Honestly, I'm not quite sure where to begin with this one. I just finished the episode and many emotions and thoughts are running around at full speed. This episode was brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed. Any faults that there have been with season seven have nearly been corrected by this one 42-minute installment. Let's see if I can form coherent and sufficient words to talk about this amazing show that just made me fall in love all over again.
Let me start this review by saying this: I freakin' love Castiel. This is no secret, but in the interest of full disclosure I wanted to prepare everyone for the gushing that's about to commence. I, like many others out there, have been waiting for this episode since 7x02 when Misha's beautiful face last graced my screen. So, with that out the way, let's commence the review. This episode, like much of the season, was really about the characters and in this episode in particular, there were individual stories told throughout:
Sam v Lucifer
This is the episode we've been waiting for, in more ways than one. Yes, Misha's back (we'll get to that in a minute though). But the other big event of the season has been Sam's impending melt down and boy, did they deliver on that one. Lucifer has long been a favourite character of mine and he's as deliciously evil as a hallucination as he ever was in reality. Sammy, admitted to the hospital after a car accident and then located to the locked psych ward (that apparently lets patients wander unchecked into each other's rooms) is fighting a losing battle with Satan.
Dean and Sam play reverse roles of the hospital scene in Faith (though Sam makes no threats against the Snuggle bear). Sam is tired and seems to have accepted his fate and the inevitability of death. Jared (and the great make-up department) does such a good job conveying Sam's weariness that my eyes feel heavy just watching him. The simple and straightforward acceptance that the hallucinations and all that come with them are what they are is devastating. The quiet delivery and gentle demeanour Sam adopts only twists the knife further, leaving us feeling as helpless as Sam must feel. Luckily, Sammy has Dean for a big brother. What is so great about the brother's relationship and has been particularly strong this season is that when one slides down the spectrum of despair and complacent despondency; the other is pulling them back and keeping the faith for both of them. We saw it earlier this season when Dean was the one slowly dying on the inside and now that Sam is faltering, Dean refuses to let him go quietly into that goodnight.
Once the boy's part ways, Dean determined to find a solution for Sam's mental health problems, we are offered look inside both their heads. We'll come to Dean later, but with Sam we see him grow increasingly tired as the doctor's poke and prod him, all the while Lucifer stands in the corner pushing the Crazy button over and over. Lucifer has always been a masterful torturer, mentally and physically and he only amps up his game here. We witness him setting off fireworks, screeching into a feedbacking megaphone, manifesting maggots in Sam's sandwich (eww, by the way) and even posing as Sam's doctor. This particular incarnation gave rise to a choice comment about "finding the new ten."
Though referencing Sam's physical pain threshold (at least at first) and perhaps hinting at the torture inflicted on Sam in the cage, really struck me as being a note not only about the boys generally, but in particular this season. Sam and Dean face a newer, more daunting battle each season on Supernatural. But this season in particular they've been dragged to the edge, tossed over and taken to another edge. The sheer magnitude of the losses experienced and the hits just keep coming are all about hitting the new ten. Sam has hit his ten physically, or nearly, in this episode because he is human and simply cannot function forever without sleep. He sees ten rushing toward him but as he explains to Dean there isn't much to be done about it at this point. Ten edges still closer when HalLucifer likens the two of them in the locked psych ward to being trapped together in Hell, a chillingly accurate parallel.
Ten may be closing in fast for Sam but he isn't down and out yet. He proves this by helping Marin, his ward-mate with her ghost problem. Most of the time Marin was on screen I suspected she was more than she seemed but in the end she was just a girl with a ghostly brother. For one as exhausted as Sam looked, he was remarkably coherent in helping Marin put her brother to rest. I enjoyed the small friendship Sam developed with Marin, including sharing the chocolate bar and her guessing at who Sam's voice was. Beyond that this really spoke to Sam's character: no matter what, he is a hunter. Helping people is in his blood even when he can't help himself.
As he helps Marin, the hallucinations get worse and once the ghost is dealt with, Sam is whisked off for some electro-shock therapy. (Let's pause here for just one moment and enjoy the overhead shot of Sam strapped to the gurney with his feet hanging well over the edge. Of course no medications will put this guy out, you'd need elephant tranquilizers!). Once saved from the black-eyes orderly, we see that Sam's hallucinations are to the point where he sees Lucifer in everyone; he's completely broken from reality with no way to differentiate any longer. Luckily, there's an angel at his bedside.
Dean: Shake It Off
Supernatural does phone calls well. Back in Home Dean made a heart-wrenching request for their father's help and in Faith Sam made a similar call. Earlier this season Dean confessed to Bobby in an emotional voicemail that he was at the end of his rope and couldn't take another loss. Yes, this show does phone calls well, chiefly the one-sided ones and Born-Again Identity is no exception. Like his brother before him in Faith Dean contacts everyone and then some in an attempt to help Sam. For the most part, he is unsuccessful. It speaks to the talent of the Supernatural team and the acting that there can be so much hopelessness and desperation in the simple act of making calls. Dean has his own weariness in this episode, completely different from Sam. If he loses Sam, Dean has hit his ten and this time there is no Ben and Lisa to turn to, no Bobby, no Castiel. Sam is literally all that's left. One thin straw on the already burgeoning camel's back of things Dean has been carrying all season. But then, the elephant in the room rears its trunk and waves hello again. That's right; the mysterious force is back and leads Dean to a business card with a number on it. It's this number that leads Dean to Emmanuel the Healer. Yup, exactly like Faith: a real-deal healer and the only hope.
Upon reaching Emmanuel's home, it's quickly evident to Dean that demons are on the scene again. Like the ghost, it's kind of refreshing to see old and very much defeatable foes again. (So, if Crowley's removed the no-kill order from the Winchesters he must have something else up his tricky little sleeve. Only time will tell but I'm really looking forward to watching it unfold). Dean slays the demon posing as Emmanuel and then we get the moment we've waiting for: the camera starts low and then we see Dean's face tight with disbelieve. Castiel is alive. (Though hardly appropriate given the seriousness of the episode, I imagine a choir singing Hallelujah! in the background when Cas is revealed here).
Not only is Castiel alive, he's married! Although technically, being as Emmanuel is Cas inside Jimmy, whose already married to Amelia Novak, this second wife Daphne doesn't count legally. Maybe that'll help the sting when her husband never comes back. Kind of a pattern with this guy. Dean struggles past his shock and even shakes hands with "Emmanuel" explaining he needs help to heal his brother. In short order, the two are on the road and heading toward Sam.
The conversation between Emmanuel and Dean reveals a great deal about what Dean has been feeling about Cas and his death, something that we've been wondering at for months now. We see Dean struggling with Cas' betrayal and tearing down Sam's wall. There is one particular moment in this scene that struck a chord with me. Emmanuel asks if Cas was his friend and the look that flashes across Dean's face is pure sorrow. Yes, they were friends, but they were more than that "“ they were brothers in arms and I would argue that Cas was Dean's best friend, aside from Sam of course. Sam and Dean didn't have many friends (Bobby is a father figure and in a class of his own) outside of one another so a relationship like they had with Cas, in particular given the "bond" between the angel and Dean, was special. This look on Dean's face flashes for a second but you can take all of that from the pained, sad expression.
We also get some of the patented Dean and Cas humour, though a little milder than we're used to because there is an awkward tension between the boys. Emmanuel reveals his name came from BouncingBabyNames.com and notes that "Cas" is an usual name. He also guesses that maybe Dean killed Cas, because he senses Dean kills a lot of people. Oh Cas, how I've missed you so.
Later Dean pauses to restock at a convenience store he's ambushed by demons and saved by the longest-surviving black-eyed bitch on the block, Meg, played again by Rachel Miner. Meg has been following Dean for a while and now knows about Cas. Apparently, Crowley is still gunning for her and she wants to work with Dean and use Cas' mojo. Dean says she can come but strictly forbids revealing anything to Emmanuel about being the angel Castiel. Meg agrees but pushes that line more and more until she finally lets the cat out of the bag when they learn the hospital housing Sam is guarded by demonic forces. It was good to see Meg again. Her sass brought some lightheartedness to an otherwise heavy episode and she ended up spicing the plot up in new and unexpected ways by the end.
During the car ride with Meg, Dean is almost shielding of Cas in his desire to keep from revealing the truth to him. He behaves like he did toward Sam after his soul was returned: protective brother who doesn't want to burden Cas. He's afraid the effect the knowledge may have and this is understandable as for one thing, one mental breakdown at a time is enough and for another, he just got his friend back and while he may be supremely pissed and unable to shake was Cas did, he still cares about him and isn't ready to lose him yet. As it turns out, one mental breakdown at a time is really all they need in the end anyways.
What is there is say besides awesome? Misha plays Emmanuel with the same child-like naivety as Cas had, but with a little less (or at least a different type of) awkwardness. He still has that shiny "new" quality about him; his sense of humour is a bit questionable as the straight character oblivious to jokes and making dubious ones of his own. Emmanuel is earnest though unsure and not the hardened warrior Castiel was even at the beginning of his relationship with Dean. As always, Misha's ability to play the same but completely different character is a marker of his talent and acting chops.
Meg crashes the party early and joins Dean and Emmanuel on their trip back to Sam. She wants to tell Cas who he is (a tree topper) because he's a super powerful weapon, especially against the demons that are again chomping at the heels of the Winchesters. Dean says no but once they reach the hospital the demonic security force standing guard leaves no choice. Actually, Emmanuel overhears a conversation between Dean and Meg and puts 2 + 2 together concluding he is this Cas. He thinks being an angel sounds "pleasant" - how wrong you are, my head-tilting friend.
Hesitantly and unsure, Emmanuel agrees to try fighting the demons with his angel juice and slowly walks into the demon stronghold. He presses his hands to the demon and in one of the coolest montages of the show, Castiel's memories are restored. We see him meeting Dean (that epic character introduction that still gives me chills), breaking Dean out of the greenroom in Lucifer Rising, making a deal with Crowley, and finally apologizing to Dean as he pours the souls back into purgatory. His words to the last demon he kills are "I don't think running is going to help you" and again, this feels like a comment on the show itself more than anything.
So, Cas remembers and gravely-voiced he argues with Dean about what he did. Bless Dean, for he tries to defend his friend despite everything, saying that Cas did the best he could at the time but this isn't good enough for Cas, who believes he deserved to die for the death toll on his hands. Cas can't comprehend why he walked out of the water if he couldn't fix it. Dean responds with a distressed and frantic expression that maybe he survived so he could fix it. And how does Dean finally get through to Cas? Does he argue Cas owes them, guilt him? No. He does what Dean has done every time he needed to pull somebody back: he loves them. When it comes to the big things, Dean's heart is his greatest asset. It got through to his father when possessed by YED and it got through to Sammy inhabited by Lucifer. It does the trick this time too. Dean goes to the truck of the car and wordlessly pulls out the trench coat, sharing a sad and soulful expression with his friend the angel. Like a love letter to the fans, this entire sequence is like the dozens of fanfics I've read come to life, and it's better than I imagined. That moment, alongside the montage of Cas' memories, goes down on my list of top Supernatural moments.
The next instance we see Castiel, adorned in his bloody but sight-for-sore-eyes trench coat slaying the orderly demon and apologizing to Sam for what he's done. Sadly, Castiel cannot fix the broken wall for no stones remain to build upon. With great resolve, Castiel suddenly realizes that though he cannot fix Sam's problem, he can transfer it to himself. In truth, this volley may have been seen a mile out by some out there, especially in light of the tiny set up of Dean offering Emmanuel's own lack of need for sleep as evidence of his angelic being. However, this twist was nothing I anticipated and really is the perfect solution given everything. In a flash of red viney-lightening tendrils, the hallucinations of Lucifer go from Sam to Castiel and like a frightened animal the angel backs into a corner and the brothers soak in what he's done.
Many out there suggested Castiel could never get redemption for what he'd done to Sam, breaking the wall. In light of this twist I will say he and Sam are even. Cas didn't simply rebuild the wall so that it might crumble at the hands of another, he removed the need for it entirely, taking Sam's burden into himself. And truly, this is the perfect solution in the interim. Castiel doesn't need to sleep, so the hallucinations won't kill him. Though the merits of letting an all-powerful angel go insane may be questioned, the contingency is Nurse Masters, presumably there to protect Cas from everything, including himself.
Though Misha long ago Tweeted the now infamous photo of him in the hospital bed, it was still somewhat of a shock to the system to see the forlorn Castiel sitting alone in that dim, tiny, sterile room. What amounted to approximately five seconds of screen time broke my heart into a million pieces. Oh gracious, indeed.
The New Ten
The episode ends with Sam well and truly "back on his feet" and feeling uneasy about Dean's arrangement with Meg, likening it to a deal, and about leaving Cas at the hospital. Dean, however, makes some decent points. Castiel is vulnerable in his state and with a bounty on his halo'd head is safer where he is. As for Meg, well, they have no friends left what's working with "the enemy of my enemy" at this point? He explains to Sam that the not-deal with Meg is an arrangement of "mutually assured destruction" because they need each other and you work with what you've got. Besides, by this point they've worked with so many demons one more isn't going to hurt.
Though the episode was fully of heady emotion, for some reason I feel like we ended on a high note for a change. Finally, the Winchesters have an ace in their corner. Sam's hallucinations, a Damocles sword if ever there was, are gone and they have their angel back, even if he isn't in tip top shape. Sam and Dean where pushed to their respective breaking points, or at least within very tenuous threads of them in this episode and they survived. Sam was still a strong and capable hunter despite the hallucinations reaching their pinnacle and Dean was able to find a way to save his brother without giving into the despair of the situation. So, the question becomes: what's the new ten barrelling down the pipeline?
This barely needs saying at this point, but I LOVED this episode. Born-Again Identity is the reason I love Supernatural. We saw the long-anticipated collapse of Sam and Dean's likewise anticipate reaction as well as the return of an old and loved friend. In short, this was the perfect storm of plot, nostalgia, redemption and heartbreak.
So, am I the only one in love here? What are your thoughts on the 17thinstallment of Season Seven?