Still from All Dogs Go to Heaven

Normally when I watch an episode of Supernatural, I decide fairly early on what I need/want to say, which then takes greater shape through the hour. This is followed by a re-watch to firm up any thoughts, clarify quotes, and catch things I might have missed. I have watched “All Dogs Go To Heaven” five times and I’m still struggling with what I really think of the episode.

Monster of the week: We get a nice gory open, with a man attacked by a snarling beastie and the requisite spewing blood splashing all over the car windows. Thanks to the “THEN” reminder at the beginning, first thoughts are naturally of werewolves, as they provided clips of a changing Madison in season two’s “Heart.” This is further confirmed by the M.O., which involves a ripped open chest and removed heart. Crowley, who I will return to in a moment, wants Sam and Dean to catch the alpha-were, with the promise (one that I and the boys find empty) that if they do, he will return Sam’s soul. Too easy.

Of course it turns out the killer isn’t a were, but a skinwalker. This is revealed after a variety of false-start leads — drunk and snarky Cal, girlfriend Mandy — when the skinwalker turns out to be masquerading as the family dog, Lucky. After a slightly oogy scene in which “Lucky” gives Mandy lots of kisses when she wakes up and then watches as she disrobes and enters the shower, I commented to my own dog that I could no longer look at her the same way again — a sentiment supported by Dean at the end of the episode.

After capturing Lucky, thanks to his untimely run in front of a car, the boys grill the man about his skinwalker background. Lucky confesses that he was living rough on the streets when he was approached by a man — the pack leader — who promised to change his life — to make him stronger, healthier, more powerful. The only catch? All of those turned into skinwalkers (approximately 30 others) would pretend to be household pets and, when signaled, would turn on their families, creating an army of skinwalkers. As Dean called them, “a sleeper cell.” The boys, however, have a caught a break because Lucky is so attached to Mandy and Ayden (her son) that he cannot bring himself to turn them.

The plan is to assassinate the pack leader at a meeting at a deserted factory, but the plan goes fantastically awry when Mandy and Ayden are brought to the scene as hostages. Dean can’t get a clear kill-shot that won’t take out innocents, so he doesn’t take the shot at all. This leads to an ambush inside the factory, with silver bullets flying and skinwalker corpses scattered throughout. With Mandy and Ayden locked in a room behind a door with a glass window, Lucky decides this is the time to transform into his dog form and show the family who he really is. Bad move. For while Lucky makes it out of the battle alive, he is abandoned by Mandy after she and Ayden are safe. I will say that I was very worried, as Lucky ran into the street, that he was going to be hit by a car. I’m glad the writers saved me from that trauma.

I wasn’t that won over by the monster of the week. It once again pointed to the idea that various monsters are creating armies for an as-of-yet undefined war. It also demonstrated the new dynamic between Crowley and the boys. He pops up and tells them where to go — giving them a direction and making promises. It’s reminiscent of the season four Castiel relationship, where he would appear to point the boys towards a battle to save a seal from being broken. In fact, there seems to be little difference between the directions given by angels and demons. Obviously Castiel is the angel we love, whereas Crowley is the demon we love to hate, but the basic template is the same.

Yet the underlying purpose to the monster of the week seemed to be showing the softer side of monsters. I felt like the episode was saying, “Look, don’t you feel sorry for Lucky? Homeless guy who is saved and becomes the loyal family dog deserves your sympathy, not your condemnation.” And really, what better way to tug on our heartstrings than by having the skinwalkers be dogs. The scene in the pound had me flinching — don’t hurt the dog — hurt the human, but don’t hurt the dog.

The softer side of monsters is a theme shown before in Supernatural. I’m sure many people were thinking about the implications of “Heart,” where you have a fine and lovely girl who transforms into a killing machine at night — and the pain of Sam having to kill his new love. I, however, flashed back to the season two episode “Bloodlust,” which I’ve always thought was one of Sera Gamble’s best episodes. It’s here that Supernatural first blurred the line between monster and human — with the true monster of the episode being Gordon Walker, not the vampire, Lenore. It’s also an episode where we have a nice inversion of Sam and Dean’s character. In “Bloodlust,” Dean is the one ready to kill any and all vamps. There’s no reasoning — just black and white logic. All monsters must die. Sam is the one to slow him down — to prevent the death of Lenore — Sam wants to figure out exactly what’s happening before drawing blood. In “All Dogs Go To Heaven,” Sam is in shoot first, ask questions later mode. He’s ready to grab Cal, then Mandy, throw them in the trunk, and then hand them off to Crowley for a life-sentence in hell. As Dean said in “Family Matters,” Sam has no instinct. He can’t use emotion to suss out a situation. So we once again have an episode where the human behavior has to be questioned, rather than the monster. (Granted, only in the case of Lucky)

Winchesters: As with “Bloodlust,” where we had Dean trying to work through the death of his father and the idea that the human/monster condition isn’t black and white, so too is this episode a reminder of the polarity that exists between the boys’ theories on hunting. Now we have Dean trying to stop Sam from making mistakes that will hurt the lives of innocents. We have Sam’s bloodlust, where he goads Dean on to shoot the pack leader even though it would mean the death of Mandy and/or Ayden. More importantly, we have the moment where Dean decides that they need to kill, not capture, the pack leader. Sam wants to capture him so they can take him to Crowley — even though the pack leader is *not* the alpha-skin. Dean knows that if they do that, the pack leader will send out a mental signal to all skinwalkers that will make them turn on their families — creating a larger army and ruining the lives of at least 150 humans. It’s clear that Sam, regardless of his protests, not only didn’t think about this, but doesn’t really care.

And that’s what it’s all about in the end. Sam doesn’t care. I had the delusion at the end of “Family Matters” that Sam and Dean could hunt together because even without his emotion, Sam wouldn’t let anything happen to his brother. Now I’m not so sure. As Sam explains at the beginning of the episode, he’s still Sam in that he still has his memories, but his declaration at the end of the episode — his confession that he doesn’t care about anyone, even Dean — was rough. There’s no pulled punches. Sam admits, “I’m not your brother. I’m not Sam. All that blah, blah, blah about being the old me — crap. Like Lisa and Ben, right? I’ve been acting like I care about them, but I don’t. I couldn’t care less. . .you wanted the real me, this is it. I don’t care about them. I don’t even really care about you, except that I need your help. And you’re clearly not going to stick around for much longer unless I give it to you straight. So, I’ve done a lot worse than you know. I’ve killed innocent people, in the line of duty. But I’m pretty sure it’s not something that the old me could have done. And maybe I should feel guilty, but I don’t. . . .look, I don’t know if how I am is better or worse. It’s different. You get the job done and nothing really hurts. It’s not the worst thing. But. . .I’ve been thinking. I was that other Sam for a long time. . .and it was. . .it was kinda harder. But there are also things about it that I remember that I. . .let’s just say I think I should probably go back to being him.” Kudos again to Padalecki because he is selling this idea that Sam is not Sam. And this was a great Sam moment, where you can see him trying to figure out how to articulate the nothingness in his soul — and fight against the temptation of just embracing the nothingness.

Sam has been flirting with the darkness inside for quite a while. He’s always been the character affiliated in some fashion with evil. The show has hinted at this for years, whether it’s the demon blood, partnering with Ruby, or being the vessel for Lucifer. Just the other day I watched “All Hell Breaks Loose, Part II,” and I was struck by the scene where Sam shoots Jake. The look on Sam’s face — the pure unadulterated pleasure he took in annihilating his enemy, was, at the time, like nothing we’d seen in this character. It worked perfectly with Azazel hinting that the Sam brought back was not 100% Sam, and while I thought that was dealt with, perhaps it was meant to resonate through all seasons. Sam is a bifurcation. On one side he is the Sam that cares too much. Even Ruby, in “Sin City,” responding to Sam’s protest that he wouldn’t be happy with human collateral damage, comments that he “wouldn’t be Sam if he wasn’t.” The very essence of Sam is to care about victims — to do the right thing. And yet this is consistently juxtaposed with a predilection for evil that Dean doesn’t manifest. Sam is the dark soul, whether he has one or not. Watching him kill Jake, I wondered if the Sam that regains his soul is really the Sam that we met in season one. Perhaps a portion of this emptiness will remain, regardless of his soul-status, because a part of him has been empty for a while.

That said, I do have to say that I’m enjoying some of the snarkiness that Sam is bringing to the hunt. When the detective asked the boys (who were posing as FBI agents) why the feds were interested in the case, Sam’s response of “we’re specialists and they call us in to answer the questions of mouth-breathing dick monkeys” not only took Dean aback, but made me rewind to make sure I heard correctly. Or when Dean told Lucky that they could either take him the easy way (with clothing) or the hard way (with a silver choke collar), and Sam, laughing, said “soul or not, that’s funny.” Or when Lucky told Sam to go to hell and he bounced back with “already been, didn’t agree with me.” Fantastic moments where we get to see just how much fun Padalecki can have with non-emo Sam.

I feel like the episode gave us a few moments of insight, but that the story itself just wasn’t that compelling.