The Morning After
Now THAT was an outstanding Supernatural episode! “Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox” had a generous helping of genuinely emotional moments, an original and exciting hunt, interesting family dynamics, continuity of character and plot history, and an outstanding selection of rock music (that has been missing from far too many episodes).
Kim Rhodes always does an outstanding job as Jody, and I just love watching her interact with the boys. I also rejoiced at having Mary front and center in an episode again. I know I’ve said this before but I am still in awe of how natural it is to have her hunt with the boys. I can’t compliment Samantha Smith enough on how well she’s slipped Mary into the show’s energetic signature. I actually miss her now when she’s not on a hunt. The boys seem more isolated or lonely without her.
I’ve also previously mentioned that I think Jody and Donna are being tested as the Supernatural spinoff. Add a Winchester to the mix, i.e. Mary, and the pilot writes itself. This episode also introduced a few new, minor characters (the twins for example) that would be great recurring guest stars in a spinoff. There’s also hunter Eileen from 11.11 “Into the Mystic” (coincidentally also directed by John Badham) and you have a completely new roster of female hunters. This would be an outstanding show!
Supernatural’s new writer, Steve Yockey, knocked it out of the park in his first time at bat for the series! “Asa Fox” was a great episode with several layers of meaning. Since the Lucifer/Cas/Crowley plotline was not included, Sam and Dean’s story enjoyed the focus of the entire hour. Even though I can’t cover all of the underlying messages and clues in this case in just one review, there are certainly several threads worth examining on this first day after the show!
Moms and their Sons / Parents and their Children
“The Life of Asa Fox” included a triple layer of the “Moms and their Sons” theme plus the additional complexity of a dad who had twin children he kept secret. All these family dynamics were woven together seamlessly, forming a beautiful study of children understanding and accepting imperfect parents, and loving parents struggling to find a place in the lives of their adult children while still wanting to protect them. The wake was the backdrop to several different family situations that all echoed separation, mourning, reunions and new beginnings:
- The Winchesters, who dearly love each other but are struggling to reunite, as the mother still mourns the husband and sons she lost, and the children try to understand the mother from whom they were separated for virtually their whole lives.
- The Fox family, with an overprotective mother who mourns the son she desperately tried to save, and his twin children who grew up separated from their father. They have all now lost their son/father but that tragedy introduced grandparent to previously hidden grandchildren. It seems the Reunion theme wasn’t limited to only the first few episodes of season 12.
- Jody, who still mourns the son and husband she lost tragically but who allows herself to “enjoy the company of a ruggedly hot man”.
The dialog was filled with Lorraine’s frequent mentions of her son, Jody talking about her husband and son, and Mary reflecting on her old life, plus the story opened with a fast-forward view of Asa growing up from a boy to adulthood. Listen for the words “mom” and “son” in your rewatch. Additional messages were layered in the grief, guilt, separation and secrets that accompanied these relationships, though.
Threads first recognized the “Absent Parents” sub-theme in the “American Nightmare” review, when the boys talked (or didn’t talk in Dean’s case) about Mary running away. “The One You’ve Been Waiting For” skimmed the surface of the topic through the crucial detail of Ellie growing up separated from her biological parents, people she didn’t even know existed. Now in “Asa Fox”, twin hunter children grew up separated from their father who “Mom used to talk about all the time” and a grandmother who didn’t know they were the biological offspring of her son.
While the parallel to the boys growing up without Mary is obvious, I’m intrigued if the thread of discovering biological family that had been previously separated by choice has foreshadowing implications. Mary said:
I’ve been using John’s journal to retrace a few things. Trying to catch up on what I’ve missed.
Is it possible she’ll find long lost Winchester or Campbell relatives? It certainly makes sense that she would know of more distant relatives and family secrets than Sam or Dean (our mothers always know more about the family than we do, no matter how old we get!). I don’t for a minute believe she is going to find another half-sibling of the boys. We did the Adam thing once and we all know how that ended up. Yet, the “finding family secrets” idea has clearly been present in the past 3 episodes. I tend to believe it is just Sam and Dean finding their long-lost mother but is she hiding another huge secret like the demon deal? In studying John’s journal, it’s equally possible that Mary will see clues that her rookie hunting husband and young sons didn’t recognize and she’ll want to resume an old case, maybe “tie up a few loose ends” again. What are your theories on where this might be going?
Saving People, Hunting Things
It was so interesting to see Mary on her own hunt 36 years ago. It seems she wasn’t as innocent as John thought she was at the time. She was “moonlighting” on cases even after Dean was born:
Mary to Asa: You did a great job of pointing directions
Asa: What was that thing?
Mary: A werewolf. One I’ve been tracking for a long time. We had history.
Asa: You kill werewolves?
Mary: I hunted a lot of bad things.
Asa: Hunted? Like past tense? But if you retire, who’s gonna save people like me?
That’s how new hunters, like Asa, are born.
Mary has never been able to reconcile her training, skills and instincts as a hunter with her revulsion for what it did to the normal life she desperately wanted (and still wants). Mary’s confusion was compounded when Asa’s mother exchanged anger and blame for grief for a moment, and blamed Mary’s for Asa’s death:
Lorraine: You’re the reason my son didn’t become an astronaut. Asa wrote those to you over the years but couldn’t send them because you’re so mysterious.
Mary: I saved his life.
Lorraine: After you… Hunting was his whole life. He never married, never had a family, kids.
If Asa is the story’s substitute for Sam or Dean (just like Dean, Asa loved working on his car), is Mary running because she feels the weight of guilt over turning them into hunters? She already admitted to Dean that she didn’t know how she could face Sam knowing what her deal did to his life. Is she trying to figure out where she’ll do the least damage – hunting again or dragging more normal people into her vortex of the supernatural?
Reminding us again of the bonding between mother and son, Sam empathized with Mary’s dilemma in a beautifully supportive talk:
We just got you back, and he’s just scared we’re gonna lose you again, that because we’re hunters, you’re gonna walk away. But I Know that’s not true. You saved Asa in 1980, after Dean was born, after everyone thought you quit hunting. Seems like you couldn’t stop then, and I’m guessing you can’t stop now either. This job, this life… it’s crazy and insane but it’s in our blood.
(Notice the reprise of the Insanity thread.) Then, to subliminally remind us of how Mary and Sam’s lives were both derailed in the same moment, a drop of blood drips from the ceiling onto a forehead, prompting both hunters to look up at a body on the ceiling. This scene was staged exactly the same as Mary’s and Jessica’s death in the Supernatural pilot.
Looking beyond the Winchesters, it was so refreshing and oddly validating that the boys’ hunting exploits were acknowledged and applauded for once. Instead of the British MoL condemning the way Sam and Dean have spent their lives, the hunter community considers Sam and Dean heroes (and they don’t even know a fraction of the truth!):
Bucky: The Dean Winchester?
Randy: No freakin way. Aren’t you dead, like four times?
Elvis: Wait. Your brother here? Sam?
Dean: Yeah, he’s still alive too.
Bucky: Our famous friend said the magic word…..
You think the stories about Asa are crazy. You should hear what they say about you.
Then Sam’s amazing successes were recognized:
Elvis: Are you Sam Winchester? You are, right? Oh this is nuts, Wow. Hi!
I am SO happy that Sam and Dean finally got to hear some praise for their largely unacknowledged work.
Sam: Did you know people tell stories about us?
Dean: Yeah. Apparently, we’re a little bit legendary.
Then the positive note went sour when they, and we, were reminded of the mortality rate in their profession:
Sam: Yeah, but I mean so was Asa. Then a hunt went bad and he ended up hanging from a tree, alone in the woods.
Dean: He died on the job. No better way to go.
Sam: You really believe that?
Dean: Yeah. What, you don’t? I mean, come on Sam. It’s not like we’re in the “live till you’re 90-die in your sleep” business. This only ends one way.
The earlier conversation between Dean and the other hunters had already reiterated violent death as the expected end of a hunter’s career. When Billie showed up, Dean said
Well, I’m not dead yet.
Yes, people talk about death at wakes, but this seemed like the writers were trying to purposely warn us. We know the brothers won’t die (permanently at least) so the obvious alternative is that Mary’s life expectancy is perilously short (which would horrifically end my spin off plans for her!).
The wake was also a perfect setting to bring up the boys’ prior hunting community (e.g. Ellen and Garth), and explain why the brothers don’t associate much with other hunters:
We never go to hunter gatherings, outside of bars, Dad always said they were trouble.
The stories that were told of wendigos, ghouls and run-of-the-mill crossroads demons by “a house full of loud, drunk hunters” brought back memories of classic Supernatural episodes. The brothers have come a long way since the early days and have lost most of their original friends, but Asa Fox’s wake finally expanded the hunting world once again.
Jody ominously confirmed:
It’s not like I just turn into a boring small-town sheriff when you guys are gone. I do stuff. I hunt.
So as a part-time hunter, she’d earned a place at a hunter’s funeral. Some of the other new characters, namely Randy and Elvis, didn’t survive the night but Bucky made it. I really liked him so maybe he’ll get a chance to redeem himself sometime in the future.
More significantly, we met a good warlock and witch brother/sister team:
Sam: Wait, so you guys were raised by a witch, but you’re hunters?
Alicia: She taught me to hunt witches – bad witches. She taught him some magic, which is actually more useful.
Having the exorcism recited in verses by a chorus of hunters was a creative and exciting way to reuse a piece of canon that has been ignored for too long. The communal recitation of the exorcism and commonplace knowledge of the existence and use of an angel blade and devil’s traps also made the hunting universe more believable. I really enjoyed the expansion of the Supernatural community and loved the acknowledgement that Sam and Dean are not the only hunters who are competent in their profession. The warlock’s casual collaboration was a cute way to imply a varied knowledge of his craft:
What kind of a Devil’s Trap? I like a Fifth Pentacle of mars. It’s got more character.
Looking at the magic standpoint, maybe witchcraft may still hold some secrets that can strengthen the brothers’ arsenal against Lucifer. Rowena may still get the chance (and some help?) to prove her newfound conscience. Looking at it from a character standpoint, however, these additional hunters may come in handy in the American community’s fight against the British. Of course, now we know more hunters who may also perish in that fight.
With Jael’s (thanks Bookdahl for spelling this out for us. I kept picturing the name as J.L.!) possession of multiple hunters being the core of this week’s story, I’m adding possession as a formal thread and foreshadowing theme in season 12. It has been a part of most (all?) of the season's episodes so far so we can't ignore it any longer. Notably, Sam’s prior possession by Lucifer was again prominently mentioned in the episode:
Elvis: …Garth said that you were possessed by the Devil? Like Lucifer, the actual big bad Devil, and you lived? It’s pretty amazing, huh?
This is both exciting and very troubling. Lucifer is looking for a new vessel; Sam’s blood compatibility as Satan’s true vessel has been mentioned repeatedly in consecutive episodes, and then last week we learned that blood from the perfect vessel can make a substitute vessel suitable for possession. How about a blood relative then? Is the plot headed toward Mary being possessed by Lucifer? Sam specifically mentioned their blood connection in his reassuring talk with her (above). There’s also the backstory of Asa being forced by a demon to watch a girl kill herself, then the same demon coming after a woman in Asa’s life because “it was personal”. If Asa represents Dean or Sam, then this has frightening foreshadowing implications for the woman who is currently most prominent in the Winchester boys’ lives. If Lucifer finds out about Mary…
From a storyline perspective, I have complete confidence that Samantha Smith would do a brilliant job portraying Lucifer, so that possibility is tantalizing! From an emotional standpoint, though – NO!! A thousand times NO! It is possible that the possession scenarios are simply meant to echo the fact that Lucifer is roaming the Earth in a possessed body but that seems like a lot of script time to tell us something we weren’t likely to forget. Rather, it seems like this is headed somewhere dark, tragic and heart-wrenching. While possessing Jody, the demon even said,
“I had so hoped you’d kill your mom!”
Mary’s a hunter, after all, and as both she and Dean said, “Hunters – No matter how good they are, they all end up the same way.”
Humans vs. Animals
This theme was woven into the “Asa Fox” story in two different ways. First, even though everyone expected that a hunter would die on the job at the hands of one of the supernatural monsters he was hunting, it turns out Asa was accidentally killed by his best friend, a human whom he trusted and who worked alongside him. His punishment was exile from the hunters’ world. The second reminder that humans can be animals was the opening hunt from 1980 when Mary killed a werewolf. I’m judging this thread to be more “the morale of the story” for the season rather than a foreshadowing clue. What do you think?
The funeral pyre maintained the branding/burning thread that has so far been present in every season 12 episode. In this case, the burning was a cleansing ritual, releasing souls from bodies. Before this episode, burning and branding had always been used destructively (torture, death) or as a symbol of tribal loyalty (British Men of Letters tattoos, swastika). I’m beginning to think that a brand/tattoo or spell of burning is what will rid the world of Lucifer. Other theories on the future of this theme?
Sadly, this episode passed on a perfect opportunity to prove that Sam and Dean still have their anti-possession tattoos. With so many other mentions to prior cases and canon, I kept expecting that scrumptious detail to be revealed. I suspect its absence had more to do with the practical problem of having to add make-up time to an episode’s schedule and budget, but a fan can still hold out hope, right?
There was a recurring emphasis on “Rules” in this episode. We know that Billie is a “big believer” in rules, but Dean also said he “didn’t know the rules” of the drinking game. This sounds like a new thread is peeking up at us. Listen for it.
I did indeed celebrate the life of Asa Fox! This episode joins my favorites list. It was comfortable and familiar, like Sam's fit into Jody's couch. I look forward to reading the analysis in the next few days from the rest of The Winchester Family Business staff and to hearing your theories, so let’s get started!
Script Details confirmed with http://transcripts.foreverdreaming.org/
Some screencaps courtesy of http://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/