galathea: (spn_scenery bloodlust)
[personal profile] galathea
Freaks and Geeks, by courtesy of Adam Glass, is a pretty standard standalone episode that mainly explores the theme of child-hunters, and as such it obviously offers a lot of parallels to Sam and Dean’s childhood experiences. I like the episode well enough, but since I find it really difficult to warm up to the guest characters – and they are clearly the main focus of the episode – my enjoyment of the episode is somewhat limited. Moreover, some of the finer points in Sam and Dean’s characterisation bother me, at least to some extent. Overall, I am more or less indifferent to Freaks and Geeks; it does not stand out, but it is not a horrible episode either.

Sam: "I’m fine. Are you okay?"
Dean: "Me?"
Sam: "Yeah, Cas dinged you up pretty good."
Dean: "And?"
Sam: "And, I just want to make sure you’re okay."
Dean: "What, like, my feelings?"

Freaks and Geeks is not a brother centric episode – the focus is more on the guest characters and Sam and Dean’s interaction with them – but at least their dynamic is very enjoyable. Their usual smooth teamwork is in place; they easily negotiate their way through minor disagreements and handle their respective part of the case work competently. Well, apart from Sam allowing Seth and Victor to overpower him, obviously, but maybe we can attribute that to the fact that Sam is not quite on top of his game at the moment. Speaking of, Sam and Dean’s opening conversation provides nice continuity to last week’s episode, where Sam promised Dean to be honest from now on where the physical side-effects of the trials are concerned. Dean openly voices his concern that Sam might not be up for a hunt and gives Sam the option to withdraw, but he also easily accepts Sam’s reassurance that he is okay to work the case; he obviously trusts Sam’s ability to correctly assess his condition and tell him the truth. I do expect, though, that Sam’s illness will affect their ability to hunt without additional backup further down the line, and I am curious to see how the brothers will handle that.

However, when Sam returns his brother’s concern, Dean shuts him down, and I admit I am rather frustrated with his reaction. Now, it is not exactly news that the writers like to fall back on a S1 characterisation for the brothers this season, which would be fine in and of itself, if their approach was a bit more nuanced. I mean, yes, back in the Pilot Dean expressed a dislike for 'chick flick moments', but throughout the show it has been well established that, despite his vehement protestations to the contrary, Dean is actually more likely to open up about his emotional state than Sam is. Sam’s introvert nature often keeps him from initiating closer contact with people, while Dean’s social nature and ability to personally connect with people often motivate him to share intimate thoughts and feelings, not only with those close to him, like Bobby or Sam, but also with fellow hunters or even random people they meet on their travels. So, Dean’s exaggerated evasive manoeuvre when Sam asks him how he feels seems entirely contrived. I find this particularly irritating because, just last episode, Dean asked Sam to be honest with him about his physical condition, so his refusal to reciprocate and offer Sam some simple honesty about his emotional well-being comes off as immature, if not offensive. I am aware that Dean’s protective instincts often motivate him to hide his own hurt and vulnerability from Sam, particularly when Sam himself is in emotional/physical distress, but, just once, I would like for Dean to offer emotional honesty to Sam before he is at his breaking point or Sam pushes and pushes till he gives. Because, ultimately, Dean’s emotional hurt can be just as crippling to them as a team as Sam’s physical hurt.

Similarly, I am getting tired of the recurring emphasis on Sam’s desire for a normal life. I mean, it was bad enough when the writers returned to Sam’s main S1 motif at the beginning of S8 without offering a reasonable in-canon explanation, as if the six years of character development in between never happened, but I (somewhat) accepted it as an awkward attempt to lead up to the Men of Letters storyline and its pay-off for Sam’s long-term arc. Sam’s choice to leave Amelia and his dream of a normal life behind, only to unexpectedly find personal fulfilment in his heritage as a Man of Letters, not only delivered a deeply satisfactory turn in his story, but also should have put the 'hunting versus a normal life' issue to rest once and for all. However, the fact that the writers keep coming back to Sam’s supposedly normal life with Amelia (Goodbye Stranger) and continue to emphasise Sam’s desire to leave hunting for good, like they do at the end of Freaks and Geeks, really undermines said development to a great extent. Moreover, I feel suspicious of the writers’ motives for repeatedly bringing the topic up again. I know there is some speculation in fandom that the writers plan on returning (a possibly pregnant) Amelia to Sam’s life, and for once I cannot write it off as an entirely irrational fear on fandom’s part, especially given the many references to Sam and fatherhood in this week’s episode. Sadly, I cannot say with any certainty that I would put it past these writers to actually go there, and that makes me even warier of every mention of Sam’s desire for a normal life.

Dean: "They’re kids. They shouldn’t be hunting at all. You have got to break this up right now."
Victor: "When I found them they were lost. Confused. Angry. I gave them family and purpose. And you want to take that all away? Why?"
Sam: "So they don’t get killed."

The story of Freaks and Geeks addresses one of the show’s main recurring themes, namely if children should be brought up as hunters and if it is possible to reconcile hunting with a normal life. Now, even though I obviously disapprove of Victor’s methods of 'acquiring' his family, I think his basic approach to parenting as a hunter, namely providing children with a stable home, an education and a family life, while at the same time preparing them for the supernatural dangers that exist in their world, does have its merits. In fact, we have seen other hunters with children who used a similar approach, like the Campbells, for example, who raised Mary as a hunter, but still lived a perfectly normal suburban life, or Steve Wandell, who gave his daughter a normal home and sent her to college, or the Harvelles, who provided Jo with a stable environment at the Roadhouse and made sure that she acquired a solid school education. John Winchester’s decision to raise his children on the road and train them as warriors was certainly not the only, or even the most common, parenting choice for hunters. However, John at least brought his sons up as capable hunters, something that cannot be said about Victor. I mean, even if we put Victor’s obvious mental instability aside, he is an exceptionally inept teacher for a future generation of hunters. He may brag about his ragtag team of young hunters and their exceptional skills, but ultimately the entire set-up of his operation is designed to stifle their development and keep them at an amateur level.

As Dean rightly points out after having seen Krissy, Aiden and Josephine in action, they are poorly trained and obviously too young and inexperienced to go on hunts by themselves. I mean, they do their little bait-and-kill routine right in front of a surveillance camera; they fail to notice Seth’s blue van trailing after them; they kill a vampire on the open street, right across a motel, and then wrap up the dead body as if they have all the time in the world, even though the paramedics they called in for the victim should be there any minute. They also lack the knowledge and experience to recognise typical behavioural patterns of vampires or the different stages of vampirism, a skill that would have told them right away that Victor was lying to them. So, Victor may claim that he gives his young protégées everything they need, but he purposefully puts them in danger by feeding them false information and pitting them against weak, disoriented newly-turned vampires, thus boosting the kids’ egos and giving them a false sense of security. This shows particularly in Krissy’s overly self-assertive attitude, and not in a good way. Now, given her personal situation and young age, Krissy’s defiant, know-it-all manner is understandable – she already displayed similar character traits in Adventures in Babysitting – but it really highlights that she needs thoughtful guidance or she will get herself killed sooner rather than later. However, I do like the way Krissy’s youthful impetuousness is set against Sam and Dean’s (life) experience. The brothers teach Krissy and her friends more about hunting in a few days than Victor did in a year, and this recurring motif of Sam and Dean as seasoned hunters, who bestow their extensive knowledge on others, is something I really enjoy this season.

Anyway, I also think Victor’s assessment of the current generation of hunters as incapable and weak is faulty and mostly likely rooted in his inability to cope with the loss of his family; he needs to rationalise the death of his wife and kids somehow, and the incompetence of hunters where dealing with the supernatural threat is concerned is as good an explanation as any. Of course, the hunters’ community harbours its fair share of incompetents and sociopaths, but for every Richie, Travis, Martin or Gordon, there is also a Bobby, Rufus, Ellen or Jo, and Sam and Dean themselves are fine examples of what their generation of hunters is able to achieve. It is also important to keep in mind that the current generation of hunters faced particularly difficult and unique circumstances. The apocalypse and its aftermath brought angels, Lucifer and the four horsemen, Eve’s monster armies and leviathans into the world – ancient supernatural creatures no other generation of hunters ever had to deal with and that left them outnumbered and hugely outmatched. Heck, prior to the events leading up to the apocalypse, even the sighting of demons was a rare occurrence, as we learned from Bobby in Devil’s Trap. There is simply no way the hunters’ community at large could have foreseen such an unexpected change in the distribution of power between hunters and monsters. So condemning hunters as weak, personally and/or professionally, is obviously a gross misjudgement on Victor’s part.

Sam: "Maybe they can do it right, maybe they can hunt and have a real life."
Dean: "You know that’s not true."
Sam: "Why because it didn’t work for us?"
Dean: "Because it doesn’t work for anybody."

Sam and Dean’s different reactions to Victor’s new 'family model' feel pretty much in character, as they both draw on their own different experiences/motivations. As a teenager, Sam hated the itinerant lifestyle John forced on them; it not only interfered with his desire to have a normal life, but also with his pursuit of his academic interests, so it makes sense that he would consider Victor’s parenting model as a workable alternative to their own upbringing. Dean, on the other hand, never truly believed that it is possible to reconcile hunting and a normal life, not even when he was younger, and as an adult he learned the hard way that the attempt to live in both worlds is bound to fail. Moreover, throughout the years, Dean consistently objected to raising kids in the life. In No Exit, for example, he urged Jo to listen to her mother and choose a different path in life; in Jump the Shark he opposed Sam’s suggestion to train Adam as a hunter and wanted him to return to medical school instead, and when he was living with Lisa and Ben, he strongly discouraged Ben from following in his footsteps. Dean admitted in Defending Your Life that, as a hunter, he has never been a child. Basically, his own childhood ended when he was four years old, and subsequently protecting the childhood and innocence of others has always been a personal priority for Dean – and that clearly resonates in the various lessons he tries to teach Krissy and her friends.

Now, at first glance, Dean telling Krissy that hunting is not about taking revenge may come off as hypocritical, considering the Winchesters’ life-long quest for Mary’s killer, but it is actually in keeping with his general attitude towards revenge. Sure, John and Sam were out for revenge in the aftermath of Mary and Jessica’s respective deaths, but Dean always argued that revenge is not worth it, if it gets either one of them killed. For Dean, hunting has always been about saving people first and foremost; killing Azazel never had priority for him. The only time Dean ever allowed his actions to be driven by revenge was in the aftermath of Bobby’s death, which resulted in his personal vendetta against Dick Roman. But even then, the initial impulse faded as quickly as it appeared. Similarly, Dean’s statement that they do not kill people may sound ludicrous, given that he and Sam kill people all the time – from innocent possession victims, who do not even register for the brothers anymore, to humans who turned to the supernatural as a means of gaining power and cannot be reformed. However, the fact that he instantly amends his statement and tells Krissy that she does not kill people, clearly shows that he is quite aware of his own double standards and that his original statement was made for Krissy’s benefit, to protect what little innocence she has left. It also suggests to me that, once he had taken care of the kids, Dean would have killed Victor anyway, had he not taken his own life.

That being said, I feel that, just like with their opening conversation in the car, the brothers’ characterisation here leans too heavily on their positions from the earlier seasons. It is not that I think the writers should not draw on past points in the brothers’ characterisation, but their personal history should tangibly influence the tone and extent of it. For example, moments like the one where Dean tells Krissy that hunting is not about killing does not seem to factor in Dean’s recent history in purgatory at all. I mean, at the beginning of the season, when Dean returned from purgatory, his moral boundaries had been further eroded and the darker aspects of his personality had been drastically heightened, not least because hunting in purgatory actually was all about killing. So while Dean’s statement to Krissy is perfectly in keeping with his past position, it is a strange notion for a man who spent his last year in purgatory. Now, obviously we can argue that Dean simply draws on his own experience and motivation as a young hunter for Krissy’s benefit, regardless of his own current position on the matter, but still. I really would have liked to see him struggle somewhat to remember/access that part of himself. The moment just really serves as a harsh reminder of the fact that the writers made no effort whatsoever to explore the trauma Dean sustained in purgatory and his recovery thereof. As much as I love having the old Dean back, I feel that we have little knowledge of when and how he turned a corner this season.

What else is noteworthy:

(1) I admit, I was a tad puzzled when Dean told Sam that maybe Krissy and her group could stop hunting and have a normal life once the gates of hell are closed. I mean, while I appreciate the sentiment behind the thought, namely that securing a better future for the next generation of hunters is an additional motivation for Sam and Dean to close the hell gates, there are plenty of other monsters that roam the earth. Hunters will still be needed to dispatch of the wide variety of spirits and shapeshifters, werewolves, vampires, fairies, witches and alike. As I said before, considering that prior to the apocalypse demons were pretty rare as well, and hunters were still largely outnumbered by supernatural creatures, there is really no reason to assume that hunters will become obsolete any time soon. In that context, I was similarly surprised at Crowley’s statement in Goodbye Stranger that closing the gates of hell will kill all demons. I am not sure if he said that just for dramatic effect or if he was being literal. And if the latter is the case, why is that, exactly? As far as I am aware, only few demon can presently escape from hell, so the majority of them is stuck there for eternity to 'live' a miserable existence anyway, so it should have no influence whatsoever on them, if the gates of hell are open or close.

(2) In the end, the question remains why the vampire Seth would work together with Victor in order to 'create' more hunters. I can see two possible scenarios. Firstly, as Dean suggests, it could be a simple trade between Seth and Victor, i.e. Victor grants the vampire free food and protection from hunters in exchange for his services. Secondly, since Victor mentions the leviathans himself, I think it is possible that Seth and Victor met during the end stage of the leviathan occupation, when humans had become a poisonous food source for the vampires due to the leviathans’ experiments with corn-syrup. Maybe Victor purposefully helped Seth to survive, thus indebting the vampire to him and motivating Seth to work together with him. Either way, I wished the writers would have given us a little more insight into this unusual partnership.

In conclusion: Freaks and Geeks is one of those curious episodes that I liked well enough when I was watching it and that did not trigger particularly strong opinions on my part, but once I started writing about it, I found that there are a lot of things that left me with a feeling of discontent. I still think it is an okay episode, but it further illustrates the lack of nuances in the brothers’ characterisation, as well as general continuity, this year. While I certainly think that the characterisation for Sam and Dean has greatly improved in the second half of the season and that the writers had some truly inspired ideas lately, I still do not feel that S8 will ever amount to anything resembling a coherent story, and I find that really regrettable.
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