When Zack asked me to fill in for him tonight, I was very excited to get the chance to talk about Supernatural again. If you read my piece during Second Opinions week last spring, it’s no secret I wasn’t a huge fan of last season; while it was decently ambitious it felt rudderless and scattered, and never really came together as a cohesive whole. Season seven, however, has been a completely different story so far, a story that seems well on its way to becoming something special.
One of my big complaints of how the show has evolved since season five and beyond has to do with the utter bleakness of the Winchesters’ situation and how it is becoming harder and harder to connect to them as characters when their identity is so wrapped up in misery. Season seven hasn’t abated the misery at all, but they way they’re presenting it is tweaked just enough to feel fresh and interesting instead of hitting the same three beats over and over again as they have in the past. Also, season seven has had an amazing sense of dread, different than any other feeling of malice that’s been featured before. The threats here are the Leviathans, whose non-snarky violence, overall smarts, and decided lack of a master plan (they only have the one base desire, to feed) make them some of the more unsettling villains featured in quite a while.
Unfortunately, I thought all of the above things right up until “The Girl Next Door.” I really didn’t want to swoop in here and malign the show again, especially because I enjoyed the first two episodes so much, but that was kind of terrible, right? Well, maybe not terrible, but certainly dull and not up to the expectations set by the season thus far. It started off promisingly enough, with an almost seamless continuation of last week, with Dean and Sam getting their wounds tended to in Sioux Falls General. Bobby immediately works on their escape and it’s seen almost entirely from the point of view of a morphine-doped Dean. Between his physical limitations and a bit of nifty claustrophobic directing (by Jensen Ackles himself) the escape scene ties in nicely with the tone of the season thus far.
Once Bobby jailbreaks the Winchesters from the hospital, however, things take a bit of a turn and it becomes less about the Leviathan threat and more a typical Supernatural monster-of-the-week story with an extra dose of character development thrown in. This isn’t a bad thing on its face—I’ve been dying for the show to get back to doing strong monster episodes for ages—but this just wasn’t it.
In truth, it was less a monster-of-the-week story and more an examination of what is going on with Sam and his fractured mind. When Sam is faced with the resurfacing of an old hunting target he has personal ties with, he avoids what would inevitably be a bitter conflict with Dean and takes off on his own to solve the problem. The story, told through a series of flashbacks to Sam in 1998, revolves around a girl named Amy he met while Dean and John were out hunting a kitsune, a creature who survives by consuming human pituitary glands. Young Sam forms a relationship with Amy, who of course turns out to by the very creature his family is hunting. The complication is that Amy is what could be considered a noble monster, disapproving of her mother’s more overtly evil actions and even killing her own mother to save Sam. She is only resurfacing now to kill because her own child is dying.
Sam, who is himself wrestling with his own demons regarding his own fragile mental state, sympathizes with Amy and allows her to go about her life after getting promises she won't kill again. Dean, who tracked Sam down and found out about the situation, is a bit less forgiving. Without Sam’s knowledge, he finds Amy and kills her right in front of her son, who he leaves to become a kitsune Batman or something.
Here is where the episode went from simply dull for me to downright maddening. One of the most refreshing things of the first two episodes of the season was how quick Sam was to confide in Dean, and how willing Dean was to use their brotherly bond to help Sam come back from the brink. Now, with Dean’s subterfuge and Sam’s initial reluctance to bring Dean in on the plan, we’re back to square one with the brothers lying and playing games with each other. It’s been done and no matter how interesting it might have been in earlier seasons, it’s just not any more.
Not only are the brothers lying to each other, but Sam is back to dwelling on his “freak” nature. Remember season two, when Dean was obsessed with Sam being a freak? Remember season four, when crazy Sam drank a bunch of demon blood and actually kind of was a freak? Sam’s freak nature is well-shod territory. Seeing visions of Lucifer makes him something entirely separate from a freak, as this damage was inflicted upon him by an outside source and doesn’t stem from some innate effects of his early demon blood ingestion. The singular focus on his freak status is troubling and feels almost incorrect.
The crazy thing is, Sam and Dean have never had more in common than they do right now. They both went to Hell. Sure, their experiences were different, and their reactions to those experiences were different, but if there was any one issue that should bring them together in a hurry, it should be this. The first two episodes and the little bits of it we got this week were strong enough to make me think they have a decent plan for the season with the Leviathans, but if the thrust of the brother story this season is “Sam feels like a freak, Dean treats him like a freak and they keep secrets from each other,” well, I’m not interested. It’s season seven. Yes, story options get thinner as the years go on and new character beats are difficult to create at such a late stage. That’s still no excuse for reverting to things we’ve already seen so many times in the past.
- The Leviathans are using new strategies to find the Winchesters and I like it. Were demons ever smart enough to trace their credit cards?
- Dean’s moral code here was maddening. So he’s willing to kill Amy because she’s killed before, but he won’t kill the kid? Considering the kid doesn’t have easy access to dead pituitary glands anymore, won’t he just start killing? Why is Dean so willing to kill a reformed monster but not a nascent one?
- Don’t deny Dean his pie, Sam. He just might awesomely sucker punch you later because of it. (Sure, he said it was the car, but we all know better.)
- Jewel Staite, Firefly, yes I know. I liked Kaylee, too.
- My Bloodiest Valentine in television 3D? Cute, Supernatural.
- “Hey look, the monster broke my leg.”
- “You got tall, huh?”
- “Amy Pond, huh? Cute name.”
- “New rule: You steal my baby, you get punched.”