Not another good time for ophidiophobes – people with a phobia of snakes – on Supernatural last week, but thankfully no more gorgons. Instead, we focus on how Sam (Jared Padalecki), Dean (Jensen Ackles), Castiel (Misha Collins), and Jack (Alexander Calvert) are coping following the murders of the other Hunters at the hands of Michael, and how Jack is following his destruction of the Archangel and consumption of his grace. Or more accurately, how they are not dealing with it.
‘Peace of Mind’ is the fifteenth episode of season fourteen which means it won’t be long until Kansas’s Carry On My Wayward Son will be heralding the finale. This season is only running to twenty episodes rather than the standard twenty-three, at the request of Padalecki and Ackles, and so the writers have potentially had to streamline plotlines so that the story arc can be told. This episode was conceived by Steve Yockey and Meghan Fitzmartin, but it was the first time that the script writing fell solely to Fitzmartin and, apart from a few quibbles, what a wonderful episode she delivered. There have been occasions across this season where the separating of Sam and Dean hasn’t worked, such as in episode six, however, Fitzmartin found a way to make an episode in which the brothers barely interact work.
With Castiel concerned about Jack, and whether or not he has a soul, he approaches Dean to talk to the Nephilim. Although not much focus is given to how Dean is doing within the episode it is very telling that the scene opens with him consuming an enormous sandwich. It certainly is not the first time we have seen Dean taking solace with food, he also talks about how tired he is feeling because the three of them have been on back to back hunts since the Hunters’ funerals. I don’t doubt that Dean is affected by what happened but we do not see the fallout in quite the same way we do with Sam. On some level it is a shame, but it would not be the first time we have had to sacrifice delving into a Winchester’s feelings for the sake of propelling the story forward. It was not until season thirteen that we saw Sam open up about how he deals with the aftermath of his possession and subsequent torture by Lucifer. Supernatural has given us some incredibly emotional moments throughout its run but it is understandable that there are times when things cannot be explored as deeply as perhaps fans would like.
Dean does show reluctance at being the one to talk to Jack, he reflects on how he did not deal so well with his brother when he was soulless in season six, but when Sam appears wanting to back out on another hunt Dean relents. He is too exhausted and so Castiel offers to go with Sam. It is here that the episode splits into two, focusing on the two pairs.
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Dean takes Jack to see the Prophet Donatello (Keith Szarabajka), freshly recovered from the coma Castiel had put him into, so that he can talk to Jack about how he deals with not having a soul and to try and ascertain if the Nephilim still has any of his left. It felt like an odd decision to have Dean waiting outside while the two talked, and although we did have some comedy moments from Ackles portraying Dean’s dislike of Jack’s pet snake, it felt irresponsible on Dean’s part. Donatello clearly meant well when giving Jack the advice of doing what the people he looks up to would do. WWTWD. What would the Winchesters do? On the one hand, it is awful advice given that the Winchesters often repress their feelings and have a habit of rushing off to enact suicidal plans, but it is also sound. They always look to help people, putting the safety of others and the world before their own. The issue arises that if Jack is more soulless than not, how he might choose to interpret the advice, and given the last scene of the episode we can already see how this is likely to end up going. Calvert already plays the naive Nephilim exceptionally well, but it’s praiseworthy seeing how he has now laced that naivety with menace.
The main strength of this episode lies in the monster of the week that Cas and Sam go up against – in a setting that looks like it stepped straight out of Pleasantville. Production designer Jerry Wanek created authentic-looking sets including a malt shop, boarding house, and home that, as Castiel says, look as though they are from the illustrations in the Saturday Evening Post publication, made famous by those such as Norman Rockwell. The inhabitants of the Charming Acres community are wholesome, picture perfect individuals, and given that they’ve not heard of cellphones it becomes very clear that something is up.
Sam quickly becomes affected by the whatever is going on in the town and Castiel encounters him thinking he is now Justin Smith, complete with cardigan, pipe and ponytail. The scene is absolute comedy gold with Castiel trying to get Sam to snap out of it; both Collins and Padalecki have perfect comedy timing and play it with such straight faces, causing real laugh out loud moments. The episode allowed Castiel, and also Collins, to shine, letting him strut his stuff in a fight against the revealed-to-be-mind-controlled residents.
Overall a very strong episode which fell short of achieving five stars only due to the questionable behaviour of Dean leaving Jack alone with Donatello. It seems certain that ‘Peace of Mind’ will have a mixed reception from fans, especially those who were hoping to have more development of Dean’s emotional wellbeing, but a very strong debut by Fitzmartin and we will no doubt see more of her work if not in this season then in season fifteen.