Airtime: Tuesday at 9ET on The CW
By: Dana Leigh Brand, Contributor
Season 10 of SUPERNATURAL is certainly hit or miss, but when they hit they hit a bull’s eye every time. The winter finale “The Things We Left Behind” sticks with the season’s theme of revisiting long ignored plots and casually discarded characters with a grand slam of a choice in Claire Novak.
If you can’t remember six years ago, Claire Novak is the daughter of Jimmy Novak. Jimmy Novak is who Castiel possesses to walk around on Earth. (Netflix dive: 4×20 “The Rapture”–definitely one of the best of the series.) The one and only previous time we saw Claire, she was a little girl who was even briefly Castiel’s vessel before Jimmy begged for Cas to take him instead. Grown-up Claire is a complete mess, robbing people and places and landing in and out of a group home. Castiel finds her to assuage his own newfound guilt over screwing up her life. There is no lameo Monster of the Week, no barely interesting throwaway plot. There’s just pure storytelling here, and I am so relieved to finally get back to it. There’s even a shoutout to earlier angel episodes–the kid Claire lives with works at the Weiner Hut, as did a Season 8 angel vessel named Alfie (to humorous effect.) Cas’s inability to emulate human behavior remains hilarious as he pretends to be Jimmy to spring Claire from the home. Claire declares him “sort of a doof.” The most perfect description of Castiel to date.
Once Cas botches his meeting with Claire, he turns to the Winchesters for help which is adorable in itself. As if those two can help you, Cas. This is literally the second time in the season that Cas has been in the same room with Sam and Dean (if I remember correctly, which I might not)–the first being when Sam and Cas cured Dean of his demon problem. This leads to Dean and Cas getting one of their wonderful talk-it-out sessions where they discuss how much they admire and trust each other in carefully guarded language. I always love when they have their talks because they tend to hit on the prime themes of the series so succinctly that they take the words right out of my mouth. This time, Cas talks about the human toll his angel crusade takes, and Dean makes Cas promise to take him down if he gets violent. (More violent. Hyper-violent? All of these things already describe Dean Winchester. “If things go south,” is probably the best actual descriptor of the situation.)
Claire steals the show here, and she steals it from Sam, Dean, and Cas at their best which is saying something. She throws their callous, crazy behavior back in their faces and forces them to recognize just how damaging their presence can be, even incidentally. Unlike with the earlier “Paper Moon,” bringing back a character who they left hanging a long time ago and who I always wondered about worked out perfectly in this case. It helps that she has a strong connection to Castiel and can inform his story rather than just being a monster that Sam and Dean come across. The exploration of familial themes is also much much better in “The Things We Left Behind” because it opts for exposing the brutality of Cas’s actions rather than exploiting an overly saccharine sibling relationship. I know Sam and Dean have the brotherly love of all time, but one of my favorite things about this show is that it rarely if ever takes the easy way out and presents family relationships as loving-by-default. That’s not to say there aren’t happy families present, it’s just that when there are it’s with good reason. And Claire is quite good at separating her father from Castiel. My favorite part of the whole episode is when she points a gun at Sam and Dean and says “Like you don’t have it coming? You stood there while this monster took my dad.” It’s been a good long while since we’ve recognized that Castiel, indeed, started life as just another monster, and that’s how Claire would still see him. And that Sam and Dean are complicit in his disappearance from her life because they selfishly needed Cas to further their own ends. Love it.
Some trumped up gangsters and an interrupted rape later, we end, most excitingly, with Dean Winchester losing his cool and murdering the entire house full of gangsters, rapists, and douchebags in a bloody, violent, uncontrollable ragefest. Thank god they’ve brought back the only thing that’s keeping this season interesting. I’m a Dean Winchester devotee, and I’m fond of his issues. I couldn’t think of a more perfect thing than for Dean to go psycho-killer on anyone who he believes deserves it. Every season to date, when it looks like Dean might actually get a plot of his own, Sam hijacks it. More Dean, please.
Thematically, all of our plot threads converge in yet another lesson about the importance of family. Happily, Supernatural returns to form and stops spouting orations and trite parables about how “family” is the end-all-be-all and remembers that family kind of sucks. Sam and Dean tell a story about their father. Cas has to deal with the consequences his actions had on Claire Novak’s life, and Crowley and Rowena (his witch mother from two weeks ago) are delicious as they angrily word-spar about whether they love or hate each other (in their case it’s kind of the same thing, I figure.) Of particular note are Dean’s daddy issues (please, let’s poke those some more), and Sam clutching at Dean after his outburst as if he can pull his brother back from the edge. I’m curious to see where they take the Crowley and Rowena angle. What is Crowley even up to this season? I can’t remember. Tossing Rowena into the mix is confusing, but I’m on board.
I still worry about this season, largely because every non-arc, non-special episode I’ve seen so far has been so sub-par that it’s almost unwatchable. I know I’m harsh, and I know I hold Supernatural to incredibly high standards, but that’s because for nine years it’s toyed with genre and narrative expectation like a cat toying with string. The best thing Supernatural can do at this point is to keep drawing from its long history. Well, that and keep Dean Winchester front and center.