There are two major moments in “Atomic Monsters,” the fourth episode of Supernatural season 15, that redefine the season’s trajectory. Neither of them have to do with the episode case, which is more problematic in the larger canon of the show than the episode specifics. More on that later.
The Cold Open
The cold open is the first one. The hallways of the bunker are drenched in red lights, the standard indicator there’s been a breach. A guy gets thrown into the wall, entering from off screen. A bearded and scarf-wearing Dean enters the scene, fighting off multiple attackers. It should be noted that Jensen Ackles is back in the director’s chair this episode after a four year break, and it’s a terrific return. Dean runs into a room where more attackers have already been taken care of. If Dean’s beard and scarf addition wasn’t obvious that something’s up with this entire sequence, then the appearance of Benny (Ty Olsson), Dean’s vampire friend who died in season eight, should be clear enough.
He dies in this scene too, but not before telling Dean he’ll “see [him] on the other side, brother.” Benny is dressed in combat gear and earlier in this scene, Dean passes another combat-gear guy in the hallway, whom he acknowledges with a nod. Dean heads into the main area of the bunker. It’s there where he comes across Sam, except it’s not Sam. Or perhaps it is. The scene leaves it ambiguous, but Jared Padalecki’s performance is reminiscent of his season five performance as Lucifer. Dean pleads with his brother to stop drinking demon blood — evidence this could just be Sam as we know him, but high on demon blood — and then Sam kills Dean by breaking his neck, also reminiscent of season five. Then, Sam wakes from his first vision since season two.
The whole sequence does a great job at establishing the new norm of Sam and Dean’s world, using non-verbal communication and bits of dialogue to establish what’s going on in this particular scene as well as what’s happened to lead up to it. It also doesn’t feel like a vision. In the past, Sam’s visions always had a dream-like haze over them, with images moving at a slower pace. It’s not interested in calling out the fact that it’s setting up events for later in the season, despite the fact that’s exactly what’s it’s doing.
In fact, it’s so nonchalant that it took me a couple of rewatches of the scene to pick up some small tidbits of information. In the conversation between Sam and Dean, Sam mentions that something happened in Sioux Falls. Dean says Sam did something (probably killed) both Bobby and Jody, and that throughout the entire scene, Dean repeatedly calls his brother “Sam,” not Lucifer. Sam also seems to be in league with a bunch of demons, who might be following him like they once did Lucifer. Is this Sam as the antichrist?
Who knows when these events will eventually take place, but they certainly add a layer of dread and tension to current present day happenings, especially when it comes to Sam’s god wound. Regardless, this is an excellent cold open, and the most interesting part of this episode.
Chuck Seeks Out More Writing Help. Becky Returns.
Even though we’ve known Chuck in two different iterations — first as a prophet of the lord and second as the lord himself — there’s always been a constant theme surrounding him: writing. As a prophet, Chuck wrote the “Supernatural” books based on “visions” he was receiving from “god” that featured the Winchester brothers, for some reason. And for seasons four and five, this played well enough as meta commentary on fandom and the show itself, as well as provided a framework for creator Eric Kripke to leave the show. Season five’s “Swan Song” wasn’t just a swan song for Sam, but for Kripke as well, using Chuck as his avatar to gracefully bow out of the Winchester storyline. Chuck, like Kripke, left the show when it seemed like everything was finally okay, with the heavy implication that Chuck might have been more than a prophet all along, creating worlds and shaping characters to his own imagination. In season four’s “The Monster at the End of This Book,” Chuck even makes a joke about how he’s “probably a god.”
Then, season 11 comes along. Chuck returns, but this time he’s fully dropped the “Chuck, prophet of the lord” persona and is officially reclaiming his role as God. Even so, his return is centered around him struggling to write his biography, in which he recruits Metatron to help him write it. Here, though, he’s more of a reluctant hero, looking for some redemption.
His presence in season 15 also centers on writing. But now more than ever, writing feels even more like a metaphor for playing God. In this case, Chuck has turned into a bitter, righteous asshole, mad about losing control of his creations, who are no longer following his plan. Like season 11’s “Don’t Call Me Shurley,” Chuck seeks help for his writing. With Metatron gone, that help comes in the form of Becky, Chuck’s ex-girlfriend and number one fan. Where “Don’t Call Me Shurley” portrayed Chuck as a struggling writer and on the verge of giving up, his conversations with Becky shows an even more unhinged Chuck. After Becky helps him find his writing groove again, Chuck disseminates Becky and her family after writing an ending that Becky deemed too dark and sure to upset fans.
The juxtaposition between “Don’t Call Me Shurley” and “Atomic Monsters” when it comes to Chuck is pretty remarkable. Rob Benedict plays Chuck’s quickly deteriorating state of mind close to the surface, but never over the top. The only thing that loses me here is how exactly Chuck writing that ending means it’s going to come to pass.
I don’t have a lot to say about this week’s case. It is a return to the monster-of-the-week format, but the case itself is wholly unremarkable. A couple of cheerleaders go missing in Iowa. Dean and Sam discover it’s probably a vampire and then further discover it’s a teenage lacrosse player who had recently been turned. There’s some larger implications to how this whole thing plays out, and it doesn’t necessarily make Sam and Dean look good, or it’s just the show not being aware of how the solution to this case looks.
The teenager, Billy, takes full credit for killing his girlfriend Susie, and for kidnapping another girl (though this was done by his father) so he could continuously feed off of her. Billy lays out a game plan to ensure his parents won’t be arrested and hands himself over to Dean and Sam, who execute him in the woods. In the long history of Supernatural, Sam and Dean have usually played it as a case-by-case basis on whether or not certain supernatural creatures got to live. Usually, this involves multiple fights between the two of them, but it’s ultimately come down to more dead supernatural creatures than ones left alive.
In Billy’s case, however, it’s clear there was a chance to provide mercy on a newly turned vampire, especially one willing to hand himself over for execution and his name be tarnished in the eyes of the community. Billy was given no opportunity to balance his new situation with his old life because Sam and Dean never give him one. This is made even worse during Sam and Dean’s post-case Impala conversation when Dean says he feels good because they “saved lives” and are back to “hunting things.” No, man, you didn’t and you haven’t. You killed a kid and his parents lost their son. That doesn’t feel like something worth celebrating.
Sam, though, he doesn’t feel good about any of it, but that has more to do with the culmination of their lives and the recent deaths of Jack and Rowena. Still, Sam’s headspace is a little concerning and, considering that cold open, Dean should probably save his self-congratulatory speeches for another time.
This Week’s Wayward Thoughts
Actually, I don’t have a lot of them. Except this moment when Sam channeled Cas: “Actually, the end of the world is the end of the world.”
“Leviathans are cool.”
Obviously, it’s not clear on how Sam’s visions are returning. In the beginning, his visions were the result of the yellow-eyed demon and once he was killed, those death visions seemingly went away. His demon blood powers came back in different forms for seasons four and five, and in season 11, Sam thought he was receiving visions from God. But those weren’t the death visions like he got in seasons one and two, and certainly nothing like the one from this episode. Looking forward to an explanation on this one.
Becky redeemed herself in this episode. But then Chuck sent her away with her family, with an ambiguous “don’t worry, they’re not dead.” They probably are, and Becky probably is. Oh well.