“I know what it’s like to see monsters. And I know that when they’re gone, they never really go away. You see ’em when you close your eyes, you see ’em in your dreams. You know what? Me and my brother… we’re the guys that stop the monsters. We’re the guys that scare them.”
A couple of kids channeling their inner Ghostfacer, a psychotic ghost that was crazy in life continuing that path in death, and Dean Winchester facing the truth of his own broken psyche…all a part of a very powerful Supernatural.
To start, “Advanced Thanatology” (say that five times fast) is a tale of two halves. The first part is the ghost story that takes place in Grand Junction, Colorado at the former home of Avery Meadows—a doctor whose favorite pastime was performing lobotomies on every patient that was wheeled through his doors. On the surface, it seems like another uninspired monster-of-the-week filler episode. But that whole not judging a book by its cover thing? It’s an accurate phrase here.
First off, the ghost story itself, where we have two teens braving the haunted house, is one of the more well done side-ghost stories I’ve seen on Supernatural in the last several years. There is a compelling narrative where the thought of a sociopathic doctor enacting such horrors on his patients that in and of elicits an instinctive fear in us. Add to that my personal foray into the Lore podcasts and the initial founding of mental asylums and the first half of this episode hits hard as a scary story. In truth, I was surprised at, not only the creepiness of Dr. Meadows tale but just how much I wanted to see a bit more of this monstrous individual.
As good as the ghost story is, the second half of the episode is what takes it from being good to absolutely fantastic. Despite banishing the ghost of Avery Meadows, the Winchesters still have a house full of broken and trapped spirits, those individuals that suffered at the hands of the good doctor. The problem is how to find all these bodies before someone else gets hurt? Well, if you can’t talk to the ghosts on this plane because they aren’t strong enough to pierce the Veil, you have to step over the Veil yourself to get the information. Only one problem with that…
You have to die to do it.
Intrepid hunter as he is, Dean makes the decision to cross over, stopping his heart with the poke of a needle while Sam waits to administer the cure that will re-start his brother’s heart. The gambit works as Dean comes across Sean, the teenager that had originally escaped Dr. Meadows’ at the start of the episode only to be possessed then killed by the doctor. Dean reaches his body as Sam injects it with the cure only to be confronted by the last entity he’d expected: Death.
Turns out this incarnation of Death has a name and a very familiar face; that of the former (and previously dead) reaper, Billie. The newest embodiment of Death explains the mechanics of her promotion but it’s her interest in Dean’s travel across interdimensional planes which is why she’s stalling his return to his body. Her reasoning is simple: despite the complexity of life and existence, it stands on a veritable “house of cards”, where one wrong move could cause everything to come crashing down. If Death has one thing going for it, it’s the fact that everything (and everyone) has a time to go. Playing around with interdimensional paths would disrupt that timetable and, well, that’s not a good thing. For anyone.
Dean makes a bargain with Billie, asking her to free the ghosts from their current shackles and, in exchange, he tells her about Jack’s birth and the subsequent tear in reality. Afterwards, Billie realizes this is not the Dean Winchester she’s used to. He’s a broken down, beaten shell of himself, far from the “the guy who saves the world. The guy who always thinks he’ll win no matter what”. More than that, he is okay with dying. More than okay, he wants it all to be over. When Billie points to a shelf where each notebook details a unique possibility for his death, Dean is almost relieved, thinking it’s all over. But Billie delivers the news that not one single book on that shelf says he’ll be dying on this night. According to Billie, both he and Sam are important; they still have work to do. “You wanna die,” she says to him, “but I say keep living.”
After the case is officially in the books, with the authorities removing the bodies of the recent and past victims, Dean fills Sam in on his conversation with Billie and lays bare his state of being:
“No, Sam, I’m not okay. I’m pretty far from okay. You know, my whole life I always believed that what we do was important. No matter what the cost, no matter who we lost, whether it was Dad or Bobby or…and I would take the hit but I kept on fighting because I believed that we were making the world a better place. And now Mom and Cas and…I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“I just need a win. I just need a damn win.”
Well, Dean Winchester, I’d count seeing the living, breathing Castiel as a notch in the win column.
- This was one of the best episodes to come along in the past few years. First off, the ghost story was engaging to the point I wouldn’t have minded seeing more of the vile Dr. Meadows. But once again, it’s Jensen Ackles that steals the show. His conversation with Billie and the follow-up admission to Sam carries such an emotional punch, it almost demands multiple viewings.
- We knew he was back but seeing Sam and Dean come face-to-face with Castiel was that ray of hope, that win if you will, Dean needed more than anything else.
- No real complaints save maybe adding a few more minutes to the episode. That would have given us a bit more ghostliness and we could have seen more of the Cas/Winchester reunion.
- I loved the loophole they used to bring Billie back; she was just too good not to have return and for her to be Death now—as she said, “this universe can be so many things, and sometimes it is poetic.”
- This work the Winchesters have yet to do…somehow, someway, these guys are always in the cosmic thick of things. It’s good for us as viewers but it’s an awful lot of pressure for Sam and Dean. But with Cas in tow they’re now back to being the three amigos (or four horsemen if you count Jack), they’ll be up to the task.