For 14 years, Supernatural has been consistent in basically one thing: sacrifice. Starting in season two with John Winchester sacrificing his life to save Dean, the Winchesters’ (and writers’) use of sacrificing themselves has become the de facto answer to everything. If Dean got a papercut, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sam cast a blood spell to heal it. It sounds ridiculous, because it is. Every time it happens the sacrifice matters less and less. Every time I start to get my hopes up and think there is growth and change, that the brothers realize that there is something more for them, that there is an answer that doesn’t involve them dying, we come back to the same well. And it’s tiring. And it’s lazy. And it means nothing, because there are no stakes. Dean, Sam, and to a major extent now, Castiel, have all thrown themselves under the bus multiple times, be it for each other or the world. And they always come back. A little damaged, a little broken, but always back.
Enter season 14. For a minute while writing this I considered talking about how, in the beginning of the season, it looked like the characters were in a pretty decent place, and then I remembered that Dean sacrificed himself to Michael to save Sam. This honestly wasn’t even the death/possession/soul-selling I had been thinking about when I decided to write this review. I had nearly forgotten about it, because one third of TFW making stupid choices without thinking through the consequences happens so much that I’m pretty sure at this point there’s an annual quota, lest we forget Cas sacrificing himself to The Empty for Jack a few episodes ago. Needless to say, it’s a bit much. It’s become a cheap ploy for viewers to tweet in all caps about their boys. It’s fodder for those who think the co-dependency between two traumatized men is the end-all and be-all for #RelationshipGoals, and I’m finding it hard to care anymore.
Damaged Goods is aptly named as Dean, who has just learned from Death AKA Billie, that the multitude of ways in which he dies has been boiled down to two: Michael escapes his brain box and destroys the world, or Something Else Scary that we haven’t learned about yet. For having a “new appreciation for the Big Picture” and wanting to keep her hands clean, Billie sure is meddling a lot. Either way, whatever other death is in store for Dean most likely doesn’t involve him dying in his sleep at 87 years old.
Dean tells Sammy he’s off to visit Mary, and rebuffs Sam’s offer to come along, citing wanting some one on one time with Mom. Sam thinks it’s weird, but doesn’t ask questions because, although I had hoped for a minute there back in season 13 that these two could talk once in awhile, that development has been thrown to the wayside for Man Pain. The hug throws baby bro off, so he calls his mom to give her a heads up.
Meanwhile, Dean is clearly on a farewell tour (which somehow doesn’t include Cas or Jack, but at this point I’m used to my favorite angel being ignored by the writers unless they need a punching bag) and visits Donna, sharing a burger and catching up on the Wayward Daughters. The scene with Donna is a highlight, mainly because Briana Buckmaster’s ability to turn what started as a 40 minute fat joke into a well-developed, three dimensional character who manages to have a balanced life, something that is no small feat when it comes to women on this show. I will always be here to watch Donna’s “you betchas” and “oh hey there’s!”
Dean heads to see Mary at Donna’s cabin, and almost immediately gets his mom out of the house to go shopping for the ingredients to make “Winchester Surprise,” a 100% 1980s Midwestern heart attack casserole. If whatever stupid plan Dean has doesn’t kill him, cholesterol will. Once his mom leaves, Dean starts building his Super Secret project in Donna’s well-equipped workshop. I’m not going to lie: watching Dean in welding gear next to posters of shirtless mustachioed men while 8-track tapes play is not the worst use of a montage, but it doesn’t erase my annoyance with this whole storyline.
Lest we forget the one character who should be the sacrificial lamb in all this, Nick shows up in Hibbing looking for Mary. Nick’s story of becoming a remorseless killer begs the question: why even kill Lucifer in the first place, if Nick was just going to be the same guy? After no luck asking around for her, Nick goes for an unsuspicious drive in his blue windowless van, eventually getting pulled over by Donna. She arrests him for driving a stolen van, and quickly learns who he is (big thanks to technology and none to the boys sending out pictures of Lucifer’s vessel to fellow hunters). It doesn’t matter much, however, since Nick can get out of handcuffs and tases her.
Dean is still raising red flags everywhere, helping in the kitchen, (in one briefly heartbreaking moment) sharing stories, and talking about how nice everything is. Meanwhile, Mary has called Sam, who is already on his way over. While Dean sleeps, Mary checks out what he’s working on (and didn’t even try to hide, so maybe he wants to be stopped? I don’t know) but before you know it, Nick shows up and snags Mary. Donna calls Dean, who almost shoots Sam as he shows up at the cabin in the middle of the night, and they head off to find their mom and the guy who should have died last season.
Nick tells Mary he took her because she caught the demon who killed his family. Because he apparently still thinks he has some kind of moral leg to stand on. Mary says the demon was killed, but Nick knows (from some fun torture of another demon in the show’s cold open) that she’s lying: Mary trapped the demon, but didn’t kill it. A regretful-for-letting-a-mass-murderer-go-free Sam, a disappointed Dean, and an along for the ride Donna arm up and head out when an APB for Nick’s van comes through. Dean and Sam have a bro talk about “compassion” for Nick and letting go of people who are past the point of saving in some super subtle foreshadowing on their way to save Mom.
Looks like Nick and Mary are at her (conveniently nearby) storage locker for booby traps, severed heads, and demon blocks! Nick “just wants to talk” to the demon, and once Mary points out that a demon needs a vessel to talk, Nick kidnaps some poor desk clerk before opening the puzzle box so that Desk Dude can involuntarily house the demon. I don’t know what the fuck Nick thinks he’s gonna get out of his interview with a demon, but he’s totally willing to slowly kill Mary to find out. Sam, Dean, and Donna show up in the nick of time (hehehe), and Nick inexplicably breaks the devil’s trap. He then learns that the demon killed his family “on orders” which is a surprise to no one, and kills the demon. Yay closure on the most inane storyline in three years.
After Nick is arrested, Sam and Dean have The Talk About What’s In The Workshop. Turns out it’s a giant ass coffin that can hold an archangel. Dean’s big plan is to get on a boat, climb into the box and, I don’t know, somehow shimmy himself into the ocean. Forever. Okay. Sam tries his level-middle to talk Dean out of it, before agreeing to help him because when someone you love is spiraling, the best thing to do is help turn the screws. If it had been the first, or hell, even the fourth time I’d heard this speech, It would have been a touching, heartbreaking moment of resignation, sacrifice, and resolve. However, at this point in Supernatural’s run, I think I could make an episode-long smash cut of all the sacrificial speeches Dean has made over the years, with barely any repeats. I found myself rolling my eyes at the tug on my heart strings. I as a viewer can only care about the story as much as the production and writers behind it do. Maybe they would benefit from reading some fan theories and meta about the show, many of which are innovative and inventive ideas that fit well into the storyline, rather than recycling old tropes again and again. This isn’t Mystery Spot, after all.