Posts tagged Crowley
I was meeting with students last week about their research papers and had asked them what types of narratives they enjoyed, regardless of medium, and one of my students mentioned Supernatural. I immediately stopped talking research and started talking Winchester, as you do, and mentioned that the second episode of the show really highlighted how this season was going back to its roots – back to the characteristics and motifs that created an invested audience in the first place. The student’s emphatic nodding and subsequent response told me two things: 1. People really hated the last two years; and 2. Jeremy Carver truly is taking the show back to its origins. The showrunner debacle is fodder for another piece, but the first two episodes of the season have dedicated themselves to bringing back the Winchester struggles that encapsulated those early years of Supernatural and that created such a devoted fan base.
It’s not that we don’t have an overarching mythology that is consuming the early episodes, but they’ve proven to be a lovely blend of impressive, and oftentimes humorous, scenes, coupled with a Winchester response that simply wasn’t as consistently evoked over the past two years.
For now, the fate of the world doesn’t rest upon the Winchester shoulders, and that makes for some interesting dynamics. Yes, of course, the tablets of God and the secrets they contain are epic, but for now the overriding question is whether to permanently shut the gates of Hell. Okay, in typing that out it sounds like a fantastically significant event, but the first two episodes have given the impression that the choice will either shut the gates permanently, seemingly rendering the Winchester business shut, or that life would continue on as is, with demons wreaking havoc and hunters tracking them down and ganking them. Compared to the apocalyptic scenarios of the past few seasons, this seems almost tame.
Tame? No. But what it has done is forced the struggle to a more internal one – something I argued was necessary last season. The Winchesters are coming full-circle back to their original personalities – Sam wants a life with no hunting, but not if it means the sacrifice of an innocent, and Dean wants this life over, whatever it takes, and if an innocent is hurt in the process, so be it. This creates more of the ethical tensions that we’re accustomed to seeing in the sibling relationship. Is there a right choice? Does Sam’s decision not to hunt scare Dean because there is no longer a home base? There is no Bobby? Without Sam in the passenger seat, does Dean see the long highway in front of him with despair? He jokes of beaches and fancy drinks, but with no one but his brother, does life just seem like a lonely proposition?
All of this Winchester trauma is underlying the behaviors manifested throughout a very enjoyable episode penned by Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin. The focus is still Kevin Tran, who is traveling with the Winchesters to find the tablet that Kevin has secreted away. Kevin, however, plays the mother card, wanting to make sure that she’s okay. After all, he hasn’t seen her in a year. This, of course, serves to annoy Dean, who wants to stay on target. But if there’s one person who can understand the mother card. . . .
One of the rewarding elements to having the Tran family as added sidekicks is not only for the humor factor (the touching reunion interrupted by Dean and Sam rudely throwing holy water in Linda’s face), but also for the simple moments that make the audience realize that the Winchesters work on a level of awareness that we almost take for granted at this point. While Kevin waits for a glimpse of his mother, Dean notices the mailman who returns three times and the gardener who is overwatering a plant – Crowley’s demons sent to watch over Linda. More importantly, as soon as they walk in the house they smell the demon inside, possessing Linda’s friend Eunice, and with little fanfare deal with the problem.
Demons they can handle. . .Linda Tran? Well, she’s another story entirely – and a fantastic one. She’s a fierce mother when it comes to her son, but shows little fear when confronted by her son’s new reality. She and Kevin must both get inked with anti-possession tattoos, during which she barely flinches and Kevin hyperventilates and cries. Yet the real test arrives when the recovery of the tablet reveals that not only has it been stolen from where Kevin has hidden it, but that it is now part of a supernatural auction. This is an auction being run by the god of greed, Plutus, whose assistant, Beau, delivers an invitation to Kevin, and then begrudgingly adds a plus three for the Winchesters and Kevin’s mom. Again, Linda doesn’t even balk at any of this, rolling with the madness if it means ensuring the safety of her son.
There is a tense moment when in trying to figure out how they will be able to afford the word of God, Sam hints that they could trade it for the Impala. Even I gasped.
It’s at the auction that the other season strength is seen with the arrival of Crowley. This is a character that’s not only great in his comic relief interactions with the Winchesters (especially during Leviathan season), but should also prove to be a valuable enemy for this season’s arc. Crowley is sarcastic, but menacing. He seems like someone you’d like to grab a beer with and talk sports players who sold their souls for winning seasons, but he would then snap your neck at the end of the evening. While it is amusing to watch him fight with Sam and call him Moose, his natural nemesis is Dean. Crowley’s not a stupid man. He knows that Dean is the one who will make deals and dirty decisions, and will sacrifice people for the greater good. Sam was fun for Crowley when he didn’t have his soul, but now he’s simply a roadblock to Crowley getting what he wants. As Crowley warns Kevin at the end of the episode, “Run. Run far and run fast, ‘cause the Winchesters, well, they have a habit of using people up and watching them die bloody.”
The auction is a fantastic scene. Not only does Linda punch Crowley in the face, but there are also drool-worthy items for sale – including one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks and Thor’s Hammer, which Sam will eventually use to kill the Norse god and brother of Odin, Mr. Vili, who purchases it with a finger of Emil and 5/8th of a virgin. The group combines resources to come up with $2000 in cash, a credit card, and a Costco membership. What’s great about the scene is how confident they are that this will end well. But when the first item up for bid, the amulet of Hesperus, starts at three tons of dwarven gold, the group knows that they’re doomed, much to Crowley’s amusement. Crowley and Samandriel, an angel sworn to protect the tablet, begin a bidding war for the word of God, ranging from three-million dollars, to the Mona Lisa, to the moon, but to no success. Beau sweetens the pot by adding Kevin to the sale – buy the tablet, get the prophet. This, in turn, leads to a very Winchester move – Linda gives them her soul for Kevin’s freedom.
I realize it’s only two episodes in, but another thing that this season has excelled at is guest casting. Kevin, Linda, Benny, Mr. Vili, Beau. . .they all have moments that seamlessly integrate into each episode, and, more importantly, work well on a character level with Sam and Dean. There is very little so far that feels forced. Even Plutus, the god of greed who dresses like a New Jersey mobster, is menacing without being excessively out of place.
As Supernatural is wont to do, it’s Dean that’s confronted with the critical choice at the end. Sam is left to wield Thor’s Hammer to destroy both Beau and Mr. Vili, but Dean is the one to chase down Crowley, who has inhabited Linda (after Beau burned off the anti-possession tattoo). When he catches Linda/Crowley, and holds the demon-killing knife to her throat, it’s abundantly clear that if Kevin hadn’t shown up that Dean would have killed her, without remorse. A fact that Dean confirms to Sam a few scenes later.
We don’t know what’s happened in the year that Dean was missing, but clearly the experiences have affected both Winchesters. Sam’s year has softened him and brought back his conscience – and it’s made hunting seem like a life best left behind. Dean though. . .something happened to Dean in Purgatory and we’re only getting drips of the story. Dean has come back to the world a warrior, and by the end of the episode Kevin gives voice to reason when he tells him to shut up – to stop regaling him with platitudes about the realities of a life fighting demons. Dean is back to the end justifying the means, and as he hints at the end of the episode, if he had killed Linda he would have hated himself but “what’s one more nightmare.” The final minutes of the episode spell out Dean’s psychological struggle. Kevin has taken his mom and fled, leaving a note saying that without the tablet, they don’t need him any longer. Sam is nearly apoplectic, as Crowley will still be pursuing Kevin, and can’t figure out why he would do something that stupid. Dean, unable to look at Sam, replies, “He thinks people that I don’t need any more, that they end up dead.” Sam, looking like he’s been sucker-punched, tries to console his brother, assuring him that’s not true, but it leads to a significant final scene – a flashback of Castiel in Purgatory, desperately reaching out, trying to hold onto Dean’s hand, and screaming his name as Dean lets him go.
I think we still have much to learn about how Purgatory broke Dean.
Dean and Benny continue their quest to find Castiel, and Dean has morphed into full soldier mode, manifesting pleasure at killing to fulfill his mission of finding his angel friend. At the auction, Samandriel, an angel of god, shows up to protect the tablet and ask Dean about Castiel’s disappearance. This leads to a flashback where Dean very happily finds Castiel, hanging out by a river and looking pensive. Castiel has regained his sanity, but is not quite pleased to have Dean show up. It’s interesting that Benny is the one who jumps to Dean’s defense – who verbally attacks Castiel for abandoning Dean when they landed in Purgatory. In an almost pathetic moment, Dean defends Castiel, saying he must have been fighting off some beast and has been looking for Dean ever since. Yet Castiel confesses that he ran away – that he must be left alone because the Leviathans have put a price on his head and he’s trying to keep Dean safe. Dean is Dean though, and unconvinced by Castiel’s argument tells Cas that he refuses to leave Purgatory without him. Cas agrees. What happened here? How did things end so fractured? And what really happened to Castiel?
- Nice to see Dean back to his old routines – eating giant hamburgers, saying “son-of-a-bitch” with situational intonation, and getting annoyed at basically everything everyone who’s not a hunter does to delay his process.
- Sam with the reverse exorcism. . . .interesting
- The scene where Linda takes down the pawn shop owner was priceless.
- Is there anything better than when Crowley arrives and says “Hi boys.”
- I can’t see Mr. Vili without seeing him as a fortune teller in the fantastic The X-Files episode, “Clyde Bruckman’s Final Repose.” Things don’t end well for this man in supernatural shows.
One of my favorite moments:
Beau: “Oh if you’re worried about the safety of the prophet rest assured that we have a strict no casting, no cursing, no supernaturally flicking the two of you against the wall just for the fun of it policy.”
Sam: “Is that right. How’d you manage that?”
Beau: “Well, I am the right hand of a god after all. Plutus specifically.”
Dean: [snorts] “Is that even a planet anymore?” [totally chuffed with himself]
Beau: [disdainfully] “It’s the god of greed.”
–Dean rolls his eyes, while also looking quite pleased with his joke.
“Change of tone” and “back to the beginning” appeared to be the mantras of Supernatural’s 8th season premiere, “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Former writer and producer Jeremy Carver has returned from a two-year absence to take over the role of showrunner, and the shift is marked.
As you might remember from the final moments of last season, the Winchesters’ lives were transmuted with the well-placed swing of a bone soaked in the blood of the fathers. Given that the brothers have traveled to heaven and hell, it’s not much of a surprise that purgatory has come into play. It was a nice way of separating the brothers, with Dean and Cas left in great peril, and Sam not knowing what had happened to his brother.
Now it’s one year later.
We’ve seen Sam without Dean – actually we’ve seen this twice. In the fantastically funny and emotional episode “Mystery Spot” (written by Jeremy Carver), we watched as Sam fell apart, becoming a soulless (shades of things to come) hunter whose only focus was killing things and tracking the trickster who destroyed Dean. Then, when Dean goes to Hell, and after four months without his brother, we are introduced to a Sam that has become fixated (with the help of Ruby) on using his powers to kill demons and save the people they’ve inhabited.
This is not the Sam we meet in the premiere. Even more important than the girl in the bed that Sam is exiting is the dog that Sam seems bereft to leave. As seen in “Dark Side of the Moon,” one of Sam’s happiest life moments involved running away from the family business and getting a dog. While there are hints that during Dean’s time away Sam has been involved in things he’s not yet willing to share (especially his life with the girl in the bed), Sam has moved on from hunting – he’s abandoned all the burner phones; he’s stopped listening to messages; and he didn’t look for Dean. This in and of itself is a significant development in the sibling relationship. Can you imagine a time when Dean would not look for Sam? Yes, I know Dean led a new life when Sam was trapped in the cage, but that’s different. If Sam had just disappeared, right in front of him, would Dean really give up looking, regardless of what they had promised each other?
Of course, Dean has some secrets of his own. He’s emerged from Purgatory, bloodied and almost feral. Although it’s unclear how he made his escape, it seems to have involved smuggling out a vampire, Benny (Ty Olsson), in his blood – a vampire he then brings back to life by “releasing” Benny’s “soul” onto his unburied bones. And then there’s Cas, who Dean says didn’t make it out of Purgatory, but the story is vague, and there’s an implication that perhaps Dean and his new vampire brother are hiding something about that story.
Plus, did I mention Dean’s friends with a vampire!?!?!
So while the show doesn’t begin with the brothers living in some kind of hate spiral, they do not emotionally exist in the same place. Dean admits that he’s not the same person he was a year ago, but immediately resumes his hunting life – a life that Sam begrudgingly begins again. And I’m not quite sure Sam is rejoining the life. He gives off the vibe that while this might be a welcome family reunion, it’s a temporary hunting mission. If it weren’t for all the things that have happened in the interim, it would almost be like the first episode of the series.
These differences manifest almost immediately in the narrative involving Kevin Traan, the very young prophet of the Lord, who has escaped from Crowley and needs Winchester help. Kevin Traan, who had been calling Sam for help for over six months, with his messages not only going unanswered but unheard. As Dean sits and listens to message after message, we see the sibling rift become exacerbated.
It’s really at this point that the new storytelling element comes into play. Reminiscent of LOST, the show is now reliant upon flashbacks to tell the story of Dean’s year in Purgatory and Sam’s year without hunting. I’ve heard mixed reviews about the flashback motif – I think it can work, as long as they aren’t reliant upon, as Stephanie Wooten called it, “the brothers looking all ‘deep’” as a necessary component of the transition.
The Purgatory flashbacks illustrate how Dean’s entire year was spent trying to survive – that he was seen as nothing more than “man-meat” by the creatures surrounding him and every day involved hand-to-hand combat. It’s like a year long Hunger Games and you get the impression that he got little sleep and little sustenance. In the flashbacks he’s looking for Castiel, unfortunately with little luck, but he does meet vampire Benny, who explains that there’s a portal out of Purgatory, but it can only be used by humans – he will help Dean, as long as Dean carries Benny’s soul with him during the escape.
Sam’s flashbacks involved his life-changing event of hitting a dog with his car, and then forming a bond with both the canine and the vet, Amelia. While there weren’t many scenes with Amelia (Liane Balaban), her ability to banter with Sam gives me hope that there might be a female character on Supernatural who isn’t (fingers crossed) a demon and might actually serve as a regular.
This first episode sets up for the viewer the conflict arc that we’re going to follow – at least for a little while – with the Winchesters and Kevin in battle with Crowley and his minions. Crowley needs Kevin to translate more tablets, but underestimates Kevin’s wily nature. This is a great new character addition to the show. He can handle the Sam/Dean dynamic, has moved past his fear/confusion about being a prophet, and is brave enough to fight Crowley and his demons.
Kevin also misleads Crowley about the content of the tablets, offering him a way to open a hell gate, when in reality he’s found a way to purge the Earth of demons. . .forever.
This revelation invigorates Dean, but causes Sam to reflect upon life and free will. It’s definitely the Sam of old who ponders whether Kevin can make it out of this adventure alive, and if not, then is it really worth it – is sacrificing the life of one for the good of the Earth justification for closing down the gates of Hell? Dean, reminiscent of his second season personality, finds this a no-brainer, but Sam just isn’t convinced.
Unfortunately, as long time Supernatural viewers are aware, running with the Winchesters and fighting evil doesn’t happen without consequences. In this instance, Kevin’s friend (high-school girlfriend) Channing. Possessed by a demon, Crowley is willing to return her, unharmed, to her university life, if Kevin is willing to walk away from the Winchesters and join his team. Dean is the one who calls Crowley’s bluff, and Crowley allows Channing momentary sentience. It’s enough to make Kevin question his position and he agrees to go with Crowley, much to Dean’s chagrin.
But as I already said, Kevin is a wily one, and instead of handing himself over he sets a trap, dumping buckets of holy water on Crowley and Channing. As the boy escape, we get a gorgeous slow-motion scene of Crowley snapping Channing’s neck while the Impala’s passengers watch.
The episode ends with Dean taking a call from a “wrong number” and then sneaking away to call Benny. The two share a cryptic conversation in which Dean asserts that he regrets nothing they did in Purgatory – that it was necessary for their survival and escape. He also advises lying low, but assures Benny that if he needs help, Dean will be there. For someone who can demonstrate such a black and white attitude towards demons, monsters, and evil, Dean has the most complicated relationships with supernatural creatures. The flashback structure will clearly serve as the means to disseminate details about what evil deeds transpired in Purgatory, and it will not be a shock to discover they have something to do with Castiel’s absence.
Jeremy Carver’s reign has begun by bringing in elements of the show that hearken back to earlier seasons. Behaviors, philosophies, monsters, even weapons are all familiar to long-time viewers. It’s a way of reassuring the audience that has been dissatisfied with the past two seasons that things have gone back to an earlier mindset, but that the stakes are still high. How successfully Carver can continue this trend is the real question.
And can I just say, how flipping fantastic was it to finally have the Impala back on our screens?
The sixth season of Supernatural, as I mentioned in part one of this post (many, many moons ago) ((last year!)), is all about breaking with tradition. We have a shift in the character paradigm and, in “Caged Heat”, a fracturing of the typical trajectory of a season.
I have this bad habit of thinking something at the beginning of an episode of Supernatural, which then always ends up destroyed by the end. To wit, in the opening scenes, with Crowley torturing the alpha shapeshifter, who has assumed Crowley’s form, I thought, “I really love that Crowley has developed into this season’s big bad.” Oh Karen. . . .you doomed him.
The episode provides a clearer sense of how things now work for the Winchester boys. They capture monsters and bring them to Crowley’s henchmen, garnering little respect in the process. Dean is still tormented about whether Sam actually wants his soul back, sounding almost petulant in his regular interrogation of his brother. It’s an interrogation that’s ended when Sam is grabbed by a demon henchman, one who works for Meg, or, as Dean calls her, “evil bitch.”
Meg’s looking for Crowley, which again highlights the shifting power dynamics of hell. Crowley is hunting down members of the old guard, the faithful servants of Lucifer. Meg wants to get to him first. In the continuing struggle between brothers, Dean wants nothing to do with her, whereas Sam is ready and willing to bargain. Sam wins. They’re playing with Meg now.
First, however, Sam wants to solicit the help of Castiel. He does, but it’s ugly. Sam shares no squishy feelings with Castiel. The way Sam speaks to him, it would appear that he can barely tolerate the angel’s presence. And while he summoned Castiel with a funny Raiders of the Lost Ark reference (does this mean the Ark really would make people’s faces melt off?), Sam keeps him there with the threat of hunting him down and killing him. Castiel again references the war in heaven, but Sam has no patience for this, and I can’t help wondering if Castiel remains only to ensure Dean’s safety. They keep their spat from Dean, acting as if they are working in concert. Though I’m not sure Dean believed what he was hearing. He had that pensive, “I’m sucking a thoughtful tooth,” Dean face. Unfortunately Castiel cannot find Crowley — he’s hidden from him — so they have to go to Plan B: Samuel.
Because this is the season of answers, rather than deferments, we find out why Samuel is working for Crowley. In a twist that fits in perfectly with the Winchester way of life, even if he is a Campbell, Samuel reveals that he’s working for Crowley because he has promised to bring Mary (Samuel’s daughter, Sam and Dean’s mother) back from the dead. My brain exploded with the implications of this. . .would she really want to be alive? How would they explain it? How do these people keep coming back without manifesting in a rotting corpse/skeleton? I would think that coming back to life after so long would lead to some kind of insanity. . .but I guess if Samuel could come back then it’s possible.
There’s an interesting dynamic at play here. Dean wants/needs to get his way because he’s desperate for the restoration of Sam’s soul and, of course, Sam will always be priority one with Dean. Then you have Samuel who cares about nothing more than getting his daughter back. Mary coming into play as a pawn provides an extra dollop of tension, for the audience has always seen Mary as a Winchester. She was the impetus behind a life of hunting — the quest for yellow-eyes. Her murder informed the behaviors of both John and Dean. “What Is and What Should Never Be” provided an intimate look at just how significant Mary was to Dean’s life — he didn’t wish for an existence where his father survived; he wished for his mother. Yet none of this matters when Samuel pulls out the “she’s my daughter” card. He seeks to invalidate a child’s claim. Samuel argues that he needs her more than Dean does — as he comments, “You know how to live without her.” This results in an emotional tug-of-war, and the revelation that Samuel has no issue with choosing Mary over Sam and Dean. It’s not too much of a surprise that he doesn’t have strong feelings for Dean, but given that he and Sam have spent the past year together, the ease with which he could toss him aside took me aback. There’s something to be said for the human being standing in front of you, versus the woman who has been buried for many years.
Dean attempts to argue with Samuel, saying what we all had to be yelling at the tv, there’s no way a deal with Crowley to raise someone from the dead can end well. Samuel points out Dean’s hypocrisy, but saving the life of family by making deals with demons has never ended up well for the Winchester family. Dean points this out, but Samuel isn’t listening. He asks them to leave.
“It’s very complex. The pizza man truly loves this babysitter. Why does he keep slapping her rear? Perhaps she has done something wrong.”
Funniest. Thing. Ever.
Samuel shows up at the door, questions the judgment of watching porn with angels, and then hands the team a map showing Crowley’s location. “It’s what Mary would want,” he explains, and then he leaves refusing to offer further help. “I may be stupid, but I’m not suicidal.”
A deal with Meg and her minions is made. Castiel and Dean are together in the motel, preparing for the upcoming confrontation, when Castiel shocks Dean with horrific news. He’s not sure that they should be trying to restore Sam’s soul. The soul has been trapped with Michael and Lucifer for over a year, with the seething angels taking their frustration out on it. Castiel explains that if they put Sam’s soul back in his body the repercussions would most likely be devastating — insanity and suffering on a scale that Castiel couldn’t even begin to address. Dean doesn’t care — he argues that there must be a way to save him — argues that there *is no other choice* than to save him.
This moment is incredibly important for the next episode. It’s also the moment where I started looking at the Dean/Sam dynamic just a bit differently, which I believe was the writers’ intent. What we see, and what Dean and Castiel don’t, is that Sam has heard every word. He now knows what will happen if his soul is restored, and he knows this before they go into battle with Crowley. When I say it changed the way I looked at their dynamic, it was the first moment where I started to feel that Sam was being pressured into something by his older brother. I usually side with Dean — I’m pretty sure I argued that in my last post — and his role this season has been the protagonist for the audience, our entry into the story. But how can you not watch that scene and think about what Sam must be feeling? To believe that you’re actually holding it together pretty well, albeit with no empathy, nor conscience. Knowing that your brother, the person who swore to serve as your protector (whether you wanted it or not), wants to cram a soul back into you that would push you over the edge into madness — most likely to your complete destruction. In that moment it felt like Dean was overstepping. The implications of all of this are more fully realized in the next episode, but for now I think the writers were pushing for that, trying to make us feel just how devastatingly fraught this situation had become.
Thanks to Samuel’s map, the team is able to glean that Crowley is torturing monsters in an abandoned prison. The group, plus Meg and her minions, breaks in, only to discover that the asylum is guarded by hellhounds. Goodbye minions. Meg tries to ditch the team by abandoning her meatsuit, but Crowley has locked all demons into their bodies. Meg volunteers to stay and fight off the dogs, telling the boys to take the enchanted knife (that’s my name for it) and kill Crowley.
However, before she begins her fight, Meg grabs Castiel and gives him a mega-kiss, and possibly cops a feel. Dean and Sam are a bit shocked. But not nearly as shocked as when she stops and Castiel grabs her, spins her, shoves her against the wall, and starts making out with her. Speechless boys. Castiel stops and backs away. Meg asks, “What was that?” To which Castiel responds with the line of the episode, “I learned that from the pizza man.”
The battle between Meg and the hellhounds commences. The team leaves her behind to find Crowley, only to lose Castiel when Samuel (surprise!) shows up and banishes him with the angel banishing sigil. Turns out Samuel wasn’t being as helpful as we thought, selling out Sam and Dean’s plan to Crowley.
Seriously, we’re only 26 minutes in and this episode is just chock full of goodness.
The boys are locked up in separate cells and Dean receives a visit from Samuel, who thinks he can justify his actions. He claims that Dean sold out his mother by choosing Sam — a person who Samuel doesn’t even consider human any longer. Everyone loves to pile the guilt on poor Dean. Apparently bringing someone back from the dead is far more acceptable than restoring a soul. Samuel confirms that he doesn’t feel close to the boys, spitting out that Dean is nothing to him. Dean then delivers a chilling line that gave me anticipatory goosebumps, “I’ll tell you who I am. I’m the guy you never want to see again. Cause I’ll make it out of here. Trust me. The next time you see me, I’ll be there to kill you.” Freaking awesome.
Samuel watches as Dean is dragged away by Crowley’s henchmen, who put him in a room with two vampires. While in another room Demon Christian is torturing the still living Meg. And in cell, Sam (who has heard Dean’s protests) kneels down and clamps down on his arm with his teeth, tearing into his skin. I was *completely* flummoxed by this. In fact, I believe I yelled to both the dog and the television, “Is he drinking his own blood? Does he have demon blood in him?” I’m an idiot. Sam was using his blood to create a Devil’s Trap, which not only traps Crowley’s henchman, but drips blood on their heads. Umm. . .yuck. And the shot of Sam laughing, with teeth bloodied, was a reminder that he’s not our Sam right now. But he does save Dean.
The scene with Christian torturing Meg is meant to evoke the scene where Alastair tortured Ruby. Both women are tied down, naked, with leather restraints covering the things that shall not be seen on network TV. Alastair’s torture of Ruby was horrendous, cutting and slicing her arms, legs, and stomach, but Christian’s is so much worse, so much more violent, that it’s the one moment in the episode that made me think it was pushed a smidgen too far. Christian has the enchanted knife and like a psychotic gynecologist is using it to slice up Meg’s insides. It’s brutal. Do they make the torture that much worse so that when Dean sneaks up behind Christian, takes the enchanted knife out of his hand, and stabs him the audience won’t feel bad to lose Christian? There is no remorse in Dean’s eyes.
Crowley finally appears again, ready to torture the female djinn that was captured in the first episode. Until the alarm is tripped, by Sam and Dean. Sam slams him with a metal pipe, knocking him into a Devil’s Trap. With the help of Meg, Sam asks Crowley for his soul back — a request he denies. Meg tortures him with the Darth Vader grip until Crowley bellows that he can’t get the soul back. He doesn’t have enough power to reach into the cage again and drag out Sam’s soul. He then unknowingly seconds what Castiel has said, asking why Sam would even want back a soul that has been at the mercy of both Lucifer and Michael. Meg agrees. Sam gives up and then the boys let Meg go into the trap to kill Crowley. However, he’s Crowley, so he takes Meg down, breaks the trap, and moves towards killing them all.
Surprise! Castiel arrives, telling him to leave the boys alone. Crowley begins his witty demon banter, telling Castiel that he’s heard that Cas is losing the battle for heaven to Raphael, saying that the war makes Vietnam look like “a roller derby.” There’s little fear, until he discovers that Castiel has Crowley’s bones. Still very little fear. Castiel wants to bargain — bones for Sam’s soul. When he says he can’t, Castiel wastes no time in setting the bag of bones, and thereby Crowley, aflame.
Holy. Effing. Crap.
And with that Crowley is no more. This is not a season that drags its feet. It dispatched, with little fanfare, a big bad who’s also a fan favorite. It made me question who exactly the Winchesters are fighting against this season. And now who takes over hell?
Final moment epiphany by the Impala: Dean reassures Sam that they will find another way to restore his soul and, in a not wholly-unexpected turn of events, Sam says no.
“You don’t even know what you’re saying.”
“No, I’m saying something you don’t like. You obviously care, a lot, but I think maybe I’m better off without it.”
“You’re wrong. You don’t know how wrong you are.”
“I’m not sure about that.”
Next — Part 3: Appointment in Samarra
Normally when I watch an episode of Supernatural, I decide fairly early on what I need/want to say, which then takes greater shape through the hour. This is followed by a re-watch to firm up any thoughts, clarify quotes, and catch things I might have missed. I have watched “All Dogs Go To Heaven” five times and I’m still struggling with what I really think of the episode.
Monster of the week: We get a nice gory open, with a man attacked by a snarling beastie and the requisite spewing blood splashing all over the car windows. Thanks to the “THEN” reminder at the beginning, first thoughts are naturally of werewolves, as they provided clips of a changing Madison in season two’s “Heart.” This is further confirmed by the M.O., which involves a ripped open chest and removed heart. Crowley, who I will return to in a moment, wants Sam and Dean to catch the alpha-were, with the promise (one that I and the boys find empty) that if they do, he will return Sam’s soul. Too easy.
Of course it turns out the killer isn’t a were, but a skinwalker. This is revealed after a variety of false-start leads — drunk and snarky Cal, girlfriend Mandy — when the skinwalker turns out to be masquerading as the family dog, Lucky. After a slightly oogy scene in which “Lucky” gives Mandy lots of kisses when she wakes up and then watches as she disrobes and enters the shower, I commented to my own dog that I could no longer look at her the same way again — a sentiment supported by Dean at the end of the episode.
After capturing Lucky, thanks to his untimely run in front of a car, the boys grill the man about his skinwalker background. Lucky confesses that he was living rough on the streets when he was approached by a man — the pack leader — who promised to change his life — to make him stronger, healthier, more powerful. The only catch? All of those turned into skinwalkers (approximately 30 others) would pretend to be household pets and, when signaled, would turn on their families, creating an army of skinwalkers. As Dean called them, “a sleeper cell.” The boys, however, have a caught a break because Lucky is so attached to Mandy and Ayden (her son) that he cannot bring himself to turn them.
The plan is to assassinate the pack leader at a meeting at a deserted factory, but the plan goes fantastically awry when Mandy and Ayden are brought to the scene as hostages. Dean can’t get a clear kill-shot that won’t take out innocents, so he doesn’t take the shot at all. This leads to an ambush inside the factory, with silver bullets flying and skinwalker corpses scattered throughout. With Mandy and Ayden locked in a room behind a door with a glass window, Lucky decides this is the time to transform into his dog form and show the family who he really is. Bad move. For while Lucky makes it out of the battle alive, he is abandoned by Mandy after she and Ayden are safe. I will say that I was very worried, as Lucky ran into the street, that he was going to be hit by a car. I’m glad the writers saved me from that trauma.
I wasn’t that won over by the monster of the week. It once again pointed to the idea that various monsters are creating armies for an as-of-yet undefined war. It also demonstrated the new dynamic between Crowley and the boys. He pops up and tells them where to go — giving them a direction and making promises. It’s reminiscent of the season four Castiel relationship, where he would appear to point the boys towards a battle to save a seal from being broken. In fact, there seems to be little difference between the directions given by angels and demons. Obviously Castiel is the angel we love, whereas Crowley is the demon we love to hate, but the basic template is the same.
Yet the underlying purpose to the monster of the week seemed to be showing the softer side of monsters. I felt like the episode was saying, “Look, don’t you feel sorry for Lucky? Homeless guy who is saved and becomes the loyal family dog deserves your sympathy, not your condemnation.” And really, what better way to tug on our heartstrings than by having the skinwalkers be dogs. The scene in the pound had me flinching — don’t hurt the dog — hurt the human, but don’t hurt the dog.
The softer side of monsters is a theme shown before in Supernatural. I’m sure many people were thinking about the implications of “Heart,” where you have a fine and lovely girl who transforms into a killing machine at night — and the pain of Sam having to kill his new love. I, however, flashed back to the season two episode “Bloodlust,” which I’ve always thought was one of Sera Gamble’s best episodes. It’s here that Supernatural first blurred the line between monster and human — with the true monster of the episode being Gordon Walker, not the vampire, Lenore. It’s also an episode where we have a nice inversion of Sam and Dean’s character. In “Bloodlust,” Dean is the one ready to kill any and all vamps. There’s no reasoning — just black and white logic. All monsters must die. Sam is the one to slow him down — to prevent the death of Lenore — Sam wants to figure out exactly what’s happening before drawing blood. In “All Dogs Go To Heaven,” Sam is in shoot first, ask questions later mode. He’s ready to grab Cal, then Mandy, throw them in the trunk, and then hand them off to Crowley for a life-sentence in hell. As Dean said in “Family Matters,” Sam has no instinct. He can’t use emotion to suss out a situation. So we once again have an episode where the human behavior has to be questioned, rather than the monster. (Granted, only in the case of Lucky)
Winchesters: As with “Bloodlust,” where we had Dean trying to work through the death of his father and the idea that the human/monster condition isn’t black and white, so too is this episode a reminder of the polarity that exists between the boys’ theories on hunting. Now we have Dean trying to stop Sam from making mistakes that will hurt the lives of innocents. We have Sam’s bloodlust, where he goads Dean on to shoot the pack leader even though it would mean the death of Mandy and/or Ayden. More importantly, we have the moment where Dean decides that they need to kill, not capture, the pack leader. Sam wants to capture him so they can take him to Crowley — even though the pack leader is *not* the alpha-skin. Dean knows that if they do that, the pack leader will send out a mental signal to all skinwalkers that will make them turn on their families — creating a larger army and ruining the lives of at least 150 humans. It’s clear that Sam, regardless of his protests, not only didn’t think about this, but doesn’t really care.
And that’s what it’s all about in the end. Sam doesn’t care. I had the delusion at the end of “Family Matters” that Sam and Dean could hunt together because even without his emotion, Sam wouldn’t let anything happen to his brother. Now I’m not so sure. As Sam explains at the beginning of the episode, he’s still Sam in that he still has his memories, but his declaration at the end of the episode — his confession that he doesn’t care about anyone, even Dean — was rough. There’s no pulled punches. Sam admits, “I’m not your brother. I’m not Sam. All that blah, blah, blah about being the old me — crap. Like Lisa and Ben, right? I’ve been acting like I care about them, but I don’t. I couldn’t care less. . .you wanted the real me, this is it. I don’t care about them. I don’t even really care about you, except that I need your help. And you’re clearly not going to stick around for much longer unless I give it to you straight. So, I’ve done a lot worse than you know. I’ve killed innocent people, in the line of duty. But I’m pretty sure it’s not something that the old me could have done. And maybe I should feel guilty, but I don’t. . . .look, I don’t know if how I am is better or worse. It’s different. You get the job done and nothing really hurts. It’s not the worst thing. But. . .I’ve been thinking. I was that other Sam for a long time. . .and it was. . .it was kinda harder. But there are also things about it that I remember that I. . .let’s just say I think I should probably go back to being him.” Kudos again to Padalecki because he is selling this idea that Sam is not Sam. And this was a great Sam moment, where you can see him trying to figure out how to articulate the nothingness in his soul — and fight against the temptation of just embracing the nothingness.
Sam has been flirting with the darkness inside for quite a while. He’s always been the character affiliated in some fashion with evil. The show has hinted at this for years, whether it’s the demon blood, partnering with Ruby, or being the vessel for Lucifer. Just the other day I watched “All Hell Breaks Loose, Part II,” and I was struck by the scene where Sam shoots Jake. The look on Sam’s face — the pure unadulterated pleasure he took in annihilating his enemy, was, at the time, like nothing we’d seen in this character. It worked perfectly with Azazel hinting that the Sam brought back was not 100% Sam, and while I thought that was dealt with, perhaps it was meant to resonate through all seasons. Sam is a bifurcation. On one side he is the Sam that cares too much. Even Ruby, in “Sin City,” responding to Sam’s protest that he wouldn’t be happy with human collateral damage, comments that he “wouldn’t be Sam if he wasn’t.” The very essence of Sam is to care about victims — to do the right thing. And yet this is consistently juxtaposed with a predilection for evil that Dean doesn’t manifest. Sam is the dark soul, whether he has one or not. Watching him kill Jake, I wondered if the Sam that regains his soul is really the Sam that we met in season one. Perhaps a portion of this emptiness will remain, regardless of his soul-status, because a part of him has been empty for a while.
That said, I do have to say that I’m enjoying some of the snarkiness that Sam is bringing to the hunt. When the detective asked the boys (who were posing as FBI agents) why the feds were interested in the case, Sam’s response of “we’re specialists and they call us in to answer the questions of mouth-breathing dick monkeys” not only took Dean aback, but made me rewind to make sure I heard correctly. Or when Dean told Lucky that they could either take him the easy way (with clothing) or the hard way (with a silver choke collar), and Sam, laughing, said “soul or not, that’s funny.” Or when Lucky told Sam to go to hell and he bounced back with “already been, didn’t agree with me.” Fantastic moments where we get to see just how much fun Padalecki can have with non-emo Sam.
I feel like the episode gave us a few moments of insight, but that the story itself just wasn’t that compelling.
[Apologies again for the *serious* delay in reviews. My work schedule over the past week made doing anything but, well, work, impossible. The review for Friday's episode, which I have yet to see, will be up tomorrow.]
Hmmmm. . .did I actually have the audacity to question the pacing of Supernatural? Maybe I should be forced to revoke my Supernatural fan status. “Family Matters” capitalized on the buildup of all prior episodes this season and broke Supernatural precedent by answering a slew of questions — even if those answers begat more questions. It’s an interesting narrative shift from earlier seasons, and, while somewhat subtle, it makes me think that Sera Gamble’s new role as showrunner is bringing about this new structure. If that’s the case, then I can’t wait to see how the rest of the season plays out, for this episode really brought a new life and style to the mythology narrative.
“Family Matters” is really a part two, or continuation, of “You Can’t Handle the Truth.” It picks up immediately after the Sam/Dean confrontation, with a beaten Sam tied to a chair in a motel room, being questioned by Dean and Castiel. Castiel quickly realizes that Sam manifests symptoms of the soulless — lack of feeling and emotion, no need for sleep — and after probing Sam’s insides confirms that his soul is missing, most likely still trapped in the cage with Michael and Lucifer.
What truly resonates in the scene is the acting. Misha Collins effectively conveys Castiel’s sadness in delivering the news, knowing the impact it will have on Dean. Padalecki traverses the delicate balance between frustration at Dean and Castiel’s behavior and understanding their concern — even if he can’t *feel* concern, sorrow, or worry. Throughout, Ackles aptly cycles through anger, fear, anxiety, and, once Castiel diagnoses Sam’s condition, a disquiet that won’t dissipate until Sam’s soul is returned.
The quest for more information on who pulled Sam from the cage, and how they accomplished this, leads the group to Samuel. The hunters at the compound, a place I would love to see in daylight, are all hard at work prepping tools. In a fantastic moment of Campbell/Winchester dynamics, after welcoming Sam with a giant hug, Christian looks over and coldly states, “Dean.” With just as much, if not more, disdain, Dean replies, “Newman.” Sam gives a small half-smile and Christian, rather than annoyed, looks completely confused by the Seinfeld reference. I love these quick moments of humor in episodes filled with turmoil and strife.
Castiel works his soul-testing magic on Samuel, who is soul-full, and then he leaves to return to the civil war in heaven. I’m looking forward to finding out more about the battle in which Castiel is currently engaged. We’ve seen glimpses of the pressure he is under and how his interaction with the boys, especially Dean, is far more limited than in the two prior seasons.
Samuel appears unsurprised to find out about Sam’s lack of soul, and, after a tense moment with the boys, confesses that he’s been extremely concerned about Sam. In fact, he admits that Sam actually scares him. But there is more pressing issue at hand — the Campbells have uncovered the location of the alpha-vampire. This is a great callback to “Live Free or Twi-Hard,” implying that the show writers are building multi-episode mythologies for the monsters. The rest of the episode is filled with so many reveals that rather than recap, I’m going to bullet point major events.
- Dean is not trusted by the Campbell clan (a feeling that is mutual), which makes them less inclined to work with Sam. Samuel says that it’s because he doesn’t know Dean, but Christian definitely demonstrates more than distrust — something closer to hate. As a result, during the vamp hunt, Dean and Gwen (“I’m in the rear with the reject?”) are left serving as sweepers, catching and killing fleeing vamps. Since the Dean we all know and love does not take orders well, he leaves Gwen (regardless of her protests) when he hears gunshots and sneaks onto the grounds of the vamp compound — a compound strewn with beheaded vampires. Walking through the grounds, Dean endures flashbacks to the mental message he received during his time as a vampire. Another nice callback to the earlier episode and an interesting moment that highlights the notion that Dean has not lost the tie to the vampires, even though he has been cured. His disobedience also allows for one of the Campbell secrets to be revealed, as he witnesses the clan capture, rather than kill, the alpha-vamp.
- Gwen does not betray to the clan that Dean ran onto the grounds rather than stay at his post. This makes her an interesting player in the Campbell/Winchester game. And, for now, the only Campbell ally that Dean has.
- Now that Dean is the emotional brother, he confronts Sam about the capture of the alpha-vamp. Turns out that Sam has always known that Samuel is catching alpha-monsters and grilling them for information. Even worse, for Dean, is that Sam is the one who kept the Campbells from telling Dean about the captures. This sets up a sleight of hand plot where we’re meant to think that Sam has abandoned Dean and pledged allegiance to the Campbell clan. While I was fairly certain this was a ruse, I had enough doubts about Sam to worry that this was a deeper fracturing of their relationship. So I could appreciate Dean’s response when Sam returned. Sam comments, “You didn’t think I’d come back” and Dean responds “I figured 60/40.” It served as more than a moment of tension and humor though, it was a moment where we got a glimpse of how the brothers can work together, regardless of Sam’s missing soul. Even if Sam doesn’t have the ability to feel, he still puts his relationship with his brother over his hunting with the Campbells. Also, thanks to Sam’s subterfuge, the boys are able to find out where the alpha-vamp is being contained and tortured (torture that has no effect).
- Alpha-vamp considers Dean “his child, for a time.” And while Dean doesn’t believe in what Samuel is doing, he is quick to deal out torture when alpha-vamp starts pushing his buttons.
- Alpha-vamp is very philosophical, speaking of time and slaughter rather loquaciously. When Sam asks the very valid question of what birthed the alpha-vamp if he is the first, the alpha-vamp replied “well, we all have our mothers, even me.” A nice hint to later mythology that I’m looking forward to discovering.
- Alpha-vamp, once he’s discovered that Sam is without soul (Sam smells cold apparently) poses the question that if humans with souls go to either hell or heaven, then where do his kind go. Fascinating question. One that made me realize that I’ve always thought the monsters went to hell — I didn’t contemplate the idea that the monsters had no souls. Does this make Sam, until his soul is restored, a monster? Also, if Sam no longer sleeps because he has no soul, does that mean monsters are always awake? That’s disconcerting. . .and makes daytime a bit scarier. (I know, monsters aren’t real.) ((But they might be.)) The alpha-vamp expounds that all monsters go to purgatory — “filled with the soul of every hungry thing that walked this earth.” Question: is alpha-vamp using soul in this instance in a different way? Because he has just explained that those with souls go to heaven or hell, those without go to purgatory.
- So Samuel is torturing Alpha-vamp to find out the location of purgatory. Yet he is not doing this because he wants to find purgatory for his own mission, but rather because he has been ordered to do so. . .by whom, we were all asking? With the escape of alpha-vamp we discover two awesome things: 1. Christian is a demon! Holy hand grenade Batman I did NOT see that one coming. This reveal only comes about because the alpha-vamp snapped Christian’s neck! 2. Demon Christian and Grandpappy Samuel are both working for Crowley (who turned Christian ages ago)! Fantastic reveals.
- At one point the alpha-vamp has Sam by the throat and says that he has big plans for the “boy with no soul.” He says that Sam will be the “perfect animal.” I can only imagine that this will make Sam hunted by more than one alpa-monster throughout the season.
- Crowley wants to find purgatory — “location, location, location” — Crowley is a developer and wants to use the vast space of purgatory, which is a adjacent to hell (but clearly not marked well enough for him to find), to expand his empire. I’m thinking that Crowley is far, far more dangerous than Lucifer ever was.
- In a turn that I should have anticipated far earlier, Crowley is the one who pulled Sam and Samuel back to Earth. He won’t give Sam his soul back unless the Campbells/Winchesters do his bidding. As he put it, “Me Charlie, you Angels.”
- The boys don’t trust Samuel, but Dean stops Sam from shooting Samuel. It’s a nice inversion of the scene where Sam stops Dean from burning Crowley’s bones. In the final pow-wow, the boys debate working for Crowley. Is there really a question that they will? It’s Sam’s soul on the line, and regardless of what has happened over the course of this season, there’s no way Dean won’t do whatever it takes to get Sam’s soul freed from Lucifer’s cage.
- I’m eagerly anticipating information on how Crowley’s move to take over more mystical space intersects with Castiel’s civil war in heaven.
- While I’m self-professed fan of Dean, I’m looking for some change in his dynamic with Castiel. He has yet to profess any interest in Castiel’s battle and fairly consistently treats him like a minion. I would like to see more equality in the relationship and less of Dean just demanding help.