In its early days, Supernatural had some fabulous monster-of-the-week episodes and they made up most of the first few seasons. The show had to take on werewolves at some point, and they did so beautifully in Season 2’s “Heart.” It was a devastatingly good episode that made everyone cry and remains a fan favourite. Unfortunately, attempts to establish a regular subplot with recurring guest stars have just never taken off, and “Paper Moon” doesn’t do itself any favours by revealing itself as a callback to one of Supernatural‘s worst episodes. However, while I was initially skeptical, “Paper Moon” uses that old subplot in a very effective way to illustrate a story of siblings, love, and devotion, and the relationship between Sam and Dean Winchester is 100 per cent worth the eye-rolling moments.
“Paper Moon” kicks off with Dean and Sam sitting by a lake with a cooler full of beer, getting their “we time” and trying to have a vacation. However, relaxation has never been the boys’ strong suit, and they decide to investigate some mysterious deaths in a nearby town that seem rather werewolf-like. This is where the episode picks up a story thread from back in Season 8, bringing back Kate (Brit Sheridan) who first showed up in the awful episode “Bitten.” Kate is a werewolf whom the boys let live on the condition that she never kill humans. Sure enough, Sam and Dean stumble on her, but Kate swears that she hasn’t killed anyone except some local chickens and it’s her younger sister Tasha who’s the true culprit. Kate transformed Tasha into a werewolf in order to save her life after a bad accident, but her sibling hasn’t taken to werewolf vegetarianism very easily—and she forces Kate to make the hardest decision a family member can ever face.
I admit I spent a good chunk of the first act rolling my eyes, because I really didn’t want this to be another werewolf episode, but Sam and Dean really save it. After two years of the boys lying to each other and moping around, “Paper Moon” is an amazing change of pace. They actually put things out on the table and talk about their issues. The past few months haven’t been easy for either of them, both having journeyed into dark places. Neither of them is proud of how they acted, and Dean even apologies for the “embarrassing” way he tore up the town(s) with Crowley while he was a demon. Episode writer Adam Glass absolutely nails this open and honest dynamic, including the genuinely sweet line from Sam to Dean: “You don’t ever have to say [thank you]. Not to me.”
In the end, “Paper Moon” is pretty good, and far from the boring slog that was “Bitten.” The werewolf sisters are a good foil for the Winchesters too, as both Sam and Kate have had to watch their beloved siblings transform into hideous monsters, and see their worst fears come true. The sisters’ hidden issues boiled up to the surface, because they didn’t talk things out, and in the end that silence became lethal. Having Sam and Dean actually acknowledge that they are still recovering from a Big Thing is yet another sign of renewed energy on the show, and it’s great to see them being lovingly bratty to one another again.
“Paper Moon” did the unthinkable, turning one of the show’s most hated guest stars into a sympathetic and important character, and continues Supernatural‘s strong momentum this season. In many ways, this is the best the show has been in years.