By John Keegan
This episode had an unusual structure. Up until the final segment, it was essentially a simple and straightforward horror tale, and one that was fairly average at the end of the day. The final segment, however, took a right turn into the season arc, opening up more interesting avenues for future exploration.
The Brothers Grimm aspect was a throwback to the first season, when most of the material derived from urban legend and folklore. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, given how well the writers handle most of the concepts, but there were very few surprises. The episode gave just enough time to the idea to let a few scenarios play out, and then the source was discovered, and it was resolved, with nary a complication or twist in sight.
As usual, the meat is in the character exploration, and we get additional insight into Sam’s devotion to his brother. It’s actually a two-way street, since Dean is happily sacrificing himself for Sam’s sake, and Sam is just willing to put his life on the line to save Dean. Taken objectively, both of them are making the same decision for similar reasons. The difference is that Dean has had the opportunity to express his wishes to Sam, something Sam never had.
This leads to that final segment, which had its share of revelations. According to the crossroads demon, she was merely the broker. Something much worse holds the contract over Dean in the end, and she had no intention of telling Sam a thing. Beyond that, the crossroads demon had a history with Ruby, and it was not a good one. Ruby seems to have a reputation, which means that her current activities with Sam could be more than just backing a likely winner.
The writers are trying very hard to convince the audience that Sam is different since his resurrection. As noted in the review for the previous episode, that is probably a form of misdirection. Thus far, Sam is justified in every action he has taken, and if he’s somewhat more angry or more willing to kill demons, Dean’s situation is more than enough of an explanation for it. Especially in this case, where the likely consequence of a mistake would be his own death.
This latest twist involving the demon holding Dean’s contract adds to the possible rationale for Sam’s apparent conversion. As noted previously, Sam could determine that the best way to save Dean would be taking control of the demonic horde and cutting a deal from the inside, in the hopes of staying the course and escaping with his life in the end. It’s quite possible that the writers will keep the audience in the dark as to Sam’s motivations, letting the vague hints from this introductory phase of the season arc suggest a more sinister justification.
There are two potential pitfalls to such a story decision. The first problem is entirely external: the writers’ strike. “Supernatural” is a show on the bubble, and it needs to show solid performance to justify its existence. Without scripts, the story cannot be told and the episodes cannot be produced. Thus, there is nothing to put to air, nothing to show the CW executives that the show deserves survival. This is hardly the only show in that position, but given the difficulty in gaining renewal for the third season, it’s a critical consideration for the fans.
The second problem could be the fans themselves. After reacting badly (and in my opinion, prematurely) to the inclusion of two recurring female characters, how would the fans react to a story decision that split the Brothers Winchester onto separate sides, one against the other? It’s not necessarily how the plot must progress, but there is that possibility, and I think it would lead to a negative reaction. The combination of strike pressures and fan backlash could very well kill the show, if the situation is not managed carefully.
In the end, I found the final segment of the episode far more interesting than the Brothers Grimm aspect. The episodic elements were too simple and straightforward, especially relative to this series. The strength, as always, comes from the relationship between Sam and Dean, and this episode managed to say a lot about them before it was over.
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