Mark Watches ‘Supernatural’: S07E17 – Born-Again Identity

In the seventeenth episode of the seventh season of Supernatural, I can’t. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Supernatural.

Trigger Warning: For talk of mental illness, suicide, and ableism, body horror.

This show is so cruel.

Sam Winchester

The easiest way for me to talk about this episode (which really felt like the best this season) is to split up the two major plots and dissect them. So event though they’re intricately related to one another, this’ll work best for me. Let’s start with Sam, then, so that I can unload a veritable boatload of feelings on to you all. Surprise, I love Sam Winchester, and surprise, this episode obliterated me. This poor man cannot catch a break, and yet, amidst one of the most traumatic experiences of his entire life, he still chooses to help someone else. Is there a better example of Sam’s character than this? This is what he does, repeatedly, throughout Supernatural. He values the lives of others over his own, and it breaks my heart. If we didn’t count Dean, who would be left to care about Sam? (Thanks, Supernatural, for reminding me very plainly that all their friends are currently dead. THANKS FOR THAT.)

I think it’s important, then, that we examine the manner in which this show explores Sam’s mental decline. I do like to give representations like this a critical eye, as I think it’s important that we as consumers of media determine why things are portrayed as they are. This show (and most shows, to be honest) hasn’t always treated the mentally ill well. But now they’ve got both of their main characters coping with depression, suicidal ideation, hearing voices, hallucinations, and other problems, so it’s not like this is a background plot.

There’s only so much of this that I feel okay addressing, so I don’t think I’m necessarily the best person to talk about it. But I’d like to think that there’s a sympathy to the way Sam is portrayed within the narrative. I don’t know that I’ve ever really seen a character deal with a psychotic break on a television show, and Supernatural doesn’t do anything to invalidate the experience that Sam is going through. Of course, the fact that the show demonstrates that a person with a mental illness is still a good person felt pretty monumental to me, particularly since Sam went out of his way to assist Marin. That’s a huge part of the plot here!

But, again, I can only speak to a bit of this, so I’d rather here from folks who are directly affected by this sort of thing. I felt that Jared Padalecki and Mark Pellegrino were in rare form here, and it was so frightening and jarring to see Pellegrino play Satan with so much charm and humor. LIKE, IT’S SO TERRIFYING. Because he’s specifically there to torment Sam. (I’m glad I finally understood that Sam wasn’t trying to stay awake; his mind simply wouldn’t let him.) BUT HE’S SO FUNNY and I’m a mess. A mess.

Dean Winchester

I think it’s also important to acknowledge that Dean does an undeniably amazing thing within this episode, too. He drives across the country for Sam, pursuing the only avenue he can find that might save him. Does Dean even stop and sleep at any point in this episode??? Probably not, which means he drove to Colorado from Indiana. AND BACK. PROBABLY WITHIN THE SAME DAY.

It’s not like Dean to seek out a faith healer, and that’s not just because they’ve had a bad experience with one in the past. Dean is such a huge skeptic, so I thought his journey here symbolized his desperation. He was willing to do anything to find a way to save his brother, no matter how absurd it was, and that includes driving to Colorado to find a miracle worker.

Named Emmanuel.

Who looks exactly like Castiel.

Just… what is this show doing to me? What have I done to deserve this? This becomes such a fitting story for Dean because at his most desperate moment, he’s suddenly face-to-face with the entire impetus for Sam’s condition. And while it readily becomes apparent that Castiel never died in the season seven premiere, it means that a confrontation between Castiel and Dean is inevitable. I honestly didn’t expect them to drag out the Emmanuel thing beyond this episode. (What happened to Daphne, by the way? That sucks for her. Her husband is just gone forever!) So we had a lot to unpack here. Could Dean forgive Castiel? Could Castiel forgive himself? Could Cas even do anything to help Sam? It’s a lot to deal with!

SO THIS SHOW DECIDES TO BRING BACK MEG AT THE SAME FUCKING TIME, AND THIS EPISODE IS SO RIDICULOUS. Again, the desperation motif pops up again. In any other situation, would Dean have agreed to a temporary truce and alliance with a demon? NOPE. But here she is, and she’s opposed to Crowley finding out Castiel is alive, and Dean accepts her offer for company, and I cannot believe how much is in one single episode of this show. The scene in the car with Meg, Cas as Emmanuel, and Dean??? HOW IS THIS REAL? (Y’all, I missed Meg Masters so much.)

This really is such a brilliant return for both Meg and Castiel, one that brings back demons to the fold as well. The Leviathan threat still hangs over everything, but I’m glad that the show took time to address these dangling plot threads as well. Actually… don’t let that seem like I thought Castiel was an unresolved plot. I BELIEVED HE WAS DEAD. It’s not like there was a ton of foreshadowing that he’d return, you know? Anyway, this was an important part of this season’s story, and for Castiel specifically, it was necessary that Supernatural deal with the moral implications of what Castiel had done. That happens in two different ways. Initially, Castiel re-learns how to smite demons, and in the process, all of his memories come spilling back into his mind. This gets rid of the Emmanuel identity and allows Castiel to give an honest assessment of what he’s done.

In short, Cas is disgusted with himself, so much so that he’s positive he should have stayed dead and that there’s nothing he can do to rectify the nightmare he created. But Dean – bless his heart – insists that Castiel can try. He does so by GIVING CAS HIS TRENCHCOAT BACK OH MY GOD HE KEPT IT THE WHOLE TIME. (I’m pretty sure that one little moment inspired four billion Destiel fics because holy shit, how could you not.)

But I was far more impressed by what Castiel eventually chose to do. To me, that is how you apologize and how you alleviate pain you caused. That’s not always possible in every situation, but Castiel knows he has to do it if he’s to ever truly help Sam. So he takes Sam’s hallucinations, choosing to bear them himself instead of letting Sam suffer another day. It’s an important moment, and while it looks like Cas will stay put for a while, I needed him to repair the damage he’d done.

I’m still reeling from this, y’all. Just… holy shit. Meg IS A NURSE AT CAS’S HOSPITAL. Sam is healed, they have to hide from the demons, and Dick Roman is still at large and they’re no closer to stopping him. HOW IS THIS SEASON REAL?

The video for “The Born-Again Identity” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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