This week’s Supernatural episode was one of those episodes that everyone had a strong opinion about – but, as often happens in this fandom, not necessarily the same strong opinion. The one thing that everyone did agree on was that the acting was off the charts incredible – and nobody was left unemotional, that’s for sure.
Editor’s note: Lynn’s review and inside look at the Supernatural Beat the Devil was so extensive we broke into two parts for your convenience.
For me, I think the emotions were especially complex because I was fortunate to be able to watch some of the episode be filmed, including some of the most intense moments. I thought that maybe, since I had already watched those horrific moments when Sam dies and Dean has to watch it, maybe it wouldn’t hit me so hard when I saw it onscreen. But no. It just meant that I got all emotional watching them film it, and then got emotional all over again watching the final product. I knew that Jensen and Jared had killed it in those scenes, but I don’t even have words for how much they broke my heart now that I’ve seen the episode.
So I agree with everyone else – the acting was off the charts. There was plenty to love about this episode, but there were also some things that bothered me, so here’s a bit of both along with a few behind the scenes tidbits.
The opening scene starts right in with the heartstring tugs – a scene of domestic family bliss, Cas and Jack and Mary and Sam around the table and teasing Dean about eating too much pizza, Mary saying she and John called him “our little piglet.” (This is Sam’s perspective, so it makes sense, but I’m pretty sure Dean’s love of food is a result of the deprivation that came after Mary died). Then Sam and Mary having the heart to heart that Sam has longed for, finally hearing Mary express her faith in her sons, how she knew they’d save her and they did. It’s Sam’s most wished for fantasy come to life – and of course it’s a dream.
Break my heart right at the outset, why don’t you? I sort of wanted to employ my dream interpretation skills, because that’s what psychologists do sometimes, but I’ll try to stop myself (would I just be psych-analyzing writer Robert Berens? Hmmm. Tempting, Bobo…). I did love that in Sam’s fantasy, everyone is teasing Dean – it’s such a little brother fantasy. And everyone is together, family by blood, family by choice. Everyone is safe and happy. Oh, Sam.
First quibble though – does Sam really sleep fully clothed in a long sleeve shirt even?? Really??
The team assembles to start the mission to the AU, and we immediately get the first of what turns out to be a theme of sexual innuendo in this episode. Now I’m all for that, don’t get me wrong, but at times it was a bit of an odd fit in an episode that was this dark and tragic. Cas informs everyone that Gabriel needed “some privacy” to extract his grace, which I guess is picking up on all that sexualized grace sucking weirdness between Lucifer and Anael? I didn’t like that, but this does make for some amusing reactions from the rest of the gang. He’s extracting it in Dean’s room, so Dean gets to protest because by this time the innuendo is clear.
Dean: What? No!
Cas: (patented what’s the problem face…)
Meanwhile, Rowena points out that their plan isn’t a very good one, since once again the rift will only be open for 24 hours and last time that wasn’t near enough time. Gabriel returns with a little vial of not very much grace, and the innuendo keeps on coming, with the rift itself standing up and then slowly falling over and going limp far too soon and Gabriel’s “erect” angel blade going limp right along with it.
“Well that was fast,” Sam wryly notes.
“Premature, you might say,” Rowena adds.
The Winchesters and Cas go off to debate what to do next, which leaves Rowena and Gabriel to continue their snarky back and forth which echoes every awkward impotence conversation that inspired Viagra to be such a success. (Also Gabriel is pretending to read a book called “Laying Pipe” lol). Eventually, Rowena decides that Gabriel has a nice “tidy wee tushy” and Gabriel decides that Rowena is “so tiny…so angry…” and that’s enough for them to declare their mutual attraction. Rowena seals the deal by caressing a phallic symbol of a something or other on the desk (a mortar or a pestle, you know what I mean…) and BOOM a new ship is born. Richard Speight Jr. and Ruth Connell were incredibly funny in that scene, and their characters together totally make sense to me.
The other conversation across the bunker is the polar opposite, since there is nothing funny about it. They realize Gabriel doesn’t have the juice (ahem) to keep the rift open, so Castiel lays it out.
Cas: We need Archangel grace…
Sam: (the look on his face absolutely heart stopping because he KNOWS): No.
Cas: We need Lucifer.
Me: Oh hell no!
On the one hand, I like that Sam’s reaction means that the show is acknowledging Sam’s trauma and his very understandable terror when it comes to Lucifer. We don’t know the full extent of Sam’s torture in the Cage, but we know that it was enough to break him, not just physically but mentally. Sam’s fear is not just of Lucifer killing him, it’s of Lucifer destroying his mind, driving him insane, violating him in every possible way. Everyone who has ever gotten a glimpse of Sam Winchester’s mind and soul have wondered how he’s still standing and carrying on – so just the mention of Lucifer brings a profound reaction. I appreciate that Berens wrote that into this scene and Jared played it brilliantly.
What came next, however, was one of the things that disturbed me in this episode. Cas tries to convince Sam that they need to do this, which was uncomfortable considering the level of trauma that Sam experienced at the hands of Lucifer. Lucifer tortured him – abused him – broke him. So talking Sam into this? Perhaps it was necessary, but it made me cringe.
Cas: I was used by Lucifer too. It was the worst possible violation.
This is the second week in a row that someone has equated their traumatic experience with Sam’s or Dean’s – or even ignored that Sam and Dean have HAD such ridiculously horrific trauma at all. It made me cringe more to have Cas try to talk Sam into it by saying that he was hurt too, as though that should make Sam feel less or deny his own emotional reaction. What happened to Cas was different – it was his choice at the time (even if it turned out to be a bad one and although I think he really was trying to help) and certainly wasn’t the equivalent of what Sam went through in the Cage for those hundred years or whatever it was. I’m not saying Cas wasn’t used and tricked and that it felt horrible, I’m sure it did no matter how much Netflix he watched, but it’s not like what happened to Sam!
I’m trying to give the episode the benefit of the doubt and see this as Castiel’s attempt at empathy, because I think that’s probably what it was. Cas is sometimes awkward in his understanding of human emotions, which makes sense. But it felt disturbingly like telling an abuse survivor oh, I’ve had bad stuff happen too; you need to stop feeling your feelings about it and just get past it. Maybe it’s too many years of being a therapist and hearing too many people say those sorts of things to trauma survivors, so I’m reading too much into it. But it didn’t sit well with me. It seems like Misha kept ending up with lines that I scratched my head at in this episode, despite his perfectly fine delivery of them.
(Some fans have been speculating that this is not, in fact, Cas, but Empty!Cas, because he’s been less empathic than Castiel has been in recent seasons – I thought that too for a while, but the Show seems to have forgotten they introduced all that and let it drop, confusingly.)
Cas: We let Lucifer out of the cage…he’s never stopped being our responsibility.
Still cringing. If I had to try to make sense of this, it might be that Cas feels guilty about his ill-conceived decision that ended up letting Lucifer out of the cage, hence his repeated use of “we” and “our” to rationalize some of that guilt. And I’m glad he feels like he should take responsibility, but this was all in the service of convincing Sam, so it still didn’t sit well. Telling a trauma survivor that the perpetrator is his responsibility just makes me queasy.
(I’m well aware that I’m looking at this through the lens of a psychologist, and that’s probably not what they’re going for here, but I can’t help it! I like to take the show apart with that lens, and honestly it stands up to scrutiny amazingly well – the writers and the actors portray very human reactions to the constant trauma the characters endure. Sometimes that lens makes everything harder to watch, though.)
Sam, luckily, is a million times stronger and braver than me or practically anyone who exists in real life, because he ends up seeing Castiel’s argument for what it is – an attempt to do the right thing – and agreeing with Cas and Dean.
Sam: It’s our only choice.
Dean expresses his pervasive pessimism that they’ll have time to find Jack and Mary anyway, and then Sam Winchester and his big brain start thinking…
Sam: Wait a second…
Have I ever told you guys how much I love Sam Winchester? Or how Jared Padalecki plays him? Well, keep reading because I’m going to keep doing it. And some love to Robert Berens too, for letting Sam be the one to figure this out.
The trio return to the library and find a disheveled Gabriel and Rowena trying to pretend they weren’t just getting it on, and once again everyone’s comedic skills are top notch. (I especially loved Castiel just looking at his feet awkwardly).
Dean: Uh, Sam has a plan…
Damn right he does. Because Sam Winchester is smart and brave and has lived through more than most people could imagine in their wildest nightmares and yet he still has so much empathy….I said I would keep telling you about Sam Winchester.
Cut to Lucifer drowning his sorrows in a bar and actually sounding like he’s given up, with Cat’s Cradle playing in the background, because PERFECT. An iconic song about bad parenting!
Lucifer: Nothing matters….except my son.
He says he can’t sense his son anymore, so nothing matters. Turns out the seemingly sympathetic bartender is really Gabriel, and he’s roofied Lucifer, who can barely stay on his feet.
Lucifer: But I killed you!
He turns around, and there’s Rowena.
Lucifer: I killed you too!
Honestly, it did my soul good to see Gabriel and Rowena get one over on Lucifer for a change. He doesn’t fight them much, tells them to go ahead and put him out of his misery. Instead, they bring him back to the bunker where he’s bound with Rowena’s spell and Castiel slices his throat to extract his grace – but not all at once. Sam’s brilliant plan is to let it drip out of him slowly so that it keeps the rift open. Love me some Smart!Sam.
Lucifer accuses them of being out for revenge and his humiliation.
Sam: Humiliation, revenge, those are just bonuses.
Ah, that moment felt so GOOD! I so want to see Sam get his revenge, more than I want to see anyone else. It’s Sam who has suffered so incredibly and who rarely gets a chance – or even looks for a chance – to get back at the one who abused him.
The foursome go through the rift, leaving Rowena to babysit Lucifer.
Me: What could possibly go wrong…
They tumble through the rift, and we’re still in humorous sexual innuendo territory because Gabriel lands with his face in Castiel’s crotch – and stays there for a few awkward moments, while Dean and Sam’s eyebrows go up. Cas looks thoroughly nonplussed, which was a nice comedic touch, and Gabriel is totally flustered once again.
And so they set off for Dayton, through a forest that doesn’t look much like Kentucky but oh well.
Fun fact: I was originally going to watch filming the day they filmed in the forest, but it turned out to be the rainiest day they’ve ever had filming the show. Jared texted me some photos of cast and crew huddled under umbrellas and looking like they were standing in mud and getting soaked, and yes I am a wuss because nope. Jensen Ackles said later that they’d had to actually stop filming for a while, the rain was so bad. And when I got a chance to watch filming the next day (after the sun came out…), the crew was still talking about it being the worst weather they’ve ever had to endure. (One of my rare good decisions, apparently).
Cas fills Gabriel in on the sad state of Heaven, and suggests that maybe Gabriel can take over. Gabriel protests that he’s just a screw up, but Cas points out that the non-screw-ups have, well, screwed up, so maybe he’s what they need. I wonder if that’s setting something up for next season?
Sam and Dean get ONE brief moment of satisfaction, where they get to observe that they’re feeling lighter and more hopeful. Sam, his optimism and resilience intact, says that it’s because they finally feel like they’re getting close. After all these months, they’re finally almost to Mary and Jack. Oh, Sam.
They save some young woman named Maggie and her friend, the only survivors of vampires who are running rampant and out of control, apparently starved and turned into “pure appetite”. Oh dear. The vampires are in a tunnel that’s of course the fastest way to get to Jack and Mary.
Sam takes charge (mmm) and says that they’re not taking the long (safe) way around.
Sam: We don’t have time for a detour. We’re going through that tunnel.
Dean likes it when Sam takes control, so he – and everyone else – just fall in line. In they go to the tunnel.
Meanwhile, Lucifer is taunting Rowena. He tries to make her mad by insinuating that the boys left her behind because she’s the only woman. He tries singing an awful version of Camptown Races again and again. Seriously, doesn’t Rowena know a spell to shut him up? Or have something handy to gag him with? Surely she realizes how dangerous it is to let him talk! One of the things I love about Rowena is her intelligence – she hasn’t survived 300 years by not being smart. So not gagging Lucifer in some way, shape or form just didn’t seem like Rowena.
Rowena does know that Lucifer’s trying to get a rise out of her and tells him that she won’t fall for it – except she does. Because Lucifer is smart, and he knows that the one thing that will really get to her is making her relive her trauma at his hands. I will hand it to Berens, he understands trauma. Rowena has clearly been re-experiencing her torture and death, and so Lucifer reminds her – in detail. That’s how people are tormented by their traumatic memories; they come back so real it’s like you’re back there all over again, every sensation and taste and sound and smell reappearing. And so many trauma survivors can’t shake the feeling that they should have done something, they should have been able to fight their attacker off, even when that’s absolutely not true. So Lucifer uses that too.
Lucifer: I wanted a little fight from you…but you froze. You choked. So I choked you… what was that like, burning to death? I can’t get that smell outta my nose…
It works. Rowena breaks, has to torment him back by telling him where Jack is.
Rowena: A family reunion is happening with your son, Jack. He’ll be so glad to see his three fathers…
Me: No no no no no!
Lucifer, as we’ve seen before, is strengthened by his rage. He breaks free and attacks Rowena, choking her again. She manages to throw him off, but he falls right through the rift and disappears. With a renewed sense of purpose – finding his son. Uh oh.
Rowena (channeling her son): Bollocks.
She tries to revert to her selfish old self and just leave, but finds she can’t do it. Rowena really has changed. It’s not just for show – even when there’s no one there to see, she cares now.
Meanwhile, back in the AU, the boys arm themselves with Glo sticks and flashlights and head into the tunnel. It’s dark as hell in there, so we can’t see anything clearly, and it’s also creepy as hell. We see flashes of vampires lying in wait, silhouetted in the dark but recognizable from their pointy ears, just stalking our heroes. As the boys’ flashlights comb over the cave, they find a vampire eating one of Maggie’s former traveling companions, which Sam kills. Dean also takes one out who’s attacking Maggie and her friend, so we get a bit of badass Winchesters. They find a blocked passage, and Gabriel and Castiel get busy moving rocks.
Fun fact: The glo sticks were a brilliant idea to provide some light in the pitch dark cave, rather than try to add lights to a place that clearly wouldn’t have any. I was at first quite confused as to why the actors were wearing them, though – had they all been to a very tame rave the night before? It was really cool to see how director Phil Sgriccia and director of photography Serge Ladouceur worked to make sure the actors’ flashlights did the bulk of the lighting inside the cave – which is no mean feat! The cave itself was amazing. One of the reasons this Show kicks ass season after season is because of the care they put into every aspect of making the show. They built an entire cave in a giant abandoned warehouse, so that it looked and felt very real – and very creepy. Cobwebs that felt disturbingly real, dripping water and a yucky looking pond, passages that led to pitch darkness. Oh, and giant rocks for Misha and Richard to move which were of course lightweight.
Gabriel and Cas start moving the rocks, and of course, that’s when the vampires attack.
Dean gets pinned to the wall by a vamp, and as he struggles, Sam takes on the other vampires across the cave.
Sam: I got it, I got it.
He does – and then he doesn’t.
There’s a fight scene as Sam takes on some of the vampires, and Dean fights off some more. It was a tremendous privilege to watch Jared Padalecki and stunt coordinator Rob Hayter rehearse this scene. What struck me the most was how seamlessly they worked together and how quickly Jared mastered the moves the sequence required. He’s a tall guy, and he’s fighting while wearing Sam’s backpack, but yet he’s so graceful! I know they all get to do fight scenes a fair amount, but it seems to have paid off in them being very facile with the physicality of those moves.
On lunch break, Jared showed me some of the training videos that Rob makes for them so they can really understand the fights, which was so cool to see. Again, it’s those things, the way they all care so much about this show, which makes such a difference.
Rehearsal over, it was back into the tunnel to film, and back to the episode itself.
Just as Sam thinks he’s got it under control, two vampires come from behind and get him by both arms and take him by surprise, dragging him down. It happens so fast, one second I was sure Sam was gonna prevail and then suddenly then one leans in — and savages his throat! The camera is on Dean’s face as he sees Sam go down, his expression one of absolute horror.
From across the tunnel, Sam’s eyes find Dean’s, and he yells back.
The vampire bites – or rather tears – Sam’s throat, and we (and Dean) see the arterial blood spurting out of him, and it’s CLEAR what’s happening. Dean lets out an agonized scream of “Sam!”
And Sam, gasping and already fading, manages one last weakly voiced, “Dean.”
It’s his last word. His last word was Dean. Because, of course, it was.
Part 2 of Lynn’s inside look at Supernatural Beat the Devil continues here.