“I don’t know how I’m gonna get there, but I know where I’m goin’.”
With the three episode mini-arc that started this season of ‘Supernatural’ over, the initial filler episode for Season 15 arrives this week. At least that’s what it seemed like for the first thirty minutes or so. Indeed, at the end of the day, despite its one-off monster story, “Atomic Monsters” brings an emotional narrative that not only will be a major factor going forward but may be one of the most poignant representations of the Supernatural ethos in series history.
Still feeling the guilt at Rowena’s fate, after waking from a pretty scary nightmare, Sam finds that Dean has a case for them in Iowa where a high school cheerleader was ripped to pieces. When Dean finds a vampire tooth in the body, it seems like an open-and-shut case. Based on how the story plays out with Billy, the Yale-hopeful lacrosse player and his overbearing parents, it’s a slam dunk that mom or dad is the bloodsucking culprit. It’s the same conclusion the boys draw after catching the dad’s car on a security camera moments after a second cheerleader is grabbed from the parking lot.
Ready to relieve the dad of his head, the story takes an unsuspecting twist when Billy steps into the room and admits that he’s the vampire. Susie’s death was an accident and after telling his folks what happened, they do what they can to help their son in an unwinnable situation, going so far as kidnapping the second girl with thoughts of using her as a human blood bank.
The story ends as it always does—the boys kill the monster—but the journey there is a revelation. Maybe it’s because his first kill was his girlfriend, but Billy’s resolve to take responsibility for his actions and accept his fate is a startling turn who one considers how more often than not, Supernatural monsters are unrepentant a-holes (to put it mildly). Sam and Dean are floored by Billy’s forthright demeanor to the point I thought they’d try to find a way to help the kid along. Alas, it’s not to be and Billy’s just another monster that loses its head.
As surprising as the monster-of-the-week resolution is, Sam’s own revelation is a character nugget that will play a major part in his arc throughout the season. He’s feeling the weight of the inordinate losses and pain they’ve suffered throughout their lifetime (and then some, if you count those decades in hell). Even Dean’s refreshingly optimistic take on their calling—“We do the ugly things so the people can live happy…we are finally free to move on”—as true a statement as any and one that would generally garner Sam’s patented head nod, does nothing but fuel Sam’s own morose feelings of their life. Even the idea of Chuck being gone doesn’t lift the burden from Sam’s chest. “I don’t feel free,” he responds, going on to had how “sometimes it’s like I can’t even breathe”. He tries shaking it off, suggesting that tomorrow will be better. But with a burden so heavy and profound, tomorrow’s not going to change anything. And that’s not even taking into account Chuck’s return to the game.
Running parallel with Sam’s journey of woe, when Chuck appears with a surprise visit to Becky he’s as down in the dumps as one can get. Though most of his issues are of his making, his lack of self-worth still garners a bit of sympathy. Becky’s ability to motivate Chuck to do what makes him happy, what he loves—creating, writing—is the bump genuinely good and positive people can give to those riding that precipice of self-doubt. Unfortunately, the fire she lights under Chuck has the Creator channeling a dark, dark end for our brotherly duo, seemingly reveling in the heartbreak he knows it will cause. Considering what he’s thrown Sam and Dean’s way throughout the years when he actually liked them, now that he’s persona non grata to Team Winchester, it’s a scary thought imagining what he’s cooked up as the coup de grâce.
As middling as “Atomic Monsters” began, the last act turned things on their head. Sam’s emotional turmoil, whether due to an accumulated case of PTSD, depression, or a combination of both promises to dog him throughout this season, affecting him in ways that could prove deadly if his head’s not in the game. Even as the antagonist, Chuck regaining his creative mojo, while not good for the Winchesters, is great for the narrative. Rob Benedict is so much better as the charismatic, if not arrogant version of Chuck rather than the down-in-the-dumps God he was early in the episode. Though Billy’s sacrifice, as brave as it was, will most likely be lost in the shuffle, for both Chuck and Sam, “Atomic Monsters” was as good a dive into these characters’ current psyches as any Supernatural installment in recent memory.
The Good, the Bad, the Supernatural
- One thing I’ve always loved about Supernatural is how they bring familiar characters back. Emily Perkins was such a fun (if not loopy…and a bit crazy) character, last seen back in season 7 (though she was mentioned a handful of times since). It was great to see how she’s matured over the years, even settling down with a family. Chuck haphazardly crashes back into her life for his own selfish needs and dusts Becky and her entire family drives home Amara’s point at how self-involved Chuck is; not thinking (or caring) about how he affects the lives of others.
- When Becky mentioned the horrible ending Chuck has planned for Sam and Dean, I couldn’t help but get twisted visions of the diabolical George R.R. Martin. While he’s not the first (or only) author to regularly kill major characters, he may be the most sadistic in how he frames their demises. If Chuck has gone the Game of Thrones route, I shudder to think what that means for the Winchesters…and us Supernatural
- Adding more to the end Chuck has planned out; could Sam’s over-the-top, mightily entertaining dream, have anything to do with Chuck meddling once more in the Winchesters’ lives? Or was it just a cool idea to open the episode? If we can get more action sequences like that, I’m really hoping it’s the former…even if things do end in a most tragic way.
- Something I’ve always thought about with respect to Sam and Dean’s lives is the psychological impact of what they’ve seen and done for the better part of two decades (longer if you include their childhood). There’s no way the human mind is built to comprehend such a long-standing life of violence and horror. Add to that their experiences of being tortured in Hell and it’s safe to say that neither one of these guys are psychologically sound. Sam’s admission to Dean encapsulates that idea; wanting to be done with it all, unable to feel free even when your destiny is back to being in your own hands. Maybe, when all is said and done, they’ll both get the rest they deserve. God willing and the creek don’t rise, that is. Or should I say ‘Chuck willing’…