The season 11 premiere also felt different from other premieres. To me, it felt triumphant somehow. Season 10 was the milestone that elicited the ultimate feelings of accomplishment. When season 10 began, I was proud that Supernatural had lasted so long. I beamed knowing there would be a 200th episode, and that there would be celebrations and recognition. Jared and Jensen had endured 10 long years of grueling filming schedules, network instability and politics, fluctuations in ratings and weekly time slots, plus the personal turmoil and insecurity that comes with transitioning from young adults to married men with families. In year ten, the boys and the show had come of age. Supernatural earned its place as a show that made and shaped TV history. I was proud of the show last year but it didn’t feel…settled.
That changed in the Season11 premiere. Maybe it was Jensen’s Facebook poke at Smallville:
Saving people, hunting things, eating burritos... It's what we do. Season 11 starts tonight folks. Thats right...11.
Suck it #Smallville #SPN11
While that certainly added to the hype, the premiere went much further in proving the point that Supernatural was secure in its identity and purpose. In the beginning of their 11th year, Jared, Jensen, Misha, Mark, the writing team and the production crew once again delivered a loud and clear message: “we still have a great story to tell…and we’re here to stay”. The Js are still “all in”. They didn’t bail after hitting the 10th year. They didn’t go home to their families, financially secure for life with 10 years of residual checks. They didn’t use Supernatural as a stepping stone to larger movie contracts. They’re still here, together with us, keeping Supernatural a part of all our lives.The defining moment of the episode for me was when Sam asked Dean “When did we forget how to do this…..”. That might have been a meta moment of the writers sharing a private reflection on how Supernatural had strayed from its roots. “When did we forget…that this show is about the brothers working together? When did we forget that they love each other? When did we forget that the fans come here week after week for inspiration and hope, not endless conflict and pointless angst? When did we forget that the original myth arc of Lucifer and Michael, the apocalypse and Sam’s powers, wove itself into the first five years of the show?” Naomi's personal realization in “Sacrifice” at the end of season 8 foreshadowed what the brothers asked themselves at the beginning of season 11:
“Our mission was to protect what God created. I don't know when we forgot that.”When the brothers found their way back to their raison d'etre, so did the show. “Out of the Darkness, into the Fire” was the reset Jeremy had been promising for months. He said season 11 would return Supernatural to its roots and I for one felt the difference. Jensen sensed it too when in a recent interview he said “We're taking the show back to its roots, and it feels good."
The Highlights of the Premiere
...and possibly Season 11
During my live tweet of “Out of the Darkness, into the Fire”, I observed that a few key lines of dialogue were pivotal game changers for the direction of the series. They were simple enough on the surface, yet they signaled extraordinary, exhilarating possibilities for season 11. The threads for the entire season were woven into these bits of dialogue.
The first critical line of dialog was spoken by The Darkness:
"I don’t know this Death and he doesn’t know me."
Her simple statement to Dean casts doubts on Death’s entire description of ‘her’ history! It certainly expands the possibilities and the mysteries of the season! I loved the depiction of Darkness…in the woman. She was compelling, mesmerizing, and charismatic. She was a worthy adversary, intelligent, obviously immensely powerful, primal and eerily dangerous. It was a brilliantly successful introduction to this before-time-began entity.
I shivered, however, at the Mark of Cain on the baby. Please, please, please don’t pursue “The Omen” plotline. How can a show that is about the love of family demonize a baby? How can Dean, whose life’s mission was determined when he carried a baby out of a burning home, destroy a baby? How can Sam, whose life was predestined when evil infected him as an infant, destroy a baby? The plot parallels are strong. Innocence destroyed when touched by evil and a baby branded by an elusive puff of black smoke that disappears and evades capture (ignoring the obvious Harry Potter visions that are invading my thoughts). The show’s entire premise stems from those few critical moments when Sam was a baby. Now again, Sam is infected by evil blood dripping into his mouth. The references all subconsciously pulled us back to season 1. It may not have been subtle, but it effectively and skillfully recalled years of Supernatural’s history.
In addition to season 1 flashbacks, the discussion in the hospital when Sam, Dean and the deputy were trying to decide whether to kill or spare an infected ally reminded me of season 2’s “Croatoan”. Mike was aware of “something happening” inside him. He lasted “3, 4 hours” (plus some) before he succumbed. To deepen the parallel, Sam was infected while locked in a small medical room with a woman, possibly another nurse, who had gone homicidal because of a disease. With Sam on the floor and the woman above him, her blood enters his body. This scenario was doubly important because in “Croatoan” Sam was infected but didn’t fall prey to the disease because of his demon blood and status as Lucifer’s protected vessel. In “Out of the Darkness, Into the Fire” Sam is again infected. Does the parallel foretell that Sam’s blood history and connection to Lucifer will again make him immune to the disease, to the Darkness?
Several other key points were made regarding the Darkness. First, the dialogue established the Deputy’s religious devotion. Mike said “I’ve seen you in church since you were knee-high.” Besides clarifying that religion was a priority in Mike’s life (presumably meaning the father of the baby was a “good” person), the baby’s surrogate mother is also a person who ostensibly believes in God and the Devil, Heaven and Hell. Her grandmother leads a Bible study. Will her knowledge of the Bible and religion be important, or maybe even useful? Dean reiterated the importance of this character trait when he wished the deputy “God’s Speed” on her journey with the child. This stuck out because it seemed like an unusual thing for him to say. All this leads to an interesting profile for the step-mother of the spawn, or embodiment, of the Darkness.
Lastly, Mike said the infected road crew were “Attacking folks like they were possessed”. An interesting choice of words. It seems the line was specifically meant to raise then dismiss the possibility of the Darkness as a possession, while the hospital, the medical terminology and the reiteration of the “Croatoan” scenario all seem to define the Darkness as a “sickness” that needs a “cure”.
The Family Business
The deputy subtlely introduced the topic of what it means to protect others: “This job is supposed to be saving people”. This subject contained the second critical line of dialog for season 11:
Sam: When did we forget how to do this?
The conversation that followed will be a classic of the series:
Sam: Dean, if we don’t change, right now, all our crap is just going to keep repeating itself.
Dean: I don’t even…what?
Sam: This…this kill first question later. What happened to us? Hunting things, we’re good at that, sure, we’re great at that, but it’s only half the bumper sticker man.
Dean: Sam, I’m trying to save that baby.
Sam: And what about the others out there?....
Saving people means all of the people Dean, not just that baby, not just each other. I unleashed a force on this world that could destroy it to save you.
Dean: I told you not to.
Sam: I would do it again, in a second, I would do it again. And that is what I’m talking about.
This isn’t on you. It is on us. We have to change.
Us. We. Saving people. Sam and Dean have stopped all their “reluctant hero” questioning, blaming, running and denying. Sam saw, realized, understood…and Dean listened, trusted and changed. This conversation promised they would once again be the heroes they were before, the heroes who fought Heaven and Hell, the heroes who averted the apocalypse, the heroes who saved the world…and the heroes we want to believe in.
Sam and Dean also recommitted themselves to saving “all the people, not just each other”. Symbolically, emotionally, the audience now has a stake in what happens again. The world we live in became important to Sam and Dean again. We became important to them again. They are fighting for something greater than each other, and I not only feel emotionally involved in the outcome, I am inspired by and can believe in that ideal. The show did indeed return to its roots in this regard.
Lastly, an incredibly good omen for season 11 was Sam’s words,
“I get it. Do what you do. But you gotta let me do what I do too.”
Sam again asked Dean to allow him to be his own man. This time, reminiscent of the junk yard conversation in "Swan Song", Dean listened. This third critical predictor of season 11 has me mightily encouraged.
"Out of the Darkness, Into the Fire" acknowledged that something monumental happened a few years ago in this show! The apocalypse, Lucifer, Michael, the cage – the climax of the first five years of the show and the foundational premise of its primary myth arc were mentioned! [!!!!!!!] The entire discussion of the cage in Hell was the fourth piece of dialogue that changes everything, and sets up a long, exciting, interesting arc for the season.
All of Castiel’s personal growth came together in his acknowledgement of his sins, and his humility in asking for help. He was also true to his character in valiantly fighting the urge to hurt anyone, either human or angel. Misha did an extraordinary job portraying Castiel’s pain and conflict. Unfortunately, but again true to his character, he was too trusting and found himself in peril at the hands of those who would take advantage of his good nature. This plot line also looks exciting and full of promise.
Where the Season 11 Premiere Faltered
The entire set up and handling of Crowley’s return was ludicrous. I applaud the show for finding an opportunity to cast a women into a guest role, but I found female Crowley to be utterly unconvincing. She totally pulled me out of the moment. I also found the orgy situation infantile, vulgar and not the least bit funny. On top of it, it seemed to take a swipe at religion in that the husband said he "prayed on" his choice to engage in an orgy as a birthday present. In reading comments and other WFB reviews, I am encouraged that not everyone had such a negative reaction to this plot device and casting, but I thought it was completely out of sync with the intensity of the rest of the episode. Meeting the Darkness, Dean being told he is linked to evil forever, infecting Sam, Castiel being hunted and betrayed, the brothers reaching a turning point in their lives and their destinies – these were brilliantly written and executed. They were dramatic, heavy themes that foretold a complex, multi-layered season. Then Crowley is interspersed as comic relief? Is that what the King of Hell has become? I realize the point of the scene was that his ruthlessness and utter disregard for life had returned, but the portrayal of suburban couples once again as mindless, sex-swapping caricatures insulted the intelligence of the rest of the episode. It was an utter failure in my estimation….or it had a completely different purpose, one that I may share in a separate article.
Aside, it was curious that Crowley’s power (of snapping his fingers and teleporting) did not work. Does the Darkness interfere with demonic powers?
It was interesting that “The Road So Far” included a clip of Rowena saying “Don’t tell your brother what we’re doing”. Was that meant to remind of us the habitual lying that had defined the brothers’ relationship in the past few years, maybe as a contrast to what they would do going forward? The alternative is that it was a clue to their future interactions in season 11. That possibility is very troubling.
Dean lied to Sam by not telling him of Darkness’ prophecy that Dean would be more loyal to the Darkness than to himself, or Sam.
“…the same reason you’ll never hurt me. We’re bound Dean. We’ll always be bound. You helped me. I helped you. No matter where I am, who I am, we will always help each other.”
This was the fifth piece of dialog that laid the foundation for season 11, but I literally groaned when Dean kept it from Sam. Really? We’re back to that? I am willing to give this a pass as Dean had a lot to absorb in a very short period of time. He tried to kill his brother, he killed Death (supposedly), he was freed of the Mark of Cain, but in the process opened the prison door to Darkness. The world is now infected because of the Winchesters. A lot to take in while you are fighting for your life and the lives of those around you. I give this a very short (very short) leash. If it is corrected within one or two episodes, all is forgiven.
Sam also lied to Dean by not admitting he had been infected. Again, understandable. Sam was holding onto the belief that “Like it or not, I’m going to find a cure” and he didn’t want to take away from Dean’s victory of delivering the baby safely. Plus Sam thought he’d be dead in a few hours so he also had a lot of absorb. Again, I give this a pass if the brothers deal with it immediately.
Overall, this episode gets a 9 out of 10 from me but what matters to me most was the promise it holds for the season. I am very optimistic and excited about the year. How about you? Do you agree with the basic threads I've identified for the season? Did I miss any? Your turn!