Previously on Supernatural: Sam's dead! As in not breathing, stiff as a board, Smurf blue dead. Dean wasn't too happy about that.
Kripke goes for ripping our hearts out from the word go. The entire season's summed up by the traditional "Carry On Wayward Son", and Sam's death is more gripping to music. It's strange to hear "don't you cry no more" when Dean is weeping, but I digress because of the way Jensen rocked that scene.
The camera hovers over a very much dead Sam stretched out on a mattress in a dank room, with one completely devastated Dean leaning in the doorway, his wounded eyes fixed on his fallen brother. Judging by the amount of uneaten food lying around and Dean's five o'clock shadow, he's been holding his somber vigil for a while. The impression is made, Dean's a mess.
Bobby enters, and just in case we didn't catch how upset Dean is, his jumping down Bobby's throat should deliver the message. Bobby hopes Dean will help him because he's dealing with something "end-of-the-world big", and Dean makes us all jump with his outburst, "Well, then let it end!" Bobby's stunned reaction is disconcerting, as is Dean's speech. "You don't think I've given enough? You don't think I've paid enough? I'm done with it. All of it." He shoves Bobby for dramatic effect, and Bobby's crushed reaction mirrors every person watching. He leaves after Dean apologizes, and emotional directing takes over. Dean sheds a tear in the foreground while a lifeless Sam is shown in the background. I'm not supposed to cry in the first few minutes!
Jake is declared the victor by Yellow Eyes and Aldis Hodge sucks the life out of Fredric Lehne too. I've tuned out this plot exposition scene, because what's coming is the greatest, most mind-blowing scene of the series.
There's no amount of description, no combination of words that I can string together that'll bring justice to all that Jensen put to this scene. In its simplicity, it's a man who's lost everything. A man so broken, so consumed by grief that he can't fathom going on, yet with Jensen emoting those feelings, Dean's grief is anything but simple. It's deeply layered, compounded by all that's happened since his father died and even his mother, and expressed with an intense vulnerability that we've never witnessed before from his character. Dean pours his heart out, and it's so touching I don't question why Sam only gets this when he's dead.
Jensen knocks this out of the park. Even a usually hyper Jared should be commended, for staying still this long must of been the crowning achievement of his acting career. It's not just the acting, though, that sells this scene. The camera's perspective and the reduced lighting, complete with an ideal stream of pale light filtering through, both detail every ounce of Dean's hopelessness in sheer perfection.
Dean's at wits end. His grief turns to anger, and we know he's gonna do something rash when he shouts out to a corpse, "What am I supposed to do?" He guns the Impala to the crossroads, hurriedly puts his box of hoodoo into the ground, and waits impatiently. Ona Grauer appears, and damn, she's a perfect Crossroads Demon "” cheeky, malevolent, and she has Dean right where she wants him. He's desperate, willing to take any deal, despite his shallow attempts at negotiation. Here's another one of those "hit you over the head" signs "” Sam is Dean's weakness.
These questions has been discussed, rediscussed, and discussed again by the fans, and there's no accepted answer. Why did Dean do it? Why did he sell his soul for Sam, agreeing to only one year? My take comes from all he wrestled with in season two. The extreme guilt over his dad selling his soul for him; the added burden of not only watching out for Sam, but the possibility of having to kill him, thus increasing his determination to keep him safe. Suddenly, he's facing the notion that he failed at the only crucial purpose of his life "” keeping his family safe. He couldn't live with the remorse of being the only survivor. Throw all that on top of some stewing grief and exhaustion, and this is his only chance to make things right. Simply put, it was the act of a desperate man.
In yet another brilliant piece of dramatic execution, Dean kisses the demon hard to seal the deal, and Sam shoots up from the bed, gasping and stunned. He lives! The first time I saw these two episodes was back to back, so by this point I was an emotional wreck. So naturally, Kripke goes for the jugular. Dean's reaction when bursting into the house and seeing Sam alive still hits me hard. A very relieved Dean gives the previously elusive brotherly hug (when both of them are alive anyway), and the fans melt. Sam's too disoriented and wincing in pain (good continuity) to appreciate the gesture. I'm screaming, "Hug him back you dummy! He's had a rough few days."
Sam doesn't understand how he recovered from a wound so bad, but somehow accepts Dean's lame ass explanation that Bobby fixed him up. Oh Dean, did you honestly think Sam wasn't going to figure out what happened? The location in the center of his spine of a pronounced scar is a pretty big clue. They share stories and holy Hell, Sam eats! That's the first and only time so far. Kripke loves having fun with the fandom. Sam doesn't have much though, for hellbent revenge against Jake is the only thing on his mind. He doesn't care that he just recovered from death, er, a near fatal wound and should rest.
Again, on the first viewing, I was already a mess, so now I had to endure Bobby's reaction? What Dean was thinking, hoping Bobby would brush under the rug the fact that Sam is now breathing and unaware of the being dead thing. Then again, the point is Dean isn't thinking clearly. Sam catches the awkward stare, but it's Dean and Bobby's talk in the junkyard that kills us. Dean, Dean, what are we going to do with you? At least now your life will mean something? Bobby is dead on. "Are you that screwed in the head?" Bobby also cleverly points out that when Sam finds out, he'll have to go through the same trauma Dean did over his dad. Bobby must be a prophet too, because season three proved him more than right. Yet Dean doesn't want to tell Sam. We all die a bit inside when Dean defends his decision. "I couldn't let him die Bobby. I couldn't. He's my brother." Then Bobby gets teary! Who could blame him?
There's a noise, tender moment over. It's Ellen. She's not a molten carcass at the roadhouse after all. She has what Ash left behind, a map. It could be me, but after all the intense drama that shattered my emotional well-being, I'm finding it hard to jump back into a "save the world from demons" plot. I adjust.
There's a gigantic devil's trap in Wyoming. No wonder nobody goes there. As I use Google maps to check the distance between South Dakota and southern Wyoming, I'm assuming they used some sort of transporter technology to get there before Jake, especially when he only had to travel fifty miles. The showdown takes place in an old cowboy cemetery, and I'm disappointed when I notice this was filmed on a sound stage. All the other cemetery scenes were on location, adding to the authenticity. This looks fake.
Just in case Sam was outright ignoring the clues in the back of his mind, Jake clears it up in plain English. "I killed you"¦ I cut clean through your spinal cord, man. You can't be alive." Thanks for setting us straight! Jake's gone evil; red eyes, trigger the end of the world evil. He's gone dead too, courtesy of one revenge-driven Sam Winchester. Come on, admit it, we loved psycho Sam emptying an entire round of slugs into Jake, coldly wiping the blood off his face while a horrified Dean watched. Meet the new Sam Winchester; don't make him mad. Take that moral high ground!
Jake managed to open the devil's gate before his demise, and well, all hell breaks loose. Yellow Eyes has his demon army of hundreds, but his General seems to have suffered a setback. No problem, he's got a first alternate. Right here is where the episode gets a little clunky, thus removing it from a ranking on the greatest list. Too bad, because it got off to a fantastic start.
Demons are flying out of the gate everywhere, while Dean has the Colt and one bullet left. Before he can do anything, Yellow Eyes appears, thanks to Jake breaking the trap, and Dean flies through the air, hitting his head on a tombstone. Oh come on, how can he still be conscious? What's even more ridiculous is Ellen, Bobby and Sam struggling to close the gate. Sam has twice the strength of those two put together, but he lets it all go because Dean's in trouble, thus letting more demons out. What did he hope to accomplish? Yellow Eyes has him against a tree in no time. Great plan, Sam.
By this episode, I'm pretty tired of the "demon pins a Winchester against something" device. It was done too much in season three too, as I've complained before. Sam's far away from Dean, and it would have been far more interesting if Sam heard everything Yellow Eyes said to Dean. Yellow Eyes congratulates Dean for putting Sam back in the rotation, taunts him that the deal was too good to be true, and asks if he's sure what he brought back is one hundred percent pure Sam. He even throws in the line, "You of all people should know that what's dead should stay dead." Ooh, rub salt in that wound.
He goes to shoot Dean, and it's John Winchester, fresh out of Hell! Sadly, Jeffrey Dean Morgan's parts fail here, the background looking quite fake, since he wasn't available for the live shoot and did his scenes with Jensen weeks earlier on a green screen. Whoever had the bright idea to leave Jared out of those scenes really screwed up, because the script changed and he had to be green screened in, too. The patched together mess didn't go over very smoothly.
John wrestles Yellow Eyes, who leaves his body and easily fights him off. As Yellow Eyes works his way back, he's distracted enough to where Dean takes the Colt and fires. A sudden shot in the shoulder and then a cut to Dean with the smoking gun would have worked way better than what we got "” Dean firing in slo-mo, with fiery bullet hanging in the air before entering Yellow Eyes. That was contrived, and this show is above such stunts.
Sparks fly and ding dong, the witch is dead. Ellen and Bobby close the gate, and John, who can't speak, weeps and holds Dean's shoulder, showing pride for his boy. I guess Hell changed his perspective. What's weird is Sam off to the side, only getting a nod and tearful smile from his dad. Come on Sam, rush over and hug him. Oh yeah, green screen. John disappears in a golden sparkling flash. Oh come on, this isn't Disneyland.
The score in the entire graveyard sequence is terrible, especially in the moments to come. It should have gone for less over-the-top sentiment (go climb that mountain!) and more looming angst. It was out of character for this show. See "Devil's Trap" and "No Rest For The Wicked" for better examples.
Here's where a bored evening of random channel flipping introduced me to a show that I now can't imagine life without. Dean and Sam look over the body of Yellow Eyes, and Dean gets in the best line of this entire two season demon arc. "Well, check that off the to-do list". Sam's appropriately at a loss for words. Dean isn't. "That was for our mom"¦ you son of a bitch". Yes, that came across as hokey (mostly because of the score), but that's okay. What else could Dean have said?
This part inspired me the next day to join Netflix and check out this show from the beginning, all because of the actor chemistry and the cool car. A fully aware Sam in front of the Impala asks Dean what happened after he was stabbed. Dean avoids, but Sam won't back down. "Did I die? Did you sell your soul for me like Dad did for you?" Dean keeps avoiding while Sam demands the truth, and his eyes water when he realizes Dean is lying. He chokes out, "How long did you get?" Dean gives up the charade, and tells him one year. "How could you do that?" We asked the same thing thirty minutes ago. Dean defends his reasoning, inspiring Sam to declare, "Guess I gotta save your ass for a change." I got teary when I saw this the first time, but watching this now, knowing Sam failed, I'm crushed.
The tender moment goes south courtesy of Ellen and Bobby, declaring they have a demon war. "Hope to Hell you boys are ready". Yuck. That line didn't work. The camera angles up from the trunk of the Impala, Sam and Dean in reversed position from the pilot, Dean now announcing "We got work to do". That didn't work either. For one, they played "Don't Look Back", a terrible song that didn't fit. "Hells Bells" from AC/DC would have set a better tone. Second, Sam's line in the pilot came when he was somber and angry over Jess' death. Here, Dean is smug. Acting anxious or badass would have gotten me more excited about the demon war to come.
This episode earns an A- from me. It was perfect going up to graveyard part, which should have mirrored the angst during the showdown in "No Rest For The Wicked." However, this was Jensen's acting conquest. Until then, I'm curious to know, what classic rock song would you have picked instead of "Don't Look Back"?