supernutjapan (supernutjapan) wrote,

Rewatching 4-13 After School Special

It's Friday and it's time to sit down and write my thoughts on After School Special. This is an episode I have mixed feelings on. It definitely has some important underlying "Supernatural" themes which I have droned on about in other reviews. One of these is Sam's wish to be normal and the question, "What is normal?" Another is people being influenced by others into becoming monsters and the choice we all have to give into it or not. A friend from the forum especially loved this episode because it addressed the issue of bullying, which she had also experienced in high school. Interestingly, I guess we are also addressing the idea of Dean as being a "bully" as we saw in Yellow Fever. That is the part of the show I am actually uncomfortable with so I might be thinking about that a bit as I write.

"Long, Long Way from Home" by Foreigner(plays as the Impala pulls up in front of the school, when the present switches to the flashback)

Before we go into the episode, I just want to mention a few things about the song they use for this ep. I am convinced that Supernatural often uses its songs not just because Kripke liked it or it was in his collection or it had a nice beat to it but for the lyrics and this is one of those times. Here they are:

"Long, Long Way From Home"

It was a Monday
A day like any other day
I left a small town
For the Apple in decay

It was my destiny
It's what we needed to do
They were telling me
I'm telling you

I was inside looking outside
The millions of faces
But still I'm alone
Waiting, hours of waiting
Paying a penance
I was longing for home

I'm looking out for the two of us
I hope we'll be here when they're through with us

I was inside looking outside
Oh the millions of faces
But still I'm alone
Waiting, hours of waiting
I could feel the tension
I was longing for home

I'm looking out for the two of us
And I hope we'll be here when they're through with us
I'm coming home

Monday, sad, sad Monday
She's waiting for me
But I'm a long, long way from home

Sad, sad Monday
She's waiting for me
But I'm a long, long way from home

Sad, sad Monday
Oh she's waiting for me
But I'm a long, long way from home

First of all, this ep is obviously about Sam and Dean and their constant moving from place to place because of their dad's "work." They are never home. Always on the road. And you get a sense from this song of both the boys longing for home. For a normal life. They are also waiting... waiting for their dad to come back.. because they miss him.

It's also about how Dean and Sam both feel like they are on the outside, looking inside - in all of the places they go. They can never make any good friends because they are always on the move. And obviously Sam feels strongly that he is a freak and that he is not like the others.

The verse, "It was my destiny,It's what we needed to do,They were telling me,I'm telling you" sounds very much like the little speech Sam makes to his teacher. Despite wanting to be normal, there are responsibilities he just had to take up. His father was a "mechanic" so it was destined for him to become one too. And he is definitely not happy with it.

But the song not only fits Sam and Dean. It could also very well be something that John is thinking as he is away from his kids. John is the one who felt he had to leave because he had the duty to work elsewhere. He also longs to be with his family and it pains him that he cannot but, again, this is his "destiny" and what he needed to do. The song is also addressed to a girl or wife and it reminds me of John and his pain of having lost his wife. In a way, maybe he also feels he is paying a penance - somehow feeling guilty that he could not save his wife and that it is his duty to prepare his children and also save as many other people as possible. And, not to forget, he is all alone out there too.

I feel like I pretty much summarized the whole ep :D Well let's go back anyway and add the details.

The episode starts with a jealous cheerleader spreading unseemly rumors about a fellow cheerleader Taylor and getting her kicked out of the group of popular kids in the lunchroom. Taylor goes to sit by herself at another table, which just happens to be occupied by a non-popular girl April, eating by herself.

April is pretty nice to Taylor, probably having experienced the cruel remarks of the popular crowd herself. In an attempt to make Taylor feel better, she tells her not to take the others seriously. Unfortunately, the popular girl is feeling too hurt to accept any sympathy from a girl she has been putting down all this time and dishes out the same cruelty she just received. Later in the bathroom, she's cleaning up her face after a cry when Possessed April comes up and drowns her in the toilet.

In the next scene, Sam is questioning April at a psychiatric hospital. It seems she had told everyone that she had been possessed and obviously no one believed her. But Sam with his persuasive methods gets her to talk about it again. We have a funny scene here at the end.
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SAM:Okay. Um, did you notice any black smoke?
APRIL:What are you, crazy?

Funny that a girl who is positive she was possessed thinks it's crazy that there might be some black smoke.  Interesting that Sam doesn't explain that this is usually seen when there is possession. And why doesn't Sam ask about ectoplasm here..? They've experienced it before and it is another possibility in addition to demon possession. I guess we can assume Sam (and Dean) were concentrating so much on demons at this point that a plain ghost didn't even come to mind.

Sam suggests they have to go undercover to figure out what this thing is, and Dean's reluctant. It seems he has bad memories of this place.  He also seems to think that it should be a bad memory for Sam, but surprisingly it isn't. And, we'll go into that later too.

We have a flashback to their first day of school - with our song above. I just loooove this scene of the car pulling up to the school. I've used it several times in vids. The only thing that bugs me each time is that stupid high-schooler with a letter jacket crossing the street just as the car pulls up. ARG!!! Why on earth did they have to do that?! Is it supposed to be some kind of statement concerning the stupidity of jocks or something? Really. The best part of the whole scene is just ruined. So here is just the last bit after the dumbass gets out of the way.
impalla300 young-dean300

Dean looks pretty cool in slow motion there but I always wonder what they did with the car. Dean was driving wasn't he? Did they just leave it there in front of the school? How did his dad get it back to go hunting? Because dad comes to pick them up in the Impala at the end.
(*Some kind friends have pointed out below that Dean was riding shotgun. Seems I've been living in Japan too long to recognize the steering wheel is on the other side :P)
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We do also see Dean as an awkward but caring older brother, making sure Sam has his butterfly knife :P as well as his lunch LOL. And doesn't Sam just love that! A chance to show what a freak he is by carrying a butterfly knife?!
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We see them both going to their respective classes. Dean is totally condescending to the teacher - I guess a typical lonely boy who has to act out so he will get noticed? Sam on the other hand is trying his best NOT to be noticed and it's ruined by his butterfly knife falling out of his bag. His new friend thinks that's pretty cool though and despite wanting to be normal, Sam ends up defending him against "the bully."
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Knowing who the ghost was and why... we can see this "bully" in a different light. As far as I can figure, this is exactly the same time frame in which his mother is sick and he is taking care of her at home. I guess he was possibly trying to hide his vulnerability and pain with regard to his mom by acting out.

One more thing before we move on. I love the writing on the board in Sam's classroom.
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Which ties in with the song as well doesn't it? Outsiders... I know the book and I remember reading it in highschool like a lot of people, but that word is very meaningful to me since I've been an outsider/foreigner all my life. Outsider, to me, is synonomous to Foreigner, which as you know is the band that sings our song and considering the content of the song, I think maybe the group name has that sort of meaning too.

ANYWAY... back to the story. Sam and Dean decide to go undercover and Sam knows exactly in what form. Dean is a substitute P.E. teacher and Sam is a janitor.
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If you think of their skills, these jobs are very appropriate. (I'm not saying Sam is good at cleaning, but that he is good at fixing things... reminds me of Season 8.) Dean LOVES this set up and takes full advantage of being a GOD by bullying the kids basically.
This is the scene I feel most uncomfortable with in the episode. Bullying kids? really? That's not how he's acted around kids in the past eps. I would not be surprised if he had been a bully in the past (as young Dean) but we don't see that either. It's just this school. It actually sort of reminds me of our ghost/bully Dirk. Dean has a bad memory from being at this school, which we will see later. Basically it's a vulnerable moment where his girl exposes him for what he is. (Just as Dirk was exposed by Sam) It almost seems like he is trying to make up for that somehow by bullying the kids in the present. Yes, there is definitely a parallel here.

Anyway, Sam has been combing the whole school for sulfur and hasn't found it. No sulfur, no case, they assume and decide to leave town after school's out. It's a good thing they stick around a little though, since our next victim gets his fist whirled in a food blender. Let me just say I hate this scene. UG GROSS. I will always skip it on a rewatch. But it's a good thing I check the transcripts too because I caught an important word here.

JOCK 1:I'm gonna shove my fist down your throat, you little freak.

Yes. The word freak, which I harped about quite a bit in Season 1 especially because they pretty much hammered it into our heads that Sam hated that word. We can't forget that Dean also thought of himself as a freak (Skin) and an outsider but Sam always seemed to react very negatively to being called this. And I guess it's a very real fear of all teenagers. Being different. Being the freak.

Anyway, Sam comes in at the end while everyone is worrying about the hurt boy and checks the possessed boy without anyone noticing at all. And he sees the ectoplasm. Finally they figure out that it is ghost possession.
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Sam and Dean meet in the hall to exchange notes. It seems everyone is in a school meeting, discussing anger management issues. Sam has been checking the halls for EMF (Really, you should have checked both at the same time, Sam). Dean has broken into the principal's office to check the student records. He has checked for possible ghosts wandering the halls (as well as how many of the cheerleaders are legal but Sam's not interested...). There has only been one suicide on campus and the name catches Sam's attention. It is his friend, Barry Cook.
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We have another flashback of a jock bumping into Barry on purpose, making him drop all his books.
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Sam comes up and helps him and Barry tells him about how he is just going to endure it for three years so he can go to Michigan State and become a veterinarian (because animals are nicer than humans). At this point, it seems like Barry will make it out of highschool. He has a goal to look forward to aye? But we find out from Dean later that Barry's parents divorced and he was taking quite a bit of medication. So he decides to slit his wrists in the girl's bathroom (why the girl's bathroom ? so he could get away from the bullies maybe? poor kid).

We also have a flashback to Dean and his girlfriend Amanda, kissing in the school's broom closet.
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Dean suggests a late night viewing of a horror flick and Amanda tells him she can't because she has a curfew. When Dean tells her he doesn't have a curfew and that he and Sam are on their own at the motel, magic fingers and free ice doesn't seem to appeal to her as much as she thinks they must be lonely without their father.

She's pretty grownup for a normal teenager (especially one that is drawn to the rebellious new boy). I don't know about you but when I was in high school I loved having the house to myself. Amanda seems to realize though that having the house to yourself once in a while and being without your parents for weeks at a time would be a bit different. As I said. Pretty grown up for a teenager and a very nice girl. Unfortunately, Dean is not looking for nice or grown up. He's looking for a quick fling where he doesn't have to get emotionally involved with someone he has to leave in 2 weeks. And there you have Dean's woman situation continuing into adulthood. Can't really blame him for coming to get Sam in Season 1 aye? When their dad went away on hunts, they were always together. They had each other even if they were outsiders and freaks.

As Dean and Amanda come out of the closet, Sam and Barry are walking down the hall. Barry sees Dean and we have a cute brother scene.
Season 4 disk 7-1(2) 18
BARRY:That's your brother with Amanda Heckerling? He's cool.
YOUNG SAM:Yeah. He thinks so.
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But then they bump into Dirk and Dirk wants to pick a fight with Barry. Sam takes Barry's place and Barry runs to get Mr. Wyatt. The interesting thing is Sam's idea of "normal" here. I guess he doesn't mind sticking up for a friend, but he doesn't want to appear stronger than everyone else. He doesn't want to appear different, the freak. So he lets Dirk punch him and call him chicken and he resists the urge to fight back until Mr. Wyatt comes to break it up.

Back to the present, Sam and Dean burn Barry's bones and leave, thinking it's over. While they drive, Dean tells Sam how relieved he is to be leaving the school and how he hated it back in the day.
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He doesn't understand why Sam doesn't feel the same way after that punch from Dirk and Sam has a flashback again. Sam and Dean standing by the bleachers...
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YOUNG DEAN:That kid's dead.
YOUNG DEAN:I'm gonna rip his lungs out!
We have to remember this conversation for later :D
But Dean can not understand why Sam didn't just beat Dirk up and Sam tells him how he wants to be normal.
YOUNG SAM:Because I don't want to be the freak for once, Dean. I want to be normal.

Dean on the other hand, is unhappy because dad is still not finished with the job and they will be there another week at least. The problem being that Amanda wants him to meet her parents...
YOUNG DEAN:Dude, she wants me to meet her parents. I don't do parents.

The flashback continues. Since they are staying longer than expected, the teacher has a chance to read Sam's essay on "your most memorable family experience" in which Sam writes about the werewolf hunt they did over the summer. And he wants to be normal? Why doesn't he just make up a story?
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But he tells Mr. Wyatt he doesn't care if he flunks him and Mr. Wyatt tells him (even though he doesn't believe it's real) that he is giving Sam an A and that he should go to college and go into writing.
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MR. WYATT:Well... I don't want to overstep my bounds here, but... you don't have to do anything you don't want to do. Look, I mean, I know what it's like. I come from a family of surgeons, and that wasn't me. So, you know, I traded in the money and prestige of being a doctor for all the glamour you see around you. But the point is... there may be three or four big choices that shape someone's whole life, and you need to be the one that makes them, not anyone else. You seem like a great kid, Sam. Just live the life you want to live.

Remembering this, Sam tells Dean to turn back so he can go thank Mr. Wyatt.
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DEAN:Go have your Robin Williams "O captain! My captain!" moment. Just make it quick.
(I did love that movie. Robin Williams, RIP)
As he is walking the halls, a student comes up to him and asks for directions. When he gives them to her, he gets a surprise.
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SAM:Sure. Um... head down the hall, take your first right, and it’s the third door on the left.
STUDENT:Thanks, Sam.
And stabs him in the stomach.
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STUDENT:You got tall, Winchester.
(Love that!)
She still gets in some damage by kicking his face. Sam has a stash of salt in his pocket though and he stuffs it in her mouth. The ghost gets pulled back to the bus.

We have a dejavu moment as Dean gives Sam some whiskey (and Sam takes it...)
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DEAN:Trust me. This will help. That ghost is dead. I'm gonna rip its lungs out! Well, you know what I mean.
(not only is Dean saying the same line, but he is talking about the same person too :) )

They find out that all three victims of possession rode the same bus and that the bus driver was none other than Dirk's father. Another flashback. This time, Sam and Barry are leaving school when again Dirk comes up to them and picks a fight. Again Sam resists but Dirk uses that fateful word.
DIRK:What's the matter? You scared? Don't worry. I'll go easy on you this time. Come on, Lose-chester. Let’s see what you got. Come on, freak! Freak!

I guess if he's going to be thought of as a freak anyway, might as well fight... aye? So he gets up and creams Dirk, who is no match for Sam who's been brought up a soldier.
YOUNG SAM:You're not tough. You're just a jerk. "Dirk the jerk."

That fight and nickname actually leads to Dirk being bullied after Sam leaves and thus suicide and haunting.   This little incident is sometimes used as proof as Sam being quick to anger since childhood and explaining the anger that Lucifer ends up using to control Sam but that doesn't pan for me. To me, the fact that he resisted that long and tried to fight back without violence shows that he didn't have any more anger than anyone else. Dean would have fought back much quicker aye? (I just rewatched Hollywood Bablylon with my son, where we find out that Sam's hero is Ghandi.... and I can totally understand it watching Sam try to handle conflict without violence.) So we'll leave Sam's anger management issues for later.

In the present, they go to Dirk's home and find out that Dirk also had died. Maybe he had committed suicide as well - although his dad only explains it as too many drugs and "slipping through his fingers." It could have been that Dirk just had an overdose. In any case he died bitter toward all the people who hurt him, one of these being Sam. When Dirk's dad explains about Dirk being the victim of bullying and the nickname everyone called him, Sam realizes that he had influenced this outcome as well. With Barry's suicide, Sam felt that he could have helped Barry in some way if only dad had let them stay a while longer. I wonder how he felt about Dirk? I do think he felt sufficiently bad about the nickname that he had given Dirk from the look on his face when Dirk's father told him.
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MR. MCGREGOR:They called him poor and dirty and stupid. They even had a nickname for him -- Dirk the jerk. And after what happened to his mother, he…
SAM:His mother?
MR. MCGREGOR:Yeah, Jane, my wife. She died when Dirk was 13. Cancer. I was working three jobs, so it fell to Dirk to take care of her. And he was a great kid. He made sure Jane got her medicine. He helped her, cleaned up after her. But, you know, you -- you watch somebody die slow, waste away to nothing... it does things to a person. Horrible things.

They decide they have to go find Dirk's hair in the bus and burn it. The bus just happens to be driven by a substitute and not Dirk's dad (coincidence or did Dirk protect his dad?) when Dirk possesses the driver and starts driving rough. It looks for all intensive purposes that Dirk is trying to drive the whole bus off of a cliff or something until he runs into a spike strip.
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It punctures the tires so that the bus stops. I'm wondering if Sam and Dean set that up so that they could get in the bus? It all sounds like an elaborate set up - they could have just caught the bus before it started off... but anyway, they tie the possessed bus driver up and Dean goes to look for the hair in the bus.
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DEAN:All right, everybody stay where you are. You'll be okay.
SOMEONE ON BUS:Aren't you the P.E. Teacher?
DEAN:Not really. I'm like "21 Jump Street." The bus driver sells pot. Yeah.
(Hee! I used to watch that show in high school! Johnny Dep♡)

Sam gets a chance to discuss what high school is all about with Dirk.
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DIRK:Sam Winchester. Still a bully. You, you jocks... you popular kids... you always thought you were better than everybody else. And to you, I was just Dirk the jerk, right? Now you evil sons of bitches are gonna get what's coming to you.
SAM:I'm not evil, Dirk. I'm not. And neither were you. Trust me. I've seen real evil. We were scared and miserable, and we took it out on each other -- us and everybody else. That's high school. But you suffer through that, and it gets better. I'm just sorry you didn't get a chance to see that... you or Barry.

I can see how people who have endured bullying in high school would understand this and love the episode for this talk alone. I agree that it is often just a matter of enduring while understanding that everyone - both bully and bullied - is acting out of fear and in reaction to the misery that befalls them.

But, the situation actually also reminds me of Yellow Fever (and several monster eps) and how sometimes fear stays with people to adulthood and bullying also continues. Whenever there is a closed community there is bound to be discrimination and fear of people who are different.

Ug... that totally destroys the feeling of hope we get from Sam's speech doesn't it. All I can say is people are continually trying all over the world to create understanding so that no one has to feel like an outsider, a foreigner or a freak. We all need to be a part of that somehow.
And Dirk's answer to Sam is another important reminder...
DIRK:Nothing is gonna get better for me. Not ever.
... suicide is obviously not the answer.

Dirk!Busdriver attacks Sam in full revenge mode and Dean shoots him. Dirk then enters one of the jocks who attacks Sam and we get a Choker Sam scene reminding me of our recent Season 10 ep :D. Dean shoots at the jock but it doesn't have any effect and Sam urges Dean to just find the hair. Dean takes off the busdriver's shoes and finds the hair just in time to burn it - saving Sam from a choking, but giving him a "crushing" instead as the jock falls on top of Sam...
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SAM:Little help?
DEAN:He's giving you the full cowgirl.

We have another flashback... and we find out why Dean had such a bad memory of this school. Amanda finds Dean in the closet with another girl. It seems very deliberate (if not consciously) by Dean - creating a situation in which Amanda would have to break up with him because he doesn't want to get any closer to her than he already is. Amanda's final blow in front of everyone, though, is something that stays with him as a painful vulnerable moment.
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AMANDA:I'm not mad, Dean. I thought maybe... underneath your whole "I could give a crap," bad-boy thing, that there was something more going on. I mean, like the way you are with your brother. But I was wrong. And you spend so much time trying to convince people that you're cool, but it's just an act. We both know that you're just a sad... lonely little kid. And I feel sorry for you, Dean.
YOUNG DEAN:You feel sorry for me, huh? Don't feel sorry for me. You don't know anything about me. I save lives. I'm a hero. A hero!
[Spoiler for Season 10]
Does that remind anyone of Dean and the girl from the bar in Season 10? It makes me wonder what Dean's real feelings might have been.

I'd have to note also that while Dean started out as the "cool" guy, he ended in disgrace - while Sam started out as a "wimp", he ended up being looked on as a hero for shooting Dirk down. Dean ends up taking it out on the highschoolers in the present, while Sam gets attacked by the guy he put down in past. And yeah, there is probably a point here also but I can only speak in generalities so I'm going to leave it to you.

Young Dean finally gets a phone call from dad after this and they all drive off to their new location while Barry watches, looking deserted, from the second floor window.
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Back in the present, Sam finally gets to talk to Mr. Wyatt. Once he explains himself, Mr. Wyatt presents him with a difficult question. Is he happy? Because that is all that matters. And Sam can't answer.
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I've been thinking about this in terms of what Sam's goals are, and what he decided in Criss Angel, and it seems to me that again Mr. Wyatt has given him the extra push to go with the demon blood and kill Lilith so he can attain his version of happiness. Normal life. Do you remember Mr. Wyatt being one of the demons that Lucifer!Sam kills in Season 5? Lucifer does show Sam several teachers but I don't remember Mr. Wyatt being one of them. He seems kind, and for a normal person just choosing between mechanic or writer his advice could have lead to something good, but for Sam in the situation and frame of mind he is in now, it would seem to be very bad advice.

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