By John Keegan
So coming into this episode, I was concerned. While I’ve been more pleased with the third season than many of the more vocal fans, the reality of the writers’ strike has given every new episode a set of high expectations. I want the remaining hours of the season (and, quite possibly, the series) to be a knock out of the park. The last thing I wanted, especially for Christmas, was an overly sentimental side trip.
I shouldn’t have doubted, because the writers pulled off the rare win: the Christmas episode that earns the sentimentality. Nothing was borrowed or assumed; it was all right there on the screen. Take, for example, Dean’s sudden interest in generating some Winchester Christmas spirit. Some shows would have simply dismissed any explanation for Dean’s change of heart, letting the season speak for itself. Instead, his desire for a traditional Christmas (complete with motor oil) comes right out of his current psychological state.
Similarly, Sam’s “humbug” role isn’t just there to give the writers a Scrooge-like figure, destined to come around and celebrate by the final act. His reaction to Christmas, particularly this time around, makes sense within the character’s context. He’s been consistently unable to accept that his brother will die, so celebrating “one last Christmas” is the last thing he wants. It would be acceptance of Dean’s fate.
In terms of the “present day”, the Brothers Winchester reacted to the Christmas holiday in keeping with their third season characterization, and I appreciated that effort. The writers slipped into more traditional territory with the flashbacks, of course, but even that was less about the wonders of the season and more about the bond between Dean and Sammy. It was about Sammy’s initiation into the family business, and Dean’s role as the surrogate father in Sammy’s childhood.
Had John Winchester arrived on Christmas to fulfill Dean’s promise and brighten Sammy’s young world, it would have crossed the line into typical Christmas Special purgatory. Instead, the flashbacks reinforced the isolation experienced by the brothers and underscores much of what was under the surface in the first season. Knowing how John will eventually die, the flashbacks take on a crushing weight. The necklace is just the icing on the cake, especially with Dean’s current status in mind.
Considering how well the Christmas theme was handled overall, one would expect that the “mission” worked equally well. And barring a couple of minor concerns, it worked well. It’s always interesting to bring up the origins of most “Christian” holidays, after all, even when certain elements are fictionalized. One might quibble over the generalizations regarding pagan human sacrifice, since much of the historical evidence now suggests it was less widespread than originally claimed, but it works for the story.
More troublesome, however, was the idea of the Brothers Winchester taking down a couple of “gods”. It’s a minor point, but it comes down to a question of scale. The brothers struggle with certain demons on most days, and some of them require long-term campaigns and specialized weapons. One would expect that a “god” would be more powerful than a demon, so this relatively easy dispatch of two “gods” left me a bit conflicted. One might invoke the “gods gain power through the belief of their followers” concept to smooth over the edges, but this still seems too easy a victory.
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