Last night's episode of Supernatural, "Defending Your Life," was all about guilt and how to purge it. Plus, it was hopefully the only time Sam and Dean will become entangled in one of those Star Trek-style "putting humanity and/or Data on trial" episodes that are frankly never a good idea. It was a pretty uneven episode, but earned bonus points for many references to Jewish High Holy Days and for giving us some really satisfying emotional processing.
Ghost Cars and Ghost Dogs in Michigan
The episode was packed with good jokes, including some bits where the brothers made fun of "haunted cars" (a callback to the bizarro "racist truck" episode of yore?), but had a fairly rote monster of the week. For some reason the Egyptian god Osiris is hanging out in Michigan bars, listening to people's guilt-ridden sob stories — and then, if he deems them guilt-ridden enough, he sends representatives of their guilt to slaughter them. So we see a haunted car kill a guy who once killed a little girl when he was driving drunk; and a guy who used to run a dogfighting ring is killed by a cute ghost dog. Reading about these weird deaths in the newspaper, Sam and Dean get on the case.
They quickly figure out that all the people who died were drinking at a particular bar, which is how Dean finds himself downing whisky next to Osiris. But unfortunately Dean is so wrapped up in guilt over killing Sam's childhood girlfriend Amy last week that he winds up spilling his guts to the cute bartender — not about the killing per se, just about how sometimes work really sucks.
It's Yom Kippur Time!
When Dean stumbles out of the bar, Osiris snatches him and puts him on trial. Turns out he's less interested in whether Dean is guilty than in whether he feels guilty. Luckily, Sam arrives just in time to "defend" Dean. In this clip, you can see Sam's arrival and some banter with sexypants Faran Tahir, playing Osiris with campy aplomb. Despite the fact that everything is better with Tahir, the whole trial scene is a little tedious — especially when Osiris brings out Jo and Sam as key witnesses. We kept waiting for Amy to show up as Exhibit C, tipping Sam off to Dean's betrayal, but it didn't happen.
Still, it was heart-rending to see Dean crying over feeling responsible for dragging Jo and Sam into "the life." I also liked the idea that Osiris was victimizing people based on how guilty they felt — it tied in nicely with this episode's Yom Kippur theme. For those of you who didn't grow up Jewish like me, Yom Kippur is the "day of atonement" when we starve ourselves all day, and think about the crappy stuff we've done in the previous year, and try to purge ourselves of guilt. And just in case its chronological proximity to Yom Kippur didn't tip you off that this was a Very Special Jewish Holy Day Moment (which honestly there should be more of on TV, since us Jews feel kind of left out when it comes time for Very Special Christmas Moments), there was a bonus scene with a shofar — the ram's horn that's blown on Yom Kippur — just to drive the point home.
Couldn't We Just Resurrect Jo Instead of Turning Her Into an Emo Ghost?
In fact, we find out that the only way to banish Osiris is to stab him with a shofar. And once Osiris finds Dean unequivocally guilty, Sam has to break into a rabbi's office to grab a shofar and stab Osiris before the Egyptian god compels Jo to kill Dean. Though it may have been satisfying for people who were fans of the Dean/Jo pairing to see the two of them together again, there's a fairly draggy scene where she's preparing to kill him and looking all weepy about it. I know — I have a heart of coal and should be tormented by Osiris for saying that. But seriously, we really didn't need to process our feelings about Jo again.
What we DID need was to process our feelings about freakin' Amy. But of course, as Dean says at the end of the episode, there are so many people he's done wrong to that Osiris' Exhibit C might have been anyone.
And Now It's Time to Process Our Feelings
Though some of this episode ranged into "meh" territory, we got a particularly strong moment of relationship processing between Sam and Dean at the end. Sam wonders why he wasn't targeted by Osiris, since he's the person who has really done terrible things, like going all demonic and turning into Lucifer and stuff like that. The reason, Sam realizes, is that he doesn't feel guilty anymore after what he went through in Hell. He feels purged, like he's starting with a clean slate. Dean obviously doesn't feel the same way.
What I liked about this conversation, which ties back into our Yom Kippur theme, is that it called our attention to the way lingering guilt can actually be just as poisonous as the acts that led to the guilt in the first place. Supernatural has always been a show about the possibility of atonement, of leaving behind your bad self and bad acts to become a better person. Unlike Christianity, which often teaches that human sin can only be forgiven by God, Judaism focuses on humans forgiving themselves. And that's what Sam has done.
Dean, however, may never be able to forgive himself. Does that make his future darker than Sam's? It's an interesting question to mull over as we continue through the season.