“Swamp Meat” Review
By Amanda Rebholz
While the filler episodes have been running rampant lately (this one had about five minutes of actual plot that was pertinent to the Apocalypse storyline, primarily the bit involving Sam’s vessel and a bounty being put out on Dean by all of Hell – which we already could’ve inferred without having it spelled out for us, and I’m not sure why Sam was so shocked by the news), “Swap Meat” was one of the more enjoyable ones from this season for me. Once again given a chance to expand his acting chops, seeing Jared Padalecki struggle with the frustrations of being his usual stoic macho self in the body of a nerdy seventeen-year-old virgin was hilarious. Likewise, the episode had some genuinely touching moments which really hit home; some of the strongest scenes were the ones between Gary-as-Sam and Dean.
It’s no secret that Dean and Sam have been alienated from each other for a long time now; they clearly still love each other but are always just shy of repairing their broken relationship and going back to being full-time brothers. When a naive young man with no knowledge of Dean and Sam’s turmoil comes into the scene and possesses Sam’s body, he is able to act as a vessel for the things that the real Sam would’ve never brought himself to say. Scenes such as him telling Dean “No, really, you’re a good guy” and his speech about how it was nice to just relax and kick ass instead of worrying about the inevitable outcome of their lives were very heartfelt, and everything that needed to be said about them was said in Dean’s expression when he said “I’ll drink to that.”
Deep down, Dean wants nothing more than his brother back; from the pilot episode Dean has been driven by an overwhelming sense of loyalty and love for his family, and it is family that has motivated everything he’s ever done on the show good or bad. Family is what cost Jo and Ellen their lives, and what cost Dean and Sam their parents’ lives as well as their own. In that single moment of Dean toasting who he thought was his brother, it was as if the last few years of stress and strife hadn’t touched them at all. The gratitude and the brief connection there, and in tiny moments like Gary asking Dean to turn up the rock music or indulging in a bacon cheeseburger with him, showed just how desperately lonely Dean is, and how much he wants to reconnect with Sam. It was clear that Dean’s spider-sense was tingling about “Sam”‘s odd behavior, but he neglected to pursue the weirdness out of sheer desire for it to just be the two of them having fun again.
Don’t worry, Dean, we’re with you. Every fan sitting at home watching these past few episodes have found ourselves longing more than once for the prank wars and witty banter of earlier seasons.
The focus on Satanic worship among teenagers was an interesting point as well; for several years now, even before the tragedy of Columbine brought it to the mainstream’s attention, adolescents have been associating with the Dark Arts because it’s “cool” or “edgy”. Music, fashion, and films aimed at teenage demographics often glorify the involvement of Satan simply for the sake of being controversial to get media coverage; it was both apt and interesting to see ‘Supernatural’ tackle this in such a way as to show that the kids were way out of their league and messing with something that was well beyond their scope of knowledge. Having the demon kill the teenager was both brutal as well as gutsy, no pun intended— well done on the writing staff’s behalf, since network shows usually shy from things like bloodily disemboweling arrogant teenagers! The next time a Winchester tells you to quit doing something, you better listen.
Everyone who was ever a teenager in high school remembers how it felt; the crushing social pressure, the propaganda, the hormones, the insecurities, and the urge to prove everyone else wrong. No matter if you were popular or not, high school was a time of trials and tribulations, and for Gary and his friends in “Swap Meat”, adding black magick to the mix didn’t do much to improve their social lives. But in the end, Gary did the right thing when it counted, and saved the day.
In the closing scene, Sam tells Dean “that apple pie family stuff is stressful. We didn’t miss out,” it was interesting to see just how much he’s changed since the pilot episode. In the first two seasons, Sam constantly expressed his desire to have a normal life with real friends and a career; he was sentimental about things like his old soccer trophy. He was the one in “After School Special” who made a genuine effort to fit in and acclimate to the new surroundings, to make friends and do his homework, while Dean shunned all things ‘normal’ and embraced his nomadic, weird lifestyle.
However, the change began to occur somewhere around the middle of Season Three; we saw Dean begin longing for a more serious relationship and the possibility of children, and for the most part he hasn’t had a frivolous sex life in several seasons. Dean has stepped up to the plate to shoulder the brunt of the responsibility for the Apocalypse despite a lot of it being Sam’s fault; Dean has very much grown up. In the opposite aspect, we’ve seen Sam become self-indulgent, petulant and whiny (in the months of dating Ruby), as well as angry, rebellious and full of pent-up rage. It seems that all of the times he was called ‘freak’ throughout the show have begun to sink into Sam’s persona, and he has stopped bucking back against the idea. He is a much more jaded, bitter man than he was a few years ago, and he seems perfectly content never to have the American life he once wanted so badly. Or perhaps it’s just that he realized that it never would’ve come to pass, not with the way their destinies have been chosen for them since day one, and so his own thoughts are parallel to Gary’s own in this episode— instead of worrying about what you already know is inevitable, just rage against things as they come and kick as much ass as possible along the journey.