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Review: Supernatural 13×21 “Beat the Devil”

You may have found  yourself with emotional whiplash watching Supernatural this week, as “Beat the Devil” ran the gauntlet from erectile dysfunction jokes to devastating loss. Sam and Dean called on Rowena and Gabriel to help them open the rift, but when Gabe’s grace proved to be somewhat lacking in the required potency, the gang were forced to track down Lucifer for a stronger supply. And when the boys finally did make it to the other side, things didn’t exactly go as planned…

We opened with Sam, Dean, Cas, and Gabriel preparing to enter the Apocalypse world to rescue Mary and Jack, but when Gabriel’s grace failed to sustain Rowena’s spell long enough to keep the portal open more than a few seconds, Cas realised their only option was to track down the last fully-functional archangel left in their realm – Lucifer. It didn’t prove that difficult to capture the devil either. Gabriel used his Trickster methods to simulate a bar for Luci to drown his sorrows in, then had Rowena spike some booze with a concoction designed to weaken him. It seems kind of odd that of all the joints in all of Heaven, Hell, and Earth, Lucifer just happened to walk into Gabe’s, and even stranger that something as basic as a few herbs could knock him off his feet, but angels move in mysterious ways, I guess!

Using some binding magic, Lucifer was brought back to the bunker so he could be tapped for grace to keep the rift open indefinitely, meaning the lads had more time to search for Mary and Jack. It always tickles me that twenty-four hours is considered a ridiculous deadline, and yet everyone seems to get transported to somewhere in the alternate version of Middle America, conveniently close to wherever the person they’re looking for is. Anyway, Sam’s plan seemed like a good one, except that the thread of neon pink light keeping Luci’s wrists bound was worryingly fragile-looking, and there were no other precautions in place to keep the devil in situ. No sigils. No holy oil. Nada.

And it wasn’t long before Lucifer took advantage of that fact by trying to get inside Rowena’s head, but when she gave as good as she got by taunting him about Jack, Luci found the inspiration he needed to get free. Luckily for our red-headed witch, she managed to zap the devil through the portal before he killed her, and although she tried to turn tail, it seems the Scottish sorceress has more of a soft spot for the Winchesters than she lets on as she found she couldn’t abandon them to the Apocalypse world with Michael and Lucifer to contend with.

Over in the other place, things were getting a bit Lord of the Rings, as the boys found themselves forced to travel through a tunnel network infested with starving, feral vampires rather than take a mountain pass. In the alternate reality, the angels killing humans had resulted in many of the monsters going wild with hunger, and Sam, Dean, Cas, and Gabe stumbled across two survivors of a vamp attack, serendipitously on their way to see Mary and Jack. But things went south pretty quickly and Sam was jumped by some hungry fangs, and Dean could only watch as his brother’s throat was ripped out.

There’s a bit of a tradition that someone meets their doom in episode twenty-one of a season (Abaddon, Charlie, Metatron, Eileen) and Sam himself first died in 2×21. While it was a given that Sam wouldn’t stay dead, especially two weeks out from the season finale, I was surprised at the method of his resurrection. Lucifer, hot on the heels of the rescue party, decided Sam would be a great a gift to bring his wayward son in order to convince Jack he wasn’t such a bad guy, and brought him back to life. I understand that Sam would be upset by essentially being indebted to the devil but Lucifer finding him was actually a bit of a result, whichever way you look at it.

It didn’t ring true for me that Dean would have left his brother in the tunnels at Castiel’s insistence, and indeed Jack was quick to point out that Castiel should have done more, even if he wasn’t strong enough to bring Sam back to life. I’ve given up trying to fathom how much or how little power the angels have at this point, seeing as Gabriel immolated Asmodeus and healed himself, and wrought revenge on the Norse gods who sold him out, yet failed to keep the rift open, and Cas appears to have very little power these days. But while Dean’s despair was palpable (another brilliant performance by Jensen Ackles) I didn’t buy that he’d leave Sam to be vampire chow so soon after their conversation about dying together.

Dean’s reunion with Mary was bittersweet, but there was very little time for hugs or explanations as Sam and Lucifer arrived at the outpost almost immediately. I was hoping there would be some time to see Dean’s grieving and how it would be similar or different to previous times, but sadly the stakes never felt real because Sam was only gone for a matter or minutes. In “Red Meat”, although Sam was never actually dead, Dean believed he was, and that was enough for him to take an overdose of barbiturates and go looking for Death. This time, everything felt a little hollow, so I’m hoping there are going to be repercussions for the brothers and their relationship and Sam’s ‘death’ wasn’t just a cheap shock tactic. I want a big bro-hug at the very least.

While the catastrophe of Sam’s demise was underplayed, this was a pretty compelling episode. I enjoyed the Team Free Will feel of the various parties banding together, working like a well-oiled machine, and Rowena seems truly on the Winchesters side these days – at least until she meets her fate at Sam’s hands, according to Billie. The fact that Michael has been largely absent this season suggests that he will continue to be a threat throughout season fourteen, but Lucifer’s position remains unclear. Will he turn over a new leaf for the sake of his relationship with his son, or will he lead Jack into temptation?

Final Grade: B-

+ I really liked Rowena and Gabriel’s little dalliance, her glorious eye makeup, and the fact that Dean was so scandalised. His expression when Gabriel fell face first into Castiel’s crotch was also priceless. Ackles had a lot to do this episode, and he handled the full spectrum from hilarity to mourning beautifully.

+ Dean replaying Sam’s last minutes in his mind’s eye was really affecting, and the use of the dark tunnels was nicely creepy.

+ Sam dreaming of his family around him, and Dean eating too much pizza was too precious for words.

– The lack of precautions taken to secure Lucifer was a little maddening.

– The ease with which situations and conflicts are resolving themselves this season lowers the stakes and mitigates any real sense of danger.

Extra Thought: Castiel’s prompting Gabriel to lead Heaven made me think the Trickster might be our new God next year. Also, what happened to Ketch and alt-Charlie?

What did you think? Will Jack beat the devil as we head towards the finale, or will he join him? Sound off in the comments, or over on Twitter.

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Katie Young

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