"American Nightmare" Continues the 'Supernatural' Exploration of Family Dynamics

Jessy Krupa
Gail Peterson (Christina Carlisi) channels Margaret White in the latest episode.

Supernatural explores family matters and political symbolism in this week's episode.


Airtime: Thursdays, 9pm
Cast: Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins, Mark A. Sheppard
Subtitle: Season 12, Episode 4 - "American Nightmare"
Network: CW
Air date: 2016-11-03

This week's episode of Supernatural is the last one to air before Election Day, and as random as that may seem, it might be easy to see some political symbolism in the plot. The major point of "American Nightmare", not to mention season twelve in general (so far), however, seems to be dedicated to exploring the concept of family.

At the beginning of the episode, Dean (Jensen Ackles) texts Mary (Samantha Smith), asking if she was okay and whether or not he should still call her "Mom". He gets an answer at the end of the episode, when she writes that she hadn't seen her messages because she needed to buy a cell phone charger and, most importantly, that she'll always be both his and Sam's mother. Isn’t it a little odd, though, that she didn't actually call, just because, in typical mom fashion, she could then hear their voices? It seems a little suspicious to me, considering that there are British Men of Letters bent on kidnapping and torture, and possibly Lucifer himself, still on the loose?

Last week, fans were left a little confused concerning the character of Mary Winchester (Samantha Smith) who, not long after being brought back to earth and reunited with her sons, stated that she needed to spend some time alone in order to figure things out. It’s hard to compass why any mother in the same situation would be so eager to leave what’s left of her family, but there’s value in keeping an open mind, just to see how this plot point will resolve itself. Perhaps not coincidentally, the characters of Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) seem to mirror these two viewpoints. Dean tells Sam how he's worried about her, and how strange the whole situation seemed. Sam was completely unconcerned, however, stating that everybody needs time apart from their families sometimes.

Which brings us to the episode’s case of the week. The stigmata-like death of a social worker (Elissa Ciullo) lead Sam and Dean to the family of religious zealots she’d been investigating. Surprisingly, Supernatural treated the subject seriously, with Dean actually being sympathetic to their idea of living a more simple life. Sam, however, was at odds with the mother of the house, Gail (Christina Carlisi), who said that she let her daughter Magda (Paloma Kwiatknowski) die instead of receiving modern medical treatment. Dean, however, suspects that the social worker's replacement (Aliza Vellani) is the murderer, after spotting Wiccan symbols in her new office. Naturally, the brothers argue and decide to split up in order to investigate further.

You could argue that Dean was basically profiling her, assuming that she's a opportunistic, spell-casting witch just because of her religious affiliation, but Sam seemed to channeling his anger about his own family situation into his accusations about the family. The idea of people agreeing that things are wrong, but arguing about what caused it or how to stop it from happening again? That's essentially the definition of politics. Regardless, the show didn't really go into this much, as Dean quickly figures out that he was wrong (scoring a phone number in the process), and Sam realizes that he was at least partially right.

As it turns out, the deaths were accidentally caused by Magda, who’s not dead; rather, she’s kept under lock and key and repeatedly abused and beaten by her confused mother. Magda called herself "the devil" because of her psychic visions and uncontrollable telekinetic powers. (In other words, parts of this plot were ripped off from Carrie.) Sam, who admitted that he once had similar powers, eventually convinces Magda to literally stand up for herself and prevent her mother from poisoning the whole family to death (although, in a particularly cruel twist, not only do her father and brother still end up dead, but Magda herself is shot by the mysterious Mr. Ketch).

Some fans have speculated that Mr. Ketch had to be a familiar face to Supernatural viewers, because his face was obscured. We did see more of him this week, as he "finished what the Winchesters couldn't" by killing Magda in a public restroom, but that theory seems less likely now.

Last season, Supernatural's main plotline (the rise of The Darkness) was rather weak, but the show still managed to deliver some of its best stand-alone episodes in years. This year, however, we're starting to develop the opposite problem, as the two main storylines (the return of Mary Winchester and the rise of the British Men of Letters) are intriguing, but the monsters-of-the-week cases are becoming increasingly disappointing.

Next week's post-election, likely stand-alone episode, is focused on Sam and Dean try to stop a group of Nazi necromancers from resurrecting the ghost of Adolf Hitler. Read into that what you will.


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