Supernatural 8.10 Review: Torn and Frayed Indeed

SPN Torn and Frayed

Welcome back from winter Hellatus my fellow Supernatural junkies! I have a lot to say about Supernatural’s January return, so let’s get right to it. Torn and frayed definitely sums up the current state of the Winchester brothers’  relationship. Let me start off by saying that I have mixed feelings about this episode. It wasn’t the writing. Jenny Klein’s script moved along at a decent clip and there were little bits of humor thrown in to balance out the overall heaviness of the episode. I have no complaints there.  Robert Singer is also one of my favorite SPN directors, so I have no complaints there either. My problem is with the characterization of Sam and Dean. I don’t feel like either of them is behaving the way that 8 and a half seasons says that they would be. I’ve read some reviews arguing that this episode shows that the Boys are learning to compromise, but I don’t see very much compromise here. But let me not get ahead of myself. This is going to be a long one. You have been warned.

Torn and Frayed

Let’s start with Sam because he’s frustrating me the most right now. This episode picks up right where ‘Citizen Fang’ left off. Sam is still in Texas after having dropped everything and run there because of the fake 911 from Amelia that Dean sent out.  Sam is still (quite understandably) upset that Dean did that to him. When Dean showed up at Sam’s motel, Dean tried to calmly explain what happened with Benny to Sam. Dean tried to explain that he wasn’t trying to hurt Sam with that Amelia text, but he needed Sam to back off.  He’d already tried reasoning with Sam. He’d already tried talking to him, and Sam absolutely refused to listen. Dean knew that if Benny and Sam met up, one of the two people that he cares about was going to get killed and he didn’t want that. So he did the only thing he felt like he could do at that moment. He emotionally manipulated Sam to get him out of harm’s way and to protect Benny. I’m not saying that Dean was right to send that text because he wasn’t. It was low-down and dirty, and although I don’t think Dean considered the emotional state it would put Sam into, he should’ve. They have both lost so much, and Dean should’ve known that if he sent a distress call from Amelia that Sam’s mind would immediately jump to the worst possible outcome. But Sam really frustrated me during that discussion in Texas. He still wasn’t listening to Dean, but on top of that, he accepted zero responsibility for his part in the events leading up to their current predicament. Sam is the one that started the ball rolling on everything that happened in ‘Citizen Fang.’ He’s the one that sent a mentally unstable person out on a hunt. And although Sam didn’t call it a hunt, that’s exactly what it was. Sam is the one that refused to trust Dean’s judgment. Martin died because Sam sent him after Benny. And why? What had Benny done (other than be a vampire) that would be cause for alarm? Had he killed anyone? Maimed anyone? Had Benny done anything other than keep his head down and try to live a quiet life? No. Sam’s unrelenting desire to go after Benny makes absolutely no sense given his history. Sam (correctly) pointed out that he doesn’t know Benny and has no reason to trust him. That’s valid and I get that. But he didn’t have to trust Benny. He needed to trust Dean, and that’s all that Dean was asking. As many times as Sam has asked the same from Dean, and Dean has done it, you would think that Sam would be able to trust Dean this one time. But like so many arguments before, Sam didn’t accept his role in their situation. His whole argument was that Dean was wrong for sending him that text about Amelia. Dean was wrong for saying that a vampire was the victim. Dean was wrong. At no point did Sam even acknowledge that he was wrong for putting Martin on Benny in the first place. At no point did Sam acknowledge that he was wrong for not trusting Dean. At no point did Sam take any responsibility for anything. Part of growing up and maturing is learning to accept your part of the blame when things go wrong in a relationship. Sam hasn’t done that. At all. He still pouts, issues ultimatums, and threatens to abandon Dean whenever he gets angry with him. That’s not moving the character forward and it’s making it increasingly difficult to sympathize with him or even see things from his point of view.  In seasons past, I was able to at least understand why Sam is doing the things he was doing. Be it working with Ruby, hiding the fact that he’s working with Ruby from Dean, drinking demon blood, etc. I didn’t agree with those choices, but at least I understood them. I was able to see how he arrived at that choice and it sort of made sense. I cannot say the same about Sam this season and that’s what’s frustrating me. I do not understand why Sam has refused to trust Dean at all. I do not understand why Sam was so gung-ho to go after Benny. I cannot understand Sam at all.

Torn and Frayed   Now let’s talk about Dean. I’m more confused by Dean than I am frustrated by him. There are a couple of things that feel off about Dean. His decision to ditch Benny at the end of the episode doesn’t fit with Dean’s character at all. One of the things I’ve always loved about Dean is his loyalty. He doesn’t let people into his circle easily, but once you’re there, you’re there for life. He will move heaven and earth for you. That’s why I’m having such a problem with how the Dean/Benny relationship ended. Benny and Dean mean too much to each other for Dean to abandon him like that. Especially since Benny called Dean needing help. Dean doesn’t just abandon people like that. He’s never done that. It could be argued that Dean severed ties with Benny because he was presented a choice between Sam and Benny. Historically, whenever Dean’s forced to choose between Sam and anyone else, he always chooses Sam. But even so, it just seems odd for Dean to claim that Benny is the only person who’s never let him down and then for Dean to leave Benny twisting in the wind alone. I think maybe a part of Dean knew that he and Benny weren’t going to be able to maintain the type of relationship topside that they had while they were in Purgatory. And that would make sense, but it doesn’t sit right that Dean would leave Benny to fend for himself. In addition to the Benny thing, it seems off that Dean was so hard against working with Sam. I can understand that Dean was frustrated by Sam’s refusal to listen to him, and I think Dean was probably still even a bit angry at Sam’s refusal to trust him about Benny. But after the events of ‘The End’ in S5, Dean came to the conclusion that he and Sam needed each other. Granted, they’ve both been through a (whole) lot since that episode, but still. Dean knows that they need each other and whatever their current problems may be, walking away from each other is not going to make either of them any better. It could be argued that Dean was so adamant about not working with Sam because he figured Sam didn’t want to be on the job anyway. That’s valid. If someone doesn’t want to be somewhere, you can’t force it upon them. But I think Dean felt more like Sam was pushing him away than he was pushing away from the job. That goes to what Dean said at the end of the episode about not being able to separate himself from the job. Although Sam has never really said that he didn’t want to be with Dean, he has made it pretty clear that he doesn’t really want to be on the job. But to Dean, saying that you don’t want to be on the job is saying that you don’t want him in your life. I’m not saying it’s logical but it’s how Dean’s mind works.

The end of the episode was one of the saddest episode endings I’ve seen from this show in a very long time. Yes, Sam and Dean are back together, but at what cost and why? Is it because that’s how each of them wants it or is it because they feel like they have no other choice? It seemed to me it was more the former. Both of them gave up a relationship that means a lot to them so they could come back together, but I don’t see how that solves any of their problems. Sam giving up Amelia didn’t feel like he was choosing Dean (and by extension the hunting life) so much as he was doing it to keep Amelia safe. Sam’s primary argument to Dean about why Dean shouldn’t have sent that 911 back in ‘Citizen Fang’ was that he thought something awful had happened to Amelia. I can understand why Sam’s mind went there. Every woman that he’s ever loved and/or slept with (excluding that time he was a soulless manwhore) has died. Sam didn’t want anything to happen to Amelia, and the best way to do that is to keep her out of his life. In addition to that, Amelia was married to Don. If Sam had gone back to her, he would’ve been “the other man” in Amelia’s life. They never would’ve been able to really live a full life together. So, while I think Sam did want to help Dean figure out what is going on with Cas, find the tablets, etc. It just felt like he didn’t want to be the one that came between Amelia and Don. I felt like Sam resigned himself to a life of hunting moreso than he chose Dean. I’m not minimizing Sam’s sacrifice. When he chose not to go back to Amelia, he gave up what was probably his last chance at any kind of happiness outside the life. That is certainly no small thing. But Dean giving up his relationship with Benny packed more of an emotional punch. Let me just say right off the bat that I have a problem with Sam issuing Dean an ultimatum about Benny. Sam doesn’t trust Benny, and that’s fine, but after all that they’ve been through and all that Dean has done for Sam, Sam should trust Dean. Sam knows Dean and he knows that Dean doesn’t just hand out his trust and loyalty like Halloween candy. If Dean trusts Benny, vampire or not, then Sam should stop and consider that perhaps there’s more to Benny than meets the eye. Sam has made no effort to really understand from Dean’s point of view why Benny means so much to him. That’s a large part of the problem. He doesn’t understand Dean and Benny’s relationship and all he can see is that Dean is friends with a monster. I had a conversation with Clarissa who reviews Supernatural for, and she argued that Dean had no right to ask Sam to trust him (Dean) about Benny because Benny is a wildcard. Dean cannot control Benny and thus, Benny is dangerous and Sam is right to refuse to trust Dean about him. That’s valid and I understand her argument. However, my counterargument to that is that in the past, Sam has asked Dean to trust him despite the fact that Sam was playing with a wildcard too. I’m speaking specifically about the Ruby situation. Sam asked Dean to trust him about Ruby and despite every fiber in Dean’s body telling him that Ruby was bad news, Dean followed Sam’s lead on that one. That’s all Dean is asking for here, but Sam refuses to follow Dean’s lead about Benny. I’ve already talked about why I feel like Dean ditching Benny doesn’t fit with who Dean is, so I won’t rehash that. But I felt a much deeper sadness from Dean when he said good-bye to Benny than I felt from Sam deciding not to return to Amelia. The problem with how this episode ended is the complete lack of joy. Yes, Sam and Dean are back together. Yes, the fighting about Benny and Amelia is (in theory) over. But neither Sam nor Dean looked particularly happy about any of it. They actually looked pretty miserable. They looked like two people who had resigned themselves to the idea that the only thing they’ll ever have in this life is each other. It is a sad, claustrophobic world they have created for themselves.

SPN Torn and Frayed 3I feel pretty bad for Cas at this point too. He’s already got guilt coming out of his pores because of all the stuff he did when he was God!Cas. Now added to that is the fact that he’s killed another friend. Granted, he’s being mind-controlled right now, but I have a feeling he’s still going to blame himself about it. Cas has been through the ringer almost just as much as the Winchester boys, and I really would like for him to get a little peace. It’s tough to see a guy who’s just trying to atone for his past sins be used as a pawn by more powerful, nefarious forces. Speaking of, I think I’m kind of getting an idea of who Naomi is. I think she’s the Crowley of heaven. We’ve already seen that she seems like she’s in charge of some secret area of heaven. Or maybe she’s just the one in charge now. When Samadriel was in trouble, she’s the one he was calling. So maybe she’s like the queen of heaven now. We’ve also seen that she’s pretty cold and isn’t above manipulation. I have a feeling that the flashes that Castiel was having of her doing the same thing to him that Crowley was doing to Samadriel means that she’s been torturing Cas too. That would explain why she’s able to mind-control him. She got into his operating system and modified it so she can control him. My question though is why? What does she have to gain from manipulating Castiel? Why can’t she do her own dirty work? Why doesn’t she want him to remember that he’s meeting with her? So many questions about her. I really don’t like that Cas is (once again) being manipulated by heaven. It would seem that out of all those angels, there would be more than just a handful who are truly good guys. I don’t think Cas is going to take it well when it’s finally revealed what Naomi is doing to him. And I don’t think the Winchesters are going to take it well either that heaven is manipulating Cas and, by extension, them again. I don’t think Cas is going to hide it from the Boys once he figures out what Naomi is doing to him. At least I hope he doesn’t. They have worked hard to rebuild the Winchesters’ and Cas’s friendship, and it would be awful if the Boys’ only other remaining friend gets taken away from them.

One thing I will say that I am absolutely ecstatic about is that the Sam/Amelia storyline seems to be done. I am REALLY glad that she’s gone and I hope she never comes back. I wanted to like Amelia. I really did. Supernatural has a history of writing some very awesome female characters, and I was looking for Amelia to fall into that category. Alas, she was a shallow, snarky, condescending person that added absolutely nothing to the Supernatural universe. She didn’t help reveal anything new about Sam’s character, and she seemed to serve only as a plot device to show what Sam was doing for the entire year and to create friction between Sam and Dean. Many in the fandom argue that a “normal” woman has no place in the Supernatural universe, and that’s a valid argument. But I feel like if the character is written well, even if she is a “normal” woman, she can still add something to the overall story. Amelia did not do that. At all. Her character actually slowed down the pace of every single episode she was in. I needed the Sam/Amelia storyline to better explain why Sam would ditch hunting for her. It didn’t. I needed the Sam/Amelia storyline to explain why Sam believes he loves her. It didn’t. I needed the Sam/Amelia storyline to explain how Amelia went from the snarky, condescending person that guilt-tripped Sam into taking a dog home to the woman that Sam would drop a job and go running to when she called. It didn’t. I needed to Sam/Amelia storyline to show me why I should care about Amelia at all. It didn’t. As a character, Amelia fell absolutely flat and I hope we never have to deal with her again.

From everything that I’ve said, it would sound like I really didn’t enjoy this episode. But that’s not true. I’m just disappointed that the Winchester world isn’t expanding. I’ve said this many times, but the main characters need really good, regular supporting characters. The supporting characters help to peel back the layers of the main characters, but only if they’re given enough time to develop a real relationship with the main characters. That’s why I loved Benny so much. We got enough time with him and Dean to really get a grasp of that relationship and reveal more about Dean. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about Amelia. I really enjoyed the fact that the Winchester in-fighting seems to be over. I don’t think it’s completely done yet though because they haven’t really dealt with their problems. They have each agreed to let go of the thing that was causing the latest dust-up, but the underlying lack of communication is still there. Although I don’t like the fighting, at least it felt more organic to the story than some of the past Winchester fights. So there’s that at least. I still think there’s a big knock-down, drag-out fight to come, but maybe that’s just me. This episode just left me feeling sad for my Boys. I want them to truly fix their relationship and I want them to choose to continue fighting together because that’s what both of them want. I want them to realize that it’s ok to want different things out of life and wanting that doesn’t mean that you’ve abandoned your family or your responsibilities. I guess they’ve taken some steps down that road, but I still feel like there’s a long way to go yet.