Episode two of the fifteenth and final season of Supernatural was called ‘Raising Hell’. I’m not sure why it was called that, since Hell was ostensibly already “raised” in the first episode, but it turned out to be sort of fitting anyway, since the episode raised a fair amount of disagreement and infighting amongst the stressed-out-because-we’re-about-to-lose-this-show fandom. As a fan, I sometimes agree with all the sides. I understand the fans who don’t want to hear any complaints or criticisms, who desperately want their last 19 episodes of the show to be something that feels good, a celebration without critique that brings only joy and lots of good memories. I understand that feeling; I tend to be good at forgiving, handwaving and even ignoring in order to appreciate the good parts of what I love. On the other hand, I also understand the fans who are critical of an episode. When you only have 19…18….episodes left, having one of those feel unsatisfying is tough to swallow. I’m somewhere in between the extremes.
The writers of this episode are not always my favorites, as I’ve said before. They have written some good episodes, but there are quite a few that haven’t worked well for me. Whether it’s because they’re seasoned television writers or because they just enjoy juggling, these are the writers who often are given the episodes that include everything but the kitchen sink (which I’m sure, in all fairness, is challenging). Some people like that and are happy to greet each new revelation with a more is better attitude. That’s not me. I like to savor each little bit of this show. I like the show to spool itself out without too much rushing, and for every moment to be invested with depth and a meaning I have to work a bit to figure out. I’m not just here for the action; I expect the show to give me insight into the characters that are why I love it. I start to get a headache when there’s too much going on that isn’t well connected to the main characters or when there are too many characters jammed into one episode.
We’ve been told that lots of ‘fan favorite’ characters will be coming back this season, which makes sense. It’s the last season, our last chance to see some of our favorites and perhaps to give them a proper send off. I’ve been on board with that revelation, and at the same time concerned that it would be overdone, so that each return wouldn’t have the gravity it’s due. For me, that happened in this episode. Rowena and Chuck were back, which was expected, so I won’t consider those a “return” as much as a they’re-part-of-the-current-storyline. But in addition to Rowena and Chuck (and new character Belphegor) in this episode, we had three other returns: Amara, Ketch and Kevin. That’s a lot of returns in one episode!
I like all three of the returning characters, and the actors did a wonderful job with their portrayals. While I initially wasn’t a Ketch fan, I’ve warmed up to the character over the seasons, partly I suspect because David Haydn-Jones is an awesome human being and a talented enough actor that he brings a vulnerability to Ketch that’s unexpected and interesting. Most of fandom was spoiled for all three returns, which also dilutes the impact considerably, and while I don’t entirely know if it made sense for Ketch to turn up there in the nick of time, I could go with it.
Then we had the return of Amara, something fandom also knew about. I loved Emily Swallow showing us Amara’s evolution (and her snazzy new wardrobe) but by the time we saw her and Chuck, the episode was already feeling a bit crowded.
And then we got the most emotional return of all – Kevin Tran. Again, most of us knew he’d be back, which diminished the impact, unfortunately. I was happy he was coming back; It’s no secret that I love Osric Chau to bits and that I adored his character. But by the time Kevin appeared, I think I actually exclaimed “Kevin too??”
There was so much going on in this episode that I didn’t feel like I had the space and time to appreciate Kevin’s return like I wanted to, and certainly not to grieve his departure the way it should have been grieved. Kevin’s story in this episode was tragic, turning him into even more of a tragic hero. Instead of God/Chuck sending Kevin to Heaven as he’d promised, apparently poor innocent Kevin got sent to Hell. What?? I hate that. I know we’re supposed to ‘hate’ Chuck, and this certainly helps push that along, but …. Kevin? I hope nobody tells Mrs. Tran, because I love her and Lauren Tom too and….damn. Kevin didn’t deserve that. Kevin is still a big damn hero, loyal to the Winchesters and standing up the other ghosts.
The episode was so crowded and so full of ‘action’ instead of meaningful conversation (for the most part) that I didn’t even need to reach for my tissues – until Kevin said his goodbyes. Sam and Dean wanted so badly to make it right, to send Kevin to Heaven where he belongs, and it’s heartbreaking that they can’t. The brothers standing there waving, looking so guilty and sad and helpless – and Kevin being brave and forgiving and ‘it is what it is’ as he takes his chances as a ghost – it was the first time in this episode that I felt choked up.
It also felt like the first “real” goodbye of the last season. If Osric indeed won’t be back, that was it. We were saying goodbye to the beloved character of Kevin Tran along with the Winchesters. And it hurt. I just wish it hadn’t been meshed into an episode that was already so crowded.
On rewatch, that scene hurt even more. Not because of Kevin only, but because when Osric turned around and said “Love you guys” I couldn’t help but hear him saying that to Jared and Jensen. I thought about all the years they’ve worked together on the show and traveled the world together for conventions, all those special moments. I thought about my own adventures with Osric, working with him as he wrote his chapter in Family Don’t End With Blood; reassuring him when he was so nervous before his first time singing at the Saturday Night Special; the two of us helping Misha deliver pizza to the Hall H lines at Comic Con one night. So many memories, and now this is goodbye. This show that brought them together is ending, and they’ll go their separate ways. I cried more as I rewatched than I did the first time, trying to come to terms with the goodbye.
I feel like there are going to be a lot of those times for me – and for many fans – this season.
The other meaningful scenes were between Castiel and Dean and between Amara and Chuck. (There was little that was meaningful between Sam and Dean, though I’ll take the tidbits of worried big brother Dean that I can get). Cas and Dean have a bit of a showdown, Cas confronting Dean about his obvious anger and Dean admitting it. The problem with that scene was that it was almost a repeat of the conversation that Sam and Dean had the week before. At the end of that conversation, Dean’s perspective seemed to shift a bit after listening to Sam’s more hopeful reframe. In this episode, somehow he’s right back to where he was before, as though that conversation with Sam never happened. Huh?
It’s not that people can’t shift back and forth in their ability to stay hopeful about something in the face of repeated disappointment and failure – obviously there can be a lot of back and forth and ups and downs. But from a narrative perspective, it was a critical moment when Dean shifted into the familiar Winchester stance of “always keep fighting” alongside his brother; that’s what allowed the iconic moment when they closed the trunk and Dean said, in a voice steely with determination, “we got work to do”. Having Dean walk back that determination and fall back into hopelessness and cynicism in his conversation with Castiel the very next episode dilutes what is so far my favorite scene of the season (the we got work to do), and that bothers me.
The scene itself is one of the best of the episode though. It’s so much more compelling to me to see the main characters’ emotions and have them interact in a way that’s meaningful and gives some insight into how they’re feeling. I like that Cas is as unshakeable as Sam in his conviction that they have had some free will, and that what they’ve done has mattered.
Dean scoffs, cynically insisting that nothing about their lives is real.
But Cas disagrees.
Cas: You asked what about all this is real? We are.
Whether that line was intentionally ambiguous or unintentionally, it can be read multiple ways, from the most generic sense of ‘we’ as humanity, to Team Free Will (which is how I read it), to the most put-it-on-a-tee-shirt shipper interpretation possible. Take it as you will, and I certainly understand why shippers want to take it in the narrow sense, but it has a lot of impact if you read it as Cas talking about all three of them and what they’ve accomplished. Dean is having a serious existential crisis, much more destabilized by the revelation of Chuck pulling the strings than either Cas or Sam are. He’s hanging on by his fingernails, struggling to find that hope and determination that has always kept him going through even the worst of tragedies and losses. If he can’t find it, I don’t think he’ll be able to do that – and I think Cas knows just how close to the edge Dean is right now. His impassioned speech is an attempt to pull Dean out of his existential crisis and set him back on his feet, so Dean can keep fighting. Sam was trying to do the same thing in the last episode – they know Dean, better than anyone. Neither of them want to see him give up, because in a very real sense, that will kill him.
By the way, sometimes after I watch an episode that didn’t leave me jumping up and down, or that left me scratching my head way too much, I’m so effing grateful for fandom. I was having a hard time pulling any deep meaning or emotional resonance out of this episode, and so disappointed about that. Then I ran across a fan vid that traced the evolution of Dean Winchester’s struggle to hang onto his faith and hope and determination, and how many times he’s been so close to giving up, so tired of the fight. From Dean’s moment of wanting to give up way back in Croatoan right up through the current season, it’s been such a long and difficult fight. I found myself tearing up more from that vid than from the episode itself, suddenly confronted with just how big a deal this is for Dean, and how long and hard his road has been. That made the scene with Castiel so much more emotional and so much more important, and ultimately made the episode more satisfying. Do I wish I could not work quite so hard to get there? Sure. I wish the show itself transported me there like it so often has. But when it doesn’t, I’m grateful for this fandom.
As far as plot, the only thing that moved us forward significantly was the Chuck and Amara interaction (and the Chuck and Sam connection).
Chuck seeks out his sister, who is enjoying Reno and her massages and her suddenly fabulous wardrobe (who wouldn’t after being stuck in that same black dress for half an eternity?). He tries to make her think he wants to be close again out of sibling love. Amara, however, sees right through her “big brother”, sensing his weakness and figuring out that he’s trapped here without her agreeing to leave with him.
She taunts him, all that flowers and rainbows forgiveness from the end of Season 11 nowhere to be seen. If she and Chuck were ever as mutually forgiving as they claimed to be then, it’s long since disappeared. Amara hasn’t forgiven Chuck for locking her away all those years, taking pleasure in the revenge of now being the one who’s keeping him trapped.
Showrunner Andrew Dabb has said in interviews recently that they’re moving away from the meta version of Chuck as the writer (of the actual show) and just making him a character – but his comment about loving the Game of Thrones ending is about as meta as you can get. And just as ominous.
If we’re supposed to hate Chuck, I can’t help but feel a little bad for him here, as Amara rejects him and abandons him. He seems small and vulnerable, diminished by the God gun wound, wincing as he touches it.
As most of us have suspected, Sam winces at the same time, clutching at his shoulder. We’ve been speculating for some time that Sam and Chuck are somehow joined by their shared wound, and this seems to confirm it.
Dean: (in worried big brother mode): Still the shoulder, huh?
Sam dismisses it, insisting he’s fine, but Dean stares after him as Sam walks away, clearly worried.
That was about as much real (not incidental) interaction as we got between Sam and Dean and now we have eighteen episodes to go. Come on, Show, gimme!
I am intrigued by the Chuck and Sam connection, and where it will take us. I hope it’s somewhere compelling and meaningful and not incidental. Please, Show?
Let’s see, what else was in this episode? The odd thing is, the episode felt extremely crowded and yet….small… simultaneously. Lots of people, some of them either random highly annoying townspeople and some of them random highly annoying ghosts who sometimes looked like they’d just come from Halloween Adventure (thanks to the broad daylight).
And then a bunch of returning characters who I do care about, and I wish I’d had more time to appreciate.
I love Rowena, and I love Ruth Connell’s portrayal of Rowena. I enjoyed her heroic moments of holding out the soul trap and shouting out the incantation that eventually zapped the bad guy. For some reason, in the midst of all of them in grave danger, there was also the sub-sub-plot of Rowena and Ketch developing a rather intense mutual lust for each other, just like that. Some fans were like yay new ship (Retch, apparently? Unfortunately) and others were like what the hell, why would Rowena go after Ketch? These writers seem to like to write Rowena into awkward romantic interludes with questionable partners, and I’m not sure how I feel about that.
I love the character, and she’s been lusty and unapologetic from the start, which is fine by me, but that’s not all there is to her. I loved seeing both the darker and the softer sides of Rowena in the past, especially her complicated relationship with Fergus. I don’t want her reduced to comic fodder only (with that obnoxious oh-hey-something-funny-is-happening music in the background no less).
It looks like we’ll get something more complex for Rowena (for better or worse) next week, but her banter with Ketch didn’t entirely work for me here. Ruth Connell and David Haydn-Jones did a bang up job of playing up the innuendo, it was just sandwiched into an episode that already had too much going on. Oh! I did enjoy the little meta moment when Rowena said Ruth’s real life favorite line “What do ye’ want?” that anyone who’s been to a convention instantly recognizes. Nicely done, Ruth.
I don’t know if that was Ketch’s final goodbye or not. If it was, we got a small more genuine moment between him and Dean as he was being loaded into the ambulance. Like Rowena with Fergus, I found the relationship between Dean and Ketch to be complex and thus fascinating. If that was goodbye, I’m glad we at least got that moment, but if that was the last of Ketch, he didn’t get much of a wrap up to the more complex (and interesting) parts of his storyline.
One of the underlying problems with this episode (and the premiere at times) is that there was nothing particularly scary or suspenseful about it, which is surprising since they were fighting all these ghosts the whole time. This episode was a continuation of the premiere episode, so much of it still took place in an annoyingly brightly sit suburban housing development. The well-lit ghosts just didn’t look scary, so all the tension that should have been there in those scenes was lacking. Definitely not a roller coaster this week. I miss the dark palate of early seasons Supernatural so much sometimes that I could cry.
There were some scratch-your-head moments, which also give me a headache. Why wasn’t Kevin’s soul drawn into the soul bomb? Why can’t he ever go to Heaven, if John found a way there? (Because God tossed him down there – that’s new). How did Ketch get possessed when he was wearing his stylish iron chain necklace? Why did the Winchesters make the iron necklaces so loose they could easily come off? Wouldn’t a stylish iron collar have been a better choice…hmmm…picture that… Anyway. Why can a ghost devour another ghost? And why do they sometimes zap from place to place and sometimes run? (Slowly). Why was Rowena making the soul bomb at another house that was within the warded zone so that she then had to carry the soul bomb through the streets? And why could possessed Ketch stroll through the warding to grab the soul bomb from Rowena at the end?? Who took his iron chain necklace off?? So much confusion. Enlighten me, please, if you have some answers.
It was also head scratchy that everyone was so strikingly unobservant – including the Winchesters and Cas. The woman who snuck out into the quarantine area to kick off the episode had an entire long conversation with her former neighbor (now possessed by Jack the Ripper) without ever wondering why he was mutely staring at her with murderous intent. Sam and Dean somehow don’t realize that the man and woman who sneak out later are possessed even though they’re standing on the other side of the warding staring blank faced and mute. Really? Don’t make Sam and Dean look like dumbasses, Show!
If we were in Season 3, I might be content to say well, this wasn’t the most compelling episode and it didn’t make me feel very much. Next episode will be better. I’m trying to say that now too, but the stakes are so much higher. Eighteen episodes to go, and I want all of them to matter. I want to care. I want to feel. I’m aware that I have the bar set relatively high, but I also know this show has been up to that challenge for years and years and years. Keep it up, Show, just a little bit longer. Your cast doesn’t want to fade out, and they deserve for that not to happen.
Let’s end with a few more positives.
I did enjoy Dean unceremoniously pulling out his gun and shooting Ketch when he was possessed by Jack the Ripper. Trust Dean Winchester to just do what needs to be done. And that combo pistol shot and then the one-handed catch of the soul catcher that Ketch tossed? Pretty badass.
Sam had his badass moment in a different way, when he got to show off his leadership skills trying to calm down the increasingly restless townspeople crammed into the high school. Jared Padalecki’s subtle portrayal of Sam’s exasperation was a lovely little moment of realism and humor.
I realized after the fact that the high school was the filming location for the show the night I arrived in Vancouver for the convention there in August. Unfortunately my friends and I got distracted with eating pizza and by the time we got to the school, it was just in time to wave goodbye to the cast and crew as everyone drove away. I need to change my priorities obviously.
Cas got his badass moment, in a way, by standing up to Dean and going out on a limb to try to convince him that free will isn’t entirely an illusion. Wrestling with that notion has been Castiel’s path as much as it has been Sam and Dean’s, and it’s clear that he’s also having to struggle not to succumb to hopelessness and what looks a lot like depression.
I’m rooting for all of them.
And for the Show too.
How can you not, with the Best Cast Ever on board?
I kinda love them all.
Caps by @kayb625
Gifs by jaredandjensen on tumblr
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