In Season 11, Episode 8 of Supernatural, “Just My Imagination,” we get a Monster of the Week episode in which the monster isn’t quite what you’d expect. “Just My Imagination” was both funny and heartfelt. The episode didn’t move the Season 11 story arc along very much, but allowed for some emotional moments grounded in Sam’s fears about his visions and the Cage. “Just My Imagination” was directed by Richard Speight, Jr., who plays Gabriel in the Supernatural series. Speight does a fantastic job playing up the best parts of this humorous tale.
The reveal of the zana killer was the weakest part of the story. How can Sam be Sully’s biggest failure when he’s got Audrey and Reese in the fold? Speight deals with this well by pacing the story so the focus is on the interaction between Sam and Sully while moving us through the scene with Reese pretty efficiently.
We always enjoy Supernatural episodes that revisit the boys’ childhood. Most are focused on Dean, but here it’s about Sam’s experiences. In the episodes “A Very Supernatural Christmas” and “Bad Boys,” Sam comes to empathize with Dean, while in “Just My Imagination” Dean considers what life might have been like for Sam. Dean conveys his empathy when he says, “When I wasn’t there for my little brother, Sully was.” Usually shown in flashbacks, the childhood scenes are the most emotional moments in the episode, and these certainly have an impact. But the moment that was the most heartbreaking was Sam talking to Sully about the Cage, not only because of Sam’s fear and uncertainly, but because it’s clear Sam has no one else he can talk to about how he’s feeling.
Why is Dean Winchester so angry all the time? Is it his connection to the Darkness, or is he just getting old and cranky? You expect him to wander out in front of the bunker wearing the old man robe and slippers he had on at the start of this episode, yelling, “Hey you kids, get off my lawn!” With the exception of “Baby” and “Plush,” Season 11 seems to be all about angry Dean. Though Jensen Ackles plays angry well, we can’t help but think, “Dude, stop yelling at your brother all the time!” Sam could certainly use an imaginary friend now, which becomes evident when Sully provides a supportive ear to his old friend.
Nate Torrence played Sully with humor, yet without making him into a caricature. Not easy to do when you’re playing an imaginary friend. His support of Sam felt enthusiastic but still earnest. Throughout the episode he appeared sincerely interested in Sam’s welfare without being overly sentimental. Sully reminded us that Sam Winchester really is a hero, lest we forget he threw himself into the Cage to save the world once before.
Jared Padalecki gave a very strong performance using a more subtle approach than we sometimes see with Sam. The staring off into space was a bit much at times, but we understand that Sam is making a big decision. The dialogue between Sam and Sully about the Cage was one of the more emotional moments we’ve seen this season. Padalecki played the scene in a restrained way that somehow increased the intensity of the moment, while Torrence portrayed Sully as caring and genuine. It was a terrific scene between the two.
In “Plush,” Sam backed down when Dean dismissed any further discussion of the Cage. Yet, in “Just My Imagination” Sam stands up to Dean without being argumentative when Dean tries to shut down the idea of him going to the Cage. We are getting closer to the Cage and the idea that Lucifer or someone else could return to Supernatural this season.
“It’s a Bloodbath”
The opening of “Just My Imagination” begins with little Matty enjoying a delightful tea party with her imaginary friend Sparkle, but ends in tears when Matty later finds Sparkle’s bloody remains.
Matty isn’t the only one who gets a surprise. Back at the bunker, Sam wakes to find a host of brightly-colored sugary treats in the kitchen. When a figure appears in the door, Sam naturally punches first and asks questions later. It turns out to be Sully, Sam’s imaginary friend from childhood. Sully has made all of Sam’s favorite snacks, like marshmallow nachos. What a great dude! We could all use a friend like that.
When Dean comes into the kitchen, he finds Sam with fists raised in the air at seemingly nothing. Sully tells Sam, “He can’t see me unless I want him to.” Sully shows himself to Dean, who then manages to offend Sully by referring to him as a dumbass. Sully is in need of Sam’s help because someone has killed his friend. When Dean makes another sassy remark, Sully tells him, “First off, ‘imaginary friend’ is more of a descriptive term. How you just said it, that was a little offensive, just to be honest. Secondly, we’re zana. Me … me and the victim, we’re zana. We help kids; we’re the good guys. Tell him, Sam.” Sam is still trying to adjust to the news that his imaginary friend is real.
Dean isn’t happy about Sully showing up, which we can tell because he angrily tightens the belt on his old-man robe and demands a private powwow with Sam in the library. Seems like Sam’s in trouble with big brother Dean. Sam manages to overcome Dean’s skepticism through some quick research: “In Romanian lore, zana are creatures that guide and protect lost children. Zana intentionally appear as figments of the child’s imagination, allow the child to move on with confidence once guidance is no longer necessary.” Dean doesn’t think it’s their problem, but Sam wants to help the imaginary friend who helped him as a child.
Sully takes Sam and Dean to the house where Sparkle was killed. Apparently Sully is in management now, so he doesn’t get out much. He went to visit Sparkles and found him dead. Sully says they will meet they inside and the boys find appropriate attire.
Dean is strangely annoyed at Sam for having an imaginary friend who turns out to be real. He seems to be yelling at Sam for no reason.
Dean: “You didn’t think to tell me he was real.”
Sam: “Well, Dean, I didn’t think he was. You saw the lore book too. I mean, maybe when I was nine years old I thought he was real, but I grew up, or grew out of it. Whatever. I left it.”
Dean: “And what did you need Drop Dead Fred for anyway?”
Sam: “I was kind of a lonely kid, Dean.”
Dean: “You weren’t lonely. You had me.”
Sam thinks back to when he was nine years old. Sully kept him company as Dean and their dad went hunting. Sam wanted to go with them, but his dad wouldn’t let him come. Instead, he had to wait back at whatever motel they stayed at, alone but for Sully.
Sam and Dean interview little Matty, using the “Bert and Ernie pretext” of being trauma counselors. It’s kind of refreshing to see them dressed in something besides suits, though we’re not convinced that trauma counselors dress like Mr. Rogers. Matty tells them that she doesn’t want to go back into her room because of all the blood.
The family allows Sam and Dean to see Matty’s room. When they get upstairs they find a horrified Sully, but it looks like a perfectly normal room for a little girl to them. Sully gives them the ability to see all zana, with a promise of secrecy. Then they see it—the dead zana with a unicorn horn in his forehead. There’s glittery blood all over the room because, as Sully tells the boys, “Even when he’s dead Sparkle can’t stop shining.”
Matty’s mother comes in to talk with the Winchester trauma therapists, unable to see her daughter’s dead imaginary friend. She walks through the blood, sits next to the dead body, and then manages to wipe Sparkle’s glittery blood all over her face. Sam and Dean, along with Sully, are horrified. Sam suggests she let her daughter sleep in another room until she feels better. Looking at her blood-covered face, Dean suggests everyone could benefit hot showers. When he starts to say, “The family that showers together …” Sully tells him, “Pull up. Pull up.”
At another house, little Zoe is playing with her mermaid imaginary friend Nicky in the pool. Once Zoe goes inside, poor Nicky is murdered with a symbol-inscribed blade. Her blood fills the pool, at least to those who can see it. Now we’re freaking out wondering how often we’re walking, swimming, or sleeping in zana blood we can’t see.
Sully realizes that Nicky hasn’t checked in. Sully, Sam and Dean arrive at the house to see if she’s all right, but find her dead in the pool. An upset Sully says, “It’s a bloodbath!” Dean encourages Sully to let it all out, but Sully has to stay strong for Sam. Sully insists they bury the mermaid so this little girl won’t be traumatized.
“Ever think about running away?”
We flashback to Sam and Sully hanging out at the motel, playing a game of “Ever think …?” Dean and John are still out hunting. Sam is thinking about running away from the hunting life. Sully asks Sam if he ever thinks about going to school and making some friends. Sully tells him, “You can be whatever you want to be. You’re not Dean. You’re not your dad. You’re Sam. Sam is so awesome.” Sully tells him that it’s his life; it’s all up to him. Having an imaginary friend seems fantastic, like your own personal cheering section.
The zana Weems is hanging wet sheets for his little human friend, Fletcher. Weems tells Fletcher that everyone has pee problems. After Fletcher goes off to bed, someone sneaks up on Weems and stabs him through the sheet. Weems sees a woman run off to a blue VW bug and drive off.
He calls telepathically for Sully. Sam, Dean, and Sully arrive and find Weems. He survived because the blade went through his love handle—“My fat saved me.” Before leaving to find the girl in the blue bug, Dean asks Weems what’s so special about him that makes kids like him. Turns out he plays air guitar. He’s kind of amazing.
Sully leaves to find some bandages, assuring Sam he’ll be right back. Weems knows who Sam is. He asks if Sam and Sully are besties again. Sam, who may be too proud to admit that he could use an imaginary friend about now, quickly explains that he’s helping Sully with this case. Weems tells Sam that he broke Sully’s heart.
In a flashback we see Sam and Sully back at the motel. Sully is ready to run away as Sam wanted when Sam’s dad calls and tells his son that he can join them on the hunt. As Sam starts to pack, Sully asks if he’s sure hunting is what he wants. Sam tells him, “I’m a Winchester. I hunt monsters. Why would I want anything else?” Sully responds, “Well I’m not sure it’s you.” Sully points out that Sam has other choices. But Sam wants to be with his dad and Dean. When Sully tells him that he’s there as long as Sam needs him, Sam responds, “I don’t need you anymore, Sully. I don’t even know why I made you up in the first place. I wish I could un-make you up.” Sully wishes him a good, long life and disappears.
In the present Sully is bandaging up Weems. Weems leaves to check on Fletcher. Sam tells Sully it’s pretty awesome how he helps everyone around him. Sam apologizes for being a jerk kid. Sully admits it was a terrible goodbye.
Sully: “When you went off to hunt, I considered that one of my biggest failures. It just seemed so clear to me that you wanted something else. But, I was wrong. And it all worked out, didn’t it?”
Sam: “I don’t know about that.”
Sully: “C’mon, you’re a hero. Sam, you saved the world! I keep track of my kids, and you did really good Sam.
Sam: “Well, not all good. There was some bad, and some really bad. Sully, I screwed up. I let something out into the world that was …”
Sully: You mean the Darkness? That’s what the others are calling it. I just heard rumors.”
Sam “Well I’m gonna fix it, I am. Dean and I, we’re going to fix it. It’s just …”
Sully: “What is it?”
Sam: “I think God wants to help us fix it. But I don’t think I can do what He’s asking.”
Sully: “How bad is it?”
Sam: “There’s this cage in Hell and its where they keep Lucifier. And I’ve been in it. And it’s … And I think God wants me to go back.”
Sully: “Ever think about running away anymore?”
Sam: “I did. I mean, I have. But not in a while. Not anymore.”
Sam gets a text from Dean to meet him, but it’s not really Dean texting him. You’d think they’d have some kind of code, or at least use Pig Latin. Or maybe have better passwords on their phones.
Sam and Sully arrive to find Dean tied up by a young woman named Reese. Sully recognizes her immediately. She has an issue with Sully because she believes he’s responsible for the death of her twin sister. He was the girls’ imaginary friend (why would twins need an imaginary friend when they have each other?). While they were playing tag Sully ran into the road, and when sister Audrey followed she was killed by a car.
Reese went to Romania to study folklore and learned about zana. She got a blade to kill zana from a witch, despite the witch’s counsel that zana are good. Reese has been killing his friends to get to Sully. She reminds him that he was her best friend as well as Audrey’s. Yet after her sister died he left, even though she needed him. He panicked when Audrey died because he couldn’t handle the pain he felt he caused. He tells her that if killing him will make her feel better to go ahead. Sam objects, but Sully points out, “This is what I do. Whatever’s best for the kid. Reese, if this is what you need, I’m okay with it.” She puts the knife to his chest, but hesitates, “I’m still mad. I can’t stop it. I’m just still so mad.”
Dean tells Reese that revenge never makes you feel better; he knows. Dean has seen monsters and Sully is no monster. He tells Reese, “When I wasn’t there for my little brother, Sully was.” Sully tells Reese that he’s so sorry, and she drops the knife and hugs him. It feels a little contrived, but we’ll take it.
“Ever think maybe you’re a hero to me?”
Sully figures that Sam won’t ever want to see him again now that he knows about Audrey. In the tradition of their game, Sam tells Sully: “Ever think … maybe you’re a hero to me?” Sam points out that heroes aren’t perfect. Sully responds, “Sometimes they’re scared, but that just means the thing they’re facing, it’s super important. And nobody is going to go for it because nobody else has got the balls.” What’s up with the potty mouth, Sully? Don’t be fooled by all the glittery blood, it’s still a family show. Dean joins them, and Sully thanks him for taking care of Sam.
After Sully leaves, Sam stands there thinking. A fancy camera cutaway to the car finds Sam still being pensive. As they drive, Sam tries to talk to his brother about the Cage, but Dean says there’s always another way. Sam responds, “OK. Tell me, what is the other way?”
Supernatural provides comic relief along with strong emotional undertones in “Just My Imagination.” Just as heroes aren’t perfect, Supernatural episodes aren’t either, but they’re making a pretty impressive run at it in Season 11. Despite some minor flaws, “Just My Imagination” is a good watch—funny, emotional, and unexpected.