The Morning After
Cute. That’s the first word that comes to mind to describe Supernatural’s 14.6 episode “Optimism”. Of course, "cute" is how I usually describe Jack, especially when his whole face lights up with his infectious smile. Add in his adorably innocent understanding of courting, dating, love, relationships and “the sex”; a charming, sweet, young girl-next-store who makes “googily eyes” at him; and the 1950’s call back to simpler times in a small town, and “cute” is perfect word for Jack’s adventure into romance. On the flip side, I often see Charlie as cute too. She has an innocence that comes through even when she’s wielding a weapon or facing down a monster. Maybe it’s her disarming wit, or the twinkle that is always in her eyes. She has a goodness about her that can’t be eroded away.
“Cute” may not be the reaction Stevey Yockey, the writer of this imaginative monster of the week story, was going for, though, so let me choose a word that is a little more professional. Creative. How’s that? Creative encompasses Steve’s use of a fly, a totally surprising necromancer, and a zombie as monsters. They were interesting and unexpected, and the episode got a huge boost from being fresh, and respecting both the show’s legacy and its fans enough to put some effort into expanding the Supernatural universe rather than rehashing the same old same old. Remember the days when every episode was a surprise? In season one, the canvas was blank, and fans were awestruck every week. Here’s the list of monsters from season one:
- Mysterious dark figure
- Killer Water (Vengeful Spirit)
- Demon on a plane
- Bloody Mary (vengeful spirit)
- A Rawhead and a Reaper
- Christine (okay, really a vengeful spirit in a truck)
- Telekinetic people
- Creepy people
- Meg, a demon
- Azazel, a Prince of Hell (even though we/they didn’t know that then)
Look at that imagination! Not a lot of duplicates there! Everything about “Optimism” reminded fans of the show’s early days. If we didn’t get the subtle resonance with season one, there were more obvious reminders, such as Jack using “Christo!” to test if Harper was a demon. The show hasn’t used that hunter’s trick since 1.4 “Phantom Traveler”. The popular theory was that the writers changed their minds and later retconned that test into an ineffective indicator of demonic possession, but it’s back! Then Sam and Charlie walked into a warehouse filled with bugs! Did anyone else immediately think of the bees buzzing the brothers in 1.8 “Bugs”? I got pulled out of the show for a minute feeling sorry for Jared and Felicia, wondering if they were really being swarmed by flies (surely Jared’s contract has a specific rider now that precludes any more bug infestations!). Several fans suggested that the flies were computer generated given the advancement in technology in the last 13 years! The episode also used Saturday Night Fever’s “Staying Alive” music and directorial sequence to recall a very specific memory from decades ago; the 1950’s diner, in both name and décor; Dean calling a letter jacket jock “Archie”, a comic book character that debuted in 1941 (and a comic that debuted in 1942), and Jack “Mighty Mouse”, a cartoon character that debuted (coincidentally?) also in 1942; and the obvious homage to the 1958 movie The Fly (Vincent Price) as throw-backs to days gone by. What else did you see that reminded you of season one or the 1950’s, 1960’s or 1970’s?
The show isn’t that old, but the episode's entire motif created an atmosphere of youthful discovery and coming of age – for its characters and its fans. The innocence of the Happy Days imagery of malt shops, letter jackets, hometown girls working at their local library, and teenage boys not yet knowing about sex was shattered by a hilarious twist of a zombie/necromancer couple. Even Charlie’s 'storybook' life with “the love of her life” (Kara made cupcakes and smelled like peaches) was crushed by an unexpected twist – the apocalypse of her world and the ugliness of people’s fear. Thankfully, Sam tried tirelessly to get Charlie to believe in good again, to regain her optimism.
Title Thread, Leaving and Guilt
Sam was back to being his hopeful, optimistic self. That was sure nice to see. Dean is home, Sam’s feeling a little more confident as the hunter’s leader, and he’s working with AU Charlie – a person he keeps forgetting isn’t his Charlie.
Charlie: People are always the same when things go wrong -- they lose it. One day, the water gets shut off, the next day, people are on fire. [Water and Fire Threads] It's a fact about society -- it all falls apart.
Sam: Not here.
Charlie: Not yet.
Charlie had lost her optimism, with good reason. Sam knew a different version of Charlie, though, and it pained him to see ‘her’ so broken and hopeless. He shared some of his optimism with her, hoping it would rekindle her spark:
Sam: Got to say, I do feel kind of bad for the Musca. I mean, he could have been happy if it stayed with his people. Didn't have to go off on its own just because –
Charlie: Okay, I get it. I am just like the bug, and I shouldn't go out on my own. But your nifty metaphor has holes. I wasn't looking for love. I found it, and I lost it. And I didn't kill people and literally nest in their body parts, so...
Sam: Okay, I know, I know. How about this? Don't leave. Hear me out. Sure, some people can do bad things when they're desperate or scared, but I mean, the guy we just saved, he has a wife, children. I'm not saying all people are good people or even that most people are, but if we help people, then maybe they'll help people and all that. And that's worth it. Even with all the tears and death -- it's worth it.
Several aspects of Sam’s touching speech are worth noting. First, yay Sam for finding your faith again. Second, remember Freddie Krueger's (really it was David Yeager's) repetitive warning, “we all do bad things sometimes” in “Mint Condition”? That’s almost the exact same phrase as Sam’s “people can do bad things.” This could foreshadow someone doing something bad in the future, or it could easily be referring to Dean’s guilt about his misadventure with Michael.
Lastly, there's the parallel to Dean going off on his own and not 'staying with his people'.
Pair that with Jack thinking about leaving (i.e. running away) in 14.3 "The Scar", and that sequence specifically being included in this episode’s “then” flashbacks, and there is definitely a subtext message about leaving others behind being woven into scripts.
Sam: So, this is where all those people went missing?
All their subtle references to going off by oneself concluded with Sam’s simple, heartfelt plea to Charlie, “Don’t leave.”
Jack and Dean chimed in on the leaving thread as well:
Dean: So, he just left you here, huh?
Jack: Yep. Sam wanted someone around when you came back. He's worried about you.
Dean: Yeah, sounds like him.
Jack: Dean, what happened with Michael -- no one blames you.
Dean: Cool. Well, I blame me, so…
Dean: Jack, get her out of here.Jack: I can't just leave.
Jack to Harper: I'm not weak like those other guys. I'm not afraid (Fear Thread) to really love you. What would it be like to be with someone alive? Who could walk you down the aisle in front of the whole town? And start a family with. With me. Every relationship has its stuff, right? We can stay in the town you love and never leave.
All this emphasis on both leaving and guilt could be referring to Michael going off alone and Dean being left behind with his guilt. From this perspective, it seems like the writers are telling us that Michael did, in fact, just leave Dean and we’re all (Dean, Sam, Jack, fans, etc) waiting for Michael to “come back”.
The other characters all tactfully reiterated the thread of leaving. Jack found some of his natural hopefulness again. He and Harper both claimed to be innocent, young, optimists. A perfect match, well, until she was revealed to be a deranged psychopath. In their limited experiences, they were both appalled that someone would leave a person they “loved”:
Harper: Vance was my boyfriend. After high school, he wanted to leave town. I told him we didn't need to. We could see the world in books. Which I know sounds way too sappy.
Jack: And he left anyway. Without you?
Harper: I don't blame him. But that, well that was the beginning of my bad luck. Just so many things that I - I try to stay optimistic.
Jack: Me, too. I've had some not-so-great stuff happen in my past. Trying to be positive - it can be hard.
Harper voiced the episode’s title about optimism here, at the same time she referred to guilt, someone leaving, and people being left behind. Her eerie love letter to Jack made the point even clearer at the close of the episode:
Background music: We're traveling down two different roads, In worlds so far apart.
You want me, yet there's something else Before me in your heart.
If we can't live together, then it's best we live apart
You'll go your way and I'll go mine, We'll both make a brand-new start
Harper: "Jack. I'm already writing -- isn't that crazy? I'm not crazy. But our love is so vivid. I can't wait to find you. You're the first man to ever get me to leave McCook. Now I'm in the world. I'm sorry I have to kill you for what you did to Vance, but then I can bring you back so that we can be together again. It's gonna be perfect. See you soon. Love, Harper".
Reread that letter as if Michael is saying it about Dean (in a platonic, possession type of way): "I can't wait to find you. You're the first man to ever get me to leave. Now I'm in the world. I'm sorry I have to kill you, but then I can bring you back so that we can be together again. It's gonna be perfect. See you soon." Melodramatic but it fits! What do you think?
Read as intended, Harper’s deranged love letter included a polite but quite literal promise to kill Jack so the young couple could be together again. So whether it’s Harper’s stalking or Jack’s blood-inducing cough, Jack is facing certain death? Alongside all of “Optimism”’s happy words was an underlying darker theme: dying as a young adult.
“Optimism” poignantly made age a distinguishing factor in life and death.
Dean: Why don't you back off, kid? Jack: No, you back off old man.
Harper’s boyfriend was the first to die before his time, simply because he wanted to leave town after college. The kid’s letter jacket was a testament to high school/college athletics being the biggest accomplishment of his life. Both of Harper’s admirers also died way too young, simply for being interested in a pretty girl. Even Dean was attacked just for getting to nosy about the girl, but it was his years of experience that saved him. Jack hit a little too close to the truth when he called Dean an “old man”!
In the parallel gross hunt, the young male fly died because he went outside his community to find love, and Charlie’s love interest died an untimely death. Going back an episode, Bobby’s son supposedly died young because he got separated from his people, his group. Are all these subliminal warnings about Jack dying young?
Jack: His obituary said he loved having breakfast here every morning, which is sort of oddly specific.
Dean: Yeah, when a young guy dies, they never know what to put in those things.
Taking this to a really unfortunate extreme, imagine a season ender where Charlie goes off to find her true love in this world’s Chicago (our Charlie “never met Kara”), Bobby and Mary go back to the AU to look for Bobby’s son because Michael reveals the angels didn’t kill him (they “never even found the bodies”), and Jack dies because he’s lost his powers. We’d be back to all the “old men” - Sam, Dean and Castiel. Convince me this isn’t going to happen because I love Jack, Bobby, Mary and Charlie all being back in the family!
Jack: Look. Winston Mathers. Dead, with what appears to be human bite marks taken out of the corpse.
Dean: "Human" bite marks?
Jack: And other people have gone missing, too.
Dean: Well, Sam's not gonna like it.
Jack: Sam's not here.
In this conversation between Dean and Jack, I absolutely loved that Dean acknowledged Sam’s role as leader once again. Dean reminded Jack that Sam is calling the shots of who goes on hunts, and Sam is looking after Jack’s well-being. Jack’s reply is important. Yes, Jack is forcefully presenting his argument to Dean about why he should be allowed to go on a hunt. Good for Jack. Young people have to learn how to persuade the world to see things their way.
“Sam’s not here” of course reiterated the leaving thread, but it also, or even more so, echoed the thread of misdirection, of someone not being who we think they are, like Harper...
...of a different entity being inside an outward façade, like the fly. Sam repeated the words "not here" later when talking to Charlie. Substitute the names of people we are worried about: “Dean’s not here”, “Michael’s not here” or “Castiel’s not here”. All of these parallels carry a lot of meaning. Sam’s the only one we’re not worried about being present and himself! Do you see this interpretation in “Optimism”’s script? Are there other clues?
Right/Wrong, Weak/Strong, Smart/Stupid
Jack: Dean, I need to do something. You don't understand. I could have killed Michael. Here, when I was strong enough, I could have. But there was so much going on, and then everything else happened because I was distracted and stupid and –
Dean: Hey. You didn't do anything wrong.
Jack: And neither did you.
Townspeople: And her boyfriend ran off on her. She did not take it well. - Ever since then, well - Everything just seems to go wrong. She's lost people. Not people, Men.
The moral of the story, as communicated by Dean to Jack at the end of their hunt, was that it’s not always about being right, or smart, or strong. It’s about learning from your mistakes and continuing to fight:
Jack: I was right, and you should be letting me go out on hunts.
Dean: Okay. All right. Look, it's not about being right, okay? You're gonna make mistakes. Hell, I make them all the time. But it's how you handle yourself once you've made those mistakes. And you learn from them.
Jack: And how to not beat yourself up over them?
Dean: You know, Jack, you're pretty smart sometimes. I tell you what. When Sam gets back, I'll talk to him about getting you out on more hunts. Okay? In the meantime, we'll get you a crate of cough drops.
Jack: I'm fine. It's all part of being human, right?
This acknowledgement by Dean that Sam is still in charge gave well deserved recognition to Sam but also revealed that Dean isn’t feeling himself yet, and isn’t perhaps ready to make the tough decisions. He’s happy right now letting Sam lead the way. He even told Jack that Sam is a “smart guy” – a compliment that was immediately followed by a scene of that smart guy being fascinated with a fidget spinner! Nevertheless, Dean still has gained some wisdom in his old age, wisdom he was willing to pass along to youth, but youth in turn had a lesson for him. Nice give and take. The moral of Sam and Charlie's story was that people need to be with people. Running away, i.e. leaving, never solves problems. Sam's gotten pretty wise in his old age too.
Harper: Miles, we talked about you minding your own business, didn't we? Put the stapler down.
Harper: Oh, I already spoke to the police.
Dean: Well, I'm not the police.
Harper: I don't -- I don't want to talk about this anymore.
Dean: Well, I'm gonna need you to talk about it.
Jack: Hello. Sorry (Manners Thread) to interrupt. I'm looking for the best book on the area's history.
Dean: Excuse me. I was talking with her.
Jack: Really? Because it doesn't look like she wants to talk to you.
Dean: Listen, I'm FBI.
Jack: Yeah, I heard. But, see, I haven't done anything wrong, so you can't do anything to me. And if she doesn't want to talk to you, you can't make her.
I realy like this new emaphsis on talking and effectively communicating, especially on the distinction that people have the right to choose to talk or not talk, listen or not listen. My perception is that this emphasis is resulting in more heart-to-heart chats between all of the characters. Do you agree, or instead see some other implication for this thread?
Say what Now?
Yes, Zombies can be stopped by a silver stake through the heart pinning them to their coffin, but what happened to head shots? Wouldn’t that have slowed him down considerably and avoided the final fight with Dean?
Why would Sam, the experienced hunter, put down his gun to check on Charlie's condition? Sam heard Charlie scream then found her unconsious. Surely he had to know the fly was somewhere close. I would think he would have just checked her pulse but remained on full alert with gun pointed until he neutralized the threat. That was sloppy. He's better than that. Let's not set up climactic fights with the brothers in ways that insult their experience and intelligence.
This is a keeper. It’s simple, yet fun. The two stories couldn’t be more different yet they ran parallel themes and worked well together. I’m not happy about Sam and Dean not being in a single scene together, but at least the episode hid this practical fact of their senior set status very well. Felicia Day’s rendering of Charlie’s lost love was magnificent.
She packed an entire lifetime of love then mourning into one story. Loved Richard Speight Jr.’s directing from the tick tock “then” flashback to the closing credits. Yet again, we are left with the cliffhanger of “What is happening to Jack”, and the lingering worry of "What is happening with Dean”. We have to wait two weeks to get more information. That gives us all plenty of time to mull this all over and discuss threads!
Threads Review Addendum:
P.S. This is cheating but it's now TWO Mornings after the show aired. I was thinking about these threads overnight and realized we've seen the Coming of Age, Old/ Young, Dying Young; Leaving; and Draining Life Forces threads in prior s14 episodes but hadn't picked up on it:
14.5 "Nightmare Logic" - Maggie was "coming of age" in hunting, i.e. she was attempting the rite of passage of her first solo hunt but it went badly and there was a real risk of her dying very young. Sam was frantic to protect and save his charge. The old, withered man was also dying but no one was frantically trying to save him because his death seemed the natural order of things =>Old/Young contrast. Both victims were saved. The Djinn was draining the life force from his victims.
14.3 "The Scar" - The "B" plot of the witch draining the life force from 3 young girls in order to keep the old hag young. Castiel and Jack (and lady hunter whose name I don't remember) were frantic to save the young girl who had run away from home (Leaving Thread).
14.2 "Gods and Monsters" - Michael was draining the life force from the vampires in order to supercharge monsters. The youngest girl (Maria?) was the only one who survived - temporarily.
Any more examples?
So I was thinking that maybe Jack's youth will be saved by draining the life force from the ancient archangel, Michael. What do you think??
You can catch up on my previous Threads articles (and all my other writing) by going to my Writer Page. These might help you consider these new threads!