I found a lot of this episode remarkably convenient. Half of me is waiting for the other shoe to drop, while the other half is getting increasingly petulant. Spoilers ahead!
We're squarely back in the Supernatural season gr8 arc, and lots of friends show up for the party.
The boys respond to a call from Kevin, joining our haunted Advanced Placement prophet to find out about the second trial. Crowley's voice is taunting Kevin with the inevitability of losing the hide-and-seek game. He's anxious, paranoid, terrified, and he wants out, because this just isn't working.
I've got to admit, this is very different from the last Kevin we saw, who was subsisting on raw sausages and adrenaline, to whom even Dean needed to feed greenery. His “this or nothing else, I'm secluding myself in a metaphorical desert” commitment in “Torn and Frayed” was touching and valiant, but the Crowley nightmares seem to have undercut that entirely. And why don't the brothers protect him?
But enough about happiness or the lack thereof! Demons don't dream walk. The Winchesters say so. That's angel stuff. And we got trials to quest: “an innocent soul has to be rescued from Hell and delivered unto Heaven.”
Hmm. Who knows how to get someone into Hell? Wait...this shot looks familiar...
Back in the day, torture used to be A Thing. The bad guys did this Thing, and the good guys, who are also our dashing heroes, did not. Asking Dean to torture a demon for Heaven's benefit was a big “You ask me to open that door and walk through it, you will not like what walks back out.” The harrowed Dean in 2014 tortured demons, and it was a sign of how far he'd fallen, and how little humanity he still had left. But these days, we're in veritable Jack Bauer territory.
Anyway, they devil's trap another unsuspecting red-eyed rube at a crossroads, and torture him until he coughs up word of the smuggling trade that moves...individuals between afterlives. For motives pretty clearly not explained. If people are getting busted in and out of Hell this simply, what's so special about being gripped tight and raised from Perdition (Should that be capitalised? It feels capital.).
We are then introduced to our East Asian cab driver (really, Show?) who coincidentally also was Bobby's reaper, thereby making the selection of an “innocent soul” pretty easy—Crowley is a bit of a jealous boyfriend, it seems, and he broke the rules to have Bobby sent down instead of up. Metaphorically speaking, of course. It would be simplistic to visualise Hell as beneath us and Heaven above, wouldn't it?
Not straight to Hell, though—the jaunt takes him through Purgatory, so he's square with Dean for afterlife dimensions. He arranges to meet Ajay back after 24 hours precisely, and Sam heads off for the the door to downstairs.
But, what??? Reapers know where Purgatory is, and how to get in and out? What was season six...ah, never mind. Let me hold onto the good feels I have, since I'm the only fan that actually liked Cas and his soul binge.
Dean does his best to bolster Kevin with his “chin up, we're world savers!” speechifying, which seemed weirdly at odds with the last buck up little soldier speech he was given last time he delivered the translation goods, but I guess that wasn't working, so time to switch up the game.
Crowley's got feet on the ground in all the places Heaven used to, back in the day they had a preacher spying network, and he finds Ajay and leans on him hard to find out why he'd been hanging out with Sam—his badass threats pay off pretty damned quickly, and Ajay coughs up all the details Crowley needs before getting stabbed with the angel blade.
Sam's Eagle Scout training pays off and he finds the sooper sekrit hidden trapdoor to Hell soon enough. And what a Hell it is...part of me is really hoping we'll have it explained that this is the visualising that Sammy is doing to process what he's seeing, but I can't decide if this is better or worse than the Office Space Hell we had in season 6. Dante would be disappointed.
I don't think we've ever been told how time passes in Purgatory, but we do know that it speeds by at about a decade a month in Hell. I have no idea what time Sam's watch is telling him now, but that's made irrelevant by how Bobby's the FOURTH SOUL SAM SEES, after our heartstrings are duly plucked by bog standard images of medieval dungeons—hard to say if this is the “innocent soul” aisle, but why am I supposed to feel bad about them? But apparently, this guy really is Bobby, and Sam convinces him this really is him by showing us that Dean can't keep a confidence for shit—secrets that Bobby told him under magical compulsion come spilling out of Sam's mouth. Nice, but I guess now is no time to argue.
Back at Fizzles Folly, Kevin is at the end of the rope and has hidden the tablet from Dean (Kev, if Crowley's in your head, he knows where the tablet is still, and now the Winchesters don't. Not very AP, bro), but after he storms off to his room we're quickly distracted by an extremely convincing Naomi (I am biased—I do think Ms. Tapping does little wrong) who tries to explain that she rescued Castiel, and she fixed Castiel, and she's only trying to defend her territory. Which, honestly, makes a lot of sense. I'm not sure why she went as far as she did, because she pushed him to the snapping point, and caused her own plan to break under the stress.
Seems like she's learnt some subtlety, though, because dropping the nugget on Dean that Sam has to travel via Purgatory is guaranteed to push his buttons—why did she not try pushing Castiel's buttons? Because Castiel is the humanest angel out there, with Winchester-installed circuitry. Maybe next time she won't be so rash. He's long past the point where ordering him about is effective.
Finding a dead Ajay crystallises what Dean needs to do—send someone to get Sam out. And who is his Purgatory hookup with Cas “in the wind” (Naomi is so much better with idiom)? Wow. If I were the kind of person to read “relationships” into TV shows, I might think that Benny and Dean's conversation was all “How about that awkward breakup we had? Can I still have benefits?” and Benny is the neediest not boyfriend ever, poor noodle.
Bobby is really weirding me out—he's asking Sam to keep him around as a post-dead assist. Sam points out that his remains have been hunter-nuked but...you say that like when he was haunting you that burning his bones was the resolution, as opposed to something you'd already done, in vain. I guess a spirit can't pick something they're kinda emotional about and latch onto that, but don't they have half his stuff? He could come back half-assed....nah, I'm good. I don't want this weird Bobby back anyway. His insistence on returning and staying past all the lessons learnt last season...is that foreshadowing...no, I guess not.
Sam's watch seems to be telling him what he needs to know, and they're where they're supposed to be for the pickup, but their ride is not present. Shit. Whatever will they do?
Big bro is on the case though, because he has little compunction to ask people to die for Sam—he asked his grandfather to do it earlier in the season, so who's Benny in the face of things? Benny's disgruntled about his afterafterlife, and he knows it's not just getting his head cut off by his only friend, returning to a hostile environment where he'd fought constantly for his unlife to somehow find Sammy in that huge place that took them a while to find Cas in, and navigate to the Maine portal—he's down with whatever, man, because Dean asked, and it's about Sam.
I do love that Dean is that crazy that he never blinks. He's one step away from asking complete strangers to nail themselves to crosses so that Sam has a more interesting view out of the passenger side of the Impala.
So, hey, guys—not only was the initial entry conveniently close to the portal to Hell (understandable), but it was also pretty simple to get to Bobby (fourth rack on the right after the creepy repeating girl), and if you factor in the time acceleration, they're still on the dot with 24 hours, but when Benny dies, he just happens to apparate on top of monsters looking to kill Sam and Bobby. And Bobby judges, the old coot, he judges—Sam for not finding Dean (it's a not arrangement arrangement!) and Dean for palling up with monsters. Hey, you know—lack of a strong moral compass will do that to you.
Cool. I mean, tension would suck right now—totally get in the way of...whatever our responses are supposed to be. I'd like to apologise in advance to my sister if she ever reads this. Sometimes, I guess Supernatural is neat and tidy. But they do have four more episodes to get totally fucked up in—my fingers are crossed.
Benny saves their lives and walks them to the other portal, where Bobby jumps into Sam's arm (That's just weird—how must that writers room discussion have gone? “The vamp piggybacks his way through the portal.” “Piggyback? That won't look weird?” “Good point. We can't stick him in an orifice...the fangirls will never recover—yeah, let's cut souls so they bleed and magic into people's arms instead. Yeah, that's it.”) and despite entreaty we're treated to a familiar scenario—oh! This is like that other time the Winchester couldn't get someone out of Purgatory like he'd planned, because that person didn't feel he'd earned his way out! I totally remember!
Benny launches himself at his vamp-sire to distract them and leave Sam and Bobby-in-his-arm clear to jump back through to Maine. What must that do to Sam's self-esteem, all these people agreeing to his brother's demands to die for his life? Dean walks up to the precise spot of the portal's exit at the precise time that Sam comes through, and all I have to say—it had better be a good hug, because all the pieces do not come together to make a good episode, even if I like how it advances the season arc.
On the other side, though, Crowley's spy network has paid off and he uses demon midichlorians to stop Bobby's soul from going on upstairs (Yeah, literally. Forget I said anything.) and we're treated to a brief Naomi-Crowley showdown as she takes offense to characterisation as other than a warrior, and clears the way through for Bobby to finish his ascension Like I said—she talks a good game. She's definitely trying to earn some brownie points.
Sam goes through the rigours of the second trial spell, cue Dean freaking out, cue Sam reassuring him (this is cute, I like it, I swear, but maybe different words next time?) and we cut to haunted Kevin again, who's panicking and touching up the warding as Crowley's voice intones how pointless this whole thing is.
But this time, the safety that Sam and Dean tried to reassure him of is shattered, like the windows. Crowley swans in, touting the torture and murder of REALLY COOL MRS. TRAN, and his “I. Am. Forever.” speech doesn't really sound like a former seventeenth century wee dicked British tailor at all. External shot of boat, screams of cute AP student, and my stomach convulses displeasingly. He can't be dead, but two Trans are better than one, dammit. I want the package deal.
When Sam and Dean get back to the boat, though, not only is everything tidied up, but the shattered windows are replaced and all of Kevin's belongings are missing, convincing Dean that the final straw has dropped, and he's run for parts unknown. It's kind of adorable how much he would have denied that Castiel would have done the wrong/chicken thing in a scenario, but poor Kevin hasn't earned all the esteem yet.
As noted, moving the plot on is great. Involving both tablets is great. Missing Garth is (Legit) obvious, and dead Tran mere is recommended against—Crowley's lied before, this needs to be one of those times.
Will Kevin really snap this time? The last time Crowley had him, he hadn't been locked up in a boat named after a sock puppet and isolated from friends and family for months. And he didn't know how far Crowley was willing to go on his actual body. But somehow we have to learn what the third trial is, right—if not from him, then from whom?
And will Sam maybe fall for Naomi's sweet talking, even if Dean remains obstinate and pouty? I'd like someone to make a case for why Heaven shouldn't protect itself. I guess Metatron hid the tablets for a reason, and he hid them from angels too. He should come back and explain.
Hey, what if Metatron was the force that glowed out of that tablet in...nah...or could it?