Full disclosure: I saw the Supernatural season premiere episode for the first time two weeks ago at the Entertainment Weekly sneak peek screening in New York City. But somehow I was still entirely caught up in the excitement of Thursday as premiere day – there’s something energizing about an entire fandom all over the world all online and watching in some way, shape or form and all bouncing from anticipation! At the EW event, I got to watch the episode with Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, and Danneel Ackles, which was an amazing experience. None of them had seen the episode either, so I got to see them react at the same time as I was reacting – and at times got to see them react to the fans in the room reacting to them. It’s French Mistake levels of meta!
That experience colored my rewatch, and only made it better. There were things that didn’t 100% work for me in the episode, what those were largely overshadowed by the things that very much did. I’ve been waiting two weeks to be able to talk about the episode, so here goes!
The recap reminds us that last season saw Dean Winchester expressing a rare optimism about being able to actually rid the world of bad stuff – a tiny bit of hope that maybe they really could create a better world. That idea gets an entirely different spin in Season 14, beginning with the premiere. Meanwhile, recap music is blasting as we review all the incredible things that happened last season.
Me as the recap of the Road So Far plays: MY SHOW IS SO EFFING BADASS!!!
Supernatural is also creative; the opening music bleeds into a song on the Impala’s radio, and a bearded stern-faced Sam Winchester turns it off. Nice touch, and it immediately lets us know that Sam Winchester is not in fact okay. So does Jared’s face – the actor doesn’t need any dialogue to show us just how upset and how driven Sam Winchester is right now. (Make no mistake, I’d LOVE for him to have more dialogue that also shows us that though!)
Just the fact that Sam is alone driving the Impala was incredibly painful to see – I miss Dean Winchester like a missing limb.
We jump from Jared to Jensen, but not to Dean from Sam. Instead it’s Michael, interrupting a holy man’s prayers. This is the scene we saw at Comic-Con many months ago, so it’s a familiar one, but no less chilling for its familiarity. Ackles invests Michael with so much quiet, understated menace, it gives you goosebumps. He’s soft-spoken, the cadence of his speech slower than Dean’s, more deliberate. He pronounces every consonant because he’s in no hurry; he’s an all-powerful being, so he has all the time in the world. All those conscious choices make Michael an entirely new character even as he’s played by one of the lead actors we know and love.
When I talked to Jensen about this scene at Comic-Con, he said he keenly aware of the responsibility of getting the Arabic dialogue exactly right, and that even though they had a coach for him, he struggled mightily to get it down – and was still worried. Seems like he mastered it eventually, though – as Ruth Connell quipped on twitter, what doesn’t he do perfectly!?
Michael’s question for all the beings he encounters in this world is the same: What do you want?
He seems to loathe lying or hypocrisy and is well aware when someone is kidding themselves or trying to BS an Archangel. And if that’s the case? Apparently, that being is not worth saving. Ouch.
As for what Michael wants? He eerily echoes Dean Winchester’s desire last season: A better world.
Pretty sure this is not what Dean Winchester had in mind, however. [And no, it is never far from my mind that Dean is IN THERE witnessing the violence and helpless to stop it and that must be the worst kind of torture for him.]
Sam, meanwhile, returns to the bunker, where a bunch of AU hunters have settled in and are carrying on as hunters do. I’m not sure why they’ve decided to incorporate AU resident Maggie into this new season, but she serves as a reality check and a bit of comic relief in this episode. Pulling a giant claw out of another hunter’s back, she states the obvious: “So so gross.”
Mary is depicted as both a badass hunter and as invested in being a mother to Sam in this episode, the latter a role that hasn’t always come through well for me.
When Sam comes back, her relief that he’s okay is evident, her hug genuine and warm. I’ve struggled with the character of Mary a lot since she’s been back, but Samantha Smith did a good job of letting those more maternal qualities come through in this episode. I felt relieved for Sam, because god knows with his brother gone, he sure as hell needs his mother, even as a grown ass man. (And oh my, is he ever a grown ass man in this episode!)
Let’s take a brief shallow detour and talk about Sam’s facial hair, dubbed the “grief beard.” I don’t even usually like beards, but even I have to say that scruffy determined badass Sam Winchester is SO working for me! Jensen told the story of how Jared got to have a beard at Comic-Con, and he told it again at the EW screening.
Jared: Sam’s got more important things on his mind than shaving.
Jensen: Are you not gonna give me credit?
Jared: Okay, Jensen called and was like hey I tried to have a beard this season and they wouldn’t let me – you should try too, the whole grief thing…
Jensen: And then he was like oh, oh yeah! I should totally do that!
Great idea, boys – the fandom thanks you.
Jared once again shows us so much of Sam’s emotional state with only a little dialogue to work with in this scene. Mary hugs him and asks how it went, and he replies with resignation “It was a bust.” You can see the toll this is taking on him, three weeks of following any and every lead to try to find Dean and nothing working out.
Mary tries to reassure him.
Mary: We’re gonna find him. Something will break, it has to.
But Sam is clearly skating close to falling into despair and can’t hear her optimism.
Sam: Yeah, you keep saying that.
Oh Sam, my heart breaks for you. Mary tries to get him to rest, which is that mothering I liked seeing. Of course, Sam insists he’s good – neither Mary nor anyone watching the episode believes him.
This whole scene was very interesting, because it provided a lot of information in a not-at-all-clunky way. (I have to thank writer Andrew Dabb for that). The biggest takeaway from this scene is just how much of a leadership role Sam has settled into. Another hunter greets him with a “Hey, Chief” and it seems like their normal. Sam gives orders, and the other hunters say “yes sir.”
And can I just say that bearded Sam and his broad broad shoulders giving orders and commanding respect and being empathic at the same time is just about the hottest thing ever??? He is clearly a good leader, with everything that entails. I almost felt proud of him, Sammy all grown up and taking charge and doing it so well. Dean would be proud. And that thought right there? Made me want to reach for the tissues. Dean would be proud – and Dean is not there.
I’m suddenly missing him like crazy. This feeling will continue throughout the episode.
Another dynamic that’s playing out in the bunker is Jack trying to come to terms with being human and without powers. Bobby spars with him in the bunker’s gym (where I suddenly picture lots of Winchester workouts…) and is very much the wise father figure that non-AU Bobby always was. I know this isn’t “our” Bobby, but it feels good to have his presence back on my show and I’m so pleased to have Jim Beaver back too. Alex Calvert continues to do a bang-up job of portraying Jack’s emotional struggle to come to terms with being more or less human; he’s so damn earnest, you can’t help but root for him.
So what is Castiel up to while everyone else is at the bunker? He’s meeting with a demon, which is never a good idea. The demon’s name is Kip, and he seems as surprised as I am that Cas asked to meet with him. Cas, for his part, is 1000% done from the moment Kip opens his mouth. He’s a snarky, oddly flirty, Crowley-wannabe and Cas has no time for his blah blah blah blah. His attempt to goad Cas with insinuations about the nature of his and Dean’s relationship meets with more of Castiel’s 1000% done face.
Kip: You lost a Winchester? I thought you and Dean were joined at the….everything…
That was Castiel’s reaction. As far as fandom’s reactions, that was met with either glee or groans depending on what side of the fence you’re on.
This scene confused me, because while I understand Cas being desperate to find Dean and thus willing to make some bad decisions in trying to do so, I have no clue why he didn’t know that the entire restaurant was populated by demons. Angels can see demons’ true form, right? So why did he not know he was walking into a trap? (I mean, one could ask why he didn’t know anyway, because when would a demon NOT set it up as a trap??) But Castiel seems very confident that he can take out this demon.
Sure enough, in a surprise to no one but Cas, the horde of demons attack poor Castiel and beat him to a pulp. Ouch.
And here another odd thing happened. One of the big reveals in this episode was that Mark Pellegrino is still on the show, back not as Lucifer (maybe) but as his vessel, Nick. That reveal happened in a great scene that builds up the tension with Sam walking into a dark room and seeing a figure from the back, and then Pellegrino slowly turning to reveal it’s him. When we saw that scene in the EW screening, there were loud gasps and groans from the entire audience – that was one of the times that Jared burst into guffaws of laughter when he heard our reaction.
But during the live broadcast, at this point in the show (before that reveal had occurred), the CW played a commercial for the new Halloween film. It starts out with Sam Winchesters talking to – Mark Pellegrino! And it’s clearly a new scene, so it effectively spoils the reveal and confuses the hell out of everyone watching. Of course, those of us who had already seen the episode knew it was a scene coming up that hadn’t aired yet – which made it a terrible idea to place that advertisement right there.
I mean, funny ad – Sam asks “You still don’t remember? What about Michael?” and that launches into Halloween’s version of Michael. But why there????
Back to the show, and Michael confronts Sister Jo. This scene is interesting for a few reasons. One, because it gives us some insight into what Michael is doing and it crosses the angels off his list as possible allies.
Two, we see an angel’s “true form.” Jo knows who he is and can see his true form, which was quite beautiful and nicely done VFX. However, isn’t it canon that angels’ and archangels’ true forms are a lot more fearsome than what Jo sees? Something with two heads and less humanoid or as big as the Chrysler building??
Anyway, Jo also knows that Dean must have said yes.
Jo: Why would he say yes to you?
Michael knows Dean, so he knows the answer.
Jo scoffs, saying “how Hallmark,” but he’s telling the truth. Winchesters would pretty much do anything to save each other, because that’s what love’s about, and that’s one of my favorite things about this show.
Michael also knows what Dean knows about Jo, so he doesn’t believe her when she tries to be flippant with her answer to what she wants. He knows it’s not Dior or Chanel or “pretty things” (does it give anyone else shivers when Michael pronounces every single consonant so deliberately?? Just me?) No, it’s love and family and feeling like she belongs.
I thought that was interesting too, because for the few angels that we’ve gotten to know, that is indeed what they want. It’s very important to Castiel, what he wants more than anything. It’s why he values his relationship with the Winchesters so much, because he doesn’t belong anywhere else and has lost his whole family – they are his family now. It’s equally important to Jack, who is struggling with where he belongs and who loves him and where he fits. Jo is the same, apparently.
Michael, of course, sees that longing as a weakness and seems to decide that angels aren’t worth his time, apparently judging all of them by Jo.
And three, this scene was interesting because it was Jensen and Danneel Ackles, real-life husband and wife, facing off. Ackles has chemistry with lots of people, and he certainly has it with his own wife, which made the fact that Michael’s caress of Jo’s face came off as creepy instead of tender pretty impressive. Both Dean and Jensen disappear when Ackles is Michael, passing the real test of even when he’s acting opposite his own wife! Danneel also can pull this off, conveying nothing but the fear that Jo buries underneath bravado.
Back at the bunker, Sam gets to be the dad as well as the leader when he goes to check on Jack. One of the things I love about Sam Winchester – and have always loved about him – is his capacity for empathy. He shows that here, telling Jack that he knows how hard it must be for him now, with no powers.
Sam: I believe in you, Jack.
They aren’t hollow words either. When it comes time to fight, Sam lets Jack participate, knowing he needs it.
Sam and Jack’s heart-to-heart is interrupted by Mary, who tells Sam ominously, “He’s awake.”
As soon as Mary said “I can’t even look at him,” I knew it had to be Lucifer – well, I was close. That great scene unfolds, Sam steeling himself in the hallway, then swallowing and turning on the light and entering the room where the shadowy figure sits facing away from him.
When he turns, and it is indeed Mark Pellegrino. Sam’s “Hi Nick” explains what has happened perfectly.
This scene is a masterpiece of acting by Jared once again, showing us in subtle shifts of expression and posture just how uncomfortable Sam is around Nick and how hard he’s trying to get past it. Being face to face with the face of the person who traumatized you is the very definition of re-experiencing and triggering PTSD, but Sam shoulders on. He dabs the peroxide on Nick’s healing wound (perhaps not entirely feeling bad at his hiss of pain) and as Nick is looking down, Sam stares hard at him, the horror that’s still there showing on his face only when he knows that Nick won’t see it. That’s a brilliant piece of acting! He doesn’t really relax until he leaves the room, letting out a sigh of relief as he closes the door.
Mark Pellegrino did a good job of making Nick seem very different from Lucifer (the challenge of a lot of people on this show!) and yet I don’t trust this not to be Lucifer anyway. Somehow. I was also a bit “Huh?” about the archangel blades only kill the archangel inside new bit of canon. Since when? So is Gabriel’s vessel still alive out there somewhere? Hmm.
Here Castiel’s and Sam’s storylines for this episode intersect, as Kip calls Sam and tells him gleefully “I’m the boy who’s got your angel.”
Me: OMG Sam Winchester and the terrible horrible no good very bad day…
Sam once again shows his empathic but no-nonsense leadership style, allowing Jack to come on the rescue mission – and nobody questions Sam’s leadership for a second.
Meanwhile, I really felt for Cas. Even beaten up and tied to a chair, he is so done with Kip, who taunts him by saying all he’s good for is being bait. We learn that Michael has apparently also been to demons to ask what they want, which is what sent Kip on his quest to fill the power gap left in Hell by Crowley’s death.
On the way to the fight, we get a little talk between Bobby and Jack, and another between Mary and Sam. This little quiet scene with Mary and Sam in the Impala was one of my favorite moments of the episode. Once again, so much is conveyed with only a little bit of dialogue. Mary continues to try to tell Sam that “it will be fine” and Sam finally lashes out.
Sam: Stop saying that, please! You don’t know that! Dean’s gone, and we have no idea where he is or if he’s still alive. Michael could have burned him out…or worse.
Oh, Sam. He finally gives voice to his worst nightmare, what he must be tormented with every second of every day and night. Sam really is on the verge of giving up hope, and that’s heartbreaking.
Mary’s coping strategies are different, and for once we get to hear her articulate her thoughts and explain her coping mechanisms – I’m so grateful for that!
Mary: I know. I know he’s out there, scared and alone…
Mary: I know he might never come back. Never think I don’t know that. But I can’t – I have to think about the good, Sam, or I’ll drown in the bad. And for Dean’s sake, I – we – can’t do that.
In her own way, by sharing how she’s coping and why, Mary helps shore up Sam’s hope and determination. I loved this quiet little scene with its important revelations, and Samantha and Jared nailed it.
The fight scene in this episode was undeniably epic. Everything about it, from Sam handing Mary the knife and going in alone like the badass brave man he is, to the verbal confrontation with Kip, to the very physical one that followed. Epic.
Kip seems to vacillate wildly between appreciating (or perhaps lusting after) Sam and wanting to tear his heart out and possibly eat him. Like, literally. I can certainly understand the first impulse.
Kip: The great Sam Winchester! I’ve heard so much about you. A damn legend. The shoulders, the hair… mm mm mm, you’re my Beyonce!
I might not have put it that way, but I do get where you’re coming from, Kip.
Cas: I’m more embarrassed than hurt.
Me: Poor Cas.
Kip monologues a while, all bluster and tales of being a killer alongside Genghis Khan and eating babies, and finishes with reminding Sam that Crowley’s dead and Asmodeus is Kentucky fried (nice nod to fandom’s nickname for the character) so therefore Hell is without a King. Oh, and he calls Sam a barbarian, which….mmm.
Sam: (without a hint of a flinch) You’re no Crowley.
Entire fandom: Nobody is Crowley but Crowley!
Kip: I’m not afraid of you – but they are. So take the deal.
When I saw that scene the first time, in a room full of fans and Jared and Jensen, I think I screamed because GODDAMN SAM FUCKING WINCHESTER!
Then the epic fight itself happened, with demons running sideways up walls, slow-motion shootings, and knife tosses, badass Mary, Maggie coming through to “stab ‘em with the pointy end,” and Jack trying his damnedest to stop Bobby from being pummeled to death. Rob Hayter (who choreographs the fight scenes), you are amazing.
The choreography of that fight was so complex and played out so beautifully, right down to Sam pinned and taking a beating. You can feel every punch, because Jared lets you see the impact of each blow – it reminded me of “Red Meat,” when again Padalecki’s acting made me feel everything so acutely and painfully.
Then, when all seems lost, Sam grabs hold of that determination to save the day, and with one last burst of adrenaline, he grabs the knife and stabs Kip with the demon blade.
Sam, bloody but 100% in control, staggers to his feet and addresses the demons.
Sam: Enough! There will be no new king of Hell. Not today. Not ever. If anyone wants the job, you can come through me, understand?
Demons: All smoke out
Sam: That’s what I thought.
More applause – ALL the applause, because holy hell, Sam Fucking Winchester! And Jared, you effing killed it. Owned that part and that scene 10000%.
We return to the bunker in the aftermath, Sam holding a cold beer to his temple presumably where he got knocked on the head. Cas comes in, still as bloody and beaten up as he has been all episode. In fact, he hasn’t even bothered to wipe the blood from his chin where it trickled down! I’ll get to that, but I like this, another quiet scene that carried a lot of meaning.
Cas: Are you all right?
Sam: Been better. You?
Cas apologizes for trying to make a deal with the demon, but Sam stops him.
Sam: No, I don’t blame you. If it might find Dean, I’d work with – I’d do anything.
It’s a small scene, but I like that they’re honest with each other. They are both on the same team, possibly more than ever before, because all that matters is saving Dean. I like that neither tries to bullshit the other, that both are able to show a little vulnerability.
For an episode with so many action sequences, there was a surprising amount of emotionally rich scenes too – thank you for that, Andrew Dabb. It’s what keeps me watching.
Side note: In the Q & A that followed the EW screening, Jensen Ackles commented hilariously on this scene, and on Sam holding the cold beer to his head.
Jensen: When you’re there with the thing on your eye, that may be my favorite part. Cas sits down and he’s just like hammered and there’s nothing on your face! And meanwhile, you’re like ahhhhh. You’ve got someone sitting across form you who looks like he just went through a meat grinder…
Jared: (mock protesting) He’s an angel!
Jensen: Can I take a guess about what happened? They asked you in makeup, you want some bruising, a cut here? And you say no. Misha hasn’t figured that out yet!
They both laughed – and it’s true, Sam’s face looks fine while Castiel looks like he’s been through hell. Another quibble while we’re discussing this – why can’t Cas heal himself?? Why does he seem to have no powers at all?? It’s been hours and he’s not healed at all, and he isn’t able to heal Bobby or Jack or anyone else either? Why??? He literally had to sit there tied to a chair while this epic fight waged all around him, unable to even free himself. I don’t get it – is this canon fail or am I missing something?
After that quiet little scene with Cas and Sam, Mary and Bobby begin their flirtation in the afterglow of the fight success.
Cas also pays a visit to Jack, who is regarding himself in the mirror and looking like he’s overcome with self-loathing.
Cas: You did well.
Jack: All I did was get punched in the face!
Cas: Well, to be fair, we all got punched in the face.
I laughed out loud at Misha’s priceless delivery there, though Jack did not.
Cas, of all people, can understand how difficult it is to suddenly not have powers, so he empathizes with Jack and encourages him not to give up. Once again, the theme of not knowing where you belong and not feeling useful comes up, as Jack says that he’s useless, can’t do anything, doesn’t have anything.
Cas: Oh Jack, that’s just not true. You’ve got me. You’ve got all of us. You have your family.
Meanwhile, Sam’s phone rings. It’s Sister Jo. Sam, we’ve got a problem. I’ll say!
Michael: You know exactly what you want. You don’t pretend to want to help people or save the world. You just want to eat.
A bound vampire (a very pretty one at that) bares his fangs in agreement.
At the EW event, Jensen talked about the significance of Michael’s plan – he’s essentially going to try to create a ‘super army,’ so all the lore that the Winchesters have amassed on how to fight monsters, even what’s in their dad’s journal, will be useless.
I kinda like the sound of that though, because my favorite episodes are often the Monster of the Week type, which hearkens back to the show’s early days. Having more of those monsters and fiercer ones will be a new challenge, and one I think could be more interesting than angel or demon conflict, which we’ve had a lot of.
The other thing that was intriguing about this episode was Sam’s proclamation that there would be no new king of hell, and that anyone who tried would have to come through him. After the early seasons and the prophecy that Sam might, in fact, be the “boy king of hell,” there was a glorious amount of fanfiction that explored what that would be like. Canon just slid a little closer to that, and while I doubt they’ll keep sliding, it was extra exciting to see Sam take that stance and scare the crap out of those demons, a dangerous smile through the blood on his teeth. Shivers, I tell you.
I told Jensen that I missed Dean like I’d lost a limb, and that meant that he is doing an unbelievable job of being a completely different character. Dean is nowhere on my screen, and I’m grieving him, right along with all the characters trying to find him. I wonder where we’re heading from here. A Sam versus Michael showdown perhaps? I had some quibbles about this episode and still have some lingering confusion, but if that’s what we have to look forward to – I am SO on board! Bring it, Season 14!