Thoughts on "Supernatural" 8.03 - "Heartache"
Well, so far so good. For this viewer at least, season eight is three for three so far. This episode had a different MOTW storyline, good pacing, great writing and some absolutely beautiful filming. Additionally this episode showcased some brother moments that demonstrated character maturity and change without breaking the characters we've come to know and love. What's to say, except that overall I thoroughly enjoyed this episode.
The Mechanics: Writing, Pacing and Atmosphere
Okay, I'm going to gush for a moment about some of the bits and pieces of the episode. Though the sets are often quite well done as is the writing, etc. it is rare for the visual pieces to catch my breath quite the way they did in this episode. Visually, this was a beautiful episode. The lighting and sets employed were so well crafted and they caught my attention immediately. In particular, the soft dream quality to Sam's flashback which so starkly contrasted against the darker motifs of the episode (and let's be honest, the Winchester lives in general) as well as the black lights in the strip club. Yes, I really enjoyed this episode optically. A companion to the excSeasonEight/Heartachent visuals, the script was good too. I enjoyed the different type of hunt this week turned into, the character development moments that weren't hit-you-in-face obvious and the dichotomy of the baddies and their various/changing motives. The writing this season has been very consistent. Only three episodes in, yes, but never the less they have been three well written and systematically enjoyable episodes.
Mayans, Warriors and Deals
The villain this week was something we haven't really seen before and it was nice to introduce a fresh hunt that, as it turned out, wasn't really a supernatural being. This week our villain was actually, more or less, cursed organs that used to belong to a Mayan warrior who'd made a deal to stay young and virile forever. As I often do, I found the human element of these killers far more disturbing than most of the baddies showcased on SPN. This "bad guy" didn't actually start out bad, technically speaking, which presented a different twist. Initially, Brick just wanted to be a super warrior for his tribe and by the end, was tired and wanted to end the deal he'd made. Actually it sounds like he didn't want to live without Betsy.
Interestingly, the killers this week were borne unintentionally - the Mayan warrior likely intended his body to burn away without any organ transfer. These killers, slaughtering as part of a sacrificial ritual necessary to keep things strong and young and healthy, did not actively seek out this ritual themselves to start with the way a witch might, for example. Rather they had it thrust upon them. That said, all of the organ recipients seemed to understand what was happening and because of the dramatic turnaround in their lives, didn't really mind the occasional killing and sacrifice. In particular the heart recipient, Miranda was just happy to no longer be a weak, sickly girl. If Arthur the cop had enough will power to stop himself by cutting out his own eye, the other organ recipients must've had equal understanding of what was happening, they just didn't struggle with the morality of it the same way amateur eye surgeon Arthur did.
Similar to debates we've already had this season, these characters were humans and they were killed for the greater good by the Winchesters. Now, in no way do I mean this to pass judgment on the boys for the killings, personally I don't find it that different than killing the demonic hosts. Sometimes things need to be done for the sake of a larger purpose. What do you guys think on this point?
Let's talk for a moment about the seeming message in this episode about the heart. There are so many ways this could be interpreted I suppose and while I'm not going to get into all of them there are two key things I'd like to mention. First, last week Dean and Samandriel had a whole conversation about Castiel and his heart. It was said that "too much heart" is often the cause of Castiel's problems. Now I'm not certain exactly how this week could fit with that but it seems awfully coincidental to have this mention like that does it not? Perhaps the key to resurrecting and/or pulling Cas back from purgatory has something to do with this concept of heart. The second speculation here is that Sam's heart really isn't in hunting anymore, not the way Dean's very much is. Now, I'll talk about these things more in detail later but it may be worth mentioning.
The Betsy/Eleanor character served to really drive home a few points and even vocalize some of the thoughts of our boys. Setting those things aside for the moment, this was a character that I enjoyed in and of herself. It was made very clear that Brick and Betsy were of the soulmate variety, given Brick/Inyo himself couldn't live with the idea of Betsy dying and leaving him all alone, though this was inevitable and instead he thought he'd destroy himself, end the curse/spell and die first. It couldn't have been a one-sided love either, Betsy choosing to alter her life entirely and overlook that sacrificial human killing thing. Played wonderfully by Patty McCormack, Eleanor was a character struggling with the life she'd chosen for herself, particularly in the wake of her lover's death. She identifies to the boys at the end, after helping them when she really didn't need to, that now she can finally have some peace to her life.
Eleanor seemed to represent something of Sam, something that he couldn't quite make clear to Dean for whatever reason. By the end of this episode after several attempts at hinting how much he missed the normal life he'd had the last year, Sam's feelings finally get words when they leave Betsy's mouth: "I am so tired"¦you can't imagine the burden of it all"¦I'd finally be at peace."
The first time Dean died and went to Hell, Sam still had Bobby, among others, and Ruby was there as well. In short, he still had a community around him and because it was a community immersed in the hunting lifestyle so too did he remain in that stream. Additionally, he was trying to save Dean at this point - before the brothers fully understand that when they try and save each other it largely blows up in their faces.
This time when Dean was lost it was a much different picture of Sam's life. Like Eleanor, when Dean died and with Bobby and Cas and pretty much everyone else gone, Sam was well and truly alone in the world. This meant two things. First if he continued life as a hunter he'd have to carry on all by himself. Yes, Sam likely has hunter contacts but he's without his hunter family. The second thing it meant was that having walked the path of the hunter for so long now, he has not been able to carve out any life for himself to live when his hunting days come to end. Having realized that fully and truly once Dean slipped into purgatory he was able to find this so-called normal existence and have some peace in his own life.
Sam does not want this life anymore, even more strongly than ever before and I totally empathize. Further, and I'm sure I'm starting to sound a bit like a broken record here, but there is such demonstrable character growth and maturity in the very matter of fact way he lays this out (or tries to) for Dean. All of this I can be on board with for Sam. The one thing here that I have an issue with is when he says this is the first chance at a normal life he's had - not technically true. Didn't Sam have four normal years (more or less) at school with Jessica? Okay, yes, he still had ties to the hunter community back then, etc. however, hadn't he more or less axed those? This is a minor thing in the grand scheme but it's niggled at me since I heard that line in the promo two week ago.
A Warrior's Heart
Unlike Sam who is struggling and somewhat apathetic about the hunter thing at this juncture, Dean is at his happiest. On the road in the Impala, brother by his side, hunting things and saving people. For Dean, who seems to be coming back into his own now that he isn't in purgatory, he can't really understand where Sam is coming from. Dean, we know tried the normal life hat and found it didn't fit all that well for him. Like Sam, Dean again demonstrates character maturity in this episode. When he discovers the university emails that Sam has sent he doesn't freak out. Certainly Dean is not happy and maybe even a bit hurt, but he doesn't lose his temper. He even lets Sam change the subject. Just as Betsy's words at the end rang true for Sam, I think they finally communicated something to Dean about where Sam is at. Though he may be in denial, it doesn't mean Dean doesn't understand Sam's stance on things. I anticipate this will come to a head before the season's out and I look forward to the outcome.
We haven't seen a whole lot of Sam's life during the year without Dean. From what we have seen though it appears to have been very Norman Rockwell. The flashback to the park where Amelia presented a surprise birthday picnic to Sam was very sweet, certainly, but I have a few issues with the information it presents and what it seems to indicate. Alright, first and foremost, the more we see of this Amelia chick the more suspicious I get - she seems a bit too perfect. Yes, this is Sam's memory which could be askew I suppose, but I get the impression this is a more or less accurate picture of Ms. Amelia. The second issue, which ties in with the whole Jessica thing I mentioned above, is that the nature of this flashback, short though it was, suggests Sam never experienced any normal, happy things in his life. I'm sorry, but I can't imagine that growing up Dean didn't do his best to give Sammy a happy birthday experience and/or that Jessica, she of the cookies and loving note, didn't bake a cake once or twice too. We certainly don't have enough information to make an accurate opinion on Amelia, but at this point I'm waiting to see that other shoe.
Obvious I'm sure, but I liked this one over all. From opening scene to closing credits this episode actually packed quite a bit in there. In terms of Sam we got a lot to think about and for that matter so did Dean. It was a nice return to a standard-formula episode without purgatory flashbacks (not to say I don't like those or anything of that sort) but still incorporated overall plot advances or reveals too. Next week's promo looks action packed and very, very good. Can't wait for Wednesday!
What are your thoughts on this one, fellow SPNers?