Noir is Dead. Long live Noir.
Supernatural has stripped back down to basics. It has returned, in many ways with "Meet the New Boss," to its old flavor and style. This, ironically, makes the series fresh and renewed. Starting with, during the Road So Far, we can already tell that the show is bringing itself back to the basics. Foghat's "Slow Ride" plays us in, recapping the events leading us to here. The title card splatters a black splotch and fades to brilliant white, stark and bare, reflecting the return to the storytelling that has made Supernatural so good for so long.
It picks up from where we left off and brings us into new territory. We were warned in Season 6 that there are far worse creatures in Purgatory than the Mother of All or the souls of her children. This season is going to explore that and oh so much more.
Classic lines pepper the script beautifully. And each line is spread evenly rather than going to one single character, upping the enjoyment of each gem. Bobby's questioning of what to do about Cas, with his flippant, "Exactly! What? Miracles? Mass visions? A trenchcoat on a tortilla?" is a delight that brought us right back to the signature humor of this series right away. Dean getting the jump on the guy catching them breaking into a house is classic Dean in every way: "Pardon me, do you have any Grey Poupon?" Sam's reaction of "Grey Poupon? Seriously?" gives us the banter the brothers used so frequently in the past right back to front and center. Guest star characters, such as Lucifer, continue the great line parade when he greets Sam with a nonchalant "Hey Sam. Long time no spooning." Death chastises Dean, but compliments on his way out, "Great pickle chips, by the way."
As great as the lines are, the story moves quickly, giving us the chance to wrap up the season 6 storyline and set the stage for the rest of the season in a great fashion. Castiel is running amok. He has turned himself into something far worse than Lucifer himself. Lucifer didn't want to become God. Instead, he wanted to destroy man for replacing him and his brothers. Castiel has taken it a step further, assuming the mantle of God. And the results are as disastrous as his vessel becomes towards the end of the episode. He isn't as imaginative as he claims, either. Two of his miracles: the healing of a leper colony and restoring the sight of a blind man, are two acts attributed to Jesus. He has bought fully into his hype and goes out of his way to punish those he feels are hypocrites, such as the Reverend that rails against homosexuality or the Senator that "keeps people in poverty in my name."
At the campaign office, when Sam and Dean watch the footage, it is easy to see that Castiel has completely lost it. The sick and twisted smile on his face is foreshadowing of the final moment of the episode, although neither brother knows it yet. That was not Castiel at the office, not in that video footage. That was the Leviathan taking control, a flash of what is to come for the season's upcoming big bad. I am pleased that this is how the so called Big Bad is introduced. I wasn't certain how long they could drag the "Cas is Now God" thing, and making him be the big bad that way would have become messy before too long. Having him emerge in the end as the big bad possessed by the monster that he was unable to expel is perfect. It gives this creature the arsenal to KNOW Sam and Dean's ticks, their strengths, their weaknesses, and how to keep just a step ahead of them by downloading Cas's memories. This monster will know, possibly, not to entirely underestimate the Brothers Winchester, something that the other big bads tended to do, which left them dead.
Castiel isn't the only show stopper in this episode. We are haunted by what happened to Sam, now that he has been fully reintegrated at the end of "The Man Who Knew Too Much." He hallucinates about his time in the Cage, seeing meat hooks and chains stalking him. It gets to the point where those chains drop through Bobby's ceiling and wrap around his neck to choke him. Sam has lost his grip on reality, and fallen into old habits. He won't tell Dean that he is struggling, wanting to spare his big brother from seeing the truth. Sam should know better, but Dean already knows, even if he's enabling the denial. It's fairly obvious that Sam has lost his touch on reality, and when Lucifer confronts him at the lab they take Cas to in order to return the souls, he learns the possible truth: he's in the Cage and Lucifer has allowed him to think that he was somehow free.
It might explain, to an extent, Sam's reluctance to tell Dean about what is happening. Lucifer confirmed what Sam might have been thinking all along. Why talk to Dean if Dean is either not real or Lucifer in disguise? The Devil wouldn't bat an eye at using whatever Sam says against him. His grip on reality is so tenuous that he can't logically see that this is a hallucination, not real. It makes Sam's story compelling and tragic. It also gives us the same thought that Sam has had: could Lucifer be telling the truth?
Dean's story is connected to Sam's. He has to repair, again, Baby after she was flipped by Crowley's demons. He is using Baby as a stand in for Sam. The Impala can be fixed and he will restore her to her former glory in no time. The scenes where he fixes the car are pure Dean. He is hands on in hunting and life. They're such simple scenes, and they bring back in essence the Dean that we all know and love.
It is Sam that he is uncertain of how to fix. That doesn't mean he doesn't try to hide his anxiety. He tells Bobby, who is concerned about Sam after seeing him freak out in the basement. It's like he said earlier, "And when he wakes up, no matter what shape he's in, we'll glue him back together, too."
Dean is incapable of giving up on Sam---as Sam was unable to give up on Dean and returned from his soul reintegration to arrive at the lab. This bond being reforged, and hopefully strengthened, in the upcoming episodes, will be their most powerful tool against the creature that has taken Castiel's place. Their reliance on one another, through thick and thin, will be what pulls them above and to the finish line. It is also another basic structure to the Supernatural success. Sam and Dean will do anything for each other, will fight for each other, will die for each other, and when push comes to shove, if something threatens the other will eliminate that threat. It such a basic element and it is a cornerstone of this beautiful show. Seeing them, despite the argument over Sam keeping his memory struggle secret, being on the same page and going in the same direction is just what the series needed right now.
Dean's idea to bind Death is both brilliant and foolish. Sam is often quoted as being the brains of the duo, but Dean often comes up with great ideas and foolhardy plans that work or yield information they need. This is one of those ideas. Death wrongly assumed it was to help fix Sam, but Dean needed Death to reap God, as he told him he could in "Two Minutes to Midnight." It is probably his most foolish idea ever. Dean can't truly think he could hold Death in chains for long. Death is not pleased, but is completely nonplussed by Castiel's entrance, although grateful that he can unbind him. He knows that Castiel is only a "mutated Angel." He also knows that Sam and Dean must stop him if they are to save the world from the coming holocaust at the Leviathan"™s hands, the monsters prior to Angels and man. He tells them he will create another eclipse so that they can get Cas to return the souls. This is up to them, and he will not fix it for them. Death has no concern for the salvation of the planet, as it is miniscule to him. If they want to save it, they will have to do it.
Having Death do it this way is brilliant. It makes the boys have to do the work themselves, another basics moment for the show. It also sets up one of the most beautiful scenes of the episode. Sam, the one most hurt by Castiel's actions and has most reason to hold a grudge, won't turn his back. He was rendered Soulless, his soul was left to rot in the Cage for over a year, and his wall put in by Death was tore down all because of Castiel. He goes outside, amongst Bobby's junked cars, and prays that Castiel will hear him. He gets the beautiful speech: "Hey Castiel. Maybe this is pointless. Look, I don't know if any part of you even cares, but I still think you're one of us deep down and way, way, way off the reservation. But we still have "˜til dawn to stop this. Let us help. Please."
It is touching and demonstrates just how big of a heart Sam Winchester has---with his soul intact that is. Sam has always wanted to look at the good side of others, reach out to that aspect, and bring it forward. He does so here. His ability to forgive is possibly what makes Castiel repent later on.
As Sam and Dean are debating what they should do about Castiel, he shows up, weakened and conciliatory. He agrees that they should do as Death has requested and they head to the lab. His answering Sam's prayer is a complete reversal of his behavior in season 6 when he declared that he had a more profound bond with Dean.
Once they get him to the actual lab, they start the ritual to re-open the door to Purgatory. Both brothers are helping. Sam is told to get the blood jar from the other room, and he goes to do so. Castiel takes this chance to apologize to Dean, admitting that he feels regret. It is a bit late, and Dean is cool in response. He may have remorse or simply be upset that his plan to become God failed, but Dean cannot forgive him for hurting Sam. Castiel has accepted that he will most likely die when these souls spill out back into Purgatory where they belong. It's tragic that he has been brought to this point, but it can't be forgotten that he brought himself largely to this precipice against all advice.
As Sam is taking too long to return, Dean goes to find the jar sitting in the middle of the hall, sans Sam. They don't have time to waste, so he returns to complete the ritual. Castiel collapses, almost used up and weak. The door opens and the souls spill back from which they came---but not everyone leaves. As Cas falls to the floor, broken and battered, Bobby and Dean question if he's dead. Dean may have called Cas a child, but his childlike question, "Maybe Angels don't need to breathe," breaks the heart. He may have been angry with Castiel for this mess, but he still cared.
Like a miracle, Castiel heals, but is it him? He is stunned to be alive, still weak. He tells Dean that he will make amends, and Dean brushes it off. He still has to find Sam, after all. Unfortunately, the Leviathan is ready to take control, and Cas pleads to both Dean and Bobby to run. It's left to wonder if he had been revived at all or if the Leviathan were playing a joke on them the way Lucifer did in Sam's form after Sam said yes. He throws them around the room like dolls, and chuckles that it's "going to be so much fun!"
This sets up the rest of this promising and young season. We're returned to the basics of Supernatural: Sam and Dean are reunited as a brotherly team. Classic rock plays as intro and set up. Great humorous lines are peppered through out in what would otherwise be a dark episode. The Impala is, as the series itself, being rebuilt and restored. It can't get much better than this.
The acting in this episode, by all parties, was superb. I found myself enthralled by Jared and Jensen's performances---but also thought that of Mark Sheppard's, Jim Beaver's, Julian Richings's, Mark Pellegrino's, and Misha Collins's were excellent.
My favorite scenes, when it comes to acting alone have to be watching Jared and Mark Pellegrino face off again. They brought us back to Detroit fluidly, Sam trying to wish away the Devil before him as a simple hallucination. At times, I almost felt that Sam had adopted some of the ticks Samifer has, almost like a defense mechanism. The way he said certain words, held himself aloof, he was trying to convince Lucifer before him that he wasn't weak or falling for the lies---until the rug is pulled out and Jared shifted effortlessly into distraught and broken Sam, almost shattering in a simple boyish expression as he began to believe that he was still in the Cage. The scene was captivating, heartbreaking, and brilliantly done. I found myself wanting a bit more, hoping to see another like it in the next episode.
I really enjoyed seeing Jensen put Baby back together, and his scenes with Jim Beaver as they discuss the new mess they're in. They both make such dark conversations seem so natural and true for their characters that if you didn't know any better you'd think they were discussing a weather front. And yet the subtle nature of the emotions bubbling in both as Bobby becomes afraid for Sam and Dean becomes frustrated, afraid, and despondent in the situation they're in shines through beautifully. Jensen sold me a sad and broken Dean right when Cas "dies" after Purgatory closes. Dean might have been rigid in his not forgiving Cas before, but actions speak louder than words. It is Dean that helps Cas to stand, and in that gesture, Jensen sells us a Dean teetering on the edge of forgiveness but not quite ready to take the plunge. He comes close again when Cas is revived, just before being taken over by the monster. Dean goes from childlike to solider to despairing all in fluid motions, and Jensen brings each element in as needed beautifully.
Misha Collins also performed beautifully, both as a deranged God and the new big bad Leviathan. It utterly amazed me that he could turn on a dime essentially and flip a beautiful switch. Castiel as a God didn't really scare me simply because I saw the truth in his performance as he brought that story element alive. Cas was trying to convince himself and anyone who would listen that he was God and Misha sold that indecisiveness and self doubt. I was terrified when he turned into the Leviathan and declared that Castiel was dead. His glee and sadistic nature in this performance made this monster frightening and intriguing. I felt a thrill as he morphed from regretful Angel of the Lord to evil and twisted beast set to destroy. I have no doubt that we'll see his face again as this evil creature. And I'm sure the acting will be just as delicious.
I love how Julian Richings sells Death as a likable but frightening character. He's sarcastic, unflappable, and a delight on screen. As Dean sees Cas as a child, Death sees Dean as the same. He does know that Dean has tenacity and smarts, hence his charging him with stopping Cas from sucking Purgatory dry in the first place, but his cool indifference to Dean's struggle is portrayed perfectly. There's just something delicious about how Julian delivers his lines and I can't help but eat it up.
And of course Mark Sheppard, here in this episode less cocky than the Crowley we know and love, gives a wonderful performance as everyone's favorite King of Hell. He makes this character both detestable and loveable all at once. I adored how he brought us downtrodden and beaten down Crowley. He was afraid of being killed, and he didn't want to go down with the ship the boys were sailing, but he is still always looking for the winning side. The way Mark Sheppard delivered the line "Listening" was just amazing.
And to think, we have 22 episodes left to watch.
It is good to be a Supernatural fan.