Could a title have been more apropos? As difficult reviews go, this was up there. Not because I disliked the episode – quite the opposite in fact; it was a fantastic episode from opening to final credit. Which makes it all the more challenging to find the right words to describe the emotions, the dramatics, the visual impact and the final, nail-biting seconds of the mid-season finale. Nevertheless, I’ll try – so let’s see what my still-recovering mind can scrounge up.


Devil’s Bargain
OB6NEVER TRUST ROWENA. If this wasn’t on a neon sign and/or posters throughout the Winchester bunker and emblazoned in Men of Letters literature everywhere possible before – it needs to be now. Really, this was a foolish but inevitable endeavour from the beginning. These game board pieces had to come together to bring about the final product, as we’ve known since the Darkness started to show her true, hungry, mad self and when it’s in the self-interest of the usual enemies for survivals sake, well, a deal is in order. Generally.

OB4The coming together of these players was well done. Crowley was viscerally against anything involving Lucifer and yet, more against being eaten by Amara who slapped him around easily in her teenage skin. Mark Sheppard, as always, plays this cackling King so well – you could almost see him calculating the pros and cons of either side of these options. Particularly when Crowley learned of Amara’s genealogy (for lack of a better term).
In the same way it was readily apparent Crowley wasn’t of the mind to betray the plan – that he would stick with the devil he knew (excuse the pun) in the form Sam and Dean – it was just as obvious Rowena was a wild card. Any safe bet would have been on traitor from the jump. Rowena always brings such fun even in the darkest of circumstance and this was no exception: she’s manipulative, self-centred, forward-thinking as a master chess player yet pouty as a two-year-old and never short for quips. Again, one of the best moments was the reaction to the news of Amara as God’s sister – but even this was topped by her squeeful delight at hearing Lucifer’s name.
All told, watching Sam, Dean, Crowley and Rowena together was brilliant fun even if the situation at hand was so tense I didn’t exhale for 42 minutes, give or take. Each character plays well with the others and knows exactly the right point to press to get the other to do what they want – exchange between Crowley and Rowena are particularly entertaining: full of acidic barbs and twisted mother-son drama.
This deal was on the books from the start, watching it come together – at least part of it in some way or another – did not disappoint.




Raising Lucifer
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Finally, the nitty gritty of the vision, the Cage, the who, how, what, when and where. Dean and Sam hash it all out and Sam is more passionately convinced these visions are from God than ever (burning bushes aren’t signatures, let’s all make a note of that, and can be forged) which finally persuaded Dean to at least explore a possibility of a conversation with Lucifer. The plan was well thought out: Crowley can’t afford to free Lucifer, so it is in his interest to ensure the Cage stays firmly and totally locked; he has access to the Cage and really, if it’s a chat with Satan they need, then there is no reason Sam can’t be outside those bars like a detective talking to a psychopath in an isolation prison cell.

Of course, this is exactly how it should have, and nearly did, all play out. Except for two not-so-minor details: the Cage sucked Sam in and it wasn’t God talking to Sam. This was a twist I didn’t expect. Lucifer (or another dark entity sending the visions)? Definitely. Rowena doing something wonky with the markings? Yes. Sam giving in to the vessel requests? Maybe. Lucifer getting out? Yes. Sam going into the Cage? Yes. But Sam going into the Cage after a conversation with Lucifer and realizing he wasn’t getting the information he need and discovering it was Lucifer all along who planted the visions? Umm….no.

The entire event of raising Lucifer was a creative way of getting to exactly what the season has seemed to be heading toward in the most unanticipated way. The writers manipulated the expectations cleverly and played with the anticipations throughout the episode. It took time to put together the deal between Rowena, Crowley and the Winchesters; as well for Rowena to find the spell translations, yet there wasn’t the loss of time within the episode itself or a sense of deadline: this took place fairly quickly. Lucifer himself arrived in flourish and flame and was – not unexpectedly – suave, charming and mostly unhelpful for all his chatter while passing the time building to his offer. Again, a deal from Lucifer wasn’t unanticipated either, not really.
OB20 My comments should not be interpreted to mean that the episode was predictable; rather that the writers played very well with what was expected and what would be expected in exchanges between characters like Sam and Lucifer after all these years to build in Red Herring anticipations until we’re finally – and surprisingly – dropped suddenly off the cliff at the end. Very well done.


Masterful Manipulations

After so many years, it was eerie to see these characters together again. Nevertheless, it was a welcome delight to watch Jared and Mark play off one another: Mark Pellegrino plays such a fun Lucifer, so charming and manipulative – he knows he has something the other guy wants and he entertains himself watching them wiggle on the hook asking for the favour. Meanwhile, Sam is encountering not only the traumatic past the cage and Lucifer represent but he is fulfilling his Godly visions and might be able to ascertain something to stop Amara, so he is acting humble and hesitant for much of the conversation. Quite a dichotomy.
OB12 OB13What is there left to say that can sum up this exchange? It was captivating, tense and I could barely blink for fear of missing something in this encounter that has been built up for eight episodes. Lucifer may have been in the Cage, but he had full control of the entire situation and everyone knew it, including Sam. The final moments were the most intense and twisted, particularly the last seconds when Sam seemed to believe this was exactly how he knew things would play out – only to discover, horrified to discover more aptly, that he’d been manipulated from the start. For one brief instant it seemed our boy had the upper hand and it slipped away just as quickly only to leave him in his nightmare. What a way to end.


Dark Bliss
OB2The tonal value of Amara’s presence as an adult was set very well in the opening scene – the first time we see her as an adult, in this reality at least, and the result of her is just inevitable. Where young Amara was prone to tantrums as much as she was cunning, adult Amara and her destruction is inescapable. The moments of Amara approaching the preacher and his acolytes at the water fountain is gruesome yet somehow remarkable. Amara herself cuts a beautiful picture in the black column dress while asking and demanding things with the naivety of a child and the power of a titan. Watching blood run from the fountain as the clouds gather and lightning strikes sets a tenor for the episode in look and attitude, both of which are delivered: shadowy, grisly and intense.
OB21Throughout the episode, Amara reminds me at times of a child seeking a parent’s attention – she is frustrated, hurt and emotional. In this way, not only does Emily Swallow play the character very well, but the character is well written. Her reactions to the world are representative of someone who hasn’t been involved/in the world before and can’t comprehend the way things operate – it doesn’t make sense. One scene in particular that stands out is when Amara goes to the church to pray, and after a second or two, her response is that it didn’t work. This is more like a little girl making a wish and expecting a gift to manifest instantly than a traditional comprehension of praying. Again, Amara functions like a young girl in the “instant gratification” stage of development than anything else. She doesn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to live in a pure-bliss reality.
More and more, Amara presents like a lost child than pure evil. Though unquestionably she goes about things wholly wrong and needs to be stopped: is there any element to her that seems to be, and forgive the cliché, looking for love? She seems too impassioned in her angry search for her brother to just want vengeance. So the question is: what is the rest of that story? (The one that doesn’t have a Daddy).


Bonding Time
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The longer Dean and Amara stood together, the higher my uncomfortable levels rose. My god, they have chemistry in such a terrible way! It’s intense, binding and makes me want to snatch Dean and run away somewhere safe. This was an odd seduction if ever there was, but in a good way. The dialogue reveals so much about Amara and as far as exposition goes, Supernatural has mastered the art of keeping it interesting. Never mind that Dean and Amara together keep the viewer on the edge of their seats just for shear instability and unknowns that are the foundation of the entire relationship. Having said all that, the more Amara talks and the more we learn about her and that she is more a searching, hurt soul than an evil that needs vanquishing. She’s not a good guy, undoubtedly, but she isn’t the same as many of the villains the Winchesters have crossed before either.
OB16 Amara insists her and Dean will be “one” at some point – however she intends that to happen and doesn’t understand why he would refuse her. For Amara, a hedonistic world without rules and pure bliss – her world – is a better place. This is what her soulless victims seem to turn into, as we’ve witnessed, by and large. The connection between Dean and Amara cannot be denied. When these two are in a room (or a field, as the case may be) together, the electricity is intense. The meeting here was no exception, even when Dean tried to kill Amara this time – or at least tried to stab her. This didn’t dissuade our Dark Lady much and ended with the two kissing passionately. Whatever her vision for their “togetherness” maybe in the future – I doubt it will end the way she sees it. As we know, Dean doesn’t follow those pre-laid plans other people lay out for in the best of circumstance.

Amara cannot be killed by the Angel-Blade, but Dean was able to overcome his don’t-stab-Amara tendency to attempt to kill her. Or, did he really know on some level it wouldn’t work? This entire scene made me anxious. Dean looked confused and unhappy, but the souls in Amara are an interesting bit of information as well. We know she took in a number of demonic souls – does this mean an answer to defeating her lies in there somehow? Who else is rolling around inside Amara? Where does the answer to Amara lie then: loving her, killing her, ensouling her or humanizing her? Theories?

Standout Visuals

As has been especially consistent this season, there are some spectacular images throughout this episode. This plot affords a dark pallor through most of the story and the grim tones and shadows are done beautifully.

Hell and Lucifer’s cage in particular are darkly manifested, striking pictures. The sigils (lit up or dark) with the fire around the Cage, which appears on a platform, while Lucifer prowls and Sam hesitantly lays out his case offers nothing less than we’ve come to expect from the art/set department and underscores the enormity of the moments, the darkness of the players and power in the room.
OB15 A similarly dark and powerful display is Amara’s exchange in the church later with the kindly priest. The environment should be warm and safe, particularly with such a welcoming man inviting new spirits and being generous with time, information and patience. Yet, the dark picture of Amara in the church brings enough foreboding that the subsequent images: the disfigured statues, the bloody pews and parishioners’ bodies, finally with the priests’ soul sucked before he is killed at the foot of the pulpit; are all dark and disturbing but unsurprising. And each of these scenes – the before and after of the church, if you will – contracts strongly and are painted starkly into the plot, reinforcing the story spectacularly.
OB8

Finally, every exchange with Amara in the field cuts a strong picture but individually the two that stand out most are her encounter with Dean and the final engagement with the descending angels. Each moments speaks to two separate levels of Amara. One, Dean and Amara alone in the wide, colourless field with Amara still the dark figure but so much less imposing and more alone looking that she has been throughout the episode to this point. Two, as the angels begin to descend Amara is an arresting figure once again – though alone she is powerful, dangerous and unstoppable against the sky, field and oncoming clouds of Heavenly forces.
OB10OB18

This episode was rich with optical highlights as the entire season has been. Almost every scene had something worth noting. What was your standout moment?

Final Thoughts

Forty-two intense, flowing minutes ripe with drama, dark storyline and as many answers as questions. Season eleven has been delightfully exceptional and this white-knuckled-heart-clenching, stomach-dropping, can’t-breathe-right mid-season finale did not break pattern. Just reflecting again on the episode makes me anxious. Sam is stuck in the Cage with a manipulative Lucifer, Rowena was in on the game – though Crowley wasn’t – Dean doesn’t yet know what’s going on. Who’s going to make that call? Many angels are about to die at Amara’s hand and she’s got eyes on Dean for their bonding opportunities. Questions we’re left with? Did Sam know Rowena’s seals would fail and/or plan with her to get into the cage? What about Michael? Will Dean ask Amara for help with Sam in the Cage? Where is God, exactly? And finally – where the heck is Castiel when all this is going down?!

So yes, it was awesome. What did you think? Thoughts, theories, questions and speculation below!

Comments  

YellowEyedSam
# YellowEyedSam 2015-12-16 18:10
I cannot WAIT for the next episode. I wonder what Lucifer will do to Sam? Will he prove the visions were his by showing them again? In the promo (spoiler) he touches Sam's head and something happens so thats what I think he's doing.
AlyCat22
# AlyCat22 2015-12-17 19:13
Way off topic here but I just wanted to give you a heads up in regards to Nates "Caption This" - I'd really rather he not have to reorganize something that he created just for fun in order to, in your words, "make it fair". Nor would I like to see him change the rules on everybody midstream considering it was all working just fine in the first place - so I'm bowing out. No one post entry only or one vote per caption rule necessary. I never meant to cause a problem - it was just a bit of mindless fun. Just thought that you'd like to know, just in case you might want to put up a caption or two of your own, that the evil perceived unfairness has been slain in the Kingdom of Caption and all is as it should be. Long live King Nate.
LEAH
# LEAH 2015-12-17 21:37
No need to bow out Alycat. It's just a fun little exercise. The funny ones win as a rule no matter if you post once or multiple times. :)
AlyCat22
# AlyCat22 2015-12-17 23:17
Thanks Leah I appreciate it, that's kind of how I looked at it too. Humor for humors sake. I loved reading everyones posts, seeing all the different ways people would come at it... not to mention the mental challenge of actually coming up with something. But I think I'm done. If it was upsetting enough for one person to question the fairness and comment to Nate then I'm sure there are others out there that probably feel the same way who aren't. It was a lot of fun.
njspnfan
# njspnfan 2015-12-16 20:16
just had an interesting thought about Castiel. What if he is around but is possessing Sam, hanging in the background (like Gadreel) until needed?
ScifiSpirit
# ScifiSpirit 2015-12-17 12:58
The one thing I didn't like about this episode is that it felt very open-ended, too open-ended. I can't say it was anti-climatic because meeting Lucifer in hell and Sam ending up in the cage is definitely a climax, but it really just felt like a beginning to something that will be (obviously) much larger. It felt like the episode was a lot of build up and didn't get very far. I understand that it was just the first half of a two-parter, but still, there was a lot of talking and a lot of set up and it's just a tad frustrating because I don't even know what the set up was for. It's hard to see an endgame here.

So, no I didn't hate it. It was a good episode, just needed more action and more definitive threats. But it's hard for me to be on the edge of my seat because there's so much uncertainty. Is Sam REALLY in the cage or is that all some kind of trick by Lucifer or Rowena or ..... Gabriel.... hehehe. Are the visions REALLY from Lucifer? Is Amara REALLY in heaven?, because if she is, then I think that's exactly where she wants to be and she played all the Angels for fools. She's looking for God, so I'm pretty sure her ending up in heaven was part of a plan she had.

I can appreciate that we don't have any answers to these questions yet, but for me, knowing at least some of them would help me be more tense about what's coming. Because if the answer is "no" to any of those questions, then I'm truly not worried at all for what's coming next. LOL. Sounds a bit harsh, but just sayin'.

I'm anxious to see what's coming, I just wish I was more nervous and worried and "left on the edge of my seat" like a cliffhanger usually makes me feel. But, because there's uncertainty about Lucifer and that cage and Rowena's spell, I just can't get myself worked up about anything yet. So, we'll see.
novi
# novi 2015-12-19 23:40
If Amara wants Dean on her side she should show more vulnarability, Dean will come if she calls him asking for help. To protect is in his nature, and he actually held her in his arms as an infant, after all! I can imagine when those two - the Light and the Dark - finally meet it's going to be like a fight of toddlers in a sandbox, they both seem so immature in their behavior. One is hiding, the other is crying looking for him, getting naughty. Killing people. To me the main question of the season is where is God where the world is breaking apart? Is he gone, or maybe sick and so it's him who needs help? Or maybe after he'd got rid of sister he realized that together they're better? And where are Sam and Dean in the whole picture? Why does Amara need Dean, not Lucifer? Why does Luci need a human vessel? Does he want to go out and impress Amara with Sam's long legs? And of course, the actual location of Lucifer who is in Cage that is locked and can't be open, but at the same time he is (more or less) out and capable to
reach even outer for Sam... Puzzling. Personally, I'd kill an angel (a bad one) to know what's in store for us.