Episode Review – Stuck in the Middle (With You)

Well this is going to be a long post.  I have gotten complaints before about being too negative on the show, so this is going to be me excessively positive on it.  Fair warning.

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Ok I do have some complaints about this episode but as you’ll see they are very minor to the whole picture so I’ll get them first.

1) The show has officially confirmed that demons’ eye color is more or less a “uniform” now.  Before it was only hinted at with crossroad demons being the only ones confirmed given their appearances always utilized red eyes.  Now we have the show telling us that yellow eyed demons are definitely “princes of Hell.”  Well if this is the case, now there’s questions about how Alastair had white eyes, like Lilith did.  There could be an explanation there, but currently the audience has to invent it.  It also raises questions about why Abaddon, a “knight of Hell” just had regular black eyes but quite frankly I’m fine with the show pushing a lot of Carver’s decisions out of the central canon.  (I do wonder even more now how Daevas and Acheris fit into the Hell landscape but maybe the writers will come back to them.)

2) Growing tired of the devil trap bullets.  Remember salt shells?  Remember how salt could stop demons?  Know how shooting a demon with salt would usually leave the host alive? (if they were) Shooting straight bullets into people typically doesn’t leave them alive. After the brothers’ resolution last season to try and “save people” again I was hoping we might see them make an effort.  Not that they should be banned from DT bullets but how about shooting the target with salt first, THEN if that doesn’t work upgrading to the DT bullets?  It would be a great way to make a little thing called DRAMA in the show.  At least they remembered from S1 that Azazel was immune to some of the stuff that affected the more common demon.  Not thrilled about his crossing a devil’s trap but maybe they’re just immune to the pentagrams but the fancier, heptagram trap would hold them.  Still they’re going to run into a tension problem like they did with the Darkness(TM) if they make PoHs too strong.

3) Still not happy Lucifer is sticking around, draining the audience impact of his appearances.  Now I especially wish he had been removed completely from the season and we were focused more on the British Men of Letters invading America and possibly stirring things up (like the Princes) that they shouldn’t be.  It would make a fascinating examination for the story.

4) Not thrilled about the princes of Hell (PoH) being immune to angel blades.  It doesn’t fit under even story logic that Reapers could be killed by those things but PoH cannot since conceptually PoH would be one of the main enemies of angels.

Now to get it out of the way, yes I did recognize that this episode was filmed and structured in a tribute to Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.  I’m not much of a Tarantino fan, but I did recognize it, and I commend the show for trying something different when presenting what would otherwise be an unremarkable episode.  Standing applause on that.

Unless the quality of the season craters, this is the point we can officially declare S12 of the show be “the season of repair.”  This episode did SOOO much right comparing it alone would to the entire Carver run would damn those seasons unanimously.

Let’s start with the basic prop: Michael’s spear.  Not only does the scene SHOW us the weapon, but then it proceeds to TELL us about it and what it does.  It kills demons instantly and slowly kills angels.  Why does it do that?  Because of these runes on it.  (At least I hope that it’s part of the workings because otherwise the implication is that the boys could scribble down those markings and begin killing demons with paper cuts – which would suck for tension.  Also there is the question of why the spear can’t be rebuilt.)  Later on we have a REAL DILEMMA in the story.  Our heroes have this great new weapon that can kill some of our worst enemies, but Castiel is dying thanks to it.  Destroy the weapon – Castiel is restored.  It makes perfect sense in the logic of the story and world and characters.  Yes!  Perfectly executed and it took up – at most – fifteen seconds of screentime.  Wonderful!

Then we have Crowley, who is back in full form.  First we had never quite known exactly how Crowley became King of Hell.  Given the general story direction of S6 and “the power of souls” the implication to the audience had been that Crowley had used his position to gather souls until he had more power than any other demon around.

Was a punk-ass crossroads demon. Now? King of hell. Believe me, I’ve got the mojo. -Crowley in episode 6.07

My position isn’t all that stable, ducky. Those souls would help, just like they’d help you. Besides, wouldn’t you rather have me in charge down here? The devil you know…-Crowley episode 6.20

Now it’s revealed that those who would have been King of Hell by right handed it over to Crowley.  And yes while it seems odd that Crowley can become KoH just by saying “ok” without a kiss or even a handshake to seal the deal, this is a common fantasy staple: Beings of sufficient power able to cause things with casual conversation.  So it does fit in story logic even if now some of the lines above come off as a little wonky.  It does also make one wonder how the “Hell civil war” was supposed to work in S9 but, again, that was S9 so who cares.

But more importantly, Crowley functioned as a character this time!  I did laugh when Ramiel told Crowley, “they’ll kill you next” since we all surely remember the time when the brothers had Crowley absolutely dead to rights and didn’t kill him.  Thankfully he doesn’t bring that up since it’s best to forget about S9 but instead we see him trying to save both the Winchesters and Ramiel.  Why?  Well if Ramiel and the other PoH turn against Crowley, he’ll need potent allies and Winchester & Co. have proven themselves there.  However Ramiel dying is more likely to turn the PoH against Crowley and potentially destabilize his position so obviously he wants that guy mollified and safe as well.  Then why does he help Castiel at the end?  We have two obvious reasons: 1) The spear is a threat to him, saving Castiel gives him cover to remove a dangerous tool from the boys’ hands.  2) Like we said, if the PoH turn against him, Crowley will need help and Castiel would owe him a favor now.  All of this follows logically from the story presented and the characters’ actions which is far better than Crowley has had in the last few seasons where often his actions were of the “because he’s a main character” reasoning.

In fact let’s look more at this retcon of 6 years ago.  What are we shown?  A high ranking demon that doesn’t care about the politics of the spirit world, he just wants to chill out on earth.  How did Azazel put it waaaaay back in episode 4.22?

I have been searching for you for so long. You have no idea. The others have lost faith. Dickless heathens. But not me.

At the time the implication was almost that he alone was faithful of all the demons in Hell.  But now what if wasn’t?  Now we might look at that line and think he’s talking about the other PoHs.  And when did these princes get out?  Were they released along with Lilith when the gate was open in episode 2.22?  Probably.  Does this explain the problems the demons had in S3?  Definitely.  With Azazel dead and the other PoHs more interested in chilling out than fighting, you can understand now why some demons may adopt a “let’s chill out” stance while others wanted to rally around Lilith and “raise up Lucifer.” For awhile the dropped thread of demon civil war was one of the confusing parts of Kripke’s era – what did the demons disagree about?  Now we have plausible answers.

See, THIS is an example of a good retcon, it goes back and ANSWERS more questions about the past than it raises.  It brings new light and understanding to past events.  And unlike the earlier attempts at establishing a “new, strong, evil power” the motivations of the PoHs established here explains why these guys were never around during the Leviathan or even Abaddon’s shenanigans.  It’s beautifully elegant in its simplicity of, “they didn’t want to be involved.”  Were they around during Lucifer’s rampage in S5?  The episode doesn’t say for sure meaning that we could say yes and explain further why they want to stay out of the world’s way.  We could say no and explain just how much work they put into staying underground.  See how the retcon answers the most important and vital questions to making the story work immediately but allows other questions to remain open and be answered later?  This is how you do a retcon.

The compare this episode to the one introducing Cain.  In both we find an isolated, bearded demon going about his business when Crowley and Winchester(s) show up to wreck his day.  However Cain’s motivation was a bit nonsensical, like why did Dean have to “prove himself?”  What did he prove to Cain?  By contrast Ramiel’s motivation was kept simple and made sense.  We could understand what he was about and why he took the actions he did.  Let’s face it, Cain only worked largely because Timothy Omundson is such a talented and skilled actor, but in the logic of the show and canon, he really didn’t.  (Like why was it until 1863 that he reformed?  If Cain is literally true, how is Prometheus literally true?)  Heck now he even makes less sense since by the line in this episode about Lucifer making the Princes, Cain would be one, but he’s a Knight of Hell.  Still, best to keep pushing S9 further and further out of the canon…

Also now that we definitely know Ruby’s knife definitely won’t kill a PoH, it seems unlikely it was ever going to be able to kill Lilith.  Now somewhere in my retrospective it occurred to me that Ruby might have sabotaged both her knife and the Colt to keep it from killing the higher ranking demons (and Lucifer) in order to force Sam to have to kill Lilith using his mind powers, thus breaking the seal.  This episode kind of adds another mark in the favor of that theory.  In fact, SPN writers, if you guys want to use that retcon to set up some stories, PLEASE do so.  It’s all yours, free of charge.

Everything else about the episode was great on a technical level.  The shifting between time periods and perspectives conveyed the story without being confusing.  The decay effect on Misha Collins was some top notch makeup.  The Lance of Michael was elegant in its simple design.  Mary continues to be a surprising high point of the season, and we got some fisticuffs action scenes instead of the usual telekentic pin to the wall.

Though… really, we’re giving up the COLT to the Brits?  Almost any other artifact, sure, but the Colt is pure Americana, it should be staying on our shores.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot the most important part of the episode: THE COLT IS BACK!

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Steadily I’ve been moving this season up to grading on the Sera Gamble scale.  With that in mind, I give this episode a hearty

out of 5.  The first of the season.  Congrats!

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BONUS TIME!  Now how many of you knew one of the books touched on this before? (Without consulting the wiki)  From “One Year Gone” on page 312 in my copy,

“We call forth the Four Princes of the Darkness.  The rulers of Hell, the sons of darkness.  . . .  To the prince of the North, Belial, I command you to rise.

And back on page 272 is,

I realized she was trying to raise the second Prince of Hell, whose name I knew to be Leviathan.

(Yeah that one just makes me laugh after S7, poor Rebecca.  The whole thing is even funnier now after S11.) So far the show has confirmed there are at least 4 of them, but their names are Azazel, Ramiel, Asmodeus and Dagon.  So close to canonicity for the books but still no cigar. 😦

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6 thoughts on “Episode Review – Stuck in the Middle (With You)

  1. I have gotten complaints before about being too negative on the show, so this is going to be me excessively positive on it. Fair warning.

    Whaaat? If people wanna complain, let ’em. It’s your blog and your opinion – it’s better to be honest than to pander to the peanut gallery! 🙂

  2. Tarantino, you say? As in non-chronological order? I caught the end of this one where the colt showed up but I didn’t see much else.

  3. I liked this one a lot; the writer Davy Perez did a great job of tying things back in canonically/logically to earlier seasons without wasting a lot of time on exposition. It wasn’t perfect but, hey, the show’s in Season 12 so I think he did an admirable job. Crowley really stole the show; also liked the Tarantino slant; wouldn’t like it all the time but it worked well in this episode.

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