Supernatural S11E08: "Just My Imagination"
Once again, an episode that sounded batshit crazy on paper turned out to be not just "fine" but actually very good—even if baby Sam once again proved what a little dick he was. We can't be too harsh: he was raised by John and Dean Winchester, after all. Unfortunately, Jared Padalecki's mini me Colin Ford has aged out of the baby Sam role, but newcomer Dylan Kingwell filled the shoes well and the brief flashes of chemistry we saw with Teen Dean, played by Dylan Everett, was probably the closest we've had to accurately reproducing the bromance of J2 since Colin Ford and Brock Kelly did it in Season 4's "After School Special."
Also, Richard Speight Jr. directed this week. Also also, Nate Torrence of Weird Loners put on his best rainbow suspenders as Sully. Who wasn't involved with this episode?
We haven't had a Sammy Winchester flashback episode in a while, but not much has changed since the last time John and Dean went off on a hunt and left the wee baby Sammich in a dumpy motel with a week's supply of Lucky Charms. Apparently Sam's health food fixation didn't hit until later in life because 9-year-old Sam wanted nothing but nachos with marshmallow fluff. He was a weird kid. Sully dug it. Sully's a weirdo, too. But Sully's a weirdo with a heart of gold though. Over the years, Supernatural has given us living fairy tales, killer cartoons, fairies, and suicidal teddy bears, so imaginary friends that weren’t actually all that imaginary was par for the course. At this rate, I'm genuinely curious about what Dean and Sam DO find weird.
Sully and his ilk—mullet-rocker Weems, Niki the mermaid, and Sparkle the unicorn man—are actually very real creatures (monster is such an inappropriate descriptor here) who are only seen by children unless they want to be seen by others. They attach themselves to their charges as pretend friends in order to help troubled and/or lonely kids cope until those kids grow to no longer need them or until they are facing eternal damnation in Lucifer's kennel—AGAIN—in exchange for saving the world. Again.
Sam and Dean literally have the saddest and suckiest lives (and afterlives) ever. I'm always delighted by Supernatural’s recent seasons' willingness to explore that too. That traumatized little girl who walked into Sparkle's crime scene wasn't the only one who needed "all the shrinks."
Long story short: Sully's assignment after Sam kicked him out and got all jaded at life before he even had the ability to grow chest hair didn't go well. Maybe twins were too much during that delicate time. Sully didn't mean to get one of them killed and he didn't mean to abandon the other one to a lifetime of all the shrinks and a growing rage that could only be quelled with sparkly unicorn-man blood, but that's what went down. Winchester bad luck is contagious, even to creatures that skirt the boundary of reality.
Sam's reunion with his childhood coping mechanism was bittersweet the way these type of episodes tend to be. Sully's appearance was wacky and Dean's deadpan response to everything was beautiful. While new ground wasn't exactly covered in the flashback segments—we all knew that Sam was a sad, weird, miserable kid— there were some under-the-radar throwbacks that tied previous wee-Sam stories together. It was Sully who encouraged Sam to take his idea of running away seriously and even though Sam didn't act on his urge at age 9, we know that he did eventually run off to Flagstaff and it was a THING. We've also become so accustomed to Sam hating hunting and everything about it at all ages—even now he’s sticking with it more out of some sense of duty rather than actual enjoyment—that to see a Sam who wanted to go hunt werewolves and who actually embraced training and wanted his father's approval was jarring on the same level as Teen Dean's secret longing for normalcy seen in "Bad Boys." Dean and Sam have been labeled "good son" and "bad son" since the beginning of the series, but their roles aren't so stark in reality. Dreams change. People are complicated. Imaginary friends are complicated too.
We rarely get to see anyone giving Sam or Dean compliments or asking about their feelings and how they're holding up. They wouldn't dare voice anything regarding their non-existent self-esteem or feelings of hopelessness with their father. Bobby came close for Dean, but even then the show had Bobby's own emotional stuntedness to contend with. Sully filled an important role for young Sam, when anything outside of hunting was irrelevant to his father, but Sam was still barred from actually participating with the rest of his family. A role that Dean had previously filled as protector and ally was vacated as Dean came of age himself, struggled with his own identity, and, maybe on some level, failed to understand Sam at that age and at that time.
Misunderstandings go with Winchesters like whiskey goes with sour, leaving a hangover just as brutal in its wake. Faced with returning to the cage and Luci to save the world from the Darkness, Sam's conversations with Dean go in circles of denial and once again, Sam was left bereft of the support he needed. Sully offered Sam more hope through his belief in Sam's goodness and their understanding of what makes a hero truly tick than Dean's blanket refusal to even entertain the idea of Sam going back to hell ever could.
And on that note: are we really doing the Sam-goes-to-hell storyline again? Really?
POSTCARDS FROM THE ROAD
– CARDIGANS. ALL THE CARDIGANS.
– "Have you ever thought about hotwiring a minivan?"
– "Even in death, Sparkle shines."
– LOL @ Bloodyface Mom.
– Bedhead Sam gives me feelings. I refuse to believe that the Winchesters go through less than half a pot of coffee in the AM though.
– I love that Dean is still rocking the Dead Guy Robe.
– Next week: AHHHHH!!!!!