Supernatural, Ep 8.03: “Heartache” is a sturdy standalone episode
Supernatural, Season 8, Episode 3: “Heartache”
Written by Brad Buckner and Eugenie Ross-Leming
Directed by Jensen Ackles
Airs Wednesdays at 9pm (ET) on CW
One of the key challenges facing a show like Supernatural once it hits a large number of seasons is how to keep the standalone episodes and the monsters of the week fresh. Having established a roster of creatures that the Winchester brothers fight on a semi-regular basis, standalone episodes face the difficulty of creating an adversary that cannot be dispatched within the first five minutes by hunters as experienced as the Winchesters, while not being so difficult to kill that their ilk can challenge the season-long adversary for dominance. Thankfully, this episode manages to effectively strike that balance, as well as give the audience a glimpse into the psyche of both Dean and Sam that promises ramifications down the road.
The monster of the week is fascinating without being beyond the realm of the show. The idea of vengeful spirits latching on to artifacts has been explored thoroughly in previous seasons, and there have been notable instances of organ transplants bringing with them a ghost, so the idea that a person would be bound to a deal so completely that their organs would compel new bodies to honour that debt is a natural progression of that idea. It will be interesting to see if this is a foe that returns in future episodes, or future seasons, as the potential to make this a more complicated adversary is certainly present.
The exit of Sam from a life of hunting is a very interesting avenue for the show to go down. His current attitude is something that has been well-telegraphed throughout the show’s run, as even the series premiere began with Sam worrying about law school, completely separate from Dean and John, and Sam’s personal heavens in Season 5 were from that time in his life. Sam has always been a member of the fight not quite willingly; after all, he was too young to realize the circumstances under which his mother died, leaving his emotional stake in it nebulous at best. Lucifer and other demons kept Sam alive and in the hunting life right up until season 5, and then Sam had to lose and retrieve his soul in subsequent seasons, making season 7 the first time Sam had hunted for for an extended period of time just for the sake of hunting, rather than because he’s being affected somehow by external forces. It will be interesting to see how far his desire to exit the profession is taken and how vehement he’ll continue to be after a few months with Dean hunting things. The final fight in this episode rightfully indicates that neither brother can survive very long without some kind of backup and they are each other’s most reliable support, so whether Dean is left to fend for himself at some point will be something to look out for.
The brief glimpse into Dean’s state of mind is no less fascinating. After Dean’s return from hell in season 4, he masked his guilt over his actions with a constant moving-forward attitude that seems to have returned. While he states to Benny that he does not regret his actions whilst in purgatory, the truth may likely be something different, and perhaps related to why Castiel could not also make it out. It will be interesting to see, if and when Dean chooses to open up about his time there, what kind of stories he’ll tell and what kinds of emotional admissions he’ll be forced to make. At the same time, however, it is perfectly understandable that this attitude is a remnant of a year spent surrounded by monsters out for his blood, and if that is the case, what eventually reigns Dean in, if anything does, will be a key factor to the overall season.
One notable facet of this episode is that it drives home the lack of help the boys now have, due to the death of many of their allies. The most visible absence is that of Bobby, who would otherwise have been the first call the Winchester brothers would have made and who could have possibly translated the Mayan chant a lot faster. Sam’s discussion of leaving also brings up the point of who could possibly replace him riding shotgun with Dean in the Impala, with Garth’s name coming up as the only hunter they know who hasn’t succumbed to the tentacles of death just yet, unlike all other viable candidates. It is a small touch, but a nice one that serves to drive home how dangerous the profession really is, as well as nicely underscoring Sam’s desire to leave it behind.
Overall, despite essentially being this show’s version of a procedural, this is an interesting episode. The monster of the week is interesting to watch, as is the character of Betsy/Eleanor. The implications of Sam’s desire to leave Dean alone to fight monsters are numerous and how the show will tackle them promises to be compelling. The stark contrast present between the birthday picnic with Amelia and Sam that is seen in Sam’s flashback and the brothers’ Christmas night seen in season 3 is very notable in how it effectively displays the two worlds and points out the issue Sam is struggling with now that Dean’s back. Altogether, this show’s standalone episodes are worth watching and there are enough character moments present this episode to make the next episode worth tuning in for.