Supernatural returned to UK screens last week and the opening two episode of season eight reminded me of a niggle I’ve been having with the show.
My issue is killing demons. Or rather killing the innocent bodies they possess. The fate of the meat suits, as the show refers to them.
I know there have been lots of TV shows and films with heroes that blur the lines of good and evil, anti-heroes and even bad guys we wouldn’t actually mind seeing win. For me Sam and Dean have always been a bit more of the straight cut hero types. But lately the Winchesters’ actions have bothered me. And it all comes down to how they’re treating the demons they come up against. Or, as I said, the bodies these demons happen to be borrowing.
Back when the show started it was more of a monster-of-the-week format. Over time, as the arc themes started to emerge, the main bad guys became demons more and more often. As the show evolved and the arc progressed more powerful supernatural creatures have been revealed and incorporated into the show’s mythology, but demons are still around.
When demons first showed up they were a big deal. They were one of the most powerful foes the Winchester boys could face. Over time the brothers discovered ways to trap them, ways to evict them from the bodies they possessed and eventually even ways to kill them. But killing demons usually involved killing the vessel they possessed.
We’ve seen demons evicted from a body with a spoken spell. We’ve seen demons trapped in place by a few simple chalk lines. And with the acquisition of the Colt pistol and Ruby’s knife the brothers found themselves in possession of two weapons which could kill demons easily. One bullet or one stab and the demon is killed in most cases; there have been instances of a few more powerful demons which could hold out a little but still they ended up evicted or dead eventually, with the exception of only Lucifer himself.
I can remember back in season one and two where whole episodes were about a single possession. And the effort was made to evict demons from the innocent bodies they possessed, not always, but it was attempted. I can remember an episode where a demon taunts Sam and Dean about the innocent body it possesses. The brothers end up torturing the host to hurt the demon inside and both end up feeling bad about what they’re doing to an innocent life. But they do evict the demon and they do save the body it was possessing. In the case of the demon Meg they make the extraordinary decision not to exorcise her because she is the only thing keeping her host alive following the trauma the body has sustained.
As I said; there have been times when the host has been considered, when they made the effort to save hosts and failed, but at least they made the effort. But that effort has been seen less and less since they got hold of the Colt and the knife. These days they just seem to go for the kill every time.
Of course, certain people get the effort taken to save them; even with the demon killing weapons we’ve instances of people close to the Winchesters becoming possessed where the brothers tried to evict the demon and save their loved one. At the end of season one, in the episode “Devil’s Trap” John Winchester is possessed by the yellow-eyed demon Azazel and Sam shoots his father with the colt while he’s possessed by the demon. Sam aims for John’s leg and the demon flees the body and papa Winchester is only wounded.
Later in the series Bobby Singer was possessed and managed to gain control of his body for long enough to stab himself with Ruby’s knife in a non-lethal way; the demon died and Bobby survived. This proves that you can kill or evict a demon using the knife without a lethal blow. Sure, Bobby was badly injured, but he did survive. But increasingly nowadays the brothers make no such effort to save the possessed innocents. They go for the chest every time.
In the opening two episodes of the season eight several demons are killed including a gardener, a postman and somebody’s next door neighbour. In the case of the next door neighbour the demon even tries to exit the body and Sam traps it in there while his brother then murders the host and demon together; seconds away from saving an innocent life and they chooses to kill instead. Dean is even prepared to kill one of the guest character’s mothers because she is possessed, he doesn’t even try to evict the demon. The disregard for life is quite shocking sometimes.
I have no idea how many innocent demon-possessed people Dean and Sam have murdered over the years but it must be quite a lot. And there’s no guilt, no shame. No admission that they’re basically wandering round America killing the people they should be saving. I understand that the characters have been through a lot over the years and sometimes they have no choice and they have to kill but more and more often they just don’t seem to care about the innocent life they’re taking along with the demon they do want to harm.
So who’s the real monster? I know that Sam and Dean are the heroes and that they face the worst type of monster you could imagine and the stakes are sometimes very, very big but to be honest with you half the time they’re as bad as the thing they’re fighting. And it really does bother me. It makes me look at the brothers in a less favourable light. I sometimes wonder if this is intentional and could become a theme that the show explores. The Winchester brothers have been through a lot. They’ve had their humanity tested time and again. I wonder if a battle for that humanity looms in the future. Because I’m starting to ask; at what point do you become the monster you want to kill? At what point do you sacrifice yourself, and everything that makes you human, for the battles you fight?
I’m also really starting to think that if I was possessed by a demon I sure wouldn’t want the Winchesters turning up to rescue me…