When tragedy strikes, when all is lost and lives are shattered, all that’s left are the pieces and the survivors. The family remains.
Ah, the double meaning title. Two families remain together, but they remain apart. So, why not put to them to the test through a horrific nightmare with a creep factor that we haven’t seen since season one?
On one side are the Carters, getting a new start in the country with a new house after a recent tragedy. Mom and dad aren’t on the same page, and their two kids are having issues over all the changes. Each one won’t listen to the other. Sound familiar? Yep, the Winchester brothers. Dean is not recovering well from his return from Hell and Sam is growing weary of humoring him, but neither will talk about it.
As the chilling mystery unfolds, we learn that despite the differences, these family members are still devoted to one another. They are willing to do what it takes to survive. The ending isn’t happy though, for both the Carters and the Winchesters are wise enough to admit they’re not okay. Healing is a long, arduous process. Watching this episode is arduous at times too, but overall, it’s entertaining and we’re thrilled to see the show back.
So What Happened?
First, the scorecard. Jeremy Carver is the writer (yes, my love for him is still strong), Phil Sgriccia is the director (plenty of blind love for him too), and the guest actors are Helen Slater (aka Supergirl) and David Newsom (a HITG from every TV show out there). Throw in Jared and Jensen, and the episode has many strengths.
After a teaser where some derelict in his own house meets a bloody end, “Family Remains” picks up one month later after “Heaven and Hell.” An exhausted Sam is stretched out in the back seat of the Impala (and looking pretty doing it), while Dean is researching the next case. Sam protests that they’ve been going non-stop for the last month and they won’t talk about what Dean confessed. Dean ignores him, for there’s a ghost in Nebraska that needs their attention.
With that, the picture is clear of how fractured the brothers’ relationship is at this time. Sam is not only tired of the excessive hunting, but tired of humoring Dean’s saving people obsession. Oh Sammy, how easily you forget two years ago. Dean won’t listen, for taking cases is the only thing right now from preventing him from imploding. It’s post traumatic stress with a capital P.
Enter the broken Carter family, arriving at their new house with moving van and Uncle Ted in tow, choosing to ignore the fake asbestos warning from the fake inspectors. They move in and by nightfall the children, Danny and Kate, find that something is living in the walls in delightfully creepy ways. Yes, Jeremy Carver somehow managed to work in the licked hand urban legend, and now Eric Kripke can finally cross that one off the list.
The kids say there’s a ghost in the house and then Sam and Dean arrive, announcing there’s a ghost in the house. Still, this isn’t enough for the parents and Uncle Ted. They need more. So, the family dog has to go and prove the point. That’s crossing a line! Horror tales usually don’t spare disturbing aspects, and I can take the gruesome murders of people, but the dog? No fair!
The pet’s demise proves to be necessary though to unravel the clues that this is not an ordinary ghost. Another clue? The girl crosses the salt line and attacks Dean with the knife. Definitely not a ghost. Sam arrives from his off camera search of the attic and becomes the hero with a mere flashlight. Why didn’t we get a scary and disgusting attic scene from Sam? That’s a missed opportunity.
Then the episode goes too far. It’s bad enough I’m still upset over the dog, now they sabotage the Impala? They take out the tires? Noooooo! We learned from “Tall Tales” that’ll bend the rims. He who harms the Impala and the family pet must deal with the poisoned laptop of the overprotective blogger. Animals and classic muscle cars are hereby sacred! Don’t do that again.
Anyway (deep breath), Danny goes missing, the weapons are stolen, so Dean and Ted crawl through the walls while Sam and Brian (the dad) search the outside. Considering we didn’t see Sam’s end of the search, that pretty much seals the fate for ole Ted. As much as I held my breath when Dean goes down the hole alone (and getting grossed out by all the dead animals), we all knew the first rule of horror. He who stays behind gets the knife through the throat. The girl coming out of nowhere and delivering the deadly strike on Ted is a pretty awesome shot. Bravo Phil Sgriccia!
Oh no, more missed potential. While holed up in the shed, what’s supposed to be a powerful family scene ends up a head scratcher. First there’s the reveal about the dead son Andy. Sam doesn’t ask about it when he’s reading the diary of the girl who killed herself in that house? You know, when they were talking about Andy right in front of him? Dean finds out later from Brian the family has been torn apart by Andy’s death. I have no problem with Dean’s heart to heart with Brian, but Sam’s indifference is perplexing.
My heart did break when guilt ridden Dean tells the family of Ted’s demise, but that moment fizzles. Where’s Sam taking Dean aside and getting him to talk about it? Where’s Sam’s expression of sympathy to the family? Where’s the drama? Anytime a scene leaves me asking such questions, I’ve obviously missed the intended impact.
Sam tells Dean what’s in the diary and eww, ick. Dean explains it best, the murdered man from the teaser is dad/granddad. The new theory is the feral child of the dead daughter is living in the walls, the family remains of the most dysfunctional relations since “The Benders.”
Remember that dumbwaiter? Remember the bad smells in the kitchen? Suddenly everything clicks. Dean climbs down the long dark shaft to rescue Danny and I’m holding my breath again. Sam, well, he’s on rope detail. Remember the good ole days, when both of them went down the hole? “No Exit” anyone? Sorry, I’ll stop nitpicking.
Dean rescues Danny in the dank basement and now its time for the twist, there’s a brother! There’s two feral children. The boy attacks Dean, Danny runs, and thank heavens Sam got together his mad rope making skills in time. He’s a regular MacGyver. Sam pulls Danny up (since Brian is apparently unable to do such things on his own), Dean struggles in a dark scene that I can’t make out while the feral girl is attacking mom and Kate in the shed. Dean finds his gun and shoots the boy shortly before Sam arrives. Way to provide backup there Sammy!
The girls still have their issue in the shed, but dad takes care of business, taking out freaky girl. The shot of her dead in the weeds is fantastic, and this is why Phil Sgriccia is awesome. That’s the perfect chilling impression to go to commercial with. Thanks guys, I’m all creeped out now!
I set aside doubts, because the heart churning farewell between the Winchesters and the Carters gets to me. Everyone is still broken. My serenity quickly dissipates though with the final scene. The big reveal in front of the Impala that Dean enjoyed torturing in Hell isn’t all that surprising. Dean explains it best; after all the bad things that happened to him, after all that anger over his losses and misfortunes, he had to dish it out. He couldn’t take it anymore. That’s understandable and some great character development.
So why did I hate the final scene so much? Easy, because these scenes of woe have turned the show in to “The Impala Confessionals.” I go back to “The Magnificent Seven,” where a frustrated Sam has enough of Dean’s crap and tells him so. How about “Bloodlust?” “Everybody Loves A Clown?” What happened to the Sam that would force Dean to look at himself and dare him to pull it together? Dean’s reveal would have been best served earlier in the episode, like when Dean is broken up over losing Ted. The last scene should have involved an intense brotherly exchange like at the end of “Red Sky At Morning.” Dean’s sad confessions and Sam’s stunned looks is getting tiresome. Dean’s being a pussy and Sam’s become some very pretty wallpaper.
Okay, I feel better now. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the episode overall, but the slip ups in character are hard to fathom. It’s something I can suck up though for I’m eager for what’s coming next.
The characterizations of both Sam and Dean continue to evolve, fascinating yet perplexing. In continuation with the role reversal that’s played out at times this season, Dean has many of the hang-ups Sam had in season two. He must save as many people as he possibly can in order to achieve redemption. The only difference is it’s for what he’s done, rather than Sam’s worry of what he’d become. Of course, he learns he can’t save everyone, a la Sam in “Playthings,” and his efforts aren’t doing much for that deep hole inside. I think Dean’s behavior is a decent portrayal of PTSD and as usual Jensen is awesome showing it.
As for Sam, it wasn’t until I dug deeper into this review that I realized Jeremy Carver wrote him much like he did in “Long Distance Call.” When I reviewed that episode, I said Sam was written out of character. His distance and quiet complacency with Dean was way off from past behavior. Seeing it again here, I’m trying hard to rationalize why Mr. Carver is deliberately showing Sam this way.
Sam’s emotional detachment has me wondering if they’re going somewhere with it or if it’s just one writer’s preference. Sam didn’t try to bond or even talk with any of the family members, which is something he usually does easily. Is the point to show how tired and burned out he is? I couldn’t tell for sure, but I’d believe that. Aside from the one time Sam tried to keep Dean in check, calling him out on the tough guy talk with Ted, I wonder why Sam has become so numb that he’s unable to connect with his brother anymore. I get that characters change and empathetic listener Sammy has long been gone, not to mention that Dean’s death really affected him, but I still need a better explanation. Normally I’ve been able to connect the dots through tiny hints and clues, but with this episode, I got nothing. I’m patient though, for there’s plenty more to come and I truly believe a payoff is somewhere down the road.
Other Stray Thoughts
The plot isn’t the most complex and the storyline is a little flimsy (feral children taught themselves literacy while being raised isolated in a dark basement and eating live rats?) but the pacing is great and maintains captivating suspense throughout. The dark scenes behind the wall and basement are particularly nerve wracking, and I spent most of the time on the edge of my seat. It’s good to see a frightening episode like that again.
Impalas are big, but the back seat is still not comfy enough for someone who’s 6’ 4”. Plus, does Sam know what Dean did back there?
Ted calls Dean Fonzie? Shouldn’t he be wearing the leather jacket then? Someone in wardrobe messed up.
There’s some good stuff in the great lines department. “Geez, rent Juno, get over it.” “Like Scooby-Doo?” “Dog, it’s what’s for dinner.”
Dean reluctantly going down the hole. “Please don’t let anybody grab my leg.” You think Jeremy Carver watched a ton of cheesy horror flicks in preparation for this script?
My overall grade, a B+. I give it higher marks because despite the nitpicks, I liked the overall feel of the episode. Coming up next week, Barry Bostwick! I love him. Also, it’s the best episode title in television history.