Supernatural – Season 12 Episode 4

Nov 4, 2016 | Posted by in TV

“American Nightmare”

Supernatural returns to a long forgotten plot from the earlier seasons as Sam and Dean deal with the departure of Mary in their own way.

Mary leaving to figure things out on her own at the end of the last episode has consequences for Sam and Dean that need to be dealt with. With this being fiction it stands to reason that their very next case allows them to process their feelings and put them into context.


Breaking out the Priest costumes

This particular case involves Child Protection Services; an organisation who sometimes split families apart for their own good and Dean automatically assumes that the CPS worker, Beth (Aliza Vellani) is the guilty party after she admits to being a Wiccan. In his head it’s an open and shut case because she must have wanted to get rid of her boss so that she could take her job.

It’s not all that outlandish as we have seen similar motivations on this show before but since this theory is suggested early in the episode there’s no way it could be true. Dean is projecting his own feelings of abandonment on the government organisation tasked with taking families apart. He’s looking for someone to blame for Mary leaving and Beth along with the Child Protection Services as an organisation will do just fine.

Most of this is handled through subtext which is great as it allows Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki to convey a lot of this through their performances rather than dialogue that defines exactly how they both feel. It’s what they aren’t saying that is most interested and the pain felt by Dean in particular is clear.

Dean has always been someone to internalise his feelings while making his discomfort readily known through passive -or sometimes just plain- aggressive behaviour and that’s just what he’s doing here. After living so long without his mother he had come around to the idea that she was back in his life and then almost immediately loses her again. It’s a lot for him to take and it’s clear that he’s really feeling it.


Sam is captured…again

In contrast, Sam seems less upset by the whole thing which might have something to do with him being an infant when Mary was killed where Dean was a bit older and actually remembers her. Mary is someone that Sam heard stories about but doesn’t ever remember knowing so it’s possible that he has more distance from her than Dean does. As such he is able to approach the situation more rationally and be the voice of reason about her needing time to collect herself.

Dean is most upset that Mary won’t answer her phone which makes sense to Sam considering she isn’t good with technology but Dean is worried about her all the same. He assumes the worst outcome of a lack of communication and seems like a coiled spring ready to leap into action without having any idea where to go. There is pay-off to this when Dean finally receives a text message from her and is calmed by it. I’m not sure why he decides to keep it from Sam but maybe he selfishly wants this moment to himself. I hope so because the last thing we need is to go down the dishonesty road again.

I found the case of the week is both interesting and unsettling. The old plot line brought back is Azazel creating an army of psychic children to carry out his master plan. This hasn’t been brought up in a long time so the episode gets a continuity win just for revisiting that.

The idea of an abused child accidentally doing harm to people in the town through her psychic abilities was a great reveal and shone a fascinating light on the concept of child abuse. Playing with the idea of what would go through the head of someone being abused if they had abilities like that is fascinating and the episode does a good job of exploring that.


Sam is able to do some good

Magda (Paloma Kwiatkowski) is a sympathetic character who clearly has no malicious intent. She has no control of these abilities that she doesn’t understand and has been led to believe that she is possessed by the Devil. Her mother (Elissa Ciullo) has made her believe that and she lacks a reason to believe otherwise. She is also without hope as everyone else thinks she’s dead. It’s a really heartbreaking situation and perfectly exemplified by her whip herself. She believes herself to be evil and punishes herself for it. It wasn’t until sitting down to write this that I realised just how powerful it is.

When she is free of it she has a really interesting pep talk from Sam. He assures her that she isn’t evil and will be able to control her abilities. Hurting others is a choice she can make and it’s up to her to make sure that she doesn’t. This is great for Sam as well as I don’t remember him ever managing to put forward his own views on his experiences. He is able to speak from experience as he has been overwhelmed by his powers and was able to come back from it. Magda is nowhere near as far gone as he was so she can definitely deal with it. I feel that this was cathartic for Sam who got to genuinely help someone struggling with the same thing he did.

It’s a shame that Magda is killed at the end of the episode as this character had a lot of potential to be brought back. It wasn’t even in service of anything interesting as it only reminds us that Mr. Ketch is still out there and is working against the Winchesters. It really feels like a waste of a good character and brings the episode down with a bland ending that wasn’t needed. Leaving us with the text message followed by Sam and Dean driving off would have been the perfect bittersweet ending for this sort of episode.

I liked the rare twist of having a human villain. The supernatural elements were still present through Magda but it was her mother that was the real problem. It built gradually and mercifully the life choices of her and her husband, Abraham (William McDonald) didn’t come across as preachy. Their views were presented to us but not in a way that makes them out to be judging everyone around them. The obsession with looking at screens was mentioned but only in a way that explains the reasons they live the way they do rather than insulting the audience who are viewing the show on a screen. Later the mother is shown to be completely insane but the gradual build-up to that point worked really well. So far this season has been full of surprises which makes the slow plotting feel worthwhile.


Mary learns how to use modern technology


An excellent episode that allows Sam and Dean to put their feelings about Mary’s departure in context. Dean internalises everything while acting aggressively and Sam approaches it more rationally. Their different approaches are played well by Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki and are handled mostly through subtext. Magda is an interesting character that combines the concept of child abuse with psychic powers in interesting ways. It’s a shame that she is killed at the end and the ending of the episode really hurts the overall experience. Magda’s mother is really well handled with her psychosis being gradually revealed. So far this season is definitely full of surprises and the slow plotting definitely feels worthwhile.


  • 8.5/10
    American Nightmare - 8.5/10


Kneel Before…

  • the exploration of Sam and Dean’s feelings on their mother’s departure
  • a compelling human villain
  • combining child abuse with supernatural abilities
  • Sam giving Magda the benefit of his experience

Rise Against…

  • an ending that hurts the episode
User Review
9/10 (4 votes)