Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 7, Episode 13 of The CW's "Supernatural," entitled "The Slice Girls."
I'm of two minds about this week's "Supernatural," which made the somewhat questionable decision to revisit the basic theme of one of this season's most divisive episodes, "The Girl Next Door." In that hour, Dean was forced to kill Amy, one of Sam's childhood friends (or a girl that he'd known for a matter of hours, depending on how you chose to look at it) because she was a "monster" who had killed humans -- deserving or not -- and would likely do so again. In this hour, the roles were reversed, and Sam was forced to kill Emma, a girl who was genetically Dean's daughter, but also a girl he'd known for less than a matter of hours.
As some of you may recall, "The Girl Next Door" sparked a firestorm of comments in Mo Ryan's recap, some arguing in favor of Dean's decision, others decrying it as character assassination. The show later validated Dean's viewpoint in "The Mentalists," when Sam admitted that his brother had been right to dispatch a creature that had been killing people, and that his judgment had been clouded by his memories of Amy as a child. Since a show's writing staff conceives episodes far in advance of their airdate, I'm sure that no one at the "Supernatural" production offices predicted such a vocal reaction to episode 703, nor saw anything potentially problematic in paralleling that story in "The Slice Girls."
I don't believe that there was anything in this week's episode that merits the kind of vitriol that "Girl" inadvertently elicited, since Sam was acting in defense of his brother and no deception was involved, but I do wonder whether the familiar story will dredge up old resentments that the writers might've been wise to leave undisturbed. Before writing this review, I had already seen comments on Twitter decrying Sam's decision to shoot Emma without offering her the chance of redemption, since she had yet to actually kill anyone, as Amy already had when Dean took her out.
I think that the biggest challenge facing both the writers and the audience is the inconsistency with which the show has presented Sam and Dean's morality over the years. "Supernatural" has spent many episodes exploring the shades of grey inherent in the hunting world, often with varying results. While some "monsters" who have killed before, such as Lenore and Lucky the Skinwalker, were allowed to go free under the assumption that they were acting in defense of loved ones or would be able to control their murderous impulses in the future, others, such as Madison, Amy and now Emma, were dispatched without the option of proving themselves trustworthy -- even though Amy was also arguably acting in defense of a loved one in trying to save her son (if she was telling the truth about his illness).
So how do Sam and Dean judge who can be redeemed and who is too dangerous to be left alive? The decision sometimes seems arbitrary, and I wonder if that randomness is what some fans struggle to reconcile themselves with. Did Sam simply see his brother in danger (and once again frozen at a critical moment, as he was in "Adventures in Babysitting") and act out of instinctual protectiveness, or did he make the decision, in that split second, that Emma had been so well-brainwashed by her tribe that there was no possibility for redemption? I think it was the former; given Sam's own experience with being destined for a dark purpose, one would hope that he wouldn't simply dismiss another person's capacity to escape the shortcomings of their biology the way he always feared Dean might dismiss him.
The episode was written by Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner, and though their names might not seem familiar, they have written one episode of "Supernatural" previously: "Route 666," all the way back in Season 1. I think it would've been excellent if the episode had allowed Sam time to ruminate on the symmetry between his life experiences and Emma's potential path, but it seemed as though the relative newness of the writers hampered their ability to mine the emotional depths of the characters and create that narrative touchstone.
Still, after seven seasons with Sam and Dean, it doesn't surprise me that audience opinion seems split straight down the middle regarding every episode -- no matter how strong or weak I consider a plotline to be, I can always find someone on Twitter with the opposing view, so I'm sure the writers have embraced the notion that they can't please everyone at this point. I was dubious when I read the synopsis for this week's episode, but despite a few missed opportunities, it wasn't as cheesy as the concept suggested. I do wish that there had been more mention of Dean's experience with raising Ben after he was faced with the possibility of being related to Emma -- especially when Sam questioned his brother's knowledge of child development -- but the episode still provided some enjoyable character moments, both in the banter between Sam and Dean, and in their evolving methods of coping with their grief.
Dean's slowly unraveling mental state was further explored, even after his attempts to follow Frank's advice and "fake it." Clearly, Sam knows his brother too well to be convinced by his forced smiles, and their brief, raw moment of disagreement over whether Bobby's spirit had unearthed a piece of lore or whether it was just the wind was unexpectedly poignant. Likewise, Dean's obsessive attachment to Bobby's flask was further evidence of his mindset, proving that he's still trying to hang on to the denial stage of the grieving process. I was also touched by the brothers' instinct to call Bobby for help with research, even though both knew he was no longer around to answer. Small, character-driven scenes like that are where "Supernatural" really excels, and they always help to elevate the material no matter what else is going on in the episode. And no story would be complete without the prerequisite brotherly conversation in the car to wrap things up, but I was glad that the Winchesters are at least talking about their feelings, albeit in their own gruff, reticent ways, with Sam noting that Dean seems to be choking on hunts with frightening regularity these days. I was also glad that they tossed in another mention of Cas' death, since that loss hasn't yet been discussed with the same depth as Bobby's.
"Vampire Diaries" star Sara Canning didn't have much to do as Lydia (but given a certain scene, it's not a guest role I would've turned down, either) but she still managed to imbue the character with a surprising amount of pathos in her short moments on screen, conveying a subtle sense of melancholy at having to produce a daughter only to give her up three days later for the good of "the tribe." And I was pleased to see the parade of "Buffy" alums continue with Harry Groener guest-starring as the gregarious Professor Morrison -- he seemed to be having a lot of fun showboating and running circles around Sam and Dean. Casting Canadian actress Alexia Fast as Emma was also an inspired choice, since she truly did look like an amalgamation of Canning and Jensen Ackles.
Longtime "Supernatural" production designer Jerry Wanek made his directorial debut in this episode, and his eye for detail was immediately apparent in the thoughtful composition of scenes, the engaging use of close-ups, and the inventive camera angles. I particularly enjoyed the way Dean and Lydia's sex scene was intercut with a victim's murder, creating an effective visual symmetry that fit with the B-movie tone of the season -- especially since it was accompanied by the welcome return of the show's signature rock soundtrack. AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long" was certainly an apt choice. The couple's flirtation at the bar, complete with tempting close-ups of eyes and mouths to emphasize their attraction, was another stand-out scene. I hope Wanek finds time to take the helm again, since his knowledge of the characters definitely came through in the presentation of the episode.
What did you think of "The Slice Girls"? Was Sam right to kill Emma, and do you think the storyline was comparable to what happened between Dean and Amy?
"Supernatural" airs Fridays at 9 p.m. EST on The CW.
Check out the slideshow for the full rundown of what to tune into this week.
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