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Supernatural - Episode 9.17 - 'Mother's Little Helper' Review

Over the course of this season, I’ve made numerous comments about tone, or something just not feeling right. When I was commenting as a fan, I could just throw out statements like, “I liked this,” or “I didn’t like this,” without explaining further. One thing I’ve tried to do as a reviewer is look at why I liked or disliked something. Was it personal taste? Were there holes in the story? In many cases, it was harder to define. Often, it was that something just didn’t feel like “Supernatural.”

As I was was watching this episode, I was left with the thought that this was a seriously good episode. On the surface, it didn't seem that different from many - we had a possession storyline, more mythology focusing on the past, Dean depressed and drinking too much at a bar. There were a number of factors that contributed to that, but the primary one that struck me is that it was slowed down enough to allow for emotional impact – something common in the early days of the show, but that seems to have been lost in recent seasons, while the emphasis has been more on camp, gore, and mockery.

Let me get a couple of things out. First, I usually don’t notice director choices unless something strikes me as really good or really off. Second, I had honestly forgotten who had directed this one until I was about 10 minutes or so into the episode. I was watching the scene where Crowley sneaks up on Dean from behind, and thought the angling of approach was pretty cool. It was about that time that I was thinking there’s something a little different about this episode. And that got me thinking, who directed this anyway? And then, Oh! This was the one Misha Collins directed. I’m probably the only one in the fandom who forgot, but anyway, it’s been a crazy couple of weeks, and I’ll leave it at that.

Sam and Dean are the heart of the show, but as a fandom, I feel like we’ve at times lost a sense of who they are. There are a number of factors behind this. There’s inconsistent characterizations, not just over the seasons but from episode to episode. There were long gaps in presenting Sam’s point of view in recent seasons. (How can this be a story of brothers if we only understand one of them?) And there’s a sense with some of the fandom that Sam and Dean have lost their mission. We know they’re still good people, but when they go most of a season with seeming to care very little that a big evil is planning to chow down on the human population, it leaves questions about their priorities. Most of this is due to poor planning in the writing. In my review of the last episode, I pointed out that Sam and Dean apparently have an easy spell at their disposal that allows them to summon a demon into a demon trap and exorcise it. If it’s that easy, why do we never see them taking shifts in summoning demon after demon and sending them back to Hell – thereby saving thousands of lives? This season we’ve seen little focus from them on the effects of the angel infestation on the human population. The angels are killing thousands of human vessels, but Sam and Dean don’t seem that concerned about the human impact.

This episode – through both the writing, as well as the direction (and by that, I mean the pacing, the tone, the background music) – brought back some of that emotional connection in both Dean’s and Sam’s storylines by telling very simple stories, but an emotional ones.

The brothers were split up in this episode (thank god), but they both had emotional storylines. For Dean it was dealing with (or more accurately not dealing with) depression, apathy, self-loathing, and a craving for violence – the after-effects of holding The First Blade with The Mark of Cain branded into his arm. After Dean emerged from Hell in season 4, he was faced with a deep self-loathing bred from the knowledge that had had become a torturer in Hell, and that the role felt right for him. He had managed to repress that side of him, but with The Mark of Cain, he presumably is back to experiencing those old feelings of violence and unchecked self-hatred again. Dean hasn’t verbalized any of this yet, but that’s what I’m led to believe we’re seeing. Sam, who has seemed to be without purpose for some time now – no one in the fandom can be quite certain whether he even wants to hunt or not, or why he’s hunting now that he’s angry with his brother – appears to have made a personal connection for going after Abaddon.

With Sam, the personal connection came in learning that Abaddon was removing souls to breed an army. Sam identified with the victims in that he remembered what it was like to be soulless. The practical consideration is that the army will make Abaddon nearly unstoppable. As I said earlier, it was nice to think that the Winchesters still care about mass destruction and death – something that hasn’t always been apparent.

Who is this director anyway?

I’m going to spend a little time talking about the director’s choices, since it was Misha (Cas) sitting in the director’s chair in this episode, and this is his first shot at directing a Supernatural episode. He was very, very good. I mentioned the music choices earlier that intensified the emotional impact of the scenes. The music picks for this show haven’t always been so good and I remember some discussion in the fandom about how distracting they were a couple of seasons back. There were also a number of extreme close-ups of character’s faces, zooming in on the emotional reactions that heightened the impact. The smoky atmosphere of the bar, matching Dean’s clouded emotional state, made a nice contrast with the crisp atmosphere and slightly muted tones of Sam’s experience – a fitting choice for telling a story of something that had occurred in the past. And most of all, this was an episode that wasn’t rushed. There wasn’t too much going on to distract from the story, which made it feel like a Supernatural episode from an earlier era.

If the writers decide that Cas’ time on the show is limited, TPTB should seriously offer Misha a chance to stick around a permanent director. With this episode, it became apparent that he has a lot of talent on the other side of the camera as well. And while SPN has a number of very talented directors coming and going, with this episode it was apparent that one of Misha's strengths is that he really understands the show and the characters better than many others do. Anyway, I’m clearly overstepping here, but these are my thoughts.

What did you think of the episode? Let’s hear your impressions in the comments.

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