The Morning After
Well that was a unique and surprisingly creative episode! “Stuck in the Middle (with you)” kept the audience guessing from the first seconds in the diner to the last second when red eyes glared at us out of the darkness! The script, the direction, even the music, all worked together to keep us off balance. Fans were constantly trying to catch up and sort out what was happening.
At first, I was put off by the jumping back and forth in the timeline. Other fans were too. There were several “What is happening” tweets in the first 15 minutes of the show.
Despite being totally lost, the change-ups were initially endearing. For example, I loved the slow motion walking-in-sync.
Together with the time jumps, it seemed like we were in for a "French Mistake" type of episode, but that didn’t match at all with seeing Wally dead, Castiel bleeding out and Mary on the run.
By the middle of the episode, I was out right annoyed by the spaghetti western music. The fighting was intense and there was serious emotional drama going on! Sam and Dean were truly worried about being outgunned on this hunt; Mary was being mysterious, lying and coming very close to betraying her family; and Cas was dying and confessing his love for the Winchesters.
On top of all of this, I was concentrating very hard to keep track of the timeline to figure out what was going on! Then this stupid music would interrupt the action and hint that my intensity was unwarranted and unwelcome. Just like last week, I couldn’t connect the music with the drama. What happened to the classic rock that has always been Supernatural’s hallmark, with words and a beat that conspicuously reinforced the story? I tweeted my frustration with, yet again, season 12 using musical interludes (and other distractions) to water down what would otherwise be deeply emotional scenes. Why isn’t Supernatural season 12 the Supernatural that I expect and recognize? Several fans were telling me that it was all part of a Tarantino-style direction, but I’m not enough of a drama or film student for that to have relieved my confusion.
It wasn’t until the last few shocking revelations that I understood how everything fit together. The western music was foreshadowing the Colt, a product of the American Old West. The episode’s score was reminding us of the episode “Frontierland” when Dean had once used the Colt.
The music was relevant if one was patient enough for everything to play out. Time was critical to the story. The confusion was the point.
On first watch, I wasn’t consciously aware of very many thread references. Sometimes they are so blatant, they practically jump off the TV screen onto the pages of my review all by themselves! After my rewatch and analysis, though, it appears they were just more subtle, hiding neatly behind the confusion. The plotline was being reset, and the characters rearranged once again, but the season’s threads were still there holding together the story.
Saving People, Hunting Things
Opening with a free-for-all hunters’ planning meeting in the diner, then bouncing into the middle of the bloodbath confrontation with the demon, then jumping to a time before the diner’s meeting, then back to the hunt, then the diner, ad infinitum - should have signaled to us that this wasn’t going to be an ordinary case. The overlapping conversations in the diner sounded a lot like my Sicilian gramma’s apartment when her 9 kids and all their kids got together. Everyone was talking at once, with each one shouting louder than the next person to try to be heard! Usually Sam, Dean and Castiel’s planning sessions are quiet, controlled… and short. The boys are in the bunker, where you can hear a pin drop. There’s no music, background noise or competing conversations. In their secluded cave, Cas asks a question, Dean or Sam answers, the other brother offers an opinion, they all agree to the plan and they pack up and leave.
In contrast, everyone at the diner had their own agenda. Wally was worried about the hunt. Sam was concerned about his wifi. Dean was focused on the waitress. Cas looked overwhelmed. Even the waitress added to the confusion. In true “Who’s on First” fashion, she answered “Extra Cheese” to the wifi question when Dean ordered his burger, making him contradict her, which she had to correct, which confused Wally…
Dean: Mandy. That short for Amanda? Yeah, I’ll go with the cheeseburger.Sam: Hey, what’s the wifi password here?Waitress: Extra Cheese.Dean: No, no. As it is is just fine.Waitress: That’s the password. Extra Cheese.Wally: You know what? That sounds good. I’m gonna change mine to a cheeseburger as well. Extra cheese. I wanna carbo-load.Everyone at once, but then Castiel finishes it: Cheese isn’t a carbohydrate. …Wally: You meet them fancy Men of Letters?Sam: British Men of Letters?Dean: Yeah, they got gear, but you know they tried to kill my brother.Sam: All right, internet’s up. We’re in business.
The waitress’ affections were also atypically directed. She was interested in Castiel, who was making no advances toward her at all, instead of responding to Dean’s forward comments or Sammy’s innocent smiles. The camera continually circled the group, both making me dizzy and emphasizing that no one person was in charge. This wasn’t a cohesive team working together towards one goal. They were a jumble, literally, figuratively and visually. Then Mary pulled the mom card and ordered the children: “Screens Down, Eyes Up, Shut Up!” (an order that was repeated a few times throughout the story)
This diner conversation was a brilliantly encapsulated analogy of American hunters. Each has their own agenda, pursuing it with skill but without any overall coordination. No one’s in charge, no one’s knows what the others are doing, and as Dean told Sam (when he started to inform them of his progress in archiving MoL files), “Snore. No one Cares.” (a theme that was also strongly reiterated by Ramiel towards the end of the story). The American hunting scene is generally inefficient and confused.
Mary is attempting to change that. She’s buying into the British Men of Letters’ model of ceding control to one leader who calls all the shots. She believes, at least temporarily, that a new plan of attack might work better than the uncoordinated way that things have always been done. The question remains whether this approach is right, benefits all, or just serves the guys in charge, though. In this case, things didn’t’ work out so well for Wally, a heads-down worker bee who specialized in just Rugaru hunts before Mary and the BMoL’s involved him in something much larger than he could handle.
Dean: What’s he doing?Wally: Night fishing.Castiel: Wait a minute. You called us to kill a demon that likes to fish?Wally: Yes, I did. Look guys, this is all new to me. You got a rugaru problem, hey, I’m your guy. But demons?.... I’m so nervous, I don’t even know if I can eat.
Sorry, Wally. His continued declaration of being out of his depth later (or rather earlier,) when he was in the car with Mary, also introduced us to her lies.
I’ve been theorizing for a long time that Mary has a secret related to her past, or that she’s pursuing something in John’s journal that only she understands. This episode cast doubt on that line of thinking, though. Mary is indeed keeping a lot of secrets from her family, friends and allies:
Cas: Mary? Where were you?Mary: Bathroom. I get nervous sometimes.
but from what we saw in this case it seems that her big secret is working for the BMoLs. We were shown a few weeks ago that she was willing to hear what they had to say, and her conversation with Wally confirmed that she’s been on their payroll since then, with reportedly great success. I was stunned, though, that she lied to her boys about who called them into this case,
The right versus wrong thread continued as we watched Mary put her faith in the BMoL’s tactics. Much like Sam’s belief in Ruby, her belief in her righteous cause went further, though. I was beyond shocked that she didn’t offer up what she stole to the new Yellow Eyed Demon when he threatened to kill everyone she loves, and doubly shocked that she didn’t confess all when Castiel asked what the demon meant about them stealing from him. The COLT!
She handed over the Colt to the BMoLs! I am still trying to process that! It belongs to Sam and Dean, or at the very least to the American MoLs! It was crafted by an American in the old west. It was used by Americans to kill evil on American soil. Why would she turn it over to foreigners? She supposedly knows what it can do because her father used to tell her stories, but does she know that Dean used it to kill Azazel, her own murderer? Does she know it can be used to open a Gate to Hell in Wyoming? I cannot imagine that she is so intent on freeing her family lineage from the hunting life that she would lie to them and put their lives at risk for the cause.
Sam: Mom, what the hell did you get us into? (Hell was everyone’s profanity of choice this week, foreshadowing the importance of the episode’s last scene)
Prophetically, Sam’s question may apply to not only this one case but the entire American hunting community.
Mothers and their Children
Some fans online were talking about how much they hate Mary now. I don’t hate her at all. In fact, I feel sorry for her even more. While it’s true that Sam and Dean have seen the hunting life kill everyone they’ve ever loved, Mary lost multiple generations to it. She lost her parents, her spouse, and now she fears it will take her children, and their children after them. She feels she must stop the vicious cycle that the Campbells have been trapped in since the Mayflower. She knows her boys don’t agree with her but she’s had a fiercely independent will all her life. Her dad complained about her rebellious nature when Dean went back in time the first time (or was that the second time?).
In a way, time is the whole point. The episode was built around a circular time line, bouncing back and forth minute by minute faster than we could track. I commented on Twitter that I felt I was caught in an Escher print, constantly moving but not making any progress at all toward the end point. Isn’t that what’s happening to American hunters? They have spent generations battling the supernatural. They make plans, bring all their skills and weapons to bear, they win some and lose some but they’re not gaining ground in the overall war. Mary is trying to break free of that endless, pointless struggle, to change the rules of the game. She wants out for her whole family, not just her, and she knows the only way to do that is to win the war once and for all. In Sam’s characteristic intuition, he knew to ask her,
Mom? I just wanted to make sure that you’re okay. I mean I know you never really wanted this.
He told her a few weeks ago that he knew she couldn’t walk away because hunting is in their blood. I thought it significant at the time that she didn’t agree but rather just looked at him, rather sadly. She’s always been desperate to get out of hunting but she never wanted this life for her boys either. Dean told Cas,
You’re family and we don’t leave family behind.
Mary feels the same way. She wants a solution that frees everyone, not just her. Is she right though? Can she, they or we trust the BMoLs? Just as with Sam’s question, Mary never answered Wally when he asked her if she trusted them.
Wally: You get those from your new limey friends? Them fancy Men of Letters?Mary: I did.Wally: You trust them? I just mean, I heard the sale pitch – money, gear. It all sounds swell, but someone walks up to you and offers you something that sounds a little too good to be true? I wonder, “What’s the catch?”Mary: Since I’ve been working with them we’ve taken out more than a dozen vamp nests, four werewolf packs and a ghoul who was eating his way through Arlington. We saved a lot of people.Wally: Right, so you do trust them.
Mary never answered him. She simply said “Let’s go.”
So she’s committed to working with them for now, but she doesn’t trust them. Mr. Ketch had a very ominous look about him when Mary threatened his group. I don’t know if I wrote this in a prior Threads review, a comment or in my own notes, but I’ve wondered if the BMoL’s are maybe unwitting pawns in someone else’s larger scheme. Who is their big boss? Who are the “old men” who are calling the shots? Could it possibly be a very strategic, ancient, evil, supernatural creature who wants to strip the hunting community of all their weapons? Someone who wants to kill all his supernatural rivals so that he alone can rule over humans? The writers just introduced Princes of Hell to the Supernatural universe. Maybe the BMoL’s are being manipulated by a Prince? Is that Ramiel's brother's "hobby"? How about an Alpha? Is there some other ancient creature we don’t know about yet? I know a few of you have been asking this question for a while, but Mary handing over the Colt, such an important strategic weapon, really worried me.
New Angel and Demon Canon
That was Mr. Ketch’s greeting to our long lost friend, the Colt. I’d like to figure out the new timeline of the Colt now! How many bullets are left (Ruby taught Bobby how to make more than the original, remaining 5 bullets)? Could Mary have just pulled it out and shot Ramiel when he was caught in the ring of fire? Its glow was an interesting, if not previously substantiated, effect. It never glowed before but it sure looked cool. Do the BMoL’s want it so that it is safe until needed? These are all important questions now that it is back in play!
I offer to publish a nicely drawn timeline of the colt’s life and uses if someone can put it together from the facts found on Superwiki!
“Stuck in the Middle (with you)” also solved the mystery of how Crowley got to be King of Hell! I’ve actually wondered about that. It was a stroke of genius to capitalize on filling that long-overdue gap in canon. He was Hell’s emissary who got a field promotion because the Princes didn’t want to be bothered!
Next, we were introduced to Michael’s lance!
Dean: You look like hammered crap.Cas: Yeah, that sounds about right…. Dean, something’s wrong. I can’t heal myself. I think the demon’s spear was poisoned. I think I’m dying.Dean: No. You just need some time, okay? You’ll heal up the old-fashioned way.
I loved the addition of the archangel’s weapon to Supernatural’s armory. It’s broken into two pieces now but what about all those other spears and secrets down in Ramiel’s basement? Obviously Mary didn’t tell her team about the stash lest she reveal her duplicity. It also didn’t sound like she shared the information with Mr. Ketch, so they’re just waiting down there for the next unsuspecting farmer who likes to fish to find when he/she buys the house? I’d like to see that particular hole in the plot addressed some time. I was also a bit unclear if breaking the sword broke the spell on Cas since those were Enochian symbols on its staff, or whether since it was an angelic weapon, breaking it released angelic power which Castiel absorbed. I think the former but I’m interested in your opinions.
Next, three Princes of Hell!
Cas then Crowley: Ramiel, Prince of Hell.Dean: What the hell is a Prince of Hell?Crowley: The first generation after Lilith. Lucifer turned them himself before the oceans drank Atlantis.Cas: They were trained to be generals, to lead demonic armies in the war against heaven.Mary: Like Azazel.
So what’s the difference between a Knight of Hell (i.e. Cain) and a Prince of Hell? To get this review out in one day I don’t have the luxury of researching old transcripts to compare the explanation of Knights to Princes. In history, Princes outranked Knights. Princes are born into their position whereas Knights are given the honor by the King (there were numerous references to kings in this script as well. Listen for them). We have a whole week to work this out but it’s worth our time, don’t you think?
There are now two new enemies to avoid, Asmodeus and Dagon. They probably won’t be happy that Ramiel was killed. Their safety was Crowley’s responsibility, so is he “stuck in the middle” again with team free will? It sounds like Dagon will surely be a part of Kelly’s future as the step-sister who fights for custody over Lucifer’s child. That sounds interesting. I love that Supernatural can still surprise us in the twelfth season of the show! Let’s spend the next several days figuring out this new canon!
Growing Up, Growing Old, and the Passage of Time
Wally: That’s the big bad demon you need help with? Just some old guy.Mary: Technically, I’m in my 60s.
Age was emphasized again in this episode. I’m not sure if it’s a constant reminder of Mary’s interrupted timeline or subliminal tease that someone is running out of time. Given my new interest in who’s running the BMoL’s, maybe the big boss is very old. When Crowley explained the existence of Ramiel, he repeatedly referred to time:
Crowley: It’s not gonna work.Sam: We took down the Darkness and the Devil.Crowley: It took you years to defeat Lucifer, and a pair of Gods to stop the Darkness. Maybe if you had more time, you could manage Ramiel, but right now, in this barn… I was growing fond of the choir boy, too.Dean: Shut up. Shut up. We don’t have time for your – for you. So either help us or get the hell out of here!
Ramiel’s deadline for the collective Winchesters to return his stolen property was also counted down with a stop watch, which we first saw him cleaning six years ago. This thread is rapidly growing in importance.
One Last Thing
Mary: I lost a friend. I almost lost one of my boys.Mr. Ketch: And we apologize –Mary: Shut up. Anything like that happens again – anything – and I will burn you down.
I predicted that the next recurrence of the burning thread would be accompanied by Lucifer! How did we get so lucky?! Mark Pellegrino! I have to admit it appears I was wrong about Lucifer escaping versus being but back in the cage, though. He clearly was locked up tight, safe and sound. What was the “cage” doing in Crowley’s throne room though? Last we knew, the cage was in the deepest recesses of Hell. Lucifer also was not alone in the cage. Where was Michael/Adam? It is not a random chance that Michael was reintroduced into the storyline, even if it was only via his weapon. Dean’s emotional support to Castiel also was not random:
Dean: Like you said, you’re family, and we don’t leave family behind.
Instantly, I thought of Adam. Can they possibly be going there? Is that another plot hole Supernatural’s new writing team intends to address? As Mr. Ketch said when he opened the episode,
“Tell me a story.”
Along with the rest of the Supernatural fandom, I’m listening. If the rest of season 12 is as good as this phenomenal episode, I can't wait!
I happened to notice another similarity with "Frontierland". This pic look from 6.18 looks a lot like Cas' predicament in 12.12:
In that episode, Castiel used the power of Bobby's soul to get the boys back in time. Maybe the soulless thread had a part in this episode after all! For now, let's figure out what happened in this episode! Go!
Dialog confirmed with http://transcripts.foreverdreaming.org
Screencaps courtesy of http://www.homeofthenutty.com. Note: at the time of posting, only half the episode had been captured so I'm missing all the pictures of Crowley, Lucifer, Michael's Lance and the climactic ending of the show. Sorry.