The More Things Change… Supernatural Review: “Advanced Thanatology”

Sam talks Dean into going on a simple ghost hunt, hoping for some brotherly bonding time. But if there’s one thing the Winchester boys should know by now, it’s that nothing ever goes as planned!

 

Supernatural – “Advanced Thanatology”, Season 13, Episode 5

Airdate: November 9, 2017

Writers: Eric Kripke (creator), Steve Yockey, and Davey Perez

 

What You Should Know:

Sam and Dean are still at odds over what to do with Lucifer’s son, Jack, who is currently residing with them in the bunker. At the same time, Dean has finally confessed to Sam that losing their mother, again, and Castiel as well, has cost him his faith in their fight. He’s asked Sam to hold on to the faith, the hope, for him because he can no longer do so. He no longer believes in what they’re doing, or that they’re really doing anything worthwhile.

Overhearing an argument between Dean and Sam, Jack became upset at the reminder that Castiel was dead because of him. Castiel found himself awake in a place of pure emptiness but was soon joined by a being that had made himself identical to Castiel and claimed to be “the empty” itself. The place where all angels go when they die. The Empty insisted Castiel go back to sleep, as he didn’t like being awake and he couldn’t sleep while one of his residents was awake, but Castiel refused. Castiel instead demanded to be returned to Earth.

What You’ll Find Out:

Two teenage boys carrying backpacks and camcorders are sneaking up to an old building in the middle of night. The first boy, Evan, is eager to explore the building and capture the night on film, making sure his companion has a full charge (even though he himself does not). The second boy, Shawn, is less enthusiastic but argues that at least he didn’t bail on them like their third friend, Mike. As the pair run into the building it’s revealed that this building is an old asylum. They soon find a row of disturbing bird-like gas masks and Evan sets his camera down in order to put one into Shawn’s backpack. It’s at this point that the spirit makes its appearance, terrifying the boys, and they make a panicked escape from the room. They make it all the way down the stairs but the ghost cuts them off at the bottom. Shawn escapes while the spirit is busy drilling a hole into Evan’s head.

In the morning Sam finds Dean eating breakfast and offers him a beer to chase it down with. While Dean, who accepted the beer with a brief moment of surprise, finishes his breakfast, Sam tells him about a case he found. He further suggests the two of them should tackle it together. Dean hesitates, as this means leaving Jack (Lucifer’s son) alone in the bunker, but Sam assures him the boy is busy catching up on old pop-culture films. Sam pushes by pointing out that it’s been too long since they’ve hunted a case ‘just the two of them’ and Dean agrees.

Upon arriving at Shawn’s home, Dean discovers Sam has given him one of Sam’s favorite fake IDs: Page. Sam brushes it off and the brothers talk to Shawn’s mother, who explains that Shawn hasn’t spoken a word since he was found on the side of the road with a scrape on his head and crying “monster.” Dean goes up to talk to Shawn anyway, finding the boy obsessively drawing sketches of raven faces. Shawn says nothing.

Later, the brothers pull up to their chosen cheap hotel and Sam suggests a nearby strip club. Dean points out that Sam hates strip clubs. Sam stumbles through an excuse, stating it had good reviews, and Dean likes them. Arguing that something must be up, Dean lists the bizarre, uncharacteristic nice things Sam has done for him that day: offered him a beer at breakfast, let him be Page, didn’t complain about his loud music all day in the car, and now the strip club suggestion. With no alternative, Sam admits to wanting to help Dean. To having been concerned after what Dean had previously told him about his feelings. Dean tells him not to worry about him and refuses the strip club.

After waking up to a nightmare, Shawn is sitting up in bed when he sees the spirit of the drill-wielding, bird-masked doctor who had killed Evan.

When Sam wakes up in the morning, Dean’s bed is empty and Dean is passed out, fully clothed, on the floor with a bright pink bra over his face. Sam leaves him to his sleep and goes out for work, finally landing a solid lead on where exactly Shawn and Evan had gone that night. He returns to get Dean, who’s fighting off his hangover with a heaping pile of bacon when they get the call that Shawn is missing.

Immediately upon entering the asylum, the boys’ EMF detector lights up, indicating the presence of many spirits. By now they’ve done their research and know the crazy doctor had done illegal lobotomies on his patients, and was arrested wearing a bird-faced mask the police had to pry off him. Dean and Sam make their way upstairs and find the room with the masks, quickly realizing that the masks must be what they need to destroy since the doctor himself was cremated. Dean sets about destroying the masks while Sam stalls the angry doctor’s spirit, which manifests in an attempt to stop them. As soon as they destroy the doctor, however, the rest of the spirits in the asylum begin to roam. Sam and Dean realize they have no idea where the bodies of the doctor’s victims are buried. Believing he has no better choice, Dean decides to kill himself via a shot to the heart as he has once before so that he can ask the ghosts themselves where their bodies are. He instructs Sam to wait exactly three minutes before injecting him with the other needle.

Dean chases after one spirit, who ignores him entirely, only to be found by the spirit of Shawn – the doctor’s latest victim. Shawn is confused, he doesn’t even understand that he’s dead. Dean’s face shows defeat at having allowed this boy to die when he was supposed to be there to save him.

Dean goes back to Sam at the three minute mark, Sam injects the needle, but nothing happens. Dean’s spirit doesn’t return to his body. He starts to wonder if this is it, this is how he dies, when an unexpectedly familiar voice calls his name. The reaper Billie, whom he’d watched die at Castiel’s hands, is again standing before him. And calling herself Death.

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Billie takes Dean to her new headquarters, explaining how she came to be in possession of her new title. She further tells Dean that she’s brought him there for answers and whether or not he survives the day depends on him. It turns out that when the reigning Death is killed, the next reaper to die is promoted to the position. And what the new Death wants is to understand the story behind the interdimensional rift that recently opened in her domain – Earth. So Dean tells her about Jack, and how he inadvertently opened the portal, and how it’s closed now. In return Billie offers him a bargain, and instead of bargaining for his own life, Dean bargains for the lost souls in the asylum. He asks her to let them pass on peacefully. She does, and she calls him out on wanting to die. She even explains how much it irks her that she can’t just kill him. But he and Sam, as the saying goes, “have work to do.” So she sends him back.

While they’re watching the coroners extract Shawn’s and Evan’s bodies, and Shawn’s mother cry, Dean tells Sam about Billie. He tells Sam briefly about she said. They depart after that, and sometime that night Dean’s driving while Sam sleeps in the passenger seat, when Dean’s cell rings. He answers as Sam wakes and gets a visibly startled look, even glancing over at Sam in shock. No words are said.

Then the Impala pulls up in an old alley, not the highway they were on before, and Sam and Dean get out of the car. Looking for something. Or someone. Across from the car, and Dean, is a telephone booth. And next to the telephone booth stands Castiel.

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What Does This Mean for the Future?

While Dean’s obviously still struggling with his feelings, the return of Castiel will undoubtedly help in the long-run. In the short-run, though, it may cause more conflict than resolution, as Castiel will almost certainly side with protecting and nurturing Jack, and be upset to learn how Dean’s been treating him.

Billie’s return will be more of a slow-burn. Probably one the show-runners will run with for two or three seasons if they can. Death is supposed to be impressive, after all, and they’ve already got a villain for this season.

Rating: 8/10

Final Thought: What I loved in this one was a mix of the nostalgic feel with the depth of a longer-running series. We saw Sam and Dean clear out an asylum in season one and the contrast is pretty spectacular. Sam trying to take of Dean is a lesser familiar theme, and while Dean being in a dark and sullen place isn’t unfamiliar, they’ve still managed to make it impactful. I don’t doubt Dean will find his path again, but I’m curious as to how. What will finally pull him back up? What’s in store for Jack? I want to root for him, but I’m hesitant. And I’m so glad Cas is back.

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