Saturday, January 7, 2012

Review - Supernatural 7.11 "Adventures in Babysitting"

Warning contains spoilers...
I'm not gonna quit. It's not even an option. I'm not gonna walk out on my brother. 
And we’re back….though, it appears, not everyone made it through the hiatus alive….. 

I always think there’s a lot of pressure on the mid-season premiere. Supernatural generally gives us a rip-snorted of an episode as the mid-season finale, often with a cliff-hanger, usually with something that rips our heart out and makes us scream no, or makes us gasp out loud, or cry buckets of tears. We are then left to our own devices for 4-6 weeks to ponder the outcomes and feed each others frenzy. As we get closer to S-day we start counting down and I mean that literally. We rewatch the last episode. We hungrily keep an eye out for clips, spoilers, anything that will give us a tiny hint of what to expect. We discuss and theorise possible outcomes, motivations, arc directions. By the time the episode actually airs, the excitement is palatable; as well it should be, because we love this show and every moment without it is a nightmare. But I think this level of anticipation, this build up, often leaves us feeling a bit flat. 

I’ll be honest and say, traditionally, the mid-season premieres have not been the strongest episodes of the season. But what they do, particularly in the later seasons, is bridge the gap between the first half and the second half of the season and show us where our characters are and how they are dealing, or more specifically, not dealing with what ever tragedy just befell them. They give us a sense of where we go next and set up questions that will take us through the next 10 or so episodes. If we look at them from this angle, they do their job well. All this sounds like maybe I didn’t enjoy Adventures In Babysitting….but, I did. For me, Adventures In Babysitting acted as a character piece, allowing us to, once again, witness the diverse nature of grief experienced by Sam and Dean. It also acted as a preamble for the remainder of the season by setting up some intriguing mystery and it stayed purposefully obtuse about the loss of Bobby and what his final decision was, stay or go, allowing for the possibility of something powerful to be revealed at a later date. It may have been a bit of a weak MOTW episode, but if you think for a minute Adventures In Babysitting was all about the Vetala, then you weren’t paying attention.
I liked how the passage of time was demonstrated after the loss of Bobby. Okay, before I go any further let’s talk about Bobby. As I said earlier, I feel like the writers are being purposefully obtuse as to whether Bobby chose to stay or go. We didn’t see Bobby answer the Reaper, we didn’t see the end result at the hospital, we didn’t see his body burned by the boys, a funeral, burial, cremation, nothing. For all we know he’s still in a coma in hospital, as per Dean in In My Time Of Dying, except that both the boys alluded to his death, specifically Sam saying he passed away, so we’ve got to assume he never made it through that final flat line. But by not discussing it in detail, by not giving us a clear cut answer it keeps us engaged with Bobby and his storyline, because we’re left wondering what he decided and how will this impact the arc moving forward. We’re left to imagine and discuss the possibly options and outcomes. It leaves us with a glimmer of hope that maybe we might see him again in some form, and hope can be a hard thing to come by on Supernatural so we hang-on to it like it’s a life preserver! But most importantly, it leaves us intrigued by the possibility of a crack in the door. I thought that was smart writing, manipulative sure, but smart writing. Of course we also had the mystery of the disappearing beer. Was that Bobby, looking after that idjit Dean from beyond? Making sure he didn’t go the route of the senior Winchester and get lost in a mire of alcohol and grief induced revenge? Well only time will tell….

As devastating as the loss of Bobby is to me, somewhere inside I feel like it’s a loss we had to have, because the nature of death in Supernatural was starting to lose meaning. It had almost become a gag. You die, so what, they’ll bring you back later. Death was beginning to no longer have the impact that it had when the boys lost John. I feel like we're being shaken out of our complacency, that we're being given a wake-up call. Real death still happens on this show and it still has a significant impact and a death this large is going to reverberate through the boy’s lives and somehow change them. It’s for this reason alone, that I have sort of come to a place of peace with the loss of Bobby (also because I’m still in denial), because if his death has an importance to the season arc or is imperative to the development of Sam and Dean, individually or collectively, then, as dead Ash said when he came back, I’m cool with it. Having said that, in my heart of hearts of course I hope it’s not forever, but I no longer feel cocky about that assumption.
Okay, back to the boys. Sam and Dean have always dealt with grief differently but somehow, they seem to have come to a place where they now share one aspect of their processing, they internalise. As they’ve got older and encountered more and more crap, they’ve turned less to each other to unload. A lot of this comes from the breakdown of trust they’ve experienced through their various transgressions and lies. You can’t expect them to just open up, not when there’s been so much water under the bridge. Once upon a time, Sam would have tried to make Dean talk, but not anymore, he knows it’s futile, he knows his brother wades through denial like no one else. Once upon a time Sam may have tried to open up about his feelings, but now Sam’s dealing with a whole other problem inside his head. Seeing them sitting on the couch in silence, experiencing their own grief personally and yet together was powerful. Jensen and Jared need only look at each other to show the well of emotion their characters are feeling or show Sam and Dean’s isolation even though they’re sitting next to the person they love most in the world. I got the sense from those looks that each wanted to reach out, but neither no longer knows how. There was a tragedy to that scene that just floored me.
Three weeks in, as they moved through their grief they both took different paths which I felt was totally appropriate to how they would react. Sam chose to follow a case that related back to Bobby. The kid of one of Bobby’s hunter friends needed help. Sam chose to go that route; I’m sure thinking that if he could save this one life it would give some kind of meaning to everything. Restore some kind of balance. Dean chose to bury it all deep as usual and angrily pursue revenge, focusing on the numbers Bobby gave them with his dying breath and continue the search Dick Roman. In having a separate focus, they went their separate ways. This would usually freak me out! But though they weren’t working together, they never actually felt apart. They kept in contact, didn’t cut the other out, ensured the other knew what was going on. Sam told his brother he could do with his help. Dean dropped everything when he realised Sam was in trouble. They weren’t working the same case, but they were still working together. Somehow, this felt like a step forward. It felt like they were leaning on each other just a little.
As Sam went in search of the missing dad, Dean went in search of the silent Frank, only to find that the conspiracy nut had gone even further off the grid due to helping Sam and Dean with their Leviathan problem. Dean’s interactions with Frank reveal some things about Dean and his grieving. He doesn’t want to talk about Bobby, getting openly hostile when Frank tries to share stories. He appears even more torn than usual about living the life, but he resolutely will not leave his brother. That and revenge seem to be the only things moving him forward right now. He's so bottled up it's explosive. He’s operating on fumes. He’s tired. When he finally crashes out, Frank lets him sleep for 36 hours. When he wakes up, Dean gets some advice from Frank about how to keep going. I’m not so sure it was what Dean needed to hear quite frankly. Frank essentially told him to either quit or fake it. Wake up everyday and slap a smile on your face because that’s what you do because it’s your job. You’re alive. Be a professional. To quote T. S. Eliot, “Put on a face to meet the faces that you meet.” Read: bury your pain. The last thing Dean needs to be told is to bury his pain. He’s already a master at that. And I mean, look at Frank, the man is obviously buckets of crazy, and as we find out, after finding his wife and children butchered in his home, he’s been burying his pain like a dog with a bone ever since. No, Dean needs to get it out, somehow, and I think he will and I think when it happens, it’ll be violent.
When Dean finally gets the message from Sam and realises Sam’s working on old information, he leaves Frank to continue the surveillance of the mysterious field owned by Dick Roman enterprises and hot foots it to find his brother. In doing so, he meets Krissy, the daughter of the missing hunter. Personally, I adore any interaction Dean has with kids. I love the way he speaks to them. He susses Krissy out almost instantly as a tough brat of a hunter and talks to her accordingly. He talks to her like she’s got a brain. She calls him a dweeb. During their conversation we also get to hear a story from when Dean was hunting and Sam was at Stanford. I may or may not have geeked out a little over this! I love nothing more than hearing about the brother's lives before we met them. Of course this also gave Dean the chance to tell Krissy she could go to Stanford too. Become a hunter/paediatrician. He’s a good man Dean Winchester, with a great big heart and I love it when we get to see this side of him.
Of course, Sam’s case of Krissy and her missing father, directly mirrored the lives of Sam and Dean. Murdered mother, father driven by revenge, kid dragged along for the ride. By saving Krissy’s father and then by saving Krissy from the brother’s fate of living the life, the Winchester brothers finally got something they desperately needed. They got a win. Lord knows they need a win every now and then.
As the episode comes to a close we have the two brothers, alone in the car. They discuss how good it is to finally walk away from a case feeling like they've made a difference. Dean asks Sam how he's doing. Sam openly admits, once again that he’s not doing great, but says he just wants to work, saying to his brother, “Should I even ask?” Of course, Dean answers, “I’m fine.” and adds he also just wants to work, after all, they are professionals. Sammy knows it's a heap of crap, frowns at his brother, turns up the music and swings around to try and sleep off the recent attack. Then as his little brother rests beside him, Dean takes Frank’s advice and practices smiling….  Though his eyes are filling with tears, Dean practices smiling…. He’s going to fake it. That's how he'll be able to keep going, by faking it, by putting on a smile. In this moment, Dean’s true level of grief and despair is revealed. This scene. This scene was amazing. To be honest, I burst into tears. Great big wracking sobs. Jensen Ackles is just…I don’t know, I can’t even put it into words. Why these two guys don’t get the kind of kudos their far less talented peers receive is one of life’s great aggravating mysteries. 

Adventures In Babysitting was in absolutely no way the best episode of the season, I think we’re all honest enough to say that, but it offered us a lot to think about and I feel like that was it’s job. It set up the mystery of what the Leviathan were doing in the field. It made us question what was the fate of Bobby, by keeping that information hidden and having that beer strangely disappear. And it proliferated the scenes with engaging characters such as crazy Frank and fiesty Krissy, which helped us see how the brothers are doing both individually and as a pair. Through conversations and actions, tragic and heroic, we saw Sam and Dean’s inner struggles as they process their grief. Sam always seems to be doing better, but his eyes and their sadness reveal his struggle with in. Dean is in a deep pit of anger and despair, but he's going to try harder to hide it. I want nothing more in this world than for Sam to be whole again. I want nothing more in this world than for Dean to find his spark. I want them to come through this and be better for it. And that's what I hope will happen, because though I feel like the worst is yet to come, I felt like some small progress may have been made here and this is why Adventures In Babysitting worked for me. 

There’s been a lot of talk about the show no longer having hope, but I don’t see that, because I choose to see the Winchester brothers as the hope. As long as they keep getting up and fighting the good fight. As long as they keep battling evil and not letting the supernatural S.O.B.s push them around. As long as they stick together through everything, even when they're mad with each other, then as I see it, there’s hope. Because they do keep getting up and fighting the good fight. They do keep choosing their own paths. They do stick together. Maybe they sometimes forget why, maybe they sometimes can’t stand the pain of it, but they do keep doing it and in a way, that shows they still have hope. It shows that somewhere inside them, they still believe that they can win. They still believe that good can triumph over evil. They still believe that what they’re doing means something. They still believe in each other. And this gives me hope. They give me hope. And that’s all I need.

Well, there you have it....I'm nothing if not optimistic, though some may say delusional...feel free to tell me in the comments.

But one thing you should know, I'm on this journey with the Winchester brothers until the end, thick and thin, good and bad, I joined this ride a long time ago and I'm sticking with them.

I'm pretty excited about next week's episode. It looks interesting....and hot! Here's a preview! 

See you next week...and thanks for reading! -Amy