Last week’s “Supernatural” episode was the mid-season finale, though only the 8th in this 20 episode season. However, it ushered in the month-long holiday hiatus, so it still felt like the big mid-season cliffhanger. Luckily, this episode fell to Richard Speight Jr. to direct, so although the episode’s writers don’t always tend to be my favorites, I knew I’d enjoy the way Speight brought the story to life at least. He didn’t let me down – and neither did the amazing cast.
My perspective on the show this season is different than any other, because every episode that airs brings us closer to the last. Fans and cast are acutely aware that we only have a limited amount of time with these beloved characters, so emotions are heightened about what we’re all hoping for from these last moments with them. In previous seasons, if there’s a part of a season that doesn’t really work for me, it’s been relatively easy to shrug it off and say oh well, it will get better. After all, there are always things I love and moments that are profoundly satisfying when it comes to “Supernatural”. This season, though, it’s harder to shrug.
So I was really happy to enjoy this episode. It was a solid episode that moved the story along and took us to a sort of tipping point. And the acting performances – every single one of them – were magnificent. Maybe it didn’t make me jump up and down and scream OMG I love my Show (which is what I always hope for when watching “Supernatural”) but my mantra has been cherish the things you do love while you still have them, so that’s the lens I watched with. And there was a lot to cherish in this one.
The first scene was pure Speight, a visual example of why I like his directing: a decadent casino, the floor littered with dead bodies. A terrified cocktail waitress carefully steps over her former colleagues and customers, balancing a drink – which she serves up to Chuck (of course). I loved the way the scene was filmed, full of dark humor and an undercurrent of genuine fear because it’s clear that Chuck could snap at any time. God is bored, engineering constant wins but without any surprises, and that’s making him cranky.
Chuck to terrified waitress: And you don’t want me cranky.
It’s still hard to look at Rob Benedict’s adorable face and be scared of him, but somehow Rob pulls it off.
I haven’t been to many casinos, so this one reminded me of the Rio, where the “Supernatural” convention in Vegas is held every year. The Rio always seems surreal to me with its smoke and decadence and pervasive sense of desperation mixed with boredom, and it almost seemed like Speight and Rob Benedict amplified all that a thousand fold. It gave the whole scene a feeling of emptiness and sadness. (Sorry, Rio, but I haven’t entirely forgiven you for that time our toilet spontaneously combusted in the middle of the night while we were all asleep and gushed something putrid and horrible that escaped the bathroom like a brown plague and sent us running out of the room in our PJ’s.) Anyway…
Flash to the next scene, Eileen hunting – and doing a bang up job of it. She’s badass and kickass and doesn’t need any help, taking out the bad guys alone, and I’m here for it! I’m also relieved that she’s not only still alive, but still a hunter in every sense of the word – even dying on the job couldn’t change that.
As she goes after the last one, she nearly stabs Sam Winchester instead, not expecting him to be there. Once the monster is dispatched (by Eileen who literally did not need any help), she turns to Sam.
Eileen: Were you tailing me?
Sam: You could’ve left a note… You think I’m being overprotective?
Eileen: Little bit.
Shoshannah Stern is so good, just that little line was priceless. But seriously, she’s right – Sam is maybe being a tad overprotective. The Winchesters were used to their mother hunting on her own and letting them know when she needed backup, and they’ve known and respected many other kickass female hunters, so I don’t think they treat female hunters any different than male hunters. Sam knows she’s a hunter; it’s who she is and what she does and what we love her for.
So why was Sam tailing Eileen and not even letting her know? That seems a) dangerous, as in he almost got himself killed and interfered with her hunt, and b) not entirely in character. I’m assuming we’re supposed to believe it’s because he’s romantically involved with her and that’s affecting his judgment. But damn it, Eileen was doing A-okay on her own and I love her independence and her mad hunting skills.
Back at the bunker, Dean – whose newly found sense of motivation has stayed intact from last episode – excitedly tells Sam and Eileen that he’s found a way to maybe get to Chuck. He unwraps the demon tablet, they share some exposition about what it means and why it was created, and then get to the bottom line – maybe Chuck isn’t untouchable after all.
Sam: So he has an Achilles’ heel.
Dean: No, I’m saying he has a weak spot.
Sam: (looks frustrated)
Me: (looks positively murderous)
Seriously? You want me to believe that Dean Winchester doesn’t know what an Achilles’ heel means??
I know some people decided to head canon that Dean was just faking not knowing in order to mess with Sam, but I’ve rewatched it several times and that is not how either of them played it. There’s no comic tell from Ackles at all, and I think there would be.
It wouldn’t be so egregious if Dean hadn’t said such an iconic line himself using that exact expression.
Dean: The point is, maybe we are each other’s Achilles’ heel. Maybe they’ll find a way to use us against each other, I don’t know. I just know we’re all we’ve got. And more than that, we keep each other human.
He knew what it meant then!
It’s a small thing, but it threw me out of the moment.
Castiel goes off in search of someone who can read the tablet – the soulless prophet Donatello.
I love Donatello, so I was happy to see him back. Keith Szarabajka makes the character both hilarious and lovable. Maybe it’s his soullessness, but he sees the Winchesters and Castiel for who they are (ie, dangerous) and has no qualms about making it clear how much he does NOT want to be mixed up with them. That’s the most logical way for anyone to feel, and it’s refreshing to see it!
Donatello reluctantly agrees to try to translate the tablet and figure out how to lock God up like he did Amara, since they can’t kill him without disrupting the balance of the universe. While Donatello reads and munches his ever present fried chicken, Sam and Dean and Cas all huddle around, doing a very bad acting job of pretending to read.
Donatello: STOP IT!
TFW: (pretend not to be watching his every move)
All the kudos to Jensen Ackles, Jared Padalecki, and Misha Collins here; without saying a word, they all pulled off a genuinely funny scene just with their expressions and body language.
Eventually, Donatello reads Metatron’s personal notes on the tablet that give it context, including that God guards his secret fear and shares it only with his favorite at the time, ie Michael. It was also Michael who helped Chuck overpower and lock up Amara, so he seems to be the key to figuring all this out.
I might have squeed a little at the mention of Metatron because I love Curtis Armstrong to the moon and back. Just saying.
Chuck manages to speak through Donatello, warning them to back off.
Chuck: Usually I love our little process, it’s fun – like tennis. With monsters. But let this go or…
He threatens to hurt the people they care about – Jody, Donna, Eileen – which struck me as a little close to the ‘hurt/kill the women to motivate the men’ trope that the show began with, but I guess those are pretty much the only people they care a lot about who are still alive.
Anyway, Keith Szarabajka did an amazing job of channeling Rob Benedict for this scene. He sounded just like Rob and like Chuck – his inflection, his tone of voice, even his manner of speaking changed completely! The acting performances in this episode, all around, were nothing short of magnificent.
Dean tells Donny to head home.
Donatello: Oh really, I have to leave? Oh, that’s too bad. I’ll go get my stuff.
I laughed out loud. I just need some of this genuinely funny little bit of comic relief sometimes with this show. And without any of that dreaded “hey something funny is happening music” too – they just let Keith’s performance carry the humor, along with the Winchesters’ reactions.
Sam and Dean decide not to back off, knowing that no one will be safe unless they take Chuck down.
Cas (incredulously): Are you seriously thinking about going to Hell to speak to Michael? Who is insane?
I kinda thought Cas had a point, but Dean clearly did not.
Dean: Cas, if you wanna stay here, why don’t you just stay here?
Clearly, Dean and Cas are not done with their spat.
They do Rowena’s spell, Dean cuts his hand and adds the blood.
Cas: Here, let me.
He heals Dean’s hand, which was a nice gesture considering things are still so cold between the two of them.
The spell kicks in, bringing a stiff breeze with it, and Sam’s hair blows around majestically.
It’s the little things.
Sam, Dean and Cas make their way through hell for about five seconds before they’re attacked by a trio of demons, who all happen to be in female meatsuits. Richard tweeted that they wanted Rowena to have female minions and for them to be pretty damn powerful – and they were! Rob Hayter later tweeted a shout out to the stunt women, all of whom did a fantastic job, along with Rob himself. The fight scenes this season are off the charts!
As TFW get their asses kicked, Dean yells: Are any of us winning?
I laughed out loud at the time and wondered if that was an Ackles ad lib – which it apparently was. Just when they’re all about to be killed, a familiar voice rings out.
Holy shit, it’s Rowena. I suspected that we’d see her again as Queen of Hell, but I still wasn’t prepared for the sight of her looking so incendiary. It’s no secret I adore Ruth Connell, and Rowena has always been hot, but whoa. WHOA.
Rowena: Hello, boys.
I love that she uses her son’s familiar greeting, though it makes me miss Crowley a lot.
I also love that Rowena is the powerful one now, and Sam and Dean and Cas are all clearly aware of that. Yet she remains loyal to the Winchesters, ordering her minions to find Michael.
Sam is still feeling guilty for going along with killing her, but Rowena reassures him that killing her was one of the best things that has happened to her. Of course, she does miss physical sex…
Rowena: And Amazon doesn’t deliver down here…yet…
She also sends Sam out of the room to get her a drink and tells Dean and Cas to fix their “wee tiff”.
Rowena reminds them that it’s too late for her to fix things, and that she has regrets, including “everything with dear Fergus…”
I loved that acknowledgement of her feelings for her son. When Crowley and Mark Sheppard were still on the show, I so wanted them to explore that complicated relationship more deeply, and I’ll forever be disappointed that they didn’t. But at least I feel a little validated that my own head canon for the deep feelings she did have for him wasn’t off the mark.
Rowena’s minions eventually figure out that Michael is no longer in the Cage – or in hell for that matter. So where is he?
Flash to another scene, a diner called “Jaci’s Red Wagon”, an homage to Richard Speight’s wife Jaci. We all knew Jake Abel was returning as Adam/Michael, so it was no surprise to see him, but I had no idea his performance would be such a tour de force. Holy shit, that guy can act! When they were filming this episode, Jared and Jensen both said that Jake was so good that they had to up their game to keep up with him, and now I see why. He played both Adam and Michael – having a conversation with each other no less – and there was never a time you couldn’t tell exactly who he was. Everything changed – facial expressions, way of sitting, voice inflection, emotionality, formality – everything! Brilliant.
I also have to credit the writers for how they depicted the unusual symbiotic relationship that has developed between Adam and Michael over their many years in the Cage together. It’s fascinating, and not what I expected – and wow, do I love it when Show can still surprise me. Adam and Michael are both feeling very alone in the world, as they did in the Cage too. What has developed between them is a relationship of equals, with Michael allowing Adam not only to exist, but to have autonomy and opinions. When Adam wants to enjoy French fries, Michael encourages him.
Michael: Go for it, kid.
There’s affection in his tone; he clearly cares about Adam. They also talk frankly about their disillusionment with their respective families, including Sam and Dean.
Adam: I met them once, and they let me rot in hell. Family sucks.
You can’t blame him, really.
Their idyllic diner chat is interrupted by Lilith, who tries to convince Michael to come with her to see Chuck.
Michael: I’m not accustomed to being fetched.
Damn. Jake Abel can also make Michael very very scary indeed. When Lilith refuses to back off, Michael incinerates her just like that with a click of his fingers.
Diner patrons: WTF?
Michael merely tells them “remember nothing” and snaps again. Donatello feels the disturbance, and is able to tell the Winchesters where Michael is.
Meanwhile, Eileen keeps the spell going while the boys are in hell, and answers a call on her laptop. It’s a hunter named Sue, randomly asking for help with some vampires when she ostensibly has no idea where in the world Eileen is or even if she’s alive.
Sue: People keep saying you’re…
Eileen: Dead? Didn’t take.
Once again, Shoshannah’s delivery makes me giggle in the best of ways. But if Sue’s call isn’t the most suspicious thing ever, I don’t know what is. Coincidentally, Eileen is right in the exact area that Sue needs help in. Seriously? That’s way too much coincidence.
Once they’ve returned to the bunker, Sam and Dean have a slightly awkward conversation about Eileen. Or at least Dean does; Sam doesn’t have much to say.
Dean: Eileen okay?
Sam: Yeah, I guess.
Dean: You guess?
Sam explains that they have an agreement, that Eileen will let him know if she needs anything.
Dean: That’s adorable.
Dean says that he tried the family thing, and it’s not for him.
Sam: Yeah, me too. That’s not for us.
That seems to be Sam being fairly clear, but Dean continues to encourage him, pointing out that if it were ever going to work in terms of a relationship, Eileen gets it, and she gets them, and she gets the life. Also, she’s hot. (Which? Accurate.)
Sam looks distinctly uncomfortable throughout this conversation, which Dean then deflects and makes into brotherly teasing, saying that while Sam could do worse, Eileen could do better. So much better.
He clasps Sam’s shoulder as he gets up.
Dean: I’m happy for you, Sammy.
Dean has always wanted nothing more than for Sam to be happy, and there have been several times he’s tried to facilitate that happening for Sam through a romantic relationship. I’m not sure where Sam’s head is at, though; he says here and he’s said multiple times in the recent seasons that family life is not for either of them. Dean looks both soft and wistful and maybe fleetingly sad as he walks away, and Sam stares after him as he goes. What’s he thinking? I wish we had a convention coming up soon so I could ask them just what they were portraying their characters thinking in that scene!
Back to the goal of the episode: finding Michael. I’m not entirely sure why we needed Donatello to say where Michael was, because instead of going to Egypt to get him, Cas just sits down at the chessboard on the landing and reaches out to him on Angel Radio. But that’s okay because this is a beautifully filmed scene, Castiel glimpsed through the grate, behind bars, the chessboard in front of him as he plays a rather brilliant game to get Michael to help them.
Cas: I’m not your enemy anymore.
Misha did a great job with this monologue, and with all his interactions with Jake/Michael.
Sure enough, Michael appears.
Castiel: Thank you for coming. Do you remember me?
Michael: You called me Assbutt and set me on fire.
Michael: Now you come to beg forgiveness?
Cas: Oh, I didn’t come to beg.
Everyone: holy shit, BAMF Cas is back!
A ring of fire traps Michael, and then two shadowy figures approach the curtained archway on one side of the room. It’s the Winchesters, and damn if they don’t make one of the most epic entrances we’ve ever seen on this Show. I gasped out loud and started fervently hoping for a gif to appear, and wanted to send all the kudos to Richard Speight for that iconic shot. Damn!
To make it even more powerful, Dean is dangling handcuffs.
Luckily, I had a cold drink with me.
Michael: Sam, you look well. Last time I saw you in the Cage…
Sam shuts that down immediately, without hesitation, and in a voice that brooks no argument.
Sam: Doesn’t matter.
Jared delivered that line perfectly. There was so much emotion behind it, acknowledgement of Sam’s trauma and at the same time his determination to do what has to be done without “going there”. Sam Fucking Winchester, man.
Dean explains that they said goodbye to their brother because they thought they had to, and that they were wrong.
Michael: Don’t tell me, tell him.
Sam and Dean: Adam??
There’s a poignant moment when Dean realizes just what that means, obviously comparing the situation to his own losing battle with Michael in which he was kept drowning and unable to assert any sense of self at all.
Dean: (brokenly and in wonder) Michael lets you… talk? He lets you… be?
Sam flinches on Dean’s behalf as he hears that, Jared portraying Sam’s empathy for his brother in that subtle way that was nevertheless so powerful.
Adam: We only had each other. We had an agreement.
You can see how much it cuts Dean to hear that, to know that he wasn’t able to have that with ‘his’ Michael. Michael, unfortunately, doesn’t want to hear what they all have to say about God’s betrayal. Later, Adam tries to reason with him. Once again, it’s very clear they have a relationship of equals, of respect. Adam is comfortable disagreeing with the Archangel, and Michael listens to him. The “good son”, however, still refuses to doubt his Father.
Castiel doesn’t give up, though. He comes to see Michael alone and goads him into a physical fight, telling him at one point that he used to “have an entire oak tree shoved up your ass”. It’s a ploy to get Michael to grab him, and when he does, Castiel gets his hands on Michael’s head and says “see the truth for yourself”. Jake Abel once again does an amazing job – I was half convinced his head was really going to explode at one point!
It looks like even that didn’t work for a while, as a forlorn Castiel tells Dean. Michael sees everything that’s happened, including the AU version of Michael. He’s crushed with all he’s seen, but still unwilling to help.
Dean: Maybe you went too far.
Dean: What did he say?
Cas: Leave, get out, I want you dead. We didn’t bond.
Poor Cas. He tried his best.
Meanwhile, Eileen gets another call from shifty Sue, and when Sue taunts her with “do you have to ask permission?” (which just made it even more suspicious), Eileen agrees to help her. Just then, Sue seemingly gets attacked. I was relishing Eileen’s kickass independence at the start of the episode, so I was a little surprised that this time she knocks on Sam’s door and asks him to come with her – and that Sam does, even with Michael in the bunker on the verge of finding out how to lock up God. It was set up to seem like a pretty dire situation, though.
Of course, it’s a trap.
Eileen: Sue, you’re okay, thank god.
Chuck: Any time.
Well, that can’t be good. Did Chuck engineer Eileen’s return just to get to Sam? Is he still controlling the story to that extent? That just occurred to me. Damn it, Eileen is not your pawn, Chuck!
Back at the bunker, it turns out that Michael did listen; he gets a clue and says he’ll help. That what they did to The Darkness they can do to God. He hands over the spell, which requires the nectar from a leviathan blossom from Purgatory. Boom, he waves his hand and an entrance to Purgatory appears just like that – and will stay open for twelve hours.
There was a bit of retcon in this episode because so much of the show has been about how difficult it is for anyone, archangels included, to get into Purgatory or hell or whatever. In Season 6, it certainly wasn’t easy to go to Purgatory and grab souls. Now it’s a simple spell or a finger snap and off we go.
Dean asks to talk to Adam before Michael leaves.
Dean: We are sorry. What happened to you, you’re a good man, you didn’t deserve that.
Adam: Since when do we get what we deserve? Good luck.
It’s an appropriate question for the entire show, isn’t it? And for contemplating how it’s going to end. With the characters getting some version of what they deserve? We’ll see.
So, as we head into the mini hiatus, it almost seems like we’re back in Season 8, Sam off having a romance and Dean and Castiel headed to Purgatory.
The first part of Season 8 was not my favorite season, though I agree with Ackles that the Purgatory scenes were pretty awesome. At any rate, the episode left us in a double cliffhanger situation, not knowing what Chuck has up his sleeve for Sam and Eileen or what will befall Dean and Cas in Purgatory. The brothers go into 2020 separated once again, which has been the case for a lot of Season 15 and is never going to make me want to jump up and down, but I’ll reserve judgment and see what happens when we return.
Thanks to Richard Speight’s directing and every single cast member’s brilliant acting, I enjoyed this episode. Shout out to SPN guest stars Shoshannah Stern, Ruth Connell, Rob Benedict, Jake Abel, and Keith Szarabajka for absolutely kicking it in the ass (and Anna Grace Barlow in her brief return as Lilith). The episode had a lot to say, as the title implies, about fathers and sons and daddy issues, which is quintessential “Supernatural”.
There was also a subtler commentary on independence and choice, with Eileen, with Adam and Michael and their negotiation of a relationship of equals, and with Castiel, who seems to have come back from his time away newly comfortable with making his own choices and not needing anyone’s permission to carry them out (including Dean’s, much to Dean’s annoyance). Both those themes tie directly into Chuck and set us on the path to finishing up the series next year.
This episode was also noteworthy for some real-life reasons. It was the first time that Rob and Rich were on the show together, after all this time of doing conventions and sharing a stage! We also were treated to one of Richard’s songs playing from his new CD – if you haven’t checked it out, do it! Another musically talented cast member – we’re a lucky fandom.
I’m okay with having a break right now because it’s the holidays and my to-do list is about a billion pages long – crossing my fingers that ‘Supernatural’ comes back with a bang in 2020 for its final twelve episodes. Til then, enjoy whatever holidays you celebrate and we’ll rejoice together when “Supernatural” returns!