“Just My Imagination” is an excellent bridge of these recent MOTW stories to the big mytharc midseason finale happening next week. More importantly, it contributed to the overall strength of this season and I never once uttered the word “filler.” That’s an extraordinary feat given the high amount of filler by episode eight we’ve gotten in prior seasons. The episode offered a refreshing change while integrating recent character struggles into the storyline, rather than relegating it to one conversation in the car. In other words, Jenny Klein did her homework and compared notes with others.
It’s very hard to give a real critical look at the core of the episode, which is an offbeat little story about imaginary friends coming to life. Instead of words of wisdom, all I can think of is if Twilight Sparkle ever met up with a shotgun or knife, I now think she would bleed sparkly red (help me out Bronies, maybe it’s been established she does).
All joking aside, the timing of Sully’s arrival couldn’t have been more perfect for Sam, who’s been wrestling with troubling visions and a brother that won’t talk about it with him. If you think about it though, how would you possibly grasp as an adult your childhood imaginary friend visiting years later and he’s real? Only in the Winchester world. Luckily in “Supernatural” any kind of folklore, twisted or otherwise, can be explained in the MOL bunker. What I love most about the Zanna is we got one of the supernatural good guys for once. The human was the homicidal maniac. Have there ever been any supernatural good guys? Think about it, even angels are dicks.
The dialogue was often brisk and funny, but there really wasn’t much to the plot. That wasn’t a detriment though as it gave first time director Richard Speight Jr. some golden moments to work with. There was the funny, like a mom who can’t see all the imaginary sparkly blood she’s stepping in and rubbing all over herself. Also, when an imaginary friend’s gift is air guitar, he must prove he has some wicked game. The scene had to impress and it did!
Speight also benefitted from material that bolstered his two biggest strengths, two actors that can emotionally kill us all with just facial expressions. Given the use of flashbacks, there was plenty of those pensive and troubled facial expressions on Sam’s part and Speight captured them all beautifully. He also got to work with some great guest actors as well. I applaud his ability to bring out the emotion in the MOTW climax, Reese’s confrontation of Sully. That’s usually where the episodes fall flat, but the whole thing got me a little teary. I actually cared about these two when it was all over. That is extremely rare with disposable MOTW stories, so huge props there.
There were also some great creative choices with shots. The one that stands out for me was in the first scene after the teaser, when Sam sleepily worked his way into the kitchen. The camera stayed behind the table, with goodies in full view, while we watched Sam walk back and forth on and off camera trying to get the coffee pot going. It added so much to the fact that Sam hadn’t noticed what was on the table yet. When he did notice we got the eagerly anticipated reaction of surprise, which ended up being more effective because we had that POV of the goodies on the table. I love to see directors take these kind of chances.
Digging Into Those Sam Layers
Despite my goodwill toward the MOTW though, we are all about layers at the Winchester Family Business, and there was a definite hidden elements to this straight forward monster tale (as straight forward as imaginary friends being real can get). Let’s dig into the psyche of Sam Winchester. You’re in for quite a trip.
For those continuity lovers (and thankfully Jenny Klein is definitely one of them), we know from “A Very Supernatural Christmas” that Sam found out monsters were real when he was nine years old. It was a strange time for him. From what we saw here, and this does seem to be consistent from what we know, at thirteen Dean was eager to join his Dad in the hunts. What know from “The Girl Next Door” is that Sam was often left behind during hunts. Now, in “Just My Imagination,” we learn to help him cope at nine years old with the abandonment, Sam had an imaginary friend.
It makes me smile that Sam was chosen by such benevolent creatures for help. It goes to show that good forces have been looking out for him and not just Dean. Sam has always been torn between his desire to follow his own destiny and his obligation to be with his family, and we learned in this episode that struggle went as early as nine years old. He was lonely and afraid then, just like he’s lonely and afraid now.
One of their talks in the flashbacks centered over Sam running away. I did question why an imaginary friend encouraged running away, but in thinking about it, such an act would have fueled that spirit inside Sam for following his own path. John would have found him eventually, or Sam would have eventually gone home, but the seed would have been planted. In “Dark Side of The Moon” we learned that Sam did eventually run away at an older age, hiding out in Flagstaff for a few weeks. That act makes a lot of sense. Sam has run from his family again and again and the one thing he’s learned from all those times is that he needs them. He can’t run when he’s scared. It all catches up to him eventually when he’s alone.
It is interesting that Sully didn’t see the payoff of his work with Sam until years later, but Sam is a complicated person. Kids aren’t easy that’s for sure, especially troubled ones, and I think young Sam lashed out at Sully out of fear. He was afraid of the consequences, because John would have killed him. No wonder Sam felt so liberated when he left for college. He was finally free.
Sam: I think God wants to help us fix it, but I don’t think I can do what he’s asking.
Sully: How bad is it?
Sam: There’s this cage in Hell, and it’s where they keep Lucifer and I’ve been in it. And it’s…And I think God wants me to go back. (Sam gets visibly upset).
Sully: Ever think about running away anymore?
Sam: I did, and I have, but not in a while, not anymore.
“Come on, you’re a hero. Sam, you saved that world. I keep track of all my kids. You did really good Sam.”
How incredibly cathartic that talk had to be for Sam. This episode remedied a long standing complaint among a few “Supernatural” fans, Sam has never had a friend to talk to, especially when Dean won’t listen. Sam's been trying to talk to him since "Baby" and hasn't gotten anywhere. It was so nice to see Sam pour out his heart to someone so easily. Someone he could deeply trust and expose that fear and vulnerability swarming him. It’s not that Sam doesn’t love or respect Dean, but when you have conversations in the car like the one at the end of “Plush,” where Dean shuts him down end of story, Sam is left to fester on his own. That’s usually when Sam makes poor decisions (not in every case though).
Sam: Ever think maybe you’re a hero to me? Sully, one thing I’ve learned, heroes aren’t perfect.
Sully: Sometimes they’re scared. But that just means the thing that they’re facing, its super important. And nobody else is going to go for it because nobody else has got the balls.
Suddenly, the motivation behind Sully’s words is clear. It’s been his point all along. He’s basically telling Sam that it’s okay to be afraid, and running away isn’t the answer. In other words, he can’t do this without Dean. Sam gets the message, and the closing scene in the car has Sam pressing for options when Dean tries to give him a throw away answer. The lump in his throat is no longer an excuse and he won't let this go. The cage looks like the only option for now.
Impact on Dean
Reese, trust me, revenge, ain’t gonna make you feel better. I’ve seen more than my share of monsters, I mean real monsters, bad. These guys, these are Sesame Street Mother Theresa's. But when I wasn’t there for my little brother, Sully was. Now, I’m not saying he didn’t make a mistake, but there’s not a monstrous bone in his body.
Sully’s return wasn’t just a shot in a sore arm for Sam, but did something for Dean as well. Believe it or not, the older Winchester brother came away with some lessons in this experience as well. First, it was Dean that talked the killer of the week down, not Sam or Sully. Those weren’t just words he told Reese. He truly meant all of it, that it’s important to know who the good guys are. Dean didn’t want to help Sully at first, so something about the good Zanna do sunk in. Yes, even after having to bury a Mermaid.
Second, Dean saw first hand that Sam needs a support network and Sam was very lucky to have a fallback when he wasn’t there. It gave him a better understanding of his brother and what’s been troubling him lately. I do wonder if there was even a tinge of jealousy to have a friend like that. Dean hasn’t been doing too good himself and he hasn’t been opening up and sharing. This time Dean entertained the talk with Sam about going to the cage. He still doesn’t like the idea, he still didn’t give a great answer, but at least he talked about it.
Dean probably needs his own support network as well and keeping his confused feelings about Amara hidden isn’t helping him. We know that Dean has been pretty gruff this season, and his grumpy mood didn’t change in this ep. While some are complaining they are writing Dean as a dick, others wonder if it’s a sign that something is wrong. While that answer wasn’t given this week, Dean did soften a bit at the end when it came to Sam, so I'm leaning in the something is wrong department.
Looking back at earlier seasons, restoring this type of order and sanity in the Winchester’s lives used to fall on Bobby, especially when the issue of Sam going to Lucifer’s cage came up the first time in “Swan Song.” It was Bobby who talked Dean down from rejecting Sam’s plan outright. Dean constantly leaned on Bobby for advice and wisdom at his darkest hour. Castiel hasn’t been filling that void lately, and I do wonder why. It just goes to show how much these two, and this show, really misses Bobby.
In terms of the brotherly bond, Sully managed a small breakthrough. He got the brothers talking. Instead of my fear that Sam would go off on his own to Lucifer’s cage without Dean’s blessing, it looks like Dean will be there backing the plan (at least if the previews are to be believed). This makes me happy. Sam needs his brother to have his back when considering such a dangerous plan, just like with “Swan Song.” Sam has every right to be scared. Heck, he should be terrified, and judging by how emotional he got talking about the cage to Sully, he is. But Sam has learned his lesson by now. He can’t do this alone. Bad things happen when he does.
- Why the Hell is Sam getting up at 6:30 am? Did he like have to go to work or something? He looked really tired. I’d be hitting the snooze and going back to bed for several hours. You have to love the bed head on both of them though!
- Did anyone notice in the kitchen scene the shot of Dean’s bare leg when he flung around against Sully? I noticed, again and again. We were robbed of the front robe shot! Yes, I've been known to dip my toes in the shallow end of the pool from time to time.
- I've got two favorite quotes, both from Dean. Can't decide which I love more. Probably the second:
“Are you having a stroke? Do you smell toast?”
“No, this is a great thing. A Manicorn, a freaking Mermaid, what am I supposed to do with that? But a chick in a car, that’s terra firma. I’m home.”
- Sam mentioned breaking his arm when trying to fly! Score one for continuity.
- “Even when he’s dead, Sparkle cannot stop shining.”
Overall grade, B+. “Just My Imagination” is a good episode but when coupled with the main storyline, it becomes a key component. It matters to the overall scheme. Let’s hope the writers of the midseason finale are as in tune with the themes of the season as this one.