Memory loss and new beginnings. Power – good, bad and everything else. Who are the Winchesters? This was all fun, intriguing and just enough emotion without being wholly overwhelming. This week, Supernatural offered witches without benefit of the usual guts and gore and instead we were privy to a more psychological dramedy. And for the most part? It worked.
The Hex Effect
There were SO MANY approaches that could have been taken with the Dean-Forgets-Himself storyline. While watching the boys in almost anything is usually entertaining at a baseline degree, any number of these particular storylines were also old and cliché: Dean fears he’s a killer and flees from Sam; someone finds Dean and takes advantage of the vulnerable Winchester; someone rewrites Winchester history splicing clips and snips of their criminal past – lots of choices. In fact, the approach here was both funny and sentimental. Dean continued to lose himself even as he learned more about the trademark aspects that make him who he is and the worse it became the more it upset him and Sam but never in a truly over the top way.
One of the key scenes to portray memory loss just right was Dean in the bathroom re-iterating the people that define him: his family. Not only is family fundamental to what makes Dean, Dean, but it is the last piece of his identity to slip away. There were not an extensive number of emotional scenes as relating to the memory loss directly (actually, we didn’t even get a reunion moment between the boys which was, I’ll be honest, a touch disappointing) but credit to the entire team for this powerful moment. The shot is simple, intimate and deeply demonstrative. The struggle, frustration and self-doubt as Dean stuttered through the sentences in the mirror is palpable. Speaking as someone with firsthand experience in brain damage and memory loss, this was well done, particularly on an emotional level.
My name is Dean Winchester.
Sam is my brother.
Uh, Mary Winchester is my mom.
And Cast-- Cass is my best friend.
Despite the parts and pieces that fall away, the essence of Dean doesn’t completely die away. Upon waking up and discovering Rowena’s notes, Dean doesn’t hesitate to explore the car, get the necessary artillery and shoot the bad guy to save both Sam and Rowena. All of which Rowena counts on because Dean is a “good guy” at his core – that’s just who Dean Winchester is, memory or not.
Sam’s In Charge
Ironically, if anyone was most affected by Dean’s memory loss, it was his little brother. This was played well by Jared, offering the phases of discovery as he realizes what is wrong with Dean and the depth of seriousness. Initial reactions from Sam believing Dean is hungover, possibly still drunk, are a delightful mix of irritation and bafflement. Personally, despite suspecting something might be on the horizon as Dean fingers the keys, I gasped out loud when the Impala crashed forward; horrified right there with you, Sammy!
Later, as Sam understood what was happening was magic, this became more emotional but the humour wasn't lost either – plunking Dean down in front of Scooby-Doo, for example, which started with the intent of Skinemax. Sam knows Dean is Dean, memories or not. We also got to experience Sam give Dean “the talk”: werewolves are real and vampires too. Who’d have guessed it? Dean thought it was awesome and Sam was in amazement that they were having the conversation at all. This exchange was referential in many ways to the old days of Sam’s desire for “normal life” – when he mentions being jealous of Dean being able to forget things they’ve done, for example – but without the negative sentiment of those old days. Here it is pure nostalgia and wonderment at the idea of being able to begin anew. How far these boys have come.
Rowena: Power Not so Yummy Afterall?
Witches were ever-present and so we couldn’t do without the appearance of our favourite evil redhead. While never on the Trusted-Ally List in any reality, Rowena has certainly been demonstrating a bit of character growth this season – and frankly it’s a welcome change. The memory loss of Dean offered the perfect circumstances for a glimpse into Rowena’s mind without concerns around ulterior motives; in this case her chat with Dean was one not to be remembered:
“But though you may be a stubborn pain in the arse with the manners of a Neanderthal and the dining habits of a toddler, everything you've done, you've done [ Sighs ] for the greater good.
...You help those other than yourself.
But me? I've done horrible things, and I told myself it was fine.
It was the price of power.
And power's what matters, right? Then I met God and his sister.
The two most powerful beings in the universe, wasting it on squabbling with each other.
I thought, if -- if they can't be happy, or at least satisfied, how can there be any hope for me?”
Rowena was also particularly helpful this week. True, it was ostensibly to get her pretty hands on that powerful grimoire or maybe for vengeance, but was that really the case? Rowena didn’t fuss much at handing the book over in the end and took a heck of a gamble that Dean would wake up and come for her and/or Sam without any memories and therefore no motive to do so. So maybe, just maybe, there is a touch of growth in there too? It would be quite an arc to watch bloom, no? Thoughts?
Bunnies, Dogs and Butterflies; Oh My!
Speaking about growth and character transformations, this seems the ideal moment to turn to all the animal symbols so overtly found throughout this particular episode. Given that Supernatural isn’t typically one to hit its audience with such repeating patterns in this fashion, surely it’s worth looking at as an ongoing theme.
Dean awakens as the episode opens and he’s snuggling a bunny – a lucky bunny, considering how they usually fare in episodes featuring witches. Rabbits are symbols of vulnerability, facing ones fears and setting out on a journey – “down the rabbit hole” a la Alice and Wonderland if you will. Dean did experience these things after waking up in all his rabbit-clutching glory: he ended up losing himself, facing himself and learning who he was again, both existentially and in reality. It was an interesting journey to experience with him, if nothing else.
Later, coinciding with Rowena’s arrival and Sam’s determination to head off and save his brother is the appearance of Scooby-Doo: the dog. A classic symbol for loyalty, protection and friendship, the dog image is cut in several times during Sam and Rowena’s conversation about Dean and easily inspires thoughts of the loyalty Sam represents but also one must wonder, is there a nod to Rowena here? Sam trusts his vulnerable brother to a previously traitorous and deeply powerful witch. It is also following this scene that we have the conversation where Rowena exposes herself to Dean, revealing maybe she isn’t as self-serving as she once was.
Ultimately the grand (mega if you prefer!) gesture that tells it all is when Rowena makes a move against Catriona Loughlin coming just after a flurry of butterflies released against Sam. Butterflies, universal for transformation, resurrection and hope, appear here as part of the soul-swap spell. Nevertheless, they also tease at the transformation of another character.
Of course, no matter how chatty the butterflies may seem or apropos the rabbit – sometimes a Scooby-doo cartoon is just a Scooby-doo cartoon. What are your thoughts?
The Evil Loughlins
Our villains were the throw away element in this episode. Truly these characters offered nothing and didn’t enhance the plot much either. As all-powerful, old-world witches they lacked in flare, clever approaches to relatively simple problems and I think the same effect could have been had with a cursed object, save for kidnapping which brought Rowena into savior position in some ways.
As witches go, these guys were sloppy and underwhelming. I know Sam and Dean are good hunters but are 100+ year old witches that careless when killing an accountant who apparently screwed around with their finances? Do they use accountants this way after all this time – they don’t have better, more secure systems in place? Yes, Catriona was a cliché even by cliché villainess standards but as weak as these baddies were, they weren’t the centre focus either so it didn’t detract, too much.
What could have been told as a tragedy full of cliché struck an excellent balance between heartbreak drama and comedic twists to talk about amnesia in a new way. Instead of being all about the villains, this was an opportunity for self-reflection by main characters on their lives: good, bad and otherwise – and the impact their roles have had on one another. Could we have gone deeper? Yes. But then, there is always room to explore those Winchester psyches, thorough and hard. Ultimately it was a great combo of humour and drama with a dash of a teaser: what side will Rowena stand for when all is said and done?
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