If fan forums can be trusted – and if you choose yours carefully, they can be – this was one of the most anticipated episodes of the season to date, even more so than the season’s premiere. Spoilers had come out a couple of weeks ago regarding billing in this episode, and we knew the actors who had played young John and Mary Winchester were back, making fans guess that this episode would be a flashback or a time travel episode.
The former guess won as Sam and Dean traveled back to 1978 to save their parents from Anna. Yes, Anna the angel, you read that right. Nice Anna, whose huge eyes related a strong sense of innocence, so much so that when she contacted Dean in the middle of an erotic dream, he wasn’t very happy about it:
Dean: I was just, uh, working on a case.
Anna: So this is what you dream about.
Dean: This is awkward.
It was rather heart-wrenching to watch Dean wake up from his dream, as we saw that he doesn’t seem to dream restfully anymore. While in the initial seasons of Supernatural, he would sleep, well, like a normal person, under some sheets, in his sleeping attire, he has been spotted numerous times the last two seasons sleeping fully dressed on top of said sheets – and this time, it looked like he had been sitting on the side of the bed when he simply fell back, asleep.
And not without reason, as it soon comes to light that Anna, of all people, isn’t up to any good this time around. She escaped from the prison in which they put her upstairs (the concept of a prison in heaven is quite a novel one to me, I must admit) with only one intention: to get rid of Sam.
Fortunately, Castiel didn’t allow the boys to meet Anna as she requested when she visited Dean in the above mentioned dream, and quickly reports back her real intentions to the Winchester brothers:
Dean: Really? Anna?
Castiel: It's true.
Dean: So she's gone all Glenn Close, huh? That's awesome.
Castiel: Who's Glenn Close?
Dean: No one. Just this psycho bitch who likes to boil rabbits.
Sam: So, the… the plan to kill me… would it actually stop Satan?
Dean: No, Sam, come on.
Sam: Cass, what do you think? Does Anna have a point?
Castiel: No. She's a… "Glenn Close."
Castiel has, fortunately, a plan: to find Anna and kill her. But soon he realizes that Anna has gone back in the past. She knew he wouldn’t leave the boys unprotected, and that she wouldn’t possibly be able to kill Sam; and so she went back to 1978, before the Winchester brothers were born, to kill John and Mary Winchester.
What has the world come to, that angels are resorting yet again to killing each other.
Obviously, both Sam and Dean insist on accompanying Castiel. Dean, true to himself and yet adorably naive, wants to not only save his parents from Anna, but give his mother a warning about her own future.
I guess Dean hasn’t learned his lesson from the last time he went into the past, but this wish to take advantage of the opportunity and attempt yet again to save his mother’s life is true to his character, and I wouldn’t have expected anything less.
Time traveling isn’t easy, even for angels, and especially with passengers.
Dean: So, what? You’re like a DeLorean without enough plutonium.
Castiel: I don’t understand that reference.
Sam and Dean insisting on coming with him weakens Castiel considerably, and he collapses on arrival in 1978. The boys set him up in a honeymoon suite (with what money, I don’t know) and set off on their own to save their parents.
The question is, how? After all, this isn’t your typical situation, and the Winchester brothers are quite aware of that:
Dean: What are we going to tell them?
Sam: The truth?
Dean: What, we are going to tell them that their sons have come back from the future to save them from an angel that’s gone Terminator? Those movies haven’t even come out yet!
Thankfully, Dean and Mary have a past (oh, the various layers of implication of this word in the current context is enough to make anyone’s head explode), and Dean manages to also take advantage of the fact that John is curious about Mary’s side of the family, whom he hasn’t met many of.
I wonder why.
This is the first time since Mary’s death that the four Winchesters were together in the same room again. It must have been quite the emotional turmoil for Sam to live through, seeing his mother for the first time, and Jared played this scene amazingly well. A lesser actor could easily have overplayed it and ruined the moment, but he didn’t – yet another proof of how great an actor he is.
The situation was filled with minefields, and Sam, emotional from meeting his mother, stepped right on one:
Sam, to Mary: You’re so beautiful.
Dean: He means that in a non-weird, wholesome, family kind of a way.
Thankfully, Dean has always been quick, and, having already met both Mary and John, was a little less emotional and a little more functional. It was quite amusing, listening to him explaining things to John, about how Sam’s emotional reaction is because Mary is the spitting image of their mother and that Mary’s dad was pretty much like a grandpa to them – it was absolutely wonderful.
Did anyone else realize here that the chances that Mary was pregnant were high? After all, people were dressed pretty lightly, which implied that it was either late spring or early fall – both of which were less than nine months away from Dean’s birthday – January 1979.
While Dean and Sam try to explain things to Mary, Anna, impersonating John’s previous boss, lures John, desperate to have his job back, to the garage, where she is waiting for him. The boys and Mary arrive right on time and send Anna away with the help of the angel banishing sigil (that thing really comes in handy, doesn’t it) drawn by Sam.
Unfortunately, this means that the secret Mary had been desperate to his from John is out, and, understandably, he is furious. As the four speed towards what we recognize as Mary’s parents’ house, John struggles with his feelings:
John: Not another word. Out of any of you. Or so help me God, I will turn this car around.
Dean: Wow. Awkward family road trip.
Sam: No kidding.
The house has been in Mary’s family for the longest time and consequently is ready for action, filled with guns, salt, demon traps, iron ornaments, and holy water. However, it’s not ready to face an angel, the existence of which Mary wasn’t even aware of until Dean and Sam told her about Anna. And so the three of them set to work, readying the house. John is initially left out of things, as he has no experience, but as he himself puts it, he’s still useful, as he cuts his palm to draw the angel-banishing sigil.
Waiting for Anna to appear gives John time to ask some questions, but also for Sam to get some highly unusual yet probably quite effective therapy, which will probably help him in letting go of some more of that anger he has:
John: How long have you known about this hunting stuff?
Sam: Pretty much forever. My Dad raised me in it.
John: You’re serious? … What kind of irresponsible bastard let’s a child anywhere near? You know, you could have been killed! … The number it must have done on your head. Your father was supposed to protect you.
Sam: He was trying. He died trying. Believe me, I used to be mad at him. I used to hate the guy. But now, I get it. He was just doing the best he could. And he was trying to keep it together in this impossible situation. See, my Mom, she was amazing, beautiful, and she was the love of his life, and she got killed, and I think he would have gone crazy if he hadn’t done something. Truth it, my Dad died before I got to tell him that I understand why he did what he did. And I forgive him for what it did to us, and I just… I love him.
Understanding is the first step to forgiveness, and forgiveness is essential to contentment, and being content means that one doesn’t feel angry at things. Which, in the context of this show, is a place we’d definitely love to see Sam get at and stay at, as it implies that Sam would be the safest he has ever been from saying yes to Lucifer.
The most shocking and touching moment, though, happened between Dean and Mary. The former asked the latter for an explanation now that they had a minute. Not knowing how to break it to her, Dean blurts out: “I’m your son,” then proceeds to convince her of the truth of his statement by telling her things that, while she hasn’t done yet, she probably can recognize as things she would do. The most striking one:
Dean: Instead of a lullaby, you would sing "Hey Jude." That’s your favourite Beatles song.
Straight after one shock, poor Mary had to face another: Sam realised that the best way of dealing with this entire situation – perhaps a little selfishly so – is for Mary to leave John, so that he and Dean would never even exist, downplaying this situation:
Dean: There’s a big difference between dying and never being born. And trust me, we’re okay with that.
I don’t agree with Dean on this. Let’s say for the sake of argument that Mary wasn’t pregnant. If she did choose to leave John or if she choose to go on a 100% effective birth control method, she would knowingly be keeping Dean and Sam from existing. After having met them, and knowing how real they are, wouldn’t doing something that would keep them from existing be akin to killing them? I think that if Mary did walk away, knowing that it would basically annihilate the existence of Dean and Sam, it would be akin to killing them.
(And please, do not make this into an argument for or against birth control and/or abortion – this argument is solely for Mary’s situation had she not already been pregnant with Dean.)
But fortunately, Mary loves John too much, and Dean has already been conceived. (“It’s too late. I’m pregnant.”) Did anyone else smile at that moment with the thought that there were two Deans in that room at the same time?
Trust Anna and Uriel to ruin the moment with a sudden appearance, during which John is incapacitated and Sam is killed. John is given the chance to save Mary by a surprise appearance from a character central to the storyline but who has yet to grace our screens: Michael.
Yes, that Michael, who promptly (and quite easily) kills Anna, sends Uriel away, and puts Mary into temporary sleep to have a few minutes with Dean. No wonder Dean has so many issues. I wonder what that whole Michael-putting-Mary-to-sleep thing did to him in her womb.
The conversation between Dean and Michael was another absolutely fascinating moment in this episode, and I agree with Michael when he says, “Well, I’d say that this conversation is long overdue.” Kudos, by the way, to Matt Cohen for his amazing channeling of both John and Michael, two very different characters, in the same episode.
The main topic of the episode, reflected primarily through the conversation between Dean and Michael, was that of free will, referred to again and again in Supernatural’s last season, ever since the Winchester brothers learned about being Lucifer and Michael’s vessels. We are confirmed in information we already knew: that Dean is Michael’s True Vessel but that, like Lucifer, he could use other vessels. We also find out that the reason why Dean is Michael’s vessel isn’t as simple as Sam being Lucifer's, but rather that Dean has always been Michael’s vessel because of his bloodline, which descends from that of Cain and Abel, the irony of which cannot escape any Supernatural fan. This is probably why Sam is Lucifer’s vessel, because he’s the younger brother of the same bloodline.
And the situation between Michael and Lucifer isn’t black and white either. It’s not that Michael wants to kill Lucifer, but rather, that Michael has to kill him because of what Lucifer did:
Michael: Lucifer defied Our Father, and he betrayed me, but still, I don’t want this any more than you would want to kill Sam. You know my brother… I practically raised him. I took care of him in a way most people can’t ever understand, and I still love him. But I am going to kill him, because it is right. And I have to. …
Dean: And you are just going to do whatever God says?
Michael: Yes. Because I am a good son.
Dean: Well trust me, pal, take it from someone who knows, that is a dead end street.
The parallels are intriguing. John had asked Dean to kill Sam back in the premiere of season two were things to go wrong; God seems to have asked the same thing of Michael. Does this imply that, if a mere human like Dean was able to work it out without having to obey his father, that an archangel would be able to figure something else out, perhaps by once again trapping Lucifer in hell, rather than killing him?
Too bad Michael isn’t willing to listen to this particular mere human:
Michael: And you think you know better than my Father? One unimportant little man? What makes you think you get to choose?
Dean: Because I gotta believe that I can choose what I do with my unimportant little life.
Michael: You’re wrong. You know how I know? Think of a million random acts of chance that let John and Mary be born, to meet, to fall in love, to have the two of you. Think of the million random choices that you make and yet how each and every one of them brings you closer to your destiny. Do you know why that is? Because it’s not random. It’s not chance. It’s a plan that is playing itself out perfectly. Free will is an illusion, Dean. That’s why you are going to say yes.
The concepts of destiny and free will are really fascinating. If destiny means that our future is basically decided for us, then why have free will? And is there a conception of destiny that can co-exist with that of free will? I think there is. While I certainly am no philosopher, I have come to realise that perhaps ‘destiny’ is what, by token of who we are, is waiting for us to happen. It’s not that God said so, but rather that God knows us so well, that He knows what is going to happen at the end. I would compare it to attentive parents of a toddler; while the toddler has free will to, say, choose between playing with cubes and playing with balls, his parents know that he prefers the cubes. The toddler chose, out of his free will, to play with the cubes, but the parents knew that the ‘destiny’ of the toddler was to play with the cubes because they know him so well. A little simplistic, I know, but also a logical reflection of the possible relationship we would have with an all-knowing parent, i.e. God.
But the way Michael presented it to Dean made him realize that there might not be any other alternative. And Michael makes the pill even harder to swallow when he promises to wipe Mary and John’s memories clear of them; the devastation on his face as he realises that, after everything, Mary is still going to walk into that nursery on that fateful night, is heart-breaking.
On a side note, does the fact that Michael wiped Mary’s memory of information that could have saved her life make Michael an accomplice of sorts to Mary’s murder? And how is it destiny, when Michael clearly meddled, thus sending Mary to her death?
Their talk finished, Michael sends Sam then Dean back ‘home’, where Castiel, not in the best of shape, joins them soon after. And Sam, aware of his own weaknesses that once before made him choose to walk down a terrible path, is also aware of perhaps the one weakness that might make them break whatever promise they have made to each other: “And what if you could save Mom? What would you say?”
The episode finishes with a scene from either December 1978 or January 1979, as a heavily pregnant Mary and John are standing in a ready baby room. Mary purchased a little ceramic angel that is resting above the crib, telling John that she doesn’t understand why she felt like she had to purchase it. The last line of that scene is Mary talking to a still unborn Dean, telling him “angels are watching over you” – which, sometime in the last couple of years, Dean told Sam was not only what their Mom would tell them as she tucked them in at night, but that it was the last thing she ever said to him before that fateful night she died.
Now there are a couple of things I’d like to have clarified. First of all, how were the “angels don’t enter” sigils smudged? Does this mean that while the sigils keep the angels away, they don’t keep their powers out? If so, that kind of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it?
Second, what’s with the Winchester bloodline that makes them Michael’s chosen vessels, able to withstand his ‘use’ of their body as a vessel without long-term harm? Does this mean that the Winchester side of the family is somehow more involved that the Campbell family (i.e. Mary’s family)?
And third of all, if it’s a bloodline, why doesn’t Michael take Sam as a vessel? I know Sam isn’t Michael’s true vessel, but he’s a Winchester, which means that Michael can use him. It’s a plan that makes perfect sense. If Michael takes Sam as a vessel, not only will Sam be safe from a ‘takeover’ by Lucifer, but Michel-in-Sam could take on Lucifer-in-Nick, and that would be the end of it (especially since Nick is quite literally falling apart, giving Michael-in-Sam quite the advantage). This plan makes even more sense since it’s not going to affect Sam in the long term, as Michael doesn’t "leave behind a drooling mess" when he’s done.
Not to leave you with heavy thoughts, here are some great lines from this episode:
Dean: We should stick around, buy some stock from Microsoft.
Dean: What do I look like, Dr. Angel, Medicine Woman?
Dean: All of a sudden, you really remind me of my Dad.
Dean: Six degrees of Heaven Bacon.
Sam: They all say we say yes.
Dean: I know. It’s getting annoying.