O Brother Where Art Thou? The Perfect Title for Supernatural 11.09
This is a drive by review – not because I couldn’t think of a lot to say about Supernatural’s mid season finale, but because I’ve got a house full of kids and family and tons of grading and holiday shopping to do, and something has to give. Anyone who knows me knows that the thing that gives is not usually SPN related, though. So, drive by it is!
ETA: Apparently even a drive by review for me is 2500 words long. Oops.
The episode didn’t leave me squeeful or wanting to rewatch it a hundred times. It wasn’t an ending that left my heart full to brimming with SPN Family feelings, or even crumpled on the floor with a used up box of tissues. Instead, I sat there sort of stunned, maybe a wee bit hoarse from having screamed “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!” at my television too many times. I knew that a lot would happen, and I even anticipated what some of it would be, but I still wanted to scream at everyone on my screen – most especially the Winchesters.
Haven’t Sam and Dean learned by now that splitting up is the worst thing they can do? Sure, it’s an attempt to get things done in half the time, and somebody needed to watch Rowena, but as soon as Dean took off and Sam stayed behind, I started wailing. Nobody on this Show ever listens to me though.
I did love the fact that Sam didn’t do anything without discussing it with Dean. That they talked – well, argued, like an old married couple – about Sam going to the Cage.
Sam tells Dean about the burning bush. (Which made me inappropriately crack up, btw. Really, Show?)
Dean, trying to argue against Sam believing it’s God directing him: You were in the forest. There are bushes there, and sometimes they burn!
Errr, probably not like that, Dean. But I admire the sentiment.
I love that we got protective Dean, and Sam still willing to do whatever it takes, to face his worst fears even, to try to make this right. I also love that Sam promised not to do anything without calling Dean.
And he did. He kept his promise to his brother, and I love that more than words can say.
I do not love – not even a little tiny miniscule infinitesimal bit – that Dean did not pick up his goddamned phone. Obviously the story wouldn’t have worked if he had, but it always feels somehow manipulative when the plot hinges on someone not picking up their phone when they REALLY REALLY REALLY should have.
After Dean’s explicit and oft repeated protectiveness of Sam – so much so that Crowley snipes, “Goodness Mommy, loosen your grip” – I found it hard to believe that Dean would ignore a call from Sam. Sam who is with Rowena and trying to figure out how to go meet with Lucifer. Really, Show? Really?
I get that we’re supposed to think he senses that Amara is near, but he hasn’t even seen her yet. Would it have killed him to pick up the phone? Are we meant to believe that she has him in such thrall that he’d make that sort of bad decision?
I didn’t really buy it. After all, shortly thereafter, Dean does manage to break Amara’s hold enough to attempt to kill her. (I loved that he did that, btw. Dean Winchester is stronger than you think, Amara).
Gotta say, Emily Swallow is doing a bang up job as Amara. The character is truly frightening, wielding her considerable power with all the carefree handwaving of a child. Although she certainly doesn’t look like one anymore. Not sure why an all powerful being like the Darkness is wearing a revealing gown all the time – we got Chuck in a bathrobe and we routinely get Winchesters in sixteen layers and Cas in a trenchcoat – but the Darkness is female so we’ve got to have a low cut dress and lots of cleavage, I guess. Nothing against cleavage! But I expect Chuck shirtless and in tight jeans next time then, okay, Show? It’s only fair. (Take note, Rob…)
Anyway, Swallow is doing a fabulous job, because I don’t hate Amara like I should. She invests the character with some vulnerability – we can see the hurt little girl who was locked away by her big brother. Her conversation with the priest, where he’s speaking in metaphor and she’s being utterly literal, was priceless. I’m sort of surprised Show is ‘going there’ so directly when it comes to questioning religion and faith – Amara is openly disdainful, telling believers that God is manipulative and their belief is misplaced. But I sort of love that this Show, in its eleventh season, can still be fearless. And Swallow sells it, every bit.
I also can’t really hate Amara because she clearly has some kind of fascination for Dean. And hey, I get it. I have some kind of fascination for Dean too, after all. It makes the earlier scenes of barely-teenage-appearing Amara stroking Dean’s face a little more creepy now that we know their mutual fascination tips over into attraction. It would be hypocritical of me to question why Amara changes her mind about inhaling Dean’s soul and decides to make out with him instead though, because duh, Dean Winchester. But what is going through her mind right before she leans in for the kiss? Did she sense something about Dean’s soul, or was she just overcome by his handsome face?
“I’m all powerful, I can find out for myself just how soft those lips are, so why am I not going for it?”
I mean, I get it.
But the expression on her face just before she kisses him pulls for some explanation. I like not knowing, for the time being at least.
Amara fends off the angel smiting attempt, and doesn’t seem remotely nervous about the potential group smiting coming her way. She wants her big brother’s attention, and maybe she’s finally going to get it. No way will this be a good thing for anyone, but at least Dean is off that romantic mountaintop and back to somewhere where he can maybe listen to his goddamned voicemail.
(Btw, are Dean and Amara on a mountaintop as a callback to the biblical idea of Satan tempting Jesus on a mountaintop? Amara is most certainly tempting him, with both the promise of collective bliss and his own. Is this meant to parallel the tempting of Sam by the actual Devil, which is happening simultaneously? If so, I like it. I like when Show does that.)
Emily Swallow also gets kudos for managing to portray Amara as a truly powerful being. The character’s casual violence could easily be over the top, but Swallow makes it believable. Her lack of empathy or remorse when killing is chilling because of the way she carries it out; perhaps more chilling when she talks about how much God has messed things up for his poor creatures, and how she could offer ‘bliss’. Hard to believe, and yet Swallow sells both those messages.
So, back to our story. Dean gets rendered more or less impotent (sorry, Dean). Meanwhile, Sam is in wayyyyyy over his head.
Kudos to Jerry Wanek’s team for the depiction of Limbo, which was just as terrifying as Hell probably would be, but didn’t give away too much. That just made it more terrifying! Kudos to the amazing VFX team, who showed off their stuff in this episode. And to Mark Sheppard, who always plays Crowley to perfection. He clearly retains some affection for the Winchesters, even if he would probably break their necks if it suited him. But Crowley will always protect Crowley, and if the Darkness is the bigger threat, he’s more than willing to play frenemies with a Devil’s bargain.
Then there’s Rowena. I can’t even say enough about Rowena and how much I love Ruth Connell’s performance as this fascinating character. Every single time she’s onscreen, I’m loving what’s happening. She can make the not-so-great dialogue good, and she can deliver the good dialogue in a way that makes it absolutely scrumptious. She, like the regulars on this Show, can say as much with an arched eyebrow or a half-stifled giggle or an almost-eyeroll as most actors can with a page of dialogue.
Ruth, like Emily, also manages to portray Rowena as a powerful woman. Even when she’s in chains, she always seems to have the upper hand – or at the very least, you know she will soon. She always looks like she’s enjoying a little secret at the expense of everyone else in the room. Every conversation with her son is practically crackling with emotion – hate, derision, and still, I continue to believe, love and regret behind it all. On both sides.
Her fangirling – or should I say outright lust? – for Lucifer was also perfectly executed. Rowena has never been apologetic about being a woman capable of desire, and I love that about her. It’s one of the themes of ‘Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls’ – women are too often ashamed (or shamed) and I love that Rowena refuses to be. (Not that she hasn’t done some things worthy of it!)
“He’s so Alpha,” she gushes, staring at Lucifer.
You just know Rowena writes some steamy Lucifer fanfic in her free time, right? Probably of the Lucifer/Rowena variety.
Anyway, I also like that Rowena keeps us guessing. Did she intend to keep Sam safe or to give Lucifer what he wants? Did she hurry Crowley off with her out of that well hidden protectiveness, or does she have something more nefarious up her sleeve when it comes to her son?
I’m not sure, but at any rate, her protective wards don’t hold. No sooner have I fist bumped when Sam said “No” to Lucifer’s possession than I had my hand over my mouth gasping in horror. Because there was Sam, back in the cage with Lucifer. And all my worst predictions were coming true. It wasn’t God speaking to Sam. It was never God. It was Lucifer. Just like Cain and Abel in the Supernatural canon, the little brother wasn’t talking to God, but to the Devil.
Lucifer, after all, tempts people with what they most want. Sam, who was chosen instead by Azazel, wants desperately to be chosen by God. He wanted to be accepted by the Angels, while Dean has never cared (except for one particular Angel’s respect). He wanted to be the one to sacrifice himself for the greater good. He wanted forgiveness. He so wants to believe that God has been speaking to him; has chosen to help him.
My heart absolutely broke for Sam Winchester in this episode.
But, you know what?
MARK PELLEGRINO. Is it wrong that I’m so happy to have him back?? Probably. He plays Lucifer as frighteningly appealing, with a rumbling undercurrent of RUN RUN RUN RUN!
Seriously, I wanted to jump up and run around my living room, I had such an adrenaline rush. That shot of him with his eyes glowing red, staring at us through the bars of his cage? Gave me goosebumps.
His banter with Sam is so flirty, it almost seems like Lucifer has some genuine affection for Sam. But Sam’s response – absolute terror on the face of a man who routinely faces danger without a flinch – tells us more about just how horrible Lucifer can be than ten minutes of unnecessary exposition. Jared was brilliant in that scene. The horror on his face, the PTSD-induced flashbacks you could imagine roaring through him, the single tear he can’t hold back. He can’t keep up the front of bravado, he can’t hold it together. And for Sam Winchester to break down like that? Holy shit, Sam’s time in the cage must have been unimaginable.
It’s heartbreaking to me that Sam believed it was God directing him to go to the cage. I’ve never believed that; I’ve believed it was Lucifer all along. Even Matt Cohen’s cryptic “I could never fool you” in the car with Sam seemed to hint in that direction. But Sam so wanted to believe. We, as humans, so want to believe. In something good, in something bigger, in something or someone who knows what we should do and gives us some direction to move in.
My heart breaks for Sam, having that faith shattered.
I can’t really say I loved this episode, because much of it was upsetting to watch. There was a helluva lot packed into one episode, and at times there was too much exposition. But it moved the plot forward in a dramatic way, and the performances by every single actor made this a powerful, emotional 42 minutes of television. I was left shaking and unhappy – but that’s clearly the way Show wanted it. It’s a little bit like the Kripke era, where after an episode my social media would be full of icons (the LiveJournal predecessor to Tumblr and gifs, for those who might not remember) proclaiming ‘Damn you Kripke!’
Now I just want it to be January. I want Dean to be pissed as hell and roar off into wherever he has to go to save his brother. This time, it’s going to be indescribably important to Dean to do what he couldn’t do last time, I suspect. I just hope he hurries.
In the meantime, stay tuned for some Hellatus-buster interviews right here! And if you’re doing some holiday shopping, why not pick up a copy of ‘Fangasm Supernatural Fangirls’ on amazon? It’s the real story of being a Supernatural fan, the ups, the downs, the agony, the ecstacy….and lots of insights from Jared, Jensen, Misha and the rest of the cast about the Show and the fandom we all call the SPN Family.
Or check out ‘Fan Phenomena Supernatural’ for chapters written by cast, crew and fans on why this show is so important to all of us. Misha Collins and Richard Speight, Jr. wrote chapters which are by turns very funny and very touching, and Serge Ladouceur’s insights about how he helps make the Show so beautiful are fascinating.