Season 8 of Supernatural has played with various themes. It has looked at choice, personal responsibility, good intentions, and grief. In "A Little Slice of Kevin," we see another theme, that of perception, addressed directly. It has been there in various ways throughout the season, yet here we see it thrust out into the open, causing us to question and rethink.
First, let us address the other themes touched upon in this episode.
Choice is a large portion of season 8. Sam "chooses" to walk away from hunting. Dean "chooses" to escape Purgatory. Dean "chooses" to take Benny topside with him. Sam and Dean "choose" to let Kate, the werewolf, walk away. Castiel "chooses" to stay in Purgatory. After Crowley warns Kevin about the Winchesters, Kevin "chooses" to part ways with them. In "A Little Slice of Kevin," Mrs. Tran "chooses" to hire a witch.
Each choice gives us its own set of consequences and its own conclusions. Some are good results, others are not.
The season is weaving choice into its tapestry, reminding us that each action has its own equal reaction. It reminds us---and the characters---that choice is a crucial component of the story. It is choice, after all, that gave Sam and Dean strength to face down the Apocalypse their way---and for Castiel to "choose" to join them. It is a culmination of choice that has led them to this point, and it is choice that is still rippling through each character's portion of the story. Each thread is being strung together to make the whole.
Without the Winchesters to guide them, the Trans are on their own. They must find a way to make their own defenses, make their own weapons, and make their own stands. However, it is the poor choice made by Mrs. Tran that puts them in danger. She foolishly hires a witch to gather all of the ingredients needed to make demon bombs. Her intentions are good. It is a theme laced throughout the entire series, and again having good intentions doesn't always mean the right choice is being made. Mrs. Tran is doing this to protect her son. Her heart is in the right place---and yet her choices are dangerous.
The witch agrees to help them, but she is most certainly not to be trusted. It's obvious that Mrs. Tran doesn't by her squirt of holy water to Delta's face.
Nevertheless, letting the witch in their midst puts them in danger. Delta has made a separate deal with Crowley, the King of Hell, and thus has sold Kevin Tran out. This poor choice by Mrs. Tran has many consequences. Without the Winchesters in his way, Crowley signs her death warrant and reacquires Kevin. In doing so, Crowley's choice has played into Sam and Dean's hands---possibly all without his realizing it.
Before taking Kevin into his possession, Crowley had gathered a large group of prophets-in-waiting. If he couldn't get Kevin, he was going to use one of them to get the information off the tablet. Unfortunately that meant that Kevin had to be dead for any of them to be able to read it. It's also the very thing that puts the Winchesters back on his trail.
Crowley's choices also come with their own set of consequences. He has Kevin where he wants him---at his mercy. Until they rescue him, Kevin has no idea that his mother is alive. He has nothing left to lose. Crowley uses his muscle on the would be prophets to convince Kevin to do his bidding. In private, he cuts off Kevin's finger. The horrific actions cause Kevin to cave. He agrees to read the tablet to Crowley, letting the King of Hell know its secrets.
In doing so it is discovered that there are other tablets yet waiting to be found. One about Angels has to be out there to go with the tablets covering Demons and Leviathans. The information on all these tablets can be dangerous for each species if placed in the right hands---namely the Winchester's hands.
Once the Winchesters rescue Kevin, Sam tells Mrs. Tran, "You get that it was hiring that witch that got you into all this, right?"
It is her choice that put them in danger---and yet it is her choice that has given Kevin the resolve to close the gates of Hell, to seal away all demons forever, and to join the Winchester cause. He is adamant when he says, "I want to seal those bastards up forever."
Crowley's choices and Mrs. Tran's choices combined to make this happen.
Yet, aside from this, we also see Dean struggle with choices he has made in escaping Purgatory. He is haunted by visions of Castiel and flashbacks of their difficult escape. He is not handling leaving Castiel behind well, and he confesses to Sam, "You know, I could have pulled him out. I just don't understand why he didn't try harder."
Sam replies, "You did everything you could."
Castiel made a choice---to remain behind in Purgatory.
These events touch upon the other themes this season have presented: that of grief and personal responsibility.
Grief has laced through season 8 in many ways, too. It is a tangible and powerful thread, an undercurrent that gives the story a somber flavor. We see it in Dean and his distress over leaving Castiel behind. We see it in Benny mourning the woman he loved---now turned vampire and monster. We see it in Kevin's quiet determination and loss of innocence. We see it in Sam's somber and sullen presence. We see it in his fear of losing his brother yet again. We see it in Sam, Dean, and Garth's collective grief over Bobby.
Here, we see Dean focus on his grief. He reveals, in a rare moment, his vulnerabilities about losing his friend. Dean admits openly to Sam, "Yeah, but why do I feel like crap?"
Sam answers sagely and with a weary expression, "If you let it, this is gonna keep messing with you. You got to walk past it."
It is a crucial line---revealing in one simple statement Sam's own grief. It's apparent that while he is with Dean and he is back in the life that the wounds of his grief are still raw, still bleeding, and still present. It is a warning to Dean that he will end up like him---broken, tired, lost, weary---a shadow---if he doesn't deal with it and quickly. We've seen Sam struggle with his grief in various ways since Dean's return. He has been detached. He has been sullen. He has been angry. Sam frantically tried to reach Dean when he was hunting with Benny---and dropped everything to go to him. He has a deep scar ripped raw about losing Dean yet again that will not and cannot heal.
And now Sam is watching Dean walk the path he's already been on---haunted by the loss of Castiel.
Dean has attempted to bury his grief over leaving Castiel behind in various ways---by hunting as many things as he can, by going after Crowley, by helping Benny, the friend he did get out of Purgatory---but none have soothed the frayed nerves of his grief. He still carries his grief like an albatross around his neck---encased in his guilt and his sense of personal responsibility. Dean feels that he shouldn't have gotten out if his friend did not, too. He feels personally responsible for failing Castiel---as he feels he has failed everything he loves.
He states brokenly to Castiel, "Look, I don't need to feel like hell for failing you, okay? For failing you like I've failed every other godforsaken thing that I care about! I don't need it!"
Perception is a huge portion of this season, too. They say there are three sides to every story: mine, yours, and the truth. "A Little Slice of Kevin" leaves us to wonder just what is the truth on many of the story lines. Much of the story this season has been told through Dean's perspective. We have seen his memories of Purgatory, his reactions to being back topside, and his interactions with his brother, Sam. He remembers leaving Purgatory clearly, and tells Sam, "Sammy, I remember every second of leaving that place. I mean, I remember the "“ the heat, the stink, the pain, the fear. I have that whole ugly mess......right here, and he says he has no idea how he got out? I "“ I'm just not buying it."
It isn't until Castiel tells him point blank, "No. No, you think you know. You remembered it the way you needed to," that we realize how unreliable Dean may be as the filter for which we see the story.
To further this, we see even Castiel himself manipulated. He is taken by another angel to a secret area of Heaven. There, he is told to report on the Winchesters, to answer when they call, and to be the ally he once was. The most troubling? That Castiel will not remember any of these discussions.
If an angel can manipulate not only a human's memories but that of another angel, how much of what has been shown thus far truth? The angels have an agenda yet to be revealed. Why does Naomi want Castiel to report to her about the Winchesters? What are their goals? Are they trying to keep the brothers from reading the Angel tablet---and if so what is on it that is dangerous to them? Since the Demon tablet states how to banish all demons, could the Angel tablet say the same thing about Heaven's Host?
Naomi's influence on Castiel---her ability to take him from the brothers without them realizing it, to suppress his memory of her doing so, and the knowledge that this will happen again calls so many things into direct question. How much manipulation have the angels done in the past year? How much have the manipulated recently? And why?
We've seen the angels warp perception before. Gabriel, then as the Trickster, put Sam through a timeloop in "Mystery Spot," forcing him to watch his brother die repeatedly---and then follow a six month period in which Dean was dead and gone. In "It's A Terrible Life," Zachariah places Sam and Dean into alternate reality where they are office workers, living normal lives, yet drawn to hunting by a planted ghost in the created reality. He sends Dean to another reality in "The End," where Dean confronts his potential future self and his brother, possessed by Lucifer. In season 6 Balthazar sends Sam and Dean to a reality where they are TV stars in "The French Mistake," and disrupts the correct timeline by unsinking the Titanic in "My Heart Will Go On." This is not a new trick for the angels---but it is a new method to employ it. It has always been on humans---never on their own.
That also begs us to question Sam's experiences with Amelia. How much of his year off with Amelia is truth? How much of his life with her is either created by his own mind to deal with his grief---or has he made her significance greater than it should be in retrospect? Did the angels concoct her and place Sam in a separate reality without his knowledge---one that ran alongside the real timeline---all without either brother knowing? Have the angels somehow, with Sam, played upon his raw grief in a way that further damages his already fragile psyche?
It begs to question if Sam stepped away of his own accord or if perhaps the angels pushed him in that direction then. If so, could it be that they needed Sam not to find a way to get his brother and Castiel out of Purgatory for their own means?
From the very first episode of the season, we've been playing with this theme. Perception is the key to everything happening in some form---be it Dean's time in Purgatory, Castiel's reasons for staying behind, Sam no longer hunting, or Kevin choosing to side with the Winchesters. How each character perceives things---right or wrong---could impact the story at every level. It could ripple out in its consequences almost as deeply as choice does. Without the proper perspective the wrong choice could be made---what reaction would follow has yet to be predicted.
The phrase, "trust no one" comes to mind here, and we are left to bob and weave between the lines to put together the mystery surrounding perspective in this season thus far. Somewhere within its fabric is the truth, whatever that may be.
Cyrina Fiallo plays a snarky witch well. She is cocky, untrustworthy, and sarcastic. Delta has an aura around her that instantly makes her suspicious. Fiallo gives her a flippant attitude that fits in well with the character. She is disdainful of Mrs. Tran---especially when she is confronted about providing her witch services before payment. After Delta sells out the Trans to Crowley, we see Fiallo add a layer of childish naivete as she tries to acquire the King of Hell's approval.
Lauren Tom reprises Mrs. Tran. She is feisty as always, and a treat to see return. Tom gives Mrs. Tran determination and desperation. She wants to keep her son safe, and it shows in Tom's performance. Mrs. Tran may be misguided in her methods, but she is doing what she thinks is right. She is fierce and resolute in her actions, and Tom makes sure to put on a brave face---especially when Mrs. Tran is confronting Delta. Once Kevin is taken from her, we see Tom make Mrs. Tran a frantic civilian, coming to the Winchesters for help. She is desperate and afraid, begging them to return her son to her. Tom makes Mrs. Tran's fear tangible.
Osaric Chau shows us a frustrated and overwhelmed Kevin. We see it in his exasperation with his mother dumping holy water and hiring Delta. He is struggling to figure out his next move---and without the Winchesters he is uncertain. Chau gives Kevin a bit of humor, too, shown in his appreciation of Delta. He then shows us a crushed Kevin when in Crowley's grasp. With nothing left to lose, Chau shows us that Kevin's defiance is half hearted. He shows Kevin's agony after Crowley cuts off his finger---and his resignation as he reads off the tablet. Chau gives Kevin his fire back after the brothers rescue him from Crowley in his adamant statement, "I want to seal those bastards up forever."
Mark Sheppard gives us a snarky and cruel Crowley. He seems to enjoy torturing first Samandiriel and then Kevin for pure sport. There is a smugness in both scenes that Sheppard presents well. His smooth, "I lied. I do that," is delivered with such finesse. Crowley wants to know what the tablet says out of pure survival, and his shocked face when he discovers that the spell to close the Hell Gates is real is genuine on Sheppard's face. He shows the King of Hell's frustration upon realizing the group of would-be prophets is largely useless to him with simple facial expressions and small sighs. His bewildered expression when they accuse him of being an alien is subtle but funny. His faux patience with one of the prophets trying to read the tablet continues that beautifully. Sheppard shows Crowley's lack of patience with underlings later when he thanks Delta for helping him find Kevin, only to say wearily, "Presumptuous twit." Sheppard shows both Crowley's disdain and respect for Castiel later when they are in direct confrontation. He makes swipes at Castiel's power, convinced that the angel can't touch him, only to have a flicker of fear over his face as Castiel unfurls his wings. Sheppard relishes playing the despicable Crowley, and it shows in every performance.
Ty Olsson continues to add to the Supernatural fabric well. He makes Benny seem real---and yet he adds in just enough subtle body language and tone of voice that leaves us not trusting his character, even if Dean does. Olsson may only appear in spurts through the episode, but we see him connect with both Ackles and Collins in those scenes well. He has a charisma that makes Benny tangible on the screen.
Misha Collins returns to the present as Castiel---more like the angel of the past rather than the one at the end of season 7. And yet, we sense that there is an air of remorse and grief about the angel in Collins portrayal. He is childlike in his enjoyment of television, expressed beautifully in the line, "I missed television." Collins gets to unfurl Castiel's power literally in a display of the angel's wings. It makes for an intimidating sight, regardless of the special effects. His determination and power is etched onto Collins face already. He shows two very different Castiels well---that of the desperate and left behind angel in Purgatory---the one Dean sees---and the strong angel choosing to stay behind with a firm, "Go!" Collins shows Castiel's brief distress at being returned after Naomi's conversation in a flicker of confusion across his face. We can see that the angel is already doubting and trying to remember something---but can't. Now that Castiel is back on the chess board---and not just in Dean's memories---we'll be seeing more of Collins certainly.
Jensen Ackles gives us a grieved Dean. He is struggling with seeing Castiel---and instead of pure relief upon his friend's return, Dean is suspicious and distraught. Ackles shows Dean's anguish in little gestures---particularly that as he approaches the window he spotted Castiel in, and in his voice. He gives Dean a somber flavor this week. Ackles really turns on the emotional impact when Dean confesses first to Sam and later confronts Castiel. He makes us feel for Dean deeply. Ackles makes Dean's fear tangible when he thinks that Castiel is in danger facing Crowley. We see him vent his fear in frustration as Dean yells at the angel for doing so. Ackles breaks our hearts when Dean says that he feels he has failed everything he loves. It is a moving and heartbreaking moment, one that belies that tumultuous emotions buried underneath Dean's warrior exterior. Ackles makes sure to make it subtle to increase the impact, tugging all the more on our heartstrings.
Jared Padalecki shows Sam's smarts, his grief, and his determination through this episode. He is subtle in his use of the exorcism over the phone to test their witness for possession. Padalecki shines best here in his scenes with Ackles and Collins. We see him put so much impact in his soft spoken conversation with Dean, hitting home that Sam is struggling. It is heartbreaking and moving, telling so much in so few words that Sam is warning his brother from his current trajectory. It's tragic that Sam knows what is ahead for Dean if he allows his grief for Castiel to consume him. In that subtle moment, Padalecki convinces us that Sam is still walking that path. Padalecki impacts when expressing Sam's relief upon seeing Castiel. There is a soft joy in his exclamation, Unbelievable, man. I-I cannot believe it. You're actually here." Later, we see him be resolved to help those held by Crowley, distracting demons and fighting back. He is defiant when he tells the demons, "Looks like you guys got me." It was also a treat to spot the moment Padalecki mentioned in his meet and greet in this episode, where we see him turn to look at the camera after following Dean into Crowley's latest lair.
Best lines this week are:
Benny: I lie. I don't get lied to. Aren't you guys all about faith?
Crowley: I lied. I do that.
Sam: If you let it, this is gonna keep messing with you. You got to walk past it.
Crowley: Blah, blah, blah. Doesn't anyone ever edit this stuff? So far, as a writer, God's a snooze. No fun at parties, I hear.
Dean: Look, I don't need to feel like hell for failing you, okay? For failing you like I've failed every other godforsaken thing that I care about! I don't need it!
Kevin: Mom! You've got to stop drowning me in holy water every time I go out!
It'll be interesting to see how the dynamic changes with Castiel back with the brothers and how the angels continue to manipulate the situation as the season progresses. Just what perspective will emerge?