Supernatural 4.13: "After School Special"

Another week, another solid episode of "Supernatural". This one is particularly notable for giving us a glimpse into the complicated and depressing childhood years for the Brothers Winchester. It's consistent with what we've seen before, without a doubt, and the casting was excellent. The plot more or less built on some of Sam's psychological issues from the previous episode, but generally speaking, this felt a bit more self-contained.

We already know that Dean projects a veneer of detached "coolness" to shield himself from the pain and isolation that the Hunting lifestyle demands. He's certainly not the only one; the Hunting culture seems to bask in that kind of denial. (In fact, one could theorize that the seeming obsession of Hunters with classic rock and blue collar style is less personal preference and more subcultural tradition.) All this episode tells us is that his defenses were built very early in life, something that's hardly a new idea.

Sammy's intelligence shines through, as one would expect, but so does the desire to lead a normal life. That is the key that this episode wants to turn: the resonance between how Sam felt then and how he feels now. Sam started out at Lincoln with a desire to fly under the radar. By the time he left, he saw what life could be like as a normal kid. Unfortunately, he also comes to understand the cost of that moment, in terms of unintended consequences.

Could Sam be blamed for Dirk's death? It's a difficult question to ponder. Sam didn't start the fight; he just ended it. But he was also an interloper, stepping into a situation he didn't fully understand. He made a judgment call, and it turned out to be wrong. But how often does that play out, every day, in every high school? That's part of why we never quite escape the memories and insecurities of those years. Decisions and actions that can have a profound effect on a person's future are casually made and dismissed.

Sam gets to look back on a case where he thought taking action was going to make things better. When all was said and done, people were dead. He found a moment of happiness and hope, even several years of it, but did he get what he was looking for in the end? For that matter, is the pursuit of his own happiness worth the cost?

Sam wants to end the Hunting before it kills him (again), and there's a part of him that still holds out hope that the war will end and he can get back to that life he thought he would lead. That is a temptation that has driven him into Ruby's arms and a choice that could destroy his soul and half the world with it. In essence, Sam is at a crossroads, with the choice between what is right and what is easy.

Finally, a few words in memory of Kim Manners. As a director, he was responsible for some of the finest television I've seen, particularly on "X-Files" and "Supernatural". I didn't know him personally, but his contribution to the art will always be remembered.


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