After being left comatose by Castiel in the middle of the most dangerous playground in the USA, Sam and Dean were conscious, unmolested, and in relatively good spirits this week, all things considered. They seemed to have forgotten about the time their pal broke the wall in his Sam’s mind, and that time when Cas decided that he should replace God, and also that time when he let Lucifer out of the cage etc., because Dean was non-plussed by the angel’s behaviour. Whilst pondering how to rescue Cas from the influence of Lucifer’s spawn, the boys received a phone call from the Banes twins, who we first met earlier in the season when their hunter father, Asa Fox was killed, and the Winchesters decided to head out to Wyoming to help Max and Alicia find their missing mother.
I wasn’t sure how to feel about the throwback to the pilot, when Sam used the ‘their mother’s on a hunting trip and hasn’t been home in a week’ line to get Dean invested in the cause, because there is a tendency for Supernatural to rely overly on nostalgia, in lieu of generating real emotional gravitas. But as the episode progressed, the parallels drawn between the Winchesters and the Banes’ actually gave “Twigs & Twine & Tasha Banes” a depth of familial feeling which has been sorely lacking this season.
Having traced their mother to a hotel in Rock River, the twins initially thought that Alicia’s fretting had been for nothing when Tasha appeared, alive and well, bearing wine and vegan take-out. But when Sam and Dean discovered Tasha’s body in the cellar, along with the bodies of several missing townsfolk, they realised their hostess wasn’t who she claimed to be.
Meanwhile, Mary was starting to smell a rat as she watched Ketch torture a shapeshifter for information. This was a nice bit of wrong-footing, suggesting that’s what the two sets of siblings were dealing with in Wyoming, when in actual fact it was the witch Tasha was hunting who was responsible for her death. Having witnessed Ketch’s sadistic side, Mary came to regret their little tryst even more when she overheard him talking about some evidence which needed disposing of, and discovered the remains of Mick Davies in a lock box, along with files on her, her sons, and various other marked US hunters. While she put up an excellent fight, and managed to get a message to Dean’s voicemail before Ketch tasered her, we left her restrained and at the mercy of Lady Toni and her deadly mind games.
Mary (like Cas) has been done something of a disservice this season. While bringing her back from the dead after thirty odd years was ripe with horrific possibility at the outset of the season, essentially Mary has gone from being a loving mother who made a terrible mistake for love of her husband, to a fairly cold and distant character. This episode went some way to redressing the balance, showing her remorse for having basically abandoned her boys in favour of hunting with the BMoL, and her steely determination to do the decent thing. This was the first time I’ve seen similarities between Mary and her sons all year.
But it was Max Banes’ double loss and subsequent dilemma which really made this episode for me. Having realised his mother was dead and the thing he’d been drinking and laughing with upstairs was an effigy with her memories, he was then faced with the death of his beloved twin sister a heartbeat later. While Dean intervened, killing the murderous witch before Max could bargain his soul away, he was performing dark magic to bring Alicia back as soon as the Winchesters were out of sight. Well, this is Supernatural after all, where sibling co-dependency is the norm.
The exchange between the Winchesters in the aftermath was both a stark reminder of how little time has been given over to their relationship this season, and a balm to the soul of bromance fans everywhere. Even as he was justifying his part in stopping Max going over to the dark side, Dean was blatantly aware of the hypocrisy of his actions, knowing full well the things he and Sam have done, and would do again, to save one another. And Sam’s insistence that Max was strong and would get over Alicia’s death was pretty unconvincing.
While this season has felt very split between the Lucifer arc and the BMoL thread, and lack of cohesion or POV has been an issue, this episode was one of the strongest because it marked a return to the core values of the show, and to seeing the how the brothers think and feel about their situation. The secondary characters were excellent and immediately relatable, the writing was solid, the horror was creepy, there were references to Jody and Garth, and the stakes genuinely felt high. This is the show I fell in love with. Let’s hope it can maintain this standard now we’re on the home stretch.
Final Grade: B+
+ There was so much to love about this episode. Kendrick Sampson deserves props for making me well up as the grief-stricken Max, and both Jared and Jensen knocked it out of the park this week. Sam’s fear when he called for Dean, his forlorn little face as he saw Max realise he’d lost his twin, and Dean watching Sam sleep in the car all ruined me.
+ I adored the old school aesthetic of this episode. Creepy dolls, realistic corpses, dark basements, and that beautiful, dramatic immolation of Alicia’s body on the hotel bed. Give me more of this!
+ While I’ve been quite scathing of bringing back great characters only to bump them off, in this case I think it was justified because it lent real emotional weight to the episode.
– That said, goddammit, Show! I told you not to hurt my precious Banes babies!!
– I’m still not really understanding the motivation for the British Men of Letters. It seems to be to do themselves out of jobs permanently!
– The ‘we haven’t got any leads on the Big Bad so we might as well take this case’ trope may be as much a part of the show as the Impala, classic rock, or plaid shirts, but that doesn’t make it any less clumsy!
Extra Thoughts: We now have a number of Winchester allies out in the world who blur the lines between human and supernatural: Claire, Garth, Alicia and Max, to name a few. While the BMoL are trying to wipe them out, I wonder how many we will revisit in later seasons and whether they will continue to challenge the Winchesters’ concepts of what makes a monster.
What did you think? Did “Twigs & Twine & Tasha Bane” put a spell on you? Let us now in the comments, or sound off on Twitter!