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The Men of Letters on "Supernatural," is This Secret Society too Contrived?

Updated on February 11, 2013

So, in the more recent episodes of season eight of “Supernatural,” we’ve been introduced with the Winchester side of the family (in the paternal grandfather that Sam and Dean had never known, and never really knew much about). The important thing that seems to come out of that meeting between the boys and their grandfather (Henry) was that he was a member of a secret society known as the “Men of Letters” (and probably that he had a bit of a bias against the type of people that the two of them had become: hunters). We find out that this secret society is one of learning and that the boys’ father (John) was supposed to have become a member (and in turn, they should have become members as well), but when Henry disappeared when John was still a child, there was no way for Henry to “pass on what he had learned”. John spent his life believing that Henry had abandoned him (and presumably, his mother as well . . . though, John’s mother has still not been referenced on the show so that we don't know anything about her), and lived his life unaware of the kind of man that his father actually was; John was still far to young when Henry disappeared from his life for him to really have any idea of who his father was, or the kind of things that his father was into. This is, of course, ignoring the season four episode of “In the Beginning,” where Dean goes back in time and meets a younger version of his father. During the course of the episode, someone tells John to say “hi” to his “old man” for them . . . which would insinuate that Henry is still alive and involved with John’s life. But what many fans have now said (in an effort to try to make this seeming continuity error make sense) is that the father that John is supposed to say “hi” to is a step-father; and since we know next to nothing about John Winchester’s family, it’s entirely possible that is what is going on.

The thing with the introduction of a new secret society within the world of “Supernatural” (if we count hunters as one, which I’m sure that most fans probably would, if questioned), is the nature of this particular one. I’ve seen people think that it’s a good addition, and I’ve also seen where people have said that they think that “Supernatural” is the wrong show for a “Men of Letters” type of society. And I’ll have to admit that I’m kind of on the fence about it.

On the one hand, it’s kind of appealing (now that Bobby and his crazy, hillbilly, “I am the knower of all knowledges” thing is gone). What with the one person that the boys have ever really known in their everyday lives that seemed to have all of the answers, or who could at least direct them in the right place to get the right answers no longer being here, the fact that they would now have all sorts of new avenues of information at their fingertips is something that be really helpful. Sure, there’s going to be a huge chunk of time where there was no one around to put the information of the things that had been happening into the archives that the boys have now seemed to have inherited, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t things from the past that couldn’t still be helpful to them in battles they may have in the future (whether it’s in their near future, or it’s something that is going to be something that’s a long way off). And if what was alluded to by the boys was true, the amount of information that has been sitting inside of the bunker that they now have access to is going to be far more than they ever had when Bobby was still alive and in charge of finding and figuring things out.

But on the flip-side of that, the thing that may be getting some people (at least) slightly annoyed with what is going on with this story arch is that it feels a bit too convenient. Here, we suddenly have a group of people that show up out of nowhere, and who coincidentally have ties to the Winchester side of the boys’ family. Not only that, the two of them are now the only members of this order (now that they know that it existed), and they have mountains of information at their fingertips that they never had there before. In a way, it’s almost like being given all of the cheat codes to a game, after you’ve been forced to play without them since the game’s inception. With all of this additional help that has very really fallen squarely into their laps, it’s possible that it can look like they won’t need to work nearly as hard for what they’ve been doing for pretty much their entire lives. While this might not necessarily be a bad thing, when you consider just how much John and the boys had to figure out on their own (through whatever they were able to scrap together), suddenly being bogged down by possibly too much information could have the opposite of the desired effect (making it impossible for them to wade through all of the possibilities that they now have). And the fact that the bunker where all of the information is located that they know have access to was pretty much thrown at them without them “having earned it” (by becoming members first), the whole secret society of the Men of Letters seems far more like a magic cure-all to whatever ails them. And in a way, it feels very much like they are being given a way for Sam to leave the hunting life the way that he always wanted, and that the addition of this secret society was just a way for him to do it.

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That has been Sam’s “thing” since the very first episode. We have known from the pilot that he never wanted to become a hunter, and that all he ever really wanted was to have a “normal life”. He ran all the way to Stanford to do it, determined that he was going to become a lawyer. But now, with the addition of the vast amounts of information that he has available to him inside of the bunker, he will be able to take a step back from the front lines when it comes to hunting all of the creepies and the crawlies that are out there; he will finally be able to at least make a half a step toward the quiet, bookish life that he actually seems to have always wanted. If he is inside of the bunker, being the one who is doing the research for those who are out there doing the major portion of the fighting (becoming the “new Bobby” in a way that Garth will probably never be able to be), he might be able to at least convince himself somewhat that he has gotten the life that he has been running toward for so long. And on top of that, he may also be able to convince himself that he’s not abandoning Dean to fight alone, since he will still be able to help (in not only trying to figure things out, but by going out on the hunt when there may be no other option for him).

If this is all that the Men of Letters come down to (giving Sam a way to not have to be a hunter, but still feel like he’s helping), that’s when this addition seems far more contrived as a trope than what it might have been otherwise. And at this point, that’s still what the Men of Letters and the bunker feel like when regarding Sam: a trope.

But the bunker full of information that they’ve inherited from Henry, isn’t just contrived from its sudden appearance with all of the answers that they could possibly ever need (or the fact that it seems to have been introduced for nothing more than to give Sam a way to not hunt anymore) . . . there is also one problem of the bunker that has been eating at me since it was introduced (a problem that I can only hope that the writers deal with at some point in the future): how was it kept hidden for so very long without anyone there to take care of it?

When the boys first arrive there, they find coffee cups where the coffee hadn’t been finished, and games of chess that were abandoned in the middle. We can only guess from this that something happened, and the people that had been inside of the bunker had to leave in a hurry; perhaps they heard about the danger that they were in and decided that it was better to go into hiding as soon as they found out about what was happening. The fact that they were unable, or unwilling to clean up any of the evidence that they had been there would seem to support that idea. But if the men and women who were abandoned the bunker in such a hurry thought that it wasn’t someplace that they could remain safe in, how is it that it was left pretty much in the exact state that it was left in? There doesn’t seem to be any dust anywhere; there are no cobwebs anywhere; there are no raccoons or cats running through and scaring the hell out of Dean (let’s be real, he would be the one that they would want to gravitate toward and scare, right?); no one has broken the locks and ransacked the place looking for . . . anything that might help them kill Men of Letters, hunters, humans, anyone that they could; it doesn’t even look like anyone tried to get in, steal whatever they could and sell it for some quick cash.

So, what could have kept the place safe from looters, demons, animals, and dust? At one point in “Everybody Hates Hitler,” Sam says that he has no idea how the showers would have water, implying that perhaps it’s available through magical means; and perhaps this has been what has kept the place safe for the 55+ years (depending on whether you actually pay attention to the fact that since the show has skipped a year between seasons five and six, as well as between seven and eight, and that it should actually be 2015 . . . despite the fact that the tags on the Impala say 2013). But at no point do we actually see the boys try to figure out where these magical sigils and totems might be that have been protecting the place for so long (while keeping it lemony fresh); so perhaps we are supposed to take from this comment that there are protective spells on the place, but the boys just have no idea of where they are, or how to recognize them if they saw them.

But if there are protective spells in and around the bunker, why was the place abandoned in such a hurry? If everything from dust to Casper the friendly ghost have been kept out of there for this long, why were the people who had been there last so terrified of remaining there that they left while they were in the middle of doing something else? And are the boys being suckered into thinking that if they remain there, they will be safe (because the place is still standing, and everything looks to them like it’s intact)? Wouldn’t it be better that they try their best to be safe, and add whatever protection that they think might benefit them while they remain there? It seems like a far better idea than glossing over the fact that they have no idea where the water is coming from, and just assuming that they will be alright as long as they are still inside of the bunker’s walls.


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