Hooray for Misha Collins! He gets the chance to prove he is more than just a pretty…everything…by directing this beauty of an episode, in which we see what happens when people lose their souls (and not in a sexy, Soulless Sam sort of way), we get to spend a little more time with a Latin-spewing Grandpa Winchester, and why, when we think of Abaddon, we should feel sadness and pity. Sadness. And pity. For Abaddon. Wait. What?
1. Working hard? Or hardly working?
Sam’s worried about Dean. To quote Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “It must be Tuesday.” In the past, even when Armageddon itself was upon them, Dean still worked the job, catching and beheading the mini-threats while they waited for the other archangelic shoe to drop. This time, Dean’s so off his game he’s sending Sam out alone to Milton, a town of murderers, and ditching the books to get even drunker than usual. Dean’s transforming, the same way Sam did when he was jacked full of demon blood, and he’s aligning with a demon, the same way Sam did with Ruby, under the guise of winning the war. If only Season Four Dean could see himself now. He’d be more shocked than he was when he accidentally knocked up an Amazon.
2. Shot to Kill
Sometimes, instead of stunt casting, a show will use stunt directors instead, giving an actor the right to direct an episode as a signing bonus even though they don’t really have a knack for it. Misha Collins displayed a talent that showed: this was no free gift with purchase. From beautifully framed close-ups to stunningly lit panoramic views, managing multiple storylines, flashback scenes and intense performances, Collins’ direction was tight, focused, and truly lovely. Simply put? He did a fantastic job with this episode, and I hope he directs again. (For more exclusive insight about his process, you can read our interview here.)
3. A Town Without Pity
Small town life can be pretty boring, sure, but when your residents start assaulting and murdering and writing doomsday gibberish on walls in their own blood, you know you need a Winchester to come and save the day. As Sam investigates, he gets to show the best of what a Winchester can be. He is smoothly duplicitous to get the information he needs. He is stoic and calm as he questions a soulless murderer. He is observant and makes quick connections as he puts the pieces together. He is charming and trustworthy enough to get people to talk. A particular favorite scene is when Sam comes to the defense of a beleaguered waitress, who is shouted at by a soulless teen she seems to know well. “Hey,” Sam says with a frown, “Take it easy. She’s working hard.” When the teen breaks a glass and snarls back, Sam looks at him, no-nonsense, and says, “Buddy. Give it a rest.” Ooooh. You wouldn’t like Moose when he is angry. Sam’s defense of the working man (or woman, as the case may be) is one of the things I love best about the Winchesters. In their eyes? Social rank means nothing. They’ll save you no matter what color your collar is.
4. You Are the Company You Keep
I am currently re-watching Season Three, and the Dean of that era has one thought about demons, and one thought only: Kill. Them. Dead. He is completely perplexed when Sam chooses to work with Ruby. When Sam lies to him about his partner in crime. What a change six seasons can bring. “You’re lying to Sam like he’s your wife. Which kind of makes me your mistress,” Crowley purrs into Dean’s ear, and we see the darkness that Dean is embracing via the mark on his forearm. He is falling under Crowley’s spell just as surely as Sam did Ruby’s, protecting him from a “hunter” despite his promises that Crowley will die by his hand. There is a rumor that Dean will trump Abaddon and Crowley and become the new leader of hell. I used to scoff at that. Used to.
5. Sister Christian
During his investigation, Sam meets sister Julia, an ex-nun with a story to tell about a 1958 visit from the Men (and Woman) of Letters on the night her world turned upside down. Her convent was invaded by the likes of Abaddon, intent on beginning her mission to destroy the world. Julia, played in the current day by Jenny O’Hara and in the flashbacks by Gabrielle Giraud, is one of my favorite one-off characters on this show. Ever. She tells her story without flinching, never embellishing what she does not know or did not see, but giving Sam enough detailed information to make a move. Julia is at once sorrowful about her role in the rise of Abaddon, and resigned to understanding why she remained silent instead of taking a stand. She’s even pretty funny: when Sam asks if he can ask her a question, she replies, “If it’s for a date, sorry. I never see anyone under 65. Too much drama.” By telling Sam her story and saving lives in the current day, Sister Julia finally unburdens herself, even if she cannot allow herself forgiveness. I know she is fictional, but she was well-written (by Adam Glass) and well-acted enough that I somehow still hope she finds peace.
6. Josie Was a Pussycat
The man and woman visiting Sister Julia on that fateful night in 1958? None other than Henry Winchester and a pre-Abaddon invaded Josie Sands. They believe they are casting out routine demons to prove their worth and gain admittance to the Men of Letters. Instead? They are doomed from the start. We learn so much from this flashback: more about the MoL itself and how it works, about how much Henry loved his wife Millie and his son (though John Winchester never, sadly, really knew), more about how Abaddon has been planning her rise to power for decades, and, the biggest reveal of all, that Josie’s unrequited love for Henry kept a Winchester man from being invaded by a Knight of Hell. It turns out that world’s angriest ginger willingly gave her meatsuit to Abaddon to spare Henry the fate.
Alaina Huffman’s performance was flawless here. “Please,” she begged, quietly. “Spare him. Take me. You have my permission.” She broke my heart. Huffman’s ability to switch between sad Josie and brutal Abaddon was captivating. The show is lucky to have her.
And why wouldn’t Josie be in love with Henry? He was far more than the glorified librarian spellcaster his first episode made him out to be. In true Winchester style, Henry lied his way in and cast demons out with a strong voice and a handsome visage, showing where the boys got both their courage and their good looks. Gil McKinney imbues Henry Winchester with just the right amount of hope and earnestness in the face of the massive amount of evil he faces. Henry really believes in his work—really believes that he is privileged to fight the fight. The awe he feels as he does the job is the polar opposite of what his eldest grandson is going through now. If only he could be there to guide Dean.
8. Having Flashbacks
There were so many cool flashbacks this episode. Of course there is the aforementioned huge storyline, Sister Julia’s telling of the rise of Abaddon. But we also are reminded of the stories that got us here in the first place and gave the boys the info they need to survive. We see Sam remember himself as soulless (and, it must be said, completely hot in a bad boy kind of way) giving him the clue of what has befallen the town. Dean, confronted with an addiction to the power of the mark as powerful as Crowley’s addiction to human blood, remembers the foretelling of his own destruction, thinking back to when Cain himself marked him for doom. It’s wonderful when the pieces of a puzzle come together, and bring the whole picture into focus.
9. Make Your Technology Work for You
Things Winchesters need, according to the internet: iron rings to punch ghosts in the face, hula hoops filled with salt to throw on the floor and step into, water pistols filled with holy water, rugs pre-embroidered with devil’s traps, and….VOICE RECORDED EXORCISMS ON THEIR CELLPHONES! At long last, just as they did with their anti-possession tattoos revealed in Season Three’s “Jus in Bello”, the Winchesters finally get with the program and make life easier on themselves. When Sam is about to thwart Abaddon’s evil assistant, demon-infested Sister Agnes, she tosses him about, hurting him before her snarky monologue. When Sam tries to exorcise her, she chokes him, naturally, but, instead of waiting for poor misguided Dean to burst in and save him, Sam saves himself by playing the exorcism voice memo on his cell phone.
Thanks for listening to us, show, and giving Sam the tool he needs to escape and win! Now get to work on those hula hoops, would you?
10. It’s All About Souls
The human soul. The most precious commodity in the Supernatural-verse. People, both greedy and desperate, sell theirs in crossroads deals for their heart’s desires. Sam spent the better part of a season fighting to get his back, almost killing himself in the process. Cas harnessed their power to ultimate destruction in the war for heaven. In the end, it’s all about the souls. Abaddon knows this. She is, as she was in 1958, harvesting human souls to make demons to serve her and her plan. She is creating a demon army, with “factories” doing the conversion, presumably all over the world. Sam frees the souls of Milton, and it is truly lovely to watch. Seeing Sam return the souls to the bodies they have been ripped from is almost healing for him, because he knows what it means to be both with and without one. And knowing that is what drives him back to Dean, putting aside the everyday call of monster hunting for the big picture of stopping the scariest she-demon of all time.
Seriously, Misha, that was a corker of an episode. Which is good, because we can re-watch it a few times while we work our way through another mini-hellatus. “Meta Fiction” will air April 15, and with it comes Metatron, Gadreel and, most important, Dean Winchester in the shower. Say it with me now: Rrrraaaooowwwrrrr. See you then.