I know that I am late to the game, as many have already fallen in love with the Winchester Brothers and their cross-country quest to defeat evil in all of its various and sundry forms.
Husband and I, though, are fairly new to the series, working our way through season 1 with the help of our constant companion, Netflix. It took us a long time to get started on this series for a lot of reasons:
- I was only tangentially aware that it existed.
- I hadn’t heard any reviews on the show itself besides “It’s really scary.”
- I am something of a gigantic pansy when it comes to scary things.
- I am always wary of this genre of show, as it tends to play fast and loose with my faith in ways that make me a tad uncomfortable.
Recently, though, I got a few positive recommendations on this show from people that I trust, and the amount of internet fandom generated by these two exceedingly handsome gentleman and their sometimes-companion Castiel (I understand he shows up a few seasons down the line) piqued my interest. We decided to give it a try.
I won’t lie to you, folks. This show scares the living daylights out of me sometimes. Most episodes I deal with by hiding behind my giant plushie walrus and/or my husband’s shoulder, sometimes getting up and leaving the room if it gets too creepy/suspenseful/icky for me. There have been a couple of episodes that I’ve just had to switch off and advance to the next one, glancing over the synopsis on Wikipedia to see whether we missed any particularly important plot points.
As the first season has progressed, there have been relatively few connections to Christianity as a whole, and most of them have been relatively shallow and laughable. One episode dealt with an adulterous minister and his daughter who was unwittingly siccing a ghostly murderer after any who were doing wrong, another made a hilariously pathetic attempt at citing biblical numerology. Both of these were casual enough that they didn’t bother me–they were no better or worse treatments of religion than you’d find in any standard secular television. I don’t expect people who are not Christians to provide a crystal clear articulation of my faith–it would be impossible for them to do without subscribing to it themselves. I can make peace with that.
I was prepared, though, to be significantly offended by the episode we watched last night, called “Faith.”
During an encounter with some evil critter, Dean Winchester is electrocuted and suffers a massive heart attack, doing permanent damage to his heart and giving him only weeks to live. Sam, determined to save Dean’s life, comes across a blind preacher/healer who is said to be able to cure any disease through prayer. They go to the service, Dean is healed, and just then he notices a gaunt, suited figure who saunters away. The next day the brothers find out that just as Dean was being healed, another young man passed away of the exact same condition that was afflicting Dean. The brothers set out to discover just what is going on in the revival tent.
As I prepared myself to be deeply frustrated with this episode mocking Christians for their faith in benevolent healing (when clearly dark forces are at work), I was actually stunned by how respectful they were towards the faith as a whole while still “taking down the bad guy,” as is required in this sort of show’s format. I won’t break down the entire episode for you, but here are some of the highlights that I appreciated:
- They didn’t blame the preacher. The minister doing the “healings” was the obvious first suspect for the show, but I deeply appreciated the fact that he was in no way involved with the evil that was going on. He was genuinely seeking to do good, to help people, and he believed wholeheartedly in a God who was able to work that healing. While it could be argued that the show casts suspicion on the healing power of God by attributing all of the healings that took place to an evil monster, and we can go into the “Prince of demons casting out demons” argument for ages, I appreciated this choice.
- The true villain was identified and distanced from real faith. The minister’s wife ended up being the one who was controlling the monster, using its power to heal people at the tent and simultaneously kill off those she believed were immoral and wicked, under the guise of “Doing God’s will.” The brothers repeatedly described the means she was using to control the monster as dark, wicked, and in contradiction to the faith. Dean was given one particularly powerful line: “God save us from half the people doing work in God’s name.” I grieve that such a line is as powerful and relevant as it is, but I appreciated the distinction between the true work of God and the crazy people who commit atrocities in the name of God.
- The innocent victim retained her faith even when her healing did not occur. This, to me, was the strongest point in favor of this episode. Sam and Dean encounter a young woman named Layla in their investigation of the tent. She has an inoperable brain tumor and has been given mere months to live.Over the course of the episode, Dean wrestles with the fact that he has been given a second chance at life while this woman will have to die, because they have to stop the monster from killing other people. At the end of the episode, she confides that she is okay, even though the healing didn’t work for her. “I think the thing about faith is that you have to have it even when the miracles don’t happen,” she confesses, in what is possibly one of the best faith-based truths I have heard from a clip of secular television.
As Layla leaves and Dean looks on with tears in his eyes, he calls after her, “Hey. You know, I’m not really much of a praying person. . . but I’m gonna pray for you.” Layla smiles and replies, “Well, that’s a miracle right there.”
The entire episode wrestled with some very difficult concepts: the inability of humans to determine who lives and who dies, the difficulty of measuring who “deserves” to live or die, and this recurring idea that faith isn’t about witnessing miracles, it’s about holding on no matter what–“Being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” It can’t effectively resolve all of those questions in 45 minutes, and I’m happy that it doesn’t try, but instead lets me separate out the fantasy while still appreciating the truth.
Don’t get me wrong: Supernatural is NOT the place to get your dose of theology. I could pick it apart on numerous levels. But I was pleased to find that when it dealt with the heavy subject of faith, it did not attempt to invalidate or cheapen that faith, but instead left it as what it ought to be–a mystery that we will only uncover when our Lord returns.