You know, I'm not much of a shipper all things concerned. I mean I have some opinions on which relationships work best for a character based upon what the narrative has done so far, but in general, as long as the creators put some effort into justifying the pairing, I don't care.
Still, I have to have some sympathies for Destiels as this episode started to feel like it was just outright taunting them. Like TPTB had a bucket of water in one hand and gasoline in another and which one the fires of fandom were going to get in the next scene was half the suspense of the episode.
Certainly it didn't help by a general feeling from this episode that while it had to acknowledge that 9.03 existed, 9.06 didn't want it too. We go from Dean upset over Castiel's life choices to lines mentioning that Cas was thrown out by the aforementioned Dean. Really at this point if Castiel developed a drinking problem I wouldn't blame him one bit!
But, there will be time to talk about how the general ties between this episode and "I'm no Angel"* in my soon to be separate essay. By far the best scenes were Sam, Kevin and Crowley playing housemates. I particularly like the director's and cinematographer's style when they did the bathroom-doorway-discussion scene. It was beautiful and reminds us that while the show isn't losing those drama moments any time soon, we can have those moments delivered in stylistic and interesting methods. (remember the mirror trick with Zachariah in Lucifer Rising?) Of course don't be overdoing it with shaky cam or some such nonsense, it takes the right touch of just enough but not too much. Though I did not get the face shadows at the beginning since we see the MotW's face in his next appearance anyway. Since he was a stranger, why bother with the "mystery"? Seeing his appearance would mean the same for us as not. Eh, maybe it was a metaphor about his condition or status or something. Discuss.
This episode also seems to have tanked the fan theory of Ezekiel pretending to be Sam. On the meta level I doubted it since no way the creators would do that to Jared, but now we've got some pretty solid proof just shy of outright confession (meaning the writers have left the door open to change their minds later). I mean of course the scene where Sam is interrogating Crowley over the translation. Had that really been Zeke pretending, then... why pretend? First it should go without saying that Zeke should have every reason to get back to heaven. He would at least get his wings back meaning it would be easier to go on the run so as far as all logic and evidence tells us, Zeke wants to get back home every bit as much as any other protagonist wants to send him there. Therefore: 1) As an angel he should probably be able to read the translation himself so why even bother working with a demon? He could have translated it out of sight and then returned with an excuse. 2) Even assuming he couldn't (or wouldn't) for some reason, he could then intimidate Crowley into giving up the answer. If Castiel could do so with a light show in "A Little Slice of Kevin" then it should be just as easy for Zeke to do the same. If anything it would be more frightening for Crowley since he doesn't know Zeke or his limits or his restraints as well as Castiel's. Some might point out that a lot of these points would then be countered by Crowley spilling the beans about Sam but remember that such would put the situation in a "he said/he said" mode and everyone would side with "Sam's" word over Crowley's (even if we the audience know that this time Crowley is telling the truth). In conclusion: Zeke, if he's been pretending this whole time, had a set up where he could play a big trump card with little to no cost to himself and he didn't take it. Ergo, Sam really is in there. (now whether he's being INFLUENCED by Zeke or not? that would be an interesting discussion...)
Now let's talk about Crowley! He's been a bit of an elephant in the room (and no that's not a pun about his situation). The biggest downside of season 8 was the general vagueness of the trials themselves (though I will acknowledge that it was a bit more intelligent narrative play by TPTB). For instance, where was it ever really confirmed that only 1 person had to do it or could you split the duties? (i.e. Dean - you go kill the hellhound while Sam fishes Adam out of Hell) Was there a time frame? Why not do 1 trial, then wait a year to heal and do the 2nd? The latest being, of course, well what happens if they cure Crowley now? Will that count as "completing" it for Sam? I'll have a fun explanation below but setting that aside, we still have to ask: why not "fix" Crowley? They have him locked up, they know what to do, why keep him evil? Heck as hunters, don't they have a duty to try and "save" Crowley as person? We've seen no sign that he'll "lose" his memory if cured so it's not like they couldn't fix him then have him join their battles. No good answer to these questions have been provided or even hinted at. (besides the obvious medical one that it can NOT be healthy to do all that with those needles** forget the burns, I assumed Sam was in the hospital in 9.01 because of the infections that had to be raging through him) Still the closing shot of Crowley shooting himself up with
Castiel with the baby was, of course, awesome - especially watching Misha breaking his Cas voice during song and having to resort to his regular pitch. A hint that we might yet get the SPN musical episode this season or next? Actually... I hope not. Not just because I hate musicals (though their tv episodes are usually pretty good) but I think opera is much more appropriate of the show. It has the scale and grandeur best fitting for this show and is just outright cooler. No really, the common trope of "boredom at the opera" is so false to reality I wonder how it came about (well, besides the competition factor). Believe it or not, but "kill the wabbit" is far more accurate to how operas really are then what you typically see in movies/tv. So seriously crew: if you want to do a musical SPN episode don't! Do an operatic one.
Monster of the Week was kind of interesting (and showed us how very little we need those rogue reapers). I would complain about how a "medic" keeps executing people who AREN'T mortally wounded but I can give this a pass this time as it can hint at how differently the angels view the rest of the world. Maybe the pain our souls go through appear like mortal wounds to angels (giving us one other advantage humans have over them: our souls are more resilient). I was more hoping of the "ironic genie" motif in this monster and him just wanting to be helpful and give people what they want only to not get that even we don't know what we want at times. Maybe they were trying to do a bit of it there but it all went pear-shaped with his villain lecture at the end.
All in all I give this:
The scenes outside the bunker generally dragged the episode down while the ones inside pulled it up, leaving this episode as pretty average.
*Yeah I know I usually hotlink episodes but now I hate 9.03 so much I'm not even giving it that much.
**Actually... why can't they just draw a pint of blood (you know, like the red cross does all the time), do the "holy water" thing on that pint, then use that purified blood to save a demon? If the holy water thing won't work, could they have someone purify themselves first then donate, and then go through the ritual?
***Between him & S4-5 Sam, this show is getting sort of weird about the blood/drug parallels.
(crossposted @ http://natewinchester.wordpress.com/2013/11/16/episode-review-heaven-cant-wait/)
On the trials:
Actually everything with the trials does make sense if you think of it in an MMO (like World of Warcraft) setting. Namely, that when one completes a trial, that person gets a "buff" on them which causes some negatives and some positives (one negative being the reduced effectiveness of healing). The buff does have a time limit where it will fade away but, if one completes the last ritual with 3 stacks of the buff on their "character" then they "pass" and the gates of hell are shut (which the consequences of that are also rather nebulously defined). Of course once the buff wears off, you lose the negative and positive effects which is why healing is more effective on Sam now than it was before.
Though now why Dean or Castiel don't go through the trials is a mystery. With Abaddon calling in contracts hellhounds should be out and about so they just need to grab one, go get Adam out of Hell and then finish curing Crowley and there you go! Come on guys, it's not like this is all in a dungeon with a lockout or anything!