When the metaphor and supernatural bug in question strike the right chord, it can make for a very compelling one-shot which the Winchesters handled with sincere cunning and bravado. Cole returns, this time as an ally while a pair of infected military officers perform unthinkable acts due to a parasite causing them to drink anything from vase water to human blood for satiation. With no interference from angel or demon, Sam and Dean embark on this mission as hunters doing what they do, saving people and stomping things.
One-shots are always iffy for me, especially when bug-like elements are involved. I haven’t been much a fan in those cases because they always felt very run-of-the-mill. “The Things They Carried” plays that premise a bit smarter this time around and incorporates a very serious tone, which really sold the series back when season one first aired. If the brothers are unquestionably worried, the stakes always seem higher. In this instance, Cole, who’s knew to the idea of the supernatural becomes infected while trying to save a friend, Kit. The bug parasite causing the agony and pain of a human isn’t anything new, but it ties very closely to the affects officers sometimes endure when returning from deployment or a specific mission. While Dean professed that their job is to eliminate creatures and any humans embedded in those dark acts, Cole stresses the need to save the man he knows. Where the story takes a predictable turn is when the brothers split up. At that point it was fairly obvious which infected person was going to make it out alive.
The opportunity to put Cole’s life on the line meant placing Dean in a position of serious contemplation. If it weren’t for the connection to him and the events surrounding Cole’s father, I imagine the scene at the cabin would have played out quite differently. What wasn’t capitalized was Cole facing anything from his past he couldn’t deal with, not withstanding the murder of his father, which to this day still hasn’t been explained with what kind of monster he was. In fact, how they glossed over it suggests there’s still room to pursue that storyline if they chose to. Cole’s father became something monstrous which means Cole’s completely human. That may never have been in question, but now we’re sure.
The situation with the bugs does bring up a few points I’m not certain were fully fleshed out. The bug required water or virtually any liquid to sustain itself in a host, which suggests that it’s natural habitat should be either in a body of water or where there’s heavy condensation, neither of which were present during the military operation. If it’s only way to ingest liquid is through the body of a host then that does make sense, such as the bugs being in an area where sweltering heat and dust would killing them or making them weak. But then there’s the problem with infecting human hosts to begin with. It’s clear that over time, their consumption of water increases to the point where blood becomes an optional source. It doesn’t really specify that blood nourishes the bug, if anything the first victim proved he had the capacity to end his existence through fire because of what happened.
And finally, there’s the subject of two parasites inside of Kit. There’s no way to know how many are in what bodies, but the standard parasite rule is one bug per human. How Kit ended up with two kind of confuses the scenario. If he had two, he should have likely succumbed to the cravings of the parasite much sooner than the first guy, unless the creature reproduced asexually and then the rule is out the window. Usually creatures of that sort don’t though as standard practice. I think having Kit have to was necessary for plot purposes because Kit needed to be away so Sam could be away so Dean and Cole could have their moment of car-battery torture and sweating. And I don’t want to go too into detail on why the concept of a sweat lodge in a log cabin doesn’t work in the way it was portrayed, but suffice it to say, the position of the fire was wrong, and there was too much space to truly get the effect Dean was aiming for.
The episode ends with Cole saved, Kit unfortunately terminated, and Dean nonchalantly explaining to Sam that doing everything right can still result in a person’s death. Although I think Captain Picard said it best: “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life.” Although the context was slightly different. Ok, moving on.
Sam and Cole inside the cabin dealing with purging the parasite was the focal point of this episode. It marked the last bits of blame and understanding from Cole in absolving Dean of what he did to Cole’s father. And to prove his worthiness as an endearing character, Cole toughed it out and made it out whole.
And because Cole toughed it out and made it out whole, he gets the MVP. Other characters have folded under less pressure, but his training and will to live pulled him through even though it also took Dean’s reluctance to end Cole’s life even when pushed to the brink. They demonstrated camaraderie an maybe even an alliance in the future.
LONG TERM THOUGHTS
Now that Cole has met his nickname quota, I imagine he’ll be set for at least another episode or two down the road. Especially when he say things like “I still hope I don’t see the two of you anymore.” That’s just a trigger for more guest appearances under obnoxious circumstances.
It really wasn’t until now that I fully realized Dean’s extreme gluttonous nature. Yes he chows down on burgers, brats, beer, and bacon like there’s no tomorrow, but they’re always fixated points when eating usually occurs. Now he’s swiping frosting off a cake as if the idea of not eating what was in front of him was an absurd concept. I know it was a moment that was meant to be funny, but to me it was a plant to show that he’s still completely falling for his vices which means his ability to swear off killing from the mark isn’t going to be effective much at all.
This also marks one of those few episodes where as agents they don’t give a pair of names meant to resemble something culturally exclusive to nerds and band-know-it-alls. It’s as if not doing so means the episode is encased in a more serious tone. I should research this.
One other note is that the episode didn’t bookend like it usually does. It started off with Dean declaring to Sam that they’ve researched everything they could about the mark of Cain and what Dean really needs is Sam’s support during this crucial time. The ep ends more on Sam’s concern that he was forced to kill Kit even though Dean practically shrugged it off. I want to say it’s a portent because Sam’s the likely candidate to stop Dean should the mark of Cain engulf him completely, but I just didn’t get enough of that vibe.
And speaking of researching, Sam has to be desperate for information on the mark if he’s searching Google through his phone. He’s persistent I’ll give him that, but seriously, the internet? Hasn’t this show become meta enough that it should more than make fun of itself for using methods like that? Just a thought.
Though a bit cliché at times, this episode was a very well done stand-alone piece. The tone was dark and layered and the third wheel didn’t feel like a third wheel. Cole brought his A game and performed solidly. 8 out of 10. The mark of Cain is nowhere near resolved, but Dean is determined to stave off anything that prevents him from doing the day to day with his brother. Though the time will come when Sam may be forced to do unthinkable acts, or perhaps Dean will do something to ensure he doesn’t hurt anyone again. We’ll see who finds their version of the resolution first. Thanks for reading.
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