The penultimate episode of the season saw age-old feuds shelved as the forces of Heaven and Hell teamed up to prevent the end of existence as we know it. Yes, Sam and Dean were forced to mediate while Chuck and Lucifer talked through their issues in the bunker, before setting aside their differences and recruiting a crack team of angels, demons, and witches to take down The Darkness. Sort of a biblical A-Team.
We’ve seen the Winchester Brothers avert an apocalypse more than once before, but this time, with all their human friends and confidantes long gone, they had to rely on ultimate dead-beat dad, Chuck, Lucifer in a Cas suit, Crowley, and Rowena to take the fight to Amara.
This reluctant and diverse incarnation of Team Free Will planned to weaken God’s wayward sister with a combination of pagan magic, demon trickery, and angelic smiting, before Chuck could remove the mark from Amara and lock her back up in her cage.
Dean, however, was pushing for Amara’s annihilation, afraid of her sway over him. Knowing that his brother had tried and failed to kill his weird crush, Sam went behind Dean’s back and offered to take on the mark when the time came. Clearly this went down like a knackered lift with Dean, but it was a moot point in the end because Amara got wise to Chuck’s plan to incarcerate her again, and managed to gain the upper hand.
For a moment, it seemed that God was actually dead, but in a Bond villain stylee, Amara had actually just stunned The Almighty, because she wants him around to witness the destruction of the universe before his own demise.
See, here’s the thing…this episode kind of made me long for the days when the boys used to live on the open road, ganking vampires and werewolves, and salting and burning bones. Once you get to the point where God Himself is bringing the smack to the Big Bad, you know the myth arc is out of control. Don’t get me wrong, Robert Berens‘ writing is always strong, and the performances were on point. John Badham‘s direction gave this installment a lovely, filmic look, especially apparent in the scene when Rowena comes to in the golden light of dawn. But where do we go from here? How can the stakes be any higher?
The other problem with this overblown Holy War storyline is that it negates so much of what’s gone before. When we see Sam rubbing along with his old cell-mate, Lucifer, and the Father of Lies squatting in Sam’s room like a sulky teenager, it cheapens all that fear and horror which Jared Padalecki so masterfully portrayed for years and years. “Swan Song” was the kind of TV which I couldn’t stop thinking about for months. The idea that this boy who’d already sacrificed so much, would willingly submit to an eternity of torture for the survival of the world was incredible. The things that Sam Winchester suffered in Hell were so extreme that they could only be cured by the removal of his soul. And yet here he is, letting the author of all his misery sleep in his bunk! When The Devil is no longer scary, you know something has gone awry. I know old adversaries have become allies of a sort (Crowley, Meg, Metatron, to name a few), but the changes in dynamics were gradual. Lucifer has been the worst thing we can imagine pretty much since Day 1.
Similarly the angels and the demons have been reduced to interchangeable bureaucrats. When Dean Winchester first went to Hell, it was brutal and visceral and horrific. We need it to be that way again, and for Heaven to become the myriad states of personal bliss where we once learnt Sam and Dean are soul mates. The idea of humans being vessels for supernatural beings, of them being stripped of agency and forced to bear witness to actions carried out by their possessed bodies is truly terrifying. Somewhere along the way, Supernatural seems to have forgotten the fundaments of that. We now see these all-powerful beings as flawed humans rather than gods and monsters wearing human flesh, and that reduces their ability to shock and awe us somewhat. And the concepts of destiny and free which have always been integral to the show are much harder to muse upon when the guy who created them is sitting in your kitchen.
So we head into the season finale with God at death’s door (not Death’s door – he got dispatched last season, remember?) and Amara releasing The Darkness upon all of his works. Sam’s bid to take the Mark of Cain has failed, and it looks like Dean Winchester might be the only one who can stop the destruction this time.
Final Grade: C-
+ This episode looked super pretty and the VFX were almost as fabulous as Rowena’s frock.
+ Some nice emotional moments when Chuck admitted he’d punished Lucifer because he loved him too much. I do like that Supernatural is afraid to call BS on biblical events, because I’ve read the book, and tbh God isn’t a particularly nice guy!
+ You know you’re watching a Berens-penned episode when you hear a term like ‘tautology’. Good Chuck, I love that man.
– Some awesome witches introduced only to be zapped almost immediately! Booooo!
– And bye bye Donatello the Ninja Turtle prophet! It was brief!
– Sam and Dean felt somewhat relegated to the sidelines in this episode. They also seemed uncharacteristically chipper and flippant given the gravity of the situation!
I’m curious to see if this will be another cliff-hanger ending, or whether things will be wrapped up in order for new show-runner team, Andrew Dabb and Robert Singer, to hit the reset button, following the news that current boss, Jeremy Carver, is to leave for pastures new. Join me next week to find out!
So what did you think? A holy war, or an unholy mess? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!