I am, however, going to do things a little bit differently this year. Instead of breaking the episode down practically line by line, I'm going to return to talking about it more in general, rather than specifics. It's also, for S12, going to be heavy on critique rather than my usual focus on what was done right. I'll still have a mix, don't worry, but S12 was a massive disappointment for me and I want to talk about why.
So, on that note - let's get down to it!
Keep Calm and Carry On
This season has a great set-up - it makes it clear (or should have made it clear) that the season was focus was going to be on mothers, and motherhood, and what that means. After 11 years of exploring the relationship between fathers and sons, fatherhood in general, etc... I was hopeful in S11 that we would continue that exploration of masculinity by focusing on the suppression of the feminine in the form of Amara. That didn't really pan out the way I had hoped THAT much, but it was still, up until the last few episodes, a fairly strong season. And the set up for S12 once again gave me hope that we were now going to be looking at the other side of this coin.
And they DO set-it up well - the return of Mary, our heroes' mother, means that we get to explore motherhood through the lens of the Winchesters the same as when we explored fatherhood/brotherhood. What does it MEAN for two motherless sons to get their mother back? What happens to the idealized memory of someone when the reality returns? What does it mean for a mother to return and see what her absence has wrought? Furthermore, who is she APART form that definition of "mother" - as that's all Mary has ever been up until now, and we've rarely seen her outside that context. (4x03, when we see her as a young childless woman comes close, as it's revealed that before motherhood she was a hunter - but still, we see her in the context of what she will become - mother - rather than who she IS.)
We get a great first look at Mary-the-person in this episode. In her first scene, she takes down Dean in her bare feet while wearing a nightie. She's far from helpless or scared - she's formidable and dangerous until she remembers her own death and begins to believe that Dean is who he says he is.
We also get a whole bunch of facts: Mary Sandra Campbell. 1954. March 23rd, 1972 - met John. August 19th 1975 - Married in Reno.
Dean KNOWS all these facts - this is what his mother is to him - a vague memory of a woman making/cutting pie in the kitchen, tomato-rice soup and Hey Jude.... and then she becomes stories told to him by a drill sargent of a father as he's pulled on a revenge-quest across the continental US that doesn't end until he's 28 years old and has already signed away his soul.
33 years dead. How weird would it be to hug your grown kid? Dean was 4 when Mary last saw him - a child who loved his little brother, but that's probably one of the only resemblances. He's now been to hell and purgatory and back. Do we ever get an exploration of this though? No... we don't see Mary actively getting to know her children as they are - not really. I understand why, because conversations like that don't make for action-packed television, but there IS a way to do them that's compelling. Think of great outsider POV episodes we've had - the Usual Suspects (S2), for instance, or Everybody Hates Hitler (S8), where we get to watch someone discover the supernatural world through the Winchesters - see them treat digging up a body as a just-another-Thursday... it'd be easy to pepper moments like that in along with the action in this season, but we don't get them.
Let's take a break from long paragraphs for my episode notes:
Oh man, truck guy! And then Cas NEVER GIVES BACK THE TRUCK.
Dean: "He gave himself up - for me."
Mary: "And he raised you and Sam to...?"
- Another thing we touch on just this once, and then hardly ever bring up again - but what does this mean for Mary's relationship to John? She is literally JUST finding out that he's dead. In Mary's mind, no time has passed between her death and now (the years in Heaven, I'm assuming, blending into what feels like a short dream, as they were just memories.) So, we get a freshly grieving Mary on top of the shock of coming back - and then also, the final reveal that her sons were raised in the life she tried to save them from.
Now, one could argue that all Mary's actions this season as a direct response to this - and that IS something I'm going to talk about, because I see what they were trying to do. But again, I'm just not sure they pulled it off. I used to make fun of Supernatural in S1-5 for being too anvilling - like, just driving it's parallels and motivations home TOO HARD... but I really think they need to take a page out of that playbook, and *knock on wood* so far they seem to be doing a better job of it in S13... but we DO need conversation and we DO need to make sure we understand motivations.
If we can't understand motivations, the writing has failed in someway. The two lessons here, that they needed in S12, are: "Make your character motivations clear" and KISS ("Keep it simple, stupid.") Wait, THREE lessons - the third is Chekov's gun - if you're going to bring our attention to something, you've got to USE that thing in the future.
Toni: "Animals, people, they're all meat."
- I do like this line.
Oh yeah, and the reveal that Lucifer lived... rar. I hate Lucifer. I'm probably bitch about this a lot later, but they should have never let him escape. Or at least had Amara kill him outright last season - because the whole DANGER of Lucifer was the difficulty in putting him back in the box. It negates Sam's whole sacrifice - the fact that he's that easily just back out in the world. Also, the fact that they find an "easy" way to put him back in the cage (failing only because Crowley tampers with it - which is another thing I'll yell about) completely undermines Sam's sacrifice and years of torture in S5-S7.
Toni talking to her kid: "I know darling, but Mummy will be home soon. I miss you too. I love you so so much."
- Again, they're setting up things that they're then never going to follow-up with. What does it mean that Toni has a kid? Why this detail? Obviously, it's because they wanted to explore mothers this season - but also obviously, they were ill-equipped to actually do it... because this little detail hardly matters ever. I think she uses it at the very end as a passive pity point to try to get Dean not to kill her or to get her to cooperate in favour of living, and it works, except that Ketch kills her. So, what's the point? Why does it matter that she's a mother? Did we want to explore evil people as mothers? Morally ambiguous people? Then lets DO that - but they end up just not really mentioning it. The best I can say is that they make her motherhood incidental, which is a departure for most mother characters on TV. You rarely see a female villain with children, because we associate mothers with fundamental nurturing goodness, and Toni is the opposite of that. So, if that was their goal, just to show us that motherhood=/=goodness, then mission accomplished!
They took Sam's coat off to torture him - that's nice. I like that coat.
Sam: "So what, you're English men of letters?"
- I bet the Scottish Men of Letters want nothing to do with them so they're snooty in defense.
Sam: "Just wondering how far I have to walk back to town before I kill you, and her."
- I love badass Sam. And this scene is actually great for it.
Toni's a really dumb character - because she comes in with this line where she agrees with him that they (the BMOL) should have gotten involved and helped when the world was ending (any of the times), and she tries to tell him they want to help - but she led with shooting him and is going straight to torture - and all this just for information? Like dude, Sam's NOT ACTUALLY THAT GUARDED. Meet him at the grocery store, say you're a hunter and offer to take him out for drinks to compare notes. Done. Intel over.
Sam: "I've been tortured by the devil himself... what can you do to me?"
- Seriously. And this DOES make for some great Outside POV later on about what Sam can withstand - thus proving my point that you CAN do significant character reveals without long-drawn out conversations recounting history.
Mary: "Men of Letters? They're a myth..."
- I love how it only took 1 generation for the Men of Letters to go from known-society to "myth"... that's what happens when you have a REALLY secret society, folks. Man, not EVEN one generation - technically Mary's father should have known that the Men of Letters were real, as he would be a similar age to John's father, and was raised in the life - so by late twenties/early-thirties, when Henry died, Samuel would probably hear about it.
Dean hands Mary a gun. I do like how he doesn't coddle her. He's treating her not as the idealized civilian mother he thought he had until he was around 30, but rather the trained hunter that she used to be.
I also like the Mary and Cas meeting. Though I'm somewhat surprised that Cas didn't know who she was on sight - but then, I guess he had never SEEN her before, so maybe her existence was just "known" but in the way that I know my eldest uncle's name and a few stories, but if he was brought back to life, I wouldn't recognize him because he'd just look like any other 9 year-old to me. (Wow, that's a depressing comparison, because it involves child-death and sadness... but it's the only comparison that I could think of.)
I also like Mary's obvious memories of the Impala, because it's the first time we see that Dean might just take after Mary a little - because that's totally a pleased face that Dean would pull at similar thoughts.
Back to the BMoL storyline - we find out how the British do things - black and white, no mercy. Yet this never comes back to bite them the way it SHOULD. They're setting up interesting stuff here, but then never following up. What does it mean to be that black and white in America? What are the lessons that Sam and Dean have already learned about that? Why does it matter? If we're going to bring up these themes again, then COMMIT to them - show us why Hunting requires nuance! Show us why mercy is preferable to strict obedience to an ideal of eradication... bring back those parallels and show us why the British are doomed to fail with this philosophy!
(Also there hasn't been a monster related death in Britian since 1965 apparently.)
Then the really stupid part comes, when Toni asks Sam to give her the "Organizational Hierarchy" of American Hunters. It's hilarious, because American hunters don't have an organizational hierarchy... but also completely nonsensical when you think that the BMoL have supposedly been observing America, and the Winchesters, for years - shouldn't they KNOW that Hunters in America are outlaws living on the fringes of society? Brought into the life rarely by tradition and more often by violence - seemingly alone, save for a loose network that can just as soon turn on you as help? Also, why ask the WINCHESTERS, if they'd really been watching, they should have known that John kept the boys away from whatever loose network of Hunters there was for as long as possible in an attempt to protect Sam (or at least, that's my headcanon) (... and also because John kept pissing people off.)
Sam: "Maybe you tie them to a chair - maybe you do worse - so you can go to hell."
- See, this is why you don't LEAD with torture and then ask someone for their friends' names.
I DO Like how we get tough!Cas in this episode. He goes right for violence in all their interrogations and is used as their brute. And that's really great, because A)Cas IS a bad-ass angel of the lord, and it bugs me that the show/fandom sometimes forgets that. B)It shows how much Cas cares for and worries about Sam... something that also bugs me when the show/fandom forgets and acts as though Cas only cares about Dean.
"No one can take that much pain and not break. No one."
- Yeah, go Sammy. Also the first time we get a reference to "Mr. Ketch" as a psychopath. Again, in the end, a good set-up (which we'll see more of) and then a failed execution/resolution.
The set-up for Mary being overwhelmed by the future and her sudden life is well done here.
Cas: "This must be difficult for you. I remember my first moments on earth - It was jarring." And the foreshadow that this will be too much for her.
Mary: "And that's everything you know?"
Vet: "Yeah, totally."
Mary: "Hurt him."
- Nice job, Mary. Again, this was actually a good set-up - because we get to see what being a formidable hunter AND a mother means... I mean, we've been seeing this sort of love from both Dean and Sam for years in the context of brotherhood/family, so it's not just a case of motherhood.. but it's good to establish Mary firmly in that place as well, that she's also family, that she feels that protective angry instinct the same as Dean does.
Dean gets a Taken speech - they're always fun.
Toni: "We have a problem."
And Dean breaks the phone with hands - good times.
- I do love the Winchesters as a kind of boogyman to all who cross them. Maybe it's because I just finally saw John Wick, and I've got it on my brain though - but I love that trope - the idea that they'll hunt you to the ends of the earth. (which is actually a Due South reference too... I've got a type!)
Oh man, I'd forgotten that the Impala got smashed. KILL THEM.
Sam's hallucinations are telling of his psychology. We don't know what drugs he was given, but the hallucinations he suffers repeat that his loved-ones deaths are his fault and then we hear Dean's voice calling him a freak... which just goes to show that his S1 fears haven't really gone anywhere.
I like Mary rescuing Dean - that she kills someone on her first day back among the living. It's an ominous way to start - and that she does so in order to protect her son is also foreshadowing of her future questionable choices (though I really don't question this choice.)
Oh yeah, Sam pretends to kill himself - it's genius. But he didn't make sure she was dead... tsk tsk Sam.
Mary: "I'm sorry, I spent my life running from this - from hunting, and I got out. I never wanted this for you and Sam."
Dean: "Mom, I get it I do... but Sam and me? Saving people, hunting things, this is our life. I think we make the world a better place. I know we do."
- Again, we have a great set-up here for an exploration of what this means for their relationship. We explored what it was like for Sam and Dean to be parented by someone who WANTED them in the Hunting life, who didn't let them resist it. Now we could have gotten a chance to explore what it would have been like for them to enter a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" scenario - where they've both finally made peace with Hunting, enjoy it, consider it their life's work and calling, have found a small way to be HAPPY in it... and then they get a parent back only to have that parent disapprove of their choice. But again, we don't really explore that at all. We don't see the journey Mary has to take in order to understand her children's lives... to respect their decisions... instead she inevitably tries to take the decision out of their hands entirely. Which, I suppose is an exploration in and of itself - it's another parent trying to deny the boys agency in their own lives. But... yeah, maybe this is a theme I'll talk about more as I continue. Still 22 episodes to cover!
My final note is that it's interesting that Sam doesn't pray to Cas. We see him alone, in a basement, tortured, believing Dean to be dead... the one thing Sam still had was Cas, and yet he doesn't call for him here... nor on God. I often which we got more of an exploration of where Sam's faith sits at the moment. It is that he expects to die? Is part of his resistance to the torture a quiet plea for release? That's not to say he's not just resisting to save his Hunting contacts, because Sam will put his life on the line for everyone - but at this point, I don't think the sacrifice is as big as it usually feels. Anyway, stuff to think about.
Let me know your own thoughts in comments.
Also, good news bad news: I found another job! Bad news - means I might have less time for rewatches than I thought! Still, I want to knock these out fairly quickly, tonight's took me 2 hours, but I'm still getting used to the new format (you can see that I fell back on old habits a few times of breaking down individual lines), so hopefully this speeds up with time.
This entry was originally posted at https://hells-half-acre.dreamwidth.org/546062.html.