Supernatural: So Here’s the Thing About Mary…

Six years ago, as I was headed to my very first Supernatural convention, I was filled with a sense of excitement. I was excited to visit a place I’d never visited. I was excited to meet other fans of the show. Mostly, though, I was excited to meet some of my favorite actors. I’d been a fan of Jensen Ackles’ work since his days on Dark Angel, so I was most excited to meet him. I’m also a Star Trek and Firefly fan, so getting the chance to meet Mark Sheppard made my little fangirl heart happy as well. Then of course there was Misha Collins, Rob Benedict, Jim Beaver, and so many others. Genevieve Padalecki even made a rare surprise appearance. But before I got there, I was super worried. Honestly, the entire plane trip to California, I just kept thinking to myself, ‘Please don’t be jerks.’ I was such a fan of the show and the characters, and I wanted to meet actors whose work I admired. But I also kind of didn’t want to meet them because I was afraid they might be jerks. Despite my love of the characters and the show, I didn’t want my enjoyment of Supernatural tainted by the memory of any of the actors being an unpleasant human being. I am glad to report that my fears were completely unwarranted. All the actors were absolutely wonderful, and meeting them actually made me fall even deeper in love with Supernatural.

Why did I feel the need to share that little story with you? Well, it came to mind as I’ve watched Mary Winchester’s story unfold. Much like me before spending any time with Jensen, Jared, Mark, etc., Sam and Dean didn’t have much personal experience from which to form an opinion about their mother. Much like me, Sam and Dean’s opinions were based primarily on stories they’d heard or the glossy, innocent memories Dean had from the short-lived time in his life when he was actually a kid. The brief chance they got to meet the younger version of Mary back in seasons four and five didn’t change their perception of her much either. And, right or wrong, they created a fantasy in their own heads to shape this image of what their mother should be. To say that Mary hasn’t even remotely lived up to those expectations is quite the understatement.

In a post a few weeks back, I mentioned that the show seemed to be trying to draw parallels between Mary and John. However, I’ve come to realize that was an erroneous comparison because John and Mary faced completely different circumstances. John was blindsided by the supernatural world. He was never a hunter and was therefore ill-equipped to deal with the knowledge that the things that go bump in the night are real. Not only did he witness something he couldn’t explain when he saw Mary burn on the ceiling, he had to figure out how to wrap his brain around that while also trying to figure out how to raise and protect two very young children. Not to mention that the deeper he dug into what happened to his wife, the more information he found about the plans the demon had for his son. That caused him to become more and more afraid for his children. That’s not Mary’s situation though. Mary has been tossed back into a world that has moved on more than 30 years without her, and that is understandably unsettling. Technology is different. Society is different. You could argue she was blindsided by modern times, but that doesn’t hold a candle to finding out monsters killed your wife and are after your infant son. Most important in Mary’s situation, though, is that the children she left are now adults who have been hunting almost their entire lives. They grew up without her and thus don’t have any sort of real relationship with her. When Mary’s deception was revealed in “Family Feud,’ and Dean called her to the carpet for lying to them, Mary said something to the effect of she didn’t come back to make Sam and Dean sandwiches and tuck them into bed at night. Um, I don’t recall anyone asking you to become Suzie Homemaker, ma’am. That time in the Boys lives has passed. The only thing that Sam and Dean asked of Mary was to get to know her. An opportunity that she’s pretty much denied them. So Mary’s outburst at Dean made her seem defensive because she knew she was in the wrong. Her outburst also shows just how little she really knows the Boys.

After Dean basically kicked Mary out of the bunker in ‘The Raid,’ she kept trying to contact both him and Sam to beg for forgiveness. Unsurprisingly, Sam was much more willing to listen than Dean, and when Sam went to see Mary, she said she was working with the BMoL because she wanted to help the Boys. She wanted to give them a chance to get out and for Sam to get a chance to go back to school. If Mary knew Sam and Dean at all, she would realize how completely out of touch her justification is. Sam was a law student more than a decade ago. He was a bratty kid running away from a life he didn’t want at the time. Since then, Sam has had numerous opportunities to walk away from hunting, and each time (for various reasons) he’s chosen to come back. The bratty kid that wanted to become a lawyer a decade ago has grown into a brave man that has embraced his family business. Then there’s Dean. Dean gains much of his self-worth from knowing that the job he does matters and he’s saving lives. In the last few years especially he’s come to realize that hunting is his calling and, even though it’s most likely going to end bloody for him, hunting is what he was put in the world to do. If Mary had taken any time to get to know Sam and Dean, she would realize how ridiculous it is to say that she’s working with the bad guys so that the Boys can have a “normal life.” Hunting IS their normal life.

Mary’s decision to work with the BMoL also calls into question whether she even understands what the words family, loyalty, and love actually mean. I know that’s a harsh statement to make, but let’s consider the facts. First and foremost is the fact that Mary chose to work with the people who kidnapped and tortured Sam. They can say that it was just Lady Toni going off the reservation, but it was still the BMoL. Even if you could get past that (which I cannot) there’s the fact that Mary has been lying to the Boys since ‘Lily Sunder Has Some Regrets,’ and she seems to have absolutely no problem doing so. That’s bad, but it’s not completely a deal breaker. But then we get to ‘Stuck in the Middle (With You)’ and Mary’s true character is revealed. First, Mary lied to Team Free Will to get them on board for a mission. There are a number of problems with that, the biggest being if you’re lied to about the nature and objective of a mission, you cannot adequately prepare. That’s how people get killed, and that’s why Wally’s blood is totally on Mary’s hands. Second, Mary was willing to sacrifice Sam, Dean, and Cas to protect herself and her lies. She stood there, watching, as her son watched his best friend die and she said nothing. She stood there, listening, as a demon threatened to kill her children if she didn’t return what was stolen and she did nothing. Third, Mary continued to lie after the mission was over even though she had plenty opportunity to fess up. Granted, Ramiel probably wouldn’t have let them live even if Mary had given the Colt back to him, but it’s the principle of thing. Mary had a chance to save her family and she chose to save herself. All of that leads us to the crux of the problem which is that this is NOT the Mary Winchester the show gave us in canon.

The show is, frustratingly, once again ignoring its own history to make the character of Mary fit into the story they want to tell. First, there’s the fact that this iteration of Mary is so gung-ho about hunting. In the ‘Pilot,’ Mary was so far removed from hunting that her family knew nothing about it. Then there was season four’s ‘In the Beginning’ where we learned that, much like Sam, Mary wanted a normal, safe life away from hunting and she was preparing for that with John. Then, when the Boys saw young Mary again in season five’s ‘The Song Remains the Same,’ Mary told Dean that she couldn’t help him because she wasn’t a hunter anymore. Now that Mary’s back again, it’s like she’s a hunting machine. They’ve even created flashbacks this season to Mary having snuck off to go hunting things even while she was supposedly living a quiet, domestic life in Lawrence. I suppose you could argue that the show never explicitly said she didn’t do that, but it was certainly heavily implied that once she got out, she was out until she died. Secondly, the show is re-writing Mary’s love for her children. The Mary that has been constantly lying to her children is supposed to be the same Mary who made tomato rice soup for her sick kids and sang Hey, Jude as a lullaby. The Mary that stood by while a demon tried to kill her children is supposed to be the same Mary who sacrificed herself to save her Boys from a poltergeist in season one’s ‘Home.’ I cannot reconcile that Mary with this version who seems much more self-centered and cold. I understand that the show wanted to create drama in Mary’s relationship with Sam and Dean, but the fact that she’s back in their lives after more than 30 years is drama enough.

The show’s refusal to stick with the canon it has created causes more than just Mary to behave in a manner inconsistent with the character the show already crafted. It’s also caused Sam and Dean to behave out of character. In ‘The Raid,’ Dean’s initial response to Mary’s betrayal was completely consistent with his character. Dean has very strong ideas about the meaning of family, and part of his definition of family includes loyalty. Mary broke that, and Dean responded exactly the way I would expect Dean to respond. The problem came at the end of that episode when Dean forgave Mary. It’s not that I expected Dean to stay angry forever. Even if Mary doesn’t understand what family means, Dean does, so he would’ve gone to save her even if he was still angry. He most likely would’ve forgiven her eventually as well, but it wouldn’t have happened within the course of a few days and it wouldn’t have happened without him laying down a few ground rules.

Then there’s Sam. It wasn’t surprising that Sam was willing to hear Mary out. He’s so desperately wanted his mother in his life for so long, I suspect he would forgive a great many of her sins before he wrote her off. My problem with Sam was his decision to work with the BMoL based upon the fact that they took out the Alpha Vampire. So what? It’s not like he and Dean couldn’t have done that on their own. Let’s not forget that while Sam was working with the Campbells, they captured the Alpha Vamp and if Samuel hadn’t had his own agenda, they could’ve taken him out then. Yeah, the Brits may have cool toys, but all their toys don’t mean jack squat when they also always have bad intel. So the fact that Sam decided to work with them based on them doing something that he and Dean could’ve done without their “help” left me rolling my eyes. But what made me even more upset was the fact that Sam agreed to actively lie to and manipulate Dean into working with them too.

One of the show’s major issues basically since Sam got his soul back in season six is that Sam and Dean haven’t been on the same page. It actually got to the point towards the middle of season eight where I wasn’t sure Sam and Dean loved each other any more much less liked each other. So season eleven rebuilding the relationship between Sam and Dean was a welcome relief. It was nice to finally see them back on the same page and standing back to back facing down whatever was coming at them. That’s one of the things I love about the earlier seasons. Season eleven also made a point of emphasizing that the Boys have learned from their past mistakes. Namely, keeping secrets from each other never ends well for them. The more pressing problem with Sam, to me at least, is the fact that Sam chose not to stand with Dean. Dean has learned over the years to follow his gut, and his gut is telling him that the BMoL aren’t to be trusted. Dean asked Sam to pick a side, but what Dean was really asking was for Sam to choose Dean. Sadly, when Sam picked a side it was the one without Dean and that leaves Dean basically isolated. His gut is telling him to keep the Brits at arm’s length, but no one will stand with him. When Sam finally admitted his lies and deception, Dean did what he always does. He just sucked it up and, despite his gut telling him otherwise, he’s standing with Sam. It’s understandable that Sam and Dean have different opinions on the BMoL offer to work together. That’s not the issue. The issue is that Sam is so dismissive of Dean’s concerns, and that’s bothersome. Even if they were going to have a disagreement or discussion about it (which they should), Sam still should have presented a united front until he and Dean worked everything out.

I didn’t mean for this article to be quite this long, but oh well. I’m at a point with the show where I kind of want to throttle it. On the one hand, there have been some really good things to come out of this season. I’m pretty pleased with the new writers and directors we’ve acquired. I’m pretty thrilled that Mark Pellegrino is back as Lucifer because his Luci is my favorite. I’m also looking forward to Luci and Crowley going head to head for Hell’s throne. But on the other hand, there have been some pacing problems. The BMoL storyline is taking entirely too long to go anywhere given the splash they made at the beginning of the season. But my primary problem is that the showrunners can’t seem to remember the show’s history, and they apparently don’t have access to Netflix. Actually, it’s more that they’re once again sacrificing character for story. Mary was kind of a blank slate, but not really. There were a few things about her character that were already woven into the fabric of the show, and they’ve pretty much discarded those character elements. I never expected her to be Mother Teresa or anything. She’s human. Of course she’s flawed, but they’ve gone beyond that. They’ve turned Mary into Samuel Campbell, Jr., and that’s disappointing. I keep trying to trust Supernatural’s writers, but they really make things difficult sometimes.