Supernatural meta, reviews & fic recs

SPN10.12: “About A Boy” Review

Dean Winchester

I’m going to admit that with “About a Boy,” Adam Glass nearly redeemed himself with me. I know that Glass can be an able writer. He wrote season six’s “Mommy Dearest,” but since then he’s gone on to write some very iffy episodes, including “Southern Comfort,” “Freaks and Geeks,” and “Bad Boys.” Even in otherwise good episodes, Glass has a tendency to mischaracterize Sam or make some unfortunate lore change. While I wasn’t crazy about fairytale basis for the storyline, especially right after another Oz episode, it did tie into the witch storyline with Rowena and served as a vehicle for exploring Dean’s Mark of Cain issues and brother bonding.

Additionally, any single storyline episode is a plus in my book. The episodes with two or three interwoven storylines always feel rushed and choppy. Watching those is always a little like eating fast food – ultimately unsatisfying and indigestion inducing. “About a Boy” allowed plenty of time to see Sam and Dean together relating to one another and on their own with other characters. That isn’t something the writers depict much anymore. In “Paper Moon,” Glass showed the brothers trying to communicate with one another after some pretty harrowing experiences, so good on him.

I’m not going to go into summarizing the plot. I know this is late and there’s been a lot of discussion in fandom and other reviews. I do want to pull out a few scenes and take a closer look at them however.

The whole Easter bunny discussion was a nice throwback to the days when Dean would tease Sam about brother stuff from their childhood, but the question that popped up for a lot of fans was whether Sam would have believed in the Easter bunny when he was 11. We know from “A Very Supernatural Christmas” [written by current showrunner Jeremy Carver] that Sam read his father’s journal at age eight. Dean admitted to him then that Santa wasn’t real but monsters are. Looking at that within the larger conversation the brothers were having, I think it’s likely Sam didn’t believe in the Easter bunny.

The one thing that Sam longed for as a kid was some normal family life. We saw how he sad he was over his dad missing Christmas again, and “Dark Side of the Moon,” showed that one of his best memories was a normal Thanksgiving with a classmate’s family. So, if Dean got him Easter candy – by hook or by crook – and pretended that the Easter bunny left it, I can see Sam playing along as a kid. We know that Sam appreciated the little things Dean did for him – like stealing another kid’s toys so he’d have a Christmas – that’s why he gave Dean the amulet.

When confronted with it as an adult, Sam was torn between denying the belief and pretending it was real. He had good reason to pretend that he believed in the Easter bunny because his belief in Dean’s ability to overcome the Mark of Cain is so important to Dean right now. He can’t chance Dean not trusting Sam’s belief in him. Admitting that he epretended, and so well, might cast a shadow of a doubt on his current belief. I don’t care if that’s what Glass intended. Given Sam’s character and history, that’s how the scene can be read. Works for me.

Sam: Or fairies … or angels
Dean (scoffs): Ugh. I’d rather have the little green dudes

Because Castiel is a friend and the boys work with angels on occasion, it’s a nice reminder here that they still hold generally negative feelings about angels. In the Winchesters’ book, angels are no better than demons. Zachariah was an angel. Michael, Uriel, Raphael – hell, Lucifer was an angel. Even their friend Castiel has done some ugly things to the Winchesters. I thought this – even as a laugh – was a nice little moment of perspective.

I really liked Tina and Dean’s interaction with her. We’ve seen “relationship mode” Dean with Cassie and Lisa, and we’ve seen “womanizer” Dean hitting on women in bars. His approach with Tina was somewhere in between, and it was great to see him sit there having drinks with a woman whom he made connections with. I liked this Dean. He clearly wanted to continue his whatever-it-was with her, but unlike “A Rock and Hard Place,” he didn’t blow off Sam’s phone call. He took the call and let her go. That says that Sam is important. Instead of trying to go it alone as he has in the past, right now, Sam is his rock, and he knows it.

The scene in which Sam went into the bar searching for Dean may well be my favorite of the episode because it showed an aspect of Sam of which we see too little. It’s was the same Sam who shot Dean’s monster daughter Emma – calculated, remorseless killer when he thinks his brother is in danger and probably my favorite flavor of Sam. For all of Sam’s empathy and caring and sense of fairness, there’s a line where all that goes out the window. He puts his civilized persona away and becomes the skilled killer that his father trained him to be. It’s fascinating to watch. Sam always tries to do things without hurting people, but when he thinks Dean is in danger, he has zero reluctance or regret in hurting people. In “Do You Believe in Miracles,” he waved a gun at homeless people who stood between him and Dean, who was confronting Metatron, and I have no doubt he would have used that gun if he’d needed to.

Dean chowing down that cake was funny as hell and a nice reminder of Dean’s character minor character flaws. In “Dream a Little Dream,” he took a beer from someone who was drugged, and in “The Purge,” he ate drugged pudding. He never seems to learn to be wary of ingesting food or drink provided by others when on a case. Dean’s not stupid, but he has his blind spots and food is one of them.

I think Glass did a nice job here of showing Dean’s level of self-awareness about his drinking without dwelling on it. Tina confessed that she thought he was just a drunk, and Dean said he preferred to think of himself as a functional alcoholic. He was so matter of fact about it. He is undoubtedly aware of his father’s drinking and that his own drinking is on an equal level. He has to know how John’s drinking affected him and Sam as kids, so he must question his own relationship with brother in light of it.

I was impressed with Dylan Everett’s portrayal of Dean in a way that I wasn’t in “Bad Boys.” I think, there’s a couple of reasons for that. First, he’s had substantial time to consider the acting choices he made the first time around and approach the character with more nuance. The second is that he was playing an adult in teen’s body this time around – essentially the same thing that Jensen Ackles does – so mimicking his mannerism worked in “About a Boy,” whereas in “Bad Boys” he had to play a kid and the mimicking just didn’t work for me. Of course, Everett doesn’t look like he’s fourteen, and the only reason it worked at all is because he’s so much smaller than Jared Padalecki.

I also appreciated that Glass had Sam save Dean in the basement scene with Hansel. All too often Sam just gets knocked around or tied up. While Sam did get thrown against the wall later, Glass tried to balance it with Sam bouncing the bartender’s head off the bar and then later Sam saving Dean from Hansel.

Sam knocked out and/or tied up does get old because it happens so frequently that it comes across as poor characterization and lazy writing. It happened just last week in “There’s No Place Like Home,” and I won’t go back and count the number of episodes because it happens enough that there are jokes about Sam’s magic football helmet hair. How else do we explain him not having brain damage?

Dean had considered staying fourteen because he no longer had the mark. He argued that he could still hunt even if he was a little “dewier.” What became clear, however, was that while he could hunt, he certainly couldn’t kick ass like adult Dean. Because he managed to get the hex bag from Hansel, he was able to restore himself to adulthood and save himself, Sam, and Tina. It was important that Dean be the one to save the day in order to show that he can have the mark and not be a “psycho rage monster/borderline demon.”

At the beginning of the episode and again at the end, Sam emphasized his belief in Dean. Tina too, while locked in the witch’s basement, expressed her belief in Dean, “Get help. I know you will.” It’s important for Dean to see how others believe in him, but his problem has always been his lack of faith in himself. He doesn’t think he deserves that faith, and if something makes him go off the rails I don’t think it will be because of his brother or friends. It will be his self-doubt. When he talked with Sam at the end, he was at first surprised that Sam praised him for “pulling a Dean Winchester.” His opinion of himself is so low right now that he didn’t expect a pat on the back or thanks. It clearly meant a lot to him to hear it, but it won’t get him over the hurdle.

How great was Lesley Nicol [Mrs Patmore] as the witch? In fact all the casting choices – from Everett and Nicol to Kehli O’Byrne and Madeleine Arthur as Tina and Nels Lennarson [we’ll pretend he’s from Minnesota, eh?] as the bartender and Christian Westerveld as the homeless guy – were great. The witch also gave us some intriguing information related to Rowena. Apparently, Rowena is so terrible that the Grand Coven sent a child-abducting, cannibal after her. When Dean suggested the witch was a tourist, she replied, “No, business. An old friend is causing trouble and the grand coven has asked me to take care of her. Poor, stupid Rowena.”  One wonders where killing the witch will put the Winchesters on the Grand Coven’s list of enemies or annoyances. How the witches might end up being linked to the Mark of Cain storyline remains to be seen.

Glass tied up the episode neatly with Sam re-emphasizing his faith in Dean being able to control the Mark and their ability to “figure it out.” He acknowledged that he wanted to Mark gone, but he said, “I wanted you back.” That’s about as close to “I love you” as Sam has probably ever gotten, and in “Ask Jeeves,” he confirmed that he likes his brother. Despite the betrayal of the Gadreel possession, Sam values Dean for his positive qualities and understands why he’s done the hurtful things he has.  Like Charlie, Sam has forgiven Dean. It remains to be seen whether Dean can forgive himself.

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