“Masters of War”
November 1, 2022
Hannibal Park Hospital, St. Joseph, Missouri. [Electricity crackling softly]. A distressed man rushes out into the hospital’s hallway. He shouts back at an unseen group of people that they’re all vultures. He seems slightly dazed. He quietly mumbles that they’ll never know what it’s like.
As the man walks, rubble and tattered clothing appear on the hallway floor. A woman’s voice singing a song in French floats through the air. An air raid siren begins to wail and a voice shouts, incoming! The man flees from the flash of multiple explosions and the smoke that begins to fill the corridor.
He slams a door closed behind him and the noise and voices stop. They’re replaced by a low growl and metallic scraping. The man turns to find himself confronted by a masked Roman centurion. He looks down to discover he’s holding a spear. He squares up against the centurion, who calls himself destiny.
Fighting the battle between good and evil isn’t easy, especially when the first monster you have to face is the one inside yourself.
John and Mary are in the backyard training. She suggests taking a break, but John says he’s just getting warmed up. He tells her they did this sunup to sundown in basic training.
“AKA gym class with grenades.”
Mary chuckles at the joke but John gives credit to Murph. He says his friend would have been on the Tonight Show if he hadn’t … John starts to drift and Mary switches things up. She tells him if he needs to get something out of his system, he needs to punch something that’s going to punch back.
They begin to spar and Mary easily dodges John’s punches. She gives him a shove and warns that monsters aren’t going to play nice—neither should he. So what’s he got? John spins Mary, trying to get her in a choke hold; she elbows him in the belly, drops him to the ground, and puts him in an arm bar. [Both grunting]
“Am I interrupting whatever hetero mating ritual this is?”
Mary whacking John in the nipple—to brush the grass off, as you do—does nothing to help convince Carlos that they were just sparring. And y’all, why didn’t we ever see Sam and Dean training together? All sweaty and shirtless, tussling on the ground?
Inside the Campbell manse, Carlos and Lata lovingly bicker over who’s going to share first. Carlos begins—he says he was out for drinks the night before with his buddy Manny and the subject of a strange death at Hannibal Park Hospital came up.
“It’s the talk of his vets bowling league.”
John gawps at the news that Carlos hangs out with veterans. He awkwards that he just didn’t think it was Carlos’ crowd. Au contraire. Carlos allows that while he didn’t volunteer like some people he knows, but did serve—Navy task force 116. He just doesn’t like to talk about his time fighting for Uncle Sam.
Uncle SAM you say?
According to Manny, Thomas “Patches” Pasternak, decorated World War II veteran, was found dead in a locked room in Hannibal Park’s psych unit. Manny reported seeing singe marks on the floors, walls, and ceiling. And Lata has a theory—she’s thinking Persian manticore. Massive lion. Flaming mane. She says they’re rare, but given what they’ve seen lately, she’s not ruling anything out.
Mary agrees and offers that it could also be a dragon, and wait, what?
I was going to call shenanigans, but in Supernatural episode 6×12 “Like a Virgin” Dean actually does learn from Dr. Low-key Leviathan that dragons are real, they just haven’t been seen in 700 years. But it is interesting that monsters that Sam and Dean are certain aren’t real are familiar to Mary. Painfully so in the case of vampires. I don’t know what that means, but put a pin in it.
John is eager to jump into the case—it’s a hospital full of veterans, lives are at stake!—but Mary worries that it might hit too close to home for him. John assures her he’s good. Mary is the one to be rattled when he opens a door looking for the bathroom. She slams the door shut and directs John down the hall. Mary can barely look at him.
She walks away, seeming to be surprised—and a little embarrassed—by her reaction. A variation on the Family Theme begins to play as Lata explains that’s Maggie’s old room. No one’s been in there since she was killed.
[Dynamic music] smashes us through the swinging doors at Hannibal Park. Three young doctors in scrubs and lab coats are pushing a gurney with urgent purpose. When they’re challenged by a nurse, John explains there was a power outage at the Buchanan office. Mary adds that the body they’re transferring has been thawing in traffic for over an hour. Lata brings it home, telling the skeptical nurse that if they don’t get the dearly departed into a drawer, “this hallway’s going to smell like week-old meatloaf.”
It’s certainly convincing to the nurse, who directs them to the second door on the right. Once inside the morgue, the three fan out to check the drawers. The body bag on the gurney shimmies and Carlos pops his head through the zipper opening. He complains that he dressed Monster Club! Why does he have to be the one in the bag?
“Because you suck at Rock, Paper, Scissors.”
“There is no logical world where paper beats rock.”
How could Sam and Dean never meet Lata and Carlos and yet have them encoded into their DNA? How??
Carlos frees himself as Mary and Lata pull out the drawer containing Patches’ body. Lata immediately notes that the edges of his wounds have been cauterized. Mary says the cuts are too clean to be claws or teeth, ruling out manticore. Their voices fade and grow distant when John notices the small silver cross laying on the drawer next to Patches.
He picks it up and flashes back to being under fire. Telling Murph he was going to get him through it. Watching Murph kiss the silver cross around his neck just before he stepped on the mine.
John clutches Patches’ cross tightly in his fist. He comes back to the moment as the door to the morgue clicks. Lata quickly zips a protesting Carlos back into the bag.
“Watch the hair. Watch the hair!”
Lata rolls the gurney away just as Mrs. Patches walks into the room. Mary introduces herself as Joan Mitchell, Forensic Autopsy Technician, and her associate, Graham Nash. Mrs. Patches sees the silver chain dangling from John’s fist. Mary smiles and cues John with a tilt of her head. He extends the thanks of everyone at the hospital for her husband’s service. He puts the cross in her hand and abruptly excuses himself.
Mary is visibly concerned about John but keeps her focus on the widow. Mrs. Patches apologizes that her husband couldn’t get along better. She explains that he was part of an inpatient therapy group, working through the anger issues he brought home from the war. She was told her husband got into with one of the doctors the day he died. She chokes up, saying she’s sure the doctor was just trying to help.
Mrs. Patches muses that Mary is the second person in the last few days to ask about the doctor. She hands Mary the business card of Kyle Reed, a nice young investigative reporter from Chicago who has floppy hair and enjoys watching movies alone with other people.
John is in the bathroom panting through a full-blown panic attack. He grips the sink with shaking hands and tries to ride out the images and sounds assaulting his mind. He looks up in the mirror and sees the centurion standing behind him. When he turns around the figure is gone.
The tremors intensify until John finally lashes out, punching the metal trashcan fitted into the pink-tiled wall. His hands still and his breathing slows.
John lies to Mary that he was just suffering the effects of a bad breakfast. She knows he’s lying but decides not to push, and sticks to the case instead. Mary says she and Lata will talk to Kyle Reed, but they need someone inside the psych unit. So get ready for caring and sharing, because he and Carlos are enrolling in the dead man’s therapy group.
Millie wonders if there’s a parade when John walks into the garage bay in his service uniform. He wishes there was. John explains the therapy group plan, and adds that there’s a memorial service beforehand. He and Carlos are dressing their parts. Millie reads his discomfort—she says talking about feelings has never been a family strong suit.
“Talk is cheap, kiddo. It’s our actions that matter most.”
The service bell dings as Carlos pulls up in his Navy dress whites and I think we can all agree with Jensen Ackles,
Also, neither John nor Millie can peel their eyes off of Carlos—until Millie cuts a look at John, noticing him noticing Carlos and WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW. What are you playing at, Show? Millie says she’s seen Carlos around, noting this is a different look for him.
“Everyone loves a man in uniform.”
“Including other men in uniform.”
And then Millie glances at John, like WHAT? Is this the truth that Dean is going to discover about his parents? That they were part of a polyamorous hunting collective? Goddammit, if The CW cuts bait on this show before we find out …
Carlos announces that it’s time for the healing to begin! Millie warns that if they start trying to blame it all on the mother, John is out of there. John isn’t worried. He says they all know it’s dad’s fault anyway.
While Carlos is sweet talking their way into Patches’ therapy group, Mary and Lata meet with Kyle. As they walk through the park, Lata asks if Mary wants to talk about it—Maggie’s room. Lata admits that she was affected the second the door started to open. She says sometimes she wishes Maggie was still here just so she could ask her how to get over the fact that she’s not. Even with hunting, Maggie always found a way to see past the darkness. It’s something Lata wishes she knew how to do.
Mary points out their reporter waiting under a tree and asks to borrow a dime. Lata comes over all giggly at his floppy-haired dreaminess. Mary tells her to hang back and act casual.
I will also note the cunning coat that Lata is wearing. The print isn’t identical, but the pastel florals on the lime green background is giving “Changing Channels” wallpaper.
Robbie Thompson saying everything is intentional and means something and I’m over here like:
Mary hands Kyle the dime and he laughs at how seriously she takes her debts. She tells him the movie isn’t the only reason she called. She brings up Patches, calling him an old family friend. She says she wants to make sure Kyle isn’t somehow trying to exploit the dead man’s story.
Kyle assures Mary he’s just trying to get to the truth. He read the autopsy report and Patches’ wounds don’t read like a suicide to him. Kyle tells Mary other vets have been killed in psych units all across the country, just like Patches. It’s the whole reason he’s in Lawrence. He wants to make sure this is the last time it happens.
So Omega Man is a reporter tracking mysterious deaths across the country … which is basically the original pitch for Supernatural. Kyle is like a human alternate reality. Is this Inception?
Carlos and John change into civvies and join the other members of the therapy group. John stops at the snack table and is warned not to waste his time with the donuts. They’re day-olds. Vet Jimmy Mixon tells him fruit cup is the way to go. He also tells John to manage his expectations with Dr. Zampano. He says Dr. Z is worse than the donuts.
The session gets underway and Carlos is all too happy to volunteer to go next. He grows a bit awkward when he actually has to tell his story. He starts by saying his whole life was in a van. He lived life off the grid, free as a bird. But then he got arrested and was given a choice of jail or service, so. Next thing he knows he’s in the Mekong Delta taking second watch, surveilling the coast with the worst haircut of his life.
Carlos chuckles at the memory but turns pensive as another takes its place. He says there were these dots in the jungle. He calls them beautiful, like blinking Christmas lights. But then he realized they were the cherries from the Viet Cong’s cigarettes.
“I was watching them … and they were watching us.”
Carlos says he still sees those dots sometimes. He guesses it doesn’t matter how he got there, or how he felt about the war …
“Circumstances might be different, but our trauma is the same.”
Carlos thanks Dr. Z for providing the space to share and excuses himself to go rifle through the doctor’s office looking for clues. He claps John on the shoulder, saying his friend would love to go next!
John is not at all eager to open up. He demurs, says he’s good with just listening. It’s the awkward hand gestures, like he’s trying to physically keep the group at bay. Dr. Z gently pushes and John says he was a Marine in Vietnam. His company was involved in an operation in the mountains south of Da Nang … and things went bad.
“My friend died and all I got was a lousy scar.”
John tugs on his sleeve to show the marks below his elbow. His anxiety ratchets up, and his hands begin shaking again, as Dr. Z encourages him to share more about that day and the feelings it’s bringing up. John looks like he wants to take another swing at something.
Jimmy Mixon tells the doc to read the room and give John a break. He says they were raised to bottle it up. Be a man. Dr. Z asks where that got them? Jimmy snaps that it’s a waste of time. No one listens to them! He says Dr. Z for damn sure didn’t listen to Patches. The low chatter suggests others in the room agree. Jimmy storms off while the group takes a break.
John follows Jimmy out of the room, but the man seems to vanish as he turns a corner. John walks down the hall and hears Jimmy’s voice from behind a door. Blood sprays across the window before John can get inside. By the time he forces the door, Jimmy is on the ground, dead.
Jimmy’s death—and the fact he couldn’t do anything to help him—weigh on John. Mary tries to keep him focused from a distance. She and Lata are at the chapterhouse, checking in via old-timey phone. Carlos reads from the doctor’s purloined notes that Patches was haunted by images of a man wearing a horned mask and holding a spear.
John rules out Dr. Z as their monster—he was with the group when Jimmy was killed—but he’s sure the doctor knows something about it. Sure enough to charge into the doctor’s office and pin him up against the wall. John demands to know who the man in the horned mask is—the man Patches saw, the man he has seen. Dr. Z maintains his composure, calmly telling John that was he’s seeing isn’t real.
“There are no monsters in this hospital.”
John whispers that Dr. Z has no idea.
Carlos follows John out of the office, surprised by his admission about the masked man. He asks if John talked about any of it—the cross, the morgue—in the group. John is like, are you kidding me? He can’t believe that Carlos is buying into all the touchy-feely self-help yoga crap.
Carlos says when he first got back from Vietnam, he thought the less he said the better. But sharing with the group what he went through actually helped. The haunted look in John’s eyes, and the tremor in his hands, suggest he can’t imagine anything helping him come to terms with Murph’s death.
Mary makes a move to the bookshelves, but Lata says a library curated by a bunch of old, white men isn’t big on pre-Christian lore and myths. But if it is a mythological creature they’re looking for, Lata knows where they can look.
The two women stand together outside of Maggie’s room. Lata says it’s going to be okay. It’s a reassurance as much for herself as for Mary. She opens the door and they each need a moment at the threshold. There’s a large framed photo of Donny Osmond over Maggie’s bed. Mary says Maggie used to say good night to him every night when she went to sleep.
On a side note, the Donny and Marie TV Show play set was one of my most cherished childhood toys. And the show itself was stop-whatever-you-were-doing-to-run-inside-and-watch appointment TV because if you missed it you had to wait until summer and hope you could catch it in reruns.
CB Radios and the Osmonds. The 70s were a weird time, y’all.
[Ed. note: Can confirm.]
Mary looks under the bed and pulls out a shoebox full of postcards. Lata reads from one.
“Uncle Sam yelled at me. I missed the shot. Mary and I got chili fries on the way home.”
For every hunt, Maggie wrote down two bad things and one good. If Lata was wondering how Maggie saw past the darkness, Mary thinks this is how she did it.
While Mary sifts through some of the postcards, Lata pulls a book from under the bed. Flipping through the pages she finds Mars Neto, a Celtiberian deity based on the Roman god Mars. They realize that John and Carlos aren’t just hunting a monster—they’re hunting a god. They realize they need backup.
The hospital only allows family visitations, so a short time later, Lata is explaining to Millie what little they know about Neto. Mainly that he’s able to use the literal fog of war to alter his adversaries’ reality to trap and kill them. Also, he’s immortal.
“You sent John into battle against a god who’s immortal?”
Immortal but not invincible! There’s a vase thingie. According to the lore, Neto has a totem—an amphora symbolically linked to his immortality while he visits Earth. If they can find and destroy it, John and Carlos will be able to kill him.
Millie looks at Mary like, this? THIS is your plan? Mary reassures her that John and Carlos are trained soldiers who can hold their own until they arrive. That’s exactly what has Millie worried. She says John has been a fighter since he was four years old. Placed in a dangerous situation with an enemy, he will run straight towards it every time.
Also, four years old you say?
Carlos walks down a hall looking for singe marks or other evidence of the masked man. He hears the sound of helicopter rotors as the lights in the ceiling click off one by one. Dots of red light begin to blink in a door’s window. Carlos is transfixed by the vision until the door swings inward and he’s sucked inside.
NOOOOOO!! NOT CARLOS!!!
John comes looking for his friend, opening each door in the corridor until he comes to the one marked Psychiatric Unit. He cautiously enters and flips on the light. He finds himself in a jungle. He moves through the thick growth until he and Carlos find each other. There is hugging. YAY! HUGGING!
Carlos says he’s tried every way he can think of to escape. He doesn’t think they can just walk away. They have to face what’s in there. John is more than ready to give the monster that killed Patches and Jimmy a fight. Carlos tries to stop him as he moves off deeper into the jungle. There’s the sound of a metallic click. John doesn’t have to look to know—Carlos is standing on a land mine.
CARLOS NOOOOO. PROTECT HIM AT ALL COSTS!!!!
John tells Carlos everything is going to be fine, just don’t move. Carlos is like, I’M NOT PLANNING ON IT. Footsteps thud behind them and Neto walks into view. He says men of action are so hard to come by. He pulls off his mask—surprise, it’s Jimmy. John is infuriated by what he calls the “theater” of Jimmy’s death. Neto says everything he did was to get John to embrace his anger. To get him ready.
Ready for the Akrida.
Neto knows the Akrida are already here. He calls the other hunters too weak to stop them, but John … John is a hunter and a soldier. He can be sharpened into a powerful weapon.
John is willing to play Neto’s game if it saves Carlos’ life. His only option is to fight—draw first blood and join Neto, and Carlos goes free. Lose and they both die. Carlos pleads with John, but the spear is already in his hand.
Millie murder-walks into the hospital lobby carrying Mary and Lata in her wake. Mary asks if she knows what to do.
“Is Yoko Ono unfairly blamed for the breakup of the Beatles?”
Millie has this handled.
She introduces herself to Doctor Z, saying she’s there to check John out. Immediately. When he tries to put her off until tomorrow, Millie threatens that the whole world is going to hear about the hospital’s psych lockdown. Does he want to explain himself to Walter Cronkite, most trusted man in America, on the nightly news?
When an orderly delivers the news that Jimmy Mixon’s body has disappeared from the morgue, Dr. Z quickly prioritizes crises. Millie can knock herself out.
Mary takes this bit of info as the best place to start looking for Neto’s amphora. They search Jimmy’s room while John is getting pummeled. His shirt is tattered with cuts and there’s a deep gash in his cheek. But every time the god knocks him down, he gets back up.
Another blow sends John to the ground and Neto says he’s holding back. He knows the anger John has inside him. The centuries of violence and rage in his blood. He tells John to set it free. Become what he was born to be!
John wheezes that Neto doesn’t know anything about him.
Pummeling, pummeling, pummeling. Neto says that John’s scars are holding him back. His past is holding him back. Neto holds the glowing tip of his spear against John’s arm, erasing the shrapnel scar. The cuts on his torso and face are healed as well.
Mary discovers Neto’s hiding place in the ceiling. She hands the amphora down to Lata who can’t help gushing over its exquisite details. Millie is like, THIS AIN’T ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, BITCH, and knocks the amphora out of Lata’s hands. It shatters on the floor.
Neto removes his mask and orders John to his feet. He points at the helmet now resting on the ground next to John. He tells him to claim it. John reaches for the helmet, but Neto puts his boot on John’s chest. He poises his spear as though to deliver a killing blow, but the glowing tip fizzles out. The spear suddenly seems too heavy for the god to wield. It sinks into the earth next to John’s head as Neto struggles to free it.
John grabs the weapon and it blazes back to life. He snaps the handle over his knee and uses the broken end to impale Neto through the chest. The god sinks to his knees and John picks up the helmet. He clubs Neto with it, knocking the god flat and straddling his body. Neto gags through a mouthful of blood that he was right. John is just like him. John simply says, “No” … and then proceeds to bludgeon Neto’s face off his fool skull.
With his last dying breath, Neto says, “You’re ready for the war against the Akrida.”
A joyfully alive and not exploded Carlos emerges through the undergrowth, freed from the mine. He stops short at the sight of his friend, covered in blood, standing over his brutally dead opponent. Carlos is stunned. John seems utterly at peace … until the illusion dissolves and the pain that Neto’s spear couldn’t burn away comes rushing back.
The first thing that came to mind during this scene was Dean’s face at the end of Season 10, Episode 9, “The Things We Left Behind.”
An episode where Dean told Cas, “The people you let down. The ones you can’t save. You gotta forget about them. For your own good.” Of course Dean freely admits that this is the opposite of what he does. And he says it just before asking Cas to smite him if he ever goes dark side again.
This conversation occurred during the Mark of Cain era. But here, Neto removes John’s scar. While the external reminder of his trauma is gone, John still obviously carries the burden, just as Dean did. How is that going to play out and will John be able to ask for help when he needs it? (Spoiler: probably not.)
Also, Neto talking about the rage John carries in his blood and becoming what he was born to be. Could this be a reference to John’s intended role as the Righteous Man who would break the First Seal to jump-start the Apocalypse?
And how does this square with what the cupid told Sam and Dean in Season 5, that the Winchester and Campbell bloodlines were destined by Heaven to come together? Is there a darkness in John that can only be balanced out by Mary? Is the conversation about Maggie being able to see past the darkness a hint?
It’s also interesting to put Neto’s words in context of the father we know John becomes. He’s a hunter and a soldier. A man who, in Sam’s words in the Pilot, raises his sons to be warriors. And Neto talks about sharpening John into a weapon, while we learn in Season 3’s “Dream a Little Dream of Me” that one of Dean’s deepest fears is that his father has only ever seen him as a good soldier. “Daddy’s blunt little instrument.”
Does this mean that Monster Club is able to defeat the Akrida, but in so doing, they alter their future to match the one we know? Is it part of the reason John throws himself into hunting after Mary dies? Not just to avenge her death, but because there’s still some echo telling him he has to be ready for what’s to come?
I DON’T KNOW!
John has cleaned up and put on something a little less abattoir-ish by the time he and Carlos walk out of the hospital. He’s surprised to find his mother waiting for him. She asks if he’s okay. He doesn’t answer. Instead, he asks what she’s doing there.
“What’s it look like? Saving your rear.”
Carlos gives Mary and Lata the Readers Digest version of what happened in the room. He supposes that Neto saw something in John, but he says the god was wrong. John won.
Yeahhh … I don’t think that’s what happened exactly. Carlos didn’t hear the god’s final words. Or maybe he did, and this is the lie he needs to tell himself to believe his friend didn’t turn himself into a weapon for his sake.
Dr. Z joins the group and expresses his hope to Carlos that they didn’t scare him off. He says he sees a lot of potential for growth and for healing. He also vows his commitment to doing right by the veterans the hospital serves. Mary gives him Kyle’s business card. She says he’s someone who can help.
Lata asks Carlos how he’s feeling and he jokes that on the upside, he might have a new therapist … but he also admits that he’s shaken and might not be able to sleep in the van that night. Mary offers that she might have an extra room available if he wants to stay at the Campbell manse. She says she can’t keep the door locked forever.
Carlos is overcome with gratitude, but Lata tells him to save his thanks until after he’s survived a night under several Donny Osmond posters. Carlos says it actually sounds quite soothing.
He calls out to John as he and Millie are leaving. They’re both awkward with each other and John has a hard time making eye contact. Carlos thanks John for what he did and offers that if he ever wants to talk, to let him know. John says he will, but everything about his vibe says he won’t.
Harry Nilsson’s “Everybody’s Talkin” begins playing as Mary packs up Maggie’s room to make space for Carlos. He attends another group session at the hospital. He looks over at the empty chair next to him. The one he might wish John was sitting in.
Later that evening, Lata stops by the manse with postcards. She and Mary sit on the front porch following Maggie’s example and light. The three friends heal by reaching out and making connections.
Everybody’s talkin’ at me
I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’
Only the echoes of my mind
People stoppin’, starin’
I can’t see their faces
Only the shadows of their eyes
Millie comes home with Chinese takeout and her mom senses tingle that something … isn’t … quite … right. She can hear running water coming from the bathroom. She pushes open the door to find John kneeling in the tub, fully clothed, with the water from the shower pouring over him. She doesn’t say anything. She does the only thing she can. She climbs in behind her son and wraps her arms around, holding him and anchoring him, while he sobs.
Won’t let you leave my love behind
No, I won’t let you leave
I won’t let you leave my love behind
I won’t let you leave