Alright, this time I have plenty of positive stuff to say, so I’m going to get all the negative about the episode out of the way up front.
- You know I actually don’t mind Castiel and the angels, and might even defend them against the fandom that is claiming they’re a bunch of plot tumors trying to take over the show. …Well two episodes in a row now are making it REALLY hard for me to keep playing defender. A big part of the problem is that they’re not even making a token effort to bother EXPLAINING any of the angel plot. Why can’t Castiel just take out the bad grace? Why doesn’t he take Metatron’s grace? Even if he doesn’t want to ingest it, he could at least remove it to keep the guy prisoner! Why ain’t he at the bunker helping Sam? What possible fallout could Cas & Sam have over the last few weeks that is worse than what Sam & Dean had last season? THEY still managed to hang out in the bunker together. Heck you could have even had some of that dark comedy SPN used to have with a line down the middle of bunker and “my side/your side” shenanigans between Sam & Cas.
It’s just… the writing on the angel plot sucks. Either you cannot make any sense of it without your brain breaking from an infinite logic loop, or everything has to be “just because”, which is one of the first signs of shitty writing. Here’s an idea, cut out some of the dialog between Dean & the guy he stabs this episode (or the scene all together, we don’t learn much from it that couldn’t have been learned or told elsewhere) and use that time to throw in SOME dialog to lay out the plot AND MAKE IT WORK. (seriously, why don’t they take away Metatron’s grace? WHY?)
- I am very much an “art-1st” kind of guy, I don’t buy much into the trends of complaining about sexism or racism or speciesism or whateverism is up for popular tweeting this week (which can end up with hilarious unintended consequences)… so when even I am starting to complain, you know it’s kind of bad. Ok, actually the biggest reason I like diversity is that it’s easier for me to tell the characters apart. Like in the previous episode, I thought at first “Cole” was the ex-lover that Dean had beat up in a prior scene, it took me a bit to realize they were two different actors. I can sort of see why (outside of show considerations) they went with generic dude, but I kind of wish they had put in someone different, heck I still wish they had used the guy from “Bloodlines” even if it meant rewriting a bit in this episode. Also: Castiel, Crowley, Cole? Seems like we’re getting some ‘C’-supremacists here!
- I do wish they had put SOME line from Cole about all the stuff Dean’s done over the few years. Not much, just maybe something like, “Every time he was on TV, every time the FBI hunted him, I was deployed – overseas – and unable to help.” Again, not much just something to make all the retconing fold into the existing lore easier.
- Sam, WHY DON’T YOU STAB CROWLEY??? Yeah sure, it might not do anything, but why not do it ANYWAY? Again, it would have been a nice touch of dark comedy and character to have something like: Crowley- “Give me the blade.” Sam- *stab it in Crowley’s gut* Crowley- *looks down* “Doesn’t work if you don’t have the mark.” Sam- “I know, but it felt good.”
- I’m rather disappointed Sam didn’t try to convince Cole to join him against Dean. Once upon a time he would have and then we’d have an arc where Sam & Cole have Dean locked up in the Bunker with Sam (obviously) motivated to save Dean, yet using Cole as a counter-balance to keep himself from going off the deep end. If the current stable of writers hadn’t burned up so much of my good faith, I’d believe this to be a subtle sign of how far Sam has fallen. As it is, I currently believe they see Sam much as they do angels: Props. However they could turn this around so that’s why I’m marking this as a more minor point.
Alright, onto all the things I LIKED about the episode.
I liked that Crowley and Dean finally had a falling out. After treating Dean like crap through the last half of S9, it was satisfying to watch Crowley realize what Dean had awhile ago: Dean’s invincible (sure, Crowley knew about it earlier, but judging from his reaction it wasn’t a real, concrete fact for him until this episode). Crowley can’t MAKE him do anything. After several seasons of Dean threatening Crowley, it was nice to finally see the guy stand up and be all “Oh yeah, I don’t like you.” Now I’m somewhat disappointed Dean hasn’t gathered under him a following of demons (say… a fandom? ;)) that stalked him in spite of his wishes not unlike Forest Gump while running. We did not get the promised hell campaign last season so it would be useful for them to try and get it right this season, only this time making it unique in that Crowley has to “compete” against a guy that doesn’t even want the job. However I didn’t count this against the episode because there’s still time in the season for us to see Dean leading around a group of literal Hell’s Angels.
Nice to see Jared get more of a chance to act and even Jensen to do more than his usual growl. Both of them were good though Jared at times almost looked like he hadn’t acted in so long, he wasn’t sure how to do it again. “Oh right, carry the scene… uh… hang on I remember how to do this… Director, are you sure I’m not supposed to get knocked out here?”
Let me mention this now which will make the following clearer: I liked the final fight. Obscurus Lupa & Phalen have started doing a podcast of each episode this season which I’ve been listening to (though at times I want to yell out canon corrections lol). In this episode they mention it was a bit like “Rock-Paper-Scissors” with Cole beating Sam, Dean beating Cole… etc. Well I’m going to say that not only are they not wrong, but I say that it was GOOD! I can’t recall off the top of my head the last time we were SHOWN such a great example of what’s important to hunters. That while brawn and fighting skill are good, and might keep you alive for an extra second (assuming you’re not just TK-tossed into a wall), ultimately it’s almost all useless against what you fight. The knowledge, intelligence, about what you’re fighting is what’s most important. Cole was prepared. Cole was trained and strong. He could probably have taken nearly any person on the planet in a fight. But Dean wasn’t a person. So Cole lost over the course of a minute. Meanwhile Sam, an ordinary dude (who Cole was thus able to beat), was able to bring Dean under control in thirty seconds. He had the knowledge to obtain the victory Cole could not. It was a subtle, well-done “I told you so” by Sam to Cole, and I liked it.
Side-note: I liked the fight scene as well mostly because it was a SCENE. Been awhile since we’ve seen the boys mix it up with someone instead of being pinned by wind-tunnel.
Now, I should clarify something about myself: I LIKE the WORLD of Supernatural. The canon and setting is to me what the boys are to most other fans*. Although I played a few RPGs growing up with my buddies, I never actually owned a book until the Supernatural RPG book released (and that I bought ASAP). There’s just something about which appeals to me on a level which a lot of other Urban Fantasy genres do not (and I liked Buffy and Angel too, but not near like I liked this). Let’s see if I can explain one reason why (settle in, this will take a bit)…
When a bunch of people gather together, they form a group called a society. They all then create a list of rules on things not to do to the members (though you might be allowed to do those things to people outside of your society) with a list of punishments to be inflicted should anybody break those rules. Now everybody is supposed to enforce the rules equally, but once there are enough people around, not everybody can because a lot of folk have got shit to do. So they chip in a portion of their resources and hire a few members to enforce the rules full time. Of late, when a rule is broken, these hired folk will investigate what happened and determine who they suspect did it. These rule workers then show the process of their efforts and the suspect to a random assortment of society members to have them check over everything, agree with the conclusion, and make sure no procedures were broken. If it all clears, then punishment is delivered to the suspect. Thus we get police, courts and law enforcement.
However in the world of SPN, we have a bit of a problem: some are breaking society’s rules, and the law enforcement apparatus our society has set up has no way of dealing with them. (Although it could be interesting if there was one… on the flip side, however, could you imagine how wrecked “beyond all reasonable doubt” would be if possession and shapeshifters entered recognized law?) Thus hunters. Ordinary folk who have to take up the job others SHOULD have, but don’t because of various reasons. SPN is, in many ways, an examination on how things might be if there was no law enforcement.
So yes, I liked that in this episode we flash back to 2003. Cole’s Dad did something. Given that, of what we’ve seen so far, Cole is human, then his dad must also have been until something changed him. Maybe he became a vampire. Maybe a werewolf. Maybe something else. The point is that in a properly functioning system, had Cole’s dad killed someone, the police would have determined it, taken him away, and seen to it that Cole found some help, therapy, whatever to come to terms with what had happened and what was up with his dad. But we don’t have that. Instead we have Dean, during a time when he was either hunting with his own dad, or alone. Dean has to do an imperfect job, and part of that is being unable to comfort a grieving child.
In this we also see another demonstration (this time one I do believe might be deliberate by the writers) of how Sam humanized Dean. Had Sam been with Dean at the time, Sam (at least back in that time) would have tried to comfort the boy, to help him understand some what had happened. In this moment in the past, we see a sign of how back then, Sam did keep Dean human.
Though I will admit to be really fuzzy on how Cole’s time/age. I think it might work but am not sure. 11 years since then… if Cole was 12 that would put him at 23 now which isn’t TOO implausible to being a dad and marine but– sorry, getting off track.
Thus I did also enjoy the brief discussion (and think they kept it at the right length) between Sam & Cole over monsters: whether “Man is the real one” or if there are other, real ones out there. Had they swapped the actor playing Cole, I would take this episode as a pilot for Bloodlines far better than the one we got. Similar themes between the two episodes, but this one had them painted better to make it fit seamlessly with the SPN world. Ironic that this episode seems to have zigged wherever Bloodlines had zagged. If Andrew Dabb had taken the criticisms of Bloodlines to heart and applied them to his writing… then color me very impressed and I’ll owe the man 1 slow clap and 1 thumbs up.
In many ways, this episode was better to start the season on than the previous one. In fact I’m not sure you even need to watch “Black”, just skip straight to episode 10.02 and don’t look back. Was it perfect? Not quite, and a lot of the fault there is that the writers have done a poor job laying the groundwork and foundation for the plot. Had these questions been addressed and answered in previous episodes, then this would would be perfect. However they weren’t. Which means the problems continue to rot at the story’s supports and so each subsequent episode is penalized UNTIL THEY GET THIS PROBLEM FIXED. Some may not see this as fair, but that’s why you set the stage beforehand. This is why you do the work to build the story early. It’s why you put a foundation down before building a house. If you don’t, all you’ll get is a beautifully built, domicile sinking into the mud. Lay the foundation, and you get a soaring testimony to your skill.
*Thus if you have trouble understanding why S9 upset me so much… take all the feelings you had when the brothers were apart and torturing each other and stuff that season, then multiply it to get an idea how me and other world-lovers were feeling by the damage done. And we still haven’t gotten our reconciliation.