Supernatural meta, reviews & fic recs

SPN 10.16: “Paint It Black” Review

Dean Winchester

If you haven’t seen “Paint It Black,” I’d recommend you read this spoiler filled review and save yourself forty-two minutes of boredom. At the very least, fast-forward through the two secondary plot-lines for Sam and Dean’s story. I don’t normally make recommendations like that, but “Paint It Black” was the third season ten episode from writing partners Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming, and one can only hope the last.

Once again, the pair utilized multiple story lines to fill time in an otherwise lackluster plot. It isn’t entirely Buckner and Ross-Leming’s fault. The stars have said they wanted their work schedules curtailed, so episodes which might be filled with more nuanced interaction between Sam and Dean or detailed plot has to be filled some other way. In this case, it was filled with a secondary backstory for the ghost and details of Rowena’s machinations.

The main story was a traditional ghost story of a vengeful spirit, which harkened back to the pilot. Instead of a woman in white, it was a woman in a habit with a little witchiness thrown in. The telling of her tragic romance in detail was completely unnecessary. We didn’t need to see Constance Welch learn of her husband’s infidelity or her killing her children to understand her story. Likewise, we didn’t need to see Isabella get jilted by Piero. The only interesting detail of her story was her mildly horrific self-mutilation, but given the main characters’ propensity for sacrificing their immortal souls for one another, what’s a fingertip?

Having signed Mark Sheppard on as a regular this season to play the highly popular Crowley, it was disappointing to see the bulk of that storyline go to cartoon villain Rowena. Feeling some kinship with his mum, Crowley brought to her the head of the coven, Olivette (Teryl Rothery, medical examiner in “Heart”). Rowena beat her rival and, in a plot line stolen straight from American Horror Story: Coven, learned that the coven had been all but destroyed by the Men of Letters who waged a public relations campaign against them. They also hoarded the witches’ most powerful talismans and spells in secret bunkers, and oh yes, the Winchesters were the last of the American Men of Letters.

Rowena, having gotten what she wanted from Olivette, started to kill the other witch, but then she stopped herself and said that after everything Olivette had done to her, why kill her when she could do something far worse? She turned Olivette into a hamster, which Crowley thoroughly approved of. Rowena took the opportunity to try a little manipulation by pointing out that they aren’t so different. Crowley responded in a way that made it clear that he isn’t buying her ploy and asked what she wanted. She asked him about Sam and Dean being Men of Letters, and he told her again that the Winchesters were his business to deal with. She pretended to accept his position and walked off. Crowley looked at Olivette the hamster in a way that suggested that he was planning something much worse than death for Sam and Dean.

The main story line was a basic salt and burn with small twists, which also allowed some focus on Dean’s state of mind regarding the Mark of Cain. In what had begun as a fake confession to bait the ghost, Dean confessed that he wasn’t ready to die. Although he knew he’d die doing his job, he hadn’t expected it so soon. He said he wanted to experience life differently. The priest asked if Dean believed in God and suggested that he might find comfort there. Dean said he did believe in God, but “I’m not sure he still believes in us.”

Given Dean’s history from “Faith,” when Rory Granger told him that there was an important purpose for him, to learning he was considered the righteous, to God saving him and Sam from the crypt when Lucifer rose Dean has had an inkling that God was on their side. But God has been conspicuously absent for some time, and Dean legitimately has no reason to believe God is interested in his fate.

I have to give Buckner and Ross-Leming credit for showing Sam as both smart and independent in this episode. When the boys learned that Isabella had been convicted of witchcraft and burned at the stake, Dean assumed that her journal must be what was tying her to the church and told Sam to burn it. Sam expressed doubt, but Dean repeated the order. Luckily, Sam didn’t follow orders and read the journal instead. He learned that Isabella’s blood, flesh, and bone had been incorporated into the painting Piero did of her. Sam destroyed the painting and prevented Isabella from killing Dean.

Dean: Who mixes their blood and bone into paint? No woman’s ever done that for me.
Sam: Is this you thanking me for not doing what you told me to do.
Dean: You know, if you’d burned the journal, then we wouldn’t know how to kill it, would we?
Sam: Yeah, you’re welcome.

For some reason, Dean had trouble saying thank you to Sam, although he’s done so any number of times over the years. There was the moment in “Paper Moon” when Dean mentioned not having said thank you to Sam for the demon cure, and Sam said that Dean never had to thank him for anything. If that’s what they were referring to, it didn’t quite work. Still, a funny moment, and Jared and Jensen played it well. The show is always at its best when the camera is focused on the two of them.

Sam then tried to reach out to Dean: “You know, you were in that confessional a long time. Look man, I’m just saying, I’m your brother, Dean. If you ever need to talk about anything, you got somebody right here next to you.” Dean replied with a simple, Okay, and Sam continued.

Sam: I heard what Sister Mathias was saying about, you know, hiding pain by taking on a mission, and I-I know that’s what you’re doing a little bit. And it’s okay. I mean, it’s fine. I get it. I’ve done it before too, but I don’t buy for one second that the mark is a terminal diagnosis, so don’t go making peace with that idea. There has to be a way. There will be a way, and we’ll find it. That’s what we do. So, believe that.
Dean: Okay, Sammy.

Dean’s response was subdued, and Sam responded, “You want to try that again like you mean it?” Dean said okay again but no more convincingly. Sam’s expression showed that he was clearly concerned at his brother’s inability to even put on a show for him. Dean was being emotionally honest with Sam, and that is something that they have both failed to do on a number of occasions. The “I’m okay” lie all too often has blithely rolled off their tongues and never to good ends. On the other hand, Dean’s inability to rally himself into fight mode is worrying.

Sam’s statement, “There will be a way, and we’ll find it. That’s what we do. So, believe that,” is reminiscent of Dean talking him out of his hallucination in “Hello, Cruel World.” Dean said, “Believe in that! Believe me, okay? You gotta believe me.” Sam asked Dean to believe him and believe in them. Unlike Hallucifer plagued Sam, Dean appear to be able to make that stone number one. One wonders what the catalyst will be to turn that around.

Dean Winchester is, after all, a fighter. Lately, he’s been spinning his wheels, going out and digging up hunts just to stay in the ring, but should a fight be brought to him – by Crowley or Rowena or some other party – then one wonders how he would react. Those enemies aren’t just his enemies. They’re Sam’s enemies as well. And for Sam’s part, he will not just give up, and if Dean won’t fight with him, he’ll fight for Dean on his own. That could lead to some serious trouble as it always does when the boys don’t work together.

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