A person’s ultimate opinion of an episode depends entirely on what they wanted to get out of it. I wouldn’t term that expectations per se. As much as that person might hope, need or desire to see something, that doesn’t mean necessarily that they expected to see it. For example, I had three things I desperately wanted to see in the wrap up of Supernatural's season 11 cliffhanger tragedies:
- Sam freed from his captors
- An epic Sam & Dean reunion. I wanted to see the wave of relief and confusion wash over Sam when he saw Dean was alive, followed by an embrace that reflected that flood of emotion
- An epic Sam and Mary introduction befitting a twelve year build-up of Mary’s guilt and obvious protectiveness of her sons (ala “Home”), the boys' idealization of their mother and Sam’s emotional void at not having ever known her.
How did “Mamma Mia” come through for me?
To my first need, there was excellent escalation of intensity and drama for the first 50 minutes of the show’s hour. My heart was beating double time as I anxiously awaited the BIG moment of Dean coming to the rescue. There were a few leaps of faith, aka plot jumps, and one huge wave of the magical canon wand inserted in the drama but I could overlook those because I was willing to accept anything that got us to the long-anticipated climax as fast as possible. In the last ten minutes of the show, however, the writers released their grasp on the audience and dropped us off the proverbial cliff.
Just as Mary then Dean got the upper hand and were about to succeed in their rescue of Sam, some British guy that’s never even been mentioned before shows up and says, “So sorry. All a terrible misunderstanding. You’re free to go. No hard feelings I hope.” As Rowena said, “Seriously?” My heart sank as the 5 month wait for an emotional payoff was smashed to smithereens on the rocks below the cliff. Toni overstepped her authority? All that build-up about the British MoL but really she is singularly the bad guy and the British Men of Letters only ordered her to open a dialog with American hunters? Then why did Mick call Mr. Ketch?
I’m not quarreling that everything hasn’t yet been revealed because a paced exposition is good storytelling. Rather, I’m confused at what has been revealed. Was Mick’s intervention a show of no-confidence by their superiors or part of a carefully planned charade? Did Toni say she wasn’t getting on that plane because she was afraid of reprisal or punishment, or was it a defiant refusal because she’s mad they didn’t give her more time to, what, eliminate all the hunters in America because they’re “no better than the monsters they hunt?” I really don’t know what’s going on. From that standpoint, I guess I’m in the same situation as Sam, Dean and Cas.
My other two deep desires for this show relate to the reunion thread that was introduced last week, so let’s take a closer look at how that was handled.
As far as I’m concerned, Sam and Dean’s reunion was an epic fail.
Sam: I thought you were dead.
Dean: I’ll tell you everything… .
When? Later??? I totally get that they were still jacked-up in a bit of a mess but the dialog could have been so much more than that. How about:
Dean: Sammy! Are you okay?
Sam: Dean? No. You’re dead. Pause, then looking only at Toni, “I’m not falling for another one of your cruel mind games.”
Sam continues his defiant disbelief during Toni and Dean’s interaction, then Mary walks in.
Sam: “Mom?? No. You’re dead too.” Then talking to himself, “Dean and mom are both dead. This has to be another illusion. My family miraculously back from the dead to rescue me? No. way. I’m losing it, or maybe… I’m dead too? Did that Brit finally finish me off? She’s just stupid enough to go too far with the torture and kill me…
Then Dean screams at Sam to snap out of it. THAT would have been consistent with the toll of the horrific torture and Sam’s emotional exhaustion. It would have looped back to the mental manipulation shown earlier in the episode and Sam’s experience with suspecting and resisting illusion as a torture device that was skillfully referenced in the last episode. Once Sam was uncuffed, why didn’t the writers wait 30 seconds before Mick walked in so that Sam could grab Dean into a hug??
Instead, Sam accepted Dean’s resurrection with virtually no pause. Granted they’ve been here before but does that make the reunion any less poignant? The relief any less intense? I didn’t expect or want an epic hug while they were still in danger, but never? Not outside at the car or at the bunker later?
As far as Mary and Sam being introduced, I give the show half-credit for that monumental moment in the series’ storyline. We weren’t shown their first words or the beginning of a conversation that surely took place in the multiple hour trip between Missouri and Kansas. Mary told Dean that she’s ashamed of what she did to Sam but we were robbed of the visual of seeing her shame mixed with pride in her son when they weren’t fighting for their lives and she first laid eyes on Sam. I’m ecstatic that she recognizes her role in shaping their lives and it’s appropriate that this wasn’t addressed with Sam on their first day together but I really wanted to see a family that had been torn apart be reunited - Sam pull Dean into a hug; Mary pull Sam into a hug.
I’m disappointed that the story jumped from peril to pie with virtually nothing in between. I feel let down, frustrated in having to imagine reunions that I longed for. Followers on Twitter sent words of encouragement that we may still have broments between Sam and Dean, that I need to give it some time, and that Mary and Sam need time to talk. It wouldn’t be natural for everything they’ve ever felt or thought to come spilling out of them in their first few hours together.
On rewatch, I liked Sam staring at his mom over dinner. His reaction was perfect - shock and awe. Mary’s mention of Sam’s disbelief was an ideal opening for either of them to say just a few sentences to each other but instead the scene was hijacked by Dean making a pig out of himself on pie. I am SO over seeing Dean’s portrayal as an eating oaf. That nonsense interrupted what should have been a Sam-Mary moment. Granted, the following scene in Mary’s room was touching. The whole episode would have been more powerful had it not followed a childish comedy bit that didn’t work, though. Let the emotion build and flow. The momentum was lost. Still, I’ll take a poorly placed, brilliant scene over no scene at all.
The redemption of the reunion thread was the beautiful scene between Mary and Sam in the bunker. That interaction was magnificently done. Jared’s acting continues to amaze me. I don’t think any actor on the planet could have played that scene better. Sam’s character was brilliantly encapsulated in a tender expression of love and vulnerability. His innocent awkwardness, his intuitive offer of the journal, and his declaration of his feelings were perfect. That scene takes its place as a series defining moment.
Crowley and Rowena also enjoyed a "family reunion" but that ended disastrously for mommy dearest. Vince and his wife? girlfiend? had a lively reunion, complete with flying pictures and flashing lights. That ended disastrously for Vince (more on that later). I guess the Winchesters came out the best all things considered.
How did the episode fare with the other season 12 threads?
A Lot’s Changed
Dean: It’s been kind of weird here with, you know, Mom being back. It’s like we don’t know how to act around each other so we just kind of make this small talk and act normal but it’s - it’s so not normal.
Cas: Don’t make things needlessly complicated as you humans tend to do.
This episode continued the thread of how much things have changed for both Dean and his mother. The series’ story parallels the Winchester’s reality in that the dynamics of both have to shift to make room for ‘mom’. Curiously, it was in this thread last week that I detected a meta-message from the writers to the fans. I’m wondering if Castiel’s advice to Dean wasn’t again a message from the writers to fans about this season. “This doesn’t have to be hard. We’re going to be straightforward and uncomplicated.” I just sensed that line didn’t have as much importance to the plot as it did to the season.
We learned a bit more about the British Men of Letters organization. In Mick’s introduction, he told Toni,
Mick: You’ve been a bad girl Toni, and I’ve come to fetch you. You disobeyed orders.
So Toni’s actions are her own and not the will of her bosses? That’s an interesting contradiction. The person who admires order in the ranks is exercising her own free will. Unfortunately, it was to the extreme detriment of the brothers.
Toni: [Hunters] work for us. Tools. They kill. They don’t think. Who recruited you and your brother? To whom do you report?
Toni’s questions betrayed the paradigm of her world. She works within a rigid hierarchy so she expects that Americans do the same. She later asked,
Do you ever think… that some of your soldiers may have been compromised, or bought?
The first point of interest was her use of the term "soldiers". She presumed unthinking, blind obedience, not independent individuals acting of their own free will, even though that is seemingly what she is doing. The second part of Toni’s question is interesting as it relates to the network of hunters.
Saving People, Hunting Things
Toni asked whether any of the hunters could have been compromised, then later quizzed Sam about his ‘association’ with Ruby, and Dean about his partnership with Benny. Do the MoL think Sam and Dean are traitors to the cause, collaborating with the enemy? Is the group so blind to free will and judging each hunt individually that they are drawing the wrong conclusions about not taking unilateral action and eradicating all monsters regardless of motive or actions? This was definitely a tease that will be further developed throughout the season.
In addition to Toni’s journey, the threads of “Free Will” and “Hunting Things” also intersected in Mary’s story.
Dean: Why don’t I take this one solo, okay? We just – we don’t know what we’re walking into here.
Mary: We never know. We’re Hunters.
Dean: Okay, I can’t do my job if I’m worried about you.
Mary: Dean, you won’t have to be. I can handle myself.
Mary’s decisions are not being influenced at all by Dean’s wishes. This is consistent with the stubborn Mary who defiantly stood up to her father earlier in the series. Mary is exercising her free will. In this conversation, she clearly stated that she sees herself as a hunter who is quite capable of doing her job, thank you very much. Dean’s recognition of her strategic thinking in the car later emphasized her skills:
Dean: You were good at this, weren’t you?
When Castiel questioned why Dean brought his mother to rescue Sam, Mary responded,
“You can keep me from driving Dean, not from hunting.”
At the end of the episode, Mary asked Sam why he came back to hunting. His reply was,
“This is my family. My family hunts. It’s what we do.”
That reiteration of his family’s destiny somehow surprised Mary, despite her earlier insistence on being included in hunting. There’s something brewing here. I just don’t yet know what it is.
Moms and their Sons
Mary’s relationship with both of her sons was explored a bit further in “Mamma Mia”. In good humor, Mary told Dean,
I’m your mother. You have to do what I say.
Dean is used to calling the shots. He usually takes the lead, telling Sam and Castiel what to do (with varying degrees of success). It appears mom is also a strategic thinker and a leader. I wonder how long it will be before their two wills are at odds. It should make for an interesting family and team dynamic, with Sam caught in the middle pulled between the two people who mean the most to him. Mary and Sam also began to explore their relationship. It’s one that Sam has only developed in his mind in the many years of wondering what his mother was like and what it would be like to feel the unconditional acceptance of her love. Since the relationship between the three of them has been prominently mentioned in both of the opening episodes, I expect this will be a dominant thread of the year.
Rowena’s plight was the intersection of two threads as well, “Mothers and their Sons” and “Free Will”. Crowley blackmailed his mother into doing something against her will. He then abandoned her when they were in danger. It’s an easy guess that this will be contrasted with some future scenario where Mary will be put in danger. Let’s watch for it.
Interestingly, Castiel, a non-human, was used to emphasize the human versus animal thread. He called attention to his separation from the human race when he said “you humans” in his conversation with Dean (above). Rowena referred to Castiel as the Winchester’s “pet angel”, Dean called Toni the MoL “attack dog” and Mick returned the compliment by calling Cas the brothers’ “attack dog”. Rowena also called Crowley “a hateful snake”. This thread seems to be on a low simmer, perhaps waiting to be brought to the front burner later in the year.
I know a lot of viewers were very upset about Sam’s being used sexually again, even if it was only in an illusion. While I didn’t have that specific reaction, I was nauseated at the sight of him being in such a vulnerable and intimate situation with someone he obviously hates so much. It’s odd but I almost felt that I should look away out of respect for his body. It’s glorious and I eagerly applaud opportunities to appreciate it, but this felt wrong.
During his own "family reunion", Vince’s body was also violated. Lucifer tricked him into saying “yes”. Vince was told he was inviting in Jen but in fact he was inviting in Satan. Doesn’t the angel consent rule come with a clause that says “No lying. Informed consent only.”? Sam was previously tricked into saying yes to Gadreel, but that misrepresentation at least had a kernel of truth that could be stretched to fit the situation. I do not expect that Informed Consent will be an on-going thread but was rather a theme of this episode alone. Time will tell.
- I haven't focused on Castiel, Lucifer or Crowley largely because their roles at the moment only support the exploration of the mothers' and other threads. I thought their actions were completely within character, though, and the actors all did a great job. Misha's play on "are we still discussing the same thing?" and "I don't sweat under any circumstances" were the best humor of the episode!
- Am I right that we saw for the first time a sigil that binds humans? What did that thing do? Transport Dean? Incapacitate him to the point where Toni could get cuffs on him? That was a plot leap I would have liked to be explained.
- Kailey and Samantha Spear were listed as “chastity group members” on the episode’s IMDB credits. They had enthusiastically tweeted about being on Supernatural. I follow them closely because they also have a significant tie to Twilight so I asked Kailey about their absence. Unfortunately, their footage ended up on the cutting room floor.
- Can someone please tell me the name of the actor who played Ben? I recognize him but can’t come up with his name. He’s not listed in either IMDB or Superwiki as a credited part.
Last week I shared the one image that stayed with me after the episode was over. I thought I'd experiment with trying that each week. For "Mamma Mia", it's a close tie between Sam in bed (cropping out his partner of course) and his teary admission of love to his mother. I'm going to pick the latter because it is a reminder of the best scene of the episode. Do you have a favorite?
In balance, I’ll eventually regard this episode as 50 minutes of exciting drama (you should know by now that I easily forgive plot jumps and canon slides); followed by 5 minutes of disastrous, heartbreaking disappointment; concluding with 3 minutes of brilliance that will be replayed and remembered. I watch Supernatural for the emotional arcs and this episode only partially came through in that regard. I’ve only had the benefit of one rewatch, though, so what’s your overall opinion, and what do you think of the episode’s threads?
Quotes confirmed with http://transcripts.foreverdreaming.org/
Screencaps courtesy of http://www.homeofthenutty.com/