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Supernatural – Episode 9.12 – The Gripe Review

Welcome to my vent room, where I write about things I wished I didn’t feel the need to write about.

This week’s episode was about Garth, which made writing this review both easy and hard. Easy because I don’t like Garth so I had no reservations about griping about this episode. Hard because it was difficult to remain objective and not fill this article with reasons why I don’t like Garth.

My dislike of an episode solely focused on Garth isn’t directly related to Garth himself but to the fact that I don’t think he deserves it. In my opinion, for a character to deserve an episode fully devoted to them, they have to be on the show for a good amount of time and earn their stripes by doing interesting and relevant things. They have to put enough time and effort as a side character before the show turns the spotlight on them. Bobby was such a character and he only got two episodes dedicated to him, one of which was his swan song. Castiel too falls under this category (even though he is a third lead now, at least when it comes to the mythology) and he only got one. For Garth, who only has three episodes under his belt and no impact on the mythology, getting his own episode is like cutting in line.

This is not a gripe though, just my personal opinion. And even though I may not feel much attachment to the guy, I would feel the same about any Joe Shmoe they would replace him with in a generic Monster of the Week episode instead of this one, so it's not a big deal. Besides, if Adam Glass’ niece replica, Krissy, gets two episodes, and Robbie Thompson’s self-insert, Charlie, gets three, Garth can have this one and get high on it.

Now the gripes:

Gripe #1 – “After we find Garth and get to the bottom of this…”

Says Sam in the episode. And even though he finishes with “I’m gone,” we know what he means is “then we’ll talk,” because we can’t have the brothers separate without talking, and we can’t have too many episodes with them being separated.

My issue with this statement however is what it implies: After we finish this random job that has nothing to do with the ongoing plot and is just a filler to stretch the show to 23 episodes then we get to the more pressing matter of our unraveling relationship, you know, the thing viewers mostly care about.

I personally don’t like one-off episodes, but I understand their function and accept the fact that some viewers enjoy them. Another good argument presented to me on a ratings board was that such episodes are easier for random viewers to pick up as opposed to mythology heavy episodes that have the potential to spin their heads.

However there should be some care given to the placement of filler episodes. In the past it used to be that standalones appeared after a major crisis in the story was resolved. The idea was to give viewers time to breathe before they were plunged into the next pool of action and drama. At that point viewers could relax and enjoy the singular episodes with no major question marks hanging over their heads or anything sharp and unpleasant poking them on the side.

Recently however (season 7 and up) it seems the showrunners don’t care much about this placement. The fate of the world might be hanging from a thread at the end of an episode, yet the boys would go duck hunting with Swamp People in the next one.

Bad placement of a MotW episode makes them act like roadblocks instead of vacations. If you have a storyline going that has the viewers' attention, it’s best to finish it before throwing something funny or random at them. Doing otherwise would be like clowns appearing in the middle of a production of Hamlet and pulling the audience out of the poignant scene they were currently watching.

I don’t think I have to say what pressing matter currently exists on the show that needed to be resolved before Garth jumped on the stage in his clown costume. We all watched Sam and Dean separate, emotionally and physically. Their relationship was at an all-time low before this episode aired, so it's only natural for me to not want to turn my eyes away from it and toward the skinny, awkward hunter and his adopted family. This episode dragging the unpleasantness of the brothers’ separation without improving or evolving it in any way only makes it a source of annoyance.

Gripe #2: Am I supposed to care about Mormon Werewolves with no personality?

They sing, they pray, they sit around a table and smile a lot while eating disgusting grub, and they project zero likability. The only reason we might care about them is because Garth cares about them, and Garth isn’t as endearing a character to have that much trickle effect.

You’d think a New Age, bovine eating werewolf family would be a lot wackier and more interesting than this. They could be uniquely odd and their eccentricity could be utilized to make them attractive to the audience. Unfortunately no step was taken to achieve that in this episode. Sitting around the table for dinner, they acted no different than any other pious family we have seen a dozen times on TV, except for their nauseating table manners. None of them had any personality beyond being a happy family who loved each other and were strong believers of their faith. It was so boring I felt sorry for Dean who was trapped there and had to listen to their accounts about their past and how they became what they became, i.e. more “telling.”

Even the stepmom – later revealed as anything but nice – was just nice. And that was still better than the father who was as bland as the stuff he was talking about, or the two mute sons, or Bess, who had the personality of a goldfish.

It’s so hard to side with Garth when the people he loves are so meh you expect them to blow up at any moment and reveal their innards full of circuits and wires. I assume the point of this episode was that hunters could let some monsters live if they are good monsters. But when the monsters are so boring they seem like robots I won’t care whether they live or die and what lesson this teaches Dean. In fact I may prefer Dean killing some of them in flashy, bloody ways just to get some action up in dullsville.

Gripe #3: Sam is finally talking, yay! But wait…what is he saying?

If you read my past reviews you know I was dying for a Sam monologue that would reveal what was going on inside his head. In this episode he finally talked, and it did as much good as if he had opened his mouth and started yodelling.

I’ve now listened to Sam and Dean’s conversation at the end of the episode three times, and I have transcribed it, yet I still don’t know what the heck Sam was talking about. I am going to post his dialogue (and my reactions to it) here to show you how exactly it confused me.

It all starts when Dean apologizes to Sam and they both agree that when they share the road it “splits the crappiness.” I understand this and like it because all it says is that even though they have a bad life, being together makes it easier to bear. So far so good.

Then the conversation goes like this:

Sam: Something's broken here, Dean. (Me: Awesome! Tell me more. What is broken? The codependency? The brotherly love? Dean’s trust in you? Your trust in Dean? Please, elaborate.)

Sam: We don't see things the same way anymore, our roles in this whole thing. (Me: Ok! What do you see that Dean sees differently? Where do you stand and where does he stand? Are you still talking about the brotherly relationship or something else? Please elaborate.)

Sam: Back in that church, talking me out of boarding up hell? (Me: What? But I thought that was your choice. Didn’t we hear the phrase “you chose each other” on and off the show many times since that scene? Doesn’t that mean you didn’t board up hell because you “chose” Dean? And what does this have to do with the broken thing? Or the thing you see different from Dean? Or your different roles in this? Would you elaborate?)

Sam: Or tricking me into letting Gadreel possess me? I can't trust you. Not the way I thought I could. (Me: Alright, this I understand. Your problem is you can’t trust Dean because of what he did. Great, now tell me what conclusion you have made.)

Dean: We're family.

Sam: You say that like it is some sort of cure-all, like it can change the fact that everything that has ever gone wrong between us has been because we're family. (Me: So…you’re not family? How can you not be family when you’re family? What is it you want to change? Please elaborate.)

Dean: So what we're not family now?

Sam: I'm saying you wanna work, let's work. If you wanna be brothers... (Me: What? What? If you wanna be brothers then what? Don’t hunt? Don’t take care of me? Don’t make decisions for me? Don’t blame yourself? Don’t go off on your own and make deals with Crowley? Don’t stay because I can’t stand your face? What? WHY WON’T YOU ELABORATE, SAM???)

This isn’t Shakespeare. We’re not supposed to interpret the abstract meanings woven through the verses. This is a small show called Supernatural that is currently confusing the hell out of this viewer. It’s like they intentionally write Sam’s dialogue loopy, just to make us go to work on figuring out what he says.

This exact same thing happened in the church scene at the end of season 8. Sam was saying things to Dean and Dean was responding back to him yet I had no idea what the heck they were talking about. Judging from the number of interpretations fans had about that scene, and the variety of reactions they showed, many felt the same, because every person had their own reading of that scene, tailored to what they liked to hear.

This is what makes connecting to Sam so hard. Already cries of anger are heard around fandom from those condemning him to have broken the brotherly bond. Those who defend him say he didn’t break anything just threatened Dean with it so he wouldn't trick him again. Some say Sam was demanding they put their job before their love which shows how fully back he is in the game and how willing to sacrifice himself for the world. And then there are those of us who want his speech to be about him dissing the toxic side of the brotherly bond, the codependency, and trying to dispel it.

I’m not going to claim that's the case, because that’s what I “want” to it to be, not what I'm hearing. In truth I can’t tell what Sam said because it was so much like a riddle and so full of broad concepts it could be interpreted as anything.This could be because the writers don’t know what they want to do with Sam or his stance towards the brotherly bond, or they do but are afraid to attempt it. Maybe they want to change the dynamics of the relationship and are scared of a fandom backlash. Maybe there’s a lack of consensus among the writers and they are keeping things open until they make a decision. Whatever it is, it’s confusing us and robbing us (at least those who don’t make an assumption and run with it) of the enjoyments of a coherent story.

Gripe #4: Why do you keep repeating this thing no one likes?

Let’s be honest, nobody likes the brothers at odds. The only merit this storyline has is the moment they hug and make up. Every relationship has its up and downs and for us to take pleasure from the ups we have to sit through the downs. However it seems like recently there has been way more downs than ups in this particular relationship.

If we take a look back at the previous seasons we’ll see a gradually worsening pattern. In seasons 4 the brothers were at odds because of Sam’s attachment to Ruby. It was resolved in the beginning of season 5 and the brotherly bond became stronger than before. In season 6 Sam was soulless and Dean pointlessly blamed him for it a couple of times, but eventually it got resolved when Sam got his soul back and they became a team again. In season 7 they had a row over Dean killing Amy – a minor incident that had nothing to do with the main plot and felt latched onto the season just to tear the brothers apart – and for the first time the issue wasn’t fully resolved. In season 8 things got worse when Sam didn’t look for Dean in Purgatory and they disagreed on Benny. Neither was resolved.

Now we’re in season 9 and there’s once again something pulling the brothers in opposite directions, only now Sam is speaking elfish and Dean wants to be on his own and their conversations – those that used to be the highlights of the show – are spiteful and difficult to watch. I wish to think the showrunner and writers are doing this to bring them back together and reap the joys of a reunion, but judging by the past two seasons I won’t be surprised if that doesn’t happen. If they are planning to go somewhere with this they should do it fast and stop dragging this hostile air, suffocating the brothers and viewers, into more episodes. If they aren’t planning to do something with it and this is just their way to create more drama on the show they should stop repeating this formula that the fans don’t like and use some new way to ramp up the tension.

Mini Gripes

There were some issues with the episode that I didn’t think needed full analyses the way those mentioned above did, yet were pocking me hard enough that I decided to briefly talk about them.

#1 No mention of Castiel?

It’s a small thing, but it always bothers me. Whenever Misha Collins isn’t on the show the boys talk as if Castiel doesn’t exist. When Dean and Sam were catching up at the beginning of the episode Dean did not ask Sam where Castiel was even though it made sense for him to do so, not just to show he gave a damn about the friend who spent the last two episode as a pillar of strength and support for both of them, but for us, the audience, to know what happened to him. One line would have been enough, but alas.

#2 Garth did it for a woman too.

Remember last week’s second trope that was repeated so many time it had to be banned? It was about the fact that every guy who had a transformation on this show did it because of a woman he loved more than anything else in the world. Garth joined that club in this episode.

#3 Sam is kidnapped and tied up, again.

This is another one that keeps repeating without rhyme or reason. Every time the plot demands a brother to be kidnapped, it’s Sam. Not that I care much if it’s Sam or Dean who gets to listen to the villain’s inane monologue about how to be evil, but I wouldn’t mind some variety in my soup, like watching Sam barge through the door for once and save Dean.

#4 I am a villain. I’m going to give you a full account of all of the evil things I plan to do, before I kill you.

James Bond villains used to do this a lot in the 1960s. And it is as absurd now as it was back then. Why does the villain waste time talking about her evil schemes, backstory and motivations when she knows the captive’s brother and her own husband are outside looking for the missing people? Why won’t she simply do the thing she is babbling about doing? Anything could go wrong in the time she spends explaining herself to people who would be dead anyway if everything goes according to her plan. These monologues sound fake and out of place because they aren’t a character telling something to another character, but a character giving info to the audience, that pesky telling instead of showing thing I talked about in the last Gripe Review.

A word on dialogue and “show, don’t tell.”

There was a bit of confusion about a few things I said in last week’s review regarding show vs. tell. A few people wondered how I expected to hear Sam talk about what was in his head when a couple of paragraphs later I complained about characters telling each other things the writers wanted us to know. I feel I should explain my point about dialogue and what I think is ok or not ok to put in it.

Dialogue is a powerful tool for a writer to apply to many things. But just like any tool that has its primary and secondary functions, as well as things you can do but shouldn’t do with it (like cleaning between your teeth with a sharp army knife,) dialogue too needs a lot of attention.

Even though dialogue consists of words (telling) it should always be used for showing first. It can be used for telling when there is no other way to advance the story, but even then it still has to pull its weight in showing.

How is that possible? Simple. Dialogue’s primary function in every story, movie, or TV show should be showing the emotional state of the character who’s talking. Then, and only then, is the writer allowed to also use it to give backstory, details about the plot, or premonitions about the future. To only have it used as a tool to give the audience “information” or “moral lessons” is turning it into a megaphone that plays pre-recorded messages at full blast.

When I said I wanted Sam to talk about what happened to him it wasn’t because I didn’t know what happened to Sam, but because I wanted to see how Sam felt about it. His speech would have given me a window into his emotions. That’s different from Cain, or Reverend Jim in this episode, whose words were only used to inform me about their story.

An example of a good dialogue/monologue is Dean’s speech to Sam at the end of Heaven and Hell. Through that speech we find out what happened to Dean in hell, but more importantly, we find out how he felt about it and how it affected his current state of mind. The fact that the dialogue was masterfully written in a choppy, evasive fashion, and Jensen did an A+ job delivering it, were extra icing on the cake.

So there you have it, this week’s Gripe Review. It got unnecessarily long for a Garth episode. I hope I didn’t bore you with my hair splitting analysis of a story about a goofy hunter dating a Barbie doll from a church going werewolf family. I’m sure this all sounded much better in someone’s head before they turned it into an episode of Supernatural.

Don’t forget to leave your paw prints, and opinions, in the comment section.



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