In the ninth episode of the third season of Supernatural, a case of a suburban coven brings down a tidal wave of NOPE like I have never seen. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Supernatural.
GOD. GODDAMN IT, STOP DOING THIS TO ME. Oh my god, I genuinely thought we’d get an episode about a coven of witches who live a totally suburban life to the whole world but have a secret existence at night and THERE ARE FEW THINGS ABOUT THIS THAT I DISLIKE. Of course, this episode takes this concept and makes it an examination of power gone wrong, of murder out of jealousy, and THEN WHAT THE FUCK. NO. NO WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING TO ME.
Can we talk about this I NEED TO TALK ABOUT THIS.
Aw, I love witches in fiction! I love witches in general. So, let me just say that I could really do without all the needless misogyny towards witches in this episode, particularly Dean’s language. And Dean, you’re in a universe with so much worse than witches who deal in black magic. Like, canonically worse things! Like your own father. (SORRY I COULDN’T RESIST SAYING THAT JOHN WINCHESTER IS THE WORST.)
Still, I’m not gonna sit here and say that what Amanda and Renee do here is a good thing. It’s not. They’re absolutely horrible people. At the very least, Amanda and Renee are unrepentant murderers, and it’s because of this that Sam reasons that they have to stop these women from killing anyone else. (I’ll talk more about Sam’s transformation later.) I admit that I didn’t see a way to stop these people aside from killing them becauseâ€¦ well, they’re humans. They’re willingly choosing to act out this way. I mean, the first two deaths are just so resolutely awful that I’m going to be perfectly fine never watching them again. (However, I’d definitely watch Marisa Rameriz play a demon again. Holy shit, she was so incredible here!!!)
On top of this, the Winchesters are dealing with a case of demonic alliance, aren’t they? This episode reveals that witches get their power by making deals with demons, more or less. I’m perplexed, then, by Dean’s insistence that these women are the worst ever when his brother is on this planet because Dean made a deal with a demon. Like, can you not see this??? Actually, let’s talk about these two because oh god.
Dean / Sam
I’ll back up first. This episode is a continuation of Sam’s growth, one that makes Dean question if Sam really is Sam after being brought back from death. Except that Sam definitively states that the changes Dean’s been seeing aren’t because of some supernatural occurrence. He’s trying to adapt to a world without Dean in it. (FUCKING GODDAMN IT WHY DO I HAVE TO KEEP TYPING THAT, I FEEL LIKE I’M GOING TO MAKE IT MORE TRUE EVERY TIME I HAVE TO SAY IT.) This behavior â€“ adopting a more brutal outlook on life, choosing to value his own life, gaining a willingness to bend his own morality â€“ is all a conscious thing on Sam’s part, you know? How is he going to survive in a world without Dean? He’s going to become just like him. I imagine Sam thinks back to all the years Dean hunted on his own before Jess was killed and Sam was pulled into this nightmare. If Dean’s attitude and style kept him alive, then surely it will work for Sam, right?
Which is why Sam is so puzzled and upset that Dean refuses to work with Ruby. Again, the hypocrisy is right there. Dean can make a deal with a demon to save Sam, but Sam can’t work with a demon to save Dean. (I’ll address the irony of that later.) Sam is well aware of how dangerous this is, but Ruby has done a lot to prove that, at the very least, she’s willing to do things that undeniably help the Winchesters. She repaired the Colt. She has saved Sam’s life. And it isn’t until late in this episode that she does the same for Dean, too, saving him from Tammi’s black magic and then tricking Tammi into believing that she was returning to her service. How much more must Ruby prove to Dean?
But let’s be real: Ruby is the true highlight and center of “Malleus Maleficarum.” We’re given the first hints of her backstory, and it’s just SO GODDAMN PAINFUL. She entered her servitude to Tammi because she was once a witch herself. It’s through this that Dean discovers that all demons WERE ONCE HUMAN BEINGS. Of course, this has a powerful resonance with Dean because he’s just months away from his sentence to Hell himself. So as he listens to Ruby at the end of this episode telling him why she’s helping them, he realizes the implications of her words. Hell is humanity stripped of all that makes them human. And isn’t that what we’ve mostly seen of demons in the past? (One possible exception is Casey in “Sin City,” who is also brought up by Sam when he’s trying to point out Dean’s hypocrisy. Does that mean she still had a shred of humanity within her?
So we’re given a new future, one where a demon can turn against the horde they’re supposed to be a party of because of a fundamental inability to be like them. Which means that Ruby has suffered in hell for ages (at least 600 years, if the Plague comment is true) and been completely aware of who she once was. Doesn’t that have implications for both Sam and Dean, too? Doesn’t Dean want Sam to always remember where he came from? Isn’t that what Dean wants of himself if he’s truly going to Hell?
Oh god, RUBY. RUBY. And who is this person in the West that Sam needs to look out for? I NEED MORE. I NEED SO MUCH MORE.
The video for “Malleus Maleficarum” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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One of the things Supernatural does a lot of, and later seasons REALLY put a spotlight on is deliberate subversion of narrative PoV. It’s incredibly satisfying over time and through both myth and character arcs. You’ve pointed out some of the reasons that can have such a huge emotional impact already. Wait until you get to On the Head of A Pin in S4 though. You’ll need to adjust some math. 😉