Saturday, February 1, 2014

Review - Supernatural 9.12 "Sharp Teeth"

Man, this was a tough episode and a tough one to write about. I’ve struggled to put my thoughts together and I’m not sure I successfully have. I feel like I’m just downloading a whole bunch of messed up emotions! Only the Winchesters could do this to me…

I guess somewhere inside I knew it was going to get bad between Sam and Dean, but I wasn’t emotionally prepared for the hit to the guts that “Sharp Teeth” finished on.

I have to believe it’s going to be okay, because otherwise… Well, let’s not go there! The brothers, how they love each other, that’s the heart and soul of this show for me. They’re my heart and soul…

“Sharp Teeth” was a monster of the week episode, which focused on a familiar theme; is what makes a monster purely being a monster or is there more to being good or evil. There were also some nice parallel stories, like the werewolf preacher whose wife was killed by a hunter, but instead of giving into hatred and revenge he decided to concentrate on raising his child in a loving, safe environment. You couldn’t help but look at the road the Winchesters travelled after their mother was killed and their father chose a different route. There was also an interesting narrative around revenge. The Reverend says to Dean, “…The road to revenge is a dark and lonely one, which you never get off. And that hole in the pit of your stomach, you never fill it. Ever.” John sought revenge for Mary’s death; the werewolf stepmother was seeking revenge for the death of her brother. Revenge never leads anywhere good and it’s absolutely the path that both Sam and Dean are currently on. A path that has caused them plenty of pain in the past and will no doubt cause them more pain in the future.

Of course we also had the return of Garth. Garth disappeared about six months ago, leaving Kevin unprotected and Sam and Dean no clue as to whether he was dead or alive. As it turns out Garth was bitten by a werewolf whilst on a hunt and was saved from self-destruction by another werewolf called Bess, who he in turn fell in love with and married. He felt stupid and I’d imagine somewhat concerned about the Winchester’s reaction, so he chose to disappear. Not something you do to friends and certainly not something you do to Dean, which Dean made abundantly clear. Sam and Dean don’t have many people in their lives they can call friends and Dean makes sure they hang onto those that they do have.

I quite like Garth as a character. He can sometimes be a tad earnest, but there’s sweetness to his nature that’s rather enjoyable. One of the things I’ve liked about Garth in past episodes is how perceptive he is. He’s often been incredibly perceptive about the brothers and has reflected back to them truths that they can’t see for themselves, either about themselves as individuals or about their relationship with their brother. I was hoping Garth would be utilised like this again, Lord knows these brothers need someone to speak to them openly and honestly at the moment. I mentioned last week how I thought this was a recurring theme of season 9, with Sheriff Mills, Castiel and even Crowley giving the brothers some home truths. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen in “Sharp Teeth” and Garth was not utilised in the way I was hoping. Bummer. I was looking forward to a little Garth delivered wisdom! Though what he said about Sam and Dean when introducing them to Bess, was pretty spot on!

It turned out to be Dean that shared a little wisdom with Garth and I couldn’t help but think that he was also talking about himself and Sam…

“You got something here. Okay?... Don't let that go. Okay? You'll never forgive yourself.” 

Just moments before, Sam had walked out the door and Dean’s face as he watched his brother walk away was full of grief. I’m sure it was seeing Garth and the love he had found and Dean’s moment of clarity in the advice that he gave Garth, that made Dean get out of the Impala at the end of the episode and reach out to his brother so openly.

But while the werewolf story held some interest for me around Garth and the new mythology about being bitten or born and the interesting parallels and themes, I've got to be honest, the thing I was pretty much focused on was the Winchesters and how on earth they were going to get back together… Because I needed them to. Like, a lot.

From the moment of their first, awkward meeting, over the comatose Garth, I watched them like a hawk. Hoping against hope that they would somehow find a way to reconcile.

*sigh* Not so much. The episode ended with the brothers in the worst place, emotionally speaking, that I think they’ve ever been in. The words that were said by Sam to Dean for me were the harshest ever said by one brother to the other, because they hit at the core of what they are, family. It hurt. I won’t lie. It hurt like hell. 

But when I rewatched “Sharp Teeth” I was struck by something I didn’t noticed the first time around; the physical proximity between the brothers.

Though they were obviously emotionally estranged, or at least attempting to remain emotionally estranged, everything in their body language seemed to be telling a different story.

Apart from the obvious connection when they were hunting, the hand motions, the in sync kicking of the door, the easy working relationship, how they dropped into their usual routine and roles, there were moments of physical intimacy between them that under the circumstances seemed surprising and incongruous.

There was the touching. Both brothers tapping each other on the shoulder, Dean when he saw the cameras tapping Sam, Sam when the Sheriff called tapping Dean. They sat so close to each other on the Impala that their shoulders were rubbing. Normally I wouldn’t even blink at this, this is who they are, but when you’re so angry with someone you are on the verge of disowning them, is this familiar physicality something that would happen or would you be creating a physical space as well as an emotional space?

Then there was the mirroring. When they waited for Garth to come out of the bathroom at the hospital, their body positions were almost a mirror of each other. Their bodies faced each other with their hands resting on their legs in a similar position. It was fascinating body language for a couple of brothers on the outs!

Then there were the furtive glances at each other when the other wasn’t watching and the obvious interest in what each other had been doing. Dean asking where Sam had come from, Sam asking about the mark on Dean’s arm, Dean snarking about Sam and Cas playing Teen Mom, Sam commenting on Dean working with Crowley – both sounding a little put out about being replaced!

It’s quite possible I’m reading too much into these tiny details, but it’s the tiny details that paint an entire picture. Whether these actions were scripted or not, or simply happened through the ease of Jared and Jensen’s working relationship, or were layered into the performance by the actors, I don’t know. Certainly if scripted and directed this way, these small actions seem to speak to what is at the truth of the brother’s relationship and are in direct opposition to what the brothers were saying. Which makes total sense. Because though hurting and angry, I don’t doubt that Sam still loves Dean. That’s why he’s hurting and angry. If he didn’t care…he wouldn’t care.

What I also saw as an important action, in fact the most important action, was the fact that in the end, Sam got in the car and rode away with his brother…

Sure, he was saying they could continue to work together to share the crappiness, only as hunters not as brothers, but as hunters they have to put their lives in their partner’s hands and if Sam trusted Dean so little and was distancing himself from his brother to the point he was verbally stating, would he or could he let himself rely on this familiar trust? Or more to the point, would he choose to spend long hours riding next to someone he absolutely didn’t want to be around and had no interest in repairing a relationship with? Hmmm.

Sam never said they were done, he said something was broken. Things that are broken can usually be fixed… right?

Yeah, call me overly optimistic, but for me this was the most interesting layer to this episode in relation to the brothers, what I perceived as the gulf between what their words and what their actions seemed to be saying. 

Not that any of this made Sam’s final speech to Dean hurt any less. It hurt like crazy all around! But it also seemed real. Had Sam simply said, “Okay” and gone with Dean without stating his anger, hurt and distrust, it would have felt fake and dissatisfying and frankly, would have just meant that they were heading towards the same old issues, the same old mistakes and the same old problems and we’d be retreading that ground with them. We’ve wanted them to sort through their crap for a long time now. Maybe this is what needs to happen for them finally to work through the parts of their relationship that keep tripping them up.

However, I have to say I was and possibly still am a tad confused by the entirety of what Sam said to Dean.

I completely understand his anger over the Gadreel thing. I get that. Dean knew he’d be mad. We knew he’d be mad. It was never going to end well. These guys are the Winchesters after all.

Sam made a decision about his future and Dean essentially overrode his brother’s decision. He tricked his brother into saying, “Yes”. He allowed an angel to possess his brother and that angel went on to cause horrific damage and murder someone that Sam and Dean both loved, while wearing Sam’s body. I understand why Sam would be absolutely furious, as much as I totally understand why Dean did what he did, I think we all understand Dean enough to understand that. 

One could argue that Sam did have a choice in that moment. No, not in regard to the angel, but he did have a choice between choosing the path he was set to take with Death or choosing his brother. He asked his brother what the plan was, his brother said trust me and Sam chose to trust him no questions asked. He did make a choice in that moment. He chose Dean.

Of course, Sam didn't know what he was agreeing to and Dean went on to withhold the truth from Sam as to what was truly happening (ignoring the fact that the angel would never have consented to Dean telling Sam). I wonder what would have happened if Dean had come clean? Is it the talking Sam out of his choice to die that Sam has an issue with, or is it the breach of trust and lies that followed, or both. Probably both.

But Sam’s comment about what happened in the church during “Sacrifice” was troubling. 

“Back in that church, talking me out of boarding up hell?”

Was he doubting that Dean’s motivations were anything other than to have Sam live? Is Sam implying that Dean somehow duped him into not closing the gates of Hell? Does he doubt Dean’s love? Or was Sam simply saying that Dean said he’d always put Sam first and then almost immediately went back on his word by putting his own desires for Sam to be alive ahead of Sam’s desire to go with Death. 

(Though one could also argue that Dean was thinking of Sam too, because Sam had chosen to live at the end of “Sacrifice” (“The whole reason I stopped doing the trials was not to die.”) Ack! There are 10 sides to every argument and I can see them all!)

I’ve listened to Sam’s final speech in “Sharp Teeth” over and over and I’ve listened to other people’s interpretations and I’m still twisted up by what he said. 

To me and to most of us, that moment in the church at the end of “Sacrifice” was something that we’d been longing to hear. It was a verbal confirmation of the love between the brothers that we hold to be true and for most of us is the core of this show. A moment of honesty where Sam told Dean how Dean’s words had made Sam feel over the years and how this had affected him. A moment of honesty where Dean told Sam just how damn important he was to him along with a moment of ownership over some of the pain he had caused Sam in the past. For me that conversation was something that I’d been pining for since the trust between the brothers was broken during season 4. It was raw and open and heartfelt and needed and I loved every single syllable of it.

I don’t want that moment undermined or tarnished. I don’t want that moment not to be true. I don’t want Dean’s words, “Don't you dare think that there is anything, past or present, that I would put in front of you! It has never been like that, ever! I need you to see that. I'm begging you.” to lose their meaning for us or for the brothers. I don’t want them to be seen as anything other than they were, a profession of love. I want Sam to believe them like he did in that moment. Those words are the heart of Dean Winchester and for me, at the heart of the brother’s relationship. Please don’t take this away from us, or them.

But using this scene certainly gave what is going on between brothers some extra clout and certainly raises the emotional stakes. From that point of view, it absolutely did its job! Look how we've all reacted!

What has happened in 9.10, 9.11 and 9.12 is pretty much a reverse of what happened between the brothers at the beginning of season 5.

In 5.01 and the aftermath of the demon blood episode, Dean told Sam he could no longer trust him, and wasn’t sure if they could ever be the same again.

“You were the one that I depended on the most. And you let me down in ways that I can't even... I'm just—I'm having a hard time forgiving and forgetting here. You know? ...I just don't...I don't think that we can ever be what we were. You know?” I just don't think I can trust you.”

At the end of 5.02, Sam told his brother that he was a danger to be around and thought he should leave and Dean said he wouldn’t stop him.

“I need to step back, 'cause I'm dangerous. Maybe it's best we just...go our separate ways.”

“Well, I think you're right.”

The brothers spent an episode apart (5.03) before Dean made contact with Sam at the end of 5.04 and saying the “I just know we're all we've got. More than that, we keep each other human” speech.

To some degree in “Sharp Teeth”, Sam acknowledged that they help to keep each other human in agreeing that when they hunt together they share the crappiness, but that’s where the similarities stop.

Dean: “Okay, look. Whatever happened... We are family, okay?”

Sam: “You say that like it's some sort of cure-all, like it can change the fact that everything that has ever gone wrong between us has been because we're family.”

Dean “So, what -- we're not family now?”

Sam “I'm saying, you want to work? Let's work. If you want to be brothers... Those are my terms.”

I swear to God, in this moment you could actually see Dean Winchester’s heart break.

If you’re going to hurt Dean, this is exactly how to do it and I’m pretty sure Sam is well aware of that fact.

Family is the basis on which Dean operates. Family means everything to Dean. His self worth is all twisted up in family and his need to be needed, his need to take care of others, his need for Sam. Without all of that, in Dean’s eyes, what’s left, what does he have, what is his reason, what’s the point?

Dean is so broken and vulnerable right now. Everything in him is screaming out in pain. He stood in front of his brother and poured his heart out, admitting to being messed up, admitting to knowing he took a piece of Sam in the process of everything that went down… Basically asking his brother to come back to him…in as many words as Dean is able to muster (while shuffling his feet and looking awkward). It was one hell of a moment for Dean and definitely showed growth and understanding in his character.

It killed me. Owies. My Winchester brother loving heart.

Of course, Sam is right. Family does not give you blanket forgiveness. Dean was all for doing a couple of hunts and putting it all behind them. Typical Dean. Anything to get his brother in the car. Sam said no, that’s not going to happen this time, because that wouldn’t change anything and for Sam things need to change.

But to blame everything that has ever gone wrong between them on them being family? Noooo. For me, being family is what makes them so damn special. 

I hope Sam doesn’t really believe that. I hope all this is coming out of him being so deeply hurt by his brother's actions. This is what I assume. He's hurt and wants change and this is how it's all coming out...I mean look at these watery eyes...

So, why are the Winchesters being put through this? More to the point, why are we being put through this? I have to think there’s a reason. I have to believe this is going somewhere that will heal the brother’s hearts and consequently heal ours. Sam is hurting and grieving and full of anger and guilt and this has to be impacting his feelings about everything. Sam taking this tough stand with his brother could be the first step towards repairing what is broken between them. Making them look at their relationship. Stopping them from repeating the same mistakes, the same hurts, over and over. They aren't on the same page and they need to work out how to get there.

Maybe with Dean bearing the Mark of Cain, this is where the brother’s roles will shift. Maybe it’ll be the little brother who has to reach out and save the big brother from whatever burden he has destined himself to and the darkness currently eating away at his soul. I would love that more than words can say. I would love Sam to do that for Dean. I think it would help Sam’s sense of self no end and I think it would help Dean see that his brother really does value and love him, because I’m not sure Dean’s ever been entirely clear on that. Now even less so… Dean could do with a little saving and Sam is exactly the person to do it.

If this is where we’re going, a place of more equality, greater acceptance and understanding and some much needed harmony between Sam and Dean, without reducing their love or need for each other of course, then hey man, I’m all for it, but do me a bloody favour Show, let’s get there quickly because this shit hurts too much.

It may not sound like it, but I loved all the Sam and Dean stuff in “Sharp Teeth”. It was deep and real and full of emotion and drama and all the good things I watch TV for. The writing was note perfect. The performances gut wrenchingly beautiful. It’s what takes this show above the regular fair on network television. Writing and performances that strip us bare and make us talk and argue and over think and feel all our feels to infinity and beyond.

I have a lot of faith in this show and these writers and in Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki and the love I know they both have for their characters and their character’s relationship. I trust them all to look after Sam and Dean. I trust that there is a plan in place, as Adam Glass put it, a long play and we're on the road to better days and I'll just hang on and ride the whirlwind that gets us there.

Yes, I want my brothers back together, but I want them to want to be together out of love, not because they know no other way. I’m happy to suffer for them, if that makes them happier in the long run. Because I love them. Both of them.

Sam obviously wants to fix their relationship. Dean obviously does too. This is good.

And let’s remember one thing, the most important thing…

In the end, Sam still chose to be with Dean.


If you want to hear more about what I think about this episode, listen to the latest Women of Letters Podcast where Jules from the Supernatural Wiki and I go deep into the themes of the episode and the final moments with Sam and Dean.

Listen here