First, it was just good to see our guys again. Second, I may have accidently just gotten my hair cut like Sam's, only with blonde undertones. Hmm.
I think I'm going to break up my reaction in three sections: theme, change, and the Mark.
So, the minute the boys came across the carnage on the side of the road with the dead workers, cops, and family, I jotted down in my notes: Supernatural meets 28 Days Later, so it cracked me up when Dean later used that same pop-culture reference. I am a total sucker for zombie shows, movies, stories. Anything from The Walking Dead to World War Z, I'll watch. The trick is that there are typical rules most zombie-themed stories follow, regardless of if it's a reanimated-corpse zombie or virus-infected zombie.
There must always be swarms of mindless, relentless, blood/brains/flesh-hungry creatures that are usually helplessly labeled by one-word descriptors such as 'walkers' or 'biters' or 'roamers' or in this case, thanks to Sam, 'ragers'. The condition is usually blood-borne, either by ingesting blood of the infected or getting bitten. The 'turn' varies --> with The Walking Dead, one had to actually die to turn, but in World War Z and 28 Days Later, ingesting contaminated blood would do it and the 'turn' was almost instantaneous. Of the always rag-tag band of survivors, at minimum one must get infected. Killing the zombie-fied varies, too -- head-shot, heart-shot, and in this case...just waiting them out. And there's never a 'cure'.
Supernatural hit each rule, so well done there. And I have to say...I kinda hope they don't completely solve their 'rager' problem too quickly. This genre might be predictable, but it's also tense and startling and has much potential for grabbing of pillows while eeking. I mean, I knew it was going to be Sam who was infected simply because that's the pattern of our show. It would have been a bit much to have Dean infected right after he just got saved from the effects of The Mark (...or did he...). But when that nurse jumped at Sam out of the darkness of the closet, I let out a 'yipe!' -- and I was curled up, tense, when the 'rager' was dividing its attention between the Janitor closet and Sam's hiding place.
With any story couched inside this genre of the supernatural, there's always a bit of belief suspension and our show is no exception to that rule. Sam's declaration that there had to be a cure and his aborted attempt to reason with the three who caught him (after he trapped himself in a closet with no means of escape, well done, that /sarcasm) that he could help them was one such suspension.
From what we could tell, the 'ragers' had a shelf-life of roughly 6-8 hours, based on Mike being attacked about 4 hours before they found him and then dying without harming anyone, including baby Amara, not long after. Sam's approach was more sacrifice than plan; how, I wonder, did he expect to learn enough about this infection all by himself to discover a 'cure' for it? I mean, if he was truly able to do that, he's wasted on hunting evil; he should be working with cancer research.
His strategy was noble, yes, but not very well thought out. To me, it screamed more of guilt than anything else and if Dean hadn't been so focused on saving the baby (compelled, I believe, by a connection he felt to her but didn't understand...yet), he would have called bullshit on Sam's "you do what you do, let me do what I do" argument. I mean, what is it that Sam was referring to, exactly? Dean lives on and saves people; Sam dies for the greater good? Because that's what I saw roll out of his actions. Even if he didn't mean for that to happen, I have to wonder if there wasn't something in his subconscious directing him, based on their historical pattern.
However, the course of action did pave the way for some kind of intervention -- divine or otherwise. I mean, we know they're not going to kill Sam or turn him into a 'rager' that basically burns up and dies in the second episode, so somehow he's either going to be saved or be guided to how to solve this infection of darkness. And somehow, poor Cas being tortured by his fellow angels and Crowley and his minions being forewarned by someone (Michael? Lucifer? Adam?) screaming from the Cage is going to come into play with the Darkness, so...color me intrigued.
I do like the conundrum they introduced -- the 'bad guys' who are killing everyone are, essentially, victims themselves. They're not monsters, they're people who've been changed into monsters through no fault of their own by a force unleased upon the world by the Winchesters. The boys have to clean up their mess and deal with the repercussion of killing to save. That is a level of torture that will cut into their already battered souls for a long time to come. And until or unless they make overt, significant changes in the way they do things, it's going to keep happening to them. Leading me to....
In real life, I am the Chandler Bing among my friends when it comes to my job. I am a Change Management lead, which usually returns a blank stare when I share that with people. But the meaning is in the label: I create situations and resources to help people manage change. There are stages to change, just as there are stages to grief. It truly doesn't matter if it's a little change (cutting out alcohol while you're pregnant) or a big change (having a baby), people cycle through the same stages -- some just do so wicked fast.
First, there is compliance (I understand that I have to do this), then aftermath (wait, hold up, what does this mean to me? what the hell have I gotten myself into?), then exploration (okay, maybe this isn't so bad, what are all my options? how do I do this again? what new things do I have to learn?), then commitment (I own this, I AM this), and finally adoption (change? what change? this is just me).
Sam brought up a lot with his impassioned speech/plea to Dean while they were trapped in that room in the hospital. "If we don't change right now, all of our crap is going to keep repeating." "This isn't on you. We have to change." I was standing next to him (mentally, obviously) nodding my head in vigorous agreement. But in reality, Dean is barely in compliance and Sam is in aftermath. They both have recognized their old ways aren't working and while Sam is ready to explore possible new options, Dean is just living in fear of all the ramifications of what it means if he no longer says screw everything, I'm doing whatever I gotta do to save Sam, that's the end of it.
The thing is, the biggest change they have to overcome so that they don't start the apocalypse (again) or literally unleash holy Hell onto the world (again), is that they have to stop lying to each other to protect each other. No amount of talk about changing their way of doing things -- no amount of repeating their 'saving people/hunting things' family motto -- is going to do a bit of good if they keep lying to each other, regardless of the reason.
Dean not telling Sam the full story about meeting up with The Darkness in the big cloud is going to come back and bite them both in the ass. We can all understand why: Dean doesn't know what it all means yet; he's scared about potentially still having a connection to The Mark; he doesn't want Sam to try to stop him from fixing this and ending The Darkness if it means that he would die, too; he's confused by whatever pull he felt toward the woman and by the guilt he's carrying around as a result of not being Marked anymore; he wants to protect Sam from the burden of the truth of what Dean really is.... I mean, it all makes sense why he didn't say anything.
Same with Sam not telling Dean that he got attacked and is infected. He wants Dean to get the baby and Jenna to safety; if he told him the truth, Dean would turn around and come back and try to save him and probably die doing it and then they'd both be dead and then who would save the world? And his whole speech was about not repeating patterns, so he's forcing the issue and lying to protect Dean. Makes logical sense.
But nothing has changed. They are still repeating their patterns. And even when Sam does get saved, he's going to have to tell Dean the truth at some point because it will come into play in how they ultimately defeat The Darkness and Dean is going to feel let down and uncertain...and Dean is going to have to tell Sam about being connected to The Darkness because they'll eventually see the birth-Mark on Amara and Sam's going to feel let down and uncertain. Vicious. Cycle.
If they are going to ever honest and truly adopt a change to the way they are doing things, since all evidence supports their previous way to be at best flawed and at worst insane, they are going to have to trust each other with the truth. Otherwise, The Darkness has already won.
Last season, I lamented a bit about the fact that the effects on Dean from removing the Mark were too minor. He didn't seemed phased at all by that lightning zap. I was so troubled by it, I had to write a 'tag' that "fixed" it for me. Now, though...I'm seeing a purpose behind that seemingly blase reaction from Dean to no longer being connected to the Mark: because he still is.
He doesn't look/act much different than before because it still has control over him -- maybe not as directly as before, framing his actions, scooping out his emotions, turning him into a kind of a zombie-fied variation of himself. But its power is still there and he's still bound to it. Which, from a storytelling perspective is rather genius. The Mark was too big a plot devise to just be zapped away when the lock was busted open by a spell. This way, they carry the concept of the Mark and it's ramifications into a 3rd season. It's bloody brilliant, actually.
And I can see it giving Dean the opportunity to show us a gamut of emotions: from angst over his past actions and emotions and the ramifications of his 'freedom', to momentary glee at being himself again, to pain at whatever the connection renders, to determination to follow through with this concept of changing their ways. It's always such a pleasure to watch Dean's quicksilver emotions shift through his eyes.
Not only that, but Sam's mission isn't over and Sam is always at his best when he has a mission. He wanted to save his brother, and he did, in a way. But now he has to figure out how to once more help his brother save the world without losing him in the process. Y'know, after he gets de-rage-ified. And that is the Sam I love to watch, the one who is not walking around in a hazy of guilt or soullessness.
What I liked:
- Jenna the rookie Deputy -- she was pretty (holy cow, those eyes) and tough without being a caricature. She was realistic ("I have no idea what I'm doing") but had hope ("Joy comes in the morning") and did her job even with a gaping flesh wound. I hope they don't kill her. Sigh.
- The fact that Dean's first words to his brother after waking up in the middle of a field after being sucked up inside a cyclone of Darkness were, "Where's the car?"
- "No, she was wearing a name tag. What do you think?"
- "Yeah, not a talker."
- The whole scene where Dean is declaring to Sam in no uncertain terms that they are going to hunt that little bitch down, then gets into his car in what would have been a heroically inspiring exit...until he realizes the Impala is stuck in a mud hole. "You were just gonna let me get in the car?" "You were on a roll." HA!
- "Is this a Magic Mike moment?"
- Dean 'chucking it all in' when they reach the hospital full of dead bodies because he doesn't know what he'll find.
- I don't know about you guys, but the whole time Sam was searching the hospital by himself, I was waiting for him to find a door chained shut with DON'T DEAD | OPEN INSIDE spray painted on it. Nice tension in that scene.
- The full-on Texas twang in Sam/Jared's voice when he said, "M'a slide my badge under the door, 'kay?"
- Dean promising to save the baby before Mike had even gotten the request all the way out.
- "That is madness. This is horse-sense."
- "We did this, Sam. We broke it, we bought it."
- Cas' overall confusion about The Darkness. "The Darkness is a woman?!" Made me think of that line from the movie, Clue, "Mrs. Peacock was a man?!"
- "Tell us what kind of DEFCON-screwed we are." Ah, War Games giving us pop-culture fodder for decades.
- The fact that girl!Crowley's statement, "I apologize for nothing" basically summarizes everything about the character, now that he's back to his old self. I love cheeky Crowley where he is legitimately bad and I can love to hate him.
- Sam's whole it's time to change speech: "When did we forget how to do this?" "If we don't change right now, all of our crap is going to keep repeating."
- "That's only half of the bumper sticker." I actually want that on a bumper sticker.
- "We will always help each other."
- The birth-Mark on baby Amara.
- Castiel's initial storyline. I needed more explanation there -- in all previous victims of Rowena's spell, the person cursed burned-out and died. I suppose we're supposed to surmise that Cas was spared that fate because he is an angel -- and kept fighting to not hurt people. And I also didn't like that he prayed for help and angel thugs showed up to, apparently, Zero Dark Thirty him as punishment (I guess) for freeing Metatron before they fixed him of the spell. I wanted him to actually get some help from them for once. I mostly felt confusion and irritation with his situation and not worry or sympathy, so hopefully that changes.
- "There is always a cure, you just have to want to find it." I get what Sam was trying to do -- point out that Dean's previously fatalistic attitude when it came to the Mark was not going to fly here, and that to change, he had to want to change, want to seek out a way to save people first before just leaving them to die (or outright killing them). But. I hated the way this point was phrased. For so many things, there isn't a cure (yet), no matter how much you want to find it. The phrasing just...rubbed me wrong.
- Sam locking himself in a dark storage closet -- without checking it for bad guys first -- that had no exit. I get that he was on the run from 'ragers' but come on. He's better than that.
- Dean not telling Sam the full truth about what happened between him and The Darkness.
- Well, as people died from the 'ragers' attacks, it seemed that Dean killing Death didn't, in fact, eliminate death. So, there's that. But what does it mean? There has to be fall-out from that at some point.
- Is the reason the infection was isolated in Superior, NE, because The Darkness kind of got sucked into baby Amara? Sounded like from the story she was born just as the cloud swept in that direction. Was it intentional? Was it accidental? Does this mean the power is contained inside that baby? Will she have powers she can't really control like Jack-Jack on The Incredibles (only y'know, mostly evil)? Will she feel a bond with Dean? Is her fate tied to Dean's fate? If she dies, will he die? SO CURIOUS I CAN'T EVEN.
- Where is Rowena? Is she still a threat?
- Who was screaming in the Cage?
- Is God somehow going to step in to save Sam?
See ya'll next week! Slainte!