"The Girl Next Door" revives several issues that have been lingering since the Pilot itself. While the boys recover from the Leviathan attack, Sam investigates murders linked to a case he solved as a teenager. The monster this time is a kitsune, and they feed on human pituitary glands to survive. But as Sam says, "nothing in our lives is that simple," and that holds true for this very case.
From the start, Sam has been trying to be normal, to get that "apple pie life" without hunting. It really isn't until this episode that we see how comfortable he has become with his life as it is, not what it cannot be or will never be. This contrasts the trajectory Dean is now embarking and has been on since season 6 started more or less. Dean's difficulty with "the life" could be traced back as far as season 2's episode "Croatoan" in fact.
Sam's buying of cake instead of pie for Dean is also symbolic here of the unattainable for both brothers. The "Apple Pie Life" is just out of reach, impossible to keep, and doomed from the start every time a Winchester attempts it. Sam has accepted this more or less by this time, Dean has not. It is tugging upon a thread that has long woven through Supernatural's fabric, and one that will probably never be fully resolved for either brother.
In flashback episodes, where a young Sam is encountering first love, he meets a pretty blonde named Amy. They bond over the hardship of life on the road, agreeing that the World's Biggest Ball of Twine is highly overrated, and that they are always the new kid in
It isn't until Amy's mother returns in a hurry, panicked about the hunters in the "piece of crap Impala," that young Sam realizes what Amy truly is. She is a kitsune. Her mother is the monster they're hunting. In the present, Sam remembers and confronts Amy, who has resumed hunting humans for the brains she needs. He stays his hand to ask her why, to get answers rather than just outright stabbing her.
Reflecting the episode "Heart," Sam gives Amy the benefit of the doubt as he had given Madison so long ago. And yet, we can't help but feel that as Sam's fate had been sealed before he ever began to fight against it, Amy's is, too. She may be killing
While Sam is investigating, Dean is freaking out. He calls Bobby in a panic, shouting, "Other shoe!"
After seeing Sam struggle with reality in "Hello, Cruel World," Dean knows that it is possible that Sam might have gotten himself into trouble. He states to Bobby, "Yeah, but his me-time ain't just him. I mean, for all we know he's road trippin' with Lucifer somewhere. Left me here like Jimmy friggin' Stewart."
Since returning from Hell, and after his history of torture down stairs was revealed, Dean has struggled with what he became because of those experiences. He has turned it towards Sam, an obvious target due to his ability to sympathize with monsters. He takes the black and white look to shield himself from dealing with his own issues. A monster is a monster is a monster in Dean's eyes, and therefore rather than debating on whether they have a right to live if they are finding "humane" ways to do so is pointless. They will kill. It is only a matter of time. He might as well be talking about himself, and when one reads between the lines, we find that he truly is. Dean is truly afraid that he will become the monster that he was in Hell for 10 years. Yet, he will not openly recognize this, much to his undoing.
When Sam returns, Dean's anger has fully boiled over. Upon opening the door, Sam is greeted with Dean's fist full force to the face, laying him flat on his back. Dean's anger is rooted in his paternal instinct, and also revives another issue that is left unresolved by episode end: that of trust. Sam may have left a note that he was taking the car and that he was fine, but he did not answer his brother's calls nor did he leave his GPS on so Dean could locate him if necessary. Sam isn't entirely trusting Dean here or he would have told Dean about this case and had him help. His argument for doing so alone is because he feels that it is his mess to clean up---and yet he leaves it undone.
His not finishing the job detonates the explosion that bubbled through the whole episode. Dean snaps, "Look, man, I get it, okay? You meet a girl, you feel that spark -- there's nothing better. But this freak?"
Sam clenches his jaw tight, and snatches his jacket, intending to leave. Dean tries to plead with Sam, claiming that he "didn't mean it," but he clearly did. Sam's statements in response reveal his acceptance of his life and who he is, while Dean's reveal his shaky state, his feeling awkward. When he asks Sam how Amy is dealing, he asks in disbelief, "Is she? How?"
One can't but help notice that Dean is floundering. He is trying to understand who he is and what his place is. It was once a clearly defined place, as we see him in season 1, answerable to their father, defined again in season 5 as leader of "Team Free Will" resisting the apocalypse, but now that he has no real direction set entirely before him---Leviathans aside---he is trying to piece together his reasoning for being.
It's no more apparent than when Dean ditches Sam to track down Amy to her hotel room. He lies in wait for her, a knife ready. We know he views himself as a monster, a killer, from his speech in "You Can't Handle the Truth." We know that he feels hopeless about changing his identity or fate in that regard. He sees Amy as no different, again projecting his inner turmoil on her.
He states, his voiced cold and crisp, "I know. I know. But people... They are who they are. No matter how hard you try, you are what you are. You will kill again."
This is also mirrors the deep set trust issues the boys have to deal with. Just like Sam neglected to bring his brother into his hunt, Dean has gone and cleaned up what he felt was Sam's mess, all behind his back. This is after he promises to trust Sam. It should have been a red flag, the way it was for Amy's mother when Amy did not freak out over moving again. Sam's radar should have picked up on the fact that Dean wasn't pushing back here, and when, as Dean said through the episode, that other shoe drops, another fight will break out.
Thus far, the Leviathan have taken away Bobby's house, a refuge for many years. They have taken away credit cards in this episode. They are pushing them into a corner, trapping them, and until they get a handle on the issues this episode brought up, they will fall into it each time. The Leviathan know all their aliases, their habits, their strengths, and their weaknesses. The tools they used to defeat the likes of Azazel and Lucifer will not work here.
It, too, has the first season flavor, all without ignoring how far the boys have truly come. The story of season 7 is still largely unfolding, but it is only getting better and better as we travel further down the rabbit hole. Seeing a blend of new monsters and conflicts emerging while old and long standing concerns be thrust into the front and center makes for good story---proving that there is still a lot of story left to tell in this series.
Having heard Jensen discuss his directorial style, I can clearly see his touch about having a motivation for his character's movement. It was clearly all over this episode, from the way Dean went about cutting his cast off, to young Sam's method of diffusing those targeting Amy, to the Leviathan pouring the nacho cheese on its victim at the end. Each movement the characters made had purpose in this episode, and it helped enhance the story as it unfolded. No movement was ever done without reason. It clearly speaks to the fact that an actor was in the director's chair. It also brought the story much more fully to life on screen, sucking us in and holding us there until the very end. While it didn't have the massive blows and twists of the first two episodes, it really didn't need to with such attention to the littlest details.
Acting wise, Jensen was spot on, seen much more in this episode than his directorial debut. He gave us a frustrated and bored Dean, a frantic and fatherly Dean, a confused but dejectedly resigned Dean, and a cold Dean. Each facet of the character was brought to full life on the screen. His anxiety at a missing Sam, his anger when Sam strolls back into his hotel room and their subsequent fight, all gave us insight into Dean mostly through Jensen's body language and diction. I can't imagine it is easy to direct one's self, but he most certainly handled the dual hats for this episode really well. While I don't entirely agree with Dean's actions in this episode, I give Jensen kudos for showing us Dean's thoughts just through facial expressions and movement. The dialogue gave us insights, of course, but it didn't tell the whole story.
Young Amy, presented to us by Emma Grabinsky, is a mirror of Sam in every way. She doesn't enjoy the road, wants to be normal, and is at odds with her mother as Sam is with John Winchester. Emma played off well from Colin. Her version of Amy seemed tough, but vulnerable. Despite her matricide, in order to save Sam, there is a sweetness to her that appeals. Again, sorrow hovers over her character, and while we're uncertain until Dean kills the adult Amy what her fate will be, we know that it will not be good.
As we go further into this season, so far it hasn't disappointed. We're encountering a mix of old and new, issues that trace their origins to season 1 while heightening the concern of season 7's big bad in the Leviathan. It's only a matter of time before both issues intersect and explode beautifully on our screens. I am certainly looking forward to seeing how they twist these two together. The story has certainly shifted back towards the boys themselves, and that is only good for Supernatural.