The Morning After
Well that was a depressing, nobody wins episode! Supernatural’s “Twigs and Twine and Tasha Banes” (“Tasha”) brought back twin hunters Alicia and Max Banes, who I have loved since their introduction in “Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox” (what’s with these LONG episode names??). I eagerly awaited their return, hoping for many years of double date hunting partnerships alongside the Winchesters brothers.
We also met their mom, the lovely Tasha, who immediately captured my attention as an intriguing, multi-faceted character. Her sass, confidence and magical acumen reminded me of other women of color such as Missouri from 1.09 “Home” and Clea from 11.22 “We Happy Few”, who were fascinating characters with a commanding presence that were killed off (or disappeared) almost as soon as we learned their names. Unfortunately, all my hopes were dashed when tragedy befell the entire Banes family. In the parallel storyline, Mary got captured by Mr. Ketch and is most certainly going to be tortured by a combination of her former lover and Lady Bevell, who I seriously never, ever wanted to see again.
In fact, there were so few positive, uplifting developments in “Tasha”, I asked the #WFBFamily on line to highlight anything at all good in this story. So just like last week, I am going to begin by creating a scorecard of the rapidly changing plotlines we are following.
- Mary is no longer working with the BMoL. She will now spend more time with her boys as they join forces to bring down the British invaders [not sure hoping for a good thing that might happen counts as a positive for this episode]
- Mary committed to being a more attentive mom to Sam and Dean before she learned of the BMoL betrayal
- Mary beat the crap out of Ketch [Many fans counts this as a win. I don’t, however, since she ultimately lost the fight.]
- Witch magic is purple, e.g. purple eyes and amulet. We don’t often get my favorite color in Supernatural (yes, I’m stretching to find “good” things in this episode!)
- Two wonderful female hunters died
- Max sold his soul
- Mary is going to be tortured
- Lady Bevell is back
In the season’s war between good and evil, I hate to say it but the bad guys won this round. It's not that I thought this was a "bad" episode, it's just that is was miserably disheartening.
It may be slightly unexpected that I would start with this thread, but it was the most subtle yet perhaps important underlying message in “Tasha”. Everyone in the story was surprised at some point. Tasha was surprised by a knife attack from the rear. Sam, Dean and Max were surprised to find Tasha’s body in the cellar when they thought they had just been talking with her moments before. Alicia was surprised by Max physically attacking their “mom”. Mary was surprised to find Mick’s body, the “secret” surveillance room and the truth about Mr. Ketch’s orders.
The most intriguing and subtle secret was that no one was who they appeared to be. Embodied in the monsters of the week, hideous betrayal emerged from people who had hidden agendas or secret orders hidden just beneath the false faces they presented to the world. Ketch and Mary interrogated a shapeshifter, who kept his true identify a secret by assuming Mary’s then Ketch’s forms. The twig dolls had everyone fooled. Looking like townspeople and loved ones, they passed unnoticed, their true nature going undetected until they were ordered to kill by a powerful witch who stayed secluded in her private sanctuary.
The BMoL in America and Mr. Ketch are obvious manifestations of this “Surprise!” theme. At first, they appeared to be allies but upon receiving orders to betray and kill, they mindlessly obeyed their powerful puppet masters who relayed orders from some hidden, remote room. Looking back, Lucifer is also just a puppet of Crowley’s right now. Lucifer appears to be in the same vessel as before, yet the body’s master has control over him, making him do things against his will.
The ominous extension of the season’s, and specifically this episode’s, emphasis on hidden identities is terrifying. What if Castiel is not who he now appears to be? Last week, many fans speculated that he had been “taken over” by the Nephilim. Even though he feels like himself, perhaps he is now connected to the baby in a way that would allow it to command him to betray or kill. Alternately, Cas could very well be himself but it is the baby who is similar to the shapeshifter or twig dolls, presenting a benevolent nature to Cas and Kelly yet having sinister intentions beneath its surface. Could the foreshadowing be that direct? Alicia, Max, Sam and Dean were fooled by Tasha’s doppelganger. It makes sense then that Cas and Kelly could also be just as naively taken in by a sweet, innocent child.
Dean: Ok, so last night, that Super Mario power-up crap. That wasn’t Cas. That freaking baby isn’t even born yet and it sock-puppeted him… Seriously, up until now, if Cas messed up, if he did something wrong but he thought it was for the right reasons, I got it, right? But last night, when I looked at him, I did not recognize the guy staring back at me.
Cas wants to believe he has a purpose and there is hope and Kelly wants to love her baby, just as the Banes twins wanted to love their mom. The same could be said of Mary and Sam’s acceptance of the BMoL’s great progress in eradicating monsters in America. People are seeing what they want, and expect, to see versus seeing the truth. Still, Cas and Kelly said they felt the baby’s purity. Could it trick their instincts? I absolutely do not want to believe this theory, but I can’t think of another application of the “hidden beneath the surface” lesson. Unless of course, the future will be contrasted against this story versus copying it.
Both shapeshifters and twig and twine constructed beings had the memories, personalities and appearances of their models but acted in ways that went totally against the true nature of the originals. In that way, the originals were robbed of their free will, i.e. their physical bodies did things that the people would not have wanted them to do. Shapeshifters are living, breathing beings willfully deciding what to do in their concealed forms. In contrast, the twig mannequins, like the inorganic clay Gollum that preceded them, were nothing more than robots controlled by spells recited by their masters. Neither “monster” had a soul nor original will to override. Symbolically, people's hearts were removed and placed into the animated twig dummies.
In this regard, Cas, Kelly, and for that matter Lucifer himself, fit neither the shapeshifter nor the puppet mold. They haven’t been cloned by a shapeshifter, nor killed and replaced with duplicates. They are all alive in their own skin, perhaps able to be aware of or fight off forces that may wish to control them, i.e. the Nephilim or Crowley. Rather than foreshadowing mindless murdering marauders, perhaps the twig people were inserted into the brothers’ history to highlight that Cas, Kelly, Lucifer (and perhaps Mr. Ketch and Lady Bevell) are still able to exercise their wills. They may be able to choose to disobey orders and fight off their evil puppet masters. Which way do you think it is likely to go?
Mothers, Fathers and their Children
Sam: Their mom’s on a hunting trip and hasn’t been home in a week.
“Tasha” rather bluntly contrasted the seemingly idyllic mother of the twins…
Dean: You did a bang up job with those two… I see how you are with them, all right? It’s good. They’re happy
Tasha: Alicia said you grew up in the life?
Dean: Yeah, my dad raised me and Sam to hunt.
Tasha: and your mother?
Dean: That’s complicated.
Tasha: Family’s always complicated. Parents always seem smart and strong and perfect but it’s only when you grow up that you realize that they’re just people”
…to the largely absent, emotionally distant Mary, mother to Sam and Dean.
Alicia: What about Mary?
Sam: She gets into a case and just sort of vanishes.
Alicia: Mary’s a great hunter. She doesn’t seem like much of a hugger.
Sam: Yeah. Let’s go find your mom.
A few fans sarcastically observed that “Tasha” aired one week before the US Mother’s Day holiday, timing that was perhaps satirically intentional.
Happily, some attempt was made to redeem Mary in this episode, to bring her closer to the loving mother that Max and Alicia have:
Mary: Dean, I’m sorry I haven’t been there for you and Sam. But I wanna be, I will be. I just… I need to finish this. I miss you boys. I love you.
Rather than hearing a hopeful promise, however, I heard Mary’s change of heart as a death knell – the last minute enlightenment of a tragic hero right before they are killed or removed from the loving situation they now recognize and embrace. I can’t imagine any other reason why Mary would suddenly exhibit sympathetic qualities when she has otherwise been berated all year.
“Tasha” made sure to also include a minor storyline for the other half of a parenting team, a dad. The shapeshifter was a devoted father who endured torture and gave his life to protect his family. Curious that fathers this season are being portrayed just as complicated as mothers. Evil Lucifer is elated about having a son, a supposedly evil Crowley truly mourned his son, and the father in “Foundry” went insane when he lost his daughter. All of these dads felt something for their children. On the other hand, the Commandant used and berated his son so dads aren’t perfect either I guess.
The song the evil witch lady was humming also reverberated the parenting theme:
Hush, little baby, don't say a word.
Papa's gonna buy you a mockingbird
The song continues with the devoted papa (I always substituted “mama” when I sang it to my children!) buying animals for his child, dually echoing the parenting and the animal threads with references to a billy goat, bull, dog and horse – then ends with
And if that horse and cart fall down,
You'll still be the sweetest little baby in town.
Awww. We’re all now subconsciously singing lullabies to Kelly’s baby.
Soullessnes and Aging
Witch: I’m reaching the end of my very long life and it’s a problem ‘cause I sold my soul for power. So when I pass, my soul goes to Hell, unless I can find someone to take the burden, to take my magic…. Rick, Andy – they do what I want, when I want. I’m old. I like things a certain way. … You take my power, you take my burden and my doll, your mother, will stay with you and your sister forever. Just one big happy family.
The witch’s plot resolution speech held prime threads material! Looking at each section of her exposition gives us a variety of possible meanings. First, taking a clue from the fact that the witch said she’s “old” and she’s the one who sold her soul for power, maybe Ketch’s “old men” sold their souls in order to be in positions of power over the BMoL. Her words seem to specifically foreshadow that theory. She also said that because she’s old, she is set in her ways, which was the exact sentiment Ramiel expressed, i.e. that he was old and was used to a certain routine. Do the two hints put together point to Ramiel’s brother being the head of the BMoL? That’s been our theory and her words seem to back up that idea.
The soulless aspect of her deal takes us back to the soulless thread we’ve tracked and discussed in a few episodes this season, “Regarding Dean” and “Ladies Drink Free” to name two. Who is without a soul, though? None of the players on the board currently. Will someone be asked to sell their soul, to assume someone else’s burden? The word “burden” reminded me specifically of the Mark of Cain problem. When Cain passed the Mark to Dean, Cain said it came with a terrible burden. Does something else need to be passed along, maybe Billie’s deal to rebalance the universe? If the offer to Max to sell his soul to save his mother, or his decision to sell his soul to save his sibling, is foreshadowing, should we put together the Cain reference to Dean and the soulless callback to Sam to imply that one of them will sell their soul… or to complete the roster, will Mary sell her soul to save her boys?
Dean: You know, I was watching them – loving family, the kind we should have had. And now, just like that, it’s gone.
Sam: Dean, you couldn’t let Max make some deal for his soul.
Dean: Sam, we do terrible things all the time to save each other. I mean that’s what you do for family. Who am I to stop him?
Sam: He’s strong. He’ll be all right.
The closing view of the inn’s upper bedroom burning was a strong visual cue back to the show’s pilot, when Mary burned alive. There were several scenes of fire throughout the episode, revisiting our “Burning” thread from earlier this season.
Dean: Sam, It’s mom. Something’s wrong!
Is it Mary’s turn to sell or lose her soul to save her boys? I’d take that over her dying any day!
Aside, spend a minute speculating on the reason Sam was deeply asleep when Dean panicked.
“Sleeping like a baby” maybe? Was that another reference to him being oblivious the first time Mary was in trouble?
Another idea is that since Castiel is now “family”, will he have to assume some “burden” to save Sam, Dean and Mary, to defeat Lucifer or to power the Nephilim? I’m open to other theories because it’s still a mystery heading into episode 21!
While we’re on the subject of family, Brother Hug count: still 0. The season 12 writing team might actually make it through an entire season without having the brothers hug once. Sam was reunited with Dean after believing Dean was dead; Dean saved Sam from torture; they both died, were resurrected, then reunited after escaping a life sentence in solitary prisons; they both thought they lost their best friend (Cas) and their mom; but they still haven’t hugged! I watch this show for broments. This season is slowing dimming the light of hope that is the Sam and Dean bond.
Two other random thoughts.
Shapeshifter: That eye of yours twitches when you lie.
Ketch: My eye twitches all the time.
A little late to be admitting the Ketch is a liar. Any chance that he’s still lying, this time to the BMoL, biding his time until he can save Mary?
Being lucky was mentioned at least twice, first by Tasha, then by witch lady. Any thoughts on what it could mean?
There have also been a lot of "under the hood" shots lately. In this episode, it was looking in Baby's trunk. Coincidence?
The Right vs. Wrong thread was heavily present in the episode. I highlighted some of their occurences in quotes above but listen for others.
After watching “Tasha”, I’m left wondering, what does a fan think of an episode that has great characters, acting, scenery and originality but leaves you feeling empty and hopeless? I’ll watch this show again just for the detailed set up I believe it holds for the season climax, but I’m pretty sure I won’t enjoy it. How about you? I can't end this review feeling just as dejected as I felt after this show, so I'm leaving you with worried Dean and wet hair Sam, because they make up for just about everything.
Song Lyrics courtesy of https://www.babycenter.com/0_lullaby-lyrics-hush-little-baby_6730.bc