This week's zany and unexpectedly emotional episode “Just My Imagination" taught me many things while sneaking in a few swift, sparkly kicks to the feels. Here are the biggest lessons from this week’s episode of “Supernatural.”
Imaginary friends are real. They are Zannas are fairy-esque creatures assigned to young children to give them love, guidance and never-ending fun until the children are confident enough to stand on their own. They can take any form the child desires: mystical mermaid, mulleted air-rocker, or a half-man, half-unicorn. Sam’s Zanna is a rainbow-suspendered, fiercely protective goober named Sully.
Dean never had one, which falls in line with the show’s cannon that he never really was a child. He responds like he normally does to things that make him uncomfortable—with abject revulsion and snarky distrust. He comes around, of course, the second he realizes that Sully is almost as protective of Sam as he is. His final verdict: "You're a good weird." We'll take it.
Manicorns bleed sparkly blood. In one of the most creatively hilarious scenes of the episode, Maddie’s unlikable mother unknowingly squishes through the glittery carnage of Sparkle's crime scene (including his cleaved horn) and smears his blood all over face, much to the horror of Sam and Dean and an invisible and near hysterical Sully. “Even when he’s dead, Sparkle can’t stop shining,” Sully sniffles.
Sam was a lonely kid. When Dean scoffs as to why Sam would need a Zanna since he had a big brother, Sam reveals that was lonely. The episode's flashbacks quickly and viscerally convey a nine-year-old Sam’s solitude as he's left alone while Sam and Dean hunt. Sully encourages Sam with heart-bursting love and does his best to fill the tacky motel rooms with dreams of freedom and marshmallow nachos. “You can be whatever you want to be. You're not Dean; you're not your dad. You’re Sam. And Sam is so awesome.” He is, isn't he?
Some things you never outgrow. It’s bizarre that an episode with massacred manicorns and rainbow cakes could make me dissolve into a puddle of lip-quivering, near ugly-cry tears, but it did (I'm misty-eyed even as I write this). The Zannas’ unwavering support of their children is more uplifting than a Hallmark Christmas movie marathon (Example: Weems high-fiving Fletcher after he's embarrassed by wetting the bed while his drunk mom sleeps it off), but something about it meedles the hurts we endure as a child that never quite heal. We merely bandage them with cocktails and cynicism. I’ve always related to Sam--youngest child, more of a dreamer than a realist--but never more than when he was a little boy imprisoned by circumstance and solitude, knowing he was different than his family. I moved to a new state when I was little Sam's age, and often felt just as alone as I'm sure a lot of kids do at some point. If only we had Sullys to love and support us.
Sam feels such isolation again, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Sully visited him now. Nor do I think it’s the first time the Zanna has checked in on his favorite kid.
Fat is the best. The case breaks wide open because of air guitar extraordinaire Weems survives his attack, and is able Sam and Dean a description of the Zanna serial killer. He also gives credit where credit is due: “My fat saved me.” The next time you are side-eying your muffintop or bypassing your favorite foods, just remember what Weems is still alive because of his lovehandles.
Sam gave up Sully for his family. According to Sully, Zannas leave their children when they don’t need them anymore. Nowhere does it say that the split is amicable. When Sam is allowed to join his family as a hunter, he also decides he doesn't need Sully anymore (thanks to a nudge from a teasing Dean). A tiny Sam wishes he could “unmake” him up. Nate Torrence, who brilliantly plays Sully in a finessed mixture of silly putty and barbed wire, telegraphs every splinter of Sully’s broken heart. It’s why Sam apologizes to him the first chance he gets.
Sam Winchester is a hero. Throughout the series, Dean has been the badass hero with the cool car and the catchphrases. He’s stands firmly in the light as the good brother—no demon blood to taint his angelic grace flowing through the Winchester bloodline. Meanwhile Sam has been mired in sulfur and darkness. After decades of tragedy, trauma and a demon blood addiction, Sully still regards Sam with glittery-eyed awe as does Weems. “Sam, you’ve saved the world."
It’s why Sam can be gut-wrenchingly honest with Sully in a way he can’t with Dean. “There’s this cage in hell, and it’s where they keep Lucifer. And I’ve been in it. I think God wants me to go back.” Every time Sam mentions returning to The Cage, my Sam-lovin’ soul goes on lockdown. Jared Padalecki and Nate Torrence's dazzling chemistry is rare for a series star and a guest star to tap into so quickly, but it truly elevates this scene as well as the entire episode. I can’t remember ever seeing Sam so utterly candid and unguarded (and even still he can’t speak of the horrors in the cage) because he rarely gets the space to do so even with Dean.
Sully's advice is simple: “Sometimes [heroes] are scared. But that just means the thing that they’re facing is super important. And nobody else is going to go for it because nobody else’s got the balls.” So it looks like Sam might be going back to the cage, and I will need to find my trauma counselor before next week.
Even heroes make mistakes…but they fix them. Reese, a woman little younger than Sam, is the human killing Zannas, thanks to her magic Romanian knife (a gift from Rowena perhaps) and a visibility spell. Years ago, her twin sister chased Sully into the street and was hit by a car. Sully left her, because he couldn’t handle being the cause of Reese’s pain. She wants to inflict the Sam pain on Sully by killing Sam. Sully offers his life to protect Sam and help Reese heal. But that's not the answer here, forgiveness is.
“Just My Imagination” was a lovely episode that encapsulates the magic of “Supernatural” and lands fairly high up in the long list of Best "Supernatural" Episodes Ever. It's even comparable to "A Very Supernatural Christmas," a gold standard of episodes in terms of its "sobbing in the corner" levels of angst and epic heartstring tugging.
The show’s greatest strength is that it can swing from absurdist heights to soul-crushing drama with the grace of a pierrotting ballerina. This episode was also directed by “Supernatural” alum Richard Speight Jr, who methodically heightened the hilarity, heart and horror of Jenny Klein’s delightful script.
I've been a little indifferent to this season of "Supernatural" but startlingly sublime episodes of television like "Just My Imagination" and "Baby" are making me fall in love all over again.
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