Sunday, 14 December 2014

Review - Supernatural Midseason Finale "The Things We Left Behind" It's All About Family. And Isn't That Kinda The Whole Point?

I’ve never thought of Supernatural as a horror show, not really, and I certainly would never call it a sci-fi show. For me, it’s a drama. A drama about family, it just happens that the Universe in which the show takes place is fantastical, peppered with monsters and the like! But as much as these monsters can be awesome, it’s when the show tells the brothers' story and the stories of the people and entities that populate their lives that it truly soars. The show is at its best, not when it’s ganking vampires, but when it’s examining the core relationships in this world we’ve all become a part of.

Supernatural is all about family. It’s the theme of the show. A constant since we first met Sam and Dean Winchester.  Since we first learned of the tragedy that struck them when they were both so very young. Since we first heard the words, “Dads on a hunting trip, and he hasn’t been home in a few days.” So in a season where we’ve been intimately re-examining the show’s core relationship and watching the Winchester boys put aside their bygones as they learn to be brothers again, in a season where we've been intimately examining the lives of our supporting characters, whether Castiel and Crowley, or Sheriff Mills and Sheriff Hanscum, it seemed perfect that the season 10 midseason finale would revolve around this theme. This show has spent 10 years depicting all aspects of family.  Those we are born to and those we choose. Family is the essence of what Supernatural is about. It’s what makes it great. It’s what makes it special.

Whether on here or on my podcast with Jules, I’ve harped on an on about how much I’m enjoying how season 10 is allowing us to reconnect with the characters we love, as they reconnect with each other, without a pesky end of the world scenario hanging over ever episode making us wonder why the brothers aren’t hunting Lucifer or Leviathans or something, instead of hanging out at an all girl’s school! It’s been a delight. Every episode has been a character study, with little notes that tease us for the troubles looming. Because no way can we have joyful bro times for the rest of the season, something’s gotta give! We’re Supernatural fans. We know this! “The Things We Left Behind” fitted perfectly into seasons 10’s intimate character-driven vibe, and heart-wrenchingly set us up for the second half of the season. As our 3 main protagonists (yes, I’m referring to the Winchesters as one again), look to their own families, immediate, extended and borrowed, the impact of past decisions and where those decisions may now lead them.

Supernatural started with the death of a parent and the search for the surviving parent, and parenting was a major focus of this midseason finale. The brothers were left without a mother, and had an absent father, leaving Dean to raise Sam, a dynamic that has both blessed and plagued their brotherly relationship from the get-go. Crowley, as it turns out, was abandoned by his mother at the age of 8 – even though he could juggle! And Castiel had and absent father, but was also instrumental in the destruction of the Novak family when he occupied his vessel, Jimmy Novak. These were the things left behind. Sam and Dean, Crowley, Cas and of course, Claire Novak. Ahhhh Supernatural and its daddy (and mummy) issues!

At the end of “Girls, Girls, Girls” we discovered that the witch Rowena was actually Crowley’s mum. This was not really a huge surprise as fandom, being fandom, had put two and two together and figured that one out. Scottish. Witch. Gotta be Fergus’ mum! Now we find Crowley, weeks later, still has Rowena in chains. He is the King of Hell after all! I wonder when Rowena discovered what happened to her wee boy, Fergus! I wonder if she was out to track him down and possibly got captured in order to do so. She seems like she’s more powerful than she’s currently letting on – at least to Crowley, and let’s not forget…she can kill demons!

I couldn’t help but feel heart broken for Crowley as I watched his mother manipulate him. Kissing him on the head, pledging her love. We know that Crowley just wants to be loved! He said it himself and a lot of his “friendship” with both the Winchesters, but particularly demonised Dean, was about that need. The guy is just plain lonely, and since his “breakup” with Dean, he’s looked plain miserable! He’s ripe for mummy to waltz in and pick up the pieces.

One thing though, Crowley is a suspicious bastard and he’s not going to fall for Rowena’s maternal trickery completely…yet. I’m sure he’s going to have his guard up. But she’s already duped him with a lie and you can tell he just wants to believe in her. He wants to believe that maybe his mum does love him after all, or else he wouldn’t have taken her out of her cell. What’s she got up her witchy sleeve? I’m nervous! Mostly because she’s already crossed paths with the Winchesters and I’m quite sure that she’s got enough intel on her son to know his sketchy history with them. Which makes me fret for them, but particularly Dean, because Crowley has The First Blade and until that damn thing has been destroyed, I’m going to be chewing on my nails waiting for it to be put in my boy’s hand again! Rowena is trouble, the best kind…the kind I have no clue about!

When we last saw Castiel, he was googling his vessel Jimmy Novak, after he’d seen the angel Hannah have an epiphany and release her own vessel, Caroline, back to her life. Cas is probably unusual in the fact that he’s had interaction with his vessel’s family. When Cas was forcibly taken to Heaven’s prison, Jimmy was briefly free, but the demons came after him and in order to destroy that threat, Castiel briefly possessed Jimmy’s daughter Claire, before Jimmy begged Cas to take him, protecting his family whilst knowing that would probably mean he would be gone from their lives for good. He sacrificed himself to save his daughter from the life of being a vessel – the horror of which he knew all too well. Claire and her mum were left knowing that the man they loved was out there, yet not out there, somewhere. They also now knew that there were angels and demons in this world, Amelia had been possessed by a demon. I’d just always assumed that the Novak’s had soldiered on in Jimmy’s absence, but that was so not the case.

When Cas tracks down Claire Novak, she’s in a group home. She’s been bumped from foster home to foster home after her mother left her at a grandparent's house while she went off to find herself. Guess the whole demon/angel thing messed Amelia up. She never came back and Claire, deserted and angry, slid into becoming a delinquent – living with a Faginesque individual called Randy, when she wasn’t locked up. Claire’s life was torn apart by what Castiel did to her family. No wonder she’s angry.

Having your dad walk through the door when you don’t think you’ll ever see him again…man. Claire’s face spoke volumes. For a fleeting moment, she obviously thought it was Jimmy miraculously standing in front of her, maybe come to rescue her…until Cas explained otherwise. Heartbreaking.

What I love about the Claire storyline is that it gives the show the opportunity to directly address what the angels have been doing for centuries. Sure, they’ve been portrayed as dicks right from the beginning, but it was the demons that were shown to take their vessels by force. The angels had to ask permission…but then what? Once the angel is in there, we know that it’s virtually impossible to get them out…that was a lesson Dean learned the hard way when he allowed Ezekiel/Gadreel into Sam. The angels possess their vessel in every way, the same as the demons do. I love that we’re finally getting to see and understand that and that the show has the courage to examine that without any handwaving. It is what it is and I like that it's being portrayed like that.

Last season we looked at the theme of consequence, the aftermath of “I did what I had to do”, and in season 10, that theme still resonates – through Dean’s Mark of Cain, through Crowley’s friendship with Dean, and through Cas finally facing up to what his righteous mission meant to Jimmy Novak and his family. Where does Cas go now with Claire? Why did he seek her out in the first place – something I thought Dean was right to question (if a tad harsh…MoC anyone?) What on earth was Cas thinking his reappearance in Claire’s life, while dressed as her father would do for/to this girl? It was equal parts well meaning and totally not thought out – which is SO Castiel. I mean, really! So much of what he’s done has been well meaning but not thought out! This making decisions on his own thing is still new, and he doesn’t necessarily look to the big picture outcome when faced with options. But bless him for always trying to do right and be better.

Now Cas has taken Claire under his wing, figuratively and literally, and out of the life that was leading her nowhere fast, what happens next? Does he hit the road with her, does he try to raise her, does he find another relative and drop her off just like her mum did, does he put her in school, does he learn to make packed lunches?! I’m completely mystified by what lies ahead for Cas in relation to Claire and terrified of what lies ahead for Cas in relation to Dean.

Oh Dean Winchester, how you break my heart…and you Sam, you break my heart too. These brothers…

The opening sequence of Dean awakening from a dreamlike/visionlike sequence and looking at the Mark of Cain on his arm was the signal that all those little things we’ve been seeing…the over shooting of the shifter, the not wanting to talk about it…all of it was just as we surmised, the MoC is playing havoc with him.  But maybe what we didn’t realise was that many of the so-Dean traits we’ve been seeing and relishing as a return to form of our much loved bro, may in actual fact have been Dean desperately trying to be Dean, to be the person he once was, to fight the feeling of the MoC raising itself within him again, to fight off the demon that still lies buried inside, unwittingly feeding the MoC’s yearning hunger for blood with burgers – because the Mark demands to be fed and so Dean was feeding it. The eating, the driving 8 hours out of the way to get laid, the over the top laughter, even the jibing Sam…were these all just Dean trying to be as Dean as possible, because he felt himself slipping away again? Feeding this thing inside him without knowing it?

As soon as I saw Dean laughing like crazy at The Three Stooges I was all, uh-oh. Not that I don’t think Dean would do that…he loves the Stooges, but it smacked of Demon Dean. It just felt off. Then there was his overzealous attacking of the grilled cheese sandwich. And if I wasn’t on edge enough watching that, watching Sam’s face put me right over. He could see something was not right, but he so wants to believe this is Dean - his funny, food loving, good times brother back for good - that Sam’s willing to go with it. The scene of the two of them watching The Three Stooges on Dean’s laptop was equal parts beautiful, because of how much I loved the domesticity of it, and painful because I knew it meant something was looming. Something bad.

The scene where Dean asks Cas to end him if he becomes “that thing” again was one of my favourites of the episode. The banter between them was wonderful – beautifully scripted by Andrew Dabb and beautifully played by Jensen and Misha. Like Sam, Cas is not fooled by Dean’s behaviour and calls him out on it. Unlike with Sam, Dean sort of admits to Cas that all is not right…but only because he needs to ask his friend a favour, something he knows he cannot and would not ask of Sam. Could Cas do it? Could Cas really kill Dean if he felt that Dean was becoming “that thing” again? OH MY GOD I DON’T WANT TO KNOW! I DON’T! I do however love with every single ounce of my being the 100% confidence that Dean has in the fact that Sam could not kill Dean in that situation. Dean for the first time in a long time is in no doubt about how much his brother loves him and what his brother would do for him, and that feels soooooooooo good. So good. And it must feel so good for Dean too. To know that he has people in his life who love him. To be secure enough in that fact that he even uses the love word. Yet as wonderful as this is for him, it must make what’s happening, what he fears he may become again, all the more horrific.

Then there was the final scene… WHYYYYYYYY!? When Cas and Sam left Dean alone inside the house, yeah I was screaming at my TV….DON’T LEAVE HIM IN THERE ALONE! We all knew he was teetering on the edge…the shovelling food into himself was a dead giveaway, if nothing else! And when he turned to the bad guys and said “You guys, don’t want to do this”, after the Mark of Cain and more troublingly, the demon memories, fired up in his blood…well my hands were over my mouth and I may have been whimpering.

Sam’s realisation that something was not right was wonderful…the slomo head turn and run to the house when he heard the carnage take place within. I half expected to see a Cain like red light burst out of the house! Thank God that didn’t happen! Not that what followed was not just as awful. Dean on his knees, bloodied and surrounded by slashed bodies was so horrific I literally gasped. Sam rushing forward, dropping to his knees to hold Dean’s face in his hands…like the Winchesters do when they’re checking in on each other, like we’ve seen Dean do to Sam. Sam trying desperately to make sense of what he was seeing. Trying desperately to make his brother tell him that he HAD to kill all those men that way, that Dean had no choice. And Dean…not being able to look his brother in the eyes for the shame and shock of what lay around him, mumbling, “I did…I didn’t mean to”. Oh my baby… ACK, I’m tearing up here! Oh Dean. Then there was Cas at the door, horror written all over his face, seeing what his friend had done with the favour asked of him ringing in his ears. OH MY GOD JUST STOP IT SHOW! Just when we feel happy…BAM…we’re destroyed once again.

To be honest though, I loved this scene. It was emotionally devastating, yet perfect. The acting, the direction by Guy Bee, the editing - how good was the editing - the identical staging of the dream/premonition scene to the climatic scene. I replayed it and watched it about five times in a row…until I felt totally traumatised!

Will Cas try to carry through on his promise to Dean? Will he have the strength? Will this put Sam up against Cas, because Dean is right…Sam will try to get in the way…because no matter what he will try to “fix” Dean. His face was pure devastation. Sam, like us, was hanging on to all the little Deanisms, hoping that meant Dean was okay. But here was his big brother, ashamed and broken, kneeling in a pool of a half a dozen men’s blood. Way to make us wait 6 weeks, Show! *rocks back and forth mumbling…it will be okay, it will be okay*

Okay, so not going to leave you on that note! Let me talk about my favourite scene. I absolutely adored the scene where Sam and Dean relayed the story about their dad, John Winchester. Of course, the reason was to emphasise that when you’re a parent – or even just with those you love (gulp) - you can’t be the good guy all the time, sometimes you have to be the bad guy and do what is right for the person under your care, even if you’re going to be hated for it.

But beyond this message, the scene was just wonderful.

I loved how excited Sam was to get Dean to tell the story and how he then hung on Dean’s every word, finishing his brother’s sentences and chipping in details of a story that has probably become more of a legend through their retelling of it over the years.

I loved discovering more Winchester memories. That the guys were in New York. That John hated cities. That Dean was a little rebellious shit when he was a kid…I LOVE THAT. That he went to CBGB’s for goodness sake! That the punks in the bar recognised a badass when they saw one and called John, sir and that Dean and Sam obviously got a kick out of it!

John Winchester wasn’t the greatest dad, we all know that, and no one is arguing that he was. There have been times where I’ve hated John, just like his sons have. But there have also been times I’ve loved him and over the years, my attitude towards him has shifted and changed…just like his sons’ has. That is what I think I love the most about how the relationship between Sam and Dean, and their dad has developed. The evolution of this relationship has been profoundly honest. As the brothers have got older and as they’ve experienced more, as they’ve been challenged by the choices they’ve had to make, they’ve grown to understand their father, and in many ways, forgive him. Their relationship with him will always be complex and marred by the bad memories, but they love him all the same and they know that he loved them. The way Dean said, “with everything I had” when Cas asked if he loved his dad... The whole conversation felt so real to life because...and sorry I keep harping on this point too…if you love someone and they die, you don’t just stop talking about them. They don’t cease to exist. They continue to be an enormous part of your life, and your relationship with them continues to change as the years go on; as your memories alter, or as the hurt diminishes with time and distance, or as you mature and your perspective changes. How the brothers’ ever evolving relationship with their dad has been portrayed over the years has always been one of my favourite elements of the show’s story telling. The fact that they still have such a powerful relationship with their dad even after he has died, is fantastic.

John Winchester was a flawed character and a flawed father…and his sons know it… “We know John Winchester isn't going to win any #1 Dad awards, but damn if he wasn't there when we needed him.” But those boys love him, and though how he raised them may not have been right, as Dean said, he did raise them right – in that he raised them to look after each other, to believe in family, to be loyal, to be strong and to love their brother. And that – as much as how Sam and Dean were left to fend for themselves and Dean left to raise Sam with his father's words in his ears – has help to forge these two boys into the beautiful men they are today. Yes, shitty to turn your sons into hunters and yes, John should have taken a different path after Mary died…but he didn’t…and now we have Sam and Dean Winchester. I sure can’t hate him for that.

This one story does not whitewash away all and any bad memory or anything the show has written about John Winchester in the past, and I was kind of more than baffled at how that was suggested out there in the online Universe! You can have good memories in amongst the bad. You can love someone even if you’re angry with them. You can have good stories to tell, even if other stories are too painful to remember. Because that is life and that is the nature of relationships. They are complex, and that is honest. Showing John in a good light in his sons’ eyes on this one occasion was not the show being uneven in its depiction of John, it was showing the depth of love the boys have for their father - a massive, force of nature in their lives - even in amongst the anger and pain - which is something the show has shown from the get-go. This scene was just wonderful. I’m so thankful that Sam and Dean have nice memories of their dad to relive and share (and probably embellish.) “John friggin’ Winchester”. Yep.

“The Things We Left Behind” did what this show does the best; it told a story about family. Honest, no bullshit, no excuses, no sugarcoating. It was emotionally intense and deeply satisfying. And it left me on the edge of my seat, not knowing where we go next. It was a brilliant end to the first half of what has been one of my favourite seasons. Intimate, compelling, heart-breaking, heart-soaring, and full of Winchesters! Season 10…you rock!

So that's the end of the first half of the season! The show will be back on January 20 (or 21 if you're me!), but I will be around throughout hellatus...doing stuff...I don't know what, but stuff! As always, thanks for reading and your unwavering support! I don't know what I'd do without you guys!



  1. Awesome, spot-on commentary :) I'll be waiting impatiently for Jan 20th along with you!

  2. Well I can't add anything to I will say bravo show and thank you for a great first half. And thank you Amy for all of your wonderful reviews. I have loved every single one of them.

  3. Great job as always Amy. I guess all that is left to say is ditto on all. I loved, loved, loved this episode and love, love, love this entire season so far. You said it all with such warmth and sincerity, so much better than I could but I feel all your feels. This show just keeps out doing itself week after week, year after year and I am so proud to be a part of this phenomenon. Only 38 more days to go. I still cannot believe the season is almost half over already but no I won't go there, I just won't.

  4. Nice job Amy. I agree with you, I like the focus on the love of family and friends, and how at times they may cause us pain but we never give up hope. Love is forever!

  5. Amy, i already tweeted you about how awesome your review was but its hard to fully explain myself in 140 characters.

    Thank you for this review, it makes it so worthwhile that among all the negativity we still have reviews like this. Its always rewarding to find people who love the show as much as you do. This week was a little bit tough for me, seeing all those negative comments. I was in the middle of a rewatch of season 1 and i paused my rewatch after tuesday because i did not want all those negative comments to affect how i view the show. Im happy to say that after reading this review, i will start my rewatch again because all those comments i saw before that left me sad were crushed by your review.

    Now my excitement level for the show to return, its way over the top :). Thank you again, i hope you never stop writing reviews because you will always have a reader in me.

    -Marlin Rosa

  6. Loved this review ! The episode was great. Thanks for sharing your excitement for season 10 with us.

  7. Thank Chuck for your reviews Amy. I love this show, and I loved this episode as well and have been looking for a reviewer who was as happy about it as I was. I am now satisfied, thanks :-)

  8. Sweetondean, this! Yours are the only reviews I come back to re-read like a good book (or fanfic, and your stories are also among the best, thank you!) What I like the most in episode 9 is that it gave each actor an opportunity to shine. Even though Mark Sheppard didn't have many lines to say his face, his eyes longing for warmth of human interactions were so impressive. It was a sheer pleasure to watch him, all of them. I could say a lot about Misha, and Jared, and Jensen was above praise... our cast is the best, and no mistake! And hail to Guy Bee, what a director, we're so lucky to have him on the show. Thank you again, keep up writing, I (and so many others) am looking forward to reading more of you.

  9. Thank you Amy for again a great review.

    I actually belong also to those people that got a wave of the not so happy group after this episode. Many of the sites I visit... well, also you probably know about which kind of comments I talk about. The trouble for me is not the criticism, but the way it is put out. The episode can have good and bad points but it is the reviewer that balances them and gives the criticism in good manner. With that I have no trouble with but when it comes in a way that insults fans, the writers, the show be it from a fan that likes Supernatural, a character or a ship. That crosses the line for me. When the one thing that irks a person turns that everything that is ever crated must be shitty in the show for the reason "because" and it feels like a riot against others. I literally wanted to hide in a happy bunker.

    I asked myself where can I go now? I actually felt really horrible after the episode even if I loved it because the places I enjoyed talking about the show well... I don't know if it is a hijack or how should I call it but I feel your review and write this here is safe and it felt like the only place.

    That is why I was waiting for your review and the podcast and that I can thank you that I still have place to write this. And by those words on to the episode.

    You put everything up well in words and I don't have much to add why I liked the episode. Just that I liked it the same reason as you did. Even my husband that I see being more critical about everything he watches liked the episode even more than me if that is possible. That is probably because I had one thing that bothered me but that might be how I watched the episode. We have talked a lot about this season and as he is as neutral as a person can be a watcher. He is not online reading stuff about the show nor does he read anything about it. He just watches the show.

    He said the last episode was awesome. Literally. He has never said that about an episode. He also likes the slower build of this season. That there is no big bad and that it is more personal trip. I don't know his state of mind how he watches it but he has no influence what so ever to change it. He is honest and disagrees with me when he thinks so. He hates Gremlins and I love the movie for example.

    I can't wait where the story takes us. From this episode I noticed few things. Like Castiel and this situation can be compared to Gadreel. And well The John story made me grin because I remembered "The Purge" where Dean knew how roofies looked like. Maybe this was the reason he learned it? Also the scene in the end reminded me about one previous episode. In First born Cain let the demons in the house and was trapped there with them. We didn't see what was happening but we knew he smite the hell out of the demons like dean killed the thugs and we didn't see it. I am a gamer girl so the dream sequence seemed like Silent Hill for me. The coloring in that scene if anyone knows the game/movie.

    So, thank you again and see you on next review or hear you in a next podcast. Don't know if you have something planned for the winter hellatus but I hope so. Keep the flag high anyway! I know I will too. :)

    - Lilah

  10. Yet again you have nailed the way I view this show, Amy. You always manage to articulate what I love most about it, and the why I feel that way. It does my heart good to see your reviews, in the midst of all the negativity that exists in pockets of disillusioned watchers. I'm not even going to call them fans, because I honestly don't know why some bother to watch anymore. That aside, thank you for continuing to be the ray of light and for expressing so eloquently what it is that makes me love the Winchesters, Crowley and even Castiel who, in this episode, has redeemed so much of himself to me.

  11. Sigh. Dean. Sam. Sam and Dean. Cas. These poor guys.

    I will be waiting for the Show's return along with you! In the meantime have a great Festive Season :)

  12. I didn't like the fact that the first thing Sam did after seeing Dean like that was say "tell me you had to". Way to lay on the guilt Sammy.

  13. Thank you Amy girl! I just watched your holiday post and then read this post. And now I'm crying. Love it. <3 (I call my daughter Amygirl,)

  14. Amazing review. Love how you expressed your heartfelt love for the show. I also love the show and how the writers get us the viewer's connected to the characters. I look forward to reading your future reviews. As I feel this is also one of the best seasons of SPN, it refreshing to read a positive review on this ep as I love it's future outlooks. Thanks again and only 15 days left