Soldier’s Heart. Shell Shock. Combat Exhaustion. Stress Response Syndrome. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Whatever we’ve called it, it’s a simple truth that when we send men (and women) off to war, what returns is sometimes something different. Something other. Yes, that person is still there, inside. But it’s as though they are possessed by something, something that turns them into someone we don’t recognize. Often, someone dangerous. That this week’s episode, “The Things They Carried,” is a metaphor for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, should be a surprise to no one, really. The episode title itself is an allusion to a collection of short stories of the same name written by Tim O’Brien and published in 1990. The semi-autobiographical stories are about the experiences of Alpha platoon during the Vietnam not-War…or maybe they’re not. After all, one of O’Brien’s main points is that factual truth is not all that indispensable when it comes to telling a story. Sometimes there are more important things to be learned. And this week was certainly a lesson for returning character Cole Trenton (Travis Aaron Wade). After one soldier exsanguinates a young woman and then kills himself in a fairly spectacular way, the boys roll into town to investigate and find a sheriff all too inured (sadly) to unexpected violence and suicide in a military hamlet. When a second soldier, Kit Verson (Richard de Klerk), seems to be on the same destructive path, the Winchesters set out to stop him, only to find Cole standing in their way. Kit is a friend of his, and while Cole has intellectually accepted that the brothers are tasked with a necessary duty, he wants to make sure that they do everything they can to save Kit, rather than simply killing him. That Cole has to intervene is a reminder both to us and the hunters: we’ve all gotten so used to seeing many of the monsters they pursue as only that, that we’ve forgotten that there are often still human beings there, wishing they could do the right thing but compelled by something outside of their control to behave otherwise. He ends up basically blackmailing the boys into letting him help in their investigations because he (rightly) doesn’t trust them to ask questions first. Many of those questions are directed at the wives of the two soldiers. The interview with the first soldier’s wife, Beth Willis (Helena Marie), is heartbreaking and the first reminder of the human cost of war. Her unwillingness to even try to deny that her husband has done the horrible thing of which he is accused (all while insisting that this is not the man she has known and loved) bespeaks a level of self-effacement and sacrifice that military families exhibit—usually without acknowledgement—all the time. When, Jemma, the wife of Cole’s friend, is confronted by the boys, she initially puts up a front, pretending everything is okay, as so many spouses of those suffering from PTSD do, only to fall apart before their eyes. Something is very wrong in the Verson household and it includes Kit consuming massive amounts of water. When the boys ask Cole to stay with Jemma while they go search for Kit, they rightly guess that he will instead make a beeline for where he knows Kit is hiding. He does, they follow, and in the ensuing showdown, Kit—telling Cole he cannot stop himself—attacks his friend and a Wrath-of-Khan-style worm (one of several evidently inhabiting the soldier) exits his body to infest Cole. The rest of the episode is taken up with the boys splitting up: Sam heads back to Jemma’s house and protects her from Kit, eventually having to kill Kit, while Dean stays with Cole to help drive the worm from him through dessication. The scene at Jemma’s house is a not-very-thinly-veiled re-enactment of what we know is going on at an alarming rate in military homes around the country. Kit is caught up in something he neither understands nor can control, and it has made him deadly. Jemma both loves her husband and is rightly terrified of him, and it is only through Sam’s intervention that she does not become the victim of the first half of yet another military murder-suicide. The scene of her sobbing as she holds her dead husband really drives home how real such a scenario is, and the cover story—that he attacked her and she shot him in self-defense—reminds one of O’Brien’s lesson: sometimes the facts are the least important part of the story. For Cole, the fight is just beginning, however, and as is not uncommon on Supernatural, a character that was initially introduced as a bit of a slimy wannabe shows himself to be truly admirable in the end, volunteering to endure terrible electrical shocks in order to drive the worm from him. When this does not work and they realize the only hope is to deprive the invertebrate of the liquid it craves, Cole must endure not only the cravings but the drive to kill to get what the worm wants. Hardly surprising that he asks Dean to kill him. But where the safety of Kit’s wife is what required his eventual death, it is the hope of going home to his family that allows Cole to beat the worm. This juxtaposition is not just a narrative conceit, however. It’s the catch-22 in so many cases of PTSD: After thirteen years of perpetual war, we have so many soldiers who look forward to coming home to their families, only to find that they are a danger to themselves and those they love once they do. And yet, so often, they cannot just choose to change. Like Cole, they need both the motivation to get better and help in doing so. And it’s neither easy, nor is success guaranteed, especially when it’s so often treated as something that needs to be hidden. I’ve written before that Supernatural is a far better show than it generally gets credit for being. But this week, it really outdid itself by reminding us of the veiled cost of a war that many of us have all but forgotten that our fellow countrymen are still fighting—sometimes in their own homes. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related June Sweet Tim O’Brien reference. Loved the review.