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Review: Supernatural 13×18 “Bring ’em Back Alive”

The Winchester brothers were in different dimensions this week, as Dean ventured to Apocalypse World with Ketch in search of Jack and Mary, while Sam stayed in the bunker and enlisted Castiel to help him get through to Gabriel.

We’re on the home stretch of Season 13 now, and the overarching narrative is coming to the fore. “Bring ’em Back Alive” wove three plot strands together – Dean and Ketch encountering a familiar face in the alternate world, Sam and Cas attempting to heal Gabriel while Asmodeus hunted him, and Lucifer struggling to earn the respect of the angels in Heaven. But while the episodic title hinted at some progression in terms of finding Jack and Mary, Dean’s efforts were thwarted and – although one problem was dealt with in Sam and Dean’s own world – Gabriel’s rehabilitation brought yet more complications to the beleaguered brothers.

Let’s start in Heaven, where Lucifer was finding out that playing God wasn’t as much fun as he first thought. As well as a dwindling supply of angelic minions to send out in search of Jack, Lucifer had to contend with a discontented Sister Jo, and a never-ending stream of trivial prayers from humankind. Galvanised by a pep talk from Jo, and looking sharp af in a new suit, Lucifer dropped in on an exorcism to try and change perceptions about him on Earth. Sadly for him, the two shocked priests he chose to be his first converts weren’t quite ready to accept the fallen one as their new deity, and Luci ended up smiting them. It was interesting that Jo called Lucifer out on wanting to find his son, telling him he was procrastinating because he was scared of being met with contempt from Jack. At the start of the season, it looked like Jack would be the Big Bad, but as well as becoming an honorary Winchester, Jack has been largely absent for much of this year. I’m not sure what to make of Jo either. It seems to me like the character exists more as fan service rather than for any real narrative purpose.

Asmodeus was another front-runner in the main antagonist category this season up until this episode. Having been rescued by Ketch and left with Sam and Cas in the MoL bunker, Gabriel was still unable or unwilling to talk after his long incarceration in Hell. What he did instead was redecorated the guest room, writing his entire story on the walls in Enochian for Cas to translate. I was hoping for something a bit more satisfying than ‘it was just a copy of me that Lucifer killed’ in order to explain Gabe’s apparent death and subsequent disappearance after “Hammer of the Gods”, and the lack of detail surrounding his kidnap by Asmodeus made this character’s revival seem somewhat shoe-horned in. It was good to see a bit of his old cheekiness shine through, but the porn references were jarring next to the darker tone of his trauma. I was surprised when he healed himself and immolated Asmodeus, simply because it all seemed so easy and sudden. Asmodeus has been billed as trouble for the boys and Jack, and removing him from the board at this stage in proceedings felt odd. Gabriel’s unwillingness to help with the Michael situation also came as a surprise, particularly coming so soon after Sam’s heartfelt appeal.

Perhaps the most compelling element of this episode was Dean’s developing relationship with Ketch. Although Ketch has done some truly reprehensible things, it’s fair to say the two became foxhole buddies while navigating the dangers of the dystopian world. Their rescue mission was compromised when the pair happened upon an alternate version of Charlie Bradbury (a surprise guest appearance from fan favourite, Felicia Day). Dean’s compulsion to rescue her in order to appease his conscience over the death of ‘his’ Charlie was a source of consternation for Ketch at first, but after Dean was shot and Ketch had to administer an antidote, the two formed something of a bond. It’s not clear whether Ketch truly wants redemption and feels remorse for his past ways, or if the whole thing is an act for some nefarious purpose, but for now Dean seems to be buying it. I imagine this will become a source of conflict for the brothers at some stage. Saving Charlie left no time for scouring the place for Mary and Jack, and despite Dean’s offer, ‘Charlie’ didn’t want to leave her friends to go back through the rift with him. Ketch also opted to stay and help her fight while Dean went back for reinforcements. However, as Dean discovered, that’s going to be tricky without the archangel grace which Gabriel took with him…

So by the end of this episode, The Winchesters were free of Asmodeus and his threats to capture Jack, but they can no longer open the rift between worlds due a lack of archangel grace. Gabriel is AWOL, Lucifer is bored of Heaven and short on friends, and Ketch is stuck in the Apocalypse world. The main threat of the season is still Michael, and yet we’ve barely spent any time with the alt-world version of his character, so we have very little sense of who he is and hardly any connection with him as viewers. With various other secondary characters in play such as Rowena and alt-Bobby, there are still a lot of loose ends to tie up before the season finale in a few weeks, but “Bring ’em Back Alive” felt like the show was spinning its wheels.

Final Grade: D

+ I really liked seeing Gabriel’s wings and his eyes glowing in the dark, and VFX on Asmodeus’ fiery death were pretty good. Too often on the show, the supernatural beings are totally pedestrian these days, and I want to be reminded of the danger they represent.

+ I enjoyed Dean and Ketch’s burgeoning companionship. Traversing bleak landscapes with older men he can have snarky banter with is Dean Winchester’s jam!

+ The exorcism scene was a great little diversion and was genuinely funny.

– I really hate it when the boys are dumbed down for the sake of plot, and there’s no way Sam Winchester would have forgotten to mention the small fact of the grace before Gabriel turned tail. He would at least have kept some back for the spell, surely! Dean was right to be pissed.

– While the Apocalypse world is a good device for bringing back old characters, I think perhaps it should happen sparingly to avoid these surprise appearances losing impact.

– Asmodeus’ death was so sudden after the build up all season, and not in a shocking Game of Thrones way. It felt like the writers getting rid of a character they’d run out of ideas for, although I suppose this clears the way for Lucifer to return to Hell.

Extra Thought: Part of me wonders if we’re headed for a change of heart from Lucifer. With his options for a world take over narrowing, and the chance to be a father preying on his mind, maybe we’re about to see the unthinkable – Lucifer becoming a Winchester ally in the fight against Michael?

What did you think? Was this episode as snappy as Luci’s tailoring, or duller than the colour palette in Apocslypse World. Sound off in the comments or over on Twitter!

 

 

 

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Katie Young

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