Goodbye Stranger: Supernatural 8.17 Gets It Right
More than any of the other writers on board for S8, Robbie Thompson seems to get fandom. This episode had something for just about everyone – the Dean and Cas fans, the Sam and Dean fans, the Megstiel fans (kudos for getting the ship name right on that, btw). Even the Sam and Amelia fans got a shout out. Not sure there are many Sam and Amelia fans, but if you’re out there, you must be happy too.
This was one of those episodes where the first half hour of the show went by and I felt like it had been about five minutes, perhaps because I got so wound up that I couldn’t actually sit down and just watch. (This might also partly explain why I couldn’t catch my breath.) The other explanation was that the episode just never let up, staying intense and steamrolling forward without a break. From the first frame, I was caught off guard by the fact that instead of the customary MOTW beginning, there was Dean onscreen. WTF? I sat up straighter, already on alert. Something’s off here, something’s – holy crap, Cas, WTF? It was shocking enough to watch Cas kill Dean; a thousand times more shocking when the camera pulled back to show that many dead Deans strewn across the bloody warehouse floor. I literally gasped out loud. Which, while I admit to getting overly emotional about this Show from time to time [ahem], doesn’t actually happen all that often. Way to get my heart rate up, Show!
The direction was as tight as the writing on this episode, and we learned a tremendous amount of new information about all the major players, but it never felt like an information dump. Instead, it played out bit by bit, with each new bit of understanding leaving me going “ohhh” (or even more often) “Ohgod…”
The scene where Cas pummels Dean was hard to watch, evoking the similarly wrenching scene in ‘Swan Song’ – but it was brilliantly shot. The cutaways back and forth from Cas’ point of view as Naomi and Dean alternately try to influence him were dizzying, and jarringly effective. That Cas was finally able to make an actual choice of his own seemed all the more powerful after such an internal and external tussle.
I really enjoyed Misha Collins’ portrayal of Cas in this episode. He carried off the chillingly emotionless version who’s just following orders, the sweetly naïve version who has a soft spot for Meg, and the determined individual who has finally made his own choice by the end – probably not an easy thing for an actor to pull off within a single episode. I’m not always sold on the Dean and Cas profound bond, but I’m always sold on the Sam and Dean one, so Dean’s plaintive “I need you” felt right to me in the context of what had come before – Dean does need Cas, not just as a friend or family, but as the only one who may be able to help Sam. In order to complete and survive these trials, both Dean and Sam need all the help they can get, and Cas is at the top of that very short list. That Dean flinched away when Cas reached down to heal him was even more painful than his reaction to the beating itself – to see Dean scared, cracked open, vulnerable, is wrenching. We don’t often see Dean needy, so when we do, it hits hard.
One of the things that made this episode feel so real (which then helped me invest in it so much more) was the continuity. Thank you for doing your homework, Robbie Thompson! I’m struck by how much more I care about what’s happening on my screen when what I’m watching feels like my Show – when there’s a sense of shared history between us. Meg (that is, Robbie) actually remembered that she ‘rode Sam for a week’ and has experienced his sadness from the inside. It’s not exactly a secret that Sam wants out of hunting, so I’m not sure we needed that particular revelation, but it was still nice to hear. I may have shouted at my tv, “Yes! Omg, you remembered!”
It probably says something about SPN that one of the most consistent bits of continuity over eight seasons is Dean’s taste in porn, but I still got a kick out of the MOL’s vintage version of Busty Asian Beauties. And I continue to love love love the boys at home in the batcave, Sam diligently researching and Dean gleefully settling in at the table to read porn across from his brother. Broments indeed.
I’ve always enjoyed Meg, but in this episode, Rachel Miner and Robbie Thompson together rounded her out into a fully rendered – and tragic – character. Whenever Show manages to portray the world as shades of grey instead of black and white, I want to hug it – Meg is a great example of this kind of shading. She’s a demon, she’s killed people we loved; she’s also vulnerable and full of longing, which we can’t help but relate to in a human way. She’s hurt that no one looked for her, just as Dean was when he found out Sam didn’t look for him. She wants someone to care about her, wants her death to be a sacrifice that means something. The reality is that she doesn’t get what she wants and longs for, and all of us cringe at that, empathy putting us in her shoes for a moment. I’m sorry to see her go (if in fact she is gone, this is Supernatural, after all).
The script balanced out the tragic and heartwrenching with some nice light moments, including the surprisingly sweet flirty banter between Meg and Cas. Meg in this episode is the character who gets to speak the truth, whether it’s sizing up what Sam really wants or describing how smudged the lines between right and wrong have become for all of them. “I was bad, you were good, things were easy. Now it’s all messy.” Ain’t that the truth. Even that conversation had its moments of continuity, keeping it anchored in our shared understanding of what has come before. ‘The Pizza Man’ is probably the oddest euphemism for sex ever, but it works here, because we all know what it means.
It’s no secret that the Amelia thing isn’t my favorite part of S8. (Okay, understatement….) Meg and Sam’s conversation about Amelia was the only time in this episode that I wanted to go get a snack and come back in five minutes, but I’m glad I didn’t. Partly because some of their conversation was so interesting. “You hit a dog and stopped, why?” Meg asks, and it hit me as a significant question. Is it a coincidence that the dog ran in front of Sam’s car? Is it a coincidence that there were multiple references to Crowley’s dogs in this episode too? Most likely that’s just me still frantically trying to believe that the whole Amelia thing wasn’t as useless and inorganic and frustrating as it seemed. I don’t give up my fantasies easily, what can I say? But at any rate, Meg’s synopsis of the Amelia thing after hearing it all ending with “I puked in my mouth a little”? That put me right back on the same page!
So let’s get to the scene that put me over the top as far as having ALL THE FEELS about this episode. No surprise to anyone, the brother scenes were what made this episode for me. The look on Dean’s face when his worst suspicions are confirmed by the bloody tissue in the trash. His full-out protective mode when he tells Sam what he knows, and insists he stay behind to stay safe and hands him the knife. Sam’s reluctant acceptance.
I think I tweeted Robbie Thompson about a dozen times to say thank you for the broment-in-the-Impala scene, but I could easily tweet him a hundred more. (Don’t worry, Mr. Thompson, I’ll constrain that impulse). That scene was perfect. Understated, not over the top, gorgeously filmed, beautifully acted by both Ackles and Padalecki. The weight of worry is palpable – visible – in the set of Dean’s shoulders, the expression on his face, as he opens up to Sam. Instead of hiding or covering up, Dean lets himself be honest – and vulnerable. First with Cas, then with Sam.
“I can’t take any more lying.”
And Sam gets it. He too opens up, comes clean, promises to stay that way. And we believe him. Finally the brothers are really on the same page, a truly united front, in this together.
“I can’t carry the burden of these trials, but I can carry you.”
That was the moment I reached for the tissues, as the telltale brother music played in the background and the Impala zoomed through a night lit so beautifully it looked like the boys were driving through a field of stars. Once again, the continuity and sense of shared history made the scene even more powerful for those of us who have been there from the beginning. Dean can carry Sam – has carried Sam. Out of a burning building, more than once. We don’t doubt for an instant that he can do it again.
Neither does Sam, though his response is pure Winchester.
“You realize you kinda just quoted Lord of the Rings, right?”
We grin through our tears, sniffling into our tissues.
“Shut up,” Dean says; of course he does. And turns up the music.
Robbie Thompson, that scene plays like the best fanfiction – and that’s one of my highest compliments. The dialogue is just right, not over the top and not flat, infused with the emotion that we count on to be there, that hooked us on this show in the first place. These are the Winchesters I know and love.
And whoever decided on Supertramp’s Goodbye Stranger to close out the episode? Brilliant! Fitting for multiple reasons, for multiple storylines and characters. The song has always reminded me of Dean, who has chosen a life of hitting the road and not staying in one place, but here it fits for Cas too, and is a fitting goodbye to Meg, who we never really got to know.
One small quibble. We’re probably the only ones who want to protest that not all PhD candidates are obsessive about their dissertation research or wear their hair in giant rollers from the 1960s. Um….okay, at least we want to protest the giant rollers thing. But hey, our research is on fandom, of course we’re obsessive! Anyway, I was sort of sad to see the human professor-to-be get killed along with the ganked demon. Was I the only one going “Noooo!”
On the other hand, social media makes watching Show even more interesting these days. Fun facts:
#GoodbyeStranger was trending in the US while the episode aired on the East Coast
Robbie Thompson confirms that Jensen consulted on the vintage porn. This creates all kinds of speculation that I’ll just leave out of this report. (Thanks SuperWiki for that little tidbit of important info…)
When Dean said “Megstiel” we tweeted that we literally laughed out loud. Adam from the VFX crew tweeted back that he did too – even though he’d seen it a dozen times. We felt a little less silly.
The VFX crew also let fandom know that two actual stunt men and over 1000 3D models of dead!Dean were used in that first chilling scene. *shudders*
And finally, let’s end on a high note. We’re waiting to find out who in wardrobe is responsible for Dean’s form fitting jacket and jeans. Basically because we want to buy him or her dinner. Like really really nice dinner.