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Supernatural's Pivotal Episodes: Season 3, by Elle2

Here we are, four weeks into Hellatus and all is well, right? Come on, we're doing fine aren't we? The site is rocking with articles, games, daily motivational posters and soon there will be a clock, you know the kind of clock I'm talking about; the one that counts down to the beginning of Season 6. It's coming soon, the clock that is. Also, casting spoilers will soon be up since filming begins July 1st which is just three short weeks away.

If you're still debating, read Faellie's article regarding to Spoil or not to Spoil - then make up your mind. J

So, in the effort to keep up with my goal of one article per week, I bring you the third in my Pivotal Episodes series. As before, I'll include the rules for pivotal episodes:

Rules for pivotal episodes:

As I've learned from Alice, rules are necessary when embarking on such an adventure. Thus, I have some rules regarding how I decided upon the pivotal episode of each season.

First off, it must add to what we know thus far, either for Sam or Dean or for the storyline as a whole.

Second, it must be built upon in future episodes and events.

Third, the episode as a whole must be strong, this is the pivotal episode, not necessarily the most powerful episode of the season but in no way can it simply have a pivotal scene while the rest of the episode is flat or uneven or even forgettable.

For all that the third season was a bit rocky (kinda like Season 5 but both rocked when they rocked!) it was hard to pick 'the pivotal' episode, so I'll make my case for the reasons why those not chosen were not chosen and then, since that will likely tell you which one I did chose, I'll make my case for the one I did choose.

While Ruby is a pivotal character and was introduced in Magnificent 7 and Lisa in The Kids Are All Right has become more pivotal (although I'm certain that is short-lived , hopefully not her though) and Bela appeared in Bad Day At Black Rock and eventually stole the Colt and that kinda was important I cannot rest 'the' pivotal episode on the arrival of a character so that knocks those three episodes out of the running , so far I'm certain no one is surprised.

Sin City is a far more critical episode than we originally give it credit for, go back and rewatch especially the scenes between Casey and Dean and you'll realize just how much Kripke gave away of his future plans. Still, as I stated above in the rules, a pivotal scene, or two, is not enough to raise a decent episode up to 'pivotal' episode.

Bedtime Stories is a decent episode, although a bit stretched in credulity at many a time. While it does show Sam's continued slide down the slippery slope it doesn't make the cut either. Sam's slide is important but since this is a process and there isn't a defining moment, this is not enough to credit this episode with 'the pivotal' status.

Red Sky in the Morning…well, aside from the tuxedos and the 'drumbeat' we've been hearing much of this season so far of Dean trying to convince Sam that he's better off without him, there just isn't much here.

So now we make it to "Fresh Blood," a delicious episode but still not 'the pivotal' one. Granted, Sam and Dean have a powerful brotherly scene where Sam reminds Dean that he knows him much better than Dean gives him credit , it's similar to the information we and Dean saw and learned back in Blood Lust. Fresh Blood gives Gordon a brutally magnificent send off and we get another brotherly moment with the Impala.

Bring on the Christmas bells, eggnog, stolen wreaths and meadow sweet but the backstory of Sam giving Dean the prized amulet and the revelation that Bobby has been a part of these boys' lives all the way back to when they were eight and twelve isn't enough to elevate this to 'pivotal' although there are pivotal scenes.

As an aside, I love the journey Sam takes as he shifts the focus off of himself and puts it on Dean and gives his brother one last Christmas. Dean never minded how disjointed, cheap or dingy their holidays were, for him it was about family; here Sam embraces that aspect and looks beyond the lack in their lives and makes the most of what he has. It's fudgin' beautiful and I always have something in my eye throughout much of this episode.

Then there are four episodes in a row that are powerful, some more than others, some more complete than others but all build to something critical and in these four is 'the pivotal' episode of Season 3. So, yes, that takes "Ghostfacers," "Long Distance Call," "Time is on My Side" and "No Rest For the Wicked" out of the running. While NRFTW is amazing, it is more a closure to the will they or won't they save Dean (they don't , hope that doesn't spoil anything for anybody) and since it isn't the first time a main character has been killed, it doesn't qualify as pivotal in the context of 'the' pivotal episode.

First up, "Malleus Maleficarum" [crickets chirping] It briefly crossed my mind because of several pivotal points, first, we learn that all demons were once human and that Dean will one day become one. Second, Lilith is alluded to here, of course she's alluded to as a he and not the she that she is but it is here the menace begins. Third, Sam admits he's trying to become more like Dean in order to survive without him. Fourth, Ruby enlists Dean in her manipulative little plan, sort of. Still, while there are pivotal points, again, the episode on a whole is uneven and does not qualify.

Next up, Dream a Little Dream of Me, again, it doesn't qualify although the backstory on Bobby is emotionally compelling and I'm glad it did not get dropped but rather deepened in Season 5's Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid. Sam pleading with Dean to care about himself is important and does lead to Dean ultimately deciding to give a fudgin' thought about himself. I cannot forget the scene between Dean and dream/Dean which goes down as one of my favorite Dean defining moments as Dean finally stops hiding behind alcohol, sex and sarcasm and faces his fears and makes a stand. But, while that stand forces Dean to care a little bit more about himself his self-sacrificing ways and self-loathing continue to this day so critical moment it may be, it's not enough to elevate this to 'the' pivotal episode.

So, let's get down to brass tacks, Mystery Spot v Jus In Bello. Keep in mind, the order these were initially intended was Jus In Belo and then Mystery Spot, that's important.

I'm sure there are many thinking that Mystery Spot has to be the one, it is a strong episode, it is brilliantly written, directed and acted by all, with special kudos given to Jared for all his efforts which frankly appear effortless. Jus In Bello is a very powerful episode but it is more contained like Nightshifter, it is about the brothers but it is also about others with Nancy and Henrickson having nice little character moments. JIB does not resonate as Mystery Spot does because while it packs a punch, it does not carry the emotional punch that MS carries, and there's no hug…although there is some blood.

Let's do a side by side comparison.

Mystery Spot gives us a preview of who and what Sam becomes without Dean. In Mystery Spot Sam cuts himself off from Bobby and hunts anything and everything he can find, something that we know happens after NRFTW. At the end of Mystery Spot, when he's given the solution to trap The Trickster and hopefully save Dean, Sam takes the bait , or does he? At first it appears that Sam is blindly willing to kill an innocent or Bobby in order to save Dean but we see that he really knows he's up against the Trickster and thus is not blindly traveling down the dark path. Thank heavens.

Much of "Mystery Spot" is a lesson for Sam, it's impossible to save Dean; however, that doesn't stop Sam from trying, not in the remainder of Season 3 nor in the four months that Dean is dead. We learn that Sam trapped and killed a crossroads demon, attempted to open the devil's gate and ultimately tapped his powers in an effort to hunt down and exact revenge on Lilith; obviously the lesson The Trickster was seeking to impart to Sam failed to take hold.

"Mystery Spot" does deepen the mystery behind The Trickster. He stated back in "Tall Tales" that he liked the Winchesters and here he makes it obvious that he's trying to get through to Sam. True to his wily ways he does not make his intentions clear and we are left to ponder for nearly two years before he finally reveals his interest. While The Trickster's story arc is fascinating (and tragic) there are two seasons that pass before we know why and The Trickster's plan here didn't work, thus no pivot.

"Mystery Spot" is a powerfully emotional episode, Dean sees his brother unravel. Sam watches Dean die time and time again and even exists for six months without Dean , at least in his mind. One of the continuing mysteries for Mystery Spot is whether or not Sam actually lived those days or whether he dreamed them all. Arguments can be made for either side, time travel, time warp or a very incredibly intense and real dream.

In the end, whether it was a dream or whether it was actual time passing and then ultimately reversed is of no matter (since it is never alluded to Bobby wondering where Sam and Dean were for six plus months I'd wager it was more like time being bent as Castiel did in "In The Beginning") since the real point of Mystery Spot was for Sam to learn something.

Mystery Spot is powerful, deep, multi-layered, funny, sorrowful and purely brilliant but it does not make my choice of 'the pivotal' episode of Season 3. [told you this installation would be controversial] that honor goes to Jus In Bello.

Now, for those of you who are still reading, who did not exit the article because you presumed I dissed Mystery Spot, here's my reasons why.

Much of Season 3 thus far was Dean pretending he didn't care about saving himself while Sam sought to find a way to save him. The brothers butted heads numerous times about the issue of whether to save Dean which likely would endanger Sam and Sam struck out on his own and killed the crossroads demon because he refused to be told what to do and refused to sit back and do nothing while Dean walked resolutely to his damnation. Granted in DALDOM Dean finally admitted he didn't want to die, in the end he still did and he wasn't willing to do anything (or everything like Sam wanted in "Time Is On My Side") to live, so pivotal moment for Dean in DALDOM, but not pivotal episode making, especially as there were bigger things afoot.

Jus In Bello introduces us to the first time demons hunt the Winchesters. This is such a significant turn of events that Dean even mentions it! "It's like we have a contract out on us...I think it's 'cause we're so cool. Do you think it's 'cause we're so cool?" Clearly we are meant to make note of this.

Secondly, Lilith is introduced and it is shown that Sam already knows about this, something that does not sit well with Dean. It's not the first time Sam has ever lied to Dean (or withheld information , heck, that goes back to "Bloody Mary"). It is the first time Sam has withheld such important information as given to him by Ruby.

Third, Ruby has so many more layers of manipulation at work here that we could even know at the time. [One of the reasons I love this show is that even one to two seasons later you can go back and realize the depth of a moment or event, this is one of those times.]

Ruby, working for Lilith, already knows that the Colt is gone. [remember, we now know Bella gave the Colt to Crowley who was Lilith's right-hand man (and possible lover)] Her 'altruistic' suggestion of sacrificing herself, through Nancy's virginal heart, is a red herring pure and simple. Ruby had one purpose and that is to drive a wedge between Sam and Dean and it has many components: Test Sam's moral compass, cut Dean's self-assurance down and plant the suggestion to Sam that listening to Ruby is smart, especially since Ruby knew that Dean would soon be out of the picture.

It's important to note that Dean's plan, crazy as it may appear on paper, actually worked. However, with the deck stacked against them by a manipulative, holder-of-all-cards, demon [Lilith] and her demon sidekick [Ruby] in the end Dean's plan failed but not because of the plan or the plan's execution but because Ruby and Lilith always intended it to fail.

It's no accident that in "Long Distance Call" and "Time Is On My Side" and "No Rest For The Wicked" Sam is willing to go his own path, choose his course over following Dean's. TIOMS shows just how far Sam's morality compass has failed as he contemplates turning Dean into a 'monster' simply because the capacity to do so is in his grasp. Sam is openly urging a pact with Ruby in NRFTW because they're at the eleventh hour and we see that once Dean is in hell and Sam has lost all hope of saving him he listens to Ruby. Season 4 and Season 5 deal with those actions of following Ruby and it was in JIB that the pivot point was activated.

So, bring on the comments, bring on the thoughts. I shudder, I mean, eagerly await them!

Season 4 and Season 5 should be a lot less controversial! And by the conclusion of this series we'll be only one week away from the beginning of shooting of Season 6. Wow!

Thanks for reading. Elle2


# Bevie 2010-06-10 13:07
Fascinating analysis Elle2. I have to agree with you as looking back at Ruby's actions and her convincing arguments it is easy to see the manipulation going on. You can see in hindsight how right Dean was back in "Malleus Malificarum" when he told Sam he was being manipulated and tried to shoot her with the colt. Sam was grasping at straws with Ruby as he had no idea how to save Dean otherwise and her promise to help him save Dean was his only hope and saving his brother meant more to him than his own life.

Love what you are doing and looking forward to the next two pivotol episode articles.
# Jasminka 2010-06-10 13:23
Elle2, why does it have to be controversial? How about a tie? This season indeed had several episodes that were vastly important for the course of the show, and to my mind it was in particular the marvellous Mystery Spot, as it introduced Sam to a life without Dean and us to what Sam might become without his brother. I think that experience put Sam in part on the path he took later on.
And Jus In Bello - well, that raised some very interesting quetions, and I have been wondering - would Ruby really have sacrificed herself with that ritual she suggested or was she counting on the Winchesters' conscience... well, Sam was considering for a moment at least to indeed sacrifice the girl for the sake of many - a foreboding of his 'we don't have the luxury of a moral stand anymore' in sesaon 5?

THank you, you made my mind work again, Best always, Jas
# elle2 2010-06-10 13:39
Hi, Bevie and Jas,

Thanks for the comments, glad you're enjoying the articles!

Hoping as I do that the Ruby revelation in Lucifer Rising was always the plan outlined upon her introduction I love all the little moments woven throughout the two seasons of her presence. Perhaps it was in NRFTW when Dean says to Sam that "for all we know she's working with Lilith" in reference of course to Ruby whom Sam wanted to summon. Oh, Dean how right you were. It's those moments that in hindsight I love to pick out and sometimes am amazed at how they leap out at me.

Jas, controversy? Well, that's just too strong a word on my part, truly I am looking forward to people's thoughts on my choice. Tis only my choice through the reasoning I put forth, there is no right or wrong. As you say, it's work for the mind pure and simple. :-)

Season 3 really did have a lot of little things that were introduced that have added much flavor to the show and I find myself enjoying Season 3 in whole new ways now. (In prepping for this article I managed to catch 12 of the 16 episodes in under a week, as I'm slow in my watching this is quite an accomplishment.)

Thanks for the comments and the encouragement.

Is it September yet?
# Jasminka 2010-06-10 15:25
Not yet, Elle2, but soon......... By the way: Congratulations on your column on the first page of our site, dear writer's colleague! Love Jas
# elle2 2010-06-10 16:00
Thanks Jas, :-)

I chose Mystery Spot 'cause it's the first episode I ever saw and because I write kinda all over the place (yes that means sometimes coherently and sometimes not :oops: ) but it also means that I try my hand at analysis, reviews, top ten lists, favorite eps, writers, seasons...well, all over so my spot is a mystery.

It's also given me the impetus to draft an article that's somewhat fluff and into which I toss just about everything I can think of (and the kitchen sink too!) If it comes to anything, it'll get submitted mid- to late-July...'ca use I got other stuff planned in front of that.

Well, we're a few hours closer to September and I got 16 miles pedaled so I'm that much closer to my season goal of 1500 (got about 700 out of the way already) Gotta clean up, gotta an evening assignment so I'm back to work.

As for the writer's column spot...much thanks to Alice for creating the site and letting all of us play here! And for her willingness to give me the logo I asked for...'tis one of my favorite bits of set decoration to date!
# Jasminka 2010-06-10 16:16
Amen to that, sister!!! Alice rocks, you hear me, lady of the site? You put so much work into this, and now Jen does too - I'm singing your praises-...
:-) Jas
# joelsteinlover 2010-06-10 17:01
Jus (or Ius if we're gonna be Latinally correct) in Bello was such a great episode. I love Mystery Spot more but I agree that it wouldn't be the turning point, JIB is the right choice here. I love these articles, thanks!
# Karen 2010-06-10 22:39
Hi Elle2
Mystery Spot vs Jus In Bello.
Almost sounds like a boxing match.
With having to choose only one, I would have to agree with Jus In Bello.
But only by a smidgen. ;-)
Looking back and knowing what we know now, seeing just how manipulative and underhanded Ruby was. It actually makes my skin crawl. She got off far too easy with being killed. Both her and Lillith should be sharing that cage with Lucifer and Michael, forever being tortured. :twisted:
Anxiously waiting to see what you have for Season 4 and 5.
# elle2 2010-06-11 12:09
Hi, Joelsteinlover and Karen.

I love the idea of a boxing match between these to eps. I hadn't watched either one in a long time and sitting down and watching both with an eye to this article really brought both these episodes into sharper focus of just how good they are.

And I heartedly agree -- darn my dogmatic approach that requires me to choose only one -- Mystery Spot is just awesome!!!

As for Ruby, Karen, I agree, my skin crawls more watching her in Season 3 now that her story has been fully revealed.

Joelsteinlover, thank you for the Latin lesson...comes in handy since so many on the show are spouting it from time to time.

# Evelyn 2010-06-15 10:57
Interesting analysis on Season 3 elle2. After reading your arguments I would have to agree with you on your choice. MS was a great episode and showed us a lot, but JIB was that much more. I agree that the demons coming after Sam and Dean was a test to see where the brothers were in their relationship and to see how far each would go to save the humans. I don't believe Ruby ever intended to sacrifice herself. I think deep down she knew that Dean would never let it happen - it was more of a test to see where Sam was. And did Sam ever show Ruby, that he was getting to a place mentally and emotionally where she could really take control and manipulate him to the point that would allow her and Lillith to finish their plans of letting Lucifer out of the cage.

Dean's plan did work. Although Henricksen, Nancy and the deputy were killed at the end by Lilith, all the people that the demons were possessing survived. All the others who died that were mentioned in the news broadcast at the end of the episode were already dead and killed by the demons. So, Ruby's guilt/shame speech that she gave Dean and Sam at the end was just another way to further drive a wedge between the brothers and get Sam, in particular, to see things her way, not Dean's way. And she played that guilt card on the boys to utter perfection. Whenever I watch this episode I yell at the TV screen to Dean and Sam to not believe her. "She is manipulating you - you saved those people, don't forget that. Yes, Henricksen and the other two died, but there are at least 30 other innocent people that lived because of you. Also, don't forget that Henricksen, et al, initially survived the siege. They only died because of Lillith (and that is not your fault). Don't let Ruby make you feel guilty about this". That's what I would tell them if I could.

I loved JIB. It has to be one of my favorite S3 episodes and high up there as one of my favorite all-time SPN episodes. Knowing what we know now, this really was a huge episode for the whole canon of the show.
# elle2 2010-06-15 12:38
Hi, Evelyn,

You captured my thoughts perfectly (actually, better than I did) I'm with you all the way regarding yelling at the screen at the end. Ruby wanted to drive a wedge and between her and Lilith they manipulated the events to ensure that Dean's plan looked like it failed, when it didn't if Lilith and Ruby weren't in on it together, and it got Sam doubting further that he and Dean had the right ideas but better if they listened to Ruby.

I'm polishing up Season 4's today or tomorrow and will have it ready to go.

Thanks for your comments!
# Evelyn 2010-06-16 10:29
Thanks elle2, appreciate the feedback. That Ruby, she was a devious, manipulative little b*#*#* wasn't she. Dean had it right from the beginning. If only Sam would have let Dean kill her in the beginning, they wouldn't have gone down this road (and we wouldn't have had this wonderful show), but you know what I mean. If only...........