What a Piece of Work is Sam
by Sylvia Bond
Supernatural Episode Review – Season 6, Episode 1
“Exile on Main St.”
After the summer hiatus, I watched this episode and realized that I could review it one of two ways. I could review it and determine whether or not I liked it because it did what I wanted it to do. Or, I could review it in the context of what it actually did, and whether or not that was effective.
If I did it the first way, then this review would not be full of squee, rather it would be full of negativity because of what is going on (or not going on) with my favorite characters. So I’m going to do it the second way; however, even though I’m a Pollyanna and am ever on the lookout for things that make me glad, I’m going to call it like I see it. Just to let you know, I’m in for the long haul and I’m in this relationship for reals and for trues, I’m just saying maybe it needs some work. I don’t know, maybe some couples counseling would be helpful.
Okay, so, here’s the deal. Sam is in hell. Apparently, he’s been in hell for a year now, and thusly Dean, who is living with Lisa and Ben, has become domesticated. And not only that, he is without Sam. That’s bad and sad, though I liked the montage that showed the parallels between what Dean did as a hunter, and what he’s now doing as a construction worker. My hat is off to the editing team, and the writers who put this together; I like their montages, for example, the one they did last season with the Impala (because of COURSE the Impala saved us all from the apocalypse). I also like watching Dean when he works with his hands, regardless of what he’s doing.wi
However, I had a couple of things to point out that didn’t make sense to me. In the montage, Dean is a construction worker. In all the fanfic that I’ve ever read, if Dean stops being hunter, he takes up being a mechanic, like his dad was, and because that’s what he likes to do. If you know of any “construction worker Dean” fanfic, I’d be willing to receive a link to said story and be corrected. Which might bring up the point, who knows better about what Dean would do, the fans or Show? At this point, for this idea, I think fans know better, and it was just easier for Show to put together a montage where Dean is working with wood and saws and stuff, because that’s what they had clips of. Not because it made sense, but just because it was easier.
Then, even if he is a construction worker (which we can see that he is), he’s got less than one year’s experience, so I’m thinking he doesn’t make very much. Yet he and “the woman and the kid” live in an enormous house with a detached garage and a very well groomed yard. That didn’t make sense to me. Maybe Lisa (a single mom) got a whopping payout from somewhere? Cause Dean sure can’t support them on what he makes. I have to put that one off to the fact that writers on television shows somehow assume that the median income of regular people is around $300,000 bucks a year, and I think it’s because they like to film their shows in large houses like this one, even if it doesn’t make sense.
And then there’s Sid, who is a pal of Dean’s. When the waitress/djinn poisons Dean, Sid is digging way too deep into Dean’s personal business. I’m thinking in retrospect he might have been a red herring, but at the time, I suspected him of all kinds of things, mostly because this is Show and the most innocuous of characters tends to turn into something mean and ugly and with teeth that will eat you. Later, when Dean’s doing his Scary Walk, Sid shows up again; ostensibly on a jog. I think we learn later that he lives nearby. At any rate, he was effective as a red herring, and I guess I’m kind of glad he’s dead. Dean doesn’t need someone all up in his grill like that.
Dean’s Scary Walk is interesting, because I like seeing him in hunting mode. He’s especially adorable in that darling Carhartt jacket he’s wearing (I’d thought only Sam had one) and Dean’s hair, combed over like that, looks sweet. Which I guess is the point; we’re supposed to think that Dean’s gone soft in his year of not being a hunter.
Yet, you can take the man from the hunt, but you can’t take the hunt from the man. With the way he checks the locks each night, and keeps his sawed off and a talisman of holy water and a rosary under his bed, I’d say he’s still living near the edge. So while Dean’s supposed to be soft, I appreciate the way Ackles played it, with this sharpness underneath all the while, because he knows, he just knows, the other shoe is going to drop.
Later on his Scary Walk, when Dean is walking in the house with the plastic sheets, and flashing his flashlight, it reminded me of a similar scene in Tall Tales, where Dean is scoping out the place. (I think there is even a poster of Ackles in this scene. Yes, I believe there is.) Then there’s the bit where he’s walking in the yard, amidst the sheets, which reminded me of Sam’s scene of the same ilk in Dream a Little Dream. Show can borrow from itself, if it likes, to repeat a tone or feeling in a scene; I just hope it realizes that that’s what it’s doing and not just cheating by using camera angles over and over.
My favorite part of the Scary Walk is when Dean decides that he’s going to do something about the spooky stuff that’s been happening. He starts gathering up his hunting gear and there’s this moment where he pulls back the dust cover on the Impala. The dust cover is the color of buckskin, like Dean’s jacket.
When I saw Dean flick the dust cover, I had this flash of Jim Craig, an Australian mountain man, and Denny, his mountain pony, in the movie The Return to Snowy River. In that scene, Jim’s going to go after the mob of brumbies, and whistles for Denny, who trots up to Jim, ears perked and nostrils flaring, just ready to go. It’s a terrific, energizing moment. That’s what it felt like watching Dean walk up to the Impala, as though the engine on Dean’s Best Girl was already revved up and panting for the road, ready to take Dean wherever he needed to go. Sadly, he doesn’t take the car anywhere in this ep. (But maybe that was appropriate at this point.)
Then Sam shows up to rescue Dean from the imaginary Y.E.D. Sam, Sam, Sam. I waited all summer for Sam to show up and to see the meet and greet between him and Dean. I’m glad to see that Sam saved his beloved Dean from the scary thing, that it was Sam who knows what’s going on. Smart Sam is always Sexy, no matter what else happens. And plus, the reunion was just of them, just Sam and Dean, alone, together, doing their brotherly love/hate thing. There was even a hug.
Sam drags Dean off to his Squat, and I think that’s because when Sam’s not with Dean, he tends to live in squalor, which is what Show’s given us in the past. Dean is shocked to see Sam, nearly speechless, as he would be, so that was well done.
And then there’s Sam. Or, as my friend referred to him, Pod Sam. He’s not like himself. Oh, sure, he’s as beautiful, maybe even more sleek and wonderful looking than he was last season, if that’s possible. The Samhair is long, and Sam is wearing blue flannel, which makes my fangirl’s heart very happy.
But he’s stiff, he’s got no affect. There’s almost never any expression on his face, even when he hugs Dean (although there was a suspicious gleam in his eyes), so I began to think that his time, his YEAR in hell, had done something to him. At which point, I began to feel gypped that we didn’t get to see Sam in hell. Oh, sure we saw Dean, writhing against the hooks and chains, but not Sam. Apparently Sam and his concerns are the New Invisible again this season.
I don’t think Show made Sam into Pod Sam accidentally, of course, so I figure there must be some reason for this shift in Sam. So maybe, like I said before, it has to do with what happened to him in hell. Or, in a more sinister vein, maybe he’s still Lucky; that inside of Sam the Morning Star is still calling the shots, and casting his hellish net to lure Dean into a sense of false security. He certainly has that “Hi, I’m Lucky on the inside” expression on his face when he hugs Dean, because Sam’s eyes are all green and glittery and he’s got that little smirk going on. (Which Padalecki does so well, every time; it makes me want to stand up shout.) Another red herring? I feel comfortable that Show will take it one way or the other, at least eventually.
But it’s not like Sam’s not got any feelings for Dean. He acts like he’s got tons of feelings for Dean, especially if he’s not Lucky, because every time he talks to Dean, Sam’s feelings seem to swirl around his adorable head like a swarm of gnats that haven’t really figured out where they should land. For example, towards the end of the episode when Dean’s going to go back to “the woman and the kid,” Sam says something along the lines of, I don’t understand it, but it’s just better with you here. It felt rather like watching someone who’d been through torture and isolation and all kinds of horrible treatment that left them scarred for life.
If you’ve been through that, sometimes you need a talisman in order to focus yourself on something good that will help you make it through the bleak times and get better. I caught Sam looking at Dean like that a lot, so I’m thinking that either Sam really needs Dean (which has always seemed self-evident) or Sam is really Lucky or some kind of psychic vampire and he’s just planning on drawing on Dean’s energy. Only Show knows for sure; but I think it will be interesting to watch it unfold.
As Sam leads Dean into what’s going on, we get some reveals, one of which is the Hunting Family, and the other one is the lie. Or rather The Lie, because in my head, it was such an important idea, it was capitalized. So I’ll start in reverse order here, because talking about The Lie feels more important to me and should come after the Hunting Family.
While Sam was flitting about, Not in Hell (more about that later) he assembled to him a Hunting Family. Even though hunting is something that Sam has fought against all of his life, the idea wasn’t entirely out of bounds. If he’s going hunting, he’s not going to want to hunt alone, etc., etc. What I take issue with is that these are really family members. He’s found some second and whatever cousins, and also, he’s got Grandpa Samuel, who, when last we left off was DEAD. Okay, we get it that whatever powers that are moving events behind the magic curtain brought him back from heaven. Great. If they can do that, then they can bring John Winchester back too. I’m just saying.
While I don’t have a problem with Sam assembling a hunting family, as far as we knew, the Y.E.D. had killed off all of Mary’s relations. I think we learned this as far back as Season 3, when there was this montage of Sam doing research. It was given to us as a fact: none of Mary’s relations survived. But Show tends to take facts and reverse them completely for what I assume is shock value. However, you can reverse facts like this only once in a while, because like the boy who cried wolf, after a while, the shock value wears off, and so thusly does the cool factor. I wasn’t stunned or amazed or pleased or anything. I don’t think Dean was either.
Plus, the Hunting Family idea was very reminiscent of the problem with The Roadhouse. This was the place where “hunters have been known to pass through a time or two,” but which then turned into hunter central and made no sense whatsoever, since hunters are like moose and don’t congregate. Luckily, The Roadhouse burned down. I’m not going to loose my fannish mind about the Hunting Family, I’m just going to mark my calendar until most or all of them die horrible and agonizing deaths; which is bound to happen because when you have a cast of thousands like we have with the Hunting Family, it spreads the story far too thin and must be rectified. This is not Gone With the Wind, people, it’s a story about two brothers saving people and hunting things.
Then there’s The Lie. According to the info on the screen, it was a year ago when Sam went into hell. Now a year later, Sam tells Dean that he’s been out of hell a year and never told Dean. Here’s you a question: If the story picks up “a year later,” and Sam was out of hell almost all that time, living in real time, how long was he in hell for? Like, what, a second and a half of hell time? Anybody got any theories on that? At any rate, oh, my GOD, what a whopper. Sam has always been a liar, he’s a lying liar who lies, he’s the stealth bomber of liars. So I can almost see him telling this lie. Almost, even though I thought it was terribly cruel.
It’s really arrogant of Sam to assume that he can tell this lie and thereby determine that Dean doesn’t need to know the truth, and what Dean really wants is to live with “a woman and a kid.” I wouldn’t put it past Sam to be foolish enough to imagine that Dean can make Sam’s dreams come true for him. But even though it’s arrogant and cruel, I think it’s in character; Sam has regularly been his own man, doing what he thinks is best, and not really weighing the consequences for anyone but himself. He thought Dean would be happier, and never really stopped to think it through. Oh, Sam.
But I resent it that both Sam and Grandpa mock Dean for the lifestyle (i.e., playing golf) he’s been living, when all along, it’s been Sam and Grandpa who forced the lifestyle upon Dean. I mean, they shoved Dean into that life, what did they expect him to do? Not to mention that while they were mocking him, there was a whole lot of Grandpa standing around and pontificating, which got old. I like the actor, but jeezus. Besides, those golf clubs came in handy when it came time to fight the djinn, didn’t they.
The story gets weaker from there. The Hunting Family and Dean start to hunt for the djinn. To keep his “woman and his kid” safe, Dean packs them up to Bobby’s place. But when he gets there, he finds out that Bobby also knew about The Lie, and that seemed completely out of character. Bobby always seemed to like (and get along with) Dean better than he did Sam. The reason he lied is because, as he says, “You had a woman and a kid, and I ain’t never seen a hunter get that kind of happiness.” Or something like that, anyway, that’s why I’ve been putting “a woman and a kid” in quotes this whole time, because Bobby’s comment reduces what Lisa and Ben are as human beings to items in a checklist that have the shape and scope of something you might need and can buy at the store but then discard when necessary.
Is this Bobby’s voice, is this what he’d say? Or is this Show’s writers, who are making Lisa and Ben mere items to begin with, because they are going to be discarded later when it’s effective and will cause Dean the most emotional damage? The Law of Conservation of Characters means that you don’t put characters in the story unless they’re going to serve some purpose; so I think Lisa and Ben are not long for this world; hopefully their deaths will mean something.
Don’t get me wrong. I like Lisa and Ben. I like Lisa because she’s a strong, independent woman, who doesn’t always fall for Dean’s banter and charming ways. I liked it when Dean and Lisa cuddled in bed, I thought it was sweet. I had thought, heretofore this, that if any woman could make Dean happy, it was her. And I think she’s been a successful mate for him, to a degree, and she can see right through his crap, calling him on it when he’s on the hunt and thinks she can’t tell. (And somehow she’s able to afford that huge house, so go Lisa.)
At the same time, when Dean’s going to go off hunting with Sam and the Hunting Family, she has some very strange things to say. She calls him an idiot for throwing away the family life that he’s built around him. Plus, she tells Dean that she wanted Dean as a father figure for Ben, and that the year they spent together was the best year of her life.
Well, personally, I think that single mothers are some of the strongest people on earth, and moreover, it doesn’t matter if a kid has a single mom, or two gay dads, or a grandpa and an aunt looking after them, because kids don’t need the exact dynamic of having both a mother and a father as much as they need consistent care giving.
And seriously, did she honestly think a guy who’d been in hell and whose brother (with whom he is very close) was currently (presumably) in hell, who had, by his own admission, nightmares and a problem with the drink was going to make a good life partner for her and a good father to her son? Did she not think that with a guy like Dean (with his history) that something might come up to disrupt their happy little dream? What’s more, if she says the year with Dean was the best year of her life? Then she needs to get a new life.
The clincher there for me is while Dean seems fond of Ben and Lisa, he doesn’t love Lisa, doesn’t want her for a life partner. He even tells Sam that he went to Lisa because Sam told him to, so he’s there with the “woman and the kid” not of his own accord. His expression when he looks at her is fond and affectionate, but he doesn’t love her. Even when he sends Sam on his way and goes back to her, it’s out of a sense of obligation because, like he tells Sam, he, Dean, is the reason Lisa and Ben might be in need of protection and care. I completely buy Dean being this responsible, but he never acted like he loved her.
Lastly, there is the goodbye between Sam and Dean, and some interesting things happen here. The hunt for the djinn is over, and was entertaining while it lasted. Dean seemed a little out of practice, but I could see that the instincts were still there, and with a little work he would be his former 110% hunter self. But, like I said before, I don’t disagree that Dean would go back to his “woman and kid,” even if that means he won’t be with Sam.
And why do I not disagree with an ending where Sam and Dean aren’t together? Because, frankly, Sam lied to Dean. He’s lied before, but this one was a whopper, a lie of such huge proportions, a soul-destroying lie, that even though was wrapped in a kind of benign kindness (or Sam’s attempt at it), ripped Dean asunder from the inside. There’s only so many times a guy can bounce back from something like that so I’d say Dean was within his rights to send Sam on his way.
Although, at the very least, I would have liked a bit more emo on someone’s part about this whole thing. But Sam is being Pod Sam, and Dean is being Shocked and Stunned Dean, so nothing happened that was very emotionally satisfying. I tell you what. If I had been Dean? I would have punched Sam in the mouth, and then I would have punched him again. Sam had it coming, I’m just sorry he didn’t get his just deserts. And I’m saying this even though I love and adore Sam. Something’s up with that boy; both Sam and Dean need to push through their shell-shocked exteriors to find out what it is, before Lucky comes by and bites them both in the ass.
Lastly, there is Dean’s offer of the Impala to Sam. Even if there wasn’t enough emo for me, I liked this little scene. Of course, Dean would be self-sacrificing enough to want to hand over the keys. Sam, who’s got his own muscle car set up just the way he likes it, refuses. I especially liked it that he was driving a modern version of a souped-up muscle car, with plenty of rumble and lots of torque, and a black car at that, as if he were trying to keep up with Dean, but doing it his own way. (Kudos to the Car Team for dreaming up Sam’s baby.) Maybe Sam’s refusing the Impala to keep his own car, but I think he’s also refusing because without Dean in it, the Impala is just a hunk of metal to him. It’s Dean’s car, and thusly part of Dean. Even if Sam would willingly and consciously lie to Dean (and get everyone Dean knows to lie to him too), I think he’d be loathe to rip away something that’s such a part of Dean.
Overall, this episode wasn’t a great way to start off Season Six; usually you want to start off with a big bang, right? But Show has a tendency to be a slow starter, so I imagine that by ep three (at the very least) Show will have hit its stride, and we will get not only more of what there needs to be to sell commercial time, i.e., boobs, useless characters, wasted scenes, and brothers not together (which Show seems to imagine raises the tension or something), but also we will see what there needs to be to be Good, and that is, two brothers saving people, hunting things. Fighting perhaps, not getting along right away, definitely, yes, but together, and not with a cast of thousands along for the ride. It’ll be just them. Just Sam and Dean.
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.