Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 7, Episode 22 of The CW's "Supernatural," entitled "There Will Be Blood."
A TV season is a marathon, not a sprint, but I'm concerned that "Supernatural" is starting to show signs of fatigue as it nears the finish line. The show is assured an eighth season and an injection of fresh blood when veteran writer Jeremy Carver comes back on board as showrunner, but I still want to see Season 7 go out with a bang instead of a whimper.
Last year's two-part finale narrowly avoided fizzling out in such a manner; I thought that Episode 21 was uneven and Episode 22 was downright dull until the final few minutes, at which point it pulled itself sharply out of its nosedive and left us with one hell of shocking cliffhanger to obsess about over the summer hiatus. Am I confident that this year's finale will wow us? No, but I'm cautiously optimistic, if only because it promises to reunite many of our favorite major players in one place: Crowley, Meg, Castiel and Bobby will all play a role, and even better, the Impala will make her long-awaited return. On paper, it all sounds promising, but I'm troubled that the finale is coming after such a lackluster scene-setter.
All the right pieces were in place, but somehow "There Will Be Blood" didn't come together to form a cohesive whole for me. It felt by-the-numbers, as if everyone was going through the motions, but couldn't quite summon up the energy to kick things into high gear and find up the momentum needed for the finale. Cast your minds back to the halcyon days of Season 1 and "Salvation," how Sam and Dean had a menacing adversary and a personal stake in the outcome of their mission -- you could feel the tension running through the hour, wondering who Meg might kill next and whether John would get out alive. It's still the pinnacle of penultimate episodes for me, followed by Season 4's "When The Levee Breaks," since I can't quite count "All Hell Breaks Loose Part 1" as anything but half of a whole finale.
There were a few moments that elevated the episode, of course; Rick Worthy was a creepy delight as the returning Alpha Vampire, and Bobby's alarming descent into vengeful spirit territory was suitably chilling. It was also amusing to see Dean's reaction to the Leviathans tainting his precious road food (especially the pie), and Jensen Ackles expertly played those comedic beats, as usual. (It was also immensely satisfying to see Dean back in a leather jacket, even if it was a very poor substitute for the gorgeous piece that was stolen a couple of years ago.)
It's hard to really put my finger on why the episode didn't work for me -- some intangible combination of poor pacing and a strange, bipolar tone in the dialogue, perhaps. The episode was penned by the reliably hit-and-miss Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin, who have missed more than they've hit this season, I think, between this, "Time for a Wedding" and "Girl Next Door" -- though "Plucky Pennywhistle" proved amusing, if light on plot development.
I found the ending of the episode downright abrupt, with no real tension or dramatic weight lent to Crowley and Dick's confrontation. I know it will be expanded on next week, but I would've preferred to end with Bobby missing and the boys panicking over it, or stretched out the macho showdown to a more dramatic closing point. It almost felt like the writers ran out of time so just stopped writing once they hit a predetermined page, regardless of whether or not they'd adequately built up to a satisfying crescendo.
There were also some troubling gaps in logic -- how was Bobby able to zap into the mansion to scope the place out for vampires without the flask being in the mansion first? Did I black out and miss some loophole explanation? This was especially baffling given that it came so soon after Sam and Dean had gone to the trouble of leaving the flask in the car just so Bobby would be unable to eavesdrop on them talking about him a few meters away. I know that the "ghost rules" are ever-evolving, but that seems like a fairly major oversight, given the central role the flask played in Bobby's movements throughout the episode.
I also found the Alpha's overly-knowing "see you next season" jab to be a little too on-the-nose for such a tonally serious episode. Meta jokes are fine in comedic tales like "The French Mistake" or "Changing Channels," but such an overt nod to the fictional facade felt jarring and unnecessary. If we're supposed to invest in the stakes of the world and the idea that the boys were truly in danger while they were trapped with the Alpha and the Leviathan, the fourth wall needed to remain unbroken, without their enemy winking that they'll be duking it out in September so none of this really matters anyway.
I've only rewatched select episodes of Season 6, so I can't remember if the Alpha Vampire's kid obsession was explored when he was introduced, but I think it skewed a little too high on the creepy scale and wandered into perversity for the sake of perversity, which I'm not entirely comfortable with. The show does chilling and schlocky well, when situations call for them, but when it comes to using children in those kinds of moments, it feels unnecessarily exploitative. These kids (or 20-year-old virgins being treated as kids and left with the Alpha despite suffering obvious psychological damage from 12 years in captivity) weren't in positions of power, as when Lilith possessed little girls -- which was disturbing enough -- so I found the ramifications of the Alpha's abducting minors more distracting than tonally appropriate, which probably wasn't what the writers were going for.
That's not even touching on the clunky expositional dialogue used to explain what Sam and Dean did with the rescued child once they got him away from the Alpha: "Cops thought we took that kid -- we had to jump out a freaking window, man," Exposition Man dramatically informs his sidekick, Reaction Boy, despite the fact that both characters just experienced the very same inconvenient misunderstanding with the local law enforcement and don't need to sum it up for each other. Yikes.
I'm both impressed by the show's season-long attempt to comment on the current capitalism/1 percent conversation through the Leviathan story, and a little turned off by it. Allegory is far more potent when it's subtle; the reason why "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" and "Dawn of the Dead" were so effective at critiquing the era in which they were created wasn't because characters outright accused each other of being communists or zombies spouted rhetoric about racism or Vietnam -- those allusions were implicit, and far more insidious because of it. Having a literal corporate fat-cat giving televised interviews where he outright admits to cannibalizing the population? Not so subtle. It's a very timely and relevant concern, and I applaud the writers for choosing to tackle it, but I wish they had found a way to examine our fears about institutionalized greed with a little more nuance.
At least Guy Bee's direction is always confident and compelling, even when the script falls short. There were some beautiful framing choices in the Alpha's mansion and Dick's scenes in particular, and like all good directors, he has a keen sense of when to keep his edits and angles unobtrusive and when to add in a little flair. In terms of set decoration, Jerry Wanek is still the undisputed master, especially with the opulence of the Alpha's lavish lair. I also approved of the high-tech devil's trap that Dick caught Crowley in -- it was a nice visual touch that speaks to the Leviathan's influence and forethought.
I don't really mean to sound as harsh as I'm likely coming across in this review -- "There Will Be Blood" certainly wasn't painful to watch like "Time For a Wedding." But I think, given that all of the promising components should've added up to a dramatic, exciting whole, I don't quite understand why the episode failed to live up to its potential. Dabb and Loflin have proven that they're capable of brilliance ("Frontierland" is one of my all-time favorite episodes), so I'm not sure why this one felt so unfocused. In any case, I hope it's not indicative of the season finale, which has a lot of loose ends to tie up and a lot of expectations about the Leviathans' endgame to live up to. For now, I'm choosing to have faith.
What did you think of "There Will Be Blood"? Am I judging it too harshly, or did it feel a little messy to you too? Share your thoughts and predictions for the finale below!
"Supernatural" airs Fridays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.