Let me start by saying that overall I enjoyed “Don’t You Forget About Me” (DYFAM). Kim Rhodes’ Jody is such a joy!
She can order two macho, massive hunters who just faced off with Lucifer to “Sit. Stay.” at the most awkward dinner ever! Her retorts are witty and she is courageous yet real – I just love her! I honestly don’t know how the writers could work her into more than one episode a season, but I never tire of seeing her.
I also really liked Claire in this episode. I thought Kathryn Newton’s acting was solid, portraying various moods in several different situations. I loved the way her face lit up at the dinner table when she was teasing Alex. Claire’s sassy, tough exterior served her well in the face of impending death at the hands of monsters, yet she was sweet and comforting when Alex felt guilty about the pain she had brought to their family. I know Claire isn’t popular, but I felt her character had depth, realistically portraying a young woman who had been abandoned, possessed, traumatized, used, introduced to the horrors of the world way too soon, and on her own for a long time. I would actually like to see her grow and develop both as a hunter and as a young women who is turning her life around, giving it purpose based on Jody’s, Sam’s and Dean’s examples and understanding mentorship.
The episode wasn’t perfect, though. The vampire backstory and premise were believable but Alex’s character came across as shallow.
Her closing declaration that she needs to get away from the people whose lives revolve around monsters was jolting and unsupported. The episode also lost valuable time to unimportant scenes. The introductory “Then” seemed to go on forever, followed by a rather boring and unconvincing scene that lingered way too long on the teenage couple in the car debacle. The episode also stalled during the donut sandwich monologue (which set up how much the boys enjoyed Jody’s dinner but didn’t deserve that much dialog), a woodpecker meme that wasn’t funny and repetitive flashbacks, all of which wasted time that could have been put into the hunt or character development. The obligatory and standard “Cas and the Darkness are MIA” excuse is also wearing thin. Five minutes of the aforementioned filler should have been sacrificed for a heartfelt conversation with Jody about Dean’s current emotional confusion or Sam’s recent brush with it getting “very real” in Hell. That is the kind of bridge between episodes that these serious myth arcs and a well-established character like Jody deserve. Since Nancy Won is a relatively new writer, I am willing to give her a hall pass on missed opportunities, but the writing team should have shored this up for her. In balance, though, seeing Jody again, Claire's development, the outstanding humor at the dinner table, and everyone working together equally as a team to defeat the bad guys redeemed the show. The episode also wasn’t totally without its double meanings.
Love or Lore
Sam and Jody both talked about Claire using hunting to escape the loneliness of her life. In describing Claire’s life to Dean, Jody unknowingly held a mirror up to Sam and Dean’s lives. The parallel wasn’t lost on him:
Jody: She doesn't have any friends. She spends all her time trolling for cases and reading lore.
Dean: Sounds kind of creepy when you put it like that.
Jody: You know, I've got nothing against hunting, but if she's hiding in it because she doesn't have anything else, I'm just -- I'm worried about her being so alone.
Sam reiterated the warning about trying to find cases to avoid facing uncomfortable truths (another thread of the season).
Sam: You wouldn’t be the first hunter who was trying to escape something.
Besides the reference to hunters needing to ‘escape’ things (cages and spells for example), the cautionary message about staying busy when the more important things in life are harder or more unpleasant to do, or face, would have remained a vague adage if last week’s “Into the Mystic” had not focused so much attention on Dean’s increasing concern with his attraction to Amara. Usually Dean is the ‘one night stand’ kind of guy, with Sam seeking longer relationship. Surprisingly, it was 11.04 “Baby” that slipped in a subtle message about the two brothers exchanging roles in this regard. It was Sam who had an impromptu fling in the back seat of the Impala, to the surprise (and delight) of both Dean and the viewers. Afterward, Sam brought up the topic of more serious commitments to love:
Sam: You don't... Ever want something more?
Dean: I'm sorry, have you met us? We're batting a whopping zero in domestic life, man. Goose eggs.
Sam: You don't ever think about something? Not marriage or whatever. But... Something?
Suddenly, Dean is the one thinking and feeling something more serious about a woman. It’s the wrong woman and disastrous circumstances, but still he can’t sleep because of the undeniable tug at his heartstrings. Mildred even commented on it in 11.11 “Into the Mystic”:
Darlin'... If there's one thing I've learned in all my years on the road, it's when somebody's pining for somebody else. Oh, don't try and hide it now. Follow your heart. Remember? I don't know who the lucky lady is, but I am damn sure jealous.
In last week’s Threads review, I categorized this thread as Follow Your Heart. That’s the phrase the episode hung on that message, but given the emphasis in both “Baby” and DYFAM on love being the antithesis of the hunting life, it’s beginning to look like Amara’s attraction to Dean may, intentionally or unintentionally, distract him from his singular focus on defeating monsters.
Last week we also looked at the thread “Get it Out of My Head” but it wasn’t until after posting my review that I realized that this plea for help applied to Dean as well as Sam. Dean was desperate to stop thinking about Amara, so there were two themes in one episode pointing at Dean’s love life. Rowena’s revealing confession that she thought love would make her weak also contributes to the warning that our heroes must choose between being strong, resolute hunters or love. Together with Jody and Sam’s reflections on hunting versus love, it looks like Dean’s ‘attraction’ to Amara will gain in importance. If we search the season’s episodes with this lens, are there other examples of missing, needing or avoiding love?
Sacrifice, Searching and Separation
In 11.10 “The Devil in the Details”, the viewers were reminded of Sam’s big “Swan Song” sacrifice, when Sam averted the apocalypse. Lucifer complimented Sam, saying this was one of his greatest moments:
“You were willing to do the hard thing if it meant saving the world. That's not you anymore. You've gone soft, Sammy.”One of the outcomes of this sacrifice was that the brothers ended up separated. Lucifer continued to judge that Sam was wrong in choosing his brother over the good of the world when Sam chose to stay alive, with and for his brother, rather than close the gates of hell. The moral of this story from Lucifer’s standpoint was that Sam was wrong in choosing love over leaving his brother alone. Lucifer also categorized the time that Sam chose love with Amelia over ‘hunting’ for Dean in Purgatory as a mistake, saying
“Whatever happened to the Sam Winchester who was bold, decisive, and ready to sacrifice for the greater good?”Lucifer’s harshest criticism was releasing the darkness in order to save Dean, or in other words, to keep the brothers together. The underlying message of these four examples wasn’t trying to get Sam to be the hero again, but that Sam was:
1) right when he chose to die for the greater good, separating the brothers (“Swan Song”)
2) wrong when he didn’t choose death but kept the brother’s together despite the greater good (“Sacrifice”)
3) wrong when he wouldn’t let Dean die but instead chose to keep the brothers together despite the greater good (“Brother’s Keeper”). Dean made this same choice, by the way, when he chose to keep the brothers together and didn’t kill Sam, despite the greater good being served by Sam’s death and Dean’s banishment
4) wrong when he didn’t look for Dean after the brothers were separated.
All of these choices signaled that the right choice is for someone to be separated from the ones they love for the greater good. This theme was hinted at weeks earlier in 11.05 "Thin Lizzie" when Len sacrificed and separated himself from society to protect the greater good. Sam confirmed that he received the message loud and clear,
“I’m ready to die and I’m ready to watch people I love die.” (11.10)The second half of the message was that after they’ve died or disappeared, the survivor should search for them. Again, Sam was the voice of this lesson in 11.11 “Into the Mystic”. Viewers were so distracted with the long-awaited apology that we missed the underlying decision and foreshadowing that the right thing to do is to search for the missing:
“I should have looked for you. I should have turned over every stone.” He showed me things. It was like a highlight reel of my biggest failures. I should've looked for you. When you were in Purgatory, I... I should've turned over every stone. But I didn't. I stopped. And I've never forgiven myself for it.
Separation was also foreshadowed by Billie, both in her first appearance in 11.02 "Form and Void" when she introduced the idea of the void, and in 11.10 when she repeated that she was going to send one of them to the void:
“I'm just gonna make sure that when you die, you stay dead.”Being cast into nothingness has even been subliminally suggested by season 11’s episode titles. Several emphasize leaving one place and entering the unknown: “Out of the Darkness, Into the Fire”; “Form and Void”; “Our Little World” (which implies there is a larger world somewhere); “Just My Imagination” (often envisioned as an infinite, gray unknown); “Into the Mystic” (subtly close to “into the mist” or a vague, undiscerning nothingness). Other titles emphasized the brothers being separated: “O Brother Where Art Thou?”
Curiously, Dean’s response to Sam’s apology referenced their separation as well:
Dean: “All that matters now, all that's ever mattered, is that we're together” (11.11)
The dichotomy of being together versus being alone has also been explored by several characters. When Cas volunteered to investigate Amara’s smiting, he said, “I’ll go in alone” (11.10) as did Jody in her quote above about Claire.
What if the brothers do stay together, as Dean suggests? What if they sacrifice themselves and are banished together, leaving Cas alone? Alternately, might the boys end up separated again with the survivor hell bent on ‘turning over every stone” to find his brother? John Winchester sacrificed himself Dean, then Dean sacrificed himself for Sam. Curiously in 11.08 "Just My Imagination", Sully told Sam,
“You’re not Dean, you’re not your dad. You’re Sam and Sam is so awesome”.I think Sully is telling us that Sam can make a different decision that either Dean or John, maybe a smarter decision, and not necessarily have to blindly sacrifice himself to save those he loves. However it plays out, it seems fairly clear that one or more people are going to make the ultimate sacrifice, and someone is going to be left alone, committed to a search and rescue mission.
Heroes and Hostages
A corollary theme to sacrifice and separation is the concept of being a hero. In "Just My Imagination", Sam told Sully he was his hero:
Sam: You know, it's... pretty awesome, how you help everyone around you.
Sully: Doesn't always work out, but... I try.
Sam: Ever think... Maybe you're a hero to me? One thing I've learned -- heroes aren't perfect.
Sully also explored this idea by categorizing Sam’s “Swan Song” sacrifice as heroic,
“Come on. You're a hero. Sam, you saved the world. I keep track of my kids. And you did really good, Sam.”
Sully and Sam discussed Sam not sacrificing himself, but Sam reminded us of the times he failed to be the hero and that he isn’t that person anymore:
Sully: Ever think... About running away anymore?So in addition to Lucifer telling us the “right” and “wrong” choices surrounding sacrifice and separation, we were clearly told that sacrifice is heroic.
Sam: I did. Um, I mean, I have. But not in a while. Not anymore.
There has also been a curious repetition of hostage taking to achieve a goal. In "Just My Imagination", twin sister Reese held Dean hostage, telling Sam he had a choice, “You give me Sully, I give you your brother”. A third person, Sully, neutralized that threat by offering his life in exchange for the hostage.
In 11.10 "The Devil in the Details", Lucifer held Dean hostage, again telling Sam he had a choice,
“All right, Sam. I'm gonna make this real easy for you. You say the magic word... ...or your brother dies, And we both know you won't let that happen.”
Again, a third person, Castiel, neutralized that thread by making himself the object of Lucifer’s rage, then giving his life for Sam’s (and Dean). Then this week, the two vampires in “DYFAM” took Jody and Claire hostage to hurt Alex.
Yet again, Alex offered her life for the lives of the hostages. That’s at least three repetitions of a hostage scenario. Have there been more? It makes me wonder who will end up being Lucifer’s or Amara’s hostage, and who will sacrifice their life and be separated from the ones they love to save to save those in danger.
Traumatized Children and their FamiliesObviously, Alex's traumatized childhood coming back to threaten her family was yet another example of the past influencing the future. We have explored this theme thoroughly in so many episodes. Surely, it will mean something for Amara, her brother and the world they are fighting over.
“That’s what’s scary about family – they give you so much to lose.”
Season 11 is hurtling us toward heartbreak.