SPN 10.19: “The Werther Project” Review
I think it would be difficult to argue that Robert Berens isn’t the best writer in the Supernatural stable at the moment. Berens came on board in season nine and has generally written tighter scripts that stick to canon events and characterization. That doesn’t make them faultless, and “The Werther Project” is no exception.
The story revolves around a box created by Cuthbert Sinclair aka Magnus to hide the codex that can decode the Book of the Damned. Sam discovers, through actual research at the bunker, that the codex is hidden in a warded box in a house in St. Louis that was a Men of Letters chapter house until the late 1950s. While Dean is off on a vampire hunt, Sam goes to the house to try to get the codex.
There are little issues with the episode like why the house looks well lived in when the family had just moved in, and then there’s the recurring issue of Sam doing dumb things like trying to pick the lock on a front door in broad daylight. But there are bigger problems with “The Werther Project” and season ten in general as it fits into the Men of Letters mythology.
When the Men of Letters were introduced in season eight, the bunker was supposedly one of a kind and after killing the Men of Letters in Normal, Abaddon followed Henry through the portal. There were just a few Men of Letters left in hiding, scattered around the country, but according to the witch Olivette the Men of Letters stole the witches’ knowledge and hid it in bunkers all over the world. And in “The Werther Project,” we learn of this St. Louis chapter house that was also abandoned in 1958 or so.
What happened to all the other bunkers and Men of Letters chapters? Where are all the other legacies like Sam and Dean? If the Men of Letters have been destroyed, why are the witches still scattered and in hiding? How does any of this make sense given what Henry told Sam and Dean in “As Time Goes By”? It would appear as though the the Men of Letters mythology has been re-written since season eight.
Liking or disliking Magnus as a villain is an individual thing. He comes across as a comic book villain – a man so enamored of his own brilliance that he destroys anyone who doesn’t scrape and bow. He creates a deadly ward for the Werther Box that he doesn’t tell the other Men of Letters about and then leaves the box unattended, so two of his fellow chapter members were killed when they tried to open it. It’s as though anyone not as brilliant as he is deserves to die.
The way the ward on the box works is by infecting anyone who disturbs it and causes them to have hallucinations that make them take their own lives. Why Suzie, the teenager in the flashback, was attracted to it in the first place is a mystery. For Dean, the hallucination is Benny and purgatory. While Dean established in the previous episode that he can’t die, that didn’t stop him from arguing with “Benny” about it. It’s a problematic point in the season narrative that despite not being able to die, Dean has made Cas promise to destroy him if he goes dark. Here the hallucination tries to convince Dean that the honorable thing to do is kill himself because it would destroy Cas and Sam to have to kill him.
So, the hallucination tells Dean “what happens in purgatory stays in purgatory,” there he could really die, but of course, Dean isn’t actually in purgatory, and he realizes that it isn’t really Benny because Benny would never try to convince him to kill himself.
Sam too initially knows what the hallucination is. He isn’t fooled by the image of Suzie, the dead resident, but he is fooled by the sudden appearance of Rowena who helps him unlock the Werther Box. What’s clear, of course, is that Sam didn’t need anyone’s help. He was capable of reading the text on the box and casting the spell himself. If anything, he should have been faster at reading it.
None the less, he finds that breaking the spell requires blood of a Man of Letters and cuts his arm in order to complete the spell. What’s curious here is that Sam knows that one of the Men of Letters who died in the 1950s was nearly successful in breaking the spell and he was found with his wrists cut. Simply putting two and two together, Sam should have figured it out sooner.
Having roused himself from his hallucination, Dean finds Sam bleeding himself nearly to death and stops him. It’s no coincidence that Sam was bled in by vampires “Alex Annie Alexis Ann” because Berens wrote that too. In fact, he was bled a whole lot more then than he was in “The Werther Project.” To complete the spell, Dean cut his own arm and donated enough blood to open the box.
Lest it sound as though I didn’t enjoy this episode at all, let me say that there were elements that worked well. The episode started with the boys separated. While Sam negotiated a deal with Rowena, Dean went off on his own to kill vampires because he didn’t like waiting around on Sam especially with Sam looking at him like he’s a “diseased killer puppy.” This allowed us to see more Sam working on his own, and we’ve seen so little of Sam in action, that was satisfying all on its own.
“The Werther Project” is really a kind of haunted house story with Suzie being trapped there guarding this evil object and awaiting those who put it there to get revenge for the death of her family. Brenda Bakke did a wonderful job portraying Suzie’s guilt, confusion, and fear. She wasn’t fooled by Sam and Dean’s ploys to get into her house. She knew what they were there for, and yet she became a victim of the box just as her parents and brother had.
Hallucination Suzie’s accusation against Sam that the human toll wasn’t important as long as he and Dean got out alive hit home, but again, these hallucinations come from the individual themselves, which means it’s Sam who’s really thinking, “You’re the reckless one. You’ll do anything to keep clinging to that doomed brother of yours.” And it makes Rowena’s words about the box all the more interesting, “The man who came up with the design, the craftsmanship of the box, the sadism of the spell…it’s all so deliciously baroque.” This is Sam’s mind appreciating the spell Magnus designed. It’s fascinating that Sam not only keeps stats on serial killers, he admires the mind of a psychopath like Magnus.
In the end, Dean says they’re stronger together than apart, but that’s something they learned a long time ago. What Dean doesn’t know is that Sam would take the codex to Rowena or that Sam didn’t destroy the Book of the Damned. Having agreed to kill Crowley in exchange for the spell, Sam coldly left Rowena chained up to decipher the Book of the Damned. What’s inexplicable is how he can prevent her from reading other spells and causing all kinds of havoc with nothing but his end of the deal to guarantee her cooperation. Presumably, with the right spell at her disposal, she wouldn’t need Sam to do her dirty work for her.