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August 1, 2014

'Supernatural' Season 7, Episode 3 Recap

by Maureen Ryan, posted Oct 8th 2011 3:15PM
['Supernatural' - 'The Girl Next Door']

'The Girl Next Door' left me gobsmacked, but for all the wrong reasons.

I'm going to spend most of this review writing about one scene that came late in the episode. It neatly encapsulated a lot of what was wrong with not just this episode, but many other things as well.

If you're looking for a lot of commentary on Jensen Ackles' competent directing or details like the Biggerson's sign and things like that, you're not going to get it this time around.

I take a good chunk of each Saturday to write these reviews, and I'm going to put myself on the clock for this one. Honestly, I don't want to devote half of a beautiful fall day to something that aggravated me so much.

The scene I'm going to talk about and expand upon is the one in which Dean kills Amy. Not only does the Dean in this scene seem nothing like the Dean I've come to know over six-plus seasons, I actively disliked this Dean. The other parts of the episode felt sloppy and not especially well-paced, but that scene was just on another level of wrongness altogether.

Now, please don't start with any "You're sounding like a Deangirl!" nonsense in comments. I've never, ever been a Samgirl or a Deangirl or a Casgirl (I'm occasionally a Bobbygirl, but that's neither here nor there). Seriously, I'm not going to whine here about how the writers love one character and clearly hate another, yada yada. But I will say, what Dean did in this episode just makes no sense to me, and the implications of his actions do not bode well for the show.

The last six seasons of 'Supernatural' have been about the Winchester brothers learning all about shades of grey. They've literally made deals with the devil, with Death, with Crowley, with their own morally conflicted angel friend. That's what it is to become an adult -- it's a matter of figuring out which compromises you can live with, learning from where you've gone wrong and realizing that you don't know everything. We learn compassion for ourselves and others from making mistakes and being forgiven for them.

But all the sudden, in this episode, Dean just reverts to black-and-white Dean, the Dean of five or six seasons ago -- the Dean of "If it it's a supernatural critter, we put it down"? Why? What possible purpose does that serve? Amy is someone that Sam knows well, she's not your average unconflicted killing machine and Sam's willing to vouch for that. So Dean not only lies to Sam about trusting him, he goes ahead and kills one of his brother's few friends.

Again, why? Isn't this show about family? Isn't this show about how you do anything for family, come what may? Amy killed her own mother to save Sam's life! If that's not enough of a "merit badge," try this on for size: She killed (and she may have only killed bad people, a point could have been made much more forcefully) because her son's life was in danger. This has no resonance for Dean? Come on, this was an unusual circumstance, one that the Winchesters both should have understood and identified with, not just Sam. And if the show casts the extremely sympathetic Jewel Staite as a well-intentioned mother and friend, it had better give a really great reason to kill off her character. This episode did not do that. At all.

Dean walked up to her and ganked her in cold blood and that was that. And you know what? I don't care that he apparently had some regret in that moment. The fact that the show has decided that Dean sees things this simplistically removes one of the main draws of 'Supernatural' -- its moral complexity. Remove that, remove six years of character development and you basically have a pre-'Faith' season 1 episode, with added helpings of unrelenting glumness.

The show seems determined to make every outcome negative, and that removes a lot of 'Supernatural's' more interesting textures. Dean could have trusted Sam, but the show is determined to demonstrate that gambits like that never work out, so the answer there is no. Dean could have told Amy to watch herself and that both she and her son would be ganked by him if she stepped out of line -- but trusting people never works out, so the answer there is no. Dean could just hope that his brother heals and be there for him and see where that situation goes, but no. Trusting people and being open-minded never works out; lying and killing (followed by drinking) are always better. So that's a no.

The constant belief that things will never work out and never go well is not only predictable, as I wrote last week, it's also the easy way out, frankly. Constant pessimism is tiresome, lazy and immature. It's hard work to encounter each situation as it comes and evaluate it on its own merits. It's much easier to just assume the worst and proceed on those assumptions. It makes Dean, and the show, much less interesting if both take it for granted that things will always, only, get worse.

Not only was killing Amy out of character and indicative of shallow thinking, it was done for a dumb overall reason. The episode kept hammering home the parallels between Amy and Sam, the freaks who were trying to manage their problems. Well, by killing Amy, Dean revealed that he thinks his brother can't manage his own issues. Well, why can't he? What's so enormously terrible and life-threatening about Sam having some mental issues that he is trying his best to cope with? What about that makes him completely untrustworthy?

But the season apparently must have a contrived, manufactured conflict between the brothers. By killing Amy and giving a "we are what we are" speech, Mr. Nihilism confirmed that he has no belief in his brother. Dean lied to Sam's face about letting Amy go. I don't see what Sam has done to make Dean treat him this way -- with condescending contempt masquerading as caring. Sam left a note, he wanted to deal with the Amy problem on his own, and did so, in his own fashion. He's being truthful about his condition, which is understandable. What exactly has Sam done wrong here?

But again, the season must have an inter-brother conflict, apparently. Why? I don't know. If the show has to have an ongoing issue between the Winchesters, this isn't a creative foundation for that. It's just dredging up some old issues, not creating interesting new ones. Suddenly Dean goes back to non-trusting older-brother mode, after years of the show trying to give these brothers some kind of common ground. None of that felt earned, none of it felt thoroughly and thoughtfully set up.

If the first couple of episodes were the show laying the groundwork for the new season and the new villains, 'The Girl Next Door' felt as though it was giving us the meat of the internal conflicts for the season. My two cents: I think the brotherly conflicts are bogus. This isn't an interesting, rich, understandable set of problems. This is the show putting characters in the wayback machine and expecting us not to notice.

So here's where we stand: The show has apparently decided that, in the world through which the Winchesters move, nothing ever works out. Dean will never trust Sam. There are no grey areas. There is no better or at least not-as-bad future to hope for. Castiel, who hasn't been mourned really at all (and jeebus, what's that about?), is a distant memory. And the brothers will go through a conflict that feels fake and unearned.

I really don't want to be this down on the show. It brings me no joy. But I wish I could say that the problems above are my only issues with 'Girl Next Door.' They are not. Just a few more:

* How did Bobby escape death in the previous episode? We don't know.

* Why was Bobby so seemingly chipper after his entire house was burned down? We don't know.

* How do the Leviathan know all the boys' aliases? Did they get that information from Bobby's house? We don't know.

* Wasn't it convenient that Sam just happened to find the park where Amy turned up? Normally I'm willing to let those kinds of coincidences go, but not in an episode where just about everything else went wrong (and let me emphasize, it's the writing I have a problem with, not the acting or directing).

I realize that other reactions to this episode are out there. My husband, who also didn't think much of 'Girl,' had a very different take -- he thought Sam should have killed Amy. He thought Sam would know enough by now that that's what he'd have to do. But in general, he thought the episode was messy and all over the place. I can't disagree there.

Before I sign off, I want to quote from Carrie Raisler's excellent AV Club review of the episode. After Dean killed Amy, "the episode went from simply dull for me to downright maddening. One of the most refreshing things of the first two episodes of the season was how quick Sam was to confide in Dean, and how willing Dean was to use their brotherly bond to help Sam come back from the brink. Now, with Dean's subterfuge and Sam's initial reluctance to bring Dean in on the plan, we're back to square one with the brothers lying and playing games with each other. It's been done and no matter how interesting it might have been in earlier seasons, it's just not any more.... Yes, story options get thinner as the years go on and new character beats are difficult to create at such a late stage. That's still no excuse for reverting to things we've already seen so many times in the past." Yep.

If you're not that negative about this episode, that's fine. But before you accuse me of being overly hard on the show, know that I only react this intensely to shows that have typically done good or at least frequently interesting jobs of exploring the complexities that they introduce and expanding and illuminating their characters.

Nothing about 'The Girl Next Door' made me hopeful on either of those fronts. I just don't see Dean as a person who would kill a child's mother, then calmly tell the kid that he will kill him if he steps out of line. Oh, and the kid should go find some people to live with now that Mommy's dead.

What kind of callous, heartless person does that? But the show has bee so relentless about taking things and people and support away from the boys that perhaps the reversion to the Dean with a hard heart should have been expected.

The big-picture problem for me is that, this is not a nuanced exploration of dark themes. I love dark themes; most of my favorite dramas delve into just these kinds of complicated territories. But the show's approach to difficult topics seems less challenging, less nuanced and less interesting these days. I liked the season premiere generally, I was mixed on 'Hello, Cruel World,' but what I saw in 'Girl' angered me, frankly, and it touches on tonal issues I wrote about at the end of season 6. From where I sit, the show is not setting up the kind of challenging emotional and moral dilemmas it has offered us in the past. This strikes me as pessimism and negativity as a substitute for engaging character development and storytelling.

By the way, I'm going to be out of town next week, so the review of the Oct. 14 episode will be delayed until Monday, Oct. 17. I was going to be all dramatic and say maybe I'll just stop reviewing the show altogether, but I'll wait til the mid-season break to see how I feel about that.


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'Supernatural' airs 9PM ET Fridays on the CW.

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209 Comments

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Invalidity

First of all, she killed one low-life. Even then, no one has a right to judge who can die. She also killed again after she ran into Sam, just to keep her son stable. Dean was just doing what he should; what if her son got sick again? Then you better believe she would kill again. Also, Dean and Sam wouldn't sacrifice an innocent person (directly take their life) to protect themselves- the one episode where they needed to sacrifice a virgin to kill the demons in the perimeter *the one with ruby.*
We saw Amy through Sam's POV when she was innocent and could make the right choices. Now, as an adult, she is finding justifications for her actions.

April 14 2012 at 7:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Najah Abdullah

You said it all: It's the writing. I've been upset about it since last season; I feel like the new writers don't understand the characters well enough, and they've got Sam and Dean doing stuff that, in my opinion, they'd never do. The dialogue has also been stilted and wooden. I'm especially disheartened with Dabb and Loflin, who wrote this episode. For what it's worth, can we PLEASE get Jeremy Carver back??? Or even Raelle Tucker??? Please!

October 29 2011 at 12:28 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
zowadi

How did Bobby escape death in the previous episode and why was Bobby so seemingly chipper after his entire house was burned down? He answered that when he drove up at the end of the episode.
How do the Leviathan know all the boys' aliases? There was a chance comment one of them said that they got the information on Sam and Dean from their “angel pal’s” head while they possessed Castiel. And since they are all connected all the Leviathans know what one knows
* Wasn't it convenient that Sam just happened to find the park where Amy turned up? He’s a hunter and encountered that kind of creature before and he knew Amy’s habits. I agree with your assessment. This episode was not up to the standard of Season Six but they may be setting up a Dean-is-despondent and alcoholic storyline. We’ll see.

October 22 2011 at 3:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nitewoman

I hope my comments have been read by others like myself sho come back to see if anything has happened. I will be rewatching the episode with a new perspective that this episode was quite a bit better than I thought. Writing wasn't the best and key points were left out but I change my grade to B+ kudos to Jensen on job well done directing

October 17 2011 at 1:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nitewoman

Mo great job once more on your review. I so wish I could rant and rave and yell at you for being so hard on my favorite show and you were completely wrong on your take of “The Girl Next Door” but alas I agree with everything you said and it pains me deeply. IMHO Jensen did a terrific job with what he had to work with. I liked his camera angles and lighting & his directing of the characters Sam (young and old), Bobby, Amy (young and old). Colin Ford has continued to capture and play the very makeup of grown up Sam. Colin is a terrific actor.
When this episode aired I was sitting in a bar at the “Salute to Supernatural” convention here in my home town Toronto. There were about thirty of us watching Jensen directing his second episode. All was going really well and fun to watch with other fans until that last scene. With Dean waiting in the dark for Amy all that followed and his cold blooded ganking of Amy, seeing the boy standing in the doorway and showing no remorse telling him to go find someone to live with. At the moment Dean stuck the knife in Amy to the end you could have heard a pin drop in the bar, all of us were soooo stunned to even move after it ended. When the young boy said “The only person I’m going to kill is you.” At the point I agreed with him. In six and half years I have loved Dean even when he hasn’t been at his best…BUT at that moment I actually hated Dean. WRITERS WHERE IS OUR DEAN AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH HIM!!!!
I hate all this misery, gloom no hope for a better world for the Winchester boys. Like you said what have they got to live for and for that matter why even bother.
Gawd I hope Sera and company can redeem themselves and save my favorite show from self destruction. Know idea how to fix this, maybe it’s all a bad dream and Dean will wake up from a horror nightmare. Please, Please.

October 16 2011 at 2:23 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
reeper4409

Mo,
You have perfectly articulated my frustration and disappointment at the last two episodes. I thought the first two episodes were finally heading in an emotionally solvent direction, and the girl next door and the one last night (defending your life) left me cold. I have no problem with bleakness and tragic circumstances, but I have a huge problem with iffy writing (okay lets just say bad writing) and terrible pacing. The writers have seriously phoned in what could have been a couple of interesting episodes. It seems like this season has already been dipped in the Kool-aid of last season and I totally understand your instinct to tune out. The show should be better, we have all seen it be better, and it isn't.

October 15 2011 at 4:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
olaf78

Dear Mo Ryan,

You, lady are awesome! What you said here is so on point and so well articulated.
The only thing that gave me pause is that you might stop reviewing this show. I wish you would keep doing it, because it is important to have measured, thoughtful critiques (like C. Raisler's and Z. Handlen's as well) of this show out there.
But I understand that it becomes difficult to think about the show when it so nihilistic. I didn't visit your site or AVClub last week because the episode was so purposeless. Or at least its purpose had so little integrity. I knew all I would do was rant and rail. (That's why I am late to the party.)
Your opinion has weight and maybe someone in charge will heed the valid concerns of people who care about the show, but can't excuse away its flaws.
I saw glimmers of hope in the last ten minutes of the latest episode and maybe those will be borne out.

Hooray for you Mo Ryan! Thanks for the straight talk.

October 15 2011 at 3:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Dontainique

Below is a link to an extremely well-written article about Dean and Sam's state of mind and why it's arguable that both of them were right in this episode. I don't think I've read a better breakdown/analysis of the Winchester brothers emotional state and how they got there. It really is worth a look.

http://www.thewinchesterfamilybusiness.com/article-list/season-seven/16536-bardics-descant-703-the-girl-next-door-nothing-in-our-lives-is-simple.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+TheWinchesterFamilyBusiness+%28The+Winchester+Family+Business%29

October 14 2011 at 5:05 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Dontainique's comment
macie

Good points by the writer of the article. Thank you for leading me to this site, Dontainique.

November 07 2011 at 5:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
ksimm50712

I never jump in discussions on boards, but felt compelled to join this one . I started watching SPN when I caught a summer repeat of “Changing Channels” last year ( I’ve caught every episode since then). What drew me in and kept me watching that episode is that it was all about the brothers relationship, the responsibilities of love, friendship and the responsibilities of doing your job-whether you like it or not. I am not seeing this episode in the way that it seems others are. However, I knew it was going to be controversial. Doing the job is part of who the Winchesters are, and it is really an ugly thankless job. And that isn’t a justification of D’s action-however, the bottom line is that when they don’t do their job there are consequences. In terms of the ethics and morality – ofcourse you should be sympathetic to Amy, but the issue is what happens the next time her son gets sick? I don’t want to be cruel, but the bigger question is why knowing what you are would you bring someone else down with you? One would think that maybe, just maybe knowing what your life is – why would you condemn someone else to it? That is the running theme in the series. The only reason John W isn’t Amy is that he didn’t knowingly become a hunter it was thrust upon him once he knew his child was in danger. Was there cynicism on Dean’s part? Maybe. There is a lot of convos about D’s motivation. I don’t know if anyone else saw it this way, but in general, when your life starts spiraling out of control, you act on a circumstance you can control. That is classic human psychology – D can’t control the Leviathans, can’t help Sam with his mental deterioration and can’t seem to get ahead of evil, but he can rid the world of another demon. I like that the writers are challenging the viewers – I think it is easy to only see this as a why did D do that as opposed to the life of the W Bros is one of always having to make tough decisions. I thought there were a lot of layers to this episode. I thought it was the companion to “Dark Side of the Moon”.

October 13 2011 at 12:13 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Sheri

I really think you missed the whole point of the episode, Mo. First, you seem to forget that Amy killed her fourth victim in a week minutes before Sam showing up at her house. She still had blood on her hands. Also, we saw a sympathetic Amy through Sam's POV.

Dean has always been a hardened hunter; sometimes even cold. He is spiralling downward after several years of carrying the load, being deceived and lied to by everyone he knows, and losing so many loved ones. Now he has Sam back, but Sam has mental problems and Dean can't fix that, Sam has to take care of that on his own. In other words, he role of 'taking care of Sam' is no longer relevant, and that has been Dean's life since he was four.

This episode was Dean-centric and I, for one, love a dark Dean. I don't think the writers will take it that far, but the glimpses of this Dean is pleasureable, and I hope we get to see Sam pulling his brother back. And who doesn't love a drugged/drunk Dean. "Hey, look. A monster broke my leg." Lines like that are enough light for me right now. I'm happy with no angel storyline, no domesticated Dean, and no Soulless Sam. I'm all up for seeing where this season goes.

October 13 2011 at 10:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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