Just as the 7th season premiere began in the same moment that we left the Winchesters in the 6th season finale, so this episode began where the last left off, and I’m guessing the same thing will happen on Friday.  I usually don’t read responses to a Supernatural episode until after I’ve crafted my review, but I caved this week and I’ve seen some negative responses to these cliffhangers.  Frankly, I love it.  As a narrative technique it builds tension.  We see that there’s not a second of the Winchester’s current lives that can be glossed over — the audience needs to experience every moment with them.  In so doing, the events become even more epic.  True, this means we haven’t really had a stand-alone episode, but it highlights the seriousness of this new threat.  With this Friday’s episode we’ll have had four concurrent episodes addressing the Castiel/Leviathan big bad.  I can’t think of a time where the Supernatural team gave us back to back to back to back episodes that dealt with the season’s main arc.

Yet unlike “Meet the New Boss,” which catapulted the show forward with narrative developments, “Hello, Cruel World” really moved pieces into place for the next installment.  We gleaned some basic information about the Leviathans, enough to prove that they’re more terrifying than other monsters — there’s a reason they were trapped in Purgatory.  Hints were dropped that there is a “boss” — someone/thing that appears demanding, intolerant, and unwilling to brook idiotic choices (like eating a high school swim team) that threaten to expose them to the populace.  As monsters, they are constantly wailing about their hunger — human organs seem to be the food of choice — which reminded me of various X-Files monsters, “the wire” in the Doctor Who episode “The Idiot’s Lantern,” and George Costanza’s mother.  Once the Leviathans have abandoned Castiel’s body, exploding into a reservoir that serves as drinking water for the local area, they can then inhabit whomever is unlucky enough to come in contact with their fluid form.  It’s a form that, again, is straight out of The X-Files — the black oil.  Like the dark, liquid Leviathans, the “black cancer” in The X-Files had the ability to enter a human and take possession of their body, exhibiting a sentience and a need to communicate.  As we see in “Hello, Cruel World,” the Leviathans use their form to enter innocent humans via water fountains, sinks, and any other water pathway that seems viable.  They also have the ability to transfer bodies, as is the case when the Leviathan trapped in the body of a child (another creepy kid casting coup for Supernatural) assumes the body of a surgeon.  However, the transfer itself is odd.  The child grabs the arm of the surgeon and then the camera angle changes, showing the event in silhouette, hidden behind a room divider, as it appears that the child/Leviathan steals the flesh from the surgeon, and in draining him becomes him.  This would make it seem that there are multiple options for Leviathan movement, making them difficult to keep track of and kill.

Oh yeah, and they might be Terminators.  Okay, not literally, but as we see, they are, as of right now, seemingly impossible to kill.  Dropping a car on one, bursting his vessel and leaving its black oil form spread on the tarmac does nothing — it re-forms.  Like I said, Terminators.

For all of this, the true thrust of the story is about what Supernatural does best, exploring the relationship between Sam, Dean, and Bobby.  And pain.

Sam doesn’t hide his hallucinations from his family, letting them know exactly what he’s seeing, telling them precisely what Lucifer is saying to him.  The story reaches its apex when Sam, thinking he’s leaving Bobby’s house with Dean, ends up at a warehouse with Lucifer, who is pushing Sam to the brink of madness.  When Dean finds him, he doesn’t have the power to sway Sam with emotion.  I’m fascinated that this moment received critical backlash.  The argument being that Dean, of all people, should have been able to convince Sam that his life with him was real — that Lucifer’s appearance was madness.  Yet that’s exactly what *cannot* happen.  Lucifer is a part of Sam’s brain — a manifestation made possible by the broken wall in his head.  The result of this is that Sam/Lucifer knows exactly what Dean’s arguments will be — hence the moment in the episode where Sam tells Dean exactly that — that Lucifer knows what Dean is thinking.  The only way to convince Sam that the life he’s living is real is to inflict pain.  With eyes full of compassion, Dean shoves his fingers into the gashes in Sam’s palm, and as Sam gasps Lucifer flickers.  The more pain, the more Lucifer dissipates.

Pain.  Sam’s mental trauma is a manifestation of his horrific memories from Hell.  The questions remaining are how that brain will heal, if it can, and what the impact of this broken wall will have on the season.  Dean, however, is dealing with the pain that we’ve seen since season one — how to keep his loved ones safe.  Yet, Dean can’t keep people safe.  Sometimes the demon/monster/angel/devil that they have to fight is simply too powerful.  Bobby, calling Dean on his crap, speaks for the audience when he tells him there’s no way he’s okay with the loss of Castiel (not that long, in Supernatural time, after the loss of Ben and Lisa), who was more like family than friend.  In this moment, when Bobby is reminding Dean that he’s there — that he’s there to support Dean whenever he needs it — we have a clear foreshadowing that something is going to happen to Bobby.  In fact, the note I made during this scene, not knowing what was yet to come, was that losing Bobby might be the thing to push Dean over the edge.  Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned from Supernatural, it’s that Dean’s life can never be easy.  His pain is deep, visceral, constant and his guilt drives the show.

More pain.  Reminiscent of the loss of Harvelle’s Roadhouse in season two’s “All Hell Breaks Loose,” the boys find Bobby’s house burned to the ground, tearing a place of stability (their home) away from them.  Even worse, Bobby has disappeared, and there’s a Leviathan there who knocks Sam unconscious and breaks Dean’s leg, leaving us with the boys in an ambulance on the way to a hospital teeming with Leviathans.  Quite the cliffhanger.  Can’t wait for Friday, which should be filled with more of Dean’s suffering.

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