After another short hiatus, we’re back and on the home stretch. Season 11 is speeding towards its finale, but after the face-off between Lucifer and Amara last time around, we went back to grass roots with a monster of the week episode for the Winchesters.
The forests of Colorado provided a fitting backdrop for an episode directed by Eduardo Sanchez of The Blair Witch Project fame, as Sam and Dean investigated a spate of disappearances in a small town. While the local law enforcement suggested the missing kids were runaways, and sightings of strange mutant-like people were passed off as the ramblings of the local stoners and weirdos, a pattern soon emerged. Sam and Dean struggled to find lore on a being which struck every twenty-seven years, bringing with it a period of orgiastic sex and slaughter to the townsfolk. Rumours of glowing green eyes and a ‘chittering’ sound emanating from the victims returned no results, and it seemed this case had the boys beat until Dean was rescued from one of the ‘junkless’ creatures by another hunter.
While the revelation that Gunnison was under attack from Bisaan – cicada spirits originating from Malaysia – supplied a cool new myth for the boys to deal with, it was the introduction of the Cuevas’ which made this episode really interesting. A gay, married couple working out of Mexico, Cesar and Jesse were out to kill the thing that took Jesse’s older brother almost three decades previously.
We’re used to seeing parallels drawn between the Winchesters and the civilians they help, and sometimes the monsters they hunt, but never has there been such a deliberate sense of mirroring and foreshadowing. The opening scenes saw Jesse and big brother Matty in the woods, twelve-year-old Jesse breathlessly confiding in sixteen-year-old Matty that his male crush had kissed him. This set Jesse up as an outsider from the get-go, a ‘freak’ to the ‘normal’ citizens of Gunnison. Matty was kind, supportive, but also concerned for his little brother’s safety as a gay kid in ’80s, small-town America. The two were planning to run away to California when Matty came of age, recalling the way in which Sam escaped the life by going to Stanford. The four year age gap matched Sam and Dean’s, as did the wardrobe of denim and plaid, and other visual markers such as the cooler Matty carried to the river further underscored these similarities. There was even a sort of ‘Samulet’ – a totem of the brothers’ bond imbued with almost magical qualities – in the form of the rare coin Matty was planning to sell to raise cash for their new life.
Never a show to spare the sledgehammer, Supernatural really drove home what was happening when Dean told the Cuevas’ that their bickering reminded him of him and Sam. This was a reversal of the all the many instances when Dean and Sam have been mistaken for a couple. The brothers’ musings on what it would be like to settle down with a fellow hunter and to get out of the game unscathed seemed to recall earlier conversations in the season, such as when Dean asked Sam if he could see them in a retirement home together. It did not seem like a reference to either brother’s attempts to settle down outside of their pairing (which have all ended disastrously). In fact, despite his insistence that Dean wants a ‘normal’, happy life for Sam, the time Sam tried that instead of searching for his brother in Purgatory did untold damage to their relationship. Indeed, Dean’s conversations with Cesar on the nature of revenge seemed to reiterate his belief that Jesse’s focus should be seeking justice for his older brother.
And this was the crux of the episode. While some have accused it of being slow, late-season filler, I see “The Chitters” as a portent of what’s to come, and an insight into how little the Winchester dynamic has changed over eleven seasons. We’ve already seen Dean without Sam this year, and what he was willing to do to bring him back. Sam’s admission at Matty’s funeral that he’d always feared Dean and John dead when they’d leave him as a child, and that he couldn’t fathom what he’d do without them seemed ominous. We’ve seen Sam lose Dean several times in the past, and react in a variety of extreme ways. His words, “I was just lost”, seemed to be an acknowledgment that he’s never known what to do when Dean is absent. For all their experience and their talk, there has been very little fundamental development. Sam and Dean seem destined to repeat the patterns of behaviour. Loss and sacrifice and revenge.
Final Grade: C
+ Diversity was the name of the game tonight. Supernatural has come a long way over the last decade in terms of how people are represented, and that’s a really good thing.
+ While they were few and far between, there were moments of humour in this episode. The boys’ discomfort while being flirted with by a witness and Dean’s teasing of Sam were highlights. And we now have pot-smoking Teen!Sam as canon, ladies and gentlemen!
+ A flicker of hope as Cesar and Jesse not only survived, but left to start a new life away from the shadow of the hunt.
– There were real pacing issues. Too much time spent interviewing minor characters and not enough on the central relationships between Jesse and Matty and Jesse and Cesar. It would have been lovely to add depth to the burgeoning emotional pull of the other brothers’ story.
– The myth was a little confusing. The bisaan were interesting new creatures, but I felt that the lore surrounding them needed to be fleshed out. Why would the human hosts be ‘junkless’ if the spirits needed them to mate, for example?
– We need a better way to segue between season arc and standalone episodes. The standard Winchester ‘we have no leads so let’s get out there and hunt’ conversation at the beginning of each MOW installment is a tired and trite method of exposition.
– On the point of representation, I was wary at first of the parallels drawn between young Jesse and Sam, as a comparison between Sam’s demonic ‘stain’ and Jesse’s homosexuality could appear problematic. However, I think the dialogue between Matty and Jesse made it clear that the younger boy’s ‘otherness’ was a perception of the small-minded inhabitants of the town, and the real similarity between him and Sam was the desire to escape lifestyles that both felt to be oppressive.
What did you think? Was “The Chitters” pointless filler or valuable insight into the Winchester psyche, and an omen of things to come? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!