Oh, “Supernatural,” sometimes it seems like every time you manage to take one step forward, you have to take two steps back. While there were aspects of “Rock and a Hard Place” that I liked (mostly related to the ever-reliable Kim Rhodes as Jody Mills), those positives were undermined by some seriously questionable narrative choices.
Let’s delve into the good, the bad and the ugly of this week’s episode.
We’ll start with the good:
That final scene was utterly heartbreaking in the best possible way. Sam has steadily been growing more suspicious in recent weeks (although I really wish College Boy was piecing things together a little faster) but from a character standpoint, it makes sense that rather than trying to place the blame externally, he believes that this is just another flaw on his long list of shortcomings as a result of being Lucifer’s vessel; the “special” kid with the demon blood who has a penchant for sleeping with women who always seem to end up dead soon after. (Good thing he’s noticed that trend too.)
I’m glad that Sam’s self-loathing was enough to prompt Dean to try and tell him the truth, given how relentlessly Sam has always doubted his goodness. Both Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles played the hell out of those moments — Sam utterly defeated and convinced “maybe I’ll never be alright … This is just the way I am,” and Dean so obviously burdened by guilt for keeping such a major secret from his brother.
Naturally, Ezekiel had to ruin Dean’s act of contrition, warning him that if Sam learned the truth now, he would expel the angel and die in the process. After Vesta pointed out how damaged Sam still is, one wonders if Zeke has been doing anything to heal him over the past few weeks, or if the angel has been hiding out and simply regaining his own strength, treating Sam like his personal MoL bunker. It seems like the situation will finally come to a head in next week’s midseason finale, and I say it’s about damn time.
Also good: In a show that has treated far too many compelling female characters as disposable and/or sex objects, Jody Mills remains fully-realized and three-dimensional — a woman who is tough, brave and tenacious but still human enough to show fear, insecurity and doubt; capable of making good decisions and also spectacularly bad ones; relatable in her flaws and inspiring in her determination. (In other words, like a real person, which is all I require from the portrayal of any woman in fiction. See also: Charlie Bradbury.)
Jody proved an excellent partner for Sam while Dean was off chasing tail, and I liked that she wasn’t embarrassed when Dean scoffed at the notion of her attending church. She didn’t play the victim at any point despite her previous close encounter with Crowley, and still managed to push past the agony of her injury to save Sam’s ass. Hell, she even found time to bust the boys’ balls for not opening the door for her on her way out. In summation: Team Jody!
Now for the bad: Sadly, the fact that Jody was written so well only serves to highlight the disparity between her depth and the shallow characterization of the other women in the episode, which is even more depressing when you consider that “Rock and a Hard Place” was penned by a female writer.
Leaving aside the show’s consistently problematic portrayal of the majority of Christians as Bible-thumping zealots who blindly espouse doctrine without any nuance (Jody and the churchgoer who discussed faith with Castiel in Episode 903 being the only notable recent exceptions), every member of the chastity group was either a hellfire and brimstone type who wanted to pass judgment on her fellow members, a “trollop” who forgot her vow at the first sign of a hot guy, or … a murderous Roman goddess. These are not good things. Nor is making a mockery out of the idea of abstinence or the myriad reasons behind it.
Regardless of religious belief, the fact that Suzy would instantly give up a seemingly heartfelt pledge to start fresh and distance herself from an obviously painful past (she was ashamed enough to have changed her name and moved to an entirely new place to sever her connection to her previous career, after all) just for a random hook-up with a guy she just met (even a guy who looks like Dean Winchester) seems disingenuous at best and wildly offensive at worst.
Suzy was supposedly dedicated enough to her cause that she was in a position to counsel others on the difficulties of remaining chaste, which either made her a very talented liar (and hypocrite) who didn’t care half as much about her vows as she professed to while still presuming to tell others how they should conduct themselves, or someone with so little willpower that she’d throw away months, possibly years of struggling with sexual temptation and loneliness just for a quick bang with a dude she’ll never see again. She didn’t have much remorse for slipping up until she ended up trapped underground and facing death, and once Dean freed the kidnapped group, we never saw her again, robbing her of any degree of agency or potential for closure. We’ll never know what hooking up with Dean cost her, because, as is the case with most of the women the Winchesters sleep with and then never see again, it apparently doesn’t matter.
And the ugly …
It’s rare that I ever find Dean Winchester unattractive, but I can honestly say that the scene in which he charmed his way into Suzy’s pants was repugnant on several levels. If a woman tells you that she’s uprooted her life and changed her identity to escape the “horrible” person she used to be, objectifying her based on things she did as that person — and is clearly embarrassed about now — is neither appealing nor excusable.
Yes, Dean has always had a flawed and fetishistic view of women as sex objects in general (lest we forget, he referred to Lisa as Gumby Girl after their wild weekend together since her flexibility was clearly her most important trait — although thankfully once he actually talked to her like a person and had the chance to get to know her, he treated her with respect and love), but given what he knew of Suzy’s past and her discomfort with her former profession at that point, let alone her pledge, his behavior seemed especially disrespectful. It was clear from the way he pursued her at the meeting that he viewed her as some kind of challenge — a way to prove his prowess by tempting her into giving up her beliefs — and the fact that he succeeded reflected poorly on both of them, especially when Suzy switched from regretful to a purring sex kitten spouting porno cliches for no discernible reason, immediately erasing her personhood and reducing her to a superficial male fantasy.
We never learned why any of the women chose to break their vows — whether they simply never took them that seriously to begin with or whether they had a moment of weakness — but the show missed out on a big opportunity to actually flesh out some of its female guest stars in a way that could’ve reflected the fact that Dean is staying true to his vow to keep Ezekiel a secret from Sam, even if it’s sometimes a struggle to keep a promise in the face of temptation. Sadly, since the majority of the episode’s guest stars were shrill stereotypes or throwaway plot devices, we didn’t learn much except that Jody Mills is still a badass and that pursuing sex is apparently way more important than staying true to your beliefs or solving a case and making sure that your brother has backup when facing a murderous goddess. (Does anyone buy that Dean would ignore Sam’s calls while on a case, just because he’s trying to get laid? Let alone when he’s been extremely concerned about Sam’s health and safety since 901? I call foul.)
Let’s all watch the promo for next week’s midseason finale and cross our fingers that it’ll be smarter.
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