Supernatural, “Live Free or Twihard”

Alright, Supernatural season six, I think I’ve figured you out.

I’ve been extremely vocal in my dissatisfaction with the series coming back for a sixth season and found myself disappointed with this season’s episodes, particularly the first three efforts. However, after last week’s Bobby-centric affair and “Live Free or Twihard,” I’ve not only come around a little bit on those first three episodes, but I think I’ve also figured out what the hell the purpose of all this is.

I had two major complaints about the first string of episodes. First, they felt too disjointed and disconnected from one another. Each of them seemed interested in telling different kinds of stories, and though the series has always been good at tonal changes, things felt off. Secondly, the attempts to make Sam mysterious without him actually doing anything super-scary or weird were noble, but poorly executed.

After “Live Free,” both of those concerns are mostly gone.

Maybe this was just my short-sightedness — but I don’t think so, because the first three eps still had issues — but now I see that the lack of connectedness between the opening episodes is kind of the point, in two ways. First, within the text of the series itself, it’s the aftermath of the apocalypse! Every bad thing out there is running amok on earth (as seen in the premiere, “Bobby’s” and here) and the sitch isn’t much better upstairs (as Cas notes in “Third Man”) or down (as Crowley mentioned last week). Exploring each of these crises across multiple episodes emphasizes that even though the end of the world was thwarted, things are still pretty awful.

Secondly, outside of the story, Sera Gamble and company clearly wanted to get out from under the intense weight of five seasons of mythology. I think by trying so hard to emphasize “returning to our roots,” “going back to basics,” or whatever else in the media before the season and then trying super-hard in the premiere to do something different, the approach didn’t work as well as it could have. People like myself were already primed to dislike what was to come and by continuing to say, “We’re doing what you don’t want!” we were bound to be pissed. A few episodes removed from that and with a much clearer picture of why the series is going in the way that it is, I’m much more receptive to the new approach.

Before I get to Sam, let me say more one thing on this topic. As much as I didn’t think it would work, I think this no holds barred aura the first five episodes have created could lead to some of the more interesting — perhaps not best, but more interesting — episodes the series’ has ever done. At this point, Supernatural has accomplished its goals in wanting to get out from under that huge A-word weight, and now, it can really go as crazy as it wants. At some point, we’ll need more connections than “There is no connection!” between the stories, but for now, I’m fully on board.

And as I said a few paragraphs ago, the other reason for my change of heart is because of the progressions in Sam’s story. The premiere did a honest-to-goodness horrible job of trying to convince me that he was anything but the same Sam Winchester and even the last couple of episodes haven’t really sold me. But in “Twihard,” he intentionally puts Dean in danger, lets him get turned into a vampire just to find the nest (and eventually the Alpha) and pretends to not know about the cure. Even worse, he smirks when Dean gets turned. That’s some evil shit.

Moreover, Dean now knows that Sam did just this and his concern has become genuine anger. Before, Dean whining about Sam didn’t really matter because we didn’t have really much reason to believe Sam was different. But now, with Dean’s knowledge, he won’t be able to keep it quiet and before long, the truth, or some nugget of truth is going to come out. Thus, there’s now a driving narrative reason to find out what’s wrong with Sam instead of this strained attempt to create an aura or creepy feeling around him. Instead of questioning, we freaking know that there is something wrong with Sam, and that makes the story feel much more urgent and mysterious than the half-baked attempts in the premiere.

I really don’t have much of a clue, but I have two theories on Sam:

Theory 1: He is some sort of Alpha himself and his desire to take out all the other Alphas is something of self-sustaining. I don’t know if that means he’s possessed by something or just a weird creature in his own right, but there’s that.

Theory 2: He was given a mission while in hell to track down the Alphas and probably kill them. I don’t know by who or why, but if we assume Sam is still Sam, sacrificing Dean just to get to the Alphas has to serve a larger purpose.

Apart from the macro-level stuff, “Live Free or Twihard” is an effective episode in its own right. It includes the now-patented Supernatural tonal change, where the first half of the episode includes a number of great stabs at the Twilight-powered vampire trend and the second turns into a more serious, compelling thriller. There is really no other series that can balance tones like this Supernatural and now that I’ve figured things out, I can’t wait to see more episodes like this one.


One response to “Supernatural, “Live Free or Twihard””

  1. I think you nailed a lot of reasons why this episode worked, especially in the context of the pervious four. However, much of my unease so far has been based on the non-Sam Sam. I agree that he hasn’t done anything that necessarily accounted for Dean’s wariness, but I do think that Padelecki has done a good job at conveying that something is missing/off. This Sam does not appear off within the context of season 6, but I think he does recall the Sam-inator from the second half of “Mystery Spot” (probably the quintessential example of the tonal shift you discuss at the end) and–a little–the djinn-world Sam of “What Is and What Should Never Be.” Neither example is Sam possessed, but–as you imply through your theories–Sam is certainly changed. I think a lot of the success or failure of the first half of the season will be how they hand the answer of “What is wrong with Sam?” I hope that the show continues to find the right balance of awareness of its own history (on both narrative and meta levels) while pushing into new territories.

    Great review, Cory. (And for your “Smallville” review this week as well. I just started watching again after a few years away, and I’m so glad I did. Maybe someday I’ll have something more comment-worthy for your “Smallville” reviews. Right now, though, I’m too jazzed about the movement toward Superman (and Lois and Clark) to add much to the critical conversation.)


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