Accelerating towards the finish line, the reveals and the scene changes fly fast and furious. Recurring characters recur, and there's still time and room for not just previously mentioned characters, but completely new ones as well. Spoilers for The Great Escapist, the antepenultimate episode of Supernatural's eighth season, ensue, in what is nothing but a chock-full-of-arc-episode.
What tells me that the writers haven't gone nuts and had Sam and Dean encounter Crowley offscreen (Crowley un-enthusiast that I am, I might even have rooted for that, but they'd have been drawn and quartered by the rest of the audience) and get his half of the demon tablet without any visual evidence is, quite simply, Jared Padalecki. Many many seasons ago, I noted that Ackles had more variants to play than Jared, who'd pretty much just had Sam and Meg-in-Sam while Dean had many more people inside that pretty skin of his in the same time, and I attributed it to Jared playing catch up.
Bro's caught up. That guy was off. There was something the way he stood, and his version of “re-assuring” that made me realise that this was Crowley's plot to get into Kevin's head and pillage what he knows of the other half of the table—and Crowley's pretty far behind, given the last time we saw these two. Two fairly decent demons get to wear Sam and Dean's face while Crowley directs, and they have to supply the dialogue to get Kevin to spill what he knows—and to reassure him that not knowing the codes and signs is no big deal.
After all, when has anyone else worn those faces?
But the real Winchesters are back at the Batcave, and Sam is ailing despite Dean's best parental impression, as we learn that John wasn't the entirely negligent parent some areas of fandom paints him as, but we never find out what powers the paternal fixit stew actually has, because Sam blows up at Dean's attempts and storms off.
They might be achieving little, but Kevin is definitely all sorts of on top of the game—he has a dead man's switch email that sends them an angry, upset, defiant video as well as his notes to date. Osric Chau is on fire here, as he cycles through emotions, and this is enough to blow Dean's stack, exacerbating his feeling of being useless at job #1: saving people. And it does take him this long to suggest that Kevin should have been at the Batcave instead of abandoned by Garth on the Folly.
But Sam's brain is in better shape than his legs—he puts together some of Kevin's research with university classes (I finished my degree, and I don't remember shit details about Modula-2—please don't ask me to save the world with Pascal-related object oriented programming) and only TRACKS THE ANGEL METATRON to the New World.
Also firing on all cylinders is Castiel, who's using information no doubt gleaned from time with the Winchesters—quantumly superposing every identical outlet of the national Biggerson franchise and flitting from one to another faster than the angels tracking him (Ion? What kind of name is that for an angel...for an anything that's not atomic?) can follow.
But don't mess with Naomi's savagery. Much like Sam stops chasing Kevin and cuts across the playing field, she leaps ahead to somewhere Cas will be eventually and lays in wait. In New Mexico she slaughters staff and customers save waitress Kara, whi lies there reciting “You have to stop!” with her eyes burnt out, catching Castiel's attention long enough for Naomi and her henchangels to swoop in on him.
Sam and Dean hie themselves to the home base of the 2 Rivers ... not Indians, as Sam reminds us, and Dean starts putting together immortality and stories about blessings given in trade for stories at the same time as Sam starts hearing strange noises no one else can, and lurks in the corridors, watching someone catch up on high school English and receiving a delivery of Charles Dickens. Who's just now reading Dickens?
One of the problems I have with extension of canon is dilution. Making Castiel the angel who always never did what he was told makes his season 4 change of heart have less impact. Having Crowley discover that angel blades (apparently no longer a finite resource) can be made into bullets shifts power awkwardly—both towards him in specific and away from angels in general.
In the meanwhile, Kevin's still being canny as all shit, since there's no way you send anyone for BBQ and Thai food without having an end game. But this is the middle of the episode, so I will not talk about the end game now. I will go back to dilution, where Sam talks about all sorts of memories returning—of touring the Grand Canyon (take that, fans, who think that John was all war and no games!), which dilutes the impact of Dean wanting to visit the Grand Canyon before he dies at the end of season 3. I don't care that Dean says he doesn't really remember. America is full of tourist destinations. Do you have to retread, Carver? Mmm?
Fine. Do what you like. Showrunners, I swear.
Naomi is yelling at Castiel for always getting in the way of what angels need to do, but luckily Crowley has made the aforementioned bullet discovery (that is totally a WWII Nazi gun he's chosen, isn't it? To match the Nazi-esque poster of himself he had in queue-hell?) and uses it to kill one angel, wound his bought-off Ion, scare off Naomi, and rescue Cas. Because he's subtler than Naomi, he realises that Cas would be too attached to the tablet to hide it away from his person, since always touching it would be important, and he reaches inside Castiel (to where you or I would keep our souls, you remember from season 6) and pulls out the hunka hunka godly stone.
This episode jumps between scenes even more than this recap does, but let me hop back to Kevin for a moment—it's clear by now he's one up on the demons faking Sam and Dean, and Crowley is elsewhere. He tells them he needs them to go get the rest of the tablet, and boom! They are sent off to the centre of a devil's trap, and have to call Crowley for help. What's less clear is why Crowley doesn't kill Castiel before going off to vent his wrath on Kev, but hey, I won't tell him if you don't—I'd miss him too.
Sam collapses before any payoff to his hallway lurking (turns out he's "resonating to the Word"), and Dean has to give him a much-appreciated-by-me ice bath. They put together “stories” and “high school English” and work out that Metatron just happens to be down the hall. The renegade angel has been deliberately out of the loop, so he's focussed on Michael and Lucifer, and they bring him up to speed on who's caged and who's died and at whose hands (i.e. theirs). They both berate him as he holds a shotgun at them, for pulling a Gabriel (seems he got out even before the Loki switch, since he was expecting all the archangels to be in place—but he's just a peon angel, so easier to disappear after he finished taking dictation). It works on him quicker than on Gabriel to boot, so he manages to grab Kevin right from Crowley's choking grasp, and heals any damage that was caused.
Dean and Metatron have a little, calmer, chat about the cause—about the plan to seal the doors, and the angel reiterates what preoccupies so much of the host: choice. And tells Dean that it hinges on "what it will take to do this and what will the world be like after it's done?" Sam feels like he's being purified—worries he's thought he was tainted since he was a little boy, and holds these trials up as his grail (oh, Galahad has nothing on the Winchesters!) and his redemption. What is Metatron implying about a cost? That sounds negative, and that sounds more like what Dean's been worried about this whole time.
Kevin? STILL ROCKING THE HOUSE, because as soon as he comes to, he pops out the other half of the demon tablet, and he hasn't told Crowley shit.
...please, Carver, please don't kill him?
And the boys learn the third trial—cure a demon. Watch out, Fergus. Now they head home, but we don't know if Kevin is sleeping in the back seat or not, and if Metatron is still in his makeshift library. Sam is feeling better, though, seemingly because they have more clarity about their next step, even if it's little clarity at all.
Coincidentally Castiel apparates into the road in front of the Impala, impatiently, and hey hey! Team Free Will's all here!
Roll credits, twenty one down and two to go.
Hey—Abaddon's in the preview! So we don't know which demon will be healed, except we do, because everyone invests in Mark Sheppard. Wouldn't it have been nice if Meg were still alive, though? And then we could wonder if she'd run off with a fallen/locked out of Heaven Castiel at the end of the season?
This obsession that Metatron has with stories is interesting when you put it beside Chuck being God (this is apparently verified by ”Word of God” at a convention)—Metatron sees storytelling as the “true flower of tree will” that makes us gods. But it seems clear he hasn't read Carver Edlund yet.
So now we have six escaped/rebel angels, well, seven if you count Ion:
- Metatron bailed because he didn't like how things would go when God left and the archangels took over and that he'd get sucked into the power plays
- Lucifer bailed because he was asked to love Man
- Anna wanted to feel
- Gabriel wanted out of the schemes
- Balthazar wanted out of the noise and to “try everything”
- Castiel wanted to save humanity
- Ion let himself be bought by the King of Hell for...reasons
I still like Castiel the best, no matter how many times Naomi tried to reset him.
(The title is a The Great Escape reference—for some reason, although I'm hugely allergic to most war movies, I love prisoner of war movies, and this and Bridge Over The River Kwai are the best)