Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 8, Episode 7 of The CW's "Supernatural," entitled "A Little Slice of Kevin."
While "Supernatural" has featured some interesting character developments over the past few weeks, the season's mythology has taken a backseat since episode 802, so it was great to rejoin that arc so decisively with "A Little Slice of Kevin."
Content-wise, I loved everything about the story; the explanation of what happened to Castiel in Purgatory and how he got out; Crowley's sadistic involvement with Samandriel and the potential prophets; Dean's misguided sense of remorse and Sam's empathy; and the deepening mystery surrounding the tablets. In terms of execution, I felt that the pacing seemed odd and that some of the edits drained the tension out of certain scenes, cutting back and forth too quickly to really have the dramatic impact they deserved. Still, as abrupt as some of the transitions were, the narrative was satisfying enough to compensate for them.
The show crammed a lot of information into 42 minutes, and we basically picked up exactly where we left off in "What's Up, Tiger Mommy?" -- a new viewer could probably have skipped episodes 3-6 and still been completely clear about the thrust of the season. That kind of impresses me and kind of makes me wish that we'd cut out "Bitten" and "Heartache" and kept the momentum of the first two episodes going, but "Supernatural" has always alternated between standalone stories and serialized arcs throughout the year, so it seems like a somewhat petty complaint.
The top story of the evening was, of course, Castiel's long-awaited return from Purgatory. It took him a few attempts to make contact with Dean, but unlike their first meeting, Cas didn't melt anyone's eyes out or blow any lightbulbs this time around, simply popping into existence behind his buddy and saying hello like he'd just gone out for a pizza, not been stranded alone in monsterville for months.
Since Dean is the king of self-flagellation, Castiel's reappearance dredged up just as much guilt as it did relief (not to mention a healthy dose of Winchester suspicion), reminding him that he'd failed to save his friend -- at least until Castiel set the record straight. Tying into Jeremy Carver's promise that this season would deal with differences in perception, it turns out that Dean was remembering his exit from Purgatory very differently from Cas. Dean was convinced that he'd failed to hold on to his angelic pal and left him behind, when in actuality (and as I'd kind of been suspecting all along) Castiel was the one who let go of Dean, forcing him to leave Purgatory without him.
Alright, so maybe Dean and Castiel are the co-kings of self-flagellation. Cas chose to stay in Purgatory because he felt the need to repent for all of his previous sins, although I can think of better ways to express remorse than to make yourself Leviathan bait. Regardless, Castiel showed Dean what really happened, and judging by how surprised the angel was that Dean was guilt-tripping himself instead of remembering correctly, it seems like Dean's brain truly did sublimate Castiel's decision to stay into a mistake that Dean made, because his default position is to assume that he's at fault. Forget the Grand Canyon -- Dean's issues could fill the infinite void of space.
Castiel insisted that Dean can't save everyone, even though he always tries, and though the angel obviously meant it as a way of releasing Dean from any sense of responsibility he might feel for other people's choices, I don't think Dean will ever be in a position to absorb that advice. As Dean pointed out, he sees his inability to save the people he cares about as a personal failing, not as an acknowledgement of another person's free will. Hence why he'll always see Sam's desire for a normal life as proof of his own inferiority, not of their differing life goals.
Not that I think Dean should stop attempting to save everyone, of course -- his martyr complex is what makes him a Big Damn Hero, in all his reluctant, Han Solo-esque glory. But I do wish that he wouldn't be quite so hard on himself when things are so clearly out of his control, because as much as he's been a surrogate father figure to both Sam and Castiel (and now arguably Benny) over the years, the kids have to be free to make their own mistakes and learn from them, because boys will be boys. If you love something, let it go, Dean! It will come back to you -- possibly with a dog and a girlfriend or a beard and dirty trenchcoat, but back nonetheless.
So Dean has issues, as we've established, but Castiel may have bigger issues, since he's currently playing brainwashed sleeper agent for an ominous boss angel called Naomi (Amanda Tapping). Just as the angels sent an army into Hell to raise Dean from perdition in Season 4, they gave Cas the same treatment in Purgatory, which -- if the angels' original plans for Dean were any indication -- means Castiel is in deep doodoo. The way he asked Naomi "why am I telling you this?" made it sound like he had no free will (sensing a theme?) while in the principal's office, and the fact that he's being forced to spy on the Winchesters without having any memory of it worrying indeed. Which is particularly heartbreaking, considering the little guy clearly just wants to hang out with his buddies and fight crime/monsters without any more Purgatory drama. These dudes just can't catch a break.
But why do the angels want to spy on Sam and Dean, and why does it require Castiel to embed himself with them when angels can lurk out of sight and eavesdrop anyway? At some point, it obviously means that Castiel is going to have to do more than just listen and report back. I suspect it has something to do with closing the gates of Hell, and the possibility that the angels are as opposed to the idea as Crowley is. It stands to reason that if evil human souls can't get into Hell, they might start spilling into Heaven instead, and I can't imagine that the angels would be wild about that idea. Thoughts?
Given the overarching theme of perception this season, and since Dean has been constantly questioning why Sam didn't look for him, I'm also wondering if there's something larger (maybe angel sized) in Sam's decision to shut his phone off and drive instead of searching for his brother at the end of last season.
Obviously, Sam hadn't yet met Amelia when Dean disappeared, so "because of a girl" isn't actually the right excuse (and we've pretty much all noted that it's a flimsy one, whether we choose to accept it or not), and if Sam's ongoing quest for normalcy really was the sole reason he chose not to look, I don't feel like the writers would still be having Dean draw attention to that questionable choice so frequently.
So is Sam somehow being manipulated in a similar way to Castiel? I'd be sad if yet another of his love interests turned out to be evil, but perhaps his relationship with Amelia is genuine even if his reasons for avoiding hunting aren't. Food for thought, since I know some fans are frustrated with Sam's portrayal this season.
We also got some handy exposition on the prophets and God's peculiar form of note-taking this week; not only are the prophets like slayers -- a new one is only activated after the current holy messenger dies -- but it appears that God has written a whole, multi-chapter handbook for humanity to protect itself with, and we've been stumbling around in the dark for all these millennia. So careless. Naturally, then, if one tablet details how to take down demons and another gives tips on handling Leviathan, we could conceivably have a tablet per season with a means to take down all supernatural creatures that have plagued Sam and Dean for years. Ten seasons doesn't seem so far away, does it?
As a "Dogma" fan, I'm also interested in discovering why the Metatron seemingly quit his position as God's transcriber, and whether Warner Bros.' stake in "Harry Potter" would help facilitate an Alan Rickman cameo. (I'm not holding my breath.) The angels continue to appear just as questionable as the demons, although I hope Crowley hasn't completely dismembered Samandriel, since he seemed like one of the good ones.
I also enjoyed the inclusion of Delta the snarky witch -- she was an amusing addition to the roster, even if she completely threw Kevin and Mrs. Tran under the bus, and I'd be pleased to see more of her as the show continues expanding the Winchesters' world.
After how antagonistic Sam and Dean were to each other last week, it was admittedly a little jarring to see them both in such an emotionally honest and supportive place. Sam was clearly concerned about Dean's apparent hallucinations (he could obviously relate) and Dean didn't attempt to hide them for long. Are both brothers adopting the "move on" mantra, or is it just an illustration of different writers handling their dynamic in conflicting ways? I hope it's the former and that the pair have actually aired their grievances enough to reach some sort of equal footing now, since watching them fight gives me an ulcer. I suspect Benny will still be a bone of contention between them no matter what, at least until the vampire has the opportunity to prove himself to Sam, but I really do want to see the brothers' relationship repaired, and this week's episode showed more genuine compassion and trust between them than we've seen all season.
"Supernatural" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.
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