I can see what writer Adam Glass is going for, and it’s no surprise the boys are not on the same page and Sam is feeling angry and betrayed. I knew there would not be an instafix and I don’t want one. Glass layered enough resonant lines throughout the episode to allow this Monster of the Week story to resonate with the overall arc, and I like that.
Glass brings back Garth, a character about whom I am lukewarm. I don’t dislike him, but neither do I long for his return when he’s not in the story. I do tend to like it, though, when the writers examine shades of grey in the monster world, so I was onboard for this werewolf, er sorry, lycanthrope tale. I didn’t mind the additions to werewolf lore Glass added. Over nine seasons, the mythology does need to evolve. I’m good with that as long as the new mythology doesn’t directly contradict the old, and I don’t think the idea of hereditary werewolves does that.
I was less taken with the actual plot. It felt pedestrian, but I did like the way Dean had to admit Reverend Jim had a point when he said, “The road to revenge is a dark and lonely one which you never get off and that hole in your stomach, you never fill it, ever.”
The words are very timely for Dean, so I liked seeing the elder Winchester take them in. I felt like Dean was finally raising his head from the black hole he fell into when he realized the full consequences of letting Gadreel into Sam. Last week, Dean looked like he was looking for a way to punish himself, uncaring of the price of the Mark of Cain, because he deserves whatever it will be. He was not just hard but harsh, focused on his ability to kill. In Reverend Jim’s words, he was on a dark and lonely road.
This week, he takes in both the reverend’s words about the dangers of revenge and the words about the power of family. Concentrating on what he had rather than what he lost kept a good man from turning bad, something that resonates for Dean—and for me, given the mark Dean has on his arm.
Glass continues the theme of what family can do as Sam and Dean demonstrate why they are such a good team. They act as each other’s check and balance, with Sam putting the brakes on Dean when he wants to act too quickly, and Dean keeping focused on what doesn’t smell right when Sam is ready to accept what they’ve seen. The Winchesters are a good team when they allow themselves to be.
Garth has his own wisdom to offer the brothers. The quirky hunter has his own perspective on Sam and Dean, one I think we are supposed to think has some merit. He describes Dean as being a tough badass, but “deep down inside, he’s just a big old teddy bear.” Sam he sees as sometimes insecure, but for good reasons. The words are poignant, given Dean’s heart led him to make some really bad decisions, and Sam’s insecurities about his worth are driving a lot of his decisions right now.
Garth and Dean’s final scene is very touching, as Dean tries to take all the blame for Kevin, and Garth says there’s enough blame to go around. Garth then offers to make things right by returning to hunting, but Dean recognizes the value of what Garth has found. “You got something here, even if they are werewolves or lycanthropes . . . don’t let that go. You’ll never forgive yourself.”
Clearly, Dean is looking at his own family and what he may have lost. Between Reverend Jim’s words about revenge vs family and Garth’s taking a curse and turning it into love, he’s ready to reach out to Sam.
In some ways, the time looks opportune. Both Sam and Dean have already been changed by their difficulties. When they meet in Garth’s hospital room, each one tells the other the truth of what they’ve been doing, despite the strained atmosphere.
But Sam’s headspace is still centered on how hurt he is. When he hears about the Mark of Cain, which is a big enough deal he should be both gobsmacked and worried about the implications, he instead focuses on Dean hunting with Crowley, as if that’s the most important part of the story. At that moment, for Sam, it is, because he’s so upset with Dean’s decision to leave rather than face Sam’s anger.
So it’s no surprise Dean’s attempt to reach out to his brother has very mixed results. Dean tries his best to let Sam know how sorry he is, saying he knows he took a piece of Sam when he let Gadreel in. But he can’t quite say he’s sorry he saved Sam’s life. Both last week and this week, characters have talked about the value of life, and Dean still believes in the value of Sam’s, even if his own need for Sam was also a factor.
Sam can hear what’s missing in Dean’s words. He hasn’t heard what he wants to hear, which is that he has the right to decide his part in their story. From the moment Dean tried to again do what he thought was best for Sam by fobbing him off the case, Sam’s frustration and anger mounted. Dean’s opening gives him the opportunity to let loose his feelings.
Up till this point in the story, I was along for the ride. The strained silences, the awkward pauses, shifty eyes –they aren’t enjoyable to watch, but they are warranted.
But I had difficulty with the way Sam framed his issues.
Adam Glass has put me in this spot before. I really detested Glass’s “Southern Comfort,” another Garth episode. The brothers were in another emotionally fraught place, with hurt feelings being vented. Again, much was warranted. But rather than concentrating on issues which resonated for me because I’d seen them played out onscreen, Glass threw in the kitchen sink.
Dean not only resented Sam for not looking for him, he suddenly resented him for returning soulless from Hell, as if Sam had anything to do with that. Dean knew from the first meeting this person who looked like Sam was in some indefinable way not Sam, and he found out Cas was responsible for bringing Sam back without his soul. I didn’t see anything in season six or seven to suggest Dean harboured great resentment toward Sam for something he had nothing to do with. Dean’s issues were with Cas.
I had issues with the development of the brothers’ relationship all the way through season eight. From getting little glimpse into Sam’s headspace when he lost Dean to not understanding Sam’s attitude to Benny, not much resonated about the brothers for me—until “Sacrifice.”
When Sam finally told Dean he felt he just let people down over and over and that his attitude to Benny was because he was afraid Dean was looking for another, better, brother, I felt I had some context for the way he both pushed Dean away and expected to remain the centre of his attention. I loved that Dean reached through Sam’s insecurities and plainly told him he was not looking for another brother. He loves Sam, first and foremost. It felt like a breakthrough, both for the brothers and for my ability to enjoy season eight.
So I wasn’t overjoyed when Sam framed his need for autonomy by saying, “Back in that church, talking me out of boarding up hell or tricking me into letting Gadreel possess me? I can’t trust you, not the way I thought I could, not the way I should be able to.”
I understand Sam’s anger about Gadreel. Dean’s actions were a breach of trust. But Sam made his own decision about the gates of Hell. Dean didn’t force him to do anything. And Sam’s reasoning about completing the trials at the expense of his life was he just let people down over and over, so why not sacrifice himself. Is that supposed to be healthy? Mature?
Adding to my discomfort with conflating the church scene with Gadreel’s possession, Sam then responds to Dean saying they are still family with “You say that like it’s some sort of cure all, like it can change the fact that everything that’s gone wrong between us is because we’re family.”
I agree that Dean does hope saying they are family will lessen Sam’s justifiable anger, when what he needs to do is really listen to Sam and let him air his feelings. And he has made iffy decisions to keep his family together. So has Sam.
But Sam is retconning his past if he thinks his poor decisions in season four were because of Dean’s definition of family. Sam’s worst decisions were made when he turned away from Dean and fell under Ruby’s sway. And yes, he wanted to prove to Dean he was strong, but Sam also was proud and filled with anger. Ruby played on his weaknesses and she made sure to separate Sam from Dean, knowing Dean was a hindrance to her plans for Sam.
Zachariah viewed the boys’ relationship the same way. He took Dean into the future to show him staying with Sam was a weakness he couldn’t afford. Dean took the opposite message and reached out to Sam, to Sam’s relief at the time.
And was it a mistake for Dean to drive out to Stull’s Cemetery and tell his brother, “Sam, it's okay. It's okay. I'm here. I'm here. I'm not gonna leave you”? Dean helped Sam find the strength to fight Lucifer, which saved the world and allowed Sam to define himself the way he wanted. As Chuck said, the Winchesters did all right.
Dean may be trying to avoid a hard conversation when he says no matter what, he and Sam are family, but he’s also drawing on Bobby’s wisdom. When Dean was ready to disown Sam for choosing Ruby after nearly killing him, Bobby gave him no sympathy. Instead, he reminded Dean that with all the capacity for hurt it has, family is still important, and walking away from Sam would only push Sam further along his dark path. Sam needed Dean, whether he knew it or not. The parallel to Dean’s situation this season is striking.
I only hope the parallels with seasons four and five include Bobby’s view of family. I hope Sam’s view of “Sacrifice” is coloured by his anger and hurt and he was striking out rather giving his real opinion on Dean’s words to him. I hope he got in the car because he doesn’t really want to lose Dean, even if he can’t quite admit it. And I hope we get some resolution on whether he really resents that he’s been unable to sacrifice himself to balance his books.
Because watching Sam and Dean together this episode was not enjoyable for me. This version of the relationship is missing the heart and soul of the show for me. And I resent it when the writers craft a touchstone scene and then drain it of all power retroactively. The danger of doing that is I will find it difficult to believe any upcoming scenes which purport to move the boys forward.
I’m still onboard with season nine, but the way the relationship is now being explored does bring all my issues with the first half of season eight to the fore, when I thought they were in the past. I’m not happy about that.
Thanks to homeofthenutty for the photos.