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Hiatus is Over! Supernatural Returns Packing an Emotional Punch

January 16, 2014

xx 9.10 3

Binge TV watching is the preferred method of viewing for many people now that it’s fairly cheap and easy to inhale an entire season (or 2 or 3 or…) of a show. It’s the way we watched Season 1 of Supernatural, after watching only sporadically when it was broadcast. There are certain benefits to binge watching – no commercials for one, and you don’t have to sit through an entire summer hiatus biting your nails and worrying about whether Dean will get out of hell. On the other hand, that anticipation, agonizing though it may be, is part of the thrill that comes from loving a Show. Once we were hooked, we became fans who planned their social lives (and sometimes family lives, but shhhh) around whatever night and time Supernatural aired.

I still do. Yes, my DVR is recording it too, but there’s something about watching the Show ‘live’ that’s just a more powerful experience. (The DVR is pretty damn handy for those necessary repeat viewings though). Last night reminded me of why. The mid season hiatus isn’t as long or painful as the summer “hellatus”, but it still seemed like way too long since Sam and Dean and Cas had graced my television screen. I injured my back a few weeks ago, so it’s been difficult to get online, but I couldn’t resist checking my twitter and facebook and LJ and Tumblr, because anticipation is doubly sweet when it’s shared. Every vid and gif and fanart and enthusiastic “OMG Show is back tonite!” made me smile, and ramped up my own anticipation even more. By the time 9 pm rolled around, I’d forgotten the pain in my back (and just about everything else that didn’t have to do with the Winchesters). Five minutes, three minutes, one minute – all of us waiting together no matter where we were on the East coast.

I think I watched the first ten minutes without breathing (although I didn’t actually turn blue or fall over, so maybe not). That’s what it felt like though – so much emotion in those first scenes, a hunter’s funeral for Kevin (sobbing forever), a broken and alone Dean taking out his rage and sorrow on whatever he could find. Anyone who has lost someone knows that burst of emotion that comes over you the first time you stumble across something the other person left behind – a photo, a piece of mail addressed to them, a pair of shoes still beside the front door. It’s a wave of feeling that can leave you breathless, make you ache so much you can’t speak. It can bring you to your knees, or drown you in a wave of blinding rage. (I still can’t watch that Buffy episode where she loses her mother, because Joss got it TOO right). Andrew Dabb’s writing and Bob Singer’s directing rang just as true.

Dean – Jensen – showed all of those feelings so realistically that I couldn’t help but recognize them in last night’s episode. Couldn’t help but empathize, my own losses suddenly yanked to the surface by watching his suffering. It literally left me breathless. We’ve seen Dean lose it before when faced with a terrible loss, bludgeoning his beloved Impala with a hammer or taking it out on his beloved little brother with a fist. He always pulls himself together, but I can always identify with his rage at how helpless he is to save the people he loves. Dean has gone through that far too many times, and he’s still unable to stop his knee-jerk response of blaming himself. That sense of responsibility – for his little brother, and for all of humanity – was instilled in Dean at such a young age and so consistently, I’m not sure he can give it up. Watching him walk away from Sam was heartbreaking. But in character.

I remember several conversations with Jensen at meet and greets this fall, and his non-spoilery (and thus somewhat vague) comments about Dean being in such a dark place, maybe darker than he’s ever been. Now I know why. *shudders*

xx 9.10 sweetondean

So yeah, Jensen knocked it out of the park and dragged my heart along with it. But this episode gave all the actors the chance to do just that – and every one of them stepped up to the plate. Andrew Dabb’s script didn’t falter as far as dialogue or plot, but even more important, it struck the right emotional cues again and again. (The other writers say that Andrew is the heart and soul of Supernatural, and I’m beginning to see why).

I was more than ready to see Gadreel!Sam go, but Jared’s last scenes as Gadreel were amazing. He was able to portray the last remnants of Gadreel’s desire to be good slowly erode, leaving only his chilling disregard of even his best friend in order to “do what I have to do.” Is there anything more dangerous? His taunting of Dean and Cas and even Crowley was actually scary; Jared sold it almost too well. *shudders more*

SPN has been accused of ‘torture porn’ more than once, as have many other films and tv shows, and we’d be the first to say that hot guy getting whumped in the course of heroism can be … interesting … but the scene where Crowley tortures Gadreel!Sam was too much for me to watch. I had to keep turning away from the graphic images, but even then I couldn’t stop hearing the agonizing screams. Jared’s willingness to go no-holds-barred and just shout out his pain and fear and rage made that scene unbearable. I watched Dean’s face every time Gadreel screamed, seeing how much those screams in Sam’s voice were killing him; I was surprised he lasted as long as he did in that room. That scene, I’m guessing, is the one Jensen mentioned as one of the hardest he’s ever filmed. Kudos Jared, but ouch.

xx 9.10 cw

I barely had time to recover from those emotions when the Show (and Andrew Dabb’s roller coaster of a script) threw me in another direction. Sam taking back control – finally! – the strength and determination in his voice when he ordered Gadreel OUT – holy shit, is it hot in here?? Sometimes I forget just how badass Sam Winchester is. Thanks for the reminder, Show. And more kudos for Jared.

As if all that awesomeness wasn’t enough, Misha Collins gave an understated and nuanced portrayal of Castiel in this episode too. I sometimes struggle with Castiel’s blend of sincerity and naivete and just plain awkwardness, but in this episode, Collins played it just right. Cas has clearly grown as a character. He’s evolved and matured, and he’s done it in the same way we all do it – by making mistakes, then owning up to them and making changes so you don’t make the same damn mistake again. In ‘Road Trip,’ Cas is the voice of reason. He understands forgiveness and has even managed to do a little of it, forgiving himself for his well-intentioned mistakes, and forgiving Dean for his as well – they have both done stupid things, he says, but maybe for the right reasons. Dean can’t hear it yet, mired in self hatred and sealed off with the defenses he thinks he needs, but I suspect that eventually he will. I loved hearing Cas put into words the kind of things the Winchesters never say to each other – and so need to.

Warner Bros. /The CW

Warner Bros. /The CW

I also loved that Cas stayed with Sam while Dean left with Crowley. Sam and Cas have a much closer friendship in fanfic than they’ve ever had in canon, which can sometimes be both confusing and frustrating. (Wait, but last week didn’t Sam and Cas…oh wait, that was a fic I read, wasn’t it?) I hope they have a chance to bond a little while they’re temporarily out of Dean’s orbit. God knows, the gravitational pull exerted by Dean Winchester sometimes leaves little room for seeing anyone else. Or is that just me?

Also, I have to take a moment to marvel (for the millionth time) at Serge Ladouceur’s ability to light scenes in a way that makes them preternaturally beautiful. I just…I mean, look at this!

theadamwilliams tumblr

theadamwilliams tumblr

Mark Sheppard also had a chance to shine, giving Crowley the freedom to spew hilarious one-liners as well as the freedom to leave the dungeon. “Phallus on wheels” isn’t how I would have ever thought to describe the Impala, but as soon as he said it, I burst into laughter, and my daughter and I both exclaimed “Ohgodyes.” Shhh. Don’t tell Dean.

Crowley is the only other ‘big bad’ since the Yellow Eyed Demon who has the charisma to make you love him even as you try to hate him. And now that he’s retained a little bit of humanity from the trials, he’s even more delicious. The earnestness with which he tried to convince Sam to kick Gadreel out and that Kevin’s death wasn’t his fault – Sheppard played that in a way that was both believable and touching. I don’t know what’s going on with Crowley, and I sort of love not knowing. Those are the kind of surprises I want from Show – not what the hell, that would never happen, wtf? But omg I didn’t see that coming, what is happening, omg?? Cas and Crowley were the voices of reason in this episode, while the Winchesters are struggling with so much guilt and self-blame that neither of them can see clearly. I didn’t see that coming, but I like it. Also kudos to the VFX team for so many cool effects – Crowley smoking out in vibrant red was awesome (and what does it mean, omg??)

theadamwilliams tumblr

theadamwilliams tumblr

Also, does Abbadon have chemistry with everyone? I think so. Yum.

And while we’re talking about the ‘bad guys,’ Metatron is shaping up to be one of the creepiest villains SPN has ever given us. The fact that he looks so unassuming and speaks so softly makes him the perfect manipulator. He’s narcissistic and out for himself, but he’s smart enough to make it sound like he’s just trying to set things right. The masterful way he manipulated Cas and now Gadreel is chilling to watch. He’s like the egotistical writer who doesn’t want anyone else playing in his sandbox. Metatron and Metatron alone will write the stories, will have all the control. No prophets to write another version – no fanfiction in his universe, thankyouverymuch! He makes my skin crawl, which must say something very good about both the acting and the writing.

The last scene was hard to watch, but it seemed like the only possible ending. Sam didn’t rant and scream or throw a punch, but in some ways his subdued response hit even harder. There’s a lot of variation in fan response to the whole story line of Dean doing what he did, and I’ve probably spent way too much time thinking about it (which again must say something very good about Show). I don’t think it’s actually that Sam wanted to die, not if there was a viable option for living – he hadn’t given up until he accepted that there was no viable option. But once he came to that point, he was invested in the decision – and even more important, he had Death’s assurance that nobody (including Dean) could get hurt again because of him. It’s not always as obvious from Sam’s side, but he too makes his decisions around the codependence he has with his brother. (Codependence takes two, after all.) Striking out against that dependence is still making it all about Dean. Jared let all Sam’s hurt and anger and sense of betrayal show through on his face. Dean could see it; I could see it. Sam has had his agency taken away far too often, by the YED, when possessed by Meg, when he was without his soul, his body doing things that Sam himself never would – and he paid a terrible price when Dean made a deal for him without his knowledge or permission before, watching his brother ripped to shreds and taken to hell. It’s almost like he’s too furious and despairing to throw a punch or even raise his voice. He’s had it. And so he lets Dean go, with one final intriguing comment. What Dean thinks is the problem is not. Sam seems stronger here than he has in a long time. He’s in control and he’s not in the dark. He saved himself from Gadreel (with a little help from his friends…) and it seems like he’s not going to buy Dean’s self-blame because it’s not that simple.

It hurt to hear Dean say “I’m poison,” just as much as it’s hurt in the past when Sam’s been convinced of the same thing. Kevin’s death seemed like a turning point for Dean – all those conversations about how being close to the Winchesters just gets you killed seemed to sink in and take hold. No wonder he feels like poison. If I put myself in Dean’s shoes, though, I get why he did what he did. Empathy is hard to come by when you’ve never been in someone’s position – you never truly know what you would do in a situation until you’re actually faced with it. Dean doesn’t want to live without Sam, that’s a theme of the show from the beginning. But he also cares about Sam’s happiness – his love is not entirely selfish. Faced with his brother dying right in front of him in that hospital room, and a seemingly benevolent angel offering to save him and heal him and then get out – and in that moment Dean was desperate, emotions on overdrive (which does not lend itself to thinking clearly), so he wanted to believe it. I’m not sure most of us would have turned ‘Ezekiel’ down in that moment, believing that he could make our loved one better, good as new, no strings attached. Dean struggled with it, but I can’t see him doing otherwise. If it had been Sam, I think he would do the same – consider the lengths he was willing to go to in Mystery Spot to get his brother back. Of course, there were strings attached. And once Dean realizes just how toxic and horrifying those strings are, and what that will do to Sam, he makes a different decision. He’s able, at that point, to put his need for Sam second to doing what is best for Sam. As awful as it sounded to me when he said it, it makes sense that Dean would be willing to let Sam die rather than be a puppet for Gadreel. That moment when Dean, still in a half-blind rage, swore that he’d kill Sam rather than let Gadreel possess him and use him to kill people, was shocking. I gasped out loud (and possibly screamed NOOOO at my tv) – no way would Dean ever kill Sam! But Dean has said that before, that he’d rather Sam be dead than for Dean to let him become a monster. I think Dean so wanted to believe in the benevolence of “Ezekiel” that he didn’t dare think that he was making that a very real possibility. Dean can’t stand to see Sam hurting, and being used by Gadreel to kill is a worse fate than death.

edit theadamwilliams tumblr

edit theadamwilliams tumblr

I hate seeing the boys apart, but it wasn’t unexpected. Sam couldn’t find out about Dean making yet another ‘deal’ for his life without consequences. This time, though, it’s Dean walking away. He didn’t try to argue for why saving Sam seemed to make sense at the time. But it’s still what Dean feels, and it’s so much a part of his character that I can’t wish for it to be otherwise. Maybe the character’s evolution is that now he recognizes and struggles with it, and he doesn’t expect Sam to be grateful or even to accept it. It just is. Dean has always been willing to do whatever it takes to protect Sam – even if that means walking away from him.

The ending was like a final heart-wrench, just in case the previous 40 odd minutes hadn’t left me enough of an emotional wreck (psssst Andrew, they had…) Dean driving away, Sam telling him to go. Sam’s cryptic words, “but that’s not the problem.” Castiel’s face, as he looks back and forth between the brothers. It’s clear how much he cares about them, how helpless he feels, unable to help either of them right now. It was a sad but satisfying ending – it felt possible, even if it didn’t feel good. And I sort of like not knowing exactly where this is going. Just don’t keep the brothers apart too long, okay Show? Nothing good ever comes of it!

To pass the time until next week, check out the NPR program on Supernatural we contributed to here (how cool is it to have NPR do a feature on our Show??)

http://www.npr.org/2014/01/15/262092791/the-few-the-fervent-fans-of-supernatural-redefine-tv-success

Or pick up Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls for some reading fun – link at top of page.
Welcome back, Show!

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Toni Smith permalink
    January 16, 2014 6:52 pm

    This is the best review of anything, produced in any medium, that I have read in a very long time. The brilliance of the review matches the brilliance of this Supernatural episode in every possible way. My admiration for all of the SPNers, and my inadequate thanks to this reviewer.

  2. January 16, 2014 6:58 pm

    Yes. To everything you’ve said. Yes. Road Trip was everything I want and expect from a Supernatural episode. I laughed, I cried, I squeed, I forgot to breathe, I marvelled at how perfectly acted it was…..

    Yes.

    That our show, in its ninth season, can still consistently blow me away is an incredible feat. Long may it continue.

  3. Hound permalink
    January 16, 2014 7:27 pm

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and I love your recaps/reviews so very much! All your (psychological) insights, they really add something extra to the episode for me. I’m relatively new to SPN and the fandom (loved Fangasm btw, a wonderful insight in the world of fandoms), but the show has quickly become my favorite out of all the shows I watch (I’m currently on my 3rd rewatch lol). There’s just something about those Winchesters that really makes you love them and give them all the hugs in the world forever and ever.

  4. Maddie permalink
    January 16, 2014 7:38 pm

    I might have an unpopular opinion here, but I’m going to voice to anyways. I think Dean’s reaction to Kevin’s death was a slightly over-the-top & somewhat unbelievable.

    While it makes sense that Dean would feel so guilty & 100% responsible for Kevin’s death & be pissed, I didn’t believe the “little brother / family” relationship between Kevin & Dean & for that I blame the writers.

    I loved Kevin & thought his character was well-developed as an individual, however, I never got the the feeling that the brothers REALLY cared about him outside of this usefulness as a prophet. Aside from the heart-to-heart chat Dean had with Kevin (which I thought came out of left field), I feel like the writers were lazy & told us they have a relationship rather than showed us. Like that heart-to-heart was written solely as a set-up for Kevin’s death. And I feel jipped about that.

    I just felt that Dean’s extreme grief over Kevin’s death was very contrived. While I really felt the loss of Kevin last episode, I didn’t get the emotional punch I was expecting in this episodes opening sequence because I didn’t believe Dean’s grief (no matter how well Jensen acted it).

    Dean’s willingness to kill Sam @ the beginning of the episode also really bothered me. While the show later indicated that Dean would never be able to do that, I didn’t like that the idea was even considered. It seemed so un-Dean like. I think my favorite bit of the whole episode was Dean walking away from the torture because he couldn’t stand listening to “Sam” – his line about wanting to talk about anything other than a demon sticking pins into his brother’s brain just broke me. My heart!

    This episode also reaffirmed just how much I love Crowley. Aside from Sam & Dean, he is my favorite character. I love how we are starting to see little shreds of humanity in Crowley – like Crowley telling Sam that he didn’t kill Kevin, Gad did. Crowley was actually trying to make Sam feel better. While I am honestly bored with the warring angels storyline, the demon/Crowley/Abbadon storyline has me so excited & intrigued.

    I’m crossing my fingers the brothers & their relationship come out of this whole ordeal so much stronger. No more lies, boys. I just want them to trust each other again & really be the support & rock the other so desperately needs. I have hope this is coming. I took Sam’s last line to mean that he didn’t think Dean was poison – that just because he makes so poor decisions with his heart doesn’t mean they are wrong.

    • robynize permalink
      January 16, 2014 9:41 pm

      I 100% agree with your thoughts about Dean and Kevin here. I,like you, grew to love Kevin so very much. But, yes, the show always had it seeming like the boys felt for him just b/c they needed him. Especially Dean. I dunno if the show wanted to underscore that Sam is the little brother dynamic that always comes first or what. But it always pissed me off b/c come ON, who has shown more concern over the effects of the life on kids more than Dean? And yet, he seems to just give lip service to the idea when it comes to Kevin. That is not the Dean I know. And certainly not the Dean that Jensen has given us. If anyone, Sam seemed to have shown more of a sincerity to Kevin.
      I just love Kev, Os, so much. His absence is deeply felt by many of us

      • January 21, 2014 12:26 am

        First of all–this is written with all due respect! But reading your posts/replies made me start thinking in “yeah, buts”…

        I guess I can understand how you feel, Maddie and Robynize, but at the same time I’m thinking, it’s Dean. What motivates him more than anything? Saving people. From the very beginning of the series, that’s what made him Hunt. Yes, saving Sammy comes before anything (the blind loyalty we love to love) but he feels like a failure whenever he can’t save someone. And to have one of those someones tell him that whenever they trust him, they get screwed shortly before they do, in fact, get screwed, then…well. What else can it be but angst galore? (Which–as an evil writer who tortures her characters for fun and profit, I loved.)

        He didn’t have to feel that Kevin was a brother like Sam, or a best friend, or be anything more than someone with whom he had a working relationship. The bottom line is–in his mind–he did it again. He failed to save someone, and this time they’re dead BECAUSE of his crappy decision. I think his meltdown (if you want to call it that) was completely plausible. He wasn’t just mourning Kevin, he was mourning every single person he’d failed, from Sammy on down. Dean carries the world on his shoulders (and the gas can for Cas’ pimpmobile, which I thought was a neat touch)– and he mourns for the world, too. (I just wish he hadn’t taken it out on antique furniture. Couldn’t he have thrown a book or something?)

        As for the effects of the Life on Kevin, Robynize…I can see your point, too. Jo, or any of the other kids we’ve seen him protect/try to talk out of the Life weren’t appointed to it like Kevin and did, in fact, have a choice in the matter. Kevin was Chosen, and Dean helped him out the best way he knew how: by treating him like a man with a job to do. He couldn’t mollycoddle or baby Kevin. There was no getting out of it, and no making it any different or better than it was. Dean grew up with a dad who would make him Man Up, or, if you choose, “put on his big girl panties and deal with it”, and that’s how he treated Kevin. Our poor prophet may have started out in Advanced Placement, but ultimately he had no choice but to be a soldier Heaven’s war, and couldn’t be coddled anymore.

        Poor Kevin. At least he’s in a better place…the big Advanced Placement in the sky.😉

  5. Tracy permalink
    January 16, 2014 9:03 pm

    It’s difficult to put into words just ONE of the emotions this show put me through but man, oh man, this review nailed it!! Andrew Dabb just GETS it, doesn’t he? Excellent job all the way around!

  6. Erika Callahan permalink
    January 16, 2014 10:56 pm

    Another brilliant review. I am now saddened by the thought that I deleted the episode from my DVR after only 2 viewings (what was I thinking? There’s always the CW website though.)

    Like Maddie, I too have gotten a little bored with the warring angels storyline, but by having it directly affect Sam (and by extension Dean) renewed my interest. Seeing either brother hurting hurts me as well, but I am marveled by the acting of Jared & Jensen at the same time. Knowing that off camera their humorous antics continue helps me to remember that it is their character I’m pain and not the actors themselves.

    I hope we get to see more of the Abaddon/Crowley campaign onscreen rather than mere exposition here and there.

    I cannot wait to see how this season progresses. Seven days between episodes is far too long for this diehard fan of Show. I am anxiously awaiting to see how Metatron finally gets his comeuppance!

    • hlnkid permalink
      January 17, 2014 8:37 pm

      Hey…Check to see if your DVR has an option to restore deleted items. If you have a Verizon DVR, there’s an option for it. Hit the DVR button, find the selection that says Recent Deletes and it should be these, unless you deleted it FROM there. It saved me couple times when I deleted SPN by accident.

      As for Road Trip. LOVED IT! One of my favorite SPN eps ever. And this review? Awesome!

  7. Kimmie permalink
    January 16, 2014 11:16 pm

    This was a awesome read. Reading this I felt exactly the same. I was holding my breath and trying not to scream out loud. Feeling awful for Dean and helpless for Sam. I have to say to this goes down as one of mopey favorites. I loved the way every actor played their characters. I also found myself “rooting” for Crowley. Thank you again.

  8. January 17, 2014 1:53 am

    “Crowley smoking out in vibrant red was awesome (and what does it mean, omg??)”

    I’d always just assumed that Crowley’s demon smoke is red because he was originally a Crossroads demon. I mean, we already know that Crossroads demons’ eyes turn red instead of black, and the one other time that we’ve seen Crowley’s demon smoke, it was red then too (back in season 8 when he possessed Kevin’s mom).

  9. TexasGreatGrams permalink
    January 17, 2014 4:31 am

    As always, your review of this episode hit the nail on the head. The story line was heartbreaking as the real character of Gadreel was exposed and Dean realized what his actions in order to save Sam have caused. So much pain in both Dean and Sam-the writers did a tremendous job writing this episode and Jensen and Jared were perfect in expressing this pain. Mark S. has brought so much to Crowley’s seeming change due to the trial of season 8. And Misha-love how his time as a human have brought changes to Cas-changes I love. This is the perfect cast for this story line, along with the perfect writers, directors, producers, special effect folks, locations, lighting-perfect everything. Again I state my opinion that the acting, writing, directing-everything is definitely Emmy worthy and Hollywood should be ashamed of not recognizing this “little show” that has lasted 9 seasons-with hopefully many more to come. Thanks for sharing your love of this AWESOME show with the rest of us fangirls. Hope to meet you at a con one day.

  10. January 17, 2014 3:21 pm

    The shot gun seat in the Impala is left vacant as only Sam can fill it, but the brilliant writing put the viewer in that seat as we feel every emotion of our characters. Fine review of a fine episode. Thanks for including the technical aspect.

  11. January 17, 2014 6:28 pm

    Road Trip has been my favorite episode (so far) of Season 9. It was rich, nuanced and a breathless ride! Thank you for this tidbit: (The other writers say that Andrew is the heart and soul of Supernatural, and I’m beginning to see why) This will lead me to search out & look again at episodes written by Andrew Dabb. (More re-watches?! Oh yes!) I enjoy your reviews because you always give me that extra little something to think about & explore further. Plus you like what I like! Reading Fangasm has led me to decide to attend my first con – NJ2014. If you attend & have a table, I hope to meet you both & have you sign my copy. Much appreciation from an “older” fan!

  12. January 21, 2014 12:46 am

    My comment is purely fluffy, but–being able to stop the bickering between the (deposed) King of Hell and the former God-Angel in the backseat of the family pimpmobile with one annoyed “Hey!” makes Dean get my vote for Father Figure of the Year.

    Makes me wonder if he was channeling John. Did that little action bring him back to the days of Winchester Family Business Roadtrips?

    All I know is–any time I’m taking my three darling (*cough*) children out on a drive that lasts longer than ten minutes, Dean Winchester is invited to ride shotgun and mete out “Heys!” as necessary. He is my hero!

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