by Mieke Trudeau
“I’m gonna keep doing what we do while I still can, and I’d like you to be there with me.”
This first episode back after hiatus, directed by the legendary John Badham (Saturday Night Fever, Wargames), had a lovely old school vibe. Full of darkness, washed out colors and plenty of gore, it reminded me of some of the earlier seasons of Supernatural. Add to that a great montage of monsters of yore in the opening segment and I was reminded of how much I sometimes miss the horror element in the more recent seasons of the show.
The story brings back our favorite Marine, Cole Trenton (Travis Aaron Wade) and even though his connection to one of the victims is a little coincidental, his presence isn’t too contrived and out-of-place, because of the military theme of the episode. Cole may in fact have anticipated the Winchesters showing up, since the gruesome murder/suicide on a North Carolina army base has all the earmarks of a case worthy of a hunt. He is not too eager to have Sam and Dean there however, because his old buddy and fellow soldier Kit Verson (Richard de Klerk) may be next. Kit is starting to behave just as strangely as his now dead special ops teammate and the boys warn Cole that Kit may not be Kit anymore.
Cole proves to be helpful to Sam and Dean when he is able to find out that both soldiers were on a special rescue mission in Iraq and may have brought something monstrous back with them. After Kit goes off the deep end by not only murdering a Gas-n-Sip clerk but also drinking his blood, Cole stubbornly goes after his friend alone, hoping to prevent the “Machete Brothers” from carrying out their final solution. He ends up swallowing a regurgitated Kahn worm for his trouble, just as Sam and Dean storm in. The creature is a mutated version of the worm the boys encountered in S6.16 And Then There Were None. It is exhibiting the same murderous mind control powers, but it enters its host through the mouth, rather than the ear and it makes its victims extremely thirsty.
Sam goes after Kit and Dean stays with Cole to try to rid him of this monster. They are able to starve the parasite of the liquid it requires from its host just in time to save Cole, but it is too late for poor Kit. Sam has no choice but to put him out of his misery.
As in many MOTW episodes, parallels run rampant, but in writer Jenny Klein‘s hands they were a little subtler this time than they have been in some other scripts. Dean tells Cole to not give up and to keep fighting this monster within even though Cole begs Dean to put him down, as he once did Cole’s father. Sam tells Kit’s wife that the man she loves is no longer there and may be beyond saving, yet Sam is devastated when he has no choice but to put Kit down.
The boys are in this together but they are also keeping secrets from each other. Dean has not told Sam of Cain’s warning that this can only end with Dean killing his brother, as Cain killed Abel. In turn, Sam is trying to hide from Dean that he is not giving up on finding a cure for the Mark, even though Dean once again asks him to stop looking. Even though it is a little jarring to see Dean so seemingly put together and stoic after the devastation of his confrontation with Cain, it is clear that he sees no good ending to his ordeal. The realization that even Cain could not control the Mark, has made Dean lose hope. He fully expects to die, although it is still not clear who or what could accomplish that. Since Dean is a ticking time bomb, I am a little puzzled as to why they think it is a good idea to once again separate. I get the purpose within the plot of the episode, but after Sam’s tearful declaration at the end of The Executioner’s Song that Dean is in trouble, it seems almost cavalier to put Dean in these volatile situations on his own. Judging by Sam’s reluctance to go hunting at all, and by the devastation on Sam’s face when at the end of the episode Dean declares that Kit’s death is not on him, that “You can do everything right, and sometimes the guy still dies”, we see in Sam’s eyes the realization that perhaps it will take something more than “doing everything right” to save his brother.
I enjoyed the episode quite a bit. I loved that it was scary and gross and that the monster was a return of an old favorite. The cinematography and the choices made by John Badham added depth and atmosphere and the VFX team outdid itself once again. I also appreciated that the story was grounded in the sad truth of how our military vets and families suffer without much help upon their return from deployment, adding deeper meaning to the story, beyond Supernatural’s own experience with PTSD. I was also reminded that it was this episode, as it dealt with themes of depression and suicide, that inspired Jared Padalecki (Sam Winchester) to launch his successful and now concluded “Always Keep Fighting” t-shirt campaign. Jenny Klein tweeted about her own personal connection to the story and urged people to donate to causes that support our returning troops (links at the end of this article).
Less successful was the fact that this episode could have been placed pretty much anywhere in the last half of the season without making much of a difference to the overall arc. We often get stuck in a placeholder position in these MOTW episodes and this one was no different. However, I felt a little let down, as we are getting so close to the end of the season and this episode was the one we waited for all hiatus long after leaving the Winchesters in such an emotional state in The Executioner’s Song. On the one hand, some elements of the season 10 arc have been discarded much too quickly (Demon!Dean and his anticlimactic cure) and some are moving at a snail’s pace, bordering on tedious (I don’t think you’ll find a solution for the Mark of Cain through endless googling, Sam). Also, please stop making the best hunters on the planet so bad at their jobs! Both boys probably know by now how to properly tie up their foes, thank you very much. And I liked the return of Cole and his new understanding of the hunting world, but I’m sorry Kung Fu Grip, only Dean gets to call Sam, Sammy.
Next week promises another MOTW episode. Here’s hoping that it will give us a little more progress and connection. I am eagerly waiting to see where Sam will go to save his brother. We have been teased some darkness and we certainly saw the seeds of his desperation planted in The Things They Carried. Did you see any foreshadowing of things to come? Tell us your thoughts below!
To support veterans and to donate, visit these organizations as suggested by Jenny Klein:
To continue to support the organizations benefiting from Jared’s campaign: