Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 8, Episode 8 of The CW's "Supernatural," entitled "Hunteri Heroici."
Apparently, laughter really is the best medicine. It's fitting that an episode of "Supernatural" so devoted to helping a tired old man face reality also helped two of our characters come to terms with their own sense of purpose, and "Hunteri Heroici" managed -- as many of the show's best episodes do -- to effortlessly blend humor and pathos into one satisfying, if surreal, concoction.
The last episode, "A Little Slice of Kevin," dealt with Dean's skewed perception of reality, since his misplaced guilt over "abandoning" Castiel in Purgatory was dramatically affecting the way he viewed the world and himself. With Castiel's return and his revelation about what really happened when Dean escaped, Dean seemed to be in a much better place this week, opening up to Cas and expressing how grateful he was that the angel was back in a way that would've been unheard of a few seasons ago. With some (if not all -- the guy has more issues than Reader's Digest) of Dean's guilt resolved, "Hunteri Heroici" turned to Sam and Castiel's feelings of self-doubt and aimlessness this week.
As Castiel revealed to Dean, he's still haunted by all the damage he did in Heaven while in the grip of his God complex, and he's been imagining that things are a mess upstairs after he "vaporized" thousands of angels. What we know -- even if Castiel is currently unable to remember -- is that Heaven sadly seems to have returned to the status quo in his absence, with the enigmatic (and frankly, a little terrifying) Naomi seemingly having replaced Zachariah as head paper-pusher. And while the events of this episode, especially Sam's inspiring speech to Fred Jones, seemed to have inspired Castiel to stop running from his mistakes and face his heavenly demons, Naomi forbid him from returning to Heaven and put a stop to those aspirations. Is it because there's still some loyalty to Cas among the angels he spared, and Naomi wants to avoid a revolt, or is there something darker at work?
Sam, however, hasn't quite dealt with his residual Amelia angst -- probably because he has yet to truly open up to Dean about his lost year. This episode did seem to signal a turning point in Sam's feelings about hunting, though. I thought his speech to Fred was pretty telling, especially for anyone feeling concerned that Sam might truly quit hunting for good (as if he would): "It can be nice living in a dream world; it can be great -- you can hide, and can pretend all the crap out there doesn't exist, but you can't do it forever. Eventually, all the crap you're running from, it'll find you. It'll punch you in the gut and then you gotta wake up, because if you don't, trying to keep that dream alive will destroy you ... it'll destroy everything."
We all know that Sam was running from the loss of Dean, so to me, "Hunteri Heroici" was a sign that Sam has finally "woken up" and admitted that he can't run from his purpose -- god knows being a motel maintenance guy wasn't the best use of his talents, and deep down, I'm sure a part of Sam always knew his life with Amelia was a dream. I'm certain she'll be back to muddy the waters in his present life imminently, but it's still good to see Sam refocusing on the things that are truly important. I just wish there was a more subtle way to integrate Sam's flashbacks into the narrative, since the transitions have always felt more jarring than Dean's memories of Purgatory.
It was also nice to see a livelier, warmer Amelia, since we're finally getting to experience some of what Sam obviously saw in her. Watching Sam struggling with the all-too-normal awkwardness of meeting his partner's parent was an amusing and relatable tangent, although the domestic angle is always going to feel out of place in a show as fantastical as "Supernatural." Perhaps we're supposed to feel that cognitive dissonance in his flashback scenes, since we're all rooting for Sam to reassess his choices and realize that hunting is where he belongs, after all.
Obviously, Don's return didn't immediately ruin Sam and Amelia's relationship, since we still saw them living together in the season premiere, but I admit I'll be disappointed if Don is the mysterious figure we saw watching their house at the beginning of the year, since that would be a pretty mundane revelation now.
While I've often noted that Andrew Dabb and Daniel Loflin's joint episodes can be hit-and-miss, Dabb penned this installment alone, and aside from the aforementioned Sam flashback niggles, I found it charming from beginning to end. Dabb is obviously well-versed in cartoon tropes, and the episode's in-jokes and easter eggs were a delight -- especially the reasoning behind the episode's title. I also enjoyed the Crosby, Stills and Nash aliases to include Castiel in the brothers' rock star identities, and the nod to Roman Enterprises going bust as a (potentially meta?) reference to last season.
There's a lot of comedic mileage in Castiel's adjustment to humanity, from his dead body sniffing to his awkward interrogation techniques (obviously picked up from watching one too many episodes of "CSI") and his insane questioning of a talking cat (who I hope we see again someday), and I would love to see him continuing to be Sam and Dean's hunting "third wheel."
Episodes like this, with Cas serving as an EMF detector and handy wound-healer, do emphasize the show's obvious struggle with not making Cas an instant problem-solver for the brothers, so I hope the writers continue to come up with believable ways to keep Castiel integrated in the stories without him being a wax on/wax off Mr. Fix-It. I think that Jeremy Carver and his staff are inventive enough to pull it off, and it would be a shame to lose the adorably quirky energy that Castiel brings to the show. Overall, it was great to have a (relatively) drama free episode with so much humor, especially one that allowed all of the characters to actually express themselves, albeit grudgingly.
"Supernatural" airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.
What did you think of "Hunteri Heroici"? Did the cartoon jokes work for you? What did you think of Castiel's attempt to be a hunter? Share your reactions and predictions below, and check out the first part of our exclusive interview with Jared and Jensen here.