The enemies on Supernatural this season are hitting closer to home than ever — and this could change everything for Sam and Dean.
“It’s possible there is a little monster in all of us.” A fitting Supernatural quote, given the message that the show’s 12th season is sending so far. The most recent episode “American Nightmare” was kind of the clincher, but for the past four weeks, Supernatural has seriously seemed to be building up the darkness of what human souls are capable of as the season’s biggest theme.
Yes, of course we already knew that the British chapter of the Men of Letters, who provided the main focus of drama (and pain, violence and torture) in the season’s first two episodes, were set to be season 12’s big bad, but watching their first appearances play out raised a lot of questions about their motivations, their plans, and what position Sam and Dean will be put in — what they’ll be fighting against or, more interestingly, in my opinion, who, ultimately, they’ll be fighting to save.
The Men of Letters are puritanically human, with no room for shades of grey in their view of what makes a being good or evil, a person or a specimen. They may be willing to use spellwork — they seem to consider magic a form of esoteric academia — to subdue their opponents, but they are so ruthlessly anti-supernatural that they slaughter anything or anyone who’s got any sort of paranormal power.
As we’ve learnt, the citizens of the British Isles have been safe from monsters since the 1960s, thanks to the MoL’s efficient preventative action. On one hand, yay? On paper, that sounds like a great goal? But on the other, as Sam and Dean have learnt over the years, it really isn’t that simple. Inhuman does not immediately equal a threat, and humanity itself is not always so righteous.
This show has included both unmonstrous monsters and villainous humans before, in various fashions. Sometimes a bad guy is both a superpowered being, and, technically, a human — witches, for instance, or the the medically enhanced Styne family responsible for the murder of Charlie Bradbury. Even your standard salt-and-burn ghosts, which have been the culprit for any number of deadly Supernatural cases, are technically just human souls, not otherworldly creatures.
But occasionally, the monster in a episode really is a human being, ranging from episodes like “The Benders” or “Family Remains” — where the allegedly supernatural threat that the Winchesters are hunting is actually just some really freaking creepy people — to the outcome of stories like “Bloodlust,” “Citizen Fang” or “Just My Imagination,” where the boys are actually defending an innocent supernatural being from a human.
Hand-in-hand with that second category are the episodes without a human villain, but in which Sam and/or Dean expand their idea of personhood to include innocent or redeemed “monsters” — the demon Meg almost got there, particularly in “Goodbye Stranger,” but “The Girl Next Door,” “Bitten,” “Man’s Best Friend With Benefits,” and “The Purge” all jump out as examples off the top of my head.
This factor — the revelation of the dark rigidity that some humans are capable of, and the preservation of personhood, in a world where “person” doesn’t always equal “human,” is where I suspect Supernatural season 12 may be going. The events of “American Nightmare” really hammered home both the proof that human monsters very much exist, and the prospect of Sam and Dean protecting supernatural beings from these monsters.
As I already mentioned, in episodes one and two of season 12 the Winchesters dealt only with the British Men of Letters in terms of fighting against a threat. In “The Foundry,” the season’s first monster-of-the-week episode, the problem ended up being a haunting — but even this paranormal problem was due to the actions of particularly twisted human — the troubled ghosts of children trapped in a house after being killed and “collected” by the spirit a bereaved father who bricked himself into a wall.
But “American Nightmare,” the first offering from new Supernatural staff writer Davy Perez, formerly of American Crime, is a culmination of pretty much every aspect I’ve touched on here. After two mysterious stigmata-related deaths, Sam and Dean discovers that the cause was the daughter of an “off the grid” religious family, a psychic girl called Magda. However, the villain of the piece is the mother Gail, who hid Magda in a basement, forced her to whip herself raw, and, ultimately, when caught, tries to get the whole family to commit suicide Jonestown style with a poisoned supper.
In this case, the episode’s supernatural being — despite her powers accidentally causing deaths, as she projected a cry for help into the minds of people who entered the family’s farm — is absolutely the victim in need of saving, and her treatment is entirely coded as oppression. This aspect of Magda, which occurred naturally, which she can’t control, makes her dirty, sinful and Devil-touched. It wouldn’t be reaching to relate it to the way that LGBT teens have suffered at the hands of their fundamentalist Christian families. Enter Sam, with his own history of psychic powers, to save the day and assure Magda that she’s perfectly fine, and that her powers can be controlled to the point where they’re not dangerous. They bond instantly, and Sam promises to be there for her no matter what.
Just when we thought she was on her way to a better life, her mother brought to (legal) justice, Magda is — unbeknownst to the brothers — executed in a truck stop bathroom by Mr Ketch, the ominous British Men of Letters who’s been stalking the Winchesters for the past few weeks. We hear that the situation is “as they suspected” — that Sam and Dean couldn’t finish the job, i.e., take out the supernatural threat.
The double whammy of the sickening human evil we see in Gail and the murder (again, by a human) of the innocent girl that Sam and Dean just saved makes “American Nightmare” one of Supernatural’s darkest episodes of all time, and this villainized view of humanity is so prevalent that even the problem of Lucifer — actual Lucifer — seems to fall by the wayside, dismissed as a sit-commish side plot.
This episode drew a line in the sand for the British Men of Letters — they’ve officially killed someone that Sam and Dean wouldn’t kill, signifying to the audience that they are, indeed, the Black Hats. We already knew they were suspicious of Sam and Dean — as Lady Toni questioned them about their relationships with Benny and Ruby, it became apparent that she thinks the Winchesters may be dangerous double-agents with ulterior motives. Here it’s made clear that Ketch and his cohorts have deemed them, if not outright traitors, then certainly too weak to do the job properly — that Magda, despite technically being human, isn’t a being the Men of Letters would allow to live.
The irony: after all this time, thousands of monsters “ganked” — Sam and Dean Winchester are, in their eyes, the rebellious defenders of the supernatural. If this theory proves true, it puts Supernatural in an interesting position, with potential for a story we’ve never seen before. Yes, individual episodes have included evil human people and innocent inhuman people, but to make that aspect an overarching theme for the season, to have the Men of Letters’ misguided information turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, could be fascinating.
The idea of watching Sam and Dean finding themselves in this position — learning who the Men of Letters deem kill-worthy, learning that they’ve got this reputation as monster allies, and actually stepping up to that plate, is really appealing to me. It would still be within their basic “saving people, hunting things” mantra — working to save innocents from bad guys in the secret world of the supernatural. It’s just that the innocent and guilty parties are flipped on their heads, and though the boys have made lots of exceptions and thought hard over the years about where they stand on this, it’s not something they’ve previously proactively set out to do.
How will they get there? Well, finding out about Magda’s death would be a start — but I’m predicting that the British Men of Letters will successfully kill an innocent supernatural being that we already know (please not Garth! Or Mary — would “resurrected” count as sufficiently unnatural?) and that, possibly, they’ll end up going after Castiel. Perhaps not — perhaps actual proof of God is something that Men of Letters respect, and that “divine” gets a pass in terms of “extra-human.” But we really don’t know where their limits are.
Crowley and Rowena, though, are likely targets. Their ongoing allegiance with Sam and Dean definitely isn’t going to earn anyone involved any Brownie points — try explaining how you’re still the good guys when you have the King of Hell on speed dial. I’m curious as to how Dean, in particular, would react to Crowley’s life being seriously threatened — given the difference in reaction from Cas’s first Crowley team-up (fire, betrayal, manly weeping) to this one (slightly annoyed at the ridiculousness of an angel and demon solving crimes) it seems like Crowley is just part of the furniture now, and after the events of season 11, I can’t imagine him or Rowena ever truly being enemies of the Winchesters again.
One final season 12 theory is about Sam himself — the Men of Letters may very well try to take out the Winchesters purely because they’re a liability, but I’m wondering if Sam may once again become what the Brits would consider a supernatural threat. “American Nightmare” threw back heavily, both in the “previously on” section and in the episode itself, to Sam’s psychic abilities, a plot point which slightly fizzled out a few seasons ago.
His powers vanished either due to his detox from demon blood or his trip to Hell, and it seemed as if the abilities of all the Special Children only existed due to being given demon blood by Azazel — much like Harry Potter being a Parselmouth due to being a Voldemort horcrux. However, it could have been that Azazel was specifically looking for naturally psychic children to add to his ranks, and that the blood merely marked or exacerbated them – because natural psychics do exist, like the old hunter Fred Jones in “Hunteri Heroici.”
Natural or demon-given, Sam’s powers are compared heavily to Magda’s in this episode, and when she asks if he can do things like her, his reply “not anymore, I don’t think” made me wonder if perhaps we could see them come out again — something he wasn’t aware he could still do, and re-discovers. I doubt that a Sam with superpowers would be a permanent factor, as the show tends to keep the Winchesters as breakable as possible, but this element — or even the hint of it, the discovery it happened in the past — would certainly be enough for the British Men of Letters to take him out on principle.
Eventually, I assume that Lucifer will become a pressing concern — perhaps the way of the Winchesters will cause some of the British crowd to rethink their ideas of right and wrong and join forces to take on actual Satan, but right now, the show’s most sinister enemy is close-mindedness, it’s traditionalists seeing all examples of a different race or minority as a threat, it’s human beings looking to deny the rights of of anyone who doesn’t fit their idea of a person, and to exterminate them, even when they’re trying to live a peaceful, calm life. Hmmm… sound familiar? The fact that Sam and Dean will stand against this tyranny is why, despite featuring a lot of cars and guns and beer-drinking dudes, the worldview of Supernatural is inherently liberal.
But just in case the Men of Letters “make America safe again” metaphors haven’t hit you hard enough, this week’s upcoming episode, “The One You’ve Been Waiting For,” will feature the Winchesters attempting to stop a group of Nazi necromancers from resurrecting Hitler. Yeah. I think it’s safe to say that we know who Sam and Dean, if they were registered as legally alive, let alone as voters, wouldn’t be casting their ballots for today.