Episode Review – American Nightmare

I’ll admit.  This episode made me flip flop like a politician.

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To be honest, I was annoyed when I first saw this episode.  “Nutty Christians, AGAIN? – Gee how original.”

But then as I thought about the episode in preparation for the review, I realized that wasn’t quite the whole story.  In the scene at the mantle with the family pictures, we the audience are told this family was normal once upon a time.  If they were religious at all they probably attended a standard protestant congregation, though there is a case to be made that they may have been agnostic or atheist.  Then, one day, something completely inexplicable happened to them.

So they moved out to the sticks to try and get away from it all.  Except unexplainable things kept happening to them.  This family (especially the mother) was confronted by something outside their paradigm and they went mad trying to deal with it until death, in the end.

In other words, what we saw this episode was the Hunter’s life, when it takes a turn that does not lead to understanding. Not that I’m trying to excuse the mother’s actions in any way, but sometimes (especially for writers, for fun for the audience) we should try and examine things from characters’ perspective and remember that they do not know what we, the all-seeing outsiders, know. This is what transforms a two-dimensional cartoonish figure into a more tragic figure and tinges disgust with just a bit of pity. I like that and am trying to remember the last time the show gave us a complex monster of the week.

Could this have been better conveyed in the episode?  Sure, the story still demanded an arguably too high amount of extrapolation from the audience, but there are clues and a foundation there for this extrapolation.  I did like that Sam was the one to deal with the family as it heightened the sense of “there but for the grace of God go I.”  Had John Winchester been a slightly different man, we could easily see him out here with Sam & Dean, whipping his son as he struggles to understand what’s happening with Sam.  I know it seems like complaints I made earlier this season about some of Sam’s actions and reactions would be applicable here, but actually I’m ok with it this time.  The show had established Sam’s hot-button reaction to “freak” so it is still consistent with his character that a stark reminder of the life he might have had would cause him to react more emotionally.

Dean was ok, and also seemed to be back more in character with just a hint of wistfulness towards a simple family life.  Let’s be honest, all the man wants is a cabin on a lake and Baby in the garage.  The “lady I almost murdered gave me her number” is also darkly humorous in a way that reminds me of the early seasons, so a laugh earned there.

The biggest problems came from the plot structure itself.  Clues should lead to the mystery’s revelation, but the use of stigmata is just baffling on reflection.  The victims suffering via empathy the lashes inflicted on the psychic does make sense and would keep the girl sympathetic.  That she can apparently inflict far worst wounds on people without even trying ends up backfiring on the story and making the girl far more unintentionally terrifying.  Not to mention, how in the world did anybody in that household know or learn Aramaic?  That’s a dead language nowadays, the only ones I can find still using it are the Syriac Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Christianity which… is NOTHING like any religion these people in this episode practiced.  It’s a very weird clue in the episode that raises more questions than it answers – which makes it a bad clue.

Also, I really didn’t like the girl getting shot at the end.  I know I wasn’t supposed to (just wanted to give her a hug), but it just seems mean to have the boys wanting to turn things around, have them actually earn a win, and then have “the world” take it away from them regardless of their actions.  It also further cements the British MoL as cartoon villains and I was hoping for more nuance since it seems like all villains are British nowadays.  I mean, what if the MoL branch was from say… a middle east country?  And they had grown hard and vicious in their methods because the constant human wars of the region necessitated such ruthlessness?  Or maybe MoL from Russia or China, some place with authoritarian governments where the organization had become politicized and institutionalized by said government?  Just seems like we could have something more interesting than “Brits are dicks.”

Over all I have some hope for this writer (this is apparently their first SPN script), as they do a lot of stuff right character wise, I do hope they get some mentoring on how to set up and pay off the plot of a monster of the week.  So I give it:

This also slightly increases my hope for the season (although I started it off at rock bottom).  Kripke’s era was one that often encouraged you to think about the stories, and was rewarding with new levels of depth and intelligence when you did think about them.  Carver’s era has been one where you did NOT want to think about the stories as they grew dumber and dumber as you did.  It’s not even close to Kripke’s level yet, but things are heading in the right direction.  If the stories keep rewarding reflection, this show might get the chance to finish on a high note.

And now… a short remix bit for the episode that I couldn’t help myself.

1204sam Magda Peterson.
1204magda That’s not my name. I’m not Magda. I’m the Devil.
1204sam No. No, you’re not. You’re really not.
1204magda He’s inside me. I can hear him whispering. He lets me hear what people are thinking. He lets me do things.
1204sam Magda… You’re not the Devil. You’re just psychic. There are others out there like you, like — like me. I have powers, too. I’d get these visions sometimes and — and I could move things with my mind.
1204magda You can do that?
1204sam Well, no, not anymore, I don’t think. But that didn’t make me the Devil. It — well it kind of did. But that doesn’t apply to you!
1204magda Why not?
1204sam Well… I got my powers from demon blood – which you don’t have. Right?
1204magda I don’t think I was born of demons. Were you?
1204sam Um… not demon blood like that, I drank the stuff.
1204magda ?????
1204sam I had to in order to make my body strong enough to contain Lucifer. Otherwise I would have just exploded.
1204magda You had the devil inside you?
1204sam Yeah, that’s how I know he’s not in you. He’s actually inside an old rock-star right now.
1204magda You’re… you’re serious.
1204sam Yeah. I’ve kind of had a hand in letting him out of Hell. Twice now.
1204magda Because he keeps possessing you?
1204sam Oh no. You have to give him permission to possess you.
1204magda Demons need permission for possession?
1204sam Well, not demons, but Lucifer and other angels do.
1204magda And you said yes to the Devil?
1204sam Sure it sounds stupid when you put it that way, but it was all part of a trap my brother and I had planned to try and stop the apocalypse–
1204magda The apocalypse happened???
1204sam I think we’ve had… 3? 4? over the last decade. That’s the ones in America my brother and I have stopped. There might be more elsewhere we don’t know about.
1204magda Does that mean… demons are all gone?
1204sam Nah. That was a separate quest I had a chance to do but kind of messed up. My bad.
1204magda But if I had a demon inside, instead of the devil, I wouldn’t have these powers?
1204sam No. Demons can also do most of what you can do.
1204magda . . .
1204sam Um… I guess I should check to make sure you’re not possessed before I gave the psychic diagnostic. Actually your mom might be now that I think about it. She might have made a deal. Did your old house burn down when you were six months old? Is you real name Rose?
1204magda Silly Sam, you still believe in Continuity.
1204sam I have to! I’ve had drinks with God now, killed Thor and a few others, Continuity is the only god I haven’t found yet and that might still work in mysterious ways.
1204magda Thank you, Sam.
1204sam For?
1204magda For helping me realize my life isn’t that fucked up.
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