We start in Belarus in 1944, with Nazis.
Several SS men are under attack by a giant – a giant that will not be stopped and rampages its way into the camp. In his office, the commander orders his men to be ready to stop it – shoot or die – while he prepares a magic spell in a copper bowl. The giant is unstoppable, bullets bounce off him and he kills the commander’s guard – but it buys him enough time to finish his spell and disappear in a wash of flame, leaving a metal suitcase behind.
In the present, Sam and Dean arrive at a bunker in Kansas with the key from their granddad. Inside they find the abandoned nerve centre of the Men of Letter’s organisation. Behind a door they find that the bunker is huge – and wonderfully well appointed. Dean announces that they’ve found a Bat Cave. Complete with perks like huge library and amazing shower room. Sam is happy with the huge resource of knowledge, something that could really help them, but Dean is more cynical, pointing out that just because they were a secret society it doesn’t mean the Men of Letters knew more than them – or weren’t making stuff up.
In Pennsylvania, an old Jewish man arrives at a university library to see the effects of the Holzinger Estate - also saying he had to avoid someone who was following him (though the librarian doesn’t believe him). In one book he finds something and rushes to the librarian saying the book needs to be protected – naturally the librarian doesn’t believe him (apart from anything else, he’s not the most pleasant man around, as the old man nicely points out). The old man leaves the library, goes to the local campus bar to make a hurried call, telling someone that when they follow him, they’ll need a number. All the while he’s being watched by a sinister, emotionless man. The old man leaves his case behind and walks to the windows to challenge his “old enemy”. He calls the man a “Nazi piece of rubbish” before he spontaneously combusts.
Back at the Winchester Cave (as it is now being dubbed), Dean has a quick side-character recap (Kevin is still working on the tablet, Garth is fine and Castiel is still absent. Alas.)
Sam, who really really needs a hobby, has been researching the Men of Letter’s roster of contacts (in the 1950s – as Dean points out) and he found the Judah Team, a group of European Rabbis during World War 2. Which lead to Sam looking up every member on the roster (seriously, a hobby. Or a sport. Something) and found Isaac Bass, former member who died 2 weeks ago from spontaneous combustion (really, he looked up causes of death as well. Maybe some card games, Sam. Or learn to play an instrument).
To Pennsylvania, the university and the librarian with the bug up his arse. Sam interviews the librarian and checks what Rabbi Bass last studied – and finds a large book about birds. Not the one the Rabbi was studying
Dean goes to the bar and talks to two girls who were in the bar at the time who tell him that Rabbi Bass talked a lot about a secret war and Necromancer Nazis. Behind them a man sits down with a drink and tries to attract Dean’s attention, waving at him. He fidgets and Dean appears uncomfortable and looks away, continuing to talk to the girls.
Dean goes over to the man and plays fake FBI guy and asks the man why he’s following Dean. Seems the man thought they had a “thing” back there, an eyes meeting thing. Dean is reduced to uncomfortable, confused stammers and takes the opportunity of his phone ringing to get away from the man and his fruity drink (yes, of course it was a fruity drink. With an umbrella in it. This is Supernatural, after all). Uh-huh. They already did a version of this joke (Dean meets gay guys and is chokingly uncomfortable) but I suppose vamping it to the next level and having a guy low-key flirt with Dean to make him chokingly uncomfortable is a variation.
Sam is the one on the phone and Dean takes the time to relate what the “hot members of the volleyball team” told him (the timing of which makes it hard not to see this as reasserted heterosexuality) while Sam tells Dean about the swapped book – and that he’s being followed (Dean says he was being followed but that it was just a “gay thing”).
They set up an ambush in the most distant and deserted car park – and Dean catches the man following Sam. It’s the giant who was in Belarus in the prologue. Dean is thrown across the car park and hits a van hard. Sam slashes the giant’s arm, leaving a deep cut that doesn’t bleed or slow the giant down – he grabs Sam’s throat and lifts him. Until someone says stop – it’s the man from the bar and the giant is a golem, his golem.
The man is Aaron Bass, Rabbi Bass’s grandson and he takes them to where he’s staying. And no, he wasn’t flirting with Dean, he was just following the people investigating his grandfather’s death and he inherited the golem (a being of animate clay created to protect Jewish people in bad times) from his grandfather as the last living member of the Judah Initiative. (The golem questions how the Winchesters know about the Judah Initiative, but is mollified by mention of the Men of Letters).
Aaron and the Winchesters compare family histories – with Aaron telling them that he didn’t believe in monsters or his granddad’s stories (his family assumed they were fantasies to help him deal with the horrors of the war) until the golem was posted to him after his granddad died. Which was rather perturbing – and even worse that the golem is very judgey about Aaron’s not following the mitzvahs (Aaron protests that everyone loves bacon) and his shaky understanding of Hebrew. The golem keeps saying “take charge” in Hebrew which Aaron, who was insulated from his grandfather’s stories by his parents, doesn’t understand. He does know that his grandfather was after the Thule society, and it was them who killed him – Nazi Necromancers that sponsored the early days of the Nazi party.
What he did get from his grandfather was a call – telling him he’d found something and giving him a random number; which Sam recognises as a library reference number. To the library! (Breaking in, of course, with Dean snarking excellently).
Sam goes upstairs alone and gets the book – but when he does he’s shot in the neck with a dart that instantly starts discolouring his skin. Sinister Watching Nazi steps out, thanking him for leading him to the ledger and demands Sam hand it over. Sam kicks a trolley at him and staggers away to Dean, gasping “necromancer” (y’know, it’s impressive to have a skin discolouring nasty spell and all, but if you’re going to shoot someone in the neck it doesn’t take magic to make it lethal). Aaron takes a dart to the stomach and Dean tells the golem they need the guy who cast the spell or they’re both going to die (again, I’m sure you could have found a quite lethal non-magical method here. Like a gun. Or actual poison. That no amount of golems could have cured)
The golem searches while the discolouration spreads. Sinister Nazi Necromancer shoots a dart at the golem – which is unsurprisingly ineffective. The golem grabs him, slams his head repeatedly against the shelves, brings him to Dean so he can gasp “Long Live the Thule” before breaking his neck (hey, at least he let him have his dramatic last words). The discolouration fades away (which it wouldn’t if it were a bullet. Or a knife. Or poison. Hell you could have thrown a book and caused a nasty bruise. I’m just saying.)
Aaron wakes in the car where the golem tells him the Winchesters saved him – while the brothers bury the Necromancer. Sensibly burning his body first. They also quietly discuss what they could do if the golem became an enemy, perhaps important since Aaron exclaims that they’re psychopaths when he sees them burn the body and warm their hands by the flames.
Translating the book, it’s the Red Ledger, a book describing the magical experiments the Thule inflicted on concentration camp victims – Jews, Roma, “anyone and everyone” - in a camp they controlled in Belarus. Their goal was to find a way to bring their dead back to life. At the back of the book is a roster of the Thule members they re-animated; but it also includes a killing method: head shot then burn the body within 12 hours. The golem speaks – since he was there. He was created in the Vitebsk ghetto to destroy it – and it was burned down around him.
And the reason why Aaron doesn’t understand how to command the golem because he smoked the user-manual his grandfather gave him for his bar mitzvah. Yes, he used the book as rolling papers and the golem won’t tell him what to do because it’s not his pace to teach the teacher.
More ominous Nazi Necromancers arrive at the library – including the commandant Eckart, looking for their dead compatriot. He finds clay on the shelves – identifying the golem.
Sam and Dean do some research on how to take down the golem (and find nothing) and Aaron is angry that they decide they have the right to do so – Dean slaps that silliness down right away “if we have to, we will take the right” while Sam points out it’s built for war, what if Aaron can’t handle it. Further discussion is interrupted by gun wielding Nazis – damn Nazis, never have any manners. The golem starts smashing – and Eckhart arrives and speaks to the golem – stopping it in its tracks. While everyone is held at gun point, Eckhart commands the golem to surrender his bond unto him – the golem opens his mouth and a scroll falls out. Something he could do because Aaron didn’t take possession of the golem by writing his name on the scroll.
Eckhart starts questioning them but neither Sam nor Dean are going to let the Nazi thing pass. Thankfully like any self-respecting villain, Eckhart likes the sound of his own voice giving Aaron the chance to smack him over the head from behind – and Sam and Dean chance to reach for their guns. He dramatically announces they can’t kill all the Thule before Sam and Dean put bullets in his head. They take the body away and burn it.
Back at the house, they offer to pack the golem away for Aaron but he says the Thule is still out there and his grandfather left him something important to do. He writes his name on the scroll and puts it back in the golem’s mouth.
Back to the Winchester Cave, where Sam takes up cataloguing (really man, a hobby, any hobby!) Dean makes a crack about Sam being a Man of Letters but when he pours Sam a drink it seems that he actually means it.
Nazis? Let me begin by saying there are certain events that I don’t find lend themselves well to fiction and DEFINITELY not to fantastic, speculative fiction. The risk of all kinds of problematic ish is so very very high, and the Nazis and their crimes are certainly up there.
So I’m wary to begin with. In some ways it could have been worse, I guess. There’s no suggestion that the Nazis were all supernatural or supernaturally motivated or controlled (I hate the idea that human atrocity being ascribed to the actions of woo-woo, it deflects blame).
But we did have the suggestion that the Thule Society funded the Nazis, I didn’t like. And if the Jews of 1930s and 1940s Europe had unstoppable golems wandering around, well… the war would have been very different. The snap moment for me was the concentration camp that performed magical experiments on the prisoners. There were brutal and horrific experiments inflicted on concentration camp victims – and they didn’t need magic or necromancers to do it. I am really uncomfortable with the sadistic evil of the concentration camps being used to tell a story about magical necromantic Nazis. The ghetto the golem mentions – Vitebsk – was an actual ghetto that was destroyed and its inhabitants massacred; that’s a horrendous atrocity to appropriate as a back story.
I liked the episode a lot, the plot, the resolve of last week and most certainly the Winchester Cave – but this kind of useage of atrocities never sits well with me. It was a solid episode beside that - despite the absence of Castiel
And oh yay gay inclusion as a throw away joke. So, we get 2 appearances for a whole 8 series of the rather awesome Charlie which, of course, Dean has absolutely no problems around, but gay men in this show remain the butt of jokes. Great. Tell me again how wonderfully gay this show is? Extra points for squeezing in the gay joke without actually including a gay man.