Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 8, Episode 21 of The CW's "Supernatural," titled "The Great Escapist."
It's been a while since I've felt the need to rewatch an episode of "Supernatural" to try and fully digest it (as opposed to rewatching episodes just for the fun of it), but "The Great Escapist" was a dense and action-packed hour that proved integral to the season's arc and added another layer to the show's mythology as a whole.
It wasn't Ben Edlund's best episode, but despite a slow start and a couple of questionable editing choices that cut way too fast between later scenes and killed some momentum just as conversations were flowing, "The Great Escapist" was an engaging hour, and the introduction of Metatron allowed for some fascinating info-dumps. Yes, Curtis Armstrong's monologuing was exposition-heavy, but when the exposition is that fascinating, do we mind?
On the first watch, the opening sequence with Kevin and the fake Winchesters made me wonder if I'd suffered some kind of head injury, but the second time around, it was easier to appreciate the misdirection, especially in terms of watching Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles play such familiar characters just slightly off -- enough to unsettle the audience without cluing us in to why. Crowley made a perfect overbearing director with ideas above his station (of course he wants to play Dean), and Mark Sheppard was once again on fine, scenery-chewing form this week.
While Naomi's agenda remains infuriatingly obfuscated, it's good to see her finally getting her hands dirty; the angels certainly know how to make a statement, decimating the entire population of a Biggersons just to force Castiel to stop running. It was a pleasure to see original flavor Cas back at last -- it's hard to fault the dorky, socially awkward rebel who cares so deeply for humanity that he, like the Winchesters, is always willing to sacrifice himself for us.
Watching his obliviously amiable conversation with the Biggersons waitress was delightful -- at least until Naomi burned out her eyes. But it's also reassuring to see that, no matter how weird and unpracticed he is at fitting in with humanity, Cas is still a righteous warrior, and that even after getting smacked around and shot, he can still kick ass when necessary. Naomi's observation that Castiel has always been the "spanner" in the works that has never done what he's told and doesn't even "die right" is a particularly juicy morsel -- let's hope we're a little closer to finding out exactly why the Big Man Upstairs doesn't want to let Castiel cease to exist. His first meeting with Metatron should be an interesting one, given how much damage the angels have done while the scribe has been hiding among his books.
There was so much Metatron goodness packed into the second half of the episode that it's impossible to note it all, but it seemed fittingly meta (ha ha) in that typically Edlund way for Metatron to note that "when you create stories, you become gods." It's no coincidence that Chuck's alias when writing the Winchester Gospels was Carver Edlund, after all, since television writers become gods of their own specific cosmos through the act of creation.
There's probably a lot to be said about the fact that some fans may also try to assume that godlike position through engagement with their favorite shows, perhaps assuming a little too much ownership over someone else's creation by trying to dictate how they think a story should go (paging Zachariah, Naomi and Lucifer). At the end of the day, watching and enjoying a show does not mean that it's ours, or that we're owed a specific outcome, although the intrinsic act of watching a show is undeniably symbiotic. Without fans, a show could not remain on the air, but without the show and the storylines the writers come up with, there would be nothing for the fans to engage with in the first place. Since there's no hope of the writers pleasing every faction, they must simply tell the story they set out to tell, instead of being swayed by external and contradictory forces. I'm interested to hear your take on Metatron's wisdom in the comments.
Sadly, despite reading countless thousands (millions?) of novels about humanity's cruelty and barbarism as well as our capacity for good, Metatron still didn't feel compelled to step outside his bubble until Sam and Dean pointed out all the horrors he's been willfully ignoring, bringing it down to the human level and telling Metatron about Kevin. The secretarial angel got to play the hero at just the right moment, grabbing Kevin from Crowley's clutches, but Kevin handled himself pretty well this episode without any assistance. Not only was he wise to Crowley's scheme with his too-nice demons, he managed to lure them into a devil's trap, send a failsafe email to the Winchesters and grab the bottom half of the tablet to decipher the third trial even as Crowley was beating on him. You go, Kevin Tran!
It was a tough week for Sam, between a fever, blurry vision and a pesky case of resonating, but that did mean that we got to hear the phrase "farty donkey," so it all seemed worthwhile. Ignoring the continuity error that Dean has supposedly never been to the Grand Canyon, the idea that the trials might be "purifying" Sam's demonic blood is kind of beautiful, especially since that aspect of him has been a constant source of guilt and insecurity. That scene in particular was beautifully played by Padalecki and Ackles.
Despite apparent fan concern that Dean isn't being given enough to do (something that was true in the decidedly mediocre "Taxi Driver" but was not the case here, in my view) I still don't feel that Sam being the active participant in the trials means that Dean is doing nothing but "caretaking." Through Dean's interactions with Metatron and his investigation into the Native Americans' symbol, Dean still had agency, an active storyline and continues calling the shots on hunts, as a big brother should. He had the pivotal "closing the gates of hell" conversation with Metatron and got the very ominous warning that "that's what this has all been about, the choices your kind make. You're going to have to weigh that choice. What is it going to take to do this, and what will the world be like after it's done?"
While I'm still hoping that if the angelic tablet requires similar trials, Dean is the one to do them because it makes mythological sense (in terms of how the boys' destinies were aligned with Heaven or Hell), I don't believe that having an "emotional" arc is somehow less satisfying than having a "physical" one. In the first half of the season, Dean's storyline was more physical, thanks to his time in Purgatory, while Sam was passive thanks to his romantic flashbacks with Amelia. Both brothers are still solving problems independently as well as together, and have had numerous chances to kick ass and save each other this season, so the brother vs. brother arguments make little sense to me in terms of a season-long complaint.
Sam's demon blood and Azazel's plan for him have been the driving force of the narrative since the first scene of the pilot, so it makes sense that the writers want to bring some closure to that storyline, but it certainly hasn't hindered my enjoyment or engagement with Dean's stories for the past eight years. Structurally, Sam's arc might be "Supernatural's" plot engine, but Dean and his unyielding love for his family have always been the show's heart for me, and I'm glad that the series hasn't lost sight of how important that emotional core is.
With Kevin seemingly left in Metatron's reliable care, and a bruised and battered Castiel choosing an inadvisable method of hitchhiking, the stage is certainly set for two powerful episodes to close the season.
Which demon do you think Sam and Dean will attempt to cure, and what are your theories on why Castiel has to keep the angel tablet away from everyone? Weigh in with your predictions below!
"Supernatural" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.