Some Thoughts on Supernatural, Season 9, Episode 8, “Rock and a Hard Place”
I think that one of the reasons I’ve been slacking on my Supernatural reviewing duties–aside from pure, unadulterated laziness–is my reluctance to face “Rock and a Hard Place” in any way, shape or form. Now, I have a fair bit to say about this episode, so this recap pretty much spoils everything in it. You have been warned.
I hate this episode. With the hate of a thousand suns. Because it is terrible. A lot of the time on this blog, I complain about episodes that I like, because they are problematic and/or offensive. But sometimes offensive things are also bad.
I think that “Rock and a Hard Place” is my new reigning champion for Most Sexist Episode Ever. (I feel like it should get a belt for this or something.) Which means that this episode beats out contenders like “Wishful Thinking,” “Heart,” “99 Problems” and “Slice Girls” (a.k.a “That one with the Amazons who had sex with men for procreation and then sent their progeny back to kill them”). Yeah, so. “Rock and a Hard Place.” Fasten your seatbelts; it’s going to be an uncomfortable ride.
“Rock and a Hard Place” was written by Jenny Klein and directed by John MacCarthy.
Considering the episode’s focus on sex, the whole “hard place” thing is clearly meant as a double entendre. As is “rock.” Really, this episode might as well be titled “Blue Balls” or “Rocks and a Hard [insert your favorite euphemism for ‘Penis’ here].” But this is Supernatural, home of classic rock and classic cars, and “Rock and a Hard Place” is the name of a Rolling Stones song, so let’s see if we can get any mileage out of that, shall we?
Here are some lyrics from “Rock and a Hard Place”:
This talk of freedom
And human rights
Means bullying and private wars and chucking all the dust into our eyes
And peasant people
Poorer than dirt
Who are caught in the crossfire with nothing to lose but their shirts
Stuck between a rock
And a hard place
Um … yeah this really has nothing to do with the episode. I can see a thematic correlation, maybe, between this song and the larger arcs of Season 9 (humanity’s position between the warring factions of angels and demons, Dean trampling all over Sam’s personal freedoms by letting “Ezekiel” take up residence, etc.) but this Rolling Stones song sounds like it’s about something substantial. And this episode is about horny virgins.
It’s sad that I’m not even joking when I say that.
She’s alive … she’s alive! Seriously, the only thing I like about this episode is that it confirms that Sheriff Jody Mills is alive. Considering we have not heard from her since the Season 8 finale, “Sacrifice,” when she was coughing up blood on the floor of a women’s bathroom, this is important.
Virgins, Virgins, Everywhere, and Not a Drop to Drink
Jody Mills, who, for the first time since the Season 8 finale, is revealed to be alive, calls the boys in on a case. It turns out that someone has been abducting virgins. And not just any virgins, but virgins from the Good Faith Church chastity group, Abstinence Purifies Us (APU). To investigate the disappearances, Sam and Dean join APU by signing a “Purity Pledge,” a vow of chastity that allows them to be “born again” as virgins in God’s eyes. Point of trivia: this is the second time in the series that Dean has been, as he once tastefully put it, “rehymenated.”
Born-again virgins Sam and Dean then infiltrate APU.
And I think it’s supposed to be funny, because Sam and Dean are all virile and manly and stuff, and Dean is such a horndog (or at least, he self-identifies that way). And it’s so emasculating for them to play virgins, even born-again virgins. Because virgins, am I right? Chastity is hilarious.*
Sam and Dean go to their first APU meeting. Dean proceeds to be horribly inappropriate.
DEAN: But, you know, when you get down to it, what’s the big deal, right? I mean, sure, there’s the touching and the feeling … all of each other, my hands everywhere, tracing every inch of her body, the two of us moving together, pressing and pulling and grinding.
Then you hit that sweet spot, and everything just builds and builds and builds until it all just …
Throughout Dean’s lovely speech, the women of APU are shifting, sighing in little gasps and pushing strands of their hair over their ears. Because messing with the hair is TV code for female arousal.
Then, right as Dean says, “Then you hit that sweet spot,” we are treated to an actual close up of a woman crossing her legs. Because this is apparently a No Subtlety Allowed zone.
And right when you think the scene cannot get any worse, each “builds” in Dean’s “builds and builds and builds” is punctuated with a little sigh from one of the horny virgin women.
But wait, there’s more. Because when Dean gets to, “until it all just,” we are treated to yet another close up of a woman’s lap–because that was super necessary–only this woman crumples up a couple of pieces of pink paper as her hands, we are to take it, spontaneously contract, because the mounting sexual tension is just too much for her.
It’s too much for all of them. Because these women are virgins, see? Which must mean that they’re just desperate for action! How could they hope to resist the appeal of Dean Winchester? Dean Winchester, who, I might add, is tempting them all with the most vague and uninspired “word picture” of intercourse ever? Of course, the whole point is that Dean doesn’t have to try very hard. Because, as we all know, people who choose to be virgins? Secretly gagging for it.
No! Bad show! No biscuit! This is so offensive it hurts my heart a little. There are all kinds of reasons and motivations that can go into people’s decisions about what they do and don’t do sexually. And while, yeah, I get that the intent was probably, at first, to poke fun at the kinds of pressures and sexuality-policing that sometimes stem from overzealous religious groups, the end result here is something very different from that. The end result here is this scene poking fun at the hypocrisy of women: specifically, women who claim not to want sex when secretly they do.
Eww. Just: eww. That is gross and awful and an absolutely terrible message to send.
But Dean gives his (boring) “sex is fun” spiel, and suddenly all those repressed virgin women are like putty in his hands. To steal from something Sam once said to Dean in a much better episode: Supernatural, you’re confusing reality with porn again.
Oh! And did I mention the Very Best part of Dean’s speech? At the end, he makes a little explosion sound effect.
Stay classy, Dean.
And the rest of my review is under the cut:
Things somehow manage to get worse
Dean is attracted to Suzy (played by Susie Abromeit), the attractive, blond leader of the group. He chats Suzy up after the meeting, and, noble gallant that he is, insists that Suzy let him walk her home. After all, there is a kidnapper on the loose.
As a viewer of Supernatural, I know that Dean is very unlikely to kidnap Suzy unless she turns out to be a werewolf or something, but there is no reason at all for Suzy to know that. She just met the guy at that very meeting. And all she knows about him so far is that he likes to get virgins all hot and bothered. At their celibacy group.
Dean, do you know how much of a creepster you are right now? Because you are kind of being a total creepster. On the list of things that you don’t do when you don’t want to be a creepster, tagging along with a woman to her place when she has already told you she would rather go alone ranks pretty high up there. Especially if the two of you are going to be alone while you do said tagging along.
Dean may want, yes, to protect Suzy from whatever virgin-targeting monster threat is out there, but he is still an enormous creepster. It doesn’t help that Dean’s gallant act really is part of Dean’s plan to get into Suzy’s bed.
Dean lets Sam know, with a wink and a nod, that he is taking the “teacher” home for “research.”
Sam and Jody’s Actual Research
Sam tells Jody that two of the missing virgins had gotten slightly less virginal before their abduction; Jody tells Sam that the missing engaged couple also “did the dirty.” The Monster of the Week is not targeting virgins after all, but people who break their vows of chastity!
And oh noes! As the audience surely remembers from the scene directly before this one, Dean is even now attempting to bang the hot chastity workshop leader!
Mysteriously, things get even worse
At Suzy’s place, Suzy takes off her sweater, revealing a close-fitting tank. Dean admires her figure. Sam calls Dean (in the middle of a hunt) and Dean ignores his call, because he is too busy lighting a candle that Suzy has sitting out. Y’know, to set the mood. He uses his lighter, because he’s such a bad boy like that. Dean approaches her like some kind of cocky predator, when all of a sudden, Dean is cockblocked by Suzy weeping with concern for her kidnapped friends. Poor Dean and Dean’s penis, having to wait that shizz out.
The show cuts to a nice little convo between Jody and Sam, and then back to Dean at Suzy’s place, holding a stack of books on chastity. Oh yeah, Dean’s excuse for dropping by in the first place was to borrow Suzy’s purity books.
Suzy adds more books to Dean’s stack, then excuses herself to the “little girls’ room.” Dean pokes around, and finds pornography. Specifically, pornographic DVDs starring Suzy herself. More specifically, pornographic DVDs that Dean recognizes starring Suzy herself. Dean thought she looked familiar, and now he knows why!
And then Dean manages to successfully seduce Suzy the Born-Again Virgin (or the Artist Formerly Known as the Porn Star Carmelita) by referencing one of her own movies. I’m no expert, but I somehow doubt that this gambit is frequently successful with porn stars who haven’t sworn off sex, let alone those who have.
Supernatural. Reality. Porn.
When Dean brings up her past, Suzy’s response is, “I moved here. I changed my name. That girl was–was horrible.”
To which Dean responds that, while he’s seen horrible things, Carmelita the porn star was the “good dreams,” and the people in this small town where she lives now just don’t appreciate her: “I mean,the things you can do–the scene with the tacos.” How could they appreciate her fully when they haven’t seen what she can do with tacos?!
So, Suzy has built a huge part of her new life around her commitment to chastity. She’s changed her name and tried to put her past as a porn star very deliberately behind her. So of course Dean reminds her of the sexy fun times she used to have on camera.
Dean, the last TV character I saw behave this badly as part of a support group was Jesse Pinkman.
And then … and then this:
DEAN: Made me want to join a mariachi band just to be near you.
SUZY: Well, you are now.
DEAN: I am, aren’t I?
SUZY: You’re not like the other guys in town, are you? You’re kind of a–a bad boy.
DEAN: I don’t know. Why don’t you ask me that in Spanish?
SUZY: ¿Eres un Chico malo?
Suzy is apparently very nostalgic for the good old, taco-filled days of her porn star career, and she has eager, desperate born-again virgin sex with the weird creepster fanboy who followed her home.
Oh! And we’re treated to some cheesy mariachi music by the soundtrack. Because of course.
Sam’s Deductive Prowess Re: His Brother’s Sexual Conquests
Sam and Jody realize that Dean is probably in danger, because he’s been with Suzy for “over an hour.” So of course they must have had sex. (And it’s really, really annoying that the episode proves Sam right in this case.)
I expect that Sam is just trying to make some commentary on Dean’s aggressive libido here, but he makes it sound like Dean has some kind of weird condition–like a faery curse or something–that makes it so he can’t be alone with a woman for over an hour without having sex with her. It’s also a little upsetting that, in spite of Sam telling his brother he doubted he’d be able to “hit” a purity counselor, Sam no longer seems to be taking what Suzy’s motivations might be into account in his assessment of the situation. (Making it doubly annoying that Sam is proved right.)
Oath-breakers that they are, Suzy and Dean are abducted and thrown into a makeshift holding cell with their fellow failed virgins.
When Sam and Jody investigate Suzy’s vacated apartment, Sam finds Suzy’s pornographic DVDs! Now Sam is extra certain that a) his brother has been here and b) his brother has had sex with “Carmelita”.
JODY: You sure Dean was here?
SAM: Oh, yeah. And I think he crossed someone off his bucket list.
Oh, I can’t even.
Here is my list of what not to put on a bucket list:
And this is the point in the episode where I started to wonder if I would ever be able to respect either Dean or Sam again.
The Monster of the Week
The monster is apparently the Roman goddess Vesta, accumulating sacrifices. She’s been masquerading as the APU recruiter, because there just aren’t enough “real” virgins left to satisfy her, so she has to settle for fake born-again ones.
Vesta can be killed with “oak, stained in virgin blood,” and though Sam’s first idea is to use his own born-again virgin blood, Jody tells him she thinks they need “the real McCoy.”
So, Jody and Sam pay a visit to Tammy, one of the APU’s real virgins, and tell her they need her blood. She refuses to give them her blood, and accuses them of paganism and devil worship. Because church group virgins who volunteer their time to food drives are cardigan-wearing, uptight bigots–and I think this is another time when the episode meant to poke fun at some religious organizations and the pressures they can put on their members, but ended up making fun of women; in this case, by giving us a negative female stereotype.
The repressed virgin Tammy is far too uptight and judgmental to give her blood to complete strangers, so Sheriff Jody Mills–my favorite of the surviving recurring female characters–punches her in the nose. To steal her blood.
TAMMY: I don’t have time for devil worshipers! I’m calling the cops.
[Jody punches her.]
JODY: I am the cops.
TAMMY: What the fudge, lady?
JODY: Wipe your nose, dear.
Hey, Jody just punched a woman to steal her blood, and then talked down to her. Ha ha ha. Oh, and abused her position of authority! Hilarious.
And maybe I’m supposed to think, “Jody Mills is too awesomely efficient to care about a virgin’s delicate wanting-to-keep-her-blood-in-her-body when lives are on the line,” but mostly I think, “What the fudge?”
Because I don’t like it when the Supernatural heroes hurt ‘civilians’ (possessed humans, etc.) in the name of the greater good, and I especially don’t like it when it’s played for laughs.
Because Tammy’s such an unlikable uptight virgin, see? Punching her in the nose is funny.
And having Jody do it instead of Sam? Makes it less misogynistic, right? Sam doing it would just seem wrong, but women hitting other women is totes OK … [Imagine I am holding up a “sarcasm” sign here.]
Why do I get the sneaking suspicion that the only reason that Sheriff Mills was brought back for this episode was because someone was going for the hilarious comic gold of showing a snippy virgin getting punched in the nose?
Anyway, stuff happens, the goddess’s reasons for taking failed virgins (rather than faithful-to-their-vows virgins) are painfully unclear, Sam and Jody rescue Dean and the other captives, there’s a fight and Jody eventually saves the day. After getting stabbed in the chest. Which leads to her wearing a sling in the next scene. Whatever.
It’s hard for me to articulate a proper conclusion when it comes to this episode, because it just makes me so very upset.
Does a tangled mess of incoherent rage and frustration qualify as a thought?
Oh, and lest we all forget: this is the first episode this season to have a truly substantive female cast.
It even flipping passes Bechdel.
* * *
* To be fair, chastity was hilarious in Season 3’s “Jus In Bello.” That episode had much better virgin jokes.