by Mieke Trudeau
“We love you brother, but don’t know who you are anymore”
After last week’s plot saturated episode, this week we were treated to a pleasant and much lighter MOTW interlude, complete with some delightful returning guest stars.
We find Sam and Dean in the bunker, researching the Mark of Cain, seemingly with no result. Dean is as frustrated as I am that the Men of Letters have nothing on arguably the oldest symbol known to man. He keeps saying he is fine, but clearly he is not. I am very happy to see that at least this season everyone is taking the Mark very seriously, when last season no one seemed to pay much attention to it, at great cost.
They are interrupted when Jody Mills (the ever welcome and reliable Kim Rhodes) calls on Sam for some help. She is stuck at a sheriffs’ retreat in Hibbing, Minnesota where a body has turned up, its flesh eaten down to the bones. Jody suspects monsters at work, but rejects the boys’ offer to come out to help. Jody is very capable of hunting monsters, thank you very much, plus she has some help from her new partner; Sheriff Donna Hanscum (a delightful and very funny Briana Buckmaster), whom we first met in episode 9.13 The Purge.
The dynamic between the two very confident, but different women is hilarious and also touching. At first Jody is prickly, preoccupied with her new ward, Alex, who we met in 9.19 Alex Annie Alexis Ann. Having a teenage girl to take care of, especially from a distance, turns out to be hard, illustrated by Alex’s funny and a little scary phone calls (“Why do I hear firecrackers?”). The all-business Jody seems to have nothing in common with ray of sunshine Donna Hanscum, who is all lollipops and Minnesota colloquialisms. But Donna is also a great sheriff and her sweet dimpled smiles gain her easy access into the coroner’s office, where Jody’s taciturn demands meet with resistance. Donna is still smarting from her divorce from Doug (the dick) who pushes all her buttons and treats her badly with great cheer. Jody steps in during one of Doug’s oblivious moments but she oversteps. Donna can take care of her own business just fine, and Doug may be a dick, but he was her dick and she will have to get over her marriage ending in her own way and time. When Donna pushes back at Jody, it brings her back to her own losses.
In recent episodes we have seen some fairly lengthy flashbacks used as storytelling devices, and we see one again here. Long-term viewers are of course familiar with Jody’s backstory and as one, I find that the flashbacks take me too much out of the narrative, especially when they reference back to too recent an episode. But then I have to remember that Supernatural uniquely still pulls in brand new viewers, even in its tenth season, and not all those newbies will know every previous detail like some of us do.
More mostly eaten victims are found and Jody is happy to see Sam and Dean who have come to help after all. Donna and local Sheriff Len Cuse (a very effective and natural Fred Ewanuick) are a bit surprised to see two FBI agents show up for what seems to be a series of animal attacks, but after some prodding a deputy confides that not all is what it seems. Donna meanwhile has a rough introduction into the world of monsters after she discovers Sheriff Cuse looming over yet another bloody body, fangs out. Soon she gets “the talk” from Jody and is included in the hunt for the vampire sheriff, over Sam and Dean’s objections.
It has become a little too expected to have yet another reluctant monster of the week who wants to live a good clean life regardless of their murderous proclivities and yet that’s what we find again here. It turns out that Vampire Len, back in the day, created his own merry band of vampire hippies, who kill in a sustainable way by consuming and using every part of their victims, down to their belts. How responsible of them! But Len grew a conscience and left the group, even becoming a sheriff to make up for all his bad deeds. Just his luck that the publicity for his law enforcement retreat brought his old band right to him. As if there wasn’t enough of a parallel, the leader of the group is now a hippy teenage girl, Len’s first victim. She can’t accept Len’s rejection of her and their ways and as our group of heroes is captured and tied up, she ends up killing him.
I understand that in the story it makes sense to have Dean kill a bunch of vampires in a bloody way, when he is the first to escape his bonds. I get that we are to continue to wonder how much of his aggression is good old Dean Winchester and how much is the Mark of Cain. I am not sure that Dean himself knows. He has had plenty of moments in years past, where he questioned his own bloodlust. And I also understand that it was a logical next step in Donna’s story to have her be the second to get loose and save the day by beheading her very first monster. Briana Buckmaster really played the heck out of all these scenes. She was funny, vulnerable and badass, meeting not only the boys, but Kim Rhodes’ formidable Jody Mills every step of the way. But, I wish that these storytelling devices didn’t come quite so simple and with so many tired tropes. Does Sam, the (second) best hunter on the planet really need to be hit in the head for the umpteenth time? Are Sam and Dean really that incompetent that a teenage vampire and her measly bunch can overwhelm them so easily? Do we need these overused parallels of monsters choosing between their given nature and being good in every episode? I long for some really scary monsters and for the Sam and Dean who can escape anything and are the smartest and most capable of the bunch.
The final scene is great. Masterfully edited and scored, we switch back and forth between conversations. Jody and Donna bond over their newly found common ground and Dean tells Sam that for the first time he felt that he wasn’t driven by the Mark as he killed. Sam is a little taken aback that clearly Dean had felt its influence before, but I think it’s a significant moment. I know that some think that Dean was lying, but I don’t believe he was. I think he is trying to discover who he really is. The Mark chose him for a reason and where does it end and Dean Winchester begin? I think I see a good story in all this, for Dean. In other episodes, we have seen the beginning of a good arc for Cas, for Crowley, I hope we get an equally good one for Sam. So far he has been very involved and we have seen much of what is happening from his point of view, which is new. But I do hope that his personal narrative will be that of the salvation of Dean. As we know that part of Dean’s journey this season is to become a hero once again, I believe that Sam’s should be that he becomes Dean’s hero. I think that is the one thing that he has never quite accomplished, and it is time.
Overall, I truly enjoyed this episode. It had many funny and touching moments; Dean actually using puppy dog eyes to convince Sam to go on the hunt after all, Jensen Ackles’ improvised line about Sam taking pride in printing his fake FBI badge, Sam’s delight in getting a call from his friend Sheriff Mills and Jody offering Dean her strong shoulder. Those boys need her in their lives! But mostly I loved it because of the stellar work by Kim and Briana. I would watch a Supernatural spinoff with them in the leads in a heartbeat and if my twitter feed is to be believed, so would a lot of other people watching on Tuesday night.
The promo for next week’s mid-season finale looked intriguing but as we get more previews and stills from the episode, I feel some of what we saw was a little misleading. I hope it will not be too scattered an episode. Too many plotlines is like too many cooks; it just makes a mess.
Tell us what you hope to see in the mid-season finale and the second half of the season and drop us a note below.