“Paper Moon” is a good old-fashioned Monster of the Week Supernatural episode. The boys’ development as hunters and brothers is shown during the opening montage. The reference reminds us why we love Supernatural so much: hunting provides excitement and suspense, while the characters’ relationships provide meaning and investment for the viewer. We get a chance to revisit Sam and Dean’s previous dealings with werewolves—mostly involving Sam or Dean killing them, but also showing how their relations with lycanthropes became increasingly complex over the course of their hunting career. Werewolves have been a staple of Supernatural’s terrestrial monster repertoire from the beginning.
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The episode opens with “Werewolves of London” by Warren Zevon. No mystery about who the Monster of the Week is, if the preview and the opening clips hadn’t already given it away. We see a blonde girl killing a man in back of a biker bar. She slashes his throat with her big black nail-claws. Does she look familiar?
Sam and Dean are enjoying some beers in the great outdoors, which seems unnatural. Not the beers so much, but the sunglasses and the being outside. This scene should be an ad for British Columbia—an ad from the 1970s, by the look of the metal and plastic-weave chairs and cooler. They have had that same green cooler since S1. It’s a family member, like the car. Deans asks about Sam’s arm: “That sling come with a slice of crybaby pie on the side?” We find out that Sam injured his elbow in a fight with a demon, but that’s about it. When Sam tries to get Dean to talk about his feelings, Dean brings up an article from the paper about some killings in a nearby town, in which the victims looked as if they were attacked by animals. These boys get their news old-school—what will they do when the newspaper industry finally collapses? Dean is eager to get back to hunting, though Sam is concerned it might be too soon for Dean.
Sam and Dean visit the local sheriff, posing as game wardens. We loved the uniforms, but missed the rock aliases. The sheriff tells him that the victims’ hearts were eaten. According to the sheriff, a witness claims to have seen a girl who also got “torn up” along with the last victim, but there was no evidence of a girl, and according to the sheriff, the witness is “unreliable,” as all the best witnesses seem to be on Supernatural.
Sam and Dean visit the witness, Tommy, at the biker bar to interrogate him over beers. Tommy is reluctant to tell the boys his outrageous story, but they reassure him that they’ve seen some weird stuff (ain’t that the truth, sister). The unreliable witness tells Sam and Dean that the same girl who he had seen with his deceased buddy, he later saw all bloody by the old Sturgis farm. He turned around to offer her help, but she was gone. Tommy thinks she was a ghost. We think otherwise. Sam and Dean head out to the old Sturgis farm. These creatures are not much into comfort—they are never hiding in a new housing development, always a creepy old barn.
Sam and Dean go to the scene and find a blonde girl talking on the phone. It turns out to be Kate, the werewolf they let go several years ago, based on her commitment to not kill (S08E04). They were already becoming softies back then. They accuse her of killing people, which she seems confused about at first, but then she claims it true, saying that the hunger had gotten to her. Kate tells Dean, “Whatever you’re going to do, just do it.” Dean wavers before killing her, and Sam pulls him to the side. Sam doesn’t want Dean to be the one to do the killing, suggesting that Dean’s not ready. We think he may have a point—will this execution reactivate his Mark-influenced craving to kill? Sam gets a call saying that there has been another attack across town, and they realize that Kate could not have done the killing. While they are talking on the other side of the barn, Kate uses one of her scary claws to get away—a rookie mistake on the boys’ part.
Dean uses Kate’s phone to determine that her last call had been to a motel. Sam and Dean take off in the Impala to go to the motel. Dean seems annoyed that Sam thought he wasn’t ready to get back into hunting. Dean brings up Sam using Lester’s soul sacrifice to track him down.
Sam: “What do you want from me, Dean? I’m not happy about it, but I had to find you, so if I had to bend a few rules …”
Dean: “Go dark.”
Sam: “Go dark? Sure, label it if you want.”
Dean: “Hey man, I’m not complaining. In fact I am doing just the opposite of complaining. I just …you know, between Lester and the others …”
Sam: “There weren’t others.”
Dean: “Okay, either way. Maybe we both we needed that time out.”
What are you doing, Dean? Picking on your brother after he spent months trying to find you? Sam and Dean’s wounds are still too fresh for them to express how they really feel about the last few months, so instead they argue and accuse. They end the conversation by pretending their talk was helpful and that everything is okay, then they lapse into awkward silence. You could hear a pin drop, if it weren’t for all the noise the Impala is making. Actually we love the little noises the Impala makes during these car scenes.
They stake out the motel. They see a blonde girl leave her motel room and they follow her to a park, where she appears to be stalking someone on the jogging path. They pull their guns on her. We never thought we’d say this, but we miss guns. No angel blades or First Blade, but guns they can use to tell people to freeze as they stand there threateningly and handsomely holding a gun. The girl turns out not to be Kate. They move in to test her with a silver knife, and she freaks out and calls for help. She uses their moment of weakness to bare her werewolf teeth and attack them. Kate shows up at the scene and stops the girl from killing Sam. Sam and Dean start to go after the mystery werewolf girl, but Kate stops them, saying the girl is her sister. As they argue, joggers come along the path.
Sam: “Can we take it somewhere else?”
Dean: “Yeah, sure. Go grab some coffee, maybe some bear hearts, let’s party.”
Sam and Dean take Kate to a diner to share the story of how she turned her sister over coffee and pie (well, we didn’t see the pie, but we assumed). Kate tells them that she never hurt anyone who didn’t deserve it and has never eaten a human heart. Turns out that Kate turned her sister, Tasha, because Tasha was dying after having been in a car crash. Kate turned Tasha to save her. As time progressed, Kate realized that Tasha was a bad werewolf, in an evil way. The big hint was finding her eating a human heart.
Sam: “So back at the barn, that was all just an act to protect Tasha?”
Kate: “She’s family. And, yeah. Worth eating a bullet for.
Sam and Dean give each other a meaningful look—or perhaps it was an uncomfortable look; it’s hard to tell. Kate wants to take Tasha into the woods for some kind of werewolf rehabilitation to help her learn to control herself. They ask her if she’s prepared for what to do if she can’t change Tasha. Kate says she will take care of it. Then Dean tells Kate that he could help cure Tasha if they can find her. Very clever trap, Dean—we almost fell for it too. Sam isn’t quite on board, but doesn’t come up with a good alternative.
Sam, Dean, and Kate take the Impala out of town to find Tasha. Kate is asleep. On the way, Sam ’fesses up about Lester not being the only person he used in his attempts to find Dean, though he “pretty much saved [his] best stuff for the bad guys.” Phew! We knew Sam wasn’t a monster. We think Lester got what he deserved, even in a morally complex world like Supernatural, so let’s never discuss him again.
Sam: “You gotta understand something, Dean. I watched you die. And I carried you—I carried your corpse into your room, and I put your dead body on your bed, and then you just. …”
In their abbreviated way, Sam expresses his feelings of loss and anger, while Dean expresses his guilt and shame. Now that’s a real Winchester conversation.
Dean: “Not to mention, I’ve never even said thank you, so…”
Sam: “You don’t ever have to say that—not to me.”
Once they get to the Cabin in the Woods, Dean handcuffs Kate to the steering wheel. Kate realizes that she’s been punk’d, and begs Dean not to kill Tasha, saying it was her own fault, that she’s responsible for Tasha. Dean responds, “Tasha’s in too deep. You don’t ever come back from that. Not ever.” Dean and his self-referential comments, he’s so postmodern.
Dean and Sam go in the cabin to kill Tasha. Turns out that Tasha has some new werewolf friends who manage to capture Sam and Dean. Kate barges in, asking who the werewolf bodyguards are, and Tasha says they are their new family. Dean retorts, “Yeah, you’re a regular psycho Brady Bunch.” Tasha demands that Kate join her pack and prove herself by eating Sam’s heart. When Sam says, “You don’t have to do this, Kate,” Tasha responds, “No one’s talking to you, Paul Bunyan!” Kate refuses to kill Sam. Tasha has her wolf pack take Sam and Dean into the other room for a delicious snack.
Meanwhile, Tasha tries to talk Kate into joining her Brave New Wereworld. Kate laments what has happened to her good little sister and says they could have been there for each other. Tasha points out that they still can, “but I’m not going to spend my life on the run from people like Mary-Kate and Ashley out there.” Best. Nickname. Ever.
In the other room, Sam manages to kill the two hulking packmembers. This means that Dean has not had to kill anyone since his demon cure. We are still not sure what will happen when he does. Back in the bedroom, Kate tells her sister she loves her, hugs her, and stabs her to death. By the time Sam and Dean run in, Kate has fled out the window. Good thinking, Kate.
Back in the Impala, Sam thinks they might have jumped back into hunting too fast. “I mean Dean, you were a demon. You still have the Mark. Didn’t you ever want to talk about it?” Dean says he knows what happened and he doesn’t need to talk about it, but he does need to get back to work. Sam asks, “What if you’re not ready?” We are pretty sure Dean is ready, but perhaps we are being selfish. Kate calls, interrupting their debate. Even though she ran away, it seems Kate felt compelled to call for some sort of closure.
Sam: “For what it’s worth, thank you. At the end of the day, she was your sister.”
Kate: “No she wasn’t.”
Is the kind of cognitive dissonance Sam would have experienced if he had killed Dean rather than cured him? Dean tells her to keep to the straight and narrow. Kate says she hopes she never sees them again and hangs up. Dean returns to his and Sam’s earlier conversation. He acknowledges that Sam could be right: “Maybe I’m not ready to hunt. But I’m just trying to do the right thing, man, because I’m so sick and tired of doing the wrong one.” They ride on in silence.
“Paper Moon” provided us with a good monster story as a backdrop to explore what Sam and Dean have been through, and what they still need to resolve. The wolf sisters provide an alternative narrative of one sibling trying to save another, while also highlighting the moral ambiguity that Sam and Dean experience when hunting “monsters.” A story focusing solely on Sam and Dean, with no Castiel or Crowley, provides a certain nostalgia for earlier times, but ultimately reminds us you can’t go home again. Having said that, we like the evolution of Sam and Dean. You can’t be such a well-loved show for ten seasons without evolving, while staying true to the heart of the show. As they say, home is where the Impala is.