Supernatural, “Family Matters”

Again, my apologies for the delay in this write-up.

After a few middling weeks there to start, Supernatural is firing on all cylinders again and although “Family Matters” exists more as a transitional exposition dump than an actual episode, it still works very, very well in it what it sets out to do. This effort is full of answers, but still poses a number of questions and helps map up what this season will actually be about moving forward.

I suggested a few weeks back that the reason the first 4-5 episodes felt so disjointed was because there were so many consequences to the end of days that they couldn’t really be wrapped up in one episode or really even discussed in one episode. Instead, we needed to see that things were awful in heaven, that things were awful in hell and that things were not too good on earth either. And additionally, the other big issue with the first few episodes was that it tried to create this mystery with what was going on with Sam. Thankfully, “Family Matters” brings the detached threads of the former and completely erases the issues with the latter, paving the way for what should be an interesting season moving forward.

As the trailer for this episode gave away a week ago, Sam has no soul. When he was pulled out of the cage, it didn’t come with him. What’s unknown is whether or not “not having a soul” means he has no feelings (I don’t think so) or he has no conscience (this seems more likely). But what’s great about “Family Matters” is that it quickly dispenses with that answer, doesn’t really use it to drive a fork between Sam and Dean — something we don’t need any more of — and instead has them come together to figure out why in the world this happened in the first place.

And as I suggested up front, the effort doesn’t really have much of a “plot” or “story” and instead seems like a string of scenes that exist only to express loads of dialogue and information to Sam, Dean and us at home. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, and really, this is the best version of that kind of structure that the series could get away with because it finds a nice way to combine the monster/Alpha stories with the hell stories. To avoid spending a lot of time explaining the “answers” in paragraphs, here is the short version, in bullet form:

  • According to the vampire Alpha, they are looking for Purgatory, which is where all the souls of monsters go when they die.
  • Crowley, who if we remember is the King of Hell (I assume he got that position by fighting against Lucifer and ending up on the right side?), is pulling all the strings. He pulled Sam out of hell, kept his soul as a bargaining chip and also pulled Samuel down from heaven.
  • Crowley did this because he also wants to find Purgatory. Thus, he brought two great hunters back, ordered Samuel to capture Alphas and torture them for information in hopes of finding anything about purgatory. Samuel knew about all of this and didn’t tell the Winchesters.

So there you have it. Sam and Dean have to work with/for Crowley to find Purgatory in hopes of getting Sam’s soul back. Frankly, I love this whole development because Crowley is such a fantastic character. No one can really say if he’s remotely telling the truth with this download of information to Sam and Dean. He might be looking for Purgatory, he might not. He might want to find it to expand hell, he might not. He might give back Sam’s soul, he might not. It’s nice to have Sam and Dean go up against a villain who is cunning and intelligent, but also willing to play games with them. He’s like a cross between Yellow Eyes and the Trickster, and that’s a glorious combination.

Moreover, these revelations combine some of the dangling threads from the first few episodes to create a more streamlined and ultimately, interesting story that feels more in-step with the past layers of mythology the series has implemented. Purgatory is actually kind of the most obvious approach in a good way because it exists between heaven and hell, but still seems relevant to the people/monsters alive on earth. Though I’m tired of Purgatory in stories, the monster interest in the location adds an additional layer of intrigue.

As for soul-less Sam, I think I’m okay with it, particularly if it brings Sam and Dean closer together. Dean notes that he’ll have to serve as Sam’s conscious moving forward — including here when Sam wants to blow Samuel away — and I think that could actually pull them together instead of apart, which is a beat we’ve seen way too many times over the first five seasons. And although I think the journey to find his soul could feel similar to the journey to keep Dean out of hell in season three, I’m confident that the writers will figure out how to shade it, if only slightly differently.

“Family Matters” is mostly an info-dump, but the information given here is very promising and the next few episodes before the break will surely continue to push this new mythology forward.

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