First, the bigotry is pointing to the lesson ‘It’s not what you are, it’s your choices that matter.’ But why are the writers focussing on that again? And why is it so important? There have been a lot of important choices this season. Sam’s choice to leave Kevin to his own devices and run, hide within himself to try to deal with Dean's death, then his choice to 'do the right thing and' leave Amelia, Benny’s choice to help Dean in Purgatory and to not kill humans for blood, Cas' decision to stay in Purgatory and attone, Kate(the werewolf)’s choice to be ‘vegetarian’ in Bitten, Sam and Dean’s (and Kevin’s) choice to say goodbye to their other lives/people and concentrate on the trials, Dean, and then Sam's decision to do the trials himself, and then Dean's decision to give over to Sam and finally this ep, Dean's decision to support Sam and work together and Sam's unfortunate decision to keep his trial-illness from Dean. We can see parallels with Benny and Kate and with Sam and Dean and Portia and James this ep.
An important decision by Dean and theme of the ep of course is that, in order to be successful in the trials, Dean and Sam have to work together. They can’t keep secrets from each other or not trust each other. This theme is another that we(and the boys) have constantly been reminded of since Season 1. But it is important here because of the boys distrust for each other since Dean came back from Purgatory. This is natural - they were apart for a whole year while Dean was fighting for his life and Sam was in mourning and denial. When Dean comes back, Sam finds that Dean has a new friend whom he trusts completely, who is a vampire. Dean on the other hand finds that Sam has chosen to run from his 'responsibilities' and live the simple life. Both have a hard time accepting these choices. Sam thinks that Dean has chosen his other friends over Sam because Sam let him down and Dean doesn’t trust him. Dean hides his relationship with Benny from Sam possibly because he doesn't trust him to understand, etc.
But, with regard to trust issues, we see a lot more of how Sam feels than how Dean feels. The season seems to be mostly centered around Sam's unhappiness stemming from his misunderstanding of what Dean thinks of him as well as his own self-worth issues. It grows and grows and grows until it explodes at the end, in that unbelievable speech.
In Bitten, we saw a strong parallel between Brian and Michael's relationship and Sam and Dean's - how Sam must be feeling as Dean’s younger brother as similar to how Brian sees Michael. We find from this parallel that Sam has always felt that he has been in his brother’s shadow and wished to escape that situation and achieve something of his very own.
Last ep, we saw Dean wanting to take desperate measures to kill a hellhound, at danger to his own life. But now that he has given the job over to Sam, he is worried that the spell is adversely affecting Sam and still wishing that he could do the trials instead. Sam sees this worry as proof that Dean wants all the glory for himself, and doesn’t trust Sam to do the job right. What he says this ep when Dean keeps bugging him about whether he is OK is similar to what Brian tells Michael, “You can’t keep this to yourself.”
But whether he thinks Dean is trying to keep all the glory or sees this as a way to prove himself to Dean, he also wants to stop Dean’s suicidal behavior, give Dean happiness and the possibility of a future as a MoL legacy - the light at the end of the tunnel, as we saw clearly last ep. Both Sam and Dean are acting out of love for each other. OMG... this is a Wincest ep.
So, let's start.
The ep starts with James, the cop/witch having a dream about killing a prostitute, and then waking up and finding a bloody shirt in the kitchen garbage. We know on rewatch that James hasn't done these murders, but James starts to doubt himself, and think that he might somehow be evil. Which I will point out is how Sam feels as the trials progress.
Then to the boys, who’ve come to a motel in St. Louis on a text from James, who is a friend who saved their lives once on a case to do with a crazy alchemist. They are getting out of the car discussing two of the stooges, Sam liking one who is more subtle, and Dean liking another who is ‘’supposed to be obvious - he’s a stooge.’
SAM:I'm sorry, but I happen to think Shemp was a funnier stooge than Curly.
DEAN:Curly was a freaking genius!
SAM:I always found Curly's work a bit obvious.
DEAN:It's supposed to be obvious, man. They’re stooges!
I never watched the Three Stooges when I was young and never felt very interested in it, but wondering if the discussion had some significance with the ep, I looked up the stooges. I found that Curly had not had any previous comedic experience when he joined, but he had a natural talent, possibly making him the most popular among the stooges. The problem according to Wiki was that he felt he wasn’t appealing to the women because he had to shave his head for the show and so he started to drink and eat to excess and gained a lot of weight and basically went downhill from there, poor guy. Shemp was brought in to replace him after he had a stroke. Shemp had a good career on his own but he basically came in as a favor to the others - one of whom was his brother. Knowing this, I can sort of see how Sam would like Shemp more - he was a professional comedian so his acts were calculated and showed intelligence, whereas Curly’s were more spontaneous. Dean is more like Curly, jumping into things without research, the natural hunter, while Sam is more calculating, using his education and smarts and also becoming a hunter for the sake of Dean, which is exactly the same as Shemp! Dean also likes his booze and food but he's been showing some healthy food tendencies as well recently. We haven't really seen the calculating side of Sam in the case of the trials. Not yet anyway. But Curly and Shemp being good in different ways kind of ties in with Sam and Dean both being excellent hunters in different ways, aye?
There are other things about Sam and Dean that we see this ep, such as how Sam loves dogs while Dean doesn’t. Dean is also allergic to cats. Sam's love of dogs kind of stands for his love of normal life doesn't it? He got a dog when he ran away from home, and again here in Season 8. Dean's dislike of dogs also stands for his ordeal when he went to hell - his PTSD. The different things the boys went through the year before and how they changed through them... anyway, going on.
Driving was a bitch and Dean is tired. He tells Sam they’ll contact James tomorrow. There is a little discussion here about how James saved their lives so they owe him their lives.
SAM:Yeah, well, we do owe him.
DEAN:The guy saved our lives once,Sammy. I mean, it's not like the guy –
SAM:Saved our lives?
Then Dean starts to leave to get supplies and turns back to asks Sam if he is OK. Then he has to push the issue.
DEAN:I'm gonna go for a beer run. You need anything?
SAM:No, I'm good.
DEAN:'Cause you did just gank a Hellhound, which is no slice of pie, and, uh, there is a minefield of who knows what crap ahead. Just want to make sure that you are okay.
DEAN:'Cause, you know, we could find another devil dog. You could tag out. I could snuff the son of a bitch.
SAM:Dean, Kevin doesn't even know what the next trial is yet.So whatever it is you're worried about, stop. I'll be ready.
OK, I had to copy out this whole conversation because obviously this whole thing is important. First, Dean is not excited about having to help James. Why? Because he is worried for Sam who just ganked a hellhound and accepted the trials and Dean still wishes he could take over.
Dean has to double check and hurts Sam by doing so. This is hard to understand on first watch because I think I see it from Sam’s point of view - that Dean isn’t able to trust him to do the job. But looking at it from Dean's point of view, he just saw Sam go through a transformation after the first trial, and he looked really worried that Sam was not OK. I think Dean just really wants to keep Sam safe.
Dean leaves after Sam assures him he is OK and, as Sam is unpacking, he hears a scratch at the door. Opening it, he sees a pretty black dog with a red collar. He looks around for an owner and cannot find one. Can I just note how unprepared and trusting Sam is when he opens the door? He hears a strange scratching and just opens the door without the chain, without a gun or knife or any protection. It’s a good thing it wasn’t a shapeshifter and it didn’t have a grudge against them.
The dog just lets herself in and hops on the bed, and Sam gives her a belly rub. Then Sam hears Dean’s car and rushes out the door to try to prepare Dean and let the dog stay.
This scene is very cute. It’s like a child trying to persuade a parent into letting them have a pet :D Sam says, maybe she can stay the night and we’ll look for the owner in the morning. Dean goes in the room and finds a beautiful lady on the bed.
DEAN: She can stay the night.
Seeing what the dog turned into, Sam is finally alerted to the fact that this is no ordinary dog. He quickly tells Dean it was a dog a minute ago, and takes out his silver knife. The girl tells them she’s not a shapeshifter. She’s a familiar. James’ familiar. James has become a witch since they last saw him.
Dean cannot accept that this friend who was a cop and saved their lives is now a witch because of them. This is also probably an important point in the story - the transformation of someone because of their involvement with the Winchesters. Another important point I think is Dean’s inability to trust James after the transformation. Even though he’s their friend and SAVED THEIR LIVES, now that he is a witch, Dean can’t help but think he’s gone evil. I have a hard time dealing with Dean’s narrow-mindedness here, and I am not exempting Sam either. Even though he doesn’t say any of the things Dean does, he doesn’t disagree. So even though Dean is making all the dumbass comments, they are both thinking the same thing. Sam admits this in the end. But if you think of it in terms of the trials, and how Sam and Dean have both changed since Dean went to purgatory and they both have a hard time trusting each other since then, or even how the first trial has taken over Sam and made it hard for Dean to trust that he is OK, there may be a couple of parallels.
Portia: I get a more accurate read on people in my other persona.
Somehow I doubt it’s about that. It looks more like this familiar used Sam’s love of dogs to make a good impression on him and Sam was totally doped by it. Dean on the other hand was taken in by the beautiful girl. Enough to listen to her and not turn her away anyway. Portia obviously knows a bit about them from reading James’ mind.
DEAN: You’re telling me that James, the cop, became a witch because of us?
Portia: Why don’t you lose the ignorant bigotry for two seconds and give James a shot.
DEAN: That was incredibly hot.
SAM: Pretty hot.
Love how Sam and Dean agree on this point. Love Portia huffing at this too! My dog Hana huffs like that :D Portia being hot, actually is an important part of this story.
Maybe this is a good time to start talking about Portia the familiar and her collar because some people remarked on it in other reviews as a symbol of slavery. Not being an American or experienced any racism close to what people might see or suffer there, I did not see the collar or Portia having darker skin as being racist. I rather thought that she wore it because she wanted to, because it was stylish and possibly because she was proud to be James’ familiar - kind of like why people wear wedding rings. It also has an SM feel about it, especially considering one scene in the ep, and I’m very OK with that:D I totally think it looks good on her - both as a dog and as a human. But that is my point of view and I understand the outrage many people might feel. I wish though that one day people could get past the color of people's skin and stop looking at people as symbols of race or racism. From my nieve perspective, it seems to be just as bigotted as Sam and Dean are here toward James, judging him for being a witch instead of the good he has done. It is her actions and choices in this ep that matter, not what she looks like. And we see later that she vehemently denies that she is anything like a pet or that James has any ownership over her. She chose James, and she chose to stay with him even when he pushed her away. I’ll come back to this again later as it is a very important theme.
Switch to James, who is meeting a fellow witch named Spencer. Spencer is actually the guy setting James up with these nightmares and even making a case for the police to arrest James (because he is jealous of James and wants Portia) but James thinks he is a friend, trusts him, and is talking about the nightmares with him.
SPENCER: Life in this room is life on the fringe. We don’t fit. How do you reconcile what you are with what you do?
Pointing us to the theme of this ep, which Sam and Dean have both conveniently forgotten. But it also reminds me that people or monsters who are one way and try to act another, tend to be disliked by all. The witches do not like James because he is too good to be a witch, while Sam and Dean think he is bad because he is a witch. This is very similar to how Benny is seen - he is disliked by the vampires because he doesn’t act ‘naturally’ and is disliked by Sam because of what he is (and of course because Dean trusts him so much). And how about Sam feeling evil from the demon blood and trying to reconsile that with what he does? Just as James tries to use his witch powers for good, so Sam has tried to use his demon powers for good - to try to reconcile himself with what he 'is.'
I will also note the important fact that because Portia has gone to seek out Sam and Dean without consulting James, James confides in Spencer here that he is worried that he has pushed her away too much and she has left. It is quite obvious from this conversation that there is no ‘slavery’ in this relationship and that it is built on trust and respect and love. Wow... wait... stop. And James has doubts here - that Portia has left him - kind of how Sam has doubts about Dean maybe? James feels like Portia was just staying out of duty and doesn't realize how much she cares for him? Woh... so if we compare Dean to Portia, and how Portia is attractive and wanted by other witches too... that kind of reminds us of Dean and his friendships with Cas and Benny doesn't it? What if Sam feels like he is 'enslaving' Dean against these other relationships? Isn't that sort of what Sam says about Dean at the end of the season? I will be coming back to this again later.
Back to Portia, Sam and Dean talking about James. First of all, I have to note that Sam has a cold. His nose is congested. This is naturally Jared having a cold and no big deal except - well we see Sam cough at the end of the ep… SAM is not OK either. He’s already started being influenced by the trials, so Jared’s cold came at a very opportune time :)
Portia is explaining how a familiar and Master can read each other’s thoughts but can also block each other from it. James has blocked Portia so she can’t see what he is thinking now, although she knows he thinks he killed some people. Dean asks why James wants them to help - they are hunters and usually hunters and witches are enemies. Portia tells them that James can’t tell the police, he can’t confide in the other witches because he doesn’t trust them. And to tell the truth, James didn’t call Sam and Dean. Portai did, because she feels the brothers are all he has.
Here I can also see a parallel between James and Sam again - Just as Sam is hiding, or will be hiding, the effects of the trials, James also closes himself off from Portia so she cannot find out what he is dreaming. And Portia, asking Dean and Sam for help, knowing it might backfire because she doesn’t know where else to turn… is something we see in the future. I was first only thinking about Season 8 and the trials, but looking further into the future, this is what Dean does by asking Gadreel for help isn’t it? He takes a chance to save Sam, because he doesn’t know where else to turn. In James’ case he almost gets killed by Sam and Dean who don’t believe he is innocent, and in Sam’s case, Gadreel is also not what he seemed to be and kills some people, using Sam’s body.
James then has another dream - this time he is killing a blind man. I think there must be a reason for picking such people - first a prostitute, then a blind man. I wonder if Spencer had a sick idea of Portia as prostitute, and James as a “blind man” and in a way is warning James that he is going to ruin them both.
Sam and Dean are waiting in James’ living room while Portia and James argue in the other room about her bringing Sam and Dean into this. Portia comes out as a dog, huffs and leaves. It’s cute. Then James comes. Dean is like seriously James? Witchcraft?? This time Sam stops Dean from going on too long and puts them all on course to talk about the dreams and how they seem like dreams but that people are actually getting killed, and the bloody shirt in his garbage.
To be fair, Dean does go through some possibilities such as other witches hexing James and forcing him to kill these people. James tells them it could be possible but he’s never heard of it and Dean seems quick to believe it. In any case they can’t figure anything out unless they can confine James so Dean gets chains out of his duffle.
Back at the motel, Dean has got the ingredients for killing a witch that they keep trying and failing with. Remember that witch couple in Season 7?! I guess Dean got some chilled chicken feet this time.
DEAN: This is not a sure thing.
SAM: Is anything we do a sure thing?
DEAN: Well, no, but I would just like to have the odds in our favor as much as possible.
And there is this awkward silence and Sam’s like, you’re not talking about the spell. You’re talking about the trials and how I might mess them up. I’ve been thinking about this and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not that you don’t trust me, it’s that you only trust yourself. And this is what I meant by when I talked of similarities with 'you can't keep this to yourself' by Brian in Bitten. Sam is saying here that Dean wants to take all the glory by doing it all himself.
As I mentioned previously, it’s true Dean does have a tendency to want to do things himself and that is also a trait of a firstborn. But then I remember how Dean was trying to go the suicide route last ep, without thought for his own safety, with the belief that he was going to die - that he was sacrificing himself for the cause, and I can’t necessarily see this to be true here. Dean is not worried that Sam cannot finish the trials, nor does he want to do it all himself. He is worried that Sam will die because of them just as one of them always does every time. That is what he has been afraid of all along.
But what if Sam is trying to destract Dean here? Maybe he notices a difference in himself and is hiding it from Dean just like James hides his dreams from Portia - pretending to be OK when he is not. Dean is trying to find out what is wrong here and how to help - just like Portia - and Sam is pushing him away by accusing Dean of not trusting him? Possibly, right?
Back to the story, Sam and Dean talk about the witch killing spell and how they are going to have to use it, and Dean suggests they might have to use it on James if he is the one really killing these people. Sam says, but we’ve given people the pass before.
DEAN: Benny, Kate, they were forced to be what they are. James chose this.
Again, this has to be an important point. Choice. Dean of course has conveniently forgotten that Benny and Kate also chose to the way they were going to act as vampire and werewolf, even though they did not choose to be what they were. And that is why they gave them the pass, not because they were forced to be what they were.
Dean goes to the witches’ bar with Portia to find out more about what is wrong with James. Dean and Portia have a little argument when he equates her with a pet, and she tells him that a familiar choses the master and they become inseparable. Dean assumes here, that because Portia appears as a dog, that she is her master´s pet, and Portia gets angry at him for thinking this. Another example of assuming/judging people because of what they are instead of what they choose to do, and another reminder that Portia is not a pet or a slave. She chose James. Parallels with Dean would be that Dean is not staying with Sam because they are brothers (what they are) but because he chose Sam. He is not staying out of duty but out of love. THEY ARE INSEPARABLE. I told you this is wincesty. ehem.
They are called over by Le Chat, who is actually the familiar of Spencer, James’ friend and also enemy. Le Chat tells Portia that James brought all the bad rumors about him to himself by being a cop and witch, and also mentions something about Portia that Dean doesn’t understand - but we find out later is probably the fact that she has a physical relationship with him. Anyway, Portia trusting this other witch and LeChat, his familiar, is a bad idea as we find out later. Dean asks if it were possible that a witch was controlling James, and the witch answers no, he’s never heard of such a thing - which is a lie because he is the one controlling James’ dreams. So this visit to the bar puts them off track and doesn’t help them solve the case at all.
Plus, the bit of shirt Sam ‘finds at the crime scene’ (probably ripped from the shirt James showed them) comes back with a match for the victim’s blood. Sam and Dean are convinced James is the killer. WHAT? You guys would make very bad cops. Just because there is victim blood on a person’s shirt, doesn’t mean that person killed the victim. Why are they so distrustful of their friend?
The funny thing about this scene is that we find out Dean has an allergy to cats (that he never showed in previous eps - like Hunteri Heroici…?) He, however, does not equate the french LeChat with ‘Cat’ or the possibility that this guy is a cat - a familiar - so he is totally surprised when Le Chat turns into a cat before leaving.
So, that night Portia chains James up but suggests that she doesn’t have to.
JAMES: I believe I’m innocent, I believe I have to do the right thing. And if I’m not innocent, I need to do the right thing.
Wow… I just realized this ‘right thing’ is a Season 8 theme - starting with Don (Amelia’s husband) doing the right thing by going off to war, Sam doing the right thing by leaving Amelia, then Benny, Kevin, etc….
Portia seems to like having James chained up XD. She says she loves him, and they do it :D OK, and some people seem disgusted that James is having sex “with a dog.” Interesting that Dean thinks it is pretty weird as well. He asks her later about whether she considers herself a dog first or a human first, to try to figure out the situation. To me (and according to Wiki) she is a magical/supernatural creature that can appear as a dog - she is not ‘a dog.’ There are also many myths in Japanese lore about supernatural creatures (like kitsune and tanuki) marrying humans, and North American vampire and werewolf and other myths as well. Why is it weird for a familiar to have sex with a human when it is not weird for a werewolf to do so? That really doesn’t make sense to me. Also, if we go through with the wincest parallels... THAT would be thought of as totally against the rules too I guess. Just as gross as dog sex to many people... but yet we go ahead and write fiction right? How do we reconcile that? 'Reconcile what they are with what they do ...' *looks back at what Spencer says earlier* hmmm
Portia sees into James mind and finds that all the memories were in chunks as if they were planted. James is not the killer. But Sam and Dean are sure he is and are sneaking into his house to kill him with their witch bomb. Portia is in the bathroom and she comes back just as they are trying to kill James. She tells them that James is not the killer. Point here is that if James had trusted Portia and opened up and showed Portia what he was dreaming, she would have noticed this already and known. Thinking of parallels with Sam and Dean, as Sam cures Crowley, his conviction becomes strong that he is a burden to Dean and that he should give up his life for this cause. He he almost does, but Dean comes back just in time to convince him not to. So that's similar too isn't it.
Portia tells Sam and Dean their secret about being sexually involved - how that was a big no-no and Dean’s like, I can understand that since you are… and he’s… and Portia shoots daggers at him. Wincest parallels anyone?
But then she tells them about how she knew the killer wasn’t James. They start looking for other possibilities. Sam looks into police again, but they are super uncooperative, hiding something.
Dean goes with Portia to meet a snitch and while they wait they have a little talk about dogs and women and which she thinks of herself as - but she never really answers him. An uncomfortable conversation that points back to the previous thoughts on wincest and also on what you are vs. what you choose. Is it the duty or the love that makes her James' familiar the most? That is a difficult question. No wonder she doesn't answer.
The snitch tells them about a rumour that James is a killer and the witch community is going to give him two choices - to leave or kill himself. Again the parallel with the trials and Sam. Dean looks up spells and finds one that can inplant memories. Sam tells Dean about the file folder on James Frampton in a locked room.
James suggests he go to the room by using astroprojection but he has to lose the chains first. Dean says no way, Sam says ok but only if we can go with you. So they sit on the bed together and he takes them to the police room, where they find a case against him.
The most important thing James sees is that the witness was LeChat. He gets so upset that he throws Sam and Dean around the room so he can go kill LeChat- and Sam’s knee gets stuck in the wastepaper basket as he falls and looks quite funny. Then James turns to go and Portia says we are going to do this together. He says their time together is over, he is freeing her because he is going down and he doesn’t want her to suffer for it, and she says standing by you is my duty, my choice. Here we go with choices again.
JAMES: You still have a life.
Wow, this is so like Dean last ep toward Sam, and also like Sam at the end, telling him that he has Benny and Cas. Dean feels last ep that he was enslaving Sam in this quest for vengeance and wants Sam to be free to have a normal life after, while Sam feels he is enslaving Dean, just because they are brothers, when he could have a better partner in Cas or Benny.
James barges in to the pub and confronts LeChat, and just as LeChat tells him that it was Spencer that made him do it, Spencer comes and kills LeChat from behind. When James asks about why he did it, Spencer tells him that he wanted Portia.
James attacks Spencer with magic, but Spencer is stronger than him and he holds James as he also turns back and works a spell on Sam and Dean to stop them from doing their witch killing spell. This can be compared to the trial spell getting a hold on Sam. The boys start seeing all those things they went through over the years. For Dean, it’s mom dying, for Sam, it’s falling into the cage with Lucifer and Michael. Dean in hell, Sam in the cage, Dean calling to Sam from hell. Then suddenly Portia the dog comes and attacks Spencer, cutting Spencer’s concentration. James falls to the floor, Sam and Dean get out their spell, Sam’s tongue is like a bullet train running by those words of the spell and they set fire to it and throw it at Spencer. He dies! The spell works LOL In parallel, Dean also attacks the trial spell, by coming in just in time to tell Sam that he wouldn't put anyone over Sam.
Dean says, Kids don’t try this at home LOL meaning gees, it actually works!
And James and Portia are too busy making sure they are alright, which totally reminds me of that last church scene with Sam and Dean.
So they are standing by the Impala afterwards and Sam asks James if he is sure he wants to run and not fight the witches, that they’d help, but James says he has decided to leave because the police guy has too much evidence against James. Again parallel to Sam deciding to save himself rather than go through with the trials.
Portia: We’ll start over. That’s the way it’s always been. For all of us.
And she is talking of Sam and Dean here too.
Portia: I’ll miss you. (to Sam) Maybe even you (to Dean)
DEAN: I like dogs.
Portia: No. You really don’t.
(Maybe Portia saw what was in Dean's mind when Spencer had a hold of them and knew why he disliked dogs and understood.)
Sam and Dean are in the car.
I like James' small grin here too.
DEAN:Well, it's possible I was wrong.
SAM:What, about James? Dude, we were both ready to gank the guy.
DEAN:No, that's not what I meant. Back there, when Spencer had us. He screwed with my head. I saw mom... When she died... And then some other crap.
SAM:Yeah. Me, too.
DEAN :You know, when I look back at what our family's been through, what everybody's been through, seeing all that pain... I realize that the only way we've made it through it all is by hanging together. I trust you, Sammy. With this deal, locking those sons of bitches up in the furnace once and for all, it's too important not to. So if you say you're good... ...then that's it. I'm with you 100%.
Dean realizes that whoever does the trials, they have to be in it together. That’s how they’ve survived everything they’ve been through. That really reminds me of Dead Man’s Blood :) But that is how James and Portia got through their ordeal too - because Portia was there to destract Spencer just enough that Sam and Dean could kill him.
When Sam coughs, he coughs up some blood. He looks worried but he doesn’t say anything. Sam I guess is worried about what Dean would think if he told him about the blood, just as James was worried about what Portia would say about the dreams, and just as Sam kept the Lucifer hallucinations to himself at the beginning of Season 7. *sighs sadly*