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Supernatural – Episode 9.17 – The Gripe Review

It’s finally here. The highly anticipated, highly publicized, Tumblerized and Twitterized episode 17, otherwise known as Misha Collin’s directorial debut.

Hello Supernatural fans and welcome to the Gripe Review for the 17th episode of season 9.

A lot of my online friends are Castiel fans, and by extension Misha Collins fans. Weeks before this episode aired my social media dashboards were abuzz. From Twitter, to Tumblr to Facebook it seemed everyone was talking about it. Knowing that I was a Castiel fan many expected me to join the party.

Here’s the kicker though. I like Castiel. I’m not a hard core Misha fan. I hear about his antics online. I know he is a super nice guy (he started Random Acts) and does a lot of interesting things (Gishwhes, West videos, Twitter battles with other celebrities.) But the main reason I care about him is his character on the show.

That’s why when several people asked me if I was excited about his episode my answer was a virtual shrug. I was certainly curious to see what a Misha directed episode looked like, but considering two things: A) a well-directed episode means you don’t notice the director’s work and B) a Misha-directed episode means no Castiel, you could say I was on the fence about it.

The episode however turned out to be one of the better ones this season. Or perhaps it is my favoritism toward mythology episodes and the Henry/Abaddon combo but I found myself enjoying and at times guessing the story. I had no major problems with the plot other than the typical expository and one dimensional style of Adam Glass’ writing. I’ll discuss that, and some other issues, in the gripes. But overall, this was a strong episode, mostly thanks to Jensen, Jared, Mark and Misha, plus a set of skillful and likable supporting cast.

Gripe #1 – Who swapped Sam and Dean’s prescriptions?

Remember two weeks ago, when Dean was the one trying to talk to Sam and Sam was the one giving him the cold shoulder? Did we just watch the reverse of that happen at the beginning of this episode? Did they accidentally take each other’s medications or – as one poster said on the IMDB message board – did someone switch Jared and Jensen’s scripts?

I know I complained about the brothers being at odds, so the consensus must be that I am happy about Sam talking to Dean. However if there’s one thing I dislike more than the brothers fighting it’s lack of continuity. You can’t just sweep things under a rug and pretend they didn’t happen. The reason people worried about the Winchesters not being able to come back from this spat was because they believed in that continuity. If we suspected things would magically resolve themselves from one episode to the next we would have no reason to get excited over anything.

Of course one can blame the Mark of Cain, arguing that Sam’s sympathy toward Dean in his current condition has taken over his anger. Meanwhile Dean’s enthralment by the mark might be the cause of his mopeyness. However that explanation still ignores everything that came before last episode, and isolates the brothers’ story to the MoC – a similar scenario to what we had last season with the trials. People, when faced with a new dilemma, don’t just drop the old ones and pretend they never existed. They mix them up. That’s the nature of human psychology and a challenge every writer faces while creating believable characters. Dean might suffer from the MoC’s effect, but when he sees Sam finally opening up to him he would most likely jump the chance to repair his broken relationship with his brother. Once he has done that, and garnered Sam’s support, he would have enough time to brood and study ancient books.

Gripe #2 – Who parked Dean at the bar?

I know there needed to be some Crowley-Dean bonding time this episode, to establish whatever mythology they have planned for them at thetail end of the season (more on that in Gripe #4.) But do they have to sit in a bar and do nothing? Of course it wasn’t exactly nothing: they played pool, drank beer, used the men’s room for no reason and Dean even had a bonding moment with a dude there who turned out one of Crowley’s lackeys …but compared to what Sam was doing it didn’t feel all that exciting. In fact, like the Castiel/Bartholomew scenes a few episodes ago, the Dean/Crowley scenes slowed down the action. Of course it was Jensen and Mark so it wasn’t entirely boring. But couldn’t they bond whilst doing something other than a boy’s night out? Something a bit more exciting?

Someone told me this happened because Jensen asked for some down time due to being too tired. That was also why he and Jared were separated this episode. If that is true then I can’t blame the writer, or the show runner, or Jensen. The gripe falls on little JJ. Her daddy deserves all the rest he could get.

Gripe #3 – the return of the bottle

This week we saw the return of Dean’s infamous drinking problem. He was moping and studying books like a failing college student and whiskey dropped by.

Dean’s heavy drinking always came alongside bouts of extreme trauma. He did it after he came back from 40 years in hell, when Sam was in the throes of demon blood addiction, after he lost Castiel to the Leviathans, and after Bobby died. He didn’t resort to it after purgatory which made me think he had finally kicked it, but its reappearance this episode refuted that theory.

What did trigger this relapse? Was it the Mark of Cain? Was it Kevin’s death? Was it Sam’s constant rejection of his attempts to reconcile? It must have been something serious to compete with the above list. Dean is a tough guy. For him to go back to a bad habit the trauma must be gargantuan.

Which is where my problem lies. I don’t think anything that tragic happened to Dean this season. Sure it sucked that Gadreel possessed Sam and killed Kevin. But if that was the reason we should’ve seen the bottle two episodes ago. The Mark of Cain has a severe effect on the bearer for sure. But it looked more like intense anger and aggression rather than a slump. And if it’s because Sam had been cold to Dean lately, having Dean hug the bottle and ignore Sam, in an episode where Sam finally opened up to him, makes no sense.

My problem with Dean’s drinking in general is that it is used too often as a plot device rather than a character trait. Even in previous seasons when he had legitimate reasons to turn alcoholic the issue was immediately dropped as soon as something new happened in the story. It was as if the writers used it to give Dean something to do while Sam grappled with plot heavy issues like lack of a soul or Lucifer in his head. Then when Sam’s ailment was cured so was Dean’s, like magic. The writers never spent any time exploring this side of Dean. To bring it up yet again with so little incentive and the introduction of yet another brand new storyline seems like spinning the same wheel.

Gripe #4 – You already told this story

A beaten down guy with remarkable powers. The king of Hell seeking to exploit him. A reluctant meeting between the two where the beaten guy keeps rejecting the devil while he sweet-talks him into an alliance by bringing up all that he could gain from it. A shared, powerful enemy. And most significant of all, human souls as bargaining chips.

Does that sound familiar?

Let me refresh your memory with a picture.

There’s already talk on how this will be the season when Dean falls. If that’s the case then his story – aside from its details – will parallel Castiel’s in season 6. And, if we get a little laxer with our comparisons, it will also parallel Sam’s in season 4, leading me to believe these writers either have no original ideas, or the ones they have are so weak they rather resort to retelling tried and tested stories.

Gripe #5 – The Evil Nun of Babble-on

I am a badass demon nun. Look how easily I got your badass knife, Sam. You might think I am going to cut you with it and steal your soul. But I have something far more insidious in mind.

First I’m going to tell you all of my boss’ plans so you – and the audience – could understand what’s going on. Then I’m going to let you ask questions, which I’m going to dutifully answer because I care about your full understanding. Then, when time finally comes to kill you, I’m going to choke you instead of using the knife, giving you enough time to defeat me with your exorcism app you have at hand. And then, after getting quite upset about the app, I’m still not going to use the knife. I’m going to crawl toward your cell phone in slow motion while moaning and grunting, so you have the opportunity to easily stab me in the back.

You say I’m the dumbest villain you met? You have to talk to the writer about that.

Gripe #6 – Souls in jars

This one was the subject of some debate. It is here because we don’t have enough canon information for this to make sense, even though there are some speculations that might resolve the problem. Still without them, much like stealing the grace of another angel, this plot element runs against others that were established before season 9.

Remember how demons had to make deals to get human souls? Makes me wonder why the crossroad variety wasted as much as a decade in the trade if they could simply cut it out of people. If this was possible why didn’t Crowley do it in season 6, instead of going after illusive purgatory souls? Why didn’t Alistair or Lilith make themselves an army of demons using this method? Did Lucifer forget he could jar human souls to give himself more battery power for his battle with Michael? Why did Azazel go through so much trouble getting John’s soul through a deal instead of ripping it out?

Some fans argued it’s not the demons’ way, that Abaddon is playing dirty and going against the natural order of things, which isn’t right even by Hell’s standards. Does that mean the other baddies had standards? You might convince me Crowley and Azazel did, but Lucifer wasn’t playing by anyone’s rules. If there was a way for him to give himself a boost against his brother he sure would have taken it. Besides, we still haven’t been given reason to believe Abaddon is worse than the rest of the denizens of Hell.

Kudos – someone remembered season 6

The episode gained my praise in some areas. One was the case of the week, which for once kept me guessing. I couldn’t tell why the humans were acting evil when they were clearly not possessed. I wasn’t counting on lost souls so when Sam mentioned his own soulless condition in season 6 – and how it paralleled what was happening with the humans – I was delighted. True there’s that issue with ripping the souls with a knife, but for any SPN writer to remember what happened in the previous seasons, let alone use it as a plot element, it is praise worthy and a major improvement over the canon crushing random rabbits they usually pull out of hats.

As always comments are welcome. I’m away this Saturday and won’t be able to respond to them. Please don’t mind me and keep the chat going until I rejoin the conversation on Sunday.



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