This might be the first time in a long time I’ve ever really wanted the next episode of Supernatural to be a standalone, knowing it wouldn’t be (and even knowing it will be Cas-centric). I’m a sucker for the show’s unnecessarily complex mythology, and as much as the later seasons have struggled with new ways to deepen that mythology, it’s still been pretty fun to watch (the Men Of Letters headquarters in particular is just awesome). This season seems like it’s going to be more mythology-driven than any since the fifth—Dean explicitly acknowledges the sheer number of balls the show is juggling, from Abaddon’s resurgence to Cas’ newfound humanity to captive Crowley, telling Sam, “I feel like we’re living in a freaking sitcom.” It’s too bad that, at least in “Devil May Care,” that sitcom is The Millers. The cast is mostly on target, and you can see where the thing is going, but the execution is pretty off, without giving any of the parts time to function.
There are just a lot of pieces of “Devil May Care” that are shoddy or don’t add up to a better whole. Let’s start by getting the most confusing, frustrating part of the episode out of the way: Guest hunters Irv (Paul Rae) and Tracy (Olivia Ryan Stern). Both Irv and Tracy are utterly generic, existing purely so they can establish a fake-old relationship with the Winchesters (Irv), give them reason to be angsty (Tracy), and be kidnapped by Abaddon as bait (both). Rae is solid enough in the aging hunter role, but Stern is just blank. I’m not totally sure I understand Tracy’s deal, either. She’s mad at Sam, not because he chose to keep the Gates Of Hell open, but because he helped free Lucifer way back in the day. It’s cool to see someone having a longer memory of the Winchesters’ exploits than a season or two, but the brothers run through guilt trips so quickly that Sam’s sadness over Tracy and his role in Lucifer’s freedom is jarring.
At the end of the episode, Sam seems to have shrugged off that guilt, telling Dean he is “happy for the first time in forever.” Ignoring Sam’s months of happiness with Amelia back between seasons seven and eight, the nature of the Winchesters’ guilt is starting to get confusing. Dean tells Ezekiel (who he’s calling Zeke, which I totally predicted last week) feeling guilty for leaving the Gates Of Hell open, as well he should. Ezekiel-Sam tries to comfort Dean because he stopped closing the Gates for his brother and acted out of love, but it reeks of the show trying to paper over one of the genuinely douchiest things the brothers have done in a while. It’s not just that Dean is beating himself up for yet another screw-up, it’s that the show has started to exhaust the well of Winchester guilt and absolution just as they finally have something to be punished for.
And the Winchesters’ sins have come back to them in the form of new demonic threat Abaddon. The Knight Of Hell’s increased role toward the end of last season was kind of confusing—she was a decent enough one-off villain for the time travel episode with the Winchesters’ grandfather, but then she kept coming back for no real reason. With hindsight, it’s a bit easier to forgive her near-immediate reappearance and weird prominence last season. Abaddon wants to rule Hell and is leading a war against those loyal (or as loyal as demons can be) to Crowley, the salesman. This is a good development—not only does it enforce the total chaos in the Supernatural world that seems to be the theme of this season, it also invites something resembling a debate about differing approaches to ruling Hell. Lucifer basically ruled Hell by divine right (literally), but now we get Crowley’s subtler, sinister, deal-driven Hell contrasted with a vision of Abaddon’s demonic army (literally, since she’s getting her henchmen to possess soldiers). And Alaina Huffman is good enough in “Devil May Care” to fill the role of the devil’s devil’s advocate, even if she’s just playing a slightly more aggressive variation on the standard-issue Supernatural bitch demon.
There are some other good elements of “Devil May Care.” Dean’s pop culture references are pretty spot-on (he uses Zero Dark Thirty as his reference point for torture and calls a bow-wielding Kevin Katniss), and his cell phone decoy plan for the soldier demons is the sort of light-hearted fun more often found in a monster-of-the-week episode. Jared Padalecki’s acting as Ezekiel is still good, though nowhere near as fun as when he got to play Satan. Even Kevin is mostly on his game tonight—there are a lot of Generic Angry and Sad faces, but the prophet finally seems to be accepted as part of the Winchester crew.
At the very least, it’s a good thing Kevin didn’t let Crowley go after the demon pulled a Marty McFly chicken call on him. I was really worried he’d either let Crowley go to find his mom (who I miss) or accidentally break the Devil’s Trap while torturing him. But for the most, part, Crowley turning into Hannibal Lecter (or James Spader in The Blacklist—there’s literally a list of demons) seems like it’ll pay off down the road. Crowley has been around for so long now and worked with the Winchesters so many times, that he never really worked as a Big Bad last season. Having him in a tenser, grudging partnership with the Winchesters (and locked up) while dealing with his recently uncovered humanity will be a lot of fun if the show manages to spend any time on it. That’s really the biggest problem with “Devil May Care”—it tries to get to so much of the season’s business that it just leaves everything half-assed, even without Cas.
And Cas’ absence is sorely felt—his storyline was one of the best parts of last week’s episode, and watching him learning to be human is the most exciting prospect for the rest of the season. In particular, Cas is Supernatural’s most reliable source of comic relief (besides Garth). Dean’s wisecracks are great (really!), but Misha Collins is just so awesome and Cas an inherently more comedic character, especially now that he’s lost his mojo. His presence might have made “Devil May Care” a bit more scattered, but at least would have leavened the mess. So next week’s episode, which looks like it’ll be focused on the hunt for Cas and his struggle to deal with his newfound humanity (and mouthwash), should be great. If there’s a hidden theme to yearning for Misha Collins and the rest of “Devil May Care,” it’s that there are a lot of moving parts with serious potential this season. If the rest of the year is closer to last week’s premiere than this episode, the boys will be just fine.