Episode 18 of Supernatural, “The Memory Remains,” presents monsters both human and divine. It was helmed by long-time Supernatural director Phil Sgricca and written by John Bring who previously co-wrote “Beyond the Mat.” Some elements in “The Memory Remains” were terrific, including the cinematography, a layered Monster of the Week story, and some well-written dialogue. The integration of the British Men of Letters narrative into the episode, though perhaps necessary to the overall season story arc, didn’t work as well. “The Memory Remains” had some interesting elements, yet lacked the cohesion needed to make it a standout episode of Supernatural.
The Story of Tomahawk
Sam and Dean first appear to be hunting a Satyr-like local legend called Black Bill, but it turns out that a local family trapped Moloch, the god of sacrifice, who provides wealth in exchange for blood. From the start of the episode, we have a perspective from the Black Bill figure looking out through eyeholes, giving us a clue that he’s a man in a goat mask. Yet this menacing figure makes for an interesting deflection as Sam and Dean eventually discover what’s really going on. It’s a story of humans using monsters for their own gain, which we’ve seen before, but just as Black Bill is a subterfuge for the real monster, it turns out the Sheriff is not the villain that we think he is either. Supernatural continues the Season 12 trend of adding new depth to existing monster stories.
Writer John Bring makes the town of Tomahawk, Wisconsin more than a backdrop. He shows us a community with limited opportunities, long-standing conflicts, and clearly drawn class divisions. The characters of the town are more complex than they initially appear. Sheriff Barrett Bishop (Steve Boyle), amateur taxidermist, is initially portrayed as a mysterious stranger, with the emphasis on strange. The story takes a few twists and turns with his character before we learn his true motivation. The town black sheep, Daryn (Antonio Marziale), is a free spirit who feels persecuted by the Sheriff. Manager Pete (Ryan McDonald) at the meat plant has a grudge against the rich Bishop family. Writer Bring manages to create solid backstories for these guest characters in just a few scenes. “The Memory Remains” ends up feeling more like a story of Tomahawk and its underlying conflicts than a tale of Sam and Dean hunting a monster.
And by the way, the only Tomahawk character who gets absolutely no backstory (or dialogue) is the waitress, Carmen (Aliesha Pearson), whom Dean hits on as “Music to Watch Girls By” plays in the background. And yes, she’s the only woman in the episode, unless you count the young women who were making out at the party in the woods.
Though this is only the second episode of Supernatural John Bring has written, he gets the characters. He goes off the beaten path with Agents Stark and Martell, but you can’t go wrong with Game of Thrones references. There are a few moments that feel uncharacteristic. Dean’s blasé attitude towards Daryn’s “medicinal” smoking seems incongruent since we’ve heard Dean teasing Sam enough to know that the only drug the older Winchester condones is alcohol. The dialogue between Sam and Dean about their legacy at the end of the episode doesn’t feel consistent with the series, but we’re can look past it because it was such a memorable moment.
Throughout the episode, there are some great lines. Sam stays up all night going through every book they have on demons and, “Turns out we have a lot of books on demons.” Ketch tells his men that Dr. Hess wants to know everything about the Winchesters—“their allies, their habits. How does Sam get his hair so shiny? How many ratty flannels does Dean own?” Dean complains about the Bishops being rich murderers, mocking, “What, are they like, ‘croquet’s all right, but you know what’d be great? Murder.’” Manager Pete has even coined a familiar-sounding motto for the Bishops: “Hunting people, killing them—the family business!”
A Visual Tale
“The Memory Remains” was very strong in terms cinematography and direction. The richness created from stylistic choices was aided by the talented Director of Photography Serge Ladouceur. An experienced Supernatural director such as Phil Sgricca knows how to employ the expertise of the cast and crew, as well as make innovative and interesting choices.
The moments in the Bishop house were beautifully filmed. Looking through the grate in the cellar floor, both from above and below, we see the blood and hair of a hundred deaths. Dean walks through the shabby yellow rooms of the Bishop House, lit by the sun coming through the staircase spindles. We see Dean through the eyes of the Black Bill mask, bathed in yellow.
While over at the meat processing plant, the meat locker holding Moloch is lit with red, the color of emergency lighting and blood. We never fully see Moloch (John DeSantis)—just hear his growls, see his form, and catch glimpses of his hands and horns, making him that much more frightening.
While Dean battles Moloch, Sam and Sheriff Bishop fight Manager Pete in the blue-grey light of the loading dock. After Sam manages to get the Colt, he bursts into the meat locker, his breath condensed from the cold. Sam’s face is momentarily lit when he discharges the Colt and puts a hole in Moloch. The entire scene at the plant is augmented by a powerful musical score by Christopher Lennertz. Sam killing Moloch is worth going back to watch again, because it’s an example of the outstanding technical work that makes Supernatural so good.
The Colt is like another character in “The Memory Remains.” The weapon gets its own special lighting, and shots are framed to emphasize the gun. Dean becomes overconfident he can kill almost anything, which he maybe he can if he doesn’t get jumped first.
Monsters of the Season
Though Supernatural episodes often include two or three narratives, the B-story of Ketch (David Haydn-Jones) and his men searching the bunker felt strangely out of place. The upbeat jazz score played during the search made the transition even more jarring. It would have been a much better story if they had just focused on Tomahawk, but we’re guessing these scenes are meant to remind us that Ketch is bad news (in a jazzy, upbeat sort of way). Especially with Ketch leaving an inordinately large listening device under the map table—the same place that Dean stores the Colt when he’s home.
With Mick gone, we’re back to hating the British Men of Letters. Not just because they’re evil, but because they’re just kind of awful to watch. Ketch kills Mick and carries on, but Ketch can’t get us interested in the storyline on his own. Ketch gazing adoringly at a picture of young Mary Winchester only makes us cringe, just as Dean did when Ketch mentioned he’d rather be with Mary … hunting monsters.
Days of Future Past
Their brush with the Bishop family has left Dean considering the Winchesters’ legacy. Dean asks Sam if he thinks people will remember them and what they’ve done a hundred years from now. It seems uncharacteristic for Dean, but feels like a reference to the eventual end of the series. When Sam points out that they aren’t the kind of guys included in history books, we wonder if they’ve forgotten all about the Carver Edlund Supernatural series. Sam thinks for a moment and tells Dean:
“The people we saved. They’re our legacy. And they’ll remember us. Then I guess, we’ll eventually fade away too. That’s fine, because we’ve left the world better than we found it, you know?”
Dean decides they’re going to leave their mark on the bunker library table. The scene of Sam and Dean carving their initials into the table includes flashbacks to them doing the same in the Impala when they were children, infusing the moment with emotion. Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki play this scene perfectly, with their pauses and facial expressions revealing as much as the dialogue.
If only this moment between Sam and Dean could have been the final scene of the episode, rather than creepy Ketch staring at a picture of Mary.
“The Memory Remains” Review
There was a lot to appreciate about “The Memory Remains.” Technically, it had a lot going for it, yet somehow it lacked a certain je ne sais quoi that makes for a great Supernatural episode. Despite the distractions of the British Men of Letters, “The Memory Remains” was a good monster story that concluded with a moving moment between Sam and Dean. The episode left us pondering the legacy of Supernatural. In the meantime, the series has got a lot to deal with during the last four episodes of Season 12.