Friday, January 16, 2009

"Family Remains"

ATTENTION: The following review contains spoilers in the manner that I tell you everything that happens. Anyone who hasn't seen last night's episode yet and doesn't want to know all the good stuff, please stop reading! :)

When Kripke conceived Supernatural and they first started working on the show, they intended it to be "a horror movie every week." In the last couple of seasons, there's been a bit of a departure from that.

Until last night. "Family Remains" returned to the horror movie format, in all ways.

Creep Factor Dialed to 11

First we have the old guy watching TV. Lights go out, door creeps open, standard freaky-looking female with messy hair and tattered clothes approaches. Camera pans to a cross-stitch on the wall, the "home sweet home"-style message splattering with blood.

Then we have the Impala. Moment of joy, right? Except it's sitting in the middle of nowhere, in front of a gate (blocking what?), surrounded by bramble and fog and dark. Dead silence. Dean sits in the front seat, perusing a newspaper. It feels like a million other tense moments, the kind just before something attacks and makes us jump. This sets the tone for the entire episode, which is full of such moments:

*The ball rolling out of the closet (reminiscent of the ball coming down the stairs in the 1980 George C. Scott film The Changeling--scariest movie I've ever seen in my life).

*The dog disappearing.

*The girl stepping over the salt.

*Dean and Ted sneaking through the walls.

While I don't consider this episode the best of the season overall, it gets the "Creepiest" label without a fight.

Bringing the Funny

We all love Supernatural's one-liners, right? Again, this episode isn't full of them, but it gives us a few gems:

Dean, going down a hole into a dark sub-basement, after the murderous chick: "Please no one grab my leg. Please no one grab my leg."

Dean to Sam, who just said old houses all had dumbwaiters: "Know-it-all."
Sam: "What?"
Dean: "What."
Sam: "You just said--" *shakes his head, walks away*
Dean: *smirks*

Dean, shouting, upon finding the Impala's tires flat: "What kind of a ghost messes with a guy's WHEELS?"

Horror Movie 101

"Family Remains" had a lot of the tropes of old-school horror movies. A nice family looking for a change moves into a big old house surrounded by open land, not knowing there was a murder there. And, it turns out, not just a murder. A suicide, as well, by the daughter of the guy who was murdered in scene one. The ghost connects with the young son, the most vulnerable family member. Mysterious words appear on the walls. The family dog disappears when no one is looking (and we get some gore with that, too, though the limitations of prime-time TV keep that minimal). Dean turns and jumps, we jump with him, as he comes face to face with...something gross, but not threatening. Which primes us for a short time later when the expendable guy turns and comes face to face with...the creepy killer, and we learn why the sarcastic uncle is helping his sister's family move. Did I say he was expendable?

Twisting it Up, and Leaving it Open

While this episode can be labeled "Classic" as it goes into the Supernatural archives, it's not as neatly wrapped as such things usually are. I say that's okay.

First, we have the twists. We've had lots of ghost episodes. We've explored the complexity of "evil" versus "supernatural," and we've even done the "Dude. They're just people!" thing. (Ref. "The Benders," episode 1.15) But they trick us here. They give us the ghost things:

*flickering lights (but they actually go out)
*inexplicably locked doors
*a female ghost that mimics (or mocks?) the recent trend of dark-haired, sloppy, sunken-eyed horror movie monsters
*things happening so fast a human couldn't possibly do them (emptying the trunk of the Impala, slicing the tires, killing the dog)

But then the ghost doesn't flicker in that horrible way. It doesn't skip across the floor as it approaches Dean and the family safe in the salt circle. It approaches slowly. And it crosses the salt. The iron poker doesn't dissipate her. Dean fights her off, and declares her human.

If you were like me, you were skeptical. I mean, in "Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things" (episode 2.4), we had a solid, strong, fast-moving zombie. Why couldn't she be that? But no, they held on to the human thing, and that always changes our heroes' position. Stopping supernatural evil is easy. Stopping evil humans is a whole 'nother mess. But they have to save the family, right?

The other twist comes to light when Dean rescues the young boy, Danny, who's been dragged down to the girl's hidey-hole. Danny yells that the BROTHER is coming back! Oooh, that explains a lot! When they killed the lights (and then the man who appears to be their father/grandfather EW!), the door wasn't inexplicably locked--the brother was holding it closed. The chick wasn't flitting around with the boys' weapons. She was distracting them inside while brother dear stole the stuff and slashed the tires. It's all explained now.

Well, not everything. We don't always get neat answers. Sam found a diary in the attic that tells us the man impregnated his daughter and told her he was going to lock up the baby away from her. So she killed herself. Obviously, anything they think they know from that point until now is speculation. If Sam and Dean can't possibly know it, we can't possibly know it. So it feels like holes. Fortunately, I am annoyingly able to fill them in with hypotheses. :)

How did they learn to speak and write, if they were locked up in the walls? Why did the father even keep them around? Why did they wait so long to kill him?

We kind of assume they've been locked up in the walls for close to two decades, but we don't know that's the case. They have clothes, and have been fed more than rats, for sure. I think the father/grandfather kept them in the house the way he'd have kept the daughter. Probably in secret, because of the (ick) incest thing, of course, so no one else would have known about them. Why did he keep them? He was a sicko who needed power, as evidenced by what he did to his daughter. Her suicide removed her from his influence, so of course he kept the kids so he could keep his power. With TV around, they would have learned a little reading and writing and the ability to communicate. He probably locked them in the walls as they got bigger, maybe harder to control. I think he boarded up the dumbwaiter recently, and that caused them to break out and kill him (hence the delay).

For a show that's usually written quite neatly with few gaps, open questions such as these feel like a flaw. But I don't mind having a reason to keep thinking about and talking about the show, and I find the lack of spoon-fed detail refreshing. Also, being as in the dark as Sam and Dean about those things makes me feel closer to them.

Speaking of Sam and Dean...

Brotherly Moments

At the end of the last episode before the break, Dean revealed what happened in hell. That he'd resisted for 30 years, but in the last 10, he gave in, climbed off the torture rack, and started dishing the torture himself.

At the beginning of this one, Sam wakes from a deep sleep (scrunched into the back of the Impala) to find Dean looking for a job. But they just finished one bare hours ago, and Sam knows what's going on. Dean's running, either from what he told Sam, or the fact that he told it. We get Sam's knowing look and Dean's silent acknowledgment of it, with a few beautifully framed, beautifully lit shots. (Okay, maybe it's just the boys who are beautiful.)

Late in the episode, we see some of what's driving Dean. He blames himself for Ted being killed, and is absolutely determined to save the young boy. You can see the fervor in his eyes, feel it when the father asks, "Why do you care so much?" He's clearly trying to make up for what he did to the souls in hell.

But can he? That's the other big brotherly moment. He's tried. Over the last month, he's attempted to distance himself from his admission and atone for it. But he knows, and finally admits, that he can't. It's not just what he did. He liked it. It makes him sick now, but the torture eased the pain of his humanity, turned around what he'd endured for three decades, and he was glad to do it. When I watched him say that, I cracked inside. He's broken, so broken, perhaps unhealable.

But that's a topic for another post.

32 comments:

MJFredrick said...

I told you, I TOLD you he was damaged :)

I'm not sure I like where they're heading with Dean having enjoyed the torture thing. And, ya know, these were souls that were in hell that he was torturing. Presumably they did something to be sent to hell, right? It's pretty interesting how that hasn't occurred to Dean.

This was almost identical to the movie The Messengers. I see movies a lot where I think, "Yeah, but I would have done it THIS way," and it felt like maybe the SPN writers did a bit of that.

While I was watching, I yelled, "Not the DOG!" Then, "NOT THE IMPALA!"

Not too much humor in this episode, which I missed. It kind of had the same grim feel as Croatoan.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Yeah, definitely grim, which isn't my favorite SPN style, either, but grim fits the creepy better.

I watch no horror (that doesn't star Jensen or Jared!) so I don't ever have to make comparisons like that!

I talked a little about the "souls in hell thing" after the last episode, and I kinda think I have a full post in me about it. :) But very briefly:

1. It's not about the other souls, it's about Dean and his feelings about HIMSELF;

and

2. Obviously, not all the souls in hell deserve to be there.

Tanya Michaels said...

Great recap, Natalie! We had some of the same questions. My husband (who will work in the room where I'm watching but doesn't actually classify HIMSELF as watching) glanced up and the salt-circle scene and asked the TV, "Where do you get human from? Why can't she be a zombie?" and the writing thing occurred to me, as well.

That salt circle moment was creepy but would have been even more of a spine-tingling shock if CW hadn't used it in the previews. The twist with the twin brother surprised me, though. The dog upset me to no end--although, as Natalie points out, there are definitely horror movie precedents there and that was definitely what they were going for last night.

I reserve judgment for where they're going with Dean. Not crazy about it, although it was a major revelation and Jensen's doing a great job with it. Overall, I worry that the show may go to such a dark place that it loses its humor. But then, I thought that once Dean was sent to hell, and the first half of this season gave us some of the funniest eps so far, IMO.

Tanya

Tanya Michaels said...

>>Presumably they did something to be sent to hell, right?<<

Presumably (and I'll admit this hadn't really occurred to me, so good point) but I think what that "something" did is going to vary widely. After all, our boy was there. So I'm guessing it's not all serial killers and stuff but a mix of like moms who traded their souls so their sick kids could get better or something. And as Dean himself touched on last night, he wasn't making a distinction. He didn't "care who they put in front of" him, which I infer is part of what troubles him so deeply.

Sheesh, last night wasn't even one of the eps I really liked, and I could still hang out here discussing with you guys all day *g*

Must. Go. Work.

TerriClark said...

Not one of my faves, but I did like how they showed just how haunted Dean is.

My fave line: "I just got molested by Casper the pervy ghost!"

MJFredrick said...

Okay, but on the not-deserving being in hell....we STILL don't know why Dean's eyes bled in "Bloody Mary." And not a lot of people are going to know how to trade their souls, I'm thinking.

But yeah, it's Dean's feelings about himself ripping him apart. Becoming a demon was his biggest fear and that was what would have happened had Castiel not saved him.

AuthorM said...

I was repulsed by this episode. That's why I liked it!

It was the most derivative of any episode I've ever seen (I won't write the laundry list of other movies/books they mashed together) but even so, the twist with the brother made me scream.

I screamed a lot in this episode, right out loud.

And Natalie, in the end, I don't really care what the suppositions are about why and how, my lack of utter, complete and transcendent (is that even a word) love for this episode is because no matter WHAT they did in it, they've done it better before.

I don't have to think it was perfect to still love it. I can still appreciate all the the moments that were perfection, and in this show there are a whole lot of them every single week!

AuthorM said...

PS-- I feel I should add: I LOVE horror movies. I see tons of horror movies. I love them and I love them when they're stupid, too. I loved watching last night's episode because of the thrill and chill factor, the gross-out factor and the OMG, no WAAAAAY factor.

And it was still better than a lot of the horror movies I've seen that did the same stuff with more money and more time.

Amy Garvey said...

First, what MJ said: "And not a lot of people are going to know how to trade their souls, I'm thinking."

I liked how they "explained" that with Bela. She was approached, by Lillith no less. So maybe demons are always out there looking for a good opening, for someone in that weak moment, who might be easily swayed.

I get so into stuff like this on first watch -- especially when it's SHOW! -- that I miss some of the plot holes. On rewatch, yeah, there are holes big enough to drive a semi through. And the surprise!twin was a bit of a cheat, I thought, although it did explain a lot. It sort of irked that clearly the twins were speaking to Danny, although we never got to hear them.

And while I'm getting tired of these tacked-on heartfelt conversations between Sam and Dean, the revelation that Dean enjoyed what he did is HUGE. There's your guilt -- not just that he did it, but that he burned off years of rage and resentment (some of which dated back to pre-hell) in doing it. DEAN IS SO BROKEN. My heart aches. How do you fix that? Unless it's showing Dean doing exactly what he's doing, a la Sisyphus, trying to save as many people as he possibly can.

I do want them to ramp up to the final battle, though, to bring Sam back into focus and resolve his powers and what that will mean in fighting Lillith, because we're at the halfway point now.

God, I hope you guys aren't sorry I found this blog. ;-)

MJFredrick said...

Amy, I'd forgotten about that bit with Bella being approached with Lilith. Kripke does like to cover his bases :)

I was just telling Trish in email that I don't care for the bookend conversations. And I was also thinking this story didn't have an obvious connection to Dean's inner conflict as some of the others do. Back to Croatoan again, which had similar structure, the case tested Dean's willingness to sacrifice his brother, which mirrored his inner conflict. This one...it's not jumping out at me. But I've seen Croatoan a million times and this one only once. Again, after I reach my page goal for the day :)

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Wow! I work for an hour or two, and look at all these comments!

Thanks, Tanya! I can't take credit for the questions, though. Most of them came from the friends I chat with right after the show. I'm such a goober fan I never question anything at first, I just ride along. :)

I agree about the salt circle. I didn't watch the previews, but someone had added to a post where they were something about a ghost crossing salt.

Re: the zombie thing--I did tell myself at the time, "well, he was right there fighting her, he probably knows the difference." LOL But Sam could have asked him if he was sure, if she could be XYZ. That would have been easy.

I was whimpering about the dog, then my husband said, "It's a stunt dog" and the awful feeling went away. I don't like animals dying on screen, though.

I agree with everything you said about Dean. :)

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

but I think what that "something" did is going to vary widely. After all, our boy was there.

Right, that was my point #2. How often do people really trade to get down there? We have no idea.

And as Dean himself touched on last night, he wasn't making a distinction.

Right! Relates to point #1. :)

Sheesh, last night wasn't even one of the eps I really liked, and I could still hang out here discussing with you guys all day *g*

I know! That's why I love this show so much! One reason, anyway. :)

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Terri, yes, I loved that line, too! I just couldn't remember it when I was doing the recap. :)

Mary, you're right on all points. It won't matter how often people (Sam) rationalize to Dean why what he did and how was understandable or okay. HE will never feel that it was.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

It was the most derivative of any episode I've ever seen

I don't watch horror, so I don't feel it (not saying it's not, obviously) and I've seen other shows you haven't, like Buffy and Angel, that Supernatural has either borrowed from or inadvertently mirrored. It's inevitable in any genre (like, when has a cop show ever done anything no one else ever has?!) but it's usually okay in this show because no other show had Sam and Dean. They are totally unique.

my lack of utter, complete and transcendent (is that even a word) love for this episode is because no matter WHAT they did in it, they've done it better before.

Yes, I agree with that.

And it was still better than a lot of the horror movies I've seen that did the same stuff with more money and more time.

You're going to write my next week's post for me, you keep that up! LOL

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

So maybe demons are always out there looking for a good opening, for someone in that weak moment, who might be easily swayed.

I would assume they are. But what percentage of the souls in hell do they make up? We don't even know how many souls and demons there ARE in hell, so we can't ever figure this out. And it's probably going too deep. :)

I get so into stuff like this on first watch -- especially when it's SHOW! -- that I miss some of the plot holes.

Me, too! It usually takes other people to point them out to me.

It sort of irked that clearly the twins were speaking to Danny, although we never got to hear them.

I think that added to the creep factor. It put us in the position of the parents, who were desperate to protect their kids, and helpless. Being "in the know" reduces the mystery and therefore the tension.

And while I'm getting tired of these tacked-on heartfelt conversations between Sam and Dean

I love them. They are kind of tacked on, sure, but I don't know how they could really change that. We've had them since season 2. They'll always feel tacked on because they're after the longest commercial break, but I love them because I look at the clock and it's 9:48 and the main plot is resolved but SQUEEEE! we still have more Sam and Dean! :)

DEAN IS SO BROKEN. My heart aches. How do you fix that?

This is the first time I've felt that it can't be fixed.

I do want them to ramp up to the final battle

I have a feeling they won't. It's a bit early, with 11 episodes left, but beyond that, Jensen said at the Chicago Convention that Kripke lamented the rise in ratings, that he'd planned to stop this season, and said something like "what do I do in season 5? Robots?" How DO you follow the apocalypse? So I think they won't wrap it up until the end of season 5.

God, I hope you guys aren't sorry I found this blog.

Heck, no! I love the discourse! We are doing this SPECIFICALLY to talk ad nauseum and in depth! So just keep bringin' it. :)

Tanya Michaels said...

>>>It sort of irked that clearly the twins were speaking to Danny, although we never got to hear them.

I felt just like natalie on this--NOT hearing them ourselves made it even creepier. Of course, that's in part because I have five and seven year olds. You know how many times I've walked by my daughter's room and seen/heard her having a tea party or picnic by herself...as far as I know? So watching anything with kids interacting with an entity we don't actually see or hear gives me the major willies (more so than if they'd shown it). I will admit that after last night's episode, I went and checked on both sleeping children and, um, made sure their closests were securely shut.

WussTanya

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

So watching anything with kids interacting with an entity we don't actually see or hear gives me the major willies (more so than if they'd shown it).

Yes! But that really depends on personal perspective, which matters as much if not more than author intent. :)

Marilyn Brant said...

Excellent recap, Natalie! I hadn't seen the previews, so I didn't know about the girl stepping into the salt circle until it happened.

The twin brother thing surprised me, too, though I thought it was a somewhat contrived plot point. Sam had read the diary, after all. If all she talked about was being pregnant, I would've thought there'd be some mention in there somewhere of her expecting twins (then, again, she probably didn't get any medical attention) or, possibly, a note in the diary of there being 2 babies born...

Anyway, good to have the show back with new episodes again, regardless!

Trish Milburn said...

Honestly, I'm surprised I didn't have nightmares last night, especially since I have nightmares fairly often. Definitely a creepy episode, though as I told MJ last night, it wasn't one of my favorites because it didn't really have anything "supernatural" about it.

The brother surprised me too, but as Natalie said, it certainly explained a lot.

Trish Milburn said...

I wonder how they'll ever bring Dean back to a place where he can live life even remotely happily. I mean, he's had to go through living the very worst part of himself, the ability that's probably in all of us to finally crack and do something horrible just to stop our own pain.

Trish Milburn said...

What I want to know is why Danny wasn't totally freaked out when his closet door opened and a ball came out and then he realized creepy girl was in there. OMG, I would have run screaming and never slept in a room with a closet again!

Tanya, you've officially added another reason to my list of why I'm glad I don't have kids! I mean, I freak myself out enough (I check closets and under the bed). I'd be a horrible mother because I'd be just as scared as the kids.

Trish Milburn said...

Terri, I liked the Casper the Pervy Ghost line too. Another I liked was near the beginning when they opened the closet and found the doll head and Dean said something like, "Well, that's really disturbing." That just cracked me up considering all they've seen.

And, you know, it's a miracle Dean has retained any of his sense of humor after all that he's gone through.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Thanks, Marilyn! I assumed that she hadn't gotten medical care, yes. The whole group seemed ignorant, so she couldn't be expected to know she was carrying twins, and if I'm remembering right, what Sam described sounds like the last entry was before she gave birth. Suicide would have been defiance, so anything she wrote about it would have been "public," like a note for her father.

Trish, some say (and it's been implied in the show) that Dean was never in a place where he could live happily, and never could be. I always wanted it to be possible for him to at least be at peace (while still alive!). Now, they seem to have taken even that away.

Unless, as AuthorM has theorized, Castiel can take away his memories of hell when this is all over. :)

I think Danny's actions are another horror movie trope. It's a kind of parental fear that our kids will be naive or clueless and not be aware of danger. Danny seemed a little old to just buy in to the girl in the wall, but if he was lonely and hurting (which he would be after losing his brother), he might be looking at her as a potential friend and not feel any threat. Unlike his sister! :)

Yes! The super-disturbing doll head. I could have listed that under creepy OR funny. :)

Trish Milburn said...

I wondered about that possibility of Castiel rewarding Dean for his help in the fight against evil by giving him some peace by taking away those memories of hell. Although I don't want the memories of the hunting life to be wiped cleaned for him and Sam. That would make me mad, just like it did on Smallville when Clark had Chloe's knowledge of his secret wiped. I understand why he did it, but it just screamed wrong to me. I wonder if others felt the same because in last night's episode, she has those memories back.

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

That would have infuriated me if I were still watching Smallville!

Castiel healed Dean's body pretty easily, so it seems possible that he could heal his soul, too. I wouldn't want anything taken from Dean except those memories, though. I'd want him to be able to appreciate the peace, and he couldn't if he didn't remember the pain that came before (before he went to hell).

MJFredrick said...

Watching again...wonder if the Realtor, or whoever painted the "murder room" boarded up the dumbwaiter. But why not remove that nasty linoleum and wallpaper?

I recognized mom as Supergirl. Danny was on Grey's as the kid with no ears. Who was the dad?

Also, I didn't recognize the alias names Dean gave. Anyone?

Maureen Child said...

Trish, stripping Chloe's memories was SUCH a cheat! I hate when writers take off on a tangent after getting viewers to buy into the fantasy.

On the Dean front, I'm hoping that he can see if he was worth saving from hell in the first place, then he deserves to be happy.

Trish Milburn said...

Maureen, I agree with you about the Smallville cheat. I'm glad they changed it back. I did seriously worry they were going to kill her off last night.

Victoria said...

I can see I'll have to stop by here sooner than this in the future. LOL
Love the post, Nat. Don't have much to add/discuss, except to say...the total creepiest part of the entire episode:
The girl getting her hand licked!
*shiver*
V. :)

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Interesting possibility, Mary, and good questions, too. Plus, why wouldn't they try to locate/get rid of the smell? On the other hand, they could have boarded up the dumbwaiter to try to cover the smell.

Someone said something somewhere about "fastest closing in history." They obviously would have wanted to sell fast, before word spread about what had happened, and push through a sale to someone willing to buy. The family was obviously eager to get started in a new place, so that all kind of fits with the lack of repairs/painting and stuff. (But it still could never have happened that fast.)

Maureen, I hope so, too, though I doubt it will happen. He'll just seem himself as a tool for the angels, a weapon, just like he saw himself as Dad's Little Soldier, you know? Self-worth will be very hard for him to develop. :(

Yes, V, the hand-licking was really gross!

Ava Quinn said...

Re: Dean broken - I think that may be how Hell is set up in this mythology. Once you choose to stop receiving the torture and begin to dole it out, your humanity begins to leave you. And so, as you leave the rack and initiate the torture, you slowly become demon. Ruby keeps insisting she remembers what it's like to be human. Perhaps it's a different amount of time for each individual soul to lose all of its humanity. Dean was rescued before he lost all of his, and because he's retains his humanity and is now living again he can't come to terms with his old/new reality.

Nice post Natalie!!

Natalie J. Damschroder said...

Ruby keeps insisting she remembers what it's like to be human. Perhaps it's a different amount of time for each individual soul to lose all of its humanity.

Ooh, and maybe the method is customized. Maybe what they did to try to turn Ruby didn't match her like Dean's did his. Maybe in life she had more self-worth or any other trait that would help her hold on to her humanity. Something like that.

I bet they'll let us know, eventually.