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Wow—another episode that knocked it out of the park! Season Three is off to a great start. I loved (almost) everything about this one, especially the clear focus on Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the effects of unresolved trauma on family, and the message that ‘it’s okay not to be okay’ and to ask for help.

There have been watershed moments in TV series where difficult topics were dealt with, and those episodes become iconic. This episode reminded me of those hard discussions, and I applaud Jared and the show for tackling a tough subject. We don’t usually deal with the aftermath of the violence our heroes endure, and that feeds an unrealistic narrative about the emotional and psychological scars that go along with the heroics.

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As usual, I’m going to leave the recap to others and dive in to what stood out to me and the callbacks to Supernatural (and there were a lot).

Throughout Supernatural, lots of traumatic things happened to both Sam and Dean. Dean’s method of coping was to push down feelings and let them out with his words—violence and alcohol. Sam closed in on himself. Both of the boys relied on denial, constant activity, and drinking to avoid dealing with the emotional fallout of what had happened to them. They had conversations where they did own up to not being okay, and over the years they got better at using their words, but far too much went unacknowledged. This was especially true regarding Sam’s time in the Cage and with Gadreel. He and Rowena had one great conversation, but there was a lot left unsaid.

I had the feeling that this topic was very personal to Jared and to the writers, and I thought that the way the script unfolded showed how the damage done by violence affected not only the victims but also their families, something we too rarely see.

We pick up with Liam struggling with flashbacks. He tries to talk to Cordell, but Cordell doesn’t want to hear him and brushes him off. Liam says they need to talk, Cordell says they don’t. (This perfectly channeled so many times when younger brother Sam tried to get his older brother Dean to open up and Dean blew him off, got angry, and shut him down.) They don’t even go to the emergency room, although that would have eased Liam’s mind. (Yet another throwback to the Winchesters.)

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Cordell has a bleeding hand with a bandana around it, and we see him put pressure with the thumb of his other hand on the wound, just like Sam with the ‘Stone Number One’ cut that kept him grounded against hallucinating Lucifer.

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Supernatural "Hello Cruel World" 7.02 

Cordell gets flashbacks of his own from old photos, but he refuses to talk about feelings and ignores Liam (who is pretty much being ignored by everyone). “I’m all right” is the mantra, although no one really believes it. Cordell overcompensates by insisting on giving the graduation speech he didn’t get to give, and he’s clearly hyper, running on nerves and adrenaline—just like Dean did so many times. Cordell only stops because he’s bleeding, which seemed symbolic of the injury he can’t cover up or hide.

Two months later, we skip to Cordell and Auggie working out, while Liam talks to Bonham about possibilities for the ranch (Bonham doesn’t listen to him either). Stella is packing for college, and Abeline is reading the article written by the reporter Cordell saved. She asks Cordell “Are you sure you’re fine?” He blows off the question, instead focusing on ‘positivity’.

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Trey and Cassie are worried about Cordell. They’ve read the article, and they don’t think he’s coping well even though he is doing physical therapy and counseling.

There’s still tension between Liam and Cordell. Liam makes a snide remark about ‘little brothers, they’re used to getting the short end of the stick.” He tries to talk again to Cordell, tells him that it’s not getting easier, and once again Cordell shuts him down. (This reminded me so much of classic Dean Winchester, and his interactions with Sam about Hell, the Mark of Cain, and Michael’s possession, to name just a few).

Cassie and Cordell are in the basement, looking for the gear to take the kids on the camping trip Emily had planned. She confronts him about not being real and not doing well. She tells him that she is scared because what they experienced is so far out of her prior training. She says she doesn’t feel safe with him the way he is now, but it’s clear that they aren’t connecting and Cordell isn’t listening.

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Liam and Abeline talk about the camping trip, and Liam is angry that “I let Cordell dictate how everyone has to act because that’s what’s best for him.” Ouch!

Throughout the episode, we see a lot of Cordell (and to a lesser extent, everyone else) trying too hard, dodging hard conversations, avoiding the elephant in the room, and faking positivity.

We find out that Stella and Auggie have been lying about the Mustang being in the shop when it is still in the possession of the criminals who held Stella and Auggie up at knifepoint. Stella says her dad can’t handle dealing with the car right now, especially with its ties to her mom, and so they set out to steal it back. (This was, not surprisingly, the weak part of the episode since Stella just talks a criminal into giving the car back.) Stella has also been keeping secrets about her ambivalence regarding going to college, but ‘no one’s bothered to ask’. (There’s a recurring theme here!)

Cordell does get angry when he finds out (thanks to Trey). There’s some very revealing dialogue here. Stella: “Can’t it just all be over?” Cordell: “That’s not how this works. I thought we were past the point of keeping secrets.” (Wow, that’s almost right out of a couple of Supernatural scripts.) Stella: “We were afraid of being the people who would burst the bubble. They took a piece of you, and we don’t want to lose any more.”

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Cordell finally stops and hears. He already suspected Stella had mixed feelings about leaving. His comment, “Then we’ll figure it out…together,” was another ripped-from-the-script line from Supernatural when the brothers confronted difficulties.

Liam and Bonham have a heart-to-heart, and Bonham says that if talking doesn’t work they can go hammer fences. He tells Liam (at Abeline’s behest) that when he got back from the war, ‘I could still smell the napalm.” He thought that hanging out with the other veterans at the VFW would be enough because they ‘got it’, but it wasn’t. Bonham went to equine therapy, and it helped. He says that Cordell is dodging Liam because he isn’t ready to deal with it, and that if Liam can’t talk to Cordell yet, he needs to talk to someone.

Cassie brings Cordell food, supporting him without pushing. He tells her that she was right, that he’s ‘working on it and going to keep working on it.” Message delivered and heard, finally!

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Supernatural "When the Levee Breaks" 4.21, close-up of young Sam/ Colin Ford 

The end shot, when Cordell is accused by a younger version of himself whom he sees in the mirror, is powerful. For Supernatural fans, we remembered Sam in the panic room facing down hallucinations of his younger self, and Sam dealing with his fragmented psyche after the Wall that Death placed in his mind broke. Getting the same actor to play younger Cordell who did such a brilliant job all those years ago of playing young Sam was another very meaningful detail.

There were layers in this episode that really impressed me. Layers within the script about how trauma—and not dealing with it—affected not just the victim but the entire family, and their friends and co-workers. This is already a show about intergenerational trauma. I love seeing it take on the corrosive impact of secrets and denial, unresolved trauma and untreated PTSD.

At the same time, I felt like this was also Jared’s love letter to Sam Winchester, making it clear that Sam was being seen, heard, listened to and understood at a level Supernatural touched on but didn’t deal with often or deeply enough. There is a therapy technique of imagining your current self going back to your traumatized younger self and saying to ‘young-you’ what no one did back then, holding space to listen and understand. I felt like we were witnessing a level of that between Jared and Sam, and it made the episode even more powerful.

This was truly a stellar episode—Jared and the cast kicked it in the ass!


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