Spoiler Alert: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 9, Episode 2 of The CW's "Supernatural," titled "Devil May Care."
After last week's scene-setting season opener, the second episode of "Supernatural" Season 9 put the pedal to the metal and didn't let up for the entire hour as the Winchesters attempted to navigate the treacherous new landscape they now inhabit.
That first required removing Crowley from the trunk and installing him in the Men of Letters' bunker, enabling him to snark and showboat all from the comfort of a sturdy chair in a well-warded basement. While our kinky King of Hell welcomed the prospect of torture ("what are you going to do to me that I don't do to myself just for kicks every Friday night?"), he wasn't so eager for the punishment the Winchesters actually had in store: leaving him alone to stew in his own delicious juices, listening to the voices in his head and reliving his "Girls"-inspired meltdown from last season's finale.
Sadly, Crowley can seemingly turn any situation to his advantage, and it wasn't long before he'd goaded poor, sleep-deprived Kevin into his web, baiting him until he beat the snot out of the devious demon. Crowley hinted that Kevin's mother might still be alive, and that he'd free her if Kevin freed him -- but he couldn't resist twisting the knife a little further, convincing Kevin that the Winchesters don't truly care about him and will likely discard him as soon as he stops being useful to them.
That familiar refrain, "they don't need you," has echoed through "Supernatural" since Season 1, being used against Dean by numerous enemies, and even against Castiel -- which made it even more poignant when Dean later reassured Kevin that he'll always be a part of their dysfunctional family: "If you don't think that we'd die for you, I don't know what to tell you. You, me, Sam and Cas, we're all we've got." For a guy who isn't really good with "the whole love and love" stuff, no one is better at giving a game-time pep talk than Dean, who tries to hide his emotions so zealously, but who loves more unconditionally than pretty much anyone else on television.
After seeing this episode, it's clear why Jensen Ackles told us at Comic-Con that Dean feels like he's back in the driver's seat and has a clear sense of purpose this season. Instead of second-guessing himself and Sam's commitment to the job, he's back to leading their makeshift team -- calling the shots on their game plans and making heat of the moment decisions in battle. I loved his plan to distract Abaddon's demons with a voice recording; it's always entertaining to see the ingenious strategies and little tricks the brothers come up with to outsmart their foes, especially since some of those creative touches had fallen by the wayside in recent seasons.
Speaking of Abaddon, it was a pleasure to see Alaina Huffman make a return, since she's an undeniably charismatic performer. Unlike Crowley, who's cheerfully quippy even when he's disemboweling you, Abaddon was all business, and she had one heck of a plan for total domination of both the earth and hell. She's going after Crowley's crown with a vengeance, but she still had the good sense to run when faced with the possibility of a showdown with an angel.
Abaddon's faceoff with Dean crackled with twisted chemistry, and Dean was right -- she was definitely throwing him some mixed signals, what with all the hair pulling and tattoo caressing; kudos to writer Andrew Dabb for infusing that scene and all of Crowley's trademark banter with such delightful wrongness.
I wonder if it would be as simple as making a cut across Sam and Dean's anti-possession tattoos to break the protection, considering that's all it takes to void a Devil's Trap. I'll admit that I think it would be fascinating to see Ackles portraying a different character through Dean -- just thinking about the demonic version of Dean way back in "Dream a Little Dream" still gives me chills, not to mention the heartbreaking showdown between two very different versions of Dean in "The End," which remains my favorite episode. Taking on different characters is something that Jared Padalecki has a lot of experience with at this point, after possession by Meg and the creepy takeover by Lucifer in "The End," (and that's not counting the soulless and blood-addicted versions of Sam we've previously seen) although I think it's somewhat fitting that Dean remains the show's emotional touchstone. Ackles noted at Comic-Con that he feels fortunate that Dean never deviates from being Dean, regardless of the circumstances, and I'm inclined to agree.
Since this episode was filmed before the season premiere, it's even more fascinating to rewatch last week's episode with the knowledge that Tahmoh Penikett was basing his compelling performance on the groundwork Padalecki laid this week -- the pair compliment each other perfectly. (How awesome were the effects when Ezekiel revealed himself to the demons -- especially his burned wings?) Given past experience, it's easy for us to be suspicious of Ezekiel's intentions, but for now, Jeremy Carver is calling him an "honorable guy," and I hope for Dean's sake that we can trust the angel when he's telling Dean that he's one of the good guys. He certainly seemed sincere this week, and was smart enough to use the knife on the demons to help Dean cover his tracks with Sam, but we're clearly supposed to feel like something's "off" about this whole situation. Dean is obviously harboring immense guilt for keeping such a huge secret from Sam and loaning his body out without permission, and as we've learned from witnessing countless demon deals over the years, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
It's a fascinating moral dilemma for Dean, because if your only alternative is letting your closest loved one die, what choice would you make? The show went to great pains to establish that an angel could only take a vessel with their consent in Season 4, as compared to the way a demon just forces its way in, but previous seasons have played a little fast and loose when dealing with issues of consent and the treatment of vessels/possessed humans. I'm intrigued to see how the writers will explore that thorny quandry this season, because both brothers will have perfectly valid reasons for their reactions.
The real question is, did Dean choose to save Sam because he believed it was the right thing to do for Sam, or because he's afraid to live without his brother? We know that Dean's fear of abandonment is the foundation on which he's built most of his life, coloring the way he deals with the world, but it would be nice to continue the work that the writers began last season in making the brothers less terminally codependent. Sam should want to stay and hunt with Dean because he feels fulfilled by it and enjoys his brother's company, not because he feels obligated, just as Dean should be able to make decisions because they truly are for the greater good, not because he thinks he's incapable of happiness without Sam and has nothing to offer the world besides his hunting prowess. Much as Castiel needs to learn to stand on his own this season, and get to grips with what he wants to do and who he wants to be independent of his obligations or heavenly orders, so too do Sam and Dean.
Another startling moment came from Sam's revelation that he's actually feeling happy with his life "for the first time in forever." Is Ezekiel's presence inside him like an angelic form of Prozac, or has choosing life and embracing his destiny simply filled him with a renewed sense of purpose? Either way, it doesn't seem to have assuaged Dean's guilt over lying to him, but considering all the secrets Sam has kept from his brother over the years, it's probably about time for Dean to be the one obfuscating the truth. (Since Dean has seemingly embraced his father's habit of drinking when he's feeling guilty or stressed, it also remains to be seen whether that glass of whiskey at the end of the episode will lead to a few more glasses, as a way of symbolically demonstrating his inner turmoil.)
Despite his supposed contentment, Sam was still obviously troubled by Tracy's reaction to him after he discovered that his actions had inadvertently led to her parents' deaths. This likely compounded what we discovered during our trip inside his subconscious last week, when he asked Death to promise that no one else would be hurt because of him if he died. I'm hoping this won't lead to yet another case of Sam doubting his place in the family business and thinking that everyone would be safer if he isolated himself somewhere so that no one else could get hurt because of him -- that seems like well-worn territory after eight seasons, and at this point, after everything they've been through, he should really have made up his mind one way or the other already. It's been made patently clear that there's no "quitting" the life, that the past -- and demonic activity -- always catches up with you, and it would be refreshing to have one season where both of the brothers truly are equally dedicated to the task at hand and to supporting each other, because they want to, not because they have to. This is truly what the Winchesters were born for -- something proven from both sides of their lineage -- and hopefully further exploration into the Men of Letters mythology will continue to emphasize that fact.
It was a little disappointing not to see Castiel continuing his voyage of self-discovery in this episode, but the promo for Episode 3 (below) implies a very Castiel-heavy hour, so it makes sense to focus on his arc next week and firmly establish Kevin, Crowley and Abaddon in "Devil May Care." The action-packed hour also allowed us to meet a few new hunters (although two of them met an inevitably messy end), and I appreciate the further attempts to flesh out and repopulate the Winchesters' world. It's just sad that so many of the other hunters we've met have already been killed off, because those kinds of scenes would hold much more emotional weight if characters we were already familiar with were the ones being threatened.
Fan-favorite director Guy Bee made a welcome return with this episode, steering the hour with a reliably confident hand -- I especially appreciated some of the creative flourishes and angles used, such as the view through the gun-sight (and the way it was hit when Sam took a shot at Abaddon's soldier demon). It's refreshing to see a show in its ninth season off to such a focused and engaging start -- here's hoping it maintains the momentum of the first two hours in the coming weeks.
"Supernatural" airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.
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