Thursday, January 29, 2009

After School Special Recap

Major spoilers if you haven't already seen the 'sode. BTW, on a personal note, this is the third episode in a row where I felt sad by the end credits. And if you've seen Sera Gamble's interview for TV Guide, you'll understand why I think circumstances will get worse (and apparently way more intense [is that even possible?]) for our boys before they get better.

If they get better. Throw me a rope, Kripke and Co!

We open with a cafeteria scene of teens being hateful to each other that would probably work on at least two or three other CW shows--but then one of the recipients of hateful words loses her mind and kills someone in the girls' bathroom. After which, black ooze seeps from her eyes. So, definitely Supernatural.

Next we see the girl who did the killing--in what looks like some kind of asylum--answering questions for Sam. She's surprised (but we are not) when he believes her claims of demonic posession. However, he is befuddled that she noticed neither black smoke nor a sulphur smell, the usual tells of a demon in residence. The Winchester bros. talk over the situation in the Impala and agree to check out the high school.

Which turns out to be a school the boys once attended, briefly, during their nomadic past.

I gotta say, I thought the guest actors did a pretty good job giving us the younger Winchesters in flashback (older than they were in A Very Supernatural Christmas flashbacks, but good continuity in the casting of Sam). The guy portraying High School senior Dean did such a good job that I actually wonder if Jensen did a voiceover or two. Sam, as a ninth grader, was a "midget." (I grinned over this, thinking of my dad. He was a short freshman and graduated at 6'4".) Back in the day, we see the Impala roll up to the school where, presumably, Papa Winchester is dropping them off for their first day (again) at a new school (again). Sam being introduced to his class is juxtaposed against Dean being introduced to his. Dean handles his first day with smirking insolence and flirting with a blonde, while Sam looks far less comfortable and befriends a "nerd" being picked on by the bully who sits behind him. (Sam, of course, tells the bully to knock it off and is warned that if sticks his nose in, he'll take the victim's place.)

When we flash to present day, Sam has come up with their covers to get them into the high school. (Dean, ever the pop culture guru, later refers to this as his being 21 Jump Street.) Sam dons custodian coveralls that I guarantee have never looked that good on anyone else before while Dean shows up in white knee socks and red athletic shorts, undercover as Coach Roth (heh). He is introducing some poor unsuspecting kids to the bloodsport of Dodge Ball when Sam interrupts to explain that the case is seeming not demonic after all.

Au contraire. Flash to the home ec lab where we close in on a Cuisinart. Tanya, being no fool, slaps both hands over her eyes and keeps them there for the duration of the scene. But here's what I heard: jock bullying a nerd into giving him his Algebra homework, nerd resisting, jock threatening to ram his fist down nerd's throat, nerd asking, "this fist here?" and then whhhhrrrrrrr followed by a lot of screaming. Kids run out of home ec, Sam runs in and finds the attacker with blood on his arms...and black ectoplasm leaking out his ear. So at this point, it would seem that there's a spirit who's been bullied striking out at all the current bullies.

In the parallel flashback storyline, we see that Sam really does take his new friend Barry's place with the bully and gets slugged (meanwhile big brother Dean is happily making out with a blonde in the janitorial closet. Later, big brother Dean threatens to rip out the bully's lungs and asks why the heck Sam didn't defend himself since he could have destroyed the other guy, their differences in size notwithstanding.) Sam chose not to fight the bully, even though Papa Winchester probably started drilling him on combat techniques from the time he could toddle, because he wanted to fit in. He's sick of being a freak, but you can see how resigned he is because for a What I Did Last Summer nonfiction essay, he writes about how he, his dad, and his bro killed a werewolf. When the teacher calls him on it, Sam says it doesn't really matter if he flunks, he'll be gone soon anyway. But the teacher praises his writing skills and seems to be the person who helps put him on the eventual path to college (which made me think of an important teacher in my own past, Mrs. Pearson, best High School English Teacher ever). Sam tells the teacher sadly that he's destined for the family biz, and the teacher says he doesn't have to be. Kind words--completely untrue in Sam's case, since demons came after him and incinerated his girlfriend anyway, but kind words.

Present Day--when the brothers learn that there's only been one death in the school, erstwhile nerd Barry killing himself, it seems we've found our angry spirit. Sam, of course, feels like maybe if they'd actually stuck around (for a change) he and barry could have grown to be friends, maybe the kid wouldn't have had such a crappy adolescence. Dean says that at least Barry will be at peace now, as they salt and burn the bones, which should be the end of it. Although there's like 20 minutes left in the show, so I'm guessing not.

Sam wants to go back to the school to say goodbye to the English teacher who previously inspired him, but he's stopped by a girl asking directions. She calls him by name and, even though it makes no sense, for a milisecond, I thought she might turn out to be Lilith, but then realized that she's just another possessed teen at this high school (put this HS and Sunnydale on my list of where not to send my kids! sheesh). Sam knocks the spirit out of her--he put something in her mouth, which I'm pretty sure was salt but could've been holy water--and Dean later realizes that all three kids possessed ride the same bus, so maybe the spirit isn't haunting the school after all, but a bus. (Note to self: carpool.) The new bus driver, who started about the same time as the attacks, is Dirk Sr--Dirk being the bully who once picked on Barry and later decked Sam.

In flashbacks, we see Dirk once again picking on Sam and I will admit that I watched young Sam, shorter than his peers and emotionally vulnerable, and I advised the kid on screen to kick the bully's ass. Which Sam pretty much did before telling the bully that he was Dirk the jerk and walking away as other kids picked up the taunt. The show totally made me regret my outburst a few minutes later, but not as much as Sam regretted what he'd done.

When the brothers visit Dirk Sr, they find out the bus driver is a widower who also lost his son because Dirk, who tended toward juvenile deliquience, got mixed up with alcohol and drugs. The father paints a poignant picture of Dirk having a difficult time because, when he was thirteen, he was the primary caretaker of his mother, who died slowly of cancer. That changed him, made him angry and caused him to act out at school where, according to the dad, he had trouble making friends and other kids verbally abused him, pointing out that he was poor and eventually labeling him Dirk the Jerk. Oh, the look on Jared Padelecki's face is just painful to watch. And I myself am doing a lot of wincing at home. Dean brings us back to the present problem by asking if they can pay their respects at Dirk's grave (all the better to burn and salt him), but Dirk's father says he had his son cremated. To which Dean insensitively and rather hilariously asks, "All of him?"

No, as it turns out. The dad keeps a lock of his son's hair in a Bible in the bus's glove compartment. Flash to bus, full of athletes going somewhere at night, driven by a burly man with black ooze coming out his nose which, we know, is never a good sign. The brothers arrive in time to avert serious disaster, running the bus off the road and burning the lock of hair while Sam is getting whaled on by a possessed athlete. It could just be me, but I think guilt was still riding Sam hard, because he didn't appear to be fighting back all that much.

So apparently the moral of this episode was that no one ever fits in. The nerd who was bullied killed himself. The kid doing most of the bullying was a once bright, sweet boy who lost his mother and eventually became the victim of bullying himself. Sam finally made a friend and was praised for academic progress--but was yanked out of school when Papa Winchester slew whatever needed slaying and dragged them off elsewhere. And there was a really sad moment in flashback when the blonde caught Dean in the closet with a brunette and told him that she felt sorry for him. He ended up in the halls yelling that he didn't need people's pity, that he was a badass with a much cooler life. Yeah, on the run with your quasi-psychotic driven father and the little brother who just wanted it all to go away. Sign me up for that! We end with Sam finally getting to visit that English teacher, who remembers him and asks if Sam managed to avoid the family business.

Yeah, Sam says...for a little while, but now he's in it. (All the way up to those lovely eyes, if not completely in over his head.) The teacher, not sure what to say, offers that the important thing is just to be happy, whatever you're doing. "Are you happy?"

Another shot of Padalecki looking heartbreakingly woeful and equal parts resigned. Credits.

Wow. I know they're fictional characters but I'm angry anew at John for the childhood (or rather, nonchildhood) he put them through, even though I'm not sure what a great alternative would have been. MJ argued that perhaps he was trying to keep them safe by not dropping them with people who know nothing of the nondemonic world. But, really? He was gone for an entire two weeks, once again leaving Dean to fend for Sam, between Dean's makeout sessions in the closet. So how is that really John protecing them? And once again we see the cracks in Dean's veneer. He adopts the smart-ass "I don't care" persona because he knows caring is pointless; he won't be anywhere long enough for anyone to care about him. And even if they start to, he'll just be back on the road or, you know, in hell, anyway. And I'm reminded of how tired Sam looked after the last episode, when he told Ruby he doesn't want to be doing this when he's old? This episode was a strong reminder of just how tired the boy is, that he's been doing this far longer than the few years we've known him in the series but, essentially, since boyhood.

Whenever, however, this show ultimately ends, I hope there's some kind of payoff or at least satisfaction for what they've accomplished. The teacher was right--they DO deserve happiness! I'd wish peace for them, but I'm scared that might be the "Rest In..." kind.

What do you think the future holds for the Winchesters? And what do you think about these episodes that show us deeper glimpses of their past?