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?
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?