The Morning After
I thoroughly enjoyed “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell”. Happily, I was totally engrossed in the Sam and Dean portion of the story. The hellhound special effects, the mystery surrounding the hound’s target, then the intended victim’s claim to not have sold her soul all kept me intrigued. Dean and Crowley’s conversations and the Impala talks between Sam and Gwen were also layered with implications for their characters and the show so I was emotionally and intellectually engaged.
Crowley: Really Dean. All these years. You’re so predictable.
Dean: Yeah, well I guess we’ve all changed. I got predictable. You got soft. I mean a few years ago who’d thought you’d be helping us save the girl of the week?...Maybe we rubbed off on you. You saved Cas.
Crowley: Just to save myself the Winchester Man Pain. You lot were moping about like a bunch of schoolgirls.
Dean: Well I just want to say thank you. [Wed has been tracking the “thank you” thread. This was a major breakthrough!]
Crowley: or a few years ago, who’d thought you’d be working with the King of Hell? Maybe you’ve rubbed off on me. Maybe I’ve rubbed off all over you.
There were significant meta implications in that conversation. Season 12 has emphasized how much has changed, using Mary as the narrator of that idea, but the writers were also telling us that after all these years, the show had become predictable and they want things to change. They want to surprise us. In this episode, Castiel’s story took an unexpected turn so part of my enjoyment was trying to decipher that mystery. The best surprise was saved for Crowley, though.
Until the last few minutes of the show, I remained extremely annoyed with the Crowley/Lucifer story. When those two demons freed Lucifer, the predictability and repetitiveness of his storyline was intolerable. Were we really going to have a chase-down-Lucifer-again crisis? Lucifer’s taunt to Crowley kept going through my mind: “How do you think this is going to end?” That was as much a challenge from the Supernatural writers directly to fans as it was a biting remark from Lucifer to his former pet. Of course Lucifer was going to get free! Of course he was going to want to exact revenge on Crowley! Crowley used to be so smart, conniving and strategic! How could he now be so utterly stupid?!
Fans (and “Threads” readers) were suspicious. Surely Crowley must be scheming something, but I lost my faith in him and the Supernatural writers when Lucifer’s liberation scene was so prolonged. Negotiating for positions of power, dramatic pauses for effect – I was reeled in hook, line and sinker. Crowley has been so mellow as of late and helped the Winchesters and Castiel so often, for a moment I believed Crowley’s desperation to humiliate Lucifer overrode the King of the Crossroads’ intelligence.
Crowley: Must really burn you, knowing I’m that one that put you in this prison. Me? I own you, and I have big plans for us. [my emphasis]
Was Crowley really counting on a magical chain, lock and key to hold the archangel he had been afraid to free from an impenetrable cage?
I’m sure I would have seen through the charade if I had time to think about it. After all, the show wouldn’t kill Crowley. He’s integral to the story (and Jared and Jensen’s time off) now. I did briefly envision a torture/ save Crowley scenario developing but that would have been Crowley’s own fault and we the viewers would still have been left with the stupidity of it all. When the “You’re utterly and truly mine now” secret was revealed, I was both relieved and overjoyed. King Crowley is back! The humiliation the master manipulator wanted was in slowly revealing his power.
In the “Family Feud” “Threads” review, I stated that character study is season’s 12 signature element. The two stories since "Feud" have continued in the same vein. For all its action, last week’s episode “The Raid” was certainly a stirring character study. One only has to peruse fans’ comments to see that the episode’s impact related to whether Sam betrayed Dean, whether Mary’s actions were justified and should be forgiven, whether Mr. Ketch is now a redeemable character, etc. With Crowley’s checkmate move to bind Lucifer to Nick’s vessel revealed, the burning question that lingers from this episode is Crowley’s motivation. Why is Crowley keeping Lucifer around at all?
Crowley stated that Lucifer is now his slave. That’s a very specific categorization. A slave is powerless. A master controls everything about the slave, from his actions to his future. Is Crowley planning to use Lucifer’s power somehow to his own gain? Crowley said that he has big plans for the two of them. It’s significant that Crowley has not yet showcased his domination over Lucifer so a public display of control to solidify allegiance or instill fear doesn’t seem to be the motive. Crowley knew about Lucifer’s baby before he hijacked the spell, so does control of Lucifer have something to do with Luci Jr? Crowley said:
I'm glad you've had a little taste of freedom. What I said was, I'm always ten steps ahead. I said you cross me, and I crush you. You hit me, I hit you back twice as hard. You make me your dog, I make you my slave. That chain around your neck was nothing. A stylish accessory. This vessel, that's your true prison. It's been warded with runes and spell work from the Cage carved into every molecule. In there, I own you. I'm just getting started. So, I'm gonna put you back in your hole and then I'm gonna go find your spawn, and I'm gonna rip him a part while you watch. And then... I'm still just getting started.
Ominous, but getting started with what, and why? Something to alleviate the boredom? An end to living in Lucifer’s shadow once and for all? More power?
Power was also dangled in front of Castiel as a lure to bring him back to Heaven.
Kelvin: We want you. You have more field experience than the next thousand angels combined.Cas: I think you overestimate me.Kelvin: I don’t. Look, I know you’re working with the Winchesters. Sam and Dean – their hearts are in the right place but wouldn’t it be better to have us waiting in the proverbial wings? All the power of Heaven behind you?... What if I said you could come back? All your sins could be forgotten? Forgiven?Cas: I would say that you were lying.Kelvin: Oh but I’m not. You help us track down Kelly Kline and you will be welcome back into the fold.Cas: Right. You have the power to do that?Kelvin: ...Imagine it Castiel. Free to come and go as you please. Part of your family, your true family again…. The gardener’s got a plan. All we ask is that you hear us, hear him, out, for the greater good.
Castiel’s decision to return to Heaven is interesting, and worrying. His homesickness for heaven has only been referenced in regard to Mary not feeling at ease on earth. Both knew their purpose when they were closely bound to Heaven. Now that they’re on Earth, both struggle for a sense of belonging. When he thought he was dying, Cas professed his attachment to the Winchester family but that bond still isn’t as ingrained as his millennia-old “blood” relationship with millions of angels. The longing on his face when Kelvin mentioned that Joshua specifically wanted Cas, and that his brothers and sisters would forgive him, was heartbreaking. With betrayal, secrets and truth being major threads of the season, what are the chances that Kelvin isn’t lying?
Paranoid Restaurant Manager: Can’t be too careful. They’re always watching, listening…. Most sheepeople can’t handle the truth, but not me. I’m woke. It’s why I don’t use new tech. Anything beyond ’96 – it’s a trap. Palm Pilot. More like tracking device. Am I right?Cas: Right.
Surely Cas knows the risks of Kelvin’s betrayal, but Cas never seems to learn from his mistakes. He let Kelly slip away by using the “Ladies’ Room” ruse on him again so there’s reason to believe his continued naiveté.
Also, where he once was headstrong in his commitment that Kelly’s baby must die, I’m guessing he’s more conflicted now. He knows he unjustly killed Lily’s child under Heaven’s orders. Will he really execute a woman and her baby under Joshua’s orders? Also, does it seem likely that Joshua would give such orders? He’s a gentle gardener. Are we to believe he’s taken charge of Heaven and is strategically orchestrating a hunt for a Nephilim? If season 12’s most prominent trait is studying characters’ motivations and actions, its secondary defining characteristic is surely delivering surprises. Is restaurant guy’s paranoia a warning for Castiel? It certainly seems so to me. That would be pretty obvious, though, so maybe the surprise is that Kelvin is telling the truth! If so, then who is walking into a trap (granted they could all be walking into traps!)?
Given our tinhat guy’s rant about technology, let’s apply his words to another suspicious organization, one that prominently uses technology - the British Men of Letters. With their high tech command center, they are always watching and listening. They’re passing that information onto their superiors, the “old men”, so those guys are also always watching and listening. Every move of the hunting community would be tracked if they all bought into the BMoL networked devices. Sam, Dean and Mary might not trust the BMoLs, but Mick and Ketch do. In any case, they could all be walking into a trap. Wouldn’t they be surprised if all the good they’re doing was part of an elaborate scheme to bring some bigger monster into power?
In the meantime, the boys continue to be surprised by each hunt. In this case, they were surprised by Kelly’s acceptance of the supernatural. They thought they could gloss over her pain with a few well intentioned lies:
Sam: Yeah, we don’t say that Dean. We say something that will give her peace, you know, help her sleep at night.Dean: Oh so we lie.Sam: Yeah, a lot.
That backfired on them, though, when she was nearly killed by their “bear”. Lying didn’t ease the situation even in the short term this time. That’s an important moral of this story.
Saving People, Hunting Things
Sadly, the reality of season 12 is that Sam and Dean are never the entire focus on an episode anymore. To minimize Jared and Jensen’s time away from home, and to reduce the unbelievable strain that the earlier seasons’ grueling script demands must have been on them, their part in each episode has been reduced to a third or less, squeezed somewhere between Heaven and Hell's flashbacks, music videos, and guest and recurring stars’ stories. Still, we care about the brothers the most, and where their hearts go we follow. So Sam’s secret affiliation with the British Men of Letters (BMoLs) weighed heavily on the brothers’ relationship. We all heard Gwen’s self-reflection on truth as an obvious lecture to Sam:
Gwen: I liked Marcus. He was sweet and kind. And he loved me more than I ever loved him, more than I… Why couldn’t I just tell him the truth? But I didn’t. I lied to make things easier. I’m sorry. - We should go.Sam: Right.
Gwen was much like Sam. She was smart enough to get into the best veterinary school in the country. She believed in herself enough to accept a supernatural explanation for the attack in the woods rather than doubt her own memory, regardless of society politely telling her she was wrong. She was also courageous enough to hit the dog with a nearby axe during its first attack, and risked her own safety to save someone else (i.e. Sam) when he was being attacked. Plus she was resourceful, using what was available (i.e. the green cooler!) as a weapon much like Sam who on countless occasions has made weapons out of common hardware or convenience store supplies. She also was lying to the person who was most dear to her. The parallel was not lost on Sam:
Sam: Dean, because of Mick and his guys the Alpha Vampire is dead. They get results. I don't like them either, but if we can save people... Either way I shouldn't have lied to you, and I'm sorry, man. I-Dean: Well, okay. What do you want me to say? Do I like it? No. Do I trust them? Hell no. But you’re right.
Just as Sam was persuaded by the practicality of using the BMoL’s intelligence, Dean recognized that by allying with his enemies, he and his brother were killing more monsters. The brothers are okay. They’re talking and being honest.
Gwen’s confession has two other noteworthy parallels besides Sam, though. Reread her words, thinking of Mary talking about Wally. It doesn’t all apply but Mary did think that Wally was sweet and kind and she did use him to make her life easier. Just like what Gwen did to Marcus, Mary not admitting the truth got Wally killed.
Now reread Gwen’s words as if Mary is talking about John. Mary lied to John about the supernatural world. She kept the truth from him to protect him from the monstrous world in which she grew up. He never knew she hunted, and he certainly didn’t know she made a deal with a demon for his life (of course she didn’t know the specifics of that deal but it did involve him rather significantly!). He was without a clue when she was killed. Knowing would not have changed anything about her death, but it might have changed how he coped, or raised his sons. Maybe. That’s uncertain. All of that meaning was wrapped in that scared girls’ confession. In all likelihood, Sam’s confession to Dean was prompted by the obvious, immediate pang of conscience Gwen raised in Sam, but we can appreciate her words for their transcendent meaning as well.
Humans vs. Animals
Sheriff: Ask me, a bear got him. Maybe a cougar…. So unless you guys are looking to make a federal case of some critters… Gwen Hernandez [is] saying all kinds of strange things like that they were attacked by a wolf, an invisible wolf…Dean: Right! [then to Sam] An invisible dog, huh? Sounds like a hellhound to me.
Although I never envisioned it that way, this thread was used literally this week as the core of the Winchester’s hunt! Men, and one very strong woman, versus beast. As an added kicker, she was studying to be a vet, someone who cares for (and isn’t afraid of) animals, plus the writers found a way to combine the Mothers and Animals threads!
Parents and their Children
The hellhound Ramsey was the mother of all hellhounds! Does that mean Sam just killed another alpha?? "Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell" contained numerous references to babies and children, including Crowley yelling about how hurt he was that his son was sent to his death (yeah, we’re not so sure about that, especially since he brought it up again). Then there was the ultimate meta reference to dad’s bat:
I’m not even getting into that!!
I haven’t tracked this thread in the past few episodes, but the choice of words in Sam’s explanatory conversation with Gwen was rather specific:
Sam: Look I know this sounds insane.Gwen: It does, and what I saw was insane.
Mostly the season has shown us parents insane with grief and lovers insane with jealousy, so it is intriguing that the thread has come up again. Cas said that Dagon “is mostly known for her psychotic savagery.” Mr. Ketch was originally described as a psychopath. Wouldn’t it be interesting if the two of them face off? I wonder how it will play into the final show downs.
This episode also contained numerous references to being right and figuring out what was good. I'm now curious if "right" is a key word we should use as a clue to what will happen next!
Crowley’ big revelation saved this episode for me. I’m excited to see what will happen with Castiel, and I’m relieved that all of the Winchesters are working together again. That’s a good deal to talk about for the next three weeks! What do you think of what’s happened so far… and what will happen next? Go!
Screencaps courtesy of http://www.springfieldspringfield.co.uk/