In the spirit of Supernatural’s big season opening/closing montages, here’s what’s happened on the road so far: There was once a show where two brothers killed monsters in a small-scale, lighthearted endless America, ensnared in an increasingly complex take on Judeo-Christian mythology. That show built to an epic climax that rejected both Heaven and Hell, but without the series’ built-in Big Bads, new showrunners had to scramble to come up with plausible obstacles for our heroes. Some of those villains hit close to home, while others just got painfully annoying after a while. Then, after a season that looked like it might have been the show finally giving up, some awesome things happened: Castiel lost his grace, Crowley turned into a teenaged girl, and all of the angels fell from Heaven.
Now? We pick up right where we left off, with angels raining from the sky, Castiel human, and Sam and Dean driving away from the wreckage in the Impala. Except that the Sam and Dean in the car are only in Sam’s head because he’s in the hospital, dying, and Dean is right back in “Do anything to save Sam mode.” Let’s get this out of the way, because it’s the worst part of the premiere: Mopey Dean at the hospital is just terrible. Jensen Ackles sells it as best he can, but it’s not like Sam is going to die (or if he does, he’ll be back within an episode or two), so the overbearing music and close-ups of Jensen Ackles looking sad is all just tepid. At the very least, Sam’s predicament leads Dean to do the unthinkable and call all of the fallen angels for help, which leads to the pretty cool image of several angels (somehow settled into full lives less than 24 hours after The Fall) hearing his prayer and beginning to respond.
Dean’s quest to save Sam while fending off the angels attacking the hospital with friendly (maybe?) and wounded angel Ezekiel (played by Tamoh Penikett, aka TV’s Helo/Paul Ballard) is pretty damned solid. Though Dean tries to offer them a “favor,” after everything he’s put them through, it’s not very shocking that the angels all want to kill him. Their assault on the hospital is one of Supernatural’s better action scenes of late, suggesting the power of the angels without having to show the rather schlubby actors. And though it doesn’t seem like Penikett will stick around as Ezekiel’s original host, he’s a perfect addition to the show’s world. It doesn’t hurt that Ezekiel, a dedicated, no-nonsense warrior, is squarely Dean’s type—the last time Dean got a new bro, it was awesome Cajun vampire Benny, so I’m optimistic about Ezekiel (whom Dean will almost certainly call “Zeke” within the next couple of episodes).
As fun as it was to watch Dean fight off angels, the extent to which he’ll go to save Sam relies on the frustrating parts of the eighth season finale. “Sacrifice” was an exciting climax—I almost let myself believe that the Winchesters would successfully close the gates of Hell, permanently disregarding that part of the show’s mythology so that angels could replace demons as the primary Winchester cannon fodder. But Supernatural copped out, stopping the spell for something as silly as Sam dying at the completion of the Trials. I get that Sam and Dean both need to be in action for the show to work, but it’s not like they’ve never come back from the dead, and the prospect of both Winchesters refusing to shut Hell forever just to save Sam’s ass rings hollow.
That’s partially why the time “I Think I’m Going To Like It Here” spends in Sam’s head is surprisingly well spent. At first, it’s tough to get excited about this (even though Bobby shows up—hooray for Bobby!). The whole “spending an episode in a dying character’s head” thing has been done on this show (and won’t ever surpass Bobby’s death episode), but Sam’s coma dream is decent enough. I can’t turn down a semi-legitimate excuse to give Jim Beaver some time to bust Sam and Dean’s chops—even though Bobby should probably stay dead for the most part, it’s just fun having him around. More importantly, Sam’s embrace of death finally feels earned. He knows his and Dean’s selfishness is to blame for the total chaos the world finds itself in, and after successfully completing the Trials (during which he seemed to become more spiritually pure), he just wants to be done with it all. Instead, Dean gets him to say “yes,” unknowingly to Ezekiel, and turns him into an angel’s meat suit to save his life.
Somehow, I haven’t even dealt with the episode’s most welcome plot, in which Castiel (who’s a regular again!) begins to deal with the consequences of being human (insert Being Human joke here). Cas’ decision to become a sort of guide for the angels, preaching free will to the newly fallen (who have lacked a divine plan for some time), touches on some of the issues the show has raised with angels before, particularly with Anna Milton way back in season four. But as Dean rightly points out, since the averted Apocalypse, Cas’ whole M.O. has entailed throwing himself into “helping people” only to make everything much, much worse. Lo and behold, the first angel he decides to help decides for some reason that she wants to engage in weird angelic “merging” with Cas before they go to the Grand Canyon together (she built it, natch). But, conveniently, she leaves an angel sword on her lap, where Cas grabs it and stabs her before heading off into the night to deal with his newfound pain and hunger and inability to teleport. Cas taking off his trenchcoat, suit, and tie to wash the blood off at a dingy laundromat is simultaneously the episode’s funniest and most poignant moment. Stripped of his angelic armor, he’s reduced to spending his laundry quarters on water instead.
So where does the show go from here? “I Think I’m Going To Like It Here” shows us a relatively narrow slice of the Supernatural world—we still don’t know how human Crowley is (and whether he still holds the reins in Hell), whether Metatron has a new master plan, or if Kevin has finally finished translating the not-super-depressing tablet. That means this season has the opportunity to delve deeper into the ramifications of all the changes that have happened in the show’s mythology since the end of season five, which could be great. Is that true for the Winchesters, though? I’m not so sure. We end where we began, with Sam and Dean back in the Impala running from The Fall. The writers must love forcing Jared Padalecki to do different characters, because Ezekiel-Sam just seems like an angelic retread of Soulless Sam from season six. And Dean has a big ol’ secret he’s keeping from his brother, which is pretty much every Winchester plot ever. Hopefully this season Supernatural doesn’t just turn into years-old leftovers, because a premiere this exciting from a show this old is nothing short of a miracle.
- Thank the ever-absent God that Misha Collins is a regular on this show again, because he is a treasure in this role.
- I couldn’t quite catch the name of Cas’ angel friend—was it Hale?
- “Who Do You Love” soundtracks the opening montage, which doesn’t really effectively communicate what happened last season but does look super badass.
- Abaddon is coming back, huh? Is anyone excited for that at all?
- Apparently everyone decided the angels falling from Heaven were a “meteor shower” and has chosen to ignore it. Americans are really stupid in the world of Supernatural.
- “Did anyone ever tell you you hit like an angel?”
- The show’s title sequence this year is a pair of burning wings. I wonder why.