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Supernatural – Episode 9.19 – The Gripe Review

I am not a big fan of standalone episodes. I watch TV shows to follow a character's journey, or a bunch of characters’ journeys. One-off stories are not my thing. They are too short and mostly  predictable. They tend to focus on side characters toward whom I feel no emotional attachment. That is one reason I didn’t like season one. It’s also why I don’t watch procedurals.

I went into this episode expecting to feel bored. This season didn’t have a stellar record of Monster of the Week episodes and I had no reason to think this episode would be different. I was also mad at Carver for putting a Monster episode at this point in the season. So close to the finish line the show should be firing on all cylinders toward the conclusion of the mythology and the tying of all its loose ends. Are we so on track with the main story arc that we could afford a side adventure?

But I got a surprise. I liked the episode, better than the last one. I blame it on a combination of the episode’s story not being too bad (although still quite predictable) and the current mythology not being that good. When the main story fails to impress, while the side story shines, that says something about the show.

While thinking about why this episode’s plot was good I came across a revelation about a major problem with the show. Alex Annie Alexis Ann was a good episode because it depicted an Inner Journey, something that used to make the show great before season 7.

Let’s do an observational recap: Seasons 1-5 were dedicated to Sam and Dean’s inner journeys. Mostly Sam’s as he navigated his way from carefree college student, through loss of loved ones, gain of power, lust and addiction, to finally becoming the hero that saved the world. Dean was along for the ride, but not left out. His inner journey involved coming out from under his father’s shadow and accepting choice and free will.

Season 6 was Castiel’s inner journey, but it wasn’t in hands as skillful and caring as Kripke’s and got mishandled and dropped before it could reach its end. After that the characters just existed, going in and out of stories with no personal arc to speak of. Things affected them on a surface level, but deep down, there was nothing.

Alex Annie Alexis Ann was the first episode this season that managed to show the inner journey of a character. Granted it wasn’t one of the main characters but Sheriff Jody Mills, and it came at the cost of a very questionable and unfortunate implication about the brothers, which will be discussed in Gripe #1. Still it was refreshing to see an episode finishing the personal growth arc of a character instead of telling just a random story, something the show denied long standing favorites such as Gabriel, Kevin, Meg, Crowley and even Castiel. One could argue that post season 5 Sam and Dean suffered the same.

Jody learned something in this episode. It made her a better person. I wished we could have the same good thing for our three main boys, instead of watching them hop from plot to plot, gain and lose purpose like bees covered in pollen that never fertilizes anything.

Gripe #1: No, you were wrong about the girl

As I said, Jody’s character growth came at the expense of a rather problematic suggestion about the brothers. I still don’t know what to make of it.

Here is the issue: When Alex’s abusive vampire brother suggests she liked luring victims, we are treated to a very disturbing flashback. A young version of Alex is ogled by a dirty old man. The old man then takes her to a house but before he could lay his hands on her he gets jumped by her “brothers.” All of this is accompanied by the vampire’s narration about how she is no better than the rest of them because she enjoyed doing what she did, even though none of that joy shows on her face.

It's absurd to suggest that an underage girl would enjoy an experience that made my skin crawl even watching it. Not even the payback she got afterwards was worth what she had to go through. The only reason I could imagine for her to go along with that plan was to impress her brothers because she was conditioned to do so.

I remember reading Jaycee Dugard’s memoir, the horrible things done to her, and how deeply she was brainwashed into wanting to please her abductors. She never thought of a life different from what they forced her into. If they wanted her to lure victims to their lair like these vampires did, I’m sure she would have done it. That wouldn’t have changed the fact though that she was an innocent victim.

Alex is no different, and that’s the sad thing about this story. When Sam and Dean hear what she has done, a story that might very well be a lie considering the source, their whole stance towards her changes. They go back to Jody and tell her Alex is an accomplice, and that she's worse than some of the monsters they've killed.

Hearing that in that moment, from heroes I admired and hurt for in so long, made me as wide-eyed as Jody. I couldn’t believe someone would write Dean or Sam like that unless there was a lesson for them to be learned. I hate social justice preaching on TV shows, but if you’re suggesting my boys blamed a victim who spent eight years in captivity, was used as live bait for leering drunk men, and finally mustered the courage to break free from physical and psychological shackles, you better have a damn good point.

The only reason I’m not making a bigger deal about this is because of that last scene, in which Sam and Dean apologized to Jody for judging Alex. Regrettably she tells them they were right, that it was she who had issues and turned Alex into a symbol. The reason she is saying this – the same reason the writer added this piece of dialogue to the conversation – is to show her character growth. To display what she learned from this experience, because this is her episode.

But what about the brothers? Does that mean they were right after all? That the victim was truly as bad as her kidnappers and deserved to be treated like them? I hope that’s not true because if it is then we'll hit yet another moral low this season and God knows we already had enough of them.

Gripe #2 – Guest starring: The Winchesters

As I said, this was Jody’s episode. Sam and Dean were mostly there for support, except for that last bit of foreshadowing about the mark and what’s hopefully going to be a climax soon.

Whilst this is fine, and has been done before, it's missing an important element. When good shows diverge from their main stars to tell the story of another character it usually has some reflection in the main character’s life or personality arc. In season 4 for example, the episode Family Remains reminded Dean of his own beastly existence in hell, while season 2’s Simon Said paralleled Andy’s story with Sam’s.

I couldn’t find a parallel between Jody’s story and the current affairs of Sam and Dean. I’ve read the reviews about Alex’s situation being similar to Sam’s feelings about family in season one. That however is not current. I doubt Sam feels “trapped” by Dean now. Smothered maybe, lied to, yes. But trapped and helpless like Alex, no way.

Gripe #3 – Too much information

I hate spoon feeding. It’s always better when shows play it subtle and let the viewer make the connection than stating it straight up. This story was about Jody getting over her dead family. We could’ve gotten that without her final monologue to Sam and Dean. That was unnecessary exposition that potentially ruined the sweet taste of discovery in the smart viewer’s mouth. A better way of handling it would have been through a symbolic gesture, like Jody taking the pictures of her son and husband out of her wallet and leaving them somewhere. Sometimes I feel like this show has too much dialogue and not enough imagery.

I’d go as far as to say the revelation that the vampire mother too had a dead child, one she replaced with Alex, was redundant too. I would have left it up to the viewer to guess why she changed Annie’s name. Maybe she was ashamed of her theft after all. Maybe this was the name of her dead child. Or maybe, like in Jaycee’s case, she wanted to erase her past. It could have been a combination of all three, or none at all.

Sometimes saying less has the power to enrich a story by giving it more dimension and weight.

Mini Gripes:

1. Bad dialogue

“Sweet Ann, you got any idea what I’m going to do to you?”

Does anyone talk like that, even a lecherous child molester who thinks he’s going to get lucky? He deserved what he got if only for that line.

How about this line from Sam:

Dean - “You think they went back to the nest?”

Sam - “Of course they did, why wouldn’t they?”

A simple “yes” would have done the job. The way poor Jared quickly mumbled the line showed how even he felt its wordiness.

2. Return of Samuelope Pitstop

No episode would be complete without either Sam or Castiel tied to a chair. In Sam’s case some slow torture that would make him feel woozy in the end is usually in order. Or an agonizing procedure that would make him scrunch up his face and groan. Cas on the other hand always gets the boring Angel Blade bloodletting treatment.

3. “Yeah, I know, you wouldn’t have done the same for me.”

Was that really necessary? I know the writers like to remind us the brothers are at odds, but Dean saying that while Sam is feeling out of sorts due to blood loss is bad. Fans were debating Sam’s lack of denial after the episode was over, some worried because he didn’t even balk at the suggestion, while others cited his obviously condition.

Usually when such lines are uttered it is to make a point about a character, either the one uttering it or the one listening. A strong point would have been made here if Sam, despite his condition, mustered the strength to correct Dean by denying his assumption. That would have meant that Sam cared so much about Dean that the words penetrated the fog in his mind and resulted in a kneejerk reaction.

What we got on the other hand had no purpose. If Sam was too far gone to understand what Dean said then bringing it up in that situation was petty of Dean. If he wasn’t too far gone then not having a conditioned reaction to deny the accusation made Sam look bad. We would wonder if Sam truly wouldn’t do the same for Dean or that he was worried for Jody and had no time for a response.

Regardless, the only thing that came out of that line was more tension.

As always, you thoughts, suggestions and debates are welcom in the comments.


Note: In last week’s review I posted quotes from both the IMDB forum and spn-gossip. As I said in the comments, my intention was to show how two vastly different message boards had similar reactions towards the episode. By no means did I mean to compare these two.

IMDB might be Dean centric, but nearly all discussions there are of a respectful and intelligent nature. Barely any insults toward groups of fans, actors, the actors’ families, or posters on the forum could be found. It’s a respectable and safe environment.

The same could not be said about spn-gossip. I only go there to read episode discussions, to cover the full spectrum of the fandom. The rest of the place isn't a good place, for me or anyone who isn’t comfortable with the nature of discussions there, or the type of language used. This is as polite as I could get describing my feelings about that forum. It is not in the same ballpark as IMDB, or Tumblr, or any other place where fans gather to discuss the show. I just thought I'd make that clear for those unfamiliar with these forums.

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