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When shows run for as long as Supernatural has, getting stale can become a problem. When shows deal with subject matter as complex and twisted as Supernatural does, coming up with new approaches to episodes can get difficult. It is for those reasons that “Defending Your Life” really stands out as an achievement for the show, as it manages to get back to basics in a completely new way. With the world ending consequences of everything that happened in the back half of season six and the beginning of season seven, “Defending Your Life” slowed things down a notch and put the Winchesters on a good old fashioned monster of the week hunt.
The episode picked up with a scene that immediately reminded me of the show’s pilot episode that aired all the way back in 2005, as a man ran for his life from a car that had no driver. While he managed to outdo the vehicle on the streets, it turns out that trying to dodge a car in a small apartment on the tenth floor of a building is much more difficult, and spoiler alert: it ends with blood everywhere. As the brothers show up to investigate, we are once again reminded that Sam and his mind are at odds with each other, as yet another creepily voiced line of Lucifer's dialogue ran through his head. After a pinch back into reality, the duo confirmed their suspicions that something spectral was involved in the death and so the hunt began.
After following some leads, the brothers discovered that not everything in the victim’s world was right, as he had killed a young girl while driving drunk ten years previously. With the killing having been ruled an accident, the now viciously deceased man had seemingly gotten away with his crime, leading to the assumption that with no justice having been served, ghost girl was back for revenge. As Sam and Dean set about a good old fashioned bone burning, their fairly logical theory was all but disproved when across town another person met their end in a somewhat poetic way. With a drunk driver having been killed by a car and a dog fighting promoter having been torn to shreds by an invisible dog, the lack of evidence that ghost dogs exist put a level of mystery into the mix.
With no supernatural theories and only one piece of evidence linking the two victims, gold was struck during the investigation when Sam and Dean ran into a man who had the answers that they were looking for. After the usual “you won’t believe me” scene, we were filled in by the convicted murderer about a man handing out death sentences. Although the killer had served time for his crimes, he still felt guilt over what he had done, something that didn’t sit well with Mr. Judge, Jury and Executioner. After putting Bobby on the case, it wasn’t long before there was a name to go with the courtroom of death: Egyptian God Osiris.
As Sam was filled in on the MO of the justice wielding God, Dean investigated/drowned his sorrows at the same bar which the victims had visited prior to their deaths. Sure enough, Osiris was about and as he waited outside the bar for the barmaid he’d just picked up, Dean was grabbed. After finding out that his brother had gone missing, Sam rushed to the place where they’d previously discovered the court room to be in and so began the trial of Dean Winchester. Contrary to previous belief, Osiris held no actual death wielding power, instead he forces people to face things that they are guilty over, namely the deaths of others, and if they truly believe themselves to be responsible, they are punished for their crimes.
What then followed was without a doubt the highlight of the episode, as Sam lawyered up (again in a throwback to the pilot) to defend his brother’s right to life. Having to survive the calling of three witnesses without genuinely feeling guilt, Dean struggled straight off the bat when Jo was called. Since her death back in season five, Jo hasn’t had too much of a mention, but it was nice to see her return, albeit in spirit form. Whilst she didn’t hold Dean responsible, he believed her death to be his fault, something that Sam somewhat managed to prove not to be the case. The second witness was Sam himself, as Osiris posited that it was Dean’s fault that his life didn’t turn out as well as it could have, again, something that Sam semi-disproved. The final witness however - Amy, the Kitsune that Dean killed last week behind Sam’s back - proved to be an inescapable case of guilt for the elder Winchester.
Given the option to simply admit guilt instead of having the final witness be called, Dean agreed to stop Sam from discovering what he’d done and so was sentenced. With the death needing to be fitting, he wasn’t killed immediately, giving Sam some time to find a way to put an end to the sentencing. When Bobby phoned in at just the right moment with a way to off the God, after a touching scene between spirit Jo and Dean, Sam got his stab on and the sentence was lifted. The episode then rounded out with Dean questioning why Sam wasn’t put to trial as his brother informed him that he felt no guilt for the things that he had done and that Hell and the struggle to keep his mind were punishment enough.
Although it didn’t exactly break boundaries with originality, “Defending Your Life” was a good mixture of the way the earlier episodes in the show’s run were handled than the more modern, emotional overload episodes. It took a unique monster of the week and turned it into a way to have Sam and Dean confront their feelings about everything that’s happened in their lives and it worked out pretty well. The only real issue with the episode is that you know there is never actually any real threat to Sam and Dean’s lives and so conclusions like the one we got are nowhere near as dramatic as you’d like them to be. It is, however, a consistent problem with any show that has an action-drama type of setup and so can’t really be looked upon as a significant problem. All-in-all, a strong outing for Supernatural.