The Things They Carried
The Winchesters return from Hellatus with a rather sombre and grown-up offering, as they investigate the case of an ex-soldier with a monstrous form of PTSD, and run into a familiar face.
A very different tone this week, as the Winchesters went back to work in the wake of Dean’s show-down with his biblical ancestor, Cain. The pre-title sequence was a short and brutal affair, devoid of the usual whacky death and cartoonish blood spatters. Instead we saw a young woman, strung up by her feet, struggle as her throat was slashed. It was violent and unsettling, and more Hostel than Supernatural. I had to pause and make sure I was watching the right programme. That’s not a criticism at all. On the contrary, I love it when the show dishes up genuine scares, but this was far more naturalistic fare than we’re used to from the CW.
While Sam secretly continued looking for a way to rid his brother of the Mark of Cain, Dean found them a case, and the boys found themselves dealing with a murder/suicide involving a war vet who’d come back from his latest deployment with an unquenchable thirst, severe psoriasis, and anger management issues. Having killed a woman, somehow draining her blood and bone marrow, he’d doused himself in gasoline and lit a match. After talking to his widow, Sam and Dean discover his unit buddy, Kit, had been displaying similar worrying symptoms since returning from Iraq: thirst, dry, cracked skin, and increasing irritability.
The plot thickened when Dean’s former would-be assassin Cole turned up at Kit’s house, and revealed that he’d served with both men. Meanwhile, Kit’s thirst drove him to slice up a Gas n Sip attendant with a broken bottle and drink his blood. In trying to save Kit from a Winchester bullet, Cole inadvertently got himself infected by what looked suspiciously like the Kahn Worm which Eve created back in Season 6, and this gave me a touch of PTSD of my own, as I was forced to relive the death of Rufus. RIP Rufus. We miss you, dude. Sam set out to find Kit before he could kill again, and Dean stayed with Cole, attempting to rid him of the worm with electrocution and then by dehydrating it.
While Dean succeeded in purging Cole of his parasitic squatter, Sam had to shoot Kit to prevent him from attacking his wife, and his failure to save the man clearly weighed heavily on him. It was the first time in an age that we’ve seen Sam as the lost little brother, and Dean dealing him a big bro pep talk. It had echoes of Season 3, when Sam asked if he was just supposed to let Dean go, that heart-breaking moment when the penny finally dropped, and he understood that Hell Hounds were coming for his brother no matter what he did. I suspect we headed for a very stressful season finale, with Sam facing an impossible decision, especially in the light of Cain’s claim that Dean would destroy his brother and would never be able to come back from that. I’ve got a bottle of scotch and a box of tissues on standby already.
The military/hunter parallels gave a more serious flavour to this episode. While Sam and Dean have seen things which would be enough to traumatise anyone for life, in a very human way so have Cole and his fellow soldiers. Cole makes the point that he gets medals for heroics, but Dean doesn’t get any reward for his selfless actions. Sam and Dean are undercover soldiers, sworn to protect civilians, with John Winchester’s service in the Marine Corps having informed the way he raised his sons after Mary’s death. Supernatural has always been concerned with the idea of what it is to be human, and what keeps you from giving in to your ‘demons’ or darker compulsions, and at a time when we’re so globally connected and seemingly bombarded with images, reports, and footage of the atrocities people are capable of, this episode was particularly poignant. It served as a reminder that while we may not be dealing with werewolves and djinn on a daily basis, there is very real evil in the world, and some have witnessed more than most of us would care to imagine.
So while Cole returned to his family once more, and Sam and Dean lived to fight another day, all of them ended the experience slightly less ‘whole’ than they started. Seasoned film and TV director (and self-titled ‘army brat’) John Badham really imbued this episode with gravitas and a sense of foreboding. There were also some really unusual and beautiful shots which beg a repeat viewing. Jenny Klein’s script was taut and clippy, and another nice performance from Travis Aaron Wade cemented Cole as a solid returning character.
Join me next week as we continue along the home stretch of this season, and I try to retain some semblance of professionalism whilst talking about Dean Winchester in a church confessional…I think I’m having a religious experience.