Supernatural: “The Great Escapist”
B+

Supernatural: “The Great Escapist”

B+

Supernatural

“The Great Escapist”

Season 8, Episode 21

This episode introduces Curtis Armstrong, a quarter of a century schlubbier than when he was Herbert Viola on Moonlighting, as the scribe of God, Metatron. Not only is Metatron not, as might have been your first guess, an associate of Optimus Prime’s, but in Kevin Smith’s Dogma, he was played by Alan Rickman. In Supernatural’s mythology, he was a dink from “the secretarial pool” who was chosen by God to take down His word, and after God went over the fence and the archangels started fighting and scheming, Metatron decided the safest path was to go underground himself. He wound up in Colorado, where he started bugging Native Americans for “stories” and eventually settled into a room filled with hundreds of books, piled on the floor in various tall formations, so that it looks like my room before the wife first took me to Ikea.

Those of us who have fond memories of Alan Rickman declaiming about how he broke the news to Jesus that he was the messiah—“I had to tell a scared child who wanted nothing more than to play with other children,” and so on and so forth, it may not look like much on paper, but you should hear Rickman sell it—may have some feeling of trepidation that this represents a major comedown for the character. Actually, Armstrong has a pretty nifty speech about how he started reading, marveling at how he’d had his mind blown by “the raw, wild invention of God’s naked apes,” and how “it was your storytelling. That is the true flowering of free will. When you create stories, you become God, of tiny, intricate dimensions… so many worlds! I’ve read as much as it’s possible for an angel to read, and I still haven’t caught up!” Sam shuts up him up by yelling at him about how he’s a coward to have fled his post and stuck his head in the sand, which actually ticked me off a little. Metatron may not have hung around Heaven to get his head blown off by one of the gangster archangels, but at least he cares passionately about something. What’s Sam done for any of us lately? And I don’t mean the world that he’s sacrificing himself to save, I mean those of us watching this show, hoping for a little entertainment.

I suspect that one reason Metatron’s speech resonates with me is that he might be talking about this very show, when it was at its absolute peak, which I would put at sometime early in Obama’s first term. The audacity of the plotting and the witty metafictional gamesmanship of the fourth and fifth seasons really did summon up phrases like “the raw, wild invention of God’s naked apes.” This episode, which was written by longtime Supernatural hand (and The Tick creator) Ben Edlund, seems to be trying really hard to reach back to those glory days, at least in spurts. It opens with the revelation that Kevin has died and is being kept in a simulated environment by Crowley, who wants him to keep working at translating the tablet. Toward this end, he coaches a couple of demons to impersonate the Winchesters and sends them in to visit Kevin at irregular intervals, giving them notes after every performance and sitting back to purr, “I was born to direct!” At one point, he even insists, “Of course, if I weren’t running everything, I could have played Dean myself.” Of course. Why wouldn’t the devil, like all the rest of us, daydream about being Jensen Ackles?

That said, watching this episode was the first time I ever caught myself wondering if Jensen Ackles still wants to be Jensen Ackles. There are moments here where he seems to lose concentration and betray a serious lack of interest in what’s going on around him—which is understandable, considering how seldom it is that he’s presented with something he hasn’t already dealt with 20 times in the course of the series. As if to fill the gap, Jared Padalecki often jumps in and tries to act enough for the two of them, and the sight of Jared Padalecki trying to act is as hard to watch as the rest of him is easy on the eyes. The good news is that not only is Castiel back in play, but Misha Collins is clearly well-rested and happy to be back on the set. He’s first seen sitting bleary-eyed and homeless-haired (but, make no mistake about it, still adorable) in a diner, reminiscing about when human beings first discovered coffee and ordering the smart-heart beer-battered tempura tempters. In the best joke of this twisty episode, it’s revealed that Castiel has been evading the murderous angels on his trail by remaining in one branch or another of a chain restaurant called Biggerson’s. As one of the goons explains to Naomi, “It’s their sameness. We try to orient ourselves, but it’s as if we’re in every Biggerson’s at once, trapped in a quantum super-position.” The actor delivers that line as if even he has no idea just what a “quantum super-position” might be, but he’s still delighted that he’s the one who got to say it.

Stray observations:

  • Naomi finally stops Castiel in his tracks by picking out  a Biggerson's and slaughtering everyone there. "We were supposed to be their shepherds," Cas says indignantly, "not their murderers." Naomi, whose memory is definitely less selective than Cas', reminds him of the plague of the firstborn of Egypt, adding, "And that was just P.R."
  • In his sleep-deprived and badly-acting state, Sam recalls a time when the brothers and their father rode donkeys and Dean's broke wind the whole time. "You rode a farty donkey," he giggles. "Farty Donkey" was one of the names I suggested for every band I was in during college, but nobody ever seconded the motion. They're sorry now, I'll bet.