The Morning After
Phew! I now know how Castiel must have felt when Metatron forced the sum total of all pop culture references into his mind in the span of a few seconds! After six episodes of a slow but steady flow of clues to the Akrida, the Men of Letters, and the disappearances of both of John’s and Mary’s fathers, The Winchesters mid-season finale, “Reflections”, jammed volumes of Men of Letters’ knowledge into one, climactic, cliffhanger episode,
A séance to ask a Men of Letter initiate for answers? We have instructions for that!
The mysterious, broken box that's supposed to be a powerful weapon? Here’s the key to fixing and operating it!
Your long-lost fathers? It’s family reunion time!
Henry Winchester’s double life? Millie and John look behind the curtain (or veil in this case) and learn the wizard’s secrets!
Those Supernatural alums you've been promised, plus a genre legend you’re sure to love? Move over kids, the adults have joined the party!
The Akrida’s diabolical plan? Oops, you were close but here’s what they’re really doing!
John and Mary’s hesitant attraction that they couldn’t or wouldn’t admit to themselves or each other? Cue the passionate-kiss-in-the-face-of-imminent-death moment!
Dean: Comes a time in every hunt when the fightin' starts. And the difference between winning and losing isn't whether you have the holy water, the wooden stake, or the silver bullet. It's whether you've got the grit to get the job done.
After Sam and Dean’s many, many quests to save the world, Dean’s “reflections” were an experienced hunter’s wisdom imparted to rookie kids facing world-ending stakes for the first time. His observations dually applied to what it takes to pull together the many threads that had been sewn into the Winchesters’ story all season. Co-written by showrunner Robbie Thompson and experienced writer David H. Goodman (Amazing Stories, Once Upon A Time, Fringe, Without A Trace), and directed by Supernatural alum Richard Speight, Jr., “Reflections” brought in the veterans to “get the job done” going into the mid-season break.
Where do we even begin to unravel all that happened? With the inevitable hunters’ research exposition, of course! Let's bullet point the essentials:
The Men of Letters Mother Lode
THEN: Before Sam and Dean learned about their Winchester legacy as Men of Letters, they could only crack cases by going to the library or looking in John's hunting journal. Once the bunker's treasure trove of research was at their disposal, the MoL's neatly organized historical records often helped them solve their more obscure cases. One generation closer to Henry's MoL affiliation, John and Mary's hunter group quickly took advantage of the MoL library where they are based.
The problem was that they stumbled onto the books without understanding where they came from or how to find what they need. They found one library in a vast system of libraries without a card catalog or helpful librarian to explain the extent of the secret cache. So, their resident research intern (aka Latika) poked around trying to learn the identity of the MoL and how to work the magical box they found.
NOW: They finally got a break when Ada learned more about the MoL stash houses and specifically opened the one that had records pertaining to their mysterious box.
Latika: I mean, clearly the Men of Letters wanted to keep their workings a secret.
Ada: Every secret comes to light eventually.
Lata: Ada, what did you find?
Ada: The Men of Letters mother lode.
Carlos: I thought you were helping Tony get settled off the Akrida radar.
Ada: Yeah, I got him safe and sound...
Then we started looking into how to help Tony with his Djinn side,
which led into digging into the Men of Letters lore,
which then led to …a shell company listed as the owner of two of the offices we've already investigated. The company owns one more up in Michigan.
I went to go check it out. It too was left for dead just like the others…. I grabbed everything, and came straight back to Lawrence.
- Inside the Ann Arbor MoL library cache was a file on the box, which is called an Ostium.
Learning how to work the Secret Weapon (aka the Silver Bullet)
- John recognized that the pages in the Ann Arbor MoL Ostium file were written by his dad, but John couldn't read his dad's handwriting.
John: Okay, some of this I can make out, but other parts, it's like they're not even real words.
Latika: That's because they're not. It's shorthand. Like a court stenographer. I read something about it in a Men of Letters book here at the clubhouse. A ledger that had an abbreviation key.
Ada: Your dad was an initiate. Part of paying his dues was taking notes in meetings.
John: I think I might know someone who can read this faster than I can.
- Millie was read into the case and brought into the MoL bunkhouse because she’s better at deciphering Henry’s poor writing.
- She translated that the Ostium transports, rather than kills, monsters,
- ... and that the hive can’t function without the queen. Kill the Borg Queen and the hive is helpless,
- …and she found Henry’s notes on how to conduct a séance. Once successful, Henry directed them to the Ostium’s energy source that he hid in the Jasmine vine.
Carlos: So the energy source is a rock?
Latika: Not just any rock. Look at the density and the strange pits. I think this is where the Akrida are from… Another universe. I don't know. But it's definitely not from around here.
John: Maybe that's how it directs the portal like my dad said. Tells it where to open.
Saving Dad (aka “Plant Marks the Spot”)
- Carlos put a hexbag in the Akrida’s transportation-du-jour when the Akrida leader delivered her exchange offer.
- Ada cast a spell to track the Akrida’s hidden hex locator bag. It told the hunters where the Akrida were hiding, and probably where Samuel was being held.
- The box worked and Samuel was saved…
- …but Roxy was not the queen, so the saving-the-world hunt continues…
Henry's, Samuel's and even the Akrida's searches to find their way home (along with John and Mary's metaphorical searches for home) were echoed in the 1969 song "Can't Find My Way Home", another favorite from the era.
Parents and Children
There were many things about “Reflections” that I loved. First and foremost, it still amazes me how emotionally attached we continue to be to Supernatural. The mere appearance of Gil McKinney as Henry Winchester, preceded by the musical prelude of “Americana” (the instrumental that always played during the most emotional scenes between Sam and Dean, i.e. the “brothers’ theme” or “family means everything” theme) reunited me with the Supernatural universe on a visceral level. My heart melted just seeing Henry. These characters mean so much to us. It’s an immense joy to see their story expanded.
I loved the introduction of Tom Welling as Samuel Campbell. Tom is another comforting, familiar face that simply belongs in genre storytelling. His soothing “I’ve done this before. I know what I’m doing. Trust me” voice and presence will bring a gravitas to this hunt that should add to its believability.
I love that Millie was invited into the monster club and initiated into the secret clubhouse. Her reactions to seeing the inside of the MoL bunker was reminiscent of the classic Doctor Who “bigger on the inside” shock but she made it work so well. After being left out of the Winchester family’s legacy because Henry thought it was “better” that way, it felt good to acknowledge and include the head of the family for the past 20 years in “the family business”. The Winchesters is adroitly incorporating women's contributions into the heavily masculine side of the story we watched in Supernatural.
I also unexpectedly let out a sigh of relief when Millie and Ada acknowledged that there’s a difference between being a parent and being one of the kids. This was a nice iteration of the “Parents and Children” thread we’ve been tracking.
Millie: Oh! I'm sorry. I just needed a break from that handwriting and those kids. How do you put up with them?
Ada: I let them pretend to be in charge. And I drink.
Millie, Ada and Samuel all playing an active role in the "kids'" hunt adds a multi-generational perspective that broadens the appeal of the story.
Letting Go of the Past… and its Angry Aftermath
Millie: Henry never brought me for a tour. I didn't even know this place existed.
Ada: Henry talked about you and John.
Millie: Anything good?
Ada: All of it good. He did worry what his vocation was doing to his marriage.
Millie: Oh, here I thought he didn't worry about that at all.
Ada: It's the only reason he wanted to separate. Thought it'd be better for you and John.
Millie: Would have been nice to have heard that at the time.
Ada: I said as much. I said, "If I had what you had, I would never let it go." But, you know, Henry was—
Ada: I was going to use a bit more colorful wording.
Millie: Seeing John here, it's like history repeating. I can't lose him the way I did Henry.
Ada: John isn't closed off the way Henry was. Now, if he could just—
Millie: Let go of his anger.
Millie: John told me about your son. How's he doing?
Ada: We're a work in progress. I'm making up for mistakes, and he is learning to let go of his anger.
Echoes of John’s anger, Tony’s anger, and long ago, even Millie’s anger. Millie seems to be healing from the guilt and loss her broken family caused her, but the boys still have a long way to go. It’s sad to know that John might not now be closed off the way his father was, but soon after John becomes a father, he, too, closes off to his pain and loss, turning to isolation to “protect” the ones he loves. Carlos shared his coping mechanism that shedding guilt could be entirely separate from coming to terms with loss but, sadly, Mary doesn’t seem to learn that lesson if her actions after her resurrection are any indication. The Winchesters seemed fated to be bound by pain.
“Reflections” also bridged some of the Winchesters’ family history that we know from Supernatural – the music box, the song “As Time Goes By”, the disappointment of not attending sons’ baseball games, the network of MoL houses that the group is slowly discovering. Maybe the séance ritual wording was even the same. I didn’t go back to look it up. These tethers bind these two timelines together, and further tease how they will eventually be reconciled.
The Winchester love story also took a major step forward, accompanied by a sweet callback to when John and Mary first met in “Pilot”.
John: This a normal night for you?
Mary: Since I was a kid, yeah.
That was a clever reprise to show how far their relationship had come… right before John dropped all pretense, inhibitions and insecurities and admitted he’d fallen in love with Mary.
On the monster side of the story, the chittering that accompanied the lady Akrida’s retrieval of monster essence from the lab was a clever sound effect. Hearing, but not actually showing, the bug’s movements was much more spine tingling than full views of the 8-legged (6 legs and 2 arms?), teeth wielding monsters themselves. They were much more menacing as black shadows that followed a mysterious figure in the woods. The black smoke emanating from their bug bodies in this episode was a move in the right direction, as well. That was pretty cool. I also totally enjoyed their backward suction into the black hole of the Ostium, so there’s hope for them yet. If the upper echelon Akrida are black, blurry, gigantic, ominous shapes in the night, they might yet be nightmare material. I also liked the tease of not seeing the queen. Hopefully, we get to spend the next several months imagining but not actually seeing what she looks like!
The Last Word (well, many words)
For all that I loved within this episode, the one thing it didn’t accomplish was to emotionally engage me as much as I expected. For example, Roxy didn’t feel threatening. In “Teach Your Children Well”, she was a dark, cloaked figure who silently glided through the woods. In later episodes as a radio voice, she was sultry and hypnotic. But in broad daylight, she was a dispassionate, overly confident megalomaniac who sauntered around her prey, calming delivering ultimatums. Nothing about her scenes seemed urgent or dangerous.
I would also have liked a more emotional reunion with Henry. Drake Rodger delivered his usual, phenomenal performance showing John’s deeply rooted insecurities. John was a little boy again talking to his dad, longing simply to hear the words “I love you” and “I’m proud of you son.” But Mary wasn’t at all nonplused by seeing Henry’s ghost. She politely introduced herself then casually walked out of the room to get Millie, who, call me crazy, but I think would have desperately wanted to see her dead husband! It took forever for Millie to casually walk back to the atrium to catch Henry’s last few seconds in this realm.
While it was so good to see Henry and Gil again, I wish Henry or John would have tried to reach out to each other, only to have been frustrated by the impossibility of crossing spectral planes. I wish Millie would have been crushed by seeing Henry for a second, only to have him disappear again. This scene could have wrung the tears out of us, but everyone stood their ground, individuals exchanging information rather than a family reuniting.
Were their relationships that broken? Maybe that was the point. I was watching it rather than feeling it but perhaps a “Lebanon” dose of non-stop tears would have been disingenuous to the pain the family hasn’t yet forgiven. The special effects of Henry phasing in and out of existence added credibility to the fleeting few moments they had together, but haunting or flickering lighting could have created the other-worldly feeling it needed. I wanted more.
Besides Drake Rodger’s incredible acting, Demetria McKinney (Ada) and JoJo Fleites (Carlos) were nearly flawless. They are incredible assets to this cast. Other cast members delivered good performances as well, while last episode’s revelation that Mary isn’t really a naturally born hunter but rather a sweet girl trapped in a hunter’s world helped frame her actions and reactions.
“Reflections” reminded me of so many Supernatural mid-season finales that overwhelmed us with information on the myth arc. The ease or difficulty with which I am able to recap the answers given to us in the finale is a good indication of how much we were asked to absorb, and this episode was right up there with some of Supernatural’s most intricate stories.
Bottom line: I loved components of “Reflections” but I would have liked its delivery to have conveyed more urgency and intensity. Tweaks to cinematography, directing (or acting?), acting (or is it direction?), special effects (the bugs; everything else is usually pretty cool), and even occasionally background music (the featured songs are spot on) could combine with The Winchesters' already excellent character development (yes, I know, Mary is still a work in progress) to deliver a deeper level of emotional engagement. I respond to shows' intellectual complexity as well as their emotional entrapment. I'm intrigued by this story and these characters, and absolutely love the subtle insights it's giving me to Supernatural's characters (John, Mary and Dean especially thus far).Occasionally, it also delivers the associated emotional punch. If they can fine tune the production side, the mid-season finale has left me feeling nothing but encouragement and excitement for what lies ahead.
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Transcript courtesy of TV Show Transcripts
Screencaps courtesy of The CW