First, apologies if the tone of this ramble feels less enthused than most. Write it off on the fact that I’ve had a really, really rough week, and things in my life are going to get worse before they get better. Family is the one thing that can spin us sideways to the point that we suddenly have little patience for the bits of life that we used to find so critical. I am searching for some solid ground in my life right now while at the same time I am the solid ground for my mother and my siblings.
In short, I desperately need some escapism entertainment.
And I was entertained by this episode. In fact, there was one moment I genuinely laughed out loud. These brothers, man, they just sweep me up sometimes. And I thought there was a lot of moments for potentially great storytelling, but ultimately, I feel like the episode overall fell short of that potential. And there were connections they drew that I just didn’t feel were very smooth.
Before I get too far into all of that, I do want to say that taken as a whole, I haven’t enjoyed a season as much as this one since Season 5. I do believe that Carver is heading somewhere with all of this; I am excited to see where it all goes. And not every episode has to knock it out of the park in order for me to be engaged and entertained. This episode will probably fall to the lower end of my favorites scale, but I do still have hope that when we reach episode 23, we look back and see how this journey we’ve all been on has led us to a destination that keeps our boys in one piece and us engaged.
They’ve played the “helping an old friend” before – like with Deacon and Dean’s friend Richie – so their reasons for being in St. Louis and taking on this hunt seemed perfectly plausible. But something just felt a little…off about this one. The MotW was entertaining enough; the powers they gave witches were slightly different than I’ve seen them apply before. It was a bit exciting, being able to apply this additional layer of danger to a human supernatural enemy – playing with one’s mind, making them see things, remember things that did or didn’t happen.
I liked the angle of the familiar, too, although I’d always associated that with vampires and werewolves, not witches. The hunt, though, seemed too quickly cobbled together – and the boys (both of them) seemed to rather quickly willing to ‘gank’ their friend when the blood on the clothes looked like it belonged to the 3rd victim. And honestly, I didn’t really find myself caring too much about Portia and James – I know we were supposed to but they didn’t ‘do it’ for me, unfortunately.
But I don’t think that’s what is troubling me. I think it’s a hangover from the previous episode and how the boys would be talking about one thing – being prepared to use the witch-killing spell – and suddenly take a left turn into talking about the trials. So many times they have wonderfully layered conversations, subtext within their dialog that is clear that while they’re focusing on one thing, they’re thinking of another. But this didn’t feel that way to me. Ah, well.
There’s also the theme of ‘trust’ that’s continually recurring. I’ve not taken the time to see what anyone else thinks about this, so apologies if I’m going over old ground, but Sam’s realization about Dean and his trust issues was actually refreshing to hear out loud. Sam’s right: Dean can only trust himself. It was inherent in what Castiel tried to tell Dean when he returned – “You can’t save everyone, my friend. Though you try.” It was insinuated in Benny’s words – “You and that whole ‘friend’ thing, man.”
Dean lives with the fear that if he isn’t the one to do it – whatever ‘it’ is – it won’t get done and usually ‘it’ is the difference between the life and death of someone he loves. Everyone he’s believed in – every time he’s believed in them – has either failed him, been taken from him, or betrayed him. And he’s said it multiple times this season already (not to mention over the last 7 years) – Sam is too important to him to risk anything going wrong.
So, for him to say that if Sam says he’s good, he’s going to trust that and back him 100% is huge. HUGE. Letting go – stepping out of the mix and having faith that others will fill the gap you left – is incredibly difficult when you’ve been the one to not only fill that void but hold others up your entire life. Sam started that particular discussion from his POV – “why don’t you trust me” – but it was ultimately all about Dean – “it’s not that you don’t trust me, it’s that you only trust yourself.” And part of me thinks that the only reason this is such a big revelation to Sam is that Sam – in his role as the younger sibling and protected during his youth – is more accustomed to looking at every situation from his own POV.
Dean has had to shoulder the responsibility of the balancing act between son and partner with his father from a young age, and he’s had to be both brother and primary care giver to Sam. He’s constantly had to find ways to play multiple roles with people who in typical situations would simply accept him for who he was to them – son or brother. Even as adults, he’s been there for Sam and for John and hasn’t really – with a few rare exceptions – had anyone in his family to turn to when he was weak, hollowed out, fragile. He’s simply had to find a way to soldier on.
You do that enough you forget how to let anyone do things for you – things they’re capable of, things you need their help on. It’s not a reflection of them; it’s a reflection of you. Dean feeling panicky about Sam completing the trials is less fear that Sam can’t do it and more fear that Dean is not. So, yeah, his saying he trusts Sam to do this is big – not because Sam has to prove himself to Dean, but because Dean has to quell his inherent tendencies to protect by action.
That last little end scene, though, with Sam coughing up blood? That gave me a really bad feeling. If they roll into the next episode with Sam keeping that from Dean – keeping any weakness or fear or pain from Dean – under the guise of protecting Dean from worry, or perhaps preventing Dean from thinking Sam might fail, I will be disappointed.
These guys should be past this – I know we could argue the “you do what you know” or “old habits” angle, but even with that, they should be past this. No way does Sam keeping his weakness due to the trials protect Dean. All it does is weaken both of them and further damage Dean’s ability to trust anyone. If he can’t trust Sam, who can he trust? If Sam does this – and I’m still saying IF because I haven’t seen previews – then he’s simply driving home his realization that Dean can only trust himself.
I get that Sam needs to complete these trials, though. I get that when he says he “might actually pull this off” he’s feeling like he’s let people down, like he’s had to have others – Dean – fight his battles for him. I don’t know that I agree with that; I mean, I think holding Lucifer inside and tumbling into the Cage voluntarily was a pretty big follow-through. But I can hear in Sam’s voice that he needs to make up for something – and that something (I suspect anyway) is partially the fact that he didn’t look for his brother when he was in Purgatory.
Sam wants to show that he has the stones to be the hunter Dean believes him to be. And I think that after all he’s been through – the Cage, the soullessness, the fractured mind, running away from hunting and (essentially) Dean – he needs to prove to himself that he’s capable of doing this.
But doing so at the expense of his brother’s trust? Is that really the best plan?
I have faith in the writers; I trust that they will lead us through this journey as they’ve led us through all others. I will work to keep an open mind and see all possible angles even if they do go this route in the coming episodes…but I’m really hoping they don’t. It would be fabulous to see a storyline where Sam may be the one actually completing the trials, but he’s only able to do so because Dean is there, holding him up, clearing the path, and killing all the sonsabitches that get in their way.
One last thing before I get to the lists and the recap, did anyone else find it interesting that when Spencer used his power to basically mind-rape the boys, Dean saw his mother burning on the ceiling? It didn’t surprise me that he saw her spirit go up in flames after saying his name; we know he saw that happen when Sam was pinned to the wall. But it’s always been a question in my mind if little four-year-old Dean saw his mother die before John thrust baby Sam into his arms and told him to go. I like that they keep subtly reminding us how important his mother is to Dean – from the just-back-from-Purgatory-rage cooled by Kevin reminding him that he was about to kill his (Crowley-possessed) mom, to the picture in his room, to this memory…I wonder if they’re going somewhere with that.
Things I loved:
- Sam’s rambling speech outside the motel room to convince Dean to let the “dog” stay overnight
- These lines: “That was really hot.”
- Dean’s. Face. Need more? Okay, then, the look he gets when listening to Sam reveal things about himself that he knows but doesn’t want to hear. I love that balanced intense listening and self-preservation. His eyes look literally hot.
- The glowy-eyed affect when the boys were held with the witch power
- Seeing their memories
- Sam taking to the Doberman immediately. Sam + Dogs = Love.
- Dean sneezing around LeChat – did we know he was allergic? I don’t remember that.
- Dean not liking dogs – makes sense, after one has been literally torn to shreds by Hellhounds.
- This line: “The only way we made it through it all was by hanging together.”
- Dean mentioning Benny (and Kate, but still) and Sam not snarling. I miss Benny.
- The boys using Bobby’s books to find their solution – can’t remember them doing that yet this season.
- The name James Frampton – I couldn’t get “Frampton Comes Alive” out of my head.
- The Great Love of Portia and James. It wasn’t bad, just…meh. And I could have done without the bondage love scene, to be honest.
- The amount of new witch information and OC storyline that was packed into this episode – UNLESS the new witch information (including the fact that the Witch-Killing Spell works) will end up being used again, then I un-meh this.
- Why can only one brother do the trials? I know that Dean had said in the previous episode that he was going to do them all because he thought that it would end bloody and he wanted to protect Sam, but I can’t remember Kevin saying that only one person had to complete them. Do you guys? Just thinking about Dean saying Sam could tap out and they could start again with another Hellhound…not sure why, other than to protect his brother, either of them has to be the only one to do them.
- The mention of Benny made me wonder what he’s up to and when he’ll be back.
- The mention of trust made me think of Castiel and wonder where he is, what he’s doing, and when he’ll be back. It’s been quite some time since Samandriel’s death.
- I wonder if the reason Sam was the one to go into the precinct as the fake-FBI Agent and not Dean (or not with Dean) was because Dean had been tagged as a serial killer and his shifter shot and killed in St. Louis.
- What happens to the familiar’s clothes when they shape-shift from person to dog/cat?
- What actually is supposed to happen when they close the Hell Gates? Does anyone know? Dean’s made a few comments – Ellie not going to Hell after selling her soul, trapping these sonsabitches for good – but I’m not clear on if closing the gates will suck all the demons into the void, or if it is supposed to just trap those who are topside where they are and prevent any others from emerging? No more in and out, just status quo until they kill all the ones left? Ideas?
Friggin’ witches (they really have not had good experiences – Dean especially (razor blades in the belly, bees in the mouth)), trials, Dean needs Sam safe, and Sam takes on the trials.
This is the first dream-killing by James we see, but it turns out it’s the 3rd that’s actually occurred. A hooker says goodbye to her John, but is stopped by James who flashes his detective’s gold shield. The hooker thinks she’s getting arrested and instead she gets dead. Really, really bloody, too. James wakes up sweaty, shaking, terrified and his Doberman whines and climbs on the bed with him. Next morning he’s fumbling for coffee and finds a bloody white suit shirt in the garbage. Whoops.
That night – or some night soon thereafter – we see the boys pull into their typical motel. They get out of the car having one of those arguments that men can manage to make last forever: who was the better Stooge. Seriously, I’ve had male friends, or my brother, or even my husband and his pals talk for hours about the comedic “genius” of the Three Stooges and who really was the brain among them. Personally, I don’t know that they had two brain cells among all three to rub together, but that would get me kicked out of the Impala for sure.
Sam seemed to value Shemp while Dean backed Curly. It was smile-worthy, that discussion.
They wander inside and say they’ll call James in the morning – he’d apparently contacted them via text and just asked for help and since he’s a cop, Dean thought it must be important. Plus James saved their lives once – making me wonder about that story. And I know I’m not the only one.
Dean says he’s going to go on a beer run and when Sam says he’s okay, doesn’t need anything, Dean gets that worried line between his brows and brings up the fact that Sam just killed a Hellhound and offers to let Sam “tag out.” Sam, of course, wants him to stop worrying.
While Dean’s gone, a dog scratches at the motel room door and Sam opens the door. It’s James’ Doberman. She let’s herself in – much to Sam’s chagrin – and jumps up on the bed, asking for a belly rub, which Sam obliges.
He’s such a sucker for dogs – I love it.
The dog doesn’t have any tags and before Sam can figure out what to do with her, he hears the Impala roar up. Heading outside quickly, Sam closes the door behind him and cuts Dean off at the pass. Dean’s face as he confronts the nervous she followed me home can I keep her Sam is hilarious.
Sam: Before you get pissed, I want you to know this wasn’t my fault. She just showed up at the door. Didn’t track in any mud; just wanted her belly scratched. I figured she could stay the night…and we try to find her home tomorrow?
He looks at Dean with the ultimate puppy-dog eyes and opens the door behind him without looking. Dean skims his eyes from Sam’s face to the room beyond and sees a gorgeous black woman, wearing the dog’s red collar, stretched out on the bed. He gives Sam a partially amused, partially confused quirk of the brows and says, “She can stay the night.”
*laughs so hard*
Off of Dean’s look, Sam glances over his shoulder and sees the woman, looking back at Dean with an expression of shock.
Sam: Two seconds ago, she was a dog.
He pulls out his blade and they head inside. The woman – Portia – gets up and says she’s not a shape-shifter, she’s a familiar. Sam has to clarify for Dean that a familiar is a companion for some witches. I thought that was weird – why wouldn’t Dean know that? *hand wave*
Portia tells them that she belongs to James which spins their heads right ‘round because that would mean that their friend James – a cop – is a witch. Portia tells them that she sent the text in James’ name asking for help (oh, the irony) because she’s worried about him.
Dean: Here’s the thing. Witches? Not big fans.
And for good reason, too. Not that Portia knows anything about that.
Portia (walking right up to Dean, obliterating his personal space, and staring directly into his eyes): Really? Because James is a cop with a spotless record who’s used his skills for nothing but good. So why don’t you lose the ignorant bigotry for maybe two seconds and give him a shot.
Dean (staring back at her, blinking slightly): That was really hot.
Portia looks at Sam, who half-shrugs in agreement.
Sam: It was really hot.
*laugh* They were such boys in this episode. I loved that.
Elsewhere at a Witch Bar – complete with elegant, shadowy corners, little brass lamps with red shades, and people playing chess with the power of their mind – James is meeting his friend Spencer (who I swear could be Michael Fassbender’s stunt double).
Spence is trying to convince James to get some help – wants to know how he can reconcile what he is (witch) with what he does (cop). James says he’s afraid he’s pushing Portia away.
Back at the motel, Dean and Sam are sharing a beer with Portia and are finding out more information than they ever thought they wanted about familiar’s and their masters – like the fact that they can communicate telepathically. Dean tells Portia that he and Sam are the last people someone like James should tell his troubles to, but she says that she thinks they’re all James has.
Another death – this time a blind man.
At James’ house, the boys sit uncomfortably and listen to James and Portia have it out about her calling the boys for help. Finally James wanders out and Dean’s all, “Witchcraft? What the hell’r you thinkin’?” But Sam shushes him and asks James about the dreams.
James sinks tiredly down into a chair and says that he’s not sure if they are dreams because he checked and the people he dreamed about actually died. Dean poses the idea that he pissed off the wrong witch and he’s being hexed, but James doesn’t know if that’s possible to do without his knowledge. He shows them the bloody shirt and they can see his worry. They agree to help him, but he has to stay put. Dean lifts a duffel with an impressive amount of chains inside.
So, with James on house arrest, Dean and Sam go back to their motel. Dean has been out getting ingredients for a “witch-killing” spell from Bobby’s books – one that they don’t know is actually going to work – and Sam has been researching the deaths. Yes, they all happened the way James said, but also James’ solve rate as a detective? Nearly 100%. So, I guess that means he’s using his witchy powers for good after all.
Dean is anxious about the potion they’re putting together and mentions he wishes it were a sure thing.
Sam: Is anything we do ever a sure thing?
Dean (channeling his inner Hunger Games): No, but I would like to have the odds in our favor as much as possible.
Sam (not really buying that Dean’s worried about the spell): Right….
Dean (shrugging helplessly): So, I’m concerned.
Sam: About the witch-killing spell or that I’m gonna mess these trials up?
Okay, that just felt very left-field to me, but I liked where the conversation ended up, so I went with it.
Dean: We get too far down the road with this, we can’t go back and it will be too late for me to jump in.
Sam: Who says you’re gonna have to? Maybe I’ll actually pull this off. I’ve been going over and over this…asking myself why doesn’t he trust me and it occurred to me finally. It’s not that you don’t trust me; it’s that you can only trust you.
Dean just looks at him…just looks. There was so much held in that look, so much truth, so much he was hiding. You could almost see the words rolling from him in Helvetica and why is that, Sammy, huh? But he doesn’t take the bait, he simply says, “You done?” He’s not interested in bisecting his hang-ups and issues. He’s interested in keeping his brother alive and closing the Hell Gates – in that order.
Sam: I’m done if you’re done.
Dean (shifting gears): Once I get this put together, we can’t hesitate to use it.
Sam says that even if James is the one who is doing the killings, it’s not the first time they’ve given someone a free pass – that surprised me a little. After the ruckus he raised with Benny, I would think Sam of all people would be anti-free-pass if someone were proven to be actually killing people.
Dean: People are getting ganked here. Benny? Kate? They were forced to be what they are. James chose this.
And that makes all the difference to Dean. Responsibility, accountability.
Sam goes in to talk to the cops and brings them a piece of the white shirt James showed them, saying he found it at the crime scene. The lead detective, Ed Somebody, mocks the fact that the FBI is bothering to pay attention to cases like this and says he’ll let him know about the blood on the shirt.
Elsewhere, at some awesome looking old brick building, Portia is leading Dean into the Witch Bar. She introduces him as a wiccan from Detroit and takes him over to talk to Phillippe LeChat, another familiar. Dean sneezes, saying that’s weird – it usually only happens around cats. Ha. Phillippe says there’s a lot of chatter about James all, seriously – a witch-cop? Is he nuts? Dean agrees, but Portia hushes him.
Phillippe’s master – Spencer, as it turns out – shows up and Dean asks him if he knows of a spell where one witch could control the actions of another. Spencer says he’s never heard of one, but he’s barely paying attention to Dean – he’s trying to fill his eyes with Portia. The whole thing became pretty clear to me in that moment. Spencer summons Phillippe and the man shifts into his black cat form, causing Dean to sneeze again.
Sam calls Dean while he’s still at the Witch Bar and tells him that the blood on James’ shirt is definitely from the third victim and they’re like, well, that pretty much cinches it. That night, Portia is chaining James up and James is telling her that innocent or not, he has to do the right thing. And then…love scene. During the…interlude…Portia gets flashes of the murders, but she’s only able to see the violence, not the planning so she realizes the images were planted there.
The boys show up (thankfully after the deed is done) and are prepared to kill James with the Witch-Killing Spell, but Portia stops them. She reveals that she and James were having sex and she saw the flashes. I think Dean’s brain froze for a moment on the ‘having sex’ part. You could actually see all thought process screech to a halt as he tried to process that.
She eventually convinces them that he may not be the doer and says that he’s confined. They agree to give it another shot. So, next day, Portia and Dean meet up with a warlock-snitch named Drexel. While they’re waiting Dean can’t help himself – he asks her which is her real form, dog or girl? She doesn’t answer, really.
Portia: Does this have to do with my telling you James and I had sex?
Dean (with a poor attempt at looking shocked): What? No!....yes.
Drexel shows up and says that someone is setting up the rumor that James has gone ‘ripper’(as in Jack the). If he’s caught and they found out what he is, it would expose the rest of them, so the witch community will give him two choices: leave or suicide.
Back at James’ house, Sam returns to find Dean looking through more of Bobby’s old documents. He found a spell for planting images or creating false memories into another person’s mind. I don’t know about you, but I think it would be really cool if they were able to use that again someday – or realize that it’s being used on them. Sam tells Dean that he returned from the police station and saw that Ed Somebody had a huge file on James.
As he’s heading out of the room, though, Sam stops and turns back.
Sam: Gotta hand it to you. It’s been 15 hours since Portia mentioned her night with James and not one bestiality joke outta ya.
OMG, Dean’s. Grin. That is all.
The boys head into James’ room where he’s still chained, spread-eagle, on the bed. They tell him that the information on the case is in a locked room at the precinct and James said they have to get in there to look at it. While Dean’s busy saying, yeah, not a good idea, James tells him that witches can go to a place without going to a place.
Dean: What, like phone sex?
Oh, my goodness. He makes me laugh.
James: Astral projection.
So, they agree to unchaining him and letting him work his magic – IF – they go with him all…astral projection-y. They sit three across on the foot of the bed and James puts his hands on their shoulders and he projects himself into the precinct, Sam and Dean seeing what he sees. They see the murder board, a sketch of James, a file about James, and then a witness report, signed by Phillippe LeChat.
James pulls out quickly leaving Dean and Sam slightly woozy from the after-effects. James is worked up. He realizes that Ed Somebody had built a case against him – and surmises that it’s in retaliation for James getting Ed kicked off his first case. Grudge match to the extreme. Phillippe signing the witness statement was just the icing on the cake. Sam and Dean see that James is getting Hulk-like angry and are all, hey, there, calm down buddy, but James Force-blasts them across the room, slamming them against the wall and headboard, knocking them out.
Portia tries to stop James but he roars at her to leave, that she still has her own life. He shows up at the Witch Bar where Phillippe and another man-witch (I heard it as soon as it came out, hush) are discussing braces, of all things, and James slams Phillippe against the bar, demanding an explanation. The other guy leaves and Phillippe finally confesses that his master – Spencer – ordered him to do it. James doesn’t want to believe it; Spencer is his friend, right?
Only, just kidding. Spencer shows up, breaks his familiar’s neck (gah!) and basically tells James that he was the one behind the whole thing. He killed those peeps and helped Ed Somebody build the case against James so that James would either have to leave or be forced to kill himself because Spencer wanted Portia. I mean, it was bad enough that Portia chose James in the first place, but when they went all “Bella and Edward and broke the code” that was just one hit too many for poor Spence.
The boys, having figured out where James was heading, show up and start to confront Spencer, but this witch is wicked powerful. He lifts James up off the ground in a painful grip of power, then Force-slams the boys back against the wall, hard. As the boys get up and try to get their Witch-Killing Spell potion thingy out, Spencer tells them that James’ isn’t the only mind he can meddle with and then proceeds to basically assault their memories, freezing them in place and pulling up from Sam the memory of falling into the pit with Adam and burning, burning, burning in the Cage.
For Dean, it’s seeing his mother’s spirit, then seeing her burning on the ceiling, and finally his body trapped on meat hooks in Hell as he screams for Sam. Basically their worst nightmares.
Out of nowhere, Portia in her dog form rushes at Spencer and drags him down, breaking his hold on James and the boys. Dean shakes himself a bit, then lights the Molotov Cocktail while Sam Latinates and they throw it at Spencer, sending him into the ether in a screaming cloud of black witchiness.
Dean: Kids, don’t try this at home.
Later, outside the motel near the Impala, Portia and James say goodbye, telling Dean and Sam that they’d rather run than try to fix the facts in the file that Ed Somebody has against James. They’re together and that makes them happy. Portia says she’ll miss Sam…and maybe Dean.
Dean: I like dogs.
Portia: No…you really don’t.
Nah, he doesn’t. Not in his Impala, not in his life. It’s too much a reminder of stability, home, hearth, all the things that he can’t have. Not even with the Batcave. Who’s going to feed and walk the dog when they’re out on a hunt staying at a hotel? How do they keep the dog safe when they can barely keep themselves from getting bloody? Then there’s that whole Hellhound thing. It’s okay, Dean. You don’t have to be a dog person. Sam’s enough of one for both of you.
Later in the Impala, heading back to the Batcave (I presume), Dean admits that he was wrong. Sam’s like, hey, we were both ready to gank James, and Dean says it wasn’t about James. Spencer messed with his head – made him see Mom die and…other crap. Nice way to gloss over Hell, there, man. Sam says him, too.
Dean says that when he thinks back to all the crap their family has been through, all the pain, he knows the only way they made it through it all was by hanging together.
Dean (glancing askance at his brother and melting my heart): I trust you, Sammy. This deal? Locking those sonsabitches up once and for all…it’s too important not to. So, if you say you’re good, then I’m with you 100%.
Sam nods, then coughs a chest, wet cough.
Sam: I’m good.
He coughs again, wiping blood from his lips. And my heart clenches with all the implications.
Thanks for reading – sorry this one was a little late. I will do my best to be on time next week because I know more of you are more inclined to read and comment if it’s right after the episode airs. I really appreciate your time and patience. I’m looking forward to what they have in store for us next!