Supernatural "Heartache" Review: Just Tear My Heart Out and... Eat It

By MaryAnn Sleasman

Oct 18, 2012

Supernatural S08E03: “Heartache”

Jensen Ackles’ third turn in the director’s chair brought out the gore when the recipients of a star athlete’s vital organs suddenly developed a taste for hearts. Sam pined for a boring normal life with the sort of willful tunnel vision we haven’t seen since Season 1, which was an annoying trait, even back when it made sense. Dean continued to sulk over Sam not looking for him during his year in Purgatory, but also tossed tons of olive branches into Sam’s side of the Impala and seemed almost manic in his drive to recreate the good old days, but Sam didn’t bite. He misses his ladyfriend and the normal life he never had before... except for those four years at Stanford that I guess we’re just pretending never happened. The scene at the end of the episode with Amelia and Riot was touching and on a weird note, I really liked the background music, but the implication that Sam Winchester has never in his entire life had a birthday cake just didn’t gel with what we know about his past. Tween Dean stole baby bro Christmas presents to make the holiday special, you don’t think he did the same for birthdays? Dearly departed Jess baked cookies in the pilot purely because she missed her boyfriend. I don’t think birthday cake would have been a stretch.

When Jeremy Carver was first recruited as the new showrunner and voiced his intention to cast off some of the show’s heavy mythology and return to the roots of the series, I was concerned, but optimistic. Absolutely, the mythology had grown daunting. Sam and Dean were both broken down by loss and Hell; shadows of their former selves who, admittedly, weren’t a whole heck of a lot of fun to watch at times. However, as unpleasant as their evolution often was, the fact that Sam and Dean ARE fundamentally different individuals than those we were introduced to eight seasons ago speaks volumes of the writing and production staff’s attention to character development and that’s a very good thing. No, watching Dean drink himself stupid week in and week out was not the least bit entertaining and while the Sam and Hallucifer saga was one of the better storylines of Season 7, realistically, it couldn’t go on indefinitely. Supernatural wrote its leads into some very dark places and the decision to move them back toward being functional people is welcome, but my concern with what we are seeing is that, rather than considering all of the character development that has come before and incorporating those experiences into our new and improved Winchesters, Carver has instead simply hit the redo button.

But this isn’t a comic book. You can’t just stop everything and start over when you don’t like the characters you’ve been given to work with.

Sam wants a normal, apple pie life. Dean just wants to drive around and gank monsters with his little brother. Dean doesn’t understand how Sam can turn his back on their born-and-bred duty, the family business and all that. Sam doesn’t understand why Dean doesn’t want to be normal, or at least why Dean won’t let HIM be normal. It’s Season 1 all over again. We’ve DEALT with these issues. Dean gradually came to want the normal life himself and got it during his time with Lisa. Conversely, Sam came to understand and accept his place in life and for awhile, adopted Dean’s dedication and drive to save people and hunt things.

Jeremy Carver has written some of the very best episodes of the entire series, (“A Very Supernatural Christmas” and “Mystery Spot” EASILY make my top ten), and I know that he knows who Dean and Sam Winchester are. So for that reason, despite my grumbling, I remain optimistic... but very cautiously so. I hate Sam’s storyline because it makes zero sense, but on the bright side, for once, Dean’s story is interesting, believable, and awesome. We are dealing with Purgatory with an honesty that was sadly lacking when we “dealt” with Hell. Please, oh please, don’t blow it.

Sam brooded over losing Kevin and remaining away from his dog and woman, but Dean spotted the news report about some jogger literally having his heart ripped from his body and became positively giddy at the idea of a new hunt. It was off to Minneapolis, Minnesota and then Boulder, Colorado as the pieces gradually came together—Brick Holmes, a revered professional football player, was an organ donor who perished in a mysterious car accident the previous year. Recipients of his organs seemed to develop amazing health and athletic prowess, as well as a nasty habit of ripping people’s hearts from their bodies.

It just so happened that Brick Holmes was actually a semi-immortal, millennia-old Mayan warrior who made a deal with a corn god to never grow old or weak. The only catch was that he had to occasionally sacrifice an innocent’s ticker, but things went well for a few hundred years. Brick earned fame and fortune under various aliases, excelling at various sports. Then he met Betsy, got married, and got sad when he realized that while he got to stay young and healthy forever, she was still aging on schedule and would someday make him a widower. He drove his car off of a bridge intending to destroy the body and finally die. The fact that its organs ended up donated was the result of a publicity stunt a few years earlier when famous athletes encouraged others to sign up as organ donors by signing up themselves.

Despite her initial apprehension, Betsy was quick to cooperate with Sam and Dean when confronted with their evidence and a quick trip to the Bunny Hole Strip Club to waste the exotic dancer who received Brick’s heart, put an end to the ritualistic sacrifices. Huzzah.

In contrast to the past two episodes, in which we saw Dean reluctantly pining for the purity of Purgatory and taking top-secret phone calls from vampire BFF Benny, this week we saw a Dean who was clearly trying to enjoy his freedom. He ate donuts and made faces at Sam’s fancy organic apples. He even toned down his ongoing anger over Sam leaving the life to try being nice, straight-up telling Sam that he was happy to be hunting with him again. Dean said that he knew what it felt like to be a warrior and he embraced it. I don’t think we’ve seen him this well-adjusted since at least Season 3.

What say you? I’m sure Dean was sincere about everything he said, but after two episodes full of brooding, flashbacks, and nods toward PTSD-induced disorientation, Dean’s assertiveness that he’s happy, content, and fine seemed forced. Is Dean taking the fake-it-'til-you-make-it approach to coping with Purgatory? How long until it backfires brilliantly?

Case Notes

1. Okay. What’s Amelia’s story? I know, I know we’ll get it eventually, but what are your theories? Are they still together? Did Sam break things off or is he just on a “hunting trip” with his brother? Will she survive the season or become another unfortunate victim of Sam Winchester’s Peen o’ Death?

2. Dean bought an app. I’m so proud. I mean, just a few years ago he was clueless as to what Myspace was.

3. HELLO PAPA ACKLES! Jensen Ackles’ real-life father Alan Ackles played the cop in the beginning of this episode. The last time we saw/heard him was as the news anchor in Season 6’s “Weekend at Bobby’s.”

4. “Personally, I prefer the Keith Richards version.”

5. MaryAnn Whining About Sam’s Storyline Some More: “I just want my time to count for something.” What, going to Hell and stopping the Apocalypse wasn’t good enough for you? (Except that it WAS, and Sam said as much last season during his Zen phase, so there’s really no point in continuing to flog this dead, mummified, and sealed-in-carbonite horse.)

6. I liked the fact that Sam sent their recording of Crazy Arthur’s dead language ramblings to that professor from “The Slice Girls.” The brothers need some new friends and acquaintances since everyone else is dead. I’m holding out for a Sheriff Mills sighting, myself. Who would you like to see visit this season?

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  • Veronikamdov Oct 31, 2012

    I honestly love Supernatural from season 2 till now and all of its characters..Many people didnt like broken Dean but I love that.. I really feel that all character acted naturally and I could relate to them.. Sams whining about normal life..I cant stand that.. I admire new Dean who finally discoveres beauty in fighting and becames some kind of bad-ass..but Sam.. wants normal boring someone said - he feels his job is meaningless? He fights demons, gods and creatures, his good friend is angel, he talked to God (even he know it), he saw haven and was in hell.. he stopped apocalypse and met Lucifer himself.. so what the fuck does he wants more? Its amazing life. I start to wish him to leave the hunter job and start the real have terrible marriage, really meaningless job where his boss humiliates him every day, no money and always worrying about that, little dirty flat, getting old and weak, get a cancer and dies alone in forty in terrible pain.. maybe after that he would appriciate what he has now

  • Anonymous_A Oct 22, 2012

    The standalone episodes haaven't gotten any better over the past few seasons. I hope that we have less standalones and more serialized eps this year.

  • Shreela Oct 21, 2012

    Last episode presented some kind of opportunity to completely close off all the bad stuff, yet Sam didn't seem interested in pursuing it, which doesn't make sense if all Sam wants to do is play house with his new lady and dog.

  • kgrahamjourneys Oct 20, 2012

    I hate Sam's storyline because it makes zero sense.

    I disagree. I think that Sam always wanted a normal life, but that he stopped believing he could ever have one. Then, after having just barely survived the Lucifer-visions and thinking he has lost everyone he cared about, he stumbled upon something like a 'normal' existence. It's not unrealistic that he would give up hunting. He is tired and completely broken after losing his brother.

    Now, with Dean back, he is torn, because he loves his brother & wants to help him, but he also has a desire to continue leading the 'normal' existence that he found. I think he also wants Dean to understand how he feels, but cannot explain it, especially to someone who has just been through a year in purgatory. And that is why I'm really enjoying the slow reveal that we are getting about both Sam & Dean's year apart.

    Regarding the comments about him forgetting his 'normal' life with Jess at Stanford, I highly doubt that Sam looks back at those years as 'normal' anymore. He found out that his best friend at college was a demon (who introduced him to Jess). He was surrounded by demons, who were manipulating him, even back then. There is no doubt he loved Jess and he loved his life at college, but his memories of that time have to be tainted. So, from our (the viewers) perspective it was 'normal' but I don't think from Sam's perspective it would be. Hence his comments, 'I found something I've never had before'.

  • KourtniKetter Oct 20, 2012

    So I'm thinking the plot line is so ridiculously silly with Sam that there has to be a twist, right? I mean the reaction to the dog or even his new lady... there has to be something behind something behind something. If not I will be very disappointed.

  • Anonymous_A Oct 22, 2012

    At this point, I'm hoping that he's possessed or something and wait for this situation to blow over so we could get our Sam back.

  • Nat23e Oct 19, 2012

    I hate Sam's storyline because it makes zero sense

    Right on the money. So glad there is someone out there with the courage to write the truth. We all love the show but all the blogs sucking up the writers for a plot that is leaking water is beyond me.

  • digitalwave3 Oct 19, 2012

    There are so many signs that all is not as it seems with Sam. Look at his body language while he's waiting to find out if the dog is going to live or die. He's practically vibrating his way out of that chair. Look at his panic last night while he searched for Amelia, the overall sadness and exhaustion in his face as he looks out the car window at the end. This is not the look of someone who just took a year off for 'me' time. It's the look of someone who has lost what he loves most, Dean, one too many times and knows he just can't do it again.

    He's not chasing after normal, he's chasing after feeling safe. I think in his heart of hearts he believes that the only way he might survive is to pull so far away from Dean that nothing can touch him any more. Losing Dean to Purgatory broke him. Losing Dean finally to a violent, bloody death? Will completely destroy him.

    And, yeah, Dean is acting a little like an ass right now. But, it's not because he's suddenly become one. Dean has a huge heart. But it would have just gotten him killed in Purgatory. The only way he made it through was to become the purest version of himself he could become. He had to submerge his humanity to make it through a landscape where there was none. Dean couldn't hide his true self that deeply and then just magically turn it back on again now that he's topside. He's going to have to find the catalyst to let him reach it again and I think that, ultimately, it will be his and Sam finding their way back to one another.

    They both are showing such classic signs of PTSD, just on opposite ends of the spectrum. The only way that things will get better is time for them both to heal. For them to do that they're going to have to do that thing that is so against ever fiber of being a Winchester; talk!

  • JoanneMacArth Oct 22, 2012

    I agree. I admit this stand alone ep was not one of my favorites, and I don't like the Amelia character (at least from her intro, she seemed more like a manipulative b**ch to me) but as for how Sam and Dean are both reacting following Dean's year in Purgotory, I'm with you 100%. Just because one may not like the character does not mean that the whole storyline surrounding that character is pointless. Yes, I also admit that it seems weird that Sam never got a birthday cake in his life (I think Dean would never go that far, as much as he loves his brother, but Jess would have, most certainly), but I also think that this time with Amelia IS Sam's idea of a normal life. I think it was another reviewer named Clarissa who suggested that Sam was still a kid, practically fresh out of high school when he was with Jess, whereas now he is more mature, and seeing things from an adult perspective. This makes a lot of sense (I am a lot more mature at 28 than I was at 22 or 23).

    I also like your comment about chasing after feeling safe. I'm under the impression that Sam's relationship with Amelia is over, and we are only witnessing the flashbacks of it (hence the hunting without any form of contact between the two). Anyway, thi

  • mad-pac Oct 19, 2012

    "so there's really no point in continuing to flog this dead, mummified, and sealed-in-carbonite horse." LOL!!! that really says it all. What else could I add?

    Some episodes develop the main story arch. Others are often byways of the grand highway that is the season's main theme, in which case they at least are funny ones or full of wisecracking dialogue. This episode was neither. Supernatural is a beloved show, but frankly at this point in life I'm as tired as Sam showed to be. I'll just pretend this episode never happened.

  • Anonymous_A Oct 19, 2012

    So far, I don't like Amelia. I prefer Jess over her even though she's dead.

  • gamrgrl007 Oct 19, 2012

    The way she told Sam to "Sit! Eat!" sounded like she was talking to Riot. I get it was supposed to be warm and informal but these two lack chemistry at a fatal level.

  • NicoleKnatcal Oct 19, 2012

    I pretty much agree with everything you said here. From worrying that Dean's trying too hard to pretend he's fine, all the way to wondering why all of the groundwork toward maturing Sam just got jettisoned. I also remain optimistic about JC and I hope he doesn't blow the Purgatory stuff. I loved the flashbacks and how they're handling PTSD with subtlety but also somewhat realistically. But the Sam stuff is hard to swallow for all the reasons you outlined and it's not welcome. Why can't they ever get these boys on the same page and leave them there. They don't always have to be acting like strangers to be interesting--as a matter of fact, I DON'T find that interesting at all. Brotherly squabbles is one thing--but this complete lack of warmth is disturbing.

  • radiumgirl Oct 19, 2012

    I want to take Jeremy Carver aside and be like, "When we said we wanted to take the show back to its roots, we meant the brotherly love, not Sam in college and Dean being bitter about it!"

    I'm trying to stay positive about Sam's story because Dean's is so awesome and I really do love most of JC's work here and on Being Human. I'm holding out hope that once we get the whole story, there will be some big Aha! moment that suddenly makes it make sense. But for now, I'm suspending A LOT of disbelief.

  • dazednconfuuzed Oct 20, 2012

    I agree with much of what you've said about the boy's story-lines and I too am really sick of this whole Sam's been done, and I can't stand Amelia at all. However, I really think that they're going somewhere with Sam just can't be as it appears....something else is at play here.. I think Carver's got something up his sleeve. Perhaps I remain overly optimistic.

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