Outstanding. Captivating. Riveting. Emotional. Smart. Well written and brilliantly portrayed. Welcome back Supernatural! It’s good to be home again! THAT’s the show we know and love!
“Keep Calm and Carry On” is a wonderful beginning to Supernatural’s remarkable 12th season. It seamlessly, skillfully weaves together the reality of the present day, i.e. “Now”, with the complex history of individual characters, the Winchester family and the two disparate communities that have fought monsters for centuries (i.e. the show’s “Road So Far”).
“A Lot’s Changed”
A lot of things have changed in the Supernatural world as it begins this new year. The divine siblings who were at the heart of season 11’s story have left earth once again, the brothers are separated with Sam believing he is truly alone in this world, Lucifer is missing, and Momma Winchester, who has been dead for 33 years, has come back to life. Outside the story universe, the show is now in the hands of a new showrunner and a largely new writing team. Mary’s observation that “A lot’s changed” is a comment not only about her reality but about everyone’s, including the fans.
Perhaps as a way to reassure fans and ground the story in the known and familiar, the season opens with Dean reciting a litany of facts about the Winchester lineage. Clearly he is trying to convince Mary he is truly her son and to help her remember her life, but his narration of her biography reminded me of how some cultures honor all that came before them. It is a tribute to the amazing history the show has both in storyline and with its fans. We have more than a decade of knowledge about these characters. Sam’s hallucinations about the past 12 years of his life also acknowledges key events in the show’s mythology. Both brothers then provided a beautiful way for Andrew Dabb and his new writing team to honor the richness of the story they’ve inherited and we know so well. The message is clear: “We’ve done our homework. You can trust us.” Even the episode’s title, “Keep Calm and Carry On” is a message not only to Dean, Sam, Mary, Castiel and Crowley, but also the writer’s room – don’t panic, just get to work and get the job done.
The thread of change is woven throughout the rest of the episode as well. Mary, of course, is overwhelmed by how much the world has changed in 33 years. Her son is now an unfamiliar adult and technology has advanced to the point of revolutionizing everyday life. Dean highlights the jolting reality when he says “Welcome to the future.” Sam has also changed. Acknowledging his tragic history with torture, he taunts:
I’ve been tortured by the devil himself. You’re just an accent in a pants suit. What can you do to me?
Let's all pause here a moment to appreciate WetSam!
Ok, you may resume reading.
His brutal experiences made him able to manipulate the torture and his captors to his advantage, and horrifically, to withstand more pain than could be expected of normal human beings:
Torturer: No One can take that much pain and not break. No one.
He is clearly not the young man who was once afraid to face his fears. He is confident and aggressive even in the face of pending torture.
Castiel and Crowley also seem to have found their confidence again. They are both on a mission - Castiel to help Sam, and Crowley to find and defeat Lucifer. The strong version of all of these characters is a welcome and promising start to the season. Even the lyrics to the opening song echo the theme:
“Hey, look at me, and you’ll see
How I’ve changed my ways”
Interestingly, although Dean has changed dramatically from Mary’s perspective, he is the one constant to us and others in the Supernatural world. He hadn’t died, as Castiel (and Sam) presumed, but has returned to lead the Winchester family. His mission is the same as it’s always been – protect Sam. No one is going to get in the way of him doing his job.
“Saving People, Hunting Things”
The thread of getting the job done is woven throughout this episode, but “Keep Calm and Carry On” presents two different approaches to getting the job of “Saving People” done right. Toni brags about the success of the British Men of Letters society,
There hasn’t been a monster related death in Britain since 1965 because we are good at our job.
whereas Americans “drive back roads” and “maybe even kill the thing that did it”. She then tells Sam,
Toni: You’re just bad at your job.
Sam: Yeah, and you’re better?
Toni: So much better.
She is clearly convinced that the facts justify her arrogant bravado. They know how to do the job right, everyone else has stupidly done it wrong, and things are going to change now. Sam emphasized the job thread again when he temporarily overpowers her:
Sam: Maybe you’re not as good at your job as you think.
It seems the season is going to explore who is right, Hunters or Men of Letters. Earlier in the show’s history, the two brothers were portrayed more unilaterally, i.e. one had brains the other brawn. Sam also struggled with this dichotomy as he fought to determine his identity. Was he a hunter like his dad and Dean or a law student who would turn his back on hunting? With the introduction of Henry, this contrast was transferred to the different approaches of the Men of Letters and the Hunters. I would argue that the brothers have become the perfect balance of their two heritages, both of them using both intelligence and strength.
Sam and Dean convinced Henry of their value, but the British chapter is a more self-righteous MoL faction taking Henry’s pride in his legacy to the extreme. Given their starting point, I can see the boys just needing more time, or another catastrophic situation, to convince the Brits that hunters aren’t all bad. The episode already introduced some divides between Toni and her bosses. She doesn’t like some psychopath they use (who I’m sure we’ll have the pleasure of meeting down the road), it seems she may have been one of those who wanted to help earlier, and she clearly noticed that Sam didn’t kill her when he had the chance. So who’s the smart one in this case?
Smart vs. Stupid
The season seems to be beginning an interesting study of what it means to be smart. When the two demons entered the first home, the one asked,
This is stupid. You think this is stupid, right?
Then when they were confronted by Crowley, they were quick to point out, “we’re not stupid”.
In contrast, Dean’s intelligence is emphasized through both his quick use of a computer,
Dean: “I hacked the traffic cams.”
and him knowing the significance of diplomatic status for a plane. Mary’s disorientation is used as a juxtaposition to highlight Dean’s deftness with technology and strategic approach to tracking down Sam.
The British MoL were also specifically portrayed to be smart. Toni brags about their successful expulsion of the supernatural from their island. Torturer lady clearly felt smarter than Dean because she used technology against him, saying “You really should be more careful with your location services on your phone”. Toni also felt she was smarter than Sam, yet Sam was able to resist the torture and trick her. I can’t yet predict how or if this thread will be used this season. One possibility is that it will only be a reinforcing commentary on how well hunters versus Men of Letters do their jobs, or it may reprise the human vs animal/monster distinction we tracked a few years ago.
Reminiscent of some prior seasons (feel free to explore which ones in the comments), season 12 may be embarking on further study of how humans can sometimes be scarier and more dangerous than monsters or other supernatural beings. Beyond the meta joke that Toni took “moose” to a veterinarian, the more serious message is that people can sometimes be seen as only animals. Toni implicated her own disregard for humanity when she told the doctor,
“Animals, people. They’re all meat”.
She prides herself on being more civilized than American hunters, but she doesn’t yet seem to grasp that she is the monster in this situation.
Dean and Cas also emphasized this theme when they clarified that their foe was “only” a human, not a supernatural creature of any kind:
Dean: You said woman. Not an angel, not a demon? A human?
Cas: She was human.
The actions of all our heroes clearly portrayed them as far more “human” than their enemies. Dean reined in Castiel from further violence both in the driver’s garage and in the vet’s office:
Dean: Don’t hurt him Cas. Not yet.
Sam also didn’t kill Toni when that was the smart choice. Was anyone else disappointed that she is still alive? I really, really was hoping that Sam would have killed her. I felt terrible for even thinking such morose thoughts but I can’t stand that woman. Torture lady was killed by Mary so at least I don’t have to set eyes on her again. For a brief moment, though, I had hopes that this British caricature would be short-lived, but no, I fear she’s here for quite a long while yet. I guess her characterization as a soldier blindly following orders is effective if I already dislike the plot’s antagonist so much. She is confused by Sam’s compassion, yet she tases and recages him. She seems genuinely afraid at first, but then somewhat reticent. Are we starting to see a crack in her armor?
When the demons are busy with their job of cleaning up after Lucifer, the one explained their actions as just following orders:
When Lucifer, Prince of Darkness, King of Hell, asks you to do something, you do it.
Toni defends her kidnapping of Sam by saying, “You gave me no choice”.
She also defended the British MoL’s inaction in the face of the apocalypse saying,
Some of us wanted to get involved, but the old men wouldn’t allow it. Thought we were overstepping our bounds. After all this business with the Darkness, even they have to agree, things need to change. And while you might not believe this Sam, we’re here to help.
Let me digress for a moment and point out the meta interpretation of this dialog. The “old men” is a euphemism for “The Powers That Be” in running a show. After the disastrous follow-through on the Darkness’ plotline (I have no problem at all with the happy ending but the lack of plot cohesion was a mess), someone decided it was time for a change, and although fans are skeptical, the current writers are here to help the show get back on track. Interesting?
Within the context of the show’s plot, though, the topic of free will is quietly being reiterated. The explicit wording used here tends to make me believe it will become a major thread of the season.
My guess is that this will only be a thread for the first few episodes, probably ending when Sam is finally reunited with Dean and Mary, but it is a perfect theme for the first episode of the season. Show and fans are reunited once again in the symbiotic relationship that has kept Supernatural on the air for 12 years. The emotional impact of several other sentimental reunions makes this premiere captivating – one that I will want to watch many more times in the coming weeks:
- Dean with Mary on the park bench, explaining a lifetime of sorrows.
- Dean and Castiel, in an exuberant display of relief that Dean is alive.
- Mary and Baby, giving Mary the home she could recognize as her own.
Moms and their Sons (i.e. Family)
What’s with Toni calling her son at home? Is that supposed to make her a more sympathetic character to us? It just made me hate her more. The hypocrisy of telling your son “mummy loves you so, so much” then callously, mercilessly torturing another woman’s son made me sick. There’s an obvious parallel between Toni and her pre-school aged son, and Mary and her sons, but that’s so obvious I’m suspicious there’s going to be more to the two families’ journeys than that.
Hands and Feet
I hope Wednesday’s review covers the motif of hands that was so prominent in the episode. Watch for it. It begins with the opening “Road So Far” montage. A noticeable number of shots of hands subliminally introduce the importance and power of hands. Castiel then uses his hand to render the hapless truck driver unconscious. British enforcer woman uses her hands (reinforced with warded brass knuckles) to overpower Dean and Cas. Sam uses his hand to trick Toni into thinking he slit his throat, then he specifically shows her his hand. Mary stares at her hands as she contemplates the violence they just delivered to her sons’ enemy.
Feet is also a motif. Look for that as well.
- The opening montage was set to “Bad Boys” by April Wine. I did not recognize the song at all, which was disappointing because an immediate bond with a classic rock song instantly reestablishes my intimate connection with Supernatural. The song’s deep beat, harmonies and lyrics were exciting and fitting, though. I’ll have to investigate adding the song to Supernatural’s classic playlist because after several replays I now consider it the best part of the opening! I actually wasn’t crazy about the montage clips. It seemed odd to emphasize harlequins in jail but not show the moment God revealed himself to Sam and Dean. I honestly didn’t think “The Road So Far” did justice to season 11. So the music won me over but the images fell flat for me. How about you?
- Totally cool – now we know how angels get blown away by sigils. I've named it the "CasComet"! Remind anyone of how Superman came to earth? That was the first thought that occurred to me! The billboard in the field says “you won’t believe your eyes” too.
- Just for fun, here's Dean's expression when Cas comes in for the hug:
Too funny! That's our Dean!
As I was thinking about this episode, before my first rewatch or thread anaylsis, one image stood out from all the rest. It wasn't the most significant or the most emotional moment of the episode. There were dozens of poignant, important moments in this episode that contributed to its overall quality. I wouldn't say it defined the episode or was even symbolic of its message. The image stuck with me though. It's the image of Sam throwin his head back, screaming in pain. I haven't yet found (or made) a good screencap of that moment. Maybe you or I can do that in the next few days. The revelation of the power of that image makes me wonder, though. Can you identify one single image that pops into your head before all others. Just ONE image? Maybe we'll try to do this at the end of each S12 Threads article?
Those are my first impressions. How about you? What threads did you see? Do you agree or disagree with my interpretations? Let’s get this party started! #BringOnS12!
References courtesy of :