galathea: (s/d secrets)
[personal profile] galathea
Rock and A Hard Place by Jenny Klein is one of those episodes, where I find one half of the story immensely enjoyable, while the other half is a constant source of frustration for me. In this particular case, the frustration part mostly pertains to Dean’s characterisation, which I feel is rather poor and does the character a huge disservice; the enjoyment part, on the other hand, relates to Sam and Jody’s interaction, which I guess is no surprise to anyone who knows me even a little bit. Given my mixed feelings for the episode, I could not claim that it is an overall winner for me, but the final scene between the brothers at least compensates for some of the shortcomings of the script.



I often say that I only still watch the show out of loyalty to Sam and Dean, but I have to admit that a small part of me also watches for the chance to see another story involving Jody, Garth or Charlie – although I always fear they will either get killed or character-assassinated at some point – three characters I love dearly, mostly because they are positive, optimistic characters in a world of severely damaged and morally conflicted ones. Out of the three, Jody is probably my favourite, not only because she is a likeable, well-rounded and believable character, but also because she is the only recurring character that has a close relationship with Sam – most characters gravitate towards Dean, resulting in the fact that Sam has become increasingly isolated these last couple of years – which usually gives the writers the chance to explore Sam’s thoughts and feelings by having him confide in Jody, especially about things he would not share with Dean for some reason. Granted, Rock and A Hard Place does not exactly offer us much in that regard, but it still gives us some heart-warming moments between the characters. ♥ I really wished they would make Jody a recurring regular, like Castiel, if only to give Sam someone to interact with whenever the (ex)angel is around, so he is not always the odd man out. Also, I imagine that Jody and Castiel would make quite an entertaining pair.

Dean: "Guess who’s taking the teacher home? [Laughs] Research."
Sam: "Really, you’re going to hit that? Dean, she is the chastity counsellor."
Dean: "Yeah, I know. What about you? Any luck?"
Sam: "You mean am I actually working? As a matter of fact, yes, I am."


With the exception of the first and last scene between the brothers, I think Dean’s characterisation in Rock and A Hard Place is annoyingly shallow and, at times, very irritating. The latter in particular pertains mainly to Dean’s interaction with Suzie, the chastity counsellor, as his attempts to hook up with her come off as sleazy, partly because of bad writing, partly because Jensen overplays Dean’s (re)actions. For me, Dean’s interaction with Suzie is a prime example of the way the current creative team at times disregards prior character development and misses nuances in past characterisation. I mean, sure, Dean is a womaniser and back in the early seasons, he frequently used meaningless hook-ups as a means to decompress from his stressful job. However, after Dean came back from hell, his behaviour regarding hook-ups changed, i.e. he started to look for an emotional connection with his sexual partners rather than hit on everything that moves. With Jaime (Monster Movie) or Anna (Heaven and Hell), for example, Dean built a short but meaningful relationship before they gave into their mutual attraction, and after living with Lisa and Ben, Dean even dropped hook-ups altogether, presumably because they felt empty to him after having been in a loving and committed relationship. In Defending Your Life, for instance, Dean needed to talk himself into meeting up with a clearly interested bartender, and in Time For A Wedding, he spent his time in a strip-club talking to a stripper rather than hooking up with her. So, overall, Dean’s behaviour in Rock and A Hard Place comes off as a character regression for no apparent reason.

It is not only Dean’s regression that irritates me, though, but also the manner in which he conducts himself. I mean, Dean may gladly flirt with every attractive woman he meets, but usually the women he takes home are fully aware and appreciative of his intentions. Here, however, Dean gains access to Suzie’s home under false pretences, and that is just really not his style. He may be cocky, and he may lie about his name and profession sometimes, but he is never dishonest about what he wants, thus allowing a potential partner to make an informed decision right away. In the end, Suzie reciprocates Dean’s advances, but that does not make his initial approach (or invading her privacy by going through her things) any less distasteful. On a related note, Dean ignoring Sam’s phone call and hooking up in the middle of a hunt is unusually unprofessional and careless of him, considering that they are on the hunt for a monster that is taking church members who broke their chastity vow. Incidentally, the situation is reminiscent of Sam ignoring Dean’s call in Sex and Violence, so he could have sex with Cara Roberts. The difference is, though, that Sam’s hook-up with Cara illustrated the changes in his character; it highlighted the fact that he lost any interest in forming real attachments and started to reject Dean’s leadership, thus making the storyline relevant to his character arc. So, what is Dean’s hook-up with Suzie supposed to illustrate? Unfortunately, I do not think it is supposed to tell us anything; it is simply 'comedy'. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for Dean regaining his zest for life and enthusiasm for casual sex, but this is not the way to do it. It feels disrespectful of the character and his personal journey in the show.

Sam: "Why does it have to be something else? It’s always something else. We’re always scraping to find some other explanation, when maybe it is just me. I’m a mess, Dean, you know it. Sometimes I feel like maybe I’m never going to, actually, be alright."
Dean: "You will. Alright, whatever it is, we’ll figure it out."
Sam: "Or this is just the way I am."
Dean: "I can’t – I can’t let you put this on yourself. Listen to me. It’s not you, Sam.
Ezekiel: "I wouldn’t do that, Dean."


Apart from Sam teaming up with Jody again, the insight the episode offers into Sam’s mental and physical state is the most interesting part of the episode for me. At the beginning of the episode, it becomes clear that Sam’s health has taken a turn to the worse again. Obviously, Sam has been feeling unusually tired for a while now – Dean makes mention of that fact at the beginning of Bad Boys – and, at this point, a chronic fatigue seems to have taken hold. Now, considering that Sam’s health seemed to improve in leaps and bounds, once Ezekiel took possession of him, this turn of events seems rather odd, and I cannot help but wonder what is causing that setback. Theoretically, the sudden deterioration of Sam’s health could be a side-effect of Ezekiel’s overuse of his angelic powers, but I do not find that likely. I mean, in Devil May Care, Ezekiel told Dean that Sam is healing, and we could see the effects of that healing process right away, so even if Ezekiel was unable to keep up the speed and magnitude of said healing process when he started using his powers, that initial improvement should have remained. Moreover, Ezekiel assures Dean that all will be over soon, which implies that Ezekiel himself is almost back to full health, so why is Sam still all 'duct tape and safety pins inside'? Quite frankly, I would not put it past Ezekiel to keep Sam weak on purpose, so he can continue to use him as leverage against Dean. Of course, it is also entirely possible that Ezekiel has no intention whatsoever to actually leave Sam’s body. He could have just boosted Sam’s health for a while to keep up appearances, all the while healing himself and taking advantage of the Batcave as a hiding place, until he feels safe to leave with his new vessel. All in all, Ezekiel’s assertions just do not add up, and that leaves me with the impression that he will not keep his end of the bargain.

Anyway, Sam’s mental state does not fare much better than his physical one, and the happiness he expressed at the beginning of the season seems to have been replaced by resignation and depression at this point. Twice now, Sam has been told that something is seriously wrong with him, and since he has no reason to believe that his bodily autonomy/integrity has been compromised by an outside source, it is natural for him to conclude that he is so fundamentally damaged that he will never actually be alright, no matter how good he may feel on the surface. In that context, I like how the episode’s main motif of purity resonates with Sam’s deeply felt desire to be cleansed of the evil that was forced upon him as a child. I mean, back in The Great Escapist, he expressed his hope that the trials will purify him in every sense of that word, but at present that hope seems shattered. Demon blood or not, it seems he cannot escape being some kind of freak, and seeing Sam’s doubts and desperation in light of the apparent futility of his quest for normality is truly heart-breaking. So, it is probably not surprising that Dean, too, feels moved by his brother’s emotional distress and finally decides to tell Sam the truth – only to be once again blackmailed into silence by Ezekiel. And, you know, given the way Ezekiel came to possess Sam in the first place, it seems sadly ironic that Dean is actually unable to communicate with his brother without the angel’s explicit consent. In any case, the manner and tone of Ezekiel’s intervention more than ever makes me suspicious of his true motives, and I cannot see this storyline ending well for anyone involved.

One last thought, while I am glad that we finally got some insight into Sam’s perspective, I am also a tad frustrated that, as usual, it took almost half a season for the writers to actually address Sam's point of view in any significant capacity. Now, it is a common strategy for the writers to withhold insight into Sam's perspective in order to perpetuate the mystery of what is wrong with him and at the same time explore the effect it has on Dean. I have never been entirely happy with this approach, because I feel it builds suspense/tension at the expense of Sam’s character, but at least I understand the narrative argument behind it. This season, however, we already know what is wrong with Sam, so I think it is not unreasonable to expect a more balanced approach, but the writers still overemphasise Dean's perspective. I get that they want to make Dean sympathetic to the audience, given the enormity of his betrayal of Sam’s trust, but I think it would have been prudent – and absolutely fascinating – to explore the possession and the effect it has on Sam directly. It would have given the season a lot more depth, thematically. I also cannot help but feel disgruntled about the fact that, back in S4, when Sam was the one making dark choices and lying about them to his brother, the writers did not put nearly as much effort into making Sam’s motivations sympathetic to the audience as they do with Dean this season. But well, I guess it is futile to expect the writers to change their narrative approach at this point in the show.

Random Notes:
  • Mythological figures and pagan gods that wreak havoc on humanity, because they are denied worship and/or sacrifices, have a long-standing tradition on the show. However, as far as deities go, Vesta is one of the less interesting ones; Supernatural has made much better use of this particular trope in the past, Remember The Titans or My Heart Will Go On come to mind as recent examples. As it is, the plot gives us no reason to care about Vesta’s victims, and since Vesta herself is shrouded in mystery for most of the episode and her MO is not particularly interesting, there is little actual suspense. Also, Vesta’s choice of victims makes little sense to me. I mean, sure, Vesta adapted to the fact that adult virgins are pretty rare in this day and age and found a way around that obstacle by creating her 'born-again' church. But, in the end, she sacrificed those who broke their vows of chastity, instead of those who were actual virgins or adhered to their pledge and hence would have provided her with the purity she craved. And if it is all about punishment and revenge for her, and she does not actually need 'pure' sacrifices to sustain herself, why go through the trouble of founding and maintaining a church in the first place? Theoretically, every 'sinner' would do then.

  • I find it somewhat odd that, when Jody talks to Sam about needing something in her life that makes sense and gives her comfort, she mentions Crowley’s attack on her and Bobby’s death, but not losing her husband and her son – a loss that was extremely traumatising for her due to the circumstances of their deaths and had far-reaching consequences for her life. I just cannot decide if this is one of those typical oversights of the current team of writers, to whom canon prior to S8 does not seem to exist at times, or if I am supposed to believe that what happened with Crowley and Bobby impacted her more than losing her family.

Date: 2013-12-14 06:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheebles.livejournal.com
Yeah, whatever it was they were trying to do with Dean in this it didn't work. I thought of a parallel with Cara Roberts too, but the way it was played didn't come off that way. Like, maybe Dean is disconnected from Sam, so he was seeking connection. I don't know. He's so long out of practice with women and that wasn't a hook up situation, so it all came off as crass. I wonder too if it wasn't a poke at fan culture. With Suzie being a Casa Erotica star and Dean's obvious awkward creepy fanboy behavior, I kind of thought it was to get fans to see the ugliness of that aspect of the fandom. Jensen, in particular, likes to mimic fans who behave poorly and there's sometimes an edge of ridicule in it, so I think maybe that's where it might have been coming from. One the other hand, it worked for Dean, so ...

I absolutely love Jody. She's smart, resourceful, tough. She has a good backstory and history with the boys, and isn't just there to be saved or for romantic angst. Like you, I love that she is Sam's friend. They have a nice, easy relationship. She's kind of almost the mom/big sister that he never had.

I'm wondering what you thought of the mid-season finale and hope to see a review soon?

Date: 2013-12-15 02:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] galathea-snb.livejournal.com
I wonder too if it wasn't a poke at fan culture.
I wished I could see Dean's behaviour towards Suzie in a more favourable (meta) light, but unfortunately it just reads like poor characterisation to me. It also falls into a certain pattern of Dean characterisation that has become more and more pronounced ever since Carver took over the reigns, namely a characterisation that depicts Dean as increasingly mean, manipulative and/or controlling. The current team of writers just doesn't seem to grasp the nuances in Dean's characters that always made him such a compelling and sympathetic figure. :(

She's kind of almost the mom/big sister that he never had.
Exactly. I like that Sam tends to connect with motherly types like Jody or Ellen or Missouri, while Dean usually gravitates towards older men of authority like Bobby or Frank or Eliot Ness. It is a natural expression of their different needs due to their childhood memories/experiences, and I am happy that, in this at least, the writers are fairly consistent with their characterisation.

I'm wondering what you thought of the mid-season finale and hope to see a review soon?
I was ill and bedridden these past two weeks, so I was unable to write a review yet. But I am on the road to recovery now, and I hope I'll get it out before I take off for the holidays. :)

Date: 2013-12-15 06:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheebles.livejournal.com
The current team of writers just doesn't seem to grasp the nuances in Dean's characters that always made him such a compelling and sympathetic figure.

I agree completely. Don't get me wrong, I do think that Dean can be manipulative and controlling to some extent, but he was never mean, and the current writing team doesn't balance his weaknesses with his strengths.

I've always liked both boys and was a big fan of the brother bond, but it's becoming harder all the time.

Date: 2013-12-15 10:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] galathea-snb.livejournal.com
I've always liked both boys and was a big fan of the brother bond, but it's becoming harder all the time.
Yeah, I've always been somewhat of a Sam!girl, but I love Dean dearly and usually both characters together are more interesting to me than either one of them alone or with others. But Dean's characterisation in S8/9 has been awful, and I am at the point where I want Sam to take off with Jody and get a restraining order against Dean - so the writers are obviously doing something very, very wrong. I just feel they have no real understanding of what makes the characters tick and what the fans like about their relationship.

Date: 2013-12-16 01:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheebles.livejournal.com
I've always been a little more partial to Sam as well. I relate to him as the younger sibling, more rebellious, etc., but I love Dean because, well, big bro.

I can understand the desire for Sam to get away from Dean, but I still don't. I want an angry Sam who will knock some sense into Dean. I mean, seriously knock some sense into him and then forgive him because that's what Sam does.

I know a lot of fans are concerned that Dean will just slip back into his old ways if Sam forgives him, but I wonder. This time it's his actions that have caused him to lose Sam. He seriously has no one to blame but himself, so I think that will make a difference. I hope so anyway because Carver needs to write them out of this annoying loop of lies and betrayal and Sam being addicted/sick/possessed and caregiver Dean. It's become a crutch for the writers, and it hasn't interested me since Sam got his soul back.

Date: 2013-12-17 12:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] galathea-snb.livejournal.com
I want an angry Sam who will knock some sense into Dean.
My biggest fear is that since they already played fake!angry!Sam via Gadreel in Holy Terror, they'll approach the actual confrontation between Sam and Dean in a completely different manner. I tell you, if Sam is all understanding and forgiveness, I am going to throw things at my TV.

This time it's his actions that have caused him to lose Sam. He seriously has no one to blame but himself, so I think that will make a difference.
Well, from your moth to the writers' ears. I would be willing to forgive a lot if this whole storyline would finally break Dean out of his bad habits or at least would allow him to take a long hard look at his choices and what motivates them. Dean desperately needs some character development, but I don't trust these writers to actually give it to him.

Date: 2013-12-17 01:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cheebles.livejournal.com
I have the same misgivings that you do regarding this plotline. Despite last season's assurances of character growth from Carver, this season doesn't indicate that anything has changed.

I wonder though if part of Dean's decision to trick Sam into accepting Gadreel didn't have as much to do with his guilt because Sam was in that position because of him in the first place than just an inability to live without him. I can follow a line of thinking that if he hadn't been so hard on Sam regarding not looking for him and where they were mid-season, then Sam wouldn't have insisted on taking on the trials. It would have been him to die in the trials because he believes that Sam would have let him -- I'm not so sure about that, but what I think isn't the issue. Dean believes he would have closed the gates of hell and died, and Sam could have gone back to Amelia and had that normal life.

I don't know. Maybe Dean's motivations aren't as simple and "selfish" as we think. Of course, that doesn't make what he did right. The problem is that Carver is doing a piss poor job of showing the characters' motivations -- Sam in S8 and Dean now. We have to read between the lines and fill in the blanks. So, I'm wondering if Dean's focus on the bunker as home isn't Dean trying to give Sam what he thinks he deserves -- "Look, Sammy, you want a home, here, I'm giving you a home." If I look at it that way, it's much less selfish and sadder tbh because Dean has fucked himself over so badly.

Date: 2013-12-19 10:26 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] galathea-snb.livejournal.com
I wonder though if part of Dean's decision to trick Sam into accepting Gadreel didn't have as much to do with his guilt because Sam was in that position because of him in the first place
Oh, I very much believe that to be true. In the church, Sam left Dean with no doubt that Dean's mistrust facilitated Sam's breakdown, and I think Dean's guilty conscience affected his choice to allow Gadreel to possess Sam. But that still makes it a selfish choice on his part. He couldn't live with the knowledge of being partially responsible for Sam's condition (and his resulting death), and that played into his motivation to do anything to save Sam. I don't think Dean's motivations are simple at all, but I do think they are mainly selfish and have little to do with Sam himself. :)

The problem is that Carver is doing a piss poor job of showing the characters' motivations
Yeah, no kidding! This show used to excel at character continuity and character exploration, but ever since Carver took over, the characters are all over the map and there is no direct line of cause-and-effect anymore. S8 has been absolutely terrible in that regard, not only for Sam and the whole 'he didn't look for Dean' issue, but also for Dean. I mean, Dean came back from purgatory a changed man, but instead of carefully mapping the characters’ emotional development during the year he spent in purgatory, the writers filled his flashbacks with meaningless action. And even when the writers gave us something resembling motivation, it was usually undermined or refuted in the next episode. Carver's carelessness with the characters infuriates me the most, to be honest. I could probably live with all the canon problems and the repetitive storytelling, if he would treat the characters better. But as it is, I feel he is slowly but surely destroying the characters I hold dear, and that just kills me. :(

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