Who’s Wearing the Halo Now?
by Sylvia Bond
Supernatural Episode Review – Season 5, Episode 21
“Two Minutes to Midnight”
Did I like the episode this week? Yes, I did, very much. I had a good time watching it, the boys looked especially pretty (and sparkly and rosy and rested), and on top of all that, the story of how the boys are going to avert the apocalypse got told a little bit more. Plus, there were little tidbits of information and subtle switches and interesting turns in the relationship between the brothers, thusly I had things to think about, so all the way around, I was a happy fangirl.
The basic plot is that the boys must get the Magic Ring from Pestilence, who is currently in Davenport, Iowa, shaking things up and spreading his germs. Pestilence is nasty, and Matt Frewer plays him very well, with a Jim-Carrey-on-low-simmer-about-to-boil air. The boys combat him, demon deals are made, and Sam not only comes into his own, but is verbally acknowledged for doing so. Even the Soap Angel has something nice to say about and TO Sam. My cup runneth over.
In the opening scene at MB’s house, Sam leans against the kitchen counter and calmly states that his idea of being Lucky’s meatsuit is only going to happen if there is a consensus. I liked it very much that Sam was trying to have a reasonable conversation about it, and isn’t planning to go haring off on his own, doing the daring do. But the others aren’t participating in kind. MB is trying not to take sides, whilst Dean struts and points and plays the Big Brother role.
If there is anything Big Brothers have a hard time with, it is that, in their minds, Little Brothers are still “only little” (even if, and especially in this case, it is only a metaphorical “little”). They are also too young and inexperienced to drive, can’t balance their checkbooks (also a metaphorical checkbook, since the Winchesters do not, to my knowledge, have any bank accounts), nor are they capable of paying their bills, or feeding their fish, and they don’t even know enough to shake their own peens after they urinate, even though they’ve been doing any and all of the above for years.
What I love is that even after Sam’s acquiescent shrug, Dean points at him very sternly and says, “This isn’t over.” And this from the guy who doesn’t like to have those touchy-feely talks, so I’m pretty sure the conversation to come will involve more finger pointing, as well as bossy statements like “Because I said so,” and “You’re an idiot if you think that’s going to work.” Somewhere in there, however, will come a statement from Dean to Sam that sounds like “You’ll get yourself killed, you stupid jerk,” which is Winchester-speak for “I love you, dude, so don’t die on me.” (Plus, right away, I notice that the lighting is soft but direct, and makes the boys eyes sparkle and their skin look touchable, which bodes well for the lighting and close-ups for the rest of the ep.)
The Soap Angel calls from his hospital bed, and explains as he complains that he’s got no angel mo-jo to speak of. (Nor any underwear, most likely.) He is bashed up and dressed in a hospital johnny, which is kind of cute. He also seems to be the right kind of angel this week, my kind of angel, not quite used to his human skin, not understanding what aspirin is for, and just a little bit confused with no wings to carry him places. Dean is on the phone with him, trying to control every single aspect of every single thing, like older siblings do, while MB and Sam stand around with their mouths in their faces, not allowed to participate. Which, since Dean is being bossy, makes sense, as there’s not much you can do when the firstborn takes over the joint.
Off the boys go to the convalescent home where Pestilence is doing his little dance of filth and right away, I realize that the boys are on the hunt together, sitting in the Impala, dithering about what to do, which brought me great joy, because this is how it should always be. They’re both using binoculars to scope the joint. Thankfully, someone on the camera crew figured out that you actually can’t see anything using binoculars if someone’s head is in the way, so both boys are looking forward through the front windshield instead of pretending they can see through the other one’s head as they aim their binoculars out the driver’s side or passenger side window.
The boys enter the home, and figure out that what they need to do is get in the security room so they can watch the cameras and try and figure out which one is Pestilence. There’s a cute bit where Dean asks the security guard which room his Nana is in, but it’s the part that follows that I liked especially well. Sam and Dean ensconce themselves in the security room to monitor the cameras. Show has a montage of time passing, and in it you see Dean sleeping or moving about or fidgeting, and all the while, Sam is glued to the screen, practically not moving a muscle.
The scene reminded me of other scenes like it in other eps, where the boys monitor security cameras or do research in a darkened room or perform other quiet but attentive activities. Always, Dean is moving like a restless wind, and Sam is still like a stone. I like it when Show remembers the boys’ basic and intrinsic characteristics, because sometimes Show forgets, but it didn’t this time. As a very important aside, lest someone thinks I didn’t notice, the Samhair is in full sway at this point, with wild sweeps of hair from that window’s point of his, as dark locks lay against his tawny skin. I’d like to think that Show is doing this for me personally because I enjoy it so; however, my ego is not that big.
Via a suspicious glitch in the security monitor, Sam spots Pestilence, wakes Dean up, and soon the boys are stomping down the hallway, Sam with his demon killing knife, and Dean with his sawed-off shotgun. Naturally, Pestilence has his minions on lookout (he’s not stupid, which always makes for a good villain), and the boys are soon hit with a number of nasty diseases, any of which could be responsible for the whumpage that follows. The coughing up blood, or choking on mucus, or both, starts up first. Then follows the dizzy spells, and the sweating, and the somehow attractive blood-stained lips.
My favorite moment, I’ll have to admit, was when the boys are doing a sort of stumbling dance as they try to soldier their way through feeling like crap, done to the tune of some marvelous dizzy-cam. As Dean crashes to the ground, Sam tries to leap out of the way. As Sam leaps, his demon killing knife is pointing straight up, and for a second I thought for sure Sam was going to commit hari-kari. Luckily, he’s nimble enough to move in a sideways direction and avoid the blade.
There was probably more than one take of this scene, but I really liked the fact that Show chose this one, because it paints a very nice picture that while the boys are graceful, handsome, strong, and quick on their feet, sometimes, they stumble over each other and fall on their faces. Also nice was the bit where Sam, struggling on, manages to get his knife in the demon’s face, and then, timber, down he goes anyway, face first, like the giant redwood that he is. It’s really well done, as well as fun and still true to the characters.
There’s a bit more sweaty, bloody-mouthed whumpage as Pestilence torments the boys. He yanks Sam head back by his hair, and mutters dark things, and then and he steps on Dean’s hand to keep him from getting to the knife while he pontificates about how great disease is. Of course, I always like it when the bad guy messes with the boys like this. It sounds strange to admit that they’re kind of pretty when they suffer and sweat and groan, but this isn’t really anything new, so I should just get over myself and admit it out loud: I like whumpage, so there!
Just in time comes the Soap Angel to rescue the boys. Turns out he’s got a little bit of mo-jo left, and I guess that’s okay, though I don’t usually like it when the boys don’t rescue themselves. This time around, it seemed fitting that the Soap Angel would know where the boys were (MB told him) and “took the bus” because his wings don’t work anymore. And maybe it was his turn to cut off the finger of one of the Four Horsemen, just to keep things fair.
Back at the ranch, there is a group dither over what to do next. I particularly liked Dean’s slumped posture, the way he rests his chin in the crook of his elbow and plays with the ring while the rest of the gang talk. The slump and the fidgeting were understated, giving Dean the air of someone still getting over a very bad cold (not to mention a case of the Black Death, the Swine Flu, and maybe even pneumonia, and whatever else Pestilence slammed the boys with), and you don’t usually see Ackles play Dean with such a road-weary air, so it was a nice touch.
MB starts handing out intel, like how many people will die in the upcoming disaster in Chicago, like it’s candy. Even as I’m wondering how he knows this, Sam asks the obvious question, how did you put all this together, anyways? Just as I’m about to suspect that MB went ahead and made that deal with the crossroads demon, ta-da, in walks Crowley. It’s predictable but fun. It also means that Sam is the only one who hasn’t made a crossroads deal, though not for lack of trying. And then, just as I’m about to ask the most obvious next question, Sam asks it for me. He got the expression of a 12 year old looking at the innards of dead animal he’s just discovered run over in the road. It’s terribly gross to contemplate, but he just can’t help himself, so Sam looks at MB and says, “Did you kiss him?” (So cute.)
MB says no, and of course, Crowley can prove that MB did kiss him, because he took a picture in retaliation for MB supposedly using tongue during the kiss. Ostensibly, Show is being brave, having a male/male kissing scene. They committed to the scene, they followed through with the scene, and they weren’t afraid to show the scene. It was almost over the top enough so that I wanted to cover my eyes, but I didn’t because I was laughing the whole time. (Show must have had such fun doing this scene!) At the same time, how come there are no kisses for Sam ever, let alone one where he shares a male/male kiss with another character? Everybody else, from fat cat bankers, to angels (Zach), MB (kissed Crowley), and Dean (Lisa kissed him) has been kissed recently. But no kisses for Sam! What’s up with that? It’s all kinds of wrong.
After some posturing by Crowley, Sam and Dean have a little tete a tete by the Impala. Sam has some self-deprecating remarks to make, stuff like “I know exactly how screwed up I am,” and “I’m the least of any of you,” etc. These kinds of remarks always surprise me, that the boy thinks this way about himself. While everyone in the gang has had a disparaging remark to make (or two or three) along the way, it’s not like they march around giving Sam black looks or putting him in the doghouse. (Although there seems to be an ever-present urge to lock Sam in the Panic Room.) So why the long face? Why the feeling that he isn’t good enough?
I think it’s two fold. First, it’s to present the idea that Sam has learned humility, which is a big contrast to the story Show’s been telling for a while now. For example, back in Season Three (Magnificent Seven), one of the Seven Deadly Sins, Pride shows up and recognizes himself in Sam. Subsequently, the idea came up a lot that Sam was full of himself, and too prideful to listen to reason or to realize that he wasn’t strong enough to resist the power that demon blood would get him. It went on and on, let me tell you.
Now this time around, Sam can pronounce “I am not good enough,” and keep a steady gaze in his eyes, enough to let us know he means it. Secondly, he states that his is the only way, and this is the sacrifice he means to make. Obviously Lucky wants Sam as his meatsuit, and so Sam’s Big Dumb Plan is the perfect way to trick him into going back down into hell. So Sam is right in wanting to be at the front of the line, but this time around, his pride has very little to do with it.
Crowley comes along and gives the boys information on how Pestilence is going to spread the plague. This is followed by the scene where Death pulls up in his deathmobile, which was a scream. The car looks like it’s an old Chevy Bel Air, circa 1953, with custom fins and other detail work. (Anyone, please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.) The deathmobile is grey, though, while of course, while you’d think that Death would drive a black car, that particular color (all black and gleaming and sassy) is reserved for Dean’s Best Girl, that is to say, the Impala.
The scene is done in slo-mo to a rocking creepy tune by Jen Titus called “Oh, Death.” And while I usually like slo-mo to be about, for, and of, the boys, I thought it was effective here. The downtown Chicago scene isn’t, of course, in Chicago, even if it is damp and windy, but having been there, I thought the set dressers caught the look and feel pretty well. (Especially when it starts raining.) As Death walks, someone bumps into him, after which the man crumples to the sidewalk. I thought that overall, this was the coolest and most effective entrance of all the Four Horsemen.
Back at the ranch, the group dithers as they prepare to split up. The Soap Angel is whining about feeling strange and being useless, and MB tells him to cry him a river, because loosing your ability to walk is a hundred times worse than loosing your ability to fly with wings, even though, all handicaps would seem to be relative to the person who has them.
Dean wishes Sam (and gang) “Good luck stopping the whole zombie apocalypse.” Sam replies, “Well, good luck killing Death.” Naturally what they mean is “Take care of yourself,” and “I love you.” Then Sam remarks, “Remember when we used to just hunt wendigos, how simple things were?” Dean says, “Not really.” Which rather implies that Dean can’t look back to the good old days, because that’ll take his eye off the ball.
But here were my thoughts about what Sam said. In the ep about the wendigo hunt that the boys went on (appropriately called Wendigo), Sam and Dean go into the mines to save the day. Dean serves as bait, to call off and distract the monster of the week, while Sam is in charge of getting the innocents out of harm’s way. At one point, while Dean is combating evil single handedly, Sam shoves everyone in a corner of the mine and places his body in front of them, spreading himself as wide and large as he can go, so that the monster will have to go through him to get to them.
At the time, I remarked in my review that heroes are not made, they are cornered. Which, in spite of Sam’s initial misgivings about going back into the hunting business, is exactly what has happened to Sam. He has become a hero in spite of himself. Dean, who walks willingly up to his hips in blood every day, doesn’t even think of himself as a hero, he’s just doing his job. But Sam? It’s a struggle every day to figure right from wrong, to wade through the grey shades of ambiguity, to try and do the right thing. Sometimes he fails, brilliantly and obviously, and sometimes he succeeds like a star blazing in the firmament. What makes Sam different from Dean in that regard is that he looks upon everything, every task, every choice, as a test.
In the ep Croatoan, there is an interesting discussion about this very thing. Dean says, “Hey look man, I’m not happy about this, alright? But it’s a tough job, you know that.” And Sam, not surprisingly replies, quite fiercely, “It’s supposed to be tough, Dean! We’re supposed to struggle with this, that’s the whole point!” When I reviewed Croatoan, I felt that in Sam’s mind, the whole thing was planned by some outside observer who was taking take notes and who would then hand out prizes for the best struggler, and I still think so, for the most part. Only by this time, his experiences and struggles have toughened Sam up. He still thinks about the ethical and moral issues, but it’s less about who might be watching and what prizes he might get for being a good boy, and more about using the tools he has to evaluate the situation and get the job done with as little harm to the locals as possible.
Anyway, they are about to go off on their respective missions. But there’s an interesting switch here. Since Dean is the one to go after Death, Sam tries to hand Dean the demon-killing knife. But then, Crowley hands Dean a scythe, of all things. The scythe, as you know, is what Death carries around to harvest his victims, and, naturally, Death can only be killed by the same. (Internal logic, I love you!)
What makes it even more interesting, is that in the Pilot, Sam’s packing to go away with Dean, and pulls a little curved blade out of his duffle bag. This blade is shaped like a scythe, and I’ve associated it (and the general use of blades) with Sam ever since. However, later in this ep, Sam uses Dean’s pearl-handled, 1911 Taurus, so it seems that at this point, each boy is using the other one’s weapon of choice. Other than wanting to know when the hand-off of the 1911 Taurus occurred, are the boys taking each other’s place? Or are we being shown, rather subtly, that their characters and functions are overlapping each other and perhaps even blending into one? I don’t know exactly what Show is up to, but it sure is interesting.
To finish up this remarkably good and complex scene, Crowley announces that MB has got his legs back. This of course was part of the deal MB made, even though he didn’t know it. I’m MB’s pleasure and joy are tinged with regret, because even though a demon might make you the promise that he’ll give you your soul back after he is done with it, then again, he might not. Which is what made the deal so cool, because you can’t save the day without consequences, and MB just might have made the wrong deal. But, only time will tell.
I particularly liked the scene where MB, the Soap Angel, and Sam drive in the Scooby Van to check out the factory where Pestilence has stored all of his vials of nasty bio weapons. They discuss Sam’s Big Dumb Plan. And then the Soap Angel, wonder of wonders, says Sam and Dean have a habit of exceeding his expectations. And that since Dean was able to resist Mike, perhaps Sam could resist Lucky. Then the Soap Angel tells them that Adam is currently Mike’s meat suit, but I’m still thinking about the Soap Angel’s compliment to Sam. I’d say it’s about time.
But what’s even better is Sam himself, as he sits there. I mean, the boy is going to be walking into a firestorm, if it comes to the point where he’s going to say yes to being Lucky’s meatsuit. The Soap Angel is quick to discuss what would happen if Sam fails, and other horrible details about drinking demon blood, though by the expression on his face, Sam doesn’t need reminding. There’s rain on the windows, Sam is in chiaroscuro lighting, and there’s this beautiful and sad expression on Sam’s face as he realizes his destiny is approaching, and most certainly more doom and gloom than any one man can bear. While everyone is talking, Sam keeps his eyes forward, even though he looks like he would like to jump out of the van right about now. He doesn’t say much, but Padalecki takes this little tidbit (his face half-shadowed by Samhair) and plays it like the master of subtlety that he is, keeping his body very still, the only motion being the glitter in his eyes.
Dean and Crowley go to Chicago to find Death. There are some very lovely shots of Dean squinting through a rain-dappled window, which is almost as good as if it were Dean himself who was rain-dappled. Also, while the joke of Crowley popping in and out of Dean’s personal space was funny, there was a bit too much of it. Still, I liked Dean (in the rain), going into the pizza place to meet up with Death. Mostly because of the way Ackles plays it. Sure, Dean is brave and bold and has seen a lot, everything from rawheads to skinwalkers to the devil himself. But Ackles makes sure that we don’t forget that even for Dean, meeting up with one of the Four Horsemen is a big deal. Thusly, and appropriately, Dean is almost tiptoeing across the floor as he walks up to Death. And, when Death asks Dean to sit down and join him in a pizza, Dean is as cautious as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs.
The surprise is that Death is willing to give Dean the assistance (and the ring) he needs, on account of how Death doesn’t like Lucky very much and thinks he’s out of line. A lot of the evil higher ups, such as Crowley and Death (and others), have expressed similar feelings. Apparently, even if you’re evil and it is in your nature to kill and destroy and cause chaos, there’s a natural order to things, and people (and evil supernatural folks) enjoy knowing what their role is and how they fit into the grand scheme.
It’s like they’re saying, “Sure, I like to kill, but I like to do it the way my nature directs me to do it and not at the behest of some stupid fallen angel.” Certainly this is not the first time Show has had an evil and/or supernatural character make this type of confession. Everyone wants to be their own boss, and Death is no different. Anyway, agreeing to do whatever it takes to stop Lucky (letting Sam jump into the pit), Dean takes the ring and, as the camera pans out, Death tells him how to work them.
While the Soap Angel clogs up the gate to prevent trucks from leaving, Sam and Bobby go into a warehouse to rescue the innocent victims who have been enslaved by Pestilence’s demons. With Samhair flying (and MB’s cap firmly in place) the two of them go in shooting and firing and reloading, etc, taking out a ton of demons as calmly as if they were in a shooting gallery. As they’re about to go, Sam says that there are more people inside, and won’t let MB stop him from going back.
Sam moves in to rescue mode, going in amidst the boxes to haul people out and shove them to safety, and then turning to go back in for more. MB suddenly stares at Sam, and I had thought for a moment that Sam had been possessed because that’s the way Show sometimes does things. Anyway, the scene continues, many people are saved, and the final steps in the apocalypse (shipping out vials of the plague) are averted for the time being.
Later, back at the ranch (again), Dean plays with the rings and mopes a bit and thinks about the nature of string theory or whatever else might be inside that sassy head of his. MB comes up with a beer, and the two of them have a have a heart to heart. (Who knows where Sam is, however. Probably off having a nice hot shower and washing that beautiful hair of his.) MB tells Dean about the scene at the warehouse, and how he was amazed at what Sam was doing, that he saved at least 10 people if not more. And not only that, but he did it smoothly, without pausing or stopping or anything.
I’m surprised that MB is surprised because the pattern has been ever thus, because, DUH, Sam was just doing his thing, doing what he always does, saving people, hunting things, with the emphasis on the former. It certainly points to how much MB does NOT know Sam, if this type of behavior surprises him. But at least he now sees the truth, like all the Samgirls (and a lot of the Deangirls, I’m thinking) have known for quite some time At the same time, Dean seems to have a hard time accepting what MB is saying because he doesn’t have the objective distance to see beyond the whiny, bratty little brother that is his picture of who Sam is.
MB goes as far as to say that Sam has been rushing into burning buildings to save other people since he was 12. And certainly we saw it way back in Season 1, but I’ve noticed it particularly this season. Dean goes off to save one person (typically Bobby), while Sam rushes off to save the family or the town, basically everyone else. Sam worries about the big picture, and I think he always has.
Suffice it to say that this ep proves once and for all that Sam has a halo all his own. And while it might be invisible from time to time (or slightly askew or even dented), it is still firmly and forever there, floating above that adorable head of hair. Does that mean that Dean’s no longer wearing his halo and that I think his altruism has been a sham all this long while? No and no and no. Dean is still a righteous man, still altruistic, still has the purest soul, and frankly, that halo of his is shining from here to the Pegasus galaxy, even as we speak. But, then, no one ever said there couldn’t be more than one good apple in the Winchester clan.
And another thing. Remember when The Dad told Dean, “You have to save Sammy, and if you can’t save him, you have to kill him?” For the longest while, I thought that that meant that Dean was supposed to save Sam from going darkside in the first place. Certainly Sam and Dean seemed to think it as well. But I’ve also thought in order for Sam to come into his own that he needed to embrace the darkness within, that it would make him more powerful and able to fight eveil. So what if what The Dad really meant was this: That Sammy would need to go darkside in order to become powerful enough to save the world, and that after that happened, after Sam saved everyone, Dean would need to step up to save Sam, or kill him. That way, The Dad’s little prophesy comes true, and the world is saved, and, more importantly, Sam and Dean do it together.
Show has one ep left for the season, and is (at this point in time) signed up for a sixth, and who would have thunk it. So what about next week? Will MB continue to enjoy the use of his limbs? Will Crowley prove to more devious than he’s been portrayed? Will Sam ever get kisses this season? Will Dean ever get to eat a piece of pie that doesn’t result in death and mayhem? Will Dean agree to Sam being Lucky’s meatsuit? And what about Adam?
These questions, and many more, are the topic of conversations that I’m hearing these days, though I believe Show has bitten off a great deal with not enough time to wrap it up. With the promise of another season, I have a feeling that Show has a little torture planned, and we will be having what in the business is known as a cliffhanger, and that Season 6 will start off where Season 5 ended. I’m in for the long haul, of course. All I ask, in addition to all the other things I always ask for, is that when the next season picks up, that Show seriously, seriously considers more Towel scenes for both boys. Thank you.
Sylvia Bond is a ten-year technical writing veteran with too many degrees under her belt to count. She lives in Colorado, but does not ski, preferring instead to spend her money and time at the annual Great American Beer Festival, taking road trips across the United States, and reading historical fiction from the comfort of her fluffy green arm chair. She has been involved in fandom since 1993 and been writing fanfic since approximately 1993. What she finds most amazing about fandom (besides the open heartedness of fans and the sheer amount of creativity) is how visible fandom has become. “In my day,” she says, “we had to hide behind P.O. boxes to get fanfic. But nowadays, people wear t-shirts that shout their affiliation and share their shiny toys on the internet.” It’s a wonderful world.
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