Saturday, March 17, 2018

Supernatural, Season 3, Episode 15: A Most Holy Man

This strange combination of noir and mob story kind of comes together to form… well… a rather pointless mess with some added theology on top which just… doesn’t really work in the canon of the show.

We open with someone deciding to steal a saint’s skull from a nunnery in Malta - and smack a nun at the same time.

Over to the Winchesters who are grappling with their portal spell - they need Lucifer’s grace (only don’t know where he is), fruit from the tree of life (Castiel is in Syria looking for that) and the blood of the most holy man. Which is kind of vague, as Dean points out. They hit on needing a saint, which opens the big dark internet realm of the holy relic black market. Apparently Sam is able to discern who is genuine and who isn’t somehow. Personally I would have thought Castiel would be the one to actually discern if there’s any actual holiness going on. They’re looking for the blood of a saint. Which is rather a problem because saints are kind of a posthumous title and long dead corpses tend not to have a lot of blood

Oh and Dean seems to actually gag on a pizza - Jensen Ackles’s tastebuds rebelling to Dean’s diet.

They travel to find a dealer, Margaret Astor, who says she knows someone who happens to have a stock of saint’s blood. And she’s happy to point them in the right direction with lots of flirting between her and Sam and lots of eye rolling from Dean

They go to see the next terrible person in the chain  who is very posh, very rich and apparently does have saint blood. Since Sam and Dean blatantly do not have the small fortune he would charge for it, instead he offers chicanery - them to go steal that skull we saw in the opening credits - which has been stolen by a mob boss, Santino Scarpatti.

Sam is really unhappy with this: he doesn’t want to become a thief. While Dean kind of shrugs it off. You do what you have to do - in an imperfect world you can’t stick to impossible standards when you have important goals.

Except when they manage to track down the thief they find that he’s already been murdered. And there’s a very obviously fake cop who tries to frame them for the death. Handcuffs don’t hold them for long though because maybe the Winchesters have been kidnapped and captured so many times by now they should be more skilled than Houdini.

Now things just get more convoluted because we’re going full on noir here. The mob boss who is just made up of rather dull shallow tropes, drags them into a meeting so he can intimidate them (which doesn’t work - which makes sense. Dean has literally been menaced by Lucifer, the four horsemen of the Apocalypse and God’s not very happy sister - mob bosses should barely even feature on his threat radar. If anything this should have been emphasised more). Like posh guy Greenstreet, the mob boss also wants to hire Sam and Dean to find the skull

And at this point I don’t even know why so many people really want an old skull. More, I have no idea why all these fabulously wealthy people have decided to hire complete strangers for illegal activities (and they could be undercover cops for all they know). I mean doesn’t a mob boss have contacts for this kind of thing? None of them have even the slightest indication that the Winchesters are competent for these tasks.

Anyway there’s some inept investigation because this very much ISN’T what the Winchesters do. They do find a piece of paper but then Sam is knocked out and has it stolen (Dean duly mocks his princess hair and makes a snipe at the sheer number of times they’ve been knocked unconscious. They must be in severe brain damage territory by now). But the guy who knocked him out is found unconscious because someone else has knocked him out. He’s Father Callieri who has come to get his church’s skull back. He’s decided that he can’t trust the police to handle it because it’s way beyond them so instead he’s going to send an unarmed priest to travel to the US with a big case full of money

Reasoned decision making is not strong with this man.

He’s planning to buy the skull back from the thief and then spends a lot of time explaining how important and meaningful this bone is to Sam and Dean. He also has some powerful moral messages about faith (which is dubious given Sam and Dean have literally met god. And called him out) and how good people need to work to make the world a better place and just accepting that the world is terrible is just lazy and used as an excuse for both inactivity AND to excuse one’s own bad behaviour. Which isn’t a bad message albeit perhaps somewhat idealistic.

It also makes Sam even more guilty about stealing it and he decides that rescuing his mother and Jake now needs to be put on hold in favour of finding an old bone for an inept priest. Because it matters - to prove this he asks what Dean would do if someone stole his Impala.

Murder everyone. Of course.

After a dubious feat of memory from the priest, they manage to track down the skull. Which has been stolen by the fake cop who is actually working for Margaret Astor and… yeah this is supposed to be a Noir twist. Basically everyone shows up with money, there’s crossing and double crossing and a big fire fight and Dean takes out a load of guards because, y’know, he’s fought a whole lot of vampires et al so goons aren’t much of a muchness. For some bizarre reason we put the combat in the background so we can focus on Callieri’s prayer… and why? Because he gets shot but it turns out only to be a graze? Are we supposed to believe in a miracle? Because we know Chuck doesn’t do miracles. We know the angels are really not listening to prayers - you can’t play this “hey maybe someone is listening” because we know they’re not. We even get a nod to this from Dean who isn’t that impressed by Callieri talking about putting his faith in god.

So, everyone is dead or arrested and it turns out no-one has any saint blood. But hey, the priest gets his skull. But luckily it turns out the pope once called Father Callieri a most holy man so he totally counts. Yeah they have their blood sample.

And some debating and almost despair from Sam about how they wish they could make things better - how they can get rid of all the monsters and not just bounce from apocalypse to apocalypse.

Ok on holiness… i think this is something Supernatural kind of has to address at some point. Given what we’ve seen with Chuck et all, even some admission that actual holiness is a whole lot of nonsense or just magic? I mean, Chuck’s and angels’ indifference is somewhat canon in Supernatural so what actually makes something holy in this world? What makes the Pope an authority on who is The Most Holy man, remembering that we’re actually talking about some mystical quality to activate a spell, not just someone’s opinion. We see this with holy water as well - why does it work? Given the actual holy forces we see generally seem to be pretty indifferent to holy people, holy acts etc etc?

I think the long term canon of this is something that needs to be addressed. And this all feels kind of weird when there’s Father Callieri praying for intervention - when Sam and Dean are clearly aware that it’s not going to work - to have him talk about faith and goodness to them when they’ve literally spoken to a rather a depressed god and have not only met pretty much every archangel, but killed a large number of angels. It feels surreal to have a man be all holy and faithful when he is pretty much demonstrably wrong on the holy side; if not on the actual ethical and hopeful side.

I do actually like the conflict of Dean’s view and Father Callieri’s view is also interesting though, again, it kind of feels like they haven’t gone deeper on this. Father Callieri preaches that the world being imperfect doesn’t absolve good people of the need to work to try and make it better and further adds that an imperfect world is no excuse to absolve your own misdeeds. But Dean’s view isn’t in direct opposition to this and though the show seems to present Callieri’s words as somewhat superseding Dean’s. Dean acts, Dean is the good person working to try and make it better - but the imperfect world means that he doesn’t feel like he can stick to Callier’s rather idealistic standards and he’s definitely close. Can we say that Dean’s relative indifference to, what he rightly labels a hunk of bone, compared to actually having the real tools they have need to make a real different and save the world is a bad or dark act on his part? Especially since he’s much closer to the realities of the front line than Callieri?

Oh and do we contrast the “we can’t let an imperfect world drive us to do bad things” with the fact Callieri did knock Sam unconscious? His virtue stands until it becomes useful to discard them

Especially when we consider that Winchester brothers have done considerable work to save the world - with the dystopian shadow world being a perfect example of what the world would be without them. Yes it’s bleak because, as Sam points out, they’re fighting tooth and nail just to keep things the same and not actually making things “better”; but it is making a difference. It’s only that stopping things getting worse doesn’t actually demonstrably shows things getting better