After last week’s Bambi-esque episode I considered excluding the Monster of the Week episodes from the Gripe review. They generated little debate, mostly served as padding in the season, and often had no impact on the show or its characters. Then “Rock and a Hard Place” happened.
So what was wrong with this episode that caused me to change my mind? In a word, EVERYTHING. It was the worst episode of the season and it hit me like a two ton anvil.
I am not alone in this, though (disclaimer!) I don’t claim to speak for everyone.
I am helped in this review by our very own Veronika, who will tell us about her views after I finish listing the gripes. Also backing our claims are others who commented on this week’s Supernatural in detail (including Laura Prudom) and equally thought of it as full of problems.
So with no further fluff, let the griping begin.
Gripe #1: Are we watching a sitcom?
We’re still watching Supernatural, right? Because based on this season’s most recent episodes, I could swear I was watching a mix of “2 and ½ Men” and “Dark Shadows.” What’s with the focus on sex and dating? And now virginity and more sex? I know it has been a part of the show since the beginning, but it was usually offered in small doses, as a joke here and there, sometimes funny, most times not. I could take it with a grimace and pass it up as the writers trying too hard. But a whole episode dedicated to it, in a show that’s supposed to be about monsters and demons? Did they forget how “Season 7: Time for a Wedding” was received?
Gripe #2: Enough with the abstinence shaming.
We get it. You think sex is the greatest thing in the world. You say it in every episode. You make our favorite characters drool over it, talk about it, fantasise it, act like horny teens over and over, and drop their well-established personalities when faced with the possibility of it. No one can accuse you of sex shaming on this show.
But I will accuse you of the opposite, whatever you want to call it. Truth is, oh dear writers of Supernatural, there are people out there who don’t think like you do, people who don’t prioritise sex like their lives depended on it. Some are asexual, some choose to remain virgins until marriage for cultural or religious reasons, some have had traumatising experiences in the past that makes sex unenjoyable to them. There are a million reasons why a person might not want to engage in sex.
None of those people deserve to be ridiculed by a TV show.
Let’s observe how this episode deals with this issue. From the moment the chastity group is mentioned you could tell it’s going to be a running joke. The person receiving them, Ms. Fuschau, is a cartoon character. Her voice, expressions, even the way she walks reminds me of a redhead version of Tweety from the Looney Tunes. This conveniently forces you to not take anything she says seriously. And why should you? She’s part of that insane group that thinks people can abstain from sex. Oh the insanity!
It just keeps getting worse. From Sam and Dean’s reaction after she tells them the group’s mandate, to Dean’s awkward speech about why he joined the group, it is all designed to club you over the head with how silly and fake not wanting to have sex is. These women are kidding themselves. They aren’t serious about wanting to stay virgins; they just haven’t had the chance to get laid. Look at how they all cringe and lose it when Dean describes what he’d do to them during sex.
This is not funny. It’s offensive, and to a large group of people who have chosen to live their lives in a certain way. Please spare me your inappropriate, juvenile judgment of something that isn’t your business Supernatural. I’m neither a virgin nor a religious person and I felt insulted.
Gripe #3: Is this Dean Winchester or Stifler from the American Pie movies?
And of course, when a writer wants to make a statement, or joke, about sex, they immediately choose poor Dean Winchester as their favorite mouthpiece. Their excuse, which I also heard from some fans who defended this episode, is that Dean was portrayed as a ladies man since season one.
Yes, a ladies man, which would mean he would know how to play it cool and sway the ladies with style, like Neal Caffrey from White Collar. Was Dean like that in this episode? Because to me he looked more like Stifler from American Pie, a horny, desperate guy who thinks with his little guy.
Let’s watch his behavior. He approaches the hottest girl in the group with the cheesiest one liner out there. When she stays professional and blows him off he doesn’t change his tune. It’s bad enough that he’s trying to flirt with a counselor from a chastity group, but when she shows she’s not interested – which is when most guys usually back off – he doesn’t give up.
He follows her home, supposedly to protect her from the bad guys who have killed her friends, while she goes to get some books. If anyone had any doubts that that wasn’t really his intention the script helps us by showing him act like Pepe LePew the moment she takes off her shirt, piled on by porn music and close up shots of her “bewbs.” Just to hammer the point in that Dean is still thinking about boinking her, and that her lack of interest hasn’t changed his mind one bit.
But then a breakthrough happens. Just as his juvenile quest to get laid leads him to ignore Sam’s call (God forbid those people dying need someone to save them) he is faced with the reality of just how much on a different page she is. Here he is, checking out her body like a dirty old uncle, lighting up candles in broad daylight, and smirking ear to ear, when she starts crying over her dead friends. Sure this must be the point Dean, a decent, adult man, would finally give up and decide to be there just to comfort her, right?
But no. Because she asks him to pray with her, and that’s silly, just like virginity and abstinence is. So let’s pretend we’re on board, and wait for the right opportunity, while giving her ass one last check. Later we will rummage through her drawers and find something important that will sure turn her around. Which brings us to Gripe number 4.
Gripe #4: You think you are elevating sex worker but you are really insulting them.
Words cannot describe how disgusted I felt when Dean found out about Suzy’s past. I have to restrain myself from turning my thoughts into a rant, so I first quote some of what other people have said about it.
From Laura Prudom’s article:
It’s rare that I ever find Dean Winchester unattractive, but I can honestly say that the scene in which he charmed his way into Suzy’s pants was repugnant on several levels. If a woman tells you that she’s uprooted her life and changed her identity to escape the “horrible” person she used to be, objectifying her based on things she did as that person — and is clearly embarrassed about now — is neither appealing nor excusable.And from an Anonymous commenter on http://onamelancholyhill.tumblr.com/post/68235040707/being-an-ex-sex-worker-i-found-this-episode-incredibly
Being an ex sex worker, I found this episode incredibly disturbing. Like seriously- you recognize me from somewhere, want to have sex with me/find out who I am, so you insist to come over to my house for one reason or another that isn't about sex, rummage around my stuff, find out I'm from your fav. porno, I tell you I'm ashamed, you say I shouldn't be, like I'm not gonna be creeped out? Sex on this show is the scariest thing.
If Suzy was a real woman, and not the product of some clueless writer’s imagination, she would’ve punched Dean in the nose right before throwing him out of the door. But since she isn’t, and the show’s message is that sex trumps everything even if all odds are against it, she finally relents to Dean’s Stifler charms and they have sex. The End.
Counter Argument: When I brought up some of these gripes on a message board the opposition told me the episode was sex positive, because those women chose to have sex and found it satisfying. I wished that was true so I could give this barrage of misogyny some credit. But it isn't. Because at the end, when Suzy is talking to another girl in the sewer trap, neither of them think anything positive about sex. Instead they tell each other they weren’t strong enough to resist it and hope that God forgives them. And we are back were we started, to shaming.
I was going to talk about how boring this whole story was, how it was a remake of the season 6 episode “You can’t Handle the Truth” with a different Goddess and a less original subject. And how they had a bunch of people stuck in a dark, dank place and didn't provide even one scary moment. But I’ll abstain from that because this review is already too long and I don’t want to take the attention away from the main gripes. People have enough to talk about me hating on Dean as it is. And Veronika has some things to say about the episode too. So I'll pass the mic to her.
Review from Veronika
Welcome from my side. I want to preface my opinion piece with the announcement that my interpretation does not reflect a general consensus, but rather my own gripes that I had with this particular episode. And most of them were already mentioned. However, I feel the need to elaborate on some points.
Supernatural's portrayal of various religious beliefs can only be considered one giant stereotype in "Rock and a Hard Place". Aside from the historical polytheism in which Pagan religious movements are equated with devil worship (cue laugher), we are apparently supposed to find chastity groups hilarious. Call me unimpressed.
Essentially, the episode continued disrespecting individual beliefs for the sake of comedy. One point being virginity vs. "impurity". To start with one issue, explain to me why the concept of virginity is supposed to be funny? The entire scene with Sam and Dean confronting this group is nothing more than slapstick comedy of the bad kind. Even worse to me, it’s done at the expense of real life issues.
Being a virgin is indeed a social construct. Additionally, the stigma surrounding people who never had sexual encounters is a rather important issue, although it is often overlooked. To put it simply, people either want sex or they don't. And their personal beliefs are their own, which is why everyone should respect the choices that an individual makes, no matter if that person justifies it with religious reasons or not. Virginity means body autonomy and personal comfort and it is often part of someone's identity. Asexuality is a thing that exists and it exists in different shades and forms that should be respected as much as celibacy should be. In the end, Supernatural continues failing to respect identities and personal reasons, and even though Dean's speech initiated a rather interesting point about one-night stands, it never went anywhere. It was all about him getting laid.
The main point was that the episode underlined a disparity between virgins being something to laugh at and people engaging in sex, but presented as objects for a male gaze, mainly Dean's. With typical frat boy humor Supernatural continues to be guilty of it. Which brings us to another issue that deals with a closer look at the various stereotypes we encountered.
Indulgence and frivolous actions are equated with sin. The show makes fun of that particular connection within the chastity group, disregarding the fact that in real life we hold our own set of beliefs that should never be made fun of, even if you perceive them as absurd in the first place. Signing a contract and being a "born-again virgin "might not make a difference for one person, might even be considered odd from your point of view, but that doesn't mean it is something to laugh at when someone has very good and personal reasons for choosing his own course of actions in order to simply feel better and be himself. I also need to clarify that I don't personally distinguish between sin and purity, because being a virgin and sex positivity should always go hand in hand in my opinion. What Suzy or other people do with their own bodies is their business and certainly not Dean's or Sam's.
Moreover, we see the recurring stereotype of virgins being "good" and "innocent" girls, which was also reflected in the choice of clothing for the group members. Virgins put on a sweater and suddenly transform into chaste people?
Then we also had the issue of food consumption, which was a minor scene that still stood out for nothing more than what I would call fat shaming. On top of being sweater-wearing virgins, we should also hide muffins in our bag, because we are easily succumbing to sin of a different kind just because we have a certain body type. The subtle implication of virgins not looking like Suzy and not dressing like her just serves to highlight that particular disparity. Of course, the monster of the week also transforms to a femme fatale later on, coupled with more wanna-be-monster 101 lines.
Unfortunately, virgins and especially virgins belonging to a church group were not the only ones getting ridiculed by the narrative.
Sex positivity...or not
I read various opinions implying that Dean's appreciation for Suzy's career conveyed the message that her work was nothing to be ashamed of. As said before, Dean's blessing is good enough in this case.
Unfortunately, People forget that Dean's opinions mean nothing and should mean nothing in this context. Suzy is a woman who actively tried to start a new life. She possessed enough agency and managed to do what felt right for her at that particular time, only to come to the conclusion that she wasn't "strong enough" in the end. Aside from the fact that strength is not something defined by a comparison between people who have sex and people who don't, Dean's leering and unsubtle facial expressions were simply disgusting. He did not respect her choice or her way of life and he did not respect her when she started crying. There wasn't a single moment in his entire interaction with her that made me think that he respected her as a person. She was an object. Nothing more. As a fan of Dean I can't properly express how utterly disappointed I am with the season 1 Blurred Lines reject that he embodied in this episode. Hashtags wouldn't have surprised me, to be honest. And I also agree with the fact that this Dean was a different season 1 version and one that was closer to Kripke's original characterization of him that painted him as rather unsympathetic skirt-chasing Han Solo. He never made it on screen thanks to Jensen's talent, but in this episode I am applauding him for portraying a rather disgusting one-dimensional parody of season 1 Dean.
Invading someone's space, lighting candles, looking through her personal items, coercion, annoyance when she cried, the body posture of a predator questioning her after he found her DVD's...
I could go on and on and the list wouldn't be in favor of sex positivity.
In fact, it is demeaning to equate sex work with someone's sex life in private, because it reduces the sex worker to nothing more than an item with a life that literally consists of nothing more than sex. Suzy's interests and worries didn't seem to matter in the end. And Dean's interrogation just underlined that she was supposed to succumb to his wishes, because from Dean's point that is what she is. And nothing more. Why does Suzy need another man to get over her shame? Her understanding of sex is not his business. And he shouldn't make it his business just to get laid.
In the end, her sudden transformation from a person struggling with her past to a willing participant engaging in cheesy dialogue with Dean came out of nowhere and established the very unnatural switch. A switch that was supposed to be "funny", but represented nothing more than sexism to me. Lines such as "you're gonna hit that?" "crossed someone off his bucket list" support that argument. And it also didn't help that the camera work focused on certain body parts, giving us shots that were unsubtle and ultimately annoying. Dean might be a voyeur, but not everybody is , thank you very much.
You might be asking yourself where I'm going with this, and it might seem like a minor issue to some people. To me it is not.
Supernatural's reference to Casa Erotica and Busty Asian Beauties is a recurring theme for Dean Winchester. And I am so utterly tired of it.
Exoticism and its subsequent fetish are offensive to cultures by reducing them to one particular aspect that is supposedly "representative" of that particular culture. It isn't nice to hear that your background serves as entertainment and fetish. It doesn't help that Suzy's scene with Dean showed nothing more than two white people speaking Spanish in a sexualized context that was part of the overall joke of this scene. And don't even mention the music....
The porn industry has a big problem with cultural appropriation and we don't need a reinforcement of it, especially if it's done at the expense of real people who don't want to be sexualized and be represented by objects like maracas that apparently stand for an entire culture. Never mind the glaring ignorance of how diverse a culture actually is. Dean's fetish continues to be an annoyance and reduces him to more frat boy humor.
Aside from the obvious social issues I listed before, I also want to comment on the overall narrative, which can only be summed up with one adjective. Repetitive.
One instance is the obvious continuation of "What is wrong with Sam" part 3001. How many times will Sam display physical symptoms that are the overall arc of basically every season? I am not saying that his issues with self-worth are not something we should not continue revisiting, but there is a lack of consistency in the way he feels about himself. He either feels tainted or pure and then tainted again.
On top of that problem, we had Dean ditching Sam and ignoring his phone call. A Dean Winchester who only has sex on his mind and doesn't make the actual hunt his priority is a Dean I barely even recognize.
I also noticed a line that was somehow odd, because Sam's and Jody's conversation highlighted Jody's past and her opinion of Sam and Dean's bond. Unfortunately, he barely reacted to her comment, which seems to either imply that he is suspicious of his brother or doesn't really care either way.
The overall theme of the episode might suggest that Dean's problems and sexual encounters are representative of him going darkside, but I don't think this filler episode revealed too much about his overall story in the future. There isn't enough sufficient evidence for that interpretation. And just because he is disrespectful with the people he wants to sleep with, it doesn't mean that he is suddenly going Darth Vader. However, this episode overdid it with his casual sexism to the point where it was unbelievable to even compare this Dean to any Dean before "Rock and a Hard Place".
This list is going to be short, but the highlights have one name. Jody. She was the only character with actual depth and the only one allowed to have conversations with other characters that just added to the layers and layers of her characterization. I particularly liked the part when she talked to the big bad, instead of Sam and Dean being involved in that conversation. More Jody, please.
What did you think of 9.08?