The Morning After

That was cute! Supernatural’s “The Scorpion and the Frog” was the comedic repose before the intensity of Jack, Mary and the fate of the world hanging in the balance returns in next week’s mid-season finale. Written by Meredith Glynn, whose last episode “The Big Empty” was unanimously praised by The Winchester Family Business reviewers (and most fans from what I saw) is on a roll with popular, well written stories.

Characters, Characters Everywhere… again!

The success of this week’s heist adventure was due largely to its intriguing characters played perfectly by equally intriguing actors.

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I was mesmerized by Barthamus. I knew I had seen and liked the actor before (David Cubitt) but I couldn’t place why I recognized him, so I intently watched and listened to his every move (SPNFamily helped me out by remembering him as Detective Lee Scanlon from Medium). Bart was fascinating! So much like Crowley – fast wit, snarky, intelligent, conniving deal maker, deadly but charming. Even his appearance reminded me of Crowley. I was very conflicted when Bart was killed. His character was well constructed and Cubitt’s delivery was spot-on but it felt disloyal to like him that much! If the show couldn’t keep Crowley, they didn’t get to construct Crowley 2.0! Still, I really liked Bart and wanted to see more of him! It’s fabulous to be that invested in a character so quickly.

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Shrike was also a fascinating character. Played by Richard Brake who was in Game of Thrones and too many other shows to mention, his mystery ensnared me. Obviously intelligent, dangerous and multi-layered, he was a worthy adversary to the brothers. Sam battled with Shrike’s cunning while Dean was tested via physical entrapments reminiscent of Indiana Jones.   

Smash and Grab were equally interesting. Uniquely skilled with distinct personas, it was fun to have their personalities and complexities slowly revealed. Just like Bart was a Crowley wanna-be, Smash, aka Alice, is Charlie 2.0 - rebellious, on her own, resourceful, wears graphic tees, the best at her craft, a little sis to Dean who shares a passion for vintage soda, complete with a send-off at a bus station. Since she can “open any safe built by man”, there is no doubt she will return in the future.  Again, loved her character but I hate feeling disloyal to Charlie! Where do you come out on these characters’ introductions?

“The Scorpion and the Frog”’s alluring web was also spun around its slick, witty one-liners and well-executed comedic situations. Some of my favorites:

Pain in the Pitchfork… and the halo

 

This is on you, hand puppet.

 

Dean: Yeah, we’re real Twinsies 

How many of you thought of Jensen’s twins with that line? Wonderful!

The story was a nice dose of classic Supernatural because it revolved around Sam and Dean (just Sam and Dean) and showcased truly basic personality traits of both brothers.

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 At their first meeting (that of couse included pie for Dean, another trite but true love of Dean's), Bart established that the brothers' jobs would be determined by their base reputations (this will be important later).  

Dean: When a demon tells us to jump, we don't ask how high. We just ice their ass.
Bart: How very "Dean" of you. Sam, do me a favor. You're the smart one. Look into that.
 
Those who know the brothers well (including the audience) of course realize that Dean is tactically brilliant and Sam can be a cold killer, but Bart had been “following their careers for a long time” and knew “everything” about them. Given his second hand knowledge, he wasn’t wrong about their stereotypical strengths or the areas they tend toward naturally. With that understanding and in that context, their roles for the heist, and the episode, made sense. The climax of this historical nostalgia was the “brother” music playing at the end when Sam smiled knowing that the “old Dean” was back.  

 

It was comforting and easy to see the brothers play their traditional roles. It’s always a treat to see Dean’s hilarious, not-such-a-tough-guy-after-all inner child that is usually only exposed when he is under a spell, such as in “Yellow Fever” or “Dog Dean Afternoon”. The prolonged scene where he was terrified to stick his hand in the stone boar’s mouth (was that a boar?) because it might contain big, scary spiders gave us a new Supernatural classic laugh out loud moment!

Alice: I think you’re supposed to put your paw in there.
Dean: … there could be anything in there. Anything, right? There could be spiders. There could be the spiny blade things.  SnakesSpiders.

I truly enjoyed the episodic pause on that scene that let Jensen's comedy breathe and wash over the audience. The anticipation of the moment was half the fun, as we all pictured scenes of Indiana Jones’ beetles, Dune (“put your hand in the box”), and similar genre references that Supernatural writers knew we would understand.  

Sam’s intellect was also showcased. Wow, that guy’s smart! He passed the test of basilisk fang (who else thought Harry Potter?) versus gorgon tooth and came up with the solution of using Shrike as a human dart board.

Amid all these wonderful mythological puzzles and character battles, there were two flaws that marred the perfection of the episode. First, Sam would have grabbed for that spell parchment immediately. He wouldn’t have stood there like an inert statue only moved to action when Dean recognized that the spell (that Sam wanted to begin with) was going up in smoke. He also wouldn’t have fanned the flames by blowing on them! The intricate set up of the story deserved more than an unbelievable, rushed closure.

Also, there was that line. You may have noticed it. It hijacked my enjoyment of the entire episode. Lest I let it do the same to my review, I’m leaving it for last. Let’s look at the rest of the script first!

Free Will

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Dean: You know, I probably don't have to tell you this, but working for demons is not a smart idea.
Alice: You're working for demons.
Dean: Yeah, well, I don't really have a choice.
Alice: Same
After she ran away and Bart forced her to return to the job,
 
Dean: Why'd you cottontail?
Alice: You think I wanna be here? Like I have a choice?
Sam: You made a deal.
Alice: Wow! You think?
Sam: You sold your soul.
Alice: And if I could take it back, I would. But Sorry Charlie. I can't. So here I am.
 
I might really be stretching it, but I hear a meta comment in Alice's last line. If the writers could take back killing Charlie, they would, but they can't so they apologize, "Sorry, Charlie" and voila, here's Alice as her new counterpart. Possible?
 
Alice was being forced to do Bart's "dirty work" to avoid Hell, but Luther had been smart enough to be able to renegotiate his deal. As of yet, neither Jack, Sam, Dean nor Lucifer are being forced to do things against their will but Mary and Kevin certainly are. That leaves one major character to consider – Castiel. Other than the obvious of him being held as ransom, has his free will been stripped from him? Is this continuing thread a clue to Entity Cas?

Truth/Trust

When first meeting Bart, Sam asked Dean,

Sam: what if he's telling the truth?
At their second meeting, when Bart was “convincing” the brothers that they should work with him, he confessed his level of trust:
 
Bart: Put it another way -- take the deal, or I give the spell to Asmodeus. I made a copy of your half, obviously. Did I neglect to mention that he's looking for your boy, too? But here's the thing -- I don't trust him. Of course, I don't trust you either, but I trust him less, so you get dibs.
In the next scene, when Asmodeus’ messenger was trying to convince Shrike to work with the Prince of Hell, the demon categorized Bart as someone who couldn’t be trusted:
 
All Asmodeus asks is when he shows his traitor face, you give us a call.
 
What betrayal is this foreshadowing? Is it simply a thread that Jack should be trusted and is telling the truth… or the exact opposite for Castiel?

New Rules

The Queen of Sheba was a Nephilim? Well that’s imaginative. The brothers are now aware that there is a Nephilim tracking spell. Regardless of the fact that half of it burned (needlessly. Still annoyed by that), the Men of Letter’s library and the brothers now know it exists. I’m thinking this may be important sometime in the distant future (like angel and demon tablets keep coming up). What do you think?

Fear

Sam: Jack is out there, in the world, and he's alone and he's scared and he's dangerous. 
 
This was the only mention of fear that I heard, but Dean’s entire hand prick trauma showed us fear. Sam was of course referring to Jack’s predicament but what if the fear thread is also a clue that Castiel is still in the Empty? If he’s there, he’d be very alone and rightly scared. It seems important to me. Do you hear Castiel’s plight echoed in this thread or only Jack's?

Smart/Stupid

If you’re brother’s too stupid to do his part, then that’s on him.

We haven’t heard this thread too often this year, so it’s interesting that Sam was categorized as “the smart one” only to have Grab later wonder if Sam was stupid and have Smash be surprised that Sam thinks. Ideas on the reason for this emphasis?

Right and Good

The first 5 minutes of the show alone included so many utterances of “right”, I decided not to double the size of this review by repeating them all here!   Dean’s “Good with Crazy”, and knows it’s “never a good sign” when doors don’t have locks, and feels “good” about saving Alice, who is going to be “good” now that her ordeal is over.  

One possible purpose of the dialog constantly commenting on who’s right (or not), and what’s good (or not) is to foreshadow the ultimate question of who’s right about Jack, and whether or not he’s good. Will he take after his father or his mother? Is he a “chip off the old block” or the harbinger of paradise?

Luther: It make you feel good, whoring yourselves out to pure evil? Because that's what he is. What he did to me, my little boy.
Sam: What are you talking about?
Luther: My son…. You're on the wrong side of this, boys. You gotta ask yourselves if you can live with that.
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The moral of the Luther’s story is that a father will do anything to save his son’s life. That reference pulls the parallel of Lucifer and Jack into that scene. The interesting thing is that Luther accused the Winchesters of being wrong, and working for “pure evil” because “that’s what he is”. Who is “he” in the analogy, though, Lucifer or Jack? Right now, Sam and Dean are working with Jack so is he being implicated as pure evil? You know that I don’t believe that, despite the obvious suggestion. Rather, I think, this foreshadows the boys working with Lucifer in the future, perhaps to protect the world against Michael’s invasion. Can they live with that?

The Scorpion and the Frog – Animals and the Title Thread

Cottontails, snakes, spiders, paws, and obviously scorpions and frogs. The fable of those two frenemies is that each creature has to be true to their nature, that despite the scorpion’s promise he still killed the frog. Does that adage apply to Alice and Bart? Sam and Dean were true to their nature, so maybe them? How about Jack, though, or Lucifer, or even Empty Entity? I’m going to let the other reviewers and you tackle that one. I need to tackle the remaining one line of this episode that almost ruined the whole thing for me.

Selling Souls 

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Bart: …the only thing that can actually open it is the blood of a man who's been to Hell and back. Tell me, Dean, do you know any men like that?
 
My jaw dropped and my stomach turned over when I heard that line addressed only to Dean. What? Dean’s the only brother who’s been to Hell and back? What about Sam? Didn’t he get tortured in Hell by Lucifer himself?
 
I am not a person who worries about sibling rivalry. I don’t ever get embroiled in Sam versus Dean issues. They just don’t resonate for me, so I have no idea why this one line made me see red. I only know that it ruined my first viewing of the episode. I didn’t enjoy anything after that, and it was fairly early in the story! It bothered me so much that I reached out via Twitter to the SPNFamily to help me get past it.
 
The answers I received helped me look at that line differently. I am not going to reproduce the names of The WFB followers who helped me gain perspective lest they get caught up in a brother war, but here are a few of their responses.  The first reply that I saw made sense to me:
 
Maybe also because the trials purged Sam, maybe he has no Hell blood?

That helped open my mind, but the turning point began when the Assistant Director of Supernatural, Kevin Parks, later engaged in our conversation. He respected our concern enough to reply that Sam had also been to Hell and “could have done this as well as Dean.” It is rare to have a relationship like that between any show’s team and its fans, and I’m truly thankful for his affirmation.

Several other fans also replied and a new, consistent interpretation began to emerge:

Sam was never CONDEMNED to hell. He has been there, but not under its terms. Maybe that's the difference.
 
maybe the difference is that Dean was INTENTIONALLY sent to Hell due to the deal he made. He HAD to be there….

 

maybe it is just about the one who made a deal.

 

I'd argue he wasn't sent there like dean though. Swan song he jumped into the cage, and taxi driver he went there voluntarily.
 
That was it. This episode was about making deals and selling souls. Sam and Dean were dealing with a crossroad demon, the head of the crossroads demons according to him, so he would of course only be concerned with the brother that bartered away his soul and was dragged to Hell when his time was up.  Bart knew the history of deals, and Dean’s was the biggest one on record.
 
Yes, both boys went to Hell and back, but Sam’s blood wouldn’t have matched Luther’s, either because Sam’s was purged or because it was never condemned blood. Dean made a deal that paralleled Luther’s – they both traded their lives to save the family member most dear to them. Alice also sold her soul and was desperately trying to avoid Hell. This episode was about making deals and living with the consequence of those deals. From a threads standpoint, this is significant. Why are we revisiting selling one’s soul in such a significant way (Dean’s flashback, Bart, Luther and Alice), specifically to save family? What is this foreshadowing?
 
Today, just before writing this section of the review (yes, I saved it for last), I saw that Meredith Glynn had answered Kevin Parks, some fans and The WFB. “THIS.” is all she said but in that she confirmed that the deal was the difference.  With that unequivocal verification, I rewatched the episode through that lens and thoroughly enjoyed it. It was witty, funny, smart – all the things I saw the first time but didn’t feel.  Now I get it, and am intrigued. It’s about making a deal.  
 
I detailed this journey to understanding in hopes that the “Sam is forgotten” hurt that many felt, or still feel, would not hijack this review, your comments, or your enjoyment of an otherwise wonderful hour of Supernatural.  I hope it helps. (If it didn’t, please deeply respect everyone’s reactions and be nice to each other!) I certainly feel very differently than I did last night. 

Curiosities

It was very curious that the “Then” segment chose to repeat Ketch saying,

Did it ever occur to you, Dean, that I might actually be one of the good guys?

We speculated last week that Ketch is a conflicted character, entrenched in his evil ways but actually wanting to be liked by the good guys. Like Sam, he may have thought he was doing good work eradicating monsters for the BMoL. “Alex” defended Arthur saying he was loyal to a fault. Were these hints for a Ketch redemption arc?

 
On second watch, I thoroughly enjoyed “The Scorpion and The Frog” and can’t wait to see more from Meredith! Before that, though, I’m psyched about the previews for next week. How about you? We have a week to figure everything out so let's get going! 
 
 
Transcript Quotes courtesy of: Read more: https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/
Other references: IMDB.com and Supernaturalwiki.com