After a short break, our weekly Supernatural reviews are back. This one contains spoilers.
9.12 Sharp Teeth
My impression of Supernatural this season is that it’s in a sort of strange limbo: the seasonal story arc and the big villains are all spectacular – as are the episodes dealing with them. But whenever the show ventures into ‘Monster of the Week’ territory this season, it’s been hit and miss – with notably more misses than hits.
That’s what Sharp Teeth feels like. With the exception of some very important moments for the brothers and the larger story (which are both interesting and well-written), the monster and plot of this episode are so stale that they’re like a constant, glaring, forty-minute reminder that Supernatural seems to be long past its expiration date (and I say this as one of those passionate fans who could very well be a walking Supernatural Wiki).
This episode follows on the heels of two episodes that spent their time resolving the cliffhanger of the midseason finale, and dealing with its fallout. As such, the effects of that resolution are still obvious: Dean and Sam are still in the midst of a falling-out of sorts, hunting separately, with Dean (as usual) crushed by his incessant guilt. As such, the episode itself is somewhere in the limbo between being a monster-of-the-week and attempting to resolve the remaining hanging plot threads from the aforementioned midseason finale.
This episode sees the return of Garth, who is, apparently, a fan favourite recurring character (though I’ve personally never cared for him). The episode begins with the Winchesters (who have clearly been separated since Road Trip) both finding Garth in the same hospital. After he flees and they track him down, it turns out that Garth’s a werewolf, and this is where the episode starts to go down the stale route.
Garth insists that he and his wife Bess are good werewolves; wanting to convince the brothers of the fact, he takes them to see his family, who are all (apparently) devout, high-functioning, family-oriented monsters. Of course, Dean Winchester’s allergic to both the idea of monsters being good and to anything that looks like a functional family, so he’s skeptical about the entire endeavour.
That skepticism is the final straw, because the plotline of the monster who isn’t a monster by choice and who’s trying to be good is just so unoriginal by Supernatural standards it makes me want to weep. Madison in Heart, Lenore in Bloodlust, the werewolves in Bitten and possibly a dozen other episodes see the brothers, ingrained hunters that they are, confronting monsters and discovering their inner goodness. It’s a sort of blunt “the world isn’t black and white” that Supernatural’s been beating its viewers over the head with from time to time, and in my experience, this show has the potential to be complex enough to demonstrate the possibilities of moral grey areas in much more interesting ways than werewolves controlling their urges again.
Still, the family dinner that Dean sits in on was both wonderful and so very Supernatural in a beautifully creepy way, mixing the darkness of monsters with the comfort of suburbia. Only on Supernatural would a family of werewolves sit down to devour bloody organs with all the grace and propriety of a Thanksgiving meal. It’s scenes like this, where the dark and the monstrous appears in the most unlikely, most stereotypically reassuring of places, that makes Supernatural so wonderful.
Still, it wouldn’t be an episode if it didn’t have a plot, and there wouldn’t be a plot without someone actually being a monster, so it turns out that some of the werewolves are in fact the bad guys. How shocking.
Said bad guys kidnap Garth, Bess, and Dean, allowing the episode to quickly fast forward to that part where the evil monster makes a speech about wanting to survive and how humans and hunters are bad, and – well, we’ve heard it before. Plus, this episode goes back to that charming, patently-Supernatural trope of the smiling, cardigan-wearing housewife who’s actually the evil monster behind the façade. It’s something that’s very Supernatural, but at this point, very easily recognizable as so. (A Very Supernatural Christmas, anyone?)
It turns out that the monster of the week this week wants to start the Norse Apocalypse, something that Dean Winchester prevents in the space of about five minutes, because never mind that it took all of season five to stop the actual Apocalypse – the Norse one is a piece of cake. There’s something incredibly unappealing about a monster who wants to bring about the end of the world instead of… just a monster, and the episode unfortunately doesn’t really have time to do justice to the mythology it touches on.
Throughout it all, though, it’s fascinating to watch Dean. He’s darker, sharper, more cynical, more lethal, and it’s clear that the combination of disappointment, heartbreak, and, no doubt, the mark of the Father of Murder on him have taken their toll. Perhaps it’s just me, but Dean in this episode came off as the consummate killer, practiced and efficiently terrifying, killing every monster without a blink or a misstep. He’s always been a good fighter, but this episode, it’s almost like the monsters aren’t even a challenge. It remains to be seen what effects the Mark will have on Dean, but if this episode is anything to judge by, it’ll change him (possibly the way that demon blood affected Sam). If it’s indeed the route taken, it should be a fascinating one.
Another incredibly important aspect of this episode comes at the end, in the form of the brothers’ conversation (by the Impala, of course, as per necessity and tradition). It’s a hugely important conversation, because it deals with so many of the issues that, lately, have been part of the narrative of Supernatural and yet unaddressed: namely, the Winchesters’ codependency and the moral issues that arise as a result of it.
Supernatural’s always had a precarious position on the topic of family: on the one hand, the Winchesters’ glorification of family is what started the Apocalypse. On the other hand, that’s also what stopped it. “Family,” that word that Dean Winchester lives by, is a double-edged sword, and has always been, and I’ve been concerned that the past few seasons have only shown us one edge of that sword. That’s why I was not a fan of both the church scene in Sacrifice, where Dean convinces Sam that his life is more important than all the lives sacrificed and potentially saved with the Trials, and with Dean’s decisions about Sam at the start of this season. They felt like either a glorification of the very codependency that results in a trail of dead bodies scattered behind the Winchesters, or a rehashing of the old codependency problem that wouldn’t go anywhere, character and narrative-wise.
But this conversation seems to make clear that there are moral issues involved, ones which both Sam himself and the narrative recognize. Sam’s upset at the removal of his agency through Dean’s actions, and, presumably, upset about Kevin and the gates of Hell not being closed wither – and he tells Dean so, explicitly. He raises these issues, and makes it pretty clear that they’re not going to go away.
And what’s even more important is that this time, Dean’s choice to make Sam live is not one he has to pay for himself (by going to Hell) but one that other people were forced to pay for: Kevin Tran, Mrs. Tran, Sarah Blake, among a number of others. It’s an uncomfortable fact that’s finally, finally recognized.
As Dean says, they’re family. As Sam says, all of their problems come from the fact that they’re family. I’ve always seen the journey of Supernatural as that of the Winchesters learning to be their own people while being family, and with this conversation, I feel that that might finally happen. Of course the Winchesters will still be brothers, fighting evil side by side. Even though Sam says “I just can’t trust you anymore,” in an echo of Good God, Y’All in season five, where Dean says the same thing to Sam, we know they’ll learn to be brothers again, because they did it before. But I have my fingers crossed that, like in season five (where Dean allowed Sam to make his own choice and jump into Hell), this’ll be a continuation of that journey, where Dean will allow Sam to make his own choices while being his brother and his family.
We’ll have to see how quickly or slowly that issue gets resolved, or how well the handful of upcoming Monster of the Week episodes will deal with that, but this conversation gives me hope that they just might get resolved.
Follow our Twitter feed for faster news and bad jokes right here. And be our Facebook chum here.