Sunday, October 16, 2011

Supernatural Season 7 Episode 4: Defending Your Life

As “Defending Your Life” opens, the Winchesters are taking a break from their Leviathan hunt to investigate a mysterious death. The victim appears to have been run over by a car...indoors, and several stories off the ground. Their research reveals that the dead man was a recovering alcoholic, who had joined Alcoholics Anonymous after being causing a car accident which killed a ten-year-old girl. It's not long until another strange death follows: a former dogfight-operator-turned-animal-welfare-activist, killed by a dog. Both victims have traces of distinctive red dirt on them.

In tracking the source of this dirt, Sam and Dean run across a frantic old man. He tells them that he'd just been released from prison, after serving thirty years from murder, only to be put on “trial “ in a nearby barn, by a mysterious judge who sicced the ghosts of his victims on him. Leaving the man in a circle of protective salt in their room, Sam searches for the barn where the “trial” took place. Dean cases out the bar from which the man was snatched, and engages in a classic Dean flirtation with the bartender, only to be abducted himself upon leaving.

Fortunately, Sam ends up at the same place where Dean is taken—the barn the old man mentioned. They find out that they are up against Osiris, an Egyptian god who judges the guilty by the weight on their souls. Dean's the one on trial—not surprising, since he's still floundering under the terrible secret of Amy's death. Sam persuades Osiris to let him dust off his pre-law degree and defend his brother. Two prosecution witnesses are called: a ghostly Jo Harvelle and...Sam. Sam manages to shoot down Osiris's contention that Dean is responsible for Jo's death, and for getting him back into hunting. Dean jumps at the god's offer to forgo the third witness against him, who is sure to be Amy, but is convicted nonetheless.

The brothers eave the barn knowing that based on the pattern of the previous deaths, Jo's ghost will be coming for Dean. It's already too late for the old man they were trying to help, who was slain by the ghosts chasing him when he broke the salt circle.

Bobby does research and reports that Osiris can't be killed, but can be put on ice, more or less, for centuries by being stabbed with a ram's horn. This leads the episode's most comically awkward lines. “Apparently Jewish people blow through them once a year,” Sam says. It's called a shofar, Sam, and yes, it's used at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Sam breaks into a local synagogue to steal one, but the rabbi gives it to him instead. (Apparently asking to be armed against an Egyptian god was not a tough sell there. Imagine that.) Jo's reluctant ghost has a bittersweet exchange with Dean, but Sam vanquishes Osiris before she has a chance to dispatch him. As the brothers leave town, Sam explains that he is no longer troubled by guilt, because he believes that by going to Hell, he paid his dues for all the wrong he did.

This episode was interesting to me because it dealt with one of the gods of antiquity. In the first two seasons, Supernatural drew on different cultures for Monsters of the Week such as wendigos, tulpas and djinn. Since introducing angels in Season Four, however, the shows seems more committed to Judeo-Christian cosmology, and things have gotten more muddled. Take this week, for instance: was the Egyptian judge of the dead going to send Dean to the Christian Heaven? Because he's been there before. I'm so confused.

In my opinion, the hottest mess of all was “Hammer of the Gods”, in Season Five. Why are the gods of antiquity cannibalistic? Is it because there was once human sacrifice? If so, this is not explained. If not, it makes a sort of sense with Kali and perhaps even Odin, but much less sense with the likes of Mercury and Baldur. Speaking of Kali, she would probably make a light snack of the Christian Devil. She certainly wouldn't need two white American boys to take care of her. And did none of the other gods notice that “Loki” never chowed down with them? Or did he?

I realize that accuracy is often sacrificed in the interest of narrative tension. Certainly nothing on Supernatural is further from what people actually believe than how the angels act. At the same time, the Judeo-Christian elements are so familiar to modern, Western viewers that it's easy to forget that the things from outside that tradition are things people believed and believe in. The Norse, Hellenic and Egyptian gods are still followed by reconstructionists and neo-pagans...and their respective numbers are dwarfed by almost a billion people who worship the Hindu pantheon. So for “Defending your Life”, those of us who are familiar with the mythology must forget for a moment that Osiris only judged people who are already dead.

Don't get me wrong: there was a lot about this episode that I liked. Faran Tahir did a wonderful job as Osiris. The whole concept of people being judged on how they felt about their wrongs, regardless of whether slate was clean, was very poignant, especially with respect to the witnesses against Dean. It was also fun to see Sam tap into his law background again.

Dean is still carrying around the secret of Amy's death at the end of the episode. I don't think the center can hold there. He and Sam lie to each other all the time, but it also always comes out. (You'd think they'd figure that out.) At any rate, I look forward to that being resolved, eventually. Amy and Sam deserve for the truth to be known, and Dean, in light of all the good he's done, deserves to be unburdened. Well, that and...we haven't had a good old-fashioned Winchester fist-fight in a while.

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