Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 8, Episode 10 of The CW's "Supernatural," entitled "Torn and Frayed."
Even after a month-long break for the holidays, "Supernatural" maintained the momentum established over the last few episodes and returned with a decisive bang in "Torn and Frayed."
The episode traveled at a brisk pace, involving everyone from Kevin, Benny and Amelia to Naomi, Samandriel, Crowley and his new pet torturer Viggo. Perhaps most impressively, considering "Torn and Frayed" was mostly just a typical search and rescue mission, the episode featured plenty of development on the mythology front, without feeling too heavy-handed.
The episode's main focus was on Sam and Dean's frayed relationship (see what they did there?) with both brothers stinging from the events of "Citizen Fang." Sam was understandably still pissed that Dean had used his feelings for Amelia to manipulate him, while Dean was understandably still pissed that Sam refused to trust him about Benny. Dean admitted he was wrong, but was unwilling to shoulder all of the blame, proving that Amelia and Benny were both still huge chasms on the Winchesters' road to recovery.
"Is that where we are? That you'd save a vampire by making me believe that the woman I love might be dead?"
"If you'd have just heard me out, if you'd have trusted me, all of this could've been avoided."
They both make good points, which is what makes their current friction so believably infuriating.
It's also interesting to note that while Dean did admit he was wrong, he didn't actually apologize for his actions. Have either of the brothers uttered the word "sorry" to each other this season? Without going back and rewatching, I'm not certain, but I feel like it's a deliberate decision on the part of the writers that both are avoiding that act of penance, and when we finally hear Sam and Dean actively saying that word to each other, we'll know they're back on solid ground again.
Still, despite starting the episode in a clearly antagonistic, resentful place, by the end, both brothers made an unspoken step towards reconciliation by giving up the relationships that were causing such discord.
Dean didn't try to guilt trip Sam into staying, telling his brother that one of them deserved to be happy, and that simple gesture of acceptance and compromise was enough to have Sam reexamining whether he could actually leave and abandon Dean to figure out the problem with Cas alone. If Dean had issued an ultimatum or tried to tell Sam he was wrong for wanting to quit the job, Sam would've stormed off and gone back to Amelia out of spite, and perhaps the pair never would've forgiven each other. But let's face it, neither Sam nor Dean wants to lose their brother, and hurt pride isn't a good enough reason to throw away a lifetime of having each other's backs.
And seeing that Sam was willing to sacrifice his happiness to back Dean up was apparently all it took for Dean to swallow his own pride and sacrifice his relationship with Benny for the chance to smooth things out with his brother.
When the Winchesters have truly matured and gotten to that place of equality that Jeremy Carver is apparently aiming for, both will have realized that they don't need to ask for or offer a sacrifice in return for maintaining their relationship -- they'll understand that having friendships or romances outside of each other doesn't actually threaten their bond -- but in the meantime, the symbolic sacrifice is a good first step to prove that both are dedicated to the cause.
It's another tentative move towards equilibrium, but as I pointed out in the last review, these guys have had different priorities and different ways of approaching their goals for pretty much their whole lives, so it's going to take more than one blow-up fight to truly get them back on the same page. Is it frustrating to watch them failing to communicate because of their stubbornness? Probably for some people, but it's also honest, which will make their reconciliation more satisfying in the end.
Perhaps the most important line of the whole episode came from Kevin: "I can't enjoy a world I need to save." Like Sam and Dean, he's trying to "put away these childish things" and focus on the mission at hand, distancing himself from his mother until the job is done. The show isn't necessarily saying that he'll never see Mrs. Tran again, or that Sam and Dean won't have meaningful relationships outside of each other, but when you're saving the world, other distractions are a liability, and right now there's nothing more important than averting yet another Biblical catastrophe.
Thankfully, the guys have finally pulled their heads out of their asses for long enough to notice that all is not well with Castiel -- and knowing how Dean went off the deep end after losing Castiel and Bobby last season, I'm sure Castiel's predicament was a large factor in Sam's decision to stick around and support Dean at the end of "Torn and Frayed."
Dean has arguably always seen Castiel as his responsibility after all of his attempts to instill the concept of free will in the angel (plus his ingrained parental instincts; thanks, John!) -- not to mention, Cas is pretty much the only real friend the poor dude has ever had outside of Sam -- so it's no surprise that Dean offered to handle the problem solo. But it's also no surprise that Sam wouldn't want him to shoulder that burden alone, given how Dean spent the first part of the season guilt-tripping himself for what he thought happened to Cas in Purgatory (not to mention Sam's own improved friendship with Cas).
I'm especially impressed with Castiel's story this season, although it's frustrating to see him used so sparingly when he always adds a dose of levity and an intriguing dynamic with the boys -- it seemed as though the writers really didn't know what to do with the character in the last two seasons, but Carver clearly has a fitting arc in mind. I truly loved seeing him zapping around and helping people, as we saw with the mother and baby -- it was such a simple, yet poignant scene that perfectly illustrated the angel's love for life and humanity in all its forms (a fitting juxtaposition for later being forced to kill Samandriel). The show has always cannily examined the struggle between free will and destiny (and nature vs. nurture), whether that's in Sam and Dean's supposed destinies as pawns for Lucifer and the angels; Kevin's unwanted fate as a prophet; or Benny's desire to rehabilitate himself from monster back into man.
Castiel is a character who has already experienced a fascinating evolution, discovering and embracing humanity and then struggling to hold on to it when circumstances (and evil angelic dictators or megalomaniacal Leviathan) are trying to tear it away from him. Naomi is perhaps his biggest threat yet, since she's a foe he seemingly can't fight against or escape from. She can find him at any time, erase his memories and force him to do terrible things, yet his humanity is still fighting its way to the surface, helping him to remember the torture she has seemingly inflicted on him and allowing him to struggle against her orders to kill Samandriel -- even if he lost that fight in the end.
While I was sad to see "heaven's most adorable angel" bite the dust, his death certainly served to raise the stakes for Castiel, proving that Naomi really could make him do anything if she so desired. But seriously, the writers really need to stop creating such fantastic angels and cruelly tearing them away from us. (You're gone but not forgotten, Gabriel and Balthazar.)
It's an intriguing way of exploring what happens when a character of arguably unlimited power is made powerless -- and not in the literal sense, which many of us were probably predicting the writers would do. The producers have admitted that they've struggled with how to limit Castiel's omnipotent abilities over the years (and they've already depowered him for that very purpose), so it makes sense to explore a more mental and emotional conflict for the character as opposed to him simply having his wings clipped. As long as the writers allow Cas to maintain that sweet, dorky innocence that's so endearing, I'm invested in this arc. I'm also intrigued to see whether the writers will tie his redemption arc into Benny's in any way, since they had a fascinating dynamic in Purgatory and have a lot in common this season.
While I do believe that the Amelia storyline has run its course -- because past experience has proven that there's no way for the guys to maintain a normal, suburban life while hunting -- I suspect she might resurface; and Benny is such a compelling character that it would be a waste not to see him again. It will be interesting to see whether he has the strength to stay on the wagon without Dean there to be his "sponsor" -- because, let's face it, if the guy is going to live back in the real world, he needs to develop that self-control sooner rather than later, since Dean certainly doesn't have the time to hand-hold him.
While Dean's decision to flake on Benny without warning will probably have consequences, I think it's an interesting dilemma to explore from a character standpoint -- these boys (Dean especially) really have no concept of the impact they make on people's lives; Dean has canonically always felt like he makes no difference in the world, that others don't need him as much as he needs them and that no one would miss him if he was gone, so I see his decision to pull the rug out from under Benny not as harsh abandonment so much as a lack of self-awareness in terms of how important he is to others. He probably thinks that Benny doesn't truly need him (especially since the vampire didn't guilt trip him about cutting off communication) so it will be interesting to see that play out. Similarly, Sam clearly thinks that Don is a better guy than he is, and one who is safer for Amelia in the long run, so it makes sense that his decision to stay away from her would be driven by his own insecurity as well his desire to make amends with his brother.
Despite my initial reservations about Benny, I hope he won't turn into a simple antagonist for the boys and prove Sam's suspicions right -- the conflicted story of a creature trying to fight his instincts for the sake of being a better man is far more compelling than yet another good guy gone bad just to twist the knife for our heroes.
As well as learning about Naomi's penchant for torture, the episode also revealed what many of us already suspected -- there's also an angel tablet in Metatron's opus, which lit up metaphorical dollar signs in Crowley's eyes and put a bee in Naomi's bonnet. It's hard to imagine a consequence as dire as closing the gates of hell for the angels, but if there's a heavenly "off" switch attached to all of those angelic operating systems, for example, I can see where Naomi might have a problem. All will be revealed in due time, of course, and it's an intriguing problem to ponder in the meantime.
Kudos to writer Jenny Klein for an engaging, well-paced hour -- one that serviced all of our characters and set up plenty of intriguing possibilities to take us into the second half of the season.
Sidebar: Also worth noting this week -- "Supernatural" took home two People's Choice Awards and was the #1 most talked-about scripted show on social media site GetGlue for 2012 -- all because of the fans. You owe yourselves a celebratory purple nurple.
"Supernatural" airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on The CW.
What did you think of "Torn and Frayed"? Do you think we'll see Amelia again? Will Benny fall off the wagon? Were you sad to see Samandriel go? Weigh in below!