Four Days Later
I can’t believe that Supernatural season 13 just keeps getting better! “Advanced Thanatology” was another superb episode, extending the run to five in a row! Steve Yockey may have produced the best episode yet this year – quite an accomplishment considering my high opinion of the prior episodes. Billie returned as Death, and in a stunning, emotional scene, Castiel returned to his family. There were no distractions of an alternate universe (which I love but still takes time away from the bros), the stupidity of Heaven or Hell (or the associated cheesy depictions therein), no Princes of Hell or ridiculously fake drama, and no spinoffs to set up. Just Sam and Dean on a hunt, having deep conversations around the Impala. Action, emotion and heart stopping (no pun intended?) surprises. It’s like Supernatural found its center again.
The impact of this episode came primarily from two powerful scenes – the return of Billie and her ensuing conversation with Dean, and the return of Castiel. The first encounter was prolonged, full of significant dialog, insights and foreshadowing. The second was just a few seconds long and not a single word was spoken yet it left us breathless. I considerd solely discussing these scenes since there is so much to explore about each of them, but that would be doing a disservice to the story. The underlying hunt, with its messages of fear, death and grief, masterfully wove together threads of meaning as well. To understand this episode, we need to look at the story’s entire tapestry.
Billie: It's funny to hear a Winchester talk about the finality of dying. This reality -- it has rules, Dean. So many rules. And one of them? Kill one incarnation of Death, like you did, the next Reaper to die takes his place. So when Castiel stabbed me in the back, turns out I got a promotion. New job. New gear.Dean: So you died to become Death?Billie: This universe can be so many things, and sometimes, it is poetic.
I’m thrilled to have Lisa Berry back in the show! I love Billie’s cold, independent, strong stance against the Winchesters. She was confused by them because they broke the rules she had sworn to uphold – the finality of death among them. But as Death now, she understands that rules don’t apply to every situation and sometimes a greater truth must be served. How very poetic indeed!
Mental Health and Thanatology (the title thread)
Dean: Look, we can't talk to 'em on this side of the Veil, so I'm gonna go to the other side. I'm gonna work my way through all these Caspers until we find out where this freak hid the bodies.Sam: Dean, you're talking about killing yourself.Dean: Yeah? Well, it worked before.Sam: That's an insane risk to take.
Dean: So am I dead?Billie: You killed yourself.
Billie: You've changed. When you bargained with me just now, you could've asked to go back, to live.Dean: Well, I figure with you in charge, there's no getting back for me.Billie: That doesn't sound like the Dean Winchester I know and love. The man who's been dead so many times but it never seemed to stick. Maybe you're not that guy anymore, the guy who saves the world, the guy who always thinks he'll win no matter what. You have changed. And you tell people it's not a big deal. You tell people you'll work through it, but you know you won't, you can't, and that scares the hell out of you. Or am I wrong?Dean: What do you want me to say? Doesn't matter. I don't matter.Billie: Don't you?Dean: I couldn't save Mom. I couldn't save Cass. I can't even save a scared little kid. Sam keeps trying to fix it, but I just keep dragging him down. So I'm not gonna beg. Okay, if it's my time, it's my time.Billie: You really believe that. … You wanna die. Dean, every notebook on this particular shelf tells a version of how you die. You specifically -- heart attack, burned by a red-haired witch, stabbed by a ghoul in a graveyard, and on and on. But which one's right? That depends on you, on the choices you make.Dean: Well, I guess I made my choice.Billie: But unfortunately, none of these books say you die today.Dean: Come again?Billie: Since I got this new job, I stand witness to a much larger picture. Do you know what I see? You. And your brother. You're important.Dean: Why?Billie: You have work to do.
Lastly, even though I haven’t been tracking it, I also roughly recall “mental health” being specifically mentioned in one or more of the prior season 13 episodes (do you remember it, too?) The suicidal theme definitely underscored a mental health focus, and Sam pointedly referred to it while explaining his research to Dean:
People would come to him for help with mental illness, but no matter what they had -- depression, anxiety, whatever -- the cure was always the same.
“We Need to Talk”
With those words, Billie shockingly reentered the Supernatural world! Beyond their classic impact, that phrase also shined a spotlight on a previously undetected season 13 thread, “talking”. The talking thread first became apparent through the conversations surrounding Shawn’s home visit:
Mom: Shouldn't you talk to them?Sam: We did, but we'd like to speak with you as well. And Shawn.Dean: Something wrong?Mom: Shawn, he won't talk. He can't.Sam: What do you mean?Mom: The doctors say he's okay physically, that it's psychological. You know, trauma, like he saw some something so awful.
Dean: Shawn? Hey I’m Dean. I heard you had a rough time. You want to tell me about it?
Mom: … they’re inseparable.Sam: Has anyone spoken with Mike?Mom: Everyone. He says he doesn’t know what happened butSam: But you don’t believe him.Mom: They do everything together.
Dean to Shawn: You gotta talk to me.Sam: So he didn’t say anything?Dean: Not a word.Sam: I say we talk to his friend Mike in the morning.
Shawn’s inability to share his trauma and reach out for help when it was offered resulted in his death. Recognizing that, Dean regretted not pushing harder to get Shawn to talk when he had the chance. Conversely, Sam hasn’t let up on his big brother. Sam has been pushing Dean to open up and talk since the first season 13 episode with “can we just talk about what happened back there”. Shawn’s inability to talk about his trauma paralleled Dean’s usual strategy of withdrawing within himself when he experiences pain that’s’ just too much for him to handle. Until last week, he had been entirely silent about his deepest reactions to Castiel’s and Mary’s “deaths”. He lashed out in anger and blame but couldn’t talk about what he saw or felt until Sam really pushed him.
Dean: We can talk about it later.Sam: We won't talk about it later. You know that.
Sam: You okay?Dean: No. Sam, I'm not okay. I'm pretty far from okay. You know, my whole life, I always believed that what we do was important. No matter what the cost, no matter who we lost, whether it was Dad or -- or Bobby or… And I would take the hit. But I kept on fighting because I believed that we were making the world a better place. And now Mom and Cass.. and I-I don't know. I don't know.Sam: So now you don't believe anymore.Dean: I just need a win. I just need a damn win.
In a stunning ending to the episode, Dean got his win when Castiel returned!
That reveal was worthy of a mid-season cliff hanger moment. Absolutely captivating! I’ve replayed it many times already!
The emotional impact of those few seconds made the entire rest of the episode melt away into nothingness, and as we’ve seen, there was a lot of depth to the story that deserved to be analyzed. Yet “Pow”, right in the heart.
I acknowledge that the moment could have been improved and would have been absolutely perfect had the camera focused on Sam’s reaction for just a few seconds. He was there too. He felt the grief of Castiel’s death too.
That may have been the decision of the director or the post production editing team, but this story was about Dean’s loss of faith, and passing that cross over into the land of the living was Dean’s journey, so the shot made sense. Yes, it ignored Sam but only for a split second. I hope beyond hope that this coming week picks up exactly in that alley again, and we get to see both brothers’ emotional reunion. I want hugs all around!! I want to hear Castiel’s voice and be reassured that it’s really him. What can I say? I’m a sucker for emotional moments (had you guessed that by now?) and this is a biggie!
Ripping out our Hearts
Sam: They had to hold him down to rip it off.
Dean: Lucifer's son. Jack. When he was born, it created a little rip.Billie: Little rip?
Evan: Someone's scared.Shawn: I'm not scared. Mike punked out. At least I showed up.Evan: Good. If you're so brave, let's look around.
Later, when Mike talked to Sam:
Mike: I already told the cops.Sam: Right. Of course. … You know, I'd like to believe you, Mike, but, um here's the thing. You ever see those detective shows where, whenever somebody lies, they dart their eyes to the side?Mike: That's a real thing?Sam: Oh, yeah. So if there's anything that you forgot to tell the police, I need you to tell me.Mike: They, um, they were going to the old Meadows place, out on Night Hawk Drive. Evan dared us to go, and it was stupid and creepy, and I didn't. I got scared.
Sam: he's catching up on all my old fantasy DVDs --Red Sonia, Beast Master, Beast Master II, you know, with the time traveling ferrets.
Right vs. Wrong, Truth vs. Lies
I highlighted several occurrences of these threads in “Thanatology” but there were several more. Listen for them!
I looked for it and didn't find it but that's why we do this together! Xoferew noted the "What's up Doc" line by Dean to the ghostly doctor! Bugs Bunny and Scooby Doo are both owned by Warner Bros!
- I need to nit-pick something. Dean was chowing his continental breakfast of bacon and more bacon when Shawn’s mom called them. Hotel complimentary buffets usually end around 10am. Giving maybe an hour to drive to Shawn’s house and talk to his mom puts it at about 11 am when Sam and Dean determined that they needed to go to the Meadow’s house to rescue Shawn. When they finally pull up to the house though, it’s totally dark. They’re trying to save a life, time is of the essence, so they wait 6-7 hours at least? The house had to be in walking distance from Shawn’s so even changing clothes (which they also wouldn’t bother to do) and driving there takes another hour. I think that was a directorial continuity error.
Despite its title and the corresponding heavy overtone of death throughout “Advanced Thanatology”, it actually contained a great deal of hope. Its impact may have come from its numerous exhilarating, captivating scenes and the return of beloved characters but its lasting significance will come from its emotional resonance. It reset the story and the tone for the year. Here’s hoping there’s more of this caliber of Supernatural in our future.
Transcript quotes courtesy of: https://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/
Additional Screencaps courtesy of: http://www.homeofthenutty.com/supernatural/
Time Warner Cartoon image appeared in https://www.theverge.com/2017/3/8/14852940/boomerang-cartoon-streaming-service-launching