The Morning After
I’ve been very excited to dive into the “Threads” of The Winchesters fifth episode “Legend of a Mind”. So many themes of the season became clear, pulling together the strands of stories we had only glimpsed up to this point. Whereas the prior episode “Masters of War” was an emotional story, “Legend of a Mind” was more intellectually tantalizing, as the title suggests. Let’s get started!
Mothers and Sons (or Children Separated from their Parents)
“Masters of War”’s closing scene of a mom embracing her son as he wept, finally allowing himself to feel and process the pain of his war traumas, was a beautiful depiction of the bond that only a parent and child can share. Millie and John showed us the comfort and protective embrace we instinctively remember parents giving us during the open, unguarded vulnerability of our childhoods (if we were lucky enough to have a good parent). Prior to the moment when their love was exposed by John’s grief, we had seen a strained relationship between John and Millie, brought on by Henry’s disappearance. John was filled with rage and insecurities. Millie was filled with resentment and the struggle of bringing up her son alone. Both were defined by their loss, but they are gradually breaking through the walls they built between them. This week, Millie shared her observations and advice with her son about his crush on Mary. John opened up a bit with his mom, sharing his reticence to revealing his true feelings to his new “friend” Mary.
Previously, I perceived the Winchester family dynamics as a necessary backstory device to understand John’s need to hunt. But “Legend of a Mind” continued to study mother and son relationships, deepening the emotional significance of the parent/child impact on this story. Throughout episodes one through four, we tracked the thread of both Mary and John’s missing fathers, but in 1.03 “You’re Lost Little Girl”, we learned that Mary’s mother also disappears for months at a time. Similarly, in that same episode, we saw that the father next door is also gone, and the mom leaves her children alone for days at a time for her job. With this episode’s introduction of Ada being estranged from her son since he turned 17, and his dad being long ago removed from their lives, it seems this season’s emphasis on missing fathers is really a thread about children being separated from one or both of their parents, and the complicated feelings that arise if and when they are reunited.
Getting to Know John, Mary, Carlos, Lata… and Ada… and How They Shed their Pasts
Ada: There was a chance he wouldn't inherit his father's powers or urges, so yes, I hid the truth. When he turned 17, the djinn marks started to show, and I couldn't explain those away. And then one night, he walked right into my dream, and he saw everything, including the fact that he terrified me.
Ada’s fears cut her off from her son. In a moving performance form Demetria McKinney, Ada confessed her failings as a mom who didn’t know how to see the good in her “monstrous” son.
Mary: I just thought you'd wanna know that Lata confirmed Tony's story. That he was telling the truth. He didn't hurt anybody.
Ada: I was so scared Tony would become his father, I started treating them like the same person. I never let him just be who he'd always been, himself. I doubt he'll forgive me for that.
How many times have we heard that Mary is afraid of becoming her father? Carlos has repeatedly lectured Mary on emulating her father’s bad traits of barking orders and not listening to others. Perhaps Mary heard Ada’s message about just being herself. Facing the childhood traumas that resulted from being raised by hunters was a good first step for Mary.
Facing our Traumas
Even though “Masters of War” focused on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in John, Carlos, Mary and others, “Legend of a Mind” reprised the study of trauma on people’s personalities, suddenly making it clear that trauma is an important thread this season.
John: According to the article, he died of a massive brain trauma. It's as if his brain had been beaten to mush from the inside.
Betty: You know, I found two other victims who sustained similar injuries. Garret Moles and Cynthia Klein. Their brains were scrambled, but there was no sign of blunt trauma.
Lata: You can see clear signs of trauma, but if you look closer, the damage is hiding something else: three entry points.
Mary needed to “look closer” at the memories that traumatized and defined her.
Tony: Our nightmares are rooted in trauma. They take shape in our darkest memories. Mine... mine are about turning into my dad…
Lata: You think that's where the Akrida hid the stingers.
Tony: Where better to hide them than a place where you don't want to face? A place where your deepest, darkest fears exist.
That’s at least the second time thus far that Mary has had to confront her emotional “stingers”, i.e. triggers, about her father. A few hunts ago, with John’s help, she burned Samuel’s hat and the restrictions it symbolized on her life choices. That didn’t seem to do the trick, though. Still harboring the memories of when she was forced out of childhood’s innocence, she again needed John’s help to let go of the fear she still feels.
Tony: Well, it's gonna take all of my strength to get you inside Mary's mind. Once you're in, you're gonna need to help her confront her trauma and find those stingers. That way, she can destroy them.
John: Tony said the Akrida stingers will be hidden in a traumatic memory, buried in the deepest part of your subconscious...
Mary: Kinda doesn't seem like I'm supposed to go in this one.
John: Oh, I think that's exactly why you need to. You can't fight your trauma, but you can face it.
Mary had to go all the way back to when she was five years old to find her "deepest darkest fear." A trauma experienced that early in her life significantly shaped the person she has become.
5 year old Mary: Mom and Dad told me not to be scared, but I am scared.
Mary: It's okay to be scared. In fact, it's good to be scared. You can't be brave if you're never scared.
As soon as she said those words, I remembered her telling another little girl that it’s okay to be scared in 1.03 “You’re Lost Little Girl”:
Kid: Mary, I'm scared.
Mary: I know. I know. I'm scared too.
So much of this season has been about accepting and letting go of your past, and allowing other people to help you face and process your traumas. A closely related theme seems also to be that the fear and "being scared" we experienced during those traumas stays with us until the moment we turn and face the fear. Sadly, the impact of this message didn’t come through as I would have hoped in Mary’s scenes. The words were there but she just didn’t confront the emotions we’re being told are being suppressed by her aloofness.
Dean: Spending a lifetime of hunting monsters takes its toll. There comes the time when you gotta let out that pain inside you. If you don't, it'll eat you alive.
I can’t figure out if Mary's reserved reactions are intentional, because she is still “unable to let out that pain inside her”, or if we’re still witnessing the growing pains of the actress in the role.
John: I have no idea. You know, one second I think maybe, the next, I... I don't know. Can't read her.
Millie: Well, maybe if you open up to her, she might open up to you.
Is that why Mary is still so closed off to us? We’re waiting for her to open up to what she's feeling about hunting… and about John? We are repeatedly being told that even her closest friend can't figure her out. John even joked about how hard it is to talk to her.
I have to keep reminding myself that this is only the fifth episode of his series! Unfortunately, since the believability I associate with a story is largely earned through the emotions portrayed, the anti-climactic lack of intensity from both Mary and John in these scenes failed to build on the emotional engagement Ada had brilliantly stirred. The result for me was an episode that was intellectual stimulating but did not reach the emotional potential that would have made it even better.
"Give Them What They Want in a Way They Don’t Expect"
Since that advice from Kim Manners (legendary producer/director on Supernatural) has been repeatedly paraphrased by Jensen and Robbie Thompson and attributed to how they structured The Winchesters, I’ve tracked clues to what surprise premise they concocted to mesh the canon of this prequel with its larger than life “mothership”. In that quest, the use of a djinn piqued my interest as yet another monster who could alter reality.
Mary: Nightmares, changes in behavior.
Lata: Sounds a lot like a djinn to me.
John: Hey, what's a djinn?
Carlos: They attack a person in their subconscious and feed off their mental energy, usually till the person slips into a coma and dies. It's sort of like a brain vampire.
The monster club’s judgment that they were dealing with a djinn initially felt slightly wrong somehow. We’ve seen djinn create dream states in their victims, prolonging nightmares and feeding off the chemical the brain releases from fear. That’s exactly what was happening with the councilman… except he wasn’t in direct contact with a djinn during his “nightmares”. He also alternated between his dream state and reality, which didn’t seem to be the case with prior djinn attacks in Supernatural. Ada had even recalled "in order to feed, [djinn] have to be in close proximity of their victims." So the ultimate determination that the Akrida, not a djinn, were causing the altered reality state was a welcome, canon saving correction. Still, I felt a lingering uneasiness that the hunters didn’t acknowledge they got it wrong because the deceased was clearly alert, awake and with someone else when he succumbed to his nightmare. I thought they should have figured that out from their interview of the councilman's assistant. Instead, they were relieved to learn the victim had puncture wounds that are not characteristic of djinn, and that was what exonerated Tony. It's so hard to be patient when we as viewers have so much more knowledge of the monsters than the hunters who are supposed to be the experts!
This may have been another example of the lore around a monster not being completely known 50 years prior to when Sam and Dean encountered the same monster genus. We, as audience members, have to devolve what we know about hunting and monsters, taking our knowledge back in time to when details were still being accumulated through field experiences. “They didn’t know back then what we know now” is a really hard concept to remember!Then there was the additional wrinkle of djinn as literal dream walkers. Sam, Dean and Bobby ran into several iterations of dream walkers (including the Wayward Sisters’ Kaia), but I don’t remember any “good” djinn who visited dreams to help people rather than creating dreams to feed. Again, The Winchesters “expanded the Supernatural universe” (per Robbie Thompson’s stated intent), making it slightly askew from what we’ve seen before and what we expect, but still a logical, possible extension of the rules of the universe.
Lata: Ada, Tony is half-djinn. He might affect humans differently.
Tony is a “good monster” who uses his powers to help rather than hurt people. He is also only half djinn, so perhaps that gives him more control over his drive to feed - and an excuse for his powers to be different than other djinn we've encountered. His mother’s loving upbringing is also a moral compass for his behavior.
Tony: You're scared of your own son?
Ada: I'm not scared of you. I... you are my son, and I love you.
Tony: If you love me, you would've told me the truth. I had to figure out what I was all by myself. I couldn't control my abilities. I just leapt from dream to dream. All I saw in those dreams was suffering, loneliness. And even though I was in pain, I refused to feed 'cause I'm not a killer, Ada. I'm not. So I started small. I stayed in a dream. I helped someone face their fears, and then I helped another. Yeah. Yeah, I fed in the process, but only enough to get by. The worst I did was give a guy a headache. Everything was fine until I started... I started hearing this sound. So I followed it here to Lawrence, tried to do my thing here, to help. But the dream I went into, there was already something else inside his mind.
Tony’s ability to see inside minds provided two convenient advances to the story. First, it confirmed that the Akrida were using radio waves to lure monsters to Lawrence. More importantly, though, he identified that the Akrida have the ability to alter individual’s perception of reality.
Lata: Look, djinn gain access to a person's subconscious through the dream realm, not by any physical means… It's just a theory, but these stingers could have been implanted by the Akrida, allowing them to take control of the human host.
Four out of five episodes have now featured altered realities. The vine monster (1.02) and war monster (1.04) both made people see things that weren’t there. The vine and bag (1.03) monsters brought people to their supernatural worlds, while the war god and the Akrida created worlds from memories, altering the world in which people lived. Were the prior mind altering stories primers for the revelation of the Akrida’s big plan, or are all the monsters’ abilities, including the Akrida’s, a hint as to how The Winchesters’ reality somehow meshes with Supernatural’s version of the story? In my NYCC interview with showrunner Robbie Thompson, he confirmed “there are some hints about where we’re going in the first episode and throughout the first season”, so we know that our hunt for clues could reveal the underlying premise of the series. He implied that we wouldn’t be subjected to the “it’s all a dream” scenario ala St. Elsewhere, but it’s clear that mind games, dream worlds and altered realities are definitely a prominent foundation for season one of this series. We just don’t yet know why.
Lata: If he can dreamwalk into Mary's mind…
John: You deserve that fresh start we talked about. So once we fix her up, she's all yours. You can take her wherever you want. Just like you always dreamed of.
They are obviously taking us on a ride to wherever they want, wherever they always dreamed of taking us. For me, it’s just fun being along for the ride.
"And the world is like an apple
Like the circles
In the windmills of your mind"
from 1.02 "Teach Your Children Well"
Tony: I don't know if this helps, but the Akrida I heard in the councilman's mind and the others', there was talk about collecting essence from the remains of rare monsters.
Lata: So you're telling me by killing these monster unicorns, we've also been doing the Akrida's dirty work?
1. Why do the Akrida need the essence of these monsters? I'm guessing it boosts their mind altering powers? That’s the new mystery the gang needs to solve.
My mom bought it for my dad for his birthday. And he showed his appreciation by leaving two weeks later.
2. This line really stood out for me. I understand why a child who didn’t know his father’s dangerous, secret identity would believe his father abandoned him. Now knowing that Henry was engaged in a very dangerous world of monsters, why wouldn’t John now wonder if his father didn’t come home because he had been killed? Why wouldn’t Millie have guessed that a long time ago?
3. What’s with the bit of Mary hitting John in the arm??
The Last Word
The introduction of Ada’s son, Tony, added depth to Ada’s history and gave us a djinn/human hybrid who could be very useful in the future. Tony was believably portrayed by Tyler Lofton as a complicated, moral, monstrous son of a hunter. I would eagerly welcome back this parkour athlete to see the continuation of his story and the gradual evolution of his relationship with his mother (and maybe Lata?). Demetria shone in her character’s expansion this episode, and again proved her spot as a pillar of the series.
The expansion of djinn and the Akrida lore was also a fascinating part of “Legend of a Mind”. Even though the appearance of the Akrida bug inexplicably reminds me of a War of the Worlds invader (I know they look like the Starship Trooper bugs but that’s the image that comes to mind every time I see the crawly thing!), I’m still curious why they repeatedly try to take over our world.
Every week, I hope The Winchesters will be as intense as Supernatural was when they were fighting to save the world. After all, isn’t that what we’re being told is the threat posed by the Akrida? But Supernatural built that intensity slowly over at least the first four seasons. Let’s remind ourselves of Supernatural’s first five episodes:
- 1.01 Pilot
- 1.02 Wendigo
- 1.03 Dead in the Water
- 1.04 Phantom Traveler
- 1.05 Bloody Mary
We were still in MoTW territory with these episodes – and we still had “Bugs”, “Route 666” and some other questionable adventures ahead of us! What The Winchesters has to continue to build is not intensity, but heart. We’ve seen so many glimmers of it – Millie at John’s homecoming, John’s reaction when Mary sacrificed herself to the bag monster, Carlos and John reliving their PTSD, and now Ada reuniting with her son. We just need to understand the enigma that is Mary.
“Legend of A Mind” was an solid (not superb but not horrible) MoTW story with good myth arc advancement and isolated moments of excellent character development (Ada), so I’m still hooked to see what happens next. I’m taking Ada’s advice:
Ada: I followed my heart. I don't think that's ever a mistake.
Mary: Even if you're scared?
Ada: Especially then. It's just part of falling in love.
I'm following my heart, and it leads me back here.
What did you think of this episode? Please share your thoughts below!
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Transcript courtesy of TV Show Transcripts
Screencaps courtesy of The CW
Supernatural episode list courtesy of Supernatural Wiki.