Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 8, Episode 6 of The CW's "Supernatural," entitled "Southern Comfort."
No one does honesty like the Winchester brothers. Whereas most of us would try to be up-front about our resentment for our family members in a constructive and healthy way, or repress said feelings until we keeled over from a stress-induced heart attack, Sam and Dean subscribe to the "Supernatural" method of conflict resolution -- namely, ignoring their emotions until a haunted penny, siren saliva or truth spell forces them to vocalize their anger in the most violent way possible. Ah, progress.
While it's a little depressing that it still takes a paranormal intervention for Sam and Dean to have an honest conversation with each other, both brothers said things that desperately needed to be said in "Southern Comfort."
Dean was still (understandably) reeling from Sam's decision not to look for him in Purgatory, while Sam was feeling (understandably) frustrated that Dean has yet to accept his apology for not looking -- and for keeping Benny a secret in "Blood Brother."
And, like all "Supernatural" macguffins designed to release the brothers' innermost thoughts and insecurities, Dean definitely didn't hold back while possessed by the specter; not only did he trot out the greatest hits of Sam's past indiscretions (demon blood, Ruby, his year with Samuel and his lack of soul) he also declared that Benny has been more of a brother to him in the past year than Sam has ever been. Which, obviously, is a load of baloney. In no way do I believe that Dean hates Sam or Castiel (who Dean has previously dubbed family), or even that he truly values Benny over those existing relationships. I saw Dean's behavior while possessed as the equivalent of a pissed off teenager declaring that they hate their parents when their folks are just trying to protect them.
Dean has enough insecurities to fill the Grand Canyon and then some -- it's well-documented that he believes himself worthless, that he thinks Sam and John never needed him the way he needed them, and that Sam has spent years itching to abandon the hunt (and thus, Dean) and return to the normal life that Dean robbed him of when he grabbed Sam from Stanford.
Whether Sam actually thinks any of these things is beside the point; those insecurities are part of Dean's genetic make-up, and I honestly don't know if anything will ever be enough to reassure him otherwise at this point.
While I haven't always sympathized with Sam's decisions or his treatment of Dean (mostly while he was under the influence of demon blood, but also back in Seasons 1 and 2 when he still saw a way out of the family business and back to law school) I still believe that he's proven his love and dedication for his brother many times over.
I think that Dean isn't in the right place, emotionally, to believe that Sam's reluctance to hunt doesn't actually have any bearing on his love for Dean. Hunting has always been so intrinsically tied to Dean's understanding of the world, to how he defines himself as a person, that I get why he sees Sam's rejection of the family business as a rejection of Dean himself, but I don't believe that Sam thinks that way. Both brothers currently want different things for themselves, but that's healthy.
As Jeremy Carver has said in numerous interviews relating to this season, this year is supposed to deal with helping the brothers mature and grow up, to become independent characters with separate motivations, while still being secure in their relationship. I think "Southern Comfort" was the first step towards that noble goal. Obviously, Sam is never going to give up hunting for good, because that would mean the end of the show, so clearly something is going to shift his perspective this season and give him the same sense of purpose as Dean gained in Purgatory, but I also don't see a problem with him having a taste of normalcy and allowing himself to find love again, however briefly.
Yes, it's unfortunate that the show doesn't have a juicier excuse for Sam not looking for Dean than "I met a girl," but if that's the story they're sticking to, then at this point, I'm ready to roll with it. Overall, I thought Sam handled himself well in "Southern Comfort," admitting that he's made mistakes and has obviously hurt Dean, but also that he's not prepared to continue beating himself up just for finding happiness. Was it a selfish decision? Sure. But after all they've been through, they're both entitled to a little selfishness, whether that's with a secret vampire friend or a girlfriend.
Dean's sense of betrayal is entirely justifiable, but as Garth wisely pointed out, you can't change the past, you can only try to avoid making the same mistakes in the future, and holding on to all of those old resentments is only going to cause both Dean and Sam grief.
That being said, it's clear that there are still more conversations that need to be had between the brothers, because Sam threatening to kill Benny just because he's pissed at Dean for keeping him a secret (and probably for killing Amy) isn't particularly forgiving either. Obviously, Sam hasn't spent a year in the foxhole with Benny so has no reason to trust him yet, but hopefully Benny will have the opportunity to prove his loyalty to Sam the way he did for Dean in Purgatory.
I know we'd all prefer to see Sam and Dean hugging it out and truly getting back on the same page, but let's face it, as this episode proved, they've both made some crappy choices and told some big lies. I think it's natural that they need to go through this healing process and truly deal with everything they've done to each other over the years before they can really move on, because as much as the various venoms and truth spells have allowed them to vent their problems, neither of them has ever truly dealt with these resentments -- they just tend to roll right into the next issue and put a pin in the rest. This season still feels less bleak than Seasons 6 and 7 to me right now, because I can actually see a light at the end of the tunnel for both brothers if they continue to communicate. Thus, I think it'll still be a few more episodes before we see Dean apologizing for Benny and Sam apologizing for Amelia, because right now both are feeling defensive about their right to have other relationships, and neither wants to admit that they've hurt the other, even though they obviously have. Righteousness is a bitch.
I was intrigued by Dean's declaration that Castiel had let him down too -- I'm wondering if that relates to Castiel's deal with Crowley or something that went down in Purgatory, since we know that Dean's still not sure exactly what Castiel's fate was, but that "something happened to him down there." It seems like Dean's still harboring a lot of guilt in regards to leaving Cas there, especially if the promo for next week's episode is any indication, so I'm not sure if it was a case of the specter magnifying past hurts or dragging up something more recent. Mostly, I just can't wait for next week's episode.
I've been waiting for an episode featuring Garth where the character didn't irritate the hell out of me, and I was glad that "Southern Comfort" finally provided it. I've always known that DJ Qualls was a talented actor, but his last two episodes (through no fault of his own) ranged from the mediocre ("Party On, Garth") to the downright heinous ("Season 7, Time For A Wedding" which I'm still trying to pretend never happened).
Considering Adam Glass wrote both "Party On" and this week's episode -- and since I'm so protective of Bobby as a character -- I was concerned I might not like "Southern Comfort," but here, Garth was just the right mix of earnest, cocky and hilarious. Despite his failed attempts to get Sam and Dean to open up to him about their issues, he still managed to impart some much needed wisdom, and his amiable nature seemed especially valuable when dealing with Dean's brusqueness.
There's no replacing Bobby, of course, but it's realistic to think that the hunting community would need someone to step up and fill that void somehow, and I found Garth's attempts to emulate the old hunter as sweet as Dean's infuriated protectiveness. Mostly I'm just glad that Jeremy Carver is continuing to repopulate the world with other interesting supporting players, since one of my biggest criticisms of Seasons 6 and 7 was how claustrophobic the show had become.
There were some things I didn't love about the episode: while it was an interesting concept, I found the flashback into the penny's past completely unnecessary, and it played too much like the show thought we weren't able to follow that it was the penny doing the possessing, even if that wasn't their intention. The show can also be a little heavy-handed when it draws parallels between the boys' relationship and their current case, and while some episodes are more nuanced, "Southern Comfort" skewed towards the anvilicious when it was revealed that two brothers were on opposite sides of the war, and one brother was still carrying out the possessions. Still, these are minor niggles that didn't actually impact my enjoyment of the episode, and though I missed the Purgatory flashbacks, it was good to learn more about Amelia and why she's so guarded. Interesting that her husband's name also began with D.
Overall, it was a strong hour, and I was glad that Sam and Dean finally started airing some of their dirty laundry, even if they have many miles to go before they're back on solid ground. I thought that Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki did an exceptional job, as usual, with Ackles proving especially compelling in mining the depths of Dean's pent-up resentment. Hopefully this conflict will leave the brothers stronger and more supportive than ever, which can only be a good thing for them as characters and for the show as a whole.
"Supernatural" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.
What did you think of "Southern Comfort"? Did you enjoy Garth's homage to Bobby? Do you think Sam and Dean are on the right track? Weigh in below!