Can I get through this without baiting a huge political fight in the comments?
Alright, let’s divide these up, so if you want, you can jump to whichever part of the review you wish. I will say this, at least they broke the pattern of premieres by new show-runners.
So another SPN podcast I would listen to (it’s stopped now) was two even bigger “first five purists” than me so a lot of their S10 & 11 podcasts were complaints about the show. The most common one? How much torture there is on the show.
It’s really hard for me to disagree with them on that now.
Ok, let’s just say that I am NOT talking about anything real-life related. Torture is a big thorny issue, I know of tonnes of arguments on both sides, that’s neither here nor there. In a story all I usually ask is that – like killing – there be a reason for torture. What was the reason for it in this story?
The new girls got off on the wrong foot by shooting Sam. Fair enough, but honestly consider the scene from her perspective (not the audience perspective). S5? Sam is Lucifer. S6? Sam is soulless. S7? Leviathan looking like Sam goes on murder spree. S9? Gadreel, as Sam, goes on a killing spree. 4 out of the past 7 years something has acted very dangerously while either wearing Sam or looking like him. Not to mention the guy is every bit twice her size as a 7ft, 1 ton moose-Sasquatch of pure muscle. Given that that face has a bit of recent history and is advancing towards her (seriously, that is probably the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen Sam do), it’s entirely justifiable that the woman shot him from her perspective. (But then, if he was just shot in the leg, how did he get tied up and out of the bunker? Try and figure THAT out.) If you want to harp on this point, let me also remind you that Dean has greeted Sam by attacking and restraining him, TWICE (pilot and 8.01) and one of those times involved cutting him with a knife.
So they got off on the wrong foot. Does this women – who wants information from Sam – then proceed to establish any kind of rapport with him? Does she apologize? Does she in any way explain herself? Does she ask him, “Do you mind if we make sure that you are you?” Who in their right mind would expect anyone to answer anything in this way? It’s hard to believe this character actually wants information when she goes out of her way to make it harder to get said information.
Then Dean & Castiel go around the country and proceed to give the third-degree to anybody they have questions.
Let me repeat myself: CASTIEL proceeds to ROUGH UP people he needs answers from.
Castiel, the ANGEL, WHO CAN READ MINDS! In case you forgot, he did it to Rowena back in episode 10.23 (which is just a year ago now show time). So… you won’t hit a witch, but a veterinarian who is just doing his job you’ll smack around. (An empowered angel, btw, who could crush the guy’s skull easily.) You know who it was the last time we saw on the show who could take answers straight out of people’s mind but then later on tortured someone for answers anyway? Abaddon. A VILLAIN. A FUCKIN’ DEMON. Oh sure her torture scene I didn’t mind as much because that would probably be in character for her, and it proves she’s evil. But now you expect me to just accept Castiel acting like the villain we just defeated 2 seasons ago???? Hell no! And he just steals a truck? Really? He can’t just ask for a ride? How far is Cas now from episode 9.03 where he was much more considerate of people.
That’s just the worst of this episode. The minor point is that we get, yet again, Sam tied up and acting stupid. Does he try and establish a rapport with his captors? Does he turn the situation around and use his position for some reverse interrogation? Does he lead them on with false answers while using their questions to ascertain what their goals are? Nope. Sam just acts like a petulant child saying “I don’t wanna” without even finding out what the kidnappers want. Or like a tired character knowing what the script gods have demanded of him and just wanting to get it over with already. (Probably the latter one.) Yes I know he thinks he’s lost Dean and might be off-kilter (though they didn’t seem to allow Jared to act any of that), just like at the beginning of S10 when he was off-kilter and kidnapped by Cole…
Look, my biggest problem is that once, long ago in S2, Sam was kidnapped but kept his head about him. Here, after 10 years of experience, growth, and more kidnappings, Sam actually acts WORSE in this situation than he had way back then, when if anything by now he should be an old pro at this game making the kidnappers dance to his tune. This is probably one of the first times I’ve seen a character go through negative character growth.
I know before in my retrospective I’ve talked about using the familiar in a show as an anchor when introducing major changes (the premiere of season 4 being the best example), but that doesn’t mean “mindlessly repeat things.” It means “use the familiar to highlight and contrast the new.” What’s new about the Immigrants of Letters? (visitors of letters? international of letters? Brits of letters?) At the moment, we the audience would be hard pressed to say because they just do to Sam what every other villain does to him. What if, “Dean must go get Sam” was twisted on its head by having Sam go along with the antagonists? He could be suicidal and think they have a point, he should stand trial for his actions. Or he could be seeking a new life and aim to become the man of letters he probably always should have been. Just saying that there’s a lot of story possibilities with Sam NOT being mindlessly tortured (again). Would it kill the show to try one of those out?
I wasn’t sure how well I would appreciate Mama Winchester being back (see: Grandpa Winchester for a history of being disappointed with rez’d family members) but dammit if Samantha Smith didn’t just totally win me over. She definitely has a warmth and charm and beauty to her that you can believe a family fighting the forces of Hell for her sake.
The show even seemed to remember that when returned to life, people tend to forget everything beyond the Veil (exceptions were noted as exceptional). Heck they even remembered that humans can’t normally punch angels and gave the enforcer chick a set of rune-brass knuckles (even if Dylan Dog did it first). Although they then had her knee Castiel in the gut without any sign of rune-knee pads… so we’ll call that one a draw. Between those, the mystery spot billboard, and Sam’s flashbacks the canon-remembrances did at least outnumber the canon-forgottens this episode. The show runners have a LONG way to go to get everything fixed and trust restored but this is at least a positive sign.
Dean and Mary did have some nice interactions. While I started to get annoyed with her and Castiel’s hostile reaction to each other at first (mostly because that’s all the episode was – hostile greetings) the revelations on both sides was cute and the scene finished out on a positive win.
Finally, Mary and Baby’s scene together was just pure gold.
All in all…
The repeating of Sam’s distress, Castiel going into full villain territory, and the reduction of the antagonists into flat villains really, REALLY dragged down this premiere. The two shells are entirely due to some canon repair and Mary freakin’ Winchester.
At least the show has plenty of room to grow from here. Hopefully the season will be all uphill.