Thursday’s episode of Supernatural showed Dean’s spectrum of suicidal tendencies as well as a short reunion with Cas.
The episode, titled “Advanced Thanatology” squeezed the audiences’ hearts with Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles). The two took a case where a group of young boys went missing after breaking into a mental health facility. The brothers discovered that the facility was under the direction of Dr. Avery Meadows (Sacha M. Romalo), who lobotomized all patients, no matter their symptoms or diagnoses.
The patients who survived the procedure were then kept at his house for further experiments. When the young kids broke into the facility for fun, they found masks, similar to those during the Black Plague that quack doctors wore to ward off illness. Meadows apparently wore the mask when he was executed. Sam and Dean unknowingly thought the case is a simple salt 'n’ burn ghost case, and therefore burned the masks because the body was cremated.
They then found out that Meadow’s ghost may be gone, but the other victims were still trapped in the veil, unable to move on. In a hurry, Dean convinced Sam that Dean will stop his heart, effectively killing himself to talk to the ghosts and find their bodies so they can move on. Dean gave Sam strict instructions to restart his heart in three minutes. In the veil, Dean found Ethan, one of the young boys, and discovered the Meadows possessed Ethan to kill his friend. Figuring out where Ethan’s body was, Dean went back to Sam and saw that the injection didn’t work.
Dean then met Billie, the newly appointed Death, and carried on a semi-meaningful conversation about wanting to die but the idea never sticking. Dean also bargained with Billie to talk with her if she freed the ghosts in the veil at the house. Billie left Dean with the comforting thought that she saw the brothers in a different light after becoming Death and that they were important. Dean shot up and once again beat death. The ghosts were freed and on the way back to the bunker, Dean got a phone call. The last scene of the episode featured the brothers pulling down an alley and seeing someone at a phone booth. They got out and Cas turned around.
The episode title is fitting because thanatology is the scientific study of death, which is heavily explored in the episode. Dean doesn’t hesitate to kill himself for the greater good, which causes viewers to worry.
In prior episodes, Dean has died or killed himself, mostly to save Sam. The most recent was in Season 11 where Dean overdoses on barbiturates to bargain with Billie to save Sam’s life, but learned Sam never really dies. This gives the audience cause of concern given Dean’s lack of care of his own self-value. Sam, it seems, also picks up on Dean’s lack of caring or believing in anything as he tries to actively play nice by handing Dean a beer for breakfast, providing him with Agent Paige during the FBI rundown and going to a strip club, which Sam hates. When Sam confronts Dean, Dean plays his depression off why coping with “bullets, bacon, and booze,” which are specific signs that mental illness can’t be seen.
The suspicion in Dean’s wanting to die is confirmed when Dean meets Billie and is shown the wall of portfolios in which he has died. Dean has changed. He is mentally worn, physically tired and depressed.
In Dean’s eyes, he has failed his mom, Cas, and all the people and victims he couldn’t save. Dean blatantly says “I don’t matter,” to which Billie replies with “Don’t you?…you wanna die…so you wanna die, but I say keep living.”
After Dean is saved, he admits that he isn’t okay and has lost complete faith in the world. The audience can’t help, but suspect hints of subliminal messaging.
The show has been known to create and further support the SPN family. Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, and Misha Collins all support each other in their various campaigns to fight mental health stigmas. They also help upkeep the Random Acts I’m Alive Crisis network. This episode in particular only further shines a light on the importance of mental health.
Supernatural airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on The CW.