Friday, December 4, 2015

Supernatural, Season 11, Episode 8: Just My Imagination

We have little girl with an imaginary friend (who may actually be real but invisible – and a kind of unicorn thing) and parents with… interesting parenting skills (boundaries people! Rules!)

And then someone murders the imaginary friend. There’s a psychiatrist out there who would charge soooo much money to analyse that one.

Sam wakes up in the morning kind of like me – (but with less coffee) and a whole lot of sugar and sweets unsurprisingly left there by… an imaginary friend. Yes, Sam has an imaginary friend too, called Sunny. Thankfully we’re spared a huge chunk of this episode with Dean wondering what Sam is smoking and why he isn’t sharing because Sunny has the ability to make himself visible to anyone.

This episode is going to be gimmicky and annoying. At least Dean is willing to get his gun. Sunny wants their help hunting down a killer of imaginary friends. Dean thinks this is rather outside the hunter remit. Even accepting imaginary friends are actually spirits that help and mentor kids (Zana), Dean still thinks saving non-human lives is beyond their remit.

Of course they end up investigating. And we get some poking at childhood issues with the fact Sam, as a lonely child, wanting the imaginary friend and Dean being a little offended that Sam considered himself lonely with some nice flashbacks going along.

Sam and Dean pose as child grief counsellors to interview the child, Maddie – they have no credentials but they do have cardigans. Everyone trusts the cardigan and Dean’s oh-so-trustwrothy-face.
The cardigans allow them to speak to the child and even examine her bedroom alone (helped by Sunny to let them see the corpse and blood). Seeing the mother walk around the horrible blood stained room without even seeing the blood she’s smearing about is both awful and kind of funny. Especially since the blood is sparkly.

And we have another Zana murder – this time a mermaid called Nicky and more past insights with Sully and Sam and how Sully wasn’t just a friend but a mentor who generally was great at advising and encouraging Sam.

Sully does reveal that Nicky had another Zana boyfriend, Weams, and they run to interview him after he has just survived his own stabbing. He did see the killer – a woman in a VW bug.

More flashbacks show that Sully tried to get Sam to be his own person, to find his own path and not follow his brother and father into hunting: but Sam rejected him. Sam looks back at it and is all sad that he let Sully down and made him so sad: though Sully considered it his failure. Though he is impressed with what Sam became – and bigging Sam up as doing well. Sam confides in Sully and Sully does his awesome job of making Sam more confident and happy about his choices and decisions.

While Dean has got himself captured. AGAIN. Honestly the Winchesters are shockingly good at being captured.

The lady is Reese who blames Sully for killing her twin sister – who died by accident when Sully was playing with her. She didn’t just hate Sully for Audrey’s death – but for not being there to support Reese as was her job. Sully offers to let Reese kill him to make her feel better- because that’s what Zana do.

It’s Dean who breaks free and talks both about the goodness of the Zana – but of how Sully was there when he couldn’t be. Reese drops the knife and Sully hugs her.

Does it say a lot about how Dean has touched the darkness that I half expected him to stab Reese then?

Touching goodbye scene and the Zana go invisible again.

At the end, they return to Sam’s visions and his insistence they follow them up.

Y’know all these imaginary friends are waaaay too cutesy. I think the writers have an overly fluffy idea of kids. My imaginary childhood friend would totally have been a velociraptor.

I do like the insight this episode brought to Sam and Dean’s childhood. I’ve long thought and occasionally mentioned that Sam had more of a normal childhood than Dean – not because he had a normal childhood, but because his childhood (however dysfunctional and less than ideal) was a childhood – while Dean grew up too quickly. We’ve seen scenes where Dean has been, for example, feeding  and protecting Sam, shopping and basically running their “household” (or motel, which is the closest they had to a household) when they were both very young while John was off hunting. Dean was both a soldier to his dad (again, noted here that Dean was taking hunting at a younger age than Sam) and a parental figure/caretaker for Sam. Of course he wouldn’t understand imaginary friends because he’s never really been a child – and Sam saying he was lonely not only emphasises he didn’t exactly have a brother while at the same time extra hurting Dean because it’s a partial critique of his parenting skills. Which is all the more poignant when Dean talks Reese down with his admission that Sully was there for Sam when he wasn’t. And though he uses the word “brother”, that’s a parent speech more than a sibling speech. The relationship insight between Sam and Dean alone made this episode far more than the usual gimmick episode, Supernatural likes to pull.

As it stands, the concept of Zana is interesting – I mean it should be really creepy, but seeing them in action as really powerful, supporting forces for troubled children is kind of beautiful in a I-really-wish-this-were-true kind of way. It also adds nicely to Sam’s history of trying to have a normal life, a theme he returns to semi-regularly, and what Sully could see even when he was a child.

Now let’s talk gay coding. Because we do see female and obviously opposite-sex attracted male Zana here since the mermaid and another Zana were in a relationship) and both are just, well, beings. The mermaid is a mermaid but otherwise human-like and friendly, Weams, the attracted-to-women guy is nice and kind with his charge who obviously has to deal with a difficult home life but is otherwise just a guy. When stabbed they both. But then we have the sparkling unicorn man whose very blood sparkles and Sully with his rainbow braces and squeamishness

See, it’d be interesting if all of them were gentle, a little childlike and bad in terrible situations as - if Sully’s demeanour and the unicorn’s sparkliness were commonplace across the Zana. But instead we see it distinctly confined to the Zana who are not just gay-coded, but overtly wearing gay symbols. So… why? I’m not saying the Zana shouldn’t act this way or that Sparkles and Sully are terrible characters – however when you single out those characters with LGBT symbols on them as behaving/looking/being highly stereotyped and the others not (especially when those others are presented as heteronormative) then we have an issue.

Especially when we have the “you broke his heart” and “you and Sully are back together” and this show’s utterly awful history when itcomes to LGBT people, subtext and queerbaiting/slashbaiting.