Typical, Supernatural. TYPICAL. When the going gets angsty, the angst gets cranked up to eleven. Not even Dean Winchester (Jensen Ackles) walking away with the phone number of the hot witch he spent half the episode trying to murder could save us from the mere five minutes needed to remind us that the British Men of Letters are still a thing... And gun down that poor young psychic who spent the episode chained up in her crazy parents' basement bonding with Sam (Jared Padalecki)/their shared feelings of unworthiness. Eff those guys.
Within the framework of a case cherry-picked to exploit Dean and Sam's insecurities following Mary Winchester's (Samantha Smith) exit from their lives — again — it was the unsaid that said the most, and made up for the lack of an "Official Winchester Heart to Heart on the Hood of the Car" moment. Dean's "teenage girl" obsessiveness with his unanswered text messages, questioning whether this woman dropped into their lives is still "mom" or something undefinable — this is a Dean struggling to understand how the mother who was ripped away from them against her will, could, now that she has them back, willingly choose to leave them.
For all the difficulty that Dean showed in previous episodes with finding a place for Mary in his life, the belief that there is certainly a place for her was never in question. Dean's fanatical devotion to family has led the Winchesters down some dark roads and headlong into some terrible decision making (Gadreel, anyone?) but Dean's intense love for his hot mess of a family finally got to shine in a positive light with Mary's return to the land of the living.
Dean has almost always turned to anger when his family has failed to show the same level of dedication that he has. He spent most of Supernatural's inaugural season convinced that John Winchester (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) was in terrible danger, taken by demons or, specifically THE demon that the family chased from one side of the country to the other because of course their father wouldn't abandon them willingly.
Sam's departures, whether it was a teenage flirtation with running away, Stanford, or the ill-fated romance with Amelia, have always been met with accusations of abandonment, with a dogged unwillingness to acknowledge that family can love from afar, that love doesn't always have to mean sacrifice.
These deeply ingrained ideas about how and what a family is and should be, are the deepest divide between Sam and Dean and the one that is repeatedly used against them. How can their own mother not want to be with them after they've dedicated their lives to avenging her, honoring her, and longing for her? How can she choose to walk away like that? For Dean, family has never been about choice and for as much as he has grown over the years, there's still a part of him that firmly believes that.
Sam, of course, is different — has always been different — and has never really shared Dean's Kool-Aid when it comes to choice (or lack thereof). Maybe it's the age gap, or that Sam doesn't have the memories of normalcy that Dean fuels himself with, or maybe... That's just how Sam is. Sam's entire life has been defined by choices he's made, or didn't make, or didn't have the opportunity to even try to make. His definition of family is more fluid.
So too, is his definition of good and evil, monster and human. His silences were telling in the basement with Poor Magda — and my new personal headcanon is that Sam totally still has his boy king powers and just chooses not to use them — as he wanted so badly for her to see herself as something good, not evil, but still fumbled when she turned the question back to him. Sam sees the shades of gray that Dean often fails to, but at the expense of the extremes that give people any kind of certainty in life. Sam may not think he's evil anymore, but he's not willing to go as far as to declare himself "good."
By allowing that shred of doubt to exist though — particularly in the Winchesters' chosen field — Sam risks eroding his own convictions, particularly if given the right push from the wrong person *coughRUBYcough*.
When it comes to Mary, Sam's inability to define the meaning of her actions gives him the freedom to accept her departure as something disconnected from family. It's not him. It's not Dean. It's her and her own issues that she needs to work out and that's okay and doesn't mean that she doesn't love them. That's actually a pretty healthy approach... Except for the doubt inherent to nearly every decision Sam has ever made. He wants to believe that his mother's sojourn is okay and not an inditement of himself and Dean, but this is coming from a man who still struggles to accept his own exits as anything other than a complete and total betrayal to the family.
Man, I love when this show gets deep.
And I love when this show dedicates the last five minutes of a given episode to ripping our hearts out and stomping on them. Keep bringing the deep-seated angst and existential misery, Supernatural.
Supernatural airs Thursdays at 9/8c on The CW.
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