Supernatural: Exile on Main Street
Shinyswoots has been kind enough to offer me a place to ramble on about my thoughts and theories on all things Winchester. Since I’m a bit behind, I’m going to write about the first episode (I’ve delayed watching the second episode until this post is finished) and then I’ll post again within the next few days on the second episode. So if I write any questions/theories that were answered/disproved on Friday, you can just laugh at how wrong I am. Also, I’m writing less of a recap and more of a review. I think. Hope that works for everyone.
I would hazard a guess that the question on most fans’ minds for the season opener was when Sam and Dean were finally going to reconnect. That last shot of the season 5 finale, with Sam ominously looking into the windows was seared into my mind over the summer. How had Sam escaped from hell? Was he “normal”? Evil? Why was he staring into the windows and not knocking on the door? Luckily we didn’t have to wait too long for some answers.
The episode’s opening montage was clever — the music selection even more so. Set to Bob Seger’s song “Beautiful Loser,” we see Dean wake up from a nightmare just prior to his 7 a.m. alarm with Lisa by his side. After she asks him if he’s okay, to which he responds with what I considered a half-hearted “yeah, I’m good,” the chorus of the song kicks in.
Where you gonna fall?/
When you realize/
You just can’t have it all.
The montage artfully shows Dean using items that in a former life were implements of torture and protection, intercut with blue-toned scenes from past episodes. He reaches for a canister of salt, but rather than sprinkling it around doorways and windowsills he puts it on the eggs he’s cooking for Ben. We see a box open that is filled with tools, reminiscent of the Impala’s trunk filled with weapons, only to discover that they are tools for Dean’s new job — and, horror, are in a pickup truck, not the beloved Impala. (Okay, maybe only I was horrified, but that shot alone made me very sad.) Tools that Dean used to kill monsters and demons are now used to build houses — construction rather destruction. Beers from a cooler that would usually be handed to Sam are now dealt out at a backyard BBQ with neighbors. And the memory of Dean teaching Sam how to fix the Impala is now complemented by him teaching Ben how to work on the truck. And finally, we see Dean’s nighttime routine: walking through the house, locking doors and shutting blinds as he looks outside one last time, checking to see that Ben is safe and asleep, and finally climbing into bed with Lisa. But lest we think he has become complacent, the camera pans to underneath the bed, where there is a jar of holy water (rosary blessed) and a shotgun that we know has rock salt shells. (And later in the episode we will see that there’s a devil’s trap under the rug by the front door.)
During all of this Bob Seger’s song continued. A song that really could be read as a microcosm of the entire episode for Dean. One year later and Dean still thinks Sam is dead. He has the facade of a normal life, and, unlike many of my compatriots on the node site, I think it’s a life that he is happy with. There was never a moment during that opening montage that I didn’t think Dean was satisfied with his life. The reason it is so jarring is that it is so normal. And seeing Dean in a situation of normalcy is disconcerting. Our Dean shouldn’t be working construction and fixing scrambled eggs; he should be killing demons. He shouldn’t be at a bar with his neighbor Sid having a beer; he should be drinking with Sam, planning their next hunt.
And here I think the first stanza of Seger’s song, which was fairly muted as the episode opened, is where we can see the similitude between song and character.
He wants to dream like a young man/
With the wisdom of an old man/
He wants his home and security/
He wants to live like a sailor at sea.
Oh to have it all — to be young and wise, to have home and security, with the freedom to leave it and sail the seas. Because once Sam comes back into his life that is the struggle. Can he be a hunter and have a happy family? It hasn’t worked for any other.
Dean has always been a character torn between two worlds. Unlike Sam, who actually escaped and had a few years of normal life, Dean has only been a hunter. Yet twice, in past episodes, we’ve seen inside Dean’s mind and his dreams for a settled life. Once, in the brilliant episode that first introduced us to the djinn, “What Is and What Should Never Be,” Dean is given a new life — one in which his mother is alive and he has a life with a beautiful girlfriend, Carmen, and works as a mechanic. And in “Dream a Little Dream of Me,” we discover that Dean dreams of a life with Lisa. In both of those episodes, however, Dean’s dreams turn to nightmares. In “What Is” Dean’s happiness comes at the sacrifice of his relationship with Sam — not only are they not close but Sam doesn’t even like Dean — and the sacrifice of all of the people he has saved over the years. He realizes that he can never be happy — he must continue to martyr himself to the cause. And in “Dream” the life with Lisa is just a snippet, one that he is embarrassed for Sam to see, and quickly turns into his nightmare of confronting the self that he will become once he travels to hell.
As soon as Dean leaves the bar and hears a girl screaming, he quickly reverts to form, arming himself and trying to help — finding nothing but claw marks and blood. A trail that he continues to follow the next day, until Sid catches him in a neighbor’s yard, gun aimed, almost shooting the Glickman’s Yorkie. It’s the immediate tension between his old instincts and his new life. An instinct, quite honestly, that Lisa seems okay with, as she catches him in the garage attempting to load up on his old supplies. And while he tries to lie to her, he soon confesses and rather than try to stop him or nag him about what he’s doing (as would happen in a lesser show), she simply tells him to be careful.*
Oh how crazy the subsequent moments are, as Dean finds himself confronted by Azazel, who proclaims himself shaken free from hell by the apocalypse. It seems completely feasible. And here, again, Seger’s song proves prophetic.
Read it on the wall/
You just can’t have it all/
. . . . .
You can try, you can try, but you can’t have it all.
As Azazel slowly chokes the life out of Dean, he mocks him for the choices he’s made. Commenting on Lisa’s beauty and understanding, saying that Ben is “a hell of a kid,” Azazel then threatens to take it all away. He taunts Dean, snarling “did you really think you were gonna get to keep all of this? You had to know we’d be coming for you sometime pal. You can’t outrun your past.” And then just when all seems lost, Sam jumps through him and stabs Dean in the chest with a hypodermic.
When Dean comes to he is in a ramshackle cabin, with Sam watching him. Dean is, as you would expect, shattered. He thinks he’s dead and in hell. When Sam explains that Dean’s been poisoned and has been hallucinating — that Azazel wasn’t real — he then needs to prove to Dean that he’s both real and not a demon. It’s truly a discombobulating scene. The tone is discordant — hell the color is discordant. Unlike Dean’s return in the first episode of season 5, which was bathed in light (both when he was resurrected and in the scenes with Bobby and Dean), this is all in darkness. Again, like the flashbacks, looking like it was shot through a blue filter.
Sam’s mood seems impatient, cocky, annoyed even. He berates Dean’s lack of response with an almost tight jocularity, as if he’s attempting to be funny but it comes off as flippant and abrupt. When Dean finally realizes that it is Sam standing in front of him, he grabs Sam in a bear hug and there is finally a moment where Sam seems to appreciate the response. On the node boards people have commented that Sam is off throughout this episode (which he is) and have wondered if he has PTSD or perhaps has been infected with a touch of evil from his time in hell. Having watched the episode again, I would argue that Sam’s tone comes from a place of guilt.
The first thing Dean did when he was resurrected was find Sam. Okay, technically he went to Bobby first, but that’s because Sam’s phone was disconnected. Sam has waited a full year to tell Dean that he was alive — and he only did that because Dean’s life was in danger. If not for that, how long would he have waited? Would he have ever told Dean? His quick, impudent tone. . .his barrage of statements before Dean could even take in what was happening. . .his gulping down of salt water and slicing open his arm without prompting. . .I think it’s all the action of a guilty brother.**
I realize there’s an entire djinn storyline in this episode, but truly it’s superfluous. It’s simply a means of getting the pieces in place — and of course serves as a nice callback to “What Is and What Should Never Be.” Because what this episode is truly about is Dean and the concept of betrayal. The djinn highlights the threat that Lisa and Ben are under by living with Dean — a fact that Dean reads as his betrayal — his failure to protect his new family.***
Then there’s also Sam’s betrayal. Not only did he not tell Dean he was alive, but he’s also hunting with a new group — members of the Campbell family — family that Dean didn’t even know existed — including a grandfather who should be dead. One whole year without telling the person who spent their life making sure you were safe that you were alive. Letting Dean suffer through the anguish of that loss without offering him solace. It seems even more reprehensible because we learned in season five how horrid and excruciating the four months without Dean were on Sam. He knows that pain first hand.
But the worst had to be the discovery that Bobby knew that Sam was alive — had known for an entire year. That seems the worst betrayal of all, simply because you can’t imagine Bobby ever causing Dean pain, especially since he has long been Dean’s surrogate father. The excuse he gives, that Dean was happier than any hunter has ever been, seemed unfair. Though Bobby’s passionate response seemed real.
I’m hoping there will be more to this story. Especially given that Sam’s wish at the end of the episode, that they will hunt together again, seems anathema to what he’s put Dean through over the year.
So how did Sam escape hell? Who brought him back? And what about these Campbells? Dean’s question, “I thought all of Mom’s relatives were gone?” was both appropriate and left unanswered. There is a hint at something bigger — an arc that we’re going to explore over the season.
And while another show might give us the happy family together hunting, this felt rough. The scene where the clan gathered in Dean’s house, making fun of his new life, was not endearing. It was annoying. (Maybe that’s because Dean’s my favorite.) Also, they seem like mediocre hunters. They really couldn’t figure out how to draw out the djinn? And the hunter initially sent out to protect the house (and by default Ben and Lisa) ended up dead. Of course, there was also that final moment with the Campbells, where they captured a djinn and took her away with them, making sure that Sam and Dean didn’t see their hostage, with whom they are going to??? A moment obviously meant to make the audience question the intentions of this odd little family.
What’s great about Mitch Pileggi is that he can play both good (Skinner on The X-Files) and evil (Ernest Darby on Sons of Anarchy) with relative ease, so as of now I’m not sure what to think of him. The scene with Samuel and Dean in the kitchen of the house was both sweet “you remind me of your mother” and supercilious “maybe this isn’t the time for golf.” He also makes a point of consistently reminding Dean that he’s a Campbell, which is interesting after all the years of living with the defining burden of being a Winchester.
The third verse of the Seger song:
He’s your oldest and your best friend/
If you need him, he’ll be there again/
He’s always willing to be second-best/
A perfect lodger, a perfect guest.
As I listened to this I immediately thought of Sam. He’s Dean’s oldest and best friend, and he literally shows up at the moment that Dean needs him, as he’s about to be choked by Azazel. Initially he is more than happy to be second-best. Sam has pushed Dean away so that he would finally have the family that he’s always wanted. He is just a guest in Dean’s life. What interesting is that at the end of the episode he wants to take it all back. He tries to get Dean to leave Ben and Lisa under the auspices that they are no longer safe with Dean around. But Dean’s final djinn nightmare, reliving the death of his mother and the infection of Sam, but this time with Lisa and Dean as the recipients of Azazel’s wrath, has exactly the opposite effect. He now sees himself as their protectors — that his presence is the only thing that will keep them safe.
Sam explains to Dean that he wants him to rejoin the hunt because Dean brings to it a human aspect. He cares about people and puts their safety above everything else. It’s a quality that Sam used to have but has apparently lost. I also wonder if he doesn’t recognize that something is amiss with the Campbell family. That hunting with them makes him less emotional — less empathetic — less human.
Phew, I warned you that I ramble on. I’ll try to be more succinct when discussing the next episode. Regardless, I’m really looking forward to seeing where Sera Gamble takes us this season. I think she’s always been the strongest writing asset on that show — especially when writing the deep, emotionally resonant episodes. While I’m excited to see some Edlund & Carver eps., especially when we need to laugh, I think that the entire tone of the first episode — and the way that it completely discombobulated the audience — was brilliant. Seeing Dean and Sam grow apart because their lives are taking different paths, because they are maturing as a family man and hunter respectively, is hard to watch. Yet it provides fertile ground that hasn’t been covered before.
I can only hope that Seger’s final stanza isn’t some prophetic warning for Dean.
Never take it all/
‘Cause it’s easier/
And faster when you fall/
You just don’t need it all.
*I wasn’t sure what I would think of Lisa, but that moment on Bobby’s steps, where she really lets Dean know what she thinks of the whole situation, how she thought her year with Dean was the best year of her life, was awesome.
**Side note: I think it’s fascinating that this first episode is once again told from Dean’s perspective. Think how different the episode would have been if we had seen it all through Sam’s eyes — rather than that opening montage we could have seen Dean’s life from Sam’s perspective — outside looking in. And I think we would have felt a bit more relaxed about Sam. Instead, we get to come into this from Dean’s place of hurt — his unease becomes ours. And I think this is one of the reasons the entire episode is completely disconcerting.
***Can I just say that once again Dean has so little regard for his self-worth that all he can see is failure, when he actually does protect his family. No harm comes to Ben and Lisa; in fact, there wasn’t even a moment where they were in true danger. Granted, that all could have been different if they hadn’t gone to the movies, but he did exactly what needed to do.
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