The Winchesters – Season 1 Episode 8
“Hang On to Your Life”
The Winchesters returns from hiatus with a family reunion a tricky threat for Carlos to navigate.
One thing I have consistently praised about The Winchesters is its light touch when it comes to fan service. Many prequels overload viewers with winks and nods to future events but this show rarely falls into that trap and mostly focuses on adding to the Supernatural lore rather than dipping into it. This means that the appearance of a monster featured in the parent show in this episode is acceptable because it’s the first instance of them doing so.
Richard Speight Jr. returning as the Trickster/Loki/Gabriel is welcome because he was consistently entertaining in Supernatural and is a rare threat that can be comedic as well as formidable. His plan here is to curse wannabe singers and force them to save their own lives by serenading a member of the audience, therefore, marking them to be burned alive. It’s a simple plan that is unquestionably sadistic and allows for insight into Carlos’ past that slots him neatly into the lead of this particular plot.
As well as his military service, it turns out that Carlos pursued a career in music some years ago and turned his back on it because his sense of responsibility forced him to pivot to Hunting. It’s brand new information as far as Carlos goes but it’s also a backstory that suits him and allows for some compelling introspection that adds depth to the character. Justifying giving up music because he knew it would only be a matter of time before running into a supernatural threat that needed to be killed clearly weighs heavily on him. He talks as if he had no choice in the matter which acts as a firm declaration of his morality. Carlos isn’t someone who can turn away when people need help and that mindset prompted him to make a profound personal sacrifice.
The episode doesn’t fully exploit the “road not taken” idea even though it’s clearly driving at it with Carlos being pulled into a case that forces him to think about his decision to leave that part of his life behind. The focus is on solving the case with brief coverage of Carlos choosing Hunting over music. It gets the balance mostly right but digging deeper into Carlos’ love of music to enhance the notion of a profound sacrifice being made in the name of Hunting could have resulted in a far more powerful point being made.
Hunting being a deep personal sacrifice for anyone who either chooses or finds themselves forced into the life is something that comes up time and again in both shows. Hunting is an all-encompassing undertaking where generally the only exit from it is death and those who decide to Hunt give up any other ambition they had. It’s something that affects all of the characters in both shows to varying degrees. For Carlos it was a choice that paradoxically seemed to be the only option with what he wanted out of life not even factoring into the equation. There’s something very tragic about that and this episode was the perfect opportunity to explore that rather than glancing at it.
His innate goodness ends up being instrumental in solving the case as the curse relies on the one afflicted to be selfish and motivated by self-preservation but Carlos could never bring himself to be responsible for bringing harm to others so refuses to select a victim which breaks the curse and defeats Loki. It’s a satisfying resolution that comes from who Carlos is as a person and is earned by the work put into depicting his morality.
Lata as the secondary character for this plot works well enough though there’s very little actual development for her. The show has organically built their friendship so their bond feels natural and Lata clearly gains a greater understanding of him through what she learns in this episode. Little touches like her teasing him about his stage name and choice of costuming add to the realism of their connection and her unwavering support of him when he takes the stage for possibly the final time at the end of the episode is wonderfully charming.
Something that doesn’t work is Carlos’ assertion that the team are his family. It’s a natural point for the group dynamic to reach but deploying it at this point is completely unearned. With only 7 episodes preceding this one, there hasn’t been a lot of time to establish the team as a found family. The show hasn’t focused on developing character relationships anywhere near strongly enough for Carlos declaring that the team are family to him to have the resonance that it needs to. Making it believable isn’t something the writers can credit themselves with so it stands out as being a bizarre inclusion.
The Trickster aka Loki making his earliest chronological appearance was a nice touch. This is the weakest story that he has appeared in as very few of his usual over-the-top hijinks were used. He’s a fairly standard threat with a talent for deception and a few tricks up his sleeve but nowhere near on the level of what Supernatural fans will be used to. Richard Speight Jr. takes every chance to chew the scenery and is bursting with manic energy but the framework of the episode doesn’t support him. This is mitigated somewhat by the strong Carlos-centric story but the opportunities that exist when using this character were definitely squandered.
Samuel’s return fills up the other plot in the episode and progresses the ongoing Akrida plot. He deliriously talks about knowing where to find the Queen and is nursed back to health by John, Mary and Millie with the help of Ada’s magic tea. Every episode so far has made reference to Samuel’s disappearance and Mary’s need to find him. She has two reasons for needing to find him; the first is that she is obviously concerned about him and wants to know if he’s alive and well. The second is that finding him will give her the chance to express her desire to turn away from Hunting and live a normal life. The Carlos-centric plot neatly syncs with this by providing a practical reminder of how difficult bordering on impossible that is to accomplish.
Finding her father so that she can close the door on her life as a Hunter has been her goal from the very first episode and now she has found him. We’re only at just beyond the midpoint of the season so things can’t play out as Mary intended. The issue is discussed but far from resolved which makes sense for this point in the season. Supernatural spent years dealing with Sam and Dean’s complicated feelings about their father so wrapping Mary and Samuel’s communication issues in a single episode would have been cheap. Samuel is very much the dominant figure in this relationship as Mary still lacks the wherewithal to truly stand up to him. She tries on two occasions but is quickly overruled because of Samuel’s imposing and authoritative presence. This sets up a clear progression path of Mary to find the confidence to stand up to Samuel and have it stick.
Samuel’s presence allows him to be characterised in his own right rather than the absent figure only defined through Mary’s account of him. This means he can answer for his behaviour rather than Mary assuming the worst about it as she did previously. He talks about not telling her why he left because she’s stubborn just as he is and wouldn’t accept that he needed to do this on his own. This draws a connection between them in that they are more alike than Mary would care to admit. The reason he left was to investigate rumours of something that could get rid of all monsters and create a safe world for Mary to inhabit where there is nothing to hunt. He realises that forcing her into the life of a Hunter was wrong just as it was wrong for his father to do it to him and is taking steps to make up for that mistake by going off on this quest by himself. His goal is for Mary to not hate him in the way he hated his father.
All of this seems reasonable and even noble in a way but it’s also an extension of the same mistakes Samuel has been making throughout Mary’s entire life. Leaving without telling Mary why only caused her to worry and devote herself to tracking him down so it had the opposite of his intended effect. Instead of Mary coming on this quest with him, she followed in his footsteps which placed her in further danger. Another issue is with his plan to rid the world of all monsters so that Mary doesn’t have to hunt any more. It’s undeniably a good thing both for Mary and for any potential victim of monsters but it’s also another example of Samuel forcing Mary into something.
Hunting wasn’t a choice for her and her arc over the season has been about claiming her own sense of agency. She planned to choose to turn away from Hunting because she has never been able to choose anything in her life. Samuel’s plan doesn’t consider her right to choose as he’s operating on the mantra of forcing her out of the life after forcing her into it. The end result is the same and his plan being successful has a widespread positive impact but it’s a failure to consider Mary’s feelings and a problematic reaction to his own guilt about what he did to her. This is reinforced by his decision to leave to pursue a different angle in stopping the Akrida and essentially ordering Mary and John to carry on as they were. At no point does he consider Mary’s desire for agency and behaves like a general. Mary is so used to that being the basis of their relationship that she fails to challenge him on it so there’s a great deal yet to be resolved between them.
Samuel’s presence is good for worldbuilding. His conversation with Millie establishes that animosity exists between Hunters and Men of Letters. Samuel’s perception as a Hunter is that Men of Letters hide underground with books while Hunters put themselves in real danger. In Supernatural it’s established that Men of Letters see Hunters as brutish thugs with no finesse or intelligence but for the purposes of this episode, there is nobody affiliated with the Men of Letters to present the other side of the argument. Samuel referring to them as “Mole Men” was a great touch as it’s a casual detail that adds so much texture to the world. Millie bringing in her own resentment of the Men of Letters due to losing her husband because of them allows her to relate to Samuel in her own way. She also acknowledges that Hunting seems to be doing John good for now so she’s happy to support it. Taking time to allow the two parents to talk and compare perspectives was valuable.
John and Mary’s kiss receives attention. Initially, Mary wants to put the brakes on dealing with it because she’s overwhelmed by emotion brought on by Samuel’s return. They discuss it and both are on the same page as not regretting it. John is adamant it wasn’t meant as a final moment of pleasure in the face of certain death and Mary doesn’t want to forget it but circumstances mean it’s a conversation for a later time. Fortunately, that later time comes in the very same episode and they appear to embark on a relationship. The actors have strong chemistry which elevates the content they’re performing but the show hasn’t successfully developed their background romantic interest in each other to the point that this development makes sense. Perhaps the notion of them rushing into being a couple will come up and make use of that fact but for now, it’s certainly an abrupt and unnatural development.
The ending teasing the inclusion of Dean in the ongoing story is a compelling development. A lingering question hanging over the show is how it connects to Supernatural as things depicted here such as John being a Hunter don’t match with the canon established in the parent show. It could be that this is set in an alternate universe or time travel or Dean orchestrating things from Heaven has altered events in the canon timeline. Either way, the reveal that Dean was the one to give John Henry’s letter is an interesting development and an intriguing mystery going into the second half of the season.
A good episode that organically develops Carlos in compelling ways and makes good use of Samuel’s presence in furthering Mary’s arc. Carlos’ backstory is brand new information but it suits him and allows for compelling introspection that adds depth to the character. His reasoning for turning his back on pursuing music acts as a firm declaration of his morality. The episode doesn’t fully exploit the “road not taken” idea and only glances at the notion of choice in relation to living the life of a Hunter. Carlos’ innate goodness ends up being instrumental in solving the case. It’s a satisfying resolution that comes from who Carlos is as a person and is earned by the work put into depicting his morality. Lata receives very little in terms of development as the secondary character of this plot but her friendship with Carlos has been naturally built over the course of the season so their bond feels natural. Carlos’ assertion that the team are family to him doesn’t work because the show hasn’t earned the team being a found family. The Trickster aka Loki’s appearance was a nice touch though the episode doesn’t use him as well as it could. Richard Speight Jr. chews the scenery wonderfully but the framework of the episode doesn’t support him.
Samuel’s return fills up the other plot. He is very much the dominant figure in the Samuel/Mary relationship as Mary still lacks the wherewithal to truly stand up to him. She tries but is overruled because of Samuel’s imposing and authoritative presence. This sets up a clear progression path of Mary to find the confidence to stand up to Samuel and have it stick. His presence allows him to be characterised in his own right than the absent figure only defined through Mary’s account of him. His reasons for leaving and not telling her seem reasonable and noble on the surface but they are also extensions of the mistakes he has made throughout her life. He is still failing to consider her desire to choose. This is reinforced by his decision to leave to pursue a different angle in stopping the Akrida and essentially ordering Mary and John to carry on as they were. At no point does he consider Mary’s desire for agency and behaves like a general. Mary is so used to that being the basis of their relationship that she fails to challenge him on it so there’s a great deal yet to be resolved between them. John and Mary’s kiss receives attention and quickly results in them seeming to embark on a relationship. The actors have strong chemistry which elevates the content they’re performing but the show hasn’t successfully developed their background romantic interest in each other to the point that this development makes sense. Teasing Dean at the end of the episode is a compelling development and an intriguing mystery going into the second half of the season.
- the addition to Carlos’ backstory making sense
- his reasoning to give up pursuing music acting as a firm declaration of his morality
- his sacrifice feeling earned because of the groundwork establishing his morality
- the natural Carlos/Lata friendship
- Richard Speight Jr. chewing scenery
- Samuel being characterised in his own right
- Mary still struggling to stand up to him
- Samuel’s reasoning for disappearing appearing to make sense on the surface but furthering the mistakes he has made throughout Mary’s life
- leaving it with a great deal to be resolved and a clear development path for Mary
- casual worldbuilding in Samuel and Millie’s conversation
- the handling of the aftermath of John and Mary’s kiss
- the tease of Dean
- not fully exploiting the “road not taken” angle
- Carlos’ unearned declaration that he considers the team family
- squandering the potential of Loki/the Trickster
- John and Mary’s relationship being an abrupt and unnatural development
What did you think? Select your rating in the “User Review” box below
User Review( votes)
We’d love to know your thoughts on this and anything else you might want to talk about. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up. Don’t forget to share your rating in the “User Ratings” box
If you want to chat to me directly then I’m on Twitter as well.