After two successful (and excellent weeks) of cultivating the primary story arc for season 8 Supernatural took a monster-of-the-week detour in ‘Heartache’. Though much of the episode focuses on Cacao, the Mayan god of Maize (corn for the laymen out there), a good portion of the conflict centers on  Sam’s determination to retire from the family business and Dean’s inability to understand or accept his younger brother’s potential decision.

The Supernatural formula stays in place with the episode’s first victim doing a bit of night jogging—something everyone should do, there’s no danger in that, now is there? It’s not long before another jogger passes him, waits for him at the clearing and promptly removes his heart, Temple of Doom style. At a Farmer’s Market, while Sam does some organic food perusing, Dean is reveling in the joys of the smart phone and picks up on the involuntary Minneapolis heart transplant victim. He also discovers a nearly identical case six months prior and isn’t subtle in reminding Sam about shirking his duties as a hunter for the past year.

Dean tries to reach Art Swenson as he spews gibberish

Donning their FBI digs, the Winchesters take a quick visit to Minneapolis and interview Paul Hayes, the last guy to see the heartless victim alive. He provides no real help though Dean knows something is up with Paul and his fitness frenzy. Not long after visiting Paul they are redirected to Ames, Iowa where Arthur Swenson, a police officer, is in custody for killing the pizza guy on his doorstep. They try questioning poor Art but all he provides is an indecipherable repeating phrase. He continues the litany in his cell where, using some unnatural strength breaks off part of the metal bed frame and stabs his eye out.

It’s here where things start making a bit more sense. Sam sends an audio file of Art’s chant to Dr. Morrison (who assisted the brothers with their Amazonian issues in last season’s “The Slice Girls”) and wait on his translation. While the brothers wait, they make their way to Boulder where, based on patterns, the next attack will take place. Of course they are too late when Randa, a stripper ends up removing the heart of one of her adoring fans in the alley. On the car ride to Boulder, dots begin to connect when Sam and Dean realize that Art and Paul (along with six others) were recipients of organ donor body parts from Brick Holmes, an all pro QB that died in a car crash the year before. It’s not coincidental that he lived just outside of Boulder.

Randa, with heart in hand, recites the same words as Arthur Swenson, no doubt some sort of ritual that is confirmed when she takes a bite out of the heart and a rush of power slams into her. She opens her eyes and they twinkle with a ruby red blood lust.

The Winchesters visit Mrs. Holmes, Brick’s mom, to gain a bit more info on the deceased superstar. She’s not too forthcoming and when they leave, we see why. Randa comes from upstairs and reminds Mrs. Holmes that she has Brick’s heart and while she does want to watch out for Mrs. Holmes, if the latter isn’t quiet, bad things could happen.

Dr. Morrison finally gets back to the Winchesters and translates the phrase. It’s ancient Mayan and translates to “The

Dean splits time between the case and Sam’s determination to quit hunting

divine god Cacao is born.” Cacao was the most powerful Mayan god (of maize/corn, no less) and, based on their records, the next attack will be in Phoenix. The conversation is briefly redirected to Sam wanting once more to get out of the life. Nothing is really settled and Dean refocuses on the case, pointing out that Mrs. Holmes is the key to everything. They sneak back into Mrs. Holmes residence and end up finding Brick’s hidden room full of sports memorabilia. They also find a collection of letters written over seventy years, addressed to ‘Betsy’ and signed ‘Me’. After finding pictures of the various athletes whose names are on the trophies and such, the brothers realize that, while they all have different names, they are all Brick Holmes.

They get confirmation from Mrs. Holmes, who was Brick’s wife. His name was Inyuu and he was a Mayan athlete of the highest order more than 1,000 years ago. He made a deal with Cacao, who promised to keep him young so long as they biannual sacrifices kept rolling in. Living so long and causing so much death had put a toll on Brick and he decided to end his life. The donated organs compelled the recipients to carry on the rituals and the Winchesters surmise they need to stop the heart to end it all. They make their way to the strip club where Randa, with help from Paul and Mr. Phoenix attack the Winchesters. Things don’t look too good but Dean ends up stabbing Randa in the heart. When she dies, her two ‘minions’ revert back to their normal selves.

It’s going to be hard for Sam to turn away from this type of life.

Despite finishing up with the case, Sam and Dean are still at odds over Sam’s decision to call it quits. He tells Dean that, in no uncertain terms that after things get rectified with Kevin and the tablets, he’s done; living a year of a normal life has only made him want it all that much more. Dean refuses to believe Sam can leave it all behind, conveniently forgetting the fact that it was only Jessica’s death at the hands of old yellow eyes that dragged the younger Winchester back into the life in the first place. His thoughts on a normal life are highlighted when he thinks back on a surprise birthday picnic Amelia through him in the park. The memory evokes a smile from Sam though it’s not long before that smile cracks and indecision plays itself along his face.

‘Heartache’ was an interesting episode, not in the monster-of-the-week sense but for the parallel between the lives of Inyuu and the Winchesters. In the Mayan’s case, the thrill of victory in sports was the driving factor for him wanting to continue on. Substitute hunting for sports and you have the Winchesters. They’ve only known hunting; it’s ingrained so deeply in the fiber of their beings, it’s difficult to imagine them doing anything else.  Even when Sam was trapped in Hell and Dean became the family man, he still hunted, thus can’t understand Sam being able to give it up completely. Sure, if they are successful closing the gates of hell once and for all, it becomes a moot point but what are the odds of that happening? It’s obvious Sam will have a decision to make and, while Inyuu had to end his life to be free, Sam only needs to cut the ties that bind him and Dean. Of course, said ties have time and again proven to transcend death.

Yep, Inyuu had a much easier out.

Next Week on Supernatural: Something is stalking the neighborhood, an animal with a penchant for tearing people to shreds…