Before I get started, I should give a disclaimer. I hated season nine. Granted I watched most of the episodes only once, and it’s been a while since I’ve revisited, but this was the season that really started my discontent with Supernatural. In going back and reviewing the multiple number of episodes I didn’t review in season nine, I’m trying to pinpoint what didn’t sit right with me. Some of those answers came from this first episode of the season, “I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here.”
Looking at the script for this episode, it had all the right beats. It’s a good script. The setup of the emotional components are there. Sam, who’s pretty exhausted by this point, isn’t in the mood to fight any more as he faces certain death. That makes sense. He’s ready to move on, but the only thing holding him back is Dean. He represents little part of Sam that wants to take his brother’s lead. Dean of course is at his wits end, realizing that he was too late for the whole pulling the plug on the trials thing. Part of me thinks that he hit a desperate low here, which is sad given how low Dean has been before, although we haven’t even gotten to the Mark of Cain yet. His desperation made sense of paper, but he may have gone too far here.
I loved the perspective of what was happening in Sam’s head, but so much of that felt shoehorned into the other busy scenes. Bobby acting as the voice to let go was brilliant. I just wish I had time to enjoy that more, especially their conversation in the forest. Another big bonus was the shaky and distorted camera angles while Dean, Sam and Bobby were talking in the Impala. It was a nice touch to prove this was no ordinary car ride. Sam and Dean fighting in the woods was effective as well, especially when Sam saw past Dean’s aggression and told him that it was his time. He was ready to die. Yeah, it wasn’t really Dean but a scenario in Sam’s head, but it still worked. He knows his brother well.
On the flip side, Castiel’s story was compelling too. He’s lost his grace and is human now. He’s the target of a whole squad of pissed off angels. Meeting up with Hale was interesting until she went a little psycho, and that’s where that story fell off the rails. In retrospect though, it does make sense. What happens when a bunch of angels that have never experienced free will before find themselves in a strange new world alone? I guess some go psycho. I don’t think in this case though it brought much to the story. I liked Castiel’s optimism with her despite everything. There is a lot to experience on earth.
I adored Tahmoh Penikett as Ezekiel. He played the role of benevolent angel perfectly, one very weak from the fall. It was nice to see that there were angels that were still focused on the mission, uncorrupted by humanity. Yeah, that all falls apart later, but I’ll stick with what we know now. His scenes with Dean were great to watch and both these actors had great chemistry. They both knew how desperate the situation was and did a stunning act to fix it.
The scenes with Death and Sam were great too, but you could tell by Death’s look as soon as Dean showed up it was over. You would think that Death sensed that this was an angel at work. Or perhaps he knew from those books in the death library or whatever he uses that it wasn’t Sam’s time. I don’t know, why would Death care about the Winchesters now? They’ve done their part, but maybe he’s still keeping an eye on them for the whole screwing up the universe thing. Ah well, I’m probably reading too much into the opportunity for an awesome guest appearance.
Where It All Goes Wrong
The big issue happens when it’s all put together. It doesn’t work. The storytelling from frame to frame is scattered, unfocused, and choppy, which tonally ruins the emotional impact these scenes could have delivered. Our hearts should haven been melting over Sam’s desire to move on during his internal struggle while in a coma, but we aren’t afforded that opportunity because the episode kept jumping to the Castiel and Dean stories at too rapid a pace.
This episode seemed to have a lot of parallels with season two’s “In My Time of Dying,” which was a masterpiece. So why didn’t this episode succeed where that one did? First, it goes back to the tone. Kim Manners was a master at setting that eerie tone with his episodes, slowing the pacing down enough to allow the actors to emotionally sell the scene, yet still unfolding some shocking reveals at just the right moments. Every scene was meticulous in controlling the pacing. The score, the cinematography, the editing, all teams succeeded to hone in on the eerie nature of Dean being in the veil. That episode also wasn’t weighed down by a meaty B plot. There was John going off on his own to make the deal with the Yellow Eyed demon, but that happened later in the story after parameters had been established about the dire situation they were in.
“I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here” was missing all that. First, there was no time to grieve. Dean jumped into his desperate act very early in the episode. Sure, we know that historically Dean can be impulsive, but there wasn’t a lot of space given as to why he would go there so quickly. Couldn’t that prayer scene have come later after a few other things he tried didn’t work? After all, he did have the King of Hell in his trunk. A few seconds of him staring at a comatose Sam before jumping off that bridge didn’t exactly cut it.
That’s probably why I started having issues with the later seasons, the focus on the tone and pacing of these episodes was lost. It just became a sequence of rapid fire events that didn’t blend well. That allowed the introduction of numerous campy elements to fill time, like Crowley’s hell lair on earth, dumb and incompetent demons, and mustache twirling villains galore that served little purpose. I’ve often called it short attention span theater, and I think this is where all that became the norm rather than exception. It felt like this was when they started giving up.
All in all though, despite the good parts of this script, this was a lousy setup for season nine. After the shocking cliffhanger from season eight, there was so much potential. I still wish that Sam had closed the gates of Hell in the trials and he and Dean had to deal with the unexpected consequences (which often happens in this show). Maybe there was a loophole that closing the gates of Hell meant all demons would be sent to earth, much like the angels being expelled from heaven. That would mean a true angel and demon war on earth, setting up Sam, Dean and Castiel to deal with a huge mess. You know, an action packed, tense season nine. But no, they went with Dean deceiving Sam in the absolute worst way, and the focus of the season fell on the brotherly drama over that deception rather than any real plots. It was a massive disappointment.
It also felt stupid that Dean busts in and stops Sam from completing the trials because they will kill him, but he ends up dying anyway. That invalidated that whole emotional moment of that legendary scene from “Sacrifice.” Sam noted that irony right off the bat in the first scene, but then it was all hand waved from there.
I don’t know, maybe it’s brothers constantly saving one another fatigue for me at this point. That line, “There ain’t no me if there ain’t no you,” is a brilliant line and nails the Sam and Dean relationship perfectly. So, why did I roll my eyes when it was uttered rather than have my heart melt? I can’t say for sure. Maybe I was too turned off from the episode by then. Maybe it’s because I’ve seen this happen countless times already and it’s getting tired. Maybe it was because they invalidated the last big emotional moment at the end of “Sacrifice” which I loved. Or maybe it’s I was really pissed at Dean for being too selfish to honor his brother’s wishes and crossing a line he shouldn’t have crossed. Either way, it felt like they stumbled to a conclusion rather than build up to it like they so brilliantly did in “Sacrifice” and “In My Time of Dying.”
Even the season opening song, George Thorogood’s “Who Do You Love?” was lackluster, sending the message that any hope of a classic rock budget for the season would not probably not be happening. But that’s nitpicking, and it’s a little late to be going there.
Overall grade, a B-. So, when did Supernatural start going off the rails for you? Or maybe it never did and it’s just me. I just know that sitting through this again, I remembered why I didn’t love it. It’ll be interesting to see what I remember from the rest of season nine as I go through these rewatches. Coming up next, “Devil May Care.”