Sometimes? A girl needs to catch her breath. And after the jaw dropping, breath-takingly badassiness of the last two episodes, I needed the relative calm of this one to prepare for the inevitable coming storm. The pieces are all being put into place for what is supposed to be the season finale to end all season finales, and this episode set a few in motion. So let’s discuss “The Werther Project,” in which Sam searches for an Evil to English dictionary, Rowena joins the chain gang, Dean hallucinates an old friend, and the Winchesters deal with a security system that defines “overkill.”
1. Trigger Warning
(So, okay, I know that that photo doesn’t come from the opening montage but can I just say GAHHHHHH! That ghost/mother’s smile is CREEPY!) Our story begins in 1973 in St. Louis, Missouri, where Suzie, a typical, gender-burdened teen is required to do the laundry while her brother snarks at her and blares music. She heads to the basement and, for some unknown reason, she is compelled to bust down a wall (the sound of which is apparently covered by that rather fantastic blue K-Tel record) and open a cobweb covered safe to let out a smoke monster. (God, I hate when that happens.) The smoke monster? Not so much the one from Lost as one that infects people’s minds and causes them to commit suicide. It must be said: the set design for the 70’s era is pretty great—I think my family owned that console television and indulged in a fair amount of avocado and burnt orange in our color scheme back then. The VFX were also cool—the green smoke monster swirled delightfully. And the subject matter? Would come to remind me of how Buffy the Vampire Slayer used to use supernaturally themed stories to talk about real life issues. As this episode would show, suicide is not, despite MASH’s claim to the contrary, painless. In fact, the subject is so serious and in such need of attention that Jared Padalecki, first by himself and then with Jensen Ackles, have begun to raise money and awareness through Represent campaigns. You can learn more about the latest one, active through 4/29/15, here.
2. Profile Pics
Rowena lays her tarot cards on the table, so to speak, and lets Sam know that her payoff for translating the Book of the Damned is that Sam kill Crowley. “If you’re wondering how a mother can get to the point of wanting her own son…” she begins, her doe eyes downcast. “No. I’m really not,” Sam interrupts, making me laugh. “I’ll do it. I’ll kill Crowley.” I think Sam’s been wanting to for ages anyway—this is just a two-fer. As Sam and Rowena talk back and forth, we are treated to some lovely profile shots of the two, the beginning of many that we would see throughout the episode.
I don’t know what dictates camera shots and the like, but I do know that our boys look great from every angle, and we don’t see this one a lot. These shots were fascinating to me. (And gorgeous. Did I mention gorgeous?) Anyway, Rowena tells Sam she needs a codex to translate the Book of the Damned, created by Nadia, a Grand Coven witch. Sadly, Nadia is dead, and BTW? The Men of Letters killed her. Sam needs to go home and do what he does even more than getting tied up or choked: research. Before he can go he gets a text from Dean and takes it mid-conversation (prompting an adorably Scottish “So rude” from Rowena.) Dean’s hunting alone. Uh oh.
3. Should’ve Had a V6
Sam races to Dean’s side but he is proven unnecessary. Dean has satisfied the rage of the Mark of Cain by killing six vampires in a crappy trailer that probably doubles as a meth lab. He sort of cleans his blade and sheaths it, and it was so difficult to do I wonder if vamp blood is the texture of rubber cement. Dean finds a cheap beer in the bloody fridge and is delighted. Sam arrives, see the carnage, and is stunned.
Padalecki and Ackles (and, no doubt, their incredible chemistry) make their testy little exchange adorable, even amongst the headless. “You couldn’t have waited?” Sam asks, gesturing with a machete, as Winchesters do to make a point. Dean handled it. Six vamps. Solo. A personal best. He also wants Sam to stop looking at him like a “diseased killer puppy.” And to go home and wash off the “vamp juice.” (Gag.) Dean’s attitude remains as sunny as we saw at the end of the last episode. He’s not only made his peace with having the mark, he seems downright jaunty about it. Maybe he doesn’t want that cure Sam is so desperately looking for for more reasons than one.
4. Bunker Down
Sam decides to wait until the de-vampjuiced Dean is wearing his headphones and sleeping it off on the mattress that remembers him. Speaking of which, how cute is he???
Adorable. That’s what he is. A lot of fans don’t like the Bunker, I know, because they think it takes away from the road trip nature of the early seasons. That’s true. It does. But I have come to love that imaginary building so much for one reason: it gives Dean Winchester a home. The Impala has always been that for him, and I would never demean Baby’s role. But I, for one, cherish seeing the boys with their own bed and a cereal bowl to eat from and a place to hang their photos. Especially Dean. It’s all he ever wanted.
Sam researches the codex and finds it linked to Cuthbert Sinclair’s (Hey! Remember him?) expulsion from the MoL. Sam finds an audio reel to listen to, and we flash back to an olde tymie tyme tableau that looks like something out of Mad Men. (Kudos to the lighting department for establishing the scene so well. It’s all the same stuff but the time line is so clear. Bravo.) Apparently, Cuthbert made a “Werther Box” to protect the codex that is so effective that it causes 98% lethality (FYI? Werther refers to the effect of copycat suicides that occur after a widely publicized initial tragedy.) Two MoL members were killed trying to disarm it, and apparently you only get one “I’m sorry” per incident when it comes to Cuthbert. Cuthbert calls the MoL assembly small minded, which is fair, and librarians, which isn’t that insulting, really, and it sounds like Cuthbert was more hunter than researcher which is weird considering he himself was assembling a library of monsters. The MoL assembly offers leniency for a price. Cuthbert replies, “Let me tell you what you can do with your leniency.” And…doesn’t finish. What? WHAT? I wanna know, damn it! But I never will because Cuthbert walks out, the MoL decide to inter the box in St. Louis and guard it in perpetuity. Unless they all get killed first. Which they did. Oops. Sam finds the St. Louis chapter and writes down the address on a pad and COME ON, SAM! Have you never read an Encyclopedia Brown book???? That’s the easiest trail to leave, like, ever.
5. Beauty and the Best
Since I’m on a general love high for the crew this go around, can I mention how Rowena’s costumes still rock my world? She is wearing a gorgeous nightie and is the most beautiful bed hog ever. Sam calls, and she wakes up with the gaspy equivalent of an ugly cry. She holds the phone about 50 feet from her face and I’ve been there Rowena. Get yourself some bi-focals, babe.
“I’m over 300 years old,” she tells Sam. “Beauty sleep isn’t optional.” Sam, with zero effs to give for Rowena’s lovely face, tells her he has a lead on the codex and asks for a spell to break the Werther box enchantment. She suggests one, warning that it isn’t recommended for amateurs. She angles to attend and I totally get that, man, because riding shotgun? With Sam Winchester? Yes, please. Before she can fully fantasize about that, Sam says he’ll take his chances, thanks. Whomp whomp. I am loving these two as a pairup, actually. Maybe the spinoff should be me and these two having madcap Three’s Company style adventures. Dean can play Larry. Crowley can be Mr. Roeper. It’ll be fun. Who’s in?
6. Every Move You Make? I’ll Be Watching You.
Sam heads to Missouri and that beautiful house from the opener? Now looks like a set from Hoarders. (Recapper’s note: There are about 20 newspapers on the porch which begs the questions—does anybody besides my elderly mother even get the paper anymore? How many pile up before people stop delivering? And who is delivering, anyway? Are paperboys still a thing?) Sam goes to pick the lock but a woman behind the door, who we will learn is Suzie, sees him and sticks her gun through the mail slot (not a euphemism.) Sam tries to explain but Suzie says that Sam has three choices: get arrested, get your bits blown off, or get back. He’ll says he’ll get back, thanks, and the fandom rejoices that the unfortunately nicknamed peen of death is safe. Sam goes to pout in his car, and someone gets in the passenger seat. It’s Dean! “Heya, Sammy. How’s the case.” And damn, isn’t he proud of himself?
Dean says he’s here to save Sam’s sack (both a euphemism and not) and smiles so charmingly you could die. He admits that going solo on the vamp hunt was a douche move, and, after finding Sam’s location on the notepad (SEE? Rookie move, Winchester.) he wants them to work together. He just doesn’t understand why this case. Sam doesn’t mention the codex, natch, but tells him Werther’s a timebomb and it needs to be diffused. Sam says it is their responsibility. “We’re Men of Letters. It’s our legacy.”
Dean manages to get into Suzie’s house with a little gasp-moan at the sight of her gun, which is fairly hilarious. He says he is from the neighborhood watch and has she seen Sam? Suzie describes Sam as a tall white fella with pretty hair. INDEED, Suzie! Dean engages Suzie, who lives alone with Gus. Who is Gus? Her gun. Awwww. (Recapper’s question: Does Dean’s pearl handle pistol have a name? I’d like to think it does. Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments.) Suzie lives alone since Aunt Pauline went into the basement. “No one goes in the basement,” she says, literally haunted. Except poor dumb Sam, natch. Downstairs, Sam finds the spot on the wall where the safe is. His tipoff? There are about 1,000 chairs in front of it. I sense a song coming on. “999 chairs on the wall. 999 chairs! If one of those chairs should happen to fall…Suzie will threaten your brother with Gus.” (Okay, I admit it. It needs work. This will never make it to the Surly Bobbys album.) Suzie tells Dean she knows her social skills are rusty (far less effective without the air quotes, Suzie) but she knows that they are trying to get the box and she is not going to let that happen. But it’s too late. Sam’s spell has sputtered, and the Werther smoke is free.
7. The Grand Illusion
Both Suzie and Dean are affected by the smoke, though Dean appears normal, at least at first. Suzie is decidedly not. She sees her dead family and it chills her and makes her panic, wildly shooting. Her family blame her for their deaths until her mom softens and tells her “You don’t have to be sad. And you don’t have to be alone. Not anymore,” and this is what I mean about supernaturally telling a real story, because what her mom says is one of the many lies real suicidal depression tells. And sadly, Suzie believes it. Because she shoots herself dead. Sam calls for Dean for help, but gets cut off with a “Boo.” Suzie is back-ish, and she is super cranky. She taunts Sam, saying he doesn’t care about human life as long as he and Dean make it out alive, and Sam can’t refute her. “You’ll do anything to keep clinging to that doomed brother of yours,” she says, which may as well be the tagline of the show. Suzie tries to encourage Sam to kill himself with his own gun to stop him from killing more innocents. And then…?
Rowena is there! In a gorgeous dress and cape. Somehow pulling off royal blue eyeshadow. Making Suzie’s ghost disappear like a badass. “Told you you need me,” she says. And Dean? Well, he’s going to need some help, too. Because as he sees a fleeing ghost and takes a step onto a grey and jagged landscape we see it: Dean, somehow, is back in Purgatory woods.
7. I Get By With a Little Help from My…Friends?
Rowena takes her cape off and makes herself at home, knowing Dean is too far gone in his illusion to see her. She tells Sam that they have to kill the illusion at the root, and that means destroying the box. Which Sam has no problem with, except he doesn’t want to leave a now potentially suicidal Dean all alone. And teeny Rowena channels all of fandom by saying, “Well then, we’ll just have to tie up the bonny lad. Could be fun.” RRRAAOOOWWRRR! And also? What a refreshing change it is to see someone other than Sam tied up!
Dean, completely out of it, trolls the “woods” until he is attacked by a Leviathan. Remember those? Oh, Season Seven. How kind-of innocent we all were then. Just as the Leviathan is about to bite it, literally, he is killed by BENNY! B-b-b-Benny is a Vamp! He smiles and calls Dean “Chief” in his soft drawl. And it must be said, he looks wonderful.
Dean tries to ignore Benny, even though it is so good to see him, calling him a figment of his imagination. Benny teases and cajoles as Dean leads them in circles. I must say, I was never hugely invested in Benny’s story, but I do remember his demise and how much it hurt Dean to lose his friend. And Ty Olsson does a wonderful job as a gentle giant, as human as a monster ever was, and that makes his brief return, however imaginary, most welcome.
Meanwhile, Sam and Rowena head for the basement. The Werther box has an inscription on it but the light source is dimmed so they can’t read it. Rowena comments about the construction and sadism of the box and its spell, calling it “deliciously baroque” and man, I am gonna miss her when she’s gone because she rocks my socks.
Rowena fixes Sam’s spell easily and the writing lights up like it’s in Harry Potter. She’s like an evil Hermione. And yet again? Props to the props, man. That department is on fire with its cool gadgets and gizmos worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster.
Dean continues the circles in his mind, and Benny says he knows why. “This is where you wanna be. Your happy place. And you don’t wanna leave.” Benny reminds him of the purity of the fight—of killing with no consequence. Dean is tired of fighting, but Benny knows the truth of it. “The Mark ain’t. So, can’t leave. Don’t wanna stay. Bit of a bind, ain’t it? Good thing there’s always a third way out.” He offers Dean the weapon, to kill himself to avoid killing others or leaving Sam and Cas with the burden of taking his life because it will ruin them. (Another lie of depression and suicide: killing yourself will make it easier on your friends and family and relieve them of the burden of you.) In the house, Dean breaks his restraints easily and makes to kill himself with a broken bottle (Did that bottle say “Winchester?” It looked like it did. If so? We see what you did there.) Dean tells Benny he always loved Purgatory, and it’s as good a place as any to call it a day. “I’d do it,” Dean says. “If I really had to I would. But the real Benny would never let me.” And the Mark won’t either. Once again, Dean is forced to kill his friend. He runs Benny through. Benny disappears into smoke and Dean is back.
8. WHAT’S IN THE BOX?!?!?!
In the basement, Rowena reads the inscription on the Werther box and Sam translates on the fly cause his Latin is just. That. Awesome. “To silence the box, slake its thirst with the blood of our own.” Sam knows the box wants MoL blood. Legacy blood. His blood. “Oh,” Rowena says. Sam pulls out a blade, cuts his skin, and fists his hand to drain his arm. The gears begin to turn, but then? The box slows. “It wants more, Sam,” Rowena says. “It wants all.” “The codex. The path to the cure. It’s in there,” Sam replies. “If it wants more, it’ll get more.” Rowena “helps” by milking his arm with her hands, and while I, too, would love a crack at feeling up Sam Winchester’s bicep it’s all pretty evil.
Dean clambers down the stairs and sees that Sam is alone. Wait. What? Dean tries to stop Sam—tries to say it isn’t real—and they tussle for Sam’s blade. “It needs legacy blood. Enough to take a life!” Sam protests, finally, in his weakness, succumbing to Dean’s strength. Dean bandages Sam’s arm quickly—I guess all that practice makes perfect. “Yeah, well,” Dean says, “It doesn’t have to come from one legacy does it? If it needs more blood it can have mine.” These brothers. Always willing to bleed out to save the other. Now Sammy isn’t the only one swooning. As the box begins to open, Rowena disappears. She was an illusion designed to kill Sammy the whole time! Clever. The boys now have the codex. But only one of them knows what to do with it.
9. Together Forever and Never to Part
Dean overkills the box and turns it into scrap metal while a woozy Sam rests in the Impala. “It says something, doesn’t it?” Dean says. “Wether splits us up in there and within an hour we’re both on the brink of death?” Dean apologizes to Sam for going rogue. Sam says they’re even. “The universe is trying to tell us something we both already know,” Dean continues. “We are stronger together than apart.” THIS IS WHAT WE’RE SAYING, BOYS!!! And this is the truth of fighting depression and suicide, too. We are stronger together than apart.
Dean goes on to muse about the codex, wondering what is so powerful that it needs to be protected that strongly. Sam lies that he doesn’t know but that they will keep it safe. Looks like Werther’s going back to the original. Location, that is. The Huntcave.
10. I’m a Slave 4 U
Or maybe it isn’t. because back in the real world Sam leads Rowena to a dark, demolished basement warded up eight ways to Sunday. She is breathless at the sight of the codex—even seems to have forgotten why Sam acquired it. Sam asks if it will translate the BotD. Find a cure for the Mark. “Oh, aye,” Rowena says. “Good,” he replies, and promptly chains her up.
“What in the hell is this?” “Insurance. Comfortable?” Sam asks and he smirks. And Row is pissssssssed. “We had an agreement, Giant!” Sam reminds her that the agreement stands—she translates the BotD (and that is all) and he then he burns the book and kills Crowley. Sam holds up the smallest key on the planet (seriously: it looks like it opens a diary lock) and walks away. Row tries her pleady voice. “You can’t just leave me here!” “You want out?” Sam asks. “Hurry up. And get to work.” She calls him a bampot and he walks away, and their unholy union truly begins.
As they sang in West Side Story, “Something’s coming…I don’t know what it is…but it is…gonna be GREAAAAT!” There are only four episodes left, people, so hold on to your hats. And join me next time as we discuss episode twenty, “Angel Heart.” See you then!