elements that take on a different meaning upon multiple viewings. In other words, Sera Gamble is challenging us to think. What she’s created is nothing short of remarkable. Thanks to her and Robert Singer’s gift for bringing out the most intense emotion in the episodes he directs, I'm an emotional wreck.

When I watched Thursday night, I didn't get everything until the third viewing. The first time left me in a complete daze and the second time got me too teary. Looking back at Sam and Dean's growing issues this season though, I’m not surprised by the outcome either. This heart-crushing story is very painful to watch, but it’s also a fascinating development for their characters that’s likely to lead to a darker path. The fact that Sam and Dean’s falling out ended up being so explosive is exactly why I’m always hooked by this show. I’m still blown away by what happens next.

From Sam's Perspective

In four seasons, there has never been a more detailed and revealing look into Sam's head and man, am I blown away. This is the episode the Sam fans have been dying for! We actually see what makes him tick and somehow it makes his actions seem more practical. It also makes him far more sympathetic. The hallucinations are clearly manifestations of what’s going through Sam's mind and reflect his long-lingering desires. These particular people from his past surface just to ask the hard questions he's constantly asking himself and help reconcile his inner conflicts.

Alastair represents the fear inside Sam. Fear of demons, his fear of his destiny, his fear of what happened to Dean happening to him. That and the torture scene is a pretty cool mindfuck. In facing his younger self (it’s really cool to finally have Colin Ford and Jared in a scene together), Sam has a chance to examine his regrets and lament over how things didn't go the way he planned. It’s a powerful way to show his still lingering guilt over Jessica and broken promises to himself, the latter being a continuation from “After School Special.” That scene ends sadly, for it results in Sam ultimately accepting that he's a demon inside and can't run from that. Plus, Colin Ford is really sinister with yellow eyes.

Then there's the conversation with Mary. Oh, did this part reduce me to a pool of tears. Probably because I’m a mother of a son, so I know. Mary represents the one thing Sam craves most from Dean, understanding of who he is and what he must do, including the idea of self-sacrifice. He even visualizes the loving comfort only a mother can give her son, and for the first time we see the true impact on Sam of growing up without a mother. He was never nurtured, and when Mary gives him that basic need, Sam craves it worse than any drug and loses himself in the moment, until it poignantly slips away at the end because it isn't real. Oh poor Sammy! When he’s left alone and isolated after that, I get a much deeper understanding of how tragic Sam's life really is. I’m crushed for him.

Ultimately though, the breaker is with Dean. Chained to the bed and unable to escape the painful words, Sam hears from his hallucination of Dean the absolute worse thing he could ever hear — Dean thinks he's a monster. Sam can't bear it, and it tears him apart as he implores Dean not say that.

By the time Sam escapes, thanks to angelic intervention (damn you Castiel!) and he and Ruby get together, Sam is emotionally devastated. He's so hurt and betrayed over what Dean did to him. Ruby, who sees just how bad Sam is hurting, tells him, "I had no idea that Dean would do that to you," and a heartbroken Sam replies back, "You and me both." His super sad puppy dog eyes in that scene tear into my already drastically weakened emotional state.

After getting his fix of demon blood and getting back to normal, Sam still hopes that eventually he and Dean can set things straight. “I wish he trusted me, you know,” he somberly tells Ruby. Yet when Dean does arrive and Sam pleads with him to trust him, Dean delivers the hardest blow. It's his earlier hallucination all over again, only worse this time because it’s real. "It means you’re a monster."

Sam tears up over those words (as does Dean) and the old Sam would have walked out in silent devastation. This Sam though, as last week's episode clearly showed, is very unstable from the demon blood. His heartbreak quickly jumps to anger and he punches Dean. Then he goes on to beat the crap out of his older brother, hurting him. Why does Sam strangle Dean when he’s hurt on the ground? Easy, because that demon blood is raging inside and it's his base instinct now to go for the kill. It could also serve as a warning. The fact that he stops himself before killing Dean means he isn't too far gone.

Sam's parting words clearly summarize the core of his harsh internal conflict. "You don't know me. You never did, and you never will." Sam leaves despite Dean's ultimatum because in his mind, it's over.

From Dean's Perspective

Dean’s fears about Sam have lingered for a long time, surfacing especially in “Metamorphosis,” and “Yellow Fever” earlier this season. He can’t bear the idea of Sam turning into a monster, or something evil. From the first scene, Dean has no reason to trust Sam, and even says so. Sam's been lying to him for a long while now, but it's the out of control behavior he can't handle. Sam has evolved into something unrecognizable, but he won't say the "M" word yet.

It's evident though that locking up Sam is tearing him apart, just by his painful gaze at the top of the stairs while Sam yells at him from inside the panic room. Bobby isn't giving Dean assurances either, telling him that Sam might not survive this and suggesting they get Sam's help to stop the seals from being broken. Dean won't back down though, for saving Sam is his utmost priority. Those words still ring true from "Born Under A Bad Sign”; he has to save Sam because otherwise he’ll have to kill him.

Dean goes to Castiel instead, and maybe he hasn't learned his lesson after all. Castiel lets him know that if Sam takes in enough demon blood to kill Lilith, he would turn forever into a monster that Dean would want to kill. Again, Dean makes a deal on behalf of Sam and vows to serve the angels. At least he thinks he's doing it for Sam. I think we'll find Castiel (or Castiel's superiors) are tricking Dean just as bad as Ruby and the demons are tricking Sam. I'm scared over the lesson Dean is going to get this time.

Second thoughts hover in Dean though, shown through those glimpses of grave concern, like when Sam has his intense demon blood reaction and he’s flung around the room. Yes, Sam biting down on Bobby's belt to prevent himself from biting off his own tongue really got to me too. Despite all that though, Dean sticks with his guns and accepts he'd rather see Sam dead than watch him turn into a monster. There, he said it, the "M" word.

When Sam escapes and goes with Ruby, that's the ultimate betrayal to Dean. Sam trusts a skanky demon over his own flesh and blood. Bobby warns him not to let his anger get in the way and to swallow his pride for the sake of getting Sam back. Dean can't do it though and tries to kill Ruby, but Sam comes along to save her, making Dean madder. He tells Sam he'll help go after Lilith only if Ruby isn't part if it. When Sam refuses and tells Dean he knows what he's doing, Dean lets too much slip and stops himself before saying what really hurts. “Then that’s worse. Because it’s not something that you’re doing, it’s what you are.” Sam gets him to say it anyway, and Dean instantly regrets using that “M” word (even tearing up) when he sees how much it hurts Sam.

When Dean is hurt on the ground after Sam beats him, watching the monster inside of Sam walk away, Dean delivers his ultimatum. "If you walk out that door, don't you ever come back." I'm not sure what Dean expects Sam to do, especially seeing the rage in his brother, but of course Sam left. Sam makes his choice, and that’s more than physical pain Dean’s feeling on the floor in the final shot.

The Acting

It's common now for Jared and Jensen to blow us away every week, but this week they really gave us something special. Jared especially is given a tough task (which is something Sera Gamble often does to him) and he again exceeds our expectations. If he cringed before at Sera Gamble's scripts, this one must have sent him into full-fledged convulsions! The prep alone had to have killed him, let alone everything he gave to the episode.

Might I also add here that the makeup crew should be highly commended for making someone as pretty as Jared look so bad. The gradual shading on his face, making him look more gaunt with each scene, cumulating with him looking half dead while nervously waiting in the hotel room, it’s just incredible and dramatically accents Sam's sorry state. Score one for makeup!

 Speaking of incredible, Jensen brought it too. He had to be restrained in complement to Jared’s manic state, but we saw every bit of the cracking around the edges through those composed glares. This is what Jensen does best, and once again Sera Gamble uses her script to play to each actor’s strengths. This is one of those pinnacle episodes that allows both actors to shine in very distinct ways, and even though their characters are worlds apart in the scenes together, their explosive chemistry bridges that gap by producing something out of this world. It doesn’t get any better than that. Of course I say that, then an episode like this comes along and it does do better. I don’t know how they do it.

Bravo, Jared and Jensen! I hope that working to exhaustion to nail these roles was worth it in the end. We are certainly gracious.

Everything Else

One other scene made me cry as hard as the Sam/Mary scene. When Bobby pulls the shotgun on Sam and Sam calls his bluff, I held my breath during the entire drama, not knowing how this would play out. I just about died when Sam tells Bobby he's not going back and moves the barrel of the shotgun to his heart, challenging Bobby to shoot while both of them tear up. This is also another great display of Sam's instability as he grabs the gun and knocks Bobby out. I love his regret over what he did, throwing down the shotgun in frustration before driving away. This Sam and Bobby showdown lives up to everything we could have imagined.

Things aren't going well for our resident angel either. Castiel is torn apart by his own internal conflicts when ordered to release Sam from the panic room and when he turned in Anna and her voice of reason over to other angels. Interesting to see how that's gonna play out.

Ruby really duped Sam with the Lucifer's first demon story. What she described, how Lucifer “twists and tempts a human soul into the very first demon," that sounds like Sam, not Lilith. Sam, so blinded by revenge (or what he's justifying as justice now), makes the jump to Lilith. Methinks Ruby is setting up Sam to break the final seal. They didn't leave out the Lilith legend about eating babies though. I'm bothered now, thanks for that!

The honeymoon suite? That's awesome that for once Sam steals a nice car and stays in a nice room. Funny how Dean figures out anyway he'd do the opposite.

Notice how Bobby is drinking whiskey? I guess there's something about Winchester brother strife that pushes him off the wagon.

I wish we could have actually seen Rufus Turner. I guess there are already too many guest stars in this episode.

As far as character development goes, this episode earns an A+++. The episode as a whole gets an A, knocked down only for some weaker paced Sam/Ruby scenes in the hotel room. Season finale next week. I'm already warming up my curses for Mr. Kripke.

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About Alice Jester

  • http://em-spn18.livejournal.com/ Emma

    Great review Alice, I agree this episode was intense and showed just how far our little Sammy has changed. It showcased Jared’s talent and Jensen played off of him perfectly. I wasn’t as shocked when Sam knocked Bobby out (I was sure as Hell mad though) but not surprised. He’s a junkie needing his next fix. The twitches and uneven breathing in the motel room showed that perfectly. I agree that I think Sam is Lucifer’s First not Lilith. Ruby is a manipulative bitch and is playing Sam like a fiddle.
    Dean was heart breaking as usual and he looked like a trapped animal when he made that deal with Cas and the angels- he did it for Sam. Even with all the lies and secrets and demon’s blood turning his brother into a M word Dean still gave up everything for him.
    I was shocked that Cas let Sam out. He is really conflicted by the orders he’s been given. Nice to see that all that “ass reaming” in Heaven didn’t completely take hold, there’s still some of ‘our’ Cas in there somewhere.
    The hallucinations were fantastic. I agree completely with your analysis. Something else people picked up on was the way each of those characters were portrayed: Alastair was bathed in golden light- probably to show Sam what he could become. Little Sam was pale, dark and very washed out- maybe to show how much of this sweet innocent child he has lost, as it slowly dies. Mary wasn’t her normal angelic self either, she was portrayed as a bloodied human. This was interesting because she has been put on a pedestal by the Winchester men all series and Sam sees her as a human, but I guess that helped with the human emotion she gave Sam, something he needed. And of course, then there was Dean. This scene has me in tears. Jared was amazing. He really knows how to work those puppy dog eyes of his. Dean attacked him right in the heart by calling him a monster and I’ve always said Dean represents Sam’s conscience, this scene seemed to prove that. Sam knows what he’s turning into but his tunnel vision, and the demon’s blood is clouding his mind and moral compass. He’s willing to sacrifice himself and his humanity in order to exact revenge, oh excuse me, we’re calling it justice now. He’s losing the battle, let’s just hope Dean can bring him back before they loss the war.

    Em

  • tina

    Wonderful review Alice.I cant say anything you havent and the boys acting was phenomenal esp Jared and to finally get inside Sammys head was so heartbreaking but it showed how damaged he has been since losing Jessica.
    Just fantastic.

  • elle2

    I love your opening bit here, especially about how this cannot be taken at face value. Repeat viewings are critical and that is part of what makes it so phenomenal. As expected the pre-season finale is awesome and sets the stage for not only the finale but for next season. They’ve been sprinkling in some things between The Rapture and now this and to be sure next week.

    I’m really, really, really, really hoping Eric answers some questions and gives us a glimmer of hope…that may be too much to ask for since last year he killed Dean and showed us a sobbing Sam and a tortured Dean so no doubt he’s looking to up the ante this season. Argh!

    I really like how Sam’s story which has been subtle but building all season long exploded here. It’s not that different from Dean finally admitting he wanted to be saved from hell and then finally realizing that he had to pay the price…that took time to come about as well.

    I’m still a mess over all that happened here and will be reading your review again and again to gather my thoughts more. As I’ve done before, I’ll likely spend some time trying to figure out where and how it all gets put to right…I have faith though that damaged, frayed, dented and torn it can be put back together…heck, we saw the Impala brought back from almost total destruction…right? Anyone? Help?????

  • vichi

    oh, once again you did it! amazing review Alice! I loved the episode and Jared was excellent in that one. Jensen always is but now was Padalecki’s time! speechless now…

  • Baronius

    Very interesting interpretation of the Lilith/Lucifer story. I hadn’t thought that it might represent Sam.

  • Andrea

    Your reviews are awesome. I thought it was the saddest episode ever. Never imagined to see the boys fighting each other like that. Yet it was intense and powerful. Jensen usually gets the most attention for his performances but Jared was particularly outstanding in this one. He made an incredible job as the tortured and addict Sammy.