(This review was originally posted on Blogcritics.org in 2009, but is no longer there. I’m reposting here in order to have a full archive of my SPN reviews).
Er…um…wow. Thanks Sera Gamble, you did it to us again. You turned us into quivering piles of soft matter just so you could have more fun with brotherly drama. They split up? Dean let Sam go without a fight? Dean offered Sam the Impala? Dammit, thanks for pushing buttons.
When I spoke with Sera Gamble, Eric Kripke and Ben Edlund at Comic Con, much of what they talked about ended up in this episode. We were told Dean would have to break his patterns of jumping in and saving Sam for the sake of others, that there would be a town under siege with people hiding in the basement, that Ellen, Jo and Rufus would be back, that Sam would be kidnapped, and that there would be big fallout in the brotherly relationship. Kripke even mentioned the four horsemen would be driving muscle cars and I must say, a 1967 cherry red Mustang fastback is my dream car (yes, I giggled at Dean admiring it). I’m REALLY envying War right now.
It’s one thing though to get nuggets like that but it’s another to actually see it in action. “Good God Y’all” played out way better than I could have possibly hoped. I think it’s a no brainer why. Throw in some great music, an apocalyptic battle, clever directing and Jared and Jensen at the top of their games and the results far exceed anything on paper (which is also great). Even though we’ve come to expect such excellence every week, somehow most of what’s delivered always manages to impress us.
The second episode of the season usually follows the same format. The character of focus is in distress, a story of suspense unfolds that leads to a climactic showdown, a character’s issues are raised during said plot, and then there’s a big shift in which the character comes away learning something about themselves that they may or may not like. In this show, it’s usually may not.
This year Sam gets the main focus as he rightly should. The dude has some major problems. While Sam was healed physically in the season opener, we all knew that whatever was lingering inside wouldn’t go away. After all, he can’t be healed from himself. Sam comes away with understanding of why he craved the demon blood but only after the hint was applied to him like a sledgehammer.
Before getting to the main focus of this review, the brotherly strife, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the excellent first seven minutes. This is the only appearance of both Bobby and Castiel. Even those boys have deep troubles. Bobby isn’t taking being paralyzed well and has gone into withdrawal mode. Castiel can’t even find Sam and Dean since they are hidden from angels, as even a curious Dean goes to radiology to find what exactly is on his ribs. It’s far more than some sigil. Every inch is now littered in apocryphal graffiti. One call to Sam’s cell phone fixes all that, but what arrives is an angel on the edge.
Castiel’s mission upon first impression seems to be as obsessively focused as Sam’s desire to kill Lilith last season. Only one other being can defeat Lucifer other than Michael. God. He’s out to find God. Dean less than helpful suggestion that God is on a tortilla in New Mexico leads to the best of line of the night, courtesy of a Cas deadpan. “No, he’s not on any flatbread.” Sure we laugh, but when Dean uses jokes, he’s not buying into the plan. Cas won’t accept Dean’s theological apprehensions this time and the intense delivery from Misha Collins gives me chills. “I killed two angels this week, my brothers. I’m hunted, I rebelled, and I did all of it for you. And you failed. You and your brother destroyed the world and I lost everything for nothing. So keep your opinions to yourself.” Dean shuts up after that.
At six minutes in, there’s a reveal on an object of our desire that’s been part of fan speculation for five seasons now. Dean’s treasured amulet, the one given to him by an eight year old Sam, will burn hot in the presence of God. Castiel needs it. Dean’s reluctant handover of one of his most cherished possessions is likely symbolism for what happens later. It’s Dean’s first step in letting go of Sam.
Showdown at River Pass
The brothers race off to River Pass, Colorado to help Rufus with a demon attack and two Wars surface; a showdown with demons among the townspeople and a brotherly conflict. Both are in full scale immediately upon arrival. They reunite with Ellen and she’s looking every bit as good as when we last saw her at the end of season two. Why hasn’t she been back since then? Anyway, she’s hunting with Jo, but they’ve separated. The first brotherly test comes when Sam offers to go with Dean to get supplies, but Dean tries to convince Sam to stay behind with everyone else. Sam sees what’s happening, Dean doesn’t want him going near demons, but Dean denies it. They go on anyway and Sam’s frustration grows when Dean doesn’t like the plan that they split up to get things. All that’s needed now is a major incident that hints Dean isn’t all that wrong.
There were three really great scenes in this episode and one of them is the next one, Sam in the convenience store. As he’s getting rock salt (I don’t ever remember seeing cardboard canisters labeled “Rock Salt” in a store), two supposed demons enter. Sam hides and goes for the shotgun, but he’s not quick enough. He struggles with the guy and tries latinating but there’s no time, being left no choice but to pull out the knife and stab the young man and his companion to death.
There’s no better way to show an audience that something bad is firing inside a character than a long dramatic pause of despair. Sam hauntingly gazes at the blood dripping on the knife and the pools on the floor, it all sinking in that his issues are surfacing. When Dean comes in and sees Sam’s state, his very disturbed reaction only fuels his fears about Sam. Sure, by season five its second nature, but I’m still amazed how Jensen and Jared still wow us by telling so much story with nonverbal glares. That’s why Sera Gamble and Phil Sgriccia are so good too, they know how to play their actors’ strengths.
Dean talks to a withdrawn Sam and Sam confesses he wishes he could save people like he used to. Here’s where the disconnect between these two becomes apparent. Dean asks if he means when he was hopped up on demon blood. Sam doesn’t get the chance to explain because Ellen interrupts. I do wonder how much Sam would have tried to explain. He knows he doesn’t need the blood to be powerful, but Dean doesn’t. At least there’s been no evidence that he does. So, while Dean is right to think that Sam’s addiction issues are surfacing, the underlying motivation is still lost on him.
Dean’s mistrust also exacerbates the situation when Sam wants to go with Ellen to find Jo. Dean takes him aside and tells him he’ll go, and Sam this time gets angry. “Oh, that’s right, I forgot. You think I’ll take one look at a demon and fall off the wagon, as if after everything I haven’t learned my lesson.” Dean fires back, “Well have you?” Sam shoves him against the wall. “If you actually think-” and he stops himself, even though Dean is staring him down with irritation. The writing on the wall becomes apparent; their issues are getting in the way of their job. Things are bad.
What else is bad? Sam gets captured, by Rufus and Jo nonetheless, who thinks he’s a demon. While he goes through plenty of physical torture with beatings and having salt shoved down his throat, Dean and Ellen get the recent omens from the townspeople. What’s happening straight from Revelation 8. War, one of the four horsemen is in town, and he’s pitting the townspeople against one another by making them think they’re seeing demons. He’s also replaced his red horse with that sweet cherry mustang. I’m with Dean, that’s the way I’d roll too.
Sam figures out what’s happening too because he actually gets to talk to War. There’s nothing like a candid conversation with a being as evil as one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse to finally force Sam to accept the truth about himself. War tells him exactly what’s in his head with dead on accuracy. Ever since the incident in the store Sam can’t stop thinking about the blood. He can’t hold back the huge lust for power that’s always been inside him and he wants to be strong again, stronger than everybody. Sam quietly listens to this with frightened expression because he knows War is right. War then gets him hard with the final comment. “Good intentions, quick slide to Hell buddy boy. You feel bad now, wait until you’re thigh deep in warm corpses. Because I’m only getting started.”
Sure, the rest of it plays out like a shootout at the OK corral, with Sam and Dean besting War by cutting off some of his fingers to get the ring he’s using to control the people. War and that sweet mustang disappear in a flash and the people are back to normal. Except they’re not since many of them slaughtered their neighbors and found out the apocalypse has started, but at least the hunters’ jobs are done.
There’s still unfinished business, so now comes a whopper of a scene that gets to the heart of everything. Oh, and when I mean “heart” I mean ours getting crushed to a pulp. Sam is ready to talk and goes on even though he notices Dean’s uncomfortable body language. Sam doesn’t trust himself either. The blood triggered something and even though intentions were good and felt true, he really misses the feeling. “I know how messed up that sounds, which means I know how messed up I am.” The underlying problem is him and how far he’ll go. “It scares the Hell out of me Dean” and this is the most heartfelt honesty we’ve gotten from Sam since season two.
Sam admits, “I’m in no shape to be hunting. I need to step back cause I’m dangerous. Maybe it’s just best if we go our separate ways.” Dean shocks Sam by thinking he’s right and explains. “Truth is I spend more time worrying about you than about doing the job right. I can’t afford that you know. Not now.” Sam finishes with one more apology and Dean gives another “I know.”
Are you crying yet? Well just wait! Sam nods and starts to leave, and then Dean floors us. “Hey, do you want to take the Impala?” Did he just offer his most treasured possession to his brother? Especially when he gave up the amulet earlier? What does this mean? Is Dean ready to cut ties with all that’s near to him in preparation for a final battle? Sam doesn’t accept, but then again, we knew he wouldn’t. Still, the gesture is huge.
Sam gets up and takes one more look at his brother. “Take care of yourself Dean.” Dean can’t even make eye contact, and we realize his brave face is one big front. “Yeah, you too Sammy.” Sam gets his bags out of the Impala and hitches a ride with a nearby truck, while Dean stays at the picnic table and watches his brother go.
Wow, this is a huge shift for each brother. For Dean, stepping up to new responsibility means hard choices. Family isn’t the main priority anymore. He knows Sam is hurting, but he has to distance himself to keep his head in the game. In that last scene he couldn’t look at his own brother, trying to hold it together as he let the most important thing in his life go. Sam has to move on though, forge his own destiny. Considering Dean has spent a lifetime protecting him, watching Sam walk away changes his entire world.
As for Sam, he believes separating from Dean puts his brother out of harm’s way. Sam likely thinks what he’s done has irreparably damaged their relationship and he can’t get Dean’s forgiveness when he can’t forgive himself. The idea of hurting another human is ripping Sam apart and he can’t go back to the way things were before he let his inner powers loose. He can’t take the guilt anymore. He can’t take the life. Where he goes from here is why we’re exactly dying for next Thursday to get here.
My overall grade, an A for the brotherly issues, B+ for the town story. It was great to see Ellen, Jo, and Rufus again, but their time was limited and sometimes wasted. Let’s hope they come back. Next week, three words. Dean, Castiel, whorehouse. If that doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will.