Another season is upon us! There’s been a lot of hoopla over “Supernatural” starting a historic season ten lately, a feat that’s very rare in scripted shows. As a long time fan it’s easy to get lost in the wonder that the show has actually gotten this far. It’s certainly been a nice distraction for the long summer Hellatus. Come premiere day though, an episode is in front of us and it’s time to start asking the hard questions like, “Where is this going?” “What’s the theme of the season?” and “Will things EVER improve for Sam and Dean?” After taking in “Black,” I’m definitely left with more of these questions than answers.
If I heard Crowley correctly, this episode takes place six months six weeks (thank you wise viewers, I guess he was talking about when Dean got the MOC) after new Demon Dean took off with the King of Hell. Sam, now wearing a new fashion accessory in the form of an arm sling (written into the story due to Jared Padalecki’s real life injury), has been spending that time alone in the bunker exhaustively searching for Dean. No doubt Dean’s constant ire regarding not looking for him after he disappeared to Purgatory in season eight has scarred Sam pretty deep. Even Crowley made a joke to Sam that they were thinking he hit another dog! This time Sam is going to all sorts of depths to find Dean and Crowley, including torturing demons. Color me surprised (sarcasm!). But what else has it cost Sam? That question will hopefully be answered in weeks to come, but something isn’t right with him.
Dean himself is in a demonic tailspin. He’s in North Dakota getting drunk, screwing women, constantly singing bad karaoke and killing people that Crowley sends his way to satisfy the MOC and its bloodlust. It is rather jarring to see Dean this way, and Crowley is tiring of it as well. He’s trying to get Dean to move forward with that ruling Hell thing but Dean responded by getting blasted instead and acting totally unpredictable. He’s trying not to care, or at least doesn’t want to care.
However, its Dean’s relationship with the waitress in the bar, Ann Marie, is where I saw traces of his humanity. He isn’t too far gone. He did care for her. He dropped his usual demeanor when she was around and even defended her honor when her crappy boyfriend was abusive. She called him out on his bad behavior at the end though, noticing his lack of control when he wouldn’t stop beating the crap out of her boyfriend, and Dean responded in a way that human Dean at his lowest has responded before. He insulted her and drove her away. Remember, he did that to Sam, Bobby and Castiel in “Point of No Return.” It was his way of telling her he’s bad news and doesn’t want her to get hurt. He’s chosen not to care about anything, which is why we got that closing scene.
That brings us to the plight of poor Sammy. So he has been spending six months looking at old photographs and staring at Dean’s empty bed? Is that meant to be a reminder that his brother is out there somewhere and needs him? Either way, it can’t be doing him any favors emotionally. The look on his face when he saw Dean on the surveillance tape was devastating, as was his conversation with Crowley. All he wants is his brother back, but everything on that tape told him it wasn’t possible. Dean had black eyes. No wonder he was so emotional when he talked to Crowley. He needed to believe his brother was dead and that he was possessed by a demon. He didn’t need to hear that Dean was a real demon now, thanks of the Mark of Cain.
But now Sam has been captured by Cole, whose motivations are unclear, other than he wants to kill Dean. Judging by his family it doesn’t seem like he’s a demon, but he didn’t say he was a hunter either. Angel maybe? All he knows is the way to get to Dean is through Sam. That means he knows a bit about the Winchesters, which makes his story all that more interesting.
That brings us then to that shocking final scene. Admittedly, part of me was wrapped up in logistics trying to figure out how Cole could have called Dean using Sam’s phone. Even Sam didn’t know his phone number, right? I know that Crowley called the other guy and Sam now had that guy’s phone, but it wouldn’t have said Sam calling, right? Anyway, let’s pretend that Crowley sent Sam Dean’s number (maybe that did happen?).
Cole’s demands are simple, he wants Dean to meet him in exchange for Sam, otherwise Sam dies. Dean however, has a different plan. He’s not coming. Sam can die for all he cares. However, all that means is Dean will hunt down Cole and kill him. The absolute coldness in the way Dean delivered that speech is the highlight of the episode, and it goes to show just how far Dean has been corrupted. Bravo to Jensen for still managing to shock us with a performance like that. Sammy is no longer his greatest weakness. There are plenty of ways to spin this. Did Dean act this way partially because of Sam’s anger last season over saving him through angel possession? Does Dean have faith that Sam will get himself out of this? Or does Dean truly not care? These are all questions that will likely be answered in the coming weeks, but for now, it leaves us pretty stunned and worried for Sam.
I’m normally a staunch defender of the angel story, but the adventures of Castiel and Hannah in this episode were just plain pointless. Castiel doesn’t want to kill another angel, which is why he won’t replenish his grace, yet he kills another angel when things get crazy? An angel that just wants to leave peacefully on earth enjoying free will? I didn’t really get the lesson learned there other than the angels have learned nothing about their experiences on earth and Castiel should have stayed in bed. I wish we could have seen more about what he’s been doing the last few months looking for Dean. The side plot was just useless and Misha Collins deserves better.
The question though is, did the episode perform overall? Yes, it did alright. The expectation of a season premiere is to set the tone for the rest of the season and I’m not exactly sure “Black” did that. Or if it did, then it’s going to be one slow and depressing season. Heck, I know all openers can’t be “Lazarus Rising,” but the air of high stakes excitement was definitely missing. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but as far as character studies go, “Black” hit the mark. Sam and Dean are both in very bad places right now, and it’s going to take them being there for each other to slowly pull themselves out of this. Realistically a lot of counseling too, but I imagine that ship sailed a long time ago.
I have a struggle as a long time fan though and “Black” just reinforced some of my reservations. Sam and Dean have been in very bad places for so long that I wonder how do their characters find their way back to a sense of fulfillment? Enjoyment in what they do? When do we get to see that again? How do they go back to the motto, “Saving people, hunting things, the family business?”
Look at poor Sam. Everything he does results in him getting beat down. He’s in a no win situation, yet he keeps fighting. The question is, what is he fighting for? I think I’ve forgotten. If I have, could it be he has too? Right now the reason is Dean and his situation, but what happens when that goes away? I saw that glimmer of hope when he first saw the Men of Letters library. It was geek Heaven and it catered to his true calling. I’d like to see Sam go back to that, to being the real leader of the Men of Letters. The mastermind for a network of hunters; the guy carrying on the family legacy. Less isolation, more working with and connecting with people. It makes his character more interesting. Watching Sam just move from one miserable situation to another makes his character unrealistic.
As for Dean, we know this demon thing is going to be temporary. Where does he find his happiness? Back out on the road doing the monsters of the week cases? Leading hunters in the newly organized Men of Letters network? Going back to kicking ass and taking names? Or would he be best by Sam’s side in the bunker? Dean has always been less isolated than Sam, so at this point the guy just needs a purpose. If the idea of fighting for a cause doesn’t appeal to Dean the demon, is that in some way saying that Dean the human needs a new reason to fight? A new purpose for being the hero? Both Sam and Dean do, and I wonder how can having each other be enough? It hasn’t been doing them much of a service recently.
But hey, all that speculation is getting ahead of myself. Sam has to get himself out of captivity first and deal with Dean. There’s a whole season to see the fallout from that outcome. But those are the sort of questions I’m always asking when I see these brothers now in dire predicaments. Where is the purpose? What is the motivation?
My overall grade, a B. What did you think of “Black?” Did you like this slower, darker character study, or were you hoping for something more?