Supernatural 8.17 Review: Choice and Consequence

SupernaturalHow does one accurately describe this week’s episode of Supernatural? Do words like “impressive”, “superb” and “memorable” suffice? Because “Goodbye Stranger” was all of those things and so much more. It was an episode that had a lot of themes and throwbacks to earlier seasons (kudos to Robbie Thompson, who has done his homework on the earlier seasons, despite not joining the show until season 7). In fact, Thompson has proven himself a standout writer on Supernatural, penning memorable meta episodes like “Slash Fiction” or comedy gold like the two Felicia Day episodes. He has a touch of the subtle, writes terrific dialogue for all of the characters and blends comedy and drama with equal measure. “Goodbye Stranger” was more dramatic than his previous episodes (with, perhaps, the exception of “Bitten”, which covered heavy topics), but it packed an emotional punch that will resonate for a long time. And it killed off the longest-running demon in Supernatural history. But more on that unexpectedly sad moment later.

Cold, Cold Open

It’s not often we jump right into Winchester action in the opening seconds of a Supernatural episode, so seeing Dean right after the “NOW” title card was made all the more jarring moments later when Castiel snapped his wrist and then stabbed his friend. But that horrifying scene wasn’t enough trauma for the audience, apparently, because Naomi praised Castiel’s actions, telling him that he’s fully programmed now and she’s oh so proud.  Then the camera panned back to show us hundreds of dead Deans strew about the warehouse. All of them killed by Castiel.

In the Men of Letters bunker, Dean was cluing in to Sam’s increasingly worse condition when he spotted a bloody kleenex in the garbage, but Sam had them off and running to investigate a new case. A few visits and interviews and the Winchesters quickly realized that the victims had all been possessed by demons who were searching for something in the town.

Goodbye StrangerOh, What a Tangled Web We Weave…

Castiel made an unexpected appearance back in the Winchesters’ lives and it soon became clear to Sam and Dean that he was acting suspicious and lying to them. Well, even more suspicious than he had been since the last time they saw him. After interrogating a demon, they headed off to a motel to save a hostage that was being tortured for the location of the crypts.

The hostage was none other than Meg (complete with new hair!), who said she had been tortured by Crowley for the last year and told the boys what Crowley was searching for: the Angel Tablet. Castiel feigned surprise, while Dean and Sam’s suspicions continued to mount.

The boys suggested they team up with Meg to recover the tablet themselves and off the group went. They managed to find one, but Dean ordered Sam to remain outside with Meg while he and Cas went in to find the tablet. Dean’s noticed that Sam isn’t at the top of his game and was seriously failing in a fight against a demon earlier, which led to Cas telling everyone that Sam is now “damaged in ways even I can’t heal.”

Inside the crypt, Dean was able to pull out the tablet from its hiding place and Cas immediately demanded he hand it over. As Castiel continued to speak to Naomi up in Heaven (who was ordering him to kill Dean and take the tablet), Dean’s suspicions spilled over and he asked the angel to confess how he had gotten out of Purgatory. Castiel started wailing on Dean and Dean (much like in “Swan Song”) didn’t fight back, but begged Castiel to stop, telling him that they’re family.

Castiel found himself unable to kill his friend and when he touched the tablet it seemed to break the hold Naomi has over him. Later, he healed Dean’s injuries and then left with the tablet, telling him that he needs to protect it both from Naomi and from Dean.

Meanwhile, Crowley joined the party outside and Meg (after a rather amusing and touching conversation with Sam about his desire for a normal life) told him to run. As Dean rejoined his brother outside, the two witnessed Crowley stabbing Meg. RIP Meg. You’ve been there since the beginning and, I think, you might be missed.

Later, Crowley met with Naomi in the crypt and it’s clear that these two have some history, although it’s not clear that she’ll take him up on his offer to join forces and search for the tablet. As Castiel rode off on a bus (to avoid being detected while using angelic travel measures, presumably) Dean told Sam that he couldn’t stand any more lies and Sam vowed to be honest about the side-effects of the trials.

Fade out on one hell of a Supernatural episode. The show returned with a bang I was hoping for but don’t always expect and I’m thrilled to say this is an episode that I’m eager to watch again.

SupernaturalMegstiel: The New Brangelina? Hardly

The internet was in a tizzy earlier today after Misha Collins had teased a “touching” moment between Castiel and Meg and, like I thought, it was present but didn’t seem to have much of an impact on the episode overall. Even if Meg didn’t die, I highly doubted the two would become Supernatural’s new power couple. But I thought their scenes played as amusing and, yes, a bit touching. I think that Meg’s closing speech in that scene summed it up perfectly: “I miss the simplicity [of the apocalypse] – I was bad, you were good, life was easier. Now it’s all so messy. I’m kinda good, which sucks. You’re kinda bad, which is kind of all manner of hot. We survive this, I’m gonna order some pizza and we’re gonna move some furniture around. You understand?”

To understand this speech and its place in Meg’s final episode, I think we have to go back to the beginning with Meg. This is a demon that’s been around since season 1. She’s survived longer than any other demon on this show and has had continuous run-ins with the boys since she first arrived on the scene. Her antagonism towards them was present at the beginning and lasted many, many seasons. There’s no denying that Meg is evil. Like she said, she’s a demon. She is responsible for killing Sam and Dean’s friends. But – and this is a recurring theme in Supernatural – sometimes the boys are forced to work with grudging allies. In more recent seasons, as Meg became less of a favored child of Hell as a result of Lucifer’s downfall, she’s struggled to find her place in the evil hierarchy. And, like many other demons, she’s found that her interests can ally with those of the Winchesters. She hasn’t become “good” so much as she’s been forced to adapt to a changing landscape, although I found some nobility in her instructions for Sam to flee to safely while she remained behind.

I don’t think Meg was redeemed by her actions in this episode. I don’t see her as a “good” character because she had an amusing conversation with Sam (although I did like their quasi-bonding scenes!) and I didn’t see her as a love interest for Castiel. What I saw was a survivor who I will miss. There’s a sense of nostalgia (coming so soon after losing Bobby for what might be the final time) to see a character who has been around in one incarnation or another finally go (we’re sure Meg is dead, right? Or no?). And there’s an acknowledgement that Meg was not a one-dimensional moustache-twirling caricature. She was sassy and fun and evil and often without any sort of morality whatsoever, but I’ll miss her. I’ll miss her funny connection with Castiel, which I think was born out of a similar talent for adapting to circumstances (although Castiel is clearly not evil like Meg was). I’ll miss her banter with the boys most of all and I’ll miss her connection to the beginning of Supernatural.

“We’re Family”

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one of the most powerful scenes of the episode: the crypt fight between Castiel and Dean. I think that Naomi didn’t realize her one fatal flaw in the opening sequence: none of those “Deans” was actually DEAN. Castiel may have been able to kill an imposter that his brain believed was his friend, but he was not able to kill the real version. I thought the similarities to “Swan Song” were brilliant and effective. In fact, there were similarities that harken all the way back to the season 1 penultimate episode, when a bloody Dean pleaded with John to overcome the demon that possessed him in order to stop killing Dean. This is a familiar scene in Supernatural and no one does near-death begging for mercy quite as emotionally as Dean. “Cas, I know you’re in there. I know you can hear me. Cas, it’s me. We’re family. We need you; I need you,” Dean told his friend.

SupernaturalIn the end, Naomi gave him an ultimatum: “You have to choose, Castiel: us or them.” And like the last time Castiel was given a choice between Heaven and humanity, he chose humanity. One cannot understate the growth that Castiel has gone through since he entered the show in season 4. He’s not the good little solider who will choose Heaven every time he’s presented with a choice. In fact, he’s the soldier that forced the need for choices in the first place.

Frankly, I didn’t doubt that he would resist Naomi’s control at some point. His connection to humanity and to the Winchesters (to Dean, in particular), is a real and strong bond now, one that seems to supersede his bond to Heaven, particularly when those in “charge” of Heaven are making bad choices. Castiel is nothing if not loyal to his friends and we shouldn’t be surprised by this because he’s learned loyalty from the Kings of Loyalty: the Winchesters and Bobby. His path has been a rocky one and he has, absolutely, made missteps along the way. But like any human (and like Sam, if you want to talk about similarities) he’s also tried very hard to redeem himself for his previous misdeeds.

I suspect this Angel Tablet story is what Misha meant when he said that Castiel would kind of go off on his own journey at the end of the season that is separate from the boys. It’s clear that this particular tablet is precious to him and that he feels the need to protect it, while the Winchesters are preoccupied with closing the Gates of Hell. Frankly, I’m interested to see how both of these tablets end up closing the season. Will one of them be used in the manner they were intended?

Unholy Alliance

I spend a lot of time discussing Supernatural theories with Kate (who has co-authored a few speculation articles with me in the past) and we’ve discussed Naomi at length, including theories about whether Crowley was working with her. It’s clear that these two have a bit of a history, even though I don’t necessarily think it goes deeper than the typical demon/angel antagonistic encounter. And while Naomi seems disgusted with the possibility of teaming up with a demon, it’s unclear how long her disgust will override her desperation. If Castiel remains MIA with the tablet, how determined will she be to find him? Will she believe that she can keep it safe from Crowley even if she teams up with him?

“I Can Carry You”

I wasn’t expecting such a blatant confrontation about Sam’s health in this episode, but I was pleased that we got it, although I admit I’m terrified about what Cas said about Sam’s condition. How will the writers write themselves out of this situation? If Sam manages to survive the trials will he be cured? It’s clear that the effect on his health is worsening, which makes me frightened for him to face the next two trials. But I loved Dean’s response to the situation at the end of the episode. He didn’t get angry with Sam, he just flat out told him that he couldn’t handle any more lies. And he didn’t demand that they try and find a way to get Sam out of the trials, he simply offered his support: “I may not be able to carry the burden that comes along with these trials, but I can carry you.” While Sam laughed about Dean quoting Lord of the Rings, it’s clear that he appreciates the underlying message that Dean was conveying.

In the end, Robbie Thompson delivered a superb episode that belongs on a list of stellar mythological episodes. The implications from “Goodbye Stranger” will likely be dealt with for a while, but I’m looking forward to everything that comes next. We’re moving away from the heavy mytharc next week to welcome Krissy Chambers back to the show (watch a preview) and we’ve got another Felicia Day episode to look forward to and then I think we’re full steam ahead on the mytharc to the end of the season.

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