The Great Escapist was, as the title implies, all about escapes, from Kevin's careful manipulation of Crowley to Metatron's escape from his duties to Castiel's own multitude escape plots. Yet despite want or effort, none of these players could quite break free from the reality of destiny's tight grip- yeah, she's a fickle mistress, ain't she? So, let's talk about this carefully plotted, cleverly designed episode that answered fewer questions even as it left us with far, far bigger ones.
Kevin and the Fake Winchesters: Too Polite?
We open peculiarly with Kevin in the boat answering the door and spraying Dean and Sam with a holy water squirt gun - but they've forgotten the secret knock much to Kevin's chagrin. The audience's first clue that this is not real Sam and Dean is that as far as they/we know Kevin is dead and/or kidnapped and there is nothing indicating this exchange takes place in the past. Kevin's first clue is that the Winchesters wouldn't forget the secret knock, and frankly these guys are just too damn perky. This Sam and Dean were a bit too eager for the other tablet half to be brought out of hiding as well. Sure enough, the boys leave Kevin (after a slew of nicknames and slang uncharacteristic of Sam), walking through a magic dome to become their true sycophantic, demonic Crowley minion selves.
As far as unbalancing openings go, this was a fairly good start. As always it's great fun to see Jared and Jensen play an imitation version of Sam and Dean - here they were just a touch off, but it was enough. Also, wasn't it nice to see a healthy, happy Sam for a change? Director Crowley was a particular treat pointing out that Sam should be "more basic, more sincere" and insisting he wants a distinct and authentic characterization of the Winchesters. Though I truly would have loved to see Crowley's personification of Dean, he really was born to direct! Crowley's theatre-based lair was also something to behold. His minions, his cameras, his director chair - very cleverly constructed. Also, who wouldn't love to answer their phone simply "King." The life of a demonic overlord. So glam. Except for those pesky Winchesters.
Not once does Kevin indicate he knows that Crowley is holding him, or that Sam and Dean are plants. When he sent them on a food run and mentioned Garth, I wondered if he was onto them but they returned with his supper and all appeared fine. Kevin is just so much more clever than a simple test like that. Instead he sends the boys to fetch the other half of the tablet and they end up stuck in a devils trap with very condescending (and amusing) music playing in the background- Kevin would make one hell of a hunter. He's certainly learned a lot in a short time.
My absolute favourite scene in this episode is when Crowley arrives in the fake boat to find Kevin leaning casually back in his chair eating and looking oh so diabolical. He should almost be pressing his finger tips together a la Mr. Burns here. Not often do people pull one over so completely on Crowley, but Kevin Tran did it absolutely and did it well. And how did he know that Sam and Dean were fakes? Easy. They were too polite. So, the dinner run was a test - Fake!Dean should have told Kevin to eat the left over burritos. This is a prime example of Supernatural writing in its cleverest form: it's funny, simple but not overly so and absolutely in character (the boys wouldn't go on a food run with burritos in the fridge, Kevin's probably right). Crowley tripped up by his own genius - I love it. Of course, Crowley doesn't and tries to kill Kevin to get him to reveal the location of other half of tablet, but by this point the real Sam and Dean have persuaded Metatron to rejoin the world and he swoops in to grab Kevin. Kevin, whose clever plan not only pissed off Crowley but got him to hand over his half of the tablet which Kevin brought with him. Moral of the story? Kevin Tran is awesome.
Batcave: Feed the Fever
This episode actually taught us a fair bit about the boys in their youth, beginning with John Winchester's patented "kitchen sink" soup and the fact that Dean once airplane-spoon fed little Sammy. Hear that? It's the collective "aww" of every viewer everywhere imagining this. Or wishing they could be in adult Sam's place right now....but I digress. So Dean is in full mother hen mode and Sam is fully resistant to any and all forms of care because he knows he cannot actually get better, at least until the trials are done (we hope). Hats off to the makeup department here because Sam looks positively retched throughout this episode, increasingly so towards the end, and to Jared who just looks more and more miserable as we go. While the boys argue about soup and fever-feeding, an email arrives from Kevin, who in a very Frank-like maneuver set up a remote sever to send this message out if he should fail to check in within a week. Osric Chau wrecked me in this short clip.
Kevin's video to the Winchesters is short but contained so much that I have so spend a minute talking about it. First and foremost, Osric has been a brilliant addition to this cast. From the start, Kevin was the perfect profit - playing his role exactly as you'd expect any teenager would react to being told they were God's messenger at eighteen, but he eventually accepts it fully. As Kevin becomes so deeply immersed in translating this tablet, in the trials, he is more and more obsessed and driven. Like many of the hunters we've met, his life has been indelibly coloured by the supernatural and now he is driven, particularly to end the demons, in a way I'm almost tempted to label revenge because of the single minded passion behind it. So Winchester. Kevin is so young, but so burdened, not a new problem in this universe but tragic nonetheless. Kevin's anger when he yells at Sam and Dean - "I'm dead, you bastards!...screw you! Screw God!" - is so tangible, as is the resigned declaration he makes promising Crowley won't break him this time. But what gets me each and every time is the weight of his sad apology: "I'm sorry...it was my job but I couldn't. I'm sorry." Yeah, I knew this would be a powerful episode when the opening credits had barely finished and my eyes were already watery.
Dean responds to this video, aside from smashing things, by saying they should have brought Kevin to the bunker and one has to wonder why they didn't. I know this was a point of discussion out there for a while, so perhaps Dean's line was more speaking to the fans and acknowledging this, not gap per se, but the existence definite lingering question mark. I say existence only, because there is no response offered from Sam along the lines of "well you know Dean, we decided we shouldn't/couldn't because..." Thoughts on this one, fellow viewers?
Oddly, were it not for Kevin's sever message and uploaded documents, Sam wouldn't have recognized the symbol of Metatron's signature from his Stanford days and wouldn't have pushed to visit the Two Rivers Tribe, eventually tracking down Metatron and ultimately leading him to rescue Kevin from Crowley. Hmmm...One could go further and argue about Sam going to Stanford in the first place and how it's led to this moment...but let's save those discussions for the long, long months of hiatus coming up, shall we? (Something to consider though isn't it?). So after the boys deciding to go track down the Messenger of God (and Sam getting fussy with Dean about using the term "Indian") off they head to Route 34, Colorado - the Coyote Lounger.
Seemingly the closer they get to Metatron, the worse Sam's health gets. As the boys check in with "Dr. Scowley Scowl" Sam struggles with his vision and tinnitus and later we see him struggling to drink in the room while Dean has scoped out the hotel and learned nobody has visited the hotel in nearly nine years. It's from this point that Sam's health has really taken a dramatic turn from, very sick, to very delirious - much akin to drugged Sam in Sam, Interrupted. Later we learn Sam is running a fever of 107, so none of this is surprising, of course. In the meantime however we get some great childhood memories: the Winchester family trip to the Grand Canyon where, apparently, Dean rode a "farty donkey" when Sam was about four years old. It's hard to picture John taking the boys on this trip and one has to wonder what they were hunting. What's great about this scene is the taken aback look on Dean's face as Sam is blissfully babbling away. The other indication that Sam is sicker than when we began is how much more pliant he is to Dean's suggestion the "little big man" stay and rest as opposed to follow the "Scooby Doo villain" around the hotel - not that Sam listens for long of course.
With Dean at the Travel Museum finding out about the stories-for-youth deal the Natives made with the messenger of the Great Spirit; Sam, looking so sick/drugged out/fevered that me makes me feel ill and unstable, follows the hotel clerk around and witnesses him delivering books. We later learn of Metatron's passion for human stories, and he is of course the scribe of God, and I can't help but wonder if because of Sam's connection to everything this is the reason he's begun to pour out random memories and ditties from their youth. Is it angel influence? I will say Sam's fever bath was fun to watch - though I bet it wasn't quite as fun to film. Brrr. And it seemed to break the fever and snap Sam back into a more functional state where he realizes it's Metatron he can hear, that's he's connected to him.
The next exchange between the boys goes down in the Sad Brothers Moment Memory Book for all time. It was wrenching and both played it so well, as always - emotional moments are done with the perfect mix of quiet understanding and piercing distress. Sam recalls Dean reading to him from a Knights of the Round Table comic and thinking that he could never go on a quest like Sir Gallahad because he lacked purity, that he wasn't clean. Sam looks so young and sad as he asks Dean if he could have known from an early age, about the demon blood, on some level, and the self-disgust, self-loathing but most of all level of sadness in his voice make this such a powerful question. Dean seems to struggle to react, or not really know what to do with this, because Sam has been all over and is very ill. Never mind that the demon blood thing - well, that door is long behind them (in theory) at this point - right? Dean's assurances that the demon blood aren't Sam's fault isn't the point, rather, as Sam tearful smiles, it's that the trials are going to purify him. Wow. Did not see that coming at all. Each time I think these boys can't possibly hit me any harder with an emotional reveal of where their heads are at, I get a Winchester two by four to head. Oh Sammy. Now I wonder if this was his motivation all along, or is this something new that occurred to him along the journey of these trials. If the latter, what was it that made him think this? I'm even more nervous for the end results of these trials now. Deep sigh.
A Reader Not a Fighter
Onward to Metatron, who the boys are a tad offended to find has no idea who they are. Of course, Metatron has been out of touch for a while now (apparently, not even a newspaper to play connect the signs of the apocalypse dots with) and doesn't even know Lucifer and Michael are cage bound. Not unlike some angels we've encountered before, this one ran away and is hiding from everyone because he didn't like where things were heading. Poor Sam, whose ears are ringing gets fed up - and really, who wouldn't be after all this drama with the angels, they seem a bit of a whiny bunch - tells Metatron to "pull the friggin' trigger." The boys rightfully call Metatron a coward and that if he wants a real story, how about that of Kevin Tran, the high school kid who gave up his life and is now dead because of Metatron. Not for the first time, again, the boys are able to persuade an angel to join their cause and next we know Metatron has intervened with Crowley - evidently if you're the scribe of God you can erase angel warding, isn't that handy - and snagged an unconscious but alive Kevin.
While they wait for Kevin to wake, Metatron and Dean have a side conversation in which the angel offers some vague food for thought: "The choices your kind make...what is it going to take to do this...what will the world be like?" More and more it sounds like closing the gates to Hell might be, not good? Hmm. One does have to wonder of course - good and evil are sort of the counter balances right? The problem with this show is that you just never really know. The one thing I do know? I'm anxious about the finale and I have a sneaking suspicion that anxiety won't end with 8x23, dratted cliff-hangers!
So of course, Kevin has scored the second half of the tablet and he proudly tells the boys he didn't break. Dean welcomes him with his new favourite nickname of "kiddo" and they find out the third trial is to cure a demon. Sounds simple enough, right? Oh, the possibilities and speculation abound don't they? To cure a demon. Hmm. This topic will have to be a separate discussion somewhere else, but do we think it will be someone we know or someone arbitrary? Surely a known someone right? Meg's dead, so she's off the list right? Or does Purgatory keep the player's field wide open? See - so many possibilities? Is this why we've suddenly dredged up the fact that Sam was infected with demon blood back in the day?Though not at all what I was expecting, the more I think about it the more I love this as the third trial.
Do the Biggerson Bounce
Ah, Castiel. Our intrepid trench-coated traveler. I'm not 100% clear on how Cas was hiding from the angels except that he was bounding around to all the Biggersons and it was confusing them, because there are so many restaurants. I did love the first time we see Cas sipping coffee, being so very friendly but nevertheless creeping out the waitress, and of course when he disappears it leaves Perry's manager to wonder if Perry is on "the crack" again. Of course, with Naomi involved it isn't long before there are bloody visuals to go with the breakfast special because every time Naomi is involved with slaughter there are gasp-inducing visuals attached as well. While we don't know a great deal about Naomi, it's becoming less surprising that she and Crowley have a history of association, given her willingness for mass carnage and painted bloodshed. The mental tricks in particular with the talk of Ion, who was ultimately seen to be working with Crowley, about mind wipes and Crowley mentioning clearing Kevin's memory makes one wonder even more about the true history between Crowley and Naomi.
There is not too much to say about Cas and Naomi's interrogation scene, because it's really the same song and dance: she wants the tablet and he refuses to give it to her. I will say that Cas certainly has more back bone these days, quote his friend Dean and telling Naomi "bite me" - it made me smile. Naomi does reveal there are things Cas doesn't remember, because she's erased his mind but that he's never listened properly or died well (so, he's been a favourite whose resurrected a lot then?). Once again, we have those mind wipes being tossed around. Hmm. Unlike Crowley, Naomi lets her anger control her maneuvers and searches the restaurants rather than Castiel himself, along the King to step in with an ingenious angel killing gun. I don't know if Crowley could ever be replaced in the bad guy department - he's clever, thinks outside the box and works with the times. It's so like him to have R&D people. Also like him to have an inside man on the Angel CIA staff isn't it? Though, I have to wonder how that deal came about.
It is unfortunate that Crowley manages to snag the angel tablet, but it would be too much to ask for the Winchesters to get all their ducks in a row for once I suppose. Of course, the question will become how to read the angel tablet. Cas must have some idea of what it contains as he was so adamant that nobody else get a hold of it. This episode contains a great deal of clever and unusual uses of things: Kevin using dinner request to test Sam and Dean's identity, melting the angel blade into bullets and, in a great move, Cas digging out the bullet in his own vessel and using it to kill Ion and escape. Cas, you've come so far.
Healthy Brothers and Highway Angels
We end where many great episodes end, in the Impala, on the road. Dean freaking out finally, never mind what the third trial is because he'll get to that later, Sam's health is primary. Sam seems to be feeling marginally better now, or so he says. To his credit Sam looks and sounds better at least. Whether that's having spoken to Metatron, being in the presence of the tablet or truly just knowing what the third trial is it's hard to say. Maybe it's all three. On rewatch, I still couldn't tell if Kevin was with the boys or not in the car. I'm torn as to whether it would make more sense to take Kevin to the bunker because that's what Dean said they should have done at the outset of the episode when Kevin was apparently dead; or leave him with the angel. Metatron seemed to damage Crowley and has been pretty good at cloaking himself for all these years, so maybe that's the way to go. The other angel of concern of course is Cas, the collapsed bloody hump the boys swerve to avoid and are shocked to see even as he almost annoyed-like asks "a little help here?"
A truly wonderful episode that left me wringing my hands and calculating the seconds until next Wednesday. One thing in particular I enjoyed, aside from the content of the episode which was brilliant, was the technique of the story - the way three separate stories converged wholly in the end. For whatever reason, this approach is a favourite method of mine and here it was a well employed vehicle for the sheer amount exposition and set up needed to poise us for the final three episodes of this great season.