Open Couch – Appointment in Samarra


How do you define human dignity?

An – quite literally – ensouled episode. Looks like the resident therapist here is going to have some serious work with Sam (and Dean won’t be far behind, I reckon)… Thank God there’s a hiatus and we can take our time to work out some coping strategies. 

Lean back, kind readers, get yourself some coffee, hot chocolate or good Scotch and snuggle into the cushions, as this one will be, I’m afraid, a long one. 

A few years back there was a brilliant book by a wonderful writer named John O’Hara, ‘Appointment in Samarra’ – it’s the story of a young high society man set during the time of the prohibition in a small Pennsylvanian town. Being at odds with the bourgeois, complacent and suffocating small town society, he loses his temper and insults a member of the gentry, thereby causing the beginning of his own downfall. He spirals inevitably to his own self-destruction and loses practically everything. 

I can only assume the writers meant to build a connection to this outstanding novel (and I am thinking self-destructive Sam here) which holds a reference to W. Somerset Maugham, who retold the ancient story from the Babylonian Talmud (though its origins are unknown): ‘The Appointment in Samarra’

Death speaks: “There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, ‘Master, just now when I was in the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death that jostled me.  She looked at me and made a threatening gesture! Now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate.  I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.’

The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went.  Then the merchant went down to the marketplace and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, ‘Why did you make a threating gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?’ – ‘ That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise.  I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra’.”
Literally scholars see in the term having-an-appointment-in-Samarra a metaphor for Death and that you can’t escape what’s waiting for you. Here you go.
And once again I am pleasantly amazed by the erudition of the writers of this show. Well done, indeed! 

They are giving us, again, another deeply disturbing battle in this episode - both brothers are fighting for the same thing: survival. More on a spiritual level than a physical one. Dean can’t bear that Sam is imprisoned in hell and being tortured till kingdom come. He’s been there. He knows how terrible it can be. He’s following his inner compass that has always been in alignment with the safety of his younger sibling. That’s his life’s calling. It has always been. It might have found variations over the years, but that’s what Dean still feels compelled to do.

He wouldn’t be able to sleep from tormenting guilt if he didn’t achieve this goal. He probably wouldn’t be able to live with that, and thereby he’s also trying to protect himself.

Sam, on the other hand, has listened closely when angel and demon agreed on the matter of his soul. He doesn’t want it back. It scares the living daylights out of him to imagine how he might end up, a pathetic mess, like a genetic meltdown of soul and living body, when his infernal ordeal surfaces. He’s terrified and I can’t blame him. Who wouldn’t be?
Both brothers are ready to do literally everything to survive – Dean goes flatline, strikes a deal with Death (not heeding his previous bad experiences when it came to making deals with the supernatural), imprisons Sam, forces his soul back into his body (it doesn’t matter that Death does it – Dean is the one who made it possible by searching for the horseman and agreeing to his terms, thereby doing himself (in his desperation about Sam) and Death (as it is about souls, we will learn) a favour. A deeply disturbing thought altogether – there is, no doubt, method in this madness).

Sam looks for a deal with another paranormal enemy, Balthazar, he’s trying to deceive everyone, eventually is willing to take Bobby’s life to scar himself in an irreparable manner.

‘Desperate times’ is the reason both explain their actions to their opponents. Oh, yes, they come from the same gene pool.  Though hardly anyone could be closer, both couldn’t be further apart.

It’s heartbreaking, really. 

‘If I don’t make it back, nothing I say is gonna mean a damn thing to him.’

So, Dean is going to have that appointment as he stops by a Chinese butcher to find a fairly cheap (and, well, germ inhabited) apartment. He meets a bit too-hands-on doctor who apparently has stitched up his father countless times ‘back in the days when I still had a license’. Okay…  Did anyone check whether this Chinatown had an Elm Street?

Well, his treatment room has seen better days, and he occupies a Goth-ish assistant named Eva.  But Dean will go through with this, as Dean has a plan for which he is willing to pay good money – find Death. 

The problem is: to meet Death you need to die. 

It seems Dean has lost faith in the version of his brother that has been around. The last-words-letter in case anything goes wrong in the flatlining process is addressed to his almost-son Ben, not to his brother.

Because what’s walking around on this planet is an empty vessel. Supposedly. The essence of Sam that used to live in that handsome body is down in the pit. And there is no sense in Dean sending any last words to an empty shell. Perhaps he even assumes he might see Sam downstairs should things go wrong. Though I would personally think that Dean would finally end up in Heaven (since he has been a basically good man, despite the whole demon-killing, lying, fraud and womanizing), he himself in all likelihood doesn’t hold himself in that high an esteem.

It’s a painful sentence he utters here. He’s a defeated man, more or less, who still has a lot of spunk, in short: he dies for his brother, again, to find a way, any way, to save him. And he is a beautiful corpse, indeed. An even more handsome ghost evoking Tessa (sorry, folks I need a dash of shallowness here, this is going to be a tough ride). But she doesn’t want to help him call her boss, the Horseman himself. No need, as Death is here. He always is here. He walks beside us, doesn’t he? Whenever he reaches out his hand, someone has to go. I know how that feels. I am quite grateful I don’t have to be on the other side, doing the taking.
I am amazed, again, at the charisma of Julian Richings. With his extraordinary looks and husky voice he is predestined to play characters like this, a holy man or the devil. It might not be the nicest typecast niche, but I can’t help but notice that when he appears on the screen it’s full. You don’t miss another person there. He dominates his screen time. And that is a rare thing.  Plus: he does his job wonderfully.