Holy crow, batman! Season eight?! One minute your heart is stopping watching the ill-omened glowing eyes of purgatory before the closing card flashes on the screen and the next thing you know there is a great Road So Far recap and a brand new title card is giving you chills. This episode also marked the first episode in a very, very long time that I watched live, without headphones and on a screen slightly larger than an IPhone. Of course, I say this but the idiot cable provider had yet another "minor" service blackout around the 40 minute mark of the hour. Not impressed. But it did come back after a minute and I got to see that kick ass ending. But, I'm getting ahead of myself - let's talk about this from the start.
A Supernatural Soul-Train
We open in Maine one year from where we left off, joining a couple in the middle of the woods sleeping peacefully in a tent. This all leads to a somewhat Blairwitch-esque camping sequence of creepy shadows and forestry after a curious burst of light in the background. And like a beautiful apparition, after months of speculation, there he is, a bloody and somewhat (and understandably) on edge but FREE Dean Winchester. This some felt reminiscent of the now classic burst-from-the-grave start in season four. Am I the only one who thought so?
From here we see Dean end up in Clayton, Louisana some four days after stealing the bag from the nice camping couple. Watching Dean dig the hole I expected somehow to see Castiel instead what we got was better - a new "friendly" purgatory creature that Dean not only fails to kill, but parts with on a hug. We've come so far from Mr. Black and White - Monsters should die because they're monsters of season one, haven't we? I cannot wait to see where this "friendship" with Benny ends up. If history is any indication it will probably be with one trying to kill the other.
The Sam and Dean reunion felt a bit off to me, I have to admit. I get it, we've done a number of reunions by this point and the aim is to be different. Nonetheless, this was one area of the episode I found lacking. Firstly, I would have liked to see the phone call where Sam learns Dean is alive. Secondly, Dean doing the demon/leviathan/shifter tests on himself was supposed to be"¦.funny? Meant to be demonstrative of Dean's even deeper intensity after being in purgatory? Whatever this was aiming at it fell short of its mark for me. A great reunion would have been some take on the season one B&E in the pilot.
Nevertheless, the meeting gives us some of the information we've wondered at for a while now: what has Sam been up to and where Castiel is at. Our first look at Sam is in a dark bedroom as he says goodbye to a sweet looking dog and the woman we eventually come to know as Amelia. Oh, and Sam's hair is crazy long. Wow. Later we learn that Sam met Amelia as she was the vet he rushed a stray dog to after hitting it. So somewhere between her guilting Sam into taking the dog and the bedroom scene (was anyone else a bit foggy as to whether Sam had broken in to see her/say goodbye or actually lived there?) these two end up together and living together it seems. That should be an entertaining story. Also, anyone else noticing a pattern in Sam's attractions? So far lots of women not afraid to give an order or an opinion, eh?
Sam seems calm, relaxed and well-adjusted like we haven't seen in a really long time. Both boys have been obviously affected but in Sam's case it appears to be for the better (still out on whether Dean's is at this point). What was remarkable was that Sam did not look for Dean, that he really and truly moved on and lived his life. He's probably the first Winchester to appreciate that despite the tragedy and the constant evil out there, it is not is responsibility forever and always and that the world will keep turning if he doesn't hunt till he's in the grave. That's certainly a healthy new perspective on things there, Sammy. Good to see. I certainly want to know more about the woman who helped Sam get to this spot.
Dean does not share my perspective on this. He seems to understand the practicality of it but remains hurt nonetheless. Having now seen the entire episode and knowing there is something that Dean did in purgatory that seemingly wasn't, shall we say, completely above board I wonder if his response to Sam's new life wasn't something of a projection of his own issues (along with the natural and reasonable hurt that the sun comes up even if you're not there to see it). Only time will tell on this one.
"[B]loody, messy; 31 flavours of bottom-dwelling nasties."
From Dean we learn that Castiel is dead (yeah right) and that purgatory was a bloody mess of a place. Dean didn't have much to say about Cas' death besides that he didn't see the actual death but "saw enough," which sounds like a god-awful traumatic experience of some sort that remains a haunting memory for Dean. Benny is introduced in the colour-devoid flashback as saving Dean's life, as well. I wonder where during the year this meeting happened, it is obviously before any sort of meeting with Cas. Benny appears to present the first of what will probably many deal-with-the-devil situations as Dean is given the opportunity for help and a way out but with a price. Circumstances are understandable for working with and even helping this creature, though I wonder at Sam's reaction when he learns of this partnership. The flashbacks did a good job of illustrating the warlike atmosphere Dean was exposed to in purgatory and gives us some glimpses into how he survived (luck, reflexes, skill and a really cool weapon, which will be handy later on).
A couple telling indicators that weren't really talked about (yet) but served the audience well: first Dean struggling with the choices at the vending machine - not used to selection but rather necessity driven acceptance of whatever is available. Second is his reaction to the children playing with the toy guns - what was crossing Dean's mind just then? Finally, when Dean questioned whether the entire burger and fries combo was his. Do I need to even talk about that flashing neon sign?
We saw Sam take all this in, in his Sam way, and I'm sure there is an Oprah moment coming about what happened really. I said above that Sam seems calmer and his simple acceptance of things, his almost "come what may" attitude is different in a good way, in my opinion. Quite often a quiet internalizing kind of guy, there was an added layer of peace to Sam that was refreshing and welcome. Lots of anger, sadness, guilt and internal conflict were omnipresent for so long in this character, predominantly last season.
"All good in the hood"
Reinforcing for Dean that Sam made the wrong decision to fall off the hunter grid for twelve months are a series of messages from Kevin Tran. This was a funny part as Kevin's messages became increasingly desperate and then went to drunk and frustrated. Furthermore the relationship between Sam and Dean that we love so much is still there when it takes a mere exchange of long looks between them to convey an entire conversation.
After witnessing a good, old-fashioned possession with Shannon and some always welcome FBI impersonations, the boys track down Kevin in a church in Iowa where he has fortified himself pretty sufficiently. Always a fan of a good double cross (when it's in favour of the heroes, anyways) Kevin's fake-out on Crowley was superb. Not only did he not open a Hellgate, he left Crowley standing in a field of goats, nuked some especially jerky demon minions, scored a Word of God tablet, figured out how to basically close Hell forever and escaped all on his own - round of applause for Kevin, please. Continuing his streak of Hunter-level awesomeness and suggesting Kevin has learned quite a bit in the last year, Kevin makes the very difficult decision to not make a deal for Channing. Personally, I'd say this was the right call. Though a charming and usually well spoken demon, the King of Hell (always delightfully portrayed by Mark Sheppard) is a sneaky bastard so Channing was likely dead regardless. Hence, I'd say Kevin made the right decision.
"Keep your nose clean."
Finally, we finished with one hell of an ominous and darkly vague conversation between Benny and Dean. All we know is that Dean has no regrets and that he and Benny should remain separate until they "readjust" to this world. This left me with two questions: what exactly doesn't Dean regret and why was Benny, whose clearly been away for a great many more years than Dean, at a funeral?
As openers go this was pretty spectacular. Let's review: we had reunions, clever twists, mysterious phone calls and unexplained events in missing time with an ominous concluding note. The opening here reminded me of that phenomenal season four opener. In fact, this entire episode felt more like a classic "Supernatural" episode than I've seen in a long time; this includes Sam and Dean somehow feeling more like Sam and Dean, despite the year of changes that lay behind them.
This episode gave us enough information from the missing year to whet our appetites and leave us intrigued yet left so much room for exploration in the coming weeks, rounded up almost all of our key players whose fates were left dangling in the wind back in May and cast some interesting new players onto the board. This opener, despite some of it's darker allusions to things yet to be discovered, had a lighter feeling too. If this seasons journey is about closing the gates of hell forever, well that is very new. Instead of trying to fix, stop or find this is a more proactive, finally ahead-of-the-ball sort of mission that I welcome.It's a tad early to speculate this, but if this is a taste of the season to come I think we're in for quite the year.
What were your thoughts, fellow viewers?