by Mieke Trudeau
“The Darkness is coming, it’s so peaceful.”
I will start by saying right off the bat that I loved this episode from start to finish. Color me pleasantly surprised that it was an episode by a writer brand-new to Supernatural that delivered a story so firmly rooted in show and character history and without a hint of fanservice. Nancy Won clearly did her homework and wrote a richly layered Supernatural story in Thin Lizzie. Framed as a one-off Monster of the Week, this episode actually moved the Amara/Darkness myth arc forward very nicely, when it turned out that what seemed to be a routine killer ghost hunt actually involved a series of Amara’s soul sucking victims.
Sam and Dean are still eager to stay on the hunt while they wait to learn more about the Darkness that has fallen over their world and when Sam stumbles on a case involving Lizzie Borden’s erstwhile home, now a touristy B&B, his inner serial-killer fanboy is very excited to pursue it. How much do I love the fact that this little tidbit of Sam history is not only remembered but also so nicely integrated into the plot?! As Dean affectionately ribs Sam about his obsession throughout the episode we also get to see both brothers in full and effective hunter mode, working together with each contributing their strengths; something we haven’t seen on Supernatural for some time. When Jensen Ackles promoted the record-breaking season 11 as a throwback to season one, this is exactly what I imagined that would look like.
To Sam’s disappointment our intrepid hunters quickly discover that all signs of haunting are faked by the B&B’s owners, yet people keep dying in mysterious ways in the locked rooms of Lizzie Borden’s childhood home. It is not until we meet Len, Lizzie superfan and self labeled archivist, portrayed with humor and pathos by actor Jared Gertner, that we learn that in fact, Amara is responsible for the deaths, although indirectly. Now an adolescent girl of about 13, she has been feeding on souls with varying effect.
This is where the story hits its highs for me; as we meet the newly soulless, it is explored what that actually means in both a practical and spiritual way, in the Supernatural universe. When in previous episodes soullessness is inexplicably portrayed as rendering someone randomly murderous, Nancy Won manages to tie the concept not only to the story at hand, but also to the show and characters’ history. As presented here, losing ones soul amounts to absence, a void and disconnect from past and feeling. For some, like Len, once a passionate fan, it results in loss of all joy and connection. For Sydney (an excellent Tess Atkins), babysitter turned murderer, it means freedom from the crushing weight of her horrendously abusive past. In fact, before Amara takes her soul, Sydney experiences a moment of pure bliss; “ecstasy, orgasm and chocolate cake”, as she describes it. Of course, no longer having a soul takes away any inhibition she may have felt to killing those she sees as deserving; a cheating ex boyfriend who saw her as less than worthy; a former boss who treated her own son very badly and the parents of the little boy she babysits; addicts and abusers themselves.
So often, MotW stories are presented as parallels to wherever Sam and Dean find themselves emotionally in the season’s arc, sometimes in overly literal direct comparisons. In this case however, the question of soullessness and the absence of emotions is presented to give us actual insight into what may be going on in our heroes’ heads. As Dean listens to Sydney speak of the toll her abusive childhood took on her and how she is finding freedom in the lack of feeling and the darkness Amara gifted her, I couldn’t help but think of the moment when Dean finally broke down and confessed to Sam about his memories of hell (“Wish I couldn’t feel a thing, Sammy”) and how he may have felt while he carried the Mark of Cain. Of course Sam had his own bout with soullessness and even though now he could not conceive of wanting to lose those emotions and connections to the past, he is able relate to these victims. His statement that everyone has their own story that influences the way they react to losing their soul couldn’t be more profound in this context. Len’s confession that he is playacting being a soulful human being by “faking it until you make it” brought back not only what Frank once told Dean to motivate him to keep going but it also echoed what Sam said and did in his own soulless days.
We do not yet know the full extent of this connection Amara has with Dean, but it seems clear to me that he is worried. He knows the darkness within himself all too well and when Len confesses that he feels it welling up inside, Dean tries to cling to the notion that “when there’s still a hint of conscience inside of you, there is hope”. In the end Len, soulless as he is, makes a profoundly moral decision. He decides that, when Dean refuses to kill him (an important development in and of itself), he will turn himself in as the killer so he will not be able to hurt anyone else, even though he is innocent of all deaths, save Sydney’s, whom he killed to save Sam and Dean. Through Len, Dean is not only seeing himself reflected, but he is also finally gaining insight into his brother when he lacked a soul, something that is a long time coming, since only last season, Dean inexplicably blamed Sam for his own soullessness.
Even though both Sam and Dean both are holding back something from the other, Sam that his visions included flashbacks to his torture in hell and Dean that Amara told him they would always help each other, the brothers seem to be on the same page and are talking to each other more than they have in years. Their pledge to carry the responsibility of releasing this ancient being onto the earth together and to find a way to beat it united is something many Supernatural fans, including myself, have been waiting for, for a long time. I am also encouraged by Dean’s continued willingness to let Sam take the lead; more than once he has deferred to Sam’s (better) judgment and I see many signs that Dean will be led out of this continued tie to the darkness by Sam’s unflagging faith in his goodness. Many times in this show, the brothers have kept each other from becoming monsters, by being each other’s light in the darkness, or even their soul. This episode managed to reflect on just that notion.
I thoroughly enjoyed Thin Lizzie, as you can probably tell. Not only did I find the exploration of soullessness intriguing and was pleased that it corrected the simplistic way it was treated in recent episodes, but I also loved the many instances of humor and character touches that felt genuine and rooted in show history. Dean’s curmudgeonly reaction to the flowery room at the B&B and Sam’s need to see if the squeezy thing on the toilet water bottle actually worked were hilarious. I also loved that Sam got to have a button moment with a guest character (something often reserved for Dean, for some unknown reason) when he sat down with the young orphaned Jordie (Finn Wolfhard) and related his own experience with loss as a child. Both Sam and Dean felt authentic to me in this episode and I really hope that this trend continues into the season. We are off to a great start and for one, I hope to see many more episodes written by Nancy Won; a voice both new but also able to be familiar.
As always, we would love to hear your thoughts on this episode and the season so far with a comment below.