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August 29, 2015

'Supernatural,' Season 7, Episode 7 Recap

by Maureen Ryan, posted Nov 5th 2011 5:15PM
['Supernatural' - 'The Mentalists']

I'm not sure whether 'The Mentalists' will provoke the same furor that 'The Girl Next Door' did a few weeks ago, but this week's episode dwelled on a lot of the same story elements, so I'm betting it'll stir up a few of those hornet's nests again.

In any event, some of the same writing issues that affected 'Girl' were on display here, and those problems have made the season as a whole frustrating and inconsistent. I don't know about you, but the mid-episode confrontation between Sam and Dean in 'The Mentalists' made me almost as angry as the what Dean did at the end of 'The Girl Next Door.'

Man, I'm really tired of this show making me dislike Dean.

I know opinions will always differ on whether he was justified in killing Amy. That debate may rage again in the comment area of this post, as it did in the comment area of 'The Girl Next Door.' And I truly understand the strong feelings on both side of that issue, though I personally come down on the side of thinking that Dean could have let Amy go, on the understanding that she and her son would be dead if either were connected to any future kills.

Sam and Dean haven't killed every single supernatural being they've ever come across, and I think an exception in this case would have been justifiable (certainly more justifiable than letting Maggie and Don Stark go on their merry way in 'Shut Up, Dr. Phil,' to name just two murderous creatures the boys didn't put down).

However, I agree with many commenters that the bigger problem with that episode may have been its structure -- it spent a lot of time making Amy sympathetic, and then Dean just turned up and killed her in a scene that was, I have to say, badly written and staged. There were many problems in that episode, but the end results, for me anyway, were feelings of anger and deep disenchantment with the way both brothers, especially Dean, were being written.

Here's the thing: My problems with 'The Mentalist' aren't directly related to whether I think Dean was right or not. In my view, 'The Mentalists' didn't really work as an episode for a few reasons, but the fact that it came down strongly in defense of Dean's actions was not the reason I was displeased by it.

No, my reaction comes down to asking a few questions, which I'll ask of you as well: Do you feel that the episode earned the moment in which Sam said he understood Dean's actions? Do you buy his forgiveness of Dean? Did you think that both sides of the argument were fairly represented? Do you think the Amy incident helped drive the brothers' relationship into new territory or do you think it merely revisited old issues? For my money, the latter is the case -- as I wrote in my recent Tough Love for 'Supernatural' post, one of the biggest problems with the show these days is that it is rehashing scenarios and issues that have been around forever, and it's not revisiting those topics in fresh and compelling ways.

I don't really think the reconciliation was earned, you may have guessed. Sam having to kill the psychic Jimmy appeared to be what prompted Sam to say he understood Dean's choice, but, in my view, those two killings are not the same.

The episode attempted to create a parallel between the killing of an unarmed woman with a young son and a psychotic, murderous man with a gun in his hands. I don't think the situations are true parallels, because Jimmy clearly intended to kill again and wanted to shoot Sam, while Amy (whom Sam trusted) said she would not kill again and presented no threat to Dean in that motel room. I'm just saying, wherever you come down on the Amy thing, the Jimmy situation was not exactly the same.

Even if you think Dean was right to kill Amy, she was not threatening to kill Dean (or anyone else) in that moment. Dean killed Amy in cold blood, and Sam killed Jimmy in self-defense. Neither act was easy, but if I'm to accept that Sam now understood a difficult choice Dean had to make -- well, Sam had no choice when it came to killing Jimmy, or far, far less of a choice (I suppose Sam could have chosen to die and let Dean and Melanie die, but that was highly unlikely, to say the least). At any rate, the two situations are not as analogous as the writers seem to think they are.

Given all that, the conversation between Sam and Dean at the end of the episode didn't really work for me. Even if, for the sake of argument, I accept that Sam now gets why Dean killed Amy, wasn't he awfully quick to forgive? But who expected anything else? Half the problem with the forgiveness scenario was that it was a foregone conclusion. I mean, at the end of the last episode, many of us scoffed at the idea that the brothers would be apart for any significant amount of time, and indeed, the episode waited all of seven minutes before reuniting them. We knew from the start that they'd be riding off together at the end -- what other outcome could there be, really? -- so there wasn't much suspense about whether Sam would forgive Dean.

Even so, the episode could have taken us on an interesting journey to the preordained destination. But damn, did I intensely dislike the Dean I saw in that mid-episode confrontation. He was, to put it simply, a bully. And ending the conversation with the word "b*tch," which he used at least two other times in the episode? That was weak. I know it's a word the show likes to throw around, but, not for the first time, I'll say I'm really tired of it. Still, it's just the tip of iceberg when it comes to what was wrong with the scene.

I know Dean can be stubborn and overprotective, but the way he was piling the guilt on Sam and doing his "I have to clean up your messes" martyr act felt as though it washed away any character growth he'd done over the course of the previous seasons. And you know what? I know that the writing hasn't been 100 percent consistent over the years, and we are all probably going to differ in our interpretations of who these men are and what their key qualities are at this stage of their lives.

So the question becomes: Who was Dean in that scene? Answer: Dean was a dick. He hit Sam with a steamroller of guilt, and though the words that came from his mouth said Sam had the right to be angry, everything in his tone and body language said Sam should just shut up and stop being mad, because Dean was ready for Sam to be over it. Here we are in season 7, and it seems as though Dean has less respect for his sibling's emotions and beliefs than he did a few couple of ago. It's as if the writers can't resist hitting the reset button on the brothers (or perhaps one of the issues is that many of the show's writers this year are new to 'Supernatural.' It shows).

And the writing did Sam no favors either. There were token nods toward the fact that Sam had a right to be angry about two things: Dean killing Amy and Dean keeping that a secret. But at no point did Sam get to say to his brother, "You know what? I'll be done with my anger when I'm good and ready to be done with it. You don't get to determine what my emotions are and when I get to feel them. Back off." The whole Sam-as-victim idea is also feeling pretty threadbare these days, as is the idea that he is powerless to resist Dean's emotional blackmail.

At the end, at least Dean admitted that he'd been "climbing the walls," not about killing Amy but having lied to his brother. To his credit, he admitted that the lie didn't feel right, but at no point did he apologize for the lie. He got to call Sam a "dick" for Sam's polite but distant behavior, but he acted kind of like a self-righteous ass about everything he'd done. It's one thing to show us Dean's blustery, defensive side, but the show's done a fairly terrible job of making us understand his pain and get inside his head regarding his choices and the consequences that flowed from them.

There's really a lack of balance and follow-through in so many arenas -- Sam's Satanvision is just gone (because apparently the show was done with that as a plot device), and we see Dean's stubbornness without being made to feel and understand what these decisions truly cost him on a psychological level. Putting a drink in his hand and giving him a nightmare or two isn't what I'd call deep and satisfying character exploration. As Zack Handlen said in his AV Club review (and I highly recommend Zack's reviews and very much agree with his take this week), "Plenty of the shows I love have difficult to like protagonists (in some ways, that's one of the hallmarks of the modern drama; a bastard who's just fascinating enough that you don't so much mind he's a bastard), but 'Supernatural' can't really manage that. A big part of the appeal of the series is that the Winchesters are charismatic, appealing leads, and if you turn one of them into an assh*le, that's a problem. But what really worries me here is that I'm not convinced the show realizes it's a problem." Exactly.

As for the rest of the episode, the visit to Psychic Town drew some fairly clunky parallels to the brothers' situation. Just one of the anvils: "Sometimes one's true gift is taking care of others." Thud. And the show's knee-jerk sarcasm about everything New Age is frankly a little tiresome -- it's possibly forgivable in an episode with many strengths, annoying in an episode with a number of flying anvils. Sam's attempt to establish a friendship with Melanie would have been more interesting in an episode that wasn't flailing in so many other arenas, but as it was, I'll chalk her up as another almost-interesting near-victim we'll never meet again.

So here's where I'm at, 'Supernatural' fans: I'm trying to figure out if I can stick with a show that has very little serialized material that works anymore. Episodes of television can obviously work two ways: Each hour can work (or not work) on its own, and and the episodes can also serve as building blocks that are part of a larger overall narrative. For a long time, 'Supernatural' generally did both of those things well -- not perfectly -- but well enough to keep me interested to the point that I'd take the time to write about it every week.

But since the middle of season 6 (I look back and realize that big-picture things began heading south around the time the Mother appeared), the show has been extremely erratic on the mythology level, and this season, it's been even more unreliable when it comes to the depiction of Sam and Dean as individuals and as brothers. As for villains, the Leviathan are serviceable at best, but they're not really more than that. They're not a metaphors for anything and they're not interesting characters in their own rights. They're just bad guys who occasionally serve as story engines, and that might be all right if those larger character or storytelling arcs were going somewhere interesting. At this point, it doesn't look as though they are.

But I'm not purely negative about the show (and believe me, I'm not enjoying raining on anyone's parade so frequently, but if I lied about my reactions to the episodes, I'd be doing all of us a disservice). I did like last week's episode, but I'm wondering where I should pitch my expectations these days -- should I just hope to like the occasional episode and not want more than that? Will it be possible for me to view 'Supernatural' as as an anthology show about two brothers who travel the country killing monsters? It grew into so much more than that original premise, and I don't know if, at this point, I can dismantle the expectations that the show itself helped to build.

In any event, I'm unable to review next week's episode due to the fact that I have a previous engagement the entire day and I won't be able to review the show that weekend. I will be back here the following week to talk about Ben Edlund's episode, which airs Nov. 18, and perhaps I'll have come to a decision about the future of these recaps by then.

Until then, thanks for keeping things civil in comments, which has been something of a small miracle these last few weeks. I'm interested in hearing from all of you as to whether you're in a similar place as a fan (and if you're not, of course, that's fine).

ADDED WARNING ABOUT COMMENTS (you'll also see this below in the comment area):

This is my only warning.

Stop the nastiness, now.

I was really proud that the community that was built here was so polite and reasonable. Even when we disagreed, we were able to do it in constructive and respectful ways.

What's happening in comments now is not that. Some people are able to observe the house rules, but others can't seem to. I'll shut down comments if everyone isn't polite.

Just so we're clear: I do not favor one character over the others in my reviews. I never have. I favor good writing, good acting and the multitude of other factors that make a show pleasurable or not.

Do not assume that you know what my secret agenda is -- I don't have one. I don't have any agenda at all, aside from a desire to write about a show the way with the critical methods and opinions I also use to write about about 'Mad Men,' 'Game of Thrones,' 'Lost,' 'BSG,' 'Sons of Anarchy' and other shows I've written about on a weekly basis.

But the main thing I want to say here is: BE NICE. To me, to each other, to Supernatural fans in general. Or I'll shut down comments.

I don't want to do it -- it saddens me to think about having to do so -- but I will if people can't write with respect and politeness.

Here are the commenting rules for this site. New commenters, please read them. Veterans can skip this part.

• People who don't observe the rules below will have their comments deleted.

• On this site, we observe the Lurkers Rule: The environment here should be so accepting, so calm and so non-screechy that most timid lurker should feel it's safe to express his or her opinion. If you have a problem with any comment on this site, hit the "report this comment" button or email me.

• You don't have to love every episode that airs -- I don't. But if you express yourself in a screechy, repetitive or unpleasant fashion, then please take your thoughts elsewhere.

No SamGirl, DeanGirl or CasGirl nonsense will be tolerated on this site.

• As mentioned above, please, please don't mention any spoilers of any kind. Speculation is fine, actual spoilers are not.

• If you see typos, please point them out (nicely, please!) in comments or via email. I'll fix them as soon as I can. Thanks.

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

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Bill K

leave Dean alone. He had to kill Amy.
I'm enjoying the show very much.
Keep it up.
signing off Miss Anna

December 04 2011 at 5:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Mo, are you planning on doing a recap for this week (How to Win Friends...)?

November 23 2011 at 6:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I wished that they had had just the end of the episode Sam/Dean make up. I would have still been scratching my head a bit at the suddeness, but maybe, it would have made sense, since Sam had had to kill the bad psychic. It was that mid-episode fight that seemed so off, where Sam was distant, and Dean was calling Sam names. Rewrite that, and the episode goes up a grade.

November 19 2011 at 9:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Well I haven't read through most of the comments, but skimming a few has given me a general idea to the wank/disagreements going on. I have to say, I thought this was an insightful recap, and if you really think Mo hates Dean, and this is coming from someone who will stan Dean's character to the ends of the Earth, I'm not quite sure you were reading it the way it was written. The reviewer isn't saying Dean is a dick, she's saying she's upset because the writers are unfairly turning him INTO a dick. And yes, Sam had his emotionally manipulative story arcs, but his whole story arc for this season is redemption and overcoming his major emotional obstacles. And if the writers are going to literally go out of their way to make Sam Mr. Likeable, they'd better not turn Dean into an ******* to act as some kind of foil to Sam's awesomeness. I'm so happy to see Sam getting past his crap, but if he's coming off as an almost nonchalant, weirdly cheery guy and Dean's over there drowning in the bottle and calling Sam a bitch and murdering a character the writers spent an entire episode building up into a likeable person, well, then the reviewer has a right to call them on it. And she did.

"Do you feel that the episode earned the moment in which Sam said he understood Dean's actions? Do you buy his forgiveness of Dean?"
I felt something was slightly off in that scene, but honestly at this point I'm taking every bit they give me. I can work with this. However, the fact that I am now willing to accept this without question (even being thrilled it happened at all) is really the best example you can give to support the idea that the characterization is all over the place now. I didn't even WANT to question the forgiveness scene, because I was just so happy they were even allowing it to happen, albeit on a very basic, ill-defined level.

I feel like S7 has had its brilliant episodes and its complete flops. This one was, plot-wise, a total flop -- but at least they're starting to make headway in the characterization. They still have a long way to go, but the potential is slowly coming back. They just need to stop telling and start showing, bring in some interesting side characters (but please no more Castiel -- the second he turned into comic relief and Winchester 911 he was over with... and for that matter make Bobby a three dimensional character again, not Winchester Google and Backup), rev up the heat with Leviathan (thus giving the show more direction and focus) and give them a little mystery (honestly the Big Boss was compelling, until they made him a run-of-the-mill corporate douche and showed that the Leviathans had as little depth as we thought... which was a shame because LeviaDean and LeviaSam made for an interesting, if not original, departure), and FIX THEIR DAMN CHARACTERS ALREADY and they should be set. There's still tons of potential though.

Sadly, none of that was really addressed in this week's episode. The bed scene was cute. That was it.

November 13 2011 at 6:10 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

Wow you freaking women are insane! First of all are there ANY guys who like this show? Sometimes it feels like i'm the only one!

Why even HAVE a favorite character, they come in a pair. i like both brothers! And i thought videogame fanboys were crazy, nothing beats FANGIRLS!

November 13 2011 at 3:35 AM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Jonathan's comment

Thanks, Jonathan! I'm glad you picked up the slack on the misogyny front... it was just what we needed. Care to mansplain anything else to us today?

November 13 2011 at 2:22 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Ali's comment

What misogyny, the guy was completely honest. You people are crazy. If I saw the same amount of attacks on Mo from guys because she called, say, Ellen an idiot...I would have called those dudes FANBOYS.

You are a FANGIRL, you are what you are...pathetic. Don't try to deflect any valid critique to your overzealous doucheness by labeling voices of reason as misogynists.

November 13 2011 at 4:59 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down

My thoughts on this episode and this article has already been stated by those who disagree wholeheartedly with this article but I only wanted to say this: I found it extremely offensive calling Dean an emotional blackmailer. I have been on the receiving end of emotional blackmails that bordered on emotional abuse (which, for me, cuts even deeper than physical) and the brother that was always shown as being the emotionally manipulative one (to put it much nicer than you did) is Sam in my opinion. He always held that powerful card over Dean, as early as season 2. So to try and reverse the positions in the one time the recipient of this chronic emotional "blackmail" finally stands up for himself and doesn't allow it any more is extremely offensive and the exact same attitude many abusers hold.

I'm sorry if this comment is harsh and of course I don't presume to know you but I feel very strongly about this subject and you just lost not only a reader of this column but of the whole site.

November 12 2011 at 8:58 AM Report abuse +7 rate up rate down Reply

For someone who accuses other fans of mental illness and fanaticism, you might want to look at your own obsessive need to correct other fans and even after most people have let it go, continue posting in defense of a professional critic who gets paid very well to have a thick skin.

November 11 2011 at 8:23 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Lola's comment

That was directed at DDavina.

November 11 2011 at 8:28 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

II think she is so dead on in what she writes. And she's not afraid to speak the truth. She's summed up perfectly what has gone wrong with the show. If only the writers would listen to her. But if this show has a too immature fanbase for her, there are plenty of other great shows with a more mature audience she could write about.

November 11 2011 at 7:02 PM Report abuse -6 rate up rate down Reply

II think she is so dead on in what she writes. And she's not afraid to speak the truth. She's summed up perfectly what has gone wrong with the show. If only the writers would listen to her. But if this show has a too immature fanbase for her, there are plenty of other great shows with a more mature audience she could write about.

November 11 2011 at 7:02 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply

Hi Mo. I just read Alice Jester's blog and she infers you may stop writing on Supernatural. I hope not. Although I have not agreed with you recently, I do enjoy what you write and hope you continue. Please.

November 11 2011 at 10:54 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to sooze's comment
Louise Litton

Alice Jester needs to let Mo Ryan speak for herself.

November 11 2011 at 12:49 PM Report abuse +5 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to Louise Litton's comment

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