Before this season of Supernatural started, executive producer Robert Singer claimed it would be similar to another, more popular television series with magical elements—Game Of Thrones. The comparison to that show is so easy to make unflattering and overblown that I’ve tried my best to avoid referencing it over the past months. But now that we’re at the end of the season, I’m going to reward myself by throwing caution to the winds and rains of Castamere—how did season nine of Supernatural stack up to HBO’s hit medieval fantasy? Certainly, there were a few moments that threatened to achieve the dizzying machinations of the squabbling Westerosi families, particularly when the Winchesters were combating Crowley and Abaddon, squabbling with the several factions of Heaven, and trying to find and ally with a human Cas. If the Supernatural team had been able to keep those plates spinning while also introducing increasingly complex relationships between the Winchesters and Cas, Crowley, and other characters who got shunted to the side (like Cain), it might have really been something. Of course, that’s a lot to ask for, but a version of the ideal season at least gives a sense of where things went right and where they went wrong.
One of the great things about Game Of Thrones is that the sheer density of the story often means that even though a lot of what happens is relatively easy to see coming, a sizeable amount is still capable of shocking (Red Wedding, anyone?) while remaining mostly true to the characters. But for a season of television so concerned with the nature of stories, a lot of “Do You Believe In Miracles” was just shy of totally predictable, huh? “It’s all become so… expected,” Crowley says during his last moment with Dean’s body (oh, yeah, Dean died, but we’ll get to that), reflecting a growing fatigue with the standard beats of Supernatural that I deeply share and lament—most of the stuff that happens in this episode falls into basic categories the show has used before, from the Winchester conflict (which we’ll get to) to Crowley helping the brothers against a bigger foe to Cas’ grand angelic speeches. But to be fair to “Do You Believe In Miracles,” a lot of that predictability comes from checking off a bunch of the season’s greatest hits: Dean and Crowley go on a road trip together for no real reason? Check. Cas trying too hard to be closer to humans than most of the angels? Check. Everyone crapping all over the “panty-waisted” angels? Double check. (Seriously, I’ve defended them for most of this season, but let’s hope in season 10 there are, like, no angels, ever, besides Cas.)
Perhaps more importantly, though, Crowley’s same monologue to Dean’s corpse also reveals another one of the episode and the season’s themes—the importance of not lying, even for the King Of Hell. The truth is presented as crucial here, stretching back to the last run of schemes perpetrated by the various players. Metatron’s last plan to get rid of Cas’ army was so successful because his speech to the assembled angels was the truth (at least as it related to Cas’ grace), but this one fails because Cas reveals that he’d been telling a lie to the rest of the angels. Gadreel’s plan to pretend to bring Cas in to Heaven for questioning fails, but Cas’ big speeches work because he’s telling the truth. This is in stark contrast to Game Of Thrones, where the current apparent winner has only gotten to where he is by lying to everyone in sight and keeping his cards unreadable.
Metatron’s new big final plan is also contingent on deception, at least in part. He begins healing the sick and dead in order to win a public following, part of his attempt to become the new God to us mortals as well as angels. The plan to incite humanity to follow Metatron and, coincidentally, kill the other angels themselves, is really fascinating, considering that any angel could really have done something like this and earned the faith of humanity after a few healings—why haven’t they done this yet? (It helps that humanity chose to interpret the angels falling as a “meteor shower.”) The glee with which Metatron mugs for the camera puts the lie to his schlubby appearance, a tension that’s been a strong part of the character all season. Metatron’s plan of exploiting the humans by giving them something to believe in is a strong idea, strikingly similar to Bartholomew’s (remember that guy?) scheme to get the devout to let angels possess them, the sort of thing that would have really been special had it been introduced a few episodes earlier and given more than five minutes to breathe. Weirdly enough, season nine has had a lot of really compelling ideas, but the writers don’t appear to be interested or confident enough in them to let them play out fully. One of the women Metatron tricks as “Marv” says that, “what is true is what I can see with my own two eyes,” but appearances can be deceiving.
In Gadreel’s case, however, appearances are exactly what they seem to be. His story is the most predictable part of the finale, and of the season—the rogue angel finally turns good (as we long knew he would). Considering how easy this was to see coming, it’d have been nice to get more of the buddy dynamic between Gadreel and Cas. Gadreel is positioned here as a sort of more militant version of Cas, acting decisively in favor of what he thinks is right even (especially) when it leads to terrible consequences, something that crystallizes Tahmoh Penikett’s performance and allows Cas to be the worldly, pop culture-savvy angel in contrast to his overly intense friend.
After being healed by Cas, Gadreel sacrifices himself to free his “leader” from the jail cells of Heaven (which you’d kinda think could weather this sort of explosion). Gadreel is the final angelic suicide bomber, sacrificing himself to free Cas from Heaven jail. This development retroactively helps justify the introduction of the bombings in the last episode, though it also introduces a host of new issues with Gadreel’s season-long character arc. And Gadreel’s final words are ones of hope—hope that the angels will tell his story as one of redemption and salvation for Cas rather than the same tired old tale of the serpent in Eden. Both stories will be true, but one might outweigh the other.
Sometimes, there are truths that should have just come out earlier—the speed at which stuff happens in this episode is fun in its dizzying attempts to at least slightly disorient the viewer, but it also means that a lot of exposition is treated as vital when we either could have guessed it or didn’t need it to take up time from the conflicts between the characters. For example, Crowley “reveals” that the Mark wants Dean to kill things, something that’s only a compelling punishment for the first murderer if you squint real hard and forget about innocent deaths. Besides, this has been pretty obvious for several episodes, so getting it now as some sort of revelation in the finale just wastes time. Thankfully, the nature of this sort of story—meaning the season finale of a broadcast television series—calls for pulling out all the stops, making many of the visuals memorable in a way the show can often only aspire to. The effects when the jail cells rise out of a library to enclose Cas and Gadreel are really good, the sort of slight touch that gives an epic sweep to Supernatural’s usually low-rent divinity, more than making up for the weird industrial warehouse that houses Dean and Metatron’s battle. And Dean’s vision of his own reflection covered in blood is a slight but effective way of communicating what the Mark wants to turn him into.
Speaking of Dean, it’s amazing that we’ve made it this far without really touching on the characters who are ostensibly at the center of the show. Dean’s attack on Gadreel leads to a lockup in the Men Of Letters bunker (a location that has paid serious dividends this year), courtesy of Cas and Sam, which he escapes by summoning his one true bro, Crowley. Sam and Dean’s fight over coming after Metatron and his continued use of the darker powers of the Mark Of Cain and First Blade isn’t quite the resolution this conflict needed in order to justify all of the hand wringing and contrived fighting over the course of this lie-heavy season, but it’s still pretty good. Finally, finally, Sam wins this argument, wins it definitively, and is bolstered by a pretty damned good performance by Jared Padalecki (who hasn’t been nearly up to Ackles’ caliber for most of the season).
This is all good, and by the time of the big showdown, Sam should by all rights be with Dean—they seem to have actually buried the hatchet somewhat. But then we get the biggest problem with the episode, namely UGH DEAN PULLING THIS SAME STUPID BULLSHIT KNOCKING OUT SAM. This has happened so many times over the course of the series’ run, and once just in the last couple of episodes when Dean fights Abaddon, that it just stops the episode cold with how ridiculous and annoying it is. Your Supernatural pet peeves may differ from mine, but this stuff is just infuriating, leading to some of the show’s worst dialogue (“It’s not your fight”) and terrible character work. Of course, Crowley turns “Winchester” into a verb approximately meaning “abandonment.”
At least Dean gets in a pretty good fight with Metatron. There’s no real crunch for time here, since Metatron doesn’t appear to have any truly apocalyptic plans in play, but Curtis Armstrong has proved himself adept at playing the villain, and his requisite monologuing gives us insight into the character that really helps pin down his motivations. Metatron, as it turns out, blames God for suffering in a slight tweak of Lucifer, and his and Dean’s confrontation puts the focus squarely on the absent deity. Armstrong’s performance has always been snivelly and hard to pin down because of the angel’s manipulative nature, but this anger at God and the pride involved in thinking Metatron could do a better job explains a lot about why the angel feels entitled to rule the universe, to make it his own story. Does he hate humans or love them? It’s not all that shocking that God is a bit of a dick in this world, though the show has waffled a bit on whether He is negligent or just mysterious, but Metatron is definitely not the right angel to replace Him, even if he is stronger than most of the other angels.
Metatron does, in fact, possess enormous power, though it’s hard to take him seriously wearing a beanie. His fighting prowess is especially tough to take seriously (even though he kills Dean) knowing that Metatron’s juice has come from a way of “harnessing” the angel tablet, apparently one of the most powerful objects in the universe. This is a decent enough explanation for the source of Metatron’s new clothes, but like many other parts of “Do You Believe In Miracles,” it comes out of nowhere. In keeping with the somewhat arbitrary nature of Metatron’s power, it’s a nice touch that the unbridled violence of the Blade isn’t actually what defeats Metatron. But Cas’ final play here, leaving the God speakers on so that Metatron incriminates himself, is not only pretty clearly telegraphed in that first scene, it’s also one of the oldest tricks in the book—it’s hard to imagine Metatron falling for something so dumb as leaving the microphone on to incriminate yourself. Either way, Cas lets Metatron live like a “leader,” so there’s a chance we’ll get Armstrong back next season in a sort of angelic Hannibal.
Given the complexity of a season mimicking Game Of Thrones, it might be useful to check in on the new status quo: The wars in Heaven and Hell are over, with Cas, who needs grace (which he’ll probably acquire after a couple of episodes) and Crowley victorious. Crowley is getting massages and definitely taking to being the undisputed King Of Hell again, possibly with some sort of long-term nefarious plan (hopefully not, since he’s never worked as a real antagonist on this show). This is actually remarkably simple, considering how many players there were at the beginning of the season. Way to pare down the cast, show. And, oh yeah, Dean came back to life as a demon, or at least his eyes got a lot darker.
That final reveal—that Dean has returned as a demon/the same sort of thing that Cain was—isn’t necessarily predictable, but it still falls into an established pattern for the show, in which one of the brothers has something “off” for half a season or so. In fact, it directly mirrors the beginning of this season, in which Sam was possessed by Gadreel. So it might be “shocking,” but I’m not super excited about this direction for the show. The difference between this cliffhanger and, say, the angels falling at the end of last season is that the Winchesters are incapable of really providing the show with stakes anymore. At the end of the day, there are two main characters on this show (give or take Cas), and the writers almost certainly won’t have the guts to do away with one of them or change the status quo of their relationship permanently. So if one of the brothers dies, it’s only for shock value until he’s resurrected. If he becomes addicted to demon blood or soulless or possessed by an angel, it’ll just change him for a few episodes before the inevitable reversion to the baseline.
I have two potential hopes here for next year. First, that maybe Dean will actually just be a demon and Sam will try to fight him over the course of the season. I’d be a bit apprehensive about that, if only because so much of the show is about their chemistry, but it’d be something totally new for the show as well as more or less force Timothy Omundson back onto our televisions. Second, that Crowley’s actions will turn out to be based on his actual feelings for Dean—he tells the newly awakened Winchester that they need to “take a howl at that moon,” referring to their road trip conversation about what Dean might do if he ever stopped traveling across the country to hunt monsters. Crowley’s humanization has been one of the stealth accomplishments of the season, and playing on that real, nuanced character work to drive epic plot developments and conflicts would truly lead to episodes of Supernatural worthy of being compared to Game Of Thrones.
- “He and Crowley have been bromancing over the blade.” I’m not sure Sam (or Jeremy Carver) understands how to use the word “bromance.”
- “As the kids say I’ve got mad skills.”
- “Next time, try to be powered by the Word Of God.” Preacher crossover, anyone?
- Best episode of the season: “Road Trip.”
- Worst episode: “Rock And A Hard Place.”
- Season MVP: Crowley, always.
- That’s it for season nine! Thanks so much for joining me here every week (and putting up with my frequent lateness), guys. I’ve had a blast talking about the show with you and reading all of the really excellent debate about the show—this has become one of my favorite corners of the site. With that in mind: What did you think? Predictions for season 10? Will Dean stay a demon? Will Cas find his grace? Will there be another, better backdoor pilot?