(*yikes* this got long. Sorry).
That was a… difficult...episode.
I came off the ep wondering what on earth I just watched. Then I remember that this is what Supernatural does and I really shouldn’t be that surprised. In fact, I probably should be celebrating. But not so much this time.
The main problem, for me, was how messy and seemingly disjointed it was. It also felt like it was trying to be everything to everybody. There were moments that I thought worked really well and then moments that either didn’t make sense or were just plain awkward. Mostly it felt like a mix of fan service, fan/writer acknowledgement and some story telling (though pretty light on the story telling – rather ironically).
I usually love Robbie Thompson’s episodes. They are often fresh, well constructed and interesting (Slash Fiction, Time After Time, The Girl with the D&D Tattoo and Pac-Man Fever spring to mind). I felt like Robbie was channelling Ben Edlund and not quite pulling it off.
I am still trying to work out (like I seem to do a lot these days!) if it was extremely clever (and perhaps I’m missing just how clever it is) or just trying
to be clever. As I like to be as positive as I can in my reactions (I STILL WANNA LOVE THIS SHOW!) I am going to try and look at this as though it’s clever (where I can).
Starting off the episode by smashing the 4th wall was very disconcerting. Especially when it suggested that what we were about to witness may not be "real". Now, this is something that could actually be very clever. By having Metatron address us directly we are seeing how he is the “god” he wishes to be. That he’s so powerful he can remove himself from the universe he is creating to tell us all about it. We later find out that he was actually addressing Cas, so "we" were Cas for a moment also. Complicated.
But it could also be seen as condescending to fans by telling them (reminding us!) that writing is “hard” and not everyone will be happy with the outcome. That the characters and situations are there to be “interpreted” and if you are not happy with what’s being written then that’s because of the way you are interpreting them. Or that we are being given the characters and they will dictate the direction they will go in - so don't blame us!
Personally, I felt it was the latter and it’s one reason the episode made me fairly uncomfortable. I don’t particularly like being reminded that I’m an observer and that the writers are “gods” (though clearly they are when they are creating these universes). The reminders that “continuity” can sometimes be messed up and that even “retconning” is all part of the process seemed a little excusatory. It felt like we were being spoken to the whole time *shifts nervously* (I appreciate that this may have been tongue-in-cheek but it fell flat for me).
The thing that strikes me most about that episode is how little progress was made in the story. Rather ironic, considering the whole episode was about story creating. If we strip back everything in the episode and look at how the story has advanced what are we actually left with? The biggest step forward was Cas becoming a leader - the manipulation by Metatron for it to be so. Other than that what did we learn? About Dean – he’s changing (which we knew), about Sam - um…he’s pissed at Gadreel and worried about Dean (which we also knew), about Gadreel - he’s possibly getting ready to ditch Metatron (I’m sensing redemption arc here) and about Metatron - that he continues to be a douche.
Maybe simple confirmations about where the characters are at are exactly what we need at this point. Perhaps preparation for the lead up to the finale? The characters are all in place – ready to be manipulated (by Metatron) for the final outcome. Perhaps it's shoutout to the past notion of "free will". It seems their destinies are being manipulated, but in fact they are going to be the ones calling the shots.Stuff I liked
Aside from the obvious thrill of getting a shower scene from Dean, I think it had more significance. (trying to not read “fan service” here ;D). I think there’s an attempt by Dean is cleanse himself – to free himself from the burden, to wash away the dark (and dirty) guilt and shame. He did it twice in the episode and both times checked to see his reflection. Maybe it was to see if he had changed afterwards? Maybe to try and see deeper into himself – an attempt to understand what’s happening to him. This notion of cleansing was probably my favourite part of "meta" in the show.
It’s frustrating that we
don’t know what’s happening to him – but I figure we’re not supposed to yet. It makes me wonder if it’s not going to be as obvious as it seems (dark!Dean who has to fight his inner urges to killkillkill).
Initially I was concerned that Dean removed Sam’s outlet to vent his anger on Gadreel – yet again not allowing Sam to express his feelings about what he was made to do by Gadreel’s hand (and what Dean allowed to happen to him), but in hindsight I think it’s important that Sam has been able to keep that level of control - that revenge isn’t going to be (purely) part of his reaction. I’m happy for it to remain more complex than that (if indeed that's what they are doing here).
I liked that Gabriel wasn’t real. Having him return was weird (and perhaps fan service), but if they were going to do it then I’m glad it was done like this. It was making little sense that he would just turn up out of nowhere. The fact that he was being manipulated (as a manipulator himself) was a nice touch.
Gadreel is the most interesting of the angels. Let's hope they allow that to develop
I thought both Gabriel and Metatron’s performances were entertaining. They both seemed delighted to be back on the show. I enjoyed the energy and commitment they had.
I also enjoyed many of the one-liners. And Dean manhandling Sam. And the growing familiar and more comfortable relationship between Cas and the boys. And Sam's obvious worry over Dean. And the Supernatural books being used in context. And Cas recognising the Mark for what it is (though...care to share?).Other stuff
The need for this show to return characters is problematic. I get that it’s awesome for some fans, and I appreciate that, but it makes me wonder how much it burdens the story writing. If they keep bringing back “beloved” characters it lessens the effect of their deaths. It makes me wonder why they don’t just hide them away until they are needed again. It also worries me that fans are controlling who returns – which ultimately effects the way in which the story is unfolding. Maybe I only feel like this because I accept characters' deaths as part of the SPN universe and have no desire to keep seeing them return (though I’m possibly hypocritical because I loved seeing Ellen returned). *sigh* I don’t know. Perhaps I am
getting tired of it all.
The brother’s relationship continues to make little sense to me. After Sam saying they’re more like business partners than brothers he continues to be exactly opposite. I’m not complaining because I'd rather see them being brotherly, but what was the point of that if the status is essentially quo?
Though I do have a theory about that.
More and more we are getting reminders that Sam told Dean that he won’t save him (I know he actually said "No Dean, I wouldn’t. Same circumstances, I wouldn’t.”, but I think we are suppose to read that as many fans actually have – that Sam won’t save Dean). It digs deep into Dean and Gadreel used it to try and get Dean to kill him. It suggests that Sam will be put in a position to save Dean and maybe just the act
of the that will be enough to “save” Dean. After all, it’s Sam’s faith and belief in his brother that has saved Dean before.
I did worry that all the stuff Gadreel was spouting about Sam was going to be even more fodder for the Sam hate, but I think even the Sam haters are beginning to see the manipulation going on. In fact, it was rather wonderful because we KNOW that everything Gadreel said was bullshit. There’s enough canon to absolutely prove otherwise. It doesn’t mean that Dean doesn’t believe it though – in fact, he believes it absolutely. I think Gadreel was definitely tapping into Sam’s knowledge of Dean. He knows exactly what would fire him up. And Sam knowing this stuff means just that. Not that he wouldn’t trade himself in a SHOT for Dean - just that Sam knows exactly what makes his brother tick (and why he's able to say things that he knows will hurt him. Even when he doesn't mean it).
I truly wish I was more interested in the angel stuff. I am sure it’s supposed to be interesting, but it fails to capture me. Maybe because it confuses me. They have to keep making excuses for why they have no “juice” or why they can’t achieve angel type things. Same with the demons. I suppose at least Metatron told them why he was keeping them alive.
I felt Cas was the only character we really saw move forward. He accepted his leadership role. I didn’t mind that – even though I’m not really interested in it. Let’s hope he’s a competent, clever, compassionate leader and isn’t made to fail for be the “villain” again. So much rehashing of character issues I wouldn’t be surprised if this will be revisited also (god, I hope not!).
I’m not sure I’m going to enjoy Dean
mirror gazing for much longer. I get that he’s full of angst and guilt and is troubled by…well, everything, but I have to say I’d rather see that play out in action rather than long, pondering, man-pain shots (and I suppose brooding, depressed Dean isn't one of my favourite flavours of Dean - especially when it's beginning to look like self-pity. Is it? I'm not sure how to read it at the moment actually). I am now ready to see so much more from him. Is this only
going to be about him looking dark, speaking even deeper than usual and being violent? I’m hoping this Mark will bring out so much more. Maybe a new clarity? A will to fight for himself and not always for others? Realisation and acceptance that he can mess up without feeling guilty or seeking revenge on others?
I did think that Dean seeking revenge on Gadreel for what he did to Sam very interesting. I actually said to the TV "but what about what you did?" Anything to avoid thinking about that I think.
I suppose at least Sam has been allowed to get on and hunt. We did at least get to see some of his anger – and his worry. I am going to accept that as Sam having amazing coping mechanisms and he’s actually proving that he’s not “selfish” as he’s often accused of (rather than the show completely dismissing what’s happened to him). I actually believe there’s nothing Sam can do at this point that will change anything anyway. Dean is too far gone and is losing himself to the blade for him to talk to. Being angry, sad or hurt is something he doesn’t have time to wallow in. I think I might actually like that. He’s such a strong man and this demonstrates this more and more.
I think the most troubling aspect of the episodes so far is that it’s becoming clearer that Sam’s violation has been a plot device to get Dean to a position where he believes that Sam won’t save him and that he’s such a screw up that he took on the Mark. Getting Dean to that position is all well and good IF the violation is addressed at some point too. Meaning that Sam is allowed to have some sort of reaction to it (too late for that now I think) and it somehow forms part of Dean’s growth (possibly too late for that as the Mark is the all consuming storyline at the moment). It will be extraordinarily disappointing if Sam’s consistent lack of body control and choice is overlooked for the sake of Sam having to save Dean from himself. I mean, I'm ready for Sam to do some saving, but not for the sake having everything else ignored. But I’ll make that judgement call at the end of the season.
So. Clever or a mess? Fan service or a deeper look into the characters? Robbie trying to be Ben or Robbie stamping his own mark on the SPN 'verse? I suppose it depends on your reading of it. Either way I think it was mostly setting up the road to the finale. Planted seeds. Made Metatron even more douchier so that when he finally dies (which he no doubt will!) it will be even sweeter.
That closing song was extremely ominous. If they thought the sun was shining before
this episode I hate to think what it's going to be doing by the end of the season. /o\
Show continues to mess me around and I'm not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing. I suppose the fact that I wrote all this means I'm still completely invested. ;)