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Supernatural 8.12 "As Time Goes By" Review: Family Remains the Constant

           This week’s episode of Supernatural, “As Time Goes By” was written by Adam Glass, who also wrote this season’s “Southern Comfort.” It was the first time directing for Serge Ladouceur, who fans will know as the show’s Director of Photography. That duty was covered in this episode by Brad Creasser. I was excited to see what magic Ladouceur would bring to the director’s chair, but this episode will likely be remembered even more for how much it has added to the canon of the show and the doors it has opened up going forward.  
            The episode opens with a wonderful montage – maybe the best they’ve ever done - of the show to date. The theme was the importance of family and the Family Business. We even get the clip of Sam (Jared Padalecki) telling Dean (Jensen Ackles) that their father’s legacy to them is saving people. It almost felt like a new start for the show. I really feel like the first half of this season was truly building to this moment. That the brother’s had to go through a period of estrangement and adjustment and re-commit themselves to really wanting to be in the family business before they could make this new start.
             A quick shout out to Jerry Wanek for this episode for the set dressing. Upon the first scene in young John’s bedroom, my husband informed me that he’d had exactly the same lampshade as a child – so thanks Jerry, that really drove that scene home for us! Of course Wanek is also responsible for the wonderful motel rooms we get each week. My favorite set this week was Astro Comics though. It was really the only setting that actually threw Henry for a loop too!
            Having John’s music box play As Time Goes By and having that as the title really resonated with the episode. Casablanca after all is about wartime heroism. It’s about the unsung heroes, the Ricks of the world who seem like bad guys but are the real good guys. It’s about unlikely allies forming to fight for what’s right. Sounds an awful lot like the Winchesters’ world, doesn’t it?
            I would be remiss in not pointing out the original music in this episode by Jay Gruska as we hear the familiar chords of “Dean’s Theme” throughout the episode. This theme has signaled family throughout the series. There are musical motifs that run throughout the seasons of the show that are just as familiar as the classic rock chords of “Carry on My Wayward Son” to viewers.
            A quick word about the two guest stars: Gil McKinney as Henry Winchester and Alaina Huffman as Abaddon were both fantastic. Huffman, who many of you may remember from the too-soon-cancelled Stargate Universe, made Abaddon an elegant, urbane, and sexy Knight of Hell demon. And who knew she could scream like that? Creepy! McKinney brought so many layers to Henry Winchester in a very, very (read much too) short time. He seems at first to be a stuck up, pompous, condescending elitist, but by the end of the episode, he is obviously a Winchester as he puts family before everything, including his life. It’s easy to forget that Henry is about the same age as his “grand kids” and expect him to have all the answers, so it was good characterization for him not to be in total control despite his obvious high level of training.
             Dean is harder for Henry to win over than Sam. Dean refuses to warm up to him because he abandoned John and John hated him. Sam’s response to Dean is that John didn’t make up for Henry’s absence “by being father of the year.” As always, Dean is quick to come to John’s defence and insist that John had always been there for them. Henry tries to be happy that at least he’s getting to meet his grandsons.
            We learn that Henry was part of a society of Men of Letters and that John should have been trained as one too and trained Dean and Sam in their own turn. Henry has a very low opinion of hunters: “Hunters are apes.” He is quick to write Sam and Dean off as “shoot first and ask questions later.” Of course, Dean has described himself in exactly those words in the past – and has also described Sam that way on occasion, mainly when he was calling Sam out on acting out of character – as Sam has always been the thinking man on their team. Sam points out to Henry that they are also John’s kids in addition to being hunters, and Henry concedes that they are more than that, they are “legacies.”
            Henry describes the Men of Letters as preceptors, beholders, chroniclers of all that which man does not understand. He explains that they only share their knowledge with a select few hunters. Possibly the best line of the episode – possibly the entire series – is when in typical Dean fashion, Dean sums up the relationship between Men of Letters and hunters: “You’re Yodas to our Jedis.” The Star Wars reference is perfect, given that Eric Kripke always described the show in those terms – Sam as Luke and Dean as Han Solo. And this is where this entire episode becomes so exciting for the entire mythology of the series. It really opens up so many possibilities because Sam seems custom made to be one of the Men of Letters – and wouldn’t Bobby have been a great fit there too? Could we see a future where Sam was head of the Men of Letters and Dean the head of the hunting elite?
             John’s journal plays an integral part in the episode. Henry notices it and asks to look at it. Sam explains it’s a hunter’s journal and wonders if as a Man of Letters whether Henry had kept one too. Henry says he’d ordered one just before he left, and sure enough, when he flips to the inside cover, we discover the initials HW there. John had kept and used his father’s journal and then passed it on to his boys. Ackles is outstanding in this scene. He is visibly uncomfortable at Sam letting Henry look at the journal, and it’s clear that Dean is still deeply troubled by John’s death. Dean insists that Henry had a responsibility to his family – always Dean’s first priority – while Henry insists he had no choice because he was a legacy. Once again, we are brought back to the issue of free will and destiny: whether one is free to make those choices or not.
             Henry is moved by Dean’s words and the words in John’s journal. He tells Dean he was right. That he had let John down and he was going to return and set things right. He was going to make sure that John got the life he deserved not the one he was forced to live. It’s a nice parallel to Dean’s belief that he’d let his father down. Dean won’t let Henry sacrifice Sam, however, and he chokes Henry unconscious to trade him for Sam: the prime directive of looking after his brother in full force. Dean tells Henry that Sam’s “his brother, he’s the only family I’ve got left.” Even after having been to Hell for the crossroads deal, Dean is still frighteningly willing to do anything to save his brother and he tells Henry that much.
            In the end, Henry proves he is a Winchester by being willing to give his life to save his grandsons. He apologizes for having judged them so harshly as hunters because they are also Winchesters and as long as they’re alive there’s always hope. He says that he knows he would have been proud of John based on how his sons turned out. Both Sam and Dean are crushed by Henry’s death. Given all the talk of legacies and keeping hope alive through the bloodline, I was beginning to wonder if some groundwork wasn’t being laid for at least one of the brothers to be doing something to extend that bloodline. I know there’s a theory being floated that Amelia is pregnant, but I have greater faith in the creative team than to go there, but it would be interesting if Sam was able to make some kind of normal work at some point. So, to be clear, I don’t support the Amelia might be back with a bun in the oven theory – but I do think the legacy question is an interesting one.
            The brothers’ final conversation over Henry’s grave is typical of their different viewpoints and draws heavily on past episodes and conversations. Sam refers back to 5.14 “My Bloody Valentine” (also seen in the montage at the beginning) when he says he gets why cupid was so keen to get John and Mary together. The marriage of Campbells and Winchesters is the perfect marriage of brains and braun – also very much as how Sam and Dean are seen: Dean’s bruan to Sam’s brains – though each has some of the other as well. Dean’s response is typically more pessimistic and less esoteric as he says all he sees is death in their family tree. Sam wonders if John would have been different if he’d had his own father around. Dean immediately takes this as a slur against John, once again defending him as having done the best he could. Sam quickly agrees. The phrasing is interesting considering some have thrown up red flags at Henry disappearing. In 4.03, “In the Beginning”, Dean is back in the past with his parents. He overhears someone in the diner say to John to “Say hi to your old man for me” implying that John’s father is around. It’s possible that John’s mother re-married and he was, in fact, raised by someone else. Interesting theories, which may be explored in the future. 
             The boys immediate future would seem to be to find a door for the key that Henry brought with him. Did anyone else keep thinking about “The French Mistake” with all the talk of a key? In interviews, Robert Singer and Jeremy Carver have both been very excited with where what we learn in this episode will take the brothers. Singer has indicated that the door the key unlocks will contain riches of information and also be a new homebase for the brothers. I can’t wait to see it!
            A few final points. I loved that we got a new way to kill a very high level demon – by creating a devil’s trap right in her noggin’ by etching the devil’s trap on the bullet. When Henry discovers it’s 2013 and remarks the Mayans were wrong, I laughed, but it was a nice touch to demonstrate that he’s widely read in the supernatural. Albertus Magnus was a real person who lived in the Middle Ages. He was a well-known magician and alchemist and is purported to have discovered the Philosopher’s Stone. He also advocated for the peaceful coexistence of science and religion. He is linked to Dante’s theory of free will and was mentioned in Frankenstein. I don’t think the Men of Letters could have picked a better alias! He really was their version of a rock star.
            This episode sets up so many possibilities for the brothers going forward. Certainly, the information found with the key is likely to be helpful in finding and deciphering the tablets, so while this episode may not have appeared to forward the season’s mytharc, I’m betting it does. Let me know what you thought of the episode in the comments.

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