Mentalist Review: Episode 5×05 Red Dawn

Review of Episode 5×05: Red Dawn
by castiello

Overall: As soon as I saw the previews for this episode, I just knew I was going to love it. Then I saw the episode, and it wasn’t exactly what I thought it was going to be. Don’t get me wrong–I did love it, most especially for the stellar performances, but there were a few things that kept it from being the absolute killer episode I was expecting. Mostly just some hiccups in the believability of the storyline. For such an epic episode, I wanted it to be totally flawless. The acting, IMHO, was – I have no idea how our cast wiped out years of history and familiarity, making me believe that everyone was meeting Jane for the first time, but they did it. Top marks to Robin, Simon and Co. Top marks to the director, too. A few points off for the writers, but I give them credit for tying in the FBI and making this flashback episode (which I would’ve enjoyed even if it was pointlessly tossed into the middle of the lineup) actually fit into the season’s arc. Even set in the past, this ep gave new information and helped to move the current storyline forward. Well done on that part!

Jane: Oh, Jane. You poor, raw, wounded, fragile thing…Seriously, how fresh was the pain in his eyes? Wow. And such a change from the cool, slick, and confident man we often see nowadays. He seemed like a little lost lamb, wandering around the CBI offices. Totally adrift. Not as completely helpless as he seemed (he did manipulate Hannigan into hitting him, just to stay in the office), but almost.

I did have a hard time believing that the CBI would allow someone like Jane to not only ride with an agent out to a murder scene, but actually get out of the car and go over to the body and everything. I know they said the forensics people were done, but still. I just can’t imagine this would ever happen. Minelli (yay!) wanted to keep Jane happy by letting Jane ride with Lisbon and ask questions about Red John, but we never saw anything about the car ride, or whether they actually discussed Red John or not. We just saw Jane exit the car at the crime scene and start walking around.

It was obviously necessary to the storyline for Jane to flex his psychic “muscles” in front of Lisbon, but I do wish it had come about in a more natural, believable way than a victim’s family member tagging along on an investigation for no justifiable reason. If Jane had followed Lisbon to the crime scene in his own vehicle, still seeking answers about Red John, I would have had an easier time with that.

Speaking of Jane’s “gift,” I didn’t feel like he did anything too impressive, prior to smoking out the killer at the end of the ep. He did a little bit of cold-reading, some basic deductions from crime scene clues, and some body-language interpretation. In a way I felt like he should have done something more grand, to warrant Lisbon’s request for his help at the end. But then again, that’s not the main reason she asked him – I think it was much less about the team needing help (they weren’t that stuck) than it was about getting Jane away from the Red John files and giving him something else to do, and I wholeheartedly love her for that.

Also love: The look on Jane’s face when he first opened one of the Red John evidence boxes, only to have Lisbon immediately call him away from the files – man oh man, he did not want to step away from those files. You could already see the hunger, the need, the beginnings of obsession. Fantastic acting. And Jane’s anger, when he was talking to Lisbon about psychics – wow. Incredible to see so many emotions from Jane, back in this time period when he was too fragile to cover them up.

Can’t forget the Jane-meets-couch moment, either. The way they shot that was so cool, to make him look like he was lying down on it, when really he was standing up, leaning against it. The scene at the end with him finally snoozing on it, the Red John files all around, and Lisbon’s little “shhh!” was beyond priceless.

The hug between Jane and Lisbon was probably my favorite part, though, just because you could see the gratitude on Jane’s face – Lisbon cleaned him up and gave him something to do, when before he had nothing. She helped him find a reason to wake up in the morning, other than hunting Red John. In a very real way, she saved him.

Lisbon: How pretty did she look in this one? I love no-bangs Lisbon as much as I love vagrant, five-o-clock shadow Jane. Which is to say, a lot. She just has such a beautiful shape to her face, and the bangs cover part of it up. It was nice to see her whole face again, even if it was for only one episode.

Superficial gushing aside, Lisbon was great in this ep – stern, compassionate, sensitive, intelligent, annoyed, funny. She had some of the best lines (Jane: I cleaned up, like you said. Lisbon: Yeah…It’s a process. ROFL!). It made total sense for her character that she would end up with someone like Hannigan on her team. Even back then, I guess she was the “parent” agent who could keep problem children in line. So funny to hear her horrified reaction after Hannigan hit Jane – I am used to hearing her yell at Jane that way, not somebody else!

The best thing about Lisbon in this episode was her perceptiveness. The more she interacted with Jane, the more she could sense how lost he really was. When she saw him opening that first Red John box, I think she just knew he was headed for darkness – and her first instinct was to steer him in the opposite direction. Speaks volumes about her character, and her relationship with Jane – from that early on, she was already trying to save him from himself.

Minelli: Love him. Miss him. He needs to be on here WAY more often. At least he got a scene with Lisbon, this time. I’ve always loved their relationship; you can just feel the depth of his fondness for her. His avoid-lawsuit-at-all-costs attitude was perfectly in character, but I’m still trying to get past the implausibility of him sending Jane out to a crime scene with Lisbon. I’m going to assume Minelli just thought Jane would stay in the car, or would get dropped off somewhere as soon as Lisbon finished answering his questions. Minelli probably didn’t realize that Jane had absolutely nowhere else to go.

The little scene at the end with the FBI lady was intriguing. You could tell Minelli was going against his better instincts, and who knows how much horrible stuff has happened as a result. The scene definitely felt Red John-ish. When they showed the man in the car with her, I actually thought we might’ve just met Red John himself. I’m starting to doubt it now, though, because he seemed kinda on the younger side and not bad-looking (Bruno once said that Craig O’Laughlin was too handsome to be Red John — someone so good-looking would not need to go around, cutting up women).

Last little tidbit about Minelli – he knew Jane was in a mental hospital? And he never told Lisbon? Wow. Interesting. Not sure what to make of that. You’d think he would give her a heads-up – Lisbon, as Jane’s direct superior, would be in the best position to notice if Jane was starting to show signs of cracking up.

Cho/Rigsby: The one-liners. The facial hair. The joy. Cho got the best material, as always (Jane: Just pretend I’m not here. Cho: Okay.). Loved the looks both guys kept shooting at Jane. And near the end, when Rigsby was getting all caught up in Jane’s act, and Cho just gave him this sideways look, like, “Seriously?” Pure gold. I wish they had been in it more, and I definitely missed Van Pelt, but the focus did need to be on Jane, and how he got started on his path as a consultant.

Final thoughts: A few bumps in terms of believability issues, but all in all, it was a beautiful episode (both visually and emotionally) and one I know I’ll enjoy watching many more times. Hope everyone else enjoyed it, too! I’ll have to go find out!

New Halloween Story

If you’re searching for something to get you in the Halloween spirit, go check out my new story, “The Pumpkin Master,” published just yesterday on Every Day Fiction! It’s a gore-free, family-friendly look at my all-time favorite holiday. Hope you like it!

http://www.everydayfiction.com/the-pumpkin-master-by-gretchen-bassier/

Happy Halloween, everybody! Be safe and watch out for zombies!

-Gretchen

NaNoWriMo?

Yes, I’m speaking English, and no, microscopic computers are not invading the planet (yet). NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month, which begins in a few short days!

Each November, bunches of people try to write a complete novel, from start to finish, in a single month. I’ve never tried it before, but a surprising number of people actually succeed at this. Most of the ones who do seem to have a set way that they go about it, including a word-count that they must reach per day (2,000-3,000 words/day seems about right). You have to register to officially participate in it, and anyone who completes their (50,000+ word) novel is a “winner.” Winners are eligible for discounts, special opportunities, and craploads of other goodies. There are many activities/forums to participate in while you are doing NaNoWriMo, plus contests, etc. to enter your manuscript in when you’ve completed it.

So, if you’re someone who has a great idea for a novel, but you’re always putting off writing it for one reason or another, this could be your chance. Let the deadline be your cattle prod. Let an entire community of writers be your support group. Stop making excuses and WRITE THAT BOOK!

To check out more info, go to:

http://www.nanowrimo.org/

Good luck, and have FUN!

-Gretchen

And the Winner Is…

Whether you’re already published or just starting out, writing contests can be a great way to get your work noticed. They can also work well as motivating tools, especially for some of the more reluctant writers – deciding to enter a writing contest can help you get your butt in gear, get that story finished, and get it submitted. If you work well under pressure, a deadline can be a beautiful thing. 🙂

That said, be careful which contests you choose to enter – especially if they’re asking for an entry fee. Always do your best to make sure the publication or organization running the contest is reputable. Check how long the contest has been running, and do a little research to find out whether agents and publishers view the contest as respectable. Also, take into account the prizes being offered: are they rewards that will help you take the next step in expanding your writing career (e.g. money, exposure, one-on-one attention from agents/publishers), or just something to make you feel special and encouraged about your skills (certificates, winners’ names published in a special magazine issue, etc.)? Either one is fine, depending on what you want to get out of the experience.

To help you get started, here is a teensy-tinsy sampling of some of the contests available. The first two are free (best kind, in my opinion), the third one is a reputable contest with a reasonable entry fee:

For the Sci-Fi/Fantasy Writer:

Writers of the Future Contest

This contest has a big range of allowable word-counts, and has four entry periods (and four first-place winners!) per year. Prizes include a $5,000 grand prize, $1,000 first-place prize, and publication in an illustrated anthology. Cool stuff! My tips: enter early in the quarter, enter electronically (you’ll get your results more quickly), and don’t check the forums – it’ll drive you mad when other people start getting results and you still haven’t heard anything…Other notes: The Contest Administrator, Joni Labaqui, is super-helpful and she will always write back quickly to answer any questions you might have.

Find out more:

www.writersofthefuture.com/

 

For the Literary Short Story Writer:

Three-Minute Fiction Contest

All stories here must be 600 words or less, so put on your flash fiction hat. Prizes for this one vary, but usually include having your story read aloud on National Public Radio, and getting interviewed on the air. Finalists also have excerpts from their stories read on air. Tips: enter early (as always), and read the previous finalists’ stories (they’re all available on the website) to see what the judges are looking for. Again, don’t check the website all the time, unless you enjoy going crazy. Other notes: This contest tends to focus on literary stories. The best definition I have found for a literary story (and there are some really bad, super-confusing definitions out there) is the following: A literary story is a story that cannot be easily categorized, a story you will be thinking about for a long time after you read it, and a story that can be interpreted in multiple ways. So, think deep!

To find out about the current round, or when the next one starts, go to:

www.npr.org/series/105660765/three-minute-fiction

 

For the Short Short Story Writer:

The Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Contest

This is a contest for short stories of 1,500 words or fewer. I think all genres are eligible, but you may want to check out the previous winners’ stories (I think you can read them somewhere on the website) just to see what type of thing the judges are looking for. I’ve never done this one, but Writer’s Digest runs reputable contests, and their support staff if also very helpful and responsive. The entry fee is $20 and the deadline for entries is November 15. Winner gets $3,000 and a trip to the WD Annual Writing Conference. 2nd through 25th place stories also get various prizes and recognition.

To get more info, go to:

www.writersdigest.com/competitions/short-short-story-competition

 

Best of luck!

-Gretchen

Supernatural Review: Episode 8×04 Bitten

Review of Episode 8×04: Bitten
by castiello

It’s always hard to evaluate an episode that doesn’t focus on either Sam or Dean. Supernatural is so much about these two characters and their journey, that most of the people in my family don’t even call the show by name: my dad (who has only seen a handful of episodes) refers to it as “The Two Brothers,” while my mom simply calls it “The Boys.” (“Let’s go watch ‘the boys!’”) So, when Sam and Dean are minimally featured in an episode, it’s almost like watching an entirely different show. Could be a great show, or a terrible one, all depending on the strength of the storyline and the performances. Here, I think it fell somewhere in the mediocre middle ground.

While watching “Bitten,” I found myself comparing it a lot to the episode “Ghostfacers,” mainly because of the hand-held cameras, and the general lack of brotherly goodness. I know a lot of people were disappointed with “Ghostfacers.” I myself was less than thrilled when it first aired, but mostly because we had a major storyline that year (Dean going to Hell, Sam trying to save him) – plus a writer’s strike that drastically shortened the season – and the episode “Ghostfacers” didn’t seem like a great use of one of the last four eps of the season. That said, when I watched it again a year or so later, I did have a better appreciation for it. There was a bucketful of humor in that one, plus a few genuine scares (watch it alone, in the dark, and you’ll see what I mean) and some heartfelt emotion.

“Bitten” seemed to lack many of the elements that made “Ghostfacers” work. There wasn’t much humor – just a few lukewarm one-liners about Sam and Dean’s “office romance,” and one pretty funny quip that real FBI agents would not say “awesome” that many times. (And yes, Dean, you do say it that often, but please don’t stop – it’s adorkable!) The scares were kinda lacking, too (there should have at least been a “jump” moment here or there). But I think what this episode needed, more than anything, was some emotional resonance. Supernatural has had episodes with low Sam/Dean involvement in the past – stories that were more about a different character than either of the brothers: “Ghostfacers,” “Weekend at Bobby’s,” “The Rapture,” and probably a few more I’m forgetting. The difference is that we had at least met the Ghostfacers prior to having an episode focused on them, and we already cared about both Bobby and Castiel well before either of them stepped front and center for their episodes.

In contrast, we had never met the three students in “Bitten” before. And, while it is possible to introduce new characters and have the audience quickly begin to care for them (look at Ronald in “Nightshifter,” or Molly in “Roadkill”), it’s a difficult thing to pull off, dependant on both excellent writing and some serious acting skills, and in this case, at least for me, the connection didn’t happen. I didn’t feel like we got to know any of these kids very well. The relationship between Michael and his girlfriend seemed rushed – we saw them meet and flirt, then in the next scene they were sleeping together! I know it was a documentary, and not every single moment was shown, but still…if you’re going to show them meet, then show them fall in love. Otherwise, just have the relationship already established and don’t waste time on the meeting scene.

Another quibble: As with most hand-held camera “movies,” I have a hard time believing that people would still be holding onto the camera – much less pointing it in the right direction – during some of these events. I know some of the cameras were planted/stationary, and that helped, but not enough.

There was some cool stuff about werewolves introduced in this ep. If I understand correctly, anyone within four generations of the Alpha Werewolf is considered a “pureblood” werewolf. A pureblood can change into a wolf at will, is not controlled by moon phases, and does not black out or completely lose control during the shift. That is an interesting tidbit that could be put to good use in fanfiction.

More werewolf notes: This is the only time the show has done werewolves since season two’s “Heart.” Our lycan friends were mentioned–but never shown–in season six, and personally I was kind of glad. Werewolves are my absolute favorite supernatural creatures, and, fittingly, “Heart” is one of my favorite episodes of the show. Through wonderful writing and acting, the audience made a connection with Madison right along with Sam, and when the ending inevitably came, I found myself crying right along with Sam and Dean. That was actually the first (though definitely not the last) episode that made me cry. The storyline in “Heart” so beautifully mirrored the boys’ arc for that season: Sam’s fear of turning evil, Dean’s promise to kill him if he did…

“Heart” was Supernatural at its best. “Bitten,” unfortunately, was not.

I was a little more emotionally engaged by the werewolf teacher – more experienced actor, giving a stronger performance – but he was hardly in it. I wanted to know more about his story, how he kept himself in control for so long (and what eventually made him snap) but we didn’t get that story. Instead, we got a story about three college students making a (sometimes boring) documentary. I appreciate what the writers and actors tried to do – third-wheel jealousy as a motive for extreme actions, love as a motive for protecting a murderer – but it just didn’t quite land.

As far as Sam and Dean’s limited appearances: enjoyed every single one of them! The final scene between the brothers, for me, was the real “money” scene. Sam, as usual, wants to let the girl werewolf go – she can control the change, she hasn’t hurt anyone, and she plans to survive off of animal hearts. Sam then looks to Dean, fully expecting an argument – but Dean doesn’t give one. Instead, much to Sam’s surprise (but not the audience’s), Dean agrees: “Let’s give her a chance.”

John raised his boys to hate all things supernatural, and Dean soaked up that lesson like a brand-new mop. But now, Dean has a bond – maybe even a true friendship – with a vampire, and it seems to be changing his view on monsters in general. Dean, maybe for the first time, is thinking more like Sam always has: in shades of grey. Is this the end of “Shoot first, ask questions later”? And what will Sam have to say when he learns about the reason behind Dean’s post-Purgatory change of heart?

That, I’m looking forward to. More episodes with low Sam/Dean involvement? Not so much. This episode was a semi-intriguing experiment with some cool moments, but not one I’d be particularly interested in viewing again. I’d much rather watch “The Boys.” They’re what I tune in for.

Mentalist Review: Episode 5×04 Blood Feud

Review of Episode 5×04: Blood Feud
by castiello

Overall: Whoa, only four episodes in, and already we have another emotionally-charged, character-driven storyline – way to go, Season Five! Lots to love in this one, including getting to see Ben for the first time (finally!), a couple of nice Cho/Jane scenes, plus some hardcore drama and major screen time for Rigsby (‘bout time!) and the awesome return of La Roche. Since this was Rigsby’s episode, it seems fitting to start off with his character this week:

Rigsby: Owain knocked this one out of the park, no question about it. I could feel everything that Rigsby was going through, from fear for his father’s life to the painful mix of loyalty/hate/love that Rigsby grapples with every time he interacts with his dad. The numb shock of loss and the raw, hot need for vengeance were all perfectly portrayed, culminating in a roller-coaster episode.

I love that we finally got to meet cute little Ben, and that we also got some info on the current situation with Sarah. The scene with Rigsby and his dad sitting in the bar together, having beers and looking at pictures of the baby, was probably the most emotional one for me – the conflict and uncertainty in Rigsby’s eyes, the desire to love and be loved by his father, coupled with the fear of being hurt once again was devastating to watch. And then his dad died

I like how each member of the team found their own way to comfort him, from Van Pelt’s hug to Lisbon’s assertion that they would find the shooter to Cho and Jane’s quiet, “Don’t worry, we’ll take care of this…” I feel like everyone tried to support him the best way they knew how. However, whether Jane (and Cho) did right by Rigsby, giving him that opportunity to kill his father’s killer, remains to be seen. Which brings us to:

La Roche: Loved seeing him again – he is super-cool and such fun to watch on screen. At the end, when he broke down Jane’s plan, I was a little shocked. When Rigsby showed up at the gym, I didn’t know who had called him, but quickly put it from my mind as the action climaxed. Hearing La Roche lay out all the steps Jane had taken to orchestrate the whole scenario kind of blew me away – I guessed who the killer was (and his motive) fairly early on, so there was no surprise there, but that ending was a jolt.

It is in keeping with Jane’s character (and Cho’s) that they would deliberately give Rigsby this opportunity – Jane’s always been very eye-for-an-eye, and Cho used to be in a gang himself, so he fully appreciates the concept of retribution. And yet, La Roche’s condemnation of these actions rang true, and I found myself siding with his interpretation of the events – that Rigsby may have thought he wanted revenge now, but who knows how he’ll feel later. His dad had just died. Lisbon was right to take him off the case, and Cho and Jane should not have brought him back in, no matter how much Rigsby wanted them to. They put him in a situation he was not ready for, and now he’ll have to deal with the fallout. Justified though the shooting was, Rigsby, who had a strong ulterior motive, should not have been the one to pull the trigger. Later, when he was holding Ben and crying at the end of the episode, my heart just broke for him, not only because he was mourning for his father, but because he was maybe mourning a little for himself, wondering if the pursuit of revenge had made him more like his dad than he ever wanted to be.

Jane: He got a few light moments in this ep (“There used to be a man attached to this needle – do you know where he went?”), but not too many. I liked how that little doggie’s tail just started whipping back and forth the instant he saw Jane. As sweet as Jane is with animals, though, he’s even sweeter with babies – methinks we need to see him holding/interacting with Ben very soon. It’s a crime we had to wait this long to even catch a glimpse of that cute little redhead.

As far as the more serious aspects of the episode, I like how this one focused on consequences. At the mention of Rigsby’s separation from Sarah, we see how drastically one of Jane’s schemes has impacted the life of one of his team members. Jane’s methods are often extreme, and it is important that the show illustrates, at least from time to time, how far-reaching the consequences can be. Jane usually gets the result he wants, but often does not acknowledge the price for other people (e.g. in “Ball of Fire,” Jane did not think of how badly he was damaging the killer’s daughter, by using her to get her father’s confession.)

I do believe Jane thought he was doing the right thing, calling Rigsby to the scene and setting up a situation where Rigsby would likely have to use lethal force against his father’s murderer. It’s what Jane himself would want, if the situation was reversed. It’s been what, ten years since his family was killed? And Jane still wants Red John’s head impaled on a pointy stick. But I think he didn’t realize–at least until La Roche pointed it out—that to assume Rigsby would still want the ultimate revenge after his emotions calmed down was a mistake. Jane put a raw, grief-stricken man into a situation he had no business being in. I do like Jane’s point that “it’s better to regret doing something than to regret not doing something,” but I like La Roche’s point even better: Rigsby will never get the chance to find out.

Cho: How wonderful to see him and Jane get a little time together. They have a great chemistry whenever they’re paired up – this nice, subtle blend of humor and deep understanding. Cho gets Jane. Especially in this situation, they were very much in tune–their brains were almost on the same wavelength. I think Cho believes in payback almost as much as Jane does, and I believe both men were trying to do right by Rigsby…they just went about it the wrong way.

Lisbon: She was a great boss and a great friend in the episode. Taking Rigsby off the case was definitely the smartest move. The way she handled those extremely sexist comments from Rigsby’s dad, so cool and professional and completely unfazed, made me proud. Her loyalty to Jane, trying to take the blame for him at the end, made me love her and worry for her at the same time. I don’t want La Roche to be right, that Lisbon’s loyalty to and love for team is her greatest weakness. I’m glad Jane didn’t let her take the fall for him this time. Her career has taken enough hits for him as it is.

Van Pelt: Loved her tenderness towards Rigsby. I think she is the only one on the team without major Daddy issues (at least, none that we know of yet). It was nice to see the “coach’s daughter” in her come out, as she gave pointers in the gym. I do wish she’d been a bit cleverer, maybe able to recognize that the gym owner was a little too helpful (i.e. not on the up and up), but that’s okay – this season is making me hopeful that she’ll have her day in the sun. Hopefully, they all will.

Last thoughts: An emotional and thought-provoking episode that made me reflect on the complexity of family bonds and the far-reaching (and sometimes unforeseen) consequences our actions can have. Did Jane and Cho do the right thing in this ep? Not necessarily. But do they–and Van Pelt and Lisbon–love Rigsby and try their best to support him? Hell, yeah. The team was a true family in this one, and that is something I love to see.

Supernatural Review: Episode 8×03 Heartache

Review of Episode 8×03: Heartache
by castiello

Overall: Our first stand-alone of the season – yay! I actually liked the storyline of this one—the whole organ donor/Mayan warrior/heart-eating stuff. It fit together nicely, and I like that they mentioned the professor guy who helped with the Amazon women last year (Nice subtle flicker of emotion from Dean, at the mention of the case that involved his monster-daughter). I also liked the Betsy character in this ep—her story was touching (in a weird way) and her performance was emotional. Good stuff. There was gore and humor and one Sam flashback (I need way more of these), plus the boys talked about their futures, just like the old days. Once again, it felt like a genuine episode of Supernatural, and I think it was Jensen’s best directing job so far (he’s getting better with experience). That said, however, I do have a few bones (already salted and burned, I swear) to pick with this episode, and the season thus far.

Dean: Dean is still on a warrior high from Purgatory. He is in love with the hunt, happy to be doing it, and happy to have Sam by his side. It’s nice to see Dean this way—very reminiscent of season one. (Both boys, actually, seem to have come full circle, but more on that when we get to Sam.)

What I’m not so thrilled about is the continuing hypocrisy Dean exhibits towards his little brother—I’m still not seeing how Sam choosing a normal life with Amelia is any different than Dean choosing a normal life with Ben and Lisa. There were still monsters out there, killing people and committing all sorts of atrocities, while Dean was playing house for a year in Cicero, Indiana. Why is it acceptable for Dean to take a break, but not for Sam? I kept expecting Sam to bring this up (and defend himself a little!), but then I remembered that Dean said he’d break Sam’s nose if Sam ever mentioned Ben and Lisa again. So, I guess Sam is just respecting Dean’s wishes (and trying to keep an intact face) by not bringing Dean’s “other family” into the argument. Still, Dean could have some self-awareness. Dean shouldn’t be mad that Sam settled down – Dean should be mad that Sam (apparently) settled down without even trying to find out what happened to Dean and Castiel! That’s a legitimate issue I would have no trouble backing Dean up on, and maybe that’s what the underlying issue is – he’s just expressing it as annoyance that Sam temporarily gave up hunting (and wants to do so permanently).

Sam: Lots of interesting things going on with him in this one. The progression of his character is fascinating to track. It seems as though, like his brother, Sam is returning to familiar, “season one” territory. Sam wants to have a chance at “normal.” He wants to give up hunting and go back to school, like he wanted to do for most of his life. He is willing to do this one last mission (find Kevin and banish the demons), but then he’s done. This is so much like the first season, it’s almost identical: Sam was willing to go along with Dean to find their dad (and take care of the demon that killed Mom and Jess), but after that, he planned to be done with hunting.

After John died, of course, Sam went through some changes—partly out of guilt, he re-evaluated his life and decided maybe he did want to hunt. The brothers were so wounded and grief-stricken in season two, they relied on one another more than ever, and there wasn’t much talk about separating in the future. Then Dean sold his soul, and Sam’s main focus for the next year was saving his brother. We also saw Sam begin to harden as he braced himself for Dean’s death. By this point, Sam seemed entrenched in hunting—there were no thoughts of giving it up, just of how he would continue to hunt (and survive) without his brother. And then the worst happened: Dean died, and Sam became the cold-blooded hunter we glimpsed in Mystery Spot. The sweet, sensitive Sammy we all knew and loved was gone, replaced by a demon-blood- and power-addicted hunter whose superiority (and derogatory attitude towards his brother) were hard to watch.

Redemption came in season five, when Sam showed remorse for his behavior in season four, and the brothers (after a brief separation) worked together as a team to stop the apocalypse. In this season, Sam got a taste of “normal” in the episode Swap Meat, and declared that he wanted nothing to do with it. “That kid’s life sucked,” Sam said, indicating that he would much rather be hunting than living some boring, ordinary existence. However, Sam’s version of Heaven said otherwise: As the afterlife experience revealed, Sam’s happiest moments are the snatches of normal he got in his lifetime—Thanksgiving dinner at a girlfriend’s house, and the time he ran away and adopted a dog. There is no Dean – or John – in Sam’s Heaven. So, to me this indicates that deep down he still wanted normal, but given the circumstances – the world was ending, and Sam (whose fate was tied to Lucifer’s) likely wouldn’t survive the final battle – Sam chose to bury these feelings and embrace the life he had, since it was all he would ever live to know.

But, Sam did survive, after all. His soulless self chose to hunt solo (no surprise there – soulless Sam would have no interest in a family, normal or otherwise), and then his re-souled self chose to continue hunting with Dean. Though Sam may have been longing for normalcy again at this point, there was no real indication of it—he seemed mostly focused on redeeming himself for his soulless actions, plus helping Dean deal with an ongoing monster/angel/demon crisis. Then season seven came, with a new crisis: Leviathan. That, and Sam had mental stability issues, courtesy of the devil. Both of these things likely put normal off the table for the foreseeable future.

Now, though, the Leviathan seem to be under control. Sam’s mentally stable, and normal is—quite possibly—within reach. But not for the first time–Sam keeps saying that with Amelia, he experienced something he never had before. This bothers me because he had a life at college, with Jess, that I would consider pretty close to normal. For four years, he turned his back on hunting and studied pre-law. He had a live-in girlfriend and college buddies.

If, in last night’s ep, Sam had said, “I found something I haven’t felt since Jess,” then I would have no problem with it, but it feels like the writers are kind of ignoring that part of his history. I know for Sam it’s been a very long time since college (seven years of show, plus two year-long time-jumps, plus a couple hundred Tuesdays in the Mystery Spot (and another sixth months following the Wednesday when Dean died), plus about eighteen months (or about 180 years, Hell-time) of his soul being in Lucifer’s cage)—okay a REALLY, REALLY long time…But still, I think Sam would have to have some memory of his time with Jess.

My only other issue with Sam (and his current desire to stop hunting) is that we still don’t know why he didn’t look for Dean. I need for the progression of events to be believable, in order for the emotions to ring true. I can believe that Sam drove off in a panic after Dean disappeared. However, at some point not too long after that, the Sam I know would have pulled himself together. He’s a bookworm, so he would’ve started doing research on God weapons to figure out what happened to Dean and Cass. Sam would’ve called Sheriff Mills and gotten her help checking for unconscious John Does who might’ve turned up at nearby hospitals right after the blast. Sam would have contacted angels and even demons, trying to gain information on what had happened to his brother and Castiel. Then, if and only if Sam’s research determined that Dean and Cass were either dead or irretrievable, Sam might have believably given up the search and settled down with Amelia and Riot (cute name).

So far, the show is not portraying the events this way, and it’s a disservice to Sam’s character. I still have hope that flashbacks will reveal that there’s more to the story than Sam’s told Dean so far, but the hope is starting to fray a little. I did like the flashback in this ep, with Sam’s panic at not knowing where Amelia was, and the sweet little moment with the birthday cake (though I don’t believe for a second that it’s his first cake–surely either Dean or Jess (who baked cookies to welcome him home after only two days away) would have celebrated Sam’s b-day with some form of cake–even if it was just a hostess cupcake with a match stuck in it).

In all honesty, I like the idea of show coming full circle—of Dean wanting to hunt and be with Sam, and Sam wanting to go to school. I think this could be a great arc for the final season (if that’s what this is), finishing with Dean accepting Sam’s decision and letting him go his own way, and Sam finally getting the life he always longed for. I just can’t get past the Sam-not-looking-for-Dean thing, and until they explain it in some reasonable way that’s true to Sam’s character, I can’t quite embrace where his character is now. And I want to! I really, really want to feel the show like I did in the old days, when the bad moments hurt like they were real…

I hope we can get there again. In the meantime, I’ll hold out hope for more flashbacks, more explanation, and more brother-moments (because those are the heart of the show).