TV Reviewer Katie Young catches up with episode nine of Supernatural ‘The Things We Left Behind’ and rejoices that the ‘Hellatus’ is nearly over…
Parents, and what makes a good or bad one, are the theme of this mid-season finale, and a fairly low-key affair it is too. While there are undoubtedly very dark moments, there’s barely a monster in sight, and even the devastating closing scene feels inevitable and lacks the usual cliff-hanger suspense we expect just before the festive Hellatus.
A nice bit of foreshadowing to start with, with Dean waking from a nightmare in which he’s blood-spattered and surrounded by mutilated corpses of his own making. It’s always good when Supernatural remembers it is a horror show, and this scene, with its muted shades, darkly glistening gore, and disorienting editing really delivers. Of course, Dean being Dean, he shakes it off and preoccupies himself with watching The Three Stooges while a concerned Sammy brings him grilled cheese sandwiches. While there was much to love in this scene between the boys (Sam cooking for his brother and mocking Dean for his sensual and borderline indecent love for inanimate things such as food, classic cars, and Magic Fingers beds are some of my favourite things in life), it was also uncomfortable to watch, with Dean’s laughter sounding forced and Sam glancing at the Mark of Cain with a pained expression.
A face from the past makes a reappearance when Castiel tracks down Claire Novak, the daughter of his vessel, Jimmy. Things have gone from bad to worse for the troubled teen since her father got possessed by an angel of the Lord. Having been abandoned by her mother, only for her Grandmother and guardian to die shortly afterwards, Claire has been left to languish in the system of foster families and care homes. We know Claire’s gone off the rails because she’s wearing smudged eyeliner, ripped jeans, and has one side of her hair braided. Cas tells Claire he wants to make amends for having effectively ruined her life, and agrees to get her out of the found home. But his application for custody is denied, and Cas is forced to break the girl out instead. He buys her dinner and Claire notices a change in the angel, reasoning that he used to be a dick and now he’s more of a doof. There are some cute moments in this scene. I loved how Cas tries to be a parent figure by gently suggesting Claire eat a vegetable, and the girl’s small but genuine smiles show that she is still a nice kid under all the anger. However, this softening towards Cas doesn’t stop Claire stealing his wallet and doing a runner at the first opportunity.
Meanwhile, in Hell’s earthly prison, the witch with the dodgy Scottish accent, Rowena, has been manacled for weeks. Her estranged son Crowley remembers the time she tried to exchange him for three pigs, confiding in his demonic minion, Gerald, which leads to the most darkly comic exchange of the episode.
Demon: My Ma used to burn me with cigarettes.
Crowley: Nobody cares, Gerald.
Ouch! And things get even worse for Gerald when Rowena frames him for smuggling demons topside, and he feels Crowley’s wrath in the form of a knife through the head. Double ouch. It seems the King of Hell has some pretty deep-rooted abandonment issues, and a residual yearning for his mother’s love. I almost fear for Crowley because Rowena is colder than…well, a witch’s tit I suppose. While the king may have been taken in by the flame-haired harridan’s cooing for now, I don’t think it’s going to be happy families for long.
Cas calls Sam and Dean and asks them to help him find Claire and, although they are not impressed at first, they agree to track her down. Dean sends Sam to the found home to ask around, before telling the angel he needs to kill Dean if he goes dark side again. Dean’s constant eating in this episode is clearly representative of the insatiable bloodlust he’s feeling as a result of the mark, and it’s a nice throw-back to the season 5 episode, My Bloody Valentine, in which Famine caused people to gorge on the things they had been starved of.
It transpires that Claire is tight with a boy called Dustin who works in a Wiener Hut, and because it’s always a good idea to shack up with a much older and slightly creepy guy when times are hard, the pair are living with a man called Randy. Yes really. Randy pressures Claire into robbing a convenience store in order to pay off a loan shark called Salinger, but Castiel and the Winchesters turn up just as she’s about to pull a gun on the hapless cashier. They thwart the stick up, but Claire tells Cas he has ruined her life and runs away.
Cas and the boys retire to a bar to lick their wounds. The angel muses that he never knew his “father” (lest we forget, God is still MIA) and Dean tells a story about sneaking out to a club in New York as a teenager, and John having to come and get him. Sam and Dean acknowledge that John wasn’t perfect, but he was there for them. I’m not sure that telling Sam never to come home if he went to college was being there for him, but ten seasons in, I think we all know the Winchesters’ idea of what constitutes a healthy family unit is skewed, and Dean has bigger daddy issues than anyone. In an echo of the care home Super’s words, Dean tells Cas that John didn’t care about being liked or being his friend. He cared about bringing up his boys right.
So it seems the Mark of Cain is gaining sway once again. This has been on the cards since Dean was cured of his demonism, and is clearly set to escalate in the second half of the season. As I said, this mid-season finale felt much more understated and quietly unnerving than previous years where it generally provided a pivotal moment in the season-long story arc. Aside from Crowley and his mother, there weren’t even any monsters to speak of, only rotten humans. But perhaps there isn’t an obvious ‘big bad’ this season because it’s inside Dean. While Sam has form, having been possessed by Meg, Lucifer, and Gadriel, Dean has never had to fight an internal evil, so I look forward to seeing where it takes us and how he deals with the aftermath.Things take a really dark turn when Salinger shows up at Randy’s to collect his debt, and decides he’ll take payment in the form of Claire Novak’s virginity. Luckily she kicks like a mule and manages to fend her would-be attacker off long enough for Cas and the Winchesters to storm the house. Cas and Sam take Claire to safety, but before Dean can leave, two of Salinger’s henchmen advance on him. Dean tells them to back off, but is then smashed on the head with a vase by the loan shark and kicked in the face by one of the lugs. He blacks out for a while, and when he comes to, his nightmare has happened. He’s slaughtered everyone in the room. Sam rushes to his brother, cupping his blood smeared face, and begs him to say it was self-defence and that he had no choice, but Dean admits to his horrified brother that he didn’t need to kill the men.
Supernatural has just been picked up for an incredible eleventh season, and I do believe there are still roads untraveled and gas left in the Impala’s tank, but pacing is key. What remains to be seen is whether the second half of this season can strike a balance between myth-arc and strong stand-alone ideas, and lay the foundations for some truly fresh and sustainable storylines. I really hope so, but as Sam and Dean would say, we’ve got work to do.