With next week’s season finale almost upon us, what are you hoping will happen? And perhaps even more important, what are you praying will NOT happen?? The flip side of being this invested in a television show is that most of us really do care. A lot.
Our passionate connection to this Show and these characters makes being a Supernatural fan a wonderful, exhilarating, rewarding experience – but it’s also friggen’ terrifying. We have no control over where the story goes – quite literally over who lives and dies (or who might be a series regular or recurring guest star or someone who we only get to see at cons instead of on our screens) – and that means we’re at the mercy of The Powers That Be. That would explain why many of us are sitting here biting our nails and sending prayers to Jeremy Carver not to break our hearts into a billion pieces – or even worse, to disappoint us. We have high expectations for this Show, and more often than not, it’s exceeded them. Not always, though. Which explains the nail biting.
So as we sit here angsting about what’s going to happen next week, let’s review the last two episodes leading up to the finale. I loved 8.21, and let my expectations go sky high for 8.22. (Always ill-advised, but sometimes the fangirl in me just gets carried away!)
Why did I love The Great Escapist? It’s no secret that I love Ben Edlund’s writing, and having Robert Duncan McNeill direct was a killer combination. Edlund writes dialogue that sounds like people are actually speaking, and even more crucial, Dean and Sam and Cas sound like themselves. “Robbie” pulled a wonderful performance from all the actors, and he uses the camera to make every scene more powerful – the weaving and swaying perspective when poor Sam staggered down the hallway looking for Metatron had me equally dizzy, and the way he zoomed in on Cas sitting in Biggerson after Biggerson evoked Naomi getting closer and closer too. (Actually I have to thank Alice of @WinFamBusiness for that insight – we got a chance to have some fangirl quality time after NJCon watching SPN episodes on my couch. What else?)
Let’s take a moment to appreciate the acting, actually. Both Mark Sheppard and Amanda Tapping brought so much evil to their characters that I literally got chills when they got down to business. (Also, when are we gonna get a little of the delicious backstory of these two, who crackle with some kind of twisted history every time they’re onscreen together?) What a treat to have not one, but two, villains who can pull off BAD like that, and make you love and hate their characters simultaneously.
Jared played Fake!Sam with subtle differences that made it obvious to Kevin (and SPN fans who spend a fair amount of time studying the boys in detail….ahem….) that something was very wrong. I mean, when was the last time we saw actual Sam’s dimples?? Osric Chau hit it out of the box too – his exasperated video message to Sam and Dean, in which he tearfully admits failure and apologizes, had me tearing up too. And Misha gave us a Cas who, even broken and bleeding, remains defiant and determined (and pretty damn badass). Collins does bruised and bloodied almost as well as Ackles, but I was cheering out loud when he fished that bullet out with his bare hands and went right for the eye to take out Ion. (Ewww, but wow!)
There was a helluva lot of heroism going on in this episode. Kevin determined not to break this time, no matter what. Cas exercising his free will and trying desperately to do what he thinks is right, no matter what. Sam willing to turn himself inside out in order to undertake these trials. And Dean ready, willing and absolutely determined to do whatever it takes to make sure Sam succeeds and comes out alive on the other side. All four characters embody what heroism is – it’s not just the hero who ‘saves the day’, it’s all the people who sacrificed so he could do it. It’s every little victory along the way, carved out in blood and pain and loss. Not just on SPN, but in the “real world” too. The unsung heroes are out there giving and sacrificing every day.
Jeremy Carver began this season with an ominous suggestion that perception is just that – that things are not always what they seem. This episode continued throwing out hints that we can’t completely trust what we see and hear, that our perceptions are fallible and can be manipulated. When Sam remembered the rather unlikely family trip to the Grand Canyon when he was four, I initially assumed this was a manipulated memory, not a canon error (since previous episodes, and numerous pieces of fanfiction, made it clear that the boys had never been there). Sam remembering so many things that Dean didn’t remember seemed to support that theory, though it may just be that Sam’s memory is enhanced by what the trials are doing to him. But there have been so many nods to the malleability of perception – Crowley’s manipulation of Kevin’s memory and setting him up with the fake Sam and Dean, Naomi repeatedly wiping Castiel’s memory and manipulating his understanding of right and wrong, Cas correcting Dean’s misperception that he failed Cas and left him behind in Purgatory, even the idea that humans become gods themselves in writing their own stories. It’s all about perception – and misperception.
I’m fascinated by the idea of things not being what they seem, in part because I still want to hold out a tiny bit of hope that the whole Amelia thing was something else – anything else! Surely all those blurred images and picture-perfect-cake-in-the-park memories were manipulated by someone! Carver?? Anyone??
So obviously there were a lot of good things about this episode. But that’s not why I loved it. I loved it for the way it portrayed the Winchesters. When the brothers are on the outs, watching SPN is painful. Still compelling and fascinating and addictive, but painful. Much of Season 8 kept me trying to soothe the pain in my heart when Sam and Dean aren’t on the same page, and hoping against hope that Carver was going to bring them back together. Now that they are, back to back and fighting side by side the way they were when I first encountered them, I can look back and appreciate the emotional payoff of having had to wait for it. Because DAMN, it feels good!
Essentially this episode was one emotionally intense hurt/comfort story, with Edlund stacking up well against the best of the fanfiction writers. We wrote an entire book chapter in Fandom At The Crossroads about why hurt/comfort in fantasy is so compelling and so popular, and you can watch this episode and find an example of everything we analyze. Proving that either a) Edlund has been on LiveJournal for years, or b) Edlund has read at least one chapter of Crossroads.
Protective!Dean, I will readily admit, does it for me every time. Dean is a hero in just about every way imaginable, and he’s had his moments of proving it physically and directly. He’s strong, smart, and a total badass. But he’s Sam’s big brother too, and his caretaker for much of Sam’s childhood, and this has always been as much a part of his identity as his need to save the world or prove his machismo. In ‘The Great Escapist’, we get to see Dean once again show that side of himself, with the vulnerability and caring that come with it. He brings Sam food, making us get wibbly immediately when he cajoles Sam to eat by saying it’s just how their dad made it. He threatens to do the ‘airplane thing’ with the spoon, and I’m instantly bombarded with images from the boys’ childhood, little Sammy a stubborn 18-month-old refusing to eat and Dean still a little boy himself, resolutely taking care of his brother. Dean wraps Sam in a blanket, has a thermometer in his back pocket instead of a pistol.
“You gotta let me take care of you, man,” he says, and you can hear the worry in his voice.
Throughout the episode, Dean tries to do just that. He keeps a protective hand on Sam wherever they go, shielding him from threatening shotguns and making sure he doesn’t fall on his face when he’s just trying to walk down a hallway. He stays in front of Sam the entire episode, always putting himself between his brother and any perceived danger. When Sam finally collapses, Dean does what he’s made it his job to do – he takes care of Sam. In this case, he literally saves Sam’s life, immersing him in an ice bath to bring down his lethal fever.
(Shallow interjection: Wet!Sam wrapped in a towel is ridiculously hot.)
By the time this episode ends, we have a better understanding of the very personal reasons both Dean and Sam want to succeed in these trials. Yes, they want to close the gates of hell – they’re invested in the family business. As viewers and fans, so are we. But for the Winchesters – and us – to really care, we need a personal stake in these trials. Something that matters to us at our core.
For Dean, it’s about the same thing it has been since the very beginning of this Show – not just saving the world, but saving Sam.
“If we do this, you get better, right? You stop coughing up a lung and bumping into furniture.”
For Dean, that’s the payoff for completing the trials, as much as closing the gates of hell. That’s why I love Dean like I’ve never loved a fictional character (and perhaps never will again, which would make my boss and perhaps a few family members really happy….). And I care about the Winchesters succeeding so much more because of that personal investment.
For Sam, completing the trials has just as personal a reason – and it’s also one that’s been integral to the Show since the pilot. Sam keeps fighting his brother’s attempts to care for him because he wants the transformation that the trials are creating in him. He welcomes the pain of it because that’s part of the process – for the same reason that Dean needed to atone for his time as a torturer in hell and Cas needed to atone for his time playing ‘god’. Sam needs to come to find a way of feeling “purified”, and for him, it’s all about the blood. The blood that Azazel forced on him, the blood that Ruby lured him into taking, the things he did when they both were manipulating him. Sam senses that he’s being changed by the trials, and for the first time, is starting to believe he can be “clean” again. There are cleansing rituals in many cultures, often using starvation, dehydration and exhaustion to achieve an altered level of consciousness, which are a gateway to the next stage of development; for Sam, the trials seem to be serving a similar function.
As Sam becomes increasingly delirious and unguarded, he remembers that Dean used to read to him, stories from a comic “Knights of the Round Table”. My moment of ‘awww’ over this glimpse of young Sam and Dean is short-lived, though, as Sam confides that even then, he knew he’d never be able to be Sir Galahad, knew he wasn’t “clean”. Here’s where Sam Winchester breaks my heart – and Dean’s too. Tragically, Sam doesn’t remember ever feeling pure – his whole life he’s felt different, and “not good enough.” If I didn’t identify with Sam Winchester before, I sure as hell do now. Haven’t we all felt different at some point in our lives? Haven’t we all struggled with not feeling “good enough”?
The agony in Dean’s expression as he listens to his brother’s confession is so intense that it literally made me tear up. There’s nothing worse than knowing that someone you love thinks they’re flawed, and knowing they’ve lived in pain because of it.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Dean says, and we all know it’s true – all of us except Sam.
Cas and Kevin both defy the bad guys and stick to their resolution not to crack, and with a little help from Metatron, the boys end this episode ready to move forward and undertake the third trial. I end this episode fangirling Ben Edlund and barely able to wait a week before the next one.
We distracted ourselves by hanging out with our fellow fangirls all weekend at NJCon and appreciating the view of the boys onstage (all the guests were boys, oddly) and doing some interviews – then it was time for 8.22, the penultimate episode of Season 8.
“Clip Show” didn’t leave me as squeeful as 8.21, though it was far from horrible – and admittedly, my expectations were through the roof. It did have some nice moments, particularly when directly addressing some of the inconsistent writing in S8. Dean’s admission that they should have taken Kevin to the Batcave was nice to hear, since fandom has been screaming that for months now. I mean, DUH!
Crowley is becoming more and more loathsome, and thus more and more effective as a Big Bad. For a while, he was so full of quips and Mark Sheppard is so adorable that I was developing a grudging affection for him. This episode brought me back to hating and fearing Crowley, which is where the audience should be. Again, the emotional power comes from making his evil personal – he mocks the Winchester family motto, which has been adopted by the fandom as well. He co-opts the Supernatural novels, which have been used repeatedly to reference fandom, and uses them against the brothers to destroy all the good they’ve done. Again, this hits both the boys – and the fandom – where it hurts.
Sam and Dean don’t have much to cling to, except each other. Knowing they’ve saved people is what lets them keep going – how brilliant and horrific of Crowley to take that away from them. Talk about losing everything. Crowley shows us just how personal it is by killing Sarah in front of Sam, forcing the brothers to desperately attempt to save her, and having them fail. It hit Sam hard – it hit me hard.
I felt for Cas in this episode too. Dean doesn’t get past betrayal easily, and he’s still hurt by Castiel’s refusal to trust him (and undoubtedly by the beat-down Cas gave him too). We experience how much Cas wants to make things right with Dean by following him in his quest to bring Dean a peace offering of beef jerky, pie and Busty Asian Beauties. We all know these are Dean’s favorite things, so Castiel’s determination to find them for him resonates with all of us. I found myself saying “awww” out loud to the television once again, and then hoping nobody was listening. Shhhh.
On the other hand, I find it hard to believe that Cas still doesn’t know what eggs are or that freezer doors need to be closed. It’s funny, yes, but it’s pretty damn far from the badass version of Cas that we got last week. Inconsistencies have been an unfortunate theme of S8, and I’m hoping we don’t get any more of them in the finale.
Meanwhile, the Show has left me with a lot of questions. Is Metatron really a “pencil pusher”? Or is he really an archangel himself, with reasons of his own for wanting to manipulate Cas and the Winchesters? Is “curing a demon” possible, and can we ignore the unfortunate aftermath for the original inhabitant of the body? Is the time for ethical debates like that long past, or does it keep tugging at you? Did the Winchesters really go to the Grand Canyon, and were Sam’s memories of Amelia real or….okay, dropping it.
One of my fears for the finale is that the Batcave won’t survive into Season 9. I’ve written before about how much I love that the Winchesters finally have a home, and I admit I’ll be devastated if Carver takes it away. This episode, despite its gravity, gave me a few additional home-base tidbits:
Cas: I like this bunker. It’s orderly.
Sam: Give us a few months. Dean wants to get a Ping-Pong table.
Sam: So we have a dungeon.
The Winchesters end this episode with Sam doubting whether they can actually do this, and Dean the one who’s got his brother’s back. Whatever doubts Dean may have harbored about Sam being able to succeed in the trials, they’ve been put to rest.
Dean: “Over the past couple of months I’ve seen him do crap I didn’t think was possible. Sure he’s miserable and he’s hurting but there’s not a doubt in my mind that he’s gonna cross the finish line. Not one.” “Even banged up, Sammy comes through.”
Once again, the Show makes sure that we, the fans, are as personally invested in these trials as the Winchesters. This time, they do it by invoking a piece of our shared history – an emotional attachment that the cast, crew and fandom all share. They quote Kim Manners.
Dean: “We’ll kick it in the ass like we always do. Are you with me?”
At those words, I burst into tears. The episode ends with Sam hesitating, but in my living room, I’m not. Come on, Show. Don’t let me down. I’m SO with you.
So what do you think? What are your hopes and fears for next week’s season finale??