The Morning After
Well that was intense – in a sneaky, you don’t feel the trauma until it’s over, kind of way.
Supernatural 15.04 "Atomic Monsters" had all the signs of being a filler, monster-of-the-week story. Small town mystery of disappearing teens puts the boys together on the road again chasing a case to get their minds off the paralyzing grief and shock they can’t process. While that was all true, somewhere between the beaver mascot jokes and the controlling parent tropes was a horrifying vision of where this show might be headed for the rest of the season and the end of the series - and that vision was of unimaginable betrayal, defeat and loss for both the Winchesters and the fans.
The episode started off with what just might be the best fight scene of the series.
The bar was set high by Dean’s demon clearing fight in Cain’s kitchen in season 9’s (9.11) “First Born” but this Rambo/Sarah Connor style rampage to work his way through the bunker in search of a Satanic Sam was jaw-dropping (and as hot as Sam’s demon-blood Hades!). Even more eerily ominous was seeing Dean’s brother-in-arms from Purgatory, Benny, dying in the assault. It was SO good to see them together again, but I’m hoping we see more of Benny than just a 30 second goodbye scene. Was this his swan song? How many times does Benny have to give his life for Dean’s quests to save Sam??
I have to admit that I was taken out of the action for just a moment to be awed by the fact that Jensen directed himself in that fight.
That’s seriously impressive. He tweeted (and put on Instagram) a compliment and a video clip of him and the fight choreographer Rob Hayter working through the details of the scene:
Me and @robhayter workin out a piece of the fight sequence in tonight’s episode #AtomicMonsters. Directing this fight was a highlight for me. Thanks to Rob and the whole stunt crew...who kicked this one in the… https://t.co/1ilbQ4eoF0— Jensen Ackles (@JensenAckles) November 7, 2019
The final footage made it looks so seamlessly easy but that was a complex sequence of moves to execute. There’s no end to this man’s talent!
The horror of Dean’s desperate mission through the bunker ended with an even more horrifying revelation. Sam succumbs to demon blood, to the point of there being no trace whatsoever of the loving, compassionate little brother that Dean has tried for 15 years to save. Without a second thought, in fact with a bit of a satisfied smirk, DemonSam snaps Dean’s neck in triumph. My mouth was hanging open and I was gasping for breath watching the final moment that Dean, Sam and we have dreaded for so long. They failed. Fate won. They were forced to live their ultimate nightmare. Please, for the sake of the entire #SPNFamily, don’t let that be how this series ends! It might be dramatically poignant but it is emotionally devastating!
Of course it was all a dream… or not. When demon blood was coursing through Sam’s veins, his dreams were visions of the future, and they ALL happened just the way he saw them. Supposedly the trials purified Sam of all his demon blood, but is that gunshot wound making Sam the universe’s counterweight to the power of God? Formerly, that balance of power fell to Amara, but maybe the “Equalizer” created a successor for that role?
Powers and That Gunshot Wound
Chuck: I mean, I used to be able to see Sam and Dean in my head, wherever they were, whatever they were doing. It was all just there, ripe for the picking. And now it's just gone.
Becky: Because you lost your prophet powers?
Chuck: Something like that.
What is happening to Sam? Is he somehow siphoning Chuck’s powers, and the wound is tapping into Sam’s body's memories of power? Is the gunshot turning him into the Lord of Darkness to balance the Lord of Light? That remains the biggest question of all.
4.07 "It's the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester"
Would I like to see Sam’s powers again? Absolutely! I loved seeing powerful Sam extend his hand to save people and kill things with just a thought. But Sam was always in control. He used his powers for good, not for evil. This DemonicSam is horrifying. He looks so much worse than MoC Dean. MoC Dean had supernatural strength but at least he had to engage his opponents in combat. Even Crowley, Michael and Lucifer had to snap their fingers to destroy their enemies. EvilSam kills with god-level thoughts!
Sam: He was right. Closer than you think.
EvilSam: You know, I knew you'd come looking for me. After Sioux Falls I suppose you had to.
Dean: What you did to them. What you did to Bobby, to Jody…
EvilSam: They tried to stop me. But I will not be stopped.
Dean: Sam, you listen to me. This is the demon blood. You have to fight it!
EvilSam: Why would I do that? [BONES CRACK.]
Dean: Sammy, please. Please.
The coldness in EvilSam's eyes made me shiver! Jared’s portrayal of this emotionless, ultimate evil was stunning. It hurt to see Sam this way, but it also hurt to know that Jared had to take on the persona of such chilling evil. Warranted or not, we are all worried about Jared. Seeing Sam like this just fosters our perhaps unfounded fears about Jared. Jared had to put Sam in a bad way in season 8 and said at the time that it took a huge, real life toll on him. So we can’t tell if this is Jared’s brilliant acting, or a little too realistic method transference, but it’s quite apparent that Sam is so not okay. He awoke from the dream in cold sweats but he still didn’t tell Dean about what he saw! How could he, though?
“Good morning, Dean. FYI, I’m probably going to go dark side and kill you. Everything we’ve worked for, everything we’ve fought against, was worthless. You failed. I failed. Is the coffee made?”
Dean already knows that Sam is in a bad way. Dean just doesn’t realize that what he is seeing is just the tip of the iceberg. So while their breakfast conversation doesn’t skirt the issue, but doesn’t go deep enough… yet.
Dean: Give it a shot.
Sam: I'm good.
Dean: No, you're not. The past few days, you've barely come outta your room. Look, man, I get it, okay? With Jack and Rowena. Rowena knew what she was getting herself into. She knew what needed to be done.
Sam: Doesn't make it any easier.
Dean: No, it doesn't.
Dean rightly mentions Jack's and Rowena’s deaths as weighing heavily on Sam. The first was Sam’s adopted son, whom he believed in, advocated for and identified with since the child was born. The second was a good friend and colleague who was the only person on earth who shared Sam’s unspoken trauma at the hands of Lucifer.
I thought it was interesting, though, that neither Mary nor Castiel were mentioned in the brothers’ conversation. Sam isn’t grieving losing his mother? Of course, he is! That has to be part of his debilitating depression. We don’t know what Dean told him about Castiel’s departure so maybe Sam is thinking of that as understandable or not out of the ordinary, but still, arguably his best friend is gone too. I can’t imagine why those two losses weren’t part of their talk. Can it be that Dean still can’t bring himself to even acknowledge them himself, and Sam doesn’t have the strength to remind him?
So the brothers hit the road to try to get Sam out of his stupor. Cue 30 minutes of monster hunting interspersed with some deeply troubling insights into Chuck (which we’ll talk about in a bit).
During the hunt, it was clear that Sam is having trouble reconciling the horror of his life with the vanilla lives “lucky” people get to live:
A young lady is dead, and you're worried about a football game?
Actually, the end of the world is the end of the world.
Sam: That's our job. We keep them from dealing with the truth, with what's out there, and we carry the weight. It's great. Meanwhile, they get to go back to living in their white picket fence bubbles.
Dean: You know, ever since you were a kid, you wanted to live in a town like this.Lame, normal.
Sam: Yeah, we don't get normal. And these towns, everything's the end of the world. You're late for work, your kid doesn't get into the right school whatever. They don't - They have no idea what's out there.
Sam isn’t displaying his usual patience or empathy with “civilians”. The realities he deals with are just too raw right now. In fact, Sam looked really haggard the whole time he was working the case.
When it was over, the brothers talk again about Sam’s state of mind. Their bookend conversations at the beginning and end of the episode introduced then reinforced the feeling of despair and dread that so characterized “Atomic Monsters”:
Dean: Look, man, I get it. I get it. We have lost way, way too much. And it’s hard not to feel like just cashing out. I felt like that. After Chuck, back at the crypt. But you know what brought me back? You did. By sayin’ that what we do still matters. I mean, that’s why I wanted to drag us out here. That’s why I wanted to work a case, to save lives, you know? ‘Cause it is – it’s a crap job. We do the ugly things so that people can live happy.
Sam: Lucky them.
Dean: Yeah, lucky them.But it doesn’t change a thing. You know what I mean? We still do the job. But we don’t do it for us. We did it for Jack, for Mom, for Rowena. We owe it to anybody who has ever given a damn about us to keep putting one foot in front of the other. No matter what. And, hey, man, like you said, now that Chuck’s gone, we’re finally on our own. We are finally free to move on, you know?
Sam: I don’t know. Uh, I don’t know if I can move on. You know, I can’t forget any of them. Dean, I still think about Jessica. I can’t just let that go.
Dean: No, man, that’s not what I’m talking about.
Sam: I know, I know, I know. I’m sorry. I know. But what I’m saying is that I don’t feel free. What we’ve done, what we’ve lost, right now, that is what I’m feeling, and sometimes it’s like I can’t even breathe. But maybe tomorrow. You know, maybe I’ll feel better in the morning.
Dean: And what if you don’t?
Sam: I don’t know.
Dean certainly knows that Sam is not okay and Sam is being honest about his despondency. They’re both talking about their feelings, which is major progress in their relationship, but neither of them can talk about what they can’t yet admit to themselves – Sam about his dreams or Dean about his mom and Cas. I think that’s realistic. In the midst of crushing grief, sometimes you just can’t put into words what you’re feeling.
Besides, Sam admitting that his visions are back and that they are of a dystopian future for them would break Dean, and probably Sam too. Sam knows that Dean is holding onto the sliver of victory that they are free of Chuck. Ominously, Sam doesn’t feel “free” – a feeling that fans watching this drama suspect is because of Sam’s physical connection to Chuck. If they knew what we, and now Becky, know about Chuck, neither one of them would feel better in the morning (they probably wouldn't even get out of bed in the morning)!
Chuck, and Becky
So let’s talk about Becky and Chuck. I was at first horrified by the THEN montage that implied Becky was back. I’ve written pages on the immense disservice her character did to Supernatural fans. But I have to hand it to Davy Perez. In redeeming Becky, he partially erased a big blotch on the show’s reputation. I’m not going to go into detail on her life post-Chuck or her corrective therapy to moving on from pathological fan obsession because those are topics unto themselves.
Her inclusion in Chuck’s current story, though, was a smart bridge between the first half of the series and its concluding season. It makes sense to me that Chuck would seek her out after his rejection by Amara. It also makes sense that Becky would know so much about what motivates him and that “it’s all real!” She was a perfect plot device to again be a stand in for fans who don’t want to believe the EvilChuck image (I’m at the front of that line!). When he approached Becky, Chuck was his former lovable, gullible, needy self. She felt sorry for him and took him in as a helpful friend. But when she honestly criticized him, he turned on her and revealed the cruel god he once warned us about.
Becky: If I had to give one note, the jeopardy, Chuck, it’s feeling a little thin? Low-stakes? It’s fun to hear the boys’ voices, but a story is only as good as its villain, and these villains are just not feeling very dangerous? Not to mention, there’s no classic rock. No one even mentions Cass. The climax is a little stale. Boys tied up again while we get the villains’ monologue, which, frankly, isn’t one of your best. A little originality wouldn’t hurt.
Chuck: You want jeopardy? You want danger? Move! I’ll give you danger.
Becky: Chuck? Chuck? Chuck!
I still have trouble accepting this version of him, but Rob Benedict’s transformation of Chuck from sweet to scary when listening to Becky’s “notes” at least let me see the vision that Dabb has of Chuck, and it’s a far cry from the adorable Chuck and caring god I’ve seen for the past 10 years.
I'm with Becky on this! This meta conversation made my heart sink through the floor. I really, really, really don’t want a dark ending. I don’t want a Winchester gravestone. I don’t want an EvilSam and a dead Dean. I don’t want Dabb to do this to fans simply because he’s a writer and he can “do anything.”
Becky: You can’t.
Chuck: I did.
Becky: This is just an ending.
Chuck: Yeah. I don’t know how I’m gonna get there, but I know where I’m goin’.
Becky: But it’s so dark.
Chuck: But great, right? I can see it now “Supernatural: The End”. And the cover is just a gravestone that says “Winchester”. The fans are gonna love it. Well?Becky: It’s awful! Horrible. It’s hopeless. You can’t do this to the fans.What you did to Dean? What you did to Sam?
Chuck: There, see? It’s making you feel something. That’s good, right?
And Yet More Meta: The Writer
Thank you Davy for sharing how writers think and feel:
Becky: You’re a writer, a writer who’s not writing. And when a writer’s not writing, they feel sad, and they get lost. And the writer asks themselves, “Why do I feel this why? Why am I so sad and lost?” And what does all this navel-gazing and hair-pulling amount to in the end? Procrastination, distraction. Just one of a million ways the writer avoids doing the one thing that is all but guaranteed to make the writer feel better.
Chuck: Which is?
Chuck: But what if I can’t?
Becky: You can. The only question is, will you?
Chuck: How’d you learn all this?
Becky: I’m a writer, too, Chuck.
Chuck: Oh. I mean, fanfic it’s not really the same thing.
Becky: Writing’s writing. The self-sabotage, the doubts, the struggle against time.So whenever I have a spare minute, I write.
The personality profile of writers was veiled as additional insight into Chuck’s psyche, motivation, emotional state, etc. but it was nice to have fans’ writings acknowledged. I truly don’t like the repeated reminder that we are at the mercy of the writers, though. With good intentions, Becky boosted Chuck’s confidence as a writer but that seems to have made the situation much worse, giving him the audacity to boast once again,
Becky: Please, you can’t do this.
Chuck: Oh, Becky. I can do anything. I’m a writer.
Why is there this constant emphasis on the show runner’s ability to be a detached, all-powerful god, toying with fans as cruelly as Chuck manipulates Sam and Dean? Are we being warned for real, or teased of what could happen just so we keep tuning in? Inside the story, could Sam now be having the visions that used to come to the “prophet” Chuck, and Chuck is merely the scribe writing down what Sam is seeing? Is Chuck really now just a writer?
Fathers and Sons
Dean: Am I right?
Sam: No, I don’t think you’re right, Dean. It’s not the dad, it’s the son.
To my mind, the monster of the week story was a distracting sideline to the myth arc developments in Sam, Dean and Chuck’s battle. It offered an imaginative twist to the traditional vampire story, but since I view episodes through a myth arc lens, the hunt did provide intriguing parallels to the main characters' overarching plot line this season. I’m particularly interested in the emphasis on fathers and sons.
The first interpretation could be a commentary on Dean and Jack. The scene of poor Billy kneeling on the ground, willingly submitting to execution at Dean’s hands was an obvious reminder of Jack doing the same thing in the season 14 finale.
That’s the second son who made a very hard, mature choice to do the right thing. That’s cause for hope, I’m just not sure for whom (Sam, maybe?)!
Billy’s dad also drew a connection between his family’s situation and Dean when he assumed that Dean didn’t understand the pain of being a parent:
You don’t have children, do you? Because if you did, you would know that to see your child in pain rips your heart out. And you’d know that you’d do anything. You’d die for them. – Or kill for them.
That was a rather cruel reminder to Dean that he is no longer a father, but when he was, would he have died for Jack, or killed for him? At the end when talking to Sam, he said he would have.
Something the mom said also made me think of Dean’s fathering of Sam:
Parent: This is what we've been working for, what we've sacrificed so much for.
Son: Well, I never asked you to.
Parent: We're your parents. You don't need to ask. Everything that we have done has been for you. We just want you to be happy.
Dean could easily say he feels that way about Sam.
Another intriguing coincidence is the reference to ripping out hearts. When Ketch was killed that way in “The Rupture”, we noted that there were several references to hearts throughout that episode (and possibly the two episodes that preceded it). I did not expect it to become a recurring thread, but here it is again, so I looked for it.
Tori mimicked Veronica, then the exact words were said again later by Veronica herself:
"I'm lost without Susie. It's like a piece of my heart is gone".
Billy then described the lure that tempted him to kill Susie:
We were kissing. I could hear her heart.
Fandom, beware! Whether this means that Chuck has lost his heart, Sam will lose his heart, or fans are going to have their hearts ripped out, it’s not good!
… and Blood
A less obvious implication of Billy’s malady and actions is possibly what’s happening to Sam, and his dreams of become a killer addicted to demon blood.
And her blood, and she - it just tasted so good. I just I couldn’t stop.
Parent: We just wanted him to have a normal life.
Billy: I can’t. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. I can’t. I killed someone that I loved, and I’ll do it again. I know I will. I can’t control this! I’m a monster.
Blood is an unavoidable topic when hunting a vampire, but how it was specifically referenced is worth considering:
You notice what’s missing? Blood.
(as in currently missing from Sam’s life and all that would be needed to make him into EvilSam)
She’s lost a lot of blood.
(there are multiple references to everything Sam and Dean have lost)
But the cow’s blood or whatever just wasn’t cutting it, so you upgraded to humans.
(trying to placate addictions or find substitutes for the real thing doesn’t work)
Kept her as his own personal blood bag?
(a reference to Ruby, originally Sam’s “own personal” bank of demon blood)
If blood becomes a common thread this season, my expectation would be that is will always be used to foreshadow Sam’s struggle with demon blood. And round and round we go!
“Atomic Monsters” was a compelling story with a horrifying, intense message. The question is whether to take that message to heart as a warning, or chalk it up to dramatic writing to keep fans interested until the end. I don’t like being so scared of what’s to come. It upsets me, like, a lot. But if the stakes weren’t high, I imagine people would complain that the boys’ last road is predictable, boring, repetitive… and all those other things that Becky said about Chuck’s first draft. Just as Dean pleaded with EvilSam, and Becky pleaded with EvilChuck, I’m pleading with Dabb, “Please, please don’t.” But if all the episodes are the same high quality, with as many broments, as this one, the journey absolutely won’t be boring.
I'd love to hear your thoughts, below! Let the commenting and questioning begin!
Read more of Nightsky's "Threads" reviews! Links can be found on her writer's page.
Quotes courtesy of Springfield!Springfield