Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 8, Episode 16 of The CW's "Supernatural," titled "Remember the Titans."
"Supernatural" has dealt with many kinds of gods, rituals and belief systems over the course of the series so far, but "Remember the Titans" was the show's first real attempt to tackle the dense and iconic mythology of the Greek gods. While I'll admit I would've preferred to see our heroes facing Ares and Aphrodite (perhaps that's just my inner "Xena" fan talking), this week's episode was a solid effort from writer Dan Loflin and director Steve Boyum, one that managed to ground a very fantastical story with a believable human struggle.
Similar to last week's lackluster episode, I still felt hindered by the fact that -- as with a number of standalone episodes this season -- I don't care enough about the guest stars to really have an emotional investment in the narrative. While Prometheus, Hayley and Oliver were a more relatable family unit than James and Portia, my main attachment is to Sam and Dean (which is why I've always preferred mythology episodes to case of the week tales), so unless the supporting characters are people we've already grown to know and love like Castiel, Charlie, Benny or Garth, Monster of the Week stories rarely to pop for me. (Your perspective may differ entirely, of course.)
Obviously, every beloved character ever featured on the show evolved from a one-episode appearance initially; had Charlie not clicked with the fanbase, she wouldn't have returned in "LARP." The sad part is, Prometheus/Shane felt like a character who had the potential to grow into a beloved recurring guest star (kudos to John Reardon for his empathetic performance), but he was killed off before he was given the chance. I cared far less about Hayley and Oliver (I know, I'm heartless), but they were the characters who survived. TV is so cruel!
Likewise, Artemis felt somewhat bland, whereas Zeus, masterfully played by John Novak, was a pleasure to watch, with all the gravitas needed to convincingly portray and ancient and arrogant god.
That's not to say I didn't enjoy the episode. Casting gripes aside, there was a lot to love -- especially in the subtle parallels drawn between Shane's story and Winchesters'. Aside from the fact that the episode continued the season's theme of relationships between supernatural creatures and humans (I still wish there was more to Amelia than what was presented to us), we also saw Sam attempting to impart some wisdom to Prometheus about the importance of saving the world -- even at great personal cost -- and the Titan responding that none of that mattered if he couldn't save his family (something the Winchesters, especially Dean and John, have always struggled with).
Since we know that Dean stopped speaking for a while after Mary died, it was easy to see him reflected in Oliver, especially when it became clear that the sins of the father were being visited on the son, giving Oliver the same affliction as Prometheus. Outside forces have always dictated Sam and Dean's lives to a degree, because of some grand, pre-planned destiny, and it was both touching and heartbreaking to see Sam offering to take the kid to get some ice cream (and thus be allowed to be a child for a little longer), but Oliver declining because his eyes had already been opened to the harsh realities of the world, the same as Sam and Dean's were when they were young.
Artemis' act of rebellion against her father -- the decision to do what was right, even if it wasn't easy -- also echoes the show's enduring theme of free will, which has shown up everywhere from Sam's determination to fight against Lucifer to Castiel's decision to rebel against heaven and Benny's vow to keep his bloodlust at bay, and it's always satisfying to see "Supernatural" weaving those plot elements together in service of a larger message espousing courage and freedom.
While the self-contained story was interesting (especially if you're a fan of Greek mythology), it was once again the brotherly moments that proved the most satisfying. From Dean's pride over being a "legacy" to Sam's nerdy knowledge of myths (and his risky attempt to psychoanalyze a goddess) there were a few comedic elements to lighten a surprisingly dark storyline. But the real emotional impact of the episode was saved until the closing minutes, when Dean shut himself in his room to pray to Castiel for his help in protecting Sam. That scene spoke volumes about how well Dean knows his little brother, how deeply he cares about Sam's well-being, and his growing emotional maturity as a character, allowing himself to be vulnerable and open up to his friend.
It's incredibly rare for Dean to ask for help (or "beg," as he calls it), let alone for him to know that Sam is hiding a secret but allow his brother the space to get to grips with it at his own pace despite Dean's worries, and I'm glad to see the writers allowing him that kind of evolution, even if he still clearly sees his life as less valuable than Sam's. While it's a little annoying that Sam is trying to keep another struggle a secret from Dean (especially in light of how he was physically and mentally affected by the Hellucinations), it's obvious that he's not hiding his condition maliciously. To me, it seems like Sam knows that there's nothing Dean can do to help him until the trials are over (or he dies, whichever comes first), and he'd rather suffer in silence than burden his brother further. They're both such martyrs.
But in typical big brother (or surrogate father) fashion, Dean's restrained reaction perfectly illustrates the way a parent can always tell when something's wrong, even when a kid thinks they're getting away with the crime. He feels like it's his job to carry Sam's burdens, whether Sam chooses to unload them or not. But both brothers have embraced their helplessness at this point; Dean seems equally aware that there's nothing he can do to lighten Sam's load, short of taking the trials himself (which Sam is far too stubborn to allow), so all Dean can do is appeal to a higher power to help him. His raw and understated "where the hell are you, man?" also seems to signal that Dean just misses his friend, since their current predicament and Kevin's inability to translate the tablet is a harsh reminder of just how alone the Winchesters currently are. The fact that Bobby was namedropped twice in the space of one episode also points to the boys longing for their lost stability, support structure and sense of family.
Thankfully, the promo for the next episode (which doesn't air until March 20 -- the horror!) seems to indicate that Dean's prayers won't go unanswered for long, but the response might not come the way he's hoping for ... It's going to be a long three weeks, but the last few episodes have given us plenty of intriguing possibilities to ponder in the meantime.
"Supernatural" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST on The CW.
What did you think of "Remember the Titans"?