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REVIEW: Supernatural 11×04 “Baby”

Something a bit different this week, as after more than a decade of road trips, Supernatural gave us a love letter to the only character besides Sam and Dean to have been with us since the pilot. Baby. A 1967 Chevrolet Impala. AKA The Most Important Object in the Universe. AKA Home.

Now, we’ve always known the Impala was more than just a classic car to the Winchester Brothers, but this was cemented in the hearts and minds of the fandom by the season 5 finale, “Swan Song”, when the prophet Chuck relayed the car’s history, weaving it through the build up to the showdown between Sam and Lucifer. Having been the only real base Sam and Dean ever had throughout years of hunting together, it was the sight of sunlight bouncing off the sleek black paintwork, a glimpse of a toy soldier wedged in the ashtray, and the memory of carving their initials into a door panel which enabled Sam to overcome the devil and jump into The Cage, the culmination of creator Eric Kripke’s five year plan for the show. Given that watching that episode made me sob and go foetal at the time, and then cry again every time I thought about it for weeks afterwards, seeing clips from it in the pre-title sequence this week gave me PTSD symptoms.

We were promised an episode shot entirely from the POV of the car, and we pretty much got it. From the opening scene of the boys lovingly soaping her bodywork, to the final frames of the battered bumper as they drove away, the action was centred in, on, or around Baby. But as well as showing some of the minutiae of life on the road for the hunters, there was a little myth arc, a monster of the week case, and a surprise face from the past thrown in for good measure.

Having reached a dead-end in their pursuit of Metatron, and with Cas healing in the bunker, the boys decided to investigate a routine case to fend off cabin fever. What started out as a possible goose chase soon descended into an action-packed couple of days as Dean got drunk, Sam got laid, Baby got taken for a joyride, and the brothers found themselves hunting a new kind of undead bloodsucker with a little help from Cas and the Men of Letters library.

After stopping at a roadhouse for a night of debauchery, Dean returned to the car to find his not-so-little little brother had female company in the backseat. Piper the waitress wasn’t hanging about though, and she disappeared into the morning, leaving only a hair pin lodged in the upholstery as a memento, and this lead to a heart to heart about wanting ‘an apple pie life’.

I know Sam’s had his moments (mostly when he was missing a soul), but I can’t help but think his one night stand was a bit out of character, and the ‘normality’ ship sailed a long time ago. Both guys have tried domesticity with disastrous results, and both have said repeatedly that it’s no longer an option for either of them, so that whole scenario and conversation felt a little redundant. It didn’t fill me rage like when Sam seemingly slept with unwitting ‘alternate reality Ruby’ in “The French Mistake”, but it was slightly jarring.

It did, however, underline how non-existent the boundaries are between the brothers, with Sam having to ask for a little privacy as Dean settled down in the driver’s seat, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it’s weird to watch your brother and his new friend get dressed post coitus in the rearview mirror. Indeed, Sam’s desire for ‘something more…not marriage or whatever…something with a hunter…someone who understands the life’ was a poignant reminder that all the Winchesters have and all they really have the emotional capacity for was contained in that car, speeding down a dark highway. It might not be healthy, but it’s beautiful. It’s the bond that saved the world and keeps us coming back week after week.

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After a thorough ribbing from big bro, Sam fell asleep, and found himself sharing a dream or vision with his long-dead father, John (a welcome guest spot from the lovely Matt Cohen). John told Sam that only he and Dean could stop The Darkness and that ‘God helps those who help themselves’. All very cryptic, and Sam confiding his experience to Dean was a springboard to him coming clean about having been infected back at the hospital. It also lead to the boys talking about their parents and their dreams, and while it didn’t feel a hundred percent organic, it did give us a ‘bitch’ and ‘jerk’ moment, and an absolutely gorgeous shot of the boys sleeping top and tail in the car. My heart!

The creature Sam and Dean were hunting turned out to be a Nachzehrer who was making more in his image to build an army in defense against The Darkness. Dean’s attempts to kill him while Cas tried desperately to dig up some lore in this hitherto-unknown foe provided some of the funniest and grimmest moments the show has seen in a long, long time. The fight scenes were brutal, bloody, sustained, and delivered the best ‘head in a box’ moment since Kevin Spacey.

There was so much to love about this episode, but I can’t help wishing it had been stripped right back to the basics. When Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles are allowed to let their natural chemistry shine, and just be Sam and Dean Winchester, they can produce the kind of performances that reduce grown men to tears. We didn’t need the hot waitress, the joy-riding valet, the conversations about their parents, or the tying of the monster of the week to the wider story arc. It could have been the milkrun the boys set out to handle and all those perfect, quiet moments, the rituals, the spaces between words, would have been far more magical than a whole herd of rainbow-farting unicorns.

Final Grade: B-

+ Baby getting the recognition she deserves. After all, I think she’s been killed off and brought back more times than  the Winchesters at this point!

+ The Green Cooler.

+ Toy soldier, LEGO, and carved initials. Just watch my heart bleed all over the floor, take the withered husk, and trample it underfoot. GO ON! TAKE IT!

+ A visit from Dad, even if it was just a dream. Seeing Matt Cohen’s glorious face brought a lump to my throat.

+ Honesty. They may still keep things from each other, but are the boys getting better at coming clean?

+ The whole episode looked absolutely stunning. The lighting, the colours, Jensen’s face. Absolute perfection.

+ The shot of the boys sleeping in the car will be forever etched into my retinas and my heart.

+ Winchester duet. Nothing makes my heart gladder than hearing the boys sing in the car.

+ Genuinely icky violence. I’ve said it before, but I love it when Supernatural remembers it’s a horror show. Adored the scene of the bloodied brothers coming back together after defeating the ghoul, and Jensen’s physical performance was exemplary.

– I’m just not sold on the idea that Sam would bang a waitress in the car then try to give her his number. Put that thing away before someone gets hurt, Big Boy. To paraphrase Dean, has Sam MET Sam?! And we never DID get to find out what Piper’s response was…

– The whole joyriding scene was…bizarre? I mean, how long were those guys eating steak for???

– Too much going on and not enough space for the boys to breathe and just be themselves. I was hoping for some stargazing, gun-stripping, and knife sharpening. Maybe even some laundry. Yeah, that looks odd now I’ve written it down…

Additional thinky thoughts:

I went back and watched the aforementioned moment from”Swan Song” as I wrote this, and it still has the power to DESTROY me. I guess I was hoping this episode would overwhelm me with those kinds of feelings and it just missed the mark slightly. Much was reminiscent of past episodes, episodes which still pull a visceral reaction out of me, but perhaps we’re too far down the road with too many miles under the tyres to recapture those moments of raw emotion which came so readily and naturally in the early seasons? I truly hope not, but maybe the show needs to create new seminal moments instead of relying on nostalgia for the old ones.

What did you think of “Baby”? Was it a thrill-ride or a flat-tyred trundle? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!

 

About the author

Katie Young