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Supernatural: “Mother’s Little Helper”

Illustration for article titled Supernatural: “Mother’s Little Helper”
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After almost 200 episodes, you’d think Supernatural would have run out of important firsts to go through. But “Mother’s Little Helper” marks Misha Collins’ directorial debut, and it’s a good one. After being such a delightful presence in front of the camera, Collins takes full advantage of his shot behind it, turning in an episode that might not be strictly speaking necessary, but is still a lot of fun. Visually speaking, there are only slight touches that distinguish “Mother’s Little Helper” from the show’s general style, which is maybe for the best—an episode that totally shook up the show’s look might not be the best idea at the end of season nine, and the established pattern almost certainly made it easier for Collins. But those slight touches are truly impressive. There’s a kineticism to a few of the better scenes tonight (the fights in particular, which are far less boring or even potentially boring than usual) that made me excited to see what Collins has in store the next time he tries his hand at directing.

In particular, Collins makes the most of the Men Of Letters flashbacks that, as told by ex-nun Julia, form the backbone and best part of “Mother’s Little Helper.” Gil McKinney gets to continue to do excellent work as Henry Winchester, remaining noticeably a member of the family, albeit a quieter, nerdier one along the lines of season-one Sam. He and Josie set the stage for the present-day case, investigating the St. Bonaventure convent after learning of several murders clearly related to demonic possession. This whole sequence is quite scary, which is increasingly rare on Supernatural—the wall covered in symbols and blood and the subsequent battle with Abaddon are both rife with horror clichés, and could easily have been terrible, but are excellent due to the actresses playing the possessed nuns, Collins’ directing, and the general quality of visual effects and production design. All of these elements contribute to a real sense of stakes in the fight, something that hasn’t been present in either of the Winchesters fighting a single demon in years.

The B-plot remembers that, once upon a time, demons used to be formidable enemies for the Winchesters. When Dean, who has been experiencing some intense Mark Of Cain-related bloodlust (effectively visually communicated by Collins), encounters a bland young hunter after Crowley at a bar, he cautions the other man against going after a demon, because almost no hunter has ever successfully fought even one, which is a weird reminder of the time on this show when demons were terrifying, serious villains and not cannon fodder. In some respects, the show is still a bit confused, at least when it comes to Crowley. He shows up just to see how Dean is feeling and give him some advice on the Mark, but then seems to have more sinister plotting going on when the young hunter turns out to be one of his demons. I really hope Crowley is not going to be a full heel again, because there’s no way I (or anyone else, I expect) can take him seriously in that role, especially after last week’s “Heroin” sequence. Thankfully, this story is mostly content to exist at the edges of the episode and get out of the Men Of Letters’ way, recognizing that the case of the week works much better when the superheroic, narratively immune Winchesters aren’t the ones solving it.

The show’s long history is strikingly well used here. Beyond the original fear of demons, what there is of the main story between flashbacks turns on Sam’s recognition that the murders in the town are being committed by soulless people, in a throwback to one of the better post-Kripke plots the show has done. Apparently, Abaddon has several “factories” set up to create a demon army by harvesting souls, a plan which, though perhaps not as foolproof as she seems to think (what if the demons all just turn on her?), is still pretty smart. I’m excited to see how this plays out before the final confrontation between the Winchesters, Crowley, and Abaddon, who is increasingly being set up as a Big Bad alongside Metatron for this season’s intentionally messy endgame.

There are some holes here—like why does Sam not tell Dean that Abaddon is almost certainly involved in the case he’s working?—but for the most part, “Mother’s Little Helper” is a solid, somewhat slight (which I don’t mean as a complaint) tonal episode, giving us a sense of what the stakes are at this point in the season and moving Dean closer to an endgame that’s hopefully a bit less dependent on this Gadreel nonsense. The Winchesters seem to be begrudgingly reconciled: Sam goes to pursue the case out of boredom, but has resigned himself to pursuing Abaddon after discovering the existence of the factories. By the end of the episode, nothing extremely important seems to have happened plot-wise, but we get a much better sense of what each Winchester is dealing with, and what’s motivating them going into the home stretch of the season. Splitting the brothers up in this case was kind of arbitrary, but we rarely this clear of a picture of where their heads are at with direction this snappy and minimal moaning, so thanks Misha. Get back in the director’s chair soon.

Stray observations:

  • Is the special effect used with the nun’s face during the exorcism new? I can’t seem to remember it being in any of the older exorcism scenes, but could also just be blanking.
  • This episode just kind of ends with the Winchesters pulling out booze, right? I can get behind that.
  • I recently read St. Bonaventure’s Breviloquium. It is interesting if you are into medieval Christian philosophy (and who wouldn’t be?).
  • Thanks to Phil for covering for me last week on very short notice, but boo to Phil for getting an episode I very much enjoyed/had been waiting for this whole half of the season.
  • So… next episode looks like it’ll be a weird one. I, for one, am very excited for “Meta Fiction.”