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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Supernatural: "Caged Heat"

Illustration for article titled Supernatural: "Caged Heat"

Hey, we had a recurring female character on the show tonight? And she was called "bitch," what, three times? And whore once. Sigh. Yes, Meg is a demon in the body of a young woman (who apparently moved to California to be an actress, which is sort of meta-ish), but seeing as how we don't really have any regular non-demon-related women on the series, apart from that girl in Samuel's team who we don't see at all here, it'd be nice if they cut down on the lady slurs, even if the lady in question isn't actually a good guy. Meg also gets stripped down and tortured for a bit, in a sequence that borders on tasteless and was probably only there to justify Corin Nemec's guest turn. He's not the world's biggest name, but he's a moderately familiar face, and if you're going to cast him, you need to let him do something before you stab him in the back.

So now Nemec is gone, and, surprisingly, Crowley along with him. The first wasn't a huge shock, but the second, well, I was expecting the new Satan to be a thorn in the Winchesters' side for most of the season. But sad as I am to see the incomparable Mark Sheppard go, Crowley's exist helped shift the status quo in an unexpected, and potentially exciting, fashion. The major questions raised at the start of the season are all answered: Crowley brought Sam back, Samuel sold his soul to Crowley in order to get his daughter back, and Crowley was interrogating Alpha monsters to try and find the location of Purgatory. Not all of these answers were entirely satisfactory; I would've liked a bit more on Crowley's plans for an expanded Hell, at least. It's great to see these story hooks resolved, though, because it pushes the show away from its comfort zone. The quest for Sam's soul has stalled, as even Crowley doesn't think it's an entirely good idea, and even though Dean wants his brother back, the current Sam is done with killing himself to get back something he doesn't really miss. The situation can't stand as it is, but we don't really know what could happen next. That's a bold move for a show this steeped in genre convention.

To put it another way: Breaking Bad is the best show on TV right now. Its second season was a marvel of clockwork precision, building to its final scene from its very first moments, and, when it was finished, it was possible to look back over the wreckage and see how each piece built, in turn, to each catastrophe. Even more, while watching it, that sense of impending doom never left. You knew something bad was coming, because they told you something bad was coming. It was only a matter of time. Contrast that with the third season. Bad things continued to happen (I'm skirting spoilers here as best I can), but that sense of falling dominoes was gone. In its place was something far more difficult to pull off, and, in the end, arguably superior to the tighter plotting of season two. Season three was about the chaos that really dominates our lives, the way impulses muddy the water and how a person's few fleeting moments of logic can somehow make everything even worse. Instead of a construct that unfolded over time, this was a season where it was possible to feel the storylines being created even as they aired, as though it was a show less written and more willed into existence. In the end, the plotting held up, but it got its power from refusing to provide any obvious signals.

Supernatural isn't anywhere near that good, but you could make a comparison between its last season and its current one and season two and season three of Bad. Last year was all about building to the final confrontation with Lucifer; it was about options dwindling one by one until the only possibility left on the table is something you can barely allow yourself to contemplate. But this year keeps stripping away our assumptions. The transitions aren't always smooth. Lisa and Ben are somewhat problematic, although I guess we're just supposed to assume Dean and his near-family are currently estranged. (And really, I'm not sure I need a tearful, guilt-ridden conversation every episode.) Crowley's exit tonight was fine, but the sudden short-circuiting of the Alpha hunt was too abrupt; it's an idea that has potential, and if Cass really does just slaughter everyone in Crowley's little prison, it's a waste. (Who knows, though. Season isn't over yet.)

But man, compared to the increasingly claustrophobic vibe of the show's Lucifer period, there's a fluidity here that is great fun to watch. Samuel betraying the boys? That's going to go somewhere, especially seeing how little family the man must have left now. Cass' increasingly desperate war in Heaven? I really don't know how that could affect the show, beyond cutting down on his guest spots. (Which, I think we can all agree, is a bad move. The porno joke tonight was both very obvious and very, very funny.) But it could go just about anywhere. Hell, Meg makes it out of the episode alive, and she's even fairly sympathetic here, making a desperate last stand and even making out some with an angel. "Heat" started a bit slow, and the abrupt gear-shift wasn't handled as well as it should've been, but by the end, the show was able to generate suspense about the future without ever giving us the luxury of showing what sort of darkness lies ahead. It wasn't great, but it was unexpected, and that's sometimes how greatness begins.

Stray Observations:

  • Really, I'm betting 70-30 we settle into a new groove soon enough. But even that wouldn't be so bad. I was worried Sam would get his soul back this week, and as long as we can delay that for a few more episodes, I'm happy.
  • "Doing this. This is how the bad guys get us every time! It's our Achilles Heel!" Very glad Dean pointed this out. Soul-selling was kind of the only way this show kept moving forward for the first three seasons.
  • "If the pizza delivery man truly loves the babysitter, why does he keep slapping her rear?" Well, sometimes … oh, never mind.
  • "I was gonna kill her too. Course I was gonna give you an hour with her first." Sigh. No, Supernatural. Just … no.