"A Very Supernatural Christmas" – aka My Favorite Episode (Tied with "Mystery Spot")
If I had to choose, Dean is the character I most enjoy watching on Supernatural; however, in reality, I’m a lot like Sam…probably why I don’t love watching him as much, because sometimes it just hits too close to home.
As a Dean girl, my favorite episodes usually have a lot to do with him, such as "What is and What Should Never Be" (number 3 on my favorite episodes list, by the way) and definitely in the top ten is "In My Time of Dying" and "Dream a Little Dream of Me", two decidedly ‘heavy’ Dean episodes, if nothing else than for their perspective. But, even with that knowledge in place, my two favorite episodes of Supernatural, and depending on my mood they swap places with the other, are episodes that are decidedly Sam-centric regarding point of view as well as the point of the episode.
Supernatural uses alternate reality episodes to teach a character something about himself, while allowing us to view the ‘lesson’. "What Is and What Should Never Be" was a lesson for Dean, about hunting, about his desires, about what drives him, about how heavy and dead he feels at this point after John’s death, and it speaks directly to the deal he made just two episodes later as he realizes his life without Sam as his brother and partner on the road, is nothing. "Mystery Spot" is very much Sam learning a lesson, painfully I might add. When I first watched it, I had no idea about Dean’s deal and impending date with hell; it was the first episode I ever saw. It didn’t take long for me to understand just how pointed the Trickster’s words were to Sam when he revealed his ‘lesson’: "When are you going to learn? You can’t save your brother." Even after dozens of viewings, the ‘lesson’ is still painful.
Supernatural also uses flashbacks to reveal character motivations. "Something Wicked" helped us, and Sam, learn just why Dean follows dad’s orders. "After School Special" gave insight into what drove Sam to go to Stamford, and "A Very Supernatural Christmas" gives critical emotional insight into Sam as he too lives through Dean’s “final” year on earth, and also gives insight into what formed him into the man he is today. We saw Dean in the "Pilot" episode as a four- nearly-five-year-old boy. He was old enough to form some memories of normalcy: mom and dad in a loving, secure household. Sam, however, was only six months old in the "Pilot", and he would have no such memories. AVSC shows us the defining moment when Sam realized, at the tender age of eight, that his life was never, ever going to be normal, and it was the moment when all his illusions and fantasies were dashed, forever. It’s tragic.
"A Very Supernatural Christmas" is an episode of contrasts. We see happy homes decked for the holiday, presents galore and all the special touches, wreaths and garland, stockings and trees, presents and cookies. Contrast that to the garish, gruesome spectacle of ‘Santa’ killing and smashing, in front of young impressionable boys, and ruining, forever, Christmas. Yeah, Sam’s POV just screams to be told as we learn through the flashbacks that Christmas was when he learned, devastatingly so, that Santa wasn’t real but monsters were. It’s when he learned that monsters killed his mom, and that his dad was very much in danger as well. It’s also when he learned that dad, while very much a hero in that he protected his sons as well as strangers, wasn’t going to be there for him in the way that makes life normal: there would be no home, no Christmas presents, no Christmas dinner – it was all an illusion carried out by his older brother. It all crashed together that one Christmas, and it made such an impression that now, some 16 years later, Sam is still affected by it.
Throughout the episode we go back and forth from gaily decorated homes to the dreary plain hotel room that serves as Sam and Dean’s ‘home’ this week. It is a reminder that these two exist on the edge of normal; they look from the outside in. In a beautiful scene, when Sam tells Dean why he won’t celebrate Christmas, the director frames it so the brothers are shown either from the back – giving full view of their dreary motel room, or close from the side. As a final punch, at the end of the scene, the camera pans back and we see the brothers sitting side by side in their sad motel room, the weight of Sam’s revelation to Dean hanging between them, and outside their window we see a colorfully lit Christmas tree. It emphasizes that they are separated, alone, and that their existence is stark and sad, while the rest of the world goes on in a celebratory way.
Another reason I love this episode so much: It contains one of the best monologues post-"Devil’s Trap" when John, possessed by Azazel, tortures and torments Dean and Sam. I understand that monologues serve a purpose, we get insight into the monster or the bigger plan, blah, blah, blah, but sometimes they are inappropriate because, really, aside from a politician – who always has to speak, a lot – why else would some powerful monster waste time airing its grievances to the two hunters it is about to kill? Well, in reality, it wouldn’t; it would just kill them. However, we have to have a chance for the brothers to overcome, so monsters and bad guys monologue, Sam and Dean escape, and we the fans bemoan the ever-present monologue. But in "A Very Supernatural Christmas", the monologue is between two monsters who play off each other beautifully and it also involves them collecting ‘bits’ for their ritual, much to Sam’s and Dean’s pain, but we get a fabulous sequence of the brothers equally smart-mouthing their tormenters while we the viewers learn the monsters’ motives. It’s all done in a brightly decorated kitchen with holiday treats galore, Christmas aprons and sweaters in full view and so many scented candles burning I can smell the cinnamon and apple.
Just as Dean is about to lose a tooth, quite painfully, the doorbell rings and the Carrigans put on their fake smiles and greet their overly enthusiastic, and awfully adorned, neighbor bringing them fruitcake, an invitation to go caroling, and reminding them of an upcoming bridge date. It’s a fun moment that achieves two goals: First, it allows Sam and Dean to free themselves, and, two, it interrupts the grotesque with the gaudy, keeping the contrast theme alive.
In the end, after dispatching the monsters and patching up their wounds, the brothers retire to their dreary motel. Dean, intent on having some kind of Christmas, even if he has to shove the gifts in Sam’s bag for him to find, comes back to find that Sam has had a complete change of heart. The room is decorated and eggnog is ready and waiting. The final piece of the puzzle came together as Sam worked through his memories of Christmas past: despite all the disappointments, Dean – who shared the same painful childhood that Sam did, never stopped trying to keep the hope alive for Sam, at least the hope that Sam had in his dad, to be there on Christmas. The Sam of the present day realized how much it had to have hurt young Dean to do all that he did back then and he decided to stifle his own growing pain and give his brother the one thing he wanted, and what was actually in Sam’s power to give, and that was one final Christmas, complete with tree, lights, decorations, eggnog and presents.
Sam’s expressions in this final scene range from pain as he remembers his past sorrows, joy at seeing his brother light up to find Christmas made for him, and a painful mixture of emotions as he processes that this is the last Christmas he’ll ever spend with Dean and is just trying to store it all up while not letting his emotions burst all over, so he asks the question that anyone would ask: Want to watch the game? As I said in my review of "Paper Moon" this is how the Winchesters say I love you.
The final moments are framed and shot from a different perspective, this time from the outside looking in. The picture we are left with isn’t of a dreary motel room, now it has been transformed because of a change in perspective. The scene is through the window, framed with festive lights. The backdrop is the mural of a snowy landscape containing a barn and a three-car garage with a large farmhouse, complete with the light on inside evoking the idea of warmth. The motel room’s own lamp casts a warm glow on the mural and softens the stark interior. Sam and Dean are seated and talking; Sam has a slight smile and a relaxed pose with his arm across the back of the couch. As the camera pulls back, we see that snow is softly falling on the Impala, giving the idea that the brothers are home, with their car parked in the ‘driveway’.
Final bits of love for this episode:
- I’m old enough to remember the spinning SPECIAL sequence Eric Kripke managed to get licensed for this episode
- Reindeer pajamas on the little boy – precious
- “You fudgin’ touch me again and I’ll fudgin’ kill you!” HAH!
Thank you, Eric Kripke and Jeremy Carver, for this classic Supernatural episode.
As always, thanks for reading, Elle2