Binge TV watching is the preferred method of viewing for many people now that it’s fairly cheap and easy to inhale an entire season (or 2 or 3 or…) of a show. It’s the way we watched Season 1 of Supernatural, after watching only sporadically when it was broadcast. There are certain benefits to binge watching – no commercials for one, and you don’t have to sit through an entire summer hiatus biting your nails and worrying about whether Dean will get out of hell. On the other hand, that anticipation, agonizing though it may be, is part of the thrill that comes from loving a Show. Once we were hooked, we became fans who planned their social lives (and sometimes family lives, but shhhh) around whatever night and time Supernatural aired.
I still do. Yes, my DVR is recording it too, but there’s something about watching the Show ‘live’ that’s just a more powerful experience. (The DVR is pretty damn handy for those necessary repeat viewings though). Last night reminded me of why. The mid season hiatus isn’t as long or painful as the summer “hellatus”, but it still seemed like way too long since Sam and Dean and Cas had graced my television screen. I injured my back a few weeks ago, so it’s been difficult to get online, but I couldn’t resist checking my twitter and facebook and LJ and Tumblr, because anticipation is doubly sweet when it’s shared. Every vid and gif and fanart and enthusiastic “OMG Show is back tonite!” made me smile, and ramped up my own anticipation even more. By the time 9 pm rolled around, I’d forgotten the pain in my back (and just about everything else that didn’t have to do with the Winchesters). Five minutes, three minutes, one minute – all of us waiting together no matter where we were on the East coast.
I think I watched the first ten minutes without breathing (although I didn’t actually turn blue or fall over, so maybe not). That’s what it felt like though – so much emotion in those first scenes, a hunter’s funeral for Kevin (sobbing forever), a broken and alone Dean taking out his rage and sorrow on whatever he could find. Anyone who has lost someone knows that burst of emotion that comes over you the first time you stumble across something the other person left behind – a photo, a piece of mail addressed to them, a pair of shoes still beside the front door. It’s a wave of feeling that can leave you breathless, make you ache so much you can’t speak. It can bring you to your knees, or drown you in a wave of blinding rage. (I still can’t watch that Buffy episode where she loses her mother, because Joss got it TOO right). Andrew Dabb’s writing and Bob Singer’s directing rang just as true.
Dean – Jensen – showed all of those feelings so realistically that I couldn’t help but recognize them in last night’s episode. Couldn’t help but empathize, my own losses suddenly yanked to the surface by watching his suffering. It literally left me breathless. We’ve seen Dean lose it before when faced with a terrible loss, bludgeoning his beloved Impala with a hammer or taking it out on his beloved little brother with a fist. He always pulls himself together, but I can always identify with his rage at how helpless he is to save the people he loves. Dean has gone through that far too many times, and he’s still unable to stop his knee-jerk response of blaming himself. That sense of responsibility – for his little brother, and for all of humanity – was instilled in Dean at such a young age and so consistently, I’m not sure he can give it up. Watching him walk away from Sam was heartbreaking. But in character.
I remember several conversations with Jensen at meet and greets this fall, and his non-spoilery (and thus somewhat vague) comments about Dean being in such a dark place, maybe darker than he’s ever been. Now I know why. *shudders*
So yeah, Jensen knocked it out of the park and dragged my heart along with it. But this episode gave all the actors the chance to do just that – and every one of them stepped up to the plate. Andrew Dabb’s script didn’t falter as far as dialogue or plot, but even more important, it struck the right emotional cues again and again. (The other writers say that Andrew is the heart and soul of Supernatural, and I’m beginning to see why).
I was more than ready to see Gadreel!Sam go, but Jared’s last scenes as Gadreel were amazing. He was able to portray the last remnants of Gadreel’s desire to be good slowly erode, leaving only his chilling disregard of even his best friend in order to “do what I have to do.” Is there anything more dangerous? His taunting of Dean and Cas and even Crowley was actually scary; Jared sold it almost too well. *shudders more*
SPN has been accused of ‘torture porn’ more than once, as have many other films and tv shows, and we’d be the first to say that hot guy getting whumped in the course of heroism can be … interesting … but the scene where Crowley tortures Gadreel!Sam was too much for me to watch. I had to keep turning away from the graphic images, but even then I couldn’t stop hearing the agonizing screams. Jared’s willingness to go no-holds-barred and just shout out his pain and fear and rage made that scene unbearable. I watched Dean’s face every time Gadreel screamed, seeing how much those screams in Sam’s voice were killing him; I was surprised he lasted as long as he did in that room. That scene, I’m guessing, is the one Jensen mentioned as one of the hardest he’s ever filmed. Kudos Jared, but ouch.
I barely had time to recover from those emotions when the Show (and Andrew Dabb’s roller coaster of a script) threw me in another direction. Sam taking back control – finally! – the strength and determination in his voice when he ordered Gadreel OUT – holy shit, is it hot in here?? Sometimes I forget just how badass Sam Winchester is. Thanks for the reminder, Show. And more kudos for Jared.
As if all that awesomeness wasn’t enough, Misha Collins gave an understated and nuanced portrayal of Castiel in this episode too. I sometimes struggle with Castiel’s blend of sincerity and naivete and just plain awkwardness, but in this episode, Collins played it just right. Cas has clearly grown as a character. He’s evolved and matured, and he’s done it in the same way we all do it – by making mistakes, then owning up to them and making changes so you don’t make the same damn mistake again. In ‘Road Trip,’ Cas is the voice of reason. He understands forgiveness and has even managed to do a little of it, forgiving himself for his well-intentioned mistakes, and forgiving Dean for his as well – they have both done stupid things, he says, but maybe for the right reasons. Dean can’t hear it yet, mired in self hatred and sealed off with the defenses he thinks he needs, but I suspect that eventually he will. I loved hearing Cas put into words the kind of things the Winchesters never say to each other – and so need to.
I also loved that Cas stayed with Sam while Dean left with Crowley. Sam and Cas have a much closer friendship in fanfic than they’ve ever had in canon, which can sometimes be both confusing and frustrating. (Wait, but last week didn’t Sam and Cas…oh wait, that was a fic I read, wasn’t it?) I hope they have a chance to bond a little while they’re temporarily out of Dean’s orbit. God knows, the gravitational pull exerted by Dean Winchester sometimes leaves little room for seeing anyone else. Or is that just me?
Also, I have to take a moment to marvel (for the millionth time) at Serge Ladouceur’s ability to light scenes in a way that makes them preternaturally beautiful. I just…I mean, look at this!
Mark Sheppard also had a chance to shine, giving Crowley the freedom to spew hilarious one-liners as well as the freedom to leave the dungeon. “Phallus on wheels” isn’t how I would have ever thought to describe the Impala, but as soon as he said it, I burst into laughter, and my daughter and I both exclaimed “Ohgodyes.” Shhh. Don’t tell Dean.
Crowley is the only other ‘big bad’ since the Yellow Eyed Demon who has the charisma to make you love him even as you try to hate him. And now that he’s retained a little bit of humanity from the trials, he’s even more delicious. The earnestness with which he tried to convince Sam to kick Gadreel out and that Kevin’s death wasn’t his fault – Sheppard played that in a way that was both believable and touching. I don’t know what’s going on with Crowley, and I sort of love not knowing. Those are the kind of surprises I want from Show – not what the hell, that would never happen, wtf? But omg I didn’t see that coming, what is happening, omg?? Cas and Crowley were the voices of reason in this episode, while the Winchesters are struggling with so much guilt and self-blame that neither of them can see clearly. I didn’t see that coming, but I like it. Also kudos to the VFX team for so many cool effects – Crowley smoking out in vibrant red was awesome (and what does it mean, omg??)
Also, does Abbadon have chemistry with everyone? I think so. Yum.
And while we’re talking about the ‘bad guys,’ Metatron is shaping up to be one of the creepiest villains SPN has ever given us. The fact that he looks so unassuming and speaks so softly makes him the perfect manipulator. He’s narcissistic and out for himself, but he’s smart enough to make it sound like he’s just trying to set things right. The masterful way he manipulated Cas and now Gadreel is chilling to watch. He’s like the egotistical writer who doesn’t want anyone else playing in his sandbox. Metatron and Metatron alone will write the stories, will have all the control. No prophets to write another version – no fanfiction in his universe, thankyouverymuch! He makes my skin crawl, which must say something very good about both the acting and the writing.
The last scene was hard to watch, but it seemed like the only possible ending. Sam didn’t rant and scream or throw a punch, but in some ways his subdued response hit even harder. There’s a lot of variation in fan response to the whole story line of Dean doing what he did, and I’ve probably spent way too much time thinking about it (which again must say something very good about Show). I don’t think it’s actually that Sam wanted to die, not if there was a viable option for living – he hadn’t given up until he accepted that there was no viable option. But once he came to that point, he was invested in the decision – and even more important, he had Death’s assurance that nobody (including Dean) could get hurt again because of him. It’s not always as obvious from Sam’s side, but he too makes his decisions around the codependence he has with his brother. (Codependence takes two, after all.) Striking out against that dependence is still making it all about Dean. Jared let all Sam’s hurt and anger and sense of betrayal show through on his face. Dean could see it; I could see it. Sam has had his agency taken away far too often, by the YED, when possessed by Meg, when he was without his soul, his body doing things that Sam himself never would – and he paid a terrible price when Dean made a deal for him without his knowledge or permission before, watching his brother ripped to shreds and taken to hell. It’s almost like he’s too furious and despairing to throw a punch or even raise his voice. He’s had it. And so he lets Dean go, with one final intriguing comment. What Dean thinks is the problem is not. Sam seems stronger here than he has in a long time. He’s in control and he’s not in the dark. He saved himself from Gadreel (with a little help from his friends…) and it seems like he’s not going to buy Dean’s self-blame because it’s not that simple.
It hurt to hear Dean say “I’m poison,” just as much as it’s hurt in the past when Sam’s been convinced of the same thing. Kevin’s death seemed like a turning point for Dean – all those conversations about how being close to the Winchesters just gets you killed seemed to sink in and take hold. No wonder he feels like poison. If I put myself in Dean’s shoes, though, I get why he did what he did. Empathy is hard to come by when you’ve never been in someone’s position – you never truly know what you would do in a situation until you’re actually faced with it. Dean doesn’t want to live without Sam, that’s a theme of the show from the beginning. But he also cares about Sam’s happiness – his love is not entirely selfish. Faced with his brother dying right in front of him in that hospital room, and a seemingly benevolent angel offering to save him and heal him and then get out – and in that moment Dean was desperate, emotions on overdrive (which does not lend itself to thinking clearly), so he wanted to believe it. I’m not sure most of us would have turned ‘Ezekiel’ down in that moment, believing that he could make our loved one better, good as new, no strings attached. Dean struggled with it, but I can’t see him doing otherwise. If it had been Sam, I think he would do the same – consider the lengths he was willing to go to in Mystery Spot to get his brother back. Of course, there were strings attached. And once Dean realizes just how toxic and horrifying those strings are, and what that will do to Sam, he makes a different decision. He’s able, at that point, to put his need for Sam second to doing what is best for Sam. As awful as it sounded to me when he said it, it makes sense that Dean would be willing to let Sam die rather than be a puppet for Gadreel. That moment when Dean, still in a half-blind rage, swore that he’d kill Sam rather than let Gadreel possess him and use him to kill people, was shocking. I gasped out loud (and possibly screamed NOOOO at my tv) – no way would Dean ever kill Sam! But Dean has said that before, that he’d rather Sam be dead than for Dean to let him become a monster. I think Dean so wanted to believe in the benevolence of “Ezekiel” that he didn’t dare think that he was making that a very real possibility. Dean can’t stand to see Sam hurting, and being used by Gadreel to kill is a worse fate than death.
I hate seeing the boys apart, but it wasn’t unexpected. Sam couldn’t find out about Dean making yet another ‘deal’ for his life without consequences. This time, though, it’s Dean walking away. He didn’t try to argue for why saving Sam seemed to make sense at the time. But it’s still what Dean feels, and it’s so much a part of his character that I can’t wish for it to be otherwise. Maybe the character’s evolution is that now he recognizes and struggles with it, and he doesn’t expect Sam to be grateful or even to accept it. It just is. Dean has always been willing to do whatever it takes to protect Sam – even if that means walking away from him.
The ending was like a final heart-wrench, just in case the previous 40 odd minutes hadn’t left me enough of an emotional wreck (psssst Andrew, they had…) Dean driving away, Sam telling him to go. Sam’s cryptic words, “but that’s not the problem.” Castiel’s face, as he looks back and forth between the brothers. It’s clear how much he cares about them, how helpless he feels, unable to help either of them right now. It was a sad but satisfying ending – it felt possible, even if it didn’t feel good. And I sort of like not knowing exactly where this is going. Just don’t keep the brothers apart too long, okay Show? Nothing good ever comes of it!
To pass the time until next week, check out the NPR program on Supernatural we contributed to here (how cool is it to have NPR do a feature on our Show??)
Or pick up Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls for some reading fun – link at top of page.
Welcome back, Show!