How Far Will We Go To Love a Monster? Supernatural’s ‘Reichenbach’
At first I was tempted to just make this review a capslocked EEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!!! That’s exactly how I felt after watching ‘Reichenbach’, not exactly coherent but filled with an intense desire to scream from the rooftops that our Show is the BEST Show and always will be. I’m sure my neighbors would have loved that. It’s Friday now and I’ve calmed down enough to be slightly more articulate and to think a little more coherently, though all of that inarticulate squee is still very much there.
By the way, what’s your guess on this episode’s title? I’d like to think it was for the philosopher Hans Reichenbach, who apparently was one of the first professors to encourage open discussion and debate (the way most of us who teach do now). Is the title an invitation to fandom to engage in some free-spirited discussion and debate about what’s really going on in Supernatural this season? I like to think so. Of course it apparently could also just be evidence that Andrew Dabb is a Sherlock (or possibly a SuperWhoLock) fan.
I usually have things to quibble about no matter how much I love an episode, but honestly, there isn’t anything of significance for me to quibble about this week. No, I don’t like Sam being so easy to get a jump on repeatedly, but I also think that this is a depleted, desperate Sam. He’s been frantically searching for his brother (and clearly not taking care of himself) for months and he’s distracted with his single-minded focus on finding Dean. No wonder Cole keeps surprising him. I wasn’t a fan of the cheesy instrumental music when Hannah tenderly laid his coat over a sleeping Cas – but let’s face it, if I were her, I would have done the same thing, and probably had the same affectionate look on my face.
So yeah, no problem.
And that just leaves the good. And holy hell, was there ever a lot of good!
First, I loved the roller coaster pacing. Last week’s episode seemed to drag at times, and in all fairness, maybe that’s inevitable with a series opener that had to set up the rest of the story arc. But this week? It was like watching SPN in the early seasons, when I would scream at the clock and try to yell it into slowing down because NOOOOO, I needed more! That’s how this felt, and every time there was a commercial and I looked at the time I wanted to lodge a protest. It went too fast and was too damn good, and I needed more than 42 minutes, damn it!
I loved the way the episode looked. Serge Ladouceur and Jerry Wanek, has the color palette changed? Are the colors less saturated now, more like they were in the early seasons? Quite a few fans noticed and suggested this, and I’m hoping it’s intentional. I only knew it looked good, but didn’t know why. It looked like Supernatural, if that makes any sense. And that, obviously, is a good thing.
There were also some little things that were simply wonderful. Crowley’s minion demon with the fabulous hair. The little girl talking gleefully about her snot rocket. I’m not sure why people just up and leave their kids with Cas all the time, but I loved the interaction between the two of them.
The tiny red pitchfork in Crowley’s drink was a nice touch. I love you, Show.
Dean’s break-up with Crowley was also priceless. I knew it was coming, but I had no idea it would be so delicious. I wonder if Crowley ever really believed that he could call Demon!Dean to heel, or if this is all a Crowley long con anyway. Regardless, his ordering Dean to go off and kill for him, and Dean offing the client instead of the wife, was perfect. Dean standing up to Crowley and shoving him to the floor? Holy crap. I don’t know about Crowley, but I was terrified! How forceful you are, Brad! Err, Dean.
Crowley seems to have a genuine soft spot for Dean, even if he’s also perfectly happy to use him for his own goals. The scene played intentionally like a stereotypical break-up, complete with “It’s not me, it’s you.” And Crowley morosely staring at their cowboy selfies on his phone while ‘Lonely Girl’ plays in the background. This is the kind of scene I love my Show for. Oh Crowley. How can I still feel for you when most of the time you’re such a dick?
My daughter actually wishes Show would make Crowley totally dark so she could have a villain to actually be scared of, and I can see the value in that (the YED, for example, was truly terrifying and there was no ambivalence when Dean finally killed him). On the other hand, I’m enjoying all the nuance, even if it isn’t horrifying in the Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad sense. I think Mark Sheppard is partly to blame for my affection for Crowley too. Or maybe I can just relate to anyone who’s besotted with Dean Winchester.
I complained last time (and more than a few times in S9) about how the angel story line hasn’t been integrated, and how much it jars me at times to switch back and forth between the arcs. In this episode, however, I thought it worked. First, I was a lot more interested in scenes which focused on just Cas and Hannah (with a little Metatron thrown in), instead of a bunch of angels I don’t know and don’t care about. Second, I sort of like the dynamic between them, though I didn’t expect to.
I liked Hannah this week – her growing affection for Cas, which she doesn’t completely understand, and her reluctant re-consideration of humans. Yes, it’s a theme we’ve seen the angels struggle with before, but I can buy it being an individual journey for many of them, and one they don’t tackle until confronted with the issue directly.
I can also understand her protective skepticism about Cas hanging out with Sam and Dean.
Cas: Sam and Dean may be a little rough around the edges, but they’re the best men I’ve ever known. And they’re my friends.
This reminder comes at a time when I need to hear it, because right now Dean is a bit more than rough around the edges. And yet I keep wanting to insist, as Cas does, that he’s a good man, has always been a good man. That’s part of what we’re all struggling with right now, both the characters onscreen and the audience watching. How do you reconcile the heroic past of a beloved character with their trip to the dark side? How do you let go of your love for them – or can you? This is Sam’s struggle as much as mine, and now that he knows, I suspect it will be Castiel’s struggle too.
Cas and Hannah are also providing commentary on Dean and Sam’s story arc, which integrates the two story lines conceptually. Hannah, out of love, tries to make a deal with Metatron to save Cas. He refuses, saying that deals born of desperation always end in blood and tears. Hannah asks is she’s supposed to just let him die, and Castiel replies yes.
Cas: It’s my life. It’s my choice. And I don’t want this.
The image of Cas standing up to Metatron, shot between the bars, was powerful.
That’s a comment on Season 9 certainly, and on previous seasons before that. The Winchesters have always struggled with how far to go to save each other, and it’s one of the reasons I’m hooked on this Show. But I want it to be acknowledged. I loved that scene, and loved both Cas and Hannah in it. This episode showed us Castiel’s humanity, so evident in his interaction with the little girl and his open, vulnerable smile. And it reminded us of his heroism too, and of all that he’s learned. I like Cas best with that mix of vulnerability and wisdom, and I’m enjoying watching Hannah discover more and more things to like about him too. I also like that Show is explicitly asking the hard questions about free will and choice and love, and not offering easy answers.
Also, I really enjoyed a glimpse of badass Hannah when Metatron tries some awkward flirting and insists she just wants to be dominated (by Cas….hmmm…) I wasn’t expecting her to reach out and slam his head against the bars, and damned if her blue eyes didn’t flash fire in that moment. Whew! Nice job, Erica Carroll.
Metatron got in some good lines too. Curtis Armstrong continues to pull off being amusing, annoying and terrifying all at once. “Asstiel” made me snicker, his taunting of Hannah made me cheer her response, and his shouts of “Dead man walking” following Castiel down the deserted stone hallways of Heaven’s jail was chilling.
Kudos to director Thomas J. Wright too for the amazing juxtaposed fight scenes in the episode, Cole whaling on poor Sam and Dean beating up the poor bouncer dude. Having just heard Jensen talk at length about the way they choreograph fight scenes, how they’re like a dance with a partner, I watched those scenes play out with his voice in my head. There’s a beauty to them, staged as they are, that the juxtaposition made even more obvious.
At the same time, my emotional reaction to watching Sam be brutally beaten changed my reaction to watching Dean beat up the bouncer – the bouncer guy was a stranger, not a character I would usually care about. But he was also an innocent human doing his job and didn’t deserve the beat-down any more than Sam did. The decision to play them in parallel really emphasized Dean’s lack of humanity, and put him squarely in the wrong. It was another poke at the fragile illusion I keep trying to cling to, that Dean, my favorite character of all time, is “not that bad.” Kudos, Mr. Wright. Way to sharpen the knife that’s trying to shatter that illusion.
Jared broke my heart in these scenes. He vividly portrayed Sam’s physical agony, and at the same time his unwavering courage and determination. I loved Sam Winchester so much in these moments, and that love for Sam made the violence truly horrifying. Not in the detached sort of way that we sometimes view horror movies, but with a real life sick-to-your-stomach revulsion. It’s the way we should feel about violence, and I like that Show reminds us of this.
So much pain and fear in the first shot — so much rage and determination in the second. Kudos, Jared.
Those scenes were also a way to start teasing the monster/human (false) dichotomy. Is Dean more the monster, or is Cole, never mind his biological humanity? Or are they both, and I just don’t want to see it in the character I like to see as a hero?
I was just discussing this scene with my daughter, who found what Cole said about confronting monsters in Darfur one of the most interesting moments in the episode. Because really, when you think about it, the ‘monsters’ that Cole was describing are more terrifying than some of the monsters the Winchesters are hunting. Vampires and werewolves? I think I’m more terrified of ISIS and ebola right now actually, so I believe Cole when he says he’s seen monsters.
Daughter: I expected Sam, the almost-went-to-law-school-to-save-the-world guy, to stop fighting Cole and say “You know what, you’re right? Untie me, I’m going to med school to fight ebola….”
She’s always more critical than I am, but that made me laugh.
Dean and Lester provide another exploration of the theme. The character went from darkly amusing to just plain hateful rather quickly, and the moment he called Dean a punk ass demon, I knew he was done for. (Also he called Dean a freak, which oddly did my heart good to hear, since it’s usually Sam who has that term thrown at him). The frightening thing is, when I knew Dean was going to kill him? I was glad. I wanted it to be him, instead of the unfaithful wife. In that moment, I lost sight of the fact of that guy’s humanity with terrifying ease. And isn’t that what it means to be monstrous? It’s the excuse for all sorts of violence, after all – viewing someone as less than human.
Those two scenes together had a hell of a lot more to say than I realized at first viewing.
Cole (Travis Aaron Wade) remains an interesting character, and I like that he’s got shades of grey to him too. Like John Winchester, he cares about his family, but he’s also willing to leave them for the sake of his revenge-fueled quest. I get the feeling he was truly ready to die when he knew he couldn’t kill Dean, without a thought for what that would do to his wife or child. And I certainly hated him when he was beating on Sam – was he really going to use that hammer?? Is Cole, despite his humanity, what we would describe as a man or a monster?
On the other hand, he had one of my favorite lines of the night.
“Every night… I close my eyes and all I can see is your brother.”
Umm, me too. Though I think the images might be slightly different.
And finally, this episode brought the Winchesters back together. Having the brothers separated at the end of S9 meant that they were, in our minds, separated throughout the hiatus too. That long stretch of time worked to make us as viewers feel as desperate as Sam for him to find Dean. It’s been too long, we’ve waited too long – so when Sam finally walks into that bar, I was bouncing with anticipation. Of course, at the same time, I found myself near panicked, not knowing what would happen. Unlike last week, I wasn’t spoiled for much of anything, which I’m convinced is the best way to watch the Show.
Apparently Jared and Jensen also enforced some real-life separation to put them in the headspace that Sam and Dean were in. Jared tweeted that they did their own prep separately from each other to mimic the brothers’ separation. That tweet made me oddly emotional. I get a bit choked up every time I hear how much they care about this Show and how seriously they take the Show and their characters. And it worked. That scene SO worked.
The fact that Dean is just sitting there before Sam comes in, playing the piano and contemplating his own demonic nature as he slices his palm and watches it heal, made the scene even more poignant. I couldn’t help but read it as a glimpse of vulnerability, of indecision – as Dean pondering Crowley’s challenge to choose a side.
There’s something about a man playing a piano that feels like vulnerability anyway – it didn’t seem like something a demon would do. Or maybe it seemed like something human Dean would do. It’s a quiet scene, and Dean’s face is unlined, relaxed, almost wistful. He looks like he’s waiting for something, longing for something, and I want it to be his brother. And his humanity.
Then Sam is there, and Dean’s quiet “Hiya Sam” keeps up the illusion I’m clinging to. For a few minutes anyway. And oh, Sam’s face when he finally finds Dean. When he sees his brother “alive” for the first time in months, after watching Dean die in his arms. After placing his cold, dead, lifeless body on the bed in the bunker. Imagine the mix of feelings he must have experienced — and somehow Padalecki conveys them all. Break my heart, why don’t you?
When Dean gets up and says “I told you to let me go,” I was still hopeful, still wanting Dean to respond to Sam as Dean. Wanting to believe that Dean said that for Sam’s own good, as a way of protecting him. Something the Dean I love has always done.
Sam: You know I can’t do that… You don’t have to do this. We can fix it.
Dean: You don’t know what I’ve done. Maybe I have it coming.
Sam: I don’t care. You’re my brother and I’m here to take you home.
I lost it then, grabbing for the box of tissues that I always have at the ready when I’m watching this Show. As much as I hated Season 9 sometimes for where it took the brothers and how it drove a wedge between them – as much as I longed for Sam to tell Dean that yes, they are brothers, they’ll always be brothers – finally hearing it now, after so long, was like an avalanche of emotions. YES!
There was never a time that I believed that Sam didn’t consider Dean his brother, but Dean believed it, and that hurt even more. Add to that Sam’s use of the word “home” for the bunker and I was overcome with emotion. Remember when Sam wasn’t so sure? Remember when Dean was so happy to finally have a home of his own, and so wanting Sam to feel that way too?
How powerful and terrible that Sam is there now, acknowledging their brotherhood and their home, and Dean is no longer at a place where he can feel it. His taunting repetition of Sam’s heartfelt words, with the dig that it sounded like a Lifetime movie, hit me so damn hard.
Dean: Cause right now I’m doing all I can not to come over there and rip your throat out.
That line just about made me fall to the floor. It was said with such sinister intent, almost growled. And that look on his face as he stares his brother down! Then he kept right on talking.
Dean: With my teeth.
When he adds the ‘with my teeth,’ he pokes his tongue through his teeth, and damned if it isn’t like he’s tasting it already. I had goosebumps. And fear wasn’t the only reason.
Too bad Cole interrupted that scene, though the Dean and Cole fight scene was also amazing. Demon!Dean toying with Cole was a disturbing mix of charming and scary as hell. With a burst of funny added in: Dean wins for the best line of the episode when he quotes The Princess Bride right in the middle of the knock-down-drag-out fight with Cole. I nearly choked on a fit of unexpected laughter. Leave it to Supernatural to mix it up like this so perfectly.
When we got back to Sam and Dean the confrontation just got more interesting. And hey, holy water actually worked for once! How many times has someone thrown holy water in Sam or Dean’s face when they come back from the dead – and of course there’s never a reaction. This time, it worked like a charm!
I loved that scene for more than the vindication of holy water finally being useful though. It was the first physical confrontation between Sam and Dean since Dean became a demon, and it was so charged the air in my living room was practically sizzling. I can’t imagine what was happening on set – were the canvas chairs spontaneously igniting into flames? Because there was so much heat between Sam and Dean, I feel certain something bit the dust. Sam using his smarts to overpower Dean with holy water, then wrenching his arm up to slap on the cuffs. And Dean flailing backwards with the other arm, playing right into Sam’s hands as he slapped on the other. Was that half intentional on Dean’s part? Did a part of him want to be caught? Or was he so enraged that he wasn’t thinking straight and lashed out blindly?
I honestly don’t know, but the air was sizzling anyway.
“Stop! Stop it, it’s over” Sam says, and Dean growls at him, bared teeth and all.
And that look that Dean gave Sam as he realized his brother had overpowered him? I didn’t know whether to run away screaming or go get a cold drink.
It’s fascinating to see a Demon!Dean story line playing out in canon when I’ve read so much fanfiction that explored the dynamic between the brothers when Dean is a demon. So far, the canon version is remarkably similar to much of the fic, though I have no doubt they’ll diverge shortly. It adds an interesting twist to the viewing, and in some ways makes it even more interesting to see what these (canon) writers will do with the situation that so many fan writers have explored.
Padalecki is doing a fabulous job of making us feel Sam’s emotions – his determination, his fatigue, and his longing for his brother. He wants Dean back, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to get him. I love that Sam, and I missed him terribly last season. Seeing that determination on Sam’s face and hearing him tell Dean he’s not giving up on him is everything I’ve been hoping for.
And Ackles is doing an amazing job portraying this version of Dean. He could have just played it dark dark dark, made Demon!Dean evil and terrifying. And he is terrifying, no question. The way he toyed with Cole as they were fighting, like a predator – a true cat and mouse game where you know who’s going to win. It was both disturbing and disturbingly hot. His cruel jabs at Sam were just painful, making fun of his brother’ sincerity and caring – all the things that human Dean would have given his right arm to hear. Demon!Dean can be ruthless, no question.
But Ackles is also playing it with so much nuance, offering tiny glimpses of what seems like Dean again and again, only to pull back and deny it, that I’m still as enthralled with the character as I’ve ever been. It’s maddening, crazy-making, and won’t let me give up hope. I constantly feel knocked off balance, not sure why Dean is doing what he’s doing, or how much I should let myself believe in his lingering humanity. Am I just being played for a fool? Is Sam? How brilliant of you, Show, to put me in this position.
I’ve been pondering why I’m so invested in believing that Dean is still Dean, that his humanity is still there. Wondering if I’m grasping at straws or seeing things that aren’t there, because I want to. This episode, combined with what Jensen said in Toronto, makes me think that’s exactly what Show wants me to be doing. It wants me wondering, it wants me off balance. Supernatural has always been an exploration of what it means to be human and what it means to be a monster, and has always intentionally blurred the lines between the two. It’s not a dichotomy, not on the Show and not in real life. Good people can do monstrous things and those we define as ‘monsters’ can do good. And I think that’s scary to us. We’re more comfortable with our false dichotomy that allows us to take the moral high ground and dole out punishment without guilt to the ‘monstrous’.
I love that Show is questioning that, blurring the lines with the very character who many of us define as a hero. Because he’s a demon now, does that mean he’s entirely monstrous? That demons are so different than humans? It has rarely been that black and white on Supernatural – not for demons or for angels or for humans. But I don’t think the complexity has ever been so obvious as it is now that it’s Dean Winchester we’re seeing as a demon.
In counterpoint, my daughter wishes that Show had the guts to really go there, to turn Dean Winchester as dark as Buffy turned Angel when he went bad. To really make us confront how much true evil we’re willing to accept in someone we call a hero. She makes an interesting point. If Show weren’t leaving some of Demon!Dean’s decisions up for interpretation – did he just kill asshole Lester because the idiot insulted him or because he didn’t want to obey Crowley?
Or was there a part of Dean who didn’t want to kill the woman and still wants to be the protector? (Gotta say, the look on Dean’s face when he shoved the first blade into Lester was absolutely chilling – he looked like he was enjoying that kill thoroughly…)
It’s up for interpretation though. Did he leave Sam for Sam’s own good or because he just doesn’t give a damn? We don’t know, and Show is making his behavior ambiguous enough that we can draw our own conclusions. But would we be doing this anyway, even if Show wasn’t throwing out hints/red herrings? Would I want so badly for Dean to be Dean that I’d see ambiguity anyway, and explain away evidence to the contrary? If Demon!Dean truly was a misogynistic murderous unfeeling asshole, how would I feel? Now that would be gutsy. And would be a courageous examination of the Show’s own commentary on masculinity and violence too. But I’m enjoying the way they’re playing it nuanced and letting me stew in my own confusion. For me, at least, the challenge to examine my own definition of monster is working.
I feel like there will be more hard questions to come. How dark can someone go and then come back from that? Is redemption always possible, and how much leeway will we allow before saying no, you’ve gone too far? And what is it that can bring someone back from that darkness? I hope Show is setting it up that love is the only thing – it brought Cain back, at least for a while. Now it’s Sam’s love that will be put to the test, and damn, I am SO ready for that. Will his love for Dean be enough to turn him away from the darkness? Will humanity be the side Dean chooses? And will we, the audience, accept him back as a hero despite the fact that we’ve seen firsthand his flaws and his darkness?
The fact that Sam still believes in Dean, still believes that there’s something of his brother in there, was both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Dean denies it, coming up with perfectly plausible reasons why what he did in sparing Cole’s life was far from mercy. Insisting he doesn’t care about the Impala.
Dean: It’s just a car.
Sam is the audience here, his pov is ours – and just like us, he’s clinging to the belief that Dean is still Dean. And that Sam can save him.
Once again we end with that terrifying and provocative line.
Dean: What I’m gonna do to you Sammy?…. Well that ain’t gonna be mercy either.
Once again that meant I ended up in a puddle on the floor with too many conflicting emotions to sort out (and still torn between running away screaming and getting that cold drink). And desperate for it to be next Tuesday!
I stayed up for the west coast feed , which Jared, Erica, Osric and Guy Bee live tweeted. I’m glad I did, though Jared’s tweets did nothing to calm me down. In fact they made me reach for the tissues all over again.
Fan: What happened to saving people, hunting things, the family business? Are we going to see any of that this season?
Jarpad: uhhhh….YES!!! Be patient, I gotta save Dean first! 😉 #SPNFamily
I jumped up and screamed at that one. Yes! Save him Sam! Err, Jared. Also, the character bleed makes me unreasonably happy.
Jarpad: the Winchesters will always go to bat for each other, in their own special way. Their relationship proves that. #SPNFamily
That it does. To say that I’m excited for the rest of this season would be an understatement. And next week, we have Jensen directing and more Sam and Dean confrontation. After hearing Jensen talk about directing that pivotal scene like a cat and mouse game, I am on pins and needles trying to make it to Tuesday. Bring it!
To read more about Supernatural, check out
“Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls” and “Fan Phenomena
Supernatural” at the links at the top of this page
Caps from midnight-road.livejournal.com and The CW