The Morning After
Hot! That is the single word that best summarizes Supernatural’s season 14 premiere, “Stranger in a Strange Land”. Want more words? Sizzling. Scorching. Embarrassed I’m watching it with my husband, hot. Did anyone else think Jared fried the pixels on their screens as he portrayed a superbly confident leader who was quietly desperate to find his brother? Even Kip, the monster of the week, commented “the shoulders, the hair”! Then there was Jensen dressed to the nines as Michael! Holy smoke (pun intended)! He too was confident and strong, knowing no one on earth was his equal. Package that presence in some darn fine tailoring and a smoldering, seductive voice and you have the clash of the titans – and way more than my libido could handle in a crowded theater with dozens of other Supernatural fans in attendance! Add in Alexander’s innocence as Jack, Misha’s timing with witty one-liners, Samantha’s convincing motherly worry about both her sons (sorry people but I still really like Samantha and Mary), and Jim’s comforting presence as Bobby (I will never tire of having him with his boys), and you have a cast that elevated this episode to an exciting launch of Supernatural’s 14th year!
If the sizzle is what distinguished this episode, its poignancy came in seeing Sam take on Dean’s role as leader, and Mary take on Sam’s role of providing encouragement and hope to the Winchester team.
Their change in roles was symbolically manifested by their respective spots in Baby - Sam moving over to the driver’s seat and Mary riding shotgun - driving home the huge gap created by Dean’s absence, a gap that everyone has stepped up to fill.
What Do You Want?
The question “what do you want” was the obvious, prominent theme underscoring Supernatural’s season 14 premiere. It was a question asked both overtly and subtly, by and of, all the main characters.
Jamil: Why are you here?
Michael: Well, that is the question, isn't it? Why are we here? I know why I'm here -- to ask you a question.
Jamil: What question?
Michael: The same question I've spent weeks traveling around this world asking all sorts of people -- holy men, leaders, killers.
And now I come to you, Jamil Hamed. What do you want?
Michael: … do you want? Exactly.
Michael rejected Jamil’s answer, so Jamil turned the question around to challenge Michael’s sudden corporeal presence in our world:
Jamil: Wha--Wha--What do you want?
Michael: What I have always wanted – a better world.
For some reason that isn’t yet clear, Michael’s search for a path to “a better world” is being driven by knowing what motivates beings. After his “weeks” of wandering and probing for the answer he seeks, he seemed to have found his holy grail:
Now, you -- you know exactly what you want. You don't pretend to want to help people or save the world. Your want is pure and simple and clean. And that's why you are worth saving. That's why we are going to work so well together. Because you -- you just want to eat.
Huh. Michael is looking for allies who don’t have a hidden agenda? He is looking for allies whose wants he can easily meet to secure their loyalty? Perhaps he is looking for beings whose wants are clear so that they have no grandiose notion to oppose him or his rule. Its complexity is in its simplicity. He freely offered a clear statement of what he wants but how he expects to get it is murky. His slander against the goal of helping people and saving the world was an indictment of the Winchester’s motto, so he’s not altruistic. Angels and humans aren’t worth saving but monsters are. Is he deciding Noah’s Arc style who he is going to let drown in his purification flood of the world? What is your take on why Michael is happy to have found his army in the monsters of this world?
In contrast to Michael’s wants which were openly stated in the first few minutes of the season, Sam’s wants were only articulated once in this episode:
AU Hunter(whose name I don’t yet know or have forgotten): Word is we got some vamps heading East on I-90. Gypsy types. Pickin' off truckers mostly. Last body got drained and dropped just outside La Crosse six hours ago.
Sam: Okay. Um All right. Get me teams of two. I want watch points every 50 miles. If you see something, say something.
Sam wants the hunters to be paired up to be safe, smart and effective. That’s not surprising. What is more interesting is that the hunters are looking to Sam for direction, and eagerly accepting his orders. His supreme hunting skills are finally being acknowledged, and together with his organization and leadership skills, he is a superb general. He didn’t have a moment to eat, rest or think. He was needed to guide hunts, console and guide his protégé Jack, care for and question the prisoner no one else could stomach (or risk) being near – all while coordinating the search for Dean. I’ve been where Sam is now – in a crisis, managing so many teams with different objectives that you are constantly being pulled in a dozen different directions. His position felt known to me, familiar, strengthening my identification with him even more than before.
Notably, not once did anyone ask what Sam wanted. What he wants is as transparent, simple and pure as the vampire’s motivations. Sam wants Dean back. Sam wants to find Dean, save him from Michael, and bring him home. What Sam wants is so visceral, it permeated his every movement and thought. It didn’t need to be spoken. It would almost have been crass to have put it into words. It was communicated by Sam’s worry, his sleeplessness and lack of hunger, and his unrelenting drive. It was acknowledged by Mary’s hugs and words of encouragement. Sam’s wants were intimately understood by all, and were a skilled counterbalance to Michael’s blind, random inquiries to all manner of living creatures.
Mary and Castiel obviously want the same thing as Sam, to save Dean. Again, this overriding drive was never uttered, although curiously, Castiel’s methods to achieve this goal did touch on his “wants” just once.
Castiel: I was surprised you wanted to meet here.
Kip: I'm surprised you wanted to meet at all. Didn't think that you consorted with my kind.
Obviously, Castiel didn’t actually want to meet with demons but it was a means to an end if they might have news of Dean. The ambitious demon Castiel called was Kipling, an overly confident Crowley-wanna-be who wants his friends to call him Kip. Kip presumed to know what others wanted, and was more than happy to spell out what he wanted.
Demon: I'm the boy who's got your angel. And if you want to see him again, you know, alive, we should probably chat...
You know, somebody asked me what it was as a demon [wanted] walking the planet, destroying, drinking, defiling -- you know, the Three D's -- I didn't know. So, I sat back, and I gave it a good think, and I realized exactly what I wanted.
Castiel: And what is it?
The implication was that Kip had a prior encounter with Michael but lived to tell about it. Michael’s pointed question prompted Kip to search his blackened soul to figure out what he wanted, so when Sam asked him the question again, Kip was ready with an answer;
Sam: What do you want?
Kip: That is a very good question. What do I want?... I want to work with you, Sam, not against you… You see, I want the Crowley Deal...
Kip dramatically underestimated how hard it would be to get what he wanted though.
Sam: Enough! There will be no new King of Hell. Not today. Not ever. And if anybody wants the job, you can come through me.
Hot as Hell!! Darn! Sam is now running Hell! Together, he and Dean defeated Lucifer, so these pissant demons are no match for him. Been there. Done that. LeadershipSam is putting everyone on notice that he is in no mood to waste time with Hell’s petty squabbles and power plays. I LOVE this Sam! He still has all his intuition about people – knowing Jack needed to come with them to feel useful, extending compassion to Nick even though the mere sight of him must make Sam’s skin crawl, accepting his mom’s loving concern. His interpersonal skills combined with his technical hunting knowledge kind of makes him unstoppable.
Jo’s wants were also specifically identified, although she never admitted nor confirmed them. In a conversation that significantly furthered our understanding of her character, Michael explained wants that Jo hid from the world:
Jo: You're the Archangel Michael, from another world, and you're possessing Dean Winchester.
Michael: Sounds more complicated than it is.
Jo: Why would he say yes to you?
Jo: Really? That's very Hallmark Channel. So, I'm just gonna go now.
Michael: No, you're not. Not until I ask you what do you want?
Jo: I don't know. Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton.
Michael: You think this is a joke?
Jo: I don't know what this is. You asked, I answered. We done?
Michael: No. I asked, and you lied.
Jo: I didn't.
Michael: I know about you, Jo. Because he knew about you. You're the rebel, the angel who doesn't like playing by Heaven's rules or whatever. You pretend to care about these things -- pretty things. But that's all it is -- pretending. These trinkets, they don't make you happy. They just pass the time. They're not what you really want.
Jo: And if you're so smart, what do I really want?
Michael: Love. To belong, to have a place -- a home, a family. It's very, very human of you. And so, so disappointing.
Notice that what Jo supposedly wants, according to Michael’s presumptions, is exactly the same motivation that Michael confessed made Dean say yes to him - Love. It’s a motivation that Michael rejects, and from the sounds of it, disdains. Also note that Jo is now the new rebel angel who doesn’t like playing by Heaven’s rules. So Castiel isn’t the only rebel that bucks authority. Aligning Jo’s motivations with both Dean and Castiel made her instantly more sympathetic and trustworthy in the story. From her cryptic phone call to Sam, it appears she may be the unexpected ally they need in their search for Dean. I’m thrilled about that. She was a complex character that deserved to be developed and explored. She ingeniously forged a life for herself on earth, strategically partnered with Lucifer to survive, had the courage to challenge him with callous truths, then walked away when he turned on her.
I want to see more of Danneel’s Jo, and not only because her scenes with Jensen as Michael were smoldering hot! Was I the only one who felt the sparks fly when they were toe to toe in that alley? Phew!
Jack’s wants were more diffuse than Sam’s, Mary’s or Castiel’s. Presumably Jack wants Dean back, but foremost on Jack’s mind is getting his powers back. He wants to be useful to the hunters, he wants to learn how to fight, he wanted to help them save Castiel, and he wants to understand his new place in the world. Interestingly, Jack’s wants also were unspoken. We assumed what he wanted by what he said he couldn’t do, but he never articulated his wants himself. Actually, that’s perfect for a teenager. They are either confused or unable to explain what they want so the people around them need to figure it out for them and try to help them find it. Jack’s turmoil was accentuated by his inability to articulate what he wanted. That’s skillful writing.
I feel as if there is deeper meaning in the observation that the bad guys – Michael, Kip and the vampire – had and stated very clear ideas of what they wanted. The wants of the good guys – Sam, Mary, Castiel and Jack – went unsaid. Jo was in the middle. Her wants were clear but to someone else, who stated them for her. Interesting triad. Do you read deeper symbolism into this?
Say what now?
Despite the masterful delivery of this story that truly made it worth watching, there were a few plot twists that just don’t make sense – at least not yet. The biggest show stopper was that archangel blades kill archangels but they don’t kill their hosts?? Well that’s convenient. Obviously there’s now a way to kill Michael without killing Dean, but since when don’t archangel blades kill the body that is stabbed?
Last season, we tracked a Thread of “New Canon” but I don’t yet know if this fits into that category, mostly because I’m unsure if this is truly new canon or just unapologetically breaking canon. To answer that question, which to me was the biggest question raised as the writers reset the board to begin season 14, I went back to review how all other archangels had previously been killed.
Our world’s Michael is still in the cage so no precedent about hosts’ survival there. Raphael was obliterated by soul-powered Castiel in 6.22 “The Man Who Knew too Much”, so no chance that Raphael’s host survived that death. Gabriel, on the other hand, was killed with an archangel blade by AU Michael. Does this mean that Gabriel’s host was spared? Team Free Will 2.0 left him for dead, and all the human fighters who knew he was on their side passed through the portal and are now in our world. He was left lying on the ground, abandoned. Did Gabriel’s host wake up alone, bleeding in that hostile world? If so, might we see Richard Speight Jr. again? That would be fabulous news… but wildly unbelievable – just as unbelievable as Nick surviving Lucifer being stabbed in the side.
If archangel blades don’t kill hosts, does that mean that angel blades kill angels but not their hosts? Out of the legions of angels that have died on earth in battle, Castiel didn’t know that angel blades don’t kill the human hosts? In the 10 years since angels were introduced into the Supernatural world, we’ve never seen any humans get up and walk away when the angel inhabiting their body was killed. Does that mean that Gadreel could have been evicted by strategically stabbing him with an angel blade in a way that would have killed him but not Sam? I don’t buy it. There’s just too much precedent for having to go to extraordinary means to save the hosts. Sam justified drinking demon blood to exorcise demons because he wanted to save the host rather than kill innocent people. Sure, that’s demons instead of angels, but we’ve always been told that the host will die trying to kill the entity inside. Countless demons have used that against the boys when they wanted to kill possessed Sam, or Ruby or I don’t know who else!
So getting back to angels, are we supposed to accept that angel blades kill human hosts but archangel blades don’t? I give Andrew Dabb credit for recognizing that this was a HUGE leap in canon and at least addressing it in the dialog between Nick and Sam. I need help walking this back from the land of the lost into the real world, though. Can you think of any example or theory that supports the loophole that keeps Mark Pellegrino in the cast and provides a backdoor for Dean’s escape?
The next “say what?” is Castiel. Why couldn’t Cas heal himself and others? Last I knew, Castiel was reasonably at full power. Granted, heaven isn’t able to recharge his battery right now because it is in power-down mode (ignoring the retcon that makes me crazy about angels powering heaven instead of the other way around). If he was in the AU, a weakened Cas might make sense since Lucifer established that their angel power runs on a different frequency and that traveling through the portal weakens them somehow (ref: Lucifer’s first encounter with Michael). Castiel is all comfy at home in the bunker though. What’s up (or down) with his abilities?
Also, can’t he see demons inside their human hosts? I seem to recall that he sees their “real face” behind the human façade. Why didn’t he know the bar was full of demons? He was cooling his heels sitting at a table waiting for Kip. It seems he would have had plenty of time to look around at the bar patrons and see ugly monsters inside them. While we’re talking about the bar scene, Castiel was once a fierce warrior who “led legions of angels.” He didn’t even take out ONE demon before they overpowered him and used him for a punching bag. That stab he threw at the first demon was pathetic. Can we please make Castiel a warrior again?
On the flipside, I loved Misha’s acting in this episode. His nuances of disgust, sarcasm and humor were spot on, enough so that it really impressed me. Castiel had great one liners that were delivered with a finesse that added to each moment.
Oddly, I was also impressed by Katherine Evans who played Maggie. She did a great job supporting scenes with her “I’m trying to catch up as fast as I can here” looks and delivery of lines. She wasn’t a forgettable or throw-away character amongst the giants of the series. I really give her credit for that.
Within the script that kicked off season 14 were several reminders of threads that we tracked last year. Among them were:
Bobby: Truth be told, this stuff didn't come all that easy for me, either.
Had my ass handed to me more times than I can count.
I particularly noted that Sam told Cas the truth when Cas asked if Sam was OK. “Yeah, I've been better. I've been worse.” was refreshingly honest.
Talking/Communicating – This is especially interesting because it implies bringing truths out into the open, talking about what’s on people’s minds. Since we all want to know what’s going on inside Michael Dean and Sam, this is a very welcome thread. Chatting, asking, talking, and meeting were all components of this thread.
Imposters/Disguises – I saw this thread in Michael’s pursuit of clarity of character. He wanted to find beings of any type - monsters or humans, angels or demons – that were honest with both themselves and with him about what they wanted and their purpose in life. He was trying to strip away pretenses, or disguises, that cloud true intent. He also called out Jo for lying, and pretending to like material things.
Time/Numbers – Maybe it’s just a necessary insertion to root the story in reality, but there were several references to numbers within the story.
Judging by what we saw in only this first episode, “Stranger in a Strange Land” contained some brutally strange leaps in the plot that either ignored or rewrote the rules that have governed the Supernatural universe. Maybe you can explain some of them; maybe Dabb will reveal more information that more fully explains others. Right now, I’m concerned.
My heart on the other hand was won over completely. The Special Effects team hit new heights with the amazing image of Archangel Michael.
That's an image we won't soon forget! The talent of this cast and production team all came together to create a captivating episode. "Strange Land" also delivered amazing character growth and stunning performances all around.
It never asked what we, the fans, wanted but I know I want more of the tantalizing, sultry confidence of this new Sam and Dean, and the strength of supporting characters we saw this week. I’ll be back for more – right after I take a cold shower.
How about you?
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