Supernatural is no stranger to death. Whether its fighting undead monsters or dying, and then dying again, Supernatural plays with the lines between life and death on almost a weekly basis. But apparently this was all beginner-level stuff, because this week’s episode, “Advanced Thanatology” (thanatology meaning the study of death) took it to a whole new level.
After weeks of dealing with Jack, a goofy teenager who also happens to be the son of Lucifer, Sam and Dean decide to go out on a hunt with just the two of them and find themselves at the home of Dr. Avery Meadows who, despite being deceased, has yet to retire. Meadows posed as a mental health professional and murdered victims by drilling into their skulls, something he was still doing as a ghost. And if that was not enough, he wore terrifying plague masks while he did it. The Winchesters pick up the case after Meadows attacks two teenagers, Shawn and Evan, who decide to explore the home. In the cold open, Shawn gets away for the time being. Evan is not as lucky.
This cold open had the same plot and premise as most of them do. Supernatural cold opens are often just people being stupid and messing with things they should not mess with, such as trespassing into the home of a serial killer or stealing the plague masks of said serial killer. This cold open, however, used camcorders to make the viewer feel they were getting a first-person perspective, which was different and made the viewer feel like they were a part of the horror. Additionally, the monster in this episode was actually scary – a corporeal ghost capable of murder and wearing a creepy plague mask stood apart from many other monsters the boys have fought.
As scary as this is for Shawn and Evan, Meadows is nothing new for Sam and Dean and they are able to kill the spirit easily. What they are not expecting were the dozens of other ghosts who have never been able to leave the house due to their horrific deaths. Unfortunately these ghosts are unable to communicate with the brothers, so Dean comes a brilliant solution – kill himself just long enough to speak to the ghosts who are stuck in the veil, or the space between the living world and the dead. He is able to speak to the ghosts, one of them being Shawn who was possessed by Meadows and killed later in the episode, and everything was supposed to be fine… until Death herself came a’knockin.
When Dean killed Death himself in the season 10 finale, many viewers were left wondering… what happens when Death dies? Well after three seasons that question was finale answered by the new Death, Billie (Lisa Berry). Billie was a reaper introduced in season 11 who acted as the Winchester’s connection to the afterlife after Death became, well, dead. However once even she died in the beginning of last season, it was unclear who was running the show. Finally, Billie appeared in this episode and it is clear – Billie is now Death.
She explained that when Death dies, the next reaper to die becomes the next Death. Which although it answers one question also opens up several more. Is this a common procedure because Death has died before? Was this something first instated with Billie? In the time between Death’s death and Billie’s death did not a single other reaper die? And of course, now that a dead Winchester was within her grasp, what was Billie going to do about him?
While the answers to the first three are still unknown, Billie did admit that although she once promised to never let Sam or Dean be revived again, she now saw the bigger picture. This was less surprising than hearing Dean, who has never accepted death, refuse to fight Billie. Between the loss of Mary and the death of Cas, Dean admits or rather Billie is able to infer that Dean wants to die. This was clear from how quickly he decided to inject himself with a drug to stop his heart; even knowing the reversal drug may not work. Despite his wishes, Billie explains that in her office where she has notebooks containing every possible death Dean could experience, this is not one of them. And before he can ask about the state of his mother, he is sent back to his body and back to Sam, and like the viewer is left with more questions than when the episode started.
Keen observers may have noticed that Misha Collins’ name was listed in the beginning credits, but Castiel had yet to make an appearance in the episode. After landing back on Earth and basking in the sunlight for mere seconds at the end of the last episode, viewers were made to wait yet again until the last minute of this episode for Team Free Will to finally reunite. All that the audience got to see was longing looks between Dean and Cas after a startling phone call, and the actual reunion scene will have to wait another week.
As a standalone episode, “Advanced Thanatology” delivered on every front. The banter and brotherly moments were both funny and touching; the monster of the week was eerie and creepy. On top of that, the show finally answered a question over two seasons in the making and added a missed character back into the mix. Finally, it reunited the main trio while still leaving the viewer wanting more. While some may have doubts, this episode is clear that 13 is not an unlucky number for Supernatural.