Supernatural – Season 12 Episode 20
“Twigs & Twine & Tasha Banes”
Supernatural brings back two characters introduced earlier in the season to ask for Sam and Dean’s help on a hunt.
With such a small number of episodes left until the finale it feels odd to have an episode that doesn’t appear to be connected to the ongoing arc. This episode could take place at any point in the season with no changes to the A-Plot. The B-Plot was completely unconnected so that could have been paired with any story.
It sounds like I’m being negative but that’s not the case. I liked this episode a lot because it was a really character driven story with family as its central theme. Family is ultimately what drives this show so it’s interesting to see it dealt with in different ways.
The return of Max and Alicia Banes from “Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox” is definitely welcomed. I found the idea of Hunters who are the children of a Witch to be really interesting at the time and I really wanted to see more of that. There has been some expansion of how their dynamic works by altering things slightly. Max inherited the ability to use Magic from their mother, Tasha (Alvina August) and Alicia didn’t. I was sure that both could use Magic in their last appearance but the alteration doesn’t bother me as it gives each of them a defining trait.
Sam and Dean are brought into their hunt because they happen to have one of Mary’s phones in the Bunker and answer a call meant for her. Sam is always inclined to help but Dean takes some convincing as he is more concerned with the bigger picture involving Cas and the imminent birth of Lucifer’s child. It doesn’t take much to convince Dean to help out. Sam uses a variation of the famous quote from the pilot episode and says “Their Mom is on a hunting trip and she hasn’t been home in a week.”. Jensen Ackles plays the reaction brilliantly with an understated facial expression that signifies defeat. Basically this sort of thing pushes Dean’s buttons and he can’t the call of a Hunter looking for help tracking down a family member.
Alex and Alicia are a lot remind Sam and Dean a lot of themselves when they started. Being raised by a Hunter is something they are very familiar with and they know what it’s like to lose family so there’s definitely something they can relate to there.
If labels have to be assigned then Sam would be more like Alicia and Dean would be more like Max. The episode doesn’t do much with this in the beginning other than have Max be impressed by the Impala but it is something that develops a little throughout the episode especially towards the end but I’ll come back to that.
The theme of family runs strongly through this episode. Dean feels especially nostalgic seeing two young Hunters raised in “the life” and is clearly impressed by what he sees. He compliments Tasha on her work raising the twins and comments that they’re happy. There’s also a sadness to him seeing their cohesive family unit when his has been so plagued by tragedy over the years. It’s possible that he assumes the same will happen to them and feels that there’s a sense of inevitability to living a life like this.
If that is what he’s feeling then it proves to be correct when it turns out that Tasha has been killed and been replaced by some kind of living puppet. The true horror of this scenario is that the puppet doesn’t know that it’s a fake on a conscious level so has all the memories and feelings that the original had. It is completely under the control of the Demon Borrower Witch (Linda Darlow) who calls upon it to do her bidding when the truth is revealed. It’s a tragic loss for the twins as well as being a complete loss of self. The puppet doesn’t necessarily want to hurt the people it sees as her children but has no choice.
The cracking noises that remind the audience of how far from human the puppet is are appropriately unsettling. It’s a simple yet effective indicator that these people aren’t themselves any more. Seeing how much punishment they could take made the scenario disturbingly memorable as well.
I found the Demon Borrower Witch to be an engaging villain as well. Her motivations were simple and well developed. All she wanted to do was survive and avoid Hell which involved passing her power and with it her curse to someone else. Max represents that potential for her and the way she goes about tempting him into taking her power made a lot of sense. Engineering a huge personal loss for him before tempting him with the solution that lets him avoid that loss is a really powerful motivator and I like how Max clearly wanted to take that deal.
Dean tries to dissuade him by reminding him that losing family members sucks but he also has to accept that it’s something he has to deal with. The puppet may look, sound and act like his mother but it isn’t her and to pretend otherwise is misguided. That’s how Dean sees it at least though the question of what truly identifies a person hangs over all of this. It’s enough to make Max stop and consider it certainly as he spent enough time with the puppet to not notice the difference.
The episode keeps playing with this idea by having the puppet act devoted to Tasha’s children but also lose control and casually inflict violence on them. The biggest shock comes when it stabs Alicia which definitely leans heavily towards the “not really their mother” argument.
It’s an argument that isn’t allowed to be simple. Dean appears to force Max’s decision by killing the Demon Borrower Witch He sees the deal being with a Demon rather than the Witch and he knows first hand how badly Demon Deals end up but that definitely isn’t the end of it.
Max makes the decision to take the magic when Alicia is killed and he has no family left. Dean tells Sam at the end of the episode that the loving family he witnessed is what they should have had and seems genuinely upset when Max loses his. It’s certainly not fair but they’ve dealt with it and it’s something he has to learn to live with as well.
Sam tries to reassure Dean that he did the right thing by forcing Max to not take the deal but Dean clearly regrets it and uses their history as an example of why he has no real right to judge Max’s desire to take the deal. He wonders what would be the difference between Max taking that deal and any of the terrible things they have both done to keep each other alive. I suppose the difference is that they didn’t have anyone experienced enough near them at the time to stop them making those choices but Bobby was certainly a very loud naysayer so it could be argued that they had the same support and made bad decisions anyway. Sam sees Dean saving Max’s soul as a positive but it’s clear that Dean wonders if he did the right thing.
Max decides to use the magic to revive Alicia and not tell the puppet what she is. This is essentially what Dean would have done which solidifies the similarities between them hinted at earlier in the episode. The new Alicia has no idea what happened and the two of them forge ahead as they did before. I dare say this will be revisited in the future and it’ll be interesting to see how Sam and Dean react to seeing Alicia walking around. I’d also be very surprised if this power didn’t corrupt Max in some way. It’s also possible that Dean won’t be surprised as I get the impression that he left the ring behind to allow Max to take the power because he understands his desire to take the deal. It’s unclear but the ambiguity makes sense as the audience perspective is Sam at that moment. Sam would likely have assumed that Dean dealt with the ring.
The B-Plot following Mary and Mr. Ketch was fairly interesting. I like the dynamic between these characters and the growing sense of unease on Mary’s part works well. It’s pretty obvious that Ketch is lying about Mick and Mary easily picks up on that but I get the impression that Ketch doesn’t really care about making his lies convincing. He’s killing time before disposing of all Hunters anyway and this will eventually include her. He does bring up the fling that they had and his desire to do it again which suggests that there might be more to his admiration of Mary than being impressed with her skills and enjoying a one night stand. What will happen with Ketch is unclear at this point but it looks like redemption is unlikely for him.
I felt that the episode laid on the fact that he is a monstrous human being a bit thick. Seeing him casually torture the Shifter as Mary looked on horrified was a little too on the nose and the unhinged way he behaved throughout the episode didn’t help matters. It would be more effective if the Men of Letters appeared to the Hunters as if they were rough around the edges but generally trustworthy. It’s good that Mary picked up on the obvious signs but they were a little too obvious.
Ketch essentially becoming a slasher movie villain made for delightful viewing. Mary trying to avoid him in the winding hallways of the Men of Letters HQ was impressively tense and their fight was great. I like that it ended with Ketch using an underhanded tactic and hitting her with a taser. He’s not an honourable man and will do anything to get the job done. That is established with the torture scene and completes when he uses the taser. Having Mary in the torture chair at the end of the episode allowed this story to be bookended with that image and the Shifter disguised as her earlier in the episode. Bringing Toni back doesn’t feel necessary at this point and the entire Men of Letters arc feels really muddled but there is still time to bring it back.
A great episode that could easily have been forgettable filler but ends up telling a powerful story about family and what it means to lose that. Max and Alicia are handled really well in this episode acting as something of a mirror to Sam and Dean’s earlier days and giving Dean a view of the loving family that he could have had under different circumstances. Max losing his mother and sister is really tragic and the episode building to him accepting the power to fix that works brilliantly. Dean even manages to justify the decision by comparing it to the terrible things he and Sam have done to keep each other alive. I dare say this will come up later but it’s easy to see Max’s point of view on this and him allowing the Alicia puppet to believe that it’s the real Alicia creates interesting possibilities. The Demon Borrower Witch was a good villain with simple yet effective motivations and the puppets were appropriately unsettling with the unnatural sounds made during the fight. The loss of self they represent is really effective as well.
The B-Plot involving Mary and Mr. Ketch is also engaging. Ketch being a monstrous human being is laid on a bit thick but there’s a complexity to it shown by the hints that he really does care about Mary to some degree. Turning him into a slasher movie villain as Mary tried to avoid him in the Men of Letters facility was really effective and I loved the fight between them. It makes sense that Ketch would use a taser to finish the fight off as he has always been someone who will do anything to get the job done. I wish there was more nuance to the Men of Letters but there is still time to pull it back.