This week’s episode of Supernatural got a thumbs up from both of us, which means it must have been amazing. Actually, it was amazing.
The first part of this season – and most of the last few seasons – have been pretty hard on the brothers Winchester. And that means they’ve been pretty hard on the fandom too. In this episode, Ben Edlund (who has always seemed to understand Sam and Dean better than anyone except their creator) decided to do something rare and wonderful in SPN – he gave them a break. Not that there wasn’t still Sam nearly getting killed and Dean flying through the air and an evil menace called the Thule lurking at every turn. But at the end of the day, Sam and Dean had somewhere to go back to, to lick their wounds and shore up their strength and get ready to go back out there and fight the good fight. Giving the Winchesters a home base feels important; giving them a renewed sense of purpose changes the entire feel of the Show.
Honestly, it’s been way too long since “the family business” has seemed like an apt description of what Sam and Dean have been trudging along doing. One of the things that hooked many of us on the show was that personal connection – the boys’ quest was tied to their father, their mother, their family. That made us care, and I think it made them care too. I felt that again in this episode – they care, both of them.
This episode was subtle (thank you Ben Edlund and Phil Sgriccia!), but it set up a great deal of change for the Winchesters. Their understanding of where they came from and who they are has been altered by their encounter with their grandfather – not only are they descendants of hunters, but of Men of Letters. Scholars. For Sam, that knowledge changes his sense of self, validating some of the choices he’s made and always struggled with. Sam was the one who didn’t fit in with the family business, who questioned being a hunter and wanted instead to be a scholar. He has always been every bit as brave as Dean and John, and perhaps just as driven to make a difference – he just wanted to do it as a lawyer instead of a hunter. Sam has always seemed to be the one who “fell far from the tree”, but now he knows that’s not true. Being a man of letters is the Winchesters’ legacy, just as being a hunter is.
This is a life-changing realization for a young man who has struggled with figuring out who he is and where his place in the world should be. We all have a powerful need to belong, and an equally powerful need to establish a sense of identity – now, maybe for the first time, Sam has both. Have we ever seen Sam embrace his purpose in such a positive way? He’s found an identity that fits him, no longer the “odd man out”. Kripke’s original characterization of Sam came in part from his own personal experience, wanting to make films and television instead of joining the family business like he was expected to. The difficulty of going against the family’s wishes has always shaped the character he created in Sam – and shaped Sam’s relationship with his brother.
Dean has always struggled against Sam’s perceived ‘difference’ too, threatened by it and wanting to pull Sam back into the only identity Dean has ever known – whether it fit his little brother or not. For the first time, Dean too is seeing Sam’s difference as equally valid and important. Instead of Sam’s discomfort with hunting pulling the brothers apart, they’ve each found their niche and can work together. Dean overtly gives Sam his approval, asking if he’s going to be a “Man of Letters” now. Sam glances over at him, clearly expecting disapproval or ridicule; Dean nods and says “Good.” Instead of the traditional two beers, Dean pours them glasses of scotch. It’s a ‘grown up’ drink, celebrating the change. For Sam, that approval and acceptance must be immensely satisfying; for Dean, having a little brother who is clearly content and truly “both feet in” is just as satisfying.
There were plenty of other things to love about this episode too. Dean being both flattered and adorably flustered by “the gay thing” seemed way more in character for Dean than any of his previous reactions to being ogled by a dude. Hurt!Sam and protective big brother Dean (and how much did we swoon when Dean called Sam “little brother”?) Aaron, another reluctant hero from a long line of fighters, embracing his destiny along with his smarts and his loyal Golem.
We don’t even need to fall back on how gorgeous the boys were, that’s just icing on the cake for this episode. But okay, smart!Sam in a tweed jacket and sweater vest recognizing a Library of Congress number when he hears one? HOT. Dean wrapped up in a dead guy’s robe still wet from the apparently awesome shower? Ditto. Yeah, there was plenty to look at, and hopefully many many screencaps so we can relive the view repeatedly.
But even more wonderful was the sense of hope the episode left us with. The boys working so closely together, speaking in code, understanding each other instantly. The sense of purpose they’re sharing, and the respect they’re showing each other. For so much of the past few seasons, the Winchesters seemed adrift in a world full of powerful evil, without the weapons to fight it. They lost so many fights, and so many loved ones. Now they have something on their side, and the story that Show is telling is once again their story. Sam and Dean are important, intelligent, a force to be reckoned with. There’s power in the new knowledge they possess, and in their legacy, and in their solidarity.
We’re sure that Show will knock the boys down as soon as they manage to stand up for a while, and we realize that episodes like this one wouldn’t feel so amazing if we didn’t have to endure all that angst and agony to get to them. But for now, we’re going to pour a couple of glasses and put our feet up and just enjoy a little bit of hope. Just like the Winchesters.