In the third episode of the fourth season of Supernatural, TAKE IT BACK. ALL OF IT. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Supernatural.
Well, the show just PUSHED ME OFF A CLIFF again, and I’m so done. DONE, I TELL YOU.
Except I’m not. This is an unreal reversal of roles, as well as the backstory needed to explain why Mary once told Sam she was sorry. I FORGOT ABOUT THAT DETAIL, which the show clearly exploited. I mean, there’s so much more going on here that it’s understandable why I forgot that the show had once hinted that there was more to Mary Winchester than I knew. OH GOD. OH GOD.
I read a lot of the comments on my Supernatural reviews (and interact with many SPN fans on Twitter), and I always see stuff about how this show is built around Dean Winchester more so than Sam, and it’s not until I see an episode like this that I realize it really is the case. This is a prime example of that because Sam’s growth as a character is actually happening off-screen. Not just that, I suppose. It’s happening through the lens of Dean, who is now given the proper context for the path that Sam is on.
More on that later. As Sam slips out for some more training with Ruby (which I assume is what was happening), Castiel arrives to send Dean back to 1973 for… very ambiguous reasons. It’s actually outright addressed by Dean, who is furious that Castiel can’t just TELL him what’s going on. In that sense, I’m glad that Dean is the one experiencing this. He’s far more prone to skepticism, and that’s what fuels his journey in “In the Beginning.” He questions his purpose right at the start! I admit, though, that what Castiel makes Dean experience over the course of this episode is… shit, y’all, it’s so cruel. Could you even imagine the sort of heartbreak this man just experienced? It’s bad enough that he had to see his parents again, but to then have so much hope that you might be able to save them, only to find out it was futile? I think that actually helps to characterize Castiel more than anything. I’m shocked by his callous nature, but it does show us that he doesn’t understand humanity. Actually, he might understand it, but he doesn’t care. Instead of merely telling Dean what he and the other angels know of Azazel’s plan, he finds it far more appropriate to force Dean through a vivid re-enactment of sorts, one that he’s powerless to change. I think that speaks to the sort of dynamic that Castiel brings with him. He views Dean as an agent or a pawn more than a human.
Of course, I know very little about Castiel and his motivations at this point. “In the Beginning” is meant to re-contextualize the events in Lawrence, Kansas so that we can understand Sam more. (Though I admit I am still completely in the dark because THIS SHOW WANTS TO CRUSH ME.) It’s meant to show us that the Winchester’s understanding of their own history was flawed. It’s meant to CRUSH US FOREVER. Well, let’s also not ignore that it’s an exercise in making our brains explode. YOUNG JOHN WINCHESTER. WHO ISN’T THE WORST AT ALL AND IS ACTUALLY REALLY SWEET. And who also strangely looks like Castiel? That actor had a bizarrely similar facial structure to Misha Collins. Anyway, THIS ISN’T IMPORTANT. The important thing is that JOHN WAS NOT A HUNTER. AT ALL. WHICH DESTROYS MY ENTIRE IDEA OF THE MAN. And in a tragic twist, Mary is revealed to be the one in a hunter family. Like I said earlier, it’s all a deliberate role reversal from what our expectations are. We expect the opposite. But it’s all part of the tragic irony in this history of these two, made all the worse by the motivations behind why Mary never revealed the truth to her sons.
And really, let’s not kid ourselves. Somehow, this show made the Winchesters’ family angst even fucking worse. I DIDN’T THINK IT WAS POSSIBLE. But as Dean takes advantage of the opportunity to stop Azazel from claiming his brother and killing his parents, he soon becomes aware of just how heartbreaking his life truly is.
Let’s first talk about Mary’s parents, Deanna and Samuel. (CRYING ALREADY BECAUSE THEIR NAMES.) Dean finally meets his grandparents, an opportunity he never had, and THEY’RE A HUNTER FAMILY. Not just that, but Samuel Campbell is Mitch Pileggi, who is downright incredible in this episode. In a twist on the trope, Samuel is nervous about her daughter dating John not because he’s poor or because he doesn’t seem right for his daughter. IT’S BECAUSE HE’S NOT A HUNTER. The irony is a knife thrust into our collective hearts, my god. This means that John never even knew his wife was a hunter, right? Wow, how do I keep finding new things to ruin myself with?
Anyway, I think that the show doesn’t stray too far from familiar tropes when dealing with time travel, which is okay with me because this isn’t an episode about it. It’s about destiny. Can Dean stop that? And how much of his own future was he responsible for? Not much; we see how Dean influenced John to buy the Impala, but we also know that Mary ignored Dean’s tearful warning not to get out of bed on the night Azazel returned to “claim” Sam. We also find out that there’s probably been a long tradition of hunter’s pretending to be Catholic priests, which provided one of the few comedic moments in this episode.
Aside from this, Dean doesn’t really affect much of anything. Azazel continues to claim the souls of young people who he views as strong enough, and EVERYTHING IS STILL DEEPLY TRAGIC AND NOT OKAY AT ALL. (I don’t know if it counts that Dean’s involvement is what got Mary interested in the case, which is why she rushed to Liddy’s house in the first place. Technically? Maybe not?) Part of the dramatic hook of this episode is that we know how it ends. So will Dean being there make any sort of difference at all? What happens if Dean actually kills Azazel in the past? Is Castiel’s assertion correct, that Dean and Sam will never become hunters and everyone they saved will end up dying?
Ultimately, I don’t think this matters, though they’re interesting questions. Again, this is not a story about the consequences of time travel. “In the Beginning” is a demonstration for Dean Winchester, a heartbreaking one that he had to experience alone in order to understand just how determined Azazel was to enact his endgame. Of course, I didn’t really comprehend what Castiel was doing, so when Azazel began to succeed, I got more and more nervous. I COULD NOT UNDERSTAND HOW ALL OF THIS WAS GOING TO BE RESOLVED. I could understand, however, how brilliant Mitch Pileggi was in this episode. Like, LOOK AT HIM ACT HERE. He perfectly captured Azazel, though I admit I was also shocked because I’m so used to him being Skinner, not a DEMON. Aside from that, I was thoroughly creeped out by him smelling Dean (NOOOOOOO, I HAVE HAD AN OVERLOAD OF CREEPY CHARACTERS SNIFFING OTHER PEOPLE), and then utterly horrified by him killing both Samuel and Deanna in a matter of seconds. I should have seen that for what it was: Dean’s inability to stop destiny. We’d never heard about Samuel and Deanna because they were always dead.
Which is then immediately subverted by JOHN WINCHESTER DYING. Oh, I did soon understand what was happening, but the moment that happened? I LOST IT. Because that was FUCKING IMPOSSIBLE. He can’t die! He’s alive in the future where… oh. Oh. Where in ten years, his wife is killed when she interrupts Azazel. OH
OH MY GOD.
It’s heartbreaking. It means that at this point, every single Winchester has sacrificed themselves in order to protect another member of the family. It means that Sam was never intended to be part of a demon army. It means that Azazel set something in motion all those years ago, and Sam may very well be acting it out unknowingly. Does that mean Ruby knows of this plan, too, or is she meant to be conned, too? The whole thing is deliberately ambiguous, but now Dean’s got a godly force compelling him to stop Sam from going down this path. OR ELSE THEY’LL STOP IT. OH. OH GREAT.
Christ, I can’t believe this show. That was an incredible episode, but I’m still so angry. HOW DARE YOU DO THIS TO ME.
The video for “In the Beginning” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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