What’s up Doc, indeed!
I grew up on Looney Tunes cartoons. They were a staple of my TV watching diet as a kid. They were on all the time. Hell, the channel I work for now still plays Merrie Melodies in the afternoons! I was never a fan of Bugs – that insect-rabbit hybrid - I thought he was a bit of a tool. I loved that sheepdog Sam and the wolf Ralph (who by the way, looked exactly like Wile E. Coyote! Did they not think we could tell)? But my favourite was always Road Runner and Coyote. I loved all the crazy things that Coyote came up with to try and catch that bird!
So here we have an episode of “Supernatural” that manages to somehow, in a way only “Supernatural” can, bring into play the ridiculousness of the cartoon world, making it seem perfectly acceptable and sensible, while delivering us a poignant story about fear and loss, where the monster of the week is actually a human…and not the human at the centre of the story, Fred.
The anvils, the X marks the spot, the huge firecracker with the red and white stripes, the floating in mid-air before the fall – though that guy should have turned and looked at the camera and waved…or held up a little sign saying “Help” - the convenient holes that can get you from one place to next, who hasn’t wanted one of those holes to toss on a wall at some point, Dean Winchester frozen mid-air with a comic sans title, “Hunterus Heroicus”. Damn, I laughed so hard at that. Big, loud, explosive laugh! I always say, if I won the lottery all that anyone would see is an Amy shaped puff of smoke followed by an Amy shaped hole in the wall. Right? This kind of cartoon trope has been a part of my life for all my memory. So guess who giggled with glee throughout “Hunteri Heroici”. It was a lovely mix of pathos and the preposterous. Plus there was a talking cat…called Bob…who was voiced by Bob Singer…"dumb-ass".
But, in true “Supernatural” form, all the funny was simply a front for some very serious goings on and Fred Jones’ cartoon, dream world life, allowed us to delve into the mind set of not only Sam, but also Cass. We saw how sometimes to escape facing a situation or facing the truth, we create another reality for ourselves, even if we know that it’s never going to be possible to maintain. When faced with the realness of life, of our past, our actions, our pain, the pressures, the stress, the commitments, we try to escape by painting a picture of our perfect life, want we think we want to be doing, how we think we want our life to look, just so we don’t have to face the real thing and cope with all the hurt.
For Castiel it was about not dealing with Heaven or the angels, not facing what he did when he Leviathaned out, not facing the devastation he caused to the Heavenly Host. He was scared that if he saw what had become of his old world, he might not survive it. He was scared he might kill himself. But he’s an angel, he still needs to help people and he’s happiest with the Winchesters, so for Cass his dream world became Winchesters+Helping=Happy. Consequently, Cass decided to become a hunter, because that’s easier than the alternative he just can’t face.
Then we have Sam….
Ok, so what are we to make of Sam’s flashbacks? Is it all real or is it all a fabrication of his mind?
I’m tending towards real, mostly, though I still think that how Sam remembers and what it was actually like in the relationship may be two different things. I’m struggling with the notion that he has created Amelia, that he was locked in a padded room somewhere or just driving the back roads and living in his mind, that their love affair is a complete fiction, but I’m ok with the notion that he’s romanticised the crap out of it, if only due to the dreamy, glowing, state the flashbacks appear in. I think she exists. I think Sam and Amelia had a relationship. But I’m not convinced it’s the one we’re seeing through Sam’s memories.
“Look it can be nice living in a dream world, it can be great I know that and you can hide and pretend all the crap out there doesn’t exist, but you can’t do it forever because eventually, whatever it is you’re running from it’ll find you, it’ll come along, it’ll punch you in the gut and then you gotta wake up because, if you don’t, then trying to keep that dream alive will destroy you, it’ll destroy everything.”
I think Sam’s speech to Fred can be taken a couple of ways: 1. That Sam was living in a literal dream world and he’s starting to understand that now and see the cracks. Or 2. That the world he chose to attempt to live in when Dean disappeared, is a figurative dream world, as in it’s a fantasy existence that could never been maintained because of who he is, what he knows and what he’s been through. I’m leaning towards 2. Because, if you look at the words Sam says to Fred, he could even be describing his attempt to leave the family business and go to Stanford, his attempt to live an everyday life with Jess. Back then, he was punched in the gut when the life that he was trying to leave behind, found him and called him back and that dream of a life with Jess went up in flames quite literally. All that followed nearly did destroy him and he was consumed with revenge and nightmares and insomnia. Now he’s reliving a similar situation. He tried again, to embrace an everyday existence, this time with Amelia, even entertaining thoughts of going back to school, but his old life…his real life if you like, pulled him back to hunting. Another punch in the gut from reality. (By the way, I’m not talking about Dean and I’m not blaming Dean for pulling him back in either time, I think hunting is what he’s meant to be doing – no escaping it). Yet, intellectually anyway, Sam appears to be saying that he knows that the life he was leading with Amelia is a dream that can’t survive and if he doesn’t let go and move on, it will destroy him and destroy everything around him, including his relationship with his brother. He can’t pretend the crap out there doesn’t exist. Maybe this was Sam coming to terms with his issues with hunting. Maybe this was Sam realising that, regardless of what he thinks he wants or what he once wanted, this life now, the life of a hunter, is the life that will always chase him down and punch him in the gut and he can’t run from it any more. It's what he's meant to be doing. As much as the Winchesters are all about free will, there’s a great big dollop of destiny in their story as well.
It’s interesting really, because Dean went through exactly the same thing when Sam jumped into the pit. He always thought he wanted a family. He hung on to the notion of this one woman after a brilliant weekend of what sounds like totally awesome, acrobatic sex! He then reconnected with her and by now she had a kid and it seemed to be everything Dean had always wanted. It was a dream that he never quite let go of. When his brother was gone and he was left alone not knowing which way to turn, he turned to Lisa and to that dream. But he discovered that he couldn’t ignore that the crap out there does exist and this dream world life, could not been maintained. That it would destroy him and everything he loved in its wake.
Dean learnt that the dream of a family was just that, a dream, and it helped him move forward to accept, even through dark times, that he is a hunter and that’s his future. Maybe this is why Sam has gone through the same thing, the same search, the same desire to live out what he always thought he wanted, only to discover, that saving people, hunting things, the family business, that driving down crazy street, next to Dean is where Sam truly belongs.
It makes absolute sense to me that the brothers would both be searching for family and comfort and love, because they were raised without those things, in an everyday context. Yes, John loved his boys, yes they were a family….but that traditional family notion was not something that existed in their world and you can be sure they looked at the other kids at school and wished they could be like them. We saw that in Sam’s Heaven...where he also had a dog coincidentally…but I bet you anything, Dean entertained the same dreams when he was a kid, bravado aside.
Now…the one fly in my it’s all real if a somewhat romanticised notion of Amelia and Sam’s relationship ointment, is Amelia’s dad, Mr Thompson. It was interesting that Mr Thompson was played be a recycled actor; Brian Markinson. We last saw Brian as Jerry in “Phantom Traveller” and as that character he’s someone who knew John Winchester and knew the boys. It’s probably nothing, he’s a Vancouver based actor and lord knows over the 8 seasons we’ve seen plenty of recycling (like the old woman in the home being the knife wielding old woman from “Bedtime Stories”) but what made everything in my body prick up was when he started on about John. I mean, who does that, come in and just start to bitch out someone’s dead dad? Sam was so proud when he rattled off John’s Marine unit and he was ripped right down. I thought that was very strange and totally rude! So what if Sam was using someone from his past, someone who knew him and his family, putting that person into his dream world to say the things in his own mind that he couldn’t say out loud. Basically the whole interaction with the dad and what he said to Sam was pretty much what I think Sam would have already been beating himself up about. It was almost like the dad was Sam’s inner monologue.
Sam’s a college dropout. A real fixer-upper. Sam’s a runner. He’s got the look; “The one a lot of guys get after they’ve been through the meat grinder the one that lets you know they’ve seen a lot of crap they can’t forget. The second their feet hits solid ground they start running and don’t stop, not 'til they find something to hang on to.”
Even the conversation between the dad and Amelia was interesting; “If Don saw you like this…you need to come home” “Is that why you’re here, to drag me back?” “It won’t last….you are living in a dream world” “I’m happy dad and I haven’t been happy in a really long time.” Maybe Amelia is representing Sam’s subconscious too? And I swear to God that when Sam and the dad are washing the dishes, Sam presses into his “Stone number one” hand and gives it a good rub! Was this Sam’s mind subconsciously trying to sort out reality from fantasy, just how Dean showed him to, or was Jared just rubbing the soap off!
Then we had the chat about Dean…which was brilliant by the way and so sad, because you could see Sam’s pain and you could see him try to pull himself back together and shake it off and refocus on Amelia. But that conversation was interesting too because of how it started, because of the beer. We specifically saw at the beginning of the episode, Dean come out of “Big Ryan’s Gas and Sip” with two bottles of soda that he popped the caps off with his knife, or what ever. We are literally focused on the bottles. The shot of Dean opens on the bottles as he pops their caps and then we pan up as he hands one bottle to Sam. Then we see Mr Thompson do exactly the same thing, which triggers Sam to start talking about Dean. Then ring, ring, oh heys Don’s alive! What?! And yeah, Don/Dean, come on!? There must be something in that. I saw someone on twitter saying something about Dean’s rule that you, “Don’t take a joint from a guy named Don” and I thought…oh man, now I have to add that into the mix! Once again…is Sam integrating things into this dream world from his real life? Maybe this is something Dean had said to Sam in the past?
Wow. I think just did a full circle! Are you confused? I am! Ok, I think that Amelia is real. I think that we’re going to see her in the present, but what I’m wondering is, was the relationship not quite how Sam is remembering it? Is his perception all screwed up? Has he dressed it up in his mind to represent the dream of the life he thought he wanted? Has he blown it up into more than it was and maybe even created new scenarios and incorporated people who weren’t there? In his lost and broken state, did he create something bigger to hang on to? Which would mean even in his dreams, he’s beating himself up over his past and his choices. Aw man...that’s so damn sad.
One thing I really hope is that it wasn’t Don lurking in the shadows in the opening episode, because that would be lame and a major disappointment! I mean BIG! I would be bummed out! Though that scene makes a buttload more sense if the dead husband is still alive. That could’ve been Sam and Amelia’s last night together. That’s why he sadly slipped out. That’s why she watched without saying anything. They’d discussed it. He was leaving before Don returned. Unless Sam made Don up, or Don represents Dean coming back, or it was Sam watching himself in his dream, leave his dream..... KABOOM! Mind splat....and round and round I go again!
Of course, then we bring the whole angel mess into the picture and I can’t help but wonder if the angels bought Don back to push Sam out, to get him to find Kevin and the tablets because they knew Crowley and his henchmen were circling. Because, how long did the army think Don was dead for? I mean it was quite a few months yeah? He wasn’t M.I.A. he was dead! So…that’s either one monumental blunder on behalf of the army, or the angels are up to no good! Blah! Who knows! A gal could go crazy thinking all this stuff through! And while I’m just freaking my head out, I want to know who the “they” were who told Benny about the Purgatory hole? Huh? Huh?!
Also, I’m starting to think that Sam’s flashbacks are supposed to be purposefully jarring. They seem to pop up at times that, well, are a little off-putting. I’m starting to wonder if there’s method to this madness, because by showing the flashbacks as incongruent to the story and by showing them to be so different in vibe to everything else going on in the Winchester's world, by having them jump out and bite us on the ass, we are shown, very obviously, that there’s no room for that kind of world in Sam and Dean’s world. This kind of happy domestic scene will always be a bad and awkward fit for Sam and Dean’s life, so maybe this is why the flashbacks feel so out of place, because they are out of place and they are meant to emphasise that point to both us and Sam.
Phew….my brains hurt!
Sam’s speech to Fred was also the jumping off point for Cass to realise; he can’t run from his life either. As he said to Dean, “I know I can’t run anymore.” So he decides that he must face Heaven, what he did and the outcome of his actions. But Naomi has other ideas and zaps him out mid-sentence to tell him no…you can’t come back to Heaven. You’ve got to wonder why? Why does she need to keep him earth bound. My guess is that the angels that pulled him from Purgatory, did it on the down-low and the other angels don’t know Cass is back. I’d also say, that regardless of Cass’ misdeeds in Heaven, he still has supporters there; we saw that in “Reading is Fundamental” with Inias and of course with the poor, unfortunate Samandiriel AKA Alfie.
Dean seemed pretty good in this episode though! Yay! I mean, at least one of them seemed to be doing ok for a minute! It probably won’t last…. I’m happy to see that he’s happy to have Cass back and I was also happy to see that he didn’t get mad when Cass yelled at him, instead he tried to get the angel to open up. He thought there had to be some level of understanding between them because of their shared Purgatory experience and maybe he could help Cass acclimatise, but really, it was all the stuff prior to Purgatory that was making Cass sweat. It was interesting that Dean said it took him a few weeks to find his sea legs after he got puked out of Purgatory. He seems to be doing much better now. I know a lot of people have been worried about Dean’s PTSD and that it may have been dropped, but I’ve always figured, Dean came out feeling like he had a new focus on what he does in his life. A new focus on hunting. Sure there would have been an initial shock coming back to the real world and trying to reintegrate and we saw a bit of that. He saw and did some stuff in Purgatory I’m sure he’d rather forget…but that could be said for his entire hunting life.
He said the experience was “pure” and I definitely got the vibe that he didn’t necessarily hate it there. It honed his skills and made him realise he was real good at this stuff. So for me, I’ve never been too bothered that we haven’t seen him falling apart at the seams. It makes sense to me and to be honest, I’m just so damn happy not to see him with a scotch in his hand bemoaning his life, that I’ll roll with just about anything. But the PTSD thing (which I had to look up initially because it was not something I was familiar with) has never fazed me because I was never on board with it. I’m happy that Dean seems happy to be hunting. That he came out of the experience cleansed of season 7’s God-awful depression! I’ll take this Dean gladly.
I thought Cass was such a treat in this episode. I love him when he’s all awkward and not understanding the reference. No one was making fun of him either really, which was great. I mean they weren't putting him down when he didn't get it. They just kind of giggle to themselves and then explained. I totally dug his face when Dean asked if he could move the anvil. Cass looked at Dean like, “Of course I can…human gnat.” But, we can’t have him fixing everything left and right or healing people here and there. So, I’m pretty happy he’s decided hunting is not for him. Cass as the third wheel is not what I want to see. Third wheel…bless him. I did love him in this one though, like, so much. The closing scene of this episode was gorgeous, just gorgeous, with Cass sitting with Fred and listening to the music in his mind. It felt so peaceful. Cass looked totally angelic.
It was also wonderful to have an actor of Mike Farrell’s standing on the show. I grew up watching re-runs of M.A.S.H. and by the time I watched it, Trapper John was well and truly gone and BJ was Hawkeye’s sidekick, so I grew up on Mike Farrell. He was great too huh? Just really, I don’t know, lifted the scenes somehow by his presence. Not that our guys weren’t doing amazing work as usual, they were. They turn in the goods week in, week out. And when it comes to the comedy, Jensen and Misha, in particular, just kill it. I think the level of acting this season has once again stepped up a notch...as has the pretty. For goodness sake. All I could think in that scene with the wife and the mistress was, how are those two actresses even remembering their lines with those 3 standing in a row in front of them! P-lease!
There were a couple of other things that I wanted to mention that I really dug.
I thought Sam shoulder checking Cass out of the Impala was bloody hilarious. Both of the boys said “NO” when he asked if he could travel in the front seat! Gosh that made me laugh. I loved that Roman Enterprises got a mention. I geek out over stuff like that. I thought it was equal parts ridiculous and hilarious that their FBI alias’ were Crosby, Stills and Nash. REALLY?! I loved that cop. She was awesome and I loved that she called Dean Scully, because we all know it was always Sam who was the red headed woman! I loved that Mike Farrell’s character was called Fred Jones. This, I assume is after Chuck Jones and Fred “Tex” Avery, the legendary Looney Tunes directors. Whose stuff was Cass going through on the bed in the motel? He was going through, what I assume was one of the boy’s toilet bags, with way too much interest! That was peculiar. I also love his “I’ll watch over you” line. Awkward!
You know what I thought would have been funny though…did you see Dean checking out the nurse when the old lady was chatting up Cass/Charles? Dean’s tongue should have rolled out of his head like you know, how it does with the wolf in the cartoons. Or maybe his eyes could have stood out on their stalks. Or he could have banged his foot on the ground and howled, “Owwooooooo” Ha! This is why I’m not writing the show...and obviously I’ve seen way too many cartoons!
So I’ve watched “Hunteri Heroici” errmmm maybe six times now and each time I love it a little more. Which is so interesting to me, because as most of you know, I love the angsty episodes best. But the thing with this one was, though it played for laughs, it had a hell of a lot of heart and a hell of a lot of character reveal and it set up more of the mystery around the angels and around Sam. The best funny ones always propel the mythology some how. I applaud Andrew Dabb. I think he did an excellent job with this episode…maybe the dude should always write on his own!
Ok…well, I’ve gone on long enough. Let me know your Sam theories and what you thought of the episode. Next week is the mid-season finale and I have a feeling we’re all going to be hurting like crazy after it… so until then…thanks for reading and…that’s all folks!
sweeetondean is Chief Editor and Staff Writer for The Winchester Family Business