SPN 9.13: The Purge review
After being presented in the preview as a comedic monster of the week episode, I was surprised to find the laughs few and “The Purge,” written by Eric Charmelo and Nicole Snyder, surprisingly dark and significant not only in how the Winchesters’ relationship is likely to play out in the rest of the season but also in looking back through the premiere of season eight.
I appreciated Charmelo-Snyder bracketing this episode with two conversations between Sam and Dean. It isn’t a unique approach, but it framed the episode nicely, and this initial scene gave the viewer a reference point by which to view the rest of the storyline.
Sam enters the kitchen where Dean is sitting at the table looking at the laptop. He’s haggard and clearly hasn’t slept. He blows off Sam’s inquiry into his condition and tells Sam about the bizarre death of man who went from obese to skeletal in a matter of minutes. They agree to investigate, but when Dean starts to leave the room, Sam stops him and asks if he’s sure he’s okay. They have the following exchange:
Sam: You sure you’re okay, Dean?
Dean: Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?
Sam: I don’t know. This isn’t about what I said the other day, is it?
Dean: Oh, about the we’re not supposed to be brothers? No, don’t flatter yourself. I don’t break that easy.
Sam: Good because I was just being honest.
Dean: Oh no, I got that loud and clear.
This struck me as somewhat odd, but being caught up in the show, I didn’t consider it until later, and in retrospect, I can’t help but think of how hurt and angry Sam is over what Dean did to him. Yet, in this scene, he was perfectly calm and although his words expressed concern, his manner didn’t. It made me think of Sam in the pilot when he interviewed the Woman in White’s husband. He questioned the man about what happened the night his wife and children died. He didn’t get satisfying answers, and he was just about to get back into the car when he hesitated and then began telling the man about the legend of Women in White and how they become vengeful spirits because their husband’s betrayed them. Sam exhibited two things in that scene – the “empathy” he’s known for and lack of remorse in using it to break the man down. I think the same thing was going on with Dean in that opening scene.
As Sam has pointed out, he’s been following Dean around since he was four trying to be just like his big brother and he knows Dean better than anyone – maybe even Dean. Sam wasn’t actually asking Dean if he was okay. He knows damned well that Dean isn’t okay. He knows that what he told Dean about not being brothers is eating away at him. It’s a knife in Dean’s heart just as it was in his when Dean said that Benny was a better brother than Sam had ever been. Bringing the issue up, isn’t about Sam reiterating that he’s “just being honest.” It was a twist of the knife.
For all Dean’s violent tendencies – he’s hit Sam a number of times – it’s their words that inflict the most damage. This episode should give us pause and make us step back from the narrative and see that our objective perspective of Sam and Dean’s behavior isn’t what we should be considering. What’s at issue looking back all the way to the season eight premiere is how they view one another’s behavior. From Dean’s perspective, Sam not looking for him, rejecting his overtures to hunt together again, and not trusting his judgment on Benny were equal betrayals on an emotional level as Dean’s actions at the hospital and then gaslighting were to Sam this season, and I’ll get back that.
The monster of the week story in “The Purge” revolves around siblings, which isn’t a surprise. “Sharp Teeth” presented a family of werewolves – some who kill humans and some who don’t. The theme of what defines “monster” continues and will undoubtedly play role in Dean’s mark of Cain journey. This week, the siblings, Maritza and her brother, Alonso, are pishtacos – Peruvian fat suckers – and while she chooses not to kill, Alonso murders because he’s “being starved” by the spa lifestyle that she’s devised in order to help humans while satisfying their basic need for human fat. She tells Sam and Dean, “I brought Alonso here from Peru to show him a better way, a more civilized way, where we weren’t monsters. … He said the more I deprived him, the hungrier he got.”
For his part, Alonso doesn’t believe that his sister would betray him despite murdering humans and bringing hunters down on their heads. He kills her husband and another employee, but seeing that her brother is behaving like a monster, she tells Sam and Dean how to kill him, which leads to an interesting exchange between the guys after the kill:
Dean: You know as soon as this place clears out, we’re gonna make this a family affair.
Sam: Wait, Dean, we’re not going to kill Maritza.
Dean: She’s a monster.
Sam: Yeah, who saved our asses.
Dean: You said that you wanted to keep things strictly business. Well, the last time I checked, we were in the business of killing monsters.
Now, given his best friend Benny, it may seem surprising that Dean is determined to go back to the same black and white thinking he started the series with. He had the same attitude in “Sharp Teeth” until Sam convinced him to continue investigating, but I think that Benny’s indication that he couldn’t make it topside and Dean’s view that “the rules” of right and wrong have changed on him has thrown him back into that black and white season one thinking.
Sam responds that he meant strictly business between them, but he still has a heart and adds, “What if I’d crossed paths with a hunter back when I was possessed by Gadreel. I could have ended up dead too. Would I have deserved that? Would I have deserved to die?” Now, I find this an interesting choice of comparison because it isn’t anywhere near equivalent. He was possessed and not in control of his body. A better comparison would have been when he was addicted to demon blood, but he chooses the more recent situation, and I think it’s because Dean caused it. Sam knows Dean wont say “yes” – even though they kill innocent vessels all the time – because Dean still won’t admit that what he did was wrong. Sam is pointing out that Dean made him a monster by allowing the possession.
Back at the bunker, we get the closing bracket of the narrative when Dean challenges Sam about his decision to save Sam’s life:
Dean: You know, Sam,I saved your hide back there, and I saved your hide at the church and the hospital. I may not think things all the way through. Okay? But what I do, I do because it’s the right thing. I’d do it again.
Sam: And that … is the problem. You think you’re my savior, my brother, the hero. You swoop in, and even when you mess up, you think what you’re doing is worth it because you’ve convinced yourself you’re doing more good than bad … but you’re not. I mean, Kevin’s dead, Crowley’s in the wind, uh … we’re no closer to beating this angel thing. Please tell me, what is the upside of me being alive?
Dean: You kidding me? You and me fighting the good fight together.
Sam, who had been standing in the doorway, gives a frustrate sigh and goes to sit at the table with Dean. We can only suspect that he thinks it’s probably fruitless to pursue the issue with the lying liar who lies, but he does:
Sam: Okay. Just once be honest with me. You didn’t save me for me. You did it for you.
Dean: What are you talking about?
Sam: I was ready to die. I was ready. I should have died, but you … didn’t want to be alone, and that’s what all this boils down to. You can’t stand the thought of being alone. I’m willing to give you this much, you’re willing to give the sacrifice as long as you’re not the one being hurt.
Has Sam forgotten that Dean sold his soul and faced an eternity of torment in hell to bring him back to life? I think there are two reasons for that line because up until that point, Sam appears to be honest and voicing legitimate complaints, but the fact that that statement is patently false calls everything he says into question. Not only has Dean sacrificed and hurt himself for Sam – Dean damns himself further with every act of saving Sam – but I think we have to consider that Sam’s statement that Dean only brought him back so he wouldn’t be alone isn’t completely true either. Sam isn’t just being honest, he’s trying to hurt Dean the same way Dean hurt him in season eight.
Dean: All right, you want to be honest? If the situation were reversed, and I was dying, you’d do the same thing.
Sam: No, Dean. I wouldn’t. Same circumstances … I wouldn’t.
Now, I think that Sam believes he’s being honest here in that theoretical “what would I do in the same situation,” but of course, none of us knows if we would truly stick to our principles unless we face the same agonizing decision. Sam follows this remark by saying he’s going to bed and leaves Dean with exactly the expression that I think he intended – shock and dismay. Here’s the thing, Sam could have followed up with an explanation of why he wouldn’t make the same decision. He could have said that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t care about or love his brother. He didn’t. Because, I think, he meant for those words to wound.
I’ve suspected this for awhile, but what “The Purge” makes clear is that seasons eight and nine are being set up as parallels and comparing which brother was right or wrong would miss the point. What “The Purge” calls on the viewer to do is see the narrative from the perspective of the characters; not from an objective outside perspective. If we do that, we’ll see that Sam is sending Dean down the same kind of dark path that he went down in season eight, and I think that at the end of that path, Sam may be challenged to talk Dean off the ledge that Sam contributed to him being on and then make the same kind of decision that Dean did – about whether he is his brother’s keeper, what that means, and whether he’s willing to let his brother make a decision that he believes is wrong – because I’d argue that in the end, it doesn’t matter whether the decision is selfish – Dean saving Sam because he doesn’t want to be alone – or altruistic – Sam being alive results in more good than bad and he deserves a shot at that.
If this is the case, the dilemma as I see it is whether Sam would save Dean and reinforce the dynamic that they’ve now set up as unhealthy and against the natural order or have Sam stick to his principles and allow Dean to make his own decision. Where would that leave the narrative? And what if Dean being dead doesn’t result in more good than bad? What if God or Death doesn’t want the Winchesters dead? I admit to being intrigued as to where all this will lead. I predict this much, for those fans who are tired of the conflict and want the boys to be a team, I don’t think there’s much hope in sight.