Supernatural is no stranger to pop culture nods, and has often referenced the work of Quentin Tarantino, most notably in the season 7 episode, “Slash Fiction”. Trickster/Gabriel actor, Richard Speight Jr‘s return to the show as director was always going to deliver something a bit different, and “Stuck in the Middle (With You)” paid homage to the king of pulp once again with an opening diner scene and title cards straight out of Reservoir Dogs. Speight toyed with structure, jumping around the narrative timeline, and re-playing pivotal moments from several points of view. But the result was an episode that, whilst interesting, was stylistically at odds with the gravitas of its revelations.
After an opening shot of the enigmatic Mr. Ketch asking an unknown companion to ‘tell him a story’, the set up was intriguing and light-hearted. Mary Winchester and her hunter pal, Wally, asked for Sam and Dean’s help taking out a demon (with a penchant for fishing) over dinner, while their diner waitress flirted shamelessly with Castiel – much to Dean’s delight. The story went that Wally, being well-versed in rugarus, was a little green when it came to demons, and needed expert help. But it soon became apparent that the mission was anything but a routine demon ganking, when Mary split off from the group to steal a mystery artifact hidden behind a painting of the archangel Michael. In a nice homage, the pilfered object gave out a golden glow when unwrapped, like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Things quickly went south when the demon, Ramiel, returned home to find the intruders, only for the Winchesters, Cas, and Wally to discover that they weren’t dealing with your average servant of Hell.
Ramiel, it transpired, was a yellow-eyed demon of Azazel’s ilk, much to Mary’s horror: a Prince of Hell, impervious to the usual hunter tricks and weapons. Having been approached by Crowley a few years back and offered the throne of Hell, Ramiel abdicated, and left the ambitious Fergus to rule on the condition that he ensure Ramiel was never bothered by pesky hunters. Crowley sent two demons to Ramiel’s house to deal with the situation, but one of them killed Wally, while Ramiel stabbed Cas with the Lance of Michael, a present from Crowley some six years previously. Mary managed to drag Cas to a barn up the road, where they met up with Sam and Dean, and Crowley filled them in on the Ramiel situation.
I must admit, I was surprised that Crowley tried to bargain with Ramiel on the Winchesters behalf, and also that he did his best to save Cas. With Mary having been duped into robbing a Prince of Hell, and unable to admit her involvement with the British Men of Letters to her sons and Cas, it was down to the boys to try and save their angel with a little help from their demon frenemy. And this they did, sticking Ramiel with the lance, but not before he had chance to give an indication that he and Azazel still have several siblings stalking the planet. I really wanted to get emotional about Castiel’s swan song, but there was something a little off about the scene. Perhaps it’s because I knew he wasn’t actually going to die (as Dean noted, there’s always a cure), but I just wasn’t feeling it. Maybe it was his explicit declaration of love. It seemed out of character to me. Maybe it was the inclusion of Mary who has been a somewhat cold figure since her resurrection. Whatever the reason, it made me sad that Cas’ possible demise left me dry-eyed.
I was also a little shocked that Mary kept her secrets from the boys after all that happened. Even though I have been watching this show for many years now, and I know that’s how Winchesters roll. More fool me. She expressed anger at Ketch, but still handed over the object stolen from Ramiel’s house. Which only bloody turned out to be THE COLT! Now, here’s where I struggle. Would Mary really relinquish possession of a weapon that powerful after getting her friend killed, and almost losing her sons to a yellow-eyed demon? Given that she already damned Sam as an infant to bring back John, you’d think she’d be a bit more mindful of her motherly duties.
There was one more major reveal to come back in Crowley’s chambers, as he found himself taunted by a shadowy figure locked in a cramped cell next to his throne. Yes, Lucifer is back in a Mark Pellegrino shaped meat suit, and I’ll confess, that’s a bit of a relief after faded rock star Luce and POTUS Luce, even though I cannot even begin to fathom how that body is still intact as a vessel after all these long years. But I’m a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to the devil, and no one else has ever quite managed to capture Pellegrino’s pithy delivery and casual menace.
So Luci’s not in The Cage, Mary is in league with the MOL, and Cas lives to fight another day. On, and the legendary Colt is back! Overall, this episode seemed like a throwback to the Supernatural of old, with a Winchester parent making risky deals, yellow-eyed demons, and Lucifer lurking in the wings. The Tarantino-esque design of it was a little incongruous given the mythology involved. This wasn’t a time-traveling western. It wasn’t a typical monster of the week installment. I think the music cues and jump cuts distracted from the important plot points. But I look forward to seeing where we’re headed now that Lucifer is back on the scene, and how Mary’s betrayal plays out.
Final Grade: C+
+ Fair play to Speight for trying something different. It might not have been wholly successful, but it was interesting to watch.
+ I’m glad the archangels (especially Lucifer and Michael) are being presented as warriors again. Their wings have been clipped in recent years, and I want to see them as fearsome creatures once more.
+ I’m enjoying the promise of more of Azazel’s siblings causing trouble in the near future.
– I’m kind of pissed at the show for making me dislike Mary. I mean, she’s made some bad decisions in the past, but I’d put them down to youthful ignorance. She’s just a liability right now.
– This episode had big shoes to fill after last week, but the sense of peril which we felt seeing Dean’s memories fade meant Castiel’s imminent death had even less impact. In a world where death is largely impermanent, Dean’s erosion was infinitely more terrifying, and it’s unfortunate that the stakes felt so much lower this week.
– While Jared, Jensen, and Misha all did the best with the material they had, I just didn’t feel the emotional sway from the writing this week.
Extra Thought: Is history going to repeat itself now that we have Mary and yellow-eyed demons in the picture?
What did you think? Were you disappointed no ears got lopped off, or were you tickled (Mr.) Pink? Sound off in the comments or on Twitter.