Hello, Anna. Goodbye, Anna.
I've got nothing against shifting a show's format from standalone episodes to longer, more serialized storytelling. One of the reasons I dig the later seasons of Angel is, as goofy and awkward as the series could be, it went full pedal to the metal on season long arcs, maintaining an urgency and energy that made it easy to overlook the occasional misstep. ("What the hell, let's bring Angelus back!") As Supernatural has gotten older, it's been making the same transition, but the result hasn't been quite as successful. Episodes like tonight's "The Song Remains The Same" deal with the upcoming Apocalypse, and Sam and Dean's meat-suit destiny, but despite the stakes, there's serious lack of drive. Obviously, Anna isn't going to succeed in killing Sam, or in bumping off Ma and Pa Winchester in the past. It's still impossible to be sure how the Michael/Lucifer conflict will play out, but we can be sure that the Winchesters will be around till then. Which means the whole time travel jump is a lot of wheel spinning, without much in the way of actual forward motion.
It's nice to have Anna back, although her appearance is bizarrely random—we last saw her getting sucked back to the Great Alcatraz In the Sky, and despite her new found determination to spread Sam's molecules all over creation, it's hard to read what her character actually wants anymore. To go from ally to enemy isn't an unprecedented shift, but it's one that demands some impression of betrayal, some sense of what made her change sides. Anna is too much a generic foe here, and it's a waste of a character who, if not at a Cass level of cool, had some potential. Much like the deaths of Ellen and Jo, this feels more like cleaning up loose ends than anything that really needed doing.
Really, this whole episode is fairly perfunctory. It's got some good moments, but the time travel plot has been done and overdone by now, and we didn't learn enough knew information about the characters to justify it. Wow, John picks up demon hunting quick, there's a shock. Mary still wants a normal life, which she is tragically destined not to have. Sam is emo. Dean dreams about strippers. And Michael is very determined to jump Dean's bones, so to speak. (Also, Uriel was always a jerk.)
The good stuff? Cass was funny, before he got rudely shunted to the side for the majority of the episode. We had some decent one-liners, and Dean and Sam's confession to their mother was dramatically sound. I was less impressed by Sam trying to have a special moment with his father, if only because it seems like this is something we've seen too many times before, both the situation, and Sam doing that "God, I'm just feeling so many emotions right now" thing where he blinks a lot and his voice hitches. And the scene in the car where John acts all strict might've worked if the Winchester brothers hadn't immediately pointed out what was going on. But Dean telling Mary what's going to happen to her? I liked that, because it surprised me, and it was a risky move. And there's something desperately sad about both boys begging their mom to erase them from existence.
Of course, all that got negated when Michael showed up and erased Mary and John's memory. There was some talk about free will that had potential, but I really wish we had a stronger sense of danger from Lucifer, or the angels, or anyone. Despite the inherently epic nature of an end of the world threat, the series is just as claustrophobic as it always was. I can accept that—I don't expect them to change that drastically this late in the game. But if this season is about How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The END OF EVERYTHING, it would be nice to feel like the bad guys are actually making plans, as opposed to lying dormant whenever the camera isn't on them. Pulp needs to be exciting to survive. And to be exciting, we need a threat that does more than just lurk in the shadows.
- Anna popping into Dean's dream was cute, although I'm disappointed at the limits of Dean's imagination.
- When traveling through time, always make sure to land at a spot with easily recognizable cultural signifiers.
- "I mean, the moustaches alone."
- Bringing Uriel in was a clever touch.
- Well, Michael was… boring.
- Oh, and one last thing: got some spare cash kicking around? Want to put to towards a good cause and get some cool Supernatural swag? Maureen Ryan, TV critic for the Chicago Tribune, is auctioning off a bunch of cool DVDs and memorabilia, with proceeds going to provide medical assistance to the people of Haiti. You can check out information at Watch Us Care, and bid on items in the auction.