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Review: Supernatural 12×22 “Who We Are” / 12×23 “All Along the Watchtower

It’s the end of the road for another year, my wayward sons and daughters! It’s been a strange ride, characterised by a distinct lack of cohesion between the two main plot arcs: the British Men of Letters’ attempts to exterminate US hunters, and the return of Lucifer along with the imminent birth of his unholy spawn. Indeed, the two separate strands were addressed in two very different episodes, sandwiched together to make a feature length finale.

First up, Sam and Dean addressed the problem of how to escape the bunker, defeat the BMoL, and undo the brainwashing their mother had suffered at the hands of Antonia Bevell. “Who We Are” was penned by Robert Berens, arguably the show’s strongest writer, and focused on family, betrayal, and forgiveness. Having been left to die in a sealed chamber with a dwindling oxygen supply by Ketch, Dean was set to shoot Lady Toni until she pointed out that she was only one who could potentially reverse Mary’s programming. After trying magic and digging their way out, Sam and Dean had a brief heart to heart before deciding to Butch and Sundance their way out. This was exactly what we needed to see after so many episodes of the brothers being passive bystanders – them choosing their destiny and their terms. If they were going out, they were going out in style. Despite Toni’s insistence that they were lunatics, Dean finally got to use his beloved rocket launcher to breach the bunker walls. There was a brief moment where it looked like Dean might have blown himself up, but when he staggered into shot, bleeding and limping and said ‘Hey, lunatic’ so affectionately to a relieved Sam, he reclaimed his big damn hero status, and I remembered why I fell in love with this show.

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Meanwhile, Mary was working through the BMoL’s hit-list, and it looked like Jody Mills was next for the chop. Quite why the BMoL were still going to the effort of making the murders look like monster attacks at this point, I’m not sure. Anyway, Jody and foster-daughter, Alex, managed to knock Mary out and tie her up, and alerted the boys to her whereabouts. Sam rallied every hunter he could and asked them to join him in a siege of the BMoL base. The reappearance of Walt and Roy, the hunters who shot Sam and Dean way back in season 5’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” reinforced this episode’s theme of forgiveness and reconciliation, and gave a sense of new beginnings.

It’s been a while since we’ve had a heartfelt hug between the Winchesters, and Dean’s decision to stay and try to find a way to reach Mary while Sam led the charge against the Brits provided one of the most touching moments we’ve seen in a very long time. Understanding that he needed to let his brother take control, that he was injured, and someone had to try and help their mother, but knowing that Sam might not come back, demonstrated a real progression for Dean’s character. Again, this was reminiscent of him letting Sam take on Lucifer at the climax of season 5, only this time there was an air of acceptance and resignation. This wasn’t about making amends or proving something to each other. It was just doing the right thing because that’s the life they lead.

It soon became clear that Dean’s deep-rooted need to retrieve Mary was more about confronting the ways in which she’d let him and Sam down, and leading her to redemption for his own sake and Sam’s as much as hers. For the first time in possibly ever, Dean was absolutely explicit about his fears, his failings, and his hatred and love for his mother. Dean’s inability to voice his emotions in the real world (hence the ‘bitch’ and ‘jerk’ code he and Sam share) was overcome in the vulnerable dream state, and he was finally honest about his resentment and also his ability to relate to the deal Mary made for John’s life, having sold his own soul for Sam. Jensen Ackles turned in what must surely be an Emmy-worthy performance in this scene, and for the first time in years, Supernatural made me cry in earnest.

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Although Dean was wrenched from Mary’s subconscience too early by Ketch, and Toni’s throat slit, Mary came through and saved her eldest son as he battled the psychopathic Englishman. Sam’s attack on the British base was successful, and Hess told them about Lucifer’s escape from Crowley’s dungeon before she was shot in the head by Jody. The BMoL deaths might have seemed quick and unceremonious given that they were the main adversaries this year, and Toni in particular had the potential to be a recurring Bela Talbot type character, but I’m sure most viewers would have felt a sense of satisfaction as Mary and Jody lopped the final heads off the hydra, so to speak.

The closing shot of the brothers in a three-way hug with their mom, their acceptance that Mary’s deal with Azazel and everything that came after made them who they are, was a brief and rare moment of peace for the Winchesters, and tied up a lot of loose ends in terms of their long-standing familial issues.

This was to be short-lived though, because in the words of Jensen Ackles at this weekend’s annual Jus in Bello convention in Rome, “All Along the Watchtower” was Supernatural‘s very own “Red Wedding”! With the British threat neutralised, the Winchesters had to enlist the help of Crowley to defeat Lucifer and help Castiel keep Kelly and her unborn child safe from the Devil.

First, the boys tried to contact Rowena for help putting Luci back in his box. But Lucifer had already got to the witch, and our favourite Scottish redhead was shown to be no more than a burnt out husk, a lock of hair, and some blood spatters. It seems an awful shame that Ruth Connell had no final scene if that really is the end of Rowena, but the shock nature of the reveal made it more effective somehow. Being robbed of seeing her last moments was frustrating but chillingly authentic in a way the show rarely is these days.

As viewers, we joined Crowley in his numbed grief as he mused that he’d always thought he’d be one to kill his mother after learning of her end when he dropped in at the bunker. But this episode was Crowley’s swan song too. Having cheated death once by smoking into a rat before reclaiming his vessel, Crowley cashed his chips in with the Winchesters, and promised them that if they helped and spared him, he’d seal the gates of Hell forever, ridding the world of demons.

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With Rowena gone, and unable to pass up such a tempting offer, the Winchesters gave the demon a pass, and set out after Kelly and Cas, hoping to outrun Lucifer until they figured out another way to best him, and still planning to siphon the baby’s grace and save the human part of the child. They left Crowley chained in the bunker, but he escaped and followed them.

In an interesting (and I suspect pertinent to next season) development, some of the foetus’ grace leaked out and opened a portal into a parallel world, in which Cas discovered Sam and Dean had never been born, so the apocalypse was never averted, and a holy war between angels and demons had been raging for years. In this world, Cas also met an old friend! I must admit, when I saw the shadowy figure, I thought it might be John Winchester, but it was Bobby Singer, or at least a hard-bitten version of him with a penchant for hunting angels. This version of Bobby had no knowledge of Sam and Dean, but did know John and Mary – at least alternate clones of them.

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This gave the gang an idea – trap Lucifer in the other world then seal off the way back. Sam, Dean, and Cas tricked Lucifer into the portal, while Crowley lay in wait with a spell prepped and ready to go. Dean kept Lucifer distracted by pumping him full of angel killing bullets from Bobby’s gun (which was called Rufus, aww) while Sam and Crowley worked their hoodoo. However, Crowley had neglected to tell Sam that the spell required the sacrifice of a life. I guess many would have expected Crowley to try and forfeit someone else, but the former King of Hell surprised everyone with his act of nobility. Stabbing himself with the angel blade, Crowley completed the spell and set the destruction of the portal in motion.

Crowley has been an excellent foil for the boys over the years, and Mark Sheppard has been a continuous joy to watch. While I know that no one remains dead on Supernatural, Crowley’s death had an air of finality after the rat stunt last week, and his epiphany that he’d been fighting for so long for power and status, only to find he hated his life was pretty tragic. Rowena’s death may have been the final nail in his coffin. Without her to kick against, all the demon had left was the knowledge he could finally get one over on Lucifer by doing the one thing the archangel would never expect. Crowley’s death was poignant, redemptive, and one I hope the show does right by.

With the boys set to escape, Cas appeared in the parallel world and shanked Lucifer with an angel blade. Sam bundled Dean back through the portal, and Cas emerged after a few seconds, only to be pursued and stabbed in the back by Lucifer. I expect this moment sent a large portion of the viewing public into meltdown, but while Crowley’s death feels permanent, gut instinct tells me Cas will be back. This is largely due to the fact Mary then came from the birth of the naphil child to punch Lucifer’s smug face back through the portal (the spell was pretty slow-acting, to be honest!) but managed to get herself dragged in too, just before the rip closed up completely. With Mary locked on the wrong side of the portal with the Devil, and having met an alternate Bobby, I imagine next season will open up the possibility of having characters return without technically resurrecting them from the dead. Castiel might well stay dead, but what’s to say the boys won’t meet another Cas in their parallel universe as they search for their mother?

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Love it or loathe it, this episode certainly delivered on shocks, and hit the reset button in ways I didn’t expect. With Sam and Dean left totally alone, and the son of Lucifer – already fully grown and creepy af – Supernatural is free to go in a new direction next season, introduce new characters, and breathe new life into the show. It also has the scope to bring back beloved old faces in new and exciting ways without diminishing the emotional weight of those characters’ deaths. After a somewhat fragmented season which often felt like it had sidelined its leads, this finale put them front and centre, and pulled no punches when it came to devastation. A much needed, strong closer after last season’s anti-climactic finish, this double bill reinvigorated my passion for the Winchesters’ messed up bromance, and left me excited for the thirteenth season.

Final Grade: A

+ If Jensen doesn’t get an Emmy nod for that performance, there is no justice in the world. Jared Padalecki also knocked it out of the park. The chemistry and bond these two performers share has sustained this show for twelve years, and it’s a rare and beautiful thing.

+ The VFX in 12×23 were bigger and ballsier than anything the show has done in years. It looked great, and some of the shots across both episodes were gloriously cinematic.

+ Kudos for bringing back a character as high-profile as Bobby Singer in a way that actually felt fresh and didn’t mitigate the pain of his loss.

– I cannot tell a lie – I was disappointed there was a missed opportunity to bring back John to be reunited with Mary. Maybe next year if Jeffrey Dean Morgan can take a day off from wielding Lucile!

– I am so curious to know if the boys stopping mid-Shawshank to get eye goggles was an S&P note because it was just really bizarre! Safety first, kids!

– Poor Kelly Kline’s death was overshadowed massively by everything else that happened. I wish she’d had a bit more to do other than smile beatifically and get kidnapped.

Extra Thoughts: With the announcement of an animated Supernatural meets Scooby Doo episode for season 13, it feels like this little show’s cult status has reached next level, although ratings have been down this year. While it’s never been afraid to jump the shark, I do wonder if essentially razing the brothers’ world to the ground and taking creative risks means the show is preparing to be in it for the long haul, or whether it’s winding down.

So what did you think? Are you still reeling? Whose death left you as devastated as Kelly’s lady parts? What’s next for our big, beautiful, lumbering piles of flannel? Sound off in the comments, or over on Twitter!

 

 

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Katie Young

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