By Samantha Highfill
March 02, 2017 at 11:42 AM EST
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Diyah Pera/The CW

Mary Winchester has been through a lot on Supernatural. Not only was she murdered by a demon when her children were very young, but she was recently brought back to life. And while that sounds like a positive thing — and is for the most part — it’s left Mary to deal with a world she doesn’t recognize and sons she doesn’t know.

“Until this season, Mary was an iconic perfect mother figure,” Samantha Smith tells EW. “Coming back this year, one of the things I learned very quickly is she is now human. She has fears; she has flaws; she makes mistakes; she gets confused. She still has that piece of her that is this amazing mom but it’s being eclipsed by her circumstance.”

Since Mary’s return in Supernatural‘s 12th season, fans have watched her struggle to find her place in a world where technology reigns and her boys are not only hunters, but they’re kind of THE hunters when it comes to saving the world (multiple times). That’s why, fairly quickly after her return, Mary told her sons that she needed a bit of space. No matter how much it hurt them, she simply couldn’t step back into the same mother role that she’d once filled for them. “As an actress, I had to accept the disconnect that she is embracing right now and I think it’s to cover the pain and the fear and the confusion, but she is definitely emotionally checked out some of the time,” Smith says. “She’s coming back around, but that was hard because Mary has always been devoted to her boys and I think she still is, she doesn’t know how to show it right now.”

The latest development in her relationship with Sam and Dean is her involvement with the British Men of Letters. Last week, she finally told her sons about the work she’d been doing with the group, and not surprisingly, they weren’t too pleased. “Mary’s goal at this point is to make the world safe for her boys in any way she can,” Smith says. “The most expedient way is the way she’s going to choose and from a very pragmatic point of view, the British Men of Letters seem to have that wired. They have a plan, they have the toys, they have the personnel, and the knowledge and the lore. They have everything at their disposal, so while the Winchesters do manage to always squeak by, it’s pretty hairy and they’ve all died plenty of times, so the most prudent route might be what seems to be the most professional, together, militarized one.”

But considering that the British Men of Letters kicked off season 12 by capturing and torturing Sam, the Winchesters aren’t quick to forgive, nor are they quick to try to understand Mary’s decision. And yet, this week’s episode will feature Mary trying to explain the reasoning behind her choice and maybe even get her sons on board — well, at least one of her sons. “They are so different,” Smith says of Sam and Dean. “She is learning how to navigate the different personalities of her kids. You need to talk to them both very differently to be heard.” Taking that into account, Mary recognizes that because Dean is just as stubborn as she is, Sam might be her best shot on this one. “She’s not going to stop trying to get them to see her side, and trying to show Sam what she’s doing is part of that effort.”

At the end of the day, Mary’s slowly but surely returning to her sons’ lives. But at the same time, she’s reconnecting with her old hunter life, and the question Mr. Ketch posed last week was: Is Mary a better hunter than she is a mother? “That’s one of those things where somebody calls you out on your deepest fear,” Smith says. “It doesn’t mean they’re right, but it’s something that you worry about and when Mary left, her children were babies. Now she’s come back and there is no way that she can relate to these two grown men as her children. She can’t parent them. She can love them, but what is her place with them? I don’t think that she has found it yet and I think that is one of the reasons she feels like she needs to keep leaving because she doesn’t feel like she’s helping them. As far as her feeling like she’s a better hunter, she certainly is more comfortable with it and understands it more than she knows how to be a parent to two men in their 30’s.”

Supernatural airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.

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