Do you want the good new or the bad news first?
I never know how to answer when that question is asked of me. In the case of Supernatural’s episode 15.02, however, I think I would prefer to cover the bad news first so we can end the discussion of “Raising Hell” on a good note. The bad news: I didn’t care very much for the episode. It was slow paced, and alternated from being boring to being ridiculous. The good news: it teased some very intriguing plot points that I’m anxious to explore further in the season. So let’s talk about what didn’t work for me so we can get to the juicy mysteries afoot.
First, the location and atmosphere of the zombie, oops, sorry, ghost apocalypse, wasn’t scary. Nate alerted me to this in his video review of the season premiere, but the lighting was really distracting to me in this episode. Daylight and suburbia just aren’t the right backdrop to a ghostly invasion. I wasn’t at all terrified by, or even a tiny bit anxious about, ghosts who hold town hall meetings in a well-lit living room of an upscale suburban home. Even the paint on the walls was calming pastels! I expected one of them to open the fridge and offer everyone high energy drinks and healthy snacks! Oops, sorry again. Allowing for the vintage of their clothing, they all would have wanted afternoon tea!
Rowena running down the middle of a street with neatly spaced homes and perfectly cut lawns, in heels no less, also seemed out of place. The neighborhood was deserted because of the evacuation, but her "rush to the rescue" made me think she was a sweet lady who was late bringing muffins to a bake sale rather than an ancient witch trying to outrace a ticking time bomb of a collapsing spell.
The self-appointed ghost leader was also ludicrous. I’m sorry, but a Colonel Sanders, southern drawl villain didn’t work the first time. Why go there again? Jack the Ripper was from Britain, not south of the Mason Dixie line. Francis just wasn’t menacing, or even convincing, as a bad guy. Stabbing does not equal disemboweling. He may be able to spell but he needs to correct his knowledge of the methods of murder.
Then why would Dean be the only hunter with a salt gun when they all stood guard at the weakest point of the warding? I could work my way to believing he would empty his gun in frustration at random ghosts, but then neither Sam nor Castiel had a weapon with them when they went outside to test the barrier and face their enemies? They just aren’t that dumb, and neither are we.
Next was the Rowena/Ketch romance. They are supposed to be frantically concocting a potion before all Hell breaks loose from the town, literally, and they have time to make googly eyes at each other? Why were five minutes of the show taken up with their awkwardly timed libidos? Was all that organic chemistry on the blackboard supposed to have come from Ketch? Why? Rowena knew the spell for the soul bomb. What was he working on? His contribution was making “sparks fly” in the room. I am left to wonder if their attraction will be important later, so maybe this scene was necessary to set up a key connection down the road. I certainly hope so. I like both characters, and I think both actors did the best they could with a silly scene, so let’s hope this goes somewhere (better) in the future.
I guess that’s the point of everything above. The silliness of the ghosts, Ketch, Rowena, and the unbelievable, unsustainable ruse of a Benzene leak didn’t match the intensity of Sam, Dean or Castiel. They were enraged, terrified, sweating profusely, scared, in pain and fighting for their lives while their team went on a first date and their foes were limited to a dozen Halloween costumed trick-or-treaters who wanted to trick rather than treat.
Let’s put all that aside, though, and focus on the two aspects of the episode that cast serious doubt on its believability. First, suddenly we were told Kevin was sent to Hell rather than Heaven. No way. I don’t buy it. In the beautifully scripted, emotionally endearing episode 11.21 “All in the Family”, Chuck said to Kevin,
Kevin... you've been in the Veil long enough. It's time you had an upgrade.
On the surface, Kevin’s resurrection could have achieved several objectives. Kevin’s back in play now, walking the earth, which might come in very handy in the future. His detour to Hell also introduced several plot openings, such as testing the trustworthiness of Belphegor, who said souls from Hell can never enter Heaven without God’s blessing. That seems plausible, and there isn’t an obvious reason why he would lie about that, so he teed up that Kevin’s only hope is God becoming benevolent again. This could have been the introduction of a redemption arc for God.
Kevin was then transformed into white light and ascended through the ceiling. Kevin went up, not down.
His light was white, not red. Chuck said upgrade, not “a change of scenery”. He would have had no motivation to send Kevin to Hell. A key character and plot closure from four years ago was rewritten - not ignored or forgotten or mistakenly misquoted. It was purposely retconned. Again, why? Yes, it brought back a beloved character and I love having Osric back in the cast where he belongs (because Kevin never should have been killed off), but he really needed to come back in a way that was plausible.
Which brings me to the biggest hiccup I’m having with this storyline. I’m not convinced that “God is a dick”, as Dean so bluntly stated.
Dean: Chuck said he was sending you to Heaven.
Kevin: Yeah, what he said, not what he did.
Ketch: Wait, he lied? For what? Kicks?
Dean: Turns out, God's a dick.
Kevin being sent to Hell was a story manipulation to rewrite another key character of the series – God. Saying that Dean, Sam, Cas and we were lied to in season 11 when Chuck “said” he was sending Kevin to Heaven appears, at least for now, to be a convenience to convince us that Chuck was a conniving liar all along, and that we, and our heroes, were deceived by his gullible likability. Emotionally, we should be feeling just as betrayed as Dean, Sam and Castiel are feeling. We are now to believe that Amara is the sane deity, and she was right all along in judging Chuck to be a “petulant, narcissistic” child. She is the misunderstood older sister who had been wronged for millennia.
It is vital that we believe this basic, underlying premise of the entire season, but offering us an untenable retcon as proof is a poor way to erase whatever positive impressions had been given to us about Chuck until now. True, Dean yelled at God for most of the first 11 years, but that was the absentee God, before God presented himself as Chuck, a hands-off deity willing to sacrifice himself to save humanity from Amara’s destruction of creation. Chuck’s sudden, menacing jealousy of Jack, and his shocking murder of the innocent Nephilim in season 14’s conclusion, was not substantiated by a definitive course correction in his portrayal (in my opinion), but I was willing to see how the show revealed God to be an unconscionable manipulator instead of a free-will advocate. I accept that this is happening so objections are moot, but it would be nice if the retro-fitted character deflation was rational, logical or at least persuasive. So far, I’m not on board that particular runaway train.
The Good News
So, is there good news? Yes, absolutely! It was fun having Ketch and Kevin back. They are great characters and it was nice to have the gang together again. The use of the ax-wielding ghost Lizzie Borden was a clever callback to the “Thin Lizzie” episode (11.05) that featured a young Amara. Had we also seen some of those hunters before, in the bunker, under Sam’s direction? I thought Rowena was an especially capable, sassy and a mature version of her former bratty self (when she wasn’t trying to seduce Ketch). I enjoyed her inclusion in the team.
Chuck and Amara’s interplay was particularly intriguing. It was as if the subtle mind games of their reunion in Reno were in a completely different show from the daytime soap opera going on in Kansas.
Amara: What is it?
Chuck: I don't know.
Amara: You need me.
Chuck: Of course I need you, Amara. You're my big sis.
Amara: You've never needed me. What is going on? Oh. Oh, there it is. Your shoulder.
Amara: Something happened. You're not complete. You're not at full strength. And you're afraid.
Amara was suspicious of her brother’s motivations. She then sensed his hidden agenda of seeking shelter within her aura of power. Did he intend to ask her to heal his shoulder wound, or was he simply looking for protection since he suddenly felt the unfamiliar fear of being vulnerable?
Power was a recurring thread in the episode. In addition to Ketch’s visual aid of sparking a power cord, his and Rowena’s double-entrendre conversation frequently referenced power:
Ketch: The power of science.
Rowena: But if we were to marry the power of science with the power of magic, you might find we had a situation that was highly explosive.
Rowena’s discussion with Sam about her weapon, and later her discussion with Dean on the same subject, also emphasized power:
Rowena: You want to blow up the ghosts?
Sam: No. No. No, no. But the "bomb" was powered by souls; souls that were sucked into it.
Rowena: Ah and ghosts are nothing but souls.
Dean: Nice work, Rowena.
Rowena: Oh, it's not as powerful as the first one.
The ghostly contingent echoed the desire for and observance of power when talking about the barrier and the bombs that were being used against them:
Ghost: The warding that surrounds us is indeed beginning to falter. So, we just hang loose for a while, then when it fails, we just stroll outta here.
Francis: No, I say we seize the moment. Use our collective strength. We find the most vulnerable point in the warding, mass our power, and break through now. Then back to all the fun that sent us to Hell in the first place.
Francis: The thing about souls is they're almost pure power, so even with the few trapped inside your little gizmo here, I am in possession of a massively powerful weapon, one which I will happily use to blow open that warding.
Even Kevin chimed in:
Kevin: I know Belphegor can't power up [off?] the warding but maybe he can make just a bit of it dip? You know, for a minute.
Since God doesn’t have a soul, but humans do, a foreshadowing implication of this emphasis on souls and power may be that the collective strength of human souls will be the ultimate weapon against God, in the end. He’s not at full strength, and souls are “pure power”. Maybe collectively they can be used against him? What do you think?
Connections/Safety in Numbers
Another intriguing aspect of “Raising Hell” was that all sides in this war seemed to be amassing strength in numbers. God sought the safety of his sister. Team Free Will gained three allies in Ketch, Kevin and Rowena, most of whom traveled long distances to be suddenly reunited with the boys. Additional random hunters also joined in the ghost watch. On the dead-but-still-kicking side, Belphegor reported on size of the enemy’s ranks:
Dean: How many of 'em are there?
Belphegor: 100 at least. More keep coming… There's too many of them.
Francis stated this strategy of strength in numbers:
Reach out to all the cowards who are hiding in the shadows and tell them to stand with us. Our strength is in numbers. We will find a way out of here.
Dean: You bought into the biggest scam in history.
Who you knew, and the strength of your loyalty and commitment to each other, seemed to be important components of people’s connections. When Ketch arrived on the scene, we were told that he and Rowena had met before:
Ketch: Rowena, I do hope there's no hard feelings still after our initial introduction. My people were holding you prisoner and...
Rowena:But you let me escape, and I haven't forgotten.
Their history created a debt of gratitude, establishing their connection.
Ketch also had an unexpected, rather awkward tie with Belphegor, having been contracted to seek out and kill him*. I suggest we remember the name of the “attractive female demon” who hired Ketch - Ardat. That seemed like it might come around again to give us the truth about not-Jack.
Speaking of women scorned, Rowena and Francis had history as well:
Rowena: Francis Tumblety! You're an unfaithful dog.
Frances: Oh? And you're Mary Poppins? You know I always thought of you as special. I gutted my other dates.
Rowena: I told you centuries back, our liaison was finito, so let me pass.
Kevin has obvious history with the Winchesters:
Frances: I've heard demons say that in life, you were quite closely connected to the Hunters. To the Winchesters, in particular.
Dean: What, your pals know that you, me, and Sam have history?
In parting, Kevin declared his strong connection to them:
Even the confused civilians walked themselves into danger to (albeit stupidly) try to have the back of the missing friends and family. Maybe one last, massive call to arms is in the works for the series’ finale? Something where all the good guys that have ever worked with the Winchesters face off against all the bad guys they have ever faced (or maybe just the biggest bad of them all, God) in one final battle, winner take all?
Dean: Take care, Kev.
Kevin: Love you guys.
Sam’s God Wound
The most intriguing connection introduced in “Raising Hell” is that Sam and God are bound together through their shared wound. When Amara touched God’s shoulder, Sam felt the same pain that Chuck felt. Now that is interesting! That lends a great deal of credence to the theory that the season’s title card is a close-up of their gunshot wound.
Chuck also called Amara his “big sis” meaning that both he and Sam are younger brothers. Is there a parallel there? Is Sam draining God’s power? Is God’s physical connection to humanity making him mortal? Is Sam “devouring” some of God’s power? That possibility might have been implied when Francis began “devouring” Kevin’s essence (by the way, please explore in the comments if that even made sense given prior ghost canon!).
Obviously, Chuck and Sam’s wounds are impacting them more than they are willing to admit. Are both their conditions deteriorating, or is Chuck getting weaker while Sam is getting better:
Dean: Still with the shoulder?
Sam: I'm okay. It's getting better.
[followed immediately by ghost dialog:} I felt it.
Francis: Yes, yes, I felt it, too
Everything in balance. The ying and the yang, as Amara said. Maybe that is why Chuck is so worried.
Feelings, and having felt something, were mentioned many times by many people in the story. Let’s watch that as a thread. I am SO anxious to hear more about this!
Guns and Gunshot Wounds
The significance of Sam and God’s gunshot wounds was reinforced with a curious thread of guns, shooting out of frustration, and gunshot wounds on the Kansas battleground. For example, Ketch brought with him a new gun. I’m not sure why that is any different than a salt round that expels ghosts without harming the host, but they all seemed impressed by it:
Dean: What is that?
Ketch: Uh, it fires iron flakes, expelling ghosts without harm to the possessed victim, courtesy of the British Men of Letters. I lifted it along with a few other toys when I left.
Rowena: Dear? I'd prefer a wee shots of Scotch 18-year-old single malt, if you have it handy.
Other examples of the thread started last week when Sam shot Castiel (in a hilarious exchange between them). This week, Dean rather uncharacteristically emptied his gun in a futile defensive move, leaving him without another shot when he needed it against Francis. Sam and Cas inexplicably did not have their guns with them to back up Dean. Francis, and other ghosts, were shot multiple times. Ketch was then shot with iron bullets.
Mysteriously, and very significantly, Castiel couldn’t heal Ketch’s wounds.
Castiel: I tried to heal him, but it didn't work. I don't know why.
There shouldn’t have been anything supernatural about the gun or the ammunition, so either something is wrong with the world they’re in or something is wrong with Castiel. That and the Sam/God connection are two extremely tantalizing plot points of the episode!
LeavingA side-effect of Chuck’s gunshot wound seems to be that he is now stuck on Earth. Last week, Sam bolstered Dean’s sagging morale by saying that they should assume that Chuck was now gone, and they were free to make their own choices. But this week Amara said,
Even on your best day, you couldn't force my hand. And this is not your best day. In fact, I don't think you can do much of anything. Ah, a few parlor tricks, perhaps, but you can't leave this world, not without my help. And me? I'm done, Chuck. I've changed. I've adapted. I've I've become the better me. And you? You are still the same petulant, narcissistic. So I'm leaving you here. Once, long ago, you sealed me away. Now, in a way I'm doing the same to you. You're trapped, diminished, abandoned.
So God is stuck, having to face off against Sam, Dean and Castiel.
The option of wanting to leave trouble behind was a recurring thread in the episode.
Sam: we're gonna have to ask you to leave this area and head back to the school.
Why would Kevin leave the Winchesters? Of course, there is the practical matter that Osric is not rejoining the cast permanently, but from a story standpoint, wouldn’t a ghost ally be useful?
Sam: Kevin said he wants to leave.
The Last WordLast week, Sam told the ghost clown to “shut up!” I thought that was odd at the time but it was funny so I chalked it up to a comedic moment. This week, Francis told the ghost crowd to “shut up!” That was enough of a coincidence to get my attention.
Sam and Francis also both had trouble getting the attention of the groups they were trying to address as leaders, and both were trying to give their followers answers. Speculation as to the parallels? It seems like getting in the last word was important to both of them.
Castiel and Dean’s conversation about the meaning of life deserves a lot of thought. It needs to be put together with Sam and Dean’s conversation from last week and discussed in its own review. Who is right - Dean in his cynicism or Sam and Castiel in their optimism? I personally count myself with Sam, Cas & Belphegor as a “goofy optimist”, but I can’t blame Dean for being sick and tired of feeling like “hamsters running in a wheel.” Curiously, Castiel’s last words sounded like a veiled nod to Destiel. Whatever. I think both Castiel and Sam were trying to say that family, love, and the bonds that tie us together is the “whole point”, echoing words that Chuck himself said in “Swan Song”.
ImpressionsDespite all my frustrations with the writing and execution of this episode, it introduced fascinating threads and mysterious possibilities that I can’t wait to watch unfold. Chuck might not have any choice but to stick with the boys until the bitter end, but I willingly and enthusiastically want to be around to the end. In fact, I’d love to be counted among their closest allies. I’m not going anywhere, boys. But if you don’t mind, let’s wrap up this ghastly ghost business and get to the myth arc that’s intriguing, and more believable, real soon.
I'd love to hear your thoughts, below! Let the commenting and questioning begin!
Read more of Nightsky's "Threads" reviews! Links can be found on her writer's page.
Quotes courtesy of Springfield!Springfield
Thank you to Deb Ryzley for sketching a few of these connections onto paper after seeing my WFB live tweet’s request for a scorecard!