There are few things more fun than watching a brand new Supernatural episode while actually AT a Supernatural convention. That’s how I got to watch last week’s episode, Bring ‘Em Back Alive, with my con roomie and partner in crime, Kim. We perched on the edge of our hotel beds balancing cheeseburgers and fries and settled in for an episode we were both mostly unspoiled for, which ended up making all the difference!
Like most episodes written by Eugenie Ross-Leming and Brad Buckner, this one was jam packed full of things happening – in multiple story lines, no less. We bounce back and forth between Dean and Ketch in the AU, Sam and Cas and Gabriel in the bunker, Lucifer and Jo in Heaven, and Asmodeus in the dark and dreary room from where he rules the demons and tries to figure out how to get his captive archangel back. I usually don’t like bouncing back and forth, like at all, but in this episode three of the four story lines were convergent so it wasn’t as grating as it might have been. Either that or so much was happening that my head was spinning too much to notice, because whoa, was there a lot of action!
Props also to VFX, music and Amyn Kaderali for directing this so beautifully.
The story arc that wasn’t convergent was the Lucifer and Jo one, so let me tackle that first. Lucifer, predictably, isn’t exactly content now that he’s gotten what he ostensibly wanted and is sitting on the throne of Heaven. (He’s like every toddler in the history of ever…) Jo, who’s acting as a sort of ‘first lady’, is in a similar position. Neither of them thought this through very well, did they? Lucifer is petulant about Jo not staying at his side, and Jo is disappointed (and snarky) about Lucifer’s failure to “do kingly things” like making Heaven better or giving the angels back their wings or creating pretty much anything.
After Jo’s version of a pep talk, Lucifer makes an attempt to be ‘kingly’ or god-like, though he looks more like a mobster than God in his spiffy black suit and shades.
He tries listening to people’s prayers and within about 20 seconds is complaining “losers…so much whining…” The one thing he hears that interests him is an exorcism in progress, so he pops in to find two clueless priests and a demon possessing some poor woman to have some fun. Lucifer exorcizes the demon and tells the priests who he is, which makes for a truly funny scene. Their reactions were priceless, and Mark Pellegrino’s comedy skills were once again top notch as Lucifer endures a splashing of holy water and quickly loses his patience and zaps the poor priests into nothing.
Eventually Lucifer announces to Jo that he’s focusing on finding his son so they can combine their power and remake the world and people can worship him (which is really all he wants, it seems). When Jo finds out he actually can’t make more angels, she turns on him and he chokes her almost to death – and then she walks out, announcing that he doesn’t have anything. And he doesn’t have her either. I wonder if Danneel Ackles will grace our screens as Sister Jo again?
You almost feel sorry for Lucifer sometimes, he’s so childish – but then you remember what he did to Sam, and…. Nope.
So that’s one story arc. The other three all end up coming together by the end of the episode, and are introduced in the very beginning. The ‘Then’ is significant for Dean’s determination and hopefulness, as he heads into the AU with Ketch – get in, get Mom and Jack, family reunion! Dean’s use of those words give us insight into just how badly he wants this – if you know Dean Winchester at all, you know that there is nothing he values more than a family reunion. His terror and frustration at not being able to rescue Mary – not even daring to believe she was alive for a while – make his need for that reunion even more intense. So in Dean goes, determined to rescue his mother and Jack and to keep their family together.
They land in an AU that looks very different than the last time we saw it – as in, it’s still a barren landscape but now it’s covered in snow. Apparently that was a bit of a surprise to cast and crew too, since when it was scouted, that location wasn’t nearly as white (or probably as cold). It’s unusual for the snow on Supernatural to be real snow, since snow isn’t all that common in Vancouver, so I thought it really worked for this episode. Not only were the landscapes striking in their barren beauty, but the actors actually had snow all over them like they would have in reality – in their hair, in their boots, even their knees had wet patches where they’d knelt in the snow. Just like in reality! Anyway, I loved that added realism, though I would guess it wasn’t that much fun for the cast and crew to film in.
The Dean and Ketch story line that plays out in this episode turned out to be quite compelling. I’ve said before that I find it hard to swallow a redemption arc for Ketch after the things that he’s done – especially that he’s done them, or the BMoL have done them, to Dean’s mother and brother. To Dean himself, I could believe he might forgive Ketch. But Sam and Mary? That’s a tough one to believe about Dean. Nevertheless, those scenes were well written and so expertly portrayed by Jensen Ackles and David Haydn-Jones that I found myself going along with the evolution of Dean and Ketch’s relationship even though I remained reluctant to do so.
The start of the AU story line sets up the evolution that will happen.
Dean to Ketch: What’s this “we” crap? You came here to save yourself.
Ketch claims otherwise, saying he owes it to Mary to try to save her (even if, as Dean wryly notes, she’ll probably try to kill him). Neither Dean nor I entirely believe Ketch at this point, but he makes logical sense when he points out that Dean can use backup.
The two soon spy an execution squad crossing a bridge, with the hooded soon-to-be-victims herded along and then shot one by one. When I saw the hoods, I was terrified about who was under them, immediately thinking Mary? Bobby?
Dean wants to immediately jump into action and try to save the people, but Ketch holds him back, pointing out that there are too many of them.
Dean: Freakin’ angels.
As they lifted the hood off the last one, temporarily staying her execution, Dean watches and then exclaims, open mouthed: NO.
Because there on the bridge is Charlie Bradbury!
Kim and I nearly dropped our cheeseburgers, both of us yelling OHMYGOD in unison. Or maybe a more colorful version of OMG, which was entirely justified.
Neither of us had any idea Felicia Day was coming back to the show, and I was reminded how blissful it is not to be spoiled and have a reveal like that actually play out the way it was intended. I was literally in shock, just kept repeating OMG OMG over and over again for an alarmingly long time.
This Charlie is just as badass as “our” Charlie – maybe even moreso – daring to mouth off to her captors and apparently one of the leaders of the resistance. Go Charlie!
Dean and Ketch continue on, trying to figure out where they’ve taken Charlie and disagreeing on how they should go about that. Ketch is trying to be stealthy (no mean feat when you’re a tall man dressed all in black against a backdrop of pure white snow everywhere…)
Ketch: I’m practicing stealth. You prefer the bull in a china shop approach.
He’s not wrong at the moment – Dean is clearly shaken by seeing Charlie again and even more determined to save EVERYONE, including Charlie Bradbury. He pushes on while Ketch hangs back, and I have to wonder if he did that on purpose to flush out anyone who’s after them, because almost immediately a bounty hunter encounters Dean – and effing shoots him!
Once again, cheeseburgers almost dropped as Kim and I exclaimed OMG OMG repeatedly. Jensen makes it look way too real, collapsing in the snow and for a moment before the commercial break, looking dead as a doornail.
Commercial over, and nope, it’s just a flesh wound – but apparently a bad one. Dean tries to crawl away on his elbows, dragging himself across the snow, which for some reason really broke my heart. I make no secret of my great love for this fictional character and his absolute refusal to ever give up. He’s in pain, bleeding and weakened, and still he’s trying. My heart just broke for him in that moment, as the bounty hunter easily catches him and yanks his hands behind his back to tie them together.
Bounty hunter: Oh you’re a strong one.
Me: Damn right, you stupid bounty hunter dude.
Ketch reappears just in time to save the day, and then Dean manages to get to his feet and save the day in return. Once they have the upper hand with the bounty hunter, they demand to know where the bad guys were taking Charlie. When he doesn’t answer, Dean shoots his knee out just like that and shit, Dean Winchester is effing scary when he’s being a badass!
The guy tells them.
Dean: Okay thanks. (Punches him in the face).
Me: Dayum. BADASS.
They continue on, but it’s clear that Dean isn’t okay, though he’s trying to pretend otherwise.
Ketch: You don’t look good.
Dean: Yeah well you’re not my type either.
Ketch keeps trying to get Dean to tell him why Charlie is so important to him, but Dean refuses.
Ketch: Let me guess, old girlfriend? Broke your heart?
How much do we love that it’s NOT that? A lot.
Dean keeps pushing on, until he literally falls over.
Ketch: Let me take a look at that wound.
Dean: (trying to push Ketch away) No…
Ketch: (in that British accent that makes everything sound better) Do shut up.
He pushes Dean’s jacket to the side and he – and we – see that it’s not just a bullet wound, it’s got black spiraling out from it and oh crap that cannot be good.
Ketch explains that it’s similar to what the BMoL used, bullets that also poison – first immobilizing and then killing the victim in a very painful manner.
Dean: (still a smartass even while dying): You guys are such dicks.
Ketch does not disagree, another step in the evolution of how both we and Dean feel about him. He’s no longer defending the BMoL or his own role in what they’ve done and seems to be taking some responsibility for that.
It’s an intense scene worthy of the best Hurt/Comfort fic as Ketch leans in to dab the poultice he’s made on Dean’s wound.
Ketch: This will smart…
Dean: (breathing heavy, panting, grunting…)
Ketch: Good lad.
Like I said, fic worthy. I don’t ship it, but if I did, that would be a pivotal moment right there. Jensen posted a little video of him recording the ADR for that scene, essentially a lot of grunting and groaning. At the convention, Rob Benedict laughed about it, saying that it sounded for all the world like he was “pooping”. Though I’m not sure that’s where most fans’ minds went….
Anyway, the treatment works, but Dean is still weak and struggling.
Ketch: You must rest.
Dean finally expresses his grudging appreciation for Ketch’s help, but refuses to stop.
Dean: I do appreciate it, but we’re running out of time. I’m gonna keep going…
Dean: (promptly falls over on his face) In five minutes…
Ketch argues that a rescue attempt may be stupid, that they need reinforcements.
Dean: They’re gonna kill her, 100%. And I’m not…
He trails off, and Ketch is smart enough to see that there’s a lot of emotion there. He presses Dean again to tell him why he’s so determined to get to Charlie, and Dean finally tells him.
Dean: Charlie was like family. She was a sister to me. She did more for me and Sam than I can even say. And she was butchered. We couldn’t get there in time and I…
Ketch: You feel you failed her.
Dean: I know I did.
We get a flashback of Charlie murdered and bloody in the bathtub, a moment that traumatized the fandom as much as it did Dean and Sam.
I couldn’t help but read the whole scene on a meta level as well as a canon level – I don’t often think of story lines as a ‘mistake’, but I think that killing Charlie was just that. The payoff for her death, story wise, didn’t seem nearly enough to warrant losing a character that many fans identified with so closely. I felt like Dean’s dialogue and his emotional reaction were almost an acknowledgement of how horrific that decision (as well as that death) were – he uses the word “butchered”, which reflects how much the brutality of her death made it even harder to swallow for fans. He expresses regret, saying he knows he failed her. Now that is right in character for Dean, so it works that way, but that level of regret felt a little meta too. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it because I still needed some healing from Charlie’s death myself, but whether intentional or not, it felt good.
It’s a testament to just how serious Charlie’s demise was that bringing Felicia Day back to play an AU version of the character does not, for me at least, entirely make up for killing her off in the first place. This is not “our” Charlie, and it’s our Charlie that I wish was still with us. I adore the way she was written by the brilliant Robbie Thompson and I wish that both she and Robbie were still here to continue Charlie’s story. So Charlie’s return is bittersweet, but I’ll take it if it’s all I can get – and hope that this time she sticks around, even if it’s back in the AU. I don’t know if I can take a second Charlie death, Show, just saying.
Ketch confides that he understands that feeling well – that he too let down friends and colleagues who died on his watch. The only difference, he says, is that he didn’t try to save them.
Ketch: Duty and all that rubbish.
Again, Ketch’s honesty and lack of defensiveness is a believable part of his evolution. He seems to have finally realized that it WAS rubbish – and that it got people he might have cared about in another life killed. If nothing else, he seems to regret that, almost wistful for the life he didn’t get to live and the emotions he was forced to stifle.
Dean seems to believe him too – you can tell because he responds in true Dean Winchester fashion.
Dean: Well, you do suck.
Ketch says that he hopes that maybe helping Dean save Charlie will wash some of the stain off his hands, and offers Dean a hand up so they can go save her.
Dean: Impossible and stupid, huh? You say that like it’s a bad thing.
And he gives Ketch a punch in the shoulder. Dean speak for okay let’s do this.
They arrive just in time to save Charlie from being beheaded, Dean tossing a grenade to blow her would-be assassin up and then he and Ketch take out most of Michael’s angelic troops.
Charlie to her mysterious rescuer: Who the hell are you?
Dean explains the improbable story to Charlie, who is rightly skeptical, about the “other” Charlie.
Charlie: So you were friends with her?
Charlie: How very?
Dean: Well, she was into chicks, so…
Charlie: (smirking) I like her.
So do we, Charlie, so do we!
The threesome arrive at the rift, which is rapidly closing. Ketch surprises Dean by announcing that he’s staying to keep fighting – and Charlie surprises him even more by saying that she is too.
Charlie: This is my home. This is my fight.
Dean: I don’t want to lose you again.
Charlie: That’s not your call.
And it isn’t. She’s not the Charlie who Dean lost and let down; but she is just as fearless and committed. Reluctantly, Dean lets her go, plunging through the rift before it closes as Michael’s troops arrive and Charlie and Ketch begin firing.
And here’s where three of the four story lines converge. Let’s follow the other two before we pick up the ending.
Story line number two is Sam and Cas, who are with Gabriel in the bunker.
Cas is somewhat incredulous that Dean went back to the AU alone (like Sam had any say in the matter!)
Sam: He’s with Ketch…
Cas: Because that makes it so much better!
Sam is still feeling bad about Dean going alone, and Cas is clearly worried too. And they have other things to worry about as well, namely Gabriel, who continues to be almost catatonic. Once again, Richard Speight Jr. doesn’t have any lines for most of the episode, but he shows us Gabriel’s traumatized state vividly. Sam – with that gentleness that we know Sam Winchester can show – tries to help him up onto the bed, but Gabriel flinches away from him and Cas violently.
There’s a bit of exposition about Gabriel not being dead and sending Sam and Dean a video about how to stuff Lucifer back in the Cage, and then Sam and Cas decide to try to give Gabriel back his grace in an attempt to bring him back. Gabriel, like many trauma survivors, is at first too terrified to accept their help.
Cas: I don’t think he’s gonna open up and let the choo choo in.
I might have giggled a little at that – Collins’ delivery was spot on.
Cas attempts to see if Gabriel is still ‘in there’, but he’s sadly not sure.
However, Castiel comes back to Gabriel’s room to find the walls covered with Enochian – Gabriel’s story. It’s a handy dandy way to get some exposition about what actually happened that time we were all sure that Gabriel was killed by Lucifer. After fooling Lucifer, Gabriel relished having no obligations and feeling free – so he moved to Monte Carlo and shacked up with some porn stars. As you do.
Cas: He goes on and on about the porn stars…
The story explains that Asmodeus has been growing stronger and stronger by feeding on Gabriel’s grace. So now Sam and Cas are caught up – and so are we.
When Gabriel seems unable or unwilling to come out of his shell, Sam – and Jared Padalecki – get a chance to really show their inspiring side. Which I loved.
Sam: You’ve gotta dig yourself outta this hole. I know you think it’s safer inside – no more pain, no more expectations. I’ve been there. I got out, or I thought I got out. But then – then my family needed me. And this, this is my life. No matter how many times I try to fight it.
I am always such a happy fangirl when we get insight into the Winchesters’ psyches – what they believe, what they value, how they feel. This speech gave us that, so I was rapt hanging on every word. And then, subtly at first and then more strongly, the familiar notes of the Family Theme started to play. As always when I hear that instrumental part by the brilliant composer Jay Gruska, I started to tear up. Because yes, Sam is talking to Gabriel and about Gabriel’s family – but he’s also talking about his own.
Sam: This is what I was put here to do. This is where I make the world a better place. Yeah sure, hookers and Monte Carlo sounds great, but your family needs you. Jack, your nephew, needs you. The world needs you. WE need you. Gabriel, I need you. So please, help us.
I held my breath waiting to see if Gabriel was as moved as I was, but he remained quiet. As Sam turned to leave, giving up, Gabriel finally spoke (with two words which are probably iconic for this character, if unlikely).
Gabriel: Porn stars. They were porn stars, Sam.
I will say that I did have a ‘huh’ moment when they gave Gabriel all his grace back. That was an integral part of opening the rift to the AU so without it there would be no going back if Dean doesn’t manage to bring Mary and Jack back on the first try. I guess Sam and Cas had more faith in Dean than I did (seasoned Supernatural watcher that I am – it’s episode 18 out of 23 for godsakes, there’s no way they’ll get rescued this quickly!). Or they reasoned that Gabriel would be on their side and willing to contribute a little more grace if needed? I don’t know, but I did have a bit of trepidation when they gave it to Gabriel, even though that clearly was the right thing to do.
His blue eyes glowed with power for a second, and then the third story line kicked in, as Asmodeus says ominously, “There you are.”
Asmodeus calls Sam and gives him ten minutes to hand over a terrified and shaking Gabriel. Sam, of course, refuses. Sam and Cas try amping up the bunker’s warding, which gives us some gorgeous scenes of the bunker in red.
Then we get one of Rob Hayter’s epically choreographed fight scenes, as Asmodeus’ demons break through the bunker’s warding and go toe to toe with Sam and Castiel. We get to see both Cas and Sam being totally badass and taking out the bad guys, but of course then Asmodeus himself arrives and unceremoniously tosses them across the room. More of his bad guys grab Gabriel and drag him into the room.
Asmodeus (creepily): Oh, I missed you, boy. I’m gonna have to punish you…
Gabriel whimpers as the lackeys drag him up the stairs to take him away, and Asmodeus turns his attention back to the helpless Sam and Castiel. He gestures and they both writhe in pain; he keeps it up, clearly intending to kill them. Gabriel sees and breaks away, throwing the lackeys over the railing to the floor.
Asmodeus: I broke you, you’re too weak!
Gabriel’s eyes glow blue as he stares Asmodeus down, and he heals himself as we watched open-mouthed.
Gabriel: Not anymore. And I always hated that dumbass suit.
Asmodeus goes up in flames, and Gabriel pulls himself up to his full height, healed and beautiful – the outline of his outstretched wings visible on the bunker wall behind him.
It was an iconic moment – Gabriel is really back. Kim and I both gasped out loud.
Me: I’ve got goosebumps!
I have always loved when we get to see an angel’s wings like that, and Show has used it judiciously enough that it still carries tremendous impact.
I was also very very happy to see Asmodeus gone. Jeffrey Parise seems like a great guy, and talented at playing someone who inspires so much hate as a bad guy, but I was overjoyed that Gabriel got his revenge. The character was written as such a classic abuser, from the taunting to the power plays to the truly creepy way he used Gabriel and the way he talked to him. I mean, well done, Show, well done. But ewww. So yay!
Sam and Cas fill Gabriel in about how Michael is planning on taking over this universe and they need his help.
Sam: Welcome to the team.
Gabriel: Thank you for the redemption arc, but not really a team guy…
Sam and Castiel both plead with him to stay and help, but in the end Gabriel turns away.
Gabriel: My father turned his back on his creations. I guess it runs in the family.
And with that, he’s gone, leaving Sam and Cas looking devastated.
All three of those story lines converge shortly after, as Dean bursts through the rift and back into the bunker.
Sam: Dean, hey hey, you’re hurt…
(Yes, I was a happy fangirl at that moment, you know I was – it was so very very Winchester)
Dean shrugs it off, telling Sam that there was a Charlie over there – and she kicks ass.
Sam and Cas fill Dean in on what went down with Asmodeus and how they were unable to convince Gabriel to stay and help them.
Cas: We asked him to help us. He said no.
Dean: (clearly exasperated) We still have his grace though, right? Sam?
At this moment, I literally felt sick to my stomach. They have all gone through so much, moved heaven and earth to try to get Mary and Jack back and save their world from Michael’s apocalypse. ALL of them are invested with everything they have, everything they are. So when Dean turns to Sam and asks him for that reassurance, my heart broke for both the brothers – Sam for having to say no, not right. And Dean for having to hear it.
Sam: We used his grace to heal him, so…it’s gone. It’s all gone.
The realization sinks in slowly, and Ackles shows us every second of that on Dean’s face.
Dean: So if it’s gone, we can’t open the door again. And if we can’t open the door again…
He stands there, the horror of it fully sinking in, and then you can see him slowly start to lose it. I was literally holding my breath, because you could feel the emotions brewing inside of Dean, like a tornado barely constrained – he was practically shaking with it.
Dean: Then I should’ve never come back!
Sam and Cas actually flinch when he says it, and both of them look so distraught, so full of horror and almost shame, as though they would give anything not to put that expression on Dean’s face, anything not to hear him say that.
He explodes then, absolutely loses it, knocking everything off the table and looking like he’s about to go mad with it.
Dean: (brokenly) Every time. Every time we get close, it always falls apart. Every. Freakin’. Time.
Behind him, the focus changes to Sam and Cas – and they look absolutely devastated. I don’t know if I was more heartbroken for the pain that Dean was obviously feeling, or the agony that Sam and Cas were in. All three of them are broken.
It’s Castiel who pulls himself together enough to speak first.
Cas: Dean, we will find Gabriel. We will.
The focus shifts back to Dean, his face in close up so that we can see the pain and rage he’s barely holding in.
Dean: We better.
To say that I was shaking too is not an exaggeration. There was so much emotion in that scene, so brilliantly portrayed by all three actors, that it nearly overwhelmed me too. Yet as much as it was painful, that is why I love this Show – it can pull an emotional response from me that’s real, because I care about these characters so much. Fictional they may be, but the emotion is very real.
I got a chance to tell Jensen how much I loved that scene at the convention this past weekend. For some reason, the emotion came through even more intensely than usual – it felt very genuine, and it made so much sense in the context of what had come before. Time after time, the Winchesters get THIS close to winning, to beating some big bad, to saving people who need saving – often someone they love, someone who is family or like family. And then, just when it’s so close they can taste it, it gets yanked away from them, falls through their fingers. There must be so much rage built up over that, so much frustration and so much agonizing disappointment and sadness. This time it’s their mother, and it’s Jack, and they were SO close. No wonder Dean loses it. It hit me very hard because it seemed so real. I explained all this to Jensen – and it turns out that was his own take on Dean’s emotionality as well, which is why he played it that way. (They don’t get a lot of stage direction scripted at this point because they trust the actors to know what to do). Somehow when these actors are just letting the emotionality flow organically, it comes through more intensely than ever.
I am SO excited about the rest of this season – who’s with me??