Supernatural 8.06 Review: Ain’t No Issue Like a Winchester Issue

SupernaturalI can’t recall the last time I felt so anxious about the ending of a Supernatural episode. Because this show sometimes has a tendency to blindside me with endings that I wasn’t expecting, or choices made by characters that I wasn’t thrilled about. This week’s episode was all about “revenge” for wrongdoings, but in the Winchesters’ hands it became a sort of catharsis for airing grievances and it worked for a little while, actually. Right up until that end moment that might have been a setback the show didn’t really need.

The Benny Issue

The Winchesters were feeling very tense after Sam finally met with Benny in last week’s episode and it’s clear that it’s a touchy subject. Dean seemed determined to ignore the tension in the usual Winchester male style while proposing a new case, but Sam wanted to confront it, so Dean agreed. According to him, Benny is a good vampire and Sam needs to understand that. Sam is not convinced, bringing up Amy as an past example. Dean’s explanation is that “people change” and that Sam doesn’t know what Purgatory was like and how it brother him and Benny together.  Frankly, that’s not a good enough reason. One of the problems the Winchesters have (besides a total lack of communication) is this belief that neither really understands what the other one is going through. That’s completely false. In fact, I’d wager that there’s no one else in the world who really gets what the other one is going through better than the brothers. When Sam said he understood that Dean needed to befriend Benny in order to survive Purgatory but why didn’t he kill him when they got out, Dean sniped back that Sam couldn’t possibly understand what Purgatory wasn’t like. What’s the reason for the forced distance you have to put between you and your brother, Dean? Dean reacted this way after returning from Hell as well, refusing to share his experiences not only out of shame, but also a belief that Sam couldn’t possibly understand it. Then Sam went to Hell and they didn’t really talk about his experiences either.

What’s wrong with admitting that they’ve both suffered torment and loss and believing that they can understand each other? Why must they isolate themselves by claiming the other one can’t possibly understand their pain? And even if they haven’t experienced Hell or Purgatory or losing a girlfriend or whatever else they’ve suffered, what’s wrong with believing that someone can comprehend and sympathize with your plight even if they haven’t experienced it themselves? It’s call human empathy, boys. It’s a thing.

New Bobby

After this mini-confrontation, the boys headed to Missouri to investigate a strange death. While there, they found a familiar fase at one of the crime scenes: Garth! The brothers – and viewers – quickly realized that Garth had changed a little bit. Now he’s answering multiple cell phones and dishing out advice to other hunters, leading Sam to conclude that Garth is the new Bobby. Dean was appalled, but Garth confirmed it, saying that the brothers had disappeared and someone needed to take over the role. This is why I lament the fact that while Supernatural is a show about hunting, we have no real idea of the scope or behavior of the hunting community at large. Sure, we’ve met individual hunters (many of whom have been amazing guest stars), but we don’t really understand the size of the hunting community or its behavior. We know that some hunters took issue with Sam (and Dean, by extension), so would it have made a difference if the two of them hadn’t disappeared for a year? Would they have taken up Bobby’s mantle? It’s unlikely for the aforementioned “issue with Sam” reason, as well as the fact that neither Winchester seems like the type to take on Bobby’s “patriarch” role.

SupernaturalStill, Garth has taken the job seriously and he’s rather good at it. I’m liking this more mature Garth who still retains a lot of his goofiness but seems to be more settled and serious (even if he does have MC Hammer as a ringtone).

Off the trio went to investigate what became a rash of deaths, all of which seemed to revolve around a need for revenge, even for petty slights in the past. The boys quickly realized that a spectre (or avenging ghost) was the culrpit here, possessing one person after another and having them wreak vengenace on someone who had wronged them.

The boys believed that the body of an unknown Confederate solider might be linked to the deaths, since a group of kids had vandalized the grave and the first murderer had recently visited it, but burning the soldiers’ bones didn’t seem to help. Then they concluded that an object linked to the solider must have been responsible and that turned out to be true: a penny the solider had worn around its neck was passed from person to person, causing the ghost to possess them and turn them into killers.

Winchester Fight #1,048,926

The biggest problem began when Dean was handed the penny. Sam and Garth returned to the motel room to find Dean sitting there, ignoring his ringing phone. When Sam asked what he was doing, Dean raised his gun to his brother and prepared to unleash a whole lot of repressed emotions.

Ruby was mentioned. So was drinking demon blood. In fact, Sam’s past sins were listed one by one as Dean accused him of betraying him over the years. Then it got even harsher, with Dean claiming that Benny had been more of a brother to him this past year than Sam had ever been. After all, Sam and even Castiel had betrayed Dean at one point or another, while Benny had not.

These were harsh, harsh words from Dean. But you know what? They needed to be said. Some of them, at least, but most definitely not the part about Benny being a better brother than Sam.  That was out of line and blatantly untrue. I won’t be an apologist for Sam. He’s made some bad choices in the past. Has he paid for them? Tenfold. Has he sought and achieved redemption for them? Absolutely. Should he be forgiven? Yes. And Dean has made some bad choices as well. Have they always resulted in actually betraying Sam and their bond? Not necessarily, but he’s not blameless. And yet, Dean holds on to his anger and the betrayal like a shroud because the brothers are terrible at communicating their issues with one another and even though he’s confronted Sam about these past sins, it’s clear that the pain has resurfaced in the wake of Sam’s decision not to look for him. In fact, Dean screamed that Sam chose to let him rot in Purgatory solely for a girl.

That’s when Sam punched him, attempting to defuse the situation and prevent Dean from hurting him. The brothers tussled until Garth stepped in. Fortunately, he was able to punch Dean and get him to drop the penny, thus ending the possession.

SupernaturalDean’s Familial Bonds

Outside of the motel room, Garth and Dean parted ways, with Dean finally accepting that Garth can act as the new “Bobby”. It’s not a surprise that Dean was so prickly about the situation early in the episode. Dean is very possessive about the people he loves, wanting to keep them close because of how much self-value he derives from them. These relationships are both a blessing and a crutch. Considering Dean has spent the last year fighting for his life and not being able to properly grieve Bobby’s second loss while in between hunting monsters from Purgatory, it’s acceptable that he might still be working through that grief. In some respects Garth was right. Bobby belonged to the hunting community as a whole. On the other hand, I can understand what would have been Dean’s likely argument: that Bobby held a special place in the Winchesters’ lives and them in his because of their close familial bond. They both had solid points, but the truth is that Bobby is gone (just bring him back, PLEASE!) and someone needed to step up. Garth seems to be flourishing in the job, so it’s only right that he continue.

Before leaving Garth reminded Dean that without Bobby, Sam is the only person that he has left. This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this from an outside observer. Remember the season 5 episode “The Real Ghostbusters” when the LARPers told Dean that no matter what he still had a brother who would die for him? Their life of close quarters and regrettable choices must grate on them, but the truth is that there really is no one more important to them than each other.

A Better Understanding

Before we get to that final Supernatural scene that I took issue with, let’s go back to Sam’s flashbacks. All this time we’ve been trying to understand why Sam chose not to look for Dean and this episode, more than any other this season, seemed to explain it. At least, if you look between the lines. It also presented Amelia in a more positive light than she’s been portrayed up until now. A few flashbacks revealed that the two of them slept together at some point after they met up again in the motel and Amelia finally told us her story: her husband had enlisted in the army a little while ago and then died while on duty in Afghanistan. His choice to join the army in the first place came as a shock and his death resulted in – in her opinion – too much sadness and pity. She picked up and left, seeking a new life elsewhere.

SupernaturalShe also gently but firmly kicked Sam out, telling him that she doesn’t want pity from him and that this can’t really go anywhere. But Sam isn’t one to be deterred and he soon returned to tell her that he doesn’t pity her, he understands her. As he put it, he had lost his brother recently and “my world imploded”. “I ran, just like you,” he told Amelia.

That line more than any other made me realize the headspace Sam was in. Maybe this was one time too many for loses. I don’t see it as Sam not looking for Dean, per se, I see it as Sam running from everything out of grief. Was it a bit of a cowardly move? Not necessarily, because we can’t possibly understand the amount of staggering loss and grief that Sam has suffered over the course of his life that would lead him to run when it simply became too much.

Was it the right choice to make? The truth is that Dean likely wouldn’t have reacted like that. But does that mean that Dean loves Sam MORE than Sam loves Dean? No. Because the reason Dean would have looked for Sam is the same reason that Dean got prickly over Garth stepping into Bobby’s shoes: Dean needs his family. He keeps them tethered to him (and not in a bad way, so don’t start harping on my choice of words here), because he loves them and he needs them. Sam, on the other hand, is a bit of a runner (or more independent, if you will). It’s not a personality flaw to want to run from your problems. A lot of people do it. And considering how much Sam has had to sacrifice for the cause, it’s not surprising that he would finally say enough is enough. Sam is more independent than Dean, but he suffered terribly after the loss of his brother and nothing displayed that more than his quiet confession to Amelia, as well as his acceptance of her offer to talk about it. Sam was trying to work through his grief in some of the only ways he knows how.

Now, you can argue all you want about Sam acting out of character or that he should be demonized for not looking for Dean. Frankly, unlike some of his other questionable choices, I don’t think he should take the blame for this. Dean was angry about Sam’s choice and he might be the only person in the world who has the right to be. His feelings about the situation were clearly heightened because of the ghost, but he needed to get that all out.  And yet, to me, Sam’s reaction was understandable.  He doesn’t so much as make a conscious choice not to search for Dean as he made an unconscious choice to run from his grief.

Unresolved

Which brings us to that ending. Sam decided to finally come clean about Amelia, which was the right thing to do. And for a moment there I actually thought that there could be peace between them. Yes, Dean’s barbs against Sam while he was possessed were cruel, but there was a kernel of truth to them. Sam shouldn’t be punished forever, but Dean’s frustration was understandable. And I thought Sam’s admission about Amelia was a step in the right direction.

But then Sam had to bring up Benny again and restart the whole war between them. Look, however you might feel about Amy or Lenore or the other “monsters” the boys have let go, Benny is not the worst sin committed by either brother. Dean tends to lie by omission most of the time (see: season 2 and John’s dying words to him), but Benny is hardly the biggest problem the Winchesters have. He’s a single vampire out there in the world who may/may not actually turn out to be a good guy. Dean was justified in expressing his anger to Sam about the whole “not looking for me” thing, but Sam was right about the fact that he had been 100% honest about that from day 1. And peace might have been achieved if Sam didn’t drag Benny back into the situation.

SupernaturalI didn’t like those final moments. I’ve said this many times (despite the fact that some people have attempted to declare differently as if trying to prove some conspiracy), but I like both of the brothers. And I’ve always believed that both of them are deeply flawed individuals who are nonetheless heroes. Yes, they make mistakes, but they try to atone for them or set them right. They are not monsters. So why must we have this conflict over Benny? It’s unnecessary. And it’s not even the characters’ fault here, it’s the writers. Benny is hardly the worse thing to ever happen to the Winchester brotherly bond, so why must we prolong it as if he’s some sort of outside factor that could possibly divide them forever?

I think that Dean would be willing to let Benny die by another hunters’ hand if he started snacking on humans again. Dean may be loyal, but the only person he is never willing to sacrifice is Sam. He will do whatever it takes to save someone like Bobby or Castiel, but Sam is the only one who can never really be lost or sacrificed, even if Dean disagrees with his actions or has lingering feelings. Sam should have simply said “ok, if Benny screws up, I’ll kill him” in a way that seemed like acceptance and a compromise instead of presenting it as a threat in retaliation for Dean’s secrecy. More than ever we need the brothers to work together. They’re trying to accomplish a huge task here (the search for the tablets and closing the Hell gates). The last thing they need is to be fighting over a silly vampire.

Despite those final moments, I very much enjoyed this episode (and the string of episodes that preceded it). Garth continues to be an enjoyable guest star, the confrontation between the brothers was long overdue and I’m really excited to see Castiel return next week. Now….if only Sam and Dean could stop with the squabbling.

Let me know your thoughts below but, since this is clearly a contentious issue, play nice in the comments, readers.  I know you can do it, because I’ve had many spirited and polite debates with some people who have disagreed with me in the past.

A new episode of Supernatural will air on November 14. Watch a preview and read our interview with Misha Collins about Castiel’s return here.

Check out our most recent Supernatural slide-show: Most Memorable Standalone Episodes and visit our Supernatural page for more reviews, spoilers, photos and sneak peeks.

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