Mark Watches ‘Supernatural’: S06E11 – Appointment in Samarra

In the eleventh episode of the sixth season of Supernatural, I’m never going to be okay about this episode. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Supernatural. 

Trigger Warning: For extensive talk of death, and a brief bit about consent.

I can barely believe what this show has become, but goddamn, y’all, I’m really happy with the story that’s being told here. Of course, I know I’m biased in my approach to “Appointment in Samarra” because two of my absolute favorite Supernatural characters and actors were both in the same episode, BUT I SWEAR, THERE’S SO MUCH ELSE HERE TO LOVE ASIDE FROM JULIAN RICHINGS AND LINDSEY MCKEON. Just kidding, they’re e v e r y t h i n g.

Truthfully, the elements that make up this episode – someone becoming a reaper, dealing with the repercussions of messing with fate – are not exactly new to the genre. (GO WATCH DEAD LIKE ME, OH MY GOD.) I don’t even think that Supernatural does anything particularly revolutionary with the idea. But by tying this in with the serialized arc this season, the writers found a way to suggest a grand scale to the Winchesters’ role in the universe, and for that, I appreciate “Appointment in Samarra” a great deal.

More on that towards the end. Dean, being the big brother that he is, takes it upon himself to pursue one of the only leads he has in securing Sam’s soul. This very idea is examined critically through Sam’s eyes alongside the main plot, and I think it’s one of the bolder things that Supernatural has done. I mentioned on video that if this episode had been solely Sam’s story or solely Dean’s, it would have ruined me regardless, but seeing the two plots unfold side-by-side was TORMENT. We see Dean rush into his deal with Death with the idea that he’ll be able to majestically save his brother’s soul and give Sam a chance. Simultaneous to that, we watch Sam do whatever he can to prevent his body from ever containing a soul. Both brothers make deals with supernatural beings, both of them have to do horrible things, and both of them fail miserably.

Sort of.

Obviously, it was a treat for me to see Tessa and Death again, and the opening of this episode was surreal and exciting, full of possibility. Dean was going to spend 24 hours as a reaper, all so that Death could pull Sam’s soul out of Lucifer’s cage and construct a “wall” in Sam’s head to keep his memories of Hell at bay. I don’t necessarily think that Dean believed this was going to be super easy; I think he just got off easily with his first two reaps. (Seriously, I couldn’t stop thinking of The Sandman or Dead Like Me during those scenes. THEY’RE SO SIMILAR.) After Tessa established the rules of the deal (Dean would touch the dying and she would reap their souls), it all seemed fairly innocuous.

And then Dean is asked to reap a twelve-year-old girl.

Again, this is not exactly an untold story, and neither is the resulting domino affect that we watch unfold. But it’s the brutality in which Supernatural tells it to us – by killing off Jolene minutes later, by forcing Dean to face Jolene’s agony when Tessa specifically blames him for her death, by having Dean watch Jolene’s husband arrive – that makes this such an intense and memorable episode. Dean is not allowed to look away from the mess he’s created, and by doing so, the show makes him reflect on his own need to fight destiny. If anything, that’s been a huge part of his characterization over the last five seasons. Dean refuses to let the natural order of things play out. And I don’t argue with the show for presenting that heroically, as I’m attracted to the narrative myself. But that doesn’t mean that Dean shouldn’t examine his own role in upsetting the balance of things. How many times have he and his brother played with fate? How many times has that been for moral reasons, and how many times has that been for selfish ones?

And yet, I was still completely shocked when Dean took off Death’s ring to save Jolene’s husband’s life. I did not expect him to do that; I figured that he’d make it to the end of the episode with the ring intact. But by doing this, the show can now ask an incredible uncomfortable question: HOW MANY CHAIN REACTIONS HAVE DEAN AND SAM SET OFF OVER THE YEARS? How many people died in their place? I don’t want to blame them for resurrections that happened by outside forces, and I don’t think this episode does that. But Death’s meeting with Dean at the end of the episode highly suggests that Death has had to clean up a number of messes because of these two. Personally, I like when Supernatural does this shit because it shows a willingness to give repercussions to the Winchesters’ actions. I like it when stories like this show us that what happens here affects more than just the core cast of characters. (Granted, that’s also why I wish we’d seen more of the coming Apocalypse at the end of season five. Introduce this shit to the world!)

At the same time, I’m so happy that Sam’s perspective was part of this struggle, despite that it was so deeply, deeply upsetting. It’s important that the show allowed him to react to what might happen to his own body. That’s not to say I was thrilled that HE NEARLY KILLED BOBBY, but it’s one aspect of “Appointment in Samarra” that needed to be shown. When Sam hears that the wall in his head will only be a temporary respite from Hell rushing back in, he doesn’t think it’s worth it to pursue this option. Why get a temporary reprieve if the end result is even worse than his current state?

Through Balthazar, Sam gains a debt to the angel (OH GOD, THAT’S NOT GOING TO END WELL, IS IT?) and a spell to make his body uninhabitable by a soul. All he needs to do? Commit patricide. And he’s got the perfect father figure in his life! HELP, THIS IS TOO MUCH. I admit that most of the scenes between Sam and Bobby play out like a slasher film, but that didn’t make them less tense. The previous ten episodes had shown us just how good Sam had gotten at hunting, and that meant that Bobby’s chances of survival were slim to none.

I even thought that Dean showed up at the last minute a little too conveniently. (Not to complain about Bobby surviving, because PHEW.) But y’all, THIS SHOW WENT A MILLION TIMES FURTHER THAN I THOUGHT IT COULD. We’re initially meant to want Sam to get his soul back because DUH. So when the event actually happens – and Death arrives with a black medicine bag full of Sam’s thrashed soul – it’s not coded as a positive thing. In that moment, Dean (and by that logic, the audience) is forced to accept that Sam did not consent to this. And yeah, this is admittedly some complicated shit! Is Sam actually Sam without his soul? Still, it’s not like Sam getting his soul back was this victorious scene of grandeur and hope. No, it’s fucking awful. On top of that, the threat of the wall breaking is always going to hang over the episodes that follow this. Death’s warning to Sam not to “scratch” the wall is not at all helpful.

This show is so messed up, y’all.

The video for “Appointment in Samarra” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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