So that was, uh, interesting. Super sad to ditch the main storyline for a case-of-the-week that wasn’t even particularly great, but thems the breaks. There’s always one terribly awkward and vaguely problematic episode each season and I think we hit ours for Season 8 with “Man’s Best Friend With Benefits,” which sounded like a really bad idea from the title alone. Once it became apparent that the title wasn’t chosen solely for the giggles—it was an entirely accurate description of the episode—it was over. It was all over. The writers really should have stopped at the title. Then they should have stopped at the part where they put a dog collar on a sexy lady and had her refer to her loverboy witch-with-a-special-bond as “master.” It was like some sort of effed-up lost episode of I Dream of Jeannie. You know the part where doggie Portia slipped into the Winchesters’ motel room and all the blood drained from Sam’s face when Dean returned from his grocery run because he knew Dean would be pissed to find a dog camped out on the bed and all Sam could say was, “Oh no”? That was me.
Add in all the beastiality references and, well, this is why you can’t have nice things, Supernatural. Now go stand in the corner and think about what you’ve done. The rest of us are going to try to pick our jaws off the floor, dust them off, and try to find nice things to say about the collective stroke the entire production seemed to have this week.
But FIRST, despite the unified front Sam and Dean managed to develop in the wake of the Men of Letters/Batcave stuff, it appears that we’re back to keeping secrets and flaunting our trust issues. Dean was still fiercely against Sam taking on the God trials required to close the gates of Hell, but a little headtrip through their worst memories—courtesy of this week’s evildoer, Spencer—somehow inspired him to back Sam’s plan? Is that how this works? In what basically amounted to a revised version of his speech back in Season 5 when Sam decided jumping into Hell was a GREAT idea, Dean said he trusted Sam and would support whatever decision about the trials Sam made. Excellent. We’re all on the same page.
Then, LITERALLY TWO SECONDS LATER, Sam coughed up a wad of blood that was way too conveniently timed to NOT be somehow related to his neat glowing appendage trick from last week’s hellhound bubble bath. When Dean asked if he was okay, Sam pulled out his signature move: pairing an unconvincing “I’m fine” with the patented Sam Winchester Guilt Face. Oh no. HELL NO. I am not ready for this shit. I. AM. NOT. READY. FOR. THIS. SHIT.
Okay, okay, GOOD THINGS. They exist! They do! Wedged between James and Portia’s Bella/Edward romance-mind-meld-bondage-whatever and the admittedly semi-interesting world-building that explored the inner-workings of the witch community, there was that awesome confirmation that Dean’s trust issues aren’t so much about not trusting Sam as they're about a general inability to trust ANYONE who isn’t Dean. A lot of that stems from the fact that Dean’s been repeatedly burned by supposed allies, but I think that sense of unwavering independence is also something that's probably been drilled into Dean’s head since the Winchester family hit the road after mom got toasted on the ceiling. We know from flashbacks that John Winchester wasn’t around much, that his idea of taking care of his sons consisted largely of “Here’s some Spaghetti-Os and a shotgun. Don’t talk to strangers. TTYL.” Dean was entirely in charge of caring for Sam and himself. Later, his responsibility grew to include the whole freaking world and we witnessed him struggle over a similar case of the trust cooties leading up to Sam leaping into Hell. Back then, Dean’s protest was only slightly influenced by a lack of faith in Sam’s ability to overcome Lucifer. It was mostly fueled by the realization that he was no longer part of the equation. He was powerless to stop Sam, powerless to stop Lucifer and Michael, and for a guy who was raised to take charge of every situation, bred to be the “good soldier” and the “hero” and the one who got the job done, that was tough to accept. He clearly floundered through Seasons 6 and 7 in the aftermath, pinballing from Lisa to Bobby to Sam to Castiel, always reacting and never fully leading. Even the problematic Lisa-memory-wipe thing, as "bad touchy" as it was, was born out of the idea that no one but Dean could protect her, NO ONE, and unfortunately, Dean couldn’t be with her and Ben all day, every day. In a weird, awful way, Purgatory was probably a good thing for Dean in that it gave him back that confidence that we hadn’t seen for so long in his ability to fight and win, save himself, and even save others.
For that fleeting period between Sam’s speech about how BOTH brothers deserve happy endings and Dean's own monologue about accepting Sam’s invitation to come into the liiiiight, Dean had found that happy medium between being the self-sacrificing hero and being the reluctant binge-drinking damsel and for an instant everything clicked. This season has come so far in putting the Winchesters’ fractured team back together: first by having them actually CHOOSE to be together, then by revealing their complimentary legacies of hunter and scholar, and finally, by pointing them toward the season’s epic battle on an uncharacteristically positive note—victory without death, dismemberment, heartbreak, or... more death.
So I’m sure you understand my concern.The series has been riding a good, quality high since returning from hiatus, feeling more fresh and alive than it has in years... only to fall back into the same tired pattern of keeping-secrets-for-the-sake-of-perpetuating-trust-issues. And just to rub a little salt in the wound, it did it all on top of a generally lackluster episode.
But it’s okay, Supernatural. I’ve been braced for this inevitable stumble since Henry Winchester tumbled out of the closet and blew our minds with the shiny new mythology. It happened. It’s okay. Now pick yourself back up and go back to being awesome (and try not to take two whole seasons to do it this time.)
What did you think of this episode?
– Dumb Winchester Sighting: Are you telling me that Dean and Sam Winchester seriously don’t know what astral projection is? Even if they thought it was hokey (but why would they?), I would've thought they’d at least have a vague understanding of it, right?
– If you strip away all of the cringe-y details, Portia was actually kind of awesome, mostly for her refusal to indulge Dean’s awkward curiosity and the fact that she was ultimately responsible for saving everyone.
– Shep vs. Curly FTW.
– Dean (understandably) dislikes dogs and he’s allergic to cats. Guess there are no pets in the Batcave’s future, though I could see Dean getting really pumped about, like, an iguana or something.
– So coughing up blood, eh? You know, Sam, WebMD says you should go immediately to the hospital when that happens.