We’re just a week away from the mid-season finale (how did that happen?!) and Supernatural prepared us for the imminent angst by serving up a wacky installment in the vein of season two’s “Tall Tales”, and season three’s “Bedtime Stories”. Apt then, that “Just My Imagination” was directed by Richard Speight Jr, aka the archangel Gabriel, who first appeared in the former episode as the chaos-mongering Trickster. But, as is always the case with this show, there was a rational explanation for Sam’s imaginary childhood friend turning up in the Men of Letters bunker and asking for help solving the death of a unicorn man named Sparkles, Well, rational by Winchester standards…
Sam, sleep-muzzy from a six-thirty wake-up call (why so early, Sam?), walked to the kitchen to put on some coffee and failed to notice that the dining table was laden with his favourite childhood confections. These included nachos topped with marshmallows and the world’s gayest, rainbowiest cake. This, it transpired, was the work of Sully, imaginary companion to nine year old Sam. Or so he thought. Sully was trying to solve the murder of his friend, Sparkles, and wanted help from the hunters. Having established that Sully wasn’t a shared delusion or a stroke, but rather a creature from Romanian lore called a Zana, Dean threatened to get his gun before Sam convinced him to take the case.
After visiting the scene of the crime and seeing poor Sparkles’ glittery blood painting the walls, the boys made a second grim discovery – a dead mermaid called Nicky in a little girl’s paddling pool. Intending to question her clingy boyfriend, an air guitar champ by the names of Weems, the brothers found he too had been stabbed, but was alive to tell the tale. He described a girl in a VW Beetle as his attacker, and Dean set out to track her down while Sam and Sully reminisced about how they parted ways. The episode flicked back and forth between present day and a period in Sam’s childhood when John and Dean had gone hunting and left him to fend for himself for a couple of weeks. Sully had encouraged Sam to run away and escape the life, but as soon as John called for him, Sam went to join his family on the road and dismissed Sully forever. Sam apologised for being a jerk, and Sully told Sam he was wrong to try and dissuade the boy from his true path, because he’d grown into a hero. But their heart to heart was interrupted by a text which seemed to be from Dean, but was actually from the murderer, a young woman called Reece whose twin sister had been hit by a car while chasing Sully when they were children.
Reece, having lured Sully and watched him suffer the death of his pals, was prepared to kill him too, but Dean talked her out of it, telling her revenge never ends well, and conceding that Sully was there for Sam when he was not. Reece had a change of heart and spared Sully’s life. Sam and Dean said goodbye to Sully once more, and on the drive home, Sam broached the subject of his visions and The Cage. Dean cut him off, saying there was no way Sam was going back, and that they’d find another way.
So from frivolous beginnings, this episode warped into something much darker. The flashbacks to nine year old Sam were set shortly after the events of “A Very Supernatural Christmas”, when Sam discovered that monsters were real and their father broke his promises, and three years before “Bad Boys”, when Dean was sent to Sonny’s home for wayward boys for stealing food for his little brother. While Sam has always struggled with his vocation versus his desire for ‘a normal life’, the idea of him planning his escape at nine years of age seemed a little far-fetched to me.
We know from “Dark Side of the Moon” that he ran away to Six Flags at some point, and then left to attend Stanford, but the notion that John and Dean would leave the youngster alone for weeks at a time, and then demand he gets a bus across the country by himself, doesn’t ring true. If for no other reason, why would they risk drawing the attention of the authorities?
I actually loved the character of Sully. Nate Torrence played him with just the right balance of silly and soulful, and the scenes between Sam and his long-forgotten protector were touching and beautiful to watch, but I feel like that was at the expense of what we know about Dean’s character. And John’s, for that matter. Their father may have been a soldier, a crusader, but would the man who couldn’t bear to let his grown son leave for college really have left him to his own devices at such a tender age?
Present day Dean was dismissive and almost mean at points, but I felt this could have been down to guilt and even a touch of jealousy. Based on his reactions to Sam’s memories in “Dark Side of the Moon” (and basically every episode ever), Dean would not be happy about Sam having a confidant outside of his big brother. It’s always tricky revisiting the baby Winchesters, especially since the unseen aspects of their childhood are so cemented in the hearts and minds of fans after a decade. It has become ‘fanon’, and while Dylan Everett always does a superb job as young Dean, his casual abandonment of his baby bro was jarring to say the least.
That said, this was a really enjoyable episode with solid dialogue, laugh out loud moments, great performances and some really poignant scenes.
Final Grade: B
+ A manicorn, a mermaid, and an air guitar enthusiast with a mullet. It would have been incredibly easy to make the imaginary friends dumb and disposable, but they were all glorious, and I felt real sadness when they were killed. Also, Weems was baby Ash’s imaginary friend in my headcanon now, so there.
+ Acting. Serious props to everyone. Whilst Colin Ford is the one true young Sam (damn you, puberty!), Dylan Kingwell was super adorable. Nate Torrence gave a lovely, nuanced turn as Sully, and Jared Padalecki broke my heart being all sleepy and vulnerable and confused and sad and scared and ALL OF THE EMOTIONS!
+ Great directorial debut from one of the Supernatural fam, Dick Speight. Good work, sir.
+ “The family that showers together…” More proof, were it needed, that the Winchesters are…special.
– Winchesters being dumb. Come on guys! Getting outsmarted and overpowered by an unhinged teenager. Really?
– Did Sparkles really have to die? He was reading The Velveteen Rabbit and he was fabulous. I’m traumatised.
– We finally got to see Sam open up, but I can’t help but feel sad that he hasn’t had that level of intimacy with Dean in recent memory.
Extra Thoughts: It’s wonderful to be reminded that Sam Winchester is the boy who saved the world, and I’m excited for him to face his old foe, given that he was (and maybe still is) destined to be Lucifer’s vessel. I just wish Dean wasn’t playing it so cool. I wonder if Dean’s tie to The Darkness and Sam making first contact with God means we are headed for another Cain/Abel, Lucifer/Michael style conflict between the boys.
So was this episode as magnificent as a unicorn’s mane, or did it stink worse than a decomposing mermaid? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!