This is it, guys! Hellatus is finally over, and my beloved Winchesters are back for an eleventh season. That’s right. ELEVENTH. SEASON. Eleven years on the road with the smouldering, monster-slaying brothers, and it’s been a pretty bumpy ride at times. But this year’s season premiere was a welcome reminder of just why we keep coming back for more, gluttons for punishment that we are.
We picked up right where we left off last season, with the boys having unleashed The Darkness by killing Death to remove the Mark of Cain from Dean. Sam woke in the Impala to find his brother missing, and tracked him to a field of flowers where Dean had been communing with the ubiquitous lack of light which, because this is Supernatural, had taken the form of an attractive woman. How fortuitous!
In scenes reminiscent of season two’s “Croatoan”, the Winchesters discovered the devastation wrought by The Darkness, which had turned everyone it touched into rage-filled zombies with black veins and a pretty short life expectancy. Hiding among the dead and infected, they found an injured young police deputy, Jenna, with the bluest peepers you ever did see and pluck to rival Jody Mills’, and on taking her to the nearest hospital, they came across Mike, a new father whose wife had tragically died giving birth to baby Amara.
Mike had been infected by The Darkness, and entrusted his infant daughter to Jenna’s care, while Sam and Dean decided whether to put him down or wait for him to expire of (super)natural causes. In a rather surprising and long-overdue exchange, Sam questioned Dean’s ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ ethos, pointing out that somewhere along the way, the brothers have lost sight of their raison d’etre: Saving people. This has been a source of consternation for many fans – me included – for some time now, and it was refreshing to hear Sam give a voice to the frustration we all feel every time another expendable ‘meatsuit’ gets ganked when we know a simple exorcism might have sufficed.
Similarly, Sam’s speech to Dean about them having to change if they are to avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over might have had the whiff of fanservice about it, but it still felt promising enough, and his admission that he would wreak the same havoc on the world again in a heartbeat to save his brother made me warm and tingly.
While the Winchesters were question their life choices and saving baby Amara, poor Castiel was doing some soul-searching of his own, and not liking what he saw. It seems he has done some Very Bad Things since we last saw him, and picked up a rather nasty case of pink eye to boot. Cas proved once again that no matter how desperate the situation, it is always a cataclysmically bad idea to call on the angels for help, what with them being dicks and all, and ended up bound with a bag on his head for his troubles.
And Crowley took a little time out from his Mark Sheppard shaped vessel to inhabit the body of a woman whose husband was throwing her a sex party with the neighbours as a birthday treat. How very opportune, and so Crowley to wait until after the swinging fun to kill them all. Once reestablished as the King of Hell, Crowley was informed that The Darkness had been sprung and that there were rumours afoot that Michael and/or Lucifer were stirring in The Cage. OMG, what’s this, Jeremy Carver? A sense of continuity and overarching mythology? Now you’re really spoiling us! I’m not going to lie. After the disappointment I felt when my predictions about Gadreel being the harbinger of Lucifer’s return, culminating in the Detroit showdown predicted in season five’s “The End”, the mention of The Cage was music to my ears.
Back at the hospital, Sam instructed Dean to get Jenna and the baby to safety while he distracted the rabids stalking the corridors. But things went south very quickly when one of the infected medics bled into Sam’s open mouth. Eww. Despite their earlier stab at transparency and honesty, Sam refrained from telling his brother about this turn of events over the phone, even as his veins turned black, and in a final kicker, Jenna found that baby Amara is carrying the Mark of Cain!
So, we really hit the ground running this week, and this season looks set to be a corker. The stakes were high, the sense of threat was palpable, and for the first time in a few years we seem to have a Big Bad I can really get on board with. I love the idea that Dean is literally bound to darkness now, knowing that he has been in a metaphorical sense since day one, and that Sam is neck deep in it too, right by his brother’s side. There were minor characters who were immediately relatable, whom we as viewers cared about and Sam and Dean gave a damn about. There was humour of the kind that only the King of Hell can bring to the table (and kudos to Kirsten Robek who played vessel, Marnie, with such aplomb). Misha Collins gave a heartbreaking turn as Cas, stricken in the aftermath of Rowena’s spell, while both Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki knocked it out of the park. Sam quietly checking his body for signs of the infection he already knew he’d fine while on the phone to Dean made me well up. It’s too early in the season for that, guys!
And, crucially, there was a sense that the show is willing to go back to its roots and its mythos, but also grow and develop instead of just rehashing old storylines and formulas. Tying together the various biblical themes which have been explored over the years is key to giving such a long-running show cohesion and depth. Sam’s recognition of the fact that the brothers’ relationship is the heart and soul of Supernatural, but that they also need to break the self-destructive cycle they have been perpetuating for the last decade was a brave and exciting move, and makes me hopeful that their brotherly bond will go from strength to strength this year. This idea of renewal and change, same but different, was echoed by visual and tonal similarities to several of the show’s most iconic past episodes such as “Jus in Bello”, “Croatoan”, and “Abandon All Hope”, and more explicitly when Sam told Dean that hunting things was “only half the bumper sticker”, directly referencing perhaps the most famous quote of the show’s history, first uttered in the second ever episode, “Wendigo”.
All in all, a solid season-opener and a fine demonstration of the myriad reasons Supernatural is the little show that could.
Final grade: B
What do you think? Did this episode usher in a new era of unparalleled menace, or have you seen it all before? Are you hopeful/excited/numb/horny? Let us know in the comments section, or hit us up on Twitter!