If you don’t like sappy sentimentality, I’d suggest skipping over this particular review of Supernatural’s sixth episode of its 12th season, “Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox,” because I’m about to gush about how much I loved it.
It’s not just because Mary’s back (and what a return it is!). It’s not just because Sheriff Jody Mills lives on for more guest appearances. And it’s not just because the two of them get to meet — the Winchester’s pseudo-mom and their actual mom, a meeting I’d never imagined — but there’s this sense of community running deep throughout this episode, something Supernatural has been lacking in previous seasons. When I say “lacking,” I don’t mean that because the rest of the show hasn’t had that feeling it hasn’t been good. I personally think season 11 is pretty much the best season of this show. But while the fight for Heaven and Hell raged on, it was always the Winchesters on the front line. I never really had a problem with that, but there was always this niggling wonder in the back of my mind — where’s all the other hunters?
I don’t think we’ve seen a hunter gathering like the one in “Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox” since the Roadhouse in season two. Occasionally, Sam and Dean would come across small groups of hunters throughout the rest of the show, but they were always big, mean, and held a righteous fury toward the Winchesters. The way the Winchesters seem to be at the center of any apocalyptic drama, maybe they had a right to that anger. But the hunter community makes a grand return this episode, and it’s because of Asa Fox.
We meet Asa Fox for the first time in the episode’s cold open, as a young boy in 1980, being chased by a werewolf. Right before he’s about to be eaten, he’s saved by a hunter. It’s no ordinary hunter, however. It’s Mary Winchester, cleaning up a few monster loose ends before she officially retires to focus on her family. It’s because of her family Mary doesn’t stick around to answer Asa’s monster questions, so she drops him off at his house and heads back to Kansas. The rest of the cold open is dedicated to Asa though, a neat little montage of Asa growing up, hunting for monsters, fueled by his bright-eyed curiosity and the thankfulness toward the mysterious woman who saved him from a beast. But, as with many hunters, Asa dies on a hunt years later, and his friends and family are left to mourn.
Throughout the run of Supernatural, we’ve been shown time and time again that the hunter’s life isn’t a pretty one. It’s often short, brutal, and bloody. They either die hunting monsters, or they become one. It can be a cynical life, one deplete of family and friends and a purpose that never goes past obsession and revenge. “Celebrating the Life of Asa Fox” shows a different side to that life. Asa didn’t start hunting because of some tragic backstory (although being chased down by a werewolf might leave an impression), it started with a burgeoning sense of wonder to a new world. Jody’s introduction to the supernatural world did start tragically, with the death of her husband and son, but she has since moved on from that. She’s built a new family with Sam, Dean, and her two adopted daughters Alex and Claire. And like she tells the Winchesters, she’s not some boring small town sheriff when the boys aren’t around. She has a life. That other side is there in the title of the episode, too. When Sam, Dean, and Jody walk into Asa’s wake, it’s not sad and dour. There’s a celebration going on. A celebration, because Asa was a good man who liked helping people, and there will be stories passed on about him for years to come.
It’s something all three Winchesters needed to see and hear. Sam and Dean, who generally avoid hunter gatherings, needed to know that people tell stories about them too, and that other hunters are excited to meet them. Maybe with a little less enthusiasm, but some appreciation can go a long way. And Mary, who’s been struggling with her return from Heaven, needed to be reminded that it’s okay to accept hunting as a lifestyle, because it’s not all bad. Even though we didn’t know Asa for very long, his story is important because it’s an example of how things can be different, if you just take the time to let it be.
On a smaller scale, the episode itself is refreshing. It’s not a typical hunt, and there’s no dressing up as FBI agents and conducting investigations. The entirety of the episode takes place at Asa’s wake, and soon becomes a single room psychological thriller when the demon Asa was hunting starts possessing the wake-goers. This set up has been done before across genre television, including an episode in Supernatural‘s sixth season, “And Then There Were None.” Then, it was a worm-possessing entity that ended up killing everyone but Sam, Dean, and Bobby. Here, though, besides the deaths of a couple of wake-goers we don’t know, everyone lives. The biggest tension came when the demon possessed Jody, a moment that had me gripping the edge of my seat. And the coolest part is when the seven remaining hunters say an exorcism, each starting where the other person left off once the demon flings them across the room, until the demon was fully exorcised. It’s teamwork at its finest, and in a show that often only has Sam and Dean fighting against other hunters, it’s a nice change of pace in terms of conflict resolution.
Let’s not forget about Billie the reaper, who returns at first to reap the soul of a wake-goer, and then to offer Mary a chance to go back to Heaven. Billie is a minor character, but every time she shows up, in season 11 and now season 12, I’ve never felt her presence was contrived. Her purpose for being in an episode always feels genuine to me, and this time, it’s to show us Mary making her decision to stay. I don’t think Mary will be back in the next episode, but at least this time she’s departing on more certain terms.
What a magnificent little episode of Supernatural. Next week, Cas and Crowley return. Here’s to hoping they have many anecdotes of their angel-demon buddy cop saga, considering we haven’t seen them since week three.