The Morning After
I am overwhelmed. Emotionally drained and intellectually stunned. THAT is the Supernatural we all know and love.
The morning after watching the Supernatural season 12 two episode finale, 12.22 “Who We Are” and 12.23 “All Along the Watchtower”, my heart is aching with joy. Truly overflowing with happiness. I’m guessing those are not the emotions you would expect after we all watched nearly every supporting character we love die. To be fair, I am still in shock and I expect waves of different emotions to hit me over the next several days but our immediate reaction to an episode is a valuable and often the most revealing measurement of its impact.
The two hour finale event immersed Supernatural fans in everything that makes this show one of the best television shows ever created. The stories had heart and soul, depth and intelligence. The acting pulled us in and never let go.
In last week’s review of “There’s Something About Mary”, I wrote, “Since many of us watch Supernatural for our emotional connection to the brothers and the show, I don’t want to ignore how the episode made me feel.” “Who We Are” and “Watchtower” instantly became two of the best episodes of Supernatural’s long twelve year history because of how they made fans feel. I for one felt validated and respected – validated in that my show delivered the unparalleled excellence in storytelling, imagination and delivery that justifies the dedication and passion I committed to this show long ago, and respected as a discerning and intelligent viewer who recognizes and embraces outstanding stories told through breathtaking acting.
I don’t want in any way take away from the triumph these shows delivered, but this is what Supernatural’s season 12 has largely been missing. In a struggle to describe what I’ve sensed, I’ve written that this season hasn’t had the same heart as before, that it seemed distant and two-dimensional. Much like Mary, it was being written with emotional dampeners that kept it from connecting at that visceral level we all share with this show. In its many attempts to trigger those strong emotional responses, the season resorted to horror tactics and unsubstantiated dramatic moments. I haven’t disliked season 12 but it often missed that one perfect moment that elevates it above other shows. In its last two back to back hours, though, season 12 blasted through the veil of obscurity that had dulled its impact to once again rise to greatness. Season 12 hug count is finally, beautifully and most definitely no longer zero.
Hence, my joy. When Sam extended his arms and he, Dean and Mary felt the love and strength of family, the fandom was pulled into the loving embrace of the show once again.
I am thrilled these two episodes were strong enough to be compared to “All Hell Breaks Loose”, “Swan Song” or “Sacrifice”. I am elated that Mary wasn’t killed, that Jody survived, that Bobby came back to us, that Jody and Mary were the hunters who killed Ketch and Hess, that the BMoL in America were resoundingly defeated, that Sam recognized he is a leader (Hallelujah and Praise Chuck!!), that Dean got to fire the grenade launcher and tenderly reconciled with his mom, just about everything about Crowley, that Lucifer was slammed into a cage of bleakness, and so many other things that made these two episodes some of the best in the series. Most of these events elicited the exclamation, "Finally!" indicating my relief that we were given what we've wanted for so long.
At the same time, there are dozens of things that put my heart into a vice grip that won’t find relief for at least five months. So many theories of ours were realized, yet so many others were torn to shreds. It will take a great deal of time to sort through everything that happened both as events in and of themselves, and in relationship to the series, the season and the future. I think the best place to start is simply isolating the many, many storms that engulfed our Supernatural universe. All events are listed in the order they appeared in the episodes.
Smart Sam (12.22)– coming up with the idea that spells could open the bunker
Resourceful Dean (12.22)– “Shawshanked” their prison, finally got to fire that grenade launcher that has been calling to him all year, crawled up the sewer pipe and saved them all. “Yippee Ki-yay, mother …”
Butch and Sundance Broment (12.22)– The brothers talked openly to each other when they thought they were facing their deaths. In a meta breakthrough moment, Jared and Jensen have often said they see Sam and Dean going out in a blaze of glory. I am elated that the writers showed them there can be another way, because that means my vision of that happy ending may just happen for Supernatural!
Sam as a Leader (12.22)– Finally, Sam accepted the amazing leader he has always been but never acknowledged. He said following was easier than leading, but in another breakthrough moment, he stood on his own, and delivered an inspired speech to ignite the fires of the final battle.
“My brother and I, we, we, um… No, you know what, I called you here because people, our people, are being slaughtered and we’re next. …. I want you to follow me.
Sam being a leader is another component of my happy ending scenario so I couldn’t be happier that our boy is shedding one of his last insecurities.
“You Come Back” Hug (12.22) – In the second broment of the episode, Dean and Sam displayed the deep love we know they feel for each other. The Great Hug Draught of S12 was ended in a tender, worried, goodbye scene.
Dean: You got this. Come here. You come back.
It certainly doesn’t look like much on paper, but I know you all have the scene playing through in your mind. Perfection.
Dean and Mary’s Dream, Dean’s Tearful Confrontation (12.22) – Dean confessed his most vulnerable, honest feelings about his love for Sam and his keen awareness of the pain Sam has endured. Dean was able to admit and seemingly accept that he couldn’t stop any of it from happening and how that made him hate, yet still love, his mother. The acting by Jensen was overwhelming, elevated by Samantha’s subtle reactions that supported without taking away from Dean’s soliloquy. This was the decade-later reprise of Dean’s tearful confession to his dead Sammy in season 2’s “All Hell Breaks Loose Part 2.”
The End of the BMoL in America… for now (12.22) - Ketch is killed by Mary; Hess is killed by Jody. Toni Bevell and the entire BMoL organization in America are destroyed. It was so gratifying to close the story of their annoying interference and lies but it was doubly gratifying that it was the ladies who did the honors of putting bullets through the enemy’s skulls. Nice marksmanship ladies! The male voice from the computer is the link into next season as the story continues with the “old men” who probably won’t stand for America’s defiance. This means we’ll have to wait until season 13 to see if we’re right about the remaining Prince of Hell. In the meantime though, it is so nice to definitively shut down this operation!
“Who We Are” Hug (12.22) – Tears rolling down my face. Decidedly one of the most beautiful moments of the series. Dean acknowledged that he and Sam actually saved the world. Almost as significant, he recognized that Mary’s deal and all the hell the boys went through (literally) gave them the strength and courage to do it. It was a tender, reconciling reunion of the Winchester family – the reunion we expected but never got in episode 2 when they first saw each other alive. We waited all season for that hug and seven years for Dean’s recognition of their importance to humanity but that’s nothing compared to Mary waiting her whole adult life to be forgiven, and all three of them waiting their whole lives to be reunited as a loving family. Yeah, tears. That moment is why we watch this show.
The Apocalyptic World (12.23) – Admittedly, an odd thing to celebrate yet I love it because it opens up another whole world for stories. I also love that it is irrefutable evidence of what would have become of the Earth had Sam and Dean not been born. In pure “It’s a Wonderful Life” fashion, Mary can see firsthand what her deal to save John averted, and perhaps forgive herself, even given her decision’s astronomically high cost. The brothers can see the cosmic impact of Dean's resistance to Michael and Sam’s sacrifice of going to Hell with Lucifer. What an enormous gift to be able to literally see the good you’ve done in the world. Then there’s…
Bobby! (12.23) - Jim Beaver had been teasing fans on Twitter that he was terribly disappointed to not be in season 12, the first season of the series he would have missed. What a thrill to have him back! The Chicago Watchparty theater erupted into spontaneous applause when he revealed himself. Now that he is the guide and expert on AlternateEarth, he should be in several episodes in season 13. He’ll be in full hunter mode again, protecting Mary and fighting off Lucifer… with a gun named Rufus! Brilliant!
Lucifer is trapped on AlternateEarth… by Mary! – Hallelujah!! Sam and Dean’s world is once again free of Lucifer, and the final blow that pushed him through the portal came from Mary! She said she always wanted to punch the devil in the face! I loved that the women were given substantive roles in the plots’ conclusions. They weren’t damsels in distress nor useless bystanders looking on as the guys handled the rough stuff. I’m equally happy that Lucifer has a new playground. This should open up possibilities for epic battles. He is finally in the world he wanted to create so it will be interesting to see how he fares in the battles with legions of angels. Unfortunately, Bobby just got himself a whole new world of hurt.
Mary didn’t die!!!!! (12.23) – Jumping for joy over this! She was finally reconciled with her sons after admitting her fears and explaining why she pushed them away. Her exile to AlternateEarth positions her for “Mad Max” apocalyptic fights throughout season 13. This should be good! Now Sam and Dean can be united in efforts to free a Winchester from the netherworld to which they have been banished.
Mary really was brainwashed (12.22). That horrifying claw she used to kill Lester was gruesome. We (okay, maybe just me) hoped she was faking the conversion in order to infiltrate the BMoL hierarchy, but it became obvious in the first 2 seconds of the show that her mind and will were completely lost.
Crowley did not have a Plan B (12.23) – “I wanted to win.” Jinkies (I might start using that expression again given the big S13 announcement!)! Really? We have been crediting Crowley with being too smart to play Russian Roulette with the loaded gun that is Lucifer’s power yet that was revealed to be exactly what happened. No sting operation in play, no grade scheme –all optimistic theories dashed. In true Crowley-recovery mode, he then made a deal to close the Gates of Hell because his kind betrayed him. That was an ominous parallel to the same logic Lady Bevell used when she offered to help the Winchesters only hours before she was killed.
Kelly died (12.23) – Dagon, Lucifer and Castiel all forewarned that Kelly would not survive the birth of a Nephilim but still I wondered. Since Baby Luci, who has now been named Jack (noodle on that for a while), saved mom once before, I wasn’t sure she would truly die. Since she has, though, I don’t imagine she will return in season 13. The role of mom is much more interesting being filled by Sam and Dean. Dean’s speech to Mary about having to be both mom and dad to Sam was him reciting his credentials as a parent to a supernaturally cursed child. He has experience! I’m sure there are enough rooms in the bunker that would be suitable for their newly adopted son. After all, they obviously don’t need a nursery! Following in the footsteps of Amara and Dean’s Amazon love child (and Renesmee for those who understand that reference), Jack is skipping his childhood. It’s so much more fun when you can just start out with an angsty, unrestrained, restless, confused teenager who has the power of the universe in his pinky finger. This should be good!
Rowena is killed (12.23) – Would the show really kill her, and off screen? The longest running female character of the series is cast aside like the weekly victim of the week whose name we don’t know and story we don’t care about? If I’m perfectly honest, I don’t mind Rowena walking off into the sunset. I’ve very much enjoyed some maturing and development of her character this year, especially in relationship to her own self-understanding and her allied relationship with the brothers, but it’s been glacially slow. I can’t imagine any way they bring her back (Jack, maybe?) but I equally can’t imagine that this was really the way she is written out of the show. We won’t know for 6 months or more (it may be well into season 13) if her death is permanent so our emotional reactions are stuck in the proverbial limbo.
Crowley is killed (12.23) – I’m not actually sure if Crowley knew all along he’d have to kill himself for the spell. He told Sam the plan was to trap Lucifer on AlternateEarth yet Crowley knew that the spell required a life. It seemed like he came to the realization that he needed to sacrifice himself when Lucifer taunted that everything Crowley did would fail, yet he must have known. Several episodes back, when the young girl was saved, she hugged Crowley and said “he was nice.” That moment tipped us off that Crowley was on the fatal redemptive path. He went out in a blaze of glory, and his sacrifice both saved the boys and trapped Lucifer. Befitting a king, he gave his life for his cause. It was a noble death. The question is, of course… will he stay dead?? I’m guessing Jack can bring him back to life but what motivation would there be to do so? Would the show really give up Mark Sheppard?? I really, really don’t think so… but then again, we have Bobby and Mary back. Maybe they are enough of a supporting cast for a while?
Nah. My vision for the end of the show includes Crowley. He promised to close the Gates of Hell. I don’t believe that tease was thrown in absent-mindedly. No, it had a purpose. I’d place the odds at greater than 50%, maybe as high as 75%, that he’s returning, but I have to admit that I can’t be entirely certain. I’m elated that Crowley realized being King is not his calling. That plotline stagnated a long, long time ago. If we’re lucky, we’ll never have to see that warehouse throne room again! If, when, Crowley returns, it will probably be as Bobby’s ally on AlternateEarth. The band is back together! What do you think? Am I being eternally optimistic again?
Castiel is killed (12.23) – I honestly thought this was a possibility. Again, we predicted this once Castiel declared that the Winchesters were his family in “Stuck in the Middle With You”. No character gets that dramatic a realization and proclamation of love without being doomed. It was a great death! It also set the scene for Dean to kneel at his side (ala “Swan Song”) and look to the heavens in despair (ala “All Hell Breaks Loose Part 1). Fans jumped out of their seats in the theater when the white light sparked out of Castiel! I place the odds at about 99% that Castiel is coming back, though. Winchesters don’t stay dead. Bringing back Roy and Walt specifically reminded us of that! What do you think?
Mary is trapped on AlternateEarth with Lucifer – OH, he looked MAD! I immediately flashed back to Sam’s torment in the cage at the hands of Lucifer. The look on Sam’s face when the portal closed said he thought of that too. Lucifer is certainly going to at least try to take out his frustrations of being torn away from his son on Mary. I can only imagine that Bobby will try to intervene, but what can he do against Lucifer? Jack is going to have to open the portal so Sam and Dean can go on a rescue mission but Jack didn’t look particularly cooperative. What a great set up for season 13!
Season 13 Foreshadowing
Dean: You know it’s wasn’t long ago that I thought we had it made. We saved the world. We had Cas back, we had mom back. I mean it wasn’t perfect but still we had them. And now…
Sam: Now they’re all gone. And Mom, What they did to her…
Later, Dean to Mary: You left us. Alone. Dad was just a shell. His perfect wife, gone. Our perfect mom, the perfect family – it was gone.
Season 12 left Sam and Dean truly alone again. Their friends and family are mostly gone. No Crowley, Cas or mom to have their backs. In a direct parallel to “Swan Song”, Mary is trapped in the “cage” with Lucifer, pulled in at the last moment to suffer his rage and torment. Cas lays dead beside the rift, and Dean is left kneeling on the ground in tears, staring at the hole that swallowed up his family then closed forever, leaving him behind, grief stricken.
Toni (12.22): The Mary you know, the good Mary, she’s hiding behind impenetrable psychic walls and I’m afraid these walls can’t be torn down with grenades. Your mother can’t be saved.
Mary is lost behind an impenetrable wall of time and space now with no expectation that she can be saved but Dean was able to save Mary from her supposedly permanent psychic retreat. This is a good sign that he’ll be able to save her from her new prison. Cas also saved Sam from the cage. If, when, Jack resurrects Castiel, team free will can unite to go after mom. Maybe they’ll even have baby powerhouse go with them.
The Future (12.23)
Cas: I saw the future. I saw a world without pain or hunger or want. I saw the world that this child, your child, will create, and it is a world without fear and without suffering and without hate. I saw paradise.
Castiel saw the world the angels have imagined for millennia, ironically, the world they thought would result from the apocalyptic cleansing. The world that actually resulted from the apocalypse is a stark contrast to the dream world that Castiel is still trying to achieve. Crowley’s promise to close the Gates of Hell would help bring about Castiel’s paradise. A world without demons and a world free of human suffering are both references to “the end” of Sam and Dean’s fight being a happy world, a world free of supernatural influences and human frailties. I may be seeing what I want to see, but that’s a lot of foreshadowing of a utopian future.
That was a scary, sinister smile for a “baby god” that Castiel believes is going to deliver humanity from ruin. Might this be the restart of the “Jesse” story?
And the Curious, Just for Fun
- Why would the manual override that powers down all the bunker’s defenses be outside the bunker? Wouldn’t that leave the bunker immediately vulnerable to its attackers? If the people inside the bunker wanted to shut down the place why would the kill switch be outside their reach but within reach of the intruders?
- Why didn’t the hunters pick up and use the BMoL machine guns after they killed their foot soldiers? Why do the good guys always insist on single fire pistols when bigger guns are at their feet?
- Narnia! The world where Supernatural wasn’t real and Sam was Polish! Too funny!
- The baby is being born, Kelly is in active labor... and the three big, brawny guys decide now is a good time to explore another world! What’s the rush? If the hole in space and time to another universe was connected to the birth, who cares what’s on the other side? Seconds later Cas said that he believed the child would close the door to that world so what was the urgency to see what was there? Maybe that was just less scary than being present during childbirth? The boys running away from Lucifer is a perfect visual for them hearing the mom in labor!
I cannot possibly do justice to the complexity of these two episodes in just one review. For one thing, screencaps are not yet available so I am limited to the non-spoiler promotional pictures that miss the most crucial, emotional moments. More importantly, though, there are layers upon layers of callbacks and foreshadowing that we still need to unlock. Luckily, we have all hiatus to discuss and debate (and The WFB needs your loyalty and dedication to survive the long months of hiatus)! At least this can be the start, though. We have to be able to sort out what happened before we can analyze why it happened or what it might mean.
With emotions still reeling from those phenomenal stories and cliffhangers, we deserve a few days to just collapse into the loving embrace of our show. Welcome back Supernatural. I’ve waited so long for your hugs.
A few screencaps came from http://www.homeofthenutty.com
Editor's Update: One measure of a great visual story is the number of isolated sceen images that tell a story by themselves. Once screencaps were finally available for these episodes, nearly every image in both shows was priceless. I truly wanted to upload hundreds of moments. I couldn't stand not having at least some of the phenomenal visuals accompany my review so I updated it with a precious few from http://screencapped.net. Stay tuned for Karen's Memorable Moments review for a 100% visual journey.