The Morning After

Well, that was intense. Between watching Jack eat the heart of someone he murdered, causing me to worry what evil manifestation of Jack had returned, and being scared to death about Sam and Dean staking their lives on a pool game against a goddess, my poor heart was pounding through my chest for the entire hour of Supernatural’s 15.12 “The Gamblers!” Even with everything that has happened so far this year - all the deaths, kidnappings, torture and other assorted normal day-in-the-life occurrences of our heroes - I don’t remember an episode impacting me this way yet this year. Other episodes in the past certainly have. You’ve experienced many of those with me through my reviews. None so far this year, though. Maybe I had let down my guard or become complacent but this one wiped me out. Combine the emotional command that Meredith Glynn writes into all of her episodes, with the horror genre suspense that is a specialty of Davy Perez, and fans didn’t have a chance of coming out of this one unscathed.

What to talk about first? I guess I want to talk about Jack.

Jack is back! Finally!!!! Even though I missed him terribly, I think it was completely appropriate that Jack was absent for fully half of the season. His death had impact; it wasn’t treated flippantly or carelessly. Sam, Dean and Castiel processed their grief and learned to move on somehow. As fans, we all experienced the pain of Jack’s absence together with his fathers. Like last week’s story (see Threads 15.10 "The Heroes' Journey" for my discussion of fans caring as much as the brothers about the outcome of their feud with Chuck), Dabb again made fans a part of the Winchesters’ drama, feeling a part of the loss and longing they were feeling. It was a skillful way to deepen fans’ investment in the story.

It's probably obvious, but I’m guessing Billie reinstalled Jack's soul. He seemed like his old self – less innocent but sweet and good as ever. Death was able to retrieve Sam’s soul from Hell’s cage, and restore it into Sam’s being, so there is precedent for full resurrection being within Death’s power. I think Jack is truly back.   

Fathers and Sons

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Jack’s reunion with Castiel was beautiful. I’m so happy that it was Cas who found Jack! Although Sam and Dean deeply mourned Jack, I think it hit Cas the hardest. He was the father Kelly chose for her son. Cas believed in Jack from the beginning, and that faith never wavered. The reunion hug between Castiel and Jack filled me with joy.

Jack’s return also gave Sam and Dean a boost in their morale that they sorely needed.  Something that Chuck had ripped away from them had been restored – much the same as the luck Chuck stole from them was restored. It is a subtle reminder that the Winchesters have allies. Billie went against her loudly touted viewpoint that what’s dead should stay dead to resurrect Jack so he could join the battle against Chuck, and Fortuna went against her millennia-old nature to willingly give up some of her luck so the boys would have a fighting chance to defeat their common enemy.

Is it Real?

When Sam saw Jack, he didn't hesitate to embrace his adopted son. Sam’s hug of Jack was an immense outpouring of relief and joy (for both Sam and me!). Dean’s less exuberant hug with Jack seemed to express Dean’s disbelief that it was happening. Dean looked at Castiel for silent confirmation that it was real. I pointed out last week that Dean is the brother who has most frequently been questioning what parts of their reality can be trusted, i.e. what’s real and what’s not. So I loved that it took him a beat to allow himself to believe that Jack was really back.

The Alaskan waitress reminded us of the tenuous tether the boys have to the real world right now:

Dean: Can you tell us what is up that road?
Waitress: No. Are you for real?

The waitress was talking to Dean but looking at both brothers. Are they for real?? I can understand us all, Sam, Dean and Cas included, questioning if Jack is for real, because of, you know, resurrection and all…

Dean: Cass?
Sam: Hey. Everything okay?
Jack: Hello.
Sam: Jack?
Cas: It's really him.

…but once again we are being warned that we shouldn’t trust what our eyes are seeing.

Dean: I'm just saying would it have killed her to give us a little extra?
Sam: Well, she thinks we're real heroes. Maybe they don't get all the shortcuts.

Heroes

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Given Fortuna’s endorsement and Sam’s realization that they are real heroes, I’m now wondering if the thread of questioning reality was partially to establish that the boys are the real deal – bona fide, genuine, larger than life heroes.  After first watch, though, I was still a bit incredulous as to whether they are heroes because of Chuck or in spite of him.
Fortuna: You're gonna fight God. That's the stuff of heroes, right? So, you're gonna need the luck of heroes - Hercules, Cuchulain, Gilgamesh. I helped them all. I can help you, too.
Sam lost his bet, but his willingness to sacrifice himself for strangers impressed Fortuna so much that she not only gave him not only his and Dean’s luck but the luck of the ill-fated fallen around them. 
Evie: She said she thought your kind had gone extinct.
Sam: Our kind?
Evie: Heroes. Like the old days.
So the goddess Fortuna conferred the title of “hero” on the brothers, akin to the heroes of Greek mythology - the stuff of legends. In the process, she settled the philosophical debate that was initiated by last week’s episode: were the brothers heroes only because of the abilities Chuck had given them? Fortuna said no, she recognized them as heroes even when they had nothing – no money, no special abilities (Sam lost at pool), and absolutely no luck (because that was lost in the pool game too).  They were heroes because of their selflessness and courage.

She acknowledged, however, that even heroes can’t defeat gods without extraordinary luck. Previously, Chuck had been the source of the boys’ god-given luck, to enhance the entertainment value of his story. He withdrew that luck when he became the object of the Winchesters’ quest. As in so many of the Greek stories of gods granting humans special skills in order to battle other gods, Fortuna stepped in and restored Sam and Dean’s heroic luck, so that they might settle the score she had with Chuck. Humans as the pawns and weapons in the battles between the titans.  

Title Thread – The Gamblers

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Heroes defy the odds to win. Maybe that’s why gaming has been a thread in the past few episodes this season. Last week, the boys’ luck was taken away from them. For two episodes before that, Chuck holed up in a casino, beating the odds at slots by rigging the machine with his power. “The Gamblers” brought this thread to a climax by forcing Sam and Dean to bet their lives against Lady Luck herself. The word “game” was used 15 times in the script, but that’s to be expected in a story about betting on your luck!

Pax: But you set that coin on on that table, you get yourself a game.
Dean: And you win?
Pax: You just might see your fortune improve.
Sam: And if he loses?
Pax: Play again. Have a good time. You know, keep playing. But if the coin goes blank, that means you’re out of luck.
There’s plenty of room to debate which brother was actually the better pool player, and why Dean thought of himself as less than Sam in everything except pool. That’s all very interesting, but the noteworthy, and troubling point is subtler.
Dean: Chuck didn't do this to us just to teach us some messed-up lesson. You know, he wants us off our game. He wants us weak. 'Cause he's coming for us, Sammy. And when he does, if we haven't figured this out, we're DOA.
In the comments on my 15.09 “The Trap” "Threads" review, Anlo observed: “Rowena’s death is the second time this season Sam, being alone with a powerful being, is forced to make a choice between doing something that goes against everything in him & saving his brother/the world.” With that observation in mind, once again it was Sam who had to face off with a goddess. Maybe that was because Dean had already beaten Fortuna so she judged Sam to be the weaker player (despite her claim that Dean was a “beach read”)?

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Whatever the reason, Fortuna chose Sam as her opponent, much the same as Sam was squarely in Chuck’s cross hairs since the time Sam shot him. Sam had the god wound. Sam was captured and tortured. Sam had to make the tough decision to let Chuck live when Sam had the means of Chuck’s destruction in the palm of his hand. In “The Gamblers”, Sam decided to play Fortuna for the lives, freedom and/or fortune of all those innocent people he felt compelled to save. Sam again made the tough choices when facing off with a god. Dean got on board quickly. It was time for the 'saving people' part of their job. 

Dean listened to Sam’s advice and was ready to leave the pool hall while they were ahead. I was stunned when it was Sam who insisted on staying:
Dean: Let's hit the road.
Sam: What about everybody else? Just give me some time, alright? I need to figure this out.
Is Sam being set up to make a tough choice in the end?
Evie: She gave me a message. She said, "Don't play his game. Make him play yours.
Is Jack the ace up the boys’ sleeves? How can they rig the game in their favor?

Dean’s actions were also curious. Dean listened to Sam and was ready to leave while he was ahead. Did that strike anyone else as odd? Then Dean was completely satisfied with Castiel’s judgment to let Jack eat the hearts of the Grigori.
Sam: Jack, you you ate their hearts?
Jack: I had to.
Dean: And you let him? Hmm.
I’m elated by Dean’s recent trust in his brothers, but it made me pause and wonder. What do you make of it?

Hearts

Sheriff: Signal goes out for about 2 and a half minutes, during which time, the suspect kills the doc in his office.
Cas: Why?
Sheriff: Keep watching.
Cas: Is that? That's his heart.
Ewwww! Is there canon that supports the idea that eating Grigori hearts strengthens angels, or nephilims, or humans, or the resurrected, or whatever category Jack fit into in that moment? I certainly don’t remember any but I haven’t yet consulted all my sources of canon.  Besides the consumption of hearts, Dean was thrilled that cheeseburgers didn’t give him heartburn. So hearts is still significant to this season.

From the threads we’re tracking, so far we can predict that Dean will trust Sam’s judgment and let him face off against Chuck with a plan to rip out his heart after Jack fails to succeed???  

Time 

There were multiple mentions of time, as the brothers race to find a solution (or now to make Jack strong enough) to defeat Chuck when he returns to Earth.
Dean: Man, I've been slinging pool cues since before you were born.
Sam: What? When you were 4? Really? What, between nap time and snack?
Cowboy: Professional bull riding circuit.
Dean: Nice. Tell me. How was that? Corner pocket.
Cowboy: Good times.
My guess is this is just a constant reminder of the ticking clock... but then there's that image of the stopwatch in Sam's hand. Is that still the deadline?

Impressions

Even though Jack is back (hurray!); the brothers have their luck back (hurray!); Sam and Dean got a win and were declared heroes (hallelujah!); Sam, Dean, Cas and Jack are together, getting along, no one is dying and they’re all on the same page of a plan to move forward (double hallelujah!); plus Dean is listening to the advice of those he trusts (hurray!), I didn’t feel better at the end of “The Gamblers.”  It was a great episode that, for some reason, wiped me out. I can’t say I loved it but I don’t know why. There’s nothing about it that I didn’t like, except the feeling of being empty when it was over. Did that happen to anyone else?

I am playing with the theory that this anticipatory grieving process we’re all going through as we worry about how Dabb is going to end our beloved show is starting to put me into a state of perpetual hurt. Since you only get first impressions from me in my ‘morning after’ reviews (valuable in and of itself but not allowing for the episode to settle down in my psyche), I’ll have to leave it at that and see how I feel about it in a few days (monitor the comments for updates!).  Till then, let’s just say that I think I loved everything that happened, and we have a long time (6.5 weeks) to figure it out.  

-          Nightsky


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.

Transcript quotes courtesy of Springfield! Springfield 

The first two images are from KsiteTV.