After last week’s backdoor pilot, Sam and Dean were back in our own world, and while Jody had her hands full with the girls, Donna Hanscum asked the boys for help with a missing persons case with a personal twist. With her niece, Wendy, missing, we got to see a different side to the happy-go-lucky sheriff, and the events of “Breakdown” left her with the emotional scars of a true hunter.
Gap year student Wendy was taken by a man who’d been snatching people for twelve years, with none of the victims ever turning up dead or alive. Dean got off to a bad start with a real fed who’d been trying to catch the predator for over a decade, but the pair pooled resources and used Agent Clegg’s historical knowledge to investigate the vanishing, and Donna’s blissfully ignorant squeeze Doug was also on hand to help out.
This was Supernatural, but not as we know it. “Breakdown” was dark and gritty, and very much brought the show back to its horror roots. There was little of the usual banter, with Sam in a funk following the loss of Jack and Kaia, and the boys’ failure to find Mary. Donna too was frayed, but also showed a resilience and competence in this episode that we haven’t seen from her before. The scene in which she grilled a pederast preacher from the diner where Wendy was last seen was especially strong.
While Agent Clegg’s complicity in the activities of the kidnapper and murderer known as The Harvester might have been a little easy to spot coming, I liked the way in which a supernatural bent was worked into the plot. The Winchesters have dealt with human adversaries before in episodes such as “The Benders”, but this was the first time I can remember in which a human was killing in the service of monsters. The idea of various creatures bidding on fresh meat in a twisted online auction was both chilling and darkly comic, and Clegg’s warning to Sam that they only got to hunt the monsters who weren’t out there ‘passing’ as human is a concept I’m amazed it’s taken the show thirteen years to posit.
The stakes felt really high at the climax of the episode with not only Wendy at risk, but Sam at the mercy of Clegg and The Harvester, and Doug having been turned into a vampire. It’s often hard for a show which has given us several near Apocalypses, countless resurrections, and on-screen spats between the Lucifer and God Himself to evoke that sense of fear after thirteen seasons, but I’ve always thought Supernatural works best when it focuses on the vulnerable, human aspects of the hunters’ existence. While we knew Sam hadn’t really been shot, and that Dean would always get there in time to save him, and that there was a cure for Doug’s vampirism, the fallout of the experience was the key thing in “Breakdown”. It was touch and go for Wendy, but she survived with all her limbs in tact, so the real victim was Donna and Doug’s relationship.
Poor, sweet Doug, having seen behind the veil and experienced what it is to be monstrous, decided that he couldn’t be part of that life. It was really interesting to see Dean and Donna’s assumptions that Doug would automatically jump aboard the ghost-busting train crumble, and even more interesting that Sam was the one to advise Donna to let Doug go for his own safety. It reminded me of the Sam we saw back in Seasons 4 and 5 who had given up on the idea of ever settling down and having a family. We’re used to seeing Dean get despondent and Sam pulling him back from the brink, so it was interesting to see them revert to type with Dean recapturing his enthusiasm for hunting and his optimism, and Sam scathing of the burden he’s been handed.
A really strong episode, with a fresh feel and genuine scares. While most of us aren’t really afraid of being bitten by a vampire, we can all relate to being in a situation like Wendy’s, forced to stop somewhere sketchy and ask for help, alone and surrounded by unfriendly faces. Most of us know what it’s like to lose someone we love, or have experienced the death of a relationship. “Breakdown” managed to tap into the things which we all fear while delivering a solid ‘monster of the week’ mystery.
Final Grade: B
+ I really enjoyed the characters deploying their various skills and resources this week. Dean’s use of the CBS radio to reach truckers who may have seen Wendy like John Winchester used to do was super smart, and Donna’s knowledge of scripture being used to play the preacher at his own game was inspired.
+ Speaking of the preacher, he was a fantastic character. Really creepy and memorable.
+ I will always be here for Dean making Sam pancakes, and the instant look of fury which changes his whole demeanor when Sam is threatened.
– Agent Clegg’s involvement was a little obvious.
– Doug’s readiness to walk away was a little disappointing, but maybe he’ll be back.
– Sam’s u-turn feels a little shoe-horned in for the sake of conflict.
Extra Thought: It’s been a long time since we’ve caught up with Cas and Lucifer, and with the Winchesters still believing Cas is out there following up leads, how long before they find out the truth?
What did you think of “Breakdown”? Did it leave you hungry for more, or give you indigestion? Sound off in the comments or over on Twitter.