Right off the top, I want to have a special shout out to the visual effects team of Mark Meloche, Ryan Curtis, Derek Rein, Werner Ten Hoeve, Adam Williams, and Jason Macza and special effects Ian Korver did an amazing job on a show in which amazing effects are simply expected on a weekly basis - and on a budget that is known to be less than generous. The effects that stood out for me in no particular order were the return of Cas's wings, the light from Cas's eyes, Benny's soul entering Dean, the Leviathans, the portal from Purgatory, the demon bomb, and a thousand other things that I missed. Also on the production side, Serge Ladouceur and Jerry Wanek for lighting and set design outdid themselves again, particularly with Crowley's lair and Naomi's office. I hope that we will get more from Purgatory; if we don't, I will miss the gritty, washed out look to it. It's been a fabulous setting.
Now, on to the episode itself. One of the things that I've traditionally loved about Supernatural is that there is a payoff, and there is especially a payoff for loyal, attentive fans. There has been a lot of speculation about what happened to Chuck at the end of "Swan Song" - whether he was always God and just disappeared or whether he was truly a prophet AND a vessel for God or whether he was still alive. Certainly fans, and Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki too, have expressed interest in having Rob Benedict reprise his role as Chuck, and this episode doesn't actually preclude that from happening. We learn that there can only be one prophet at a time, but not that Chuck is definitively dead only that Cas suspects he's dead. Of all the shows on television, if one should have to adhere to the no body/no death rule, Supernatural should. It's possible that he simply ceased being a prophet. Kevin, after all, didn't become a prophet until the tablet was unearthed. So, while we didn't get a definitive answer, we did have the writers reward our patience by at least addressing the issue.
We also didn't have to wait the entire season for the return of Cas or, more importantly, for why he didn't leave Purgatory with Dean. The scenes between Ackles and Misha Collins in this episode, both on earth and in Purgatory were superlative. The amount of information that both actors, and Ackles in particular, are able to convey without any words is amazing. I think that Sam is right in his diagnosis that Dean has survivor's guilt and that's why he didn't remember what happened at the portal. Cas telling Dean that it was his choice to stay behind, that he never intended to leave with Dean but intended to stay as penance for opening Purgatory and what he did in Heaven is, of course, never going to relieve Dean of the guilt he feels in relation to Cas. I'm convinced that one of the reasons Dean was so determined to get Cas out of Purgatory in the first place is because Dean still feels guilt that he let Cas come under the influence of Crowley in the first place. Dean has told Sam repeatedly that he feels guilty for everything - this will be no different.
Mark Sheppard was his usual brilliant self as Crowley. His enjoyment in the part is infectious, even while we are horrified by what he is doing - he cut off Kevin's finger!!! This is another element that Supernatural does so well. It would be easy to stop taking Crowley seriously because he is the center of so many light-hearted or downright hilarious moments, but this comic juxtoposition just increases the horror of his actions. The torturing of Samandriel, for instance, was truly horrific. I am secretly hoping that somehow Samandriel made it out because I really liked Tyler Johnston and want to see him back again. Crowley does tell his henchman to keep Samandriel on ice as he's only scratched the surface with him.
I loved the scene with Kevin and Crowley as Kevin deciphers the tablet - Osric Chau is particularly good in any scene where he gets to showcase Kevin's smarts. Kevin explaining what a compendium is to Crowley was a nice moment. I'm curious about what Metatron means by a compendium as well. It certainly opens up what can happen going forward. Crowley indicates that there are more tablets and seems to suggest that that means there are more than simply Leviathans and demons to worry about - possibly one tablet per monster problem.
|Misha Collins and Amanda Tapping|
Of course, Castiel will likely be able to fix Kevin's missing digit. Which does bring up the issue of having an angel in the Winchester arsenal again. Does this, in essence, make the Winchesters bullet-proof? When there was the Apocalypse to worry about, Cas was still answering to a higher order, and when he was working with Crowley, he also wasn't able to be constantly at the Winchesters' disposal. But now, Naomi has charged him with working with and keeping an eye on the Winchesters. Her motives, considering she is preventing Cas from remembering her, are highly suspect. What is her end game? I don't like her because she is clearly being set up as an enemy to our heroes, but I hope we see a lot of her because I adore Amanda Tapping!
The weak link in this episode was, for me, once again Lauren Tom as Mrs. Tran. I can't warm up to Tom as an actor and Mrs Tan's hiring a witch on Craigslist is just ridiculously stupid. The actor playing the witch was likewise lacklustre. The humor in this instance didn't work for me; it felt jarring and out of place, taking me out of the action, not simply providing relief from the tension.
The episode did hold some nice moments for the Winchesters, and it was nice to see them in the hunting-groove with each other again. Sam's reciting the exorcism in the phone while Dean explained it was code was brilliant. Sam is supportive of Dean when he starts "seeing" Cas. He tells him he's likely suffering from survivor's guilt and needs to get past it. Sam also earnestly tells Dean he believes Dean did everything he could to get Cas out. I like the way they teased us, suggesting that maybe Dean didn't do everything he could. We also see that Dean is perhaps not sleeping again - a sign of unease he's exhibited in the past and possibly a manifestation of PTSD.
Dean is suspicious of how Cas got out. It seems obvious that Naomi must have had some hand in it, but what and why? She tells Cas that an incursion of angels got him out of Purgatory and the "chats" she will have with him about Sam and Dean will be his repayment. It's possible this is how the angels are going to keep track of the tablet and Kevin, but it seems strange that they wouldn't want to just take him as they wanted to before.
Kevin is now determined to get the demons. Unfortunately, even with Sam pointing out all her mistakes, Mrs Tran seems unrepentant. Also unfortunately, they are sending Kevin and his mother to Garth for safe-keeping. I'm not particularly keen to see more of either Mrs Tran or Garth. Those would be two casualties I could live with.
The end of the episode also brings us back to a very important theme in the Supernatural universe. Cas tells Dean that Dean is not responsible for everything, but Dean still feels it's his fault that Cas didn't get out of Purgatory with him. Cas tells him, "It's not about fault. It's about will." Cas exercised his free will to stay in Purgatory. It's interesting that Dean who defied God to exercise his own free will has such a hard time letting others exercise theirs. For once though, Cas is able to prove to Dean that it wasn't his fault, that Dean didn't fail his friend. It remains to be seen whether Dean will forgive himself even in the face of Cas's proof.
And finally, a little trivia. Once again, we have an actor appearing in their second episode of Supernatural: did anyone recognize one of the prophets as the florist from "A Very Supernatural Christmas"?
I'm really excited about how much this episode sets up for us going forward with the season. It's possible Kevin will be able to glean something useful from the part of the tablet he has. The brothers and Cas will be busy trying to track down Crowley and his half of the tablet. What is Naomi up to? Next week looks like it will be a stand alone episode - and hysterical. I want to finish with a quick shout out to showrunner Jeremy Carver. I'm enjoying the season very much because each episode has been good in and of itself but the pacing of the season-long mythology/storyarc has been excellent so far.
What did you think of the episode? Are the brothers going to have to look for more tablets? How much of a threat do you think Naomi is going to be? Let me know in the comments below...