One of the pleasures of Supernatural is that it is largely unpredictable. Allegiances are constantly shifting, and this week’s sworn allies are next week’s deadly enemies. Of course, this too could become largely boring—if no one is ever to be trusted, then that’s as great a tell on such a series as never having characters going back on their word would be. And like any fixed game, we’d lose interest. The reason, largely, that this does not happen with Supernatural is because it’s not the shifting alliances that surprise us so much as why they alter and just how much the entire story-landscape changes when they do. Most of the time. Because there is one constant that does begin to grate after a while no matter what the explanation, and that’s the handling of the relationship between Dean (Jensen Ackles) and Sam (Jared Padalecki). From the beginning, it’s been clearly established that bond between the two is fraught. At first this was largely because of Sam’s decision to try to have a normal life and Dean’s own to follow his father into battle. As the years have worn on, it’s been for a variety of reasons: their differing attitudes about women, the work they do, and even their willingness to martyr themselves or others for greater good. But despite the reason, certain things have (almost) always been true: when it comes down to a choice between siblings and the rest of humanity, we will always be the ones thrown under the bus to save the currently endangered brother. Not that they are actually grateful for that sacrifice. Which we see for the umpteenth time in “Soul Survivor” and “Paper Moon.” Most of “Soul Survivor” is taken up with Sam’s attempt to purge his recently captured brother of the demon who seems to have taken up residence in the Cain-branded Dean. The only way he knows how to do this is through a ritual they’ve performed repeatedly and which has worked with fairly garden-variety demons, but which has a tendency to fail in the more extreme cases of infestation. Castiel (Misha Collins), Crowley (Mark Sheppard), Dean, and even Sam himself express doubts about the ability of the usual charm to work on Dean, especially since, unlike other situations, there’s no specific demon inhabiting him. The possession is somehow tied to the Mark of Cain, but the Mark of Cain is far more than this. So when the demon suddenly, and at the eleventh hour (after Sam admits that he thinks he may be killing his brother rather than saving him), seems to leave Dean—again, without the usual special effects we’ve come to associate with such an outcome, we are given more than a little reason to wonder if Dean has really been released, or if the thing inhabiting him is playing a longer game. But in the meantime, the exorcism sets up a scene we’ve seen over and over: the boys in conflict. Dean doesn’t want the ritual to work—he claims to like the amoral life that’s he’s been enjoying, and alternately curses and tries to manipulate his brother into giving up, primarily by pointing out that whatever his own supposed sins, Sam is far from guiltless, having lured a man not only to his death but eternal damnation in order to save Dean. We’ve been here a good half dozen times—so much so that it’s almost pointless whether it’s Sam trying to save Dean or vice versa anymore. The rationales are always the same as is the writers’ ability to come up with an explanation for why the impossible is suddenly not, and both brothers are able to walk away (though rarely unscathed). And while the stakes in this case were as serious as they usually are, this time the confrontation and resolution were substantially less fulfilling than we are used to. Writers Brad Buckner & Eugenie Ross-Leming don’t give the brothers anything new to bring to this old table, and Ackles, who also directs “Soul Survivor,” seems no more inspired than his character would be if he were leading this effort: the staging of the face-off is unimaginative and more an act of brute-force than artistry. Only the pursuit through the halls really gets our blood pumping. “Paper Moon” works better, if only because it complements and, in part, critiques “Soul Survivor.” Brit Sheridan returns as werewolf Kate, one of the few monsters that Sam and Dean have allowed to walk free. When we last saw her, she made it clear she had no interest in pack companionship, but the boys soon learn that she has turned her dying sister in order to save that younger sibling’s life after a terrible car accident. However, unlike her sister who has successfully struggled and resisted the temptation to feed on humans, Tasha (Emily Tennant) revels in her strength and evil and has turned pack members of her own. In the end, the two sisters, mirroring Sam and Dean in “Soul Survivor,” argue their different ethical standpoints, and Kate eventually makes the decision that Sam and Dean cannot, killing her sister rather than risk allowing her to continue killing and infecting innocent humans. But again, it’s not like we haven’t seen this before. The last nine seasons have given us plenty of examples of others who have been willing to kill the ones they love most in order to keep the rest of us safe. And like with Sam and Dean, it’s always a case of “there’s no other way.” Except that the boys, through sheer stubbornness, resist this message, fail to make the called-for sacrifice, and somehow everything turns out all right in the end. Is this all just a little too convenient? On most shows, I would say yes. But given a conversation on last year’s episode, “The Purge,” I’m inclined to think that this is an intentional criticism of the pair’s ethics. That episode has Dean trying to make up with Sam (again, the two being in a constant cycle of break-up-and-make-up) by trying to justify the lengths he’s gone to in the then-recent past to save Sam by framing it in terms of love. Sam rightly calls bullshit, especially on Dean’s point that this is what they do for each other, by pointing out times when he has refused to what Dean has—Sam did leave his brother “dead” in Purgatory—and by calling Dean’s motivation what it is: selfishness. Dean has lived his life from a young age trying to carry out his father’s crusade. It’s been clear from the beginning that despite the fact that Sam’s own existence was uprooted, Dean is glad to have his brother at his side, regardless of the cost to either of them or anyone else. Dean will literally move Heaven, Earth, and Hell in order to avoid the loneliness that has plagued him in all those years on the road. He does not possess the strength that Kate does to do the right thing when it’s called for. “Paper Moon” reminds us of this ongoing thread by providing a strong parallel but never going overboard in making its point. And because it follows “Soul Survivor” so closely, it also highlights that Sam is not really much better, last season’s protestations to the contrary. Especially since it has not been firmly established that Sam’s demonic ritual gambit has actually been successful. If Dean does not have the control over the Mark of Cain that “Soul Survivor” suggests, or does but is up to no good, Kate’s moral fortitude will only become more stark as the season wears on. I think, given the show’s track record, that this is precisely what is about to unfold. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related One Response Supernatural 10.07 “Girls, Girls, Girls” & 10.08 “Hibbing 911” - Psycho Drive-In December 9, 2014 […] making such sacrifices—yet another sexist stereotype—on the show before. But as I argued in my review of “Paper Moon” earlier this season, these moments often do precisely the opposite of what Rowena does: rather than […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.