Supernatural: Like A Virgin
So this season of Supernatural has made me think quite a bit about the concept of the soul — primarily the soul as seen though pop culture. I asked a friend of mine who is a Presbyterian priest if there was a general, accepted definition for what makes up the soul. Short answer, no. It’s a testament to our friendship that he didn’t laugh at me. He wrote a gorgeous answer to my question, explaining some of the theological history of the soul, which I will now reduce. If we want to find discussions of the soul having material form, the best place to look is from the 1st millennia up until Descartes. For theologians the discussion was really centered around Original Sin. As Matt phrased it, “If Adam sins in Eden, and his sin is passed down by means of each of our souls such that we are born already tainted by sin, then theologians needed to figure out how that transmission took place.” But after Descartes, the Traducians (material soul contingent) dissipate and defining the soul becomes less of a concern to the church.
Given that my understanding of theology is practically nil, I left these concerns behind and focused more on television — something about which I know just a bit too much. I focused initially on The Simpsons, especially the episode “Bart Sells His Soul.” For once Bart divests himself of his soul, he finds the difference immediate and apparent. He has lost his humanity. He doesn’t find jokes or pratfalls amusing, automatic doors won’t open for him, and he has no breath. He even has a dream in which he is the only one of classmates lacking a soul — as everyone else rows in a boat with their soul as rowing partner. The soul here is clearly a material object. However, this comparison isn’t really apt. Bart realizes fairly quickly that he doesn’t have a soul — he misses it — and he misses the humanity that he has lost. Sam, of course, doesn’t have this problem. He realizes that something is wrong with him, but until Dean forces the issue, Sam doesn’t know it’s a missing soul. I would argue that Sam only ever wanted his soul back because Dean desperately wanted him to have it.
Then I realized that a more applicable comparison was to Angel and Spike from Buffy. By the end of Sam’s soulless arc, we were, for all intents and purposes, dealing with a monster — a demon. The moment when Sam is willing to kill Bobby, is the moment that, without a doubt, we realize that our Sam is gone — he might not be quite as vicious as Angelus, but he’s not that far removed.
The reason I was obsessively focused on this, especially for this episode, is that when Sam awakens from his deep sleep/coma and arrives upstairs, he is immediately the Sam of old. I’ve given Padalecki many kudos this season for his depiction of soulless Sam — a depiction I’ve rather enjoyed — and I was shocked at how happy I was to see that our Sam was back. Granted, I don’t know how long it will last, but he immediately oozed compassion, emotion, and concern. His whole bearing was different.
And with Sam’s return, Dean’s personality shifted a bit also. I hadn’t spent much time noticing how much of Dean we had lost because of Sam’s struggle, but his entire demeanor lightened. There was a subtle shift in responsibility. He didn’t have to spend the case worrying about both the victims and his brother — he had regained his hunting partner — and the sibling he had lost.
Of course, the decision to keep the truth about the past year from Sam was a facile one. Sam had encountered too many people during that year to not have his trauma come up at some point, with someone. Dean’s reasoning was understandable — he just wanted a bit of time with Sam as things used to be — not having to worry about Sam losing his mind, going darkside, killing their friends and loved ones. Yet Bobby couldn’t embrace the new Sam. The pain of their last interaction was too fresh. While Dean could compartmentalize the past year by considering soulless Sam a wholly different entity, Bobby saw Sam as a mixture of the two. Soulless Sam might have lost his emotion and humanity, but his brain and his behaviors were still coming from the same person. Somewhere, deep inside, Sam has the capacity for darkness. It’s been a threat from the beginning, but only Bobby, in this moment, is choosing to remember that.
What Dean didn’t take into consideration was Castiel — and his brother’s intelligence. It doesn’t take Sam long to figure out that something isn’t right. Bobby simply can’t carry off the lie, and Sam chooses exactly the right person to trick into revealing information: Castiel. And Castiel does spill. . .everything. The implications of this, for now, are unknown. What will this reminder do to the fragile wall erected by Death? (I have not yet seen last week’s episode “Unforgiven” — damn you work!) Sam also acknowledges what Dean refuses to. There is some part of Sam that allowed for Soulless Sam’s behavior and personality. It made me wonder what Dean without a soul would be like. . .Gordon maybe?
Regardless, for the time being, Sam is back. He cares about the victims, he cares about his brother, and he desperately wants to make things right with Bobby.
Yet the episode was not all about Sam and his soul, because it also revealed a new Big Bad — the Mother. The Mother of all monsters. Supernatural has dabbled with evil women before as a Big Bad — Lilith of course — but for a show that is so heavily slanted towards the paternal, it’s a bold choice. This is a show that’s all about the daddy issues, whether that father figure is John, God, Lucifer, Azazel, Samuel, or even Bobby. The mother is the sacred — Mary and Ellen (damn there’s not a lot of good women on this show). So now we have an interesting twist — the return of the mother — a return accomplished through the sacrifice of virgin by two dragon-men — though I am curious about why they had to capture so many women. Will they be killing them? Will she drain them of their blood? Consume their flesh? I’m cringing just thinking about it. And if the resurrected woman is the mother of all monsters, does that make her the Queen of Purgatory? Do women ever get anything good on this show? Men rule Heaven and Hell and we get. . .purgatory?? (I recognize that I might be completely proved wrong by last Friday’s episode.)
Things I loved:
–Castiel was so angry with Dean for making a deal to return Sam’s soul, but so happy to see Sam back to normal. Was Castiel really angry about the fact that Dean made a deal with someone else? That Death was stronger than Cas?
–Bobby’s got a fancy woman in his past — a fancy woman who collects awesome pieces of lore and makes Dean a bit uncomfortable, which I find amusing. I would like a dragon sword in my basement please, especially a basement that looked like that.
–I love that Dean is *not* the brave knight to pull the sword out of the stone — so cocky going in, with the fantastically epic music playing in the background, until he fell off the stone without the sword. Just awesome and hilarious.
–“Matt Barn didn’t count!”
–“I think it just goes to show that being easy is pretty much all upside.”
–“So what kind of thing likes virgins and gold?”
“You know it’s comforting.”
“I died for a year, came back, and you’re still not funny.”
“Shut up! I’m hilarious.”
–“They’re not like the Loch Ness Monster, Dean, dragons aren’t real.”
“Could you make a few calls?”
“To who, Hogwarts?”