Trigger Warning: Suicide and heavy focus on depression/suicidal ideation
It’s okay, Supernatural, I didn’t need my heart, anyway. For thirteen years, Dean Winchester has rolled with the punches, no matter how hard they come. His unrelenting drive to “do the job” no matter the personal cost has been at times admirable, heartbreaking, and downright toxic, but no matter what, it was always because Dean believed that saving people mattered. That no matter the losses they suffered, there was a greater good being served. This season we get a glimpse into a Dean Winchester who no longer believes, be it in himself or the world in general and, let me tell you, it’s been a dark place, culminating in last week’s episode, Advanced Thanatology.
We begin in Grand Junction, Co where two kids decide to hang out in a legendarily creepy house with video cameras because that is always a great idea that ends well. There is the usual boasting and jockeying between boys about who’s scared and whatnot, but the house is legitimately creepy and their other friend noped out. He doesn’t need the internet hits that badly, I guess. Evan and Shawn wander throug
h a house which, under normal circumstances, would be crawling with squatters or Airbnb-ers, but as it were, no one wants to stay in a house where the “doctor” who lived there cut open people’s brains. This isn’t San Fransisco, after all; no one is that desperate for affordable housing. After the boys find some super not creepy at all masks and decide to take home a souvenir, they hear some normal house and wind howling noises and casually decide maybe it’s time to go. While they are running out of the house (we are seeing everything through each boys’ respective video cameras), Evan’s camera picks up a scary ass dude in the mask holding a drill. The camera falls, and we see Evan getting his head drilled while Shawn runs for his goddamn life, the sounds of screams following. I have to say, this is the most creeped out I’ve been in a while. I am a weenie and even had to pause to “get something from the kitchen” here. Kudos to Steven Yockey and John Showalter for that bit or writing and directing.
Back in the bunker, Dean is making himself a PB&J for breakfast, not even having the decency to disguise it as toast, when Sam strolls in being 100% normal when he practically high-fives Dean for his nutritional choices and offers him a beer to wash down his sandwich. Even Dean, who loves him some beer, thinks Sam is being a weirdo. Sam tells Dean about the missing kid in Colorado and tells him they should go on a brother hunt. Just the two of them! Jack is combing through Sam’s nerdy DVD list, so they can go bond on the road! Sam’s suspicious enthusiasm notwithstanding, Dean agrees and the boys are off to hunt the things and save the people.
Once they get to Grand Junction, they visit Shawn, who is so traumatized that he can’t bring himself to speak, which his worried mom conveys to “Agents Page and Plant (Sam let Dean be Agent Plant, even though it’s Sam’s favorite).” Dean heads upstairs to talk to Shawn. Rather than stick with the FBI spiel, Dean tells Shawn that he gets what it’s like seeing monsters and not being able to un-see them. After looking at the truly creepy bird monster looking pictures Shawn is drawing, Dean reassures him that, if he tells them what happened, he and his brother can help. They are what monsters fear, after all. Shawn pauses, but still doesn’t speak.
They leave after learning from Shawn’s mom that Shawn and Evan are usually hanging out with their BFF Mike, who was strangely absent that night and has had nothing helpful to say to the cops thus far. Once they pull into the fancy hotel they’re staying at (we’re talking Best Western levels here, guys), Sam casually mentions that they should head to a strip club. The record screeches to a halt as Dean does a double take. Sam, bless his Moosey heart, tells him that on the edge of town there is a place called the Clam Diver, which has 4 ½ stars and Dean is baffled. I find it hilarious and so on brand for Sam to have read yelp reviews on strip clubs (because if not for strip clubs, why use yelp at all?). Dean finally asks what the hell Sam is doing with the super nice schtick and Sam confesses that he’s worried about what Dean told him before about not believing in anything. Dean brushes Sam off and tells him he’ll power through it with bullets, bacon and booze. Sam isn’t buying it and neither are we, but he lets it slide.
The next morning, Sam wakes up to find Dean’s bed unslept in, and Dean passed out on the floor with a bra that I would never leave with anyone, wrapped around his head. Sam rolls his eyes and gets ready, leaving to talk to Shawn and Evan’s bestie. Mike. Mike evades as well as any 13 year old kid can, which is not at all, and eventually tells Sam what he didn’t tell the cops: Evan dared them to go on a house tour of the “Old Meadows Place,” but Mike got scared and backed out. He’s sure that Evan is just hiding and messing with everyone, except it’s clear he’s scared.
Sam heads back to the hotel to find a be-shaded Dean taking advantage of the free breakfast (see, FANCY hotel) to build Mount Bacon on his plate. If there was any doubt about my love for Dean Winchester, it’s gone now. After giving Dean a bottle of whiskey, Sam explains what it is they’re up against. Dr. Meadows used to go full-on Oprah with his lobotomies. “YOU get a lobotomy. YOU get a lobotomy. EVERYBODY gets a lo.bot.o.my!” You could have gone in with a hangnail and come out with a new haircut and a hole in your head, if you were lucky.
If you were less fortunate, you never left and the good doctor conducted experiments on you. Doc Meadows was executed and when arrested, was wearing the awesome plague masks that Shawn was drawing over and over again. In fact, the cops had to forcibly remove one when he was arrested. Just then we get a call from Shawn’s mom and they head back to her house. Shawn was missing from his bed. He had a nightmare and his mom went in to comfort him and thought all was well. We got to see that Dr. Drillmeister was in his room, however. Shawn’s mom tells them she felt cold and, thinking Shawn opened a window, went to close it when she saw he was missing. Things are not looking up for our boy as Dean and Sam head to the Meadow’s house.
Once there the EMF reader goes nuts and it’s obvious this ghost is determined. The boys are getting their asses handed to them, and Dean doesn’t seem to be fighting too hard to stop the drill coming at his face when he gets cornered before Sam saves him. They start looking through the house and find the creepy plague masks from before. Since Doctor DeWalt was so keen on them, they figure that his spirit is attached to one of them, so salt and burn them all. It does the trick and the boys call it a job well done, until the air gets cold and shit starts moving, because of course there are more ghosts. Dude ran a two for one special on brain scrambling.
While none of the ghosts can actually break through the veil, they can damn sure make themselves known as lights burst and shit falls off the wall, we can hear them asking for the doctor and the boys decide they need to find their bodies. Well, Sam decides. Dean decides to stop his own heart (leaving Sam with the ticker starting syringe to give him in three minutes). Without any kind of discussion, Dean injects himself and pops into the veil like it was a trip to McDonald’s. Oh Dean. Sam sets his timer and pours a salt ring around his big bro’s body.
Dean is in the veil and tries to get the ghosts to talk to him. While there, he bumps into a reaper who, in a panic, hops into a giant archival room yelling that Dean Winchester is in the veil. Shawn finds Dean and asks if he’s dead, too. You can see the pain on Dean’s face when he apologizes for not being able to save him. Shawn tells him that he brought the mask home and was possessed. Ghost Doctor walked him back to the house and killed him. Shawn tells Dean that Evan is there, too, but they can’t leave. Dean asks Shawn where his body is, and then rushes to his own body with the information so that he and Sam can take care of it. He’s just in time for Sam to inject him with the wakey wakey juice. Ghost Dean and Sam both start to freak out a bit when the drug doesn’t seem to work, and a familiar voice calls to Dean, who turns around to find none other than Billie the Reaper there, looking AMAZING.
Billie freezes time, leaving Sam suspended over Dean’s still dead body and tells Dean they need to talk. Dean reminds her that Cas killed her, and a loose end is cleaned up when Billie explains that after they killed Death, the next reaper to die takes his place. So Billie got a promotion. And some sweet new duds. She tells Dean they need to talk and before we know it, we’re in the archival room. Dean asks her if this is the time his death will stick, and Billie tells him that depends on him. She wants to know how he and Sam hopped between worlds. Dean agrees to tell her in exchange for letting the ghosts in the Meadow House go. She agrees and all the spirits in the house move on. Dean tells her about Jack and the tear in time and space his birth caused and Billie remarks that Dean’s changed. He didn’t ask to go back and didn’t try to bargain with her. Dean shrugs it off and says he figured his chances weren’t good, so why bother trying? He tells her that he doesn’t matter. He can’t save anyone and is only holding his brother back. And we get to see just how deep and far this pain goes for him. Dean has never reacted like this. He has taken every loss on the chin and kept going. Billie notices too and tells him that, though he may want to die, and there is an entire shelf dedicated to how he might die, none of those files say he dies today. Billie’s promotion comes with a Big Picture view and she sees now that Dean and Sam have work to do. I swear he almost looks disappointed when she snaps him back to his body.
The next morning, after Sam does his best to comfort Shawn’s mom (which is none because there is no comfort to be had when you have to bury your baby), asks Dean about what happened. Dean tries to avoid the question and Sam is finally back to the guy I recognize and presses Dean to talk now. Dean tells him about Billie and her new job. Sam asks Dean if he’s okay and Dean answers honestly that no, he’s not okay. He’s far from okay. He has taken the hit time and time again before and this time he just can’t do it again. He needs a win.
While heading home, Dean’s phone rings, he answers it, and looks like he’s in shock. They later pull into an alley and there, standing by a payphone, is a barely holding it together Cas. Talk about a goddamn win.
This, in my opinion, was the best episode this season so far. I know there are people who think Sam and Dean were out of character this season or this episode but I disagree. Yes, Sam was behaving oddly this episode, trying to ply Dean with the usual “cures” to his grief and anger, but I don’t see that as out of character so much as a desperate attempt to comfort and soothe. I don’t see it as Sam not knowing Dean at all so much as Sam having never seen his brother in this state and throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks. Likewise, I don’t see Dean’s behavior this season and this episode as out of character so much as the behavior of a man who has lost so much and, with the loss of loved ones, his faith and will to carry on. Dean didn’t try to stop the drill from coming for him, and he didn’t hesitate or fight when he plunged the needle into his ch
est or talked with Billie about whether or not he came back. I don’t think this is evidence of him not caring about Sam, however. I think, at this moment, Dean is at his lowest and truly thinks Sam would be better off without him. It’s scary, for sure, but it’s also an honest depiction of a deep depression and suicidal ideation. It’s heartbreaking to see him so far down that hole, but I can’t say it’s out of character because this is a level we have never seen him at before. The fact that Sam is bending over backwards to accommodate him and the fact that Dean admits that he’s not okay to his little brother shows us that neither of the boys have seen him at this level, either.
What did you think of Advance Thanatology? Are you happy Team Free Will is back together? Do you think Cas is really Cas? How many monster tests do you think he’s going to be put through?