Malleus Maleficarum Review

By John Keegan

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It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was a Ben Edlund episode. His writing style is consistent, particularly his unusual sense of humor, and he has a knack for twisting the mundane (like brushing teeth or eating fast food) into the grotesque. Even though the story is relatively straightforward, the writing style gives it significant punch.

This episode is centered on Ruby and her true nature. The initial situation with the coven was a nice introduction, especially how it revealed some of Dean’s nastier prejudices. I’m sure his language would have been even more extreme if network practices weren’t an issue. One is left to wonder if the deep hatred of witches is common among hunters, or if it’s just something the Winchesters have cultivated. (It would have been interesting to hear Ellen’s thoughts on the subject, for example)

Whatever the case, Ruby goes from being just the questionable ally or Sam’s temptation to something a lot more interesting. By the end of the episode, she manages to change the context of the war against the demons more than I ever could have expected. While Ruby is convinced that she’s an aberration, it’s quite possible that the younger demons retain enough humanity to make things very interesting.

Ruby tells Dean that she has no solution to his impending doom, and that his time in Hell will eventually turn him into a demon. The implication that demons were all once humans is a nice touch. Usually demons are depicted as fallen angels, but this is a lot more intriguing. It throws a lot of standard religious interpretation on its ear. If demons are forged in the fires of Hell, how did that come about, if Ruby is right and there is no “Devil”? It creates a more complex relationship between humans and demons, which should lead into some strong future plot threads.

As it stands, Dean and Ruby are on the same page, but their methods are a bit at odds. Dean wants Sam to prepare himself for fighting alone, but he doesn’t want to see Sam slip into darker territory. He’s rightfully concerned that Sam will come under demonic influence. Ruby, on the other hand, wants to prepare Sam by pushing him towards more of that demonic legacy, or so it seems. It’s quite possible that Ruby is lying to Dean about the possibility for survival.

Ruby’s relationship with Tammi is another point of interest. Ruby’s servitude to Tammi appeared sexual in nature, beyond the usual “I own your soul” routine. The nature of a demon makes this complicated. A demon’s gender is often reflected in the gender of the human host, but not necessarily. Also, Ruby seemed to be seducing Sam in the past. Do human concepts of gender and sexuality fade when they become demons, or was Ruby just using her available “assets” with Sam, against her true nature?

Whatever the case, both of the Brothers Winchester appear ready to trust Ruby to some extent as Dean’s deadline looms. It remains to be seen how that will change things between them. There still quite some time until Dean ends up in the pit, so things could still adjust significantly before the end of the season, but Dean’s decision to give Ruby the some small benefit of the doubt is a delightful twist.

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