I came into this season’s premiere of Supernatural a little wary – the end of Season 11 brought with it a lot of changes to the show, including the departure of showrunner Jeremy Carver, some of my favorite writers, and even some long-time crew members. So I was guarded in my expectations, but hopeful because every time I talked to lead actors Jensen Ackles or Jared Padalecki about the new season, they seemed to be happy with the start of the season and where the early episodes were taking them. So, in I went, with tissues and pie and glass of wine at the ready.
Supernatural fans are a bit different than other fans – we’re a fandom that has been around for a long time, and we appreciate all sorts of little things that the casual viewer might not. Case in point:
a) The Show is now back on Thursdays, where it began on another network eleven years ago. That felt special to me, and added to the anticipation.
b) We love the crew of our show and the miracles that they work, so most of us were not only anticipating the show, but the new title card! And it didn’t let us down – I gave a little squee to see it.
c) Music is important. Sure, sure, there’s no singing in Supernatural (untrue, btw…) but there has always been music. Great music. The classic rock that Eric Kripke loved and passed on to his fictional boys, Sam and Dean. This season kicked off with the sort of kickass classic rock montage that we’ve come to expect from Supernatural, ratcheting up the excitement and reminding me of what an amazing show I fell for.
And then we were rolling. We pick up right where we left off, which always makes me happy – I loathe gaps and inevitably feel the need to find some fanfiction to fill them in ASAP. Everyone has been wondering what it would be like to have such an iconic character as Mary Winchester back, because despite her infrequent appearance on the show, she is an incredibly important part of the story. How lucky are we to be able to get Samantha Smith back to portray her? Nobody else could have played that part and been accepted wholeheartedly, embraced instantly, by the fandom. (And how lucky is the CW that Samantha still looks the same as she did twelve years ago shooting the pilot?!)
Dean is understandably emotional; Mary is understandably cautious. When Dean reaches out to touch her, she does what any reasonable woman would do when a man tries to touch her without her permission – she flips him to the ground and pins him with her bare foot. (I bet Show didn’t know how relevant to current events that scene would be…)
Luckily for Dean, he has his parents’ history memorized in vivid detail, proving to Mary that he is in fact her son, fast forwarded 33 years after her death. I have to commend Andrew Dabb’s writing here, because he doesn’t just leave it to assumption as to why Mary actually believes Dean fairly quickly. She was raised by hunters, so coming back from the dead isn’t the impossible-to-believe thing that it would be for most of us. We also learn specifically that she doesn’t remember the times Dean and Sam encountered her in the past, or when she was a ghost. Thank you, Andrew, for that canon consistency! (Another thing about this fandom – we take canon seriously. Don’t get it right and we WILL call you on it. Check the SuperWiki!)
What makes this episode excellent is the same thing that often makes Supernatural one of the best shows on television – the performances of its cast. This scene immediately made me reach for the tissues – just 3 minutes in! Both Jensen Ackles and Samantha Smith were perfect in this scene, adding the sort of subtleties that can easily go unnoticed but that bring the emotion of the scene into powerful focus. Dean’s almost childlike excitement as he recites his parents’ past just about broke my heart. You can tell how important it is to him, hanging onto that family story. How many times did Dean tell himself that story, trying to reassure himself that he did have a family who loved each other (and him) – before it all went up in flames. Dean Winchester values family above everything, because it’s the thing he’s lost over and over again. So he hangs onto that family story with both hands, holds it in his heart and calls it up with such ease, you know he still tells himself that story often.
Also, the fact that John Winchester knew the words to every Zeppelin song for some reason just pushed me over the edge into actual tears. Like I said, music is important to this fandom. And to its very own absentee father, Mr. Kripke, whose absence I think we will all feel forever. Dean could have been talking about John or Eric, and we all knew it.
Show knows this about us, of course. That’s why the familiar notes of the family theme begin to play as Mary slowly closes the distance between her and her son.
“Dean,” she says, and as always in Supernatural, that one word – that one name – says so much more.
“Hi mom,” he replies softly, and she pulls him into her arms. The look on Dean’s face then – the incredible emotion that Ackles put into his expression – if I wasn’t already sobbing, that would have done it.
Dean catches Mary up, which is really saying something.
Dean: It’s a lot.
That’s what fans tend to say to non-fans when they try to explain this show. I mean, it is!
Protective Dean is one of my favorite things, so I loved him putting his jacket over his mother’s shoulders and offering to take her home.
Meanwhile, a trucker drives down one of those quintessential American backroads (iconically Supernatural) and nearly gets hit by a meteoric object that crashes through a billboard. A billboard for Mystery Spot, which wasn’t lost on any of the fandom – it’s not only a favorite episode, but it stars one of the fans’ most beloved characters, The Trickster/Gabriel. Hint? Shoutout? Whatever, I loved it.
Castiel gets to make yet another dramatic entrance, this time crashing through the billboard and then climbing up out of the giant crater he left in the earth.
He’s a man on a mission from the first second we see him, a fact Misha Collins makes clear with the expression on his face. In fact, he zaps trucker guy and leaves him lying in the road (which seemed rather dangerous) in his haste to get back to the bunker and save Sam.
And speaking of Sam… The lady we all loathe ties him up and throws him in the back of her car, then takes him to get patched up (because she freaking shot him in the leg!) To a vet.
Taking him to a vet was random, which made lots of people wonder if it was a reference to the Season 8 opener, when Sam hit a dog and inexplicably decided to settle down with a vet instead of looking for Dean. (That was also the last time the show changed showrunners, ushering in the Carver era). I guess that’s a question only Andrew Dabb can answer. At any rate, this particular vet is having a very bad day. The nasty lady first threatens him, then bribes him, convincing him to take the bullet out of poor Sam’s leg and stitch him up.
[ETA: Smarter people than me say it’s because vets don’t have to report things like taking a bullet out of someone’s leg, though presumably bribery also works]
We next see Sam chained to a chair in a basement, with Nasty Lady interrogating him and even nastier lady zapping him with a cattle prod to keep him awake. I got queasy almost immediately, because Jared Padalecki can play the hell out of a scene like this. He makes you FEEL the pain Sam is feeling, so acutely that it literally makes me sick to my stomach.
Show keeps throwing in these little scenes of Nasty Lady interacting with her young child and I’m not sure why. If it’s setting up some kind of redemption arc for her, don’t bother, Show! We’re not going there with you. Nobody tortures Sam Winchester like she’s about to and then gets a pass. I don’t care if she’s freaking mother of the year! In this case, the juxtaposition just came off chilling, as Toni goes from “I love you so much” to coldly watching Sam be tortured.
Jared brilliantly portrays a Sam who has nothing much to lose but is determined to Always Keep Fighting anyway. Sam believes his brother is dead – has died saving the world – so he has no hope of anyone coming for him. He holds out against the torture because he’s too smart to trust someone who shot him and then tied him to a chair and zapped him with a cattle prod, and he won’t put other hunters in danger by giving up their names or locations to her. But you can see how different Sam is when he thinks he’s alone, when he doesn’t believe he has his brother to fight for. He’s cold too – steely and determined and strong, but brutal. There’s a hardness there that only comes out in Sam when there is no Dean in the world. And he’s absolutely effing fearless. Again, Dabb does a good job of keeping consistent canon, because that’s what happened to Sam in ‘Mystery Spot’ too – perhaps no coincidence that it’s referenced in this episode. I like to think these things are intentional. Don’t disabuse me of that notion if you disagree.
The nasty ladies dump freezing cold water on Sam, but he remains silent other than to spit out ‘Screw. You.’ Padalecki must have had a crappy day filming that scene, but he’s amazing in it. Every shudder shows us how freezing he is, makes us think about how painful that must have been even as we don’t want to. And Sam barefoot and soaking wet, long hair hanging in his face, is both heartbreaking and disturbingly hot, which just made my stomach feel more queasy.
When the freezing cold doesn’t work, the very mean lady switches to hot, taking a blow torch to Sam’s poor bare vulnerable looking foot. This scene was hard to watch, partly because the VFX is really well done, but mostly because Jared lets us SEE Sam’s terror and pain even as he endures it all. (We also see what Jensen Ackles was talking about onstage at the Toronto con last week when he said we’d see soon that Jared’s toes are so long they’re like another set of fingers…)
Extra points for creepiness when nasty lady tries to insist that they just want to “make America….safe…” which brought up all sorts of current events associations. I have no idea if that was intentional, but at any rate, I don’t believe her! I don’t care how well they think they’re protecting their country, starting off with taking out the Winchesters is never a good thing!
The weakest part of the episode was the Crowley and Lucifer arc, which doesn’t have anywhere near the urgency of the main story line. I tend to not like it when Show keeps cutting away to a B story line, and this time was no exception. I love Crowley, but him killing two annoying demons who weren’t remotely scary (or remotely smart, or remotely funny) was just time away from the story I wanted to see. Also, making fun of 14 year old girls isn’t all that amusing anyway. Emotions, hormones, an approximation of teenage vernacular. Yeah, yeah, we get it. But we do learn that Lucifer is skipping from vessel to vessel, and that Crowley is determined to take him down.
Switching back to the main story line, Dean and Mary get back to the bunker and find blood on the floor. (And I get treated to more Protective Dean, as he stalks off with gun drawn calling “Sammy?!”)
Cas returns and is almost as protective and single minded as Dean, immediately demanding of a surprised Mary, “Where is Sam?”
We get a nice emotional hug when Cas sees that Dean is in fact alive – and again, some nice canon consistency, since of course Cas also believes that Dean died blowing up Amara. And as much as I enjoyed Misha’s performance as Casifer, it’s nice to have Castiel himself back, with his quirkiness and literal interpretations.
Dean: Yeah, he’s an angel, wings, harp…
Cas: No, I don’t have a harp.
I have this little game I play where I try to figure out where ad libs and little script changes happen on Supernatural, because I think they invariably are some of the best, most organic moments. The next brief exchange was one of them.
Dean: This is Mary. [pause] Winchester.
Now in the script itself, Dean continued with “My mother.” I know this because in the big “Cas” versus “Cass” brouhaha that broke out during the west coast airing (more on that later), Misha posted a little portion of the script, which happened to be this scene.
As it played out, Jensen chose not to say “My mother.” Which, in my humble opinion, made the scene SO MUCH BETTER.
It gave Misha a chance to show us Castiel’s reaction as the realization slowly dawns on Cas, and he then says reverently, “Your mother.”
That part was scripted, but it would have been so much less powerful if Cas was just repeating what Dean had already told him. Have I mentioned that we have the best cast ever? Probably.
Btw, I refuse to start spelling it “Cass” after all this time. Sorry, Misha.
The next scene had a little unscripted moment too, apparently. Mary is reunited with the other important cast member on the show – the Impala. Never has an inanimate object inspired so much feeling in so many fans, so Mary’s emotional reaction to seeing her again was moving to us all. For her, it’s a piece of the past that’s come into the future virtually unchanged, much like Mary herself. It’s also a piece of John, the husband who essentially she just lost and is still coming to terms with losing. No wonder she greets Baby so warmly, caressing her the way her son so often does and speaking to her in endearments.
Mary: This was John’s car. Oh, she’s still beautiful.
The camera shows us Dean’s reaction here, and whether scripted or not, Ackles lets us see exactly what Dean is feeling at that moment. The Impala is important to him too partly because it’s his connection to his father. Something John gave him, entrusted to him. Dean takes that very seriously – take care of Sammy and take care of that car, those were John’s orders. The fact that his mother is praising him for doing just that means so much to him, you can see it on his face. He practically glows for a second there.
Mary looks in the window, a small smile on her face.
Mary: Hi, sweetheart. Remember me?
Dean mirrors her on the other side, and for a moment they’re both gazing fondly at Baby’s back seat, presumably both remembering all the things they did there.
Then Dean realizes that this is his MOM who’s remembering rolling around the back seat with his DAD – perhaps conceiving Dean himself – and he immediately straightens up and says awkwardly, “We should go.”
It was a funny moment and both Samantha and Jensen played it perfectly. Supernatural alum Alaina Huffman tweeted that it was impromptu, which explains why they pulled it off so well. And at the time, I chuckled.
After, it bothered me a little, because I never can find room for humor when one of the Winchesters is missing and presumably in danger. I just don’t know if Dean would be able to pause like that – wouldn’t he be leaping into the car, eager to go after whoever has Sam?
I can put it down to him giving his mother time, trying not to rush her as she struggles to come to grips with all this change, I guess. Dean is a caretaker – he’ll try to take care of both his mother and his brother if he can. And I suppose they don’t yet know just what sort of danger Sam is in – they know that it’s a human who took him, so they may not be as frantic as they would be if a monster had him. Or maybe I’m just grabbing at straws….anyway, it was a nice scene but it bothered me a bit too.
Dean, Cas and Mary hit the road, and Samantha Smith does a really nice job of conveying Mary’s sense of being out of time, as she looks around at all the children playing video games on their smartphones. She looks more than a little lost, and wistful thinking about what she’s missed too. I liked that Cas had empathy for her situation, and that he expressed it to her. They make a good team, both of them quite ready to be ruthless if it’s the only way to get to Sam.
That means the hapless vet is having an even worse day, with Dean Winchester’s gun at his back and a pissed off angel and mom ready to “hurt him” to get some information.
Meanwhile, the nasty ladies have moved on to trying to break Sam’s mind instead of his body. Don’t they know Lucifer tried that too??
These hallucinations were as heartbreaking as Hallucifer’s, because once again they are all based on the tremendous guilt Sam feels for letting the people he loves down. He’s confessed that before to Dean, in the church in ‘Sacrifice’ – that his greatest sin was letting Dean down. Now he’s tormented by images of Kevin, Mary, Jessica, and of course Dean dying. Kudos to the VFX team for making this look so amazing.
All the people he’s lost and feels he’s somehow let down, because Sam thinks Dean is dead too. Canon continuity points again go to Dabb, because one of the voices that Sam hears is Dean’s on that infamous voicemail (that Dean never actually left) when he calls Sam a freak. It’s been driving fandom nuts for years that the brothers have never had a conversation that let Sam realize that Dean never said that! (Though sometimes I think they have, since I’ve read it in so much fanfic…)
When Dean finally gets the nasty lady on the phone, we get one of the best scenes in the episode and Jensen really gets to shine. Because now Dean knows who has his little brother, and man, he is PISSED.
Ackles channels his inner Liam Neeson, saying that Sam had better be in one piece or else.
Dean: Listen, bitch. You have my brother. When I find you, and I will find you, if he is not in one piece, I will take you apart.
When the call cuts off, he’s so furious that he cracks his phone in half, and hoo boy, is it hot in here??
(According to tweets from crew, props confirmed that yes, that was a real phone. In fact, it was a real phone that was not prepared for breakage or altered in any way. They had four in case they needed multiple takes. So Jensen just broke a phone in half. Just like that. I repeat, is it hot in here??)
(If you’ve ever been in the middle of a Jared and Jensen ‘squish’ hug, you have absolutely no doubt that either of them could snap a cell phone in half, because dayum.)
Now there’s plenty of urgency. The Impala peels out, tires screeching, on her way to rescue one of her boys. Only to get T-boned by the really nasty lady, and now I hate her even MORE if that’s possible. Not only did she hurt Sammy, but she hurt Baby too!
There’s a fight, which very nasty lady wins, dispatching Dean way too easily and using her Enochian brass knuckles to bring down Cas too. I know we keep wanting kickass women on this Show, but damn, this was not what I had in mind!
Luckily Mary Winchester is equally kickass, and she saves the day, running very nasty lady through with the angel blade.
Dean: Thanks, Mom.
We get treated to Dean and Cas pushing the very nasty lady’s car off the road, which was a lovely shot (and immediately giffed on my timeline…) though I’m not sure why Cas needed help to push an SUV. He’s an angel again, right? I was expecting more badass Cas than I got from this episode. Still…nice view…
Also, good job tossing a few branches on the vehicle, Cas. That oughtta do it.
Back at the car, Mary sits staring at her hands (the metaphorical if not literal ‘blood on her hands’), clearly upset at being thrown right back into the world of hunting that she tried so hard to get away from. Dean, empathic as ever, comes to ask if she’s okay, and she doesn’t lie to him.
Mary: I never wanted this for you and Sam.
My heart kind of broke for Dean then, because he so desperately wants his parents’ approval and never seems to get it. But Dean has come out of the experience of the last few seasons a stronger man, I think. He straightens and looks his mother in the eye.
Dean: I get it, I do. If I had kids, I wouldn’t want them in this. But Sam and me? Saving people and hunting things. This is our life. And I think we make the world a better place. I know we do.
Damn. Dean Winchester having a sense of purpose and value. I teared up, NGL. And points once again to Andrew Dabb for weaving in the literal theme phrase of the Show, again with the canon consistency that makes us all feel reassured that despite its recent changes at the helm, our Show is still our Show.
Meanwhile, Jared is convincing us that Sam is in incredible psychic pain, and I’m still sick to my stomach. When Sam seems to break and shatter the mirror, taking a shard to his throat, I gasped out loud. Not that I thought he would die in Episode 1, but that I thought for a second that he’d tried to. Given Jared’s real life work in suicide prevention and experience with depression, that hit hard. Luckily it’s a ploy, and I think I might have jumped up and yelled “Sam F—king Winchester!” when Sam outwitted and overpowered Toni. Sam being Sam, though, he doesn’t kill her, so standard horror movie rules are followed and she gets up and overpowers him again.
Black Sabbath starts to play and it’s so sad and haunting and perfect, the Impala driving off in the dark covered in broken glass, Dean worrying about both his mother and his brother and Cas looking determined to fix it all while Mary stares out the window.
And Sam, broken and battered and still trying to hang on – to Always Keep Fighting.
“The world is a lonely place, when you’re all alone…” the lyrics say, and we end with some gorgeous cinematography courtesy of the brilliant Serge Ladouceur – Sam collapsed on the stairs, believing that no one is coming for him, that he’s all alone in the world.
That was a tough ending, leaving a lot of unresolved questions and hitting an emotional note that was painful to stay on as the credits rolled. We’re used to that with Supernatural, though. It’s never been the kind of Show that ended with a bunch of smiling fans – more often than not, we’re clutching each other and sobbing, even if it’s virtual hugs. And wondering how we’ll be able to wait for next week!
Another thing that makes watching Supernatural and being part of the #SPNFamily so unique is that once you’re in, you’re in. That means that many cast members, past and present, hopped onto Twitter to live tweet the west coast airing. Their support of each other – and their flirting and bantering – just added to the enjoyment of the episode.
The fandom ended the evening having a dispute with Misha Collins about whether the diminutive of Castiel is Cas or Cass (a long time disagreement between fandom, who has always spelled it Cas because frankly that makes sense, and the writers, who have always spelled it Cass in scripts – presumably because that helped actors pronounce it correctly, as rhyming with….you can figure that out).
Even William Shatner jumped in the fray, as often happens when Collins is involved. Eventually Misha posted a priceless Facebook Live addressing the kerfuffle.
I don’t think we’ll settle that one any time soon. In the meantime, counting the days until Episode 2!
Caps by @kayb625
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