Note: Do not read on if you have not seen Season 9, Episode 1 of The CW's "Supernatural," titled "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here."
Our long national nightmare -- summer hiatus -- is safely behind us and the Winchesters are back with a bang, bringing us a Season 9 premiere that felt confident, collected and oh-so cool, from the stunning new title card to Tahmoh Penikett's captivating performance as Sam's new "angelic pacemaker," Ezekiel.
While "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here" lacked the game-changing gravitas of "In My Time of Dying" or "Lazarus Rising," it was still one of the stronger season openers to date, laying out the new status quo and resetting the chess board for an unholy war with some seriously disgruntled angels.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves; the hour opened with Sam looking a little too healthy after the events of the Season 8 finale, which made a lot more sense once it was revealed that the opening scene was all a figment of Sam's comatose imagination. While the episode mostly saw Sam passive as Dean and Bobby served as the metaphorical angel and demon on his shoulder -- trying to convince him to fight or to give up -- it made sense that the trials took such a brutal toll on him, and delving into his brain as he weighed his eternal options was a good way to keep Jared Padalecki involved without just sticking him in a hospital bed and forcing the other characters to emote around him. (And a good way to bring Bobby back for a visit without undermining the impact of his death.)
I would've liked to have seen a little more examination into why Sam was initially so eager to give up and slip quietly into the light without a fight, though. We got a hint of his reasoning when he asked Death if he could promise that no one else would get hurt because of him if he died, but after half of Season 8 was spent getting Sam to accept his destiny as a hunter and his place alongside Dean again, it would've been nice to have delved a little deeper into his reasons for folding so easily so soon after coming to that realization. Perhaps we'll explore that further in future episodes, since Dean heard him on the verge of giving up -- although I have no real desire to revisit Sam's indecision over his place in the Family Business after eight seasons of prevaricating. Still, it was a minor niggle in an otherwise meaty episode.
Dean once again proved that he'll stop at nothing to protect his family, and Jensen Ackles played Dean's frustration, grief and vulnerability with depth and nuance. No one could blame him for blowing up at the doctor who told him that Sam's life was in God's hands -- absent fathers are a particular sore spot for him, after all. It's always nice to see that when his back's against the wall (and his face is beaten to a pulp), Dean's still resourceful enough to use his wounds for a banishment spell, and that his first priority when the angels attacked was getting the hospital evacuated so that no innocent civilians were caught in the crossfire. Hopefully his spell and the fact that Sam is now able to move will keep the murderous angels off their trail until they can make it to the bunker.
Speaking of angels, it was great to see another fascinating addition to the show in the form of Ezekiel, who -- judging by his stilted speech -- is far less versed in dealing with humanity than some of the other seraphs we've encountered on the show. Penikett's performance had gravitas and an otherworldliness that echoed back to Misha Collins' introduction in "Lazarus Rising." While a little less intimidating than Castiel originally was, Ezekiel is still clearly an alien being, and the fact that Dean was willing to trust an angel he knew so little about spoke volumes about his desperation in this episode (as well as his trust in Castiel, who could at least vouch that Ezekiel was a good soldier and could be relied upon to help). Padalecki did a great job of replicating Penikett's performance, perfectly capturing that uneasiness in human form in a relatively short scene, but I hope it won't be long until we get the angel back in his own vessel again and have the opportunity to learn more about him.
And while it seems inevitable that Sam will feel violated -- if not outright betrayed -- when he discovers that he has a heavenly passenger tucked away inside him, Dean's reasons for keeping the secret are justifiable -- if Sam expels Ezekiel before he's fully healed and ends up dead, nobody wins, and hopefully Dean will find a way to tell his brother the truth before it becomes a major issue. I just hope the writers know better than to retread the well-worn path of the brothers picking petty fights with each other without trying to understand the other's perspective, especially after all the bridge-building they managed last season. For that matter, I hope Ezekiel is as trustworthy as Castiel says he is.
As for our resident (former) angel: A part of me has been waiting to see Castiel as a human since Season 4, and so far, his faltering steps towards embracing humanity don't disappoint. While the concept of another angel kidnapping him for a road trip to the Grand Canyon was a little silly on the surface, the reminder that his vessel is strong and was created to be an angelic host was a nice touch, hinting that many of the other fallen angels may encounter difficulties when their chosen vessels start to erode.
It's a little heartbreaking to watch Cas struggle with the complications of a human body without Dean and Sam there to guide him, but I also like the idea of this season serving as Castiel's voyage of self-discovery, since this is the first time he has truly been forced to think for himself and, as he pointed out, his first opportunity to do anything he truly wants to do. His misguided confrontation with the biker added a much-needed dose of levity to the episode, and I'm looking forward to seeing where his learning curve takes him next.
Overall, "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here" set the stage for a much larger arc, positioning the angels as a major threat -- while offering some hope that there may be allies for the Winchesters and Castiel among them -- and putting a bandaid over Sam's bullet wound for the time being. It might not have been the flashiest hour, but between the character development and mythological moves, it was an undeniably satisfying episode. As Sam pointed out, the Winchesters have work to do, and it's great to be along for the ride again.
"Supernatural" airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.
What did you think of "I Think I'm Gonna Like It Here"? Share your reactions and predictions below!