When this episode first aired, I had a number of thoughts and was able to document the initial reaction – in part, at least. I won’t run through the entire episode in traditional review format, since this isn’t a standard review of new content. So instead, here you will have a unique combination of first viewing thoughts combined with hindsight observation, making for an interesting commentary on "Form and Void".
[Original thoughts from the first-viewing are in italics]
This episode was so much like the original days of Supernatural, with an added layer of insidious, sinister chill it was creepy and captivating. Season eleven, though only two episodes in, has offered a darker tonal value in almost every aspect – character, setting, atmosphere. Every layer has the classic horror movie flavor and far less monster-of-the-week triumphs we’re used to. In fact, these first two episodes were an interesting mix of Croatoan and The End – and the promise they hold for what’s to come next is delicious.
Even on a second, third, fourth watch – this still holds true. And in fact, this is a ubiquitous feeling throughout the season, a tone set by these initial episodes. The colours, the scenery; everything added to the impending doom and foreboding that was the Darkness. Despite the later payoff of this character that wasn’t so sinister after all, these tenors were nevertheless ever-present from the beginning.
Sam: Saving People, Curing Things
There’s a lot to address in Sam’s storyline this week: Billie the Reaper, his soulful address to the might-be-keeping-an-eye-out God, his determinedly successful cure-finding, the actual cure. Yup, it was a full, rounded night for young Winchester.
When we open on Sam, the feel is MacGyver in a western showdown: the town is all but abandoned, the ‘Superior’ hardware store is being raided and there is a Dark Zombie shuffling through the main drag. It feels like it’s been a while since an in-the-trenches moment of weapon assembly and watching Sam catch and interrogate with hardware tools. It was a refreshing reminder of just how capable our boys are on the fly. The bunker has been a great base to be sure, but this week had a dark, nitty-gritty of particularly dark and desperate days – more season two-esque - that has almost been missing in recent days.
And, in these darker of days (which really is saying something given what Sam and Dean have already been through – isn’t it?), they’ve gained a new enemy it seems – the Reapers. Billie the Reaper is interesting and I certainly hope we encounter her again – from the sounds of her, so does she. Here is my question about Billie: was she legitimately throwing down the proverbial glove by appearing to Sam or was she subtly cluing him in? It was her ‘unclean’ comment that ultimately linked to the ‘purification’ aspect of the cure and truly, we know Reapers do not need to appear to mortals. So why did she? True, Billie was upset over the Death situation, after all she informed Sam that he and Dean weren’t getting any more ‘Return to Life’ cards; but presumably if The Darkness (Amara) is such a great threat, she presents a threat to all beings including the Reapers. And of course the big question that lingers here: what is the Reaper hierarchy? How do they receive instruction and who is next in line for that Sickle?
Once again, the payoff involving the Reapers wasn’t exactly what speculation anticipated. In actuality, whether she’d like to know it or not, Billie proved a valuable asset at least twice: this tip about “purification” that leads Sam to the cure and, of course, in collecting souls for the soul-bomb in the end. The question we’re left with is what comes next for this character – especially if Sam was shot in the finale?
Back when we first saw this, before we understood anything about Amara, her mission, her origins or her relationships to the Winchesters; I had a few thoughts on the idea of the infection wrought by the fog and the cure and what this all meant. It's interesting in retrospect:
Let’s talk cure. Purification by Holy Fire. If tradition holds this speaks clearly to the age of the infection and its giver, which we know of course is old – but Holy fire (and oil) works on the oldest of creatures (angels) which only furthers my curiosity of exactly what this Darkness is and where it has come from. Celestial? I will say, I’m thrilled the cure wasn’t dragged out over several episodes. No Dark Sam, no desperate Dean this season. So far, anyways.
Then, of course, was the success of Sam’s goal to save people without a shot. The remaining question is where did the vision come from that led Sam to the cure? God or someone else? Last week, Crowley was informed somebody in the Cage went batty when The Darkness escaped – could it be Lucifer? The vision was not unlike Hell-time fun we’ve seen before. Any theories, fellow viewers? Who is our anonymous tipster?
Finally, Sam’s prayer, encompassing and communicating so much. Ultimately, Sam was a hero this week, accomplishing the ends he set out to achieve by saving not only himself but the others in Superior as well. In his conversation in the church, Sam demonstrated some serious moments of guilt, but then really, what’s a Winchester without guilt? Sam prayed for help and he got it – the question is, from whom?
We know now, of course, it was Lucifer and not God manipulating Sam’s desperate plea for a higher power to assist in this situation. It was Lucifer going haywire in the Cage. Watching this playout with all the foreknowledge makes for a fun ride too. Though – given the later discover of the God-amulet in Sam’s pocket, and all those connections, God was probably listening too.
In the past, Sam has displayed guilt at various levels – both boys have. This time around, they both have a mutual responsibility for what was released into the world; circumstance, choice, manipulations and misinformation being what it was along the path. Having said all that, any displayed guilt is harnessed to reflection and productivity rather than depressive and hindering this time around. Recalling the ‘saving people’ piece of the motto, Sam made a grassroots return to the Winchester Family code and found a cure for the infected.
The “guilt” component is hardly something new to the Winchester diet. However, in this case, though the boys aren’t made to forget their roles in releasing the Darkness and the impact it’s had on the world (or will have should Amara complete her mission), “guilt” plays a far less oppressive role than it has in days past. As seen in this episode, the cause of the situation is motivation, productive but far from overbearing.
Odds and Ends
This episode was a lot about pure vs. unclean: we had Sam who was told he was unclean in the “Biblical sense” and we had Castiel who was under Rowena’s spell and was – a person could argue – as a result at his “purest” most base level. Those afflicted by the fog needed to be “purified” where Amara only consumed the purest piece of humans – the soul – leaving them to act much like Rowena’s spell, though without the remorse Castiel felt.
Dean and Amara were each a representation of this in their own way: Dean, who’d possessed the Mark (something that inspired behavior not unlike Castiel’s under the attack-dog spell or soullessness) had been cleansed of the Mark – resulted in releasing Amara who was determined to purify the Earth of humanity – so, in her own, twisted way.
A relationship for Dean after 11+ years (if she can’t remember, well, neither do I) that’s involved in the hunter lifestyle and it’s a soulless monster chick. Hmm. That seems about right. Of course – this isn’t lust or love; it’s a connect at an entirely different level. It’s dark, intense, pulling. What will it ultimately mean? It’s curious and I’m intrigued.
Dean was the human touchstone for Amara throughout season eleven, more so as time when on. Otherwise, their relationship amounted to very little in the end. Given this payoff, there was a dramatic amount of puffery injected into the pull Dean felt toward Amara, first as a baby and then as a woman. However, in the moments, in the context of the unknown and the thrill of the episode – it all worked.
Those are some of my thoughts – old and new – on "Form and Void". It was a good episode the first time around and remains a good episode even knowing where the season is heading. This episode continued to set a dark, melancholic mood that flowed through, by and large, most of season eleven and worked to set in motion some mysteries that would trouble us for the better part of half the season.
Worth a rewatch – or two!