It’s finally back! The blogosphere, fan forums, and Tumblr have been buzzing for days; January 21 isn’t only the one-month mark after the winter solstice, but also the return of Supernatural. Obviously, expectations were high, and the episode left some people happy and many others disappointed.
Personally, I am quite pleased with this episode; while it is very different from the very lighthearted episodes from the beginning of season five, it stayed true to itself, helped advance the plot, and gave even more depth to its two main characters.
It’s been a couple of weeks since Ellen and Jo died in their quest to help Sam and Dean fight the Apocalypse. Unsurprisingly, Dean hasn’t talked about it to Sam, keeping all his emotions inside; and these underlying strong emotions are exposed raw in the course of their current hunt.
Almost fittingly, the boys check themselves into a psychiatric ward to help an old hunter friend of their father, Martin, with supposedly suicidal patients whom he understands as having died of something very different. They finally figure out that a wraith is using the hospital as a hunting ground for brain juices high on dopamine and serotonine.
It needs to be mentioned that the balance between hilarity and seriousness is one that is difficult to manage in real life, let alone in a TV show, but that it’s something that Supernatural was always good at and now seems to be mastering. After all, it never makes light of one of the most serious topics it has tackled, the Apocalypse, and yet still manages to crack viewers up at least a dozen times in each episode. Perhaps this is yet one of the other reasons that, while tackling subjects that are unreal and supernatural, this TV show has such an effect on so many viewers. After all, life is a very serious matter, but it doesn’t mean one can’t have a good laugh every once in awhile.
This episode was more about the relationship between the two Winchester brothers than anything else, as well as a rather chilling reminder, in the form of Martin, of what could happen to them if they don’t clean up at least a little bit of the mental mess the events of the last four and a half years have made in their heads. As usual, playing the game (i.e. checking themselves into the psychiatric hospital) in order to get to the monster also exposes, most of the time quite unwillingly, the weaknesses each brother has. Now since rumours have it that there is going to be a sixth season of Supernatural and that both Jensen and Jared have signed on, it means that neither Dean nor Sam are going to die anytime soon (or at least, they are not going to die permanently). Hopefully, dealing with these issues is also going to keep them from, say, accepting an offer from a certain Lucifer and/or Michael.
The snippets of information we find out about the brothers throughout their ‘therapy’ at the psychiatric ward is rather heart-wrenching, especially for fans who have followed them since the show first aired in 2005 and have developed a strong attachment to these characters. Dean’s macho act is once again shown as a way of dealing with the heavy burden that rests on him, as we find out about his rather extremely unhealthy habits regarding sleeping and drinking.
Speaking of which, it doesn’t make sense that Dean is this fit, what with all the bad eating, drinking, and sitting he does while driving across the country. Just saying.
It was also interesting watching Sam recognize something many fans have been talking about for months on various forums and the such: he is full of pent-up anger, and not dealing with it (as Dean suggests) has already made him put himself in harm’s way (a.k.a. Ruby). Hopefully he will be able to deal with some of it before he puts himself into harm’s way again (a.k.a. Lucifer).
Dr. Fuller: Monsters are the least of your problems. People can learn to live with delusions. But the anger I saw in you… You hurt those two men, and you were going to kill me. The look in your eyes when you came after me… It was like you were barely human. Like a man possessed.
It bears mentioning that Jared’s acting skills usually go unnoticed, probably because Jensen’s portrayal of Dean tends to steal the show. But the fact that he manages to pull off the vulnerable puppy look as well as the furious possessed man look does demonstrate that the acting chops are there.
Fans everywhere, be they Dean fans or Sam fans, have come to realize a long time ago that neither brother is better than the other, and that they are at their best when they are together. And while some **coughsDrFullercoughs** might believe that this relationship isn’t healthy, I think that the particular circumstances the brothers are involved in makes this relationship necessary.
Dr. Fuller: The relationship you have with your brother is dangerously co-dependent. I think a little time apart will do you both good.
However it does need to be pointed out that if the brothers use each other to ignore their own weaknesses, then this dependency could become an obstacle (like it has previously been) later in the season.
The brothers definitely need to work on their personal issues. Some of the unwilling therapy that they got during this episode might be beneficial, and not only because it was a means to get to an end (i.e. kill the wraith).
It gives way to a very interesting discussion about what being strong really is. Therapy isn’t for the weak; rather it’s for strong people who are willing to face their issues and deal with them head-on, however hard that might be. For all his macho act, this episode confirms yet again that Dean isn’t as strong as he thinks he is. Dean’s hunched shoulders as he comes out of afternoon session clearly demonstrate this in a heartbreaking kind of way. And while Sam might not be as strong as he wishes to be, the fact that he is aware of this weakness might come around and help the brothers in the future — as long as he deals with it in a positive way, rather than getting high on demon blood again.
The fact that both Dean and Sam came to the breaking point when faced with harsh truths could be taken in two ways. On the one hand, it could be seen that they are not strong enough to withstand therapy. But on the other hand, therapy is about facing your worse demons and dealing with them. Understandable so, Sam and Dean's inner demons are rather harder than your average inner demons.
And it’s not like neither Sam nor Dean are strong. In this episode, Dean demonstrated yet another time how he manages to rise up to the occasion and accomplish things that even he himself doesn’t think he is able to. Near the end of the episode, Martin and Dean are in Wendy’s room and Nurse Erma has just fled. Martin tells Dean he has to go kill the her. Dean, at the end of his tether because of all the hallucinations and apparitions, is about to break down, and cries out, “I can’t!” But after being told by Martin that he has to, Dean manages yet again to muster up what feels like the last bits of his wits and gets the job done. If that’s not strength, then I don’t know what is.
So it could be that Sam and Dean, while definitely being stronger than your average person, are not as strong as they would like to be, or that they pretend to be. And so their survival (as well as their winning the battle against Lucifer) might depend on balancing between acknowledging their weaknesses as well as their strengths while at the same time putting them just far enough in their heads that it doesn’t get in the way of things. Then again, that’s also what us regular people also need to do to not only survive, but thrive and succeed.
In helping Dean along understanding his role in fighting the Apocalypse, Dr. Erica Cartwright’s questions were quite interesting, regardless of the fact that she was a hallucination created by the wraith to drive Dean crazy.
Erica: So is there a quota? How many people do you have to save?
Dean: All of them.
Erica: All of them? You think you have to save everyone?
Dean: It’s the end of the world, okay. I mean it’s the damn biblical Apocalypse. And if I don’t stop it and save everyone, no one will, and we all die.
Erica: That’s horrible. […] I mean Apocalypse or no Apocalypse, monsters or no monsters, it’s a crushing weight to have on your shoulders. To feel like six billion lives depend on you? God. How do you get up in the morning?
Dean: It’s a good question.
Dean sometimes feels that he is alone in this quest. It’s interesting for many reasons. First of all, he isn’t alone. Three people who have consistently stood with him are Castiel, Bobby, and Sam. Heck, before they died, Jo and Ellen were also steadfast helpers. While Dean does carry the particular burden of being Michael’s vessel, at the end of the day, he isn’t fighting this alone.
Dean’s discourse regarding his responsibility is also a barrier against him working more fully with his own brother, thus holding them both back from achieving their full potential. After all, Sam doesn’t think he’s good enough already, especially after being tricked by Ruby. Interestingly enough, Ruby is the one who pointed it out last season: Sam had it in him all along, he didn’t need the demon blood to use his special ability. And yet, we haven’t seen a sign of it in the first half of the season.
Plotlines involving psychiatric patients who see things other people don’t and that end up being right always make me wonder if some of the people we label as having various mental ailments are actually the sanest ones amongst us. I worked in a psychiatric facility for awhile, and it shook me to my core when I realised that, given proper time and space, if I listened – really listened – to these patients, they would actually share some incredible insights with me. Who is to say that some of the things they claim to see aren’t really there?
It becomes all the more ironic since Sam and Dean are basically allowed into the psychiatric hospital for telling the truth.
Dr. Fuller: How are you?
Sam: A little depressed, I guess.
Dr. Fuller: Do you have any idea why?
Sam: Probably because I started the Apocalypse.
Dr. Fuller: The Apocalypse.
Dr. Fuller: And you think you started it.
Sam: Well, yeah (…) We’re trying to stop (Lucifer).
Dr. Fuller: We?
Sam: Well yeah. Him (points to Dean) and this one angel.
Dr. Fuller: Oh, you mean like an angel on your shoulder.
Sam: No, no. His name is Castiel. He wears a trench coat.
Dean: […] The kid has been beating himself on the head for months. The Apocalypse wasn’t his fault.
Dr. Fuller: It’s not?
Dean: No. There was this other demon, Ruby? She got him addicted to demon blood […] My brother’s not evil. He was just… high.
Dean: So could you fix him up so we could get back to travelling around the country and hunting monsters?
And so, Dean telling the truth got him diagnosed as a “paranoid schizophrenic with narcissistic personality disorder and religious psychosis”. If that’s what he really has, then it makes you wonder what people think of us fans who love and side with the Winchester boys all the time.
As if we care, really – but it is an interesting question.
Being a huge X-Files fan, I couldn’t help but notice elements from this episode that had a distinct X-Files feel. First off, I loved the classic X-Files moment when the screws holding the ventilation shaft grill were being undone from the inside. I might have been giggling the entire time, rather than being petrified with fear. Eugene Victor Tooms, anyone?
Then there was the point blank X-Files reference:
Ted: I saw it. When it killed Susan.
Patient: I did too! It has big lobster claws.
Ted: No it didn’t.
Patient: Yeah, and it was an alien, like on X-Files.
And the last X-Files element that particularly struck me happened while Dean and Sam were in the morgue. Did anyone else notice how the music had a faint Mark Snow flair to it while the boys were examining Ted?
Based on this episode, it looks like the rest of the season is bound to be, as Sam put it while he was on the drugs the doctors gave him, “spectacu…lacular”.
And I’m quite looking forward to it.