“Sacrifice” makes for a fitting end to Supernatural’s eighth season: Like the show itself these past 23 episodes, it was ambitious in its design for reimagining the big picture yet often lazy in its particulars, sometimes clever and sometimes lame, and all over the place. The creative team knows that, after the uneven ride that the show has been on during the last couple of years, some freshness and excitement is badly needed. But at the same time, they seem to be addicted to redoing the same few tropes again and again. There were some big surprises in this hour, but one reason they felt surprising is that they didn’t feel prepared for. Maybe that’s because some important choices were made at the last minute by writers desperate for a fresh twist, or maybe the writers always knew they were going to go in this direction, but cared more about not showing their hand than in making sure that all the pieces fit. Either way, it came down to the same thing: A wrap-up that kept you guessing but that also felt a little ramshackle.
In recent years, you could count on Supernatural to bring the surviving heroes together for a final assault and last stand against the forces of darkness. “Sacrifice” went a different way, with Sam and Dean staking out one point on the map, focused on their business; Castiel and Metatron off somewhere else taking care of their business; and Naomi in her office in Heaven, receiving progress reports. It makes for a nice change, though there were times when the action bogged down in awkward cross-cutting. There’s a lot to take in, and some of it’s rushed. When Crowley, the King of Hell, is in trouble and calls on anyone out there who’s listening for help, Abaddon, the red-haired troublemaker who the Winchesters brought back from the dead last week comes charging in, except she doesn’t want to save him: She thinks he’s a greasy joke who doesn’t deserve the title, and she wants to waste him. This was prepared for, quickly and efficiently last week, when Abaddon responded to the news that Crowley had taken the reins in Hell by saying, in disgust, “The salesman!?” But after giving her this great build-up and terrific entrance, the show dispatches her again, almost immediately. It doesn’t have time for anything else.
The best surprise comes early, when Sam and Dean, have taken Crowley prisoner, announce that they’re going to use him for Sam’s final trial: To “cure” a demon, and restore his humanity. Mark A. Sheppard has been having his best season on this show since his character was introduced, and he has a hilarious scene here when he first seems to be trying to con Sam into believing they’re soul mates by invoking HBO shows about the bond between guys who’ve experienced killing and death together, such as Band Of Brothers and The Pacific—references that are lost on Sam, who tends to frequent motels that don’t supply HBO. It only becomes clear that Crowley’s humanity is returning when he invokes Girls, telling Sam that he’s his Marnie and wailing, “I deserve to be loved!”
But the big shocker is that Metatron the schlub is actually a sinister, master game player who has been using the Winchesters and Castiel to cast a spell to shut down Heaven. He’s also apparently some advanced kung fu master who was capable of executing Naomi and her goon squad while strapped into a chair, and then overpowering Cas and tying him down, off-camera: Whether because of the rush to get through the story or just laziness, there were a lot of scenes missing that sure would have been something to see. The point of it all was to get to the final image of flaming angels plummeting from the sky like flaming satellite debris. I don’t know where this is going: Are Sam, Dean, and Castiel going to spend the next season wandering the countryside, smiting angels who’ve been holding up gas stations since being forced to take early retirement? In some ways, this has been a transitional holding pattern of a season, devoted to setting up new elements of the show’s mythologies that it can explore in the future, but truth be told, Castiel excepted, I may be even sicker of angels by now than I am of zombies.
Much of the time that would ordinarily be devoted, in the climactic moments of a Supernatural season finale, to smash-bam-pow was instead spent on Sam and Dean getting emotionally sloppy with each other: Dean urging Sam to walk away from the final trial before it killed him, Sam asking why it would matter if he did die, Sam getting tearfully pissy about the superior surrogate-brother relationships Dean has had with Cas and Benny the vampire, Dean telling Sam not to be silly, they were brothers and that was always what would matter in the end. If Supernatural is going to continue—and it’s already booked for another two years, on a network that can scarcely afford to throw one of its better shows away, so I guess what I really mean is “if I’m going to continue to want to watch it”—it would do well to find some fresh monsters, and have Sam and Dean, and Castiel too, stop expressing the same moldy regrets about past mistakes and the road not taken, and grow up, even if that means finding new things to bitch about. It’s probably a good sign that the show managed to get through a season finale without consigning either of the leads to temporary banishment to an afterlife or some place between worlds, and seeing Sam and (especially) Dean so choked-up from openly sharing their feelings is kind of new. It’s just not the kind of new I was hoping for. Supernatural has often been tacky and cheesy and careless and schlocky, which was fine, so long as it was also often funny and thrilling and crazy. I never thought I’d see the day when it would feel like Emmy-bait.