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Supernatural - Season 10 Episode 22 - The Gripe Review

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Now that's more like it.

I've got to admit, I didn't have much initial hope for this episode. Its opening scene was ridiculous: They couldn't come up with a better bullying excuse than, "I don't think you ever got laid?" Then there was the awful Charlie montage, in which all her Poochie moments were put on show, and rubbed in our faces, including her forgiveness of Dean. By the 6 minute mark my notes were full of "No!' and my head hurt. I worried about the length of this review.

But then something happened and the episode rightened itself. Maybe that bit at the beginning was Dabb simply cleaning up after Thompson. This is what the season has overall felt like to me. Clumsy writer stomping around in his episode, good writer coming at his heels to fix things. Dabb even tried to fix the Stynes. His efforts showed in the way he portray them as some sort of white pride, mad scientist organization as opposed to the godlike entities B&L made them. It helped make them more believable, though not by much.

What he did succeed in however was to make me feel tense for the first time in a long time. I honestly can't remember being at the edge of my seat, and worried for a character, since the premier of season 7. Dabb induced that feeling in me twice in this episode, the second time so intense it left me shaking. It's always great to feel involved and connected to what you see on TV, and for that alone I'll give this episode thumbs up. Of course there are still gripes to talk about, but this episode was such an improvement over the last one - and such a rare trinket in the rough dirt of this season - I have to talk about the good parts first.

The Good

Sam: The (emotional) white knight

Another thing this episode (this season really,) did right was make me feel for Sam again. Since Sam came back from the pit soulless in season 6 I never really had cause to care about him, mainly because everyone else on the show - spearheaded by Dean of course - overwhelmingly cared for him. He felt like the special offspring of a rich family who was constantly fussed over while he himself went about caring for no one. It didn't help that he was also sick, possessed, angry and made to be the sacrificial lamb nearly all the time.

This thankfully changed this season and I couldn't be more grateful for it. It was one of my gripes about Sam's writing (along with his lack of POV) and I am pleased to see it addressed and fixed. However, as much as I liked this new him, I still didn't have any occasion to feel something toward him, until now. This episode, the way Dean scolded him (more on that in gripe 2,) the way he desperately tried to fix what he had broken, and the way his attempts at killing Crowley backfired and threatened his life, made my heart reach to him. It was a good feeling because Jared was marvelous in the role and was handed good material to work with, stuff that brought his Puppy Dog Sam to the front and pulled me to his side at last.

The first edge-of-my seat moment that I talked about in the intro was when Crowley's eyes turned red and he threw Sam across the room. Of course I knew Sam wouldn't die. What I was worried about though was the possibility of him getting struck with a spell, or getting harmed in a terrible, permanent way that would take away the good, normal Sam and bring back the sick, bitter, mopey Sam. If I had a choice between Sam leaving the show for a while vs. him being replaced with his soulless (or Amelia obsessed) version, I'll take a missing Sam any day as long as he maintains his loving, white knight persona when he comes back.

Speaking of his white knight side, it was in full force this episode. It was heartbreaking yet good to watch Sam make mistakes in order to save Dean. This may sound strange but I prefer this stumbling, fumbling Sam that causes disasters just to save his brother, whom he loves, over the heroic guy who went through the trials to save the world. Explaining why a mess like season 10 Sam is better than a martyr like he was in season 8 will require a full essay. All I say is motive makes all the difference. As an ordinary human, I find it easier to relate to someone making mistakes to save a loved one than someone sacrificing himself to save the world. It's simply more familiar and relevant to me, and also because I care more about Dean than the world they live in. For this reason alone I have nothing but love for Sam this season, and no blame whatsoever for the actions he committed in the name of saving Dean.

Castiel: The (logical) dark knight

Speaking of mistakes committed because of love, there's Castiel and my love for him since season 6 despite him being the champion of bad decisions for nearly 5 years. Of course I didn't blame him either for all his indiscretions, even if they led to unleashing the Leviathans and almost destroying the world, again due to his motive being helping the Winchesters and earning Dean's love.

This season he is more in control and less likely to act impulsively. The change is almost as remarkable as Sam's (this of course applies to mythology Castiel, not the one used to prop Hannah and Claire.) Castiel still loves Dean. That part of his character remains constant. Yet, as I mentioned in my review for 10x14, it's a more informed and less emotional love than Sam's, in that he seems to care more about what will save Dean's soul as opposed to what will guarantee his survival. He also knows that if it ever comes to a point when all is lost, it would have to be him who ends Dean.

In possibly the best sequence this season since Dean's fight with Cain, Castiel comes face to face with a MOC charged Dean and his role as the dark knight - the one tasked with stopping Dean at all cost and with no regards to emotions or consequences to self - is confirmed. His firm stand is almost as heartbreaking as Sam's desperate struggle. He knows who and what he is facing but he doesn't let that get to him. His speech about being the last man standing should Dean succumb to darkness, and the unspoken lines about how it would end in the death of one, or both of them, is one of the highlights of this episode. It neatly ties the events of the last two episodes to the legacy of Cain. It's also a curious revelation as it makes the assumption that Castiel would survive Dean's carnage beyond Sam, conflicting with the scenario Cain offered Dean, which predicted his death before Dean's biological brother, the proverbial Able of his story.

The second heart-pumping scene of the episode, the one that left me shaking even after the credits appeared, was Dean and Castiel's fight at the end. Not only was it a parallel to the crypt scene from season 8, it threw suspicion over Castiel's claim that he was the one who would stop Dean by choosing the 'right thing' over feelings. If you pay attention you'll see that nowhere during the scuffle does Castiel fight back. He's an angel at full charge yet he doesn't throw one punch, not even when his life is in danger.

When Dean took out the angel blade and raised it over Castiel's heart I panicked. No matter how secure Misha's role as a regular on the show is I am always worried about his character getting killed off. After what happened to Charlie, whom I thought would last until the end of the series, it's understandable I had a small heart attack between the time Dean brought the blade down and the time they showed it stuck in a book next to Castiel's head. It was quite a thrill and I truly enjoyed it.

Dean: The one who needs to be saved

Finally, finally we saw with our own eyes why Dean needs an intervention. It was about time.

When they introduced the young, nerdy Styne at the beginning of the episode I knew it was going to go one of two ways. Either they used him to demonstrate how far Dean had fallen, or he'd be one more case for MoC Dean failing to be the threat Sam claimed him to be. I cheered when it turned out to be the former.

The scene where Dean held the gun to the kid's head produced a different kind of tension in me, this time because I desperately wanted him to pull the trigger. Not because I hate Dean, or get a sick satisfaction from him killing an innocent teen, but because, no matter who the character is, I value story over social morale (more on this, and its exceptions, in gripe 2). This is why I liked demon-blood addicted Sam in seasons 4-5, and fallen Cas in season 6. They did bad things, just like what Dean did this episode, or Sam did by involving Charlie and lying to Dean. But their downfall serves the story better than their clean image. It makes me care and worry about them, and be curious about how they would fight their way out of the hole they've dug themselves into.

Last but not least, I liked how Dean kept interrupting the villain while he was trying to deliver his typical villain monologue. After years of having listen to these guys babble in front of the heroes like rejected James Bond masterminds, it was delightful to see a natural reaction from the guy who was monologued on. The part when he mentioned the one brain before shooting the Styne in the head had me both giggle and clap because of its sheer timing and awesomeness.

The Gripes

#1 - The Stynes being the Stynes

It will forever be a mystery to me why the Stynes were such cartoonish, implausible villains. They dissected a living teenager and no one got the wiser. Worse, it looked like they’ve been doing it for years. If it were people off the street – prostitutes, homeless folk, those the society doesn't care about  – I might have understood. But this victim has parents who would likely report him missing, which would lead to cops tracing his whereabouts to the Stynes, since the young Styne was the last person he talked to. Unless the Stynes had made a deal with the devil to remain invisible there is no explanation for why they are able to skirt the law and continue their “harvesting.”

That’s the problem with human villains on a supernatural show. With demons, witches and Leviathans one could reason their paranormal abilities allow them to walk outside the boundaries of human society. With humans it gets tricky. Unless the law enforcement officers in the entire SPN universe are all as dumb as the ones we saw in this episode – the molester type more interested in senselessly arresting an innocent man behind an Impala rather than going after murderers– I can't see why the Stynes aren't sharing a cell block with Charles Manson.

Fortunately it no longer matters as Dean made short work of them. Still I can't shed the disappointment that they didn’t put up an interesting fight. The show didn't give them anything to match Dean’s MOC strength to make the sequence of Dean being captured and trapped more exciting. Remember how fearsome the Leviathans were in the beginning of season 7 because they couldn’t be killed? The fact that the Stynes had no powers other than being walking Frankensteins eliminated any possibility for tension. We knew Dean would make goulash out of them and there was no cause for us to worry about Dean. I know it was all about him being consumed by the mark but even that was inevitable so this whole sequence was predictable from the start.

#2 - Dean dealing low blows to those who love him

This has potential for controversy; I wouldn't be surprised if it raises heated debates. I touched on this in my review for episode 1, when they showed Demon Dean verbally abuse a woman the morning after. As with that incident, Dean being hurtful to Sam in this episode was both out of character and uncalled for. I said in that earlier review that there’s an art in deconstructing a hero and that is to make them evil without making them nasty. If the mark is getting to Dean and making him act angry, showing him beat Castiel is a good way to demonstrate it, as is shooting a boy. Having him tell Sam he wished it was him on the pyre is taking it a step too far. Aside from the fact that Dean’s protective instincts toward Sam are too ingrained in him to say such a thing, it's plain wrong for him to even contemplate it about a person he loves, and who loves him, let alone say it while looking completely sober.

To see the contrast between this and when it's done right, I'll give you two examples. When Castiel was going dark side in season 6, clever writers like Edlund and Gamble made sure to walk the line carefully and not tip him too far. Hence he would scheme with Crowley behind the Winchesters’ back, but declare the brothers off limit and exempt from harm. He would kill a room full of humans, yet not raise a finger against Dean, Sam, and Bobby, not even when they sicced death on him.The writers created a balance that made us want to save him instead of punch him in the face.

Another example was Bobby in season 5. After he found out Sam jump-started the apocalypse by blindly following Ruby he told him to "lose his number." He didn't say, "go kill yourself," or "I wished you were dead," even though he was both justifiably angry and possessed by a demon.

Unfortunately with Dean, and Sam, the writers at times fail to observe these boundaries. Whether it's because they are taken over by evil, feel hurt due to the wrong doings of a loved one, or simply choose to do so, Sam and Dean sometimes cross the line into low-blows, and/or kicking someone when they are down. In Dean's case, it happened when he left Castiel stranded in an insane asylum right after he saved Sam from Hallucifer, then came back to rake him over the coals some more even though he was mentally ill. Another example was his abandonment of Benny. And now we have him wish for Sam's death, to his face, because of a mistake Sam made out of love.

I am not saying characters shouldn’t express anger and frustration. Neither am I implying they shouldn’t be unforgiving when the narrative calls for it. What I'm saying is that such a subject matter should be handled tactfully and tastefully so it wouldn't over boil and damage the character's rapport with the audience. The goal is to make us sympathize with our heroes even when they are playing for the wrong team, or are hurt by that team. Having them beat another character’s face and chest bloody is ok for this purpose, lower blows run the risk of toppling the Jenga tower and leaving a bad taste in our mouths.

#3 - Rowena being useless

Finally my persistent problems with Rowena came to a head this episode. Rowena is a throwaway character in every sense of the word, but mostly because everything she did on the show could have been done by Crowley. If they had changed the story in a way that eliminated Rowena entirely and used Crowley in her place two things would have happened: we would have been spared her long scenes and pointless dialogues (about the coven and her rival witches) which amounted to nothing, and Crowley’s presence would have had more meaning on the show. As it was, Rowena's disjointed storyline only served to make Sam and Castiel look like morons, and Crowley look like a sad orphan, nostalgic for something he never had in canon in the first place. And yes, I know Crowley was supposedly getting in touch with his newly awakened human side. It's just that Rowena never seemed to have anything to do with his humanity as she mostly focused on his ego, greed and pride.

Only one episode left, so take this opportunity to voice your opinion about the penultimate episode before the grand finale next week. I will post an overall GR analysis which will discuss the season as a whole afterwards, and then it will be goodbye until season 11.


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