Who could have predicted that the most heartwarming Christmas episode of the television season would come from Supernatural? And that said heartwarming episode would feature pagan sacrifices, impalements and a fingernail extraction scene right up there with the worst of Saw? (Or the best of Saw, I suppose, depending on your feelings on torture porn.) Unlikely as it was, last night's episode managed to be the perfect combination of scares and heart, and it left this normally cold-hearted viewer's chest cavity (and tear ducts) pretty darn full.
One reason this episode was so wonderful was that it felt like classic Supernatural -- it was completely about Sam and Dean fighting some evil and showing some man-love, with no distractions from unnecessary cast members of the female persuasion. I don't mind the new cast members to a certain extent, but it was nice to see they weren't shoehorned into a story where they obviously would not belong. I consider this the writers' Christmas present to all the fans, frankly.
The mystery story wasn't particularly tricky or inspired, as the "perky suburbanites with a sinister side" beat has been done to death in movies and film, but the actors embodying the roles gave the story the needed spice (particularly Merrilyn Gann, playing beautifully off her reputation as the lovely Rose on Everwood) and the idea of a savage Santa taking advantage of unsuspecting people at Christmastime made the story just relatable enough to make it creepy. I'm never going to look at my fireplace the same way again, that's for sure.
The meat of the episode, though, and what made it so wonderful was what happened when Sam and Dean weren't chasing pagan Gods and getting their fingernails pulled out by pliers. When Dean expresses a desire to have a real Christmas for once, Sam becomes overcome by memories of his past and this means we get FLASHBACKS! My love for flashbacks is well known, and these ones definitely did not disappoint. Winchester Christmases were obviously not a joyous affair due to John "Seriously, What a Bad Father" Winchester, and these flashbacks looked back on an especially upsetting Christmas where Sam learned that monsters were real and John didn't even bother to show up on Christmas day, so poor Dean had to resort to stealing a tree and presents from a nearby family. Too bad that family only had a girl, and when Sam opened his new Barbie Sam learned all too early what all kids realize someday -- that parents are human, and actually sometimes suck. This leads to one of the most heartbreaking, heartwarming, emotionally resonant scenes ever on the show, where Sam gives Dean a present he intended for his father, and we learn it's the amulet Dean has worn around his neck in every episode of the series. The tears that came then (and are embarrassingly coming again now as I write about it) are earned, and wonderful. For those who watch this show in large part for the brother relationship, that scene was like a love letter. And boy, did I love it.
To add to this lovely and surprisingly not mawkish sentimentality, the episode ends to the sounds of Rosemary Clooney's wonderful "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and a scene of true Christmas cheer between Sam and Dean. They give each other presents from the local convenience store (motor oil and a candy bar for Dean, shaving cream and skin mags for Sam) and it couldn't be more perfect. I might just have cried throughout the last five minutes of the show.
Merry Christmas, everyone.