Supernatural Review 9×8: Rock and a Hard Place

Rock and a Hard Place

This week’s episode of Supernatural caused a lot of uproar in the fandom. There were many fans who enjoyed that it put Dean in some highly sexual situations, but the context around those situations were upsetting to many. The episode essentially villainized the decision to not have sex and pressured a character who’d made that decision into changing her mind. Additionally, the show once again fetishized race and culture, a concerning trait which the writers often push onto Dean for some strange reason. This reoccurring habit of his has alienated many fans and casts him in a negative light. It wasn’t all bad, though. Jody Mills was an absolute gift and I’m glad to have Kim Rhodes back on my TV screen. If it weren’t for her, the episode may have been a complete loss.

In this episode Dean finds himself sexually involved with a character named Suzy who is a former porn star. She’s changed her ways and has decided to lead a life of celibacy. The two lifestyles are drastically different, but the choice to go to such an extreme was hers to make. She seems to genuinely want to leave that life behind for much of the episode, but Dean pushes the issue and convinces her to break her vow of chastity. The moral choices of chastity or life as a porn star are not what’s up for debate here. Those topics can be divisive on their own, but the choice of which path to take should have been entirely hers.  I generally agree with the premise that sex is not something that we should be ashamed of, but I respect other’s choice to abstain. In this situation she made the choice to leave it behind and that should have been respected by Dean as well.  It’s possible her heart wasn’t entirely into her vow of chastity, but for much of the episode we are led to believe that it’s what she wants, so the drastic change is jarring.

Rock and a Hard PlaceAs mentioned above, Supernatural also returned to Dean’s baffling fetish for racial themed porn. We already know that he has a thing for ‘busty Asian beauties,’ but now he apparently enjoys Mexican themed porn starring white women as well. The previous racial fetish has turned off many fans, but adding another similar element will probably be the final nail in the coffin for a large number of people. It’s a sad truth that this show just doesn’t treat race issues delicately and sometimes it can be downright offensive. When things like this happen it becomes obvious that it’s something the show just can’t handle well, and its even worse that the writers seem to think Dean’s love of race fetish porn is a cute little joke. I see the anger and frustration all over my social media networks and I wonder how a show that’s been on for so long can continue to alienate so many of their fans so consistently.

KimRhodesThere was one beautiful, shining aspect of this episode that made it somewhat enjoyable. Kim Rhodes made a comeback as fan favorite Sheriff Jody Mills. If she’d been brought back in an episode that wasn’t so offensive on so many levels it probably would have been my favorite episode of the season for her alone. Her fate was left ambiguous last season, but during a conversation with Producer Jim Michaels at SDCC, we were told that she was coming back. Kim Rhodes herself later confirmed it on Twitter. We were all overjoyed about this, as she’s proven to be an extremely brave, capable, and compassionate character. In this episode she exhibited those very traits.  She got stabbed in the chest and not only survived, but yanked out the object and fought back against her assailant with it. Jody Mills continues to be one of the best female characters this show has ever done and I’m so incredibly grateful for her existence. The fact that Kim Rhodes also mentioned the controversy from the episode on her Twitter account makes me remember just how much I appreciate her existence as well. I hope we never lose her permanently from the show.

If you exclude the perfection that was Jody Mills, this episode was pretty terrible. Most of the episodes in the first half of Season 9 have been dramatically lower in quality than last season. With the mid-season finale coming next week I hope the show takes the winter break to re-evaluate its direction. This season has been rife with consent issues, poorly written female characters, offensive sexual humor, and the overused plot point of the brothers lying to each other. The show has always had problematic elements, but they haven’t always been so heavy or consistent. After disappointing Seasons 6 and 7, Season 8 came was a glimmer of hope that things were getting back on track. With the drop in quality on the front end of season 9, I fear things may be backsliding to its season 7 rut. The season isn’t over, however, and with less than half of the story complete there is a lot of room for things to change. I just hope that they can break this streak of episodic creepiness. It’s really starting to wear on us.

Author: Angel Wilson

Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.


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About the author

Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She's contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She's written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. She identifies as queer.

Comments

  1. To be honest with you I don’t really remember the first half of season 8 being all that high in quality, aside from Purgatory, and I liked several individual episodes (Hunter Heorici) and parts of others (What’s Up Tiger Mommy, Little Slice of Kevin). I think at the time people were excited about Cas returning, and the potential of various stories, enough to overlook some really bad writing (Sam/Amelia, Sam not looking for Dean and his reasons barely being explored, Benny’s trite backstory, some dull case of the week episodes, the horrible way that Martin was turned into some sort of cliche psycho, Sam’s incomprehensible hatred of Benny). Most of what you described as being problematic in this season was also very much present in much of season 8.

    I do agree with you about this episode, and the inherent racism and sexism.

    I think they are using consent issues to show how it’s wrong to do what Dean did to Sam, but it doesn’t come across well onscreen.

    I also agree with you about poorly written female characters. I thought Nora and Robin were OK and I thought Dorothy was great, but April and Suzy both got awful writing. So did Hael.

    1. It’s quite possible I was viewing season 8 through rose colored glasses because of the return of Castiel. I just don’t remember being so angry after almost every episode. I haven’t rewatched it yet and it might make an interesting comparison later on down the line.

      1. I loved most of what they did with Cas in the first half. It’s just that when he wasn’t around, which was often, my mind wandered more to stuff like how they trashed Sam.

        I know what you mean about feeling angry after episodes. I felt this way after the premiere, I’m No Angel, and Rock and a Hard Place. I hate that the show keeps doing this, because I’ve truly enjoyed some parts of this season (Bad Boys and Heaven’t Can’t Wait were both strong episodes, and I liked most of Slumber Party and Devil May Care; even the dog episode had its moments), and I think a few of the story ideas have great potential if they’re followed up on instead of brushed under the carpet like always. But they keep shooting at their own feet.

        I’m glad you mentioned the stand Kim Rhodes took. I hope people will tweet Jim Michaels and others to say they love Jody, because I don’t want her to lose her job through petty powers that be who wouldn’t want her speaking out.

        1. We told Michaels in person at Comic Con that we loved her and Charlie. He seemed to take it to heart.

          1. I’m happy to hear that. I’m afraid that the show might punish her for agreeing with some of the tweets, as they apparently talked to Misha when he criticized the show’s misogyny. I’m hoping they won’t.

  2. Thanks for articulating why many fans had issues with this episode. Dean’s enjoyment of sex, the fact that he takes pleasure from these brief encounters, has never bothered me. But the way the hook-up was presented and filmed and written struck me as unusually skeevy. If that was the point and a commentary on Dean’s downslide this season, it was sloppily conveyed, not to mention I don’t think even S1-3 Dean came across like this although he had his moments.

    The sex was consensual but that doesn’t erase the reasons why there are problems in how Suzy was presented. The lack of even one scene of follow-up with her pov, her thoughts, feelings, after breaking her vow of chastity, the cultural appropriation, the way the dialogue made it about Suzy as Dean’s fantasy girl, without much regard for what she might be going through, Dean rifling through her possessions, finding the dvd’s, and using that to come onto her, really bothered me.

    That said, I agree Jody Mills was the best part of the episode, the Sam and Jody scenes, and I liked the final scene with Sam and Dean.

    While I still feel S9 is a strong season, I did like S8 better and I do feel a sense of down-slip. S9 has had 2 eps so far I never want to rewatch (9.08 was overall a more engaging ep than 9.05), and one that I enjoyed but contained issues that could’ve been avoided (9.03, which disregarded the non-consensual nature of Castiel and April’s encounter, and afterwards turned Castiel having been seduced, lied to, and murdered into frat boy humor because Castiel had sex, rah rah). The main story arc of S9 is repetitive–secrets between the brothers, Dean doing something crazy to save Sam. I am finding it compelling regardless, and liking S9 overall. But I was far more excited about S8, which had only 1 episode that really put me off, and I greatly enjoyed both the first and second half. Hoping that S9 will improve from here.

    1. Wonderful commentary. Thank you. They treated Suzy like a conquest instead of a person. She was the porn star of Dean’s dreams. He just had to convince her to give up her vow of chastity to “win.” She wasn’t a person who made a choice about their sexuality. The framing was just terrible and upsetting.

      1. And it would have just taken one quick scene to show her POV after the crisis was over, to see Dean talking to her and showing her reaction. To just forget about her was lazy and showed a real lack of caring in the writing, and sloppiness. I don’t care if it’s “comedy” writing or not.

        1. they did show Suzie’s response, which made it worse! She said ‘I guess I’m not as strong as I thought I was.’ which to me signals regret, and the awfulness of the writer biting off way more than she could chew.

  3. Season 9 has been poorly executed. So were seasons 8, 7, & most of 6. I agree about the rose colored glasses. Post-Kripke Supernatural feels more like a kids show & the writers struggle for any kind of subtlety. If you’re looking for SPN to handle any social issues in a skillful manner I think you’ll always be disappointed.

    1. If we’re talking about writing with subtlety or any decent execution, I’d say only seasons 1, 2, and 4 fit the bill. The rest of them have been like bumper cars. Very, very tearful, emotional bumper cars.

      1. Season 4-That was a little too angsty for me but it was still very impressive television. S-2 & 5 are my favorites w/ s-2 just a little ahead.

        1. I cut season 4 slack because I liked the basic arc and I loved Cas, but you’re right, it was too much angst (and I hated what they did to Anna and Pamela – but I guess we’re going very far from the original recap).

          I think my favorites will always be the first season. The third season really mucked that up for me and since then I have always gone back and forth with the show.

          Probably the worst part for me is lazy scriptwriting. I really hope the reaction to this episode might wake some of them up. I think some of the people at the show are too comfortable and may figure hey, the show has proven itself, who cares. Even in season 9 you can still care. Look at shows like Knots Landing.

    2. I sadly agree. The worst part is that you can’t blame the genre on how terrible SPN handles these issues. Sleepy Hollow is the same genre and it handles race and gender issues really well.

  4. I really don’t know what kind of show you are watching? Do you want a social gender engeeniered Sesame Street filed with over emancipated unrealistic women & orwellian political correctness. Or do you only want two young boys on the road that do not grow up or don’t develop?
    I personally had fun watching this episode, because you could fell the relieve Dean had, not to think a moment about his guilt towords Sam. It was like a little escape from the daily tragic he had to face since he ignored Sams wish. This was a normal psycological reaction. Therefore logical. And as in real life, reality strikes back, Sam asking what is wrong with him. And guilt is here the main issue.
    And Season 8 main topic was about different closed personal perception and how they influence our decisions and therefore alter our appreciations.
    Season 7 main topic was the changing of reality, Sams reality was alterd by Lucifer, the social enviroment has been changed by the Leviathans and Deans reality pined down on Dick and not letting Bobby go ergo facing reality.
    Season 6 main topic was the definition of the philosophical definition of human soul.
    Season 5 main topic was the trust issue. Or how do we define trust.
    Season 4 main topic was manipulation driven by motivation.
    Season 3 main topic was fatalism verses choice.
    Season 2 main topic was consequences.
    And Season 1 main topic was family.
    The screen writers managed to fullfill all these topics without getting pathetic or loosing there task. The actors transformed by action what the writers put on paper. Only the viewers are so blind, and don’t want to accept the changes. Please stop consuming, and start opening your horizon. greetz from Germany!

    1. If “opening my horizons” means accepting racism and sexism, I’d rather not. I’m watching a show that has the capability of treating women with respect as you can see with the character Jody Mills, however they choose not to do so far more often. I want them to take a page from Sleepy Hollow and have a show that can be highly infused with genre, mysticism, horror, humor, and characters while also being intelligent, sensitive, and a safe space for fans of all sexes, genders, and races. I am watching Supernatural, which is unable to balance these things.

      Also “Orwellian political correctness” is a little confusing because all I want is for them to not be sexist or racist. I don’t know how that’s remotely Orwellian but feel free to correct me.

      “Or do you only want two young boys on the road that do not grow up or don’t develop?” NO ABSOLUTELY NOT. I do not want stagnant characters. I want these characters to grow and they do! They’ve evolved so much. I didn’t say they haven’t. What I am saying is that some character traits are offensive, such as Dean’s race porn fetish.

    2. It’s because we love the show that we critque it and hope to make it better, because the writers do go online and read their reviews. If we didn’t care about all that Sam and Dean and Castiel (and Jared, Jensen and Misha respectively) have taught us to think and feel about, we’d just shut off the tv.

      As thinking, feeling, adult human beings, we are allowed to call a show out when it offends us. And this episode was offensive, and it hurt Dean, because Dean doesn’t have problems with sex, but he doesn’t force himself where he isn’t wanted, when a woman gives him the rebuff (Kali) he accepts it and moves on. Dean may seem to be all hedonism and pleasure seeking, but he is a gentle, considerate partner when it comes to even single hookups, that’s one of the reasons we love him, he’s got a big heart under that gruff, hyper masculine over compensating exterior.

  5. I agree with you about your description of Dean but come one! Did He “force” himself on Suzy? I don’t think so. She made the choice,, a little bit fast ok, but it was her. As for “Dean race porn fetish”, sorry, but we have all our fantaisies!

  6. I didn’t feel that the writer did bad with the Suzy parts of the episode. Since Jody was done so well and Suzy was such the opposite I felt it was on purpose; to show the women who are strong role models that hold true to their beliefs and those that don’t and later regret it. Both types of women (and everywhere in between the two) exist in life and the fact they showed both made it more realistic and enjoyable for me.

    I also didn’t feel Dean really pressured Suzy to have sex. How I saw the conversation was: he was trying to tell her why she shouldn’t be ashamed if indeed she truly was. She did give in to his flattery quite quickly and it was her choice to give in.

    I didn’t give much thought to the themed porn cause it’s been there for several season and considering everybody has a fantasy and/or fetish, who I’m I to judge his.

    Keep up the great reviews! They always get me thinking! 🙂

  7. I totally adore Sheriff Mills and was ecstatic she was back/still alive, especially since she’s one of the few characters left who know their past and the most important people to them, but still retains the wide-eyed awe of someone newly introduced into their world (I would include Charlie, but she doesn’t know them in the same way, so she doesn’t count in this particular instance). Suzy was problematic for me because she seemed more a vehicle to show off Dean’s lady killer skills than an especially emotive and strong-willed woman. Her past in porn was played more for cheap laughs and to underscore Dean’s played out porn addiction – as to the fetishism of said porn, I’m gonna have to disagree with you a little.

    Race is such a tricky thing to discuss, especially when its a white male in question, but why is it not okay for him to enjoy ladies of other cultures getting it on dirty style? Sexual desire is a a purely subjective thing and plays out along the whole spectrum; sure, the way the writers present it, as a comical thing, can be taken as offensive, but at the same time, it’s also realistic. Dean has shown in the past that he really doesn’t have any sort of ideal woman type as he tends to go for whatever’s easy and available for the night; why does it matter if he tends to prefer his solo material includes busty Asian chicks and Latinas? Should he as a white man only be limited to white people sex? That could be a case of reverse racism.

    1. “Reverse racism” isn’t a concept I really believe in nor is it an argument I support. Even if it did, I don’t believe that fetish porn would fall under a category that would be defended by that argument. Having sex with people of a different race has nothing to do with enjoying pornography that fetishizes people based on their race. Having a real life preference is another matter entirely and I’m not sure where to begin, but again, it’s entirely different from supporting an industry that turns somebody’s race and culture into a sexual fetish.

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