The Morning After
Supernatural’s first installment in season 13’s triple threat finale, “Beat the Devil”, was an emotionally grueling hour that left fans physically and psychologically wrecked. The most intense scenes were so jarring, I suspect writer Robert Berens specifically designed the script to answer the question, “Is it possible to incapacitate an entire fandom at once?” Some fans thought the shock effect was a cheap ploy to artificially induce sympathy with pointless drama. While there may be some truth to that, I don’t care. I loved every heart pounding, mouth gaping, muscle aching, body trembling moment of it!
Sam’s shocking death; Dean and Mary’s long-anticipated, heart breaking reunion;
Gabriel, Castiel and Jack’s despair over losing Sam;
Sam’s beleaguered but overwhelming relief at finally finding his mom and “son”, only to have his moment overcome with shame – powerful doesn’t come close to describing the force of these scenes.
This episode was immeasurably elevated by truly superb acting from Jared, Jensen, Misha, Mark, Ruth, Richard, Samantha and Alexander. The impact of virtually every critical moment was delivered through facial expressions and voice inflections, whether it was humor, crushing grief, defeat, humiliation, relief or joy. Not enough can be said about the devotion and talent of this cast. One fan (“Cindy”) on Twitter observed “I just watched the 285th episode of Supernatural and this show still makes me laugh, cry, scream, cover my eyes and most of all CARE about what happens. Thank you Jensen and Jared for everything that you give to us EVERY TIME!!” I am in awe of how much of themselves these boys pour into their performances. The virtual effects, lighting, makeup, music and set departments also did incredible jobs bringing this story to life. There couldn’t have been a more perfect song than “Cats in the Cradle” as a backdrop to Lucifer whining about not having a relationship with his son! The background music to the opening sequence, the humor and the tragedies also added a great deal to the impact of those scenes.
That isn’t to say that “Beat the Devil” was perfect. At least two critical moments deserve closer examination. There were also a few over-the-top scenes that briefly threatened to derail the long sought after character development season 13 had delivered, and it appeared we were going to have another week of pouty Lucifer, which is a side of him that has long overstayed its welcome. In all cases, though, the shaky set ups led to pay-offs that more than justified fans’ forbearance.
“Beat the Devil” was essentially two different shows spliced together into one episode. The first half, before Team Free Will 2.0 +1 went through the rift to the alternate universe, was light-hearted. Its beginning was rather worrisome, as quite a bit of time was spent (wasted?) on drawn-out, lowbrow humor about Gabriel’s grace. Wanting to do it himself, needing privacy to extract his fluids, using Dean’s room (wouldn’t Gabriel have his own room since he’s been staying in that cavernous bunker with endless hallways and doors?), then a steady stream (sorry!!) of adolescent gags about being premature, inadequacy, assigning blame for poor performance, limp rifts, voice overs of lustful thoughts… it just wouldn’t end!
The scene where Cas, Dean and Sam interrupted Gabriel and Rowena’s triste (Gabrena is my fav ship name so far) was so hilariously funny, though, that all was forgiven!
The look on Sam’s face!! Castiel looking down at his shoes!! Dean’s awkward redirection to his brother with “Sam has a plan.” Then Rowena’s tiny skip curtsy and Gabriel’s rushed explanation about books in the library! That moment is a Supernatural classic for all time! Perfection from all five stars!
I also loved the ending of Lucifer, Rowena and Gabriel’s bar scene. Again, it began way too slowly. Lucifer drowning his sorrows to a disinterested bartender was boring, but once Gabe slipped up by saying “Jack”, then Lucifer’s hilarious, snide expression with “I swear that I didn’t”, the whole scene turned the corner. Rowena and Gabriel were so brave (for them anyway), finally confronting Lucifer and getting past their flight and fright cowardice!
Lastly, the set up to Lucifer’s escape was also trite. Gag him already!! That simple solution was so obvious, it was painful waiting for the inevitable, predictable screw-up. Of course he was going to get out of his bonds! Yes, this gave Rowena the opportunity for yet more character growth as she reluctantly decided to stay, shoulder her responsibilities and not abandon the team. I was happy about that, but Rowena and the remainder of the script deserved a better reason for Lucifer’s transition to the AU. Rowena being stupid and falling for taunting that she recognized as bait was beneath the writer, the show and the character.
So the first half of the story oscillated between thrilling peaks and questionable valleys but nothing hinted at the drama in the second half!! Hold on to your heart strings! After a brief reprise of sexual humor (that actually was funny albeit adolescent and time consuming), all levity was left behind.
[There’s no way the CW marketing machine purposely put iZombie on Sam’s death shots, right?]
Sam’s death was gut-wrenching. The swiftness of him being overpowered was unexpected, giving fans little time to emotionally prepare for the sight of his life blood gushing from his aortic artery. In mere seconds, fans along with Dean witnessed the unthinkable, and were powerless to stop it. The acting by both Jared and Jensen was stunning. They snapped fans into their anguish with nothing more than their expressions and cries of each other’s names (backed up by stirring music).
Was Sam over-confident in the group’s, or his, ability to take on feral vampires? How did Dean know they needed the blocked path when there was obviously at least one open tunnel? Why weren’t they all working together to clear the boulders? Sorry, but Dean and Sam look a lot stronger than two angels who are low on power and unaccustomed to manual labor. The biggest question, though: Where were Castiel and Gabriel during that fight? I honestly couldn’t tell if they were attacked by vampires and were busy with their own hand-to-hand combat, or if they were left out of the battle entirely! Could you see what happened? I watched the fight three times and couldn’t sort out where everyone was! Do we assume they were busy smiting and fighting, or were they working feverishly to move rocks? I heard Sam say, “I got it.” and it looked like the others presumed then that he didn’t need help. Is that what happened?
Would Dean really have left Sam behind? Would he see reason and realize gushing blood equals death and there was nothing he could do, or would he have screamed at Gabriel and Cas to save his brother? Did that seem like Castiel? Wouldn’t he have said more to convince an anguished, determined Dean that there were too many vampires and pursuit meant all their deaths; that the fight to save the world from Michael was more important than a recovery mission when there was no hope of life? So many questions! So much left unsaid! These are the questions that plagued discerning fans, yet the emotional toll of seeing Sam die and Dean left alone overshadowed logic. They were supposed to die together! What am I saying? They weren’t supposed to die at all!
While still staggering from that scene, we were hit almost immediately with yet more emotional juggernauts – Sam is resurrected and once again trapped with Lucifer. Choices, decisions, fear, resignation – and again Jared’s acting was everything.
Dean and Mary reunite, and tears flow. Jack can’t accept Sam’s death and accuses his more powerful counterparts of not doing enough. Then Sam returns and for a single moment, he and his family are together again – all of his family. Then Lucifer appears and Sam feels the pain of what? Betrayal? Shame? Humiliation?
Should he have died rather than expose his family (and the rest of the camp) to Lucifer? I hope Sam realizes that “live to fight another day” is the most important decision he could have made under the circumstances. Lucifer was right. He was going to find Jack with or without Sam, so better that Sam sticks around to protect everyone. After all, who knows Lucifer better than Sam? Then Jack and Castiel’s disbelief and joy.
Yes, I loved this episode because I revel in emotional storytelling.
Inside all this trauma there were also several clues as to what we might still need to face in the Winchesters’ (and our) futures. Did you hear the threads?
Just like the episode, let’s start with the “lighter” threads.
Castiel: Dean, you can’t possibly eat another. That’s your seventh piece.
Jack: Castiel’s right. I counted.
Dean: Okay, first, don’t be a narc. And secondly, seven pieces is perfectly normal. It’s not even a whole pie.
Dean was making me hungry! Just a few moments later Castiel reminded us all:
The clock may run out.
Then Rowena chimed in about broments:
Rowena: A drunk 6-year-old could execute that magic. It wasn’t the spellcaster or the spell. It was the ingredient.
Gabriel: Think they’ll be much longer?
Rowena: The Three Amigos? With their bro hugs, pep talks, and melodrama? Count on it.
Which actually was happening concurrently:
Sam: No, you’re right. You’re right. I don’t like it, but it’s our only choice. Another fun, great choice. (free will thread)
Dean: Well, hey, bright side is, even if we do pull it off, we still only get 24 hours in the Apocalypse World. And Rowena’s right. We’ll be lucky to even hear a word of Mom and Jack, much less save ’em, so
Sam: Wait a second.
Lucifer: All this time, there was one thing that mattered.
Sam: See, we got a lot of work to do back in Apocalypse World, but not a whole lot of time to do it. So I realized something. I realized we could use you. Use you not to just crack the door open, but to keep it open. So we’re gonna drain you. We’re gonna keep on draining you.
Dean: Like a stuck pig.
Dayton was “two days by foot”, the Camptown racetrack’s five miles long, we were reminded that Rowena is a “300-year old redhead”, nine humans went into the Morehead Tunnel, and one of the most heart breaking lines:
Castiel: Dean. He’s gone. Dean! We don’t have time. Dean, we can’t save him.
Time is critical to their mission to bring Mary and Jack back to the bunker (What do you think are the chances they’ll want to stay behind?), and to save both worlds from Michael. Time is also running out to bring the season’s quest to its climax.
One “disguise” theory from two weeks ago (“Funeralia”) was disproved by this episode. It appears Lucifer just bailed on Heaven and did not impersonate Naomi. Perhaps Heaven’s lights were flickering specifically because Lucifer was no longer there. It would have been nice to have that critical detail mentioned. That whole “angels power heaven” canon is going to bother me for a long time.
The imposter thread is still of primary importance to the season, though, as Gabriel’s bartender disguise (to overpower his opponent) and the inescapable bar exit continued the uninterrupted run of illusions. This thread’s prominence suggests that we are still being deceived by an appearance, or that the entire year’s story will lead to someone disguising themselves as someone else.
The cold opening sequence was Sam dreaming of his happy ending. Everyone together, relaxed, laughing and eating pizza in the bunker. The world didn’t end and he and Dean were reunited with Mary, Jack and Cas. Unfortunately, Sam awoke from his dream to the harsh, darkness that awaited him. He woke up again later in the story, but this time it was from death. Lucifer also was knocked out in the episode, followed by a “He’s awake” announcement from Rowena. Is Castiel “sleeping”, seeing the world as if it were a dream through the eyes of the Entity possessing him? There might be another possibility, too!
Light and Dark
Sam: Okay, right. We’re done here.
Lucifer: Are you going? Here. It’s dark out there. Yeah, they’re sorta all over there, and I’m holding them back. They’re just waiting for a little snap of the fingers, but I didn’t want ’em flooding in here and eatin’ ya again, not until after we finished our convo.
Sam: What do you want?!
Lucifer: I want what you already have — a relationship with my son. Okay, there was a time that I would, you know, just grab him, but I’ve grown… I want my son, and you’re gonna help me… I don’t feel like he’ll give me a chance unless I come bearing gifts. Yep. Boop! That’s you. Look, Sammy, I’m not asking you to like it or to like me. All I’m asking is that you acknowledge the truth, that I was the one who brought you back to life, that I was the one who lifted you from the darkness and into the light.
We tracked darkness and dark places several times this season, but the significance of “light” goes way back to 13.2.
Castiel to Sam: I’m not taking your reluctance lightly
Cas to Gabriel: [the angels back home are] trying to keep the lights on
Dean to Sam: you’re lighter, happier, more energetic (Sam’s depression thread)
At the risk of being laser focused on this point, Lucifer’s last phrase is precisely what the Empty’s Entity did for Castiel. Frankly, the phrase seemed out to context between Lucifer and Sam. Sam wouldn’t have been in darkness in death. He would have been in the light of Heaven, so other than metaphorically, when did Lucifer lift Sam out of darkness? On the other hand, the Entity brought Castiel back to life and literally lifted him out of the darkness and, in sending him back to Earth, into the light.
The exactness of this phrase convinces me even more than either the Entity hitched a ride back with Cas, OR (new theory) that Castiel made a “devil’s bargain” with the Entity and now owes him big time! This new idea would connect the Devil’s Bargain /Free Will thread we’ve been tracking and the Darkness/ Sleep/ Dream threads! Sam was also forced to bargain with the devil. Lucifer told Sam that he owed him and now he wanted to collect. What if the Entity made the same deal with Castiel: “I’ll send you back but you owe me! You don’t have to like it but faced with returning to being dead or living to fight another day, which do you choose?” Sam’s resurrection/blackmail scenario would perfectly parallel Castiel’s situation if I’m right! For those of you who have read the spoilers about the finale, extend this theory maybe how the entity would want to collect on his debt! It makes sense! Which Entity theory do you think is more likely?
Why did Lucifer’s grace conveniently drip into the bowl versus flowing as we’ve always seen? Sam said they “drained” Lucifer but we saw Castiel cut Lucifer’s throat. A small trickle dribbled out then it started slowly dripping. Lucifer was never “drained”.
Rowena should have been guarding the rift opening, not reading a book, because as we saw in “Wayward Sisters”, the door opens both ways and monsters from the AU can walk right into our world.
Gabriel easily torching the angel warding was super cool. He was so nonchalant, archangel about it! That leaves the camp wide open to Michael’s attacks now, though!
New Rules – Has Castiel always had on onboard GPS?
Animals – Baby Dean was a piglet!
Fear – Castiel said they haven’t been dealing with Lucifer “because we are afraid”
Water – Gabriel was absent mindedly reading a book on piping, plus all the draining references.
I’ve watched “Beat the Devil” three times now and each time the hour is over in what seems like mere minutes. The humor/trauma combination worked, and the death/reunion scenes already have a place among my favorites. I’m worried about the next two parts of this finale, but as the bartender told Lucifer:
I’m sure things will work out in the end.