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REVIEW: Supernatural 11×20 “Don’t Call Me Shurley”

Oh God! It finally happened!

After eleven seasons of absenteeism, we finally met Him. We finally saw the face of God. And it was somewhat familiar…and kind of adorable.

Yes, this week saw the return of Chuck Shurley, AKA Carver Edlund, and now AKA God Almighty! Since disappearing at the end of “Swan Song”, the final episode of creator Eric Kripke’s five-season vision, the prophet Chuck has been the subject of much fan speculation. While his pulp-fiction writing alter-ego, Edlund, chronicler of all things Winchester, was always clearly meant to represent Kripke in a meta sense, it’s long been suspected that Chuck might well be the uber Creator within the lore of the show as well. The theory was lent more credence when Chuck made a brief appearance at the end of the 200th episode, Season 10’s “Fan Fiction”, possibly the most meta episode the show has ever attempted in a long history of meta episodes.

While it’s always a pleasure to see Rob Benedict on my screen, I’ll admit I was sceptical about this latest bombshell. After all, Supernatural has spent over a decade avoiding the confirmation of God’s true identity. To cement it now has a profound effect on how we view all the events which have happened in the Supernatural world to date, and will greatly shift the dynamics of everything that’s to come. And how do you even start to portray the epitome of supreme power onscreen?

The addition of Curtis Armstrong’s Metatron to proceedings was another curve ball. Last seen earlier in the season doing his best Lou Bloom from Nightcrawler impression, we found the erstwhile Scribe of God indulging in a spot of dustbin diving. However, this was not the same deranged megalomaniac who killed Dean Winchester at the end of Season 9. No, this fallen angel was a much more sympathetic character sharing his hard-won pastrami sandwich with a stray pup. Metatron seemed done with life as a human when he was beamed up to a celestial bar with The Beach Boys on the jukebox – funny how most versions of Heaven are some kind of drinking establishment – but was even more horrified at the prospect of being trapped in a unearthly pub with a hack writer. After revealing his true identity in a blaze of light and a blast of hymnal singing, Chuck proposed that Metatron stay and help him edit his autobiography, and that’s when things got really deep…

Meanwhile, Sam and Dean were following a flimsy lead on Amara. The case of a man murdering a co-worker before killing himself lead the brothers to the town of Hope Springs, Idaho, where the locals were being turned rabid by a thick fog. In scenes reminiscent of “Croatoan”, the boys tried to save civilians from Amara’s fog before it turned their veins black and their urges homicidal.

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While things looked bleak for the Winchesters down on Earth, Metatron and Chuck discussed the big issues. What followed was a meditation on humanity, art, authorship, responsibility, the nature of good and evil, the importance of storytelling, and – of course – family. While references to Kripke’s short-lived series Revolution, and much derided episodes of Supernatural such as “Bugs” provided humour, Chuck’s bitterness towards the sister who’d always destroyed his creations – an extreme version of siblings kicking each other’s sandcastles over – and his surprisingly refusal to paint Lucifer as a villain, to let go of his love for him, tapped into the theme which has always been the beating heart of the show. Be it on a micro or macro level, the narrative of Supernatural is driven by the idea of ‘family’, either as a source of strength and support, or as a catastrophic disappointment. Whether it’s archangels, monsters, humans, or God Himself, the crux of it is that we all need a ‘yellow bird’ – someone who will walk the long road with us no matter what.

Just like in the Joan Osborne song, Chuck had become God as one of us and, as such, he’d succumbed to a very human level of despondency. Resigned to Amara’s imminent destruction of a race he’d come to see as a failed experiment, Chuck was ready to throw in the towel, and the salvation of mankind was left in the unlikely hands of Metatron. Curtis Armstrong has always had the wonderful ability to evoke disdain and pity in equal measure, and I was surprised at just how moved I was by Metatron’s arguments in this episode. His broken-hearted railing against a God who’d chosen and then abandoned him was genuinely distressing to watch, and his scenes with Rob Benedict, at once benign and all-powerful, were quietly unsettling.

Back on Earth, Sam and Dean found themselves faced with a “Croatoan” scenario in reverse. While Sam was immune to the demon rage virus, this time it was Dean who seemed able to withstand Amara’s onslaught. Indeed, Amara’s message to him that he would be the only thing spared via the possessed police officer, Jan Harris (played by Sonja Bennett who was also in “Croatoan”), was chilling and beautiful in equal parts. The exchange between the brothers as Sam’s infection spread and loosened his tongue, allowing his fear that Dean would choose The Darkness over him, was the reason this show still owns my soul after all these years. Dean’s promise to Sam that he wouldn’t leave him, despite the fact he knew Sam would most probably kill him echoed “Swan Song”, and his gentle touches and reassurances of “I’m right here” just broke me into a thousand tiny pieces!

But instead of making the ultimate sacrifice, the Winchesters were literally saved by the Deus ex Machina, and Chuck’s arrival was heralded by the appearance of Dean’s amulet, discarded after the events of Season 5’s “Dark Side of the Moon”. Interestingly, its reappearance was seemingly foreshadowed in “Fan Fiction” (the last time we saw Chuck), with Dean being given a wooden replica and claiming “I don’t need a symbol to remind me how I feel about my brother.” Honestly, I am still trying to unpick how I feel about all of this. The return of the Samulet is something I’ve hoped for, but I’ve been praying that we never meet God. The scene where Chuck sings “Fare Thee Well (Dink’s Song)” while Sam and Dean walk the streets, clutching the glowing totem should have been cheesy and overblown, but the truth is, it just left me a bit tearful. I was ready to be clobbered with clumsy exposition and bad jokes when Metatron and Chuck started their debate, but by the end of the episode I was utterly rapt. It shouldn’t have worked, but it did.

It almost felt like an ending. If I didn’t know for a fact we had a few episodes left of 11 and Season 12 confirmed, I’d have said it was a goodbye. Somehow, sneakily, “Don’t Call Me Shurley” managed to subvert all my expectations and batter me about the head with all my feelings about this damn show! Bravo, Supernatural. Bravo.

Final Grade: B+

+ Just so you all know, God is bisexual. It’s canon. Probably could have done without the reference to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah straight after the revelation that God was into girls AND boys, but still…

+ The use of “Fare Thee Well” was a stroke of genius. It has the Jeff Buckley connection and the vibe of “Hallelujah” without being that obvious. Brilliant and moving. This show gets music so right. And while we’re at it, Chuck’s insistence that music is a form of magic completely matches my own beliefs, so that made me do a little wriggly dance.

+ THE SAMULET IS BACK!!! I’m beside myself. Join me in forming a prayer circle for Jensen Ackles’ chipped teeth.

– I can’t be the only one frustrated that Chuck didn’t get to finish his sentence about where the Samulet had been all this time!

– I’m pretty sure the epic levels of retconning this episode achieved and the implications of that are going to start bugging me imminently, but I’m too preoccupied by stupid feelings to care right now.

– I’m slightly concerned that having God as a BFF is going to be tricky in terms of raising the stakes in future storylines. Once you have an omnipotent and all-seeing being onside, you’re kind of untouchable…

Extra Thoughts:

So Becky Rosen was shagging GOD?! Think about it…

I’m guessing this was a pretty divisive episode. Was is your idea of Rapture, or was it Retcon Hell? Sound off in the comments, or tell us on Twitter!

 

 

 

About the author

Katie Young