Supernatural, S8 Ep12 – As Time Goes By

Henry, Sam, and Dean sitting around a table
Henry Winchester

Henry Winchester, voted Sexiest Grandpa by Time Travelers Weekly.

Time travel is getting to be old hat for the Winchesters. Dean’s gone back to the seventies a couple times, with Sam along for one trip, they’ve gone back to the Old West, and Dean got to hang out with Eliot Ness. I’m starting to think all those Supernatural and Doctor Who crossover fanfics aren’t so far off from the truth. If The Doctor ever shows up in an episode, I will not be the least bit surprised. This time, though, it wasn’t just fun and Back to the Future references. Henry Winchester, their long lost grandfather, sent himself forward through time with an important task, and some information that flipped everything we thought we knew about the Winchesters upside down. For all the time travel high jinks, this was mainly a character episode. I usually love those, but parts of this one fell flat for me and I think I know why. But I’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s meet Sexy Grandpa Winchester.

Henry crouching in front of closet door

Now that’s what I call an entrance!

Sam and Dean first met Henry after he jumped out of the closet of their motel room. Sadly, this is the only coming out of the closet the Winchesters have ever done (we know how you really feel about Cas, Dean, don’t deny it). As we come to learn, Henry disappeared one day from John’s life when John was a kid, and it was assumed that he had abandoned his family. But of course, it was really because he traveled to the future. Naturally. Or should I say, supernaturally… no, no I shouldn’t. We’ve never heard about John’s side of the family before, but we’ve heard plenty about Mary’s family. The Campbells are legendary hunters, experts in their field. We’ve met Grandpa Samuel: a rough, gruff veteran hunter who has seen plenty of danger and managed to survive by the skin of his teeth time and again.

Grandpa Henry is a different story. He showed up in a crisp suit and tie, prompting Dean to refer to him as 007. Henry was the opposite of the hunters Sam and Dean have known, and that would be because he was no hunter. Henry was something else, something we haven’t heard of before. He was a member of a group called the Men of Letters. While hunters are grunts in the fight against evil, Men of Letters are the brains behind the brawn, the intellectuals who gather and keep knowledge about the supernatural and pass it on to a few chosen hunters to disseminate as needed. These Men of Letters were the ones who gathered all that info Sam and Dean have stumbled across in their research or had to ask Bobby about.

We’ve never heard of the Men of Letters before, and with good reason it seems. They’ve disappeared; all of them are gone. The demon for this episode, a powerful Knight of Hell named Abaddon, killed the leaders of the secret sect, though it’s not mentioned what happened to the rest of the group. Were there any others around the world, or were the few people in that room it? When those men died, did the rest of the Men of Letters just disappear, their group disbanded without leadership? This is one of the details that I’m kind of hazy on, and wondering about it took me out of the episode a bit. What happened to the Men of Letters? Was there more to it than Abaddon’s one attack on them? I hope this is addressed in a future episode, because this one left things hanging in an unsatisfactory way.

John's journal with Henry's initials

Hey, look, Henry’s initials in John’s journal, something no one’s ever pointed out for eight seasons!

Another unsatisfactory thing about this episode was how all the information about Henry and the Men of Letters came completely out of nowhere. I liked how we’ve previously been left to assume that some hunters just figured this stuff out from trial and error. This secret sect of knowledge holders is a cool idea, but one that feels a little too retconny and deus ex machina after eight seasons with not even a tiny hint of it over the years. The question of where hunters got their knowledge was one that I thought already answered, because they might be hardened warriors, but they are also top researchers. Just look at Bobby.

I like the concept of the Men of Letters, but it’s been introduced kind of late in the game without anything leading up to it. If they don’t address that issue later this season I’m going to be disappointed, because it feels like a cheap move. Now, I know that the tablets with the Word of God have also been introduced rather late in the series, but there was buildup to that. The Leviathans had been looking for something throughout season seven and the Word of God fit in with previous mythology. The Men of Letters have not been alluded to or built up to in any way. They’re an answer to a question no one asked. A really awesome answer, sure, but one that creates a continuity problem.

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