There was a lot to love about last night's episode of Supernatural, called "Everybody Hates Hitler." Ben Edlund wrote it, so the jokes were sly and the plotting was multi-layered. But most of all, it reinforced what I think has become this season's best theme: the sympathetic monster.
Let's unpack this episode layer by delicious layer. First of all, we're still reeling from last week's grandfather reveal, and the hour began with some serious payoff. Sam and Dean have the key that their grandfather left his son (their dad) and lost his life to protect. And when they finally use it on a battered door under what looks like an abandoned factory, they find what Dean calls "the Batcave." Except instead of a bunch of wet rocks and supercomputers, it's a warm room full of books, antiques, good whisky, and (Dean notes with approval) really great water pressure in the shower. It's the library of the Men of Letters, their grandfather's old gang, and it was also their command center.
Apparently it was abandoned in a hurry, and now it's all ready for Sam and Dean to move in. Which they do. I was extremely dubious about this whole "key to the library" bit last week, but now that I've seen what the show might do with it, I'm sold. I love the idea of Sam and Dean having a retro retreat and becoming Men of Letters. They guys have earned a home, so let's give them one for a while.
Plus, I love this whole mid-twentieth century flashback thing that's going on too. In this episode, we get a World War II flashback to a concentration camp in Belarus. There, Nazi necromancers are doing magical experiments on Jews and Roma . . . until a seriously burly golem comes in and absolutely rips the shit out of everything. I have never seen such an awesome representation of a golem before on screen. It gave me flashbacks to Ted Chiang's awesome golem short story, "Seventy-two Letters" — that's how freakin good it was. Actor John DeSantis as the golem was a big part of why this monster from Jewish legend was so great, and so sympathetic.
For those of you who didn't grow up with a dad who read you short stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer before bed, here's what a golem is. He's a creature made of clay, whom a rabbi brings to life using sacred Hebrew characters — usually written on a scroll and put into the creature's mouth. The golem must obey everything the rabbi tells him to do. Mostly golems are used to protect Jewish communities. Legends of the golem go back to the middle ages, when Jewish villages were often sacked by local militias.
So here's the story. A bunch of rabbis formed a Men of Letters-esque group during World War II to fuck with the Nazis and their supernatural branch called the Theule. One of their acts of sabotage was to create this golem, who belongs to the last of these super rabbis. Unfortunately, the remaining Theule guys are stalking the last rabbi, who has discovered a "red ledger" that contains the names of all the necromancers. So, in a last-ditch effort to defeat the Nazi necromancers, the rabbi sends his golem in a box to his grandson Aaron. He's given Aaron a book about how to control golems, but unfortunately Aaron didn't believe in all that supernatural crap and used the thin pages of the book to roll a bunch of joints that he smoked. So when grandpa dies at the hands of a necromancer, and the golem starts yelling at Aaron to control him, things go sideways and the Winchesters have to step in.
I absolutely loved all the scenes between Aaron and the golem. Aaron is a great foil to the brothers — like them, he had a grandfather who was basically a fancy Hunter, but unlike them he's never known the life and is at a complete loss when it comes to fighting necromancers. The golem is disgusted with Aaron's lack of knowledge, and keeps yelling at Aaron to take control of him and make him do was he was built for, which is killing Nazis. Aaron, for his part, comes to view the golem as his responsibility. The golem is all he has left of his grandfather, whom he now realizes in retrospect was the only guy who knew what was really going on. Aaron's arc was good, but mostly I love the idea of a monster who is begging to be controlled, and who ultimately has to teach his master how to control him. It was a really poignant and interesting tale, which as I said earlier resonated nicely with last week's episode.
Finally, Aaron does take control of the situation when the necromancers launch their final attack. He helps the Winchesters defeat the Nazis — yes, there is a lot of "you Nazi dicks" talk — and then writes his name on the scroll in the golem's mouth, thus taking ownership of him. Meanwhile, Sam and Dean take ownership of the Batcave and the episode ends with them drinking scotch while 40s records play on the old turntable. If this show sticks to its usual formula, any comfort the boys feel will immediately be taken from them. But I think there's a lot more to this library, including the mystery of why its caretakers abandoned it so fast they left some half-drunk coffee behind.
I'm liking this whole Men of Letters thing, and I'm liking the Batcave. And I'm liking that the monsters, like Bennie the vamp, are now becoming more humanized. Things are changing, and I like it.