TV Reviewer Katie Young provides a Fairy Tale themed review of this week’s Supernatural episode About A Boy…
An interesting quandary for Sam this week, as Dean is returned to his teenage state when a fairy tale turns out to be rooted in reality…
While we’ve encountered a variety of gods and monsters in the Supernatural universe over the years, the show has generally been quite careful about establishing rules. Aliens, for example, don’t exist, and encounters of the third kind (and the butt kind, in Dean’s case) have been attributed to tricksters and fairies. Remember when Sam and Dean didn’t believe in angels? And similarly, when we encountered deaths based on fairy tales back in season 3’s Bedtime Stories, they were ultimately discovered to be the work of a vengeful spirit.
But the lines have become blurred over the years. The Land of Oz is a real place, as we were reminded by Charlie’s return last week, and this instalment revealed that the Brothers Grimm were actually biographers rather than the fantasists we’d always assumed when we were introduced to Hansel and a child-munching witch (minus Gretel, who had long since been cannibalised by her twisted sibling). Honestly, anything goes these days.
The monster of the week story in this case served two functions. As well as alerting the Winchesters to the fact that the Grand Coven are hunting Crowley’s Mommy Dearest, Rowena, it also gave the boys a dilemma with regards to the Mark of Cain.
Whilst investigating the disappearance of a local waste of space from outside a bar, Dean fell off the wagon, met a lady called Tina, and ended up falling prey to Hansel while Sam went to check out the missing man’s last known address. Finding himself back in his fourteen year old body and locked in a basement, Dean had to find his way back to Sam and rescue Tina (also now a teen) from Hansel’s clutches.Hansel, it transpired, was a very real person – complete with dodgy German accent – and had been living with the witch who lured him and his sister to their doom as children. In possibly the most extreme case of Stockholm syndrome imaginable, Hansel was using a hex bag to zap adults back to a childhood state, rendering them sweet and juicy for his captor’s cooking pot without drawing unwanted attention to their kidnapping activities. Snatching adult losers with no one to miss them, the witch reasoned, was a lower risk strategy than taking actual kids.
Although Teen Dean was now at a physical disadvantage and Sam was seriously freaked out, the boys had a tough decision to make, as one of the side effects of Dean’s de-aging was the removal of the mark. Would they restore Dean to all his gruff, adult glory, or would they leave him as a boy, free from the murderous impulses of the brand? As it turned out, the choice was made for them when Dean had to grab the hex bag to get up the strength to kill Hansel and the witch, and while Sam was sorry about the return of the mark, he admitted he was grateful to have his version of Dean back.
There were also some standout performances. I loved Madeleine Arthur as Teen Tina, and I cannot praise Dylan Everett, who played young Dean, highly enough. We all know what Jensen Ackles looked like as a teenager (‘pretty’ doesn’t even begin to cover it) and while Dylan isn’t as close a match for him physically as Colin Ford is for young Jared Padalecki/Sam, his mannerisms, inflection, and comic timing were impeccable. And he really looked like Jared facially at times. It must have been a hell of a task channelling such an established and well-loved character as thirty-something Dean Winchester, but Dylan nailed it. He also delivered some of the funniest lines I’ve heard in the show for a while (“Really, Sam? Now? I got no grass on the infield and a girl’s gonna die!”), and his chemistry with Jared was great. Sam’s expression when he realised he was looking at his little big brother was priceless, as was the inappropriate teasing and over-sharing which makes the brothers Winchester so lovably fucked up.I really enjoyed this episode. It felt nicely old-school in that it was a standalone story which tied into a larger mythology in the closing minutes. It also felt much more connected to earlier seasons of Supernatural, and embedded in the show’s history. It could be seen as a flipside to season 5’s The Curious Case of Dean Winchester, in which Dean is hexed into becoming an old man by a male witch. It had echoes of Tall Tales and Clap Your Hands if You Believe with reference to aliens, anal probes and fairies. There was (perhaps slightly too flippant) reference to Sam’s time as Lucifer’s ‘bunk buddy’. And in a nice meta turn up for the books, the actor who played Hansel was also The Tooth Fairy in the similarly-themed I Believe the Children Are Our Future.
Sam: Dude, I’m way too big to fit in there.
Dean: First time you ever had to say that, huh?
Sam: Big talk from the guy wearing Underoos.
‘De-aging’ is a popular trope in the realm of fanfiction, and exchanges such as this and Dean telling Sam about his uncontrollable erections seem to be a knowing nod to that fact. Also pretty sure we all know Sam Winchester is a proportional giant. Just saying.
I complained last week about the lack of emotional weight, so it was nice to see some tender and humourous moments between the brothers this time around. Sam’s faith in Dean despite his recent tendency to ‘hulk out’ is a beautiful thing, although I’d like a bit more insight into his thought processes at this stage. As someone who has repeatedly lost agency over their own body, surely Sam would want to verbalise his understanding of what his brother is going through a little more? It was lovely to hear Dean talking to a stranger about taking care of Sam at the motel where they got snowed in as kids, and that Sam believed in the Easter Bunny until he was eleven (quite reasonably given what else he knew existed, if you ask me). Details like this – when woven organically through the narrative – are the heart of the show, so let’s have more of them.
There were a few niggling inconsistencies. Why would world’s best hunter Dean tuck into mysterious cake given to him by his abductor without stopping to question if it was poisoned? How come Teen Dean’s outfit still fit Adult Dean when he was transformed back? Why would Katya the witch spill the beans so readily about why she was in the US on Grand Coven business? What year are we in that Taylor Swift’s latest single is all over the airwaves? I thought we’d skipped some years? Anyone? Bueller? But I’m being pernickety now, and it wouldn’t be Supernatural without a few WTF? moments.That said, I went positively weak at the knees when Sam found out the barman had Dean’s jacket and slammed him face first into the bar. Badass, protective Sammy is like a drug to me.
The introduction of the Grand Coven suggests that witches, and especially Rowena, have a large part to play in the second half of this season, but it still remains to be seen whether she is the ‘big bad’, or whether the true horror this year, is lurking inside Dean.