The episode is interestingly structured and cuts between three story lines, following Sam’s (Jared Padalecki) internal dialogue, Dean’s (Jensen Ackles) quest to save his brother, and Cas (Misha Collins) discovering what it’s like to be human. Because we got some of each of their stories, the episode seemed to move along quite quickly. The new season nine title card with wings on fire is one of the best yet and will take its place as the header to this season's reviews as soon as a good version appears on line!
Sam’s inner dialogue saw a number of favorite characters make an appearance, ostensibly as different facets of Sam’s own personality. Trying to understand Sam’s explanation to Dean about who Dean really was was like trying to understand Schrodinger’s cat. However, it made perfect sense for Dean to be the one telling Sam to fight and Bobby (Jim Beaver) telling Sam that he’d done enough and had earned a rest. I made no secret of the fact that I hated the storyline that had Bobby NOT going when his time was up and letting himself be turned into a vengeful spirit – which Bobby, of all people, would know was inevitable. I wasn’t a lot happier last season when Bobby kept trying to get Sam to bring him back in “Taxi Driver.” So this was finally, the Bobby that I had come to know and love, giving Sam sensible advice. Bobby telling Sam that Sam’s dying was “leaving a legacy” was a nice shout out to the Men of Letters and Henry Winchester telling them that they were legacies. I think it demonstrates the real importance being one of the Men of Letters has for Sam. The scene in the Impala was vintage Dean, Sam, and Bobby, especially Bobby’s “This is awkward,” when they all end up in the front seat.
It was fabulous to see the amazing Julian Richings back as Death. It felt right that he would honor the Winchesters at this point by coming to reap them in person. Here again, the scene in which Sam asks Death to promise to make this time final is both heartbreaking and satisfying. It may be my all time favorite scene with Padalecki to date. I love this Sam. He’s weighed the pros and cons, and he wants to avoid all the grief that deals bring them every time. Of course, in the end, Dean has already fallen back into old patterns.
Really, saving Sam is the only pattern Dean knows, so naturally when Cas doesn’t answer his call quickly enough, he places himself in mortal danger by calling all the angels. Ackles delivers what I would argue is his best performance in two years in the scene in the Chapel. Fantastic acting. Of course, for his pains, Dean literally ends up in pain as he’s beaten up twice in quick succession. The gag with Crowley in the trunk was hilarious. Anybody else also love it when Dean tells the grief counselor that he's got the King of Hell in his trunk, and she asks if it's a metaphor? It was nice to see Dean using the banishing sigil again.
We meet new angel Ezekiel (Tahmoh Penikett). It remains to be seen whether he is, in fact, the compassionate angel he professes to be. It really wasn’t clear why he was so weakened, and I’m curious as to how he’s going to end up back in the Penikett vessel. Were both Hael and Ezekiel burning through their vessels the way Lucifer burned through his because they are higher level angels or because they are actually creatures of wrath. It was also another nice touchstone with past canon to have Dean put Ezekiel in the ring of holy fire. I’m hoping that the angel is telling the truth when he says that some of the angels still believe in their mission, Castiel, and the Winchesters. If there aren’t a few angels on their side, this could be a short season! Having Dean ward the room with all those sigils done from memory was a subtle way of reminding us that Dean is also a Man of Letters. It felt right that Dean would resist letting Ezekiel possess Sam. It’s clearly not going to be a good day when Sam finds out about this as he is inevitably going to. Dean’s plea to Sam that “there ain’t no me, if there ain’t no you,” may be the truest thing he’s ever said to his brother – and really describes the show! I did have to wonder why Dean didn’t try to go back to Crowley again, but in the end, it would still have been a deal and making one with an angel, even an unknown, is probably less stupid than making a deal with the king of Hell.
Carver has been criticized for playing fast and loose with canon, and I think there were a number of shout outs to the past in this episode that demonstrate that he has, in fact, done his homework, and I hope are an indication that he’s planning to honor that past going forward. Did anyone catch the name of the doctor? Did he remind anyone else of Jim Codrington who played the doctor in “Faith” in season one? Dean sitting by Sam’s bed certainly seemed to parallel Sam sitting by Dean’s in season two’s “In My Time of Dying.” And finally, Sam telling Dean at the end of the episode that they have “work to do” echoes his words to Dean at the end of the “Pilot” and “All Hell Breaks Loose Part II” and provides a nice segue into the next big chapter in their lives.
Cas, meanwhile, is experiencing his own transformation. He is still sticking out like a sore thumb, but manages to at least attract the kindness of a truck driver on the highway. He’s really still just Cas, but now without any way to defend himself. It was a nice shout out to The X-Files when Dean told Cas to “trust no one.” Dean does seem to have gotten past his anger at Cas and tried to get him just to come to the Bunker so that he can protect him. Cas, being Cas, is still feeling guilty about the angels being thrown out of heaven and fills in the blanks for Dean about Metatron. He tries to help Hael, but she is super creepy and simply wants to possess him. I thought the woman who played her was excellent and the casting was excellent as well as her dark hair and blue, blue eyes were a very close match for Collins. Her wanting to go to the Grand Canyon was also a funny shout out to the fans who were so incensed last season when Sam suggested that he and Dean had visited the Grand Canyon as kids, when Dean had clearly stated in season three that he wanted to see the Grand Canyon before he died because he hadn’t yet.
The final scenes of the episode were powerful. Dean is talking to Ezekiel in Sam’s body. Padalecki has said repeatedly that he likes to play different characters so this should provide him with an interesting break from “Sam.” I’ll be interested to see how he differentiates this version from Lucifer, in particular. Presumably no demon blood will need to be consumed at the very least. Dean is very reluctant to lie to Sam, but is convinced to do so as in Sam’s best interests. This just has to come back and bite Dean in the butt. I’m sure I’m not the only one to realize that getting Sam to evict this guy is going to be very difficult. Dean uses his usual humor to deflect Sam’s questions, which will no doubt become more probing as time goes on. I did find it very curious that Sam didn’t once ask Dean what had happened to the side of his face...
We finally see Cas succumb to his human needs and he has to sacrifice washing his clothes for buying water. I do believe I heard the collective gasp when Cas abandoned his iconic raincoat in that Laundromat. I believe I heard Collins’ whoops of joy earlier in the summer! No doubt when Cas’s grace is eventually restored, we will once again see him in his trench coat.
What did you think of the premiere? Do you miss Cas’s raincoat already? Should Dean have made the deal? Should Sam have fought harder? How about that new title card?! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.