The Winchesters “Always Keep Fighting”: Supernatural’s The Werther Project
I went into this week’s Supernatural episode already feeling very emotional, thanks to Jared and Jensen’s posted videos celebrating the last day of filming their tenth season of the Show. Seeing them so emotional about the ten years and about how they’ve only grown closer during that time – not to mention sharing some good whisky with their neckties as headbands – was the perfect way to mark that momentous occasion. That they shared what was originally intended as a video just for them with US only made it better.
Jensen: Just finished season 10!!!! 10 years. Same show and same ugly co-star. But damn is he lovable. Here is my post season interview with my boy Jared Padalecki. Cheers everyone!!!
There was a lot of cheering in response to both those videos, that’s for sure.
The ending episodes of this season feel extra special because it’s such a ‘big year’ for the Show, and it seems like everyone is amping up their game in response. I usually have at least SOME things to pick apart, and there’s usually a whole contingent of fans who dislike any particular episode, but in the last few episodes? Not so much. Supernatural is always good – but recently? It’s off the charts good. It’s like everyone wants to close out the tenth season with a BANG.
Once again, we got insights into BOTH brothers, and it makes such a difference. It’s like going back to the early seasons, when we felt like we knew what both of them were thinking and feeling even when we wanted to smack one of them upside the head for it. Writer Robert Berens kept both brothers in character, with dialogue that rang true and comedic moments that let the actors use their considerable skills to keep the humor subtle. The entire story was coherent and played out nonstop instead of jumping around (other than the trips back in time, which were both awesome). Thank you, Robert Berens! No breaks in the story kept the tension rising without any dips, which had me screaming at the television by the time Dean is holding a shattered glass bottle and Sam is bleeding to death in the basement. AAAHHHH!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. There was so much to love in this episode. Starting with the seventies flashback, which was so perfectly done I wanted to hug Jerry Wanek and whoever did those costumes. Those pants! Vintage seventies. And Todd Rundgren??? I saw him perform at the Tower Theater in his hometown of Upper Darby PA about a million years ago, and that song threw me right back. Whoever chose that music cue, come here and let me love you!
I was momentarily confused when young Suzy suddenly took a sledgehammer to the basement wall – perhaps we needed to see her enraged face to get it – and I guess the rest of the family was too busy with whatever they were doing to hear the sound of the house being torn apart – but whatever, what happened next was Supernatural at its horror genre best when little Suzy came back upstairs. Terrifying and upsetting and OMG when Suzy walked into the kitchen to cling to her mother, I almost expected Toni Collette to turn around (which makes Suzy Haley Joel Osment, I guess). That entire scene was played so very Sixth Sense, with all the creepiness that entails. (This is a high compliment considering my fondness for that film – I’m actually in it. For about 2 seconds.) Great direction by Stefan Pleszczynski.
So, kickass beginning with awesome Philly roots over, we pick up with Sam and Rowena. Ruth Connell and Jared have fabulous chemistry, and I loved this little interaction:
Rowena: If you’re wondering what sort of mother wants to kill her own son…
Sam: (interrupting) No, I’m really not, I’ll do it.
I burst into laughter. Well played, Jared.
Rowena in this scene gives us a clear understanding of Sam’s desperation, which she calls him on. More understanding of Sam, what the hell, Show? I could get used to this!
Meanwhile, Dean is dispatching half a dozen vamps singlehandedly and looking like he’s enjoying every minute of it. The juxtaposition of his cursory washing the blood off his hands and knife and gleefully grabbing a beer from the vampires’ blood-soaked fridge was chilling.
When Sam belatedly arrives, the brothers have an actual conversation (I could get used to this too, Show…) and Dean points out that Sam is indeed looking at him like he’s a diseased killer puppy (love that line, Robert Berens!) What’s wondrous is that Dean actually SAYS that to Sam. He once again allows himself to be both honest and vulnerable. And Sam is still lying to him, which makes the whole thing heartbreaking.
Back at the bunker, Dean passes out with his bedroom door open so Sam can make sure he’s safely asleep before he goes into research mode.
Oh, how I love me some Sammy in research mode! This was a particularly delicious montage because the music was perfect – mysterious and full of foreboding and almost Harry Potter-esque. I loved it! Jay Gruska, do I have you to thank?
I also need to thank the VFX guys for the fade in and outs – I love watching present day Sam in the bunker transform into the same bunker back in the 1950s as the Men of Letters sanction Cuthbert Sinclair (and yay for having Kavan Smith back!)
There’s some lovely foreshadowing as they talk about finding the hapless MoL Martinez dead beside the box, his wrists cut – and when Sinclair says ominously that he was on the right track. Uh oh.
I’ve been intrigued by the episode title ever since I heard it, and now I see what a brilliant title it is. The “Werther Effect” is the sociological phenomenon that humans imitate behaviors. All kinds of behaviors – sometimes positive ones and sometimes self destructive – can be “contagious”, including ideas transmitted through books, music, film, etc. The phenomenon has been used to describe so-called copycat suicides, which makes it a fitting title for this episode. (The name comes from Goethe’s “The Sorrows of Young Werther,” which deals with depression and suicide, and was feared to have inspired imitation).
The same book also has a connection to fandom – we wrote about it in Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls, in fact. ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ also inspired some of the first instances of fannish passion. Fans dressed like Werther (the first cosplay?) and made Goethe a literary celebrity. The enthusiastic fans were said to have ‘Werther Fever,’ a precursor to similar accusations leveled at any fan who’s perceived as a little TOO passionate.
The Show’s use of that title also connects the episode to what’s been happening in ‘real life’ with Jared and Jensen’s represent campaign for depression, mental health and suicide awareness. Fear of imitation has contributed to the pressure to keep silent about these important topics, which makes it so much harder for people to get the help they need. So it seemed to me a perfect circle to reference the Werther Effect just as the SPNFamily comes together to break that silence and help each other. Writer Robert Berens followed fandom norms and tweeted a warning that the episode dealt with suicide so viewers were prepared and could decide whether or not to watch. That’s what we mean when we write about the ‘reciprocal relationship’ between fans and producers in Supernatural. It’s unique, and wonderful, and I feel lucky every time I see it in action.
At some point, Jared tweeted: Come on, Sam. Come on, Dean. Always Keep Fighting.
Talk about blending real life and fiction…in the best possible way. So many of us have been inspired for real by the characters we love as though they were. And by the actors who play them.
Meanwhile, back on the Show, Rowena wakes up exactly like I do, and Sam unwisely takes off on his own to find the box. He’s easily thwarted by grown-up (and kickass) Suzy, who almost blows off his bits. (Am I the only one who yelled NOOOOO at the screen?)
Enter Surprise!Dean, who caught me as off guard as he did Sam when he climbed into the car with a “Heya Sammy, how’s the case?”
Jared once again gets kudos for his acting, showing us subtly but effectively Sam’s internal WTF moment and how he eventually covers. It hurts to see him lie to Dean, but I was fascinated by how well he did it. And Dean, bless him, is still in truthful sharing mode, owning up to his own selfishness and vowing to do better. He’s being heartbreakingly open, and Sam is still lying.
Dean: “I’m in. If you’ll have me.”
Oh, break my heart a bit more, why don’t you, Show?
Jensen gets a chance to show off his considerable comedic talents in the scenes with Suzy. From preemptively covering his own bits while he waits for Suzy and her gun to open the door, to his high pitched “If I can just have a minute of your (up two octaves) TIME!” as he squeezes past her. I laughed out loud. Only Supernatural can mix it up like that and have it work so well.
I felt so bad for Suzy (and all the kudos to actress Brenda Bakke) – all those years, so much loss, and she’s still trying to protect everyone from the curse, even Dean. She pays a steep price for Sam’s determination to get to the codex no matter what, and it’s hard to watch.
Extra points for Suzy noticing Sam’s pretty hair. Though its current style is far from its best – sort of an odd kind of bob that looks like it requires a lot more time and effort than a hunter would give to his hair. She thinks that’s pretty? Should have seen some other seasons!
From that point on, the episode is on the down slope of a roller coaster, relentlessly picking up speed and making me chew my fingernails off. Dean’s slow blend into Purgatory was gorgeously done (thanks once again VFX team). I swear if I ever get lost in the Vancouver woods, I’m gonna swear up and down that I’m stuck in Purgatory!
Every moment of Dean’s time with Benny was delicious. Ty Olsson and Jensen have amazing chemistry and always have. It was wonderful to see him back, and congrats to Berens for finding a way to accomplish that so organically.
We get a welcome window into Dean’s headspace through the spell’s incarnation of Benny, motivated by the spell’s agenda but clearly constructed from Dean’s own guilt and fears. Benny was the perfect person to embody them, since Dean sacrificed his friend to save Sam – how fitting for this episode. His terror that he’ll lose control and kill Sam and Cas, and his fear that even if they put him down, they’ll never recover from it, come to the surface, and it’s heartbreaking.
“I know you’ve been thinking about it,” Benny says, and now we do too.
“You won’t ever hurt anyone ever again,” Benny says, and I find myself reaching for the tissues. All the people Dean has saved, all the good he’s done, and that’s his biggest fear.
We also get the same look into Sam’s headspace through the spell’s incarnation of Suzy – and at that point I may have been screaming “Wait, MORE Sam POV? Two episodes in a row? CPR!”
Suzy shows us all Sam’s guilt and doubts. He’s singlemindedly pursuing his quest to save Dean, but we realize now that he’s consumed with guilt about it.
Suzy: You’ll do anything to keep clinging to that doomed brother of yours…Anything’s worth it as long as you two make it out alive, right?
Sam: I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.
Suzy: The only one who can stop you is you.
He’s tempted to give in, to end himself, but he doesn’t do it. The Werther Box, however, has another idea.
I have to admit that even after knowing that Sam hallucinated Suzy, I didn’t get that Rowena wasn’t actually there until much later in the episode. (Also a twisty Sixth Sense moment. I forgot to ask Robert Berens if this was a Sixth Sense homage??) There are smarter fans than me who picked it up from the color palette (and didn’t Ruth Connell look bloody gorgeous in all that blue?) but I didn’t. And I’m glad I didn’t! I love when Show is anvil-free and able to surprise me. In retrospect, it makes so much sense. The box couldn’t get Sam to kill himself, but Sam’s psyche knows what he WILL sacrifice himself for – his brother.
Ruth Connell gives Rowena so much personality, and hallucination!Rowena was just as spunky.
Rowena on realizing Dean is a danger to himself: We’ll just have to tie up the bonny lad – could be fun!
And her little shimmy in front of him, and the boop to his nose. Apparently this was an ad lib from Connell, who also tweeted that one time she did that, Jensen surprised her by biting her finger. Is there a more fun set to work on? I think not.
Ackles did a great job of showing how out of it Dean was, making his gaze unseeing throughout. The way he looked tied in the chair was eerily reminiscent of a strung up Dean in WIAWSNB, which just added to the creepiness and sense of urgency.
Sam makes his way to the basement and finds the safe, and then we get sexy smart!Sam reading Latin, and we get Sam spilling his blood for his brother (which seems to be a thing for Berens….and is probably on a fanfic bingo square somewhere). Rowena was such a brilliant embodiment of Sam’s determination in that scene, literally squeezing the life blood out of him(self) to save his brother.
(Ruth Connell gets all the tough jobs, doesn’t she?)
I was so wound up by the tension that by the time Dean broke free of the chair and shattered the bottle, while Sam was bleeding to death in the basement, that I was screaming at my television. Trust Dean Winchester to surprise us though (and perhaps himself too). He sees through his own hallucination, and knifes his way out of it.
Dean: I’d do it, if I needed to. But the real Benny would never let me.
A fitting tribute to that character, and such a powerful moment. Yes, the mark helped give Dean that determination, but I felt like that was Dean too. Dean refusing to believe that was what he needed to do. Dean determined to “Always keep fighting.”
It was like Season 1 and 2 all over again as big brother Dean in full protective mode stormed down those steps and embraced his brother. He cradles his face, strokes his hair.
But poor Sam, still convinced that he had to keep going, that he had to die to save Dean, tries to push him away. Dean punches him to try to snap him out of it, and then he slices his own wrist – not to die, this time, but so both he and Sam can survive.
It was such a powerful moment, I found myself crying. These are the characters I fell in love with – the brothers whose tangled up, codependent, crazy intense bond has saved the world and each other, time after time. Sam and Dean, who are willing to shed blood for each other – literally. That desperate need for each other, that blind love and reckless devotion, that’s what makes the Winchesters so compelling for me.
Once they’re safely back in the Impala, Dean again apologizes, still being honest, still being vulnerable. His vulnerability has allowed him some important insight.
Dean: The universe is trying to tell us something we should already know – we’re stronger together than apart.
Fandom: WE’VE BEEN TRYING TO TELL YOU THAT FOR TEN SEASONS!
So much honesty in this episode, I could barely fathom it.
The ending scene reminded us of just how badass Sam Winchester is and just how determined he remains to save his brother. And how dangerous might a pissed off chained up Rowena be?? I can’t wait to find out!
Is it really only four more episodes to go??
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