I had really low expectations going into “The Vessel,” mostly because I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had some hope though because of the writer. Robert Berens constantly knows how to surprise us and pull us into a story, even when the brakes are on the main story because it’s still too early in the season. He didn’t disappoint and now I have a new episode to add to my season eleven favorites.
I love how this episode didn’t waste any time getting started. Anything that starts off with the death of a Nazi works for me, but everything after that kicked off with Sam in full on research mode on a caffeine bender. This is the Sam I love to see, digging into the Men of Letters archives and geeking out over all the information at his disposal. The boy is so good at putting the pieces together, and this was quite a story. It also harkens back to one of my all time favorite episodes, “Everybody Hates Hilter.” When Ben Edlund opened up that world, he left open many amazing possibilities and I’m thrilled to see Berens tap into that.
There’s two big aspects to this story. First, there’s the main story itself. Berens cleverly took that piece of continuity from “Everybody Hates Hilter,” blended it with Raiders of the Lost Ark mythos, pulled some inspiration from the German film Das Boot, then went for a little femme fatale remembering that women were an integral part of the war effort (recently depicted in “Marvel’s Agent Carter”). When going that bold, finding a way to adapt all that to the “Supernatural” universe can be tricky, but Berens found a way and the end result is fantastic.
Storytelling is all about heart and there was plenty in the submarine story. Characters and situations should be relatable, even if they are totally foreign. We were like Dean, sucked into these characters and their situation, even though we knew they were soon to meet their end. We admired their spirit, their courage, their human fallacies like Petey wanting to know how long the war would continue for his friends and loved ones, the ones he would be leaving behind. Delphine was the ideal spy and one of the strongest guest characters we’ve had in a while. Her story of sacrifice was a great enhancement to the Men of Letters legacy. It also proved how influential the MOL were in the matters of the “underworld” back then. It also makes me wonder how no one ever missed them past 1958.
The second aspect is all the hidden nuggets and clues that were given to us regarding the mytharc. It was finally a sign of hope in what has been a dastardly situation. There are ways to channel the power of God. Unfortunately, we got the cartoonish form of Lucifer, but his role is important in this scheme. I’m just not sure we see it yet. The spell that Sam found clearly showed that in this fight, they probably do need the power of an archangel. Yes, he’s temperamental and doesn’t play nice with others, but there’s no doubt the power will be helpful. That’s likely why Castiel believes Lucifer is needed.
Oh, but we were left with questions. What was the symbol on Delphine? What sort of spell binds her blood and heart? What did it mean? Was it some sort of protection against evil? Can it be found in the MOL archives? We knew that the Men of Letters bunker could be warded from such things but a person? That’s kind of a game changer is Sam and Dean should ever choose to adopt something like that. Delphine’s mark didn’t have angels in mind but it did keep Lucifer out, so I doubt Sam and Dean would ever use that specific one. However though, Lucifer now knows the spell to override any kind of warding, so that makes the bunker less safer than it was. Ouch, my head hurts with all the twists.
Then there’s the Hand of God itself. That was a rather brilliant reveal. So there are objects out there that allow people to absorb the power of God? There’s more of them out there? Does this mean that the remainder of the season will end up being a Raiders of the Lost Ark type adventure? I’m all for Sam and Dean digging more into that vast archive at their disposal for answers. Some archeological digs sound good too (especially if it gets too hot and they'll need to go shirtless).
The Saga of Dean Winchester
Dean may have been feeling blue at the end, but this episode did open up some hints that Dean plays a very vital part in defeating the Darkness. He’s the key to everything. The last shot of a somber Dean, sitting by the water alone holding the Hand of God, really got to me. That’s a powerful visual and some awesome foreshadowing.
So far season 11 could be subtitled, “The season where Sam Winchester got his groove back,” but watching “The Vessel” really sparked my hope that Dean’s turn is next. Poor Dean, who’s clearly been blindsided by the whole Amara thing, but something else is clearly happening too. He’s having a crisis of confidence. Part of it is because this whole experience is pushing him out of his comfort zone. He can’t deal with these issues with guns blazing like he normally does. It was best evident when on that submarine. Old Dean would have been defiant and determined to save those people. Screw history. Current Dean though is older, wiser, and knows better. He can’t mess with the past. That truth though didn’t leave the situation easier for him. If anything, it made all those feelings of helplessness worse. A lot of that helplessness was reflected in that final scene.
I’m sure as Dean watched on the sideline and saw heroes with heart in action, he had to be thinking that this is what it would be like with Amara. How Sam and Castiel would have to take on that fight and he could do nothing about it. Now that Castiel has chosen to fight by being possessed by Lucifer, that doesn’t help Dean’s angst about the whole situation either. He still clings onto hope that Castiel will come back willingly, even though we saw otherwise in his talk with Sam. You have to wonder, what is Dean going to do? How will he get out of this latest funk? How will he save Cass?
While Dean is currently seeing the connection to Amara as a curse, Lucifer said that the connection was vital in defeating Amara. I’m starting to see things Lucifer’s way. In the end, it will be Dean that defeats her, or perhaps just tames her. I wondered what would happen if the Hand of God suddenly started to work for Dean when Amara was near. Would Dean be destroyed? Is he truly a mortal with that connection? As Delphine warned, a mortal cannot absorb that power and will be destroyed. Let me throw this out there though, is Dean Winchester the exception? Remember when he killed the Whore of Babylon? There’s something different about Dean. Plus, with his connection to Amara, doesn’t that kind of make him immortal? If anything, absorbing God’s power levels the playing field between him and Amara where he can keep her in line.
Can Dean live with a level playing field though? He’s been so black and white, kill or be killed, so could he live reasonably well with this bond that will never go away? I don’t think so. I think that he’s already in self sacrificial mode, evidenced by him going alone on the submarine and refusing to let Sam go. He knows he can’t kill Amara, but he also knows he can’t live with her either. All that is reflected on his face in that closing shot. The catch 22 from which he cannot win. No doubt Delphine’s sacrifice is burning in his mind, and he’s ready to do the same, but he’s not convinced he can. How Dean moves forward from this point is a setup of some great possibilities.
The Really Strange Saga of Lustiel/Cassifer
This whole Lucifer story is where my confidence in the mytharc wanes. I can’t get out of my head his confession that he hadn’t really thought things out. That disappointed me, even though I always suspected his motive was to be sprung from the cage and nothing more. What if the Hand of God had worked for Lucifer? Did he believe that by killing Dean he’d kill Amara or was he not thinking that far? How else could he defeat her? If he had gotten that power, would that make him more powerful than Amara? I don’t think so, because it’s God’s power and she has the same power. Despite the fact that he really has no clue how to defeat her, Castiel still believes he’s useful.
It’s clear there are situations where his power is needed. They wouldn’t have been able to go back in time without him. But Lucifer is a loose cannon. He’s easily bored, impatient, and rather insistent that things are done his way. That arrogance has likely been the cause of his downfall ever since he was banished to Hell. A few thousand years hasn’t seemed to change him. Other than being the token jerk and giving Misha Collins something to do, why is Lucifer part of this? Keep in mind though, this isn't a criticism of Misha's performance. I'm quite impressed with how well he's mimicking Lucifer's (aka Mark Pellegrino's) mannerisms. It's just the writing of Lucifer himself.
So far, I see no value with Lucifer and now whatever nemesis he once was been greatly diminished. Sam has overcome his fear of Lucifer. Sam knows his weaknesses, and Sam saw that Castiel is capable of taking control with a soul boost. The way I see it, Sam will probably handle the Lucifer problem, leaving Dean to handle Amara. The question raised at the end was a good one though, how do they get Castiel back from this, especially when he doesn’t want to be saved? I don’t think Sam is going to risk another soul touching (hasn’t it been through enough?). Is it possible they’ll eventually have to accept the sacrifice of their friend for the greater good? I’d like to think they would, if anything because after eleven seasons they should be learning from past mistakes. Still, it’s super hard for these guys to let go and I don’t see them doing that without a fight and all options considered.
The Red Headed Monster
This week’s little rant has nothing to do with Mr. Berens script or the amazing story he laid out that gave everyone involved in the production a chance to shine (everyone brought their A game). Well, it does a little, but Berens is only following a very bad choice in continuity. One that in my mind has damaged the series and really, really needs to end, now.
I accept that when Mark Sheppard became a regular, they needed to give him a story. Crowley is a character where they had endless possibilities. Remember when he first came around? He was brilliantly evil, hid in the shadows and would appear right at the time of opportunity. I wasn’t interested in what was going on in Crowley’s day to day world. I loved the mystery and enigma behind him. This whole idea of Crowley sitting on a throne in a hideout somewhere on earth or in Hell, dealing constantly with hapless buffoons, it has really diminished this show to campy levels and ruined what has truly been a great character.
Remember when this show used to be cool? Remember when there were boundaries for poor taste? There is no way Eric Kripke would even entertain such a concept, let alone let it go this long. I recall once that Kripke said he wouldn’t do scenes in Hell, because his vision of Hell was too expensive. Remember when demons were like Meg? They didn’t dress up in suits and talk about soul numbers. They practiced dark arts and engaged in pagan rituals. They weren’t dumb and very scary.
I’ve eluded to this before, but watching the recent reboot of "The X-Files" has reminded me of some things. Tone is everything. I’m not saying that the return of "The X-Files" has been perfect, or that the story lines have been setting the world on fire, but they have in their strange simplicity been working. It feels like the show I once knew. The one thing the reboot has done is the show still remembers what they were. It knows its identity, even when Mulder and Scully are spending time questioning their purpose in this world. It put the focus back on Mulder and Scully, the true heart of the show. They’re each going through examinations of faith while coolly accepting the crazy and the possibilities around them. They aren’t dealing with cardboard demons with a bored leader in a fake Hell lair. They’re chasing real monsters in creepy situations, outright terrifying at times. Sure, every once in a while something is thrown off kilter, like a very strange (and totally awesome) mushroom trip, but it’s those things that prevents a story from being predictable.
Honestly, the Hell headquarters scenes have gotten so painful, I liken them to a poor quality Disney channel production. All that’s missing is a laugh track. Please, please writers, go back to the roots of this show and remember how a story can be told through solid pacing and tone, not cheap and time wasting gimmicks. Go back to seasons one and two. Heck, even go to five and six and remember what kind of characters Castiel and Crowley were. It really hurts to see how they’ve been diminished to caricatures.
Overall grade, an A-. It was only knocked down a peg because I’ve had enough of these painful Hell scenes. I was pleased to see Crowley get a comeuppance, but it’s still way too campy for me. Let’s stick to the straight, compelling drama that works.