Sunday, March 27, 2011

Supernatural - 2.20 - What Is and What Should Never Be - Review

WARNING - This is a review more than a recap so it is longer and I compare it to future seasons. Do not read if you have not watched through season 5 unless you want to be spoilered. I don't pretend not to know what happens in future episodes here like I usually do when recapping old episodes.

Preface - This review comes because someone asked why What Is and What Should Never Be is my favorite when I shy away from the emotional. Therefore it is more personal and more biased. Hey, I said it was my favorite. To appreciate why it resonated for me, you need to know where it and I were in season two overall. The beginning saw the brothers grieving John's death, the first extended overload of angst in our previously "no chick flick moments" show. It also saw the rise of Super Special Sammy and the other Special Kids, but we didn't know exactly why they were special. Add to that, an FBI manhunt and the Roadhouse, which only became popular after it burned down. Not only was it exhausting for the brothers, but it was also the turning point for Supernatural. We were on the cusp between monster of the week with mytharc thrown in and full on mytharc with some MOTW episodes thrown in. An exhilarating time to be a Supernatural fan but one racked with uncertainty too. As a diehard fan, I felt the same turmoil others did. Where was the show going? I was puzzled by the early angst onslaught, but I had more patience with it at that time. Fast forward a season and a half and I quickly lost my taste for brother angsting and "poor me" whining. Let's just say I was far more open to "emotional" episodes before they became the norm instead of the exception. Season 2 was largely pre-emo and at the pinnacle of it came WIaWSNB. An odd choice before the 2-part finale, but an inspired one at that.

Previously, the Winchesters had a normal childhood before it was all "saving people, hunting things - the family business." Mary and Jessica were flambéed and Dean was tired of hunting and bad luck.

On a monster hunt, the brothers split up with Sam researching and Dean scouting lairs. Sam worries about a cop car sitting outside their hotel, but it quickly moves on. I'm happy there's continuity between the last episode and this one. Sam: "Yeah, being fugitives. Freaking dance party." Dean: "Hey man, chicks dig the danger vibe." I smile at early Dean and Sam, relatively playful before destiny and the epicness of seasons 4 and 5 weighed them down. Don't get me wrong; seasons 4 and 5 had their moments but season 2 had a much lighter Dean and Sam. Sam exposits djinn and we learn genies are not Barbara Eden-ish, less head-nodding and more dying. Dean's more of an "I Dream of Jeannie" than a "Bewitched" man. He checks out a ruined warehouse over Sam's objections.

In the warehouse time forgot, we see a fan, a typewriter, and a bald guy stalking Dean. It's sufficiently creepy and I still jump when the djinn attacks. It has a penchant for tattoos and wears a sweater that looks like a cross between hair and asphalt no one smoothed down. Let's just say it would be the surefire winner of my school's Most Hideous Sweater contest. Plus his eyes and hand turn day-glo blue. It is the coolest monster Supernatural has ever had, bar none. He puts his glowing blue hand on Dean's forehead and Dean's eyes roll back into his head. That's one hunter down for the count. I love the season 2 title card, the one with the fire.

From Hell It Came, a 1957 movie about a killer tree, plays on an unknown TV. The clip may induce nightmares - from the terrible special effects and synopsis. Dean startles awake from a thunderclap, wondering about the woman lying next to him. I wonder about the necklace because it's not the amulet. The last time it went missing, the shapeshifter lifted it in "Skin". Hey, alter-Dean has a guitar, awesome touch. He immediately calls Sam, who is looking at lame e-mail from his friend Christopher Cooper. Hello Verizon product placement. Dean explains that the djinn attacked him but alter-Sam thinks he's drinking gin and drunk dialing. Ha! Nice job writers. At least he knows hot chick's name now. Checking the mail, Dean finds himself back in Lawrence, Kansas. Carmen walks in and he fakes it 'til he makes it. She offers to help his insomnia but her methods will likely keep him awake. Normally Dean would be all for this, but he's so freaked out he says he'll join her in a bit. Pictures imply that Dean and Carmen have been a couple for awhile, but a different picture freaks him out. He drops it and takes off.

Back at a familiar home, Dean frantically knocks and rings the doorbell. And who should answer it but Mary, dead Winchester matriarch. Dean's utter astonishment on seeing his mother, the way he pulls away from her touch, and the soft "I don't know" when she asks if he is alright is dead on. He has a vulnerability here we rarely see in seasons 1 and 2, and it makes this episode stand out against seasons 4-6 where it's vulnerability and despair overdose. This is not melodramatic. It's not drawn out, but it speaks volumes to me. You can see how he wants to believe it but he has hunted enough to doubt something this good. He's rough and unsure and I admit this is one of my favorite hugs. However it avoids emoangsting by Dean stumbling through John's death by stroke and the real childhood pictures of Jensen and Jared. As does Mary saying he's drunk, a theme in this episode and foreshadowing for episodes to come. The pace luckily doesn't allow us to dwell in one moment. Mary starts to call Carmen, but Dean wants to stay. When she kisses his forehead and he leans into her touch, my heart breaks a bit. Mary: "Get some rest. I love you." Dean: "Me too." Aw! Emotion in little, spare moments - no overly angsty speeches, no whining about their destiny. Just a beautiful, clean scene that gets me every time.

And then it's right back to the case. Yippee! Dean asks a KU (?) professor about djinn. I feared we would get a long exposition, a drawback of season 1 storytelling, but am happily surprised when Dean cuts him off. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. Get to the wish part." (snickers) I felt that way about exposition sections too, Dean. He asks if djinn could actually grant wishes, causing the professor to explain fact from fiction to Dean. (Editing snide remark here) Dean backtracks, saying that in the stories he is puzzled about why a powerful creature would voluntarily grant someone's wish. He muses out loud about self-defense or djinns not be evil. The professor interrupts by asking if he's drunk. Again, this was funny in season 2. Now it's just sad. Dean smiles: "Everybody keeps asking me that but, uh, no."

On campus, he pops open Metallicar's trunk to find old food wrappers and skin magazines instead of weapons. He smiles and tells her they are civilians. I cringe because Metallicar should be special and then wonder who throws food wrappers in their trunk. Aren't those usually found in the back seat? Oh well. He's stopped from musing by a girl in white, the costume of choice for ghosts everywhere. For some reason, Dean heads toward her and almost gets hit by a car. She vanishes in the chaos.

Back at Mary's, Dean enjoys a sandwich and by enjoys I mean stuffs large chunks in his mouth, a running physical gag then. He also talks through his food and acts like an unmannered oaf. It's all Dean. Mary gently asks whether he's going to work and we find out he's a mechanic. Makes sense. She's also weirded out that he wants to mow. "Are you kidding me? I'd love to mow the lawn." My mom would react the same way. I've made it a point to NOT know how to mow or iron. Keeps me from having to do either. And so starts one of my favorite non-speaking scenes ever. First, it's to "What a Wonderful World" - one of my all-time favorite songs. Second, Dean is so freaking happy, even when the mower gets stuck on the curb. I love how Dean waves to the neighbor who does the awkward, "why is he waving at me" wave back. I laugh every time and it's like I am right there with Dean. For once in his life, everything is perfect. When he sits on the porch drinking an El Sol beer, absolutely happy, I want to stay in that moment too. I can count on one hand the moments of true bliss for the brothers and that's just sad.

To make Dean's joy complete, Sam arrives with Jessica. He engulfs her in a huge hug until she squeaks, "Can't breathe." Again, I am happy with him. However, his joy makes him a bit slow on the uptake. Sam and Jessica flew in from California for Mary's birthday. Wow! That's awesome. I didn't even drive 2 hours for my mom's birthday when I was in college. She had to settle for a phone call and a belated card. Sadly, Sam snarks about Dean drinking beer so all's not well between the Winchester brothers. I wonder if Dean is fated to be an alcoholic, trips to hell aside. They celebrate at some pretentious restaurant serving bundled asparagus stalks. Exactly the place I avoid. Dean's not comfortable either, but he lights up when Sam and Jessica kiss. Carmen mentions she's worried about him, but Dean says he's really good. She suggests they get a cheeseburger after dinner and Dean jumps at that idea. "How did I end up with such a cool chick?" Carmen: "I've just got low standards." BWAH! I love Carmen. Until Lisa, she was the woman I liked best with Dean. How sad is that. Dean kisses her, but is interrupted by Sam and Jessica's engagement. Everyone is delighted and it's awesome to see Sam so joyful. Which of course is the Supernatural signal to chuck it all. Dean sees Ghost Girl, who looks far more bedraggled this time. He pushes past Sam to find her, but she flickers out. Unfortunately, his entire family looks at him oddly, noticing his strange behavior.

Returning to Mary's, Sam asks Dean about it but Dean brushes him off so he decides to head up to bed. Dean wants to grab a beer with him instead since it's only 9:00 pm. Sam shoots him down, giving him the stink eye. And with good reason it turns out. Sam questions Dean's embrace life good mood and objects to Sammy, so some things never change. Apparently, Dean and Sam don’t talk in part because Dean stole Sam's ATM card and prom date, Rachel Nave. Dean: "Yeah, that kind of sounds like me." Does it? While I see teen Dean not caring about prom date dibs, his and Sam's taste in women are very different. Sam: "Look it's alright man. I just, I'm not asking you to change. I just, uh, I don't know. I guess we just don't really have anything in common." Aw! Now that's just sad since the only thing they have in the supernatural world is each other. Dean cites hunting, but this Sam didn't grow up in that life. Dean says they should go hunting sometime and Sam walks away.

Back at his own home, Carmen commiserates with Dean's fractured Sam relationship. She reasons that they don’t spend enough time together to really know each other. "For the record, he doesn't know what he's missing." Dean is determined to repair things with Sam and it's refreshing to hear after the big season 4 rift. Dean: "This isn't going to make a lick of sense to you, but I kind of feel like I've been given a second chance and I don't want to waste it." He tells her she's the one and they kiss until she has to go to work. Dean's confused about her night job, but is very impressed with himself when she pulls out nursing scrubs. "I'm dating a nurse. That is so respectable." Ha! Love the leer. 20 minutes in and the Winchesters are still happy. It's a record.

Unfortunately, Dean's night consists of channel-hopping through infomercials and the hammer of doom drops. The news covers the 1-year anniversary of the Britannia Flight 424 crash, aka the flight they saved in Phantom Traveler. Newspaper articles show the shtriga from Something Wicked killed 9 kids, and so on. Nice depressing continuity there. As Dean realizes that everyone he ever saved died, he sees Ghost Girl again. He follows her to the bedroom to get a nice jolt of rotting corpses in his closet before they and Ghost Girl flicker out. Bye, bye happy days! By the way, Dean and Carmen have a sweet closet.

Dean visits John's grave and let me state for the record that this is one of my two least favorite scenes this episode. It's here we first encounter overly dramatic angst. Yes, I know it's necessary and I understand how he feels. Yes, I think Jensen Ackles did a great job. However, it's only the glee-high I have from the earlier bliss that allows me to ride right over this angst. Dean tells John's grave about the formerly saved, now dead people. He mentions Ghost Girl and for a bit I think we'll get through without tears, but then Dean puts words in John's dead mouth. And man is that John a class-A jerk! "Your happiness for all those people's lives, no contest, right?" Dean questions why he has to play the hero. He brings up Mary's life and Sam's engagement and down come the manly tears. I do feel for him, but thankfully the scene is cut short as Dean walks away. 1 minute and 10 seconds of angst balanced by 20 minutes of Winchester happiness. Yeah, I can take that trade-off.

We flash back to the pilot with Sam and Jessica sleeping in a light-filled room. Either the neighbors own a lighthouse or someone on set forgot it was nighttime. The Impala roars in the background. Jessica turns, Sam wakes, and Dean noisily breaks in. Second verse same as the first, except this Sam has a bat. Dean takes him down in one move and instead of "Easy tiger" we get "That was so easy, I'm embarrassed for you." I may be laughing but Sam is not. Dean snarks, "I was looking for a beer." Sam: "In the china cabinets?" Bwah! Yeah, that excuse didn't work last time either. I half expect Jessica to turn on the lights in a Smurf shirt. Sam sees the silver collection and assumes Dean is robbing Mary. Yikes! That relationship is rocky. I'd at least give my brother the benefit of the doubt. Dean claims gambling debts. Sam: "I can't believe we're even related." Ouch! Dean: "I'm sorry that we don't get along and I wish to hell I could stay to fix it, but I've got to do this. People's lives depend on it." He goes to leave and tells Sam to tell Mary he loves her. An already suspicious Sam realizes something's up. "I'll see you Sammy." Oh and it's day now for those keeping track. Until it's not, the next second. Huh? Bad flashbacks of Bug's Insta-Dawn begin.

Dean sits in the Impala outside the house, presumably contemplating the end of his happiness. Perhaps that's why he doesn't hear Sam until he gets in the car. Dean tells him to get out, that it is too dangerous and he could get hurt. Sam says tough. "Look, whatever stupid thing you're about to do, you're not doing it alone and that's that." Yes! You tell him alt-Sam. I love when Sam gets forceful for Dean's own good. Dean asks why and Sam answers, "Because you're still my brother." It gets me every time. I loved this line when I first heard it, but by season 6 it means even more. If alt-Sam knows the importance of family in the middle of tough times, then demon allegiances, hell journeys, trust issues, and more deaths than one can count can be overcome. It gives me faith that the brothers are in it for the long haul and nothing will ever stop that. Dean appreciates it too. "B****" Sam: "What are you calling me a b***for?" (chortles and snickers breathlessly) You gotta love that. Funniest dialogue of the night!

They take off together and Sam asks about the bag of blood. He freaks and it's fun, good times again. Angsting over; they've got a case to solve. Dean explains how djinns are only killed by silver knives dipped in lamb's blood. It's very odd that every creature is killed by very specific things. I can't imagine the trial and error it took to find this one out. Sam: "You needed a silver knife dipped in lamb's blood, why?" Very good question, Sammy. He tells Dean to stop the car and Dean explains monsters to him. Sam diagnoses psychotic breakdown. Dean: "I wish." Ha! This whole scene is awesome! Great delivery from both. Sam pulls out his phone, Dean rolls down the window, and out goes the phone. No more product placement for Verizon. Dean says they've got work to do, and condescends that Sam should sit tight so he doesn't get them killed. Hey! Time out. Sam does as much saving as you do so hop off the throne, Mister High and Mighty. Hey, we've got classic rock - an awesome episode gets even better.

Either the drive took an entire day or night follows the Winchesters everywhere. It's pitch black and Sam's asleep when they get to the warehouse of their glowing hand nemesis. Dean is your typical annoying older brother, waking Sam by shining a flashlight in his eyes. Apparently, they are in Illinois so night does follow them. How depressing is that! Sam says nothing's there, but Dean hears a whimper. Sam nervously gulps and the two dead bodies previously seen in alt-Dean's closet are there. Ghost Girl is alive, so not a ghost after all. The djinn returns as the Winchesters hide. The girl whimpers for her dad but she gets djinn-juiced. Then the djinn creeps me out twice. He does a weird arm-nuzzling thing and then he drinks her blood straight from the IV. Gross! Sam is squicked too, but unfortunately, the djinn hears him. Luckily, he heads upstairs (huh?) and while Sam flips about the supernatural, Dean realizes the girl is living in a dream world. Suddenly, Dean gets it. Everything was a dream. He's tied up in the warehouse too. "What if all this is in my head?" The camera jerkily pans up to Dean's face and we cut for commercial. The first time I saw this, I ranted at every ad that came on.

Dean surmises the djinn's glowing hand is an acid trip so he can savor his snacks. Dean realizes he's "catching flashes of reality" when he sees the girl. He must be catatonic and can see what's around him but can't wake up. Sam says they need to go now. He starts pulling Dean but Dean stops him. "I don't think you are real." Sam touches Dean's arm to prove he's real but Dean doesn't buy it. He pulls out a knife and I react like Sam does. What are you doing? Put down the knife. I thought he would cut Sam too the first time. I should have known Dean would never do that. He plans to kill himself in the dream because it will wake him up. Of course, Sam helpfully points that if it isn't a dream, he'll just die. He pleads for Dean to stop, but Dean's 90% sure he's right.

Enter Mama, Carmen, and Jess. Make that 100% sure. Sam asks why he kept digging; he was happy. Mary tells him to put the knife down, but Dean sadly says she's not real. Mary: "It doesn't matter. It's still better than anything you had." Ouch! That hurts because it's true. In the dream, they are a family. Dean brings up the pesky djinn draining his blood thing, but Mary counters that it will feel like a lifetime. So, Dean's perfect world works amazingly like hell. Great! Mary: "I promise. No more pain or fear, just love and comfort and safety. Dean, stay with us." Dean's face reflects his longing, and Jessica speaks next. "You don’t have to worry about Sam anymore. You get to watch him live a full life." Then Carmen kisses him. "We can have a future together. Have our own family. I love you, Dean. Please." Finally, Sam throws Dean's words back at him. "Why's it our job to save everyone? Haven't we done enough? I'm begging you. Give me the knife." The sad strings of crummy elevator music thrum in the background, ruining a perfectly good scene while the camera pans on the alt-family's faces. Dean: "I'm sorry."

Dean plunges the knife into his abdomen and I jump every time Sam screams for Dean. And we're back in the real world with a frantic Sam trying to wake Dean up. Dean: "Auntie Em. There's no place like home." Sam: "Thank God. I thought I lost you there for a second." Dean: "You almost did." As Sam hacks at the bindings holding Dean, Glowy Hand suddenly appears out of nowhere. Dean shouts a warning but the knife drops. Glowy Hand is about to djinn juice Sam, when Dean pulls himself out of the ropes and stabs the creature in the back. Bye bye, glow stick. Dean sees former Ghost Girl cry and realizes she's alive. Sam cuts her down and Dean catches her. Dean: "I got you. We're going to get you out of here, okay. I got you. I got you." Sam looks worriedly at Dean.

Back at the Aladdin's lamp hotel room, Dean looks at a magazine while Sam learns the girl is okay. Man I miss season 1 novelty rooms. They were awesome and so is this one. What do you know? Carmen models for Dean's favorite beer! In typical season 1 fashion, Sam wants to talk. Surprisingly, Dean goes for it. He calls Sam a wuss, and Sam susses out that they didn't get along. Sam wonders why the dream world wasn't perfect but Dean says he wished Mary was alive. Without hunting, the brothers didn't have much in common. Sam's glad they get along and this is a perfect time to end the discussion in my book. 30 seconds of emotion and then hit the road in that beautiful car. (huge sigh) No dice. Sam compliments Dean for pulling himself out. Dean laments over Mary and grandkids and if this were season 5, I would be rolling my eyes. But in season 2, I wasn't used to trudging through guilt fests. Sam reminds Dean that it wasn't real, but Dean still wanted it. "I mean ever since dad, all I can think about is how much this job's cost us. We’ve lost so much. We've sacrificed so much." The violins move over so a full orchestra can play. Sam: "People are alive because of you. It's worth it, Dean. It is. It's not fair and you know it hurts like hell, but it's worth it." And we sob into the credits. Well, in honor of full disclosure, I usually skip the last three minutes so I still ride high on the djinn knife twist. That's my perfect ending.

So why do I love best an admittedly emotional and sometimes emo angsty episode when I typically prefer to avoid those? I guess the short answer is because it's the one episode in which the Winchesters are happy. In a season of wild emotional rides, the writers finally gave the brothers a free pass to feel joy for a moment and with that they gave us, the fans, a pass to be happy with them. It may not have been real. It may have come with consequences, but they enjoyed life without worrying about something killing them. For me, it was a needed break before the incredibly depressing saga of Sam's first death. While I love the humor of Supernatural, it is usually gallows humor. Something to get through the depression and the fear and the loneliness. It makes me laugh, but I don't feel better about their lives. I can count on one hand the number of times the Winchesters have been truly happy in the first six seasons and that's just sad.

Second, while this one is emotional, it's only emoangsty in 2 places for me. At John's gravesite, it is over quickly and balanced out by all the previous joy. I can stand a few tears, especially when there isn’t a lot of discussion with them. It's why I don’t mind the scene at John's funeral pyre. Then there's the emotional wrap-up that in season 2 was still pretty new. Nowadays, people have a fit if an episode doesn’t have it. In all honesty, I liked this scene more the first time I saw it because it was novel. It was one of my least favorite scenes, but I didn’t eye roll it.

I also think this episode has the most interesting monster of the week of all time. Not only was it the coolest looking with the tattoos and blue eye-hand combination, but it was also the most sadistic. Some people think this death was humane and how nice it must be to die in your own happy world. For me, the fact that the djinn gives them what they want while killing them makes it worse. He kills them with happiness and that creeps me out. I always wonder if these people know at the end that they have been betrayed by their own desires. That would truly suck out loud. In the end, I find djinn juice cruel and deeply disturbing and it makes the djinn the best one-shot villain to me.

Finally, this episode had perfect timing. In all honesty if it were in season 5 or even 4, I would have liked it but it wouldn't be my favorite. In season 5, I would not be able to get beyond the ending scene. It sounds too much like the constant harping and whining from both brothers in the later seasons. I understand being a hero is hard, and believe me I would not want to be one, but there's a reason why I think Harry Potter 5 is the worst book with Harry's constant Post-Traumatic Stress rage. There's a reason why I want to smack Frodo halfway through The Lord of the Rings. Call me a hypocrite but I want a hero who doesn't always remind me how much it sucks to be a hero. I deal with emotion and even enjoy it from time to time. I think the show would be unbelievable if they never showed how things were affecting Dean and Sam. However, for me, ending an episode by talking out their feelings over a beer and the Impala should be a rare and priceless thing. The constant "woe is me" complaining has been done to death. I'm okay with emotion; I just can't stand the emoangsting that slows the plot and leaves things on a sour note, especially since we rarely get happy moments to balance them out. I knew I would watch the second episode when Dean said "No chick flick moments" and I wish they would return to that. The overwhelming weight of their grief and guilt is weighing this fan down.

Screencaps by Supernatural Fans Online and Watching America
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