I'm just going to get this out of the way straight off: I'm not a fan of how Supernatural chose to use H.P. Lovecraft. The Cthulhu mythos is deep and terrifying enough to have supported a full season worth of episodes, and seeing as how tired the apocalypse has become, I can't imagine anyone complaining about a shift away from angels and demons. Instead, Lovecraft is forced to fit into the current storyline with all the deftness of writers who read an author's bio on a book jacket and thought that was more than sufficient to pass themselves off as experts. Yes, he died on March 15, 1937. (Of cancer, not gutting.) And he did indeed write a story called "The Haunter of the Dark," which is vaguely related to cults and summoning and so forth. But Lovecraft's entire career was based off a deep-rooted terror of the Other, of anything in life that was unknown or beyond his control. (He was also a racist, which fits in with this "Other fear" quite nicely.) The idea that he'd be part of a cult that was trying to bring some being from beyond the stars into our world goes against every word he ever wrote. Besides, it just seems like the waste of a possible show direction--although I'm not sure I'd want to see what Supernatural would've done with the Beast With A Thousand Young.
That's a minor complaint, though. After what could charitably be described as an uneven season, Supernatural managed to rebound with its final two episodes, with a finale that, while not really fixing all the problems that came before it (nothing could've, really), managed to regain some lost narrative momentum, and even provide a decently moving sequence or two. And hell, we got a cliffhanger that actually has me once again excited for the next season of the show. Oh, I doubt they'll be able to live up to it; once again, the writers have painted themselves into a corner where the narrative requires an ability to be visibly epic, while still working on a modest budget. There are plenty of ways this could fall apart. And I am a little sad at having one of the best characters on the show transformed into a villain. I liked Cas, and I doubt we'll be getting much comic relief from him any time soon. Yet, as abbreviated as it was, Cas's arc is one of the more ambitious that the series has tried to pull off, and I was impressed by the end of tonight how generally successful that ambition proved to be. Best of all, neither of these episodes had the disjointed, rushed quality that plagued so much of the seventh season. Events were compressed, sure, but there were none of the hard left-turns or baffling character deaths that have come so close to throwing the series of the rails before.
We had two episodes tonight, "Let It Bleed" and "The Man Who Knew Too Much." The CW made a big deal out of a "two-hour finale," but to be honest, these episodes were no more directly connected than any other two consecutive episodes this season--obviously the plot ran through both, but it didn't feel like a two parter, and I doubt any impact would've been lost if the episodes had had a week between them instead of a mere five minutes. (Really, the only reason both aired tonight is that last week was the two hour Smallville series finale.) In "Bleed," Crowley has some of his demons kidnap Lisa and Ben to try and get the Winchesters of his back. This doesn't really work, of course, and while Dean goes mental trying to track down his missing surrogate family, Bobby continues the hunt that got Crowley all protective in the first place. They're looking to figure out where Purgatory is before Cas and Crowley do, and H.P. Lovecraft is a step down the path--he and his friends summoned something up out of Purgatory. That someone turns out to be Elle, from way back in "Like a Virgin"--the nice lady who let Dean blow up her sword. Which is more than a little random, but it does mean that Supernatural does get to off one more semi-recurring female character before the end of the season, which is nice for them.
"Bleed" was a little iffy, as the revelation about the good doctor Visyak wasn't all that successful. A lot of the plot-driven writing on Supernatural has always had a "hunt and fetch" feel, with the Winchesters constantly searching for some magical artifact to help them take out a monster, and while I'm willing to accept a certain amount of that as part of the territory, too much of it and the show's mythology starts to appear contrived and inorganic. Which, of course, it basically is at heart; the trick is to make the rules of your magical universe at least give the illusion of internal consistency, like a system where, if you know Rule A and Rule C, you wouldn't have that much trouble putting together Rule B. Supernatural generally does a good job with this, which makes sense considering how much of the show is recycled versions of folklore and myths created by other stories. But this season has gone to the "Well, let's just make shit up" well more than a few times, and the revelation that a one-off guest character who I didn't remember before seeing her face again was somehow of crucial importance (and also over 900 years old) was a little much.
Still, the ep had a decent momentum to it, and whatever issues I had with "The Man Who Would Be King," I do like the direction Cas's character has taken. Throughout both episodes, he walks a fine line between villainy and staying true to the angel he once was, and it creates an excellent dramatic tension; for once, the Winchesters are up against a foe who isn't simply "evil," as all their other foes have been. "Bleed" also scored a lot of points by finding an excellent solution to the Lisa and Ben situation, which was a problem that had to be resolved going into season seven. When Dean rescues the two from the warehouse where Crowley is hiding them (Balthazar provides the tip, as he has reservations about Cas now), Lisa is injured in the fight, and nearly dies before Cas steps in to heal her. Dean decides enough is enough, and asks Cas for one last favor: to wipe Lisa and Ben's memory so that neither of them ever heard of the Winchesters.
It seems like an obvious fix in a way, and I suppose it's possible to criticize the show for taking this long to come to it, but it works very well here. It makes sense that it took this long, since Dean probably still had some dim hope for a long time that he might be able to make things work out. And the scene itself is heartbreaking, easily one of the strongest emotional moments of the whole season. There was never any real chance that Dean was going to settle down, at least not while the series was running, and as long as he was connected to Lisa and Ben, they were going to be targets. They either had their memories wiped, or else they died tragic deaths, and the former is a far, far better solution than the latter. No matter what Sam thinks about it.
Although memory-wiping is a definite sore spot for Sam, considering that his sanity has been held in check this long because of all that he doesn't remember about his time in Hell. That leads into the finale proper, "The Man Who Knew Too Much," and what an odd duck it is. After all the build up about Cas and Crowley and Purgatory and Raphael and a War in Heaven, more than a third of the episode is devoted to Sam's struggles to pull himself back together after Cas removes the memory-blocking wall in his mind. It works, too. Maybe the balance isn't perfect; the Sam's head segments did run longer than they needed to, especially considering the minimal role which Sam (and honestly, the Winchesters and Bobby in general) had in the episode's climax. But much of Sam's internal struggles were clever and fun to watch, and had more emotional resonance than creating another hoop for Dean and Bobby to jump through might have. At the episode's cold open, Sam is on the run from the cops, but he can't remember his name, or what he's doing. A friendly bartender helps him out, but we soon learn that she's just a figment of Sam's imagination, a copy of a woman who Samless shot during his demon hunting days. In fact, everything that's happening at the start of the ep is in Sam's mind, as he is first tracked down by Samless, and then has to go hunting for the part of him that still recalls the torments of Hell. Like I said, it goes on a little long, but it's a great idea, and while Sam is back on his feet and running to the rescue before the end of the ep, we still have no idea how sane he is now. Should be interesting to see where this goes in the fall.
Plot-wise, "Much" has Cas basically embracing hubris to the hilt, first in dropping Crowley from their arrangement, then by stabbing Balthazar in the back after he realizes Balthazar betrayed him to the Winchesters. (This was a shame, really. Balthazar was a great character, and while I don't deny his death was dramatic, it was pretty abrupt. He decides to help the Winchesters, and then an ep later, he pays the price for it. The rapidity makes the narrative convenience of Balthazar's betrayal too obvious, as if he only really switched sides so Dean would know where to find Lisa and Ben, and once he'd accomplished this task, he was summarily let go.) Crowley runs to Raphael and makes another deal, apparently forcing Cas out of grabbing the Purgatory souls, but Cas tricks them all, does the ritual himself, and then things get really scary for everybody. Cas gone nuclear is Full On Righteous. He obliterates Raphael, but Sam arrives just in the nick of time to stab Cas in the back with the angel knife that Cas used to kill Balthazar. Except, the knife doesn't do anything to Casplus, who is so full of souls and power that he may actually be unkillable. Which is sort of a problem, since the end of the finale has him declaring himself "the new God," and demanding the Winchesters and Bobby fall to their knees and worship him.
Supernatural has always loved it's season finale cliffhangers, and this one's pretty solid. I've done my best to explain my problems with this season of the show, and I don't think these last two episodes were perfect. But they were solid enough, and I can appreciate their ambition, even if I can't always appreciate the results. Have a great summer, gang, and I look forward to seeing how all this shakes out in September.
- Not to keep harping on the Lovecraft thing, but there really was no reason at all to include him here. And the cheap shots were a little annoying. (So if you read Lovecraft, you couldn't possibly also have sex? Actually, I think he would approve of this...)
- Nice that, for once, the demon torturing didn't yield any results.
- "If you ever mention Lisa or Ben to me again, I will break your nose."
- Funny how memory-wipe Sam refers to Dean as "a male-model type."